Authors: Lauren Henderson
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Social Issues, #Death & Dying, #Dating & Sex
Scarlet Wakefield 02 - Kisses and Lies
by Lauren Henderson
SETTING UP AN AMBUSH
“Show me something!” Dan says. He’s laughing; his eyes are bright with excitement. I’ve never seen anything as handsome as him before. I could stare at him all day.
But instead, I kiss him. For a few seconds, it’s perfect. His lips are so soft, I could melt into them, and his arms, briefly, briefly, are heavy around my shoulders. My first kiss. I’ve never been this close to a boy in my life. My head is swimming with all the different sensations, the taste of champagne on his mouth, the lemony smell of his soap, the musk of his skin. . . . I’m shivering from head to toe.
I feel like I’m about to faint, and as my legs begin to wobble, suddenly he’s gone.
I fall and I keep falling. I know how to fall, from gymnastics, but this is different, because I’m completely out of control, my limbs flailing. I fall for miles, down a deep, deep well, like Alice in Wonderland. Cold stone around me, cold breeze blowing, an utter sense of loss that a moment ago I was pressed against Dan’s warm body, and now I’m all alone. I land with a thud that knocks the breath out of me, on a soft squish of body, and it’s such a shock that I scream.
And then I realize what I’ve landed on, and I scream even louder.
It’s Dan. He’s lying under me, and he’s colder than the stone.
My kiss killed him.
And the police are banging down the door to arrest me.
I wake up screaming, but I don’t know what words I’m yelling.
My aunt Gwen’s pounding on the door.
“You’re screaming again! Wake up!”
Aunt Gwen tries the door. It isn’t locked, which is a mistake on my part. She storms into my room. I hear her before I see her, because I’m still really disoriented and my eyes are crusty with sleep. I rub them to clear them out. Even that’s hard, as I’m still trippy from my dream.
When I manage to open my eyes, I keep blinking. Aunt Gwen’s a scary sight by day. By night, she’s like a monster from a children’s book. The hair sticking up like a deranged puffball, the warty forehead, the watery eyes . . . Ugh, I just emerged from a nightmare and dropped bang-slap into another one.
“Scarlett!” she yells, though there’s no need because she’s standing right over the bed. “You were screaming in your sleep!”
“I was having a nightmare, Aunt Gwen,” I say, flinching. “I’m sorry I woke you.”
“I have a very busy day tomorrow! I have geography tests to invigilate for the lower fourth!”
Only Aunt Gwen would use a word like invigilate at—I squint at the clock—4:30 in the morning.
“I said I was sorry,” I repeat. “I can’t help having a nightmare.”
She huffs loudly in disbelief. It’s a famous Aunt Gwen noise; I’ve heard students imitating it in the corridors.
I can’t help getting cross now.
“I can’t help it,” I protest. “I really can’t.”
Aunt Gwen knows what happened to me this summer: she knows a boy I was kissing dropped dead at my feet. How can she expect me just to push that aside as if it never happened?
Aunt Gwen huffs again, even louder. She doesn’t care about what happened to me. She just wants to get her sleep. And she hates me.
But that’s okay, because I hate her, too.
“This has got to stop,” Aunt Gwen grumbles loudly. “I’ve had enough, d’you hear?”
She turns and stomps out of the room. I hear her slippers slapping back along the corridor, and the sound of her bedroom door slamming shut.
This does have to stop. That’s the single thing Aunt Gwen and I agree on. I just don’t know how.
“It’s so weird that you started having these dreams now,” Taylor says, pushing open the heavy glass door of the coffee shop with the effortless ease of a girl who does fifty push-ups before breakfast. I walk in and she follows me, holding the door till the person behind her, a man in a suit, can catch up to take it from her. He doesn’t say thank you. Taylor promptly lets the door go, and he staggers back under its weight.
“You’re welcome,” she says to him.
He goes bright red, still off-balance and struggling with the door, and to complete his humiliation, we both snicker as we walk toward the counter.
“I think I’m dreaming about Dan now because I can,” I say. “Does that make sense?”
“Uh-uh.” She shakes her head.
