Read Shadowlands (Shadowlands (Hyperion)) Online

Authors: Kate Brian

Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult

Shadowlands (Shadowlands (Hyperion)) (16 page)

“Where are we going now?” Aaron asked as I breezed by him and jogged down the steps. My face was on fire. My heart pounded against my skull. I gritted my teeth as I speed-walked across the park, hugging myself against the cold breeze.

“They don’t believe me? Fine. I’ll get proof,” I said, fuming.

Fisher and Lauren were sitting on the edge of the fountain talking, but they both stopped to stare when I raced by, their gaze hard and silent. I almost tripped when I got a glimpse of what Fisher was wearing. Sitting at a cocky angle on his head was a funky straw fedora, one I recognized all too well.

“What the hell?” I said, stopping dead.

Even though they were yards away, Fisher and Lauren got up, as if they’d heard what I said, and started off in the other direction. At the edge of the park, Fisher slipped the hat off his head and held it in front of him, out of my line of sight.

“What is it?” Aaron asked, watching after them.

“Nothing,” I said, shaking my head.

I felt like a series of puzzle pieces were trying to fit themselves together inside my mind. First, the minstrel disappeared and then his guitar strap mysteriously shows up at Tristan’s house. Then, the blond guy showed up at the general store solo, and now his absent boyfriend’s hat was sitting on Fisher’s head. Were the local kids on some kind of crime spree? Stealing random accessories from the visitors?

Unless, of course, the tall guy had given the hat to Fisher. Maybe that was why he wasn’t with his boyfriend yesterday. They could have broken up. He could have dumped the other guy for Fisher.

Except they’d seemed so happy, their pinkies linked, their smiles true. Could they have really broken up just like that?

“Rory? You’re starting to freak me out here,” Aaron said.

“Sorry,” I said, starting to walk again. “I’m fine.” Aaron hustled to keep up with me as I crossed Main Street and hooked a left onto Freesia Lane.

“What kind of proof are you looking for?” he asked me.

That was a good question. What was I looking for? Evidence of the fact that she still wasn’t there? From the corner of my eye I saw a shadow in one of the upper windows of a yellow house, and I walked even faster. In the park, the swings creaked in the increasing wind. Overhead, gray clouds began to gather.

“I don’t know,” I told him. Shaking my head, I shoved open the front gate. “But there’s got to be something.”

“I’ll wait out here!” Aaron called after me. “Just in case she’s there and you two need to talk!”

In case she’s there. God, it would be so amazing if she was just

One fat drop of rain plopped onto the back of my hand as I reached for the porch’s banister, and all of a sudden I was in the woods. Raindrops plopped from slick wet leaves. Mud like sludge under my fingernails. The pain in my gut was excruciating as I lifted the knife and swung.

The front door squealed open, and Joaquin slipped out. I blinked, forcing myself back into the present. Into reality. I bounded up the five steps to the porch.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I demanded.

He looked back over his shoulder and closed the door behind him, forcing me to stay on the porch.

“What’re you, following me?” he asked with a casual smirk.

“No, I’m not following you,” I snapped. “What’re you
here, Joaquin?”

“I just came to check on Olive,” he said, turning up his palms, then crossing his arms over his chest. “You’re right. She’s not here.”

My heart fell slightly. I glanced over at Aaron, who shrugged up at me from the street as if to ask “What’s going on?”

“I’ll be right back!” I shouted to him, reaching for the door handle.

“Whoa, wait. Where’re you going?” Joaquin asked, gripping my wrist. “I just told you she’s not there.”

I’d never liked Joaquin, but this was the first time his touch felt threatening. My palms turned clammy as adrenaline rushed hot through my veins.

“I didn’t think she was going to be here,” I told him, trying unsuccessfully to wriggle myself from his grip. “I just want to see if I can get some proof that something happened to her.”

“You’re not gonna find anything,” Joaquin said with a condescending laugh.

“Can you please take your hand off of me?” I asked, a hot rage simmering just under my skin.

“Hey, friend! I think she said get your hand off of her,” Aaron yelled, starting up the walk.

Instantly, Joaquin raised his palms in surrender. “Sorry, man. Didn’t realize you were her bodyguard.”

The moment I was free, I shoved inside, tore up the stairs to the second floor, and threw open the door to Olive’s room.

It was empty. The bed was made, all the corners neatly tucked and the pillows perfectly arranged. The furniture had been dusted and it gleamed in the sunlight pouring through the freshly wiped windows. There were no papers on the desk, no clothes on the chair. Even the fresh-cut flowers were gone. It was as if Olive had never been here.

