About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The egg-shaped timer was on the welcome mat when she came home.
Haley Whitehall glanced over her shoulder, as if expecting someone behind her. Far in the distance, a red combine rolled through the sallow cornfields. Her father. Harvest time. Her mother was still at work, too, a dental technician at the only practice in town. Which one of them had left it here? The decaying porch boards sagged and splintered beneath Haley’s shifting weight as she picked up the timer. It rattled in her hand. The day had been cold, but the plastic eggshell was warm. Faintly so.
Her phone rang. It was Brooke, of course.
“How’s the blood?” Haley asked.
Her best friend groaned. “A nightmare.”
Haley went inside, and the screen door banged closed behind her. “Any chance that means Ms. Colfax will drop it?” She marched straight to the kitchen, slinging her backpack onto its black-and-white checkerboard floor. Sustenance. This afternoon’s rehearsal had been particularly grueling.
“Never.” Brooke snorted. “She’ll never drop it. Who needs common sense when you have ambition?”
Haley set the timer back on the countertop—where it belonged—and opened the refrigerator. “Normally, I’d argue for ambition. But. I’m really not looking forward to being drowned in corn syrup.”
“If I had the money, I’d buy the professional-grade stuff myself. Cleaning up the auditorium will be hell, even with all the tarps and plastic sheeting.”
Most theatrical productions of Sweeney Todd used at least some amount of fake blood—razors with hidden squeeze bulbs, gel capsules in the mouth, false clothing-fronts to conceal bloodstained doubles underneath. Additional mayhem could be implied with red curtains or red lights or a frenzied crescendo of screaming violins.
Unfortunately, their high school’s musical director, Ms. Colfax, had an unquenchable zeal for drama by all its definitions. Last year’s production of Peter Pan, for which she’d rented actual flying harnesses all the way from New York City, had resulted in the broken bones of both Wendy and Michael Darling. This year, Ms. Colfax didn’t just want the demon barber to slit his customers’ throats. She wanted to shower the first three rows with their blood. She referred to this section of the auditorium as the “Splatter Belt.”
Brooke was the stage manager. An honor, for sure, but it came with the impossible task of trying to steer Ms. Colfax toward sanity.
It wasn’t going well.
Haley held the phone to her ear with her shoulder as she loaded her arms with packages of deli-sliced turkey and provolone, a bag of prewashed lettuce, and jar of Miracle Whip. “Shayna must be flipping her shit.”
“Shayna is definitely flipping her shit,” Brooke said.
Shayna was their temperamental—often volatile—costume designer. It was hard enough to find decent costumes in rural Nebraska with a budget of zero, but now she had to deal with bloodstain removal on top of it.
“Poor Shayna.” Haley dumped the ingredients onto the counter. She grabbed the closest loaf of bread, wheat with some kind of herb, which her mother had baked the night before. Her mother baked to relax. She used a bread maker, but still. It was nice.
“Poor Brooke,” Brooke said.
“Poor Brooke,” Haley agreed.
“And how was Jonathan today? Any better?”
Haley hesitated. “You didn’t hear him?”
“I was running splatter tests in the parking lot.”
Haley was playing Mrs. Lovett, and Shayna’s boyfriend Jonathan was playing Sweeney, the female and male leads. Still only a junior, Haley had been getting leads in drama club and solos in show choir for the last two years. Both a performer and powerful contralto, she was simply better than her peers. A natural. Impossible to overlook.
Jonathan was . . . above average. And he was charismatic, which helped his stage presence. However, this particular musical was well beyond his capabilities. He’d been struggling with “Epiphany,” his most challenging solo song, for weeks. His transitions held all the smoothness of someone stumbling across a bull snake in a tool shed, but even those were nothing compared to the way that he’d been massacring his duets.
Brooke seemed to sense Haley’s reluctance to gossip. “Oh, come on. If you don’t spill, you’ll only make me feel guilty for venting about everybody else.”
“It’s just . . .” Haley spread a gloppy coat of Miracle Whip onto the bread and then tossed the dirty butter knife into the sink. She’d wash it off later. “We spent the entire rehearsal on ‘A Little Priest.’ And not even the whole thing! The same few bars, over and over and over. For two freaking hours.”
“You know that part where we sing different lines simultaneously? And our voices are supposed to be, like, tumbling over each other in excitement?”
“When Sweeney finally figured out that Mrs. Lovett wants to dispose of his victims by baking their flesh into her pies?” Brooke’s voice was a wicked grin.
