Authors: Kate Brian
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Social Issues, #Friendship, #Dating & Sex
“Reed?” Amberly said shakily. “What does this mean?”
“I have no idea,” I heard myself say. My voice sounded very far away. “No idea at all.”
THE GAME IS ON
We walked in silence back to campus, all of us together in one tight knot. There was no way I was telling these girls to split up now. No way I was going to risk another one of them—or more—disappearing into the night. I no longer cared about getting caught by the Billings alumni committee or by Hathaway or by anyone else.
I just wanted everyone to be safe.
The whole way down the hill, I held my phone in my hand, waiting for it to sing out. Even though Noelle’s phone was tucked away in her bag, which was slung over my forearm, I willed her to call somehow. Maybe she was back at campus already, which meant she could use one of the ancient pay phones. Or borrow someone’s cell. Or break into Hell Hall and use one of the phones there. Anything to let me know she was okay.
But the cell remained silent.
When we arrived at the north side of Bradwell, we paused and loosened our grips on one another a bit. No one knew what to say, where to go, how to act. The wind whistled overhead, rustling the topmost branches of the bare, spindly trees and all I could think was,
Noelle is out there somewhere. … But where?
“I’ll call you guys if I hear from her,” I whispered, trying to look each of them in the eye. “I’m sure she’s okay.”
No I’m not. I’m not. I’m not.
“Just go back to your rooms. It’s going to be fine.”
Slowly, reluctantly, the group started to disband. Amberly slipped through the back door of Bradwell, while the rest of us broke into two clusters—Kiki, Vienna, Astrid, Rose, Tiffany, and Portia headed for Parker, while Lorna, Ivy, and I turned our steps toward Pemberly.
“Do you really think it’s going to be fine?” Lorna whispered, looping her arm around mine.
“It’s Noelle,” I said, forcing a smile. “When is Noelle ever not fine?”
Lorna smiled slightly, but Ivy shot me a look over her head. Like I should be honest. Like I should tell Lorna how scared I felt. Well, I disagreed. No one needed to feel any more worried and uncertain than they already did. As we approached the back door of Pemberly, I kept hoping that Noelle would pop out from behind one of the shrubs or jump out from around the corner and shout, “Gotcha, Glass-Licker!” I kept bracing for it, like it could come at any second. And then I’d yell at her and we’d laugh and hug and everything would be okay.
But she never did.
Ivy used her key card to open our dorm. Lorna finally let go of me as we stepped into the well-lit lobby.
If she doesn’t call or show up by the time I get to my room, I’m calling the police,
I told myself. We parted at the stairs, Lorna continuing on up to the room she shared with Constance. Ivy and I paused outside our doors.
“Want me to come in for a while? We could wait together,” Ivy said.
“No. It’s okay,” I told her.
Because Noelle is already inside. She’s going to jump out and scare the crap out of me and I don’t want you there when she does it.
I hope. I hope, hope, hope.
“Okay, then,” Ivy said, placing her hand on the doorknob of her door. She reached over and gave me a one-armed hug. “I’m sure she’s fine. She’s probably just enjoying making us sweat.”
“Yeah,” I croaked.
With a bolstering smile, Ivy went inside and closed the door quietly behind her. I turned and placed my hands flat on my door, resting my forehead between them.
“Please just be inside,” I whispered. “Please, Noelle.”
I held my breath and opened the door.
My heart leapt, but it wasn’t Noelle. Josh was kicked back on my bed, the desk light on, reading a folded-over paperback.
“Where were you?” he asked, laying his book aside with a smile. “You cheating on me already?” he joked.
I started to cry. His face fell.
“Oh, hey. Bad joke,” he said, getting up and wrapping me up in his arms. “I guess we shouldn’t joke about cheating, considering how we broke up. …”
“It’s not that.”
I buried my face in his sweater, letting my bag and Noelle’s fall to the floor with a thump.
“Then what is it?” he asked, cupping my face in both his hands and tilting it up. “Reed, what’s wrong?”
How was I going to explain this to him? Where did I start? Should I reveal all about the Billings Literary Society up-front? He was not going to like it. Josh had hated Billings from the beginning, and I’m sure that he was relieved the house was gone. If he knew I’d started it up again, and that apparently starting it up had put me in danger, he was going to lose it.
“It’s Noelle,” I said finally, my voice breaking. “She’s—”
Suddenly, my phone beeped. Or was it Noelle’s phone? I dropped to the floor, scrambling around frantically, dumping the entire contents of our bags out onto the floor. Noelle’s phone was silent. Dark. But where the hell was mine?
“Looking for this?” Josh asked.
He crouched down and stood up with my phone in his hand. The screen was lit up with a text.
“It fell out of your pocket,” he said. “It’s a text.”
He did a double take as he looked at the screen, his green eyes frightened. “Reed? What the hell is this?” he asked.
I snatched the phone away from him. It was a long text, all in capital letters, and as I read it, my insides slowly turned to ice-cold granite.
WE HAVE NOELLE LANGE. IF YOU GO TO THE POLICE, SHE DIES. IF YOU GO TO HER FAMILY, SHE DIES. IF YOU GO TO THE HEADMASTER, SHE DIES. YOU WILL FOLLOW OUR EVERY INSTRUCTION TO THE LETTER, OR SHE WILL DIE. THE GAME IS ON, REED BRENNAN. THE PRIZE? NOELLE’S LIFE.
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