There was a roaring sound in her ears when Janelle came to. Her hearing came back first; her eyes seemed to refuse to open. But there was a definite roaring.
Did I bust an eardrum? she thought confusedly, for the moment forgetting what happened.
Then it came rushing back -- the frantic race through the parking garage, someone knocking her down -- and her eyes flew open.
They took a moment to adjust, and then she realized why. It was really dark, with the exception of a half moon spilling a little silver light on her. She blinked, suddenly confused again. How did I get outside?
She was lying on her back, and a fine mist was settling on her face. Suddenly everything clicked into place. The roaring sound was water. Somehow, she was up on Mount Lockwood, at the waterfall Brad had brought her to on their date. A moan started its way up her throat, and she clamped her lips shut hard.
The lunatic must have knocked her out and brought her here to kill her. Poetic justice, or whatever they called it. She faintly wondered how Brad could have carried her so far up the mountain, and then a sound behind her caught her attention. She tipped her head, slowly, to try to see.
She could see Brad over by the tree they'd had lunch under, rummaging through a bag. The hood still covered his head.
His back was to her.
Her eyes widened, and she slowly, cautiously began to sit up. A stab of pain jolted through her head, and she closed her eyes until it passed. Then, keeping her eyes on Brad, she pushed herself to her feet.
Her entire body ached, but she could feel adrenaline rushing through her, waiting to be used. She eyed the path down the mountain. It would take her right past Brad, but if she moved slowly enough, she could slip by and be gone before he realized.
Or so she hoped.
Carefully, she started to move, trying to keep her footsteps light. She was nearly past him when her toe kicked a small stone and sent it flying. She froze, but it was too late. He was turning to face her.
She didn't give him a chance. She took off at a sprint down the path, even though she could barely see it in the darkness.
A shout echoed behind her, and then she was in the darkness of the mountain's shadow. It made her feel better somehow, as if the tons of rock between them now could stop him.
It was short-lived. Her foot caught on a root in the path, and she stumbled, nearly flying off the side of the cliff except for a scrubby bush that stopped her. She clung to it a second, gasping, and then pushed herself back up again -- right into Brad's arms.
She screamed, as loud as she could. She could hear it echoing down the mountain. A soft swear came from behind her, and then a hand closed over her mouth and she was being dragged back up the path.
"Let me go, you son of a bitch!" she shouted. Except it came out as an unintelligible muffle against his hand. She struggled, but he was too strong. She suddenly regretted not taking Lily up on her offer of working out together; Lily wouldn't have been taken this easily. Before she knew it, she was right back where she'd started, only this time Brad pulled out a rope and tied her hands behind her around the tree.
He stepped away, his bag in his hand, and she opened her mouth to scream again. Then his hand lifted, out of the bag, and the moonlight reflected off something small and metal. A gun. Her scream dried up in her throat.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," he said.
Janelle blinked, confusion suddenly dominating her fear. That voice ... it was familiar... And not Brad's.
The hand now holding the gun rose to push back the hood of the sweatshirt. It fell back to reveal a head of auburn hair gleaming in the moonlight.
Janelle gasped, suddenly feeling ill. "Lily!"
For a moment, the world spun, as if Janelle were falling down a deep hole. A million thoughts crowded into her skull. This just couldn't be. There was some mistake. Somehow, Brad was making her see things. Maybe he'd drugged her. There was just no way one of her best friends could be behind this. This was Lily, for God's sake! The thought was totally crazy.
But Lily scowled, and it was a familiar expression. Janelle's heart sank, weighed down by surprise and disappointment, and tears stung her eyes. All the fight drained out of her. Lily cocked her head to the side and gazed at Janelle, keeping the gun trained on her.
"I didn't want it this way, you know," she said, her voice calm, as if they were having a conversation over coffee in the food court at the mall. "I tried to leave you out of this."
"I don't understand," Janelle whispered, sagging against the tree. "Are you working with Brad?"
Lily laughed, a harsh, barking sound. "Oh, Janelle, catch up, will you? Brad had nothing to do with anything. He was just the most convenient one for the police to blame."
Janelle blinked. "Then, if Brad's innocent..."
"It was all me. Believe me."
"Oh God," Janelle groaned, squeezing her eyes shut and fighting a wave of nausea. She tore her eyes open again. Lily had lowered the gun and was pacing in front of her. "Why?" she finally asked.
Lily sighed, looking sincerely mournful. "It wasn't for fun, let me tell you. I didn't want to do any of this. But he just wouldn't come to me!"
"He..." Realization struck her. "Brad? This has all been about Brad?!"
"You don't understand, Janelle." Lily moved closer to her, her face pleading with Janelle to get it. "He's it. He's the one for me. And he just didn't realize it. Or ignored it. Something. I couldn't live if I couldn't have him. So I had to get rid of all the stupid girls that were keeping him from being with me."