“It was a disaster.” Haley carried her plate into the living room, but she didn’t sit. She paced. “I don’t think Jonathan can do it. I mean, I seriously think his brain can’t do it. He can sing in unison, he can sing harmony—”
“Sort of,” Haley conceded. “But if someone else is singing different words? He keeps stopping and restarting. Like he’s trying to work through an aneurysm.”
“It’s why I left early. I felt like such a bitch, but God. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“No one would ever call you a bitch.”
Haley swallowed a huge bite of turkey. It was a balancing act—cradling the phone, holding the plate, eating the sandwich, pacing the room—but she didn’t notice. She was worried. “Jonathan would.”
“Jonathan shouldn’t have gotten the part.”
“Do you think I should call him and apologize?”
“No. No. Why?”
“For being short with him.”
“It’s not your fault he can’t handle Sondheim.”
This was true, but Haley still felt ashamed for getting so frustrated. For walking out of rehearsal. She plopped onto the ancient corduroy couch, one of the many relics from when the farmhouse had belonged to her grandparents, and sighed. Brooke said something else in best-friend solidarity, but Haley’s phone chose that moment to do its usual thing.
“What’d you say? My connection is going in and out.”
“So call me from the landline.”
Haley glanced at the cordless, which was perched on an end table only a few feet away. Too much effort. “It’s fine now,” she lied.
Brooke circled the conversation back around to her current hardships as stage manager, and Haley allowed herself to drift away. She could only hear a third of Brooke’s ranting, anyway. The rest was static.
She stared out the windows and finished her sandwich. The sun hung low on the horizon. It shone through the cornfields, making the brittle stalks appear soft and dull. Her father was still out there. Somewhere. This time of year, he didn’t let a single ray go to waste. The world looked abandoned. It was the opposite of the loud, colorful, enthusiastic group of people she’d left behind at school. She should have stuck it out. She hated the quiet isolation that permeated her house. It was exhausting in its own way.
Haley made sympathetic noises into the phone—though she had no idea what she was sympathizing with—and stood. She walked her plate back to the kitchen, rinsed off the crumbs, and popped open the dishwasher.
The only thing inside it was a dirty butter knife.
Haley glanced at the sink, which was empty. A frown appeared between her brows. She put the plate into the dishwasher and shook her head.
“Even if we can get the sprayer working,” Brooke was saying, their connection suddenly clear, “I’m not sure enough people will even want to sit in the first three rows. I mean, who goes to the theater to wear ponchos and get drenched in blood?”
Haley sensed that her friend needed vocal reassurance. “It’s Halloween weekend. People will buy the tickets. They’ll think it’s fun.” She took a step toward the stairs, toward her bedroom, and her sneaker connected with a small, hard object. It shot across the floor tiles, skidding and rattling and clattering and clanging, until it smacked into the bottom of the pantry.
It was the egg timer.
Haley’s heart stopped. Just for a moment.
An uneasy prickling grew under her skin as she moved toward the pantry door, which one of her parents had left ajar. She pushed it closed with her fingertips and then picked up the timer, slowly. As if it were heavy. She could have sworn she’d set it on the countertop, but she must have dropped it to the floor along with her backpack.
“. . . still listening?”
The voice barely reached her ears. “Sorry?”
“I asked if you were still listening to me.”
“Sorry,” Haley said again. She stared at the timer. “I must be more tired than I thought. I think I’m gonna crash until my mom gets home.”
They hung up, and Haley shoved the phone into the front right pocket of her jeans. She placed the timer back on the countertop. The timer was smooth and white. Innocuous. Haley couldn’t pinpoint why, exactly, but the damn thing unsettled her.
She trekked upstairs and went directly to bed, collapsing in a weary heap, kicking off her sneakers, too drained to unlace them. The phone jabbed at her hip. She pulled it from her pocket and slung it onto her nightstand. The setting sun pierced through her window at a perfect, irritating angle, and she winced and rolled over.
She fell asleep instantly.
Haley startled awake. Her heart was pounding, and the house was dark.
She exhaled—a long, unclenching, diaphragm-deep breath. And that was when her brain processed the noise. The noise that had woken her up.
Haley’s blood chilled. She rolled over to face the nightstand. Her phone was gone, and in its place, right at eye level, was the egg timer.
It went off.
The next morning, the entire school was buzzing about two things: the brutal slaying of Haley Whitehall and Ollie Larsson’s newly pinkened hair.
“You’d think they’d care less about the hair,” Makani said.
