My therapist tells me I should write you a letter. Like flushing all my thoughts and feelings out of my system and onto paper. I tell her it's a stupid idea.
But here I am, writing a letter to a dead girl. Where do I start? Where did our story begin? From the moment you were born...or died?
I'll start with the moment I found out the truth about you. Your lies and my pain. Because it always begins and ends with you.
And that end began when Rafe Lawrence came back to town...
Ava Hale will do anything to find her sister's killer...although she'll wish she hadn't. Because the harder Ava looks, the more secrets she uncovers about Kesley, and the more she begins to think that the girl she called sister was a liar. A sneak. A stranger.
And Kesley's murderer could be much closer than she thought...
A debut novel from Wattpad award-winner Kara Terzis, Frayed is a psychological whodunit that will keep you guessing!
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By Kara Terzis
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Kara Terzis
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The unhealthy growl of a car pulled me from my thoughts. I fixed a smile on my face as my best friend, Lia Zhang, pulled up to the curb.
The window slid down with a hum, and she poked her head out. Her long curtain of glossy, black hair had the sleek, model-like look that hair product ads promise. Lia's half-Filipino, half-Chinese heritage also showed in her flawlessness skin.
"Get in," she said. "You must be freezing your ass off out there."
I shivered at her words, just then noticing the way the cold seemed to bite at my skin, but I ignored the feeling of foreboding that crept up on me. I walked around to the passenger seat and slid in, the warmth from the heater engulfing me. Oddly enough, I didn't find it comforting.
Music pumped from the car speakers, but when Lia saw my gaze flicker toward them, she rolled her eyes and turned it down. She knew I hated music.
"You're ten minutes late," I said. "Why?"
She pressed her lips together before she laughed. "Yeah, I know. Such a rebel, right? 'Cause, like, I have a record of being so punctual anyway." Lia was known for always being late. Fashionably, but still — late was late. Time was precious. It could seep past you without you even knowing.
And then, in the blink of an eye, it could vanish.
I tilted my head in her direction. I knew Lia like I knew the back of my hand. Better, probably. And by the way her eyes were too focused on the road ahead, I knew something was wrong. Then, just like it always did, her calm facade cracked.
"Just don't be angry at me, okay?" she whispered.
"You know I won't," I said, and despite the thick cloud of depression that still covered me, I managed a small smile. Or a replica of what used to be my smile anyway. Most people didn't look deeply enough to see the difference.
Lia shot me a skeptical look but answered. "I ran into someone this morning at the café."
"Who?" I asked.
My mind went blank for a moment as I stared out the window. I was distantly aware of the thumping that was coming from my chest and getting louder and louder as the seconds ticked past. Breathe, Ava, breathe.
"Yeah," said Lia. "I know, right? He leaves, and suddenly, a month after Kesley dies —" She broke off with a stiff glance in my direction. "Anyway," she continued, "he's back now. He told me he wants to talk to you." I swallowed, but my throat was dry. It felt like I was swallowing parchment. My tongue felt too thick in my mouth, and I couldn't seem to form words.
"Right," I managed.
"You're not going to go, right?" she said.
I hesitated. Was I?
"Don't be insane, Ava. You know the boy has issues. I never understood what Kesley saw in him." Her jaw tightened for a fraction of a second.
"They weren't together like that," I said, cutting her off swiftly. An instant defensiveness had sprung up inside me.
"If you say so," Lia muttered, eyeing the marked road that stretched ahead of us. "Besides, you know it's not something Jackson would like. He loves you and only wants to see you safe."
I sighed and glanced out the window again. Lia and I were both stubborn; we both thought we were always right. That was where we clashed. Continually. But she was also the best and almost only friend I had, so I clung tightly to her.
She and Jackson were the only ones I had left.
But I also knew Lia had seen Rafe as more than just a friend of Kesley's, something Lia would deny profusely because he'd rejected her on multiple occasions.
I'd always wondered just how bitter she felt toward Kesley about that.
But she was right about Rafe. Jackson wouldn't like me meeting him.
The pine trees were a blur of green and brown as we sped past, heading in the general direction of the one high school that Circling Pines had. Winter was drawing closer by the second, though the thought didn't bother me. At least it would give me an excuse to stay indoors all day. Located close to the Rocky Mountains, Circling Pines fell in the southeastern area of British Columbia, and winters are cold here.
"What exactly did Rafe tell you?" I asked Lia as we passed the only shopping strip — a collection of cafés and overpriced clothing stores.
"Not much," Lia admitted. "Only that he wanted to meet you for coffee this afternoon to talk." There was a pause. A very deliberate, prolonged pause. "I also told him you wouldn't go."
"I know! I'm sorry! But you can't actually be considering this."
I folded my arms over my chest and glared at the pine trees. My hands shook, and I resisted the urge to ball them into fists. "Until you give me a good reason why I shouldn't go, I'm going," I said in a surprisingly calm voice.
