It felt like I was locking myself into a cage that was far too small when I went to call Spencer later that night. I hadn't left Ryan's house yet; I wanted someone to be there for me when I did this, and I wanted to be with him more than anyone else.
"Colbie," he answered dully, sounding less than pleased to be hearing from me. "Can I help you with something?"
To be honest, I was half expecting him to not even pick up the phone in the first place, so I stumbled a little bit, trying to figure out what to say next. "You can, actually. I really need to talk to you."
"I can't imagine what about. You and I no longer have anything to discuss," he said a bit rudely.
"No, we do, really," I said, trying to sound earnest. "I just need you to hear me out. Just for a few minutes, okay? It won't hurt anything."
"No, I suppose not," he said after a moment of hesitation. "Go ahead. I'm listening."
"I just, uhm…well, to be honest with you, I don't like the way things ended between us," I said, not being honest at all. "I don't think we had a fair shot of being together again."
"The way I remember it, you were the one that didn't want to get back together in the first place," he pointed out.
"Because that was the truth, at the time. And then I started to think about it, and when just when I was beginning to change my mind, everything kind of went downhill, and I really wish it hadn't."
The false sincerity in my voice must have been convincing, because I heard him sigh on the other end of the line. "You're not lying about this?"
"No. Of course not," I said, and I had to stop myself from laughing when I glanced back at Ryan, who was stifling laughter as well. The mere thought of me ever being sincere about something like this was completely appalling, and I couldn't believe he was actually stupid enough to fall for this. "I really think we should just, you know, sit down and talk about everything. Maybe think about giving us another shot. What do you think?"
The silence that followed this question was absolutely agonizing, and I didn't even realize I was holding my breath until Ryan started to rub my back soothingly.
"It's going to be okay," he mouthed to me silently, and I nodded back at him. This was our only shot. Of course it was going to be okay. Everything was going to be fine.
"Yeah. Yeah, I think you're right," Spencer said at last, and I felt like jumping up and down and celebrating. His voice was sounding much lighter now as he considered this. "Why don't we meet up tomorrow after school? We can hang out like old times."
I detected the double meaning behind his words, and I felt like crawling into a hole when I saw that Ryan was obviously catching on as well: he was grinding his teeth and glaring at the phone dangerously. I widened my eyes at him, a threat to calm down and not say anything for fear of exposing what we were trying to do.
"Tomorrow afternoon sounds great," I told Spencer, trying not to see the expression on Ryan's face grow even angrier still, if that were possible. "I'll see you then."
School went by incredibly fast the next day, and it was like life was trying to pull the ground right up from underneath me, constantly keeping me on my toes. It was killing me to keep my distance from Ryan the entire day, so I kept close to Laura instead. I had filled her in on the details of the phone call before going to bed last night, and she was just as nervous about the whole thing as Ryan was. I know they had good reason to be, but I just wished they would trust my judgment and let me take care of this.
By the time the last class of the day let out, I was five seconds away from being a nervous wreck. I had plans to go over to Spencer's house right after school, but I was extremely tempted to take off in my car and head the total opposite direction. Now was not the time to chicken out, I told myself firmly. Remember you're doing this for your sister. You're doing it for Morgan. You've got this.
Spencer was waiting for me, unsurprisingly, when I got to my locker to shove a few needed textbooks into my backpack. It was show time. I plastered a wide smile on my face, hopefully nothing too cheesy, and gave him a hug. He was definitely taken aback, but returned the hug all the same.
"Well, it's certainly nice to see you, too," he said, chuckling a little bit and pecking me on the cheek. I wanted to vomit.
"You ready to go?" I asked cheerfully. "Thankfully I don't have that much homework to take care of today, which means we'll have more time to…hang out."
"Well, that's a good thing," he responded as we made our way down the hallway, wrapping his arm around me uncomfortably. It felt so unnatural, so forced. Or maybe that was just me imagining things and thinking too much.
He walked me to my car, and I saw Ryan getting into his truck out of the corner of my eye, and he made sure not to meet my glance, thankfully. Something as simple as a look from him would probably be enough to cause suspicion from Spencer, but still, unfortunately, he noticed him all the same.
