Read As Dead as It Gets Online

Authors: Katie Alender

Tags: #Fantasy, #Horror, #Young Adult, #Fiction - Young Adult

As Dead as It Gets (19 page)

BOOK: As Dead as It Gets
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“Really?”

“Yeah,” she said, shrugging. “That’s not getting involved. It’s just…talking to someone.”

“If you could ask her where the dress came from,” I said, “that would be amazing.”

Megan reached for my phone and angled it to see through the cracks. “What dress? Okay, I see it. Jeez, what happened to your phone?”

I tucked it into the cup holder and gave her a small smile. “Do you really want to know?”

“Maybe I don’t,” she said, limping back a step from the car. “But I’ll find Marissa and let you know what she says, okay?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Thank you. Seriously.”

“It’s nothing,” she said, giving me a wave and heading for the school entrance.

But it wasn’t “nothing” to me. It was practically everything.

I drove past Surrey High on my way home. The student parking lot was mostly empty, but I did see Elliot’s giant wood-paneled station wagon. Which meant she would be in the
Wingspan
office. Which meant I could stop by and offload the pictures of the sweatshirt for Chad, and not have to worry about getting up early the next morning to do it before school.

Elliot had her laptop open and was busily typing.

“Prop the door open, would you?” she said. “It’s the first warmish day in forever.”

So I propped the door and went to the computer with the card reader.

“So sorry about that rando Carter thing the other day,” Elliot said. “He could have just dropped the shirt off here. I think dating Zoe turned him insane.”

I spun around and looked at her. “Did you just say
rando
?”

“Yeah, why?”

“It just doesn’t sound like an Elliot word.”

“I claim all words,” she said. “I empower them by speaking them.”

I believed it. Someday, Elliot would be president of the United States and saying, “These rando stock market downturns are not going to shake our national spirit.”

“No worries about the shirt thing,” I said. “It’s pretty cool-looking. I got good pictures.”

“Hope it didn’t take you away from anything important.”

“Ha. No. Not really.…”

“Hm?”

“Just…a boy.”

She sniffed. “Sounds like you’re crazy about him.”

My laugh came out like a grunt. “
Crazy
is one word.”

“Remember what I said, Warren. Follow your gut.”

“Sometimes my gut’s pretty rando,” I said.

“Follow it anyway.”

What was it about Elliot that made me believe everything she said?

“But what if following my gut will hurt someone?”

She moved her laptop out of the way. “You mean the boy?”

I nodded.

“At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for you. You can’t live for someone else. You can’t let your guilt define your life.”

“So…”

Her eyes sparkled. “So kick him to the curb.”

I laughed.

“Um…hey.” Elliot’s eyes suddenly went wide. She was looking over my shoulder.

I turned around.

Jared stood in the open doorway.

“Hello,” he said, his voice sounding oddly tight.

“Jared,” I said, getting up. “This is Elliot. Elliot, Jared.”

I watched them study each other and felt the full impact of Elliot’s lack of self-consciousness. She didn’t simper or fawn over Jared. She just nodded at him.

“Nice to meet you.” Her eyes lingered on him for a moment longer than necessary, and then she turned back to her work.

He didn’t reply. I walked to the door. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to talk,” he said.

“I can’t really talk right now,” I said. “I’m working.”

“Yes.” His expression was blank, unreadable. “Right. I see.”

“Um, Alexis? If you guys are done, we should really get started on planning that layout.”

Elliot was standing a few feet away, her arms crossed in front of her chest.

I could feel Jared’s gaze burning into me.

Follow your gut.

“We are,” I said, standing as tall as I could. “We’re done. Jared, I’ll call you later.”

He cocked his head to one side and looked at me.

“Good-bye,” I said again.

He walked away without another word.

Elliot stared at the empty space in the doorway. “Sorry about that,” she said, keeping her voice quiet. “You just seemed like you needed an out.”

“I guess I did,” I said. “Thanks.”

She glanced at me, slightly preoccupied, then back at the door for a few drawn-out seconds. “I know him from somewhere.”

Then she went back to her work.

That night, I sat in my room, able to concentrate on my schoolwork for the first time in forever. At the back of my mind, no matter how bad things got, there was a safety net now—Megan.