Lia tapped the steering wheel in a melodic sort of way, though I knew it was more a nervous habit than a conscious thought. She seemed to be fighting against saying something, as if she were worried it might upset me. I'd seen that look plenty of times in the past weeks.
"What's bothering you?" I said.
"What do you really know about Rafe?" she blurted out.
"Um. He was a year younger than my sister and spent way too much time in juvenile detention. My foster mother never liked him much —"
"Okay, okay," Lia interrupted. "I mean, what do you know about Rafe and your sister?"
"I don't know. She never told me much about him, all right? Can we just leave it at that?" The school gates were coming into view, wrought iron and impressive looking, with ivy that clung to the metal like a winter coat.
"Fine," Lia said. She angled the car into an open parking space near the back of the almost-full parking lot and killed the engine. The lot was deserted. Everyone must have been in class already, meaning Lia and I were horribly late. She pulled the car keys out of the ignition and stuffed them into her jacket pocket with a brief glance in my direction. "All I'm saying is that your sister was murdered, and there's a killer on the loose."
Her words sent more of a chill through me than the bitterly cold air outside.
* * *
"Miss Hale, Miss Zhang. For the third time this week, you're late." The clipped voice of my English teacher came from the front of the classroom. In synchronization, every student in the class turned to watch as Lia and I entered the room.Almost every student in the room, with the exception of one. Rafe Lawrence was leaning back in his chair, face tilted toward the front of the room, and looking exactly as I remembered. As if he had sensed me looking, he suddenly shifted his gaze to fix on mine. His expression was hard to read, though I could have sworn his lips curled at the edges a bit.
I looked away quickly, stomach twisting.
Mrs. York fished something out of her desk and headed toward us, her high-heeled shoes clipping against the linoleum floor.
"What's that?" I asked as she handed us each a slip of paper.
"Detention. For a week. My compassion is wearing thin, Ava." A hot feeling crashed over me, and I felt my cheeks blaze with humiliation. I felt a gentle tug on my shoulder from Lia, and I let her pull me over to one of the spare seats and sat down heavily, stowing the detention slip in the depths of my backpack.
"Old bat," Lia muttered in my ear. I allowed a grudging smile and tuned out for the rest of the English lesson.
* * *
"I didn't know Rafe was coming back to school," I told Lia as the final bell rang through the school. Everyone scrambled to gathered up their books, pencils, and other belongings and hurried to leave as quickly as possible. The swell of vague school chatter increased, so I had to raise my voice to be heard over the noise.
Lia shrugged. "Neither did I, but it makes sense. Have you thought about what I told you?"
"About Rafe? Lia, it's coffee. What do you think he's going to do to me?" We left the classroom and headed toward our lockers. At the beginning of the year, we'd switched so we could be beside each other. Otherwise, with lockers assigned alphabetically, Zhang and Hale were pretty much at opposite ends of the corridor. Lia remained silent as I stuffed several books into my backpack without bothering to see if I needed them or not. Something white poked out against the dark blue of the backpack, and I drew it out. It was the detention slip — to be signed by my mother and handed back to my teacher tomorrow morning.
I shoved it back in and shut the locker door harder than necessary.
"This is Rafe we're talking about," Lia said, slamming her own locker shut. "What wouldn't he do? Just call me when you get home, all right? He's waiting for you outside."
"I will," I replied, but I had already turned away. Nerves danced in my stomach, twisting into an anxious knot. I gripped the strap on my backpack harder than usual, feeling how slippery it was with sweat. Why was I so nervous? This was Rafe, someone I had trusted. So why couldn't I shake the feeling of dread? It curled over me in a thick wave as I squinted through the crowd, looking for a familiar pair of blue eyes and dark hair.
Rafe was nowhere to be seen. People looked at me as I passed through the crowd, their eyes filled with fake sympathy or just curiosity. The crowd seemed to part for me, students drawing back against their lockers like I had some highly contagious disease.
I stumbled my way toward the glass doors of the back exit.
I was the sister of that girl who had been murdered, the one they showed on the news every night. People in this town seemed to cling to any news story bigger than an attempted robbery like it was their lifeline.
I broke out into the sunshine with a relieved sigh. The gentle warmth of the sun caressed my skin, and the light wind tugged my hair back behind me. I'd chosen the back entrance of the school, knowing there wouldn't be as many people here. The fewer people there were to stare at me, the better.
A narrow path wound through the trees along the backstreets of Circling Pines. If I took it, it would lead through the backstreets of Circling Pines — past the cemetery and on to the patch of woodland where my house was. The faint echo of traffic sounded in the distance, but apart from that, it was silent. The chatter of schoolkids had cut off as soon as the school's glass doors swung shut.
"Peaceful here, isn't it?" said a voice from behind me.
I turned to see Rafe leaning against the glass doors. His arms were crossed, and he looked comfortable as he gazed at the trees. It wasn't difficult to see what girls saw in Rafe Lawrence, and it wasn't just because of his bad-boy stigma or piercing blue eyes. He had a certain attractiveness — from the sharp, defined angle of his jaw to his curved lips and the dark hair that curled around his ears and above his eyes.
