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Vanishing Girls

Lauren Oliver


  To the real John Parker, for the support and inspiration—

  and to sisters everywhere, including my own



  March 27: Nick

  July 15: Nick

  January 7: Dara’s Diary Entry

  July 17: Nick

  July 17: Dara

  July 20: Nick

  February 9: Nick

  July 20: Dara

  February 11: Dara’s Diary Entry

  July 21: Nick

  July 21: Nick

  July 22: Dara

  July 22: Dara

  February 9: Nick’s Gratitude List

  February 15: Nick

  July 23: Nick

  February 14: Dara’s Diary Entry

  July 23: Dara

  July 23: Dara

  July 28: Nick

  July 28: Text from Parker to Dara

  July 28: Dara

  February 16: Nick

  July 29: Birthday Card from Nick to Dara

  July 29: Nick

  February 22: Dara’s Diary Entry

  Nick: 7:15 p.m.

  Nick: 8:35 p.m.

  March 2: Dara’s Diary Entry

  Nick: 10:15 p.m.

  July 28: Dara’s Diary Entry

  Nick: 10:35 p.m.

  Nick: 11:35 p.m.

  July 30: Nick

  Nick: 1:45 a.m.

  Dara: 2:02 a.m.


  Nick: 3:15 a.m.

  September 2

  September 26

  September 27

  Back Ads

  About the Authors

  Books by Lauren Oliver



  About the Publisher

  The funny thing about almost-dying is that afterward everyone expects you to jump on the happy train and take time to chase butterflies through grassy fields or see rainbows in puddles of oil on the highway. It’s a miracle, they’ll say with an expectant look, as if you’ve been given a big old gift and you better not disappoint Grandma by pulling a face when you unwrap the box and find a lumpy, misshapen sweater.

  That’s what life is, pretty much: full of holes and tangles and ways to get stuck. Uncomfortable and itchy. A present you never asked for, never wanted, never chose. A present you’re supposed to be excited to wear, day after day, even when you’d rather stay in bed and do nothing.

  The truth is this: it doesn’t take any skill to almost-die, or to almost-live, either.


  MARCH 27


  “Want to play?”

  These are the three words I’ve heard most often in my life. Want to play? As four-year-old Dara bursts through the screen door, arms extended, flying into the green of our front yard without waiting for me to answer. Want to play? As six-year-old Dara slips into my bed in the middle of the night, her eyes wide and touched with moonlight, her damp hair smelling like strawberry shampoo. Want to play? Eight-year-old Dara chiming the bell on her bike; ten-year-old Dara fanning cards across the damp pool deck; twelve-year-old Dara spinning an empty soda bottle by the neck.

  Sixteen-year-old Dara doesn’t wait for me to answer, either. “Scoot over,” she says, bumping her best friend Ariana’s thigh with her knee. “My sister wants to play.”

  “There’s no room,” Ariana says, squealing when Dara leans into her. “Sorry, Nick.” They’re crammed with a half-dozen other people into an unused stall in Ariana’s parents’ barn, which smells like sawdust and, faintly, manure. There’s a bottle of vodka, half-empty, on the hard-packed ground, as well as a few six-packs of beer and a small pile of miscellaneous items of clothing: a scarf, two mismatched mittens, a puffy jacket, and Dara’s tight pink sweatshirt with Queen B*tch emblazoned across the back in rhinestones. It all looks like some bizarre ritual sacrifice laid out to the gods of strip poker.

  “Don’t worry,” I say quickly. “I don’t need to play. I just came to say hi, anyway.”

  Dara makes a face. “You just got here.”

  Ariana smacks her cards faceup on the ground. “Three of a kind, kings.” She cracks a beer open, and foam bubbles up around her knuckles. “Matt, take off your shirt.”

  Matt is a skinny kid with a slightly-too-big-nose look and the filmy expression of someone who is already on his way to being very drunk. Since he’s already in his T-shirt—black, with a mysterious graphic of a one-eyed beaver on the front—I can only assume the puffy jacket belongs to him. “I’m cold,” he whines.

  “It’s either your shirt or your pants. You choose.”

