"What do you want?" she asks, brushing at her designer jeans like I am emitting imaginary traitor dust.
"Have you seen Caroline?"
"No. She never showed up."
"But she was supposed to meet you here? She never said anything about going home?"
"She wanted to spend the night at my house tonight." She waits a second for it to sink in and then adds, "Because she didn’t want to see you," in case I missed the insult.
"Do any of you have last period with her?"
"Hey, Marta," Jessica says. "Where’s Caroline?"
"She has geometry with me. But she skipped out early, saying she felt sick. I think she wanted to go to the mall."
It’s a possibility. Caroline has been known to blow a year’s allowance on boy-induced shopping sprees. But usually she takes yes-women and bag carriers. "Wouldn’t she have asked if you wanted to go?"
"My dad cut up my credit cards," Marta says, shaking her head.
"I dated all the salespeople at Abercrombie and Fitch. I can’t show my face in there for at least another month," says Amanda. "Evelyn?"
"She didn’t ask me," Evelyn says, looking up from putting on bubblegum lip gloss. "And that’s weird, because we were supposed to go together the next time and buy matching pajama bottoms for next Friday’s spirit day."
Marta claps excitedly. "The ones with the pink bunnies?"
"You should see mine – they are covered in broccoli and say ‘Eat me.’"
"Cute! Mine have monkeys!"
"Mine have whales," I say to regain their attention, and earn three surprised looks. I will not be sidetracked by pajama pants. "Call me if you see her," I say, and then stand there stubbornly until I’m sure that they’ve all programmed the number I give them into their cells.
As I walk back through the hallways, I dig my phone out from the bottom of my bag. After a silent thank-you when it lights up fully charged, I dial home. Marcie picks up on the third ring, and I try to keep my voice calm and level when I ask if Caroline has come home.
"She called earlier and said that she was staying with Amanda. I asked if she wanted to pick up clothes, but she said that she would borrow something. She sounded upset," Marcie says, and I can hear the concern through the crackle of indoor reception. "What’s going on?"
"Nothing. Just leftover boy stuff," I lie.
"Then why are you calling?"
One point for Marcie. "One of her friends said that she had forgotten something in her locker and I wanted to bring it to her."
Marcie seems to buy it. After claiming that I have to get to the tennis match, I hang up and head to the side hallway, planning on doing a few laps to hunt for Caroline. I’m starting to feel silly – she’s probably licking her wounds somewhere safe and warm and full of attractive men. Worst-case scenario, I’ll check the boys’ locker room.
I’m passing the open, chemical-smelling doors in the science hall when I hear a high-pitched giggle that I’d recognize anywhere.
"Neal, stop it," Violet says, but it doesn’t sound like she wants him to stop anything. I run into a physics classroom only to walk in on Neal tickling Violet with a remote-controlled robot.
"Thanks for coming to the Robotics meeting," he tells Violet, who has leaned over to tap the robot’s head with a very curious expression. "I don’t know where Adam is. He told me that he would be here."
"We should name him," Violet says. She picks up a pencil and taps the robot on its shoulders. "I dub thee . . . Simon."
"Simon? Did you just name my robot Simon?"
"What is wrong with Simon? It was my brother’s name."
"I didn’t know that you had a brother."
Violet looks down at her hands with a mournful sigh. "He is gone now."
"I’m sorry," Neal says, immediately contrite.
"It does not matter anymore. It was a long time ago." She shoots him a suggestive look from beneath her lashes. "A long, long, long, long – Sophie!" she says when she spots me in the doorway. "You are not supposed to be here."
"Neither are you."
"We got back early! And since I promised Neal that I would come to his Robotics meeting until he had more than one participant . . . What’s wrong?"
"I can’t find my sister or Vlad."
Neal stops twirling Simon in a circle. "I saw them talking in the middle of last period."
My stomach lurches. "You did?"
"Yeah. I forgot my graphing calculator, and her locker is by mine," he says. "You know, ‘Garville’. . . ‘Garrett.’ It’s the curse of alphabetical order."
I try to keep the panic from leaking into my voice when I ask my next question. "What were they saying?"
"I don’t know. I tend to tune her out. Most of her interactions involve really loud kissing." He stops when he sees what must be my horrified expression. "Hey, it’s okay. It seemed to be a friendly conversation. I mean, at first she was mad, but then he stared soulfully into her eyes and then they walked off together." Neal rolls his eyes, as if he hadn’t been doing his own soulful staring at Violet these past few weeks.
"Where were they going?" I ask.
"Um. To make out?"
Neal is starting to look nervous. He fiddles with the remote control, causing Simon to twirl in a confused circle. "I don’t know," he says, uncomfortable. "Where do people usually make out?"
"I don’t have time for sarcasm right now, Neal."
"But I really don’t know!"
I turn to Violet, unable to hide my panic.
"I will go find the others," she says. "They should be at home now."
"I’ll come with you," Neal says, but Violet waves him back into his seat.
"Stay with Simon. This is a family matter." When he protests, she stares into his eyes. Neal’s shoulders slump and he turns around to fiddle with a few loose screws.
"Violet!" I scold. "I’ve never seen you do that."
She looks at me, innocent as a cartoon bunny. "What? We need him to stay! And the magazines said that we are allowed to use our feminine wiles. I do not understand your qualm."
I doubt Seventeen would include vampire mind-control under the "feminine wiles" umbrella, but now is not the time. When she flounces away, I try not to worry that the cavalry is skipping.
I start to search for Caroline in earnest. Vlad disappeared with her in the early afternoon – too early for the direct sun not to drain him – so it would have to be somewhere in the building, somewhere removed and isolated. I check the auditorium, thinking that he could have her holed up backstage, but the heavy red curtain is open and a group of students is taking advantage of the unoccupied stage to practice choral parts for High School Musical. Next I scope out the band hallway, but it is brightly lit and filled with the sounds of tortured trombones and tubas. My search of the locker rooms – girls’ and boys’ – turns up nothing other than a surprised and shirtless Danny Baumann who says, "Yo, South America. You’re kind of freaky, aren’t you?" and pats my dazzled head before he leaves.