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DescriptionCan you change when you will die, or just the way you live?
Keira Alexander still hasn't made any friends in her new town of Cedar Heights, but at least she's snagged a summer community service gig at the Cedar Heights Police Department. Normally, all she does is busy work, but this time, she finds herself at the scene of an apparent suicide--Rhian Sullivan, a girl from Kiera's high school. But when Keira finds a trunk full of Rhian's diaries, she becomes obsessed with the life of the girl she barely knew--and with her death.
Because Rhian didn't kill herself. She was murdered. And the murderer does not want Keira to talk...
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“She killed herself?” I hesitated at the entrance of the duplex where the cold air-conditioning met the moist heat of the Texas summer night.
“Right through the heart.” Officer Zeke Alvarez stood from his examination of the woman’s chest wound. “Come on in, Keira, we’re pretty much done in here. It’s not too bad.”
Easy for Zeke to say. He saw all kinds of horrible spectacles. Even if he was still called a rookie by the other patrols and was only eighteen. In Cedar Heights, the age requirement for police officers was still only eighteen, especially for those who could speak Spanish, like Zeke. But I was just a community service volunteer, so all I’d been allowed to do was babysit the kids of crime victims, and file paperwork—until tonight.
“It’s OK for me to be here?” Glass crunched under my feet as I walked toward the body on the floor. I expected one of the officers milling around to shout, Hey, you’re in high school—get out of here! But no one even seemed to notice me. I guess the fact that I was with Zeke gave me credibility.
“Sure, Sarge already said suicide.” Zeke’s words drew me back.
“What about evidence collection?”
“We did all that already. It’s not like TV. When it’s an obvious suicide, they don’t send a special team out.”
I needed to focus on something other than the blue-tinged body on the floor with eyes staring open, mirroring a scream on the frozen lips. I shifted my sight to the shards of glass that lay underneath the window.
Zeke noticed me looking. “Boyfriend kicked it in.” How many dead bodies would I have to see before I adopted his blasé attitude? But his eyes were not quite as heavy-lidded as usual, and he seemed to speak at a higher pitch. “They already talked to him. He passed the powder test.” That meant the boyfriend hadn’t fired the gun.
“Mira.” Zeke speckled his speech with Spanish. He pointed to the victim’s chest and the gun. “This is how you tell it’s suicide. The angle of the shot, close range, the powder burns. And there’s a note.” He must have been repeating what the sergeant had said.
“What did she write?”
“The usual—hurts too much, can’t go on.”
Woozy, I made myself focus on the nightstand and the note. I couldn’t read somebody’s last words, so instead I my gaze skipped to the signature. Rhian. Only then did I look at her face. “Rhian Sullivan.” A cold tremor started inside me. “I knew her.”
“Aw, baby. I wouldn’t have let you in here if I knew.” He put his arms around me and I hid my face in the dark blue of his uniform. Because he wore a bulletproof vest, I felt like I was holding a cardboard box.
I’d wanted to be Rhian’s friend, but moving to Cedar Heights High in the middle of my junior year after all the other moves I’d gone through, I’d lost my ability to make friends. Something was seriously wrong with me.
I looked up into Zeke’s face. “She shot herself in the chest?” My teeth chattered.
“That’s how a lot of women do it, and sometimes they don’t even die right away.”
I forced myself to keep asking questions. “Did anyone hear anything?”
“I went over to the other side of the duplex. No one’s living there. Look at this—all diaries.” He went to the trunk at the foot of the bed. When he opened it, it was full of spiral notebooks. He smirked. “Don’t you keep a diary?”
Instead of answering him, I asked, “Is the detective going to read them?”
“Nah, he said the note already established state of mind. He didn’t need to know she’d been depressed since she was fifteen.” Zeke brushed his hair back, but the cowlick in front fought him, giving him a barely tamed look.
“Wouldn’t Sergeant Valasia be impressed if you could say you had gone through all her diaries?”
“I don’t think he cares, Keira.”
I turned to see my reflection in a Mexican-tiled mirror hanging on the wall. My eyes were black, as if the pupils were fighting to take it all in. Zeke’s gaze met mine in the mirror, his gray-green eyes a shock against his dark skin and hair.
“I want to read the diaries,” I said to him.
“You don’t need to be doing that.” He closed a bureau drawer filled with T-shirts and shorts Rhian would never wear again.
