“I saw Mrs. Chisholm yesterday,” she concluded. “She told me about you and Emily.”
“Told you...” Hailey’s expression changed. “You mean, you still don’t remember?”
“I’m afraid not. I have some scattered, completely unhelpful memories. At least I sort of knew my parents. And I can see my brother’s face. So far, not much else.” Which wasn’t entirely a lie. “I’m...hoping you and Emily can tell me about the Maddie you knew.”
“Well...of course we will. But how bizarre.”
Nell rolled her eyes. “Tell me about it.”
“But you know your name.”
“I didn’t until a few weeks ago.” She explained about how Colin had found her. “When he said my name...” Her heart still clenched every time she thought about that moment. “I knew.”
“Your parents must be over the moon. Flyers with your picture were posted everywhere. Your dad offered a reward for any information.”
“I’m supposed to do a press conference this afternoon. The police officer’s idea. I’m dreading it,” she admitted.
Hailey jumped to her feet and insisted Nell have lunch before the ordeal. “I can sit with you for a few minutes. Oh! And I’ll give you Emily’s cell phone number. This is going to blow her away. I know she’ll want to see you tonight.”
Nell had a chicken sandwich with a spicy chipotle sauce and a cup of lentil soup that was amazing.
“I always loved to cook,” Hailey told her. “Do you remember...? Um, I guess not. Half the time we hung out at my house so I could bake. The café is best known for the pastries.” She wrinkled her nose. “I guess you can tell I like to eat my pastries, too.”
“Were we friends for a long time?”
Hailey shook her head. “No, only from freshman year on. My family moved here that summer. Starting high school where I didn’t know anyone was awful. You and Emily adopted me right away, though. Emily and I are still friends. Not as close—you know how it is, she went away to college and I work long hours and now she has Jason—but we stay in touch and get together maybe once a month or so. Text and talk sometimes. We got even closer after you disappeared. Where there’d been three there were two,” she said apologetically. “It was actually weird. For a while, we were like rock stars. Everyone was so awed because we were friends with you, and they thought we must know something nobody else did. The police talked to us a bunch of times.”
Nell tensed but tried not to show it. “Did you know anything nobody else did?”
“None of our lives were that exciting. Except after, I thought...” She stopped, gave a funny shrug. “I don’t know. Emily and I hardly ever came to your house, even though you had such a cool one. My parents didn’t have nearly as much money. You’d say things about your mom, but not that much. We both knew things weren’t good at home for you. So at first I wondered if you’d just run away. But then we never heard from you and the police didn’t find you, so I was afraid the wrong person had offered to help you run away, if you know what I mean.”
Everyone, it seemed, had known Maddie was unhappy. Everyone, that is, except her parents, who either hadn’t noticed or didn’t care. And who, most likely, were the cause of her unhappiness.
Hailey told her the three of them listened to music a lot. “Teenybopper stuff. Britney Spears, *NSYNC, Aaron Carter. You had such a crush on him! Do you remember...?” She made a horrible face. “Aagh! There I go again. Sorry, sorry! I keep forgetting.” Her eyes widened even more. “My mouth always runs away from me,” she wailed. “I need to delete the words forget and remember from my vocabulary.”
Laughter burst from Nell. Hailey’s expression made her laugh even harder. Finally, she dabbed at her cheeks with her napkin. “Thank you. That felt good. And don’t be silly. I want you to remind me of stuff. Please don’t feel like you have to watch what you say.” She laughed again. “Aaron Carter, huh? Didn’t he get arrested not long ago?”
Hailey grinned. “I read about that. Please tell me you’re not still into the same kind of music.”
“That’s safe to say. I like a lot of alternative stuff. Seattle has some great bands.”
“Yes! Ooh. We’ll have to share tastes.” Her gaze went past Nell. “But not now. You need to go if you’re going to be there at one-thirty. And I’m getting signaled from the kitchen.”
Hailey refused payment, and they hugged again. This time it felt less awkward to Nell. It wasn’t only the warm greeting. I like her, she thought. We’d be friends if we met now.