Morgan never minded her boyfriend Flynn’s dark and private nature. She found it mysterious and alluring. But now he’s dead, and she can’t move on. She feels much like her dying town, River’s End, with its overgrown amusement park and abandoned houses: once happy . . . now fading away.
Hoping for some closure, Morgan uploads her only picture of Flynn to the social media site FriendShare along with a note to say good-bye. But she’s shocked when the facial recognition software suggests she tag him as Evan Murphy. She’s never heard of Evan. A quick search reveals that he lives in a nearby town and looks exactly like Flynn. Same eyes, nose, jawline. Only this boy is very much alive. Digging through layers of secrets, Morgan questions everything she thought she knew about her town, her boyfriend, and even her parents’ involvement in this massive web of lies.
|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.74(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
He lied to me.
That was my first thought when I saw him.
I was alone in my car, on the way to the party where Toni and my other friends were waiting. As I drove down Lincoln Road, my eyes went to the tall chain-link fence that bordered the old amusement park. In the distance, I could almost make out the highest hill of the kiddie coaster and the happy dragon that towered over the bumper cars. But it was dark, so I might have just been seeing what I knew was there.
What I wasn’t expecting to see was my boyfriend, Flynn. The car’s headlights reflected off his pale face, which seemed to almost float in the darkness. Flynn had told me he couldn’t come because he had plans with his parents.
I slammed on my brakes, shifted into reverse, and pulled over. Squinting into the darkness, I hoped the light had played a trick on me. But there he was, leaning against the fence.
Caught, he walked swiftly toward the car, head down. His ratty black trench coat fluttered open in the wind, revealing dark jeans and the vintage U2 T-shirt I’d bought him. He rapped his knuckles on the passenger-side window, and I lowered it.
He rested his arms on the roof of the car and hung his head low to look in the window. “Hey, Morgan.”
“What are you doing out here?” I asked, trying to keep my voice cool and level.
“Just hanging out, thinking.”
Brooding was Flynn’s natural state, but he seemed even more depressed than usual. Maybe he hadn’t lied after all. Maybe he really did have plans with his family but they’d had a fight or something. And he came out here to get away.
“Did something happen?” I asked. “You could’ve called me. I would’ve picked you up.”
“I know . . .” His voice was strained, different. He had a complicated relationship with his parents and hated to talk about them at all. I never forced him to let me in. I figured he would when he was ready. He’d moved to town two months ago, and I was the only one he ever voluntarily talked to. I told myself he just needed more time than most people, that was all.
He straightened to his full height, and I couldn’t see his face through the window anymore. I wanted to look him in the eye. I needed to quiet the uncertainty whispering from the back of my mind. I killed the engine and got out of the car.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“Coming to talk to you.” I walked through the headlights, rested a hand on the warm hood, and stared at him.
But he wouldn’t look at me. His eyes were jittery, nervous. They kept roaming over my shoulder to watch the road, like he was expecting another car.
This end of Lincoln Road was never busy after the amusement park shut down years ago. The only people who used it were those who knew it connected to the back of Meadow Place—the half-empty development of McMansions—where I’d been heading before I saw him. But I was hours late to the party. Everyone was already there. So who was he expecting to come down this deserted road? Was he . . . meeting someone else?
“Flynn . . .” I pushed his name out of my tightened throat. “What are you really doing out here?”
He looked down the street once more, and his expression changed. He seemed to come to some decision. “Get in the car.”
I blinked, confused. “What?”
He opened the passenger door quickly, and motioned for me to get in on the other side. I dashed around and slid into the driver’s seat. He leaned across the space between us and gave me a quick kiss. Like I’d just picked him up for a date, not found him acting shady by the side of the road.
He reached over and started the engine. “Let’s go.”
His sudden change had my head spinning. “What’s the rush?”
“Let’s just get out of here. I want to be with you.” He pointed at the road. “Let’s go somewhere.” “The party?”
“Anywhere you want.”
I pulled onto the road and drove slowly. This behavior wasn’t entirely surprising. Flynn was normally secretive and moody, regarding most people and things with a quiet disdain. But that’s why he made me feel special. I was the thing he didn’t hate. I was the person who could make him crack a smile by calling him “Mr. Serious.” Just two weeks ago, pressing against a bare-limbed tree on a frosty night, our lips inches apart, he told me I was the only good thing in his life.
