Bile rose in Paige’s throat as her pulse pounded in her ears. There was no way she heard Nick correctly. The photo in her friend’s hand couldn’t be the last picture ever taken of the girl. Of Abby Foster. There had to be some kind of mistake.
“Are you sure? That can’t be right.”
Taylor stole the words right out of Paige’s brain. Nick had to be looking at the wrong girl. The reverse lookup or whatever he did must have pulled up a story about someone else.
Despite every fiber of her being hoping he was wrong, a gnawing in her gut told her that Nick had found their mystery girl. And the fact that she went missing the same night the picture was taken had something to do with why Cal and her mom lied to her that morning.
“Come see for yourself,” Nick said as he rolled his chair away from his desk, making room for his sister and her friend.
Frozen to her spot on the other side of the desk, Paige watched Taylor lean over the desk, her hand grabbing the mouse so she could scroll through whatever Nick had on the screen. A frown formed on her best friend’s face as she read.
“Okay, according to this article, two local girls went missing the same night in nineteen ninety-three. Lucy Edwards was last seen leaving the grocery store she worked at in Lake City, while Abby Foster was last seen at the campsite she’d set up with her friends. That night was August twenty-eighth, the same date as the timestamp on those photos. Shit.”
“What the hell does that even mean?” Paige asked, her voice catching on the lump forming in her throat.
She looked from Taylor to Nick, then back toward the computer like it could answer her question. If the roll of film in the camera was from the last night Abby Foster was seen alive, then that meant her dad had to be part of the group of friends she went camping with. That was really the only explanation for why the camera was in her grandpa’s attic.
Paige had been so angry that her mom and Cal had lied to her that morning, but now there she was, lying to herself. It wasn’t the only explanation. There were others, but those only made the burning in her stomach worse.
“Here’s another article,” Taylor announced as the sound of her frantically clicking the mouse filled the room. “So it looks like Abby was found a few days later in the river. They ruled it an accident, saying she must have fallen over the cliff while admiring the falls. Her friends said that was the entire reason she agreed to go on the camping trip in the first place. She wanted to take pictures.”
“Her friends were interviewed in the article?” Paige asked. Maybe her dad had been one of the ones interviewed. That would certainly clear up who Abby was to her family. At least enough that her body might relax a little.
“Her best friend Farrah Redford was quoted, but let me see if there was anyone else,” Taylor said as she scrolled some more. “So both articles list out the friends she went camping with, but it doesn’t look like they quoted anyone other than the best friend and Abby’s boyfriend, Eric Wright.”
“Your dad isn’t one of the people listed in either article, Paige. I’m sorry.”
Paige sighed, though what she really wanted to do was throw up. If her dad didn’t go camping with Abby, then why the hell did her family have what she assumed was Abby’s camera? She shook off the question, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to figure out the answer on her own. What she needed to decide was whether or not she really wanted to know why the camera was in her grandpa’s attic. Her gut told her to forget she ever found the thing, but the rest of her…
“So what do we do now?” she asked, her mouth making the decision before her brain could stop her.
Nick looked over at her, his brows furrowed. After a few seconds, his brows straightened as he smiled at her.
“I think we should talk to her friends. Assuming the question of why your family had this camera is still one you want answered.”
She nodded despite the sweat beginning to drip down her spine. “I do. I want to know why my family has a dead girl’s camera. How do we find Abby’s friends?”
“Leave that to me,” he told her as his smile grew brighter. “Are you free tomorrow?”
* * *
Despite his insistence, Paige doubted Nick’s ability to find Abby’s friends in less than a day. She knew he was good at his job, but it wasn’t like he was a PI or the police or something. He was a reporter, sure, but finding people couldn’t be that easy.
Except it was.
Or at least Nick made it look easy.
Which was why she was sitting in the passenger seat of his car on her way to Puyallup to have a chat with Farrah and Eric Wright, Abby Foster’s best friend and boyfriend, less than 24 hours after he promised her he’d find them. Paige found it curious that the two had ended up together and wondered if it had anything to do with Abby’s death. She’d never ask outright, but she was secretly hoping Nick would or that the couple would volunteer the information while talking about their friend.
“Do you think they’ll be willing to talk to us? Especially since we’re showing up unannounced,” she asked as Nick drove through a neighborhood filled with identical single-family homes.