A guy with hectic blue eyes burst into the duplex. “I have to see her!” He had a swimmer’s build and curly hair struggling against a super-short cut. “I’m her boyfriend!”
Zeke blocked his entrance. “Sir, hold it right there. This is a crime scene.”
I shot Zeke a look. His reaction to someone whose girlfriend had just killed herself seemed overly stern. I turned to the guy and softened my voice, as if talking to a wild animal. “I’m Keira Vaughan, a volunteer.” That made me sound older and more important than I was. “What’s your name?”
“Brandon. I’m her—I was her—”
“Why don’t we go outside and talk?”
Brandon dragged me toward the corpse. His breath smelled yeasty and sweet, and I could tell he’d been drinking. On top of that, he smelled like he had doused himself with cologne.
I’d never seen a guy cry. Josh hadn’t cried when we broke up, and my dad hadn’t when he’d left. I wondered if they all did it, like Brandon, without tears, the choking sounds twisted out of them.
I could feel Zeke bristling because Brandon was leaning on me. If a girl was leaning on him like that, I would have felt just as jealous.
Brandon allowed himself to be led outside. Outside, I could finally take a deep breath, even though the heat made me feel like I was inhaling cotton wool.
“I tried to make her happy, but I made it even worse,” he said. “She would cry if I even looked at someone else. Would you do that—cry if your boyfriend just happened to look at a girl?”
“I’m more concerned about you right now,” I said, pleased I’d dodged the question. I had obviously picked up something from listening to the counselors at the police department’s Victim Services Unit.
Brandon let go of me. “Sorry, I don’t even know you or anything.” He lifted his T-shirt to wipe his face, exposing a flat, tanned stomach. “I must have known something was going on. I couldn’t call her because she’d changed her phone number. Why did she have to do that? I wasn’t going to call her no more. But if I talked to her tonight, maybe she wouldn’t have done it.”
“You couldn’t have known.”
“I came over here, maybe I knew something was wrong.” Anger seemed to sweep away his grief. “Really, I thought she was with some guy. We weren’t supposed to be with anyone else—we were just taking a break, that’s what we called it—but I knew she would, she’s got those little hot pants.”
“Was she seeing someone else?”
His mouth opened in an anguished gape, as though reminded of her corpse.
“Let’s sit down.” I pointed at the curb, a bit unsteady myself after what I’d seen inside. The black asphalt of the road glittered with mica under the streetlight.
“She was depressed all the time. I couldn’t do anything to help her. I just seemed to be making it worse. She was so sensitive, I couldn’t even tell her to shut up without her throwing things at me.”
“Did she hit you?”
“Only when I deserved it. I would get mad about something dumb, maybe just because my blood sugar was low, and I was always forgetting to carry around breakfast bars with me. I even have to wake up in the middle of the night to eat, I get so hungry. Rhian bought me my favorite granola bars. She did love me, even my mom said that, but not to expect it to last, because I would ruin it, like I ruin everything.”
Through the front window, I saw Zeke inside, inspecting the wall behind Rhian’s bed. He glanced around as if he knew I was watching.
I turned my attention back to Brandon, who was saying, “I tried to make her happy. I brought her pencils and her favorite ice cream—cookies and cream.”
He talked about how earlier that night he’d tried to forget Rhian. He’d drunk a six-pack with his friend Jake but couldn’t get polka dots out of his mind. Rhian had accused him of looking at some girl dressed in a polka-dot minidress on Sixth Street one night. The frenetic music at the club had matched the pulse of the strobe light and flashed against the girl’s shiny white boots. He was sick of Rhian’s jealousy and had said, “We’re through,” had taken the lipstick and twenty-dollar bill he’d been carrying for her, slammed them into her hand, and then stomped out.
“Why did I do that?” he asked now. “Why do I do such stupid things? I was thinking about that all tonight even though I wanted to forget her. I wanted to find some girl in a polka-dot minidress, just lose myself in all those dots, but I didn’t have the wheels to get to Sixth Street. Rhian wrote a poem about the polka-dot dress. Do you want to hear it? I can’t believe I remember it.” He recited,
I see from your eyes now
Thigh-high white stockings
And shiny leather boots
That reflect like shattered glass
Down to my heart.
“See how much she cared about me? But I blew it, and now she’s dead.” He huffed out air and tipped his head back.
I followed his gaze. After all the death and darkness, I was surprised to see the stars.
Memoir of DeathBy: Jacqueline Corcoran