But now, he rubbed both hands on his thighs as his left leg bounced up and down. He reminded me of a caged animal, yearning to break out and run free. But no one was making him sit here. I hadn’t forced him to get in the car.
I gave him a playful poke in the side. “Look who it is! It’s Mr. Serious.”
But he didn’t smile this time. Instead, he cast a quick glance over his shoulder at the dark road behind us. I didn’t speak, hoping the silence would encourage him to tell me what he was thinking. But the more time went on, the more I worried. Images flashed in my mind, of another girl driving this road, looking for Flynn at their predetermined meeting spot. She was prettier than me, maybe older, cooler, edgier. She knew bands I’d never heard of. Liked art and philosophical discussions. She had a dark side to her, one that Flynn found very attractive.
I forced the thought out of my head. I was driving myself crazy.
Maybe I was being paranoid. Maybe he wasn’t expecting someone else. He was just standing out there at night in the dark because that’s a weird, loner, Flynn thing to do.
He looked in the side-view mirror. “What’s going on, Flynn?” I asked.
A lock of black hair fell across his eyes. “What do you mean?” “Something’s up with you. Why were you standing out there? Why are you acting nervous? Tell me what’s going on,” I demanded. I never had attitude with him. I always went with the flow, did what he wanted, never questioned his idiosyncrasies. I never wanted to be that girlfriend. Nagging. Annoying. But tonight was different. I felt different.
He stared at me. I tried to keep my eyes on the road, but I could still feel him looking at me. What was he thinking? I’d have given anything to know.
“You can pull over and let me out here,” he said quietly. “What?” There was nothing but woods surrounding us. He’d have to walk a mile to get to the nearest house. He’d rather do that than talk to me?
“I’m not in the mood to go to one of your friend’s lame parties.”
Holy mood swing. I raised my eyebrows. “Nice, Flynn. Real nice. My friends have been nothing but good to you even though you seem to feel that you’re above them for some reason.”
“I’m not above them. I just have no interest in them. I only want to be with you.”
“Then be with me,” I pleaded. “We can go somewhere and talk.”
But he was already shaking his head. “I don’t want to talk.” “You have to let me in, Flynn. I can’t keep going on like this.” “Then pull over,” he snapped.
I turned to look at him. His eyes were apprehensive, but his voice was so sure, so filled with venom. He reached for the door handle like he was willing to jump out at thirty miles per hour. The tires squealed as I slammed on the brakes and the car jumped up onto the curb.
“Why are you doing this?” I yelled. “Why are you acting like this?”
His mouth opened and his eyes flicked around, like they were searching for the answer in the air. “Because I don’t want this,” he said finally. “You, driving around town, checking up on me, making sure I’m where I told you I was.”
“I wasn’t doing that,” I said indignantly. “I was on my way to the party. It’s not my fault you happened to be on the side of the road I was driving on. Excuse me for pulling over to say hi to my boyfriend who was standing alone in the dark like creep.”
“I have the right to stand wherever and however I want.” “I never said you didn’t!”
He shook his head. “It’s just . . . I think . . . it’s time for us to be over.”
His words took a moment to sink in. I’d thought we were having our first fight. Apparently it was also our last. “You’re . . . breaking up with me?”
I saw him swallow. Then he nodded, once.
I squared my shoulders. I would not cry. I would not give him one ounce of emotion. “Why?”
He opened his mouth to answer, but then closed it again.
“I have to go,” he said softly. He pushed open the door and shoved it closed behind him. His coat flapped in the breeze as he walked down the road, into the dark night.
My hands tightened on the steering wheel and tears spilled from my eyes, clouding my vision as I watched him walk away, until he was just a wavy, indistinct form far down the dark road.
I didn’t hear the car, but I saw the headlights come around the bend. Too fast.
My back bolted straight, and my lungs froze. For one long moment, I couldn’t breathe in or release what was held in my chest. I could only watch as Flynn flew through the air, flipping like a tossed doll. Then he crashed back down, his body rolling and scraping across the asphalt.
The SUV kept going.
It barreled past me, a black bullet with tinted windows, too fast for me to catch a look at the plate.
I have no memory of getting out of the car or running to Flynn with the cold air lashing my tearstained cheeks. I only remember holding his head in my lap. Seeing his blood on the ground. Listening to the 911 operator on my cell telling me to stay calm.
