Good boys and girls don’t lie.
That concept was something I must’ve heard a thousand times from adults when I was in elementary school. However, life was more complicated than simplistic statements. Honesty was sometimes overrated. Like, if someone did something despicable, and nothing good came from confessing the misdeed.
So, I’d forget my discovery this morning no matter how loud my pulse still rang in my ears. Ignoring what happened was the easiest solution. Discussing the event wouldn’t help—it wasn’t like I had a time machine and could undo the past. Besides, I was pretty sure Veronica would give me a dirty look if I didn’t make eye contact ASAP. And I couldn’t blame my distraction on the chattering of voices from customers. We were seated at a table outside in front of Starbucks, not inside.
Veronica furrowed her eyebrows. “Something wrong, Cody?”
Damn. Not getting to vent about my “problem” wasn’t my biggest issue. Once I told her what occurred this morning, there was no undoing the revelation. So, I’d have to be certain about being honest if I wanted to tell her the truth.
I sipped my Caramel Macchiato. Then, I smiled. I could pretend to enjoy the mixture of the sweet caramel flavor and bitter espresso taste electrifying my taste buds for a fleeting moment.
She giggled. “Okay. Now I know something is wrong.”
“I’m allowed to be happy.”
“Only if it’s about my upcoming art gallery debut—kidding. Anyway, I’ve never seen you grin before.” Veronica slid her elbows onto the table, and I considered how my grandmother would’ve lectured Veronica about proper etiquette if she were here. Nope. Amusement was only a temporary distraction from this morning’s event.
She narrowed her gaze. “I’d wanna know if something was bothering you.”
“Tell me what’s wrong. I’ll find out eventually.”
Sunlight radiated from the sky, and I squinted. I put my right hand in front of my eyes. “I should’ve brought my sunglasses,” I said.
She sipped her Caramel Frappucino. “You can’t change the subject that easily.”
I fidgeted in my chair. “I’m preoccupied because of junior year.”
“It’s only the second day of school…”
Perhaps Veronica should’ve been a detective. Her comment was the type of thing the police would’ve valued. I didn’t know how a cop would have a successful career if he or she couldn’t poke holes in a suspect’s story.
I cleared my throat. “That’s my point. Summer went by faster than expected, and I’m going to have to start thinking about the SAT, college visits, and teachers I want recommendations from.”
Veronica snorted. “You worry too much.”
“Have you met me?”
Wind whistled, ripping a MISSING flier off an adjacent shop window, and pushed it towards us. My gaze lingered on the poster and my body shuddered. Wow. Mason was here even when he wasn’t here; I didn’t need to be confronted with the image of my missing friend.
Veronica glanced at the flier, then looked at me. “Is your nervousness about Mason?”
I drummed my fingers against the table. “I don’t wanna discuss it.”
“He could’ve killed me…”
“I know; I was there too.”
“It’s not like I enjoyed hitting him with a rock,” she whispered. “Although it’d be nice to know where his body went.”
I gritted my teeth. “I never said I blamed you.”
She pushed a lock of brown hair behind her ear. “Wait. Did something happen at school today?”
Forget about being a detective. Veronica could’ve been a psychic. She couldn’t have correctly guessed what was bothering me, yet she had. And if I didn’t do something fast, then my afternoon would be ruined. Discussing Mason wouldn’t help me, so I changed the subject.
“Like your classes so far?” I asked.
“Nice try, but I’m still not that gullible. You’ll need to try harder if you wanna distract me.”
Shit. The universe couldn’t give me a break. I mean, it wouldn’t have been terrible if something went my way for once. But no. That would’ve been too easy. More sweat dripped down my face.
I rubbed my forehead. “You aren’t being logical.”
“I don’t care. We’re doing this.” She unzipped her backpack, took out a piece of paper, and unfolded it. After that, she slid the note to me. “Is this what your note said?”
I pushed the paper back towards her. “Don’t show me this!”
“Tough shit. Life can’t always be fun.” Veronica shoved the note back towards me.
So much for ignoring the issue.
No matter how easy avoiding a problem was, I couldn’t deny how my situation resembled a research paper. Dealing with it sooner rather than later would’ve been the smart move. But I still studied the note for a beat. Almost as if having my eyes glued to the paper changed its message.
But no. The note’s message didn’t change no matter how long I gazed at it:
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID, AND I’M GONNA TO MAKE YOU PAY. KISSES.
Her jaw twitched. “You don’t think someone knows what happened to Mason, do you?”
Great question. I so did not want the first week of last April to define the rest of my life. Being a teenager was challenging without dealing with possible blackmail notes.
“You’re supposed to be the calm one,” I said.
“It’s not like the person made a specific threat…”
A healthy dose of cynicism—such as thinking the universe hated me—was one thing, but I had to be positive for a split-second. Doing so ensured life being less complicated, because what I said was true. A concrete threat wasn’t made.
She shook her head. “Don’t be delusional.”
“How am I supposed to react?”
“By wanting to find out who sent the note.”
“And how do we do that?” I chugged the rest of my Caramel Macchiato. I didn’t squeal about the extra-sweetness from the caramel that stuck to the bottom of the cup, not when Veronica remained silent. “We can’t go around school asking people if they slipped the note into our lockers.”
“I know,” she mumbled.
“Do you think Brandon got a note?”
Veronica shrugged. “Would he keep it a secret if he got a note?”
“No offense, but he’s your boyfriend, not mine.”
A cold liquid splashed onto me before I could respond to Veronica’s question.
