Genre: Young Adult
Title: Hashtag Witness
“Aren't you worried Mindy?" The expression on Whitney's face clearly conveyed that she thought I should be. I'd just jumped nearly a foot when a kid behind me dropped his tray, but I didn't want to admit how freaked out I was--even though I was pretty sure it wasn't just the smell of cafeteria cabbage making me want to puke.
Whitney plowed ahead, ignoring my denial. "But both of those girls disappeared within thirty miles of y'all’s house up at the lake.” Permanently on her phone, she was already pulling up a map of the area in question just to prove her point.
“Thirty miles is a pretty huge area,” I shot back, trying not to sound irritated. Ditching this small town for our secluded house on the lake was the one thing I’d really been looking forward to during these last weeks of school. I refuse to let crazy fears ruin it for me. What's the chance some killer would pick me out of all the other teenage girls around?
"Whitney's making a good point for once." My head whipped around to gawk at my best friend Sanjay. Not him too. His expression showed a trace of amusement, but for once he wasn't being entirely sarcastic.
Sanjay popped some Cheetos in his mouth, appearing to seriously ponder the point, then persisted, “Well, Min I’ll tell you. If the killer was limited to travel on foot you might have a fair point. But considering that he has access to a car, as widely reported by the press, I don’t think thirty miles is a significant enough buffer zone for my personal comfort level.”
Until I met Sanjay, I'd never met anyone else my age with such a mastery of the English language. He'd jokingly called me a brazen trollop once, and I'd had to look it up before I could even get offended.
Sanjay broke into his pitch-perfect impression of the principal's PA voice, “Students and faculty, may I have your attention please?” He provided the realistic pause to allow for everyone to shut up and listen. “In one short week, the normally sensible Bob and Laura Jackson will be removing their enticing daughter Mindy from the relative safety of small town South Carolina, and plunking her into the path of a serial killer. You might want to make a special point to say farewell to her before school is out for summer.”
I glared at him, one eyebrow raised. “Seriously?” He evaded a swipe of my yearbook against the side of his head with no concern for my hostility. “ And I'd been looking forward to your normal lunchtime comedy act. That's all you've got?”
“Actually, I think your folks taking a vacay at the ‘lake house’,” his fingers made air quotes around the words, “in the midst of the largest manhunt in the history of the state provides for a good shtick.”
“You're such an ass,” I said, even though I was completely unable to refrain from smiling. Sanjay found it hilarious that my parents had put a double-wide trailer on such a prime spot on the lake. Our trailer lake house was an ongoing joke between us, and the tone in which he said the words was too funny not to elicit at least a brief smile.
"In fact, I did make good use of my unexpected free time this morning," he continued, pulling a folded piece of paper from his backpack. Sanjay had spent his first class period drawing a picture of me hanging clothes on a line, wearing Daisy Dukes and a cropped top outside of a trailer. He’d added a caption under the picture that read: “How trailer people do laundry.”
"Wow, I'm so flattered," I said as sarcastically as possible. But to be honest, I planned to keep the picture forever.
Whitney, refusing to have her concerns pushed aside, brandished her phone again. “It says right here that the suspect is now a person of interest in as many as five other unexplained disappearances of young women over the past two years. This is getting massive.” When my expression didn't render an appropriate level of concern, she quickly added, “It’s been all over CNN,” as if hoping to sway me decidedly into freak out mode.
I eyed them each suspiciously. If they kept this up, I wouldn't be able to keeping faking my calm facade. “Do you guys want me to nut up over this? You’ve both been up there. Nothing remotely exciting ever happens—that’s kind of the point. It's quiet."
Sanjay waved a hand. “Forget I brought it up.” He immediately switched gears, leaning in close to whisper, “1985 called and asked Laurel to return that big hair.”
I laughed, but didn't find anything funny at the moment. I pretended to listen as Sanjay and Whitney debated a rumor about our English teacher hooking up with the much younger assistant football coach. I was too distracted to stay focused, but the topic was at least a welcome change.
I wondered if they would still want to come up to visit this summer, or if the place seems undesirable now. Sanjay shouldn't be worried--it wasn't guys who were getting grabbed from their yards in broad daylight. But it did feel like a cancer had infected the entire area where girls had vanished and their bodies had been recovered. And our lake house was right in the middle of the tumor.
As we began ambling towards class, Sanjay winked. "We weren't trying to freak you out, Min. I'm sure it will be fine."
God, I hoped he was right. I really needed an escape from this town.