While the entire student body huddled in front of the school in the rain, waiting for the firefighters to give the all-clear, I milled through the crowd, still searching for Ivy. As I skirted every group, I heard people discussing how the fire might have started. Someone speculated that an idiot must have tossed a cigarette into the garbage can. Another popular theory was that a ray of sun had been magnified by the window, igniting the balled up paper. Never mind the obvious facts that A) no one had been smoking in English class, and B) the sun hadn’t made a cameo here in weeks.
As talk shifted to the big party that Stu Sheers was apparently throwing that night, I tuned out the scintillating discussion of how long it would take to tap out the three kegs. I cornered a few of Ivy’s friends, asking if they’d seen her, but no one had since volleyball practice yesterday.
Once the principal came out, herding everyone back inside with his giant megaphone, I headed straight for her locker, just in case she’d been by to drop off her stuff. I spun her combination:1-0-3-1. When we set our locks, we’d chosen each other’s birthdays. Mine fell on Halloween, which was a week away. There was going to be a lunar eclipse that night, and the hall was plastered with posters advertising the “Dark Side Dance” that would take place in the gym.
Ivy and I were planning to go together. When she’d first brought up the idea, I’d informed her that the high school gym was the last place on earth I’d willingly choose to spend my sixteenth birthday. But when she offered to make me a dress for a birthday present, I wavered.
“All eyes will be on you,” she’d promised.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I joked, reminding her of the prom scene in Carrie.
“I’ll make it red,” she joked back, “so the pig’s blood won’t show.”
“Make it green,” I said, finally giving in only because she’d never designed a piece of clothing especially for me before, and I was dying to see what she’d come up with. But even though my birthday was just a week away, I hadn’t seen Ivy sewing anything lately, which was strange. Usually she was working on multiple projects at once, our table buried under piles of fabric. Our grandma had taught her how to sew, and by now she was good enough to make her own patterns, and earn money doing alterations for ‘Second Act,’ the vintage store on Miner Street run by our mom’s best friend. The school guidance counselor, Simone Sinclair, had even been encouraging her to try out for Project Runway.
Ivy first met Simone at summer camp, which had been a huge disappointment to her otherwise. Billed as an arts and crafts camp, “fashion design” was one of the featured activities on the flyer. But it was funded by the Faith Center—the megachurch run by Peyton Andersen’s dad—and according to Ivy, tie-dying their camp T-shirts was the closest they came to “fashion design.” The one bright spot for her had been getting to know Simone, the head counselor, who’d recently moved back to Cascade from New York City. It was Simone who’d given Ivy her black denim jacket—“vintage Betsey Johnson,” Ivy informed me—when she was cold one night at the campfire.
When school started up in September, Ivy had been thrilled to find out that Simone had taken a job at our school, and she’d started going to see her for counseling sessions during her free periods. “Things have been so crazy lately,” she’d tried explaining to me. “It helps to talk it over with someone who’s trained to listen, you know?” I’d nodded, but I didn’t really get it. I hated being squashed in a trailer, especially with Bryan around so much. And when I tried to wrap my mind around the fact that we’d never see our grandma again, it felt like a concrete block was crushing my chest. But I couldn’t imagine opening up about any of this stuff to a stranger.
But Simone wasn’t a stranger to Ivy. She talked about her a lot, almost like they were friends. She said that Simone told all of the kids who came to see her in sessions to call her by her first name, but it always sounded weird to me.
Suddenly, I remembered that Ivy had third period free on Fridays. At the other end of the hall, I could see that Simone’s office door was shut, and there was see a light shining underneath it, which meant she was probably in a session with a student right now. I flew down the hall and burst in without knocking, convinced that it had to be Ivy. But there was no one on the loveseat across from Simone’s desk, which was strewn with jewel-toned pillows.
“Can I help you?” she said, getting up. I’d never seen her this close before, and I was taken aback by how tiny she was, young and stylish. She had a glossy mahogany bob and wide brown eyes accentuated by thick streaks of eyeliner. Her gray dress flowed like molten silver, set off by red stockings and high-heeled black boots. She looked like a different species from the other teachers in their chunky shoes and seasonal sweatshirts.
No wonder Ivy was so drawn to her.
“I’m looking for my sister,” I said.
