Violet would have laughed out loud, but instead she choked on her soda when it went down the wrong way. All three of the girls suddenly noticed her standing there for the first time. She tried to suppress the coughing fit, but she couldn’t stop it.
Jay reached out to smack her on the back harder than he really needed to. “You okay?” he asked, and Violet shot him a deadly look as she coughed into her closed fist.
“I’m fine,” she gasped, barely getting out the words in between her own choking. She nudged his helping hand away and glared at him.
He grinned back at her.
“Hey, Violet.” Alexandra was the only one who actually acknowledged her there. “What about you? Have you picked your dress for the dance yet?”
Violet cleared her throat once more as she nodded her head. “I’m all set, I think.”
“Where are you guys eating that night?” Amanda’s voice had taken on a pouting quality that didn’t suit her at all. “Have you made reservations?”
Violet realized that the girls thought that she and Jay were going to Homecoming with each other. “Oh, no”—she corrected the mistake—“we’re not going together.”
That seemed to immediately cheer up Amanda again, even though Violet was pretty sure that the other girl was already going to the dance…with her boyfriend.
“Really. Violet’s going with Grady Spencer,” Jay told all three girls as he smiled oh-so-innocently at Violet.
“And Jay’s going with Lissie Adams,” Violet revealed to the trio, smirking back at him.
“Oh,” Amanda whined again, sounding completely dejected. And from the tone of her voice, Violet was a little surprised that Amanda didn’t stomp her foot when she said it.
“Hey, we gotta get going, our movie’s about to start,” Cameron reminded Amanda as he reached out and pulled his girlfriend away from Jay. “It was nice talking to you.” He actually said that last part with a straight face, even though he hadn’t spoken so much as a single word to either Violet or Jay.
Violet watched them go, while all three of the girls, at different times, glanced back over their shoulders to get another look at Jay before they left. Jay nudged Violet conspiratorially.
Violet’s eyes widened as she glanced up at him. “What the hell was that all about?”
Jay looked serious for a moment, and then he winked at her. “It’s good being one of the beautiful people, that’s all.”
“Oh my God, Jay, they were practically slobbering on you.” For the first time in a long time, Violet was nothing but amused by another girl’s antics around her best friend. It felt good…not feeling even a little bit resentful about the attention they were showering on him.
Jay laughed, nudging her again. “Jealous?”
Violet almost choked on her drink again. “How could I be? They were acting like complete idiots. I’m serious—I think Amanda might have actually drooled on herself a little.”
Jay handed the woman at the entrance to the theaters their tickets, and after he pocketed the stubs he reached over and took Violet’s hand. It was a friendly gesture, something they used to always do, and it felt nice.
The theater was only about half full, so they were able to find a spot off to the side that was relatively private. Once the credits rolled, Violet’s mind began to wander again, to their real purpose for being here tonight. To catch a murderer.
So far she’d sensed nothing…or rather, nothing but the outlandish behavior of other girls around Jay. She’d sensed no echoes of the dead all evening, and she supposed she might have been expecting too much to think that it would happen so quickly…so easily.
She resigned herself to the fact that this might take a while.
In the meantime, she and Jay sat shoulder to shoulder throughout the movie, and the warmth of him pressed up against her made it difficult for Violet to concentrate. She tried to remember when exactly he’d started to smell so good to her, or when his touch had become like a mood-altering narcotic.
She glanced sideways to see if she could tell what he was thinking, if their casual contact was affecting him the way it was her, but his face was blank, completely unreadable, as he watched the action on the oversized screen.
She leaned toward him and whispered, “I have to go to the bathroom.”
She stood up to go. And so did he.
She gave him a questioning look. “I’ll be right back,” she said quietly.
He followed right behind her.
“What are you doing?” She was starting to get irritated.
“I’m going with you.”
“Yeah, I got that,” she said, her voice getting louder now. “Why?”
He pushed her along from behind until they were out of the darkened theater and standing in the dimly lit hallway.
“I can go to the bathroom by myself,” she insisted, putting her hands on her hips and cocking her head to the side.
“No, Violet. You can’t. I told your parents I wouldn’t let you out of my sight, and I meant it. Besides, until you decide to stop hunting for this guy, I’m not letting you do anything by yourself.” That stubborn set of his jaw was back. “Now, hurry up,” he said as he leaned casually against the wall outside the ladies’ room.
Violet didn’t want to waste her time arguing, so she just shook her head as she opened the door. “You’re crazy! You know that, don’t you?” She didn’t wait for him to answer as she disappeared into the empty bathroom, but she swore she heard the sound of his laughter following her inside.