I stepped tentatively into the room. The windows were closed and locked, and the air was still and stifling. I stared at the spot where her guitar had stood, as if I could will it to reappear. Slowly, I walked around the bed to the desk. I ran my fingers over the surface, pausing where the letter to her mother had been. The silence was so complete my ragged breath sounded like a freight train. Had she come back to pack up and then left? Why hadn’t she come to see me? Why hadn’t she said good-bye?

A squeak sounded nearby, and I whirled around. The door to the closet was slightly ajar and I could have sworn I saw a shadow slip deeper inside, out of sight. I froze in place.

“Hello? Is someone in there?” I said, my voice cracking with fear.

Nothing. Fingers trembling, I reached for the brass knob.

Another creak. I looked up and saw Mrs. Chen pause just outside the door. I let out a sigh of relief. It was only the landlady. Clearly, my mind was messing with me.

“Hi, Mrs. Chen,” I said. “Do you know if—”

She was so stooped the hem of her faded flowered housecoat grazed the planks of the floor, but the moment I spoke, she started moving again, faster than I would have thought possible.

“Mrs. Chen?” I said.

She ignored me, darting up the stairs to the third floor.

“Wait! Mrs. Chen!” I said, going after her. “Where’s all of Olive’s stuff?” Mrs. Chen stopped at a door and fumbled with her huge set of keys, her fingers trembling.

“She sent for it,” she said.

“She did?” I said, half-relieved, half-baffled. “When? Where did she have it sent?”

“I don’t know.” She shoved a key into the doorknob in front of her. “You need to go.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?” I said as she opened the door and moved inside. I could see a sparsely decorated living room behind her and stacks of magazines piled up under a window, everything from
Popular Mechanics
Cottage Home
. “Did you pack it up?” I asked. “Did someone come for it, or did you have to send it out?”

“It’s not my business and you’re trespassing,” Mrs. Chen said, already closing the door on me. “Now go!”

“No, wait! Mrs. Chen! I just want to know where she is. I want to know if she’s okay,” I said.

The door stopped closing with inches to spare. Mrs. Chen peeked out, her eyes watery behind her thick glasses. “She’s fine, miss,” she whispered, glancing toward the stairs. A chill went through me. Why was she whispering? And what did she mean by fine? Then she reached out one craggy hand and clasped it around my wrist. Her skin was surprisingly warm, and I felt a pleasant, almost comforting flutter inside my chest. “She’s…better off where she is. Now go.”

And then she closed the door.

As I staggered down the steps toward Aaron, everything tilted. I grabbed for the banister and paused, bringing my hand to my forehead, trying to breathe.

“She’s still not there?” Aaron asked me.

I shook my head, not trusting my voice or what I might blurt out, and started slowly past him. Joaquin was gone, thank goodness. I wasn’t sure I could deal with him right now.

Why would she just send for her stuff? Why wouldn’t she come by and explain?

“Rory? Where’re you going?” Aaron asked.

“Home,” I said, staring at the sidewalk as I turned right and started down the hill. “I don’t feel well.” Major understatement. I felt nauseous. And tired. And nervous. And confused.

He jogged to catch up with me, placing a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Let me walk you.”

I sidestepped away. “Thanks, but I’ll be fine,” I told him tightly.

“Okay,” he said, gripping the strap of his bag with both hands. He stood in the center of the sidewalk as he watched me walk away, a confused and slightly hurt look on his face. “Hey! I was going to ask if you wanted to go to the fireworks together later!”

“Sure!” I shouted back, mostly to get him off my case.

“I’ll come by and get you at eight!”

“Okay!” I yelled, quickening my pace.

All I wanted was to get off the street. Get back to my room. Sit down and think. Nothing made sense right now. Not Darcy deleting Olive’s existence from her memory. Not Tristan and his friends’ constant staring. Not the cops’ complete disregard of my fears. Not Joaquin showing up at the boardinghouse or Mrs. Chen’s explanation that Olive was better off wherever she was now. And what was with that storage room in Tristan’s house? Why did Fisher have that guy’s hat? And what did all those Steven Nell mementos have to do with all this?

As I stepped up to the gate in front of our house, a curtain moved in a window across the street. Instantly, all my confusion and terror formed itself into one giant ball of anger, and all of it was directed at Tristan. He knew something. I was certain of it. And I was going to make him tell me.

I stormed across the street, up to the front door, and banged on it as hard as I could. Pain radiated up my arm and into my shoulder, but that only made me knock harder. I was starting to wonder if his nanna really lived there. If anyone really lived there. Or if he was just squatting in the house so he could keep an eye on me. Or on Olive. Or on everyone.