"By killing them?!" Janelle's voice rose in disbelief, and at Lily's sharp look, she wrestled her emotions down. Now wasn't the time to get upset. She needed to stay cool and logical. Maybe she could talk Lily out of this crazy plan. "Lily, there had to be a better way."
"I tried!" Lily stomped her foot, as if she were throwing a tantrum. Janelle had never seen her like this. She was always calm and collected. "I went out of my way to talk to him, to distract him from the others. Nothing worked! I thought drastic measures were needed. If I'd only known what the real problem was..."
Warning flared in Janelle's body. "What was it?" she asked weakly.
Lily giggled, a nervous, unsettling sound. "You, of course. I didn't realize it at first. Not until I saw you with him on the escalator." Lily sighed and circled around the tree, moving out of Janelle's vision. "I suspected, of course, that there might be something between you two. But even then, I thought I could work around it." Her face suddenly appeared right next to Janelle's, and her free hand caressed Janelle's cheek gently, affectionately. Janelle instinctively jerked her head away. "I didn't want to hurt you, Janelle. I did everything I could to leave you out of this. You're my best friend."
"Yeah. I can tell," Janelle muttered.
Lily ignored that. "Why the hell do you think I slipped that GHB in our drinks? You think I wanted to feel like that? I did that for you! I thought maybe if you thought Brad did it, you'd keep away from him." She hung her head. "It wasn't enough."
Janelle stared at her in disbelief. "You drugged us? Lily, you could have killed both of us!" Suddenly, it all made sense. Lily's story about leaving the drinks out where anybody could touch them. The fact there were no other fingerprints on the cups.
Of course there weren't.
"No. I had it totally under control." Lily shook her head, looking rather proud of herself. "I did my research. I knew exactly how much we could take. That's why I knocked over the cups, so we wouldn't drink too much." She smiled then, as if expecting Janelle to congratulate her for her cleverness.
Janelle gaped at her. "You're crazy. How could you do this? How could you kill someone?"
Lily's face was stony. "It gets easier each time."
"You've... done it before?" A wave of dismay washed through Janelle's body.
Anger flickered across Lily's face, and then it was gone. The corner of her mouth quirked up in a hard smile. "About a year ago..."
"A year..." Janelle's mouth fell open, and she shook her head sadly. "Oh, Lily, no... Your parents?"
Lily was staring at the ground, and her head jerked up to meet Janelle's eyes. "You don't know what they were like. Controlling, obsessive freaks. It was the only way I was going to have any kind of life."
Janelle was shocked into silence. She thought back over the past year, how hard she'd tried to help Lily get over her parents' deaths, how she'd welcomed her into her own home, no questions asked. And it was all a lie. She exhaled shakily. She had to keep Lily talking. She didn't know what good it would do, but she hoped maybe an opportunity would present itself for her to escape. "What about Emily? She was our friend."
Lily shrugged. "She was more your friend than mine. She was a nice girl, but Brad was too interested in her."
"Oh God..." Janelle groaned. She was already picturing it in her mind -- Emily bragging about her date with Brad in front of Lily. Lily must have caught her alone and attacked her, then dumped her body in the dumpster.
A horrifying thought occurred to her then. Brad had only asked out Emily to try to make Janelle jealous. So, in a way, Emily's death was all her fault.
Well, really, in a way, all the girls' deaths were her fault. If Brad hadn't been so fixated on her, maybe he would have gone out with Lily and none of this would have happened. A wave of dizziness washed over her, and she thought back to the other deaths.
Lily must have killed Danielle months ago, before anyone even realized what was going on. She and Brad had broken up, but Lily must have feared they'd get back together. Janelle didn't want to know how Lily managed to hide the body in the carousel.
Karen... Karen had been electrocuted by shoddy wiring. Or had she? Janelle lifted her head to look at Lily.
"Karen wasn't an accident, was she?"
Lily smiled, looking proud. "Pretty awesome how that one worked out, right? I did some serious Internet research to come up with that one." She continued talking, rambling about how she'd done it, but Janelle wasn't paying attention. She didn't want to know the gory details, and her mind was still reliving the other deaths.
Poor Jamie. She'd just been getting Brad to help her carry out boxes -- he hadn't been lying about that -- and Lily had seen her and read too much into it. Lily must have come back to the mall after she and Janelle left work that night.
And Fiona, up on the third floor.
Janelle breathed Fiona's name, and Lily's face lit up.
"Oh, that was the best one. I didn't have anything against the other girls, but Fiona... That one was worth it."
Janelle stared at her, her eyes filling with tears. Who was this person?
"I thought about doing it sooner, just for fun," Lily continued. "She was such a bitch, especially to you. But I thought maybe that would be too obvious. And I really didn't think she had a chance with Brad." She sighed. "After the GHB, there was no way they'd suspect me. So I called her up on the old pay phone and told her to meet me. She probably thought I was conceding defeat. It was so easy to just give her a shove. "Lily mimicked the motion.
