Chapter 1

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On the morning of Christmas Eve, I sat on the cold cement steps in front of my house with my head turned toward the rural highway at the end of Martha Road, watching cars infrequently speed past my corner. I'd heard our neighbor Mr. Emory starting the engine of his black Hyundai Sonata before the sun had even risen, and my heart was racing with anticipation. I had done the math repeatedly in my head since the Emorys had backed out of their driveway; it was a two-and-a-half hour drive up to Florence, where Trey's school was located on the Canadian border, and another two-and-a-half hours back. It was nearly noon, and only a matter of minutes before Trey would be home from his military school up north.

Of course, enough time had passed that I'd started to wonder if maybe the Emorys had gone straight to Trey's grandparents' house for the holiday or something. I had factored time for a quick lunch at McDonald's into my estimate, but I was beginning to worry. I didn't even know if Trey had living grandparents, and if so, where their home was located. All I knew for certain was that I wanted him to see me waiting for his arrival when his parents passed by our house so that I could wave to him and make sure he realized I urgently needed to see him.

It was fair to expect that our parents were going to do everything in their limited power to keep us away from each other. This wasn't going to be any easy task for them, since our houses were less than one hundred feet apart. But considering the amount of trouble we'd managed to get into together less than two months earlier, they were probably wise to keep us separated. I'd been charged with failure to observe a traffic signal, exceeding speed zones, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. Quite an impressive record for a girl who'd previously never even served a detention in her whole sixteen years of life. I'd been very lucky that Mrs. Emory hadn't added theft of an auto vehicle to the list, since technically she had loaned her Honda Civic to her son, Trey, and not to me on that fateful day when he and I had led most of our town's small police force on a wild chase across our county to White Ridge Lake.

That day seemed like a million years ago, like a nightmare so scary that even the thought of it now made my body feel uncomfortably warm and nauseated. Throughout most of my dealings with the police and court system in the aftermath of the insanity, I had been suffering the dizzying effects of a concussion which I'd obtained during a nasty fall down the stairs in my high school while chasing my former friend, Violet, into the girls' locker room. My memory of the details of the court room was fuzzy at best, and I hadn't been allowed to attend any of the hearings related to Trey's punishment. I didn't know the full list of things Trey had ultimately been charged with; I knew he'd been punished more severely than me because he'd already had a history of mouthing off to teachers and cutting classes.

While the memory of the day on which we'd gotten ourselves into so much trouble seemed like a vivid nightmare, the actual nightmares from which I suffered at the Dearborn School for Girls, the boarding school where I'd been sent for behavior modification, were completely unrelated to the punishment I had been administered for my crimes. At night when I closed my eyes, my consciousness was lit ablaze with flames from my memories and the voices of my recently deceased friends, Olivia and Candace. I couldn't understand why they were still pleading with me to rectify the circumstances that had led to their tragic deaths. I thought Trey and I had done exactly what they'd instructed us to do. Following cryptic signs provided to us, doing what we thought their spirits had asked of us to bring an end to the trick Violet had played, was precisely what had landed us in such hot water.

The wind blew softly, rustling the dry leaves up and down Martha Road as a car turned at the corner and came toward me. I grew anxious immediately until I realized that the car was a white Cadillac, presumably the one belonging to Dr. Waldbaum, who lived much further down the block. I heard the screen door of my house open behind me, and turned to see my mom stepping outside, holding a coffee mug.

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