He understood a lot of things. He was the only person, besides her parents, and her aunt and uncle, who knew about her strange penchant for seeking out ravaged animals, and her need to rebury them within the safe chicken-wire enclosure of Shady Acres. It had been an adventure that they’d shared together, combing through fern groves and blackberry thickets in search of the lost bodies. He’d even helped her build little crosses and headstones to mark the tiny graves.
Before they were buried, before they were properly laid to rest, those animals left behind would call out to Violet. They would emit an energy—a sensory echo—in the wake of their murder, like a beacon that only she could find, letting her know where they’d been discarded. It could be anything…a smell, a burst of color, a taste in the back of her mouth, or a combination of several sensations at once.
She didn’t know how…or why…It just happened.
But what she did know, what she’d learned early on, was that once she placed them in her graveyard, they no longer called out to her. She still felt them, but it was different. She was able to filter them out, until they became nothing more than the comforting static of white noise.
Jay also understood the need to keep Violet’s secret, even though he’d never been told to. He seemed to sense, even from an early age, that he needed to keep that secret close to him, like a treasure he protected, saving it just for the two of them. He’d always made Violet feel safe and secure…and even normal.
So why, then, had everything changed so suddenly?
Already, as her car sputtered down his driveway, with gravel crunching beneath the tires, her heart rate was racing within the suddenly too-confined space of her chest.
This is ridiculous, she chided herself. He’s your best friend!
She saw the front door opening even before she slowed to a complete stop. Jay was yanking his hooded sweatshirt over his head, dragging his backpack in his wake. He yelled something into the house, probably telling his mom that he was leaving for school, and he pulled the door shut behind him.
It was the same thing every day. There was nothing different from yesterday and the day before that. Nothing different from every single day since they’d met.
Except that now her stomach climbed into her throat as he grinned his stupid sideways grin at her and slid into the car.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid!
She smiled back, willing her reckless pulse to slow down. “Ready?”
“No, but do we have a choice?” His voice, which had gotten deeper over the summer, was still so well-known to her, so comfortable, that she immediately relaxed.
“Not if you don’t want a tardy.” She backed out of the driveway, barely glancing in her rearview mirror to watch where she was going. His driveway was almost as familiar to her as her own.
She hated these new, unknown feelings that seemed to assault her whenever he was around, and sometimes even when he was only in her thoughts. She felt like she was no longer in control of her own body, and her traitorous reactions were only slightly more embarrassing than her treacherous thoughts.
She was starting to feel like he was toxic to her.
That, or she was seriously losing her mind, because that was the only way she could possibly explain the ridiculous butterflies she got whenever Jay was close to her. And what really irritated Violet was that he seemed to be completely oblivious of these new, and completely insane, reactions she was having to him. Obviously, whatever she had wasn’t contagious.
Except that it was. She wasn’t the only one that seemed to be noticing him. She almost dreaded the moment they’d step out from the relative peace of her noisy old Honda in the school’s overcrowded parking lot. Because that’s when the real games began.
Day three of school, but as of day one, girls had begun to wait for them to arrive in the morning.
No, not for them…for him.
His new fan club, Violet thought sourly. Girls who had known Jay since the first day of his first-grade year. Girls who had never paid him so much as a second glance before now. Girls who seemed to notice the not-so-subtle changes that had taken place over the last two and a half months they’d spent away from school.
Girls like her.
Stop it! she silently screamed at herself.
She slid a sideways glance in his direction, trying to figure out just what it was that was making her so…so painfully self-conscious all of a sudden.
He was looking right at her. Grinning. A big, stupid, self-satisfied grin, as if he had been eavesdropping on her all-too-embarrassing thoughts.
“What?” She tried to defend herself, wishing she’d never looked his way as she felt her cheeks burning with shame. “What?” she asked again when he just laughed at her.
“Were you planning to ditch school today, or should we turn around?”
She looked up and realized that she’d just driven past the road that led to the school. “Why didn’t you say something?” she accused as she pulled a quick, and probably illegal, U-turn. The tops of her ears felt like they were on fire now.
“I just wanted to see where you were heading.” He shrugged. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t skip school. You just have to ask me first.” His new grown-up voice seemed to fill all the space of the small car, and Violet found even that annoying.
“Shut up,” she insisted, even though she couldn’t help smiling now too. She couldn’t believe she’d passed the entrance to her own school. “Now we really are going to be late.”