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Nobody seemed to notice that there was anything wrong with me.
My grandfather gave me a smile and a hug. "Well, Joey, how you've grown! You're a little pale, but a few days back here will get rid of that, won't it?"
Jen shoved me into a chair and sat down beside me. I was too numb to move except automatically. At the table were Bessie, Bodie, Jen, Grandma Liz, Grandpa Thomas, and my cousin Terah. Bessie leaned around Bodie to speak to Terah. "Where are you going?"
I'd always admired my cousin Terah. We used to call her the Ice Princess, because she was slim and graceful and blonde-- not sun-bleached blonde like Jen, but with silvery pale hair and deep blue eyes, and she never lowered herself to doing stupid things like sometimes Dawson and Pacey and I did.
Terah was a lady.
I looked at her now, trying to come back to the real world from the nightmare Jen had pitched at me. Did Terah's mouth tremble slightly, was her smile natural or pasted on?
She cleared her throat. "I'm enrolled at the Boston University."
Since she lived in Decatur, Alabama, that meant she'd be leaving home. Attending a major university, where she's have to pay room and board as well as tuition, was an expensive proposition. I already knew that if I didn't get a scholarship, that meant no college at all.
"That's just great," said Bessie. "If you can't get all the way home to Alabama for holidays, maybe you can just come to Capeside to us," she suggested.
The barest flicker of a smile touched Terah's lips. "Thanks, Bessie. That's really nice."
But she doesn't want to go, I thought suddenly. Hadn't she and Doug planned to stay here? Since Doug was already out of college, he was going to just keep his job here at the Capeside Police Department, while Terah went to a community college. Terah was going to move from Decatur to Capeside to be near to Doug. But if it was true about Doug-- my stomach turned over. I must have twitched, because I felt Jen's steadying hand on my leg.
Grandma Liz stirred in her place at the foot of the long table. "I think we're ready for food, Thomas."
That caught my attention. Grandma Liz always used to serve everyone herself. Bessie had said Liz's health wasn't good, but it was odd to realize that she had withdrawn from the cooking and serving, when she'd always taken such pride in it.
I was going to let the mashed potatoes go past, untouched, but Jen pinched me under the table. I had to make it look good. It wouldn't do to attract attention, no matter how upset I was.
I obediently put a spoonful on my plate, added another of gravy when it came, took a chicken leg and a serving of peas as well as salad, though I had no appetite. I cursed the time we'd spent swimming, so that I now sat there with my gut tied in knots. I should have gotten Jen aside at once and made her tell me everything the minute she said Pacey no longer swam with the others.
Everyone else filled their plates to overflowing, talking avidly as well as eating heartily. We'd come from all over for this gathering, and since, at best, the families had done little more than scribble a few lines on the bottoms of Christmas cards, there was a lot of news to catch up on.
Nobody paid any attention to my silence. Maybe they thought I'd finally begun to grow up and had learned to keep my mouth shut occasionally.
As soon as this was over, I'd get Jen off to myself and get every detail out of her, I thought. Even cherry pie with ice cream didn't tempt me; the more I watched Terah, the more sure I was that she had even less appetite than I did.
Was she thinking about Doug? But that... that mess, whatever it had involved, had happened last year. Naturally it would have shocked and depressed her, if it was true that the guy she'd been planning to marry eventually had murdered a neighbor girl, but was she still brooding after all this time? Going away to school ought to have been exciting, yet she wasn't looking forward to college. I was sure of that.
I almost exhaled in releif when Grandpa Thomas finally folded his napkin beside his plate and pushed back his chair. Now, I thought, looking at Jen.
"Well we'd better get ready for the hot dog roast," Jen said. She pulled me out of the room and we went to my room.
"Will Pacey be there, do you think?" I asked Jen.
She made a doubtful face. "Probably not. I don't think he's done anything with the gang since... you know."
"No, I don't know," I told her fiercely. "But you're going to tell me. Right now."
"Okay. They won't start the fire until almost dark, so we've got plenty of time. Let's go outside."
We could hear voices on the beach as we walked behind the house. Someone was strumming a guitar down by the water, and at the other end of the creek an outboard motor roared to life.
Back here behind the house, it was quiet. I felt more nervous than I could ever remember. "Okay, when did this happen?" I demanded, watching Jen's face.
"Right after you left. Dawson, Pacey, and I missed you, but we were doing all the usual stuff. You know, movie night, canoeing, more movie night-"
"Skip that part," I said. "You said that Doug murdered Abby."