It was the second time in less than a week that she was about to descend upon someone to ask for their help without warning. It felt weird just showing up at someone’s home, especially in the middle of the day, though Nick said both Eric and Farrah would be at home. How he knew that bit of information, she didn’t ask despite being curious about the answer.
“I find the more off-guard someone is, the more likely they are to say more than they would if you told them you were coming. Hopefully, the Wrights will follow that pattern.”
Paige frowned. “What if they don’t? What do we do then?”
She could feel Nick glance over at her before turning back to watch the road. “We’ll figure something out. There were two other people there the night Abby went missing. Maybe one of them will be more forthcoming. We won’t stop until we discover why your family had that camera.”
Thank you didn’t quite seem adequate enough for what Nick was helping her do. She knew he was just doing a favor for his little sister, but to Paige, it was a big deal. Something inside her said the camera meant more to her family than her mom or Cal were letting on. That Abby Foster meant more to her family. She wasn’t going to let it go until she knew the truth, even if the truth turned out to be the worst thing her imagination could conjure.
There was no going back now. Even if she wanted to.
The closer they got to the Wright family’s front door, the sweatier Paige got. She wasn’t usually a nervous person, but being with Nick, dropping in on strangers, and dealing with the craziness of the camera and what it meant, had her on edge. If only she could go back in time and tell her mom she couldn’t clean out the attic. Or at least go back and tell Taylor to ignore the camera and the film inside of it.
But she couldn’t go back. And thinking about the “if onlys” wouldn’t help her situation.
Paige wanted answers, and she was going to get them. Even if doing so made her or the people in her family uncomfortable.
“You ready for this?” Nick asked as he raised his hand to knock on the door with the ornate stained glass in the center instead of a clear window.
He didn’t wait for her to answer him before he rapped his hand against the wood. A shrill, insistent barking drifted out of the house through an open window. That was definitely not going to do much to help their cause.
“Knock it off,” someone yelled from inside.
Then when the dog didn’t stop, they yelled again. “Damn it, Snowball, shut up.”
Paige could hear the heavy footfalls of someone walking toward the door. What she couldn’t make out was the grumbling that went along with them. Though if she had to guess, it was definitely nothing good. She braced herself for the anger that was no doubt about to be directed toward them.
She tried not to take a step back as the door was flung open by a tall, broad-shouldered blond man. He scowled at Nick, then at her, the look sending a chill down her spine. Her instincts told her to turn tail and run, but she held it together since Nick didn’t look the least bit worried.
“Hi, are you Mr. Eric Wright?”
Nick’s tone was meant to disarm and charm, but Paige wasn’t sure it would work on the man in front of them. He seemed far too pissed off to be swayed that easily.
“We’re not interested in buying whatever you’re selling,” the man grumbled as he started to close the door, the little dog still barking somewhere behind him.
“We’re not selling anything, sir. We’re here because we have some questions about Abby Foster.”
A shadow passed over the man’s face, his scowl changing momentarily to a frown. Memories of his ex-girlfriend still haunted him, but Paige knew no matter what she saw, he wasn’t going to agree to talk to them about Abby.
“I can’t help you.”
“Snowball, shut up already, damn dog. Eric, who’s at the door?”
Before Mr. Wright could close the door, Mrs. Wright pushed her way between her husband and the door, the yapping dog in her arms. Her blonde hair was in a messy knot on the top of her head, her face tastefully made up, despite the fact she was wearing sweats and a t-shirt. Paige noticed the years had been kind to both of the Wrights. She wasn’t sure what she expected; maybe that losing their friend had been rough on them both. But maybe that wasn’t fair to either of them, tragedy hit people differently, and looks could be deceiving.
“They said they want to ask us questions about Abby.”
Despite the make-up, Paige could see the color drain from Mrs. Wright’s face. While bringing up their dead friend made her husband angry, the mention of Abby’s name did the opposite for her. Tears shimmered in the older woman’s eyes as she looked from Paige to Nick, then back to Paige.
“How do either of you even know about Abby? You weren’t even alive when she died,” the woman pointed out as she swiped a finger under one eye.
Nick gave her a soft smile, and Paige knew he was about to turn on the charm. What could he possibly say that would convince them to talk about their friend? Would he tell them that he was a reporter? They hadn’t really gone over what their cover story would be or if they’d tell the truth about why they were there. Nick was the professional, so she figured she’d leave everything up to him.
Now she felt like she was about to see the master at work.
