Jay was the only one who understood her, the only one who seemed to know that she wasn’t ready for this yet. He stayed as close to her as he could throughout the day, and even though Violet thought that she should be trying to offer some sort of comfort to him, she doubted that she could have brought herself out of her own well of self-pity long enough to try. He didn’t seem to mind, though. He didn’t appear to be damaged the way she was.
At home, her parents were patient. They listened when she talked, and she did talk to them, but when she was finished they would leave her alone again. It was a cautious dance as they took great care to stay out of her way, and she wondered if they thought she were fragile or breakable. Instead of being grateful for the space they gave her, she felt annoyed that they considered her so weak.
Her uncle Stephen made regular appearances during that first week too, checking in on her and dropping off cookies that her aunt Kat had baked, the real homemade kind that didn’t come in a roll from the refrigerated section at the grocery store. Violet tried but couldn’t seem to find it in herself to appreciate the effort her aunt had made.
And then, almost simultaneously, two things happened that changed everything.
Just one week after Violet found the body in the lake, another dead girl was discovered.
It was exactly one week to the day.
Then, on the following day, and two cities away, on a Sunday afternoon, the girl from the lake—Carys Kneer—was buried by her family…laid to rest in proper fashion.
Once and for all.
And despite the fact that another body had just been found, Violet was suddenly at peace with the world again. She seemed to abruptly wake from the haze that had claimed her.
And she stayed that way….
Until the next girl vanished.
BY MONDAY, EVERYONE AT SCHOOL HAD HEARD about the discovery of a second body. The news was bigger this time, not just because another girl was dead, or because she’d been found so close to home. It was bigger news because of who the girl was.
Brooke Johnson might not have attended White River High School, but she had been a student in the next closest town. And as happens with kids in small towns, their social circles had overlapped: they attended the same parties, dated the same boys, and hung out in the same places. Brooke had been popular, which didn’t necessarily translate into being well liked, but which definitely made her more important on the gossip ladder. Violet hadn’t known Brooke personally, but she knew who Brooke was, in the same way that kids from Brooke’s school would know who Lissie Adams was.
The other thing that made Brooke’s death more newsworthy was that it established a pattern…at least in the eyes of the community at large.
They knew now what Violet had known all along: that the girl in the lake had been murdered before being dumped in the water. And despite the fact that the authorities could neither confirm nor deny a connection between the two bodies, locally, no one really doubted it. Two girls abducted, and then subsequently murdered and discarded so close to each other, in such a short period of time, hardly seemed like a coincidence.
If it walks like a duck, seemed to be the sentiment regarding the assumed correlation, and people were reacting accordingly.
Grief counselors had been made available at several area schools, including White River in Buckley. There were assemblies and after-school classes scheduled about personal safety, stranger danger, and self-defense. Suddenly every girl in school was preoccupied with concerns over her own well-being. And despite the fact that they were not actually permitted under the school’s “no-tolerance” environment, tiny cans of pepper spray became something of a staple—like lip gloss and tampons—in nearly every purse in school.
But by the middle of the week, conversations began to feel more normal again, and while safety was still a real issue, even Brooke Johnson’s death was eventually eclipsed by the trivial quest for lighthearted rumors to cut through the gloom.
Jay, on the other hand, was neither eclipsed nor forgotten. And as the last days of summer drifted toward fall, the number of lovesick girls trailing behind him on any given day seemed to multiply.
While she’d been locked in the grip of her own troubles, Violet had temporarily forgotten to be jealous of those other girls and had finally remembered how to just be Jay’s friend again. During those days before the girl from the lake was finally buried in her hometown, Jay had been the one who kept Violet sane. He slipped candy bars into her backpack for her to find and left little notes in her locker just to let her know he was thinking about her. She leaned on him every step of the way, and he never once complained. And afterward, when she felt back to her old self again, at least mostly anyway, he was still there.
She wondered what she’d done to deserve a friend like him, someone who never wavered and never questioned. Someone who was always there… being supportive, and funny, and thoughtful.
Violet stood in the hallway and watched him. He was digging through his locker looking for his math book, and even though she knew it wasn’t there, Violet just let him search, smiling to herself. Crumpled wads of paper fell out onto the floor at his feet.
He seemed to sense that she was staring and he looked back at her. “What?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she responded, the smile finding her lips.
He narrowed his eyes, realizing that he was the butt of some private joke. “What?”
She sighed and kicked a toe at his backpack, which was lying crookedly against the wall of lockers. “Your book’s in your bag, dumbass,” she announced as she turned away and started walking toward class.