Oh, Fiona... If she'd only told someone who she'd been going to meet... But of course she wouldn't have wanted to admit to having anything to do with Lily. And she wouldn't have suspected Lily of anything this bad. Though Janelle wondered if the hoodie the witnesses had seen had seemed odd to her -- the same hoodie Lily wore right now, actually. Lily never dressed so casually. Maybe Fiona thought that was part of Lily giving up on Brad. Then a memory popped into Janelle's head: Lily had been out of breath when she'd come up to them by the fountain after Fiona's fall. As if fleeing from something.
I should have seen it, she thought miserably. But part of her defended herself -- She said she was running late for work. There's no way you could have known she was lying.
Janelle suddenly realized she was shaking her head and making a moaning sound.
Lily had stopped talking and was staring at her with an eyebrow quirked. She rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on, don't go all soft on me now, Janelle. I don't have to stand here explaining this to you, you know. This isn't something I want to do. I'd rather just get it over with. But since you're my best friend, I feel you have the right to know what's going on."
"That's so nice of you," Janelle spat.
A cloud rolled across the moon then, sending the clearing into total darkness for a moment. Janelle could barely hear Lily moving around over the roar of the waterfall. Her heart leaped. If Lily couldn't see her... She frantically started tugging at the rope around her wrists, trying to loosen them.
Then a hand fell on hers. "Don't," Lily said in her ear. "Don't make this harder than it has to be."
Janelle froze, swallowing hard. "So you're going to kill me."
"I told you, I don't want to. But, you made out with him how many times?" The hand disappeared from hers. "It's obvious Brad will never be able to move on until you're gone."
"You don't know that! Let me go, and I'll talk to him. Tell him I never want to see him again."
Lily chuckled, and the sound was a little farther away. "You already tried that. Worked great, didn't it?"
The moon slid back into view, and Janelle could see again. Lily was leaning against a rocky outcropping to her right, her back to the waterfall. Astonishingly, she was beginning to look bored. "Lily," Janelle said softly. "Lily, please. Don't do this. Think of all the fun we've had. You really want to throw all that away?"
For a moment, it seemed to be working. Lily stared at her, her expression going sad. And then it changed, as if a hard curtain had dropped over her. She pushed off from the rocks. "I'm sorry, Janelle, really I am. But this is the only way."
She shoved the gun into the front pocket of the hoodie, then moved behind Janelle. The ropes loosened, then fell away. Janelle pulled her hands forward, sighing in relief to have her arms free. Then Lily grabbed the shoulder of her shirt and pulled her toward the bridge crossing the gap by the waterfall.
"No!" Janelle cried, stopping suddenly and trying to reverse out of Lily's grip. It almost worked. Lily's hand let go of her shirt, but then, like lightning, she'd grabbed Janelle's arm with both of her hands. Lily was both bigger and stronger, and Janelle didn't have much of a chance. Tears streaked down her face. "You're crazy, Lily," she said, her voice soft but harsh with anger. "I'm sorry I ever considered you a friend."
Lily clucked her tongue. "Come on, you don't mean that. I promise it'll be fast. If it makes you feel any better, this should fix everything. Nobody else should have to die, and you can think of it as my final tribute to you." She shoved Janelle toward the bridge again.
"But what about Brad?" Janelle asked, her mind whirling. Think, Janelle! she screamed at herself. The edge of the cliff was looming, and she had a pretty good idea what would happen when they reached it.
"What about Brad?" Lily sighed.
"Well... I mean, the police think he's the guilty one. And I've told them all about how he's apparently obsessed with me. Don't you think, when they find my body, he'll be the first one they suspect?" She tried dragging her feet, but it didn't slow them down much. "Kind of hard for you to be with him if he goes to prison. Especially if he gets the death penalty for killing so many girls." The words were spilling out of Janelle's mouth, but her eyes never left the edge by the waterfall. If Lily got her that far, it was all over.
Lily stopped moving, spinning Janelle around so their eyes met. "Oh, don't go worrying about that. I've got it all figured out. By morning, that creepy rent-a-cop will be enjoying his little cell."
"The ..." Janelle blinked. "You're going to pin it on John? But he had nothing to do with it." It surprised Janelle to be defending him after so many weeks of suspecting him. But it was all different now. He may still freak her out, but he didn't deserve to go to prison for something he didn't do.
"Eh." Lily shrugged indifferently. "It'll probably be an improvement for him." She giggled, as if she and Janelle were sharing some secret joke. Janelle simply stared at her in disbelief. "Anyway, he's the only one with the keys to get around the mall. The police don't know I snagged a copy of them when I found him passed out in the maintenance hallway a few months ago. He's an alcoholic, you know."
Well, that explained how she got in the carousel.
