LOSS

CHAPTER ONE

Vicki met me at the train station and by the time I stepped down those stairs, my friend was a sight for sore eyes. Twenty hours across country didn't give much room for stretching my legs.

"Hey, girl." She smiled with a sad look in her eyes. I knew that sadness was for me, but it was for her too. Besides that, she looked good. Vicki had always been an inch shorter than me, but since I'd grown, that inch was now a few more. She was dressed in khaki capris and a light sweater with her red hair pulled high into a loose ponytail. The ends were curled and rested just beneath her shoulders. She was more than a sight for sore eyes. I'd missed her, too much.

"Hey back to yourself." I hugged her tight. We'd been friends nearly all our eighteen years, but I hadn't seen her for the past few, not since I moved to Seattle with my father. It was nice to know we were the same friends as before and Vicki proved that when she was the first to call about my sister.

"How ya feeling, Cass?"

"I'm…" I was numb. I was tired. I was…angry. I was a whole host of other emotions, but for that moment I said the truth. "I need a drink."

Vicki grinned and turned towards the parking lot. "Since when do you drink?"

"Since my twin sister died and I wasn't here to stop it."

She stopped in her tracks.

I shrugged. "Sorry. It's a bad habit I've picked up—that and drinking."

"What bad habit?"

"Bitter sarcasm about things I can't emotionally handle." I cracked a grin and Vicki relaxed, slightly. "That's what my shrink says anyway."

"You're seeing a shrink?"

"My parents' divorce. I have a psychotic coach. Now my sister—it was either find someone to talk to or go crazy. And I'm already half way there." My voice was a little louder than I intended and as we walked past a group of girls, one of them whirled to watch us. When we got to Vicki's little red sports car, I glanced over my shoulder at the girl. She stared right at me for a moment and then whirled back to her friends.

Vicki laughed as she got in her seat. "Well, then I'm glad that we get to go crazy together. I can't tell you how glad I am that you're back. I know it's for—not the best reasons, but I'm still happy. Going to school with these people is like slowly taking the air out of a balloon. They just suck it out of you."

"Like those girls at the station? Who were they?" I watched how Vicki's hands froze on the steering wheel, but they trembled in the next second before she took calmed herself.

Interesting.

"They were…"

"Who were they? They weren't paying us any attention until we walked by and they heard us. They ignored us except for that one. Catty girls like that would be all over someone who called themselves crazy. They didn't move a muscle. Why?"

"Because," Vicki took a deep breath. "Because they were Tamra's friends. They came to the station to see what you looked like. It got out that Tamra's twin sister was coming to town today."

"That makes no sense." I shook my head. "My own mother doesn't know. How did they know? Did you tell someone?"

"I didn't, but you did."

"I didn't. I didn't say anything—"

"You posted on Tamra's diary. You said that you were coming to see her today."

"No one, but she or I could've read that post. It was under 'private'. No one could've—"

"Except someone who has her password. Tamra's stepbrother has her password. She gave it to him a few months ago and he read it. He told his friend, who told his friend, who told his girlfriend, blah blah blah. They all know now. Everyone."

My mouth hung open and all I could do was sit there, dumbfounded. It was stupid. I knew that when I wrote it on her online diary, but it felt right. It felt like I was talking to my sister one last time. "Does my mom know I'm coming?"

"No. No adults know unless Cole said something, but knowing him—I highly doubt it. He hates your mother."

I'd forgotten in all the mess that I had a stepbrother, three actually. It was a different feeling. They weren't my siblings, only Tamra was. I'd been against my mother's separation from our dad from the very beginning. Then when they got their divorce, I'd chosen my side. Tamra hadn't really chosen a side, but she stayed with mom. Then when she remarried, I had refused to come out for the wedding. Of course, I had a good excuse. Trying out for the Olympics had been a damn good excuse. My mother had understood, but Tamra said no one else did. The guy our mother had married and his family had been outraged at my disrespect. I never cared. I didn't care then and I still didn't.

"He does?"

Vicki grinned and pulled the car onto the road. "Yeah. You've never met Cole, have you? He's…you're not going to like him."

Well—no skin off my nose. I wasn't there to make friends. "So what are we doing tonight?"

"Tonight?" Vicki looked over, confused. "I thought you were going to your mom's?"

I shuddered. "I thought so too, but now that I'm here, I wouldn't mind putting that reunion off for a little bit. How about a party? How about you and me getting some drinks and dancing tonight?"

"You have changed, Cassie. Four years ago when you left, I swear you were going the path of book nerd and shy introvert. Now you're drinking, dancing, being bitter. Sarcastic. What's next?"

"Sex and the apocalypse." I grinned, but her words stung a little. The divorce shattered my world and I changed. I had to otherwise I would've died. No one understood that or realized how true that had been for me. Swimming saved me in some ways, but that brought a different world to me. As one of my first friends, Vicki had seen the changes over the years. She spoke in jest, but I knew a part of her was cautious and also concerned.

"So we head to my brother's tonight? Perry will be surprised, but happy to see you. He kept asking about you when the news about Tamra hit the media."

"It'll be good to see him too." I always had a crush on her older brother, but it'd been too long. Perry had made his choice awhile ago and got a serious girlfriend. He might've been concerned, but he picked his bed. I'd said as much to him when he visited over a year ago, although Vicki didn't know about that trip. For all she knew, we'd been casual acquaintances, nothing more. And now we wouldn't be anything more. I felt bad because I never told her, but there were reasons. Those reasons were kept with good intentions and I never wanted to hurt Vicki. Ever. Seeing Perry—awkward.

