“But … this isn’t mine!”
It was all Adeline could think to say at that moment, when the officerhad held up the bag filled with white powder. A bag that had come from her backpack. He grinned, his eyes blackening, face bending and folding into something grotesque. Scream stuck in her throat, she ran, the identical hallways blurring and rising and falling like waves.
Stumbling, she fell against the wall and turned, sliding down against it. She struggled to catch her breath while scanning for the officer-turned-monster.
Adeline’s head dropped, catching sight of red and white beside her. Without thinking, she picked it up. The glossy magazine was smooth and cool between her fingers. Her face was printed on its surface with a headline slapped over it that proclaimed her guilty.
There were no fingerprints on that bag! It wasn’t me! Pain spread through Adeline’s chest and she couldn’t breathe. She ripped through the pages to find the article.
“I knew she was going through some rough times. But I never thought she’d do something like this,” long-time friend Serena Craybon says. “When I found out … I was so stunned.”
Adeline slapped it shut and leaped to her feet. Even though she hadn’t had this nightmare in a while and it never played out quite the same, the same people always appeared.
She couldn’t say it out loud.
Against her own volition, she started running towards him. His brown eyes were warm and smiling as he spread his arms out for a hug. But it was wrong--he didn’t belong within these sterilized walls.
This isn’t real, the conscious part of her warned.
The gunshot was deafening, echoing endlessly and swallowing Adeline up. Her father lurched and fell forward, landing in a crumpled heap.
Adeline screamed as a figure, gun raised, materialized at the end of the hallway. She collapsed to her knees, gasping for breath at the sight of so much blood. Digging her fingers into her temples, she closed her eyes.
Wake up, wake up, wake up!
The laugh of Joshua Craybon rang in her ears as arms clamped around her arms and torso.
“Let me go! Let me go!” she yelled.
The arms turned to sheets, tangled around her sweat-soaked body. Adeline sat up, sucking in gulps of air while tears trickled down her face. She unwrapped herself and stumbled to the bathroom for water to soothe her burning throat.
The last time Adeline had seen her father alive was the morning of the accident. It'd been just two weeks after being framed for dealing and possibly doing drugs. She’d been declared innocent, but the damage was already done--in the minds of the public, she was guilty. Her parents had tried to cheer her up with a dozen different things from ice cream to a weekend trip, but she'd declined. So instead, the two had gone for a quiet dinner.
Why didn’t I just say yes? She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, but the tears kept coming.
Authorities found the car around eleven, off of a quiet back road at the bottom of an embankment. It was riddled with bullets and the windshield was shattered.
Adeline had seen it before they removed it—its twisted frame was a scar in the peaceful woods, adorned with out-of-place maroon splatters. The story the news told was not the same one that Serena’s cold face and Joshua Craybon’s glittering eyes told. She might have been more self-focused back then...but not stupid.
Her father had enemies--that was true--but not because he owed anyone money.
Adeline swallowed and opened one of the cupboards to get a rag. She wet it and wiped her face off, trying to take the bad memories away with the sweat.
It was almost funny how much and yet how little money could buy: popularity, a prettier face, an easy way to the top … things not worth the price of never knowing who your friends really were. And loyalty and honor weren’t something you could just pay extra for.
The way the Craybons had covered their tracks was the same way Adeline had painstakingly retraced them—pay the right people the right price. It had been a slow process with many details left uncovered, but enough to keep her up at night cursing the day she’d ever trusted them, or anyone for that matter. Anyone she might have gone to for help the Craybons could easily silence. It would have been pointless. But now …
I’m not so easily dealt with.
She slammed the cupboard shut, dropped the rag onto the counter top and returned to her bedroom. The door to the hallway was open.
Adeline tensed, scanning the room.
“Jacob?” she queried.
“I … I heard a noise and wondered if you were okay,” he said.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” She continued to her bed, head down. “Just a weird stress dream. Uh, sorry I woke you up.”
Jacob sighed, no doubt crossing his arms. “It was the nightmares again, wasn’t it? Adeline, you can tell me about them.”
She flopped onto her bed and pulled the sheets up to her chin even though she wasn’t cold. “It was just a stress dream from a combination of dress shopping and an upcoming test at school.”
“Stop saying my name! I’m sorry I woke you up, thank you for coming to check on me. But it was just a bizarre dream and I’m trying to go back to sleep,” she grumbled.
He sighed again. “Good-night, then.” He left, pausing in the doorway. “I love you, Addy.”
“Good-night. I love you, too,” she whispered.
She shut her eyes, hoping to block out the images of her parents in those white rooms, hooked to a dozen humming machines. More scalding tears dripped onto her pillow.
“Is the documentary bothering you?” Jacob abruptly broke the stillness.