Lily pulled out her cell phone then and hit a button to bring up the screen. The blue glow lit up her face eerily as she glanced at it, then stuck it back in her pocket. "It's getting late. We should get this over with. I still have a long drive to get back home."
"Oh, I'd hate to inconvenience you." Crap, this isn't good. Her eyes scanned the clearing for the hundredth time, but there was absolutely nothing she could use.
Lily held up the gun again, pointing it to her. "If you'd be so kind as to walk over to the bridge, please."
"What if I say no?"
Lily sighed. "Well, then I'd have to shoot you first. I'd really rather not. It gets awfully messy that way. Just... move over there, and we'll finish this."
What could she do? Not a thing. Not with that gun pointed at her. If she'd thought there was any chance Lily would hesitate, Janelle would have charged at her, tried to get the gun from her. But Lily had convinced herself this was the only way. Janelle had no doubt that Lily really would shoot her if she had to. She sighed, closing her eyes for a second and sending up a prayer. Then she began moving toward the bridge.
"Out in the middle, please!" Lily shouted to be heard over the waterfall, which was overwhelmingly loud this close.
Janelle swallowed and moved carefully onto the wooden bridge. It bounced up and down with each step, and she gripped the rope railing tightly, trying to keep the bile from rising in her throat. Water particles fell lightly onto her, settling onto her hair and shoulders. Lily followed carefully behind her. When she reached the middle, Lily yelled at her to stop. Janelle froze, trying not to look down, and turned toward Lily.
Lily was staring at her, a sad smile on her face. The gun still in her hand, she stepped forward and threw her arms around Janelle. Janelle's eyes widened, and she stood stiffly, surprised.
"You really were the best friend I've ever had," Lily said in her ear.
A flash of anger zipped through Janelle's body. "Screw that!" she shouted, flinging her arms up as Lily stepped back. The gun flew from Lily's hand and over the side, disappearing into the darkness.
Janelle had time to see Lily's mouth open in a surprised 'o', then she shoved her and raced past her back to the clearing. It didn't take long for Lily to regain her balance and sprint after her. She tackled Janelle in the middle of the clearing, landing a punch in her stomach.
"You bitch!" Lily screamed, her body pinning Janelle's to the ground. "I've tried to make this easy for you. It didn't have to be this way!"
"You want to make this easy for me, why don't you go jump off that bridge?" Janelle swung a fist at Lily's face. Lily rolled sideways, and the punch hit nothing but air. Janelle jumped back to her feet, crouching low so she could dodge in either direction if Lily came at her again. The adrenaline was pumping now. She wasn't going to let Lily have this easily. If she was going to die tonight, she was going to try to take Lily with her.
Lily's face was contorted with rage now, her face that of a stranger. She balled her fists at her sides, mimicking Janelle's movements. "I take back every nice thing I ever said about you!"
Janelle scowled, suddenly wanting to hurt Lily. "Even if I'm dead, Brad will never be with a crazy bitch like you. You don't stand a chance. He's too good for you!"
Lily's eyes widened, and her mouth fell open in shock. Then she growled and narrowed her eyes at Janelle. "You don't know what you're talking about." She ran at Janelle, and Janelle dove out of the way just in time. Lily skidded to a stop near the edge, whirling back to glare at Janelle. "I'm the only one who could make Brad happy."
"Well, that's just bullshit."
That hadn't come from Janelle. Lily and Janelle shared a split-second confused stare, then both spun around. Brad stood on the ground in front of the waterfall. Ryan, stepping off the bridge behind him, held a gun pointed at Lily. Janelle blinked, afraid she was hallucinating, then relief crashed through her.
Brad stood with his hands on his hips, his eyes steely. "Even if you kill her, Lily, I will never, ever be with you."
Lily's mouth opened and closed like a fish, and then her face crumpled. Janelle used the opportunity to edge toward the boys.
"Brad, I love you!" Lily wailed. "Can't you see that?"
Ryan moved past Brad, hurrying over to Janelle. He wrapped his free arm around her shoulder and pulled her protectively to him, his gun still pointed at Lily. "You okay?" he murmured. Janelle nodded, grateful for the warmth of his body.
Brad stepped toward Lily, his hands held up in the air. "I can see that, Lily. And I appreciate the thought. But I could never be with someone who thinks so little of another person's life."
Lily was staring at him, suddenly looking very much like a little girl. "But I did it for you..." she whimpered. She took a step toward the edge.
"I know you did," Brad said hurriedly. "And we can talk about that. But first, why don't you come over here?" He motioned at her as he stepped toward her. "Can we just talk about this?"
She gazed at him a moment, then nodded and walked to him, looking defeated.
"I've... I've done some horrible things," she sobbed, covering her face with her hands.
Ryan lowered the gun and shoved it in the waistband of his jeans. His arm slid from around Janelle, leaving cool air on her skin, and, with a pained glance at Janelle, went to join Brad. Janelle stood where she was, her arms crossed over her chest, tears suddenly blurring her vision.
