Vee flapped her arms. “All right, all right. We went to spy on”—dramatic pause—“Anthony Amowitz.”
Anthony Amowitz and I had shared the same PE class last year. Average height, average looks.
The personality of a pig. Not to mention Vee had already sworn there was nothing between them.
“I—had a crush on him.” She blushed furiously.
“You had a crush on Anthony Amowitz,” I repeated doubtfully.
“A lapse in judgment. Can we not talk about it, please?”
After eleven years, Vee could still surprise. “First, swear that you aren’t holding anything back.
Because this whole story sounds shaky.”
“Girl Scout’s honor,” Vee said, eyes clear, expression determined. “We went to spy on Anthony, end of story. Just please keep the verbal abuse to a minimum. I’m humiliated enough as it is.” Vee wouldn’t lie to me again, not after we’d just been over this, so despite a few rocky details that I chalked up to embarrassment, I was content with the knowledge I’d been given.
“Okay,” I relented, “back to Marcie, then. She cornered me at Coopersmith’s last night and told me her boyfriend, Patch, gave me a necklace that I was supposed to pass on to her.” Vee choked on her drink. “She said Patch was her boyfriend?”
“I believe the exact term she used was ‘summer fling.’ She said Patch was friends with both of us.”
I tapped my finger impatiently on the table. “Why do I feel like I’m in the dark all over again?”
“I don’t know any Patches,” Vee said. “Anyhow, isn’t that a dog’s name? Maybe she made him up.
If Marcie is good at one thing, it’s messing with people’s minds. Best to forget all about Patch and Marcie. Boy, oh, boy, aren’t these doughnuts to die for?” She thrust one at my face.
I took the doughnut, set it aside. “Does the name Jev ring a bell?”
“Jev? Just Jev? Is that short for something?”
By the sound of it, Vee had never heard his name before.
“I ran into a guy,” I explained. “I think we knew each other, maybe from over the summer. His name is Jev.”
“Can’t help you, babe.”
“Maybe it is short for something. Jevin, Jevon, Jevro …”
“No, no, and nope.”
I opened my cell.
“What are you doing now?” Vee asked.
“Sending Marcie a text.”
“What are you going to ask her?” She scooted up taller. “Listen, Nora—” I shook my head, guessing Vee’s thoughts. “This isn’t the start of a long-term thing, trust me. I believe you, not Marcie. This will be the last text I ever send to her. I’m going to tell her nice try on her big fat lies.”
Vee’s expression lost its tension. She nodded sagely. “You tell her, babe. Tell that cheat her lies are futile with me watching your back.”
I keyed in my text and hit send.
LOOKED EVERYWHERE. NO NECKLACE. BUMMER.
Less than a minute later, her response bounced back.
“Cheery as ever,” I muttered.
“Here’s what I think,” said Vee. “Your mom and Hanky Panky might not be such a bad thing. If it gives you a leg up on Marcie, I’d say promote the relationship full force.” I gave her a sly look. “Of course you would.”
“Hey now, none of that. You know I don’t have one evil bone in my body.”
“Only two hundred and six of them?”
Vee grinned. “Have I mentioned how good it is to have you back?”
AFTER LUNCH, I DROVE HOME. LESS THAN A MINUTE after I’d parked the Volkswagen on the cement slab beside the driveway, my mom bounced her Taurus into the drive. She’d been home when I left earlier, and I wondered if she’d slipped out for lunch with Hank. I hadn’t stopped smiling since leaving Enzo’s, but my mood cooled suddenly.
Mom pulled into the garage and came out to meet me. “How was lunch with Vee?”
“Same old, same old. What about you? Hot lunch date?” I inquired innocently.
“More like work.” She released a long-suffering sigh. “Hugo asked me to travel to Boston this week.”
My mom works for Hugo Renaldi, owner of an auction company of the same name. Hugo conducts high-end estate auctions, and it’s my mom’s job to make sure the auctions run smoothly, something she can’t do long distance. She’s constantly on the road, leaving me home alone, and we both know it’s not an ideal situation. She’d considered quitting in the past, but it always came down to money. Hugo paid her more—quite a bit more—than she’d make anywhere inside Coldwater’s city limits. If she quit, several sacrifices would have to be made, starting with selling the farmhouse.
Since every memory I had of my dad was wrapped up in the house, you could say I was sentimental about it.
“I turned him down,” Mom said. “I told him I’m going to need to find a job that doesn’t require me to leave home.”
“You told him what?” My surprise wore off quickly, and I felt alarm creep into my tone. “You’re quitting? Have you found a new job? Does this mean we’re going to have to move?” I couldn’t believe she’d made this decision without me. In the past, we had always taken the same stance: Moving was out of the question.
“Hugo said he’d see what he can do about giving me a local position, but not to get my hopes up.