  Matt sighs and begins wriggling out of his T-shirt, showing off a thin back, constellated with acne.

  “Where’s Parker?” I ask, trying to sound casual, then hating myself for having to try. But ever since Dara started . . . whatever she’s doing with him, it has become impossible to talk about my former best friend without feeling like a Christmas tree ornament has landed in the back of my throat.

  Dara freezes in the act of redistributing the cards. But only for a second. She tosses a final card in Ariana’s direction and sweeps up a hand. “No idea.”

  “I texted him,” I say. “He told me he was coming.”

  “Yeah, well, maybe he left.” Dara’s dark eyes flick to mine, and the message is clear. Let it go. I guess they must be fighting again. Or maybe they’re not fighting, and that’s the problem. Maybe he refuses to play along.

  “Dara’s got a new boyfriend,” Ariana says in a singsong, and Dara elbows her. “Well, you do, don’t you? A secret boyfriend.”

  “Shut up,” Dara says sharply. I can’t tell whether she’s really mad or only pretending to be.

  Ari fake-pouts. “Do I know him? Just tell me if I know him.”

  “No way,” Dara says. “No hints.” She tosses down her cards and stands up, dusting off the back of her jeans. She’s wearing fur-trimmed wedge boots and a metallic shirt I’ve never seen before, which looks like it has been poured over her body and then left to harden. Her hair—recently dyed black, and blown out perfectly straight—looks like oil poured over her shoulders. As usual, I feel like the Scarecrow next to Dorothy. I’m wearing a bulky jacket Mom bought me four years ago for a ski trip to Vermont, and my hair, the unremarkable brown of mouse poop, is pulled back in its trademark ponytail.

  “I’m getting a drink,” Dara says, even though she’s been having beer. “Anyone want?”

  “Bring back some mixers,” Ariana says.

  Dara gives no indication that she’s heard. She grabs me by the wrist and pulls me out of the horse stall and into the barn, where Ariana—or her mom?—has set up a few folding tables covered with bowls of chips and pretzels, guacamole, packaged cookies. There’s a cigarette butt stubbed out in a container of guacamole, and cans of beer floating around in an enormous punch bowl full of half-melted ice, like ships trying to navigate the Arctic.

  It seems as if most of Dara’s grade has come out tonight, and about half of mine—even if seniors don’t usually deign to crash a junior party, second semester seniors never miss any opportunity to celebrate. Christmas lights are strung between the horse stalls, only three of which contain actual horses: Misty, Luciana, and Mr. Ed. I wonder if any of the horses are bothered by the thudding bass from the music, or by the fact that every five seconds a drunk junior is shoving his hand across the gate, trying to get the horse to nibble Cheetos from his hand.

  The other stalls, the ones that aren’t piled with old saddles and muck rakes and rusted farm equipment that has somehow landed and then expired here—even though the only thing Ariana’s mom farms is money from her three ex-husbands—are filled with kids playing drinking games or grinding on each other, or, in the case of Jake Harris and Aubre
y O’Brien, full-on making out. The tack room, I’ve been informed, has been unofficially claimed by the stoners.

  The big sliding barn doors are open to the night, and frigid air blows in from outside. Down the hill, someone is trying to get a bonfire started in the riding rink, but there’s a light rain tonight, and the wood won’t catch.

  At least Aaron isn’t here. I’m not sure I could have handled seeing him tonight—not after what happened last weekend. It would have been better if he’d been mad—if he’d freaked out and yelled, or started rumors around school that I have chlamydia or something. Then I could hate him. Then it would make sense.

  But since the breakup he’s been unfailingly, epically polite, like he’s the greeter at a Gap. Like he’s really hoping I’ll buy something but doesn’t want to seem pushy.

  “I still think we’re good together,” he’d said out of the blue, even as he was giving me back my sweatshirt (cleaned, of course, and folded) and a variety of miscellaneous crap I’d left in his car: pens and a phone charger and a weird snow globe I’d seen for sale at CVS. School had served pasta marinara for lunch, and there was a tiny bit of Day-Glo sauce at the corner of his mouth. “Maybe you’ll change your mind.”

