The moment I entered the cafeteria at lunchtime, James attached himself to my side, already holding his tray full of french fries. He babbled on happily about a new CD he’d picked up over the weekend and even offered to let me listen, but I shook my head. I wasn’t in the mood for music.
“Kate?” We’d taken our seats, and he had already drenched his fries in ketchup. “You’re really quiet today. Is your mom okay?”
I glanced up from my uneaten sandwich. “She’s hanging in there.”
“Then what’s wrong?” The look on his face made it clear he wasn’t going to let it go.
“Nothing. I was just sick all weekend, that’s all.”
“Oh, right.” He popped a fry into his mouth. “You missed Friday. I got your homework for you.”
“Thanks.” At least he wasn’t pressing the issue.
“Did you go to that party with Ava?”
I froze. Was it that obvious? Was there something in my expression that told him? No, it was only idle conversation.
Terrific. Now he knew something was wrong. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled, slouching.
“Did something happen at the party?”
“There wasn’t any party.” No point in lying to him about that. He’d be able to ask around and find out anyhow, if he ever bothered to talk to other people. “It was just Ava and a stupid prank.”
“What sort of stupid prank?” The way his voice dropped and his eyes hardened should have set off alarm bells in my mind, but I was too busy trying to come up with some sort of feasible reply. How was I supposed to describe the impossibility that had happened beside the river? There was no way he’d believe me. I didn’t even believe me. And Ava—
I mentally smacked myself. The whole thing had been a prank, hadn’t it? Not only leaving me there, but her smashing her head against a rock, and Henry showing up and pretending to do…to do whatever it was that he’d done. He was probably someone’s older brother. Maybe even Ava’s.
But what about her skull? The way she’d stopped breathing? The angle of her neck? Could that really be faked?
“Speak of the devil,” said James, eyebrows raised as he looked over my shoulder. I didn’t need to turn around to know who it was.
“Kate!” squealed Ava, and she sat down beside me without waiting for an invitation. I tensed, gripping my apple so hard I could feel the fruit bruise beneath the skin.
“Er, hi.” What was I supposed to say to her? “How—how was your weekend?”
She swung her legs underneath the table and set down her tray of food. Unlike James, she had a chicken sandwich and a pile of Tater Tots. There was no possible way she ate that every day for lunch and managed to stay so skinny.
“It was good. You know, rested and swam and stuff.” She took a bite of her sandwich and didn’t bother swallowing before continuing. “I tried calling you, but you never picked up. Did my dad give me the wrong number?”
I nearly choked. That had been Ava? “N-no, that was my house.” I looked at James, silently willing him to say something, but he seemed to be making a very real effort not to look at us. “I was sick, so I didn’t pick up.”
“You’re feeling better now though, right?”
I hesitated. “Yeah, I feel better.”
“Oh, that’s perfect then! I was hoping you’d come over this week sometime. We’ve got a swimming pool, and I was thinking maybe I could teach you how to swim.”
I gaped at her. After everything that had happened, she wanted me to go swimming with her? “I don’t—I don’t swim.” And after what had happened on Friday, I didn’t want to go anywhere near a body of water ever again. It seemed unusually cruel to keep dragging a stupid prank out like this, and I silently wished she would drop it already.
Ava pursed her lips, and it was clear that something in my voice or expression must’ve clued her in. “No hard feelings about what happened, right?” Maybe I was imagining it, but she seemed almost nervous. “I mean…that’s sort of what I wanted to talk to you ab—”
“Ava,” I interrupted. “Why are you sitting with me?”
Her face fell, and she put down her sandwich. “I broke up with Dylan.”
“What? Why?” I glanced at James again, but he was now engrossed in making a fry fort. “I thought you said you loved him.”
“I do! I did.”
“Because.” She glanced over her shoulder at the jock table. At least half a dozen pairs of eyes were watching us, and she lowered her voice to a whisper. “You saw me, right? I dove into the river and hit my head, and the next thing I know I’m on the ground with a throbbing headache.”
I forced a nonchalant shrug. “So you hit your head and I dragged you out before you drowned. No big deal.”
“Yes, it is.” Her voice dropped. “There was blood everywhere. My mother saw me when I got home, and she had a fit. I had to tell her it was yours.”
“But it wasn’t mine.”
Our eyes locked. Hers were red and shining with tears. “I know,” she whispered. “Kate, what happened to me?”
Across the table, James stilled, and I noticed he was no longer wearing his headphones. On top of telling Ava what had happened, now I’d have to explain it to him once she was gone. He wouldn’t believe me—no one in their right mind would. I wasn’t even sure I believed me, and I still wasn’t convinced it wasn’t all some elaborate hoax.