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Don't Look Back, Page 2

Jennifer L. Armentrout

  I recognized Deputy Rhode, but the older officer was new to me. No big surprise there. He stepped forward, nodding at my parents. “We need to ask Samantha some questions.”

  “Can it wait?” asked my father, suddenly coming out of his slouch. An air of unmistakable authority surrounded him. “I’m sure there’s a better time.”

  The older officer smiled tightly. “We’re happy that your daughter appears to be in one piece, but unfortunately, there’s another family who’s still hoping for news on their daughter.”

  I sat up straighter, looking between my parents. “What?”

  My mom came to my side, taking my hand once more. “They’re talking about Cassie, honey.”


  She smiled, but it looked more like a grimace. “Cassie Winchester is your best friend. She disappeared with you.”

  chapter two

  Cassie Winchester. Best friend. That was an important term, but just like mother or father, there were no memories or emotions tied to it. I stared at the officers, feeling as if I should show some sort of emotion, but I didn’t know this girl—this Cassie.

  The older cop introduced himself as Detective Ramirez, and he proceeded to ask the same questions that everyone had. “Do you know what happened?”

  “No.” I watched the liquid in the IV drip into my hand.

  “What is the last thing you remember?” Deputy Rhode asked.

  I lifted my eyes. He had his hands clasped behind his back, and he nodded when my eyes met his. It was such a simple question, and I really wanted to answer it correctly. I needed to. I glanced at my mom. The cool facade was starting to crumble. Her eyes were glistening, lower lip thin and trembling.

  My dad cleared his throat. “Gentlemen, can this please wait? She’s been through a lot. And if she knew anything right now, she’d tell you.”

  “Anything,” Detective Ramirez said, ignoring my father. “What is the last thing you remember?”

  I squeezed my eyes shut. There had to be something. I knew I’d read To Kill a Mockingbird. More than likely, I must’ve done so in class, but I couldn’t picture the school or the teacher. I didn’t even know what grade I was in. This sucked.

  Deputy Rhode moved closer, earning a disgruntled look from his partner. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a photo, showing it to me. It was a girl. She actually looked like me. Her hair wasn’t as red as mine, though. It was browner, and her eyes were a startling, beautiful green—much more stunning than my own…but we could have passed as sisters. “Do you recognize her?”

  Frustrated, I shook my head.

  “It’s okay if you don’t. The doctor told us it may take a while to come back, and when—”

  “Wait!” I jerked forward, forgetting that damn IV. It tugged at my hand, nearly coming loose. “Wait, I remember something.”

  My father stepped forward, but the detective warned him off by saying, “What do you remember?”

  I swallowed, throat suddenly dry. It was nothing, but I felt as if it was some kind of huge achievement. “I remember rocks—like boulders—and they were smooth. Flat. Colored like sand.” And there was blood, but I didn’t say that, because I wasn’t sure if that was true.

  My parents exchanged looks, and Detective Ramirez sighed. My shoulders slumped. Obviously that was a fail.

  The deputy patted my arm. “That’s good. That’s really good. We think you were in Michaux State Forest, and that would make sense.”

  Didn’t feel good. I stared at my dirty nails, wishing everyone would all go away. But the officers lingered, talking to my parents as if I weren’t capable of comprehending anything they were saying. Cassie’s continued disappearance was major. I got that. And I did feel bad. I wanted to help them find her, but I didn’t know how I could.

  I sneaked a peek at them. Detective Ramirez watched me with eyes narrowed in intense, distrustful scrutiny. A shudder rolled down my spine, and I hastily looked away, feeling as if I deserved that look he was giving me.

  Like I was guilty of something—something terrible.

  Tendrils of fear coated in confusion crawled through me when the strangers—er, my parents—checked me out of the hospital the next day. I couldn’t believe the authorities were just letting me leave with them. What if they weren’t really my parents? What if they were psychos kidnapping me?

  I was being ridiculous.

  It wasn’t as if random people would claim a seventeen-year-old girl for no reason, which is exactly how old I was. Discovered that when I peeked at my chart at the end of my bed that morning.

  My gaze slid to my father’s head of dark hair. An air of influence coated his skin, seeped into everything he touched. I didn’t need to know anything about him to realize that he was powerful.

  Tall trees and rolling green hills that were as well manicured as the golf course I’d seen on the TV in my hospital room surrounded the road leading up to their house. We went over one dip in the road, and I saw a cluster of small houses that were cozy.

  We drove past them…in our Bentley.

  Quickly, I learned that they were rich. Sickeningly rich. It was funny how I didn’t remember squat, but I knew what money looked like.

  I kept rubbing the palm of my hand over the supple leather. The car had to be new because it had that crisp, just-manufactured scent.

  Then I saw our house. Holy crap, it was the size of a small hotel. An intimidating structure with thick marble columns in the front, rising four or five stories into the sky, and the garage to the left was the size of the houses we’d passed a few moments ago.

