Traces, Part 3

The text Sammy sends me only reads: I think I have a link. I can only guess what this means.

Me: What are u talking about?

Sammy: Between Angela and Jack’s deaths. And now Whitney’s.

I groan and roll my eyes, lifting my phone to my forehead. Ever since Whitney Johnson died (drowning herself in a bathtub…no razors this time) Sammy seems to be more fixated on her idea that there is a killer on the loose. I’m seriously considering getting her some help; this is not healthy behavior. Even I have to say there’s something weird about all these suicides lately, but I don’t think there’s a murderer; it’s more likely poor mental health help and a high anxiety and stress area than anything else.

Me: No. There isn’t a killer out there, ok? 

Sammy: I’m not saying that, I’m only saying it’s a POSSIBILITY

Me: Ok, fine. What’s the link?

Sammy: They all have older siblings attending Cedar College 

I roll my eyes as I text, Big deal. Most people do.

Sammy: But I checked their social patterns! They all had connections of a sort to a girl called Iris. Idk who she is, but I’ll be doing some research

I sigh as I text back, Sammy, you’re sounding like a stalker. Creepy! How are you getting this info?

Sammy: Can’t tell you.

Me: Is it illegal?

Sammy: NO! Just don’t wanna say.

I groan. I’m too tired to deal with this right now. If Sammy wants to look like an idiot playing detective, I’ll let her be. I just don’t want to get involved too much. Ok, just tell me when you get more info.

I plug my phone in to charge, out away my homework, and go to bed.

***

For better or for worse, I allow Sammy to drag me to Cedar College today. Maybe it’s because it’s a Friday, or maybe I’m just a pushover. “For crying out loud! Could you just tell me what’s going on?” I demand, not for the first time.

Sammy pats down her bobbed hair again, even though not a strand is out of place. It’s such a juxtaposition to my own curls, which I tied away from my face. “Nelson goes here too. I was thinking he could help us figure out what’s going on.”

Nelson is Sammy’s older brother. At this, my temper is finally starting to get the better of me. “Figure out what? Sammy, there isn’t a damn killer! It’s just your idea.”

Sammy looks at me out of the corner of her eyes. “Ella, I’m not the one carrying on about murderers.  I only mentioned it as a possibility. You seem way more obsessed with killers than I.” 

I take a breath and count to ten. “I’m only worried, that’s all!” I snap.

She smirks. “Sure.” She turns around sharply. “Hey, Nelson! Nelson!” She runs ahead of me, leaving me in the dust. I follow her, but by the time I find her, she’s chatting away with her brother. “Yeah, I knew the students. They were siblings of some of my friends,” he says wearily. “Y’know how insensitive this is, Sam.”

Sammy blows a strand of hair from her face. “C’mon! Even you have to admit this is weird,” she snaps.

He nods. “I’m not denying that, okay? This is strange. But what you’re doing isn’t okay.”

Sammy begins to beg, “Please, just tell me! What is the connection? You already told me that the students’ siblings all knew a girl named Iris, but who was she?”

Nelson doesn’t meet his sister’s eyes. “Iris was a student here. She was a little older than I, and…” He chews his lip. “She killed herself, around two years ago,” he finally says. 

I let out an involuntary gasp, and Nelson Bradley glances at me before he says, “Just…don’t ask me any more.”

Sammy stays quiet. But then mumbles, “Did you know her too?”

Nelson groans. “Yeah, I did. She was my math tutor freshman year, back when I was a know-it-all jackass. Are we done here? And Sammy, this is not the proper time to play detective, don’t you get that?”

Sammy just smiles sweetly at him. “Nelson, this involves people at my school, okay? I kinda wanna prevent more of this from happening.” She gives him a quick hug and thanks him before she takes my arm and nearly drags me away. Just as we make it to the bus stop, she finally turns around to look at me. I see my own shock reflected in her eyes. I cry, “Sammy! This could be a coincidence! This doesn’t mean anything, okay?” 

“If this is a coincidence, this is a big one, Ella. I mean, the girl that connects all of these deaths committed suicide herself? That’s just strange!”

I’m starting to get mad. “Oh my God, this isn’t a teen novel! This is real life. Killings do not happen here, they happen somewhere else!”

Sammy’s face becomes closed off. “Isn’t that what they always say? And besides, Ella, I am not the one fixated on murder. I may have already told you this, but in my eyes, it looks like you are.”

I feel as though she’s slapped me. “I-I…you know perfectly well what I mean! You’re the one who came up with the idea, and…” I can’t find any words. 

She nods slowly. “I know I did, but you’re the one who has been stuck on it. I’ve just been sensing something fishy about this whole thing, and murder is just one possibility of many.”

I close my eyes tiredly. “Okay, I see your point.”

She smiles gently at me. “Good. And thanks for coming here. I know you didn’t really want to. But…” For the first time in a long time, she looks uncertain and worried as she taps her fingers lightly together. “I have a feeling this is gonna be big, much bigger than either of us expect,” she whispers.

I groan inwardly; she’s put the bad gut feeling I’ve had for a while into words. “Same here, Sammy,” I mumble. “Same here.”

***

As I walk back to my home, I notice Lea leaving her own apartment. “Oh, Ella! How are you?” she asks.

I shrug. “I’m doing okay, I guess.” I feel like I’m in a poorly written thriller that I don’t want to be a part of, is how I actually feel, but I don’t think that’s the sort of thing you tell your neighbors. A sudden flash of inspiration hits me; maybe it’s because my life feels like it’s getting out of control, turning into someing out of a YA thriller, that I find it in me to ask her this. “Um, Lea? That girl who lived here before me and my mom…did you know her? What was her name?”

I may just be imagining it, but I think I see Lea’s shoulders slump. “Oh, that poor girl. Her name was Iris. Iris Parker.”

My breath catches when she says the name Iris. Isn’t that the girl the siblings of the students at my school all knew? All I know is that I need to text or call Sammy, and fast. “Thanks, Lea!” When I see her look at me with questioning eyes, I say, “I was just curious, I mean Mr. Black mentioned her, just not by name.” I try to smile at her. “Have a good day.”

She smiles at me as she locks her door. “You too, Ella.”

I make it back to my home and unlock the door. I yank off my backpack and I’m about to slide into a comfy chair when I hear a small cough behind me. My heart stops for a split second as I turn around to see who it is. When I do, I don’t know whether to relax or feel even more worried. 

“Oh…hi, mom.”

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