A Study in Charlotte

Page 31

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I did know. She was the one who kept me in the dark.

“You still could have shown it to me,” I said, getting to my feet.

Across the quad, a girl let loose a long, laughing scream as a boy grabbed her around the waist and lifted her over his shoulder.

“What if it read ‘Jamie Watson is a murderer’? Would you have shown it to me?”

She set her chin, avoiding my eyes. “You wouldn’t, for one single moment, worry that I might believe it?”

There was an unnerving quaver in her voice. I stared down at her, at her thin shoulders, the dark lines of her dress under my jacket. Just last night, I was sure I knew her better than anyone else in the world.

What had Charlotte Holmes really done to get herself sent to America?

“You didn’t kill Dobson,” I said.

“No,” she whispered. “I didn’t kill Dobson.”

“So then—” I swallowed. “Did you—is August Moriarty still alive?”

At that, she stood and fled into the quad.

I picked up the notebook and followed, pushing past the clusters of shrieking girls, the boys surrounding them like black flies in their suits. Some chaperone’s voice shouted for us to get back to our dorms, that night check would be in ten minutes, but Holmes plunged through the crowd, not toward Stevenson Hall, but to the sciences building. As if it were her safe house. Her panic room.

The place where she could hide away from me.

I called for her, hoarsely, as she cut through the small stand of trees in the middle of the quad, and though people turned to look, she plowed straight on ahead. I put on a burst of speed and with a lunge caught her by the arm and whirled her around.

She shook my hand off with a snap. “Don’t you ever touch me without my explicit permission.”

“Look,” I said, “I am not saying that you killed him. I’m saying that someone wants me to think that. Wants the world to. Why can’t you just tell me if he’s dead? Is August dead?”

“You thought it,” she said. “I watched you think it. That I killed him.”

“Why can’t you just tell me—”

I must’ve stepped forward; she must have stepped back. I was pressing her farther into the trees as if every step brought me that much closer to the answer. I was so caught up in finding out that I missed what was written all over her face. I was so used to her fearlessness that I couldn’t recognize her fear.

But she was afraid. Of me.

Dobson had loomed over her too.

Holmes took another step backward, and stumbled over the little freshman girl’s body.

six

SHE’D BEEN DISCARDED LIKE AN AFTERTHOUGHT THERE IN THE dark grass. Stretched out on her back, her red dress pooled around her like blood.

God, I thought, it’s starting again.

I was so used to Holmes taking charge that I stopped and waited for her orders. But none came. Her eyes were fixed on a point somewhere over my shoulder, her hands shaking. Exhaustion, I remembered her saying, though I thought now that it was something else. Distress, maybe. Uncertainty. Whatever it was, she didn’t know how to master it.

It was down to me, then.

Gently, I knelt down beside the freshman. Her eyes were half-closed, as if she were just falling asleep. She didn’t ask for this, I thought. None of us did.

I realized that I didn’t even know her name.

Steeling myself for the worst, I pressed my fingers to her throat. There. A pulse.

“She’s still alive,” I said, leaning down to hear the girl’s breath. It came in agonized rasps. “But she’s having trouble breathing. We need to get help.”

Holmes nodded, but made no sign of moving.

“Hey,” I said to her, gently. “I need to keep an eye on her. Can you call an ambulance?”

She shut her eyes for a moment, collecting herself. Too long a moment. Beneath me, a shudder ripped through the girl’s body.

I had to get someone else’s help, then. “Hey!” I shouted to some girls cutting through the quad on their way back to the dorms. “There’s been an accident! Someone’s hurt! Call 911!”

They ran over. One girl pulled her phone out of her purse and dialed. The other saw who I was kneeling next to and began to scream.

“Elizabeth,” she sobbed. She put herself between me and the girl on the ground as if to protect her. “That’s my roommate! Elizabeth! What did you do to her?”

“I didn’t do anything,” I said, shocked. I hadn’t realized how this would look: the darkness, the body, the pair of us. “I found her like this. She was dancing with Randall and then . . . we found her here. Charlotte and I. We were . . . we were just walking.”

We were beginning to draw a crowd. Behind me, I heard murmurs. Angry ones. The sound of feet running toward us.

Elizabeth’s roommate turned her tear-streaked face to me. “Murderer,” she snarled. “Murderers.”

Behind us, the murmurs built to an angry roar.

I think it was that word that did it. How it’d been leveled at Holmes—and at me—in the weeks after Lee Dobson had died. How it was written down thousands of times in the notebook I had in my pocket, each stroke of the pen damningly precise. How, somewhere deep down, I knew there was the possibility that it was true. That Holmes had been sent here for killing a Moriarty. And she had read my thoughts from a glance.

No matter what the reason, Holmes reacted as if she’d been hit with an electrical shock.

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