Read When They Fade Online

Authors: Jeyn Roberts

When They Fade

BOOK: When They Fade
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THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2016 by Jeyn Roberts

Cover photograph (girl) © 2016 Terry Vine/Getty Images

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Roberts, Jeyn, author.

Title: When they fade / Jeyn Roberts.

Description: First edition. | New York : Alfred A. Knopf, [2016] | Summary: “Brutally murdered in the early 1970s, Molly can fade back to earth for a few fleeting moments as a teenage hitchhiker who can see the future. When Tatum, bullied at school and dumped by her best friend, picks up Molly and hears ‘You're going to die. It will hurt and you'll be alone. And no one will help you,' Tatum and Molly must figure out how to help the other in order to save themselves.” —Provided by publisher

Identifiers: LCCN 2016001074 (print) | LCCN 2016026347 (ebook) | ISBN 978-0-385-75413-2 (trade) | ISBN 978-0-385-75415-6 (ebook)

Subjects: | CYAC: Ghosts—Fiction. | Bullying—Fiction. | Love—Fiction. | Horror stories. | BISAC: JUVENILE FICTION / Horror & Ghost Stories. | JUVENILE FICTION / Love & Romance. | JUVENILE FICTION / Social Issues / Bullying.

Classification: LCC PZ7.R54317 Wh 2016 (print) | LCC PZ7.R54317 (ebook) | DDC [Fic]—dc23

Ebook ISBN 9780385754156

Random House Children's Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v4.1

ep

For Jasmine.

One more time through the cracks.

MOLLY

When I died…

•
I was sixteen.

•
I was in love.

•
It was the spring of 1970.

•
Until the very end, I thought I'd live forever.

•
My death wasn't peaceful or bittersweet. I never saw a white light. I didn't pass away quietly in my sleep. My family was thousands of miles away.

•
My death was pain. Fear. Helplessness. Begging.

•
I knew my killer.

•
My death was slow.

•
I didn't see my life flash before my eyes. I didn't see my grandmother, my aunt, or my pet hamster that died when I was seven. I didn't think about the things I still had yet to do. The places I hadn't seen. The people I should have forgiven. All I could think about was how stupid I was.

•
I wish I could have talked to my father one last time or at least written him a letter.

•
Such a foolish, foolish girl.

•
Now I'm dead.

•
I'm not in heaven.

* * *

My name is Molly.

The lake is neither cool nor warm. If I had to define it as something, I guess I'd say it's average. It's never overheated or chilled. Never boiling or frozen. I haven't waded into its depths, but once I reached down and ran my fingers along its surface. The water felt foreign against my skin. Different. Not the way water is supposed to feel. I remember childhood, jumping from the dock at my grandparents' cottage. That heart-stopping moment when cold water meets hot skin. Gasping. Giggling. Screaming at my brother for pushing me in. I miss that.

I'm not even sure if I have a body temperature to worry about anymore.

I miss a lot of things.

The way an apple tastes when you first bite into it. The sweet, juicy flesh that explodes across your tongue. The stickiness that tickled my hands. I used to wipe my juice-covered fingers on Julian's lips so I could have an excuse to kiss him. I miss the times I stayed up so late, the sun began to peek through the shadows. The world smells best first thing in the morning. Clean and crisp, like walking on a mountaintop. Like a newborn baby. Before the heat, traffic, shops, and people add their own scents to the air. Before everyone's love, pain, boredom, happiness, sadness, and a thousand other emotions add to the earth's gravity and weigh everything down.

I miss music. The freedom it represented, the bass vibrating through my stomach, and especially the way it got beneath my skin and made me glow. Dancing. Spinning, twisting, arms spread out, toes stepping on top of each other, imagining every dream there ever was. Falling down. Laughing.

I miss the way Julian used to hold me, as if nothing mattered in the world other than the two of us simply existing. Sitting out in a field, covered in that old blanket of his, red and white like a checkerboard, smelling faintly like horses. We'd watch the sun set. Listen to the crickets serenading each other in the grass. I'd press my head against his chest, feeling the warmth of his skin beneath his shirt. Taking my hand in his, he'd whisper into my ear. He'd pull me close just to hear each breath I'd take.

