nineteen

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"Hello?" The voice was young, maybe eight or nine years old.

"Hi. May I speak to Jenny?" I asked.

"There's no one named Jenny here. This is Becca. You want to speak to my mommy?"

"No, that's okay." I hung up and dialed the ninth number on my list. It rang once, twice, three times.

A boy, no older than the kid I'd just spoken to, answered. "Martin Carson speaking."

"Is Jenny there?"

"You have the wrong number." He sounded as if he was reading from a cue card.

Of course, it couldn't be that easy. This wasn't the movies. It took more than a search of the Internet White Pages to find a person.

Maybe it couldn't be that easy, but I wished it were. With each phone number I dialed came a twinge of disloyalty. What if Justin was right about my inability to trust? No, wait. Had he said that, or had I dreamed it?

I sighed. "Thanks, anyway." I was about to hang up when I heard, "Oh, I know, you're ..."

"What did you say?" I asked, bringing the phone back to my ear.

"Are you looking for Jennifer Carson? She's my cousin, but she doesn't live here."

My voice cracked when I asked him for the number.

"She doesn't like it when you call her Jenny."

"Um, got it," I stammered. "So do you have her phone number?"

"I can't give it to you. Against house rules."

"Martin," I said, pausing for emphasis. "It's important."

Silence. "Her stepdaddy's Jeff Kringler. Look it up yourself." A toddler shrieked, followed by a click. Martin had hung up.

A minute later, Jeffrey Kringler's number was on the back of my hand.

"Hello?" This time a girl answered. About my age. I wished I'd rehearsed an introduction.

"Hello?" she repeated. "Is anyone there?"

My palms were so sweaty that the phone almost slid from my death grip. "Uh, yes. Is this Jen ... Jennifer Carson?"

"That's me. Who's this?"

"My name's Ariana Grande. I need to talk to you about—"

"We don't need anything," she said.

"This isn't a sales call. It's about Justin Bieber. You went to school—"

"Who the hell is this?" After a long pause, she added, "How'd you get this number?"

"I'm Justin's ... friend." I held my breath and waited. When she didn't say anything, I added, "I heard what happened to you. The thing is, I need to know the truth."

"It was a long time ago. I don't want to talk about it, especially not with Justin's latest girlfriend. If you're with him, then you're as twisted as he is."

Latest. I didn't like the sound of that. Questions I wanted to ask came at me from all directions. Dodging them was making me dizzy. But I didn't have enough time to pick one, because she hung up on me.

It took me an hour to resuscitate my courage. She won't answer, I told myself as the phone rang for the fifth time. I'll never know what really happened. In the end, maybe that was for the best. Three years was a long time ago.

I was just about to disconnect the call when she answered. "Justin's crazy. And he's a liar. You can't trust anything he says or does."

"What?" I asked. But I'd heard her.

"I did something that made him angry. It wasn't nice, but I wanted him to leave me alone. I thought he'd move on to someone else. But he didn't. He kept following me."

I pictured the crumpled form behind Justin's refrigerator. Alleged assault ... stalking ... recommendation ...

"Whenever I walked home, he'd step out from behind some tree," she said. "He'd just wink and walk away. If my friends were with me, he wouldn't show."

I listened for a catch in her voice, a stammer, a throat-clearing. Something to indicate that she was buying time to invent more lies. All I heard was fear.

"It was stupid to take the shortcut that day. I knew he was around. I just knew it."

My armpits prickled with sweat. "Why didn't you press charges?"

The article had mentioned that the perpetrator wore a mask. Jenny might have thought it was Justin, but unless she saw his face, she couldn't know for sure. Then I thought about the prom parade, and the ski mask bunched in Justin's fist.

"It's complicated," she said.

I was losing her. "Please," I begged. "Tell me."

It was so quiet that I thought she'd hung up again, but then I heard a ragged exhalation. "At first I was attracted to him. All that attention was cool, I guess. When I saw him in the woods that day, he said he'd forgiven me for something I'd done. He said he'd leave me alone if I kissed him. Just once, he said."

It sounded like something he would say. I closed my eyes.

"Go on," I urged. "Please."

"You won't understand."

I thought about how an ordinary look from Justin made my pulse quicken. "I think I will."

"I was scared, but I didn't want him to know it, so I did it. I kissed him." She gave a resigned sigh. "Then he knocked me to the ground. Hit me a few times and left me lying there. I had to work my way back to get help, which wasn't easy with a broken collarbone and a twisted ankle."

"Why didn't you tell the police it was him?" If it was him, I told myself.

"Because after it was over, he said if I told anyone, Hannah would be next." She hesitated a moment, then added, "That's my little sister. He said he wouldn't go so easy on her."

My stomach ached. "I thought he was wearing a mask."

"Yeah, a black ski mask. But once he knew we were alone, he took it off."

"If you didn't tell the police, then how'd they guess who it was?" I asked.

"It didn't take a brain surgeon to link him to the crime. All they had to do was ask my friends. But there was no case without my testimony. The charges were dropped, and our family moved to New York a month later."

My mind flashed to Tiffany Miller, covering her chest with the remains of her dress.

"I'm so sorry," I said.

"Don't tell him I told you," she pleaded.

"I won't. I won't tell him I called you."

"And Ariana?"

"Yes?"

"Get away from Justin Bieber."

A/N:

OH SHEETTT

what do you think is gonna happen? let me know!

love you guys! xo

and people who are on a computer; do you also have those weird rectangle looking icon things everywhere?? idk how to explain it but they're weird af

lol maybe my computer is just fucked up

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