High School Soap Opera
Jack knows his bike is too loud for us to sneak around Ambrosia’s neighborhood looking for clues, so we leave it in the back parking lot and start walking. It’s the first time since I arrived in Spruce Ridge that I can get a good look around. It’s a nice day out, and there are flowers in bloom in front of every house. Jack takes my hand, and we look like any young couple who recently started dating. But we are vigilant, hoping to find something the police failed to notice.
“When is your birthday?” he asks.
“Why, you want to know how much time you have to figure out what you’re going to get me?” I don’t know if I’ll still be here then. I’m having fun, and it’s still bizarre being in my favorite show, but this isn’t real.
“It’s been two days, and we still barely know each other. We don’t talk much about personal stuff.” He kisses the back of my hand, and I get a deja vu about the first time he did that, when I showed up in his bar on Friday.
“My birthday is September 24. Just as the leaves are starting to change color. My favorite birthday party ever was when I turned 10, and my parents took me to Florida so I could go to the beach and swim the whole day away. I got so sunburned, I could barely move for a week.”
“July 26. And since you shared yours, my best birthday was when I turned eight and my Mom got me a bike with a dinosaur basket on the front.”
“Ah! So your thing for bikes goes way back. Why didn’t you keep the dino basket? That would look pretty hot on Ginger.” He gently pushes me, and I almost fall, but he squeezes my hand to help me stay balanced.
“Favorite book ever?”
“Romeo and Juliet,” I say. “Except the end. Same question?”
“Treasure Island. I read it when I was a kid, and for a whole summer I tried digging for treasure everywhere I went. I got in big trouble when my Dad saw that I had dug up the backyard.” He laughs at the memory, and I smile as I try to picture Jack as a little boy.
“It’s probably a good thing I didn’t read mine until last year, or I might have had a tragically short childhood.”
Jack stops, and I see it too. A big dark spot on the sidewalk, and I understand. It’s her blood. Her head must have… I don’t even want to think about it. He runs to a nearby bush and vomits behind it. I walk over to make sure he’s okay, and something catches my eye. It’s about two yards away from Jack, and I crouch down to get a better look.
“Ambrosia’s phone,” I say. I recognize the white case covered in silver rhinestones. I pick it up and put it in my pocket. “Jack, are you okay?”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I thought I could handle it. Guess I’m not cut out for the P.I. business.” We start walking back to the bar.
“It’s okay. Maybe Nick has his own air-tight alibi. Have you called him yet?”
“It goes straight to voice mail, either he turned it off or it’s d-” He can’t manage to say the word, but I know what he means. Dead.
“Do you think the police found him already?” I’m trying to get his mind off the sight of Ambrosia’s blood all over the sidewalk, and the smell of it in the grass, but it’s not going to be easy to forget.
“I hope not,” Jack says. “I want to talk to him first.”
“Where do you think he would go?” I ask, but then I have an idea. “Serenity’s apartment. He knows I’m staying with you, so your guest room isn’t free.”
“That’s brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?”
“You’re trying too hard. Your brain isn’t working right because you’re too close to the situation.” Plus, I’m not supposed to know that Nick put his things in a storage locker before he left, and broke his lease, so he can’t go back to his old apartment.
“Come on, let’s check my place first, because it’s closer, and if he’s not there we’ll try Serenity’s apartment.”
We walk faster until we get back to the bar, get on the bike, and drive off. I don’t think Jack heard me when I said I found Ambrosia’s phone, but with the way he reacted to seeing the place she died, I think it’s up to me to keep investigating her death… only now, I have to keep it a secret from Jack too. I touch my pocket to see if it’s real, and I feel the phone through my jeans. I’ll solve this mystery.
Nick isn’t at Jack’s house or Serenity’s apartment. We sit on the stoop in front of her building to figure out what to do next. Jack checks his cell phone. There’s a voice mail from Nick, and he plays it on speaker so I can hear it too.
“Sorry I missed your zillion calls this morning. I was sleeping off a rough night. You kept saying to call but not what it’s about, and now you’re not even answering. Everything okay? Are we cool? I’m going to Amelia’s to see if Otis has anyone staying in the apartment over their garage. Call me, the ringer’s on.”