Although I had disliked Abby, I wanted to know what happened. She was as striking in her own way as Terah. If Terah was ice, Abby was fire.
Dyed red hair, challenging brown eyes, a slim figure almost always flamboyantly eye-catching in red or purple or deep turquoise. She laughed a lot, and shot sidelong glances at anything in pants.
If Abby had any friends, I didn't remember. Jen had been close to her for a while, but they had gotten in some kind of fight and weren't friends anymore.
The only friends she had were males, of one degree or another.
"It was terrible," Jen said now. "But I don't know why it's knocked your socks off this way. Neither Abby nore Doug was a particular friend of yours, were they?"
"Well, I just can't beleive that something like this could happen in Capeside," I said with a dry mouth.
"And he's Pacey's brother," she added. "That's it, isn't it? Pacey, not Doug. But you haven't seen him for a year."
I didn't care. Pacey was my best friend, next to Dawson. Even though he had always tormented me with worms and snakes and anything that wiggled. "Why did Doug do it?"
"Nobody knows for sure. He wouldn't admit to anything. Most people think that it had to do with her rejecting him. Like she wouldn't give in to him or something."
"From what I remember of her, it seems more likely she would have," I said.
Jen leaned against the house and crossed her arms. "There were people who said that too, actually. Nobody really knows."
"You said Doug wouldn't admit anything. Did he admit killing her?"
I hadn't paid much attention to Doug. Pacey really didn't like him, so we tried to stay away from him most of the time. As far as I remembered, nobody had ever picked on him because he was a police officer. Dawson, Pacey and I didn't like him, but most other people did. Especially Terah.
"No," Jen said now. "He never admitted anything. Said he'd been out walking the path around the creek that night, but claimed he never saw Abby. Never heard anything."
"Then why did they think he killed her? How, Jen? How did he kill her?"
"She was stabbed to death."
I couldn't believe it. I knew that Doug threw Pacey around a lot, but he never had used a weapon. "But if he said he didn't do it, how did anybody know?"
"Grant and Bill found her right by the shore, late that night. Abby had told her folks that she was meeting Doug and he was giving her a ride into town, to the movies, but she never came home. They found signs Doug had been there. He dropped his wallet, even. Like he panicked and didn't realize he'd lost it, you know. And his footprints, just a few yards away, cinched it."
I considered that, picturing the terrible scene with an awful sick feeling. "How did they know the footprints were Doug's? There are always footprints. Everybody walks around the creek, sooner or later."
"He had on a new pair of Adidas, very distinctive pattern on the soles. Bill and Grant recognized it; they'd seen it in the sand out by our dock earlier in the day."
I let all that sink in. Murdered. A girl I had known, though not very well. By my cousin Terah's boyfriend. It didn't seem possible. Murder was something that happened in the cities, to strangers. Not at a place like Capeside, where we never locked doors and left windows open with ladders up to them.
"Why didn't anybody tell me?" I asked finally. "It must have caused a sensation, but nobody told me."
"I guess we each thought someone else would tell you. There was a trial, and Doug was convicted and sentenced to the state prison."
"So did anyone believe him?" I asked.
"Mrs. Witter did. Pacey did too. But Mr. Witter didn't. He said that he knew that Doug did it, and that he deserved it."
"I still can't beleive that nobody told us about any of this," I said.
Jen made a face. "Everybody was too busy to write. We had school and stuff. And Bessie and Bodie had Alex to take care of."
I swallowed, finally beginning to accept her story. "How did Terah take it?"
Jen went very quiet and very serious. "Terah was devastated, I think. I wasn't there when they told her, of course, but Bessie said that she went white as a sheet and nearly passed out, and then she locked herself in her room for days."
I could hardly imagine what it would be like, to learn that someone you cared about could be a murderer.
Jen stood up straight and started walking around the house. "We better get dressed for the party. It's going to be over by the Elliot house. Jeans, maybe, in case it gets cold."
My heart stirred a little. The Elliots lived the closest to the Witters. Was there a chance I'd run into Pacey? He hadn't killed anybody, and it wasn't fair that he should have to suffer for what his brother had done.
I hadn't wanted to go to the party after I'd heard about Abby, but now I went inside, too, and headed for my room and a change of clothes.
I opened the door to my room and found my suitcases by the bed. All my clothes were still packed, so I rummaged through Bessie's drawers for some jeans.
I wondered if Pacey still had any friends at all, and my eyes stung with unshed tears.
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