When the ambulance came, my hand was on Flynn’s chest. His heart was still beating.
C H A P T E R 1
I lifted the camera to my eye and focused on the lion’s mouth.
Click. Born of metal, plastic, and paint, he’d been a happy lion, with rounded teeth and lips curving into a smile. But now the paint was chipped, the plastic cracked, and bits of exposed metal were rusted. Graffiti morphed his happy smile into a sharp-toothed, menacing grin. Larry the Lion once welcomed children to King’s Fantasy World Amusement Park. Now he warned people to stay away.
Inside the park there were many more shots waiting to be taken. The fun house with its broken windows. The thick weeds that climbed the track of the kiddie coaster. The mice that nested in the Skee-Ball holes. But I didn’t climb the fence to enter the park.
Not that the No Trespassing sign intimidated me. Those were posted all over town, and they never stopped anyone. A rule meant nothing if there was no consequence for breaking it. No one was monitoring these places. Maybe at first, five years ago, when everything shut down, officers would swing by in a patrol car. But now . . . no one cared anymore.
The reason I wasn’t going past the fence was that the last time I was inside King’s Fantasy World, I met Flynn. My boyfriend. Who was now dead.
He’d been gone three months, and I still wasn’t ready to re- visit those memories.
I wasn’t ready to say good-bye.
My town, River’s End, had once been a shimmering oasis in our drab, rural area of central Massachusetts. But after the town’s only major employer, Stell Pharmaceuticals, went un- der, several other businesses that relied on Stell soon followed, and River’s End began its steep and sudden decline. Now half the McMansions stood empty. The mall’s doors were shuttered. Happy Time Mini Golf was overgrown. And, saddest of all the forgotten places, King’s Fantasy World was abandoned and rotting.
What used to be the happiest place in town was now the scariest.
I checked the display on my camera. The focus of that last shot could’ve been better. I adjusted and tried again. Click.Using my hand to shade the viewing screen from the sun, I squinted and then smiled. This one was a keeper. It captured what I was going for. The lion wasn’t evil. He was just . . . lonely.
I packed my camera back into its bag and drove home. It was enough that I’d finally gotten that shot of Larry the Lion.
I’d save climbing the fence for some other day.
I pulled my car into our empty driveway, not surprised that my parents were out. They used Saturdays to catch up on all the things they couldn’t do during the work week: grocery shopping, the post office, the bank, the pharmacy. A neverending list of errands.
My parents had both been biochemists for Stell. Great jobs, great money. But then people started dying from Stell’s most popular product, a migraine pill. The company shut down and everyone lost their jobs. Even people who didn’t directly work for Stell but depended on Stell employees to spend their money in town—at restaurants, retail stores—were out of work. Some businesses hung on longer than others, but eventually most had to give up and close their doors.
Now Dad took the train into Boston for work, a two-hour commute each way. Mom worked here in town but needed two jobs to earn anywhere near what she used to make at her pre- vious job. But at least they had work. Not everyone in town was so lucky.
I swung the camera bag over my shoulder and closed the car door with my hip. I smirked as I spied Toni sitting on the front steps. Toni Klane was my best friend and had been since we were little. Her house was one street over, but lately it seemed like she lived with me.
She visibly shivered as she stood up. It was the end of March. That week that always seemed like such a tease. It was still cold, but spring was so close, you could almost smell it in the air. Toni wore jeans and a scoop-neck T-shirt, her arms wrapped around her abdomen. I’m sure she didn’t mean to for- get a sweatshirt or a coat. Sometimes she just had to leave her house in a hurry.
“Morgan Tulley, where have you been?” she said, tapping her foot in mock impatience. “Out snapping photos of creepy things?”
“Nope. Flowers,” I deadpanned.
Her face brightened momentarily and then shut back down. “You’re joking.”
“Of course I am.”
She smacked my arm.
I unlocked the front door and we hurried inside, the warm air a welcome greeting. I didn’t have to ask why she’d come over without texting or calling first. Why she was sitting on my front steps for who knew how long, shivering in the cold, waiting for me. If she wanted to talk about the Fight of the Day, she would. Most days, she’d rather not.
Toni’s parents were having more trouble than most. The unemployment money was about to run dry, but the liquor was overflowing. Her family was exploding, and if Toni hung around the house all day, she’d be sliced by shrapnel. Collateral damage. So when she showed up here, I never turned her away.