“What I mean is, before, I thought I killed him, right? But now I know it wasn’t my fault he died, maybe I feel free-er to dream about him,” I try to explain.
Taylor, who usually doesn’t go for any kind of deep psychological exploration—she’s an action girl through and through—actually looks as if she’s thinking this theory over. Her heavy dark brows draw together over her green eyes in a frown of concentration, and she shakes her head, making her short dark hair look even shaggier, a gesture she does unconsciously when she’s thinking hard.
“It was a huge deal,” she concedes. “I mean, a guy dropping dead at your feet. I guess the weird thing is that you never dreamed about it before.”
“Exactly! But now I can.”
In the mirrored glass behind the counter of the coffee shop I see the man in the suit, standing behind us in the queue. He looks appalled, and he’s actually backing away from us a bit.
I can’t blame him. It’s not exactly the kind of conversation you expect to hear in Latte-Licious from two sixteen-year-olds, is it? Death and nightmares and blame and guilt? Especially when one of those sixteen-year-olds has just shown how much stronger she is than you. Taylor’s got a swimmer’s build, with naturally wide shoulders, but all the upper-body work she does means that she looks pretty intimidating, and her fleece emphasizes that, making her look even fitter and sportier. Me, I did gymnastics for years, so I’m pretty fit too, but unfortunately, for purposes of intimidating people, I’m naturally curvy, with a layer of fat that Taylor doesn’t seem to have. You’d expect Taylor to be able to chin her own weight; you’d be amazed to see me do it, though I can, easily. So we make a pretty good team, I suppose. Taylor’s the obvious muscle, while I can look all girly and fool people into thinking I’d cry if I chipped a nail.
I look briefly at myself in the mirror. I’ve made an effort today, because of who we’re meeting. I’ve got mascara on, which emphasizes my blue eyes, and lip gloss, and I’ve put on big twisty silver hoop earrings and clipped my dark hair up in a twist that makes me, I think, look a bit older than I am. I’m wearing a V-neck dark pink cashmere hoodie that’s slim-cut and shows off my boobs, and tight jeans tucked into leather boots, to show off my legs. I feel a bit self-conscious, because people are looking at me, but that’s what happens when you show yourself off.
I haven’t dressed up in ages, not even this much. Because the last time I dressed up, very bad things happened indeed. I fall silent as we wait for our turn to order, thinking about how my life has changed in the last six months.
Six months ago, I was at a different school: St. Tabby’s, the trendiest, smartest all-girls’ school in London—though I, and my two best friends, were probably the most boring, untrendy girls in the whole sixth form. Until Plum Saybourne, the reigning princess of St. Tabby’s, invited me to a party.
I thought I was finally being picked out, seen as being special. I thought Plum had looked me over and decided that I was pretty enough to join her carefully selected court of glossy rich Plum-wannabes. I abandoned my two best friends on the spot to join Plum’s court of admirers. What a fool I was—it turned out that I’d only been invited because some boy in their group fancied me. I was a party favor for him.
But at the party, Dan McAndrew, the most handsome boy in West London, captain of his school cricket team, striker on his school soccer team, dazzling as the lead singer in the band that all the girls had mad crushes on, poured me a glass of champagne and asked me to go out onto the terrace with him.
I had had a mad crush on Dan McAndrew ever since the first time I saw him. Of course I went.
We sat down on a bench and talked and drank champagne.
He asked me to do some gymnastics for him, and I walked up and down the terrace on my hands, totally and completely showing off to get him to like me.
And it worked. Because he kissed me.
It was the most beautiful thing that had ever happened to me. And then it was the most terrible, because suddenly he started gasping for breath and then he collapsed in my arms and then he died. Of an allergic reaction. He usually carried an EpiPen, a sort of injection for emergencies, and if he’d had it on him he would have been saved.
But he didn’t.
I was blamed for his death, though no one could work out what had killed him. I was expelled from St. Tabby’s, because Dan’s death was all over the newspapers, and the headmistress hated all the journalists crowding round the building, taking photographs of the pupils. I was sent back to the school my grandmother runs, at our stately home in the countryside outside London. Wakefield Hall. It’s a minimum-security prison for swotty girls. I have to live with my aunt Gwen, who, as we’ve seen, loathes my guts.