I miss love.

All those things are memories.

But not forgotten. Never forgotten.

In this world, nothing changes. The lake spreads out before us, a gigantic body of brilliant blue. The water might be deep or it might be shallow. No one ever goes in. It's clear and practically unmoving, except for the gentle lapping of waves against the pebbles that make up the shoreline. I've never seen whitecaps or even driftwood. There are no storms or even soft breezes.

We are deep in the valley of nonexistence. Mountains enclose us; bold, bare rocks stretch upward toward a solid blue sky that never turns dark. No clouds. There are trees—thousands, if not millions, of silent sentinels: pine, red cedar, Douglas fir, and dozens of others. I couldn't possibly identify them all. They never change colors because seasons don't exist. No wild animals, either. No eagles scanning the ground for dinner as their gigantic wings spread outward in a straight line. No squirrels, with their big baby eyes, hoarding nuts. No fish. No spiders. Not even an ant to crawl across my skin.

Sometimes when Parker is bored, he'll try and go for a walk. But he always comes out the exact same place he enters, and he's never sure how he manages to go in such a roundabout way.

We live on the shore of our lake. There are no houses because we don't need to go inside. No one sleeps or even rests their eyes. Our bodies are never exhausted. They don't age, get worn, change from the climate, or even get paper cuts. No one ever falls ill from a cold or flu. No burst appendixes or severed limbs.

We don't eat or drink. No one ever complains about being hungry because such things are in the living past.

We are ageless.

Perfect.

So is our world.

Parker says that sometimes things do change. The décor, for example, wasn't always the black metal benches with their curls and fancy designs. Thin, French-style patio tables with bright-colored parasols give the place a dated, early-1900s feel. Patio lanterns made of tissue paper are strung from the pines—useless, since the small candles inside have never been lit. Parker says that one day the tables were simply there, replacing the wooden benches that preceded them.

Just like the sparse outdoor furniture, we are outdated too. Most of us are still wearing the clothing we died in. Parker wears his lounge suit and bowler hat. The jacket rests on a tree stump, and a long time ago he rolled his shirtsleeves up and unbuttoned his collar because I told him he looked too uptight. What I'd really like to do is convince him to grow his hair long so I could weave it with flowers. I'd like to run my fingers through it and feel its thick coarseness. Sometimes I think I'd like to kiss him. But hair no longer grows, and there are no blooms around to be picked. And love is just a memory to prove I was once alive.

I sit on a wood log with Parker and sometimes Mary. She wears her corset and often complains how hard it is to breathe. But of course she's simply exaggerating. She no longer needs air. She once tried to rip away the layers of her long dress, exposing her legs for everyone to see. But she had a change of heart, and in the blink of an eye, everything returned to normal.

As for me, I wear the clothes I died in: a yellow peasant blouse and a long white cotton skirt. Thankfully, the bloodstains are gone. My feet are in sandals, and I have beads around my neck. They annoy me sometimes, the way they clack when I move. It makes the others notice. It makes
me
notice. I'd take them off, but without them I'd feel wrong.

On my finger is the silver band with the tiny diamond, the last thing Julian gave me before I died. His promise to take care of me forever. To love me until death did us part.

Sometimes I wonder if he looks up at the sky and thinks about me. Maybe late at night he wakes from a dream with my name on his lips. Or he'll see something that helps him remember, sending a brilliant flashback to an older time and place. Would such things still make his heart ache? Did he ever come to terms with what happened to me? Did he find a new love? Sometimes I worry that he's passed on and found his own lake. Wherever he is, he's not here.

Because we are in a certain type of afterlife.

We are the restless. We are the dead.

And as far as I can tell, there's no way out.

TATUM

I've got a secret!

Evil words. Evil. Evil. Evil.