  “Is this really our house?” I asked when the car rounded a fountain—kind of gaudy—surrounded by foliage in the middle of the wraparound driveway.

  Mom glanced back, smiling tightly. “Of course it is, sweetie. You’ve lived here your whole life. So have I. This was my parents’ home.”

  “Was?” I asked, curious.

  “They’ve moved to Coral Gables.” She paused and took a little breath. “They’re in Florida, honey. This is their family estate.”

  Estate. That was a fancy word. My gaze shifted to my dad again, and I realized that Mom had said their and not our. As if the house wasn’t Dad’s home, but it was her family’s.

  Pushing that thought aside, I took a deep breath and then planted my face in the window again. Dear god, I lived in this place. Once I got inside the opulent foyer and saw the crystal chandelier that was probably worth more than my life, I suddenly didn’t want to move. Expensive stuff was everywhere. The rug near the grand staircase looked soft. Oil paintings of foreign landscapes graced the buttercream walls. There were so many doors, so many rooms.

  My breath was coming out in short, raspy bursts. I couldn’t move.

  Dad placed his hand on my shoulder, squeezing gently. “It’s okay, Sammy, just take it easy.”

  I stared into the face of the man I should know. His dark eyes; handsome smile; tough, hard jaw…There was nothing. My dad was a stranger. “Where is my room?”

  He dropped his hand. “Joanna, why don’t you take her upstairs?”

  Mom came forward at a slow, measured pace, wrapping her cool hand around my arm. She led me upstairs, chattering about who’d helped search for me. The mayor had taken part, which apparently was a big deal to her, and then the governor had sent our family his prayers.

  “Governor?” I whispered.

  She nodded and a slight smile pulled at her lips. “Your great-grandfather used to be a senator. Governor Anderson is a friend of the family.”

  I had no idea what to say to that.

  My bedroom was on the third floor, at the end of a long hall lit by several wall sconces. My mom stopped in front of a door with a sticker that read THIS BITCH BITES.

  I started to smile, but then she opened the door and stepped aside. Tentatively, I entered the unfamiliar room, which smelled of peaches, stopping a few feet in.

  “I’ll give you a few minutes,” she said, clearing her throat. �
�I had Scott lay out some of your yearbooks. They’re on your desk when you’re ready. Dr. Weston said they could help.”

  Help with finding my file of memories. I nodded, pressing my lips together as I scanned the room. It was big. Like, twenty times bigger than the hospital room. There was a bed in the middle of the room. A pristine white down comforter was tucked in neatly. Several gold-trimmed pillows were placed at the top. A brown teddy bear rested on them, looking out of place in the otherwise sophisticated bedroom.

  Mom cleared her throat. I’d forgotten about her. Turning around, I waited. Her smile was pained, awkward. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me.”


  With a curt nod, she left, and I started to investigate the room. The yearbooks were on my desk, but I avoided them. Part of me wasn’t ready for the weird walk down nonmemory lane. There was an Apple laptop next to several smaller devices. I recognized one as an iPod. A flat-screen TV hung from the wall above the desk. I assumed that was what the remote control belonged to.

  I made my way to the closet, throwing open the double doors. It was a walk-in. A tiny part of me was curious. Clothes weren’t a big deal to me. I knew that. Then I saw the racks in the back, and I almost squealed.

  Shoes and purses were a big deal.

  Could that be a part of the old me, or was it just because I was a girl? I wasn’t sure as I ran my fingers over the dresses. They felt like quality.

  Back in my bedroom, I discovered there was a balcony, and I had my own bathroom stocked with products I couldn’t wait to try out. Near the bed, there was a corkboard full of pictures. Huh. I had a lot of friends, and they were…dressed like me. Frowning, I inspected the collage of pictures closer.

  In one photo, there were five girls. I was in the middle, and all of us wore the same tube dress in different colors. Oh dear god. Matching dresses? I smirked as my eyes drifted over the images. One was of me and two other girls, smiling on a golf course. In another the same group from the first picture stood together on a dock, posing in really skimpy bathing suits in front of a boat named Angel. Mine was black. I was starting to see a trend.

  I ran my hands over my hips and stomach, pleased to discover that the body in that picture was actually mine. There were a few more photos at school, a group of us clustered around an oversize table, surrounded by boys.

  I was always smiling in the pictures, but the smile was…off, reminding me how everyone had smiled at me in the hospital. Like a doll’s smile, fake and painted on. But my smile was also cold. Calculating.

  And in every picture, the same girl was always beside me. In some, we had our arms around each other or were puckering our lips for the camera. She always wore red—red like fresh blood.

  Her smile was like mine, and she was the girl in the photo the deputy had shown me in the hospital. A hot feeling sparked in my stomach. Jealousy? Was I jealous of her? That couldn’t be right. She was my friend. My best friend, if what they’d been telling me was true.

