This was the third day of school, and she didn’t want to start her junior year with a tardy slip. She rubbed her face with both hands, trying to stimulate the flow of blood in an effort to stay alert. She wasn’t much of a morning person.
She stumbled through most of her before-school routine; showering, brushing her teeth, dressing. After scrutinizing herself in the mirror and noting the dark circles beneath her eyes, she once again thought about how badly she wanted to crawl back beneath the mound of already cooling blankets that covered her bed like an inviting nest.
She pulled her hair into a messy ponytail—the only kind of ponytail that her unruly curls allowed—before grabbing her backpack off the floor. She hated it when adults told her how lucky she was to have such gorgeous, natural curls, when she wanted nothing more than to blend in with the sea of shiny, flat-ironed, stick-straight hair with which every girl in her school seemed to have been blessed.
But what did she expect? Life didn’t seem to want her to blend like everyone else.
After all, how many girls had inherited the ability to locate the dead, or at least those who had been murdered? How many little girls had spent hours of their childhood scouring the woods in search of dead animals left behind by feral predators? How many had created their own personal cemeteries in their backyards to bury the carnage they’d found, so the little souls could rest in peace?
And how many eight-year-olds had been drawn to discover the body of a dead girl?
No, Violet was definitely different.
She brushed aside the disturbing thoughts and hurried out the door, crossing her fingers, like she did every morning, that her ancient little car would sputter to life when she tried to start it.
Her father called it a “classic.”
She wasn’t quite so kind in her description of the small 1988 Honda Civic, with its original factory paint that was fading after years of being battered by the rainy Washington weather.
She called it dilapidated.
Reliable, her father would argue back. And Violet couldn’t entirely disagree. So far, despite its morning protests and groans—so much like her own—her Honda had never been the cause of one of her (many) late slips.
Today was no different. The car coughed and spewed when she turned the ignition, but the engine caught on the first attempt and, after a few coaxing moments, the sound turned to something closer to its usual not-so-quiet grumbling.
Violet had just one stop to make on her way to school, the same stop she’d made every day since getting her license six months earlier. To pick up her best friend, Jay Heaton.
Best friend. The expression seemed so foreign now, like an old, comfortable sneaker that once practically molded to your foot but now strained against each step you took because it no longer fit.
The summer had changed things…too many things for Violet’s liking.
She and Jay had been best friends since they were six years old, when in the first grade Jay had moved to Buckley. It was the day that Violet dared him to kiss Chelsea Morrison at recess, telling him she’d be his best friend if he did. Of course Chelsea had pushed him down for doing it, which Violet had known would happen, and all three of them were hauled into the principal’s office for a discussion about “personal boundaries.”
But Violet was true to her word, and she and Jay had been inseparable ever since.
In the first grade, they’d played tag on the playground, always ganging up on the other kids to make someone else “it” in order to avoid playing against each other. In second grade, they moved on to the jungle gym, choosing teams and using the tunnels as makeshift forts to defend against their enemies. By third grade, they’d learned to play four square and wall ball. Fourth, tetherball. And fifth was the year they discovered the giant boulder at the edge of the playing field, behind which the recess teacher couldn’t see what was happening.
It was the year of their first kiss—or kisses, rather—their one and only foray into romance with each other. They tried it once with their lips closed tightly, a small quick peck, and then again, they tried it by touching their tongues together. The sensation was slippery, supple, and foreign. They both immediately agreed that it was gross and swore they would never do it again.
By middle school, their parents, who had become something like chauffeurs, ferrying the two of them almost daily across the mile-long distance that separated their homes, had resigned, maintaining that if Violet and Jay really wanted to see each other, then the exercise would do them good.
But neither of them minded the walk. They had spent years of their childhoods combing through the forested areas that surrounded both of their homes, as they explored and built clubhouses out of old timber. They had mapped and named entire sections of the woods, several of them after themselves or unusual arrangements of their combined names. Things like “Jaylet Stream”…“Amberton Woods”…“Hebrose Trail.”
They also named the makeshift graveyard behind Violet’s house, using neither of their names, simply calling it Shady Acres.
They were ten at the time, and the name sounded ominous and dark…which was exactly what they were going for. They would dare one another to go out there, to see who could wait alone, until well after darkness had fallen, telling each other tales of the strange occurrences they were sure must be happening out there…especially at night.
Violet always won, and Jay never complained that she did. He seemed to understand that she wasn’t afraid, even when she pretended to be.