“Mrs. Wright, we know talking about Abby won’t be easy for either of you, but my colleague and I have been hired to look further into what happened the night she disappeared.”
“But that was thirty years ago. Why now?”
Nick looked over at the man who asked the question and gave him a sad smile, one that said he hated to be the one to drudge up the past.
“The detective that first looked into Abby’s disappearance was never truly satisfied with the ruling that her death was an accident. Unfortunately, back then, there was nothing he could do about it. I don’t know if you know this, but Abby wasn’t the only person to fall to her death like that. Each of them was ruled an accident, and though Detective Jones didn’t work all of those cases, he believed they could’ve been related.”
Mr. Wright narrowed his eyes at Nick like he still wasn’t sure about the situation. “That still doesn’t answer the question of why now.”
“Detective Jones isn’t doing well. They say he doesn’t have much time left. He asked the company I work for to take one last look before he goes.”
Paige glanced over at Nick, wondering where the hell the story he just told the Wrights had come from. Was this how he got people to talk for the stories he worked on? It made Paige feel slimy to lie to these people, which just piled on top of the already terrible feeling she’d had in the pit of her stomach since she found the stupid camera.
“I don’t know how much we can help, but come on in.”
“Eric, don’t you want to know if it wasn’t an accident that night? It never made sense to me, either. Especially when her bag and camera were never found.”
Paige’s blood suddenly felt like ice flowing under her skin as her heart seemed to stutter in her chest. Her breath caught, and for a second, she wondered if she might start hyperventilating. Before she could succumb to the freak-out boiling inside her, Nick placed his hand on her lower back and urged her to follow the Wrights into their home. She hadn’t even heard Mr. Wright give in to his wife’s decree to let them in.
“Are you okay?” Nick whispered as he leaned in closer to her.
She wasn’t sure if she could or should say anything out loud, so she shook her head, then stood in the entryway while Nick closed the door behind them. The Wrights had already walked further into the house toward what looked to be a formal living room.
Once the door was closed, Nick once again took the lead, letting her follow behind him to where Mr. Wright sat on an uncomfortable-looking couch while Mrs. Wright stood next to it, waiting for them to arrive.
“Can I get you anything to drink? I have water, lemonade, and iced tea.”
“If it’s not too much trouble, Mrs. Wright, could I please have a glass of water?” Nick asked as he sat on the matching couch across from her husband.
“Of course, and what about you? Can I get you anything?”
Paige asked for water as well, then Mrs. Wright left the room, leaving them with a fuming Mr. Wright. They sat in silence, the man glaring at her and Nick, while the tiny chihuahua Snowball, who looked nothing like its namesake, sniffed their legs, then looked at them with big, judgy eyes.
There was no way the dog knew they’d lied to gain access to its owners, right?
God, the whole thing was making her nervous and paranoid. She seriously needed to get a grip before she ruined everything. They’d come too far for her stupidity to ruin things. Especially after Mrs. Wright mentioned Abby’s bag and camera. More now than ever, Paige needed to know how the hell those items ended up in her grandpa’s attic. There was no doubt in her mind that the camera she found was Abby’s, and the undeveloped film was documentation of her last night on earth.
“Can you tell us about the hours leading up to when you last saw Abby?” Nick asked once drinks had been passed out, and Mrs. Wright sat beside her husband.
“It was supposed to be our last big weekend of fun before the guys went off to college, and Abby and I started our senior year of high school. The guys all wanted to go camping, and I wanted to do whatever they wanted to do,” Mrs. Wright said as she casually glanced over at her husband, making Paige wonder how close Abby’s boyfriend and best friend were before the camping trip.
“Abby hated camping,” Mr. Wright added. “She wanted to go to the ocean, but we finally got her to agree to our plan if we promised to go to some stupid waterfall she wanted to take pictures of. The spot up at Mt. Baker was pretty great, so we were happy to compromise. All we really cared about was having a place where we could get drunk and high without getting caught. Of course, Abby wasn’t into any of that stuff either.”
“Her love was that dang camera, and Eric, of course,” Mrs. Wright pointed out as if her husband was an afterthought. “She took off as soon as we were done setting up camp.”
“Was there anyone else up there besides your group? That would’ve been a popular weekend for camping.”
“That was the beauty of the spot Abby picked. It was just the five of us for miles. We didn’t see anyone else until we went for help,” Mr. Wright said.
