The water is unnervingly still as I sit on the edge of the pier, dangling my legs above its glassy blue surface. Others would find it peaceful if they didn't know what happened here. On the 8th of October, Lola drove down this very pier, lace-up boot glued to the accelerator and her manicured, white-knuckled fingers clenching the wheel. When she reached the end of the pier, she didn't stop. The cops say they found scratches etched into the interior, and when they described to me how she must have clawed at any surface for a second chance at life, it was enough to send me back into tears that night.
Of course, they told us, driving off St Kilda Pier could hardly be accidental. And Lola had shown signs of hiding a deeply troubled persona. And when she was discovered - cold and dead in the submerged wreckage of her own prized, deep purple Mini - she had a blood-alcohol content of four times the legal limit.
The evidence for this conclusion is astounding, yet I still find it hard to believe. Lola was a complicated person, nobody could counter that, but I never dreamed that she would end it. I've scoured the internet for the signs people show before making such decisions, and Lola showed none. Something must have happened, and only Lola could tell me what it was.
Am I hoping she was murdered? Morbidly, a part of me finds the option preferable. At least that way she didn't leave me intentionally, and the world didn't fail her. I don't know what happened to her, but I want nothing more than to find out. With answers come culprits, and culprits can be punished.
I remember Lola as an anomaly in the high school continuum. She never quite fit inside a box. Her clothes were fairly gothic, but she wasn't a goth. She was smart, but not a nerd. Loud and witty, but not a bully - or at least not to me. But because of Caitlyn and Dani, Lola was put in the popular box.
Lola always spoke fondly of Dani, but I've never trusted her. Those three girls ran the school, and they ran it with fear. Behind the sweet smiles and cute hairstyles lay ice cold hearts. It was an unspoken law that if you crossed one of the trio, they would come for you.
Caitlyn has always been known to be an unpleasant character. Underneath her immaculate strawberry blonde ponytail and lip gloss is a seriously ugly personality. Caitlyn won't hesitate to insult you to your face, but she'll disguise it as a compliment with a simpering, sugary tone and the usual tag-lines of "no offence" and "just kidding".
Dani, on the other hand, is a little harder to see through. Next to Caitlyn she looks like a saint, an image which I'm sure is carefully cultivated by both of them in order to gain respect. With her plain but glossy brown locks held back my a simple schoolgirl headband, the folders of sheet music glued to her hands and her shy, modest nature, she's the perfect demon in disguise. Outside of school when Caitlyn would be seen in trendy, revealing attire and with Lola in her usual bold, dark statements, Dani would always be sporting starched white blouses or pastel tops, with skirts down to the knee and sleek, minimalistic jewellery. I never hear much of her doings, but her silence and air of mystery make me suspect that she might be the brains of the operation, or acting as Caitlyn's eyes and ears. Why Lola claimed to trust her I'll never know.
Of course, part of my strong distaste for Dani and Caitlyn stems from how they restricted my friendship with Lola. Every time I wanted to spend a lunch time with her, hang out somewhere where they might be, or even talk to her at school, the answer was always no. Not because she didn't want to, she would always say, but because Caitlyn wouldn't allow it and Dani wouldn't understand. And so it was a secret friendship, full of late-night messages, meet-ups in remote locations and a list of rules set by two girls who weren't a part of it.
"Who are you?"
A cool, female voice interrogates me from behind with an accusing tone. I jump with the sudden break of silence and turn. I groan internally.
Standing behind me with her arms crossed and head cocked to the side like she owns the place is the woman herself, Dani Chapman.
I recognise the boy on the pier's face as he turns, but his name escapes me. "I'm Lola's best friend."
I laugh despite myself. "I'm sorry?"
He blinks. "Is there a problem?"
I came here to be with Lola, not to put up with delusional, starry-eyed admirers imagining themselves into her life. "Please just go, you don't want to involve yourself in Lola's drama."
Surprisingly, he remains stony. "I'm already involved. I was her best friend and if you can't accept that you and that gingerbread monster you follow around weren't the only people in her life then I think you should go."
Now it's my turn to blink dumbly. "Gingerbread monster?"
He looks at me as though he's losing patience by the second. "I believe her subjects call her Caitlyn."
I have no more to tell, only questions to ask. I sit down next to the boy, letting my legs dangle idly off the end of the pier. Momentarily, I worry about losing a ballet flat if it were to slip off my foot and into the water, and then I feel selfish for worrying about my shoe when Lola died in this water.
Out of the corner of my eye, I observe the boy, trying to put my finger on who he is. He is most definitely from my grade and school, but I can't possibly think of his name. His hair is a sandy brown, and reminds me of how chocolate lightens when it melts and is refrigerated again. I've always found the effect unpleasant. He doesn't have the washed-out, milky complexion of some of the true recluses who commit to their computers only, but he's not tanned or bulky enough to look like a sports enthusiast. His green, almond-shaped eyes hint at intelligence, but hide behind a window of condescension. He's acting like a cocky bastard for a time like this. "So," I begin. "You never told me your name."
He avoids meeting my eyes. "You never asked."
"I asked who you were."
"I told you who I am."
My cocky-bastard-radar is going off like a police siren in after-hours Las Vegas. "Just tell me your name. Please."
He relents. "I'm Cam. Cameron Keyes. I've been in your grade for five years, you know?"
"Oh spare me, we don't all know each other."
"Don't we, Dani Chapman?"
"They announced my name at the funeral."
"One of the many flaws of the ceremony."
Cam just shakes his head. "I just came to talk to Lola."
"As did I. I just fail to see what you would have to talk to her about seeing as Lola never left my side and I'm fairly sure that you and I have never spoken."
He speaks coolly. "You don't seem to realise that people's lives don't end as they leave your line of sight."
"Why would she never have mentioned you? It doesn't make sense."
The water lapping and the wind calling start to feel ominous in the background. My best friend is dead and suddenly I'm learning about a secret life that she never entrusted me to. Surely there has to be a catch. Cam looks me in the eyes for the first time.
"Do you really think Caitlyn would have allowed her to be friends with someone like me?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"Until about a minute ago you had no idea who I was. Not a great image."
It's difficult to argue with this. "Well Caitlyn might not have liked it, but why keep it from me?"
He raises his eyebrows and I feel heat rushing through my face. "You honestly think you would have kept it a complete secret?"
Secrets aren't easy with Caitlyn. I choose not to answer. "So what were you - a secret boyfriend?"
He laughs. "No. She was a recent friend, but a very close one."
"And how did you two meet?"
His face changes as he pauses to think, and I can see him relive the memory. For the first time, his smile is sad, genuine and nostalgic rather than cold and sarcastic.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
YOU ARE READING
LolaMystery / Thriller
Dani Chapman is the only friend of Lola Bailey who speaks at her funeral. Cameron Keyes is furious. Both claim to have lost their best friend, and neither are satisfied with the explanation of her death. Their plan is simple - find out what really h...