Adeline tore her gaze away from the view outside the car window. “No.” She frowned.
Is now the right time to tell him?
“Not … exactly.”
“What do you mean?” he pressed.
Adeline chewed her bottom lip and took a deep breath. “I was thinking about the requests from MCIN for interviews for their documentary and … and I’d like to do one.”
Jacob blinked. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I want to do an interview for The Killingsworth Tragedies.”
He stared at her. “You can’t be serious!”
“Deadly so.” Her expression remained determined despite the stormy expression building in his eyes.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” He slammed his hand against the steering wheel. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth.”
“This is something I have to do, Jacob.”
“No, it’s not!” The car sped up as he aggressively wove through the early morning traffic.
“Yes, it is!” she snapped. “I need to tell my side of the story, and I’m going to do just
that--with or without your permission.”
Jacob refused to look at her. “You’ve missed your chance anyway. They’ve filmed the whole thing.”
“Yes, but their documentary isn’t complete without an interview from at least one of us,” she argued.
He slammed on the brakes in front of the school’s main entrance, finally turning to look at her. “If you’re so determined to do this, then fine, be my guest. As you said, I’m not going to stop you.”
Adeline clenched the straps of her backpack tighter to keep from biting her fingernails . She cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, but I need to do this.”
Jacob’s pained expression deepened as he looked past her. “Then do it.” He leaned forward, tucking a strand of auburn hair behind her ear. “I’ll … I’ll be there for you.”
Adeline blinked rapidly, annoyed by the tears pricking her eyes. “That means a lot to me. Thanks.”
“What are brothers for?” He forced a small smile, reaching out to ruffle her hair.
“No! Don’t you dare!” She ducked away, opening the car door, and scrambled out.
“Bye, brat!” Jacob called, smiling like nothing had even happened.
“Shut up!” She slammed the door and the sleek vehicle zipped away.
Adeline breathed a sigh of relief. Whether he’s happy with it or not, at least he’s supporting me instead of trying to stop me.
“You’re late!” Jessica skipped down the stairs and looped her arm around Adeline’s.
“Naomi already in class?”
“Yeah. C’mon, let’s go.”
“How about a selfie?” Adeline grinned, pulling her phone out.
“Sure.” Jessica struck a pose with her arm flung around Adeline’s neck, infectious smile in place. Adeline snapped the picture and posted it to her Instagram with the caption Another school day!
The two hadn’t even made it to their lockers when a teacher stopped them.
“Adeline, I was just looking for you!” she said.
“Go on, I’ll catch up,” Adeline told Jessica.
“As you know, the annual charity fundraiser is coming up, and we’re looking for students to help us organize it. You’re not involved in any sports this year so I thought maybe you’d have some extra time to lend a hand?”
“I don’t think that’s going to work,” Adeline said, scratching the back of her head.
“It’s for a good cause and it’ll look good on your college applications!” Mrs. Castillo peered eagerly at her through her stylish glasses.
“I’m sorry, I have a lot of other things going on.”
“Don’t you think Mother Theresa had many other things going on? Yet she still found time to help the poor and needy. The kids just get more selfish with each generation.
Mrs. Castillo had a reputation for being pushy, and there wasn’t a single person that hadn’t eventually given into the small woman. This was mainly a result of the length she'd go to "persuade" someone to agree.
What harm could helping organize a charity do? It shouldn’t be that involved, right?
“Uh, okay. I guess I can.”
“Wonderful!” Mrs. Castillo patted her on the cheek before whirling away, already focused on the next problem. She called over her shoulder, “Oh, and Ava will be helping as well.”
Oh, what have I gotten myself into?
Shaking her head, she headed to class. She texted Jacob, telling him she had a ride home with a friend.
Adeline fastened her seat belt.
“So tell me about this crazy plan of yours,” Jazz said, twirling a blue-laced cornrow around her finger. The twenty-year-old African American was intimidating with her apparent lack of emotions. For this reason, she was almost always tasked with the job of collecting payments.
Adeline filled her in.
“I don’t even know what to say except that you should call them, the sooner the better,” Jazz said.
“Could you get me the number I need?”
“Sure, gimme a second.” A few moments later, Jazz had the phone number. “It’s director Vince Givondi’s business number. Technically, the public’s not supposed to have it,
“I’m not the public, so you can tell me.”
“If I give it to you, you better hang up with an interview scheduled,” Jazz warned.
“Easy. Now tell me!” Adeline coaxed, trying to keep her patience.
“Here.” Jazz handed her a tablet with all of Vince Givondi’s contact information, from e-mails to private phone numbers.
“Thank you.” She quickly dialed the number Jazz pointed to.
“Hello, Madylin from MCIN speaking; how may I help you?” a woman answered after a few rings.