“So, was the last time either of you saw her after you were finished setting up your campsite?” Nick asked.
Mrs. Wright shook her head. “No, she came back probably about an hour later. We tried to get her to stay, but she got really annoyed with all of us. We were pretty trashed already, especially Sean and Scott. Those two had pre-funked before we even left town, and Eric and I decided we had to play catch up.”
“Abby could be a real snob when it came to that stuff, but we all loved her, so we let it slide.”
“So Mrs. Wright…”
“Please, you can call me Farrah. Being called Mrs. Wright makes me feel old.”
“If you insist,” Nick said, throwing her another charming smile that almost had Paige rolling her eyes. “Did Abby stick around camp at that point?”
“She’d only come back to grab a snack and change into jeans. It was colder up there than it had been when we left home. When she went back out to the waterfall, it was obvious she was pissed at us, but I knew she’d get over it. Except, she never had a chance to.”
Tears filled Farrah’s eyes as she reached over and grabbed her husband’s hand. Paige hated that they were sitting there, making this woman relive one of the worst nights of her life. All so she could figure out a mystery that might not even matter.
“You’re sure Abby never came back to camp after that?”
Nick’s question caught Paige off guard, but she guessed that was the point. She kept her attention on the Wrights to see if they were as equally taken back by what he asked. Mr. Wright didn’t even flinch. Farrah, on the other hand, looked like she was going to throw up. Paige glanced over at Nick, who watched both husband and wife as closely as she had been. The charming smile had turned to a knowing smirk.
“What the hell are you getting at?” Mr. Wright growled.
“I’m sorry, sir, I’m just asking a question. I couldn’t help but notice that you and your wife were married less than a year after Abby’s death and that your eldest child was born a little over nine months after her death. Is that just a coincidence? Maybe it happened after that night? Or maybe, Abby came back to camp while everyone else was preoccupied.”
“You son of a bitch.”
“Eric, stop it. He’s not wrong. Abby did come back that night. I saw her.”
Mr. Wright’s head whipped to the side, so fast Paige was surprised his neck didn’t crack. He stared at his wife, anger and pain marring his features. Those three words were obviously ones he’d never heard his wife say before. Nick had uncovered a family secret that was about to be blown wide open.
“What the fuck do you mean you saw her? When? Where?” Mr. Wright demanded.
Farrah’s sobs seemed to make her husband angrier. Paige wondered how he’d take that anger out on his wife if they weren’t there. Would he shake her to get the answers to his questions? Would he hit her or push her? Or was he the kind of man that used words to knock people down? Mr. Wright reminded her of her father and her grandpa. Big men used to getting what they wanted because of who they were.
“You have to understand I was beyond wasted,” Farrah said, her words broken up as she stammered around another sob. “And we were…we were. I’d wanted that for so long, and I just couldn’t bring myself to stop what was happening. She was so angry and hurt. I could see it on her face even though the lighting in the tent was terrible. Even though she was my best friend, I couldn’t stop myself.”
“What the fuck, Farrah.”
Mr. Wright stared at his wife for a second longer before getting up from the couch. He glared at Paige and Nick, then stormed away, his heavy footfalls clear over his wife’s pleas for him to come back and for him to forgive her. The slamming of a door upstairs made Paige jump, though she honestly should’ve been expecting it. The situation had gone from pleasant to a giant shit show in less than sixty seconds.
“I’m really sorry, Mrs. Wright, but I need to ask one last question, and then we’ll leave. Are you saying Abby returned to camp, saw her best friend and her boyfriend having sex, then went back into the woods even though it was getting dark? And nobody bothered to look for her once you were done betraying her?”
Paige winced at the harshness in Nick’s tone, at the severity of his words. He wasn’t just trying to get clarification, so he understood Abby’s final hours better. He wanted the woman across from him to realize what she’d done. It didn’t matter that the older woman had been living with that truth for the last thirty years.
Farrah Wright was the reason Abby Foster was dead. But knowing that didn’t help Paige at all. Speaking to the Wrights had only added more questions to an already overflowing pile of them, and she still had no idea what Abby had to do with her family and why her precious camera was in her grandpa’s attic.
Paige had no idea where to look next, but she wouldn’t give up. Even though she had a feeling she wasn’t going to like what she uncovered, she needed to know the truth.
About Abby. About her dad. About her grandpa.
She’d get her answers, no matter what it took. Even if she had to piss off strangers or members of her family to get them.