There’s a twist around every corner in Heather Anastasiu and Anne Greenwood Brown’s Girl Last Seen, but now you can get a taste of the mystery for yourself in this exclusive excerpt!
Kadence Mulligan and Lauren DeSanto were young YouTube stars on the rise when a vocal chord infection ruined Lauren’s chances at a career. But Kadence went on without her, her career only getting hotter in both the social media and music worlds. So when Kadence suddenly goes missing, it’s no wonder that Lauren was the first suspect. Can she find out what happened to her former best friend before it’s all pinned on her?
Get an exclusive look at Lauren and her dilemma in this exclusive excerpt from Girl Last Seen!
“You know how the police in TV shows always say, “Sorry, ma’am, we don’t deem them to be a missing person until they’ve been gone at least twenty-four hours?” That is not a joke. They really don’t—at least when that person is an adult (even if just barely). Which is why the county sheriff didn’t send someone to talk to Kadence’s parents until late yesterday afternoon. Too late by Mr. Mulligan’s estimation, since apparently he’d already plastered the town in missing person fliers. I guess they asked Mrs. Mulligan for a list of Kadence’s closest friends.
Which is why I’m sitting at a table in the middle of a cinder-block room, biting my nails down to the nubs.
I know they’re going to be talking to Mason too, but I don’t know if it’s already happened or not..
I sit back in my chair and let my arms hang down, though my foot is bouncing against the floor. It takes me a second to realize I’m beating out the rhythm to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda.” I have to put my hand on my knee to quiet my mind.
The room they put me in is painted blue like the chandelier Kadence made for my birthday. I suspect the color was chosen on purpose because someone read that it had a calming effect. It’s not working. My palms are sweating.
I hum-sing a line from a new song I’m working on. I know I’m not supposed to do that, but it calms my nerves even though the sound comes out rough and scratchy.
Metamorphosis, you make me change my dress. My shoes, my face, I am such a mess.
I wonder what Kadence would do in this situation, and I try to channel her. A kind of What Would Kadence Do? moment that tells me that Kadence would smile.
It feels all wrong. This is all wrong.
The chair across the table from me is empty. Behind the empty chair, there’s a mirror. I’d bet a hundred dollars there’s someone watching me on the other side of it. I watch CSI reruns. All three cities.
My parents are outside in the hallway, waiting for me to be done. They wanted to be in here with me, but one of the unexpected perks of turning eighteen is you get to fly solo when interrogated about your best friend’s disappearance. I’m glad my little brother, JJ, is at school and doesn’t know what’s going on. Better he be wrapped up in all the usual junior-high drama than any of my own.
Man, Kady, I wish you were here. The thought hits me unexpectedly. It shouldn’t. It’s what I’ve been waiting to feel all this time. It’s just that sometimes, like at a funeral, the reactions everyone expects you to have are delayed. And you feel guilty, wrong even, for not feeling the way you know you should.
I’ve always been that way though. My emotional reactions to things can get a little disjointed. Like in first grade, when Billy Thompson killed a frog during recess, poking its guts all over a rock, I didn’t start screaming until the middle of class a few hours later. I didn’t calm down for another forty-five minutes, and then only when my parents came to pick me up. And yet…when my dad took me deer hunting a few years later, I was fine.
A blond man walks in holding a Styrofoam cup and a tiny tape recorder. His broad shoulders strain his shirt. He sets the tape recorder on the table and gestures at me with his cup. “Can I get you something?”
The vending machines I passed in the hallway didn’t have anything remotely organic. I was bummed at the time because I didn’t get breakfast, but maybe it’s a good thing I took a pass. Is this guy hoping to trick me into giving up a DNA sample? Or am I being crazy paranoid? I feel more sweat break out on my forehead. At least now he won’t go mining for my saliva in a half-eaten Hot Pocket.
“No, thank you,” I say and sit up a little taller. What would Kadence do? A small part of me recognizes the irony in trying to emulate Kady when only days ago I was swearing that I was done with her forever. The other part of my brain is telling me to shut up because all I want right now is to get out of here.
My fingers feel twitchy. I wish I was holding a guitar. People don’t realize it, but guitars are like shields. They provide a layer of separation between you and the crowd. From anyone who wants to ask you questions.
“I’m fine.” I add, “All things considered.”
He shrugs, sits down, and pulls a yellow pad out of the desk drawer and a pen from behind his ear. He hits the Record button.
“My name is Detective Kopitzke. Let me start by saying that you are not a suspect.”
He tips his head. “Is something funny?”
“No,” I whisper. Was I smiling?
“We asked you to come in here today because we understand you are one of Kadence Mulligan’s closest friends.”
