Chapter 1: And So it Begins

Ashley Macintosh had been the type of girl people just wanted to know.

She was a good daughter and friend. She was beautiful, popular, and even more astonishingly, she was a genuinely nice person.

She was also very, very dead.

Death is strange to think about. It will eventually happen to each and every one of us. In fact, millions of people die everyday, and we don't ever stop to acknowledge it. Death is a fact of life, but for some reason no one ever expects high school cheerleaders to wind up dead.

I myself could not have possibly been less prepared for Ashley's death.

I had never stopped to think much about my high school's cheerleading captain at all until the events leading up to her death. She hadn't been my friend. I didn't know her, and I didn't care to know her (not that she seemed like a bad person or anything).

To put it simply, our lives had never crossed. Until they did. And then everything changed.

Rollinsville, Missouri was not made to handle things like this.


I flipped through our mail, unable to keep a miserable expression from my face. Aside from the occasional bill, credit card offer, or coupons (free panties!) from Victoria's Secret, which somehow always ended up addressed to my dad, all the mail was for me these days.

The letterheads and crests of several different schools glared at me vindictively, and it really wasn't fair. I hadn't done anything to make the letters look at me that way, other than score decently on my ACTs.

Missouri State, Central Missouri State, Northwest Missouri State. I skipped further through the stack. Morningside College, Columbia College, McPherson, Webster, Avila, Truman State. I hadn't even heard of some of the names.

I dropped them all face down on the kitchen table and turned toward the refrigerator. Work like this definitely required frequent breaks and plenty of nourishment.

Should I have leftover spaghetti or meatloaf?

"Ugh," I groaned. Not for breakfast.

Then it was either Lucky Charms or Captain Crunch, which is always a tough call to make. Afterwards, I could wash it down with either cranberry juice or grape, and really, neither beverage sounded terribly appealing at the moment.

I frowned. Life demands a person to make too many decisions each day. I settled on drinking milk straight from the carton. It always makes me feel rebellious in a small way.

My dad entered the kitchen smiling, and I made a slight grunting sound in greeting. The corners of his lips only drooped a little when he caught me in the act of violating our milk.

I can always tell what type of mood my dad is in by the way he comes into a room. That day, he was content, bordering on happy, obvious from the tiny jaunt in his step when he walked. Unfortunately, his good mood wasn't contagious.

I replaced the milk in the refrigerator, wiped my white mustache away, and promptly resumed glaring holes through the mail again. How dare these schools disturb my morning sanctuary!?

"Why the long face, Hannah Banana?" he asked. I winced at the endearment, but my dad remained completely oblivious as always. He's only lucky that I love him or else I'd never forgive his refusing to let go of that childish nickname.

"College," I said gruffly in response. "Life in general." He only laughed.

"Hey, life's not all that bad. And about college, it's not like you're leaving anytime in the next few hours. You don't have to decide right now." I didn't bother dignifying his statement with a response. He's unreasonable when he's in one of his chipper moods.

"In fact," he continued, walking toward me and throwing an arm around my shoulder, "you could always just live with your old dad forever." I rolled my eyes.

"That's not what you're supposed to be telling me as an authoritative father-figure." I informed him. "Besides, you don't mean that. You'd get tired of me."

My dad grinned. "Never."

He dropped his arm, grabbed a few breakfast bars and a Diet Coke to complete his well-balanced meal and headed to the door.

"Livy spent the night at Gram's," he reminded me on his way out. "But make sure you still pick her up on your way home from school."

My dad has a knack for telling me things I already know. He tells me to pick up my sister after school every morning before he leaves for work, and it's not like I would ever forget my little sister. How could I? Although Livy is cute, she's also the most dramatic and self-centered five year-old in the state of Missouri; she makes sure no one ever overlooks her.

I glanced at my watch. It was already 7:15, and I didn't have any time left to choose cereal. I growled before snatching up a breakfast bar of my own and rushing to the front door to get to my car. I could only hope that Betsy, my precious, white 1987 Honda Accord, was feeling cooperative that day.

I gave my car a cow's name because she's stubborn like one. Some mornings Betsy just doesn't feel the need to start.

I turned my key in the ignition and thanked the heavens when Betsy smoothly purred to life. I peeled out of our driveway in a rush, appearing much more excited for another day of school than I really was.


Rollinsville South. I sighed as I pulled up to the brick prison.

After years of attending the school, I have yet to understand the name. Yes, it's called Rollinsville because that's the name of the hick town in which I live, but how can it be the South building when there's no Rollinsville North, East, or West?

With the number of people in the city, it just isn't logical to have several high schools. All of Rollinsville, Missouri pours into Rollinsville South (RVS for short).

I parked my car in the lot and made sure to show my reluctance to attend school that day by walking incredibly slowly to the building's entrance. I might be forced to be there, but I didn't have to like it.

Leslie Williams was the first person I ran into once I'd gotten inside and moseyed over to my locker.

"You're in a good mood. I can tell," Leslie said sarcastically, leaning on the locker next to mine. I hadn't even spoken a word to her yet.

