They shared orders of pad Thai, Swimming Angel, and some Vietnamese spring rolls that came with both a sweet garlic and a peanut dipping sauce. The smell of their jasmine-infused rice mingled with the scents of coconut sauces and chili peppers. By the time they were finished, Violet was stuffed and wondered if she’d even fit into her dress anymore.
On the ride to Chelsea’s house, Claire chattered on and on about the upcoming dance. Violet was busy tuning out the incessant babbling until she heard Chelsea’s voice, and Violet realized that she was talking to her.
“What?” Violet asked, pretending she just hadn’t heard what Chelsea had said, instead of letting on that she wasn’t listening to any of them at all.
“I said, is it weird for you that Jay’s taking Lissie Adams to Homecoming?” Chelsea repeated it slowly, as if Violet were a dull-witted child.
Oh God, not this, Violet thought. This was a subject she’d been hoping to avoid. She suddenly wished she were an ostrich so she could just bury her head in the sand and ignore the question entirely.
Unfortunately three sets of eyes, including Jules’s, who was peering at Violet from the rearview mirror, were now staring back at her.
Okay, Vi, just play it casually. “Weird? Why would it be weird? Jay and I are just friends. And Lissie seems okay.”
“Ri-ight.” The word was dragged out skeptically. Of course it was an unconvinced Chelsea who asked, “Why would you be jealous that he’s taking a senior…no, no, check that, the most popular senior in school, to Homecoming?”
“Yes,” Violet answered, making it sound like Chelsea had made a statement rather than posed a damning question. “That’s right, I would have no reason to be jealous…since we’re just friends.” Now she was the one speaking slowly, as if they might have trouble comprehending her words.
They did, but not because they were too slow to understand them. They just weren’t as clueless as Violet wanted them to be.
Claire reached over and patted Violet’s leg in what was supposed to be a comforting gesture. Instead, Violet was annoyed by the condescending quality to it.
“Seriously, why is that so hard to understand?”
Why? Probably because it wasn’t true. Or at least because even she didn’t really want it to be true.
Jules turned her attention back to the road, and Claire shrugged her narrow shoulders delicately but unconvincingly. Chelsea glanced back over her shoulder at Violet, giving her a look that said she wasn’t buying it at all, but at least she didn’t say it out loud.
Violet was glad when Claire begin prattling on again, filling the awkward silence that had settled inside the car.
Violet knew, of course, that she had no business being jealous that Jay was going to the dance with Elisabeth Adams. He hadn’t even actually asked the It-Girl until after he’d found out that Violet had agreed to go with Grady, and she’d been regretting that particular moment of weakness every second of every day since. And somehow the perfect shoes, to go with the perfect dress, didn’t make her feel any better…even now. Because in the end, she was going to have to stand across the dance floor from the boy she really wanted to be there with and watch him dance with his own perfectly perfect date.
She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the endless stream of words dribbling from Claire’s never-silent mouth.
She was really starting to worry about what she had gotten herself into.
Violet didn’t have much time to think about the dance and how disappointed she was to be going with Grady instead of Jay. All worries about herself, and her own insignificant problems, were overshadowed by the news that greeted her when she arrived home the next morning, after staying the night at Chelsea’s house.
Both of her parents were waiting for her in the living room when she walked through the front door.
Her mother was pacing in front of the fireplace, and her dad gave the impression that he’d been relaxing as he leaned back into the couch, his long legs stretched out in front of him. But it was the preoccupied look on his face that gave away his discomfort.
Violet immediately felt her guard go up when she saw them like that. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled involuntarily. “What’s wrong?” she asked, closing the door behind her.
They looked at each other, an unspoken conversation passing between them, before her father stood up and crossed the room to where she stood. He reached out and squeezed her upper arms in a gesture that, coming from him, was meant to be reassuring.
Violet could feel the panic rising within her.
“What?” she wondered aloud, looking past her father to her mom, knowing that her mother had never been good at hiding things from her. Her mom was as incapable of disguising her thoughts and feelings as her dad was good at concealing his.
“Sit down, Vi. We need to talk,” her mom instructed, brushing past her husband and pulling her daughter toward the sofa.
Violet didn’t fight her. “What?” she asked again. This time her voice felt like a hoarse whisper being ripped from her throat as she pled with them to tell her what this was all about.
Her mom spoke first. “It’s Hailey McDonald…she’s been missing since last night.” She sat next to her daughter and put her arm around her. “Her mom called Uncle Stephen in the middle of the night last night to say that Hailey never made it home. They’ve checked everywhere they could think of…at all of her friends’ houses, the places where she was last seen… and no one knows where she could be.”