His secretary has been working for him for years and does her job well. He’s not going to let her go just to keep me happy.”
I stared at the farmhouse, stunned. The thought of another family living inside its walls made my stomach roll. What if they remodeled? What if they gutted my dad’s study and tore out the cherry floors we’d installed together? And what about his bookshelves? They weren’t perfectly straight, but they’d been our first genuine attempt at woodworking. They had character!
“I’m not worried about selling yet,” Mom said. “Something will come up. Who knows? Maybe Hugo will realize he needs two secretaries. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.” I turned on her. “Are you so casual about quitting because you’re counting on marrying Hank and having him bail us out?” The cynical observation sprang out before I could stop it, and I immediately felt a wrench of guilt. This kind of rudeness was beneath me. But I’d spoken from that hollow place of fear that hid deep in my chest and overruled all.
Mom’s entire posture went stiff. Then she clicked off through the garage, punching the button that automatically lowered the door behind her.
I stood in the driveway a moment, torn between wanting to go straight inside and apologize, and growing fear over her easy avoidance of my question. So that was that. She was dating Hank with every intention of marrying him. She was doing the very thing Marcie had accused her of: thinking of the money. I knew our finances were tight, but we’d survived, hadn’t we? I resented my mom for stooping so low, and I resented Hank for giving her a choice other than making do with me.
Dropping back into the Volkswagen, I drove across town. I was going fifteen over, but for once, I didn’t care. I didn’t have a destination in mind—I simply wanted to put distance between me and my mom. First Hank, and now her job. Why did I feel like she kept making decisions without consulting me?
When the entrance to the highway appeared in the lane ahead, I hung right and followed it to the coast. I took the last exit before Delphic Amusement Park and followed signs to the public beaches.
This stretch of coast saw far less traffic than the southern beaches of Maine. The coastline was rocky, and evergreens sprang up just out of reach of high tide. Instead of tourists with beach towels and picnic baskets, I saw a lone hiker and a dog chasing seagulls.
Which was exactly what I wanted. I needed time alone to cool down.
I jerked the Volkswagen curbside. In the rearview mirror, a red muscle car glided in behind me. I vaguely remembered seeing it on the highway, always hanging a few cars back. The driver probably wanted to squeeze in one last trip to the beach before the weather changed for the worse.
I jumped the guardrail and climbed down the rocky embankment. The air was cooler than it had been in Coldwater, and a steady wind pummeled my back. The sky was more gray than blue, and hazy. I stayed above the reach of the waves, scaling the higher rocks. The terrain grew increasingly difficult to navigate, and I kept my concentration glued on careful foot placement rather than my latest fight with my mom.
My boot slipped on a rock, and I went down, landing awkwardly on my side. Muttering under my breath, I regained my footing, and that was when a large shadow fell over me. Taken by surprise, I flipped around. I recognized the driver from the red muscle car. He was taller than average and had a year or two on me. His hair was cut utilitarian short, with sandy-brown eyebrows and a touch of hair at his chin. By the fit of his sweatshirt, he hit the gym regularly.
“About time you left your house,” he said, glancing around. “I’ve been trying to get you alone for days.”
I pushed to my feet, balancing on a rock. I searched his face for familiarity, but the lights didn’t come on. “I’m sorry, do we know each other?”
“Do you think you were followed?” His eyes continued to rove the coastline. “I tried to keep tabs on all the cars, but I might have missed one. It would have helped if you’d circled the block before parking.”
“Uh, I honestly have no idea who you are.”
“That’s a strange thing to say to the guy who bought the car you drove here in.” A moment ticked by before I wrapped my head around his words. “Wait. You’re—Scott Parnell?” Even though it had been years, the similarities were there. The same dimple in his cheek. The same hazel eyes. More recent additions included the scar across his cheekbone, the five o’clock shadow, and the juxtaposition of a full, sensuous mouth with sculpted, symmetrical features.
“I heard about your amnesia. Rumors are true, then? Looks like it’s as bad as they say.” My, my, wasn’t he optimistic. I crossed my arms over my chest and said coolly, “While we’re on the subject, maybe now’s a good time to tell me why you ditched the Volkswagen at my house the night I disappeared. If you know about my amnesia, surely you’ve heard I was kidnapped.”
“The car was an apology for being a jerk.” His eyes still flicked over the trees. Who was he so worried had followed us?
“Let’s talk about that night,” I stated. Out here all alone didn’t seem like the best place to have this conversation, but my determination to get answers won out. “It seems we were both shot by Rixon earlier that night. That’s what I told the police. You, me, and Rixon alone in the fun house. If Rixon even exists. I don’t know how you pulled it off, but I’m starting to think you invented him. I’m starting to think you shot me and needed someone else to blame. Did you force me to give Rixon’s name to the police? And next question, did you shoot me, Scott?”