I dropped the phone like it had bitten me. My heart boomed in my ears, obliterating all other sounds. Megan leaned in, clutching my arm, her eyes and mouth wide open in shock. She’d heard.
Ashley Lacroix was alive.
Not just a hallucination this time.
Not just a figment of my subconscious reflected back to me by dark matter.
This time she was here in the flesh.
But we’d killed her—Megan and I. We’d dumped her body in the woods. I’d seen her rotting corpse.
Trembling, I picked up the phone and raised it to my cheek. Emory’s tinny voice continued to hiss excitedly from the speaker.
Something inside me felt sick.
“But . . . but what about the body?” I gasped. “You said you found a body, you said the police identified it . . . you said it was her.”
Next to me, Megan squeezed my arm tighter and mouthed, “Body?”
She didn’t know I’d led him there.
“Hold on,” said Emory, and I heard a door close—moving to where Ashley couldn’t hear. “That wasn’t her. Some other girl who was dumped in the woods, maybe. My dad says the DNA sample they tested was probably contaminated.”
“Then where has she been for the last three months?” The question came out overly accusing, but I didn’t care.
None of this made any sense.
“Apparently, she hitchhiked to South Carolina to visit some kind of healer about her sleepwalking,” said Emory, chuckling. “That’s where she’s been this whole time.”
“In South Carolina?” I said in disbelief. “She’s been in South Carolina? For three months? And she didn’t call home once to let her family know she wasn’t dead?”
“Leona, I literally just found out this morning that my baby sister is alive after thinking she was dead. I don’t know every little detail, okay? She said the healer insisted she come in secret, that they had some kind of arrangement. So yeah, if you ask me I’d say this guy sounds shady as hell, but you know what? I’m not going to get on her case about that right now because I love more than anybody on earth and I’m just grateful she’s alive. I called you because I thought you’d be grateful too. We can work out all the details later.”
I winced at his words, mortified at my own callousness. “You’re right, I’m sorry,” I whispered. “This is . . . this is amazing. I’m really, really happy for you.”
“I want you to come over for dinner tomorrow,” he said.
“You . . . what?” My heart jolted.
“Yeah, I want you to get to know her.”
Dinner. With Emory and his parents and the sister I’d murdered. The prospect brought instant terror. This couldn’t be allowed to happen. “Tomorrow? I . . . I can’t tomorrow . . .”
“Be here at six,” he said, and hung up.
I stared at the phone in my hand, too stunned to close my mouth.
Megan tugged it out of my hand and pocketed it, startling me back to the present. “So . . . Ashley’s alive,” she said calmly. “That’s either really good or really bad.”
She’d heard the entire conversation, no doubt.
I shook my head, lifting my gaze to hers. “But we killed her,” I muttered. “She’s dead. She’s supposed to be dead.”
“But she isn’t.”
“But she was. We hit her going fifty miles per hour. You checked her pulse. We dragged her body into the woods and left her there. She was dead.”
“Shh,” she said, glancing in the direction of the kitchen, where my mom was washing dishes. She rose to shut the door. “Okay, let’s talk about this. Maybe she wasn’t really dead. Maybe she got up right after we left and hiked back to the road. Maybe that was why she was out there. She was hitchhiking.”
But I saw her rotting corpse. “No, Megan. She was dead. I know she was dead.”
Megan folded her arms and shrugged. “Then Emory just prank-called you and she’s not actually back.”
“Why would he do that?” I said, lip curled. “That’s not funny, that’s morbid. Only you would think that’s funny.”
“Then how else do you explain it?” she spat. “Either she’s alive, and we didn’t kill her, or she’s still dead and that wasn’t her on the phone. Make a choice.”
“Maybe we killed someone else,” I murmured.
“Someone else who looked exactly like Ashley?”
“We don’t know that, Megan. It was dark. We were freaking out. Do you remember what she looked like? All I remember is she was blonde and pretty, but the rest is a blur.”
“Not me,” said Megan. “I have a perfect image of her face burned in my brain.”
“Because we saw pictures of Ashley afterward on the internet,” I said. “Sometimes the brain can do that. It changes your memories based on stuff you learn afterward to make things consistent. So we thought we killed Ashley, and later we remember the girl’s face as Ashley’s. That’s textbook psychology.”
Megan stared at me. “So you think we killed someone else?”
“I’m just saying it’s a possibility.”
“Then two girls disappeared that night. How come we haven’t heard of the other one?”
She had a point, but my mind was still too wound-up to stop and think. “Over the phone—you heard her—she didn’t sound like she remembered me. She was like, ‘uh . . . hi, Leona,’ like she had no idea who I was. You heard that, right?”
“Yeah, because you hit her with a car and knocked her out. You probably gave her brain damage.”
I dragged a hand down the back of my neck, now pacing my bedroom. “This is so screwed up . . . so freaking screwed up,” I ranted. “What are we missing?”
Megan’s eyes lit up. “Wait . . . if we didn’t kill her, if we didn’t actually kill her, then we’re off the hook, right? We don’t have to feel guilty anymore . . . right?”
The same hope had crossed my mind, but I’d already snuffed it out. “We killed someone, Megan. There’s a body rotting in the woods, and we put it there. Someone is dead because of us. Maybe not Ashley, but someone.”
“Why do you keep talking about a body?” she said. “What body? If she got up and walked away, then there’s no body.”
I looked at her and licked my dry lips. “She was dead, Megan.”
“Yeah, I thought so too. We’ve been wrong before.”
“What if we were set up?” I said. “What if someone was trying to make another girl disappear and make it look like we killed her?” I flipped around and stomped across the room. “Never mind. I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“Clearly,” she said.
“She wasn’t breathing,” I said. “She didn’t have a pulse. For like forty minutes, she didn’t have a pulse. If you don’t have a pulse for forty minutes, that means you’re dead.”
“Did you check her pulse?” said Megan. “I checked her pulse. Maybe she had a weak pulse and I couldn’t feel it. I’m not a doctor.”
“This is so screwed up,” I muttered.
“How come it’s Ashley that shows up while we’re wearing dark matter?”
Dark matter. I’d almost forgotten.
We’d been talking to it when Emory called. The reminder left a chill.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe our brains are filling that in too.”
“Maybe it’s because the girl who looks like Ashley and sleepwalks like Ashley and jumps out in front of our car the same night Ashley goes missing, is in fact Ashley.”
I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Why don’t I just ask her when I have dinner with her tomorrow.”