"Lily," Ryan said softly, holding out his arms. "We're your friends, and we need to get you help."
What happened next seemed to be in slow motion. A stab of suspicion hit Janelle's gut -- Lily had given up way too easily. At the same time, Lily moved toward Ryan, who still held out his arms to offer a hug to her. Lily stepped up to him, and he started to close his arms around her, and then she had grabbed the gun out of Ryan's waistband and ducked under his arms, her face suddenly hard and tear free.
"You've got to be kidding me," she said, her voice dripping with disdain. It was a familiar tone, one Janelle had heard her use frequently with Fiona. She lifted the gun and pointed it at Ryan, who held his hands in the air. "You really think it's that easy? I know you think I'm crazy, but I'm not. I'm perfectly sane. And I know what will happen if I let you walk me out of here." She tsked. "No way. Not going to happen."
Janelle began shuffling her way back toward the tree -- in hopes of hiding behind it? She didn't even know -- and the movement caught Lily's attention. The gun swung toward Janelle, and she froze. "Stop right there," Lily said. "Nobody move!"
They all stood motionless. Janelle's eyes flicked from Lily to Ryan to Brad and back and again. They were both staring helplessly at Lily.
Finally, Ryan was the one who spoke. "So I meant nothing to you? What was it, a game?"
Lily laughed. "Oh, Ryan, honey. I was just using you last night to make myself feel better. Let's face it, you're just not Brad, and you never will be."
His face darkened, and his lips tightened, but he didn't say anything else.
"Lily, please, put down the gun." That was from Brad. He took a step forward, his hands in the air, apparently emboldened by her proclamations of love for him. "Put down the gun, and you and I will go wherever you want. I promise."
The gun wavered, lowering slightly, and Lily narrowed her eyes at him. "You're lying."
He shook his head. "Just leave them here, don't hurt them, and I'll do whatever you want."
Lily seemed to consider it for a moment, her expression going thoughtful. Then she slowly shook her head. "No, there's no happy ending in this. I can see that clearly now. There's only one way for this to go."
"Lily..." Janelle began, not liking the way that sounded.
The gun went back up again, aimed squarely at Brad. Lily smiled bitterly. "If I can't have you, nobody can."
A roar filled the air, then, along with a flash of light from the gun. Before anybody could react, the bullet had lodged itself into Brad's chest. He gasped, staring at Lily in surprise, and then a spot of red appeared on his shirt, just below his right shoulder. He staggered forward a step, then collapsed to the ground.
"Brad!" Janelle screamed. She started to move toward him but froze when the gun swung toward her.
"Don't move, Janelle!" Lily shouted. "You're next!"
But Ryan was also moving, and Lily couldn't keep the gun on both of them at the same time. "Stop! Both of you!" She took a step backward. The gun went off again, and Ryan ducked. The bullet hit the rock somewhere behind him.
"Lily! Drop the gun!" he shouted.
Lily took another step backwards, and Janelle started to move toward her as well, her only thought to get the gun away from her before Ryan got shot as well. Her eyes darted toward Brad's motionless figure at the foot of the bridge. Oh God, she thought. What if he's dead?
Ryan was almost to Lily, and she tried to get off another shot. The gun made an empty clicking sound, and she turned it sideways, staring at it in disbelief.
"That's my dad's gun, Lily," Ryan said, approaching her casually now. "He never puts more than two bullets in it."
"No," Lily said, her voice suddenly calm. Her eyes lifted and met Janelle's as Ryan neared her. She lifted her chin and gave Janelle a sad smile. "See you later, Janelle."
Intuition told Janelle what was going to happen, and she shouted, "Lily, no!" Lily took another step backwards -- right off the cliff. And then she was gone.
Shocked, Janelle just stood there a moment. Ryan swore and dashed to the edge, standing as close as he dared to look over. When she was able to move again, Janelle joined him.
They couldn't see anything below. It was too far and too dark. Lily was gone.
Janelle burst into tears, suddenly full of sorrow for her lost friend. Before she had tried to kill her, Lily had been a good friend. Ryan wrapped his arms around her, his face drawn. She didn't know how long they stood that way, but then Janelle pulled back, gasping. "Brad!"
She sprinted over to his prone body, throwing herself down next to him. His face was pale, and blood was rapidly staining his shirt, but his eyes were open. He gasped and tried to smile when he saw Janelle.
"Don't worry, Brad," she said, her tears falling from her chin and onto his shirt. "You're going to be okay."
Ryan already had his phone out and was dialing for help. It was a wonder they had reception up here, Janelle thought vaguely. She took Brad's hand and squeezed it.
After making his call, Ryan appeared on Brad's other side. "They'll be here soon. They're sending some rangers up."
