In my dream, everyone talks except me. It’s a party, and I’m surrounded by voices. I listen. I smile. I nod. No one is actually speaking to me. But still--I want to pretend I’m a part of it.
Faces spin by in a blur. More people now, and still more. They laugh, tease, point fingers. Their talk becomes a meteor shower of sound, the words coming too fast and hard to understand.
And maybe because I am silent, I’m the one who sees her. Wendy. She’s standing in a wide-open window. The city stretches vast and dark behind her. Her toes are poised on the sill, her fingertips just reach the edges. There is nothing to hold her as she stares into the crowded room.
All of a sudden, she wobbles. Her fingers lose their hold. Now it’s all balance. Her arms flail, a foot rises. I am too far away, I can’t reach her in time.
Stop! I yell. But it comes out an ugly blurted Op! People glance over, embarrassed, go back to their talk.
She’s falling! This is She alling! Someone giggles. Another girl tries to hide her smile.
Desperate, I scream, Someone help her! Thomeone elper!
Now the laughter starts. As everyone swings toward me, pointing and snickering, Wendy falls, but no one sees. I howl, No, no! as I feel my heart fall with her.
And someone’s knocking at the door.
I open my eyes, see my mom standing by my bed. Still dazed from the dream, I take in my purple quilt covered in stars, Sullivan the blue whale perched at the foot of my bed, the postcard mosaic on the opposite wall. Faces, because I like faces. Greta Garbo. Edith Piaf. Lucy from Peanuts.
I struggle up, croak, “Hey, Mom.”
“Rain, honey, I’m sorry to wake you.”
I look at the clock. 7:16. We’re visiting my grandmother today, but even so, this is way, way early for Sunday morning. Particularly when I’ve been to a party the night before. Which my mother knows. So what gives?
Blinking, I say, “It’s fine. What’s up?”
“Ms. Geller’s on the phone. She’s looking for Wendy.”
My mom looks at me. What is this?
I look back. I have no idea.
As we walk down the hall, my mom asks, “Was Wendy at the party last night?”
Wendy doesn’t miss parties. “Yeah, she was there.”
“I didn’t know she was still a close friend.”
I make a face like, I didn’t either.
Now we’re at the kitchen. I pick up the phone. “Hi, Ms. Geller.”
“Rain? I’m so sorry to call this early.” She’s talking fast, a little too loud. Scared, I think, but trying not to be.
“No problem at all. What can I do?”
“Well . . .” Big sigh, ends on a shaky laugh. Everything’s okay! “Wendy did not come home last night.”
Faces start flashing in my head. Snatches of conversation. Wendy surrounded by people, laughing--she’s always laughing.
I hear Ms. Geller say, “And, uh, I’m just hoping there’s a very rational explanation.” Again, the weird shaky laugh.
“Oh, absolutely,” I say.
“You were at Karina Burroughs’s party last night, right?”
“Yes. Wendy was there. I definitely saw her.”
“Was she . . . How do I ask this? Was she okay?”
Wendy using two hands to lift a gallon of vodka, sloshing it over a line of plastic cups. Party time!
“Um, it was a party. But when I saw her, she was fine.”
“When did you last see her? Can you remember?”
“I left early,” I apologize. “Before midnight. So probably I saw her at . . .”
Hey, Nico . . .
“Eleven? Eleven-thirty?” I say.
“And she was okay?”
I make agony eyes at my mom, and she squeezes my hand.
“She had had some alcohol,” I say carefully. “But she wasn’t over the edge or anything.”
“Anyone she was with? A boy?”
Come be with me, Nico.
I hate this. I don’t want to tell this woman things she doesn’t want to know. “She has lots of friends, Ms. Geller. Everybody likes Wendy.”
Even as I say this, I wonder why I’m saying it. Because it’s not true.
I finish lamely, “I’m sure she’s fine.”
“But there’s no one you can remember she might have stayed with?”
“Did you try Karina? Or Jenny Zalgat?”
“Oh, yes.” Ms. Geller’s voice turns chilly. “They couldn’t be bothered to come to the phone.”
Hung over, I think. Or protecting Wendy. No--protecting themselves.
I hesitate. There is one other name I could give Ms. Geller.
I blurt out, “Nico Phelps. You could call him.”
“Nico Phelps.” A pause. She’s writing it down. “You don’t have his number?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“Okay.” Deep breath. “Okay. Thank you. This is--”
“You truly don’t need to thank me, Ms. Geller. I bet Wendy calls the second you hang up.”
“Probably.” She almost laughs this time, then says, “Actually, that’s another thing.”
“I’ve tried calling her cell phone. There’s no answer.”
Wendy checking her cell, chucking it back in her bag. Somebody’s playing mommy again. As if she gives a crap.
“Sounds like she’s feeling a little defiant,” I joke.
“I hope,” says Ms. Geller. “I mean, that that’s . . .”
She stops herself. “Anyway, sweetie, thank you. When this is over, I want you to come to dinner. We’d love to see you. It’s been so long.”
“Yeah, same. And--”
“Let me know. When it all works out.”
“I will.” And she hangs up.
Excerpted from The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks. Copyright © 2012 by Mariah Fredericks. Excerpted by permission of Schwartz & Wade, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.