Will I feel what Daisy felt when he kissed her under her ear?
Will I hate myself for letting him do it? For needing to know? For risking everything?
I attempt to stifle my gasp—my reaction to his proximity. Nate grins like the boy I used to know as he lumbers to standing.
Like the boy I used to know …
“Be good, girls.” He winks and walks away before making sure I have a pulse. Not very responsible of him.
Morgan and I spend the day in Nate’s bedroom, taking complete liberty of his offer to let me snoop. I’m certain I surpassed snooping hours ago, about the same time I shut off all thoughts of the camera watching me. Flashes of Erica and Daisy haunt me. I can’t let this go.
Something takes over inside, and I tear apart his room and closet, looking for anything to fill in the gaps. When every drawer is pulled from the dresser and dumped out onto the floor, revealing no new clues, I move on to his office. I’m not sure who this woman is inside of me, this possessed demon rummaging through everything, leaving a mess in my wake.
When Morgan’s patience ends, I get her a bottle and plant my ass amongst the sea of scattered photos on Nate’s bed. I need answers, but they’re not here.
I snap my head up as Morgan drifts off to sleep with a tiny bit of milk left in her bottle.
Nate surveys the ransacked room. Wait until he sees his office. “Find what you were looking for?” he says slowly like put the gun down.
I shake my head, feeling defeated. Numb.
“Why don’t I lay her down? Then maybe I can help you.”
I nod, letting the bottle fall from my grip as he takes Morgan from me. A few minutes later he returns, making another inspection of the disaster.
“I need to know how Daisy died,” I say in an agonizing whisper.
Nate gathers up as many photos from the bed as he can at once, sets them on the nightstand, and eases onto the bed, resting his head on the pillow. He stares at the ceiling.
“Daisy’s mom called my house, wondering if she was with me. I hadn’t seen her in over a week.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Gallagher, she’s not here. I don’t know if she told you but … we kinda broke up. It’s my fault. I need to apologize.”
“Sweetie, I know. She was very emotional about it.”
I died inside. I’d hurt Daisy because of my stupid pride.
“But right now we just need to find her,” her mom said.
I glanced at the microwave clock. It was almost nine o’clock at night. I listed off every friend she had, but they’d tried everyone.
“We’re very worried. Do you have any idea where she’d be? A secret hideout? A favorite restaurant? A … new boyfriend?”
I flinched. A real boyfriend.
No. No way. Not in a week. We were only fifteen, but she loved me.
“There is this place we used to go, but I made her promise to not go back.”
“Where, Nate? I’m going out of my mind. My next call will be the police.”
“Come get me and I’ll show you how to get there.”
Mr. and Mrs. Gallagher drove me to the abandoned property that was not really abandoned. I didn’t mention it at first.
“Who lives here?” her dad asked as we pulled in the driveway.
“No one. Or so we thought until …”
“Until?” Her mom turned in her seat, pinning me with a firm look.
“Last week Morgan told me she met the son of the owners. His parents are both dead, so he came back to take care of some things. I made her promise to never come back here … especially alone.”
Her dad flew out of the car without even killing the ignition. He knocked on the door and rang the doorbell, but no one answered. He flipped on a flashlight, aiming the beam into the woods behind the house.
“What’s back there?”
“A tree house and a lake.”
We checked out the tree house and the area of the lake around the dock, but by that time it was too dark to see much.
If I wouldn’t have been such a jerk, we wouldn’t have broken up and Daisy would have been with me that night. The Gallaghers took me home. I didn’t want them to leave me. I wanted to stay with them and help look for Daisy, but they insisted there wasn’t any more I could do.
I didn’t fall asleep until the early hours of the morning. Concern for Daisy suffocated my conscience and heart. But eventually, I surrendered to my tired eyes.
I jumped awake, startled by my dad’s voice and his hand on my head.
“Daisy … did the Gallaghers call?” I bolted up straight, rubbing my eyes with the heels of my hands.
My dad frowned the same frown he gave me when he told me my mom had left us for the first time. Actually, this frown was worse. So much worse.
“Mr. Gallagher just called.” He rested his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. “They found her.”
“Where?” I scooted out of bed, shoving my legs into my jeans and tugging on a dirty shirt. “I need to see her. I was so stupid, Dad. I messed up. I have to apologize. Her mom said she was very emotional after we broke up.” My feet fought with my shoes as I tried to get them on without untying them. “I bet I made her cry. I’m such an idiot.”
My dad grabbed my arm, squeezing it tighter than he did my shoulder. I eyed his hand with confusion before shifting my gaze to meet his. I don’t remember what he said. I just remember how it felt to have my world end—my heart ripped from my chest. My soul shattered.
Nothing would ever hurt this bad … nothing.
Drowned in the lake.
Old abandoned property.
Tangled in the rope under the dock.
My dad’s expression grew more painfully sympathetic as I shook my head in denial. Fifteen-year-old girls don’t die like that. Daisy would never go to the lake by herself. It was a mistake. Not her body. No … no … NO!
Nate’s words rip from his chest—strangled and raw.
I bat the tears away from my eyes while his gaze remains fixed to the ceiling—the past.
“She was murdered,” I whisper.
His head rolls side to side on the pillow. “No. She drowned. It was an accident. They said she must have fallen out of the canoe while trying to tie it to the dock. She hit her head on the post and got tangled in the rope. I don’t know why she was there. She knew better.”
“Nate …” I can’t stop the tears.
He glances at me and snaps his body to sitting, grabbing my head with urgency, eyes wide and wild. “You remember …” he whispers, wiping my tears with his thumbs.
Rubbing my quivering lips together, I shake my head. “She was murdered.”
His brows pull together. “No. Why are you saying this?”
“Doug Mann …”
He continues to shake his head, gripping mine more firmly. “How do you know that name?”
I swallow past the swelling pain in my throat. “He was the son. Wasn’t he?”
Nate’s gaze flits along my face for a few seconds. “Yes. Jesus … tell me what’s going on? Where did you hear his name? What do you remember? Where is this coming from?”
I wasn’t her. I wasn’t her. I wasn’t her. God … whose memories are these, if they’re not Nate’s?
I blink out more tears. “I’m scared.” All these years, my need to feel safe … the harbor I found in Griffin … This is it. This is the fear that’s chased me even when I couldn’t see it—but I’ve always felt it.
A sob breaks from my chest.
Nate pulls me into his arms. “Don’t be scared. I won’t let anything happen to you ever again.”
I’m not her. Nate … no …
He can’t protect me. I’m not his to protect, but my body doesn’t know that as I cling to the familiar home of his embrace. I’ve been here many times before.
Oh my god …
I have been here many times before. Not this body … but somewhere in my mind the memory has transcended time, breeding new life every time Nate touches me. Whatever this is … it’s woven into a part of me I cannot explain—a part of me I can no longer deny.
Who am I?
An unfinished life?
A fractured soul?
Everything hurts. I’ve spent my life trying to find myself. Desperate for a sense of normalcy. I found it with Griffin. I found everything with him.
Until now …
I claw at Nate’s shirt, desperate to feel safe.
“Shh …” He pulls me closer, until my arms are wrapped around his body, face buried into his neck.
I can’t let go—can’t pull away. I’m a misfit puzzle, and some of my pieces fit with Nate. Only he can fill in the gaps and make those parts of me feel whole.
Whole. Can I ever be whole when I don’t know who I am?
This isn’t Griffin’s touch. This isn’t my father’s touch. But … it’s just as familiar. It makes me feel safe and loved. Can I have this and let it simply be Nate?
“Do you remember?” he whispers, resting his cheek on the top of my head.
“No … yes … just …”