I grabbed some sodas and a bag of Doritos from the kitchen.
I wasn’t hungry, but I knew Toni probably was, and she’d never help herself no matter how many times I told her it was okay. We climbed the stairs to the second floor and went into my room: our sanctuary. It had all-white furniture and bright, lime-green walls. I used to think it looked like the happiest room in the world, but now it felt like it was just pretending to be happy. If a room could feign emotion.
While Toni flopped onto the bed and opened the chips, I sat at my desk and uploaded the photos I’d taken to my laptop. “Larry the Lion, huh?” Toni said between crunches.
“Yeah. I finally got that shot I’ve been trying for.”
“The one that makes him look lonely and not like a jacked- up plastic lion that wants to eat your face?”
“Exactly.” Even though my back was to her, I smiled. It was nice to know someone listened to me when I babbled about my photography.
“Are you going to submit it now?” she asked through a mouthful of chips.
I’d been building my portfolio to apply for a summer course at the local college. It was a small class and highly selective. “Nah. It’s not ready.”
“You won’t ever think it’s ready,” Toni huffed. “Then you won’t have to apply and risk being rejected.”
Toni’s favorite hobby was psychoanalyzing me. I cast a look at her over my shoulder. “I’ll apply. Just not yet.”
She pointed a chip at me. “No offense, Morgan, but you’ve always been the kind of girl who sits back and lets things happen to her.”
I resisted an eye roll. “And who should I be?”
“The kind of girl who goes out and makes things happen.”
I saved the photos and shut my laptop. “Believe me. I want to be in this program. That’s why I’m taking my time. My portfolio has to be perfect.” I was a little aggravated, but knew her nagging came from a good place. I playfully stuck my tongue out. “So stop pressuring me.”
She made a face right back. “I’m your best friend, that’s my job.” She paused, and her casual tone turned serious. “So did you go . . . into the park?”
I shook my head. “Not today.”
“How are you doing . . . today?” She emphasized the last word. I should’ve known she’d remember the date. Three months ago today Flynn was killed in a hit-and-run accident. I hadn’t gotten any messages or calls from my other friends. My parents never mentioned Flynn much after his death. They were raised in the school of “the problem doesn’t exist if you don’t talk about it.”
But Toni remembered. She knew today would be hard on me. That’s what I loved about her. Her world was chaos back home, but she still worried about me.
I opened my laptop again and pretended to be doing something important. “I’m all right.”
“Look at me,” she demanded.
I twisted around to face her.
“He’s been gone now longer than you were together,” she said, meeting my eyes.
Technically, she was right. We’d only dated for about two months, and he’d been dead for three, but that didn’t make it okay. It wasn’t like there was some grief formula. If you knew someone for X amount of time and he’d been dead for Y amount of time, you will be over the whole thing in X plus Y divided by Z.
I wish it were that simple.
“I just hate to see you so sad,” she said.
“Lots of people in the world are sad,” I countered.
“But they’re not my best friend. Who cares about those losers?” She cracked a smile, and I mirrored it.
“I get what you’re saying,” I said and gave a little shrug. “But I can’t just magically shut the feelings off, you know?”
She sat up straighter on the bed and folded her legs underneath her. “What if we nudged it along?”
I narrowed my eyes. “What do you mean?”
“It’s the three-month anniversary of Flynn’s death. Maybe you should do something closure-y.”
“I love the way you make up words by putting a y at the end of them.”
“I love the way you avoid a conversation you don’t want to have by making an astute observation about me.”
“Don’t you mean astute-y?”
“Okay, okay. What would you like me to do?” “Just some kind of closure.”
I leaned back in the chair and racked my brain. “Like . . . toss a wreath into the river to symbolize how he’s drifted away from me?”
Toni rolled her eyes. “Nothing that cheesy. We can start with something simple like . . .” She chewed on the ends of her sandy-blond hair for a moment. “Upload a pic of him to FriendShare with a good-bye message or something.”
“How is that any form of closure?” I asked.
“It’s public. It’s showing your friends—who are worried about you, by the way—that you’re starting to heal and move on. Having the balls to say something publicly makes it mean more.”
“I don’t have balls. I have girly parts.”
She threw a Dorito at me, but it wasn’t very aerodynamic and landed on the floor halfway between us. “Take this seriously, please.”
“Flynn hated FriendShare,” I pointed out.