I needed to change the subject. Vicki was treading water that I didn't want to drink from. "So who was the girl that looked at us at the train station?"

She'd been cautious, concerned, and slightly relaxed before. The mere mention of that girl and rage came from my friend. Her hands tightened. Her shoulders went stiff and she sat up straight. "That—ugh. I get so mad. That was Clara—"

"The Clara that was your friend?"

"Yes! Until she sold me out and went for them. All she cares about is being popular. She had a good friend with me and now she's got no one. Those girls aren't friends. Those girls are vapid whores. All of them. Tamra's best friend, Natalie, runs the group. She's the queen bitch. Clara thinks she's going to be best friends with Natalie soon. I can't stand how fake they are and that makes me even happier that you're here."

I grinned at the sight of Vicki pissed off. She wasn't an angry person by nature, but when something riled her up—it was going to rile her up for years. "I might have changed, but I'm glad to see that you're still the same."

Vicki glanced at me, uneasy.

"You're honest." And she still didn't care about the popularity thing. That was rare to find.

She relaxed and laughed. "Yeah, well…I try to be anyways."

"So that was Clara, huh?" To be honest, she looked like an idiot to me. For her to be ruthless in the social ladder surprised me. But…I trusted Vicki. If she said that's what happened, then that's what happened. I wondered what Clara would say though.

"Yeah, that was Clara. She joined their group a month ago and it still makes me mad. She'd spent the weekend at my house and the next day I came to school, said hi to her, but she walked right by me. She was walking with Natalie and she didn't even look me in the eye. She still hasn't since that happened. I hate that. I hate disloyalty."

I wasn't sure what to say to her, but then I looked up and saw that we were outside a townhome complex. When I left for Seattle, I hadn't been interested in making friends. I didn't trust anybody and that was why I started going swimming every afternoon. I wanted to get away from everything crappy in my life. Then when I became good at swimming and it was starting to get noticed, coaches and teachers started coming to me. A few other swimmers trained with me, but they were always standoffish. I didn't mind. In some ways, Vicki had been my only friend besides Tamra.

As we got out of the car, I meant it when I said, "I might not be a great friend. I know I don't do the phone thing or gossiping stuff, but I won't do that to you. Trust me; I'm lucky to have you as a friend."
Vicki brushed away a tear and grabbed one of my bags. "Come on. Perry's going to be surprised when he sees us and even more surprised when I ask him to get us alcohol. He'll probably take a dump in his pants."

As we approached the door, bass pounded from inside and Vicki banged on the door a few times before it was thrown open. Perry stood in his pajama pants, white tee shirt half tucked, and a bowl of cereal in his hands. His hair stood up in disarray and his mouth fell open when he saw us. "Ta—Cass? Vicki? What are you guys doing here?"

Vicki pushed past him and dropped my bag on the floor. "We're here for the night. You can do whatever you want tonight, but we need a place to crash. Cassie came home and she wants to take one night before seeing her mom."

"Uh." Perry looked between his sister and to me. "Cass, you look good."

Rolling my eyes, I brushed past him. I looked the same as Tamra, but with darker blonde hair. Dark eyes too while Tamra had blue ones. We weren't identical twins, but we had the same body type. Tall and slim. I had a little more muscle to mine from the swimming.

Vicki look annoyed. "Perry, do you have food—"

"More importantly, do you alcohol?" I smiled at him, interrupting Vicki.

He closed his mouth with a snap and looked confused again. "What?'

"Liquor." Vicki opened his fridge. "Where is it? You're a boozehound. It's gotta be here."

"Alcohol? Does mom and dad know you're here? I'm not okay with this."

I joined in her search and quickly found the liquor cabinet underneath their bar counter. "Rum first? What do you say, Vicki?'

"I want the hard stuff. Tequila."

"Huh? Wait!"

I placed two shot glasses on the counter and quickly filled them with Vicki's choice. When we grabbed them and toasted, Perry took them from our hands and dumped them in the sink. "What the hell is going on?"

That's when I grinned. "We're joking."

He relaxed.

"We don't actually want tequila."

Vicki giggled. "A simple keg would work."

"What?" He groaned again. "Who are you and what did you do with my sister?"

"Come on, all kidding aside, these past few months have been horrible. Cassie's here and just wants a drink. We can't go home, not to mom and dad's. And she doesn't want to go to hers yet. Consider yourself lucky that we even thought about coming here. We could've found somewhere else, someone who's not as trustworthy…"

"Stop it. What do you want?"

"Perry." I linked my elbow with his. "We already told you. Alcohol."

He looked from his sister to me and then sighed. "How much trouble am I going to get in for this?"

Vicki laughed. "None. Promise. Just…take us somewhere tonight. Anywhere that we won't know people. This is our night to get away from everything."

"And my last night before I step into hell tomorrow."

"I…" Perry closed his mouth as he looked at us both. Then he groaned. "This is not going to turn out well."

"But?" Vicki jerked forward, ready to hug her brother.

"But….fine. I know somewhere we could go."

She threw herself at him, laughing. "Thanks, brother. This night will be fun. Promise."

"Oh god. That's never a good omen."

Vicki wrapped her arm around me and pulled me into the hug. I closed my eyes, resting my forehead against Perry's arm. What I'd said was true; this was my last night of freedom before I went into the storm. Vicki had an inkling, which was why her laughter was a little forced, a little desperate. She knew it would be ugly. I wondered if Perry had sensed it too, why he wasn't sure what to say or how to move. He was usually a force of nature, but he'd gone into shock seeing me at his door. Taking a deep breath, I hugged them both tightly for a moment before I let go because tomorrow I was going to figure out who had killed my sister.