Famous Last Words(8)

By: Katie Alender



Ever so slowly, I forced myself to turn around. Maybe the body had made it across the pool without my knowing it — floating behind me … inches away, about to brush my bare skin with her cold, swollen hands …

Suddenly, something was alive and thrashing next to me. Then I was being grabbed and dragged through the water again. I frantically fought to push away.

“Stay calm!” The voice, deep with authority, echoed off the walls of the courtyard. “I’ve got you, just stay calm!”

Jonathan.

“No! I’m fine — I’m not —” I tried to say, but by then we’d made it to the steps of the pool, and he could see for himself that I was fine.

Well, fine-ish. I’d been better, let’s put it that way.

“Willa!” Mom came running over and reached out for me. “What on earth are you doing?”

“Nothing,” I said, staying clear of her arms. “Nothing.”

Jonathan was panting. “We saw you from the window. You were struggling.”

I didn’t know what to say. If I pretended nothing had been wrong, it would be obvious that I was lying. But I couldn’t possibly tell the truth.

“My hair got caught in the filter,” I said without thinking. Then I saw my mother’s gaze land on the tight bun coiled at the top of my head. “I mean, my necklace.”

They both looked at my bare neck.

“I managed to break it, but it got sucked down.” I shrugged. “It’s okay, though. It wasn’t an important necklace.”

For a moment, nobody spoke. Then Mom stepped toward me again.

“Come on,” she said, wrapping the towel around my shoulders and hustling me toward the house. “It’s freezing out here.”

“The water’s pretty warm, actually,” I said. “It’s nice.”

Except for the dead body.

The tiny, crisp buds of the night-blooming jasmine on the trellises framed the entryway like glow-in-the-dark stars. After Jonathan shut the door, we stood in an awkward triangle of silence, still surrounded by the flowers’ dreamy-sweet scent.

I pulled the towel tighter around me. “I’m sorry. I was just trying to clear my head.”

“I hope it worked,” Jonathan said, the tiniest hint of irritation in his voice.

Yeah, well. Not quite.

“Good night,” Mom said, kissing me on the forehead. Then they turned and started down the long hall that went to the master suite, leaving me alone in the darkness.



The next morning, my mother steered Jonathan’s SUV into the parent drop-off lot at my new school, Langhorn Academy.

Back in Connecticut, all the local private schools had ivy-covered brick buildings and manicured grounds. Langhorn — one of the fanciest and most exclusive schools in LA — looked like an industrial office park. It was a collection of boxy concrete buildings set between a tattoo shop and a furniture store that sold chairs shaped like hands.

“Want me to come in with you?” Mom asked.

“No, thanks,” I said. I mean, I didn’t expect to win any popularity contests, but I did have my pride. “The paperwork’s taken care of, right?”

She nodded. “Just go to the office and talk to Mrs. Dunkley. She’ll get you your schedule.”

“Okay. See you later.” I nervously smoothed the hem of my green-and-black-plaid pleated skirt. I still couldn’t believe I had to wear an actual uniform. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to a really stressful costume party.

“Willa,” Mom said, “wait.”

I waited, even though I wanted to get out of the car quite badly.

Was she going to talk about last night? After hours of fitful, restless sleep, I’d managed to convince myself that the dead body I’d seen had been nothing more than a stress-induced hallucination. I wasn’t eager to rehash the incident.

But it wasn’t that. Mom reached sheepishly into her purse. “I got you a present, too. It’s not as nice as Jonathan’s, but …”

Not as nice as the monstrosity currently sitting between my feet, mocking me with its grotesque designer logos?

I took the small, flat package from her. Even before I peeled the wrapping paper off, I knew it was a journal. The cover was caramel-colored leather, and the pages were plain white, unlined. It was a perfectly nice journal … for a person who needs that kind of thing in their life.

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