It was the worst time of my life. Even worse than when my parents died, because I don’t remember much about that—while I remember every single thing about Dan’s death and the aftermath, much as I try to forget.
And then I met Taylor, and we started investigating how Dan really died, and I sneaked into the apartment of the girl who’d thrown that party—Nadia Farouk—and I worked out that someone had put peanut oil in the crisps I had eaten that night, which meant when I kissed Dan I had peanut oil on my mouth, which he was violently allergic to. Someone tried to poison him, and I ended up being their weapon.
That didn’t go down well with me at all.
In Nadia’s apartment, I read her diary—I know, not exactly a brilliant thing to do, but there was a murder to solve, which I think does justify reading people’s diaries—and in it she’d written that she saw Dan’s EpiPen in Plum’s handbag the night of the party. And that meant that Plum must be involved somehow in the plot to kill Dan.
Taylor and I talked it over and we decided that we needed help from Nadia. So here we are, setting up an ambush for her.
When you set up an ambush, you need bait. I look at my watch to make sure the bait’s not late in arriving.
“It’s early yet,” Taylor says, seeing my gesture. “She’ll be here.”
“Oh yeah. She’s more scared of us than she is of them.”
“Sometimes you sound like—I dunno—like you’re in the CIA or something,” I comment.
“Thanks,” she says. And to the girl behind the counter: “Two lattes, skim milk, easy on the froth.”
“I’m sorry?” the poor Latte-Licious employee says, baffled. She’s a redhead, with lots of freckles, and a nice smile that vanished as soon as Taylor started giving her order, because when Taylor orders coffee, she always forgets that she lives in England now.
“We’d like two lattes, please,” I cut in. “Made with skim milk, if you’ve got it, and not too much froth, if that’s okay.”
“Oh right, no problem,” the girl says, smiling with relief at someone talking English to her, rather than New York American.
“I keep telling you,” I say to Taylor, “the more you try to speed things up by ordering superfast and all New York-y, the more you actually slow things down. No one understands a word you say. And you have to put in a lot of ‘pleases’ and ‘if you don’t minds’ and stuff like that, to be polite.”
Taylor sniffs. “British people are just really slow,” she says crossly.
We take our lattes and find a table, the most tucked-away, discreet table, half hidden behind the sweep of the counter, where no one could possibly see us unless they were walking through the whole shop looking for someone. Ten minutes later, the bait comes in. We can see her, because we’re positioned so that we can watch the entrance in the mirrors that run in a strip all round the walls of the coffee shop—one of the reasons we chose this place for what Taylor calls, in CIA-like terminology, the rendezvous.
The bait goes up to the counter, orders a coffee, and when she gets it, stands there looking hopeless, as if she’s waiting for someone else to tell her what to do. Which pretty much sums Lizzie up. She’s in our class at school, but you don’t need to spend more than ten minutes with her to see that she’s the kind of girl who stands around waiting for other people to tell her what to do. If you told her to jump, she wouldn’t even ask how high. She’d just do it. And then probably complain that it was hard to do in heels, and it had messed up her hairstyle, and could she put down her Pucci handbag before she did it again.
Taylor starts to get up, but I motion for her to stay seated. The mood she’s in, she’ll scare Lizzie so much that the poor girl will dissolve into a puddle of tears on the coffee shop floor. Instead, I push back my chair and go over to where Lizzie’s hovering.
“Hi,” I say.
She jumps without even being asked.
“I’m here!” she says nervously.
“Fantastic,” I say encouragingly.
“Where did you come from? I was looking for you, but I couldn’t see you.”
“We’re tucked away over there,” I say, leading her over to the section Taylor and I have picked out for her to sit—in the middle of the coffee shop, behind a pillar, so that once Nadia has sat down, it will be hard for her to make her escape. We did a preliminary reconnaissance on this place last week, scouting it out to make sure it was a good location for this crucial meeting. It’s a big and busy coffee shop in Victoria, near the big train and bus stations, with enough people coming in and out on a Saturday afternoon so that there are always plenty of free tables. Sure enough, I find a nicely positioned four-seat table for Lizzie with no difficulty at all.