"So how did your beau take the breakup?" Spencer asked, smirking now. I wanted to smack that smile right off of his face, but I dug my nails into the side of my jeans instead.
"I don't really want to talk about him right now," I said lowly.
"Ooh. I'm guessing it didn't go well," he laughed. "But that's okay. He'll get over it, and soon he'll realize that you belong with me, and you always have."
All I could do was nod in false agreement, knowing that I was going to have the intense urge to scream if I was to open my mouth. We were at my car now, and all I wanted was for him to leave so I could have a short while to myself to calm down.
"I'll see you at my house in a few minutes, then?" Spencer asked me now, smiling down at me.
"Yeah. Sounds great," I managed to force out, and he kissed me on the mouth, and it felt like a poison was being spread throughout my body at rapid speed.
I took several long, deep breaths once I got into my driver's seat and he finally left to cross the parking lot to get to his own car, giving another wave as he did so. I returned it meekly, and then focused on slowing my heart rate down before attempting to drive. I could do this. Once everything was over with, there would be nothing to worry about anymore.
Homework was definitely not the first thing on Spencer's mind when we both pulled up in front of his house, because the next thing I knew, we were headed up to his bedroom.
"Maybe we should slow down a bit," I tried to say as he trailed a few kisses down my neck. I was panicking a bit; I hadn't expected him to act like this so fast, but apparently he had missed me a bit more than I imagined.
"Why's that? We're back together, aren't we? We should be celebrating this," he whispered against my skin, and this alone made me feel so incredibly dirty.
"I said that I should come over so we could talk everything through. I wanted us to work everything out and then get back together," I explained. He stopped kissing me immediately, and brought his head back up to meet my eyes.
"So what do you want to talk about then?" he asked me, his voice turning a bit hard. I thought for a minute, wanting to choose my words carefully to avoid pissing him off as much as possible.
His cell phone suddenly rang, cutting a ragged line through the thick silence that had enveloped us. I wanted to cry out in relief; talk about saved by the bell. He stepped away from me reluctantly and took a quick glance at the screen.
"Dammit. I have to take this," he told me, making his way towards his door. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Just stay here."
He closed the door behind him, and my mind went into overdrive. This was my chance to see if Morgan's journal was here, hidden somewhere in his room. But was he really that stupid to actually have it in here and then leave me alone? There was only one way to find out. I pressed my ear against the door for a split second to try and get an idea of where Spencer was. I could hear his voice, but only just, and it was extremely muffled; I wasn't able to understand a word he was saying. That was good for me, though. It meant that I had at least a few minutes to get started on looking.
I started with his drawers first, ripping them open as fast as I could. I tried to be as neat as I could, not wanting to mess anything up, but I was getting frantic when I couldn't find it anywhere. It had to be somewhere in here. It just had to be. Where else could he have hidden it? Once I went through all of the drawers and was convinced that it was no where around there, I went for his closet next. I carefully creaked one of the doors open.
"What do you think you're doing?" his voice boomed from behind me, and I jumped, swiveling around to look at him. I hadn't even heard the bedroom door open back up.
He closed the space between us, looking absolutely infuriated, and took me by the shoulders. "Did you not hear me? I asked what you were doing. What do you think you're looking for, huh?"
My breathing was coming out in ragged spurts, and I was terrified of the look in his eyes. This was not supposed to be happening.
"You're looking for your sister's journal. Aren't you?" he asked. "How stupid do you think I am, Colbie? Did you really think I was going to fall for your tricks?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," I said, and he responded to this by slapping me across the face. It felt harder than the times he had hit me before, and I stumbled backwards, hitting the ground at an awkward angle.
"Don't lie to me. Don't you dare lie to me," Spencer spat at me. "I told you before that I always have people watching, but I guess you didn't believe me. Where were you when you called me last night? Oh, wait. You were with Ryan, weren't you?"
I felt my stomach drop. He knew. He knew everything.
"Yeah, that's right. This was a nice little scheme that you had going on, but you should know well enough by now that I am always one step ahead of you. I always will be."