  I wanted to know more about her.

  Carefully, I peeled one picture of us together off the board and held it close to my face. Her smile made me shiver, and my gaze flicked up from the photo. Color bleached from the room, replaced by dull shades of gray. Goose bumps spread across my flesh. Cold. So cold here, and dark, with only the rushing sound…in and out, in and out….

  I closed my eyes and shook my head to clear it of the dank, earthy feel that had suddenly come out of nowhere. I forced my eyes open, and the room was back in vivid color. My gaze settled on the pictures tacked to the board again. The images all blurred, and there was a flash, a quick glimpse. A tall, blond girl with a wide smile and a floppy red hat stretched out her arms to me.

  The image of the girl faded as if it had never been there. Confused, I peered at the photos, hoping to find the girl in one of them. She looked as if she was only ten or so in my head, but there was no child who looked like her on the board or an older version of her. My shoulders slumped as I stepped back. I was disappointed. Something about that smiling girl was warm and real, unlike all the rest. I would’ve been happy to see that she was on my wall of friends.

  “Look who’s back.”

  Startled, I jumped at the sound of the deep voice and dropped the picture on the floor. Shaky and disoriented, I turned around.

  A boy stood in the doorway, tall and slender. Hazel eyes peeked through messy auburn hair. There was a mischievous, quirky look on his face. I was going to make a guesstimate here and say he was my brother. We shared some of the same features. This was Scott. We were fraternal twins. At least, that was what Mom had explained on the way home.

  He tipped his head back, eyeing me curiously. “Are you going to cut the bull and fess up to me?”

  Pushing the picture under the bed with my toes, I ran clammy hands down my hips. “What…what do you mean?”

  He sauntered into the room, stopping a few feet in front of me. We were the same height. “Where have you really been, Sam?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “You don’t?” He laughed, and the skin crinkled around his eyes. “Come on. What did you and Cassie get yourselves into this time?”

  “Cassie’s missing,” I mumbled, glancing down at the floor. She hadn’t really looked like the girl the deputy had shown me. I bent down, grabbing the picture from underneath the bed. “This is Cassie, right?”

  He frowned as he glanced at the picture. “Yeah, that’s Cassie.”

  I quickly placed the picture on the bedside table. “I don’t know where she is.”

  “I have theories.”

  Interest piqued, I rocked back on my heels. “You do?”

  Scott flopped on my bed and stretched out lazily. “Shit, you probably killed her and stashed her body somewhere.” He laughed. “That’s my main theory.”

  Blood drained out of my face, and I gasped.

  The smile on his face faded as he watched me. “Sam, dude, I was kidding.”

  “Oh.” Sweet relief shot through me, and I sat on the edge of the bed, staring at my chipped nails. In an instant, everything turned gray and white. The only color was red—vibrant, garish red under my fingernails. Soft whimpers—someone was crying.

  Scott grabbed my arm. “Hey, you okay?”

  I blinked, and the vision, the sounds faded away. Shoving my hands under my legs, I nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

  He sat up, staring at me. “Holy shit, you’re not faking it.”

  “Faking what?”

  “The whole amnesia thing—because I was betting money you were off partying somewhere, got trashed for days, and couldn’t come home until you sobered up.”

  Damn. “Did I do that often?”

  Scott barked out a laugh. “Yeah…this is weird. You’re definitely not faking.”

  Now I felt even more confused. “How can you tell?”

  “Well, for starters, you haven’t kicked me out of your room or threatened to ruin my life yet.”

  “I’d do that?”

  He stared at me, his eyes wide. “Yeah, and sometimes you’d even hit me. Once, I hit you back, and, well, that didn’t go over well. Dad got pissed. Mom was mortified.”

  My brows pinched. “We…hit each other?”

  Shaking his head, Scott leaned back. “Man, this is bizarre.”

  No doubt. I pulled my hands out from under my legs and sighed. “Back to the whole killing-Cassie-and-hiding-her-body thing. Why did you say that?”

  “I was kidding. You two have been best friends foreva.” He smirked. “Actually, you guys were more like frenemies in the last couple of years. There was some kind of unspoken rivalry going on between you two. It started when you made homecoming queen during sophomore year and she made court. At least that’s what you tell everyone, but I’m thinking it started when you two were freshmen and you started dating Del the Dick.”

  “Del the Dick?” I tucked a strand of hair back. “That’s my boyfriend.”

  “That’s your whole world.”

  Not liking the sound of that, I made a face. “I don’t remember…him, either.”

  “That’s going to be a blow to his confidence.” He grinned. “You know, this is possibly the best thing that has ever happened.”

  “Me losing my memory and not knowing what happened to me?” Anger sparked deep inside me, familiar and powerful. “Yeah, I’m glad that’s so great for you.”