  “Maybe,” I’d said. And I really hoped, more than anything in the world, that I would.

  Dara grabs a bottle of Southern Comfort and splashes three inches into a plastic cup, topping it off with Coca-Cola. I bite the inside of my lip, as if I can chew back the words I really want to say: This must be at least her third drink; she’s already in the doghouse with Mom and Dad; she’s supposed to be staying out of trouble. She landed us both in therapy, for God’s sake.

  Instead I say, “So. A new boyfriend, huh?” I try and keep my voice light.

  One corner of Dara’s mouth crooks into a smile. “You know Ariana. She exaggerates.” She mixes another drink and presses it into my hand, jamming our plastic cups together. “Cheers,” she says, and takes a big swig, emptying half her drink.

  The drink smells suspiciously like cough syrup. I set it down next to a platter of cold pigs in blankets, which look like shriveled thumbs wrapped up in gauze. “So there’s no mystery man?”

  Dara lifts a shoulder. “What can I say?” She’s wearing gold eye shadow tonight, and a dusting of it coats her cheeks; she looks like someone who has accidentally trespassed through fairyland. “I’m irresistible.”

  “What about Parker?” I say. “More trouble in paradise?”

  Instantly I regret the question. Dara’s smile vanishes. “Why?” she says, her eyes dull now, hard. “Want to say ‘I told you so’ again?”

  “Forget it.” I turn away, feeling suddenly exhausted. “Good night, Dara.”

  “Wait.” She grabs my wrist. Just like that, the moment of tension is gone, and she smiles again. “Stay, okay? Stay, Ninpin,” she repeats, when I hesitate.

  When Dara gets like this, turns sweet and pleading, like her old self, like the sister who used to climb onto my chest and beg me, wide-eyed, to wake up, wake up, she’s almost impossible to resist. Almost. “I have to get up at seven,” I say, even as she’s leading me outside, into the fizz and pop of the rain. “I promised Mom I’d help straighten up before Aunt Jackie gets here.”

  For the first month or so after Dad announced he was leaving, Mom acted like absolutely nothing was different. But recently she’s been forgetting: to turn on the dishwasher, to set her alarm, to iron her work blouses, to vacuum. It’s like every time he removes another item from the house—his favorite chair, the chess set he inherited from his father, the golf clubs he never uses—it takes a portion of her brain with it.

  “Why?” Dara rolls her eyes. “She’ll just bring cleansing crystals with her to do the work. Please,” she adds. She has to raise her voice to be heard over the music; someone has just turned up the volume. “You never come out.”

  “That’s not true,” I say. “It’s just that you’re always out.” The words sound harsher than I’d intended. But Dara only laughs.

  “Let’s not fight tonight, okay?” she says, and leans in to give me a kiss on the cheek. Her lips are candy-sticky. “Let’s be happy.”

  A group of guys—juniors, I’m guessing—huddled together in the half-dark of the barn start hooting and clapping. “All right!” one of them shouts, raising a beer. “Lesbian action!”

  “Shut up, dick!” Dara says. But she’s laughing. “She’s my sister.”

  “That’s definitely my cue,” I say.

  But Dara isn’t listening. Her face is flushed, her eyes bright with alcohol. “She’s my sister,” she announces again, to no one and also to everyone, since Dara is the kind of person other people watch, want, follow. “And my best friend.”

  More hooting; a scattering of applause. Another guy yells, “Get it on!”

  Dara throws an arm around my shoulder, leans up to whisper in my ear, her breath sweet-smelling, sharp with booze. “Best friends for life,” she says, and I’m no longer sure whether she’s hugging me or hanging on me. “Right, Nick? Nothing—nothing—can change that.”


  At 11:55 p.m., Norwalk police responded to a crash on Route 101, just south of the Shady Palms Motel. The driver, Nicole Warren, 17, was taken to Eastern Memorial with minor injuries. The passenger, Dara Warren, 16, who was not wearing her seat belt, was rushed by ambulance to the ICU and is, at the time of this posting, still in critical condition. We’re all praying for you, Dara.