“This is Osborne, Nebraska.” Her friend Darby sucked up the last drops of his gas station iced coffee. “Population: twenty-six hundred. A boy with pink hair is as scandalous as the death of a beloved student.”
They stared through Darby’s windshield and across the parking lot to where Ollie was leaning against the brick wall of the front office. He was reading a paperback and pointedly ignoring the whispers—and not-whispers—of the other students.
“I heard her throat was slit in three places.” Makani paused. The car’s windows were down, so she lowered her voice. “Carved up to look like a smiley face.”
The straw dropped from Darby’s mouth. “That’s awful. Who told you that?”
She shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s just what I heard.”
“Oh God. And the day hasn’t even begun.”
A long face with kohl-blackened eyes popped up beside the passenger-side window. “Well, I heard—”
Makani jumped. “Jesus, Alex.”
“—that Ollie is the one who did it. And that he used her blood to dye his hair.”
Makani and Darby stared at her, agape.
“I’m kidding. Obviously.” She opened the back door, tossed in her trumpet case, and slid inside. The car was their morning hangout. “But someone here will say it.”
There was too much truth in her joke. Makani winced.
Alex kicked the back of Makani’s seat with a royal-blue combat boot. An exclamation point. “I don’t believe it. You still have a thing for him, don’t you?”
Of course she still had a thing for Ollie.
From the moment Makani Young arrived in Nebraska, she couldn’t keep her eyes off him. He was, without a doubt, the strangest-looking guy at Osborne High. But that also made him the most interesting. Ollie had a skinny frame with hip bones that jutted out in a way that reminded her of sex, and cheekbones so prominent they reminded her of a skull—the illusion of which was enhanced by his blond, invisible eyebrows. He always wore dark jeans and a plain, black T-shirt. A silver ring—a thin hoop in the center of his bottom lip—was his only adornment. He kind of looked like a skeleton.
Makani tilted her head. But maybe less so, now that his white-blond hair was a shocking hot pink.
“I remember when you had a thing for him,” Darby said to Alex.
“Yeah, like, in eighth grade. Until I realized he’s a full-time loner. He’s not interested in going out with anyone who attends this school.” With a rare and embarrassed afterthought, Alex grimaced. “Sorry, Makani.”
Makani and Ollie had hooked up last summer. Sort of. Thankfully, the only people who knew about it were sitting here in Darby’s car.
“It’s fine,” Makani said, because it was easier than saying it wasn’t.
There were a lot of rumors about Ollie: That he only slept with older women; that he only slept with older men; that he sold opioids stolen from his brother’s police station; that he once almost drowned in the shallow part of the river. That—when he was rescued—he was both blind drunk and buck naked.
Then again, their school was small. There were rumors about everyone.
Makani knew better than to believe any of them outright. Rumors, even the true ones, never told a complete story. She avoided most of her classmates for that very reason. Self-preservation. Recognizing a similarly dismal soul, Darby and Alex had taken her in when she’d been forced to relocate from Hawaii midway through her junior year. Her parents were embattled in an ugly divorce, so they’d shipped her off to live with her grandmother for some normalcy.
Normalcy. With her grandmother. In the middle of nowhere.
At least, that’s how Makani told the story to her friends. And, much like a rumor, it did contain a kernel of truth. It was just missing the rest of the cob.
Her parents had never paid much attention to her, even in the best of times, and they’d only recently separated when the incident at the beach occurred. After that . . . they couldn’t look at her at all anymore. She didn’t like looking at herself, either.
She deserved this exile.
Now it was mid-October, and Makani had been in Osborne for almost a year. She was a senior, and so were Darby and Alex. Their mutual interest was counting down the days until graduation. Makani wasn’t sure where she’d go next, but she certainly wasn’t staying here.
“Can we return to the important subject?” Darby asked. “Haley is dead. And no one knows who killed her, and that freaks my shit out.”
“I thought you didn’t like Haley,” Alex said, pulling her dyed-black hair into a complicated twist that required a large number of chunky plastic barrettes. She was the closest thing their school had to a Goth, if you didn’t count Ollie.
Their exteriors were both comprised of black clothing and thin, pointy body parts, but Alex was hard and aggressive. She demanded to be noticed. While Ollie was as soft and silent as the night sky.
“I didn’t dislike Haley.” Darby tucked his thumbs under his suspenders, which he wore every day along with a plaid shirt and sensible trousers. He was short and stocky, and he dressed like a dapper old man.
