When band-geek Ivy and her friends get together, things start with a rousing board game and end with arguments about Star Wars.
Her older sister Autumn is a different story. Enigmatic, aloof, and tough as nails, Autumn hasn't had real friendsor trusted anyonein years. Even Ivy.
But Autumn might not be tough enough. After a drug deal gone wrong, Autumn is beaten, bound, and held hostage. Now, trapped between life and death, she leaves her body, seeking help. No one can sense her presenceexcept her sister.
When Autumn doesn't come home, Ivy just knows she's in trouble. Unable to escape the chilling feeling that something isn't right, Ivy follows a string of clues that bring her closer to rescuing her sister... and closer to danger.
Autumn needs Ivy to find her before time runs out. But soon, both sisters realize that finding her also means untangling the secrets that lead to the truthabout where they're hiding Autumn, and what Autumn has been hiding.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
On a scale of one to ten, my desire to talk to the cops who’ve spent the last twenty minutes digging through my locker is a raging neg-ative ﬁfty. And yet, here I am.
I breathe out a heavy sigh, watching them examine every single book, binder, and random thing in there.
The shorter cop holds up a baggie full of nuts. “What’s this?”
“Honey-roasted peanuts. Very scary stuff.” If I had known I’d be yanked out of ﬁfth period, I wouldn’t have blown two hours of my life writing that Faulkner paper last night. But everyone thinks their time is more valuable than mine—it comes with the territory of being a teenage girl.
“What’s this dusting on them?”
I lean against the row of lockers behind me. “The honey-roasted part.” If they were coated in cocaine, does he really think I’d look him in the eyes and say, They’re coated in cocaine? “Otherwise I would’ve just said ‘peanuts.’”
This is Kaitlyn Kennedy’s fault. Each second I stand here, the anger inside me simmers hotter. It’s pretty much at a full-blown boil right now. Kaitlyn’s lucky she’s not here. She won’t be so lucky later.
I survey the pile of my crap they’ve dumped onto the common- room ﬂoor. “Can I go back to class now?”
“We’re almost done.” The other cop, who looks like a less-hot clone of Rob Gronkowski, yanks the spare box of tampons out of my backpack. To my horror, he opens it. He literally opens my tampons and starts taking them out, one by one, right in the middle of the common room.
“We’re just doing our job, Ms. Casterly.” The short cop pulls out one of the tampons and sniffs it, and I pretty much want to melt into the carpet. What the hell? If they’re going to sniff my stuff for drugs, at least bring a drug-sniffing dog for me to pet.
Principal Greenwich hovers nearby, his caterpillar eyebrows low over his eyes. “Autumn, why is it that whenever there’s a hint of trouble in this school, all roads seem to lead back to you?”
“I didn’t do anything, Mr. Greenwich. There’s nothing in my locker but books and trash. And tampons.” I’m not lying. I’d never keep my stash in my locker for this very reason.
But it doesn’t matter if they ﬁnd anything or not. The principal has already pegged me as a criminal. I’m one of the “bad kids,” and labels come with assumptions. They assume the bad kids are always monsters, and the good ones never are.
A couple of doe-eyed freshmen whisper to each other as they pass, not even trying to hide their stares. Probably excited to tell their friends they witnessed Autumn Casterly getting her ass handed to her by the cops. One of them looks like she might try and talk to me, but I glower and they walk faster.
“You’re probably one of the only senior girls whose locker isn’t loaded with selﬁes and pictures of giant groups of girls making duckfaces.” The cop chuckles, thrilled by his own joke. Ah yes, we’ve got a real comedian here. Nothing is funnier than belittling teen girls. But I can’t help feeling like there was a hidden question in his statement—Don’t you have any friends? I grind my shoe into the dirty carpet.
Not-Rob-Gronkowski grins, holding up a photo of my dog, Pumpernickel. “Who’s this?”
Literally none of your business. “My dog.”
“He a miniature schnauzer?”
“Cute. My sister has one, they’re great.”
Five minutes ago he made fun of my Proud Vegetarian magnet, so I’m pretty pissed he thinks he has the right to compliment my dog right now. I can almost see the amusement on his face that the school delinquent has a well-loved pet. As if the fact that I deal pills means I should be surrounded by vape pens and switchblades and maybe something really illegal, like a mountain of Kinder Eggs. But I love my dog. Loving animals is so much less complicated than loving humans.
“Aw. This you?” He holds up another photo, crinkled at the edges. It’s my mom and me sitting on the tire swing at Merrill Park when I was six. Back when we lived on the east side of town.