I looked up. A guy in a leather jacket, t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers stood next to me. His combed back, black hair made me gaze into his eyes. Something nice existed about someone having a polished look.
He sighed. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine,” I said without giving the issue a second thought.
Yup. I wouldn’t start an argument with the guy. Based on what I did know about him—which wasn’t much—he seemed like a weirdo. Noah hadn’t once returned my wave or “hello,” the couple times I crossed paths with him while going for a walk around my neighborhood.
Veronica glared at the guy. “You owe Cody an apology. What kind of person walks around without a lid on their beverage?”
Perhaps Veronica wasn’t as Zen as she wanted everyone to think she was. It wasn’t like this situation required sympathy—accidentally spilling something wasn’t like turning fifty.
“It’s fine,” I said.
She huffed. “I’m so sick of people never facing consequences.”
The guy’s cheeks turned bright red. “It was an accident.”
“I believe you,” I said.
He tilted his head towards Veronica. “I took the top off my beverage because I wanted to enjoy the whipped cream before it melted.”
“Then you should’ve done that sitting down,” Veronica touted.
Okay. I’d make a mental note to never piss Veronica off. I couldn’t imagine dealing with someone who wouldn’t let something trivial—like spilling a Starbucks Frappuccino—go. Surely, there were more important issues worth contemplating—like whether or not our note was a prank or something more serious.
He averted his gaze. “My mistake.”
“I’m the same way,” I said. “I like having my whipped cream first.”
“Don’t make excuses for him,” Veronica said.
She needed a reality check like yesterday. Lingering on an issue longer than necessary might’ve made her human, yet she shouldn’t have kept harping on the matter after the guy apologized twice.
The guy extended his free hand. “I’m Noah.”
I nodded. “I know.”
“Excuse me?” he asked.
“You might not realize this, but we’re neighbors. Although I’m shocked you aren’t wearing your black cape and carrying your scythe,” I said.
Veronica winced. “Come again?”
Noah took in a deep breath. “It’s not as creepy as it sounds. I’m into cosplay and go to conventions.”
“That doesn’t justify looking like the grim reaper,” Veronica said.
“Nobody said you had to understand me. You just have to respect me,” he said.
Kudos to Noah for his response because he was gutsier than me in this moment And I didn’t blame him for his actions. There was no reason for Veronica to project her possible anger about the note situation onto Noah—I could go to the bathroom and use the drier to fix my wet shirt and shorts.
“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to.” Veronica grabbed a napkin from the metal holder resting on the table. Then, she tore it into dozens of pieces. And I thought of Grandma—making a mess wouldn’t win Veronica any awards for proper etiquette.
Noah pointed to my head. “I like your blond hair. Most guys wouldn’t have the guts to go platinum blond.”
If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought Noah was flirting with me. However, I wouldn’t do anything about that—at least for the moment. Not when Mrs. Negative, I mean, Veronica was with us. She would’ve squashed any flirtation faster than the Titanic went into the ocean.
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
Noah glanced at his watch before resuming eye contact. “I should go. But it was nice meeting you, Cody.”
I nodded. “Same.”
He walked away without another word while the wind roared louder, pushing a crushed can down the block. I would’ve even chuckled at how littering seemed counterintuitive in our stereotypical, affluent suburban town except Veronica’s eyes bulged so hard they might as well have popped out of their sockets.
“What was that about?” she asked.
“We shouldn’t start unnecessary drama.”
“You’re supposed to be on my side!”
Veronica might have had a point—always agreeing with your best friend was an unwritten law of the universe. However, it was still better for me to tell her something difficult than if a stranger did. In light of our note, we needed to be careful about how we proceeded. If the situation was more than a prank, then one wrong move could ruin everything.
“Being your best friend doesn’t mean I gotta agree with you on everything,” I said.
Veronica scoffed. “I’m not so sure about that. You gotta admit he’s weird.”
“He looks around our age, yet I’ve never seen him in school before.”
I shrugged. “Maybe he’s homeschooled. Probably more common than you think.”
“Don’t make more excuses for him.”
Veronica needed to calm down even if her clutched hands might be justified. It wasn’t like I trusted him with our secret from last April. I only provided a possible explanation for why he didn’t attend Cinderwood High School despite how he’d been my neighbor for a while now.
“You’re just pissed about the note,” I said.
She shrilled. “You’re right. I’m not happy someone knows what we did, and I took my anger out on Noah.”
“Can I give you some unsolicited advice?”
“Do I have a choice?”
No offense to Veronica, but she could’ve feigned interest in what I was gonna say. It wasn’t like I took pleasure in thinking I was better than everyone else; I didn’t. I only wanted to help her, because she might say the wrong thing at the most inconvenient time, and then we’d be in more trouble than we already were. And we couldn’t have that. Not if Veronica, Brandon, and I wanted to survive the rest of high school without anyone discovering what we did. I mean, we could dream at least.
“Get worked up in private; not public,” I said.
“Don’t tell me how to feel,” Veronica said.
“We shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves…”
She picked at her nail. “Fine. But we’re gonna find out who sent the notes.”
Whether I admitted the truth or not, Veronica was right. Discovering who wrote the notes was our only option. Especially when we had done something that nobody could find out about—not ever. Like our situation was comparable to someone who didn’t know they had cancer yet. Just because we didn’t know anything about the notes didn’t mean the situation couldn’t hurt us. The good boys and girls not lying mantra still applied—lies resembled cancer because they didn’t just sometimes fester in secret. They also took on a life of their own once revealed.
Date Published: November 14, 2019