IT STARTED OUT WITH A KISS …
HOURS SINCE SHARA WHEELER LEFT: 12
DAYS UNTIL GRADUATION: 42
Chloe Green is going to put her fist through a window.
Usually when she has a thought like that, it means she’s spiritually on the brink. But right now, squared up to the back door of the Wheeler house, she’s actually physically ready to do it.
Her phone flashes the time: 11:27 a.m. Thirty-three minutes until the end of the late service at Willowgrove Christian Church, where the Wheelers are spending their morning pretending to be nice, normal folks whose nice, normal daughter didn’t stage a disappearing act at prom twelve hours ago.
It has to be an act, is the thing. Obviously, Shara Wheeler is fine. Shara Wheeler is not missing. Shara Wheeler is doing what she does: a doe-eyed performance of blank innocence that makes everyone think she must be so deep and complex and enchanting when really, she’s the most boring bore in this entire unbearably boring town.
Chloe is going to prove it. Because she’s the only one smart enough to see it.
She wanted to enjoy her prom night after an entire year chasing early admission deadlines and her spot at the top of the class of ’22. It took weeks to thrift the perfect dress (black chiffon and lace, like a sexy vampire assassin), and it was supposed to be a perfect prom. Not the perfect prom—no dates, no corsages—but her perfect prom. Just her friends in fancy outfits piling into Benjy’s car, screaming Lil Yachty in a room with a chandelier, and collapsing into a Waffle House booth at one in the morning.
But thirty minutes before the prom court was announced, she saw her: Shara, rosy lips and a waterfall of almond-pink tulle, brushing past refreshments on her way to the door. Chloe had been watching her all night, waiting for a chance to get her alone.
Except when she got to the door, Shara was gone, and when student council president Brooklyn Bennett got up on stage to crown Shara as prom queen, she was still gone. Nobody saw her leave, and nobody’s seen her since, but her white Jeep is missing from the Wheelers’ driveway.
So here Chloe is, the morning after, makeup smudged around her eyes and hair crunchy with hairspray, ready to break into Shara’s house.
She finds the spare key inside a conspicuously smooth rock with Joshua 24:15 engraved on it. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
The whole drive to the country club, she imagined the look on Shara’s face when she saw Chloe at her door. The big, shocked green eyes, the theatrical gasp, the dawning realization that her little stunt for attention isn’t going to work out the way she planned because Chloe is a hot genius who can’t be fooled. The sheer satisfaction was going to power Chloe through finals and probably like, the first two years of college.
But when she sticks her head through the open door and scans the Wheelers’ enormous kitchen, Shara’s nowhere.
So, she does what anyone else in her position would do. She shuts the door behind her and does a sweep of the first floor.
Shara’s not here.
Okay. That’s fine. But she’s definitely somewhere. Probably upstairs, in her room.
In the upstairs hallway, a half-open door reveals a bathroom that must be Shara’s. Beige-and-pink wallpaper, porcelain countertop lined with rosewater skincare products and a bottle of her signature nail polish (Essie, Ballet Slippers). Chloe hovers at the doorway; this isn’t her objective, but there’s a flower-patterned silk scrunchie next to the sink that she’s never seen before, no matter how many AP classes she’s spent glaring at the back of Shara’s head. Shara exclusively wears her shiny blond hair down. That’s like, her thing. She must put it up to wash her face at night.
Chloe pauses at the next door. It’s slightly ajar and marked with a hand-painted pink S.
It’d be a lie—a huge, Willowgrove-Christian-Academy-football-budget-sized lie—to say she’s never envisioned what sort of perfection incubator Shara Wheeler climbs inside when she goes home every day. A tank of goo to preserve her dewy complexion? A professional hairstylist on retainer? Where does Shara go when she’s not having picturesque Starbucks dates with her quarterback boyfriend or spinning out suspiciously good comparative lit essays? Who is she when, for once, nobody is looking?
Only one way to find out.
She kicks the door open, and—
The room is empty.
Shara’s room is, of course, a nice, normal room. Suspiciously plain, even. Bed, dresser, nightstand, vanity, bookshelf-slash-desk combo, eggshell lamp with a silver chain. There’s a dried homecoming corsage on the windowsill and a tube of Burt’s Bees lip balm in a seashell dish on the dresser, alongside a bottle of lilac body spray and a pile of bookmarked paperbacks for school. The walls are a simple biege, with framed photos of her family and her boyfriend and her flock of identical pointy-elbowed, flowy-haired friends with perfect Glossier faces.
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