Something catches in my throat. My mom’s been dead for almost seven years, and I thought I’d be able to handle these things better by now. Everyone told me it would get easier—five stages of grief and all that stuff—but it hasn’t yet.
I look away. “Yep.”
The cops finish their prying and declare my locker officially drug-free. They don’t offer to help put back my stuff they’ve so generously left strewn in the middle of the room. I force a smile as they leave, mentally shoving both middle fingers up their asses. The funny thing is, if they searched my bedroom, they’d have enough evidence to lock me away for a couple of years. I suppose that’s what would happen if the system actually worked.
“Thanks for your cooperation, Autumn.” The principal says it like I had a choice. He nods as I start shoving books into my locker. “You can go back to class when you’ve finished up.” No apology for ruining my day, of course.
I throw my things inside a little harder than necessary, the metal clanging in my ears. My face gets hot when the bell rings and a flood of people burst into the common room.
They send smiles and waves my way. Everyone wants to say they’re Autumn Casterly’s BFF. But none of them give two shits about me—they just want me to sell to them.
The moment they think I’m out of earshot, words get tossed be-tween them in hushed whispers. Bitch. Slut. Liar. They’d never say it to my face, but my hearing is good. Too good. I stuff everything into my locker faster.
Maybe if I was weaker, their words would pierce me. My mom used to say that we should be like ducks, letting gossip and insults flow off our backs like drops of water rolling down oily feathers. But I’m not a duck.
I’m a predator.
With each book and binder that I cram back into my locker, I repeat one promise in my head over and over: Kaitlyn Kennedy’s getting her ass kicked after school.
Kevin is taking forever to make his move. His leg jitters against the chair leg beside me. Our Ticket to Ride Europe game board takes up half the table. Every time his knee jiggles, it knocks some of the train pieces off their spaces.
“Hey, Marino, you planning to draw cards this year?” Alexa asks.
A pink tinge spreads across Kevin’s cheeks. “I’m thinking.”
Alexa’s long, glittery fingernails click impatiently against the tabletop.
We started the Nerd Herd Club last year, trying to make it a thing. It’s still just the six of us. Our meetings usually start with someone geeking out over Final Fantasy and end with an argument about Star Wars (Han shot first, I don’t give a shit what Jason says). We’ve recently delved into the wonderful world of board games—which is why we’re meeting in the gross cafeteria today, because the librarian accused us of being too rowdy. I mean, I wouldn’t call us rowdy; I’d say we have a spirited sense of competition.
“Okay, I’m gonna build,” Kevin says after an eternity.
“Finally,” Jason mutters.
Kevin lays four blue train pieces onto the board, connecting Edinburgh and London.
“Asshole!” Alexa fake-punches him in the arm. “I was gonna do that.”
The janitor swishes a dirty mop over the tiled floor. He looks less than thrilled to see us here after school.
I nudge Kevin. “Let’s meet at your place tomorrow. I feel like we’ve outworn our welcome in the cafeteria.”
“My mom’s renovating our kitchen.”
“Better than this.” Alexa flicks a lock of purple hair behind her ear. “She says no visitors until it’s finished.”
Alexa’s girlfriend, Sophie, finishes polishing her glasses and pushes them up the bridge of her nose. “Isn’t there a rule that school clubs have to meet at school to count?”
Jason lays a few tracks on the board. “I don’t think hanging out every day counts as a club anymore.”
“It’s a stupid rule anyway.” Alexa rolls her eyes at him. “Seriously? I was just about to build there.”
“Can we go to your house?” I ask Alexa.
“Nope. My parents haven’t seen this one since we officially started dating.” She affectionately nudges Sophie. “And I’d rather avoid the third degree. You know my dad would have the ‘what are your intentions with my daughter’ talk with her.”
I snort. “Oh please. You’re the one doing all the corrupting in this relationship.”
“It’s true.” Sophie grins. “But you have to let them see me before homecoming.”
“You going to homecoming, Ivy?” Jason asks. “You should go with me. As friends. So we don’t look like losers.”
“I think it’s too late for that,” I say. “But sure.” I’m a little relieved. Me and Jason have been going to dances as best-friend dates since freshman year, and I always worry he’s going to get a girlfriend and ditch me. Then I’ll be that person hanging out by the bathroom during slow songs.
Alexa huffs. “What if she’d wanted to go with a real date?”
My heart sinks. “He is a real date. Friends count.” I draw two, doing a happy dance at the wild card. “Unless Patrick Perkins wants to move back to Concord and sweep me off my feet.”