"But how will they get up here?" Janelle asked. She'd been wondering how Lily had gotten her all the way up here on the hiking path in the first place. Lily was strong, but not that strong. Ryan gave her an odd look, then pointed at the bridge. "There's a service road on the other side of the waterfall."
Janelle flushed. "Oh. I thought the path was the only way up here." She gave Brad a fake glare. "Or so someone had led me to believe."
He tried to laugh, then grimaced in pain, and Janelle immediately felt guilty. He squeezed her hand, then tried to smile up at her.
"Janelle," he gasped. "Is taking a bullet enough to get you to go out with me, or did I need to catch it between my teeth?"
* * *
"It's horrible, I know, but I already miss her," Janelle said softly, leaning her head against Ryan's shoulder. They sat in the back seat of Officer MacLean's squad car as he drove them to the hospital. Or, rather, another officer drove, while Matt scribbled in his notebook, his head illuminated by the light overhead. "I mean, she was obviously crazy, but she was still..."
"Lily. I know." Ryan tightened his arm around her. "I miss her too."
Janelle sat up straight and turned to look out the back window at the sheriff's cruiser following them. Ryan had called his dad as he and Brad had raced to Mount Lockwood, and Mr. Ashford had arrived at the waterfall shortly after the park rangers. Shortly after that, the police had shown up, having been notified by the sheriff. That was when things had gotten confusing -- granted, Janelle's state of mind wasn't the best -- but in the end, she and Ryan had been told to ride to the hospital with Officer MacLean.
Janelle sighed and turned back around to stare out her window, her thoughts whirling. This day had not gone at all as expected, and despite almost dying, she still felt a Lily-shaped hole in her heart.
Matt turned around in his seat to look at them. "Okay, guys, what the hell happened up there?"
Janelle frowned, shaking her head sadly. "It was Lily the whole time. She wanted Brad, and she was willing to kill for him." Taking a deep breath, she launched into the story of what happened by the waterfall, how Ryan and Brad had shown up in the nick of time and Lily had killed herself. Matt's face grew stonier and stonier as Janelle recalled Lily's words as best as she could.
When she finished, he sighed, shaking his head. "I wish we would have been tipped off to her much sooner. It would have saved so much grief."
A pang of guilt hit Janelle's stomach. Yes, she had been angry that the police had been unable to catch the killer, but she could see in Matt's eyes that he was torn up about it.
"None of us could have guessed," she said quietly, thinking back on Lily insisting she and Janelle stick together to be safe -- and Lily handing her the cappuccino. "God, she drugged herself to throw you off the track. No sane person would do that." Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes, and she swiped them away.
Sadness was evident in Matt's features. "We never even suspected..." They sat in silence for a moment, then Matt took a deep breath and gazed thoughtfully at Ryan. "Ryan, how did you know it was Lily?"
Ryan glanced at Janelle, then stared at the back of Matt's seat. "It was just a lot of little things. Things she'd say, or an expression on her face." He shrugged. "I didn't really suspect until last night."
"Last night?" Janelle wracked her brain. "Wait, last night was your date." She smacked him lightly on the arm. "And yes, I heard all about it. Though not from you!"
His face flushed. "I'm sorry, I would have told you, but I was trying to confirm my suspicions. I didn't want to alarm you, so I just kind of ... avoided you."
"And I got kidnapped in the meantime." Janelle rubbed the back of her head. It was still sore from where Lily had hit her, but she thought she'd be fine.
Matt interrupted. "You should have called us immediately. You're lucky this didn't end even more badly."
"I'm so sorry." Ryan looked horrified, as if the thought had only just occurred to him. "I just ... I didn't want to believe it myself, and then... Janelle was gone. And it was too late." He hung his head.
Matt's lips thinned, but he nodded. "So what happened last night, then?"
Ryan leaned his head against the seat and sighed. "Lily and I were hanging out in her room. Just, hanging out," he emphasized with a sideways glance at Janelle. She hid a grin behind her hand. "And she went to use the bathroom. I was looking for a pen to write something down, and I opened her desk drawer and found a ring of keys."
"Keys?" Janelle's eyes widened. "Oh my God, for the mall. She mentioned that."
Ryan nodded, looking solemn. "I thought it was a bit odd for her to have that many keys for one store, and I kind of thought they looked like keys a maintenance guy -- or security -- would be carrying around. But it wasn't until later that I remembered you saying whoever killed Brad's ex-girlfriend would need a key to get in the carousel."
Matt quirked a brow at him. "So... keys tipped you off?"
"No." He shook his head. "It was later. I said something to her about being glad she had finally moved on from Brad and that I thought it was too bad he was probably the killer because I thought Janelle and him might have something."
"You said that?" She shot him a smile. "Aww, Ry, that's so sweet."
His cheeks reddened. "Well, don't get me wrong. I still hate the guy. I just think you seem to get along well, when you're not yelling at each other."
Janelle nodded at him, allowing him to drop the subject, but part of her still felt warm inside. Poor Brad, she thought. If he survived being shot, she'd really have to apologize to him.