"I just wanted to do this for my sister," I choked out. "You had no right to take that journal from me. I just want it back."
"Why should I do that? How do I know what you're going to do with it?"
Instead of sounding angry, I noticed, he was beginning to sound worried. Panicked. He really was afraid that I was going to turn him in. Those were my exact intentions, even though I had told him the exact opposite, even though I had given him my word. This was much bigger than my integrity. This was about Spencer getting what was coming to him.
"I can't let you have it," he whispered, and I saw that his eyes were glistening. "I didn't mean for her to do what she did. I didn't think she would actually do it. I swear I didn't."
"What do you mean?" I asked him.
But he just shook his head violently, looking around wildly. "I can't. I can't be here right now."
He bolted out of the room and down the stairs. I was in shock for a minute before scrambling to my feet and going after him, but he was already out the front door. I heard the screech of tires, and got to the threshold just in time to see him pulling off, leaving a trail of smoke behind him.
I cussed under my breath and tried to think of what to do next. Ryan. I needed to call Ryan. I darted back up the stairs and grabbed my phone.
Thankfully, he answered on the first ring. "What's going on?"
"I have no idea," I told him, so shaken up that I was tripping over my words. "He caught me looking for the journal and then just freaked the hell out. And then he took off in his car. I think he has it with him, Ryan."
"I'll be right there. I'm around the corner."
Not even two minutes later, he was pulling up to Spencer's house, slamming on the brakes and jumping out of the car.
"How were you around the corner?" I asked him, breathless, as he swept me into a tight hug.
"Did you really think I wasn't going to keep an eye out for you?" he asked incredulously. "Try to call him. We need to figure out where he is so we can start looking."
I nodded, still shaky, and dialed Spencer's number. It was just about to go to voicemail after a few rings when I heard him pick up, but he didn't say anything.
"Spencer, where are you?" I cried.
"Why should I tell you?" he responded madly, and I was astonished when it sounded like he was in tears. "It's not like you care. You never did. All you want is your damn sister's journal back."
"Just tell me where you are and we can talk about this!" I said, not even trying to come up with a lie. This wasn't a time to try and bullshit him.
"I'm sorry about everything," Spencer sobbed, and I froze, unsure of what to say to this. But he kept going. "It all went so downhill with Morgan and I didn't mean to do what I did to her. I swear I didn't. I started drinking too much and I had no control over my actions. I didn't mean it when I told her to kill herself. I didn't think she was actually going to do it. I didn't know."
It felt like my heart dropped through the floor, and Ryan had to catch my cell phone when it slipped through my hand. No. No, he had to be lying. I couldn't deny having my suspicions from reading everything my sister wrote, but my worst fears were finally coming true. And all I wanted was to hurt Spencer as bad as he had hurt Morgan.
I grabbed the phone back from Ryan.
"Tell me where you are. Now. Or I will find you," I gritted through my teeth.
"I can't," he whispered. "I just want all of this to be over. I never meant for it to happen, but you didn't want to believe me. I never…Oh shit. OH, SHIT!"
Then I heard a sharp swerve. Spencer let out an ear-shattering yell, and there was a sickening crash from the other end of the line.
"Fuck!" I screamed.
"Get in the car," Ryan ordered, and I didn't hesitate to listen. We sped off onto a main road, and Ryan started coursing through town, trying to keep as close to the speed limit as he could. Neither of us uttered a word, and I was trying to keep myself from having a breakdown.
About ten or fifteen minutes later, we were headed for the next town over when I saw the first cop car pulled over to the side of the road. Then another one joined it, along with one more. And then I saw that familiar forest green Nissan wrapped around a tree, and smoke billowing out of it. An ambulance was coming to a stop right in front of the scene as soon as Ryan began to slow down to observe the scene.
"Is that his car?" he asked, even though I knew he was aware of the answer, so I saved myself from speaking to avoid throwing up. Without needing any confirmation from me, Ryan merged over to the side of the road, a decent distance away from the crash.
"I need to see this for myself," I decided, and Ryan looked at me in surprise.
"You can't be serious," he said.
"I am. I just need you to understand and let me handle this for myself, okay?"