I arrange my mouth at the last minute into some kind of expression, I’m not sure what.
“As you know, we’re trying to find your friend, and we’re hoping you can tell us if there’s somewhere special she likes to go. Is there anywhere you like to go with her?”
The question gives me pause. Kadence always made me feel like I could follow her anywhere. That if I didn’t, I would miss out on something awesome. Most of the time she was right. When someone asked, “What’s going on Friday night?” ninety-nine people would answer “I don’t know,” but Kadence would say, “So, so much! I can’t decide!”
But then there were other times too. Times when she took off by herself for her little “camping trips.” The first time she did that, we were only thirteen. Mrs. Mulligan called our house, asking if Kadence was there. Apparently Kadence had told her we were having a sleepover, but that wasn’t true. She had other plans, and she never thought twice about lying to make those plans happen. That night, her plans had included camping out in the woods along the creek. She said she needed a break from her parents sometimes. I understood that, but camping? Alone?
Detective Kopitzke leans back in his chair, and I realize I’ve forgotten to answer his question out loud.
“She used to go on these little camping trips,” I say. “She’d take off overnight. Sleep in the woods or a tree house or someplace.”
His eyebrows go up. “She doesn’t strike me as what you’d call the camping type.”
I feel a prickly sensation at the back of my neck. “I know. She was pretty high maintenance. Is,” I say when I realize I’m thinking of Kadence in the past tense. I have to stop that. I can’t do that out loud. Not with big, blond Kopitzke taking notes. “Is high maintenance. Not that high-maintenance girls can’t camp. Just that it’s hard to understand Kadence going anywhere she can’t plug in a flat iron. But then, maybe that’s why she always camps alone. God forbid someone should see her without full makeup.”
I’m rambling. I laugh a little, embarrassed. “That’s not my line, by the way. It’s Kady’s. ‘God forbid someone should see me without makeup!’ She says that a lot. I don’t know anyone who has seen her natural face since eighth grade, including me.” I sit on my hands as if this can make me shut up.
“When’s the last time she went on one of her camping trips?”
“I don’t know. When we were sixteen? At least that I know of.”
Kopitzke scribbles my answers on his yellow pad. “And how long would she be gone?”
“Usually just overnight.”
“Does the fact that she’s been gone three days worry you?”
“Yes,” I whisper, staring down at my lap. Does looking down make me look shifty? Guilty of something? I quickly look up and meet Detective Kopitzke’s gaze. I smile again, but my cheeks feel tight. I imagine tiny hairline cracks running across my face.
“Do you miss her?” Kopitzke asks.
I don’t answer right away. There was that little twinge I felt a few minutes ago when I wished she was here. But aside from that, the most honest answer is no—I don’t miss her. The moment she announced she was going solo, I understood more about our friendship than I’d cared to admit to myself. I was Kady’s friend only as long as I was useful to her. It was a good six-year run, but it’s over now.
Detective Kopitzke leans forward across the desk at me. “You’re hesitating.”
“I don’t know,” I whisper, voice cracking. “We haven’t been spending a lot of time together. It’s hard to miss what you don’t have.”
“I understand you used to perform with Kadence, that the two of you were like a band or something.”
“Or something.” My eyes drop slightly to his jacket lapel where there’s a coffee stain. I wonder if Mrs. Detective Kopitzke didn’t have time to take in the dry cleaning or if it’s from this morning.
“But you can’t sing anymore.” I try to keep my teeth from grinding.
“Not now. No.”
“How does that make you feel?” Oh, so now he’s a shrink? He wants to know how it makes me feel? A tremor runs through the muscles in my arms. I cannot allow myself to feel anything. Not here. I cannot show this man how humiliated I am for letting Kadence run my life. How I’m the lowest of the low for kissing Mason, but even lower for how I treated Jude. That’s something I try not to think about too much, but lately—ever since I saw him at Cuppa Cuppa—he’s back front and center in my thoughts.
Kadence used me, turned me into someone I’m not, and even though losing my voice and not being able to sing totally sucks, at least it gave me the chance to step back and reevaluate my life and what’s good for me.
Do I miss Kadence? No. No, I don’t.
But I don’t tell him any of that and just shrug. It makes me look like a brat, but I’m pretty sure smiling looks worse. I’m totally stuck. I don’t know how to act, how to look, how to sound. I tell myself to act naturally, but I’ve lost my grip on what that feels like. I shift in my chair and roll back my shoulders, hoping to reconnect with my body.
Detective Kopitzke studies my face for several long seconds. Then he says, “We understand you were the last person to see Kadence Mulligan on Friday night.”
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