“Hello, Madylin, I’m really interested in The Killingsworth Tragedies and have some questions I’d like to ask Mr. Givondi.”
There was a moment of silence. “I’m sorry, he’s currently not available, but I could take a message.”
“Alright, thank you.” Adeline paused. “Tell him Adeline Killingsworth called and would like to do an interview.”
“I … I can transfer you if you’d like,” she stammered.
“No, that’s okay. Just have him call me back when he can. Thank you for your help, and have a nice day!”
“Thank you; you too!”
Adeline ended the call, grinning.
Jazz crossed her arms, unimpressed.“You didn’t get the interview, and you just wanted to a do a casual name drop, didn’t you?”
“Uh, no I didn’t.”
In the front, Ivy laughed.
Now Jazz rolled her eyes. “Yes you did, don’t lie to me! Otherwise, you would have told her who you were at the beginning.”
“Okay, okay! Let a girl have some fun!” Adeline huffed, throwing her arms up.
Jazz opened her mouth to reply, but Adeline’s phone started ringing.
“How much do you want to bet that’s him?” Adeline grinned slyly.
“That’s not even a bet,” Jazz complained. “Of course it’s him. Now answer the stupid thing!”
Wincing as her friend none too gently punched her in the shoulder, Adeline answered the phone.
“Hello, Adeline speaking.”
“Hello, Adeline, it’s Vince Givondi. My secretary told me you called about doing an interview with us?”
She made an “I-told-you-so” face at Jazz, who remained unmoved. “Yes.”
“Unfortunately, we’ve already filmed all the documentary’s episodes. But if you were to come in this week, we would have enough time to redo the last episode,” he offered.
“Are you sure? As of today, you’re already half-way through our life stories.”
Vince gave a short laugh. “Maybe a third. But that’s beside the point. Let’s talk dates--what time are you free this week? Each episode is an hour long, so you’ll need a chunk of at least three hours.”
“Anytime after school hours works best for me, but I can make time.” Adeline gave him one of her many email addresses. “E-mail me with any more details that need to be worked out.”
“I can make time to do it tomorrow,” she offered. “Will that work?”
“I can make it, yeah,” Vince said over the rustling of papers and slamming of desk drawers.
“I’ve got to go now. Thank you for your time and I’m looking forward to talking to you tomorrow.”
“Thank you for your time—”
Adeline hung up, triumphant. “We’re on!”
“Pick you up from school tomorrow?” Ivy asked.
“Oh, check this out,” Jazz said, flashing Adeline her phone screen. It was a poolside selfie of a beaming Serena and Rhyker.
“I already saw; it’s purely a power move for publicity like Will suspected.” Adeline was disgusted. “I thought the Hapsburgs were better than this.”
Jazz shrugged. “Anyway, are you coming by the compound?” she asked as the car turned onto the road leading by Adeline’s house.
Adeline shook her head. “No, not today. I’ve got an art project I have to finish and a couple other things that need to be taken care of.”
The anxiousness built up until Adeline couldn’t take it anymore. Painting the paper mache dragon had been a little soothing but, towards the end, became messy and frustrating. And now she was pacing the lounge, paint encrusted hands shoved into the pockets of her skirt.
The sunlight streaming through the windows was infuriatingly cheery. Adeline resisted grabbing one of the cream pillows from the couch and hurling it across the room.
Her fingers started twitching. She fought the urge, but still found herself walking across the foyer, footsteps echoing in the stillness. Doorway tucked away in the far right corner, the haven of Adeline’s earlier days awaited.
It was a small room that jutted out from the side of the house, enclosed with seamless glass walls. It was empty save for the Grand piano that sat looking towards the distant city.
Adeline cautiously approached it, reaching out a hand.
It’s been awhile.
Her finger slid across the surface of the smooth keys as she exhaled. Sitting down, she rested both hands in her lap and didn’t move. Couldn’t move. So many memories. Practicing scales over and over until her brain could no longer keep up ... playing songs for an audience of a million twinkling stars long after everyone was asleep…
Adeline started playing, notes gradually building, a symphony of sorrows cascading from her fingertips that blended seamlessly with the Moonlight Sonata.
Why did I ever stop?
Because it makes you feel things you don’t want to, she answered herself. Makes you face things you try to forget.
Stop it, Addy! Stop it!
But she couldn’t. No matter how many times she walked away, she was always pulled back by the invisible cord that seemed to wrap around her soul. This instrument understood her, knew her better than anyone. Music was the one language that had no words, yet it’d been whispering in her ear for as long as she could remember.
Adeline shook her head, breaking the trance and stopping right before the last measure as she retracted her fingers. Pushing the bench back, she stood to her feet and left the room without a backwards look. The un-played chords echoed in her ears, a promise of her inevitable return.