“When is that from?” I ask as we both stand up. Jack doesn’t seem to suspect anything, but I know the are we cool? part was Nick wondering if Jack knows he kissed me.
“Five minutes ago,” Jack says, heading for his motorcycle. “We didn’t hear it because we were on the bike.”
We hurry back to the bike and Jack floors it. We get to the diner in record time. Olivia is still there, but John’s not with her. I wonder where he is. If he’s “always there” for Olivia when she needs him, shouldn’t he be with her now? We don’t see Nick, and Jack looks at his phone.
“He said he was coming,” he says impatiently. “Where is he?”
“Just wait, he’ll be here. He’s not on a motorcycle,” I say. When Nick left he was driving a black sedan. “We probably just got here first, that’s all.”
“Unless…” He was going to say unless the police got him, but then we see Nick’s car coming down the road. He pulls in and parks, and Jack meets him at the door as he’s getting out of the car. “What happened last night?” Jack asks. “You didn’t do anything stupid, did you?” Nick flashes me a look, but I shake my head. I didn’t tell Jack.
“Olivia still doesn’t remember me, and I was upset. I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with her anymore, and I didn’t want another problem with Ambrosia, so I left.”
“Did you see Ambrosia after she left the bar?”
“No, why? What did she tell you? Whatever she said, it’s a lie.” Either he doesn’t know that she’s dead, or he’s a really good actor… no pun intended. Jack puts a hand over his mouth and looks away. “What?”
“Nick…” The police are after you and it’s all my fault. I can’t say that. I don’t want him to hate me. “Ambrosia’s dead. She was shot last night. The police know that you argued with her and then Olivia, and then stormed out of the bar…”
“They think I killed her?” Nick asks. “Are you kidding me?”
“Where were you?” Jack asks. “As long as someone can confirm that you were somewhere else at the time of the murder, they have to let you go.”
“That’s not possible, I wasn’t with anyone. But they have to keep looking for the killer, it’s not me. I swear on my life, I didn’t kill her.”
“Where were you?” Jack asks. “We just left Serenity’s house, and you weren’t there. We checked the bar, didn’t see you there.”
“You don’t trust me.” Nick looks betrayed.
“It’s not a question of trust,” Jack shouts, “it’s a question of where on earth you were last night! Why can’t you just answer the freaking question? The police are going to need to know anyway.”
“I don’t have to answer to you, Jack, either you believe me or you don’t. I see where you stand.” Nick looks inside and sees Olivia. “She must be devastated. Ambrosia was her best friend. I can’t believe someone shot her last night.” Thank you, Captain Obvious! Hearing the same things over and over is a lot less annoying when you’re watching a storyline unfold over several weeks. He starts for the door.
“Nick.” Jack says. Nick turns and scratches the back of his neck. He did that when we were talking about Serenity’s arrest, must be a nervous habit. At first Jack doesn’t say anything, like he’s trying decide if he should say what he’s thinking or not. “I don’t know who killed Ambrosia. But you’re my cousin, and you’re like a brother to me. If you say you didn’t do it, I believe you.”
“Yeah,” I agree, “I believe you too. I’ll do everything in my power to clear your name.” He doesn’t make eye contact with me, though. Maybe he still feels bad about kissing me.
“Thanks, it means a lot. I have to talk to Olivia, but then I’m going to the police to give them a statement. I want it on record that I volunteered to speak to them, that they didn’t have to bring me in.”
We follow him in, because we have nothing better to do. He walks to her table and stands there, waiting for her to look up. At first Olivia doesn’t respond, but then she sees him. Jack and I sit at a table near the front door, but the diner is small enough that we can still hear every word.
“What are you doing here?” she asks. “Haven’t you done enough?” She’s staring out into space, and the only move she makes is blinking every few seconds. Her voice changes too. It’s kind of sing-songy, like Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
“I didn’t do it, Liv.” He says softly. Here we go, Olivia and Nick, round 2.
“Everyone saw you fighting with her before I got to the bar,” she says. “Why should I believe you? Like I’ve told you a million times, I don’t remember anything about you before I woke up from that coma.” Her voice is chilling.
