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Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.
Care to guess where you wind up after you and your friends help police catch a killer? It isn’t Disneyland.
To my great relief, it isn’t the Today show, either. They called to extend an invitation, but my guardian, protector, and de facto mom Rachel was solidly against it. She didn’t want to have to relive the worst day of her life on TV any more than I did. Thankfully, our fame was distilled down to two and a half minutes on the local news, and a front-page article in the paper.
The important thing is we caught the man who killed my mother and my biology teacher. I stood up to him after a lifetime of looking over my shoulder and being afraid. And, I remembered something, too. A small sliver from that horrible night fourteen years ago.
Now, supposedly, I can go on with my life and just be normal.
How exactly does that happen?
Do I flip a switch, turn a dial?
Today begins the normal last three weeks of my sophomore year of high school. I’m pacing between my bedroom and the tree-shaded balcony that overlooks the street, watching for Journey’s battle-scarred van to rumble into view.
The warm, lazy air makes me glad we’re finally in summer countdown. Soon, I’ll be able to spend my mornings lounging in bed with the French doors wide open and a stack of books I’ve been dying to read.
I check my phone again.
He’s not that late. Maybe only a minute or two. I’m just anxious.
A few weeks ago, I thought I knew everything there was to know about him and he didn’t even know I existed. Now, I’m officially his girlfriend. He said it right out loud in the TV interview. After those words came out of his mouth I couldn’t answer any more questions. But it was worth it.
I’m wearing a new green tank top, which brings out the color of my eyes, and a pair of white shorts. The outfit may not look like that much of an effort, but before I started hanging out with Journey my morning routine was to pick the least rumpled navy blue T-shirt out of the laundry hamper—my T-shirts were all navy blue because that paired best with jeans, and navy blue and denim blend really well into the background.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have a sense of style before Journey. It’s that my normal back then meant not standing out. When a tragic event steals your childhood, and puts your name in the headlines for weeks and months, you become that girl forever. Now I’m hoping that I can quietly morph into just a girl.
The worn-out shocks on Journey’s van squeal as he pulls into the driveway. His brakes harmonize in protest.
I grab my purse and backpack. The small, round wooden heels of my sandals tap out my excited departure on the stairs. I blast through the kitchen, past Uncle Victor, who is camped out at the table with a cup of coffee and some paperwork.
“Bye. See you later.” I barrel toward the back door.
I glance back in time to see him grin and hoist his cup.
The van has added a new, asthmatic wheeze to its soundtrack and the passenger door complains loudly as Journey opens it for me from inside. His hand remains there to help pull me up into the belly of this ancient beast. I slide into the seat and lean across the wide-open space. He meets me halfway and plants a quick peck on my lips.
Our last actual date was prom, two weeks ago. Since then we have been pushed together and separated. We have been interviewed, interrogated, analyzed, and seen by specialists in PTSD. We’ve also been fussed over by family and friends and hounded by reporters. All of this activity has meant virtually no PDA. So now that we’re finally allowed to go back to school and we’re alone, I was hoping for a little more than just a peck.
“Sorry,” he says.
“For the kiss?”
“What? No. Because we’re late.” The transmission crunches into reverse and he pilots the van out of the driveway.
I should just be happy that he’s giving me a ride to school. I’m not exactly on his way. It takes him at least an extra twenty minutes to pick me up. Rachel has offered to buy me another mode of transportation to replace my scooter that got munched, and I’ll take her up on that eventually … but for now I’m enjoying riding to school with the guy who has reclaimed his status as hottest senior on campus.
We ride quietly for a few minutes, each in the silence of our own thoughts, because that’s just how we are with each other. We don’t have to fill every moment with chatter.
“Three weeks and I’m free.” Journey does a quick fist pump.
“How’s it feel?”
“It’d feel better if I knew for sure I got into OSU.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll get in.” I don’t know why I’m saying that. His grades are good, but his application was late.
As he pulls into the parking lot my gaze drifts to the spot where Principal Roberts used to stand and survey everyone’s arrival.
It’s weird. Same spot, new principal.
This one’s tall, probably over six feet, with a back as straight as an ironing board and feet planted in a wide stance. The way her arms are crossed over her chest is more defiant than defensive. Her dark hair is wrenched back so straight that it looks painted on, the tight twist at the nape of her neck an afterthought. A dark band of sharply designed wraparound sunglasses cover her eyes. Her regal, what’s-that-smell expression is the same look she gave the TV reporter when she was asked if she was proud to have a group of student crime fighters in her midst.