Jason laughs. “Your lover.”
Patrick Perkins has been an inside joke ever since I told the group about him. I was so smitten with that kid back in fifth grade. We were besties. Seriously, he snuck two pints of Ben and Jerry’s out of his parents’ freezer for me the day I got my first period and wanted to die. That kid was the shit. Then his parents got a divorce and he moved away. It sucked. But now it’s kind of funny.
A couple upperclassmen stroll through the cafeteria in workout clothes, making a beeline for the snack machine. “Wassup, dungeon masters?” one of the guys yells. They practically fall over them-selves laughing. I don’t really get what’s so funny; we’re playing board games, ha-ha?
Kevin slinks down in his seat, his cheeks turning pink again. He’s not great with standing up for himself when jerks show up. The rest of us protectively slide closer to him.
“We’re not playing D and D today,” Alexa says coolly. “But I’ll let you know next time we do. We’ve been looking for someone to play the troll.”
“You can be my dungeon master,” the other guy says, popping quarters into the machine.
I’ll never understand why douchebags always hit on Alexa. First of all, she’s been dating Sophie for, like, five months now, and they’re always holding hands and stuff in the hallway. Second, she’s got a big “I like my coffee like I like my men. I don’t drink coffee.”—Ellen DeGeneres button on her messenger bag. And lastly, she’s deathly allergic to assholes.
“Great! Here’s my dungeon key.” She sticks up her middle finger. “Get your snacks and go away.”
“This machine’s been ransacked. You sure your friend didn’t eat them all?” The way the guy says friend is ambiguous, but I know he’s talking about me.
“Hey.” Jason jumps to his feet. Sophie puts her hand on his elbow to calm him down.
“Wow, food jokes about the fat girl,” I shout as they stride out of the cafeteria. “How original.” Seriously, every time someone makes a crack about my weight, they think they’re saying something revolutionary. As if I had no idea I was fat until they pointed it out.
“Sorry, Ivy.” Jason settles back into his seat. “Those guys are pricks.”
“The tall one sits behind me in chem,” Alexa adds. “Judging by his score on our last quiz, methinks he should spend less time being a dick and more time actually, you know, opening a book.”
I grin. “A radical concept. What were we talking about before that rude interruption?”
“Where to meet tomorrow.” Kevin blinks at his train tracks, which are spread victoriously across the entire map of Europe on the game board. “Also, I just completed my long route.”
The rest of us groan. Half the time I think Kevin is hustling us, because he acts so innocent but then kicks our asses at almost every game.
“Total annihilation,” Jason says.
“What about your place, Ivy?” Sophie asks. “Can we meet there?” I shudder. “Nope. Never. I live with Satan.”
“Is your sister really that bad?” Sophie asks. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually met the infamous Autumn Casterly.”
“You’re lucky. She should probably be in juvie,” I mumble. Last year, I found this pamphlet on how to protect yourself from a snarl-ing dog threatening to bite. You’re supposed to avoid eye contact, back away slowly, and speak in a calm tone when absolutely neces-sary; that’s kind of what living with Autumn is like.
“I wouldn’t mind hanging out with your sister.” Jason winks, laying down a couple tracks.
“Jason Daly-Cruz, do you have the hots for Autumn?” Alexa wiggles her eyebrows.
Jason grins. He thinks it’s hilarious to joke about dating Autumn.
“No.” I draw a card. “No chance in hell.” Kinda sucks when your sister is the pretty one and you have to listen to everyone talk about her constantly. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jason did have a crush on Autumn. If not, he’s probably the only hetero guy in our whole school who doesn’t. Rumor has it she only goes out with college guys, though, and rumors are about as close as I get to actual details about her life.
Deciphering Autumn’s rumor mill is like playing two truths and a lie, but in this version of the game, there could be one truth, or two, or three, or zero, and I’d never know which. In the past week, I’ve heard that Autumn (1) blew off AP Euro to smoke weed in the teachers’ lot, (2) was responsible for Carly Quince’s ankle brace, and (3) sold painkillers to one of the school secretaries. All I know is, she vanishes constantly, and I don’t even want to know whose bed she’s sleeping in when she doesn’t come home.
With her reputation, I wouldn’t think guys would fall at her feet like they do, but Autumn’s beauty is like the rush of the ocean in a hurricane. From far away, she’s mystifying and beautiful, like waves crashing on a stormy shore. However, the closer you get, the wilder and more dangerous she becomes, capable of pulling you under until you drown.