“No offense, hon, but that boy hated everything except you.” I shrugged. “He was just private. People have the right to be private.”
Toni placed a finger in her open mouth and pretended to gag. “He refused to talk about himself. He never invited you to his house.”
“He had family issues,” I said.
“He had issues, all right.”
I didn’t want to get into this. I had always known Toni didn’t like Flynn. And he hadn’t exactly made an effort to be likable to her, either. I’d found his private nature mysterious and sexy. She’d found it “douchey.” But she never told me to break up with him and hardly ever complained. If the roles had been reversed and she’d been dating a boy I hated, I would’ve nagged her a lot more.
I searched her dark eyes. This small act of closure seemed important to her. And what did I have to lose? Maybe it would make me feel a little better.
“Fine,” I said, giving in. “I’ll do it.”
She clapped and beamed like the proud parent of a child who’d made the right choice.
I logged in to FriendShare. My profile picture came up, a photo of Toni and me taken last year. We had our arms around each other’s shoulders, which was a little awkward since I was so much taller than her. I glanced in the mirror resting on my desk and then back at the picture. It’s amazing how a photo can tell you so much about a person in one quick glance. In the picture, my blue eyes were brighter, my black hair shinier. I glowed. Everything about me in the mirror now seemed dulled in comparison.
This was the right thing to do. I had to get on the “path of healing” (to quote one of Toni’s well-meaning speeches).
I paused with my hands over the keys, then typed: Gone, but not forgotten.
“Good,” Toni said from over my shoulder. “That’s good.” Then I clicked to upload the only picture I had of Flynn.
One that he hadn’t even known I’d taken. I took it the first day I met him, in King’s Fantasy World. I went into the park to get shots for my portfolio and stumbled upon this mysterious boy, all alone, and it was like my camera had a mind of its own.
The icon in the center of the application swirled for a moment as the photo loaded. Then Flynn’s face filled the screen. My chest squeezed as I fought off the urge to cry. Even in this innocuous photo, he seemed like a tragic figure. Leaning against the wall of the fun house, full lips slightly parted, his face tilted just a degree as his steely gray eyes searched for the source of the sound in the abandoned park. The sound had been me.
The outline of a box opened around his head as FriendShare’s facial recognition software attempted to tag him with a name. It was a handy application if you were uploading a big group picture or a bunch of photos that you wanted done quickly. But I knew it was a waste of time for this picture. Flynn had never been on FriendShare. He thought it was “weird” and “intrusive.” Which was an observation I found poignant and smart, and Toni again found douchey.
But the operation ended and a message read:
Is this Evan Murphy? YES. NO. DONE TAGGING.
“What the hell?” I said.
Toni brought her face closer to the screen. “Who’s Evan Murphy?”
“I don’t know, but FriendShare seems to think he’s my dead boyfriend.”
She shook her head. “Stupid website. It’s probably glitchy or something. Just say ‘no’ and then hit ‘post.’”
My finger hovered over the mouse, but I didn’t click “no.” My muscles tightened into steel coils. It was probably nothing. It had to be nothing. But I needed to see.
With a trembling hand, I clicked on Evan’s name. “What are you doing?” Toni asked.
“I just want to see who he is,” I said. “Now I’m curious.” “You’re postponing the closure. I knew you’d chicken out.
You need to do this!”
She continued to lovingly lecture me, but I couldn’t hear her anymore. All I heard was the rush of blood through my head and the ragged, sharp intakes of my own breath.
Because the page had loaded. Evan Murphy lived a few towns away and looked exactly like Flynn. Except he was very much alive.
C H A P T E R 2
Doritos hit the floor as the open bag fell from Toni’s hand. “Whoa . . .”
“Yeah,” I breathed. “What? Who?”
Toni continued her one-word questions as I clicked around, trying to access anything else on Evan Murphy’s page. But he had a good amount of privacy settings on, and the only thing I could see was that one small profile picture and his town name, Littlefield—only fifteen minutes away.
Toni jabbed a finger at the photo. “It’s Flynn. I mean, it is him, right?”
“It can’t be,” I said. “I don’t know.”
“How can you not know?” Toni screeched. “FriendShare matched his face to this guy. It’s him! Look!”