“Okay, fine. You don’t remember me. But you don’t have to be so cold to me. Can’t we be friends?” He sits in the chair across the table from her. Amelia comes out of the kitchen and sees Nick, and she shifts her weight from one foot to the other and back again, as if trying to decide if she should go interrupt their conversation.
“Everyone knows you shot and killed Raul,” Olivia says, ignoring his question. It’s like she doesn’t even hear him. “You could have killed Ambrosia. The police have no witnesses.”
“I saved your life,” Nick says, “or did you forget that too? If I hadn’t shot him, you would be the dead one.”
“Have you talked to the police yet? They said it looks like the same kind of gun was used to kill Ambrosia. They’ve ordered ballistics.”
“I didn’t do it, okay? I wasn’t anywhere near her house.” He sounds like he is pleading for his life, begging Olivia to come back to him, but I’m afraid she might be gone to everyone. I can picture her in my head giving everyone flowers, like Ophelia before she kills herself.
“If you turn yourself in, they might give you a lighter sentence.”
“Livy, look at me! Look at me, damnit!” But she just keeps staring at nothing. He puts his head in his hands, like he did when she walked away last night, then comes to sit with us. Tears are coming, but he tries to blink them away. “She’s lost it,” he whispers. “Did you hear her? I didn’t know Ambrosia meant so much to her that her death would leave Olivia… like this…”
“They’ve known each other forever,” I remind him. “When they were eight, Ambrosia donated bone marrow when she needed a transplant. So you’re not the only person who saved Olivia’s life.” They both look at me strangely, and I realize: I blew it. But before anyone can say anything, Amelia comes with a tray of ice waters and takes the last chair at our table, next to Nick.
“Hello, Mr. Nicholas,” she says, her tone not as formal as one might expect. “I heard whispers that you were back in town. I’m glad you’ve finally come to visit me.”
“Miss Amelia…” He can’t finish his sentence. He turns to her, puts his head on her shoulder, and cries. She puts her arms around him, like she did with Olivia this morning, and speaks to him in a slow, soothing voice.
“Now you listen to me. Everything is going to be okay. I don’t know how, and I don’t know how long it will take, but you have to trust me on this one. Okay?”
“I have to go,” he says, sitting up. “I have to go to the police. I have to tell them it wasn’t me so they’ll keep looking for the monster that took Olivia away again. I thought it was bad when she got amnesia and broke up with me, but I could live with that. Even if I never got her back, I could live with that. But I can’t see her like this, and if there’s any hope of getting her back, the real killer has to be found.” He gets up, but even though he hasn’t been drinking, he’s in no condition to drive.
“Wait,” Amelia says. “At least let Otis take you in. You shouldn’t have to go alone.” Nick agrees, begrudgingly, and they head to the kitchen. Now it’s just me and Jack. Nick may not even remember what I said, but Jack does.
“How did you know that?” he asks. I don’t even know what to say. There is no logical answer to his question. “Jenna, how did you know about Olivia and Ambrosia?” And suddenly an answer comes. It’s not true, but I think I might be able to get away with it.
“Friday night, when I first came here, I saw Candace in the bathroom.” That much is true. I almost admit she has a fake ID, but now that we’re friends I don’t want to rat her out. “Then last night when Olivia got to the bar, Candace was there and clearly wanted to avoid her. So I let her out the back door, so Olivia wouldn’t see her, and she explained that Olivia is her sister.” Okay, so far so good. Then what? “Then she started rambling a little bit. She said that she and her sister aren’t very close, and that Olivia is a lot closer to Ambrosia and probably wished that Ambrosia was her sister. Then she said that when they were eight, Ambrosia donated bone marrow and saved Olivia’s life, and that since then she has always felt like Olivia feels more of a connection to Ambrosia because she saved her life.” I bite my lip.
“Candace told you all that?” he asks doubtfully.
“How else would I know all that, right?” I ask.
“I didn’t know she was such a talker, that’s all.” Holy cow, he believes it!
I’ve decided to post my NaNoWriMo novel on my blog this year, chapter by chapter. I hope you enjoy it! And remember, this is all about having fun and writing a whole lot in a short period of time, so please don’t give me “corrections.” I’m not planning on going for publication anyway. Start at the beginning: Chapter One