New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author

A Girl Squishy and White

Suzy Kramer called me two days after she died. I was surprised.

My family had gone to bed and I’d stayed up late to do homework, which sat on the coffee table, abandoned in lieu of a late-night movie. When Suzy called, a swamp monster had draped a beautiful girl over his arms to carry into the murky depths of his home. I didn’t want to miss any of the action—it was just getting good—but Suzy couldn’t have had a lot of time, her being dead and all.

“Hello?” I answered, confused.

“Hey, Tam. It’s me.”

Suzy’s name had popped up on the caller ID, thus my confusion. I figured somebody had her phone, somebody was playing a tasteless trick, but it was her voice, all right. Clear as a bell. Alarm prickled over my skin like needles and cascaded down my spine.

“Hey, Suze,” I said, my eyes wide as they scanned every inch of the dark room, suddenly wary of all things that go bump in the night. The monochrome movie projected a myriad of shadows on the walls, sending my imagination into berserk-ville. Still, a ghost calling me from the grave warranted at least a small amount of panic.

“Whatcha doin’?” she asked.

I blinked and fought back the fear that had tightened around my chest. This was impossible. Suzy died. Everyone said she’d been found dead at the bottom of Cedar Canyon and her body had been shipped off for an autopsy. I swallowed hard, and said, “Oh, nothing. Just watching TV with my family.”

After a long pause, she replied. “Really? I thought you might be alone.”

My stomach flip-flopped. Did she know I was lying? I’d been sitting on the couch with my back to the huge plate glass window that lined the front of our house. A part of me wanted to turn, to see if she was outside looking in. But another part, a stronger part, had seized every muscle in my body. I couldn’t turn. I couldn’t move.

“Nope,” I said, forcing an airy, lighthearted tone. “We’re watching a movie about a swamp monster, but Nathan keeps talking. Little brothers are so annoying.”

Nathan had gone to bed hours ago.

“Tamra,” she said, a slight edge to her voice like she knew I was lying through my teeth, “I wanted you to be the first to know how I died.”

That was thoughtful of her. At least we’d gotten that awkward I’m-really-dead thing out of the way.

“You were always so nice to me in school. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

I stilled. “To me?”

“Zach Davis killed me.”

Zach Davis? The Zach Davis? Suzy was the girl who sat alone at lunch, too big to be noticed but not big enough to be feared. She was invisible to most, semi-useless to others. My best friend Jennifer called her Styrofoam. Squishy and white with no personality. I always liked her, though, until she drew a heart on my math assignment before passing it back to me in class one day. It was just weird, so I stopped talking to her. When I heard she’d died, that heart was the first thing that came to mind. How mean I’d been to her. How judgmental. I just didn’t know what to think at the time, and instead of talking to her about it, I ignored her. Like everybody else.

But Zach Davis was the most popular kid in school. Captain of the football team. Soon-to-be valedictorian. And he attacked Suzy? Suzy Kramer? I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the concept.

“I think I was his test run,” she continued. “Easy prey. He said he’d been having these urges. That he couldn’t contain them any longer.”

What kind of urges? The question formed in my mind but didn’t quite make it past my lips.

“But I left a clue for the police. They’ll figure it out soon enough. Until then…”

A light knock sounded at the door and I froze. Was it her? Was she here? I listened into the phone, but she’d stopped talking.

Another soft knock.

With infinite reluctance, I eased onto my feet and made my way to the door. It took all my willpower to turn the knob, but when I cracked open the door, I realized it wasn’t her. Relief soothed the tension in my shoulders as I looked toward a tall shadow leaning against the house, arms crossed over his chest. I squinted into the darkness and blinked in surprise.

“Zach?” I asked.

He stuffed his hands into his pockets and eased forward. “I’m really upset about Suzy,” he said, making small talk like we’d been friends about someone he’d never even looked at. Not that he’d ever looked my way or said two words to me.