Not that I expected her to get very involved. But at least she hadn’t shut me out. She’d listened. And she was willing to help. Even if it was just a little help, I felt a relief I hadn’t known I needed, like someone had been winding a rope around me so slowly that I hadn’t noticed its constriction until it was suddenly taken away.

I could breathe again.

My cell phone buzzed with a text message, and I glanced down. It was Megan.

Working on Marissa,
she wrote.
Hopefully know some
thing 2morrow
.

With a happy little tingle in my spine, I texted back:
Thanks
.

After a while, I put my books away, took a shower, and changed into my pajamas.

I’ll be able to sleep tonight, I thought.

As I climbed into bed, I noticed that another text had come through on my phone. I picked it up, thinking the message would be from Megan—but it wasn’t.

It was from Elliot.

Remembered where I met him. Used to be in Tree Society with his girlfriend. Hiked Maxwell with her once.

Tree Society was a volunteer group that planted trees and maintained the hiking trails around Surrey. Maxwell meant Maxwell Canyon. Elliot talked about it all the time, but she could never convince any of the other
Wingspan
staffers to hike it with her. That type of trail is best left to people who owned special hiking sandals and backpacks that are really just giant water bottles. In other words, people like Elliot.

But what was this about a girlfriend?

I texted her back:
He never talks about her.

I laid down, switched off the light, and stared at my phone, hoping it wasn’t too late for a reply. But apparently it was. Because I was asleep before a response came through.

And anyway, she never sent one.

I was deep in a dream about photography—walking through a strange city with buildings that stretched so high they disappeared into the clouds. And every time I took a picture of one, it shivered and changed into something else.

A sound came from a building behind me—a soft song. I started to walk toward its open doors, but they closed. I would have to climb in a window—

And then I woke up.

My phone was ringing, blaring out the sounds of this beyond-cheesy old song called “That’s What Friends Are For”—Megan’s ringtone. I hadn’t heard it in for-ever.

I grabbed the phone and hit answer, glancing at the clock. It was past midnight.

“Megan?” I said. “Hello?”

“Lex. Marissa just texted me back.” Her voice shook with excitement. “That dress was
Laina’s
.”

Laina. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it.

“Laina Buchanan?” Megan said. When I didn’t react, she inhaled loudly. “Jared’s ex-girlfriend.”

I was still bleary-eyed and fuzzy-brained. Jared never talked about any ex-girlfriends. I just assumed he didn’t have any who meant anything to him.

“Lex, this is huge.” Megan finally got that I didn’t understand the subtext behind what she was saying. “Laina’s the girl who
died
.”

That did the trick. “What? Died? Did you say died?”

“Yeah. In a hiking accident, two years ago.”

I suddenly felt like I’d chugged an entire pot of coffee. “Are you at your computer?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you look up
Laina Buchanan
plus
Henry-Gordon Funeral Home
?”

Typing, then a decisive click. “Yep,” Megan said. “That’s where her services were held. Well, there and at the school. She went to Sacred Heart since kindergarten.”

“Okay,” I said, although nothing was okay.

“What are you going to do?” Megan asked.

“I don’t know. I have to talk to Jared, I guess.”

“When? Tomorrow? You have to do it as soon as possible.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Tomorrow.”

* * *

But I couldn’t wait until tomorrow, which is why, exactly twenty-eight minutes later, I was standing outside Jared’s bedroom window, tapping lightly on the glass. He hadn’t answered my texts or calls, so I’d decided to pay him a visit.

I saw movement inside, a shadow emerging from the bed, and Jared appeared at the window in a plain white T-shirt and boxers. His eyes went wide. Before he could open the window, I pointed toward the front of the house and started running for the front door.

“What are you doing here at this hour?” he asked as he opened it.

“We need to talk,” I said.

“At midnight? About what?”

We were both whispering. I led him into his bedroom and closed the door. He glanced at me, then went to his closet, opened the door just wide enough to stick his arm inside, and pulled out a robe. Then he closed it and…

Was I imagining things, or did he lock the closet?

“Talk about what?” he repeated, sitting down on the bed and switching his lamp on.

