Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep It? (PartTwo)
Ciel hesitated on the path, unsure if she should trust the man. Was it typical for a detective to stalk a minor and try to speak to them without an adult present?
“Should you even be talking to me without my parents . . . or . . . or a lawyer?” Ciel stammered.
“You in need of a lawyer, Ms. Cavanaugh?” Detective Hoffstra tossed a butt into the moist dirt and ground it under his heel. He leveled a keen gaze at Ciel, one she suspected was his “trademark.”
Ciel stared back back owlishly and shook her head. The detective's stare seemed to pin her to the spot, and her mouth wasn't cooperating.
He slipped his hands into the deep pockets of his trench. The slim volume of poetry was swallowed up within, and Ciel pondered how he'd come to have it. The anger heating up her veins like live wires loosened her jaw.
“Where did you get that book of poems?” Ciel nodded her head toward his pocket, her voice strong and sure.
That particular volume had disappeared the day she'd seen the woman stalking away from Janice's hideaway. Ciel was pretty sure it was the evil stepmother come to pillage their little retreat while Janice had detention. She probably hadn't know about Ciel, or perhaps she hadn't cared.
“Does it belong to you?”
“You know it doesn't.” Ciel frowned.
“Why does it matter where I got it then?” Hoffstra strolled casually away from the tree and onto the path but seemed to take care not to get too far into Ciel's personal space.
“Because she came and—” The words spewed forth before Ciel could curb them, and her face reddened. Isn't this exactly what the clever detective was trying to do? Get her to spill information? She didn't know who he really was, though—she just knew his methods seemed unorthodox.
Hoffstra halted mid-stride and turned on his heel to face her. “She who?” Sharp dishwater brown bloodshot eyes were trained on her every move now, searching for a chink in her armor. She had his full attention, but was that a good thing or a bad thing?
“Why don't you tell me what you know about Janice's disappearance?”
“Some people seem to think you've been following Ms. Strohm lately.”
“Following?” Ciel's forehead wrinkled with confusion. Then it hit her—the kids at school had no idea she and Janice had become close! If they saw her enter Jacoby Park trailing behind Janice, they might have assumed she was stalking her. “Oh, no. No, no, no.” She shook her head.
“Do you have an explanation, Ms. Cavanaugh?” Hoffstra's raised voice had more bite to it this time.
“Janice and I . . . we're friends.” A lone tear slid down Ciel's cheek. She missed Janice and now feared the worst. “Is she . . . I mean . . .”
“Dead? Why don't you tell me, Ms. Cavanaugh.” Hoffstra made an awful hacking sound and spat on the ground.
“Me? How should I know? I've been coming here every day . . . hoping . . . Janice would show up, or at least leave me a message.”
“Uh huh. So, when was the last time you saw or spoke to Janice?”
“I don't know the exact date, but she had detention that day.”
“Anything out of the ordinary happen around that time?” Hoffstra stuck a cigarette between his thin lips and cupped his hands against the breeze while he lit it.
Ciel watched him blow a plume of smoke into the air and remembered watching Janice smoke in their hideaway. Was there something she knew that could help the police find her friend? She didn't see the benefit of sharing Janice's trinkets or journal, which were now safely stowed in Ciel's room. She hadn't invaded Janice's privacy, tempting as it was. Maybe she needed to take a peek inside those pages and see if there were any clues to be found. If she told Detective Hoffstra about the treasures and the journal, he'd confiscate everything before she had a chance to go through it.
“Ms. Cavanaugh? Have you remembered something?”
“Y-Yes, sort of. Janice used to hide away from her stepmom. Janice said she was mean and would go through her room and stuff.” Ciel hesitated, hunching down into her coat against a sudden frigid breeze.
“Well, the day Janice had detention . . . I walked home alone, and I saw a woman striding away.”
Hoffstra nodded his head, blowing another plume of smoke into the chill air. Ciel really wished she knew how to smoke at that moment. Instead, she balled her hands up and shoved them into her pockets. Something cold and smooth brushed against her right hand, and she realized it was Janice's silver bracelet—the one Professor Jeffries had given her.
“Did you recognize this woman? What makes you think she had anything to do with Ms. Strohm?”
“Well, she'd obviously raided our hangout. A few of Janice's poetry books were left in the middle of the trail.”
“Did you speak to this woman—maybe ask her why she'd done something so strange?”
Ciel shrugged. “No. I thought it was obvious she was sending Janice a message. I figured the stepmom was letting Janice know she had no privacy anywhere.”
A gloom was falling over the park as the sun dipped below the mountain ridge. Detective Hoffstra's face was in full shadow now, and Ciel was getting creeped out. Once again, she wondered why the police would accost a minor on the way home from school—especially one who walked through a mostly deserted park.
The sound of stifled laughter rang out from behind Ciel. A trio of football players rounded a curve in the path, shoving one another and horsing around. When they noticed Ciel and Detective Hoffstra further up the trail, they seemed confused. One of them was Jason Greene. He was sweet on Janice, Ciel knew. He was probably the only student who knew Ciel and Janice were friends. One time, he'd decided to follow Janice into the park and caught the girls giggling on the trail.
“I have to go now,” Ciel said abruptly, moving close to Jason and his friends.
The other two guys stared at Ciel oddly, but Jason's eyes were trained on Hoffstra. His brows lowered into a crunched up slash over his eyes, and he tugged on the sleeve of Ceil's coat, drawing her closer to him. “Sorry I'm late. Got held up with practice.”
“That's okay.” Ciel went along with Jason's deception. In reality, he'd never willingly spoken to her before—none of them had.
Once they were several yards down the trail, Ciel chanced one look back. Detective Hoffstra stood in the middle of the trail, smoke curling up from his cigarette. She couldn't see his face, but she could almost feel waves of frustration undulating from him.
“Keep walking,” Jason muttered.
“Dude, what the hell is going on?” Brad nudged Jason in the ribs.
“Shut up and walk, Brad.”
By the time the park let out into their neighborhood, it was almost dark. Brad and Tommy headed to the right and looked askance at Jason when he said he'd catch up with them later. They shrugged and loped off, pushing and shoving each other.
He waved a hand in annoyance and slung an arm over Ciel's shoulders. “C'mon, I'll walk you home.”
“Y-You don't have to do that.” A shiver ran through Ciel that had nothing to do with the cold. Jason Greene, quarterback of the football team, had his arm around her. No guys willingly touched her or walked her home. Ever.
“Sure I do, Ciel. It's dark out.” Jason's voice was deep and smooth, eliciting shivers that danced up Ciel's spine.
He knows my name, was the thought that caught and held like a fish hook in her mind.
Despite the dark, the streetlights hadn't turned on yet. Some houses they passed were filled with warm, inviting light; the windows of others were still black, their driveways empty. Ciel was glad Jason was walking her home.
“Who was that creepy guy you were talking to anyway?”
“A policeman investigating Janice's disappearance.”
“No, he's not.” Jason sounded very sure of himself.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because the police talked to me a few days ago. They came to my house and asked permission from my parents. That guy is no cop, Ciel.”
Her heart thudded in her chest and she clawed at Jason's jacket. “Who is he then? Do you think he had something to do with Janice's disappearance?”
“Maybe. I don't know. Don't worry. We're calling the cops as soon as we get you home.”
Ciel huddled against Jason until they reached her house to call the police. She couldn't wait to be alone, though. Tonight she had a date with Janice's journal.
Sarah Aisling hails from New Jersey and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and awesomely precocious daughter. She’s currently putting the finishing touches on her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SarahAislingAuthor