But it was hot today, and people had flocked to the lake in droves. So not such a surprise really.
It was okay, though. It was a clean drop. He’d made sure of that. As usual, he’d been careful. No witnesses, no evidence, nothing to tie it back to him.
Police and fire crews worked in unison to keep the scene contained as they dredged the waters and searched the shores.
He watched as onlookers pushed and shoved, trying to get a better view of what was happening along the water’s edge. He liked their energy, their insatiable craving for the gory details, no matter how gruesome or unsettling they might be.
And right now, they were ravenous.
He stood as close as he could, listening to them, reveling in that need.
They were talking about his work, about what he’d done, never realizing that he was standing among them.
It excited him. He felt powerful. Alive.
He knew he was taking a chance. He wasn’t supposed to be here. He’d already caught fleeting glimpses of people who knew him, who could, given the chance, identify him. He was glad he was hidden beneath a hat and sunglasses, and he was careful to stay near others in the crowd who were similar to him in size so he wouldn’t stand out too much. And in a crowd this large, they came in all sizes.
He let his mind wander as he surveyed those around him, pressed against him. It wasn’t hard to find girls he liked, girls he could use. In their skimpy bikinis and ultra-short shorts, revealing smooth expanses of unblemished skin, they were particularly delectable to him. Perhaps someday he would see them again, in another place, at another time.
But he knew he couldn’t stay. The longer he waited, the greater his chance of being discovered, especially in a setting like this.
He ducked his head low and eased his way toward the back of the people straining to get closer. Behind the dark lenses, his eyes darted in every direction, absorbing as much of the scene as he possibly could, so that later, when he was alone with his thoughts, he would be able to recollect each aspect. Each dirty little detail.
Today was a good day.
He had seen enough to hold him. For now.
THAT DAY, THE ONE AT THE LAKE, WAS LIKE THE last day of summer…not just for Violet, but for everyone. And even though the calendar didn’t support that argument, the weather cooperated, ignoring the forecasts that had predicted summerlike temperatures, and turning sad and dreary by the following day.
Violet struggled to get through that first twenty-four-hour period. She continued to feel smothered, first by the darkness of night, and then by the oppressive gloom of that endless Sunday. She kept mostly to herself, staying in her room as much as possible, only half listening to the music coming from her headphones, and only half sleeping when exhaustion overcame her.
Jay called several times, and as much as she wanted to hear his voice, she avoided his calls. She felt like she owed him an apology for what she had forced him to witness, but she wasn’t sure what she could possibly say to him to make it better.
She felt like she was sleepwalking through those first painful hours.
The second night came, and sleep finally defeated her. She’d tried to avoid it, spending countless hours laying in bed and playing the what-if game over and over in her head. What if she had never seen those haunting colors echoing up from the water? What if she had chosen not to explore them further? Or best of all, what if she had just been normal, going through life in ignorance…blissfully unaware of the dead? She was exhausted from her own self-deprecation and inner turmoil.
But just like when she was eight, when sleep finally claimed her, it came at a cost. Nightmares of the dead girl drifted through the waves of her subconscious. Pale, lifeless eyes watched her closely whenever she closed her own. And no matter how shocking the images were, she couldn’t avoid them as sleep reclaimed her, again and again, until the dawn.
She went back to school too soon, but didn’t realize it until it was too late.
That Monday, as she ventured out, she thought the diversion would be good for her. Jay was relieved to see her, and even though Violet was still unable to ask for his forgiveness, his presence made her feel better…almost alive again.
He reached out to her and held her cold hand as they walked to class together. At any other time that simple gesture would have caused her heart to skip beats, but at the moment, it simply reminded Violet that she was still awake.
What she hadn’t bargained for was that what had happened over the weekend, at the lake, hadn’t happened only to her, or to the two of them. It was as if it had happened to the entire school. And every student who could get close enough wanted to talk about the events…. They wanted her to relive it for them, over and over again.
How did Violet see her, the dead girl?
Did she recognize her?
What was it like seeing a dead body?
Did she think the girl had drowned? Was there blood? Did she see bruises?
Was she missing body parts?
The questions were endless.
Those who really knew Violet, her friends, were more sensitive but no less chatty on the topic. And their questions, for some reason, bothered Violet more than the predictably grim curiosity of the others. They were too personal.
Was Violet all right? Did she want to talk about it? Did her uncle say if they knew who the girl was?
She felt like concern for her was being paraded around like an exhibition, and even when she tried to change the subject, which she did as often as she could, they always managed to bring it back around to the topic they really wanted to discuss: the dead girl in the water.