The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
CHAPTER
26
The Persistence of Memory
Oh, SHOOT!
SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT.
How long had Daniel been there? Had he heard? Had the wind carried our secrets?
My heart pounding, I flashed Daniel the prettiest smile possible and hoped it didn’t look like a freaky, jack-o’-lantern grin. “Daniel!” I called, and waved. “Hey!”
His face somber, he hesitated, but then stepped onto the beach, toward us. I glanced at Rhys, whose surprised look quickly morphed into what I wanted to dub his “play dead” expression. I wish I could get away with that, but...no.
I hopped up and crossed the sand to meet Daniel. “Hey! Gorgeous day, right?” I tried hard not to be too perky, but I feared it was obvious that I was hiding something. I realized my hands were kind of shaking, so I shoved them into my shorts pockets.
“Hey,” he replied, looking past me to Rhys. “Yeah, nice day. Too bad I had to work so much of it.” His eyes narrowed, but then he looked at me. “What are y’all doin’?”
I shrugged and rocked back on my heels and was, in general, acting anything but natural. “I just figured it’d be good for him to get some fresh air and exercise.” As soon as the words were out, I realized that they sounded like I was walking my dog, and I hated them.
Daniel’s gaze was solid on my face, and I was pretty sure he could read my frantic mind. “Yeah?” he asked. “Well, your mom wants you home. So. I offered to take you.”
“Oh,” I said, and nodded. “Yeah? Okay. Let me get packed up?” I took a step backwards.
“I’ll help you.”
“Thanks,” I said, and offered him a small smile.
He didn’t return it.
Not. Good.
Not at all.
At the blanket, I kneeled next to Rhys. “Hey, I have to go, okay? My mom needs me.”
He blinked and stared past me.
I sighed. “Rhys? Here, take my hand?” I reached out for him, and he did stand, stiffly. I packed up my camera, and Daniel and I folded the blanket. We stepped toward one another to fold the length, and I took the blanket to finish it off.
Before I could, Daniel’s hand slipped to my cheek.
No, I thought. Not another kiss. Not knowing what I know now.
His lips brushed my cheek, but it wasn’t quite a kiss after all. Into my ear, he whispered, “Be careful, Miya.”
I frowned deeply and stepped back. “Yeah, okay,” I answered, and focused on the final folds.
Together, we walked Rhys back to his grandfather’s cottage. I said my goodbye, and he stared at my shoulder.
Daniel drove me back to the gatehouse. Rather than running my mouth, which was the temptation, I managed to keep quiet.
He did, too.
I hated it.
I hated that the ease of our friendship was gone.
Because the friendship had been false.
He pulled up to the gate, and I reached for the door handle.
“Miya,” he said, and I froze.
“Yeah?”
“Do you like, like Rhys?”
I looked at him, wide-eyed. “Do I...? I...no?” I said, tripping all over myself. “I mean, I like him as a person. But. Like. Um. You mean...?”
“Yeah,” he asked quietly. “Do you like him more than you like me?”
I didn’t know how to answer that.
Because right now? Yeah, I totally liked Rhys more than I liked Daniel. Rhys wasn’t running around, stealing Daniel’s things and helping bad guys do bad stuff. Rhys wasn’t lying to me. Rhys wasn’t putting my mom and me in danger daily.
“Why would you ask me that?” Because answering a question with a question is totally the weak way out.
He frowned and looked out his window for a moment. To the glass, he said, “Rhys gets everything. Everything. Back in school, he was a real jerk about it, too.” He trailed off, and I didn’t want him to finish the sentence.
On the list of Things I was Capable of Doing, trusting Daniel fell somewhere below #401—Olympic cross-country skiing. Even so, I didn’t doubt the bitterness in his words was real.
He didn’t like Rhys. At all.
Nadia had hinted that there was a history between the guys, but this knowledge fit into things in an uncomfortable way.
Did he dislike Rhys enough to have motive to hurt him?
“I’m leaving soon,” I said carefully. “In a few weeks, I’ll be back in Tennessee. It doesn’t matter who I like.”
He looked at me for a long moment. Then he nodded. “I see,” he said, and looked away once again.