Tatum shouldn't have listened. She should have told Claudette that she was busy and didn't have time for such trivial things. She should have worried about the D she'd gotten in biology, or about her mother complaining that she never made her bed anymore. But she didn't. No, she allowed Claudette to tell her the secret. She wanted to hear it. And it was quite shocking. Tatum giggled at first. Then she blushed and gasped at every word. But when the laughing turned to concern, and then to fear, she still had to hear every single last word.

So why hadn't anyone listened to her?

The words are waiting for her on her locker. Bright red lipstick, from the looks of it.

SNITCH

BITCH

Nice.

She could spend time wondering who did it, but the effort would be fruitless. There are sixteen girls in her grade, and every single one of them hates her. At least half of them wear red lipstick. She's pretty sure most of them can read and write. Even if she managed to thin the herd and come up with a name, she's positive none of the school officials would do anything. They'd just frown and tell her to head to her next class.

So she grabs tissues from her locker and wipes off the words, ignoring the laughter from down the hall as Graham Douglas and his ogre friends watch her. Sweat beads on her forehead and she wipes that away too, but with the back of her hand. Her mousy brown hair falls into her eyes, and she doesn't bother brushing it away.

Tatum drops the tissues in her purse even though there's a garbage bin just a few feet away. She won't turn her back on her open locker. The last time she did that, they stole her car keys. Then her car. And when it was found, her father screamed at her for the four hundred dollars he'd have to pay to paint over the words they'd scraped across her hood.

Words much worse than
snitch
and
bitch.

“It's your own damned fault, and you're paying me back for all of this.”

“You're going to blame me for their vandalism?” At that point only a few weeks had gone by, and Tatum still didn't quite understand her new world. Her father, of all people, should still have been on her side.

But he'd only looked at her and frowned. “You opened your big mouth and told stories. You brought this on yourself.”

That was the final realization: No one believed her. Not even her own father.

The worst part? She was telling the truth.

Tatum grabs her books for the final class of the day and slams her locker. She looks up just in time to see Claudette barreling down on her. The bigger girl slams her shoulder into Tatum, knocking her books from her hands. Her pencil case bursts open, sending pencils and pens spiraling across the tiles. Kids begin to kick them.

“Oops.”

Tatum ignores Claudette, reaching down to collect her items. She doesn't even bother with half the pens; she refuses to spend more time than necessary on her knees. She can always get new ones. There's no point in trying to stand up for herself. All the fight inside her is gone.

Best to just try and get through the next few months. Then high school will be over and she can move on. Preferably somewhere far away where she never has to see Claudette or Mr. Paracini ever again.

* * *

Someone let the air out of her back tires again.

Tatum doesn't bother to look around to see if the guilty party is watching. They're all watching. She's used to it. Tossing her backpack into the passenger seat, she goes around to the back and opens the trunk, grabs the air-compressor pump she purchased a few weeks ago. Ignoring a few nasty shouts from some sophomore girls, she starts the ignition and plugs the cord into the cigarette lighter.

Only two tires flat. She should be thankful. Most of the time they do all four. They must have been in a hurry.

When she reaches down to attach the valve to the tire, she pulls back her hand in surprise. The smell reaches her nose as drops of liquid drip off her fingers and onto her shirt. Someone's urinated all over the tire.

“Wet yourself, bitch?”

Tatum looks but can't tell who spoke the words. The parking lot is full of students, most of whom are glaring at her. No one bothers to hide the fact that they hate her.

Graham and some of his buddies are standing by his car. He says something and they all start laughing. Levi Tessier, a boy who bought her flowers in seventh grade, grabs his crotch and grins. Tatum quickly looks away, refusing to give them any satisfaction.

“Here.”

Her head whips around, arms going up in defensive mode, but it's just Scott Bremer handing her some napkins. His car is parked next to hers.

“Thanks.”

Scott tosses his backpack into his passenger seat without giving her a second glance. He doesn't even look back at her as he pulls out of the parking spot. But the nice thing about Scott isn't that he ignores Tatum. It's that he ignores everyone in general.