Darby had been assigned female at birth, and though his legal name was still Justine Darby, he’d socially transitioned during his freshman year. If their school didn’t like a boy with pink hair, Makani could only imagine how long it’d taken for them to get used to the “girl” who was actually a boy. They mostly left him alone now, though there were still side-glances. Narrowed eyes and pinched mouths.
“I didn’t know her,” Darby continued. “She seemed nice enough.”
Alex snapped in a barrette that resembled an evil Hello Kitty. “Isn’t it weird how the moment someone dies everyone becomes her bestest friend?”
Darby scowled. “I didn’t say that. Jeez.”
Makani let them bicker it out before stepping in. She always did. “Do you think one of her parents did it? I’ve heard in cases like this, it’s usually a family member.”
“Or a boyfriend,” Darby said. “Was she dating anyone?”
Makani and Alex shrugged.
All three stared at their passing classmates and fell into an unusual silence. “It’s sad,” Darby finally said. “It’s just . . . terrible.”
Makani and Alex nodded. It was.
“I mean, what kind of person would do something like that?” he asked.
A sickening wave of shame rolled throughout Makani’s body. It’s not the same, she reminded herself. I’m not that kind of person. But when the warning bell rang—three sterile chimes—she bolted from the cramped hatchback as if there were an actual emergency. Darby and Alex groaned as they extricated themselves, too caught up in their own gloom to register her odd behavior. Makani exhaled slowly and readjusted her clothing to make sure that she was decent. Unlike her friends, she did have curves.
“Maybe it was a serial killer,” Alex said as they headed toward first period. “A long-haul trucker on his way through town! These days, serial killers are always truck drivers.”
Makani felt the welcome return of skepticism. “Says who?”
“My dad is a truck driver,” Darby said.
“Stop smiling.” Darby glowered at her. “Or people will think you did it.”
By lunchtime, Alex’s tasteless joke about the source of Ollie’s hair dye had spread. Makani had heard more than one student whispering about his possible guilt. It infuriated her. Ollie was an anomaly, sure. But that didn’t make him a killer. Furthermore, she’d never seen him talk to, or even look at, Haley Whitehall.
And Makani had studied him a lot.
She was upset, despite understanding that the rumors were exactly that—fabrications created to distract them from the unknown. The unknown was too frightening. Makani had also overheard a group of academic overachievers gossiping about Zachary Loup, the school’s resident burnout. She didn’t think he was guilty, either, but at least he was a better suspect. Zachary was an asshole. He wasn’t even nice to his friends.
Most students, however, were agreed on the real suspects: Haley’s family. Maybe a boyfriend. No one knew of a boyfriend, but perhaps she’d had one in secret.
Girls often had secrets.
The thought churned inside Makani’s stomach like a rotten apple. As Darby and Alex speculated, she pushed away her paper boat of French fries and glanced around.
Nearly all of the 342 students were here in the nucleus of the campus, completely surrounded by brown-brick buildings. The quad was plain. Dreary. There were no tables or benches, only a few stunted trees scattered about, so students sat on the concrete ground. Unwind a spool of barbed wire, and it could have been a prison yard. But even prisoners were given tables and benches. A dry fountain filled with dead leaves—no one could remember ever having seen the stone lion shoot a stream of water from its open mouth—rested in the center like a mausoleum.
This time of year, the weather was unpredictable. Some days were warm, but most were cold. Today was almost warm, so the quad was crowded and the cafeteria was empty. Makani zipped up her hoodie, shivering. Her school in Kailua-Kona was always warm. The air had smelled like flowers and coffee and fruit, and it had tasted as salty as the Pacific, which glistened beside the parking lots and football fields.
Osborne smelled like diesel, tasted like despair, and was surrounded by an ocean of corn. Stupid corn. So much corn.
Alex grabbed a handful of Makani’s uneaten fries. “What about someone in show choir? Or drama club?”
Darby scoffed. “What, like, Haley’s understudy?”
“Isn’t that the person the Masterpiece detective would investigate?” Alex asked.
“Sherlock, Morse, Poirot. Wallander. Tennison.”
“I only know one of those names.” Darby dipped his pizza into a glob of ranch dressing. “Why don’t you watch normal television?”
“I’m just saying, let’s not rule anyone out yet.”
Makani was still staring at the fountain. “I hope it’s not a student.”
“It’s not,” Darby said.
“Please,” Alex said. “Angry teenagers do shit like this all the time.”
“Yeah,” he said, “but they show up at school with an arsenal of automatic weapons. They don’t go after people in their homes. With knives.”