Miss Blankenship, our new principal, made her feelings very clear. She is impressed by high test scores. That’s it.
“Can you snag a ride home with Spam or Lysa today?” Journey asks. “I have to leave early to drop my suit off at the cleaners for graduation.”
“Yeah. No problem.”
Am I imagining it or are her eyes following us as we drive by? I must be imagining it, since I can’t actually see her eyes through her sunglasses. Anyway, I get it. Journey’s van is a huge eyesore that groans and squeals. I guess anyone seeing it for the first time would be inclined to stare. I rub the well-worn door panel lovingly. We almost died in this wreck.
“Don’t forget, you promised to teach me how to drive a stick this summer,” I say.
Journey pulls into a parking space, pops his seatbelt, and wraps a long arm around my neck. He strokes my jaw with his thumb and gives me a sultry look through thick eyelashes. “Which stick are we talking about?”
I playfully bat his hand away.
But he leans in for the longer kiss that I was waiting for. At the first sign that he’s pulling back, I gently grab his lip with my teeth to draw out the kiss. Then he does it back to me and we both try to keep from giggling. The warning bell rings as we’re finishing up. We pull apart breathlessly and I catch something moving out of the corner of my eye. Holy cra— The new principal is standing right in front of the van, staring at us through the window.
I jump away from Journey as if we were doing something wrong. “What the heck?”
Journey bounds out of his door with the enthusiasm of a golden retriever. Hand out, smile on. I proceed more cautiously.
“Hi. Journey Michaels.” His charm goes into overdrive. “You’re the new principal, aren’t you?”
She glares at him, arms crossed over her chest. “Where’s your parking pass?”
“Oh.” Journey digs out his wallet and pulls the parking pass from inside. He holds it up to show her. “The little thing that attached to the mirror broke off. Should I just put it on the dashboard?”
“You should go to the office and get a new one. Bring it out here and hang it on the mirror. Then hurry to class. If you’re late it’s on you.”
Seriously? Her lips move but nothing else. I expect her voice to sound flat and metallic.
Her gaze swivels to me with such intensity that for a second I worry that maybe I said that out loud. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t.
Journey barely seems to notice her odd mannerisms. He sways slightly. “I’m on it,” he promises her. “Don’t worry. But I’m a senior. We’re basically done with classes, so it’s not that big of a deal.”
She makes a pinched face. “You won’t walk if you have any demerits on the books. If I were you I’d hurry.”
I’m standing here witnessing crazy train in action when she again shifts her reptilian gaze in my direction. “Why are you still standing here?”
I open my mouth to explain or introduce myself and decide silence is the better option. I hurry off in the opposite direction from Journey. We glance at each other once and share a small wave.
And I thought our last principal was a psycho.
Actually, our last principal was a psycho.
But since there aren’t any other unsolved murders lurking in Iron Rain’s past, we’re probably not in any real danger.
I hurry into the building where my first class is and a group of freshmen girls flock around me like birds on a scrap of bread.
“Erin. Erin. Look what we got. We ordered them from the website where you got yours. They just came yesterday.” They’re all talking at once and twirling multifilament fingerprint brushes like the one I use. The newspaper article mentioned the contents of my supply kit and where I got everything. Which is so funny because after Lysa and Spam and I admitted our forensic activities, our parents extracted promises from each of us that we won’t be doing any more favors for our friends at school. Cheater Checks is DOA.
“That’s cool,” I say. “What are you going to do with them?”
“Lift fingerprints. What else,” the blonde says. “Look. We already did some.” She holds up a white card that’s covered with smeary, black smudges. “What do you think? Do those look like a match?”
I blink and back away. “Okay, so first you need to work on your technique. A lot. Those aren’t fingerprints. They’re black blobs.”
She whips the card out of my hand. “Whatever, it was my first try.”
She moves off with her friends in tow and I head for my locker. Strolling along the rows, I see splashes of black and neon colors all over the place. Geez, what’s going on here? Then I come upon a couple of guys blowing neon green fingerprint powder against the metal door. Some of it sticks, but most of it is going to waste on the floor.
They laugh hysterically.
I pause and consider telling them they’re doing it wrong, but when the second warning bell rings I shake it off and head to class. As I pass them I hear one whisper to the other.
“Hey, that’s her,” he says.
Ugh. No matter what, I’m always going to be her.
I shudder and hurry to class.
Normal. What does that even mean?
Copyright © 2018 by Sheryl Scarborough