The Dead Girls Club - Damien Angelica Walters Page 0,1

to hide what’s inside. Not anymore. The tangle of truth and lies and imagination makes no sense, but we make up stories when it hurts too much to tell the real ones. The ones with teeth; the ones that keep us awake at night. They’re the ones that leave scars.

Not trusting my legs to carry me to the bathroom, I reach for a tissue, ball it up, and scrub the red marks from my skin. I keep scrubbing, even when they’re gone.

The last time I saw the pendant, it was on Becca’s neck. Her eyes were closed, her arms at her sides. I sat beside her for what felt like hours, my fervent apologies filling the air, my tears turning the changed world to a blur.

Long before the Dead Girls Club, long before the stories of the Red Lady, Becca was the one person I could tell everything to, no matter how hurtful or ridiculous, the one I knew would always be by my side, the one I promised to help, no matter what. She was my best friend.

And I killed her.

Sorrow thickens my throat and I rock back and forth, the tissue crumpled in my fist. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t mean it. Didn’t mean to hurt her.

I didn’t.

I inhale. Exhale. Nudge the necklace into one of the pockets in my bag and toss the tissue. I want to shout, to rage and tear my hair. Instead, I growl, long and low. It’s not loud enough to seep through the walls, so I don’t have to worry about Ellie or the other psychologist with whom I share the space hearing.

Doesn’t take a genius to figure out why I chose this career, why I don’t see anyone over eighteen. I don’t have any photographs of Becca, but I remember her pale eyes and her even paler hair. I remember the two of us talking about Ted Bundy, our heads tucked close together, the sleepovers, the giggling until late in the night. I remember—

I make twin fists. Pinch the tip of my tongue between my front teeth. I can’t afford to do this right now. There isn’t much time before my next patient arrives. After that, back-to-back appointments until the end of the day. I need to do what I’m good at. I need to listen. I need to observe. Memory lane can wait.

Here’s the thing: I refuse to believe the dead can buy postage stamps.

But someone obviously did.

The only two possibilities are so remote, so absurd, I can’t even take them seriously. If Rachel or Gia, the two other members of the Dead Girls Club, knew, why would they wait so long? Why didn’t they tell the police? Then or now?

All four of us—me, Becca, Rachel, and Gia—were thick as thieves at the end of the school year. Before summer’s end, we were no longer friends and Becca was dead. I don’t think I ever spoke to Rachel or Gia again.

I scratch my temple. I can’t call the police, but …

My fingers hover over the keyboard. The clock isn’t just ticking, but ticking down. Once I start this, there’s no going back.

“I didn’t start it,” I say aloud.

I wonder if things would’ve been different if they’d found her body. That’s when a missing girl becomes a dead girl. That’s when she gets interesting.

Focus, Heather. Focus.

The necklace was on Becca and she wasn’t moving. She was dead. And now—

My desk phone rings. I jump and answer it.

“Elijah’s here, Dr. Cole,” Ellie says.

“Thank you. I’ll be up in a minute,” I say, arranging my voice into a professional cadence. I’ve worked hard for that voice. I’ve worked hard, period. No way in hell am I going to let anyone take that or anything else away from me.

Necklace or no necklace, they don’t know what happened.

* * *

By the end of the day I feel like the Hulk, every nerve exposed, waiting for the explosion. On the inside, anyway. On the outside, I’m Dr. Cole of the tailored slacks, the crisp button-down shirt, the trim waist, the tasteful silver watch and wedding band, the polite good-night to Ellie, the shiny black Jeep Cherokee waiting in the parking lot. A typical Wednesday.

Bag over my shoulder, steps wide and confident, I scan the lot. No one’s skulking about or sitting in their car, staring at me. And most of the cars are already gone. Route 100 is quiet. Frequent glances in my rearview mirror assure me that no one follows me onto Interstate 97.