Tatum uses the napkins to clean around the rubber valve. She inflates the tires as quickly as she can, thankfully without commentary from the watching group of boys, and throws the air compressor back in the trunk.

She slams the car into gear. She can't get away fast enough.

* * *

Supper is quiet. Mom and Dad don't talk to her much these days. They push food around on their plates silently. Mom occasionally scrapes her teeth with her fork, something that drives Tatum crazy, but it isn't worth complaining about.

Not that it matters. Tatum has nothing to say to them, either. They are traitors.

When Claudette first told her she was dating Mr. Paracini, Tatum was both thrilled and a little disgusted. He was a teacher and married. Yes, he was by far the most attractive man at Hamilton High, and yes, he did tend to give better grades to girls who flirted with him, but to actually date him? The idea was scandalous.

And that was why Claudette entrusted Tatum to keep her little secret.

At first it was fun and games. Tatum covered for her friend, allowing Claudette to say she was spending time with her, in case her mother called. She even faked a sleepover when Mr. Paracini's wife was out of town for the weekend.

“He's just amazing, Tatum,” Claudette told her in the early days. “He picked me up at the Shell station out by the highway. I had to keep my head down until we got out of town, but it was worth it. We spent the day walking around Seattle. He bought me flowers at Pike Place Market. And dinner. Oh man, this place was super cool and totally expensive. The waiter spoke French!”

“What time did you get home?”

“After ten. Barry had to be back before his wife. She'd taken the kids to Bellingham to visit their grandparents. Driving back on the highway, Barry was getting nervous. He was worried that we might see her car. Could you imagine?”

Mr. Paracini, aka Barry, had a wife and two small children. According to Claudette, they didn't get along and hadn't had sex in two years. He planned on divorcing her as soon as he got his boat in the marina.

“We're going to live on the boat. It's a twenty-five-footer,” Claudette said with dreamy eyes. “And we'll sail to Hawaii next summer. I swear, Tatum, you need to find yourself an older man. High school boys just don't cut it.”

Tatum smiled. She was jealous, of course. Any girl would be. Not only had Claudette captured the heart of Mr. Paracini, but she was making all sorts of romantic plans for when she turned eighteen. She was leading the super-cool secret romantic life that everyone else dreamed about. An older man. A really hot older man!

“Of course, we'll have to keep it a secret a bit longer,” Claudette said. “Barry's right. This town is full of snooty old ladies who wouldn't understand. Once we get out of here, it'll be so much better.”

And that was it. The big secret. The one that should not be told.

* * *

Tatum's bedroom has become her sanctuary. Gone are the photos of her and Claudette hanging out at the mall. Gone is the trophy they won when they were six years old and things like sack races were still cool. Gone are the countless selfies of the two of them on Tatum's bed. In Tatum's car. At the rock-and-roll museum. On the trail at Mount Rainier. All of Claudette's clothing has been bagged up and is waiting in the garage if she ever decides she wants it back. Her nail polish and hair bands, all the little things she left behind and never bothered to retrieve. The things they openly shared. The pictures went in the trash. The trophy was broken in two. The friendship bracelet had been burned up in the bathroom sink.

The price of memories that just can't be forgotten.

Tatum sits on her bed cross-legged, her laptop closed. Once upon a time, she spent countless hours on Facebook and Twitter. Playing games, gathering farming neighbors, discussing rumors about who had done what to whom, and basically just having a blast. Looking at goofy pictures and cute kittens. Laughing and swooning over celebrities. Watching James Franco get roasted. Sharing Skype conversations that went late into the night when she was supposed to be studying.

Tatum doesn't bother anymore. She closed her Facebook page ages ago. Claudette started a hate page in her honor. Hundreds of comments discussing how much people loathe her. Some of them are simple: name calling or making up lies and theories to make Tatum look bad. Others go darker: old friends and new enemies advising her to drink bleach, slit her wrists, and drive off cliffs. In the beginning she read them all obsessively.