"So anyway," Ryan continued, turning back to Matt. "Lily got really defensive when I said that. Upset. And she said something about Janelle that... well, it wasn't nice. And I said I thought she and Janelle had made up after their fight. And BAM , it was like it never happened. She apologized and said she was just really tired." He shook his head. "I don't know. It just weirded me out. I'd never seen her act like that. So when I left there, I went to the sheriff's office and..." He stopped, looking away with a guilty expression on his face.
"Ryan, you didn't..." Janelle's eyes darted to Matt, who had a sharp look in his eyes.
Ryan cringed. "Well, I just had a gut feeling, okay? So I looked her up in the system, and there were a lot of sketchy things in her file from when her parents died." Matt was shaking his head, as if to say they would talk about it later. Ryan turned to look at Janelle, his eyes reflecting the light from a passing car. "Did you know she was institutionalized for a bit? Back before her parents died?"
Janelle shook her head, her mouth hanging open. "I had no idea."
"The file didn't say much, but it mentioned she had a ... possessiveness. Borderline obsessive. And I just... I guess I put two and two together."
"Amazing," Janelle breathed, positioning her elbow on her knee and resting her chin on her hand. "She hid so much from me." She lifted her eyes to meet Ryan's. "I guess we never really knew her."
His expression was sad, and Janelle suddenly felt bad for him, even though she had been the one Lily had been trying to kill. She reached out and took his hand, squeezing it. "At least we have each other, right?"
Ryan nodded slowly, then, as if shaking off his feelings, sat up straight and smiled at her. "You know you always have me."
Matt finished writing in his notebook and lifted his head to look at Ryan again. "Possible illegalities aside..." Ryan cringed. "How did you know where to find Janelle and Lily?"
"Good question!" Janelle added. "And don't even say you're psychic."
Ryan grinned and rummaged around in his pocket, pulling out his phone. "Friend tracker. I told you this program was awesome."
"What? How? Mine got trashed in the parking garage."
"I know. You called me from the garage, and I could hear something was up, so I hurried right over there. You weren't there anymore, but your phone and car still were. Speaking of which..." He reached into his other pocket and pulled out her phone, handing it to her. It was scratched up, but still worked.
Janelle sighed. "Ryan, you're too much."
"I know." He grinned at her, then his eyes drifted back to Officer MacLean. "Anyway, Lily never really got into using that program, so I think she forgot about it. Once I knew it was her, all I had to do was track her phone. Pretty clever, right?"
Janelle gave him a small laugh. "Smart thinking." She drummed her fingers on her thighs. "And when did you and Brad become Batman and Robin?"
Ryan rolled his eyes. "We are not friends, okay?" But he smiled. "He came out of the mall while I was standing there. I thought for a moment maybe he was involved, but he seemed really panicked when I asked him about you. So I took him along for backup."
Janelle nodded, then leaned against him again. "Well, I'm glad you're so smart. I owe you guys my life."
He leaned his head against hers. "Yeah, well... I had to save you. Life would have been dull without you."
She snorted and smacked the side of his leg. Then she grew serious. "I feel bad for Lily's aunt and uncle. They've already had to deal with so much. To find out this..."
Ryan patted her hand. "Yeah."
Matt cleared his throat to get their attention again, and he closed his notebook. "Okay, I think that's good for now. You guys are probably going to have to come in later to finish this up, and we'll have to get Brad's statement, but I think this investigation is pretty clear cut." He started to turn around, then paused, looking back at them. "You should know, John Wilson actually called us shortly before the sheriff."
"What?" The only John Janelle knew was the security guard. "How did ...?"
Matt frowned. "He said he'd seen Lily attack you."
"What??" Janelle's mouth dropped open. "If he was there... Why didn't he do something?" Ryan's face revealed his own anger at that revelation.
"He... Well, he wasn't exactly in the best shape." Janelle shared a knowing look with Ryan -- John had probably been drunk. Matt looked regretful. "You were gone before he could do anything about it. We're lucky the sheriff called with your location." He sighed. "Anyway, I just thought you should know... He did what he could."
Janelle frowned, not sure what to make of the news. She guessed maybe she should try being a little nicer to him in the future, even if he was still a creepy rent-a-cop.
Matt turned around, and Janelle slumped over, resting her head on Ryan's shoulder again. The stress of the night and the monotonous sound of the car's tires on the highway soon lulled her into a doze. She awoke when they pulled into the hospital, and her heart leaped. Brad had to be okay!
They exited the car, and Matt smiled at them. "I'll let you two go visit. I'll be in touch later." He turned to go, and Janelle grabbed his arm. He turned back to her to find her other hand held out to him. He took it and shook it with a small smile.
"Thanks for trying," she said softly. She had a feeling the guilt would be hidden behind his eyes for a while. She would probably see the same thing in her own reflection if she was brave enough to look.