Suddenly, the door flew open, and there stood Tristan in all his tanned, blond, chiseled perfection. His white T-shirt brought out his bronze glow, and when he pushed his golden hair away from his face, it fell right back where it had been, grazing his incredible cheekbones. He looked me up and down with a sort of resigned sorrow on his face. It was clear that he was not at all surprised to see me.

“Hello, Rory,” he said.

“Visiting Nanna?” I said sarcastically.

He simply stared, like such behavior was beneath me. And he was right. I gulped back my humiliation. I was here for a reason.

“What do you know?” I demanded.

“What do I know about what?” he asked calmly.

“Olive!” I said, irritated. “Where did she go after the party at your house? Where did you take her?”

His blue eyes darkened. “What makes you think I took her somewhere?” He started past me, but I stopped him with my hand to his chest.

“I saw you leave the party with her.”

He paused and stared down at my fingers. I couldn’t help but notice how solid his chest was. Slowly, shakily, I removed my hand.

He narrowed his eyes and blinked up at the sun. “We didn’t leave. We went outside to hang out with some friends on the bluff.”

“In that fog?” I demanded.

“Visitors always want to check out the fog,” he said, sounding mildly amused, like we vacationers were some kind of lesser, ignorant subset of humanity.

“And then?” I asked.

Staring into my eyes, he shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “It was a party. There were dozens of people there. I can’t keep track of everyone.”

“Yeah, well, she’s missing.” I said. “And as far as I know, you were the last person to see her.”

Tristan shook his head, looking at some point over my shoulder. “I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”

“Great!” I said, tears suddenly springing to my eyes. He looked down at me, alarmed. “Just like everyone else in this messed-up town. What is wrong with all of you? How come no one cares that people keep disappearing?”

I brought my hand to my head and turned away, kicking at an empty wooden-plank planter near the edge of the front step. I expected Tristan to walk away to avoid my meltdown, especially since it was so clear he’d wanted to escape even before I started crying, but instead he reached out and put his hand on my shoulder. His fingers were so warm I could feel their heat through the fabric of my thin hoodie. He tugged, forcing me to face him.

His eyes were bright. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes,” I said, pitching my voice low like his. “I really want to know.”

“No,” he said with a frustrated shake of his head. “No. You need to think about it for a second, Rory. Look at me. Look at me and tell me. Do you
want to know?”

I looked at him, stared into his eyes, and thought about it. Did I really want to know what had happened to Olive? Did I really want to know what was going on with my sister? Did I really want to know why the guy who’d been playing in the park every morning seemed to have vanished? Did I really want answers to my million-and-one other questions, like why was he spying on me? Why did Joaquin and Krista seemed obsessed with me? And was I going crazy thinking Steven Nell was leaving me random, taunting gifts?

I stared into his beautiful, Caribbean-blue eyes, and suddenly something opened up inside me. It started small, like a pinprick of doubt deep within my chest. But rapidly it grew. It grew into a great, wide, yawning, black hole of emptiness that froze my blood inside my veins. The world around me seemed to quiet and dim, all the colors muted, all the smells going sour. My heart pounded so hard I felt like I was going to black out. I had a sudden sensation that the sidewalk was tipping backward beneath me. It was as if the ground was opening up, threatening to swallow me whole. Stifling a cry, I grabbed for Tristan’s hand to keep from sliding off into the abyss.

The second his fingers closed around mine, the world snapped back into focus. Sound, smell, sight, everything came rushing back. The birds tweeted in a nearby dogwood tree, someone somewhere was mowing their lawn, the scent of frying bacon wafted through the air through an open kitchen window. I could breathe again.

Tristan inched closer to me, almost as if he was pulling me in for a kiss, but stopped inches from my mouth. He looked sad. He looked sorry.

“Listen to me,” he said softly. “Olive has some issues.”

I blinked. “What kind of issues?”

“Issues with…addiction,” he said.

“What?” I backed up a step. Still, he kept his grip on my shoulders. “What kind of addiction?”

Tristan swallowed hard. He looked down at the sidewalk for a second, then back into my eyes. Something was different now. He seemed less sure of himself.

“She’s okay now—she got herself clean—but I know she really wanted to make amends with her mom,” he said. “That’s what she’s gone to do. She’s fine. In fact, she’s better than fine. She’s…moving forward.”