  Sooo sad. Hope she pulls through!

  posted by: mamabear27 at 6:04 a.m.

  i live right down the road heard the crash from a half mile away!!!

  posted by: qTpie27 at 8:04 a.m.

  These kids think they’re indestructible. Who doesn’t wear a seat belt?? She has no one to blame but herself.

  posted by: markhhammond at 8:05 a.m.

  Have some compassion, dude! We all do stupid things.

  posted by: trickmatrix at 8:07 a.m.

  Some people stupider than others.

  posted by: markhhammond at 8:08 a.m.

  It was a busy night for the Main Heights PD. Between midnight and 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday, three local teens perpetrated a rash of minor thefts in the area south of Route 23. Police first responded to a call from the 7-Eleven on Richmond Place, where Mark Haas, 17, Daniel Ripp, 16, and Jacob Ripp, 19, had threatened and harassed a local clerk before making off with two six-packs of beer, four cartons of eggs, three packages of Twinkies, and three Slim Jims. Police pursued the three teens to Sutter Street, where they had destroyed a half-dozen mailboxes and egged the home of Mr. Walter Middleton, a math teacher at the teens’ high school (who had, this reporter learned, earlier in the year threatened to fail Haas for suspected cheating). The police at last caught and arrested the teens in Carren Park, but not before the three boys had stolen a backpack, two pairs of jeans, and a pair of sneakers from next to the public pool. The clothes, police reported, belonged to two teenage skinny-dippers, both of whom were brought into the Main Heights police station . . . hopefully, after recovering their clothing.

  Dannnnnnny . . . ur a legend.

  posted by: grandtheftotto at 12:01 p.m.

  Get a life.

  posted by: momofthree at 12:35 p.m.

  The irony is that these boys will probably be working in the 7-Eleven before too long. Somehow I don’t see these three boys as brain surgeons.

  posted by: hal.m.woodward at 2:56 p.m.

  Skinny-dipping? Weren’t they freezing?? :P

  posted by: prettymaddie at 7:22 p.m.

  How come the article doesn’t give us the names of the “two teenage skinny-dippers”? Trespassing is a criminal offense, isn’t it?

  posted by: vigilantescience01 at 9:01 p.m.

  Thanks for posting. It is, but neither teen was charged.

  posted by: admin at 9:15 p.m.

; Mr. Middleton sux.

  posted by: hellicat15 at 11:01 p.m.

  JULY 15


  “Skinny-dipping, Nicole?”

  There are many words in the English language that you never want to hear your father say. Enema. Orgasm. Disappointed.

  Skinny-dipping ranks high on the list, especially when you’ve just been dragged out of the police station at three in the morning wearing police-issue pants and a sweatshirt that likely belonged to some homeless person or suspected serial killer, because your clothing, bag, ID, and cash were stolen from the side of a public pool.

  “It was a joke,” I say, which is stupid; there’s nothing funny about getting arrested, almost ass-naked, in the middle of the night when you’re supposed to be asleep.

  The headlights divide the highway into patches of light and dark. I’m glad, at least, that I can’t see my dad’s face.

  “What were you thinking? I would never have expected this. Not from you. And that boy, Mike—”


  “Whatever his name was. How old is he?”

  I stay quiet on that. Twenty is the answer, but I know better than to say it. Dad’s just looking for someone to blame. Let him think that I was forced into it, that some bad-influence guy made me hop the fence at Carren Park and strip down to my underwear, made me take a big belly flop into a deep end so cold it shocked the breath right out of my body so I came up laughing, gulping air, thinking of Dara, thinking she should have been with me, that she would understand.

  I imagine a huge boulder rising up out of the dark, an accordion-wall of solid stone, and have to shut my eyes and reopen them. Nothing but highway, long and smooth, and the twin funnels of the headlights.

  “Listen, Nick,” Dad says. “Your mom and I are worried about you.”

  “I didn’t think you and Mom were talking,” I say, rolling down the window a few inches, both because the air-conditioning is barely sputtering out cold air and because the rush of the wind helps drown out Dad’s voice.

  He ignores that. “I’m serious. Ever since the accident—”