She and Ryan went inside and, after checking in at the desk, found a bench in the waiting room and sat quietly to wait to see Brad. After a while, one of the nurses came out to find them. "He's out of surgery and doing fine," she said. "If you'd like, you can see him after his parents are done."
Janelle jumped up, her heart pounding. "He's okay? Thank God..."
They waited about 15 minutes, and then Brad's parents and his sister walked down the hallway. They stopped when they saw Janelle and Ryan. Brad's mother had tears in her eyes, and she grabbed Janelle's hands. "I'm so glad you two are all right. Thank God this whole mess is over, and Brad's name is cleared." She suddenly enveloped Janelle in a hug. "Brad's told me so much about you," she said in Janelle's ear. Janelle's face flared hot, and she stared with wide eyes at Ryan over Mrs. Whitmore's shoulder. He smirked at her.
"I, uh... Nice to meet you." Janelle stammered, feeling awkward. She didn't want to point out that she was probably the main reason the police had arrested Brad in the first place. She sighed quietly in relief when Brad's mother released her.
Brad's sister, Kaylee, was giving Ryan a shy smile. "It's good to see you, Ryan."
"You too." He smiled back.
And then they were gone, and Janelle was hurrying down the hall to Brad's room. His eyes were closed when they came in, but the sound of the door stirred him. His face lit up when he saw Janelle. She hurried to his side.
"How are you? You feel okay?"
He shrugged as best he could with one healthy shoulder, then said in a small, dry voice. "Been better. Luckily, it turns out Lily's a lousy shot. She missed anything major. Except, you know, my body." Brad glanced at Ryan standing behind Janelle. "Ashford," he said grudgingly.
"Glad you're alive, Whitmore," Ryan said with a roll of his eyes.
"Oh, God," Janelle groaned. "Grow up, you two."
Ryan shook his head. "No, it's cool. We worked it out." He held out his hand, and Brad shook it with his non-bullet-wounded arm. Ryan shot him a wicked grin. "You know, I'm glad Lily had a thing for you instead of me. I have an aversion to being shot."
Brad gave him a steely-eyed gaze. "They say repeated exposure is the best way to get over a fear. I can probably help you out with that. I'm a much better shot than Lily..." For a moment, Janelle thought they might start arguing again, but then Brad's expression dissolved into a smile. "You need to work on your taste in women, Ashford."
"Ain't that the truth," Ryan muttered.
Janelle shook her head, a smile working itself onto her own face.
Then Ryan, looking back and forth between Brad and Janelle, cleared his throat and said, "I'm gonna go look for a snack." His eyes sparkled mischievously. "Might be some cute nurses hanging around." And he was gone, leaving them alone.
Janelle gazed down at Brad, feeling suddenly overwhelmed by sorrow. "Brad, I'm so sorry about everything," she finally said. "I should have trusted you."
His emerald eyes flashed. "No you shouldn't have. I don't blame you, Janelle. I should've had a better grip on my temper. I just hope that now you can trust me."
She gave him a small smile. "I do. If you can forgive me."
His grin was sly, and she thought she saw a twinkle in his eye. "I'll forgive you... on one condition."
Her eyes widened. "What?"
"A date." His grin widened. "A real one."
That caught her off guard, and a laugh escaped from her throat. "Oh my God, you really do have a one-track mind." Then she frowned, trying to look serious. "I don't know. I mean, you haven't tried going out with Jen yet. And then there's our new part-timer..."
"I... What? No..." She fought to keep from laughing as his expression grew more panicked. "It's not like..."
Janelle took pity on him then, holding up a finger to silence him. She leaned toward him, smiling. "I think we can work something out."
She didn't have to feel guilty about enjoying this kiss.
A/N: And... It's done! Yay! I'm sooo excited to hear what you guys think about the ending. I worked really hard the whole story to try to make the killer believable but not obvious. Did it work? I think, hopefully, if you read through it again knowing who the killer is, there'll be a whole lot of double meanings. That was my goal anyway. :-) Anyway, please, please tell me what you think of this chapter. And let me know if you see anything weird. Upon rereading, I found three places where I'd typed the wrong word -- can you believe I had 'ground' instead of 'gun'?! Not nearly as threatening... :-P
Thanks so much to the readers who have stuck with this story. I really appreciate your loyalty, especially: Reticence, B.E.T., Tigger Gurl, Random Hero Fan, and, more recently, SassyGrl. Thanks especially for your theories. Even though they were WRONG! Mwahahah. :-D
And also thanks to my best friend, Danielle, who put as much of her heart into this story as I did. It would not have been nearly as good as it is without her fantastic suggestions.
If you're curious, I am definitely doing a sequel to The Executioners next. I have some ideas, and I've started the first chapter, but I have to plot out the story still (there's that always pesky middle part I still need to figure out), so it may be a while before I start posting it.