“Yeah, me too,” I said, concern cinching my brows together. I’d inched the door a bit wider, but when he stepped even closer, I regretted it.

“Can we go for a walk or something? I just need to talk to someone.”

He was so muscular, so handsome. How many times had I dreamed of him knocking on my door? Asking me that very thing? Under any other circumstances, I would’ve jumped at the chance to hang with him so fast, papers would’ve gone flying behind me. But now…

“Um, actually my mom just told me to get to bed.”

He braced a hand against the door and stepped into the dim light, close enough for me to see the green sparkle of his eyes as he looked down at me. That sparkle had always been so charming. So mischievous. Now it seemed desperate. Dark and dangerous. “C’mon,” he cajoled. “Just me and you. Your mom’ll never know.” He placed just enough pressure on the door to stop me from closing it.

I realized I still held the phone to my ear when Suzy whispered into it. “Make him believe you’re talking to the police,” she said, her hushed tone hurried.

It took me a moment to understand what she meant because Zach’s gaze had dropped to my bare legs, the shorts I wore suddenly much more revealing than I remembered.

“All right, officer,” I said into the phone and Zach’s attention snapped back to my face. “I’m okay right now. A friend of mine, Zach Davis, is here. I’ll pass on the information.”

Zach took a step back as I closed my phone. “That was the police,” I said, analyzing his every reaction. “They were just asking me some questions about Suzy and wanted to make sure I was okay. I think they suspect someone may have hurt her.”

He glanced around, and eased back even further. “Okay, yeah, well I better get home then.”

“Okay. Be careful.”

He was gone before I’d even finished my sentiment, hurdling an azalea bush and disappearing into the shadows. My phone buzzed, alerting me to a text. It was from Suzy. My hands shook so hard, it took a moment to bring it up.

Thank you for being nice to me. Melanie Worth wasn’t nice to me.

I released the breath I’d been holding and collapsed against the wall. Melanie Worth wasn’t nice to anyone, but what did that have to do with our immediate situation?

I didn’t sleep at all that night and dreaded school the next day like I’d never dreaded anything in my life. I would have to face him. I’d have to see Zach. And know.

But know what? That Suzy Kramer accused him of murder? Two days after she’d died? I certainly couldn’t tell anyone. But what if he came after me again? What would I say? What would I do?

“Oh my goodness,” my mother said into the phone as she nudged me awake. Apparently I’d fallen asleep after all. But on the couch, and now my neck had a crick in it. I sat up and rubbed it as mom rushed to the kitchen to make coffee. “Bill’s girl?” she asked. “Okay, let me know what they find out.”

She closed her phone and looked back at me. “Did you sleep on the couch?” she asked without waiting for an answer. “They found another girl. A classmate of yours. School’s been canceled.”

A thick, sickly kind of relief washed over me until the first part of her statement sank in. They found another girl? As in, dead?

Mom put the coffee on to brew then came back into the living room. Her brown robe, centuries old, hung in a wrinkled mess over her shoulders and matched her morning hair to a tee in both style and texture. She sat beside me and placed a hand on my knee. “Sweetheart, your friend Melanie Worth has been killed and they’ve arrested that Davis boy.”

Why on earth my mother thought Melanie was a friend was beyond me, but I struggled past that to focus on that Davis boy.

“They think he killed both of them, something about a name scratched into the first girl’s arm, and they—what in the world?” Mom’s gaze had slid past me to some point out the window.

I turned to look over my shoulder, regretted it instantly as a pain shot down my spine, then realized Mom wasn’t looking out the window, but at it. Dozens of muddy hearts sprawled across the glass in a mosaic of mischievous celebration. They’d clearly been made with fingers, each lovingly shaped with precision and care.

“Who would do such a thing?” my mother asked, indignant, and I couldn’t help the astonished grin that lifted one corner of my mouth.

A girl made of Styrofoam would, that’s who.