Chapter 9

It’s an emergency. She could be dead. Otherwise Julie wouldn’t dare.

She crossed the invisible line into Chloe Country. Yanking open the top-right desk drawer, she started her hunt for an address book, a letter, a scrap of paper with a name or a phone number, anything that would provide a lead. She often joked about it with Kei, but Julie really didn’t know squat about her roommate’s personal life. Who were her friends? Did she have a family? It was difficult to picture Chloe as a youngster, but she must have been somebody’s little girl once upon a time.

Julie’s personal ties were obvious; she had pictures of her family and friends plastered all over her bulletin board. A different possibility occurred to her, and she jumped with excitement. Abandoning her search of the desk, she turned her attention to Chloe’s bookshelf.

Several minutes later, she found what she was looking for: a photo album. The scratched vinyl cover was nondescript black (naturally), but it was smaller than she had anticipated, six-inches long and four-inches wide, capable of storing only two-dozen photos in the plastic sleeves. Julie opened it. On the inside front cover was an inscription penned in purple ink: “D’lish!!! Raise some hell!!! You rock!!!” It was signed, “Destiny.”

Destiny? What kind of name was that? Julie shook her head in bemusement. Whoever she was (Julie assumed Destiny was a woman by the heart drawn over the ‘i’), she was fond of exclamation points. And who was ‘D’lish?’ Did Chloe have a nickname?

Flipping through the pages for answers, Julie was disheartened not to find a single family picture, unless Chloe’s parents wore strange clothes, sported black eyeliner and ran around with a posse to nightclubs, which nearly all of the photos tended to depict. She gathered the album wasn’t something Chloe had put together; Destiny must have given it to her as a going away present before she went away to college.

It wasn’t hard to spot Chloe in the various group shots – she was the one with the big, ugly frown. Julie reminded herself to be respectful. There were ten or so photos, however, of what appeared to be a woman alone on stage, which stumped her. The person looked a little bit like Chloe, except the hair was longer, and she wore a tight dress and red lipstick. Julie had never seen Chloe in anything other than a pair of black jeans and a ratty T-shirt. And makeup? Forget it. Julie studied the blurry snapshots more closely. Could it be?

“What the hell are you doing?”

Startled out her skin, Julie fumbled the album, and it fell to the floor, pictures spilling out of their sleeves onto the carpet. Completely absorbed by the photos of the mysterious girl, she hadn’t heard Chloe come in. She stood at the door, a dark bundle of fury, threatening to explode like a thundercloud over the Sierras. “I—. You—.” Julie felt the heat on her face as she blushed from embarrassment. Stunned silent, she dropped to her knees and began gathering the displaced pictures.

Chloe marched over and yanked them out of her hands. “Give me those.” She shoved the photos back into the album and tucked the keepsake away on the bottom bookshelf.

Julie got to her feet. “Where on earth have you been?” she demanded. “It’s after two o’clock in the morning.”

“Jeez, you sound like my mother. It’s none of your business.” Retreating wearily to her side of the room, Chloe tossed her backpack onto the bed, and then sat down to remove her shoes.

Her haughtiness stoked Julie’s fire. “It’s police business now. I just got off the phone with them.”

“You called the police?” Chloe shouted. “What for?”

“I thought you were dead!” Julie yelled back shakily, releasing hours of pent up anxiety. As a result, and to her surprise, she started to cry, something she didn’t easily do. Ashamed, she turned away and wiped at the tears that had begun to roll down her hot cheeks. With the emotional floodgates open, a suppressed feeling floated to the surface: fear. Julie shivered. What had befallen the dead girl could have just as easily happened to her or Kei, or any one of her friends.

Chloe gave Julie a quiet moment to collect herself. When she finally spoke, her voice was softer. “Are you going Britney on me?”

“What?” Julie asked, sniffling.

“Bonkers? Loco? Good thing I caught you before you shaved your head. That wouldn’t be a good look for you.”

Julie’s anger came rushing back, and she charged across the room to confront the smirking Chloe at the foot of her bed. “Will you shut up? A girl was attacked tonight. Killed in the woods between here and the apartments.”

Julie witnessed her roommate’s defiant demeanor falter. Her bullish face slackened and paled. Drifting away in deep thought, her dark eyes fell into a trance.

“You didn’t hear?” Julie asked, and Chloe absently shook her head. “I guess it happened sometime between eleven and midnight.”

“Just like—“ Chloe cut herself off.

“Just like what?”

“I told her to avoid the woods …” Chloe murmured. And then it was if someone snapped, and the contentious Chloe emerged from her hypnotic state. “Never mind,” she grunted.

“Never mind what?” Julie pressed, exasperated by her roommate’s half-finished sentences. “Chloe, what’s going on?”

“Nothing!” Chloe snapped back. Whipping her shirt over her head, she shoved two enormous melon breasts, stuffed inside a black bra, into Julie’s face. “Besides, as you can see, I’m fine.”

Disgusted by the vulgar action, Julie made a hasty retreat to her bed, choosing to ignore Chloe’s taunting snicker. She’d battled enough for one night. Thoroughly spent by the traumatic events of the day, she crawled under the covers.

However, by the time Chloe turned off her light, sending the room into total darkness, Julie still hadn’t fallen asleep. Something new was needling her: Chloe was concealing something about the attack in the woods. But what?

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