The rhythmic, buzzing sound of the mower grew closer, humming inside my ears. Suddenly, I remembered what Olive had told me that day on our run. That she’d gotten herself better. She must have meant that she’d kicked her addiction. And then the other night at the party, when I’d been so offended that she thought Darcy was doing drugs…I
offended her. I’d offended her with my shock and disgust, because she herself had been an addict. She’d said her friend had blacked out thanks to heroin. That must have been why she always wore long sleeves, why she made sure to cover up her arms. She was covering up track marks.

“I’m so stupid.” I breathed, closing my eyes as a wave of shame overtook me. When I opened them again, Tristan was still there, still holding on to me, still studying my face. “She told you this?” I asked, feeling almost jealous. Olive had clearly felt closer to Tristan than she’d ever felt to me.

“It’s something we talked about,” he replied.

“But why didn’t she tell me she was leaving?” I asked, my voice cracking. “Why wouldn’t she at least say good-bye?”

“I’m sure she had her reasons, but the point is, everything’s going to be okay,” he said firmly. “People come and go around here all the time. That’s just the way it is in vacation towns. I’ve gotten used to it, and you will, too.”

“You sound just like the cops,” I said with a scoff. I turned, releasing myself from his grip, and sat down on the top step. Tristan sat next to me, our thighs touching.

“You went to the cops?” he asked, surprised.

“Well, what else do you do when your friend goes missing?” I asked.

Tristan looked across the street, off toward the ocean, with a small, amused smile. “That must’ve been interesting,” he said under his breath.

“What?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing,” he replied. “It’s like we were saying the other day. Nothing bad ever happens around here. They probably didn’t know what to do with you, right?”

I let out a quiet laugh. “Pretty much.”

“It’s gonna be okay,” Tristan said confidently, placing a comforting hand on my back.

“Yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” he replied, turning to look at me. As I gazed into his steady eyes, the awful tightness around my heart began to ease.

Who was I to think that after three days of friendship I merited an explanation or even a good-bye? Olive wasn’t from my world, and she clearly had problems I couldn’t even begin to understand. It was perfectly reasonable to assume she was the type of person to just bail, and if she’d gone home to patch things up with her mother, good for her.

Just then, Joaquin appeared at the end of the walk. I hadn’t even noticed him turn onto the street. “Everything okay?” he asked, leaning one hand casually on the fence post.

I pushed myself to my feet, still annoyed by the way he’d treated me at the boardinghouse and laughed me off earlier. “I was just leaving.”

“What did I do?” Joaquin asked, raising his hands as I shoved the gate wider to get by him.

“Like you don’t know,” I shot back.

“Rory, wait,” he said, taking my wrist, but much gentler this time. He glanced meaningfully up at Tristan, but I had no idea what he was trying to communicate. “We need to tell you something.”

“I just told her, man,” Tristan said, rising and pushing his hands into his pockets.

Joaquin blinked, annoyance flashing across his face. “You did?”

“Yeah. About Olive’s drug problem,” Tristan replied, his tone pointed.

Joaquin dropped my wrist and crossed his arms over his chest. “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

Tristan jogged down the steps and crossed the walk in two long strides. “Yes, it is.”

“No. It’s not,” Joaquin said with a sardonic laugh.

My pulse raced with curiosity. For a second, they just stared each other down. Joaquin’s nostrils flared. Tristan’s breath grew quick.

of you just tell me what the hell is going on?” I demanded.

“We need to talk,” Tristan told Joaquin through clenched teeth. “In private.”

He turned and walked back toward the house. After a long moment’s hesitation, Joaquin followed. They stood under the shade of an orange tree, their heads bent close together as they argued in low tones. I tried my best to hear, but the buzzing of the lawn mower was now annoyingly close and I could make out only a few words.

“But she saw me at the station with—”

“Doesn’t matter! She’s not—”

“And then Krista was in the middle of—”

“I’m telling you, I tried and she can’t—”

“Fine!” Joaquin blurted suddenly. “Whatever you say, golden boy.”

He turned and stormed toward me, his face contorted with anger, but he paused on the sidewalk and seemed to make a decision. He put both hands on my shoulders and leaned in close to my ear. I was so startled I almost recoiled, but his grip held me firmly in place.

“Rory, if you want to know anything…if you have any questions at all…you come see me, okay?” He leaned back to look me in the eye, and for the first time the superior glint was gone. He was all sincerity. My heart thumped in surprise. “Anything at all,” he said. “Got it?”

I nodded slowly, baffled and intrigued. “Got it.”

He released me and shot Tristan a sort of defiant, triumphant glare before slipping by and speed-walking up the street. I turned to ask Tristan what that was all about, but he was already gone. All I saw was the door of the gray house closing me out with a resounding thud.

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