I didn’t know how I was staying so calm. Toni was clearly going bananas. But it was like my brain had shut off all emotion so it could focus. I clicked on the photo in an attempt to enlarge it, but the resolution was terrible when I tried to zoom in. The face was Flynn’s face. Those steely gray eyes that were so hard to ignore. The slope of his jaw. The sly, one-sided grin.
But it couldn’t be him. I searched for something sane to grasp on to.
“He’s wearing a baseball hat,” I said quickly. “Flynn never wore hats.”
“He also never said his name was Evan Murphy and he lived in Littlefield. Being an undercover hat lover obviously wasn’t his biggest secret.”
I needed to get away from the computer, from the familiar face smiling at me on the screen. I pushed the chair back and stood up. “It’s just someone who looks eerily like him.”
“Not eerily,” Toni said. “Exactly.”
I pulled my hair back and held it at the nape of my neck. “Could he, like, have a twin living in another town with a different last name?” I said, thinking out loud. “I know it’s crazy, but what else could it be?”
“He could be alive,” Toni said.
I sank down onto the edge of my bed as a wave of nausea washed over me. I put my face in my hands and rubbed circles on my forehead. Could Flynn really be alive? How would that be possible? And . . . he let me think he was dead? Would he do that? How could he do that?
I dropped my hands and looked up at Toni. She was staring at me with a wary expression, probably waiting for me to lose it.
“It’s impossible,” I said.
“There was no funeral,” she countered.
That was true. I’d never met Flynn’s parents. He never wanted to talk about them, and I assumed he never told them about me. I never got word about a wake or funeral, and it wasn’t printed in the paper. Flynn had lived in town only a couple of months, and he didn’t even go to our school. He went to St. Pelagius. He didn’t know anyone in town. I always assumed his family had a memorial service back where they’d come from. Somewhere in New Hampshire.
But now my brain was going haywire. No one I knew had seen his body. So how did I really know he was dead?
“The last time you saw him,” Toni said gently, “he was still alive, right?”
“Yeah, but a nurse at the hospital told me he didn’t make it.” Toni shrugged. “Maybe she was wrong. The hospital has a gazillion patients. She could’ve mixed things up, thought you
were asking about someone else.”
I paused. That night was such a blur, especially in the hospital. I hadn’t been allowed past the waiting area. I called my parents. I was hysterical, to the point where a doctor prescribed a sedative, which my mom gave me when they forced me to go home. It wasn’t until the next morning, when I woke and called the hospital, that I found out Flynn was dead.
“But the cops came and took a statement,” I said. As useless as it had been. All I’d seen was a black SUV. I hadn’t seen the plate. I couldn’t even accurately pick out the make or model from the book they’d shown me.
“Did the cops say he was dead?” Toni asked.
I searched my fuzzy memory. “I don’t think so. I just re- member them asking me to describe the vehicle.”
Toni sat beside me on the bed and ran her hand over the goose bumps on my forearm. “A hit-and-run doesn’t have to end in death to be a crime,” she said. “The police would still come investigate.”
I shook my head until my neck felt sore. This was crazy. Crazier than crazy. To even entertain the slight possibility that Flynn could be alive . . . it was nuts.
“Just think it through,” Toni said anxiously. “What evidence do you have of his death? He was alive when they put him in the ambulance. The only person who ever told you he was dead was a nurse, who could’ve been talking about the wrong patient.”
What if he didn’t die? And then he, what? Just . . . slipped away? Became someone else?
No. I wasn’t going to be lured by Toni’s crazy-talk. She was notorious for jumping to the wildest conclusions. A neighbor talked too long to the mailman—affair! Birds fell from the sky in Guatemala—aliens! I usually rolled my eyes and ignored her insanity. But I had to admit, this time, as ridiculous as it sounded, it held a kernel of possibility.
Or maybe I just wanted it to be true.
Toni walked over to my desk and put her hand on the mouse.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “Sending him a friend request.”
In one swift motion, I rose and pulled her hand away. “No, don’t.”
“If he’s not Flynn, what would we even say? ‘Hey, don’t mind us, you just look exactly like this dead kid.’”
Toni’s eyes traveled back to the photo. “And if it is Flynn?” “Then I don’t want to scare him away. I don’t want him to know I found him. Not yet.”
C H A P T E R 3
The next morning I got ready for school on autopilot. I showered, dressed, and headed downstairs for breakfast. I passed the long mahogany table in the dining room that we only used on holidays when my grandparents came to visit from Florida. Day to day we ate casually, at a small round table in the nook of the kitchen, perfect for three. Or two. Or sometimes, just me.