I wasn't surprised that Leslie could read me so well. She had been my best friend since I had moved to Rollinsville from New York back in the seventh grade.

She had swooped down just like the maternal figure she is and taken me under her wing when I was still new and confused about the way a small town works.

That was how I knew Leslie was a true friend. Anyone who could faithfully stick around through those years when we'd all been awkward and totally hormonal, when my home life had brought a load of additional shit to weigh us down, was in for the long run. Leslie was with me through thick and thin.

"You're very observant, Les. I am in a great mood. Everything is perfect." I had always been an unconvincing liar, but it was even worse when it came to the people I cared about. I beamed at Leslie. She raised a thin eyebrow, and looked down her patrician nose at me, unimpressed.

We continued in this manner, Leslie trying to communicate with me through body language while I kept trying to avert my gaze, for what felt like an eternity.

When the five-minute bell finally rang, I had yet to move and Leslie had yet to drop her imperious eyebrow. Austin Cloud, Leslie's devoted, and in my humble opinion, pimply-faced boyfriend, was waiting patiently for her a few feet away.

Sometimes I get the distinct feeling that Austin has never much cared for me. It's a dislike that I feel I've never fostered in any way. Of course, he would never say anything if he wants to stay on Leslie's good side. Leslie is a rather protective friend.

"I have to go now," Leslie finally said, "but when you want to tell me what's really going on, I'll be here to listen." She and Austin trotted off.

I hadn't always hated school. Mondays hadn't used to put me in a bad temper. I used to love going to school because it is the one place in Rollinsville that's filled to capacity with people. It had been one more social scene.

I had senioritis. I was positive of it.

The first day of our senior year, I had realized I didn't want to be in high school anymore. To make matters worse, I had yet to do any planning about where I would go to college. The idea always gave me a splitting headache, just like the one that was currently blossoming behind my eyelids.

On top of all that, there was no way in hell I could stay in Missouri forever. So I was cranky.

I try to avoid the subject with Leslie because she's perfectly content with staying in Rollinsville until her dying day. She probably hasn't even seen anything beyond the Midwest. She wouldn't understand.

I stood at my open locker staring at nothing in particular until the one-minute bell rang, alerting me. I couldn't afford to be late to English again. One more tardy would mean in-school.

I slammed my locker shut and made to dash to my first hour. Instead, I plowed straight into someone.

As I was apparently smaller than whomever I hit—which wasn't terribly surprising as I stand only an overwhelming five feet and four inches above the ground—I toppled to the hallway tiles ungracefully while my victim remained standing.

I wanted to curse at someone, but somehow a large mass of my long brown hair had found its way into my mouth. I'm not even sure how things like this happen to me. Do most people find themselves sprawled out across the hallway floor from time to time?

I spat out my hair and picked the few remaining strands off of my extra coat of lip-gloss. I then carefully reached down to straighten my jean miniskirt, making sure I wasn't revealing any unnecessary parts, and smoothed over my clothes so I could glower properly. My look faltered when I saw who had inadvertently knocked me off my feet.

"I'm really sorry about that. I didn't mean to make you fall."

I had always been a sucker for blue eyes, and my favorite pair was staring down at me. I nearly felt faint with excitement.

"It's alright, Jimmy. Just help me up." I dangled my right hand in the air daintily and smiled when he grabbed it and easily lifted me up.

Jimmy Blake is my perfect boyfriend. He's tall, ripped, he has black hair with blue eyes, and he has the cutest little scar on his upper lip that makes him look oh-so-masculine. (In a young Dermot Mulroney kind of way).

He's also a total sweetheart. On my birthday, a week earlier, he had given me a bouquet of roses. Yes, I am highly allergic to pollen and the swelling in my eyes had only just gone down, but how would he know that?

Jimmy was also the reason for the majority of my tardies. Sometimes a quickie before school turned out to be not so quick. Sometimes they lasted all the way through most of first hour. Teachers don't like that so much, but what are a few reprimands in the name of love?

As soon as I was standing, I pulled on Jimmy's collar and tugged him into a passionate kiss. I didn't care that some stragglers still hadn't managed to file into their classrooms, and I might be making a scene. Jimmy was the best thing that had happened to me all morning.

"You want to skip first hour with me?" I asked him saucily, forgetting that I was supposed to be hurrying to class. The last bell rang just then. It was too late anyway.

"Actually, I just wanted to talk if that's okay," Jimmy told me, looking a little nervous. I wanted to assuage his worries.

"Of course it's okay!" I said nicely. "Let's go out to my car." I took Jimmy by the hand and led him outside to old Betsy completely unaware that my world was about to be shattered. Again.

a/n: I knew it would happen eventually. I've had stuff sitting around on my computer unfinished for awhile now, and I honestly think if I start posting, I'll be more motivated to finish. Don't worry though guys, I have at least 15 chapters written, so if I do peter off, it won't be for a long time.

A new story! And yes, you read right, this is a mystery. I thought I would try my hand at something new, though most of the mystery action won't show up any time soon; there's a little taste of it now. Your reviews keep me going, so tell me what you guys think. r/r!