Makani muffled her ears with her fists. “Okay, enough. Stop it.”
Darby ducked his head, abashed. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t need to. School shootings were real. With real murderers and real victims. Haley’s death felt one step removed from reality, because it didn’t seem like something that could happen to them. The crime was too specific. There must have been a reason for it. A horrible and misguided reason, but a reason nonetheless.
Makani turned to look at them, backpedaling the conversation in an attempt to downplay her reaction. “Well . . . Jessica didn’t do it.”
Alex raised her eyebrows. “Jessica?”
“Jessica Boyd. The understudy.” Makani rolled her eyes when Alex smirked. “I only know she’s the understudy, because I heard somebody else say it. But can you honestly imagine her killing anyone?”
“You’re right,” Alex said. “That does seem unlikely.” Jessica Boyd was a delicate wisp of a thing. It was difficult to imagine her even flushing a dead goldfish. “But did you guys notice that Haley’s best friend didn’t come to school today?”
“Because Brooke is in mourning.” Darby was exasperated. “Like I would be if this happened to one of you.”
Alex leaned forward conspiratorially. “Think about it. Haley was one of the most talented students here. Everyone knew that she’d leave us for someplace bigger and better—Broadway, Hollywood. Whatever. She was the kind of person who should be totally stuck up, but . . . she wasn’t. People liked her. Which always means someone didn’t like her. Resented her.”
Makani’s nose wrinkled. “And you think it was her best friend?”
“No one even knew Haley,” Darby said, “unless they were in the drama club or Vocalmotion.” Vocalmotion was, regrettably, the self-chosen name of the show choir. Osborne High only had three respectable organizations: the drama and choral departments, which had a nearly one-hundred-percent overlap, and the football team.
It was Nebraska. Of course their school took football seriously.
“But that’s exactly what I’m saying!” Alex said. “Nobody else knew her. So doesn’t it make sense that one of her friends did it? Out of jealousy?”
“Should we be worried? Are you plotting to kill us?” Makani asked.
“Ugh,” Darby said.
Alex sighed. “You guys are no fun.”
“I believe I warned you this morning,” Darby said, “not to appear so excited.”
The wind picked up, and it shook a paper banner on the other side of the quad. An advertisement for Sweeney Todd. Each letter dripped with garish, hand-painted blood, and two long swaths of dark red tulle draped down from opposite corners like theater curtains. A gust heaved the tulle into the air, where it danced and writhed. Makani felt a chill touch her spine. Her name meant wind in Hawaiian, but she wasn’t superstitious about it. Except when she was. They should stop talking about Haley.
“It’s tactless,” she said, unable to help herself. She nodded toward the banner. “The ‘Splatter Belt.’ Do you think they’ll cancel it?”
Alex swallowed the last greasy fry. “They’d better not. That was the first school function that I’ve ever planned on attending. Willingly,” she added. She was in the marching band, which meant she was forced to attend the football games.
Darby stared her down until she made eye contact.
“What? It seemed like fun!” she said. “Getting covered in fake blood.”
Makani snorted. “There’s that word again. Fun.”
Faux wistfulness spread across Darby’s face. “I remember when you used to collect plastic horses and Pokémon cards, and your life goal was to work for Pixar.”
“Lower your voice, dickpunch.” But Alex grinned.
A back-and-forth taunting of childhood hobbies and idiosyncrasies ensued, and Makani, as it so often happened, found herself excluded. Her attention waned, and her gaze drifted across the quad. It was almost time. Any minute now, and . . .
Her heart plummeted as Ollie appeared from the depths of the locker bay to throw away an empty plastic grocery bag. This was his daily routine appearance. He always ate a packed lunch in an uninhabited nook behind the old lockers, and then he always disappeared into the main building. He would finish this hour in the library.
Makani felt a familiar pang of sorrow. Ollie was so alone.
A small group of football players stood beneath the Sweeney banner, blocking the entrance to the building. Her muscles tensed as Matt Butler—Osborne’s golden boy, its prize running back—said something as Ollie approached. Whatever it was, Ollie didn’t react. Matt said something else. Ollie didn’t react. Matt flicked his thumb and index finger at Ollie’s hair. His friends laughed, but Ollie still didn’t react. It was agonizing to watch.
A meaty guy with an absurd name, Buddy or Bubba, she thought, jumped up and snatched at the tulle, and the right half of the banner ripped and collapsed downward. He laughed even harder as Ollie was forced to duck, but the pleasure was short-lived.