I ate a bowl of cereal, the clinking of the spoon echoing in the quiet, my mind drifting. I snapped out of my trance when Mom bounded into the kitchen.
“I’m heading to work,” she said, kissing my cheek as I rinsed my bowl in the sink. A line of gray shimmered from the part in her hair, a reminder of the extra time and money she no longer had available to spend at the salon. “I made you lunch. It’s in the fridge.”
“You didn’t have to make me lunch, Mom.” She got up at some ungodly hour every morning to get things done—laundry, bill paying, ironing Dad’s shirts before he left for work, etc. Juggling two jobs, she had to find the time where she could. “I can do it myself. I know you’re rushing.”
She gave me a little smile, but it barely disguised her exhaustion. That’s how my family operated. Always polite and pleasant, never acknowledging the real feelings beneath the perma-smiles. Even I played along. Whenever college came up, I always told my parents I was only a junior and I’d worry about it next year. But the truth was, I worried about it now. A lot. Thoughts of choices and applications and financial aid sometimes kept me up at night. But I didn’t want to add more to their stack of Things to Worry About. For all I knew, that could be the thing to finally bring the pile crashing down. I preferred our tradition of pleasant denial.
Mom reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “I’m working double shifts today, so I won’t be home for dinner. And Dad . . . well, you know his hours. So making your lunch was the least I could do.”
She picked at a fingernail and forced a smile, but I knew she felt guilty. She hated that I was here alone so much.
“Don’t worry about dinner,” I said, grabbing the paper sack from the fridge. “Toni and I have plans anyway.”
Lies flowed easily from me when I thought they’d make people feel better. Maybe I’d ask Toni to go out for pizza to turn it into a truth.
“Great,” Mom said cheerily. “You girls have fun!”
I kept the perma-smile on until she walked out the door.
River’s End High School was built when the town was thriving. As things went downhill and people moved away, our schools thinned out. Teachers were laid off. Classrooms were closed and locked, their heating vents shut off to save money. Sometimes I found myself drawn to these unused rooms, with their empty desks and blank boards, feeling the draft of cold air seeping out from under the crack of the door.
This morning I went right to my locker. I was there for only thirty seconds before Toni appeared, from out of nowhere. She had this way of moving silently, like a ninja.
She leaned into me and whispered, “How are you doing . . . ?” I took a deep breath. “It’s all I can think about, but I don’t know what to do. The first step would be figuring out if Evan is a real person. It could be a fake profile page or something. If only I had a mutual friend in common, I could try to find out more, but I don’t.” Toni smiled. “I do.” “What?”
“Last night, I logged in to my account at home and brought up Evan’s page. We have one mutual friend.”
I closed my locker and held my books to my chest. “Who?”
She grimaced like she’d just taken a bite of something bitter.
Ugh. I rolled my eyes. “Too Cool Reece?”
“He’s worth talking to for five minutes if we can find out who Evan is.”
Reece was the party king and walked the halls with an over- confident swagger, flirting with girls and calling out to his “bros.” He was one of the fakest people in our grade. A douche of the highest order. Toni and I had nicknamed him “Too Cool Reece.” Online he friended anyone he’d ever met and even some people he hadn’t. He sent me a friend request once, and I ignored it. I was picky about who I approved. Meanwhile, Reece had thousands on his list.
But apparently one of them was Evan Murphy.
I drew my lips tight, determined. “Fine. When are we doing this?”
Toni motioned over my shoulder. “How about now?”
I turned around and, sure enough, there was Too Cool Reece taking a gulp of water from the fountain. He dried his mouth with the back of his hand and started to walk away.
“Hey, Reece, wait up,” I called.
He looked at us over the top of his Aviator sunglasses. Seriously. It was cloudy out, not summer, and he was inside. “What’s up, ladies?” He stretched out the last syllable like it contained ten zs.
“Do you know Evan Murphy?” I asked, getting right to the point.
He scrunched his face up as he thought. “Sounds familiar . . .” “You’re friends with him on FriendShare,” I added.
He wagged his eyebrows. “You hunting for a new boyfriend, Morgan?”
Toni had been fiddling with her phone and now she held it up. “This guy. You know him?”
