He called the Ashford police—no, they couldn’t go to Ireland and look into it. He called the Dublin police again—were they sure they’d interviewed every last one of Alina’s friends and fellow students and professors? I hadn’t needed to hear both sides of that conversation to know the Dublin police were getting testy.
He’d finally placed a call to an old college friend of his that held some high-powered, hush-hush position in the government. Whatever that friend said had deflated him completely. He’d closed the door on us and not come out since.
The climate was decidedly grim in the Lane house, with Mom a tornado in the kitchen, and Dad a black hole in the study. I couldn’t sit around forever waiting for them to snap out of it. Time was wasting and the trail was growing colder by the minute. If someone was going to do something, it had to be now, which meant it had to be me.
I said, “I’m going and I don’t care if you like it or not.”
Mom burst into tears. She slapped the dough she’d been kneading down on the counter and ran out of the room. After a moment, I heard the bedroom door slam down the hall.
That’s one thing I can’t handle—my mom’s tears. As if she hadn’t been crying enough lately, I’d just made her cry again. I slunk from the kitchen and crept upstairs, feeling like the absolute lowest of the lowest scum on the face of the earth.
I got out of my pajamas, showered, dried my hair and dressed, then stood at a complete loss for a while, staring blankly down the hall at Alina’s closed bedroom door.
How many thousands of times had we called back and forth during the day, whispered back and forth during the night, woken each other up for comfort when we’d had bad dreams?
I was on my own with bad dreams now.
Get a grip, Mac. I shook myself and decided to head up to campus. If I stayed home, the black hole might get me, too. Even now I could feel its event horizon expanding exponentially.
On the drive uptown, I recalled that I’d dropped my cell phone in the pool—God, had it really been all those weeks ago?—and decided I’d better stop at the mall to get a new one in case my parents needed to reach me while I was out.
If they even noticed I was gone.
I stopped at the store, bought the cheapest Nokia they had, got the old one deactivated, and powered up the replacement.
I had fourteen new messages, which was probably a record for me. I’m hardly a social butterfly. I’m not one of those plugged-in people who are always hooked up to the latest greatest find-me service. The idea of being found so easily creeps me out a little. I don’t have a camera phone or text-messaging capability. I don’t have Internet service or satellite radio, just your basic account, thank you. The only other gadget I need is my trusty iPod—music is my great escape.
I got back in my car, turned on the engine so the air conditioner could do battle with July’s relentless heat, and began listening to my messages. Most of them were weeks old, from friends at school or The Brickyard who I’d talked to since the funeral.
I guess, somewhere in the back of my mind, I’d made the connection that I’d lost cell service a few days before Alina had died and was hoping I might have a message from her. Hoping she might have called, sounding happy before she died. Hoping she might have said something that would make me forget my grief, if only for a short while. I was desperate to hear her voice just one more time.
When I did, I almost dropped the phone. Her voice burst from the tiny speaker, sounding frantic, terrified.
“Mac! Oh God, Mac, where are you? I need to talk to you! It rolled straight into your voice mail! What are you doing with your cell phone turned off? You’ve got to call me the minute you get this! I mean, the very instant!”
Despite the oppressive summer heat, I was suddenly icy, my skin clammy.
“Oh, Mac, everything has gone so wrong! I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought he was helping me, but—God, I can’t believe I was so stupid! I thought I was in love with him and he’s one of them, Mac! He’s one of them!”
I blinked uncomprehendingly. One of who? For that matter, who was this “he” that was one of “them” in the first place? Alina—in love? No way! Alina and I told each other everything. Aside from a few guys she’d dated casually her first months in Dublin, she’d not mentioned any other guy in her life. And certainly not one she was in love with!
Her voice caught on a sob. My hand tightened to a death grip on the phone, as if maybe I could hold on to my sister through it. Keep this Alina alive and safe from harm. I got a few seconds of static, then, when she spoke again she’d lowered her voice, as if fearful of being overheard.