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The Riptides

As time passed by, most of my friends had gone off elsewhere. Lu said his parents expected him home for brunch, so he was first to go, but it wasn't without a promise to catch up on this matter a little more. I hated seeing him go.

Zoey, Jett and Jesse all left together, with Jett saying he'd give them a lift back home. My sister hugged me longer than usual, but other than that, it didn't feel much different.

And Jesse kissed my forehead goodbye, also quite normal. The tingle afterwards lingered.

It left me, Ambrose and Fletcher, all of us an equal distance away from each other. Neither of us spoke a word until Ambrose pushed up his glasses.

"Ash, if you want, I could ask Eric to publish an article on you? It would help if people might've seen anything."

About to agree on what a smart idea that was, I was swiftly intercepted by Fletcher.

"Good thinking, bud! Now her assailant knows she's alive and suspicious." Giving him a deadpan look, he discreetly rolled his eyes before he looked at me. "The best thing to do is lay low and retrace your steps."

Without sparing each other another evil glance, they both concentrated wholly on me. Being the center of attention wasn't exactly my forte and I tended to back away from such a confrontation.

But this matter was beyond comfortability, safety and knowing. It traveled down to the bone, where it was honest and real. A deadly fear could be the thing.

This wasn't some simple miscommunication; somebody had truly wanted to kill me.

The part that had me confounded though was; why?

From what I recall, I hadn't mistreated anybody. Sure, I fell out with people; that's human nature, but to do something so drastic that it requires them to snuff me out?

What the fuck had I done?

I tapped my mug, the wash of cold interrupting my veins. Frankly, I didn't want to feel that cold again.

I leaned forward.

"Okay, um, when was the last time either of you saw me?"

Both pouted, before replying simultaneously, "Story time."

As traditional as it was, our group tended to reveal secrets at our annual bonfire. Whether it was something we'd been bottling up the entire year, or who we were planning to date. It varied depending on the circumstances. At our last gathering, Jesse and I both said ours at the same time; confirming that we'd broken up.

It didn't have to be anything dark or serious, but the thought struck me:

What if a secret told was?

I honestly don't think I'd have blackmailed any of my friends, or acted jealous or petty – but my guesses were useless right now. I needed answers, of the truth kind.

"Do you... remember mine?" I asked.

Fletcher grinned. "Of course. You said you were still in love."

I swallowed. Well, at least I remember that.

"And yours?"

"Second time saying it: I'm joining the force. I told my dad and he was ecstatic. He still wanted me to go into medicine, but I guess this was the next best thing for him." Fletcher flicked his thumb under his teeth, I think perhaps to get any stray bits of food out.

His confession wasn't a surprise. His father, Chief of Police, was an honorable man. Although somewhat strict, he ultimately just wanted the best for his only child. Plus, his son was a great man himself. I'm sure he'll do amazingly.

My attention turned to Ambrose, who'd resorted to staring out the window, the condensation beginning to fade from his glasses. Behind his frames, those warm brown eyes shined.

"I'm pretty sure my dad's having an affair."

I blinked. He had to be lying.

Sure, Mr Ford wasn't the most loyal husband I'd ever met (due to witnessing his flirting in bars), but I never took him to go the whole way. It was always an innocent wink, a winning smile, or complimenting the looks of the ladies'. There's nothing wrong with that. But, this? I couldn't imagine him hurting his family like that.

I went to ask but Ambrose beat me to it, avoiding both my and Fletcher's gaze.

"I heard a voicemail on his phone from a woman. She said she couldn't wait to see him again and make it official." Rubbing his lips together and then forcing a smile, he clutched my hand. "So, I guess that makes two mysteries for us to figure out."

I withdrew, ignoring the look that swiftly left his face.

"Yeah, sure. Thanks. I have to go though, my folks are probably worried." I don't know why it didn't cross my mind earlier, but I was right. It was time to face the music.

I had to get out of there.

No playlist entered my mind. I paced like a ghost, as I left them behind me, a cloud of invisible smoke following.