"Yes, it is," I said. Rafe pulled himself off the doors and came to stand close to me. Too close. My fingers tightened on the strap of my backpack, cutting into my skin. "Uh, Lia said you wanted to talk to me?"
"Yeah. She also told me you wouldn't come."
"Sorry about that," I murmured. "Lia can be ... protective of me sometimes, you know?"
"I guess," I whispered.
Rafe was watching me carefully, his gaze lingering on the left side of my face.
"How about that coffee?" I said.
Trouble followed Rafe right into Circling Pines.
Circling Pines hasn't changed much since you died. The streets are as quiet as they've always been, despite the tourists that filter through the town on their way to visit the national parks. The mountains still rise on either side of us, and the pine forests continue to grow. I half expected the mountains to come crumbling down when you died or the forests to shrivel up and die.
Rafe and his parents had moved in only a few streets from where we lived with our foster mother, and we spent most of our time together.
Remember when we were seven and eight, and we'd race down the empty streets on our bicycles, leaves scattering in our wakes? Or when we were nine and ten, and we'd fly our kites along the high overlook just east of town?
Or when Rafe and I were twelve, and you were thirteen, and we were beginning to notice things we hadn't before. Like the shape of his jaw and mouth and how he was quickly becoming taller than us, voice deepening.
One moment stuck out like a red petal in snow.
It was the beginning of high school. I was nervous, terrified, and alone. You'd told me you'd meet me at the gates for my first day. You weren't there, but Rafe was.
Rafe looked at me, saw my expression, and said, "You don't always need her, you know. You're smart. And capable. And one day, Kesley might not be there to help you."
I never realized how right he was. Because you never know how much you're relying on someone until they're gone. Until they're swept away without warning, and in a heartbeat, you're alone and left floundering.
I've felt a lot like that after you died.
I didn't just lose a sister and a friend — but a protector too. You were always there for me through thick and thin and everything in between. In third grade when Stacey Miller threw my glasses down the toilet because they looked funny, you made her go out and buy a new pair. That memory was still sharp, and I've been wearing contacts for the past few years. And just a few years later when Amanda Dawson stuck a "Kick Me" sign on my back, you slapped her across the face.
Now that you're gone, Kesley, I have no big sister to protect me ...CHAPTER 2
Ten minutes later, Rafe and I were seated in the one of the many cafés in town, my fingers curled around the hot edges of a coffee cup. The scent of coffee filled the room, and the warm glow from the fire that crackled in the fireplace sent dancing rays of light across our faces.
We hadn't said much on the trip here. Rafe seemed different than I remembered. Some of the cool confidence that used to ooze from every pore had evaporated, leaving a quieter boy behind. Still, that didn't stop him from catching the eye of the pretty waitress and winking at her.
"So you just came back from Vancouver today?" I asked.
"Yesterday, actually. I figured it would be best —"
"You missed my sister's funeral," I said. My grip tightened involuntarily around the hot cup; it scorched my skin, but I hardly noticed. "It was a month ago."
"I know. I ... How was it?" he asked quietly.
"Don't be." But my tone suggested otherwise. In a way, I was absurdly jealous. How was it fair that he'd skipped past all the pain and the tears and the sleepless nights leading up to the funeral? And then there was the funeral itself. I don't remember much of it. It's all just a blur of tears and words.
I fixed my gaze on the swirling contents of my cup, remembering all the times I'd ditched first period with Kesley to have coffee. That would never happen again. It felt wrong somehow to be sitting here with her former best friend, talking and having a cup of coffee. An awkward silence had descended, and Rafe broke it first.
"Do you ever wonder ..." He paused, cleared his throat, and started again. "Ava, she was murdered —"
"Do I ever wonder who killed her?" I finished for him.
"I wonder that every second of every goddamn day."
"Do they have any idea?"
"No," I said, cutting him off. "They don't know."
"And you're okay with that?"
"Am I okay with that?" My mouth popped open in surprise. "Of course I'm not. But what can I do about it? I'm no detective. They told Mom and me they would do their best to find out who ..." I couldn't finish the sentence.
Neither could Rafe. He dropped his blue gaze to his own cup. He still hadn't touched it. I stared out the windows at the cars zooming past on the main street and wished I could be anywhere but here. Silence fell between us, interrupted only by the clinking of glasses by the couple at the table next to us and the chiming of the bell every time someone entered or exited the shop.
I stood up abruptly. "I should go —"
"Okay," Rafe agreed, and he rose to his feet too. There was nothing more to say here, I realized. He had only wanted to talk to me because I was that poor girl whose sister was murdered. I wondered just how much he cared about me. About Kesley. I was on the verge of asking, but Rafe was already flagging down the waitress to pay for the coffees.
Excerpted from Frayed by Kara Terzis. Copyright © 2016 Kara Terzis. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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