Claudette Nesbitt:
Yah, she needs to die. Mouthy bitch, jealous of my life. Right? B careful. She might make stories up of you next.

Juniper Hafner:
Yeah, whatevvvaaaaah! She's fat and ugly. Virgin suicide to be.

Levi Tessier:
What u expect? No one wants to fuck her. She's one ugly hoe.

Juniper Hafner:
LOLs. Didn't you date her?

Levi Tessier:
Like 3rd grade. Dumped her ass cuz she wouldn't suck my dick.

Claudette Nesbitt:
Lol. She has no life. Someone should end it 4 her.

Ignore it. Ignore it. Ignore it.

Three more months. Then she'll graduate and get the hell out of Dodge. It doesn't matter that she and Claudette planned to take the year off and travel across Europe together before applying to college. Tatum has the money saved. She'll still go away. A big city is what she needs. A place to escape. Somewhere no one has ever heard the name Mr. Paracini, aka Barry. Once she's settled and far away, she'll find a job and eventually start applying to school. She'll never come back.

Tatum tries to turn her attention to her history essay, but her phone vibrates. She's changed the number twice since all this happened. It cuts down on the texts and late-night hang-ups, but still, they always manage to find a way through.

Sure enough. Unknown number.

Die ugly slut

She pushes the history book off her bed, watches it drop to the floor. The phone vibrates again. Then a third time. She turns it off without looking. Tosses it in her bag. Gets off the bed and heads down the stairs.

“Honey?”

Her parents are watching television in the living room. Tatum passes them to get to the front door.

“What?” She slips her feet into her shoes.

“Little late, isn't it?” Mom glances back at her.

Tatum looks at the clock. It's only a bit after eight. “I've got a bunch of work to do tonight. Thought I'd go get a coffee first.”

“You can't make one here?”

“Not a mocha.” She grabs her coat from the hook.

“Okay,” Mom says. “Don't be too late. You've got your phone?”

Tears blur her eyes, but Tatum won't let people see her cry. Not even her parents. She won't waste a single tear on anyone again. It only makes her weak. And Claudette can smell weakness a mile away.

“Yeah, I've got it,” Tatum says. She shakes her bag to emphasize. Mom doesn't need to know it's turned off.

“Call if you need us.”

Good old Mom. She's never actually come out and said she doesn't believe Tatum. In fact, she spent a lot of time in the beginning defending her to everyone:
Tatum's a good girl. She'd never tell a lie like that. I honestly don't know what's going on with the girls. They've been friends since they were toddlers. You know how they can get. They have their little snits. But they always come back around.

Yeah, except this isn't a little snit. Tatum will never forgive Claudette.

It was good to have Mom on her side. But as the days went by and the accusations continued, Tatum watched her start to hold back. And since Dad's outburst over the car-keying episode, and Mrs. Paracini's threat to sue, Mom's been acting like the whole thing is better off pushed into the closet. She wants to close her eyes and pretend everything is behind them. Now her criticisms are thinly veiled attempts to avoid the real truth.

Are you sure you didn't say something to make her mad? Really, honey. You can tell me.

Don't worry. Once you graduate, no one will ever remind you of it again.

But Mom doesn't know about Facebook. Or the phone calls. The hell that has become school. She doesn't know because Tatum stopped talking about it. Otherwise Mom might try and get involved again, and that's the last thing Tatum needs.

Tatum walks around her car before she gets in. Four tires. Check. Still full of air. Check. No foul body odors to suggest she look for wet spots. Check. Doors locked. Check. No windows broken or insults scratched in the paint job. Check.

Normally they don't bother attacking in her driveway, but she figures it's just a matter of time till they show up with rotten eggs or dozens of toilet paper rolls just to give themselves a good time. There's not a lot to do in Hannah, Washington. Having a car is the best thing because it means getting out. Day trips to Seattle. Hop, skips, and jumps to bigger places where Taco Bells, Jack in the Boxes, and massive outlet stores litter the I-5. Drive-through Starbucks. Twenty-four-hour Walmarts.

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