Reece bent down to make up for the height difference. “I can’t really—”
Toni let out an aggravated sigh. “Take the glasses off, cool guy. Come on.”
He pulled his sunglasses off and hung them on the collar of his tight V-neck. He took Toni’s phone and stared at Evan’s profile photo. “Oh yeah. We played in the same summer base- ball league a couple years back. Cool guy. Power hitter. Lives in Littlefield.”
Flynn had an athletic frame but never mentioned any interest in sports. That didn’t necessarily mean anything, though.
Reece started typing something into Toni’s phone. “Um, what are you doing?” she asked.
“Just giving you my digits.”
Toni grabbed the phone out of his hands. “So the guy’s name is really Evan?” I asked.
Reece gave me a strange look. “What else would it be?”
Toni and I exchanged a glance. “Did you ever meet Flynn, my boyfriend?” I asked.
“Nah. I heard about the car thing, though. Sorry.”
Not exactly the most delicate way to say it, but the thought was there. “Um, yeah. Thanks.”
“Is that all?” Reece said, staring at Toni like he hoped we weren’t done with him.
“Yeah,” I muttered.
He looked Toni up and down. “If you ever want to hang out . . .” He made the “call me” sign with a hand up to his ear, then turned around and joined the masses.
“Gross.” Toni crossed her arms. “What a toolbag.”
I let out a long breath. “Well, now we know that Evan exists. He’s a real person and has been for at least two years. And he lives in Littlefield just like his profile says.”
“But that still doesn’t rule out the chance that Flynn is him,” Toni said.
I slid my books into the crook of my arm. “How so?”
“You never went to Flynn’s house. Flynn didn’t go to our school. How do you know Flynn wasn’t Evan the whole time? Playing some game, telling you lies.”
My heart sank at the thought. “Why would a guy do that? To anonymously hook up? Believe me, he didn’t get far.”
“Maybe he wasn’t happy with his life in Littlefield. Maybe he just wanted to feel like someone else for a while. Even if it was only a few hours a week.” The way she said it made it sound like something she’d consider.
I took a moment to play with the idea, think about how it could’ve happened. The day we met, Flynn was alone in King’s Fantasy World. I went there to take some pictures and found him hanging out around the fun house. He didn’t know me, I didn’t know him, so maybe he thought it would be fun to try out a new name, a new identity. We hit it off. We met again and again, and the lies built up. Until the night that he decided he didn’t want to be Flynn Parkman anymore. Maybe living a double life was fun at first, but then it got tiring.
Maybe that’s why he wanted to break up with me.
And then a car hit him. But he survived. His parents brought him home from the hospital, and all he had to do to make Flynn go away was to never step foot in River’s End again. Never see me again. And, just like that, Flynn would no longer exist. Problem solved.
When I thought about it that way, it was pretty easy.
I started to feel dizzy and was dimly aware of the fact that my breathing sounded like a marathon runner’s. I leaned against the wall for support. The conversations passing us in the hall blurred together.
Toni took my books from me. “Are you okay? Do you want to go to the nurse?”
“No,” I said, though my voice sounded far away. “I’m fine.”
There was a small possibility that Flynn was alive. Out there.
Living another life. With a jolt, my ears cleared, and the tunnel vision relaxed. The fog in my brain was replaced with a burning need for answers.
I would not be satisfied until I knew the truth.
Toni’s eyes were lined with concern. “What do you want to do?”
I pushed myself off the wall and took my books back from her. “I want to find out if my ex-boyfriend was a liar.”
Excerpted from "Forget Me"
Copyright © 2015 K.A. Harrington.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Forget Me
"The teen’s likable, tenacious character and the story’s Hollywood-like ending keep this debut on the lighter side, making it just right for late-summer beach reading."Kirkus Reviews
"K.A. Harrington creates an exciting—yet humorous—romantic thriller."GirlsLife.com
"Harrington unfurls another gripping whodunit that will keep readers guessing . . . Thanks to Harrington’s ability to weave suspenseful yet believable stories full of hidden clues and false leads, what the teenagers uncover about Flynn’s death goes beyond what most readers will see coming. As in her previous novels, Harrington’s fully defined characters and vivid settings set the stage for a riveting read."Publishers Weekly
"This mystery takes many unexpected twists and turns . . . Corporate misbehavior, economic downturns, and whistle-blowing are not the usual in young adult books, but Harrington makes them relevant to teen readers."VOYA