Matt gestured angrily at the wreckage. “Hey, man! Show some respect.”
The outburst carried across the quad. It took Buddy or Bubba several seconds to make the connection between the ruined banner and Haley, but as his expression transformed from confusion into humiliation, he was faced with a choice—either admit to a wrongdoing or double down. He doubled down. Shoving Matt’s shoulder, he set off a furious chain reaction of even more shoving until they were no longer blocking the entrance.
The escalating action held the student body in rapt attention. Only Makani stared elsewhere. Ollie still hadn’t moved. He’d kept it together, but it was clear that the football players had unnerved him. She was on her feet.
“No,” Darby said. “Makani. No.”
Alex shook her head, and her barrettes clicked against one another. “Ollie doesn’t deserve your help. Or pity. Or whatever it is you’re feeling right now.”
Makani smoothed the front of her hoodie. She was already walking away.
“You never listen to us,” Darby called out. “Why don’t you ever listen to us?”
Alex sighed. “Good luck, gumdrop.”
This thing—this unbearable weight and pressure—that had been boiling inside Makani for months was about to erupt. Ollie might not deserve her help, but she still felt compelled to try. Maybe it was because she wished someone at her previous school had helped her. Or maybe it was because of Haley, a horrific situation already beyond anyone’s help. Makani glanced back at her friends with a shrug. When she turned forward, Ollie was staring at her. He didn’t look nervous or angry, or even curious.
He looked wary.
Makani strode toward him in a bold path. She always stood out among their peers. Their skin was several shades lighter than her brown complexion, and her surf-inspired wardrobe was several shades brighter than their Midwestern sensibility. She wore her hair big—in its natural curly coils—and she moved with a confident sway in her hips. It was a false confidence, designed so that people wouldn’t ask questions.
Ollie glanced one last time at the jocks, still shouting and posturing, and pulled aside the dangling tulle. He went into the building. Makani frowned. But when she opened the door, he was waiting for her on the other side.
She startled. “Oh.”
“Yes?” he said.
“I . . . I just wanted to say, they’re idiots.”
“Your friends?” Ollie deadpanned.
Makani realized she was still holding the door open, and he could see Darby and Alex through the tulle’s transparent weave, spying on them from across the quad. She released her grip. It slammed shut. “No,” she said, trying on a smile. “Everyone else.”
“Yeah. I know.” His face remained impassive. Guarded.
Her smile dropped. She crossed her arms, her own defenses rising as they sized each other up. They were almost eye level; he was only an inch or two taller than her. This close, she could see the newness of his hair. His scalp was hot pink. The dye would need more time to wash out of his skin. There was something vulnerable about seeing him like this, and her body re-softened. She hated herself for it.
She hated herself for so many things.
Makani hated that she’d gotten carried away with Ollie, even though she’d been warned about his reputation. She hated that she’d tricked herself into believing she didn’t care for him, when she’d always known that she did. And she hated the way it had ended. Abruptly. Silently. This was their first conversation since the end of summer.
Maybe if we’d talked more to begin with . . .
But that was it, wasn’t it? There had never been a lot of talking. At the time, she’d even been grateful for it.
His pale eyes were still fixed on her, but they were no longer passive. They were searching. Her veins throbbed in response. Why did it suddenly feel like they were back behind the grocery store, preparing to do what they did on those hot, summer afternoons?
“Why are you here?” he asked. “You haven’t spoken to me all semester.”
It made her angry. Instantly. “I could say the same thing about you. And I said what I wanted to say. About our classmates. Being idiots and all that.”
“Yeah.” His posture stiffened. “You did say that.”
Makani let out a singular laugh to show him that he wasn’t getting to her, even though they both knew that he was. “Fine. Forget it. I was just trying to be a friend.”
Ollie didn’t say anything.
“Everyone needs friends, Ollie.”
He frowned slightly.
“But, obviously, that’s impossible.” With one violent thrust, she pushed the door back open. “Great talk. See you in class.”
She stormed straight into the curtain of tulle. She swore as she struggled to pull it aside, growing more and more ensnared in the dark red netting. A thunderous uproar surged across the quad—a chaotic mob of excited, agitated spectators.
The fight had finally broken out.
Makani stopped thrashing. She was trapped, imprisoned even, in this miserable town where she hated everything and everyone. Especially herself.
There was a quiet stir, and she was surprised to discover that Ollie was still behind her. His fingers carefully, gently untangled her from the tulle. It dropped back into a sheet, and they watched their classmates together, in silence, through the blood-colored haze.