He took a minute to think about it, and then nodded once, silently. I leaned over and put my palm against the side of his face, turning it towards me. I kissed him on the mouth slowly, and looked him in the eyes once I moved apart from him.
"I love you," I told him. "I'll be fine."
He sighed, nodding again. "I love you, too."
I took this as my cue to get out of the car, and I did so quietly to avoid being seen by as many authority figures as I could. I ducked behind the ambulance and hurried over to the back of the car, which I noticed right away was empty. I looked around to see a body being carried on a stretcher to the ambulance, and I could only assume that it was Spencer. Was he still alive? How badly was he injured? Given the state of the car, it was a wonder if he had survived. I crept over to the passenger's side of the door, trying to force it open a bit so I could take a look inside of it.
"What are you doing here?" a man's voice suddenly boomed from behind me, and I whipped around to see a gruff looking police officer, and he didn't seem happy. "A kid like you doesn't belong here. It's dangerous."
"He's my friend," I tried to tell him. "The guy in the car. He was…is my friend."
His face fell a bit to look a little sympathetic, but only just.
"What is it that you're looking for?" he asked me, growing suspicious.
"I just, uhm…I think I left a book in his car before he got into the accident," I finished lamely. Yeah, like he was going to believe that.
"Well, you can't take anything from here. We can't have something moved or touched until we assess everything from the scene. Why don't you talk to one of the other officers and give us some information to get in contact with you if we happen to find something?" he offered.
But I shook my head. "No…No, that's okay. I'll just go home, I guess."
He nodded, still looking a little unnerved. "Be sure to do that."
I started to head in the opposite direction, looking behind me slyly to see if he was walking back over to his patrol car, and to my surprise, he was actually leaving, trusting that I was going to go straight back home and pretend like I hadn't been trying to mess with anything that could be used as evidence. But I wasn't going anywhere. Crouching down, I snuck back over to the car, inching the door open bit by bit and getting it open in no time, trying to make no noise.
I knew that if the journal was actually in the car, it wasn't going to be anywhere out in the open, and the first place I thought of was the glove compartment, so I tore it open, and there it was, sitting right on top of a bunch of paperwork and a manual for the car. I wanted to sob in relief. I grabbed it and ran as fast as I could back to Ryan's car, where he had been waiting patiently for my return. I could have sworn I heard yelling behind me, but I didn't care.
"I found it, I found it," I cried, collapsing against him. He ran his hand along my hair to comfort me, whispering that everything was over, it was going to be okay. After a few minutes, I took one long, soothing breath, and leaned back up.
"So…what do you want to do now?" he asked me.
"I need to go back home," I said.
By the time we arrived back at my house, both of my parents' cars were parked in the driveway, and I felt my heart rate start to speed up.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Ryan said quietly when he saw that my knees had begun to shake. "Even though he might be…well, you know. He still has people watching. We don't know what could happen."
"I don't care anymore. I need to do this," I said confidently, and then looked at him. "Will you come with me?"
Ryan looked slightly taken off guard, but after a second, he nodded in agreement. "Of course I will. I've got your back no matter what."
He took a hold of my hand once we were both out of the car, and we walked up the path to my front door together. I sighed before opening the door.
"Mom? Dad? Where are you?" I called out.
"In the kitchen," my mother responded, and Ryan and I walked over to see them sitting at the table, and it was like looking at an entirely different picture than the one I had seen all those weeks ago, when my parents looked like nothing but empty shells.
"Well, hello, Ryan!" my dad greeted my boyfriend cheerfully. "How you doin', son? It's good to see you again."
"He's fine," I answered for him. "But there's something that I need to talk to you guys about."
I realized that I worded that totally wrong when I saw my father's eyes widen.
"You better not be pregnant," he growled.
"No, no! God, no!" I exclaimed. "Sheesh, Dad. Have a little faith in me, would you? This isn't about me. It's about Morgan."
My parents fell silent at this, and then my mother's eyes traveled down to see the journal that was in my hand.
"What's that you've got there, Colbie?" she asked me, and I placed it on the table in the middle of them. This was it.
"There's something you guys need to see," I said.