I took a huge bracing breath. “About Laina.”

Jared jerked back as if I’d burned him. He looked up at me, practically twitching. “What about her?”

“Why don’t you ever talk about her?” Not the most relevant question, in terms of conducting an investigation. But as his girlfriend, it was the first thing I wanted to know.

He shrugged. “What is there to say?”

“Well, for starters…how about, ‘I had a girlfriend and she died’?”

“Why?” he said. “So you could start looking at me like everyone else looks at me? Like I’m damaged? Like I’m a display in a museum?”

“Of course I wouldn’t look at you that way!” I said. “Jared—me, of all people—”

“No offense, Alexis, but I don’t think you’re as good at hiding your emotions as you think you are.”

I sat back, wounded. I hadn’t meant I would have those feelings and hide them. I meant that I, of all people, would understand why it sucks to be looked at like a sideshow freak.

Jared raised a hand to his mouth and started biting his thumbnail. “So that’s why you came over in the middle of the night? Because you just learned about Laina?”

“Yes,” I said. “But that’s not a hundred percent of it.”

He watched me, waiting.

And I realized—I’d backed myself into a corner. There was no way to take this further without explaining at least a little bit about ghosts.

“How did she die?” When I saw the look on his face, I said, “Please. Just tell me.”

Jared stared at the floor. “She died…beautifully. Just like she lived.”

I held my breath.

He looked up at me, seeing the alarm on my face. “I don’t mean it in some sick way. I mean, Laina was never the type of person to ask
why me?
She believed that there was a plan, that everything had a purpose. So once she knew she wasn’t going to make it, she was in a state of complete acceptance. She was…serene.”

His voice had gotten so quiet I had to strain to hear the last word—especially over the tumult of my own thoughts, which were saying
No
.

No, it was wrong. Just like Phil Corcoran’s death was wrong. The wrong kind of death to produce a vengeful ghost.

Jared continued, his eyes locked onto some invisible point on the floor. “She was staring up at the sky, and she couldn’t speak anymore, but she was praying. Her lips were moving. She never went anywhere without her Saint Barbara medal—protection against sudden death—so she was holding that in her hand. And the sun came out of the clouds and the shadow moved off of her face, and then—”

He stopped himself.

“And then…nothing,” he said. “She was gone.”

“You were there,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “I was there. I was the one who found her.”

“Jared,” I said. “I need to tell you something. And it’s going to sound really strange, but you have to try to believe me.”

He gave me a wary glance.

“I think Laina’s a ghost. And I think she’s the one who’s been going after the girls who are missing.” I swallowed hard, not wanting to look up at his face until I’d gotten it all out. “I think she’s coming after me, too.”

My eyes flickered up to see his reaction.

But there was none.

“Jared?”

“Yeah, I heard you,” he said.

“I know how it sounds.”

“You
know
?” He spun toward me, eyes flashing. “You know how it sounds to have the love of your life slandered—and called a murderer?”

“It’s hard to explain,” I said. “She’s not herself. Ghosts are different. She’s angry or scared and—”

“Alexis,” he said, his teeth gritted, “you need to stop talking
right now
.”

I did.

His hands were curled into almost fists, and he raked them through his hair. His jaw clenched as if he were stifling a cry of physical pain.

“Please listen to me,” I whispered. “She’s hurting people.”

He seemed to slow his breathing down through sheer effort, and I watched—the way you’d watch a lion if you were trapped in its cage.

Finally he looked up at me. “I knew you had issues, Alexis, but I didn’t know it was this bad.”

The air went out of my lungs.

His voice was perfectly calm. “I don’t know if it’s jealousy, or…some sort of bitterness, or just…I don’t know, plain old-fashioned craziness. But I can’t sit here and listen to you talk this way. So I’m going to ask you to leave. Please.”

The weirdest part was, this was the Jared I knew. The Jared who could always coax or convince me to do things his way. This was the same tone he always used with me.

“I’ll go,” I said, standing up. He stood, too, and moved toward me like a sheepdog controlling a flock. I backed into the hall and walked to the foyer, my legs like jelly.

BOOK: As Dead as It Gets
10.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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