“Ivy Goodwin?” she guessed, and I nodded, surprised. “You have the same eyes,” she said. This was true—we both had our grandma’s hazel eyes—but otherwise we were total opposites. Ivy had inherited our mom’s blonde curls and permanently tan skin, while I had the skim milk complexion and freckles to go with my red hair. Ivy was athletic and curvy, whereas I was what Grandma called a “late bloomer,” meaning at fifteen I still barely needed a bra. Ivy was just thirteen months older than me—“Irish twins”—and I joked that she must have soaked up the good stuff in utero.
“Have you seen her?” I asked hopefully.
“Not this week.” Simone crossed the office, shutting the door. “Why? Is something wrong?”
Her sympathetic expression broke some layer of resistance in me, and I felt myself collapsing onto the love seat, succumbing to the tears that had been on the verge of falling all morning. She turned on a space heater, and as the blast of hot air enveloped me like a warm bath, I pulled myself together and told her about waking up to find Ivy missing, and Mom’s theory that Ivy was trying to teach her a lesson because she’d refused to see what a creep Bryan was. Simone sat beside me, listening so intently that I started to understand why Ivy liked coming in here and talking to her.
“No wonder you’re so worried,” Simone said, her dark eyes pools of concern.
That’s how Mom should’ve looked, I thought with a new flare of anger. “Do you think I should call the police?” I asked, hugging a silky garnet pillow to my chest.
Simone appeared to think this over. “Well, it’s only been a few hours, and there was no sign of a break in, right?” I shook my head. “Then you probably don’t want to involve them unnecessarily. Ivy told me about that neglect charge…”
I winced, shocked to learn that she’d divulged this dark family secret. When our father split, we were still living in Eugene, where Mom was trying to finish her university degree in art. She couldn’t afford daycare, and sometimes she’d lock the apartment, leaving us alone while she worked cleaning houses. One day, a neighbor heard us crying and called the cops. When they saw that two toddlers had been left alone, Mom got charged with negligence, and we were temporarily placed in foster care, until Grandma took custody of us and brought us all to Cascade. I’d been too little to remember much, but Ivy was still traumatized by the month she spent in a strange house, never knowing if she was going to see us again.
Simone tucked her hair behind her ear and went on, “If the police thought that the trailer wasn’t a suitable environment, they could reopen your old case file.” She paused, letting this sink in. “So unless you’ve got solid proof that Ivy’s in danger, I don’t think you want to involve them prematurely. They could decide that your mother still isn’t fit to be your legal guardian, and remove you from her custody.”
I gulped, horrified by this prospect, which hadn’t even occurred to me. I had three years of high school left; Ivy had two. The possibility of being separated from her made me want to break down completely.
“Mom’s not negligent,” I choked. “I mean, she’s not perfect, but she loves us.”
“Of course she does,” Simone said quickly. “I know Sheila—not well, but we went to school here together. I was a few years ahead of her, so she may not remember me, but I remembered her name when I saw her beautiful paintings in the coffeehouse. I told Bill he absolutely had to hire this phenomenal artist to do the backdrops for his museum.”
Every one knew that Simone was dating Bill Sheers, the closest thing we had to royalty. He’d made his fortune in lumber, but now that the last old growth forests were under environmental protection, he was doing his best to reinvent Cascade as a tourist town. Under his influence, Miner Street was starting to look like a Disneyland attraction, with fake bullet holes in the swinging saloon doors, an “Indian” gallery that sold beaded moccasins and dream catchers, a “gold panning crick” behind the antique sore, and—scheduled to open in just a week—a museum of natural history, housed on his very own property. I remembered the day he’d called, asking if Mom wanted to paint the backdrops for the dioramas, how thrilled she’d been to finally get paid for her art.
“You got her that job?” I asked.
“Her talent got her the job,” Simone corrected me gently. “Bill has been over the moon about her murals.” She smiled. “Talent clearly runs in your family. I keep telling Ivy that she’s going to be the next Coco Chanel. And I hear you’re quite a writer?”
“Not really,” I said, remembering Ms. Owen’s latest attack. Ivy was the only person who truly believed in me. Simone must have sensed how upset I was, because she reached out for my hand.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said. “If you don’t hear from Ivy by tonight, then you should definitely contact the police. But I think you will.” She squeezed my fingers, and even though I didn’t have any reason to believe her, I did feel a tiny bit better.