I pushed open the door and hopped out, hitting the dirt with a little more grace than I’d had my first night on the island. But before I closed the door, I leaned into the cab.
“I know Maisie is up to something bad. Whatever it is, Daniel, you don’t have to be part of it. I do like you, and my mom likes you, too. If you need help—“
“I don’t need help, “ he snapped. “Everything is fine, Miya. Just watch your own back, okay?”
We locked gazes for what felt like a whole minute before I nodded. “Yeah. I’ll watch my own back.” I stepped back and shut the door. I knew he was mad, but I wasn’t expecting him to peel out of the gate the way he did.
I could barely see the tailgate from the dust that flew in the air. “Yeah, Daniel. Clearly, everything is fine.”
I found Mom at the kitchen table, working on a shopping list. “Hey,” she said, and cast me a smile. “Thanks for coming back. I decided to go into town tonight to do the grocery shopping, so that tomorrow, we can do some sightseeing tours. You wanna come?”
Sightseeing. Yeah, I definitely wanted to. “The carriage ride?” I asked.
“Yeppo,” she said, smiling. “I am caving. Just this once. I figured we could use some fun.”
Ugh! I was torn. I really wanted to do the carriage ride, but leaving the island now seemed like a terrible idea. My mind raced through all the ways I could have my cake and eat it too, but that was a super short process, since there was no way I could do both the carriage ride AND stay close-ish to Rhys.
“Sweetknuckle?” she prompted me.
“I’ll stay here tonight,” I said. If I could get some solid stuff against Maisie and Henri, I could present a convincing argument to Mom when I spilled the beans about Rhys. “Thanks for the offer.”
I watched Mom and Gladys leave, popped my allergy medication, and then I got to work. After using Rhys’s key to get past the door, and with a flashlight in hand, I headed back to the bathroom-slash-dumping ground and began digging for that missing power cord.
“Girl clothes, girl clothes, blingy necklace, shoe,” I said, and then stood up. Mary Ellen’s things ruled the room. All I could figure was that Maisie and her minions had cleared out all the personal items and deposited them here. But why would Ty’s laptop have been part of it?
It must have been in Mary Ellen’s stuff—at the office, maybe. Had she taken it after his death? Or was it there since before the accident?
Mom said Ty’s office was on the gatehouse’s ground level. I gathered up my resolve and went down to take a look. Slowly, I eased down the stairs to the first floor.
Its layout was unlike our side: instead of foyer, full kitchen, sitting room, full bathroom and laundry room, the rooms had been designated into a small receptionist’s office, two more offices, a half bath and a small galley kitchen with no oven or stove, and only a cafe table with two seats. It was definitely the public business part of the gatehouse.
After a moment’s hesitation, I went into the office—Ty’s office—and surveyed the room. A drafting table was pushed against a bookshelf that had been populated more with files than books. A stack of large paper spread across it, and upon closer inspection, I saw that some of the pages were transparent, some were graph-lined, and others sort of crisp, like the parchment paper Mom and I use when baking. At a glance, the papers contained drawings, some detailed, some obvious first-round sketches of various parts of the island.
“Focus,” I whispered to myself. It took no more than two minutes to find the laptop power cord, still plugged into the wall after all these months. I pulled it out and wrapped the long tail into a careful circle while my eyes scanned the room once more.
I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but something here wasn’t right. Something felt off. I turned around slowly, trying to place what was so wrong in the room.
Desk. Copier. Drafting table. Bookshelves. Printer. Filing cabinets. Floor lamps. Whiteboard. Office supplies. Scanner. Wastebasket. Digital camera. Software boxes. Leather chair.
My eyes swiveled back to the camera, and it wasn’t my love for high-end photography tech that made me reach for it.
The super-nice camera was naked and broken.
It was out of its case. The lens cap was off. The lens had a nasty crack through it. “Oh, poor baby,” I said as I picked it up. “What happened to you?”
That’s when I noticed the door for the memory card was hanging open. And the memory card was gone. After a bit more investigation, I found cracks in the plastic casing, as if the camera had been dropped.
The room hadn’t been trashed, but the camera, which cost more than Gladys, had been through some serious trauma.
Why?
No one in the world who knew its value would’ve treated it like this.
I wanted that memory card.
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