Jayden sat under the maple tree with Logan and Pete during recess, as was customary, idly picking up seeds and rubbing the fibrous matter between his fingertips. Logan was stripping them down to crush the waxy green centers between his fingertips, and Pete was idly flinging them into the air to send them helicoptering away. None of the three spoke, but all watched the domed jungle gym where the girls were perching and hanging like a murder of crows, Veronica conspicuous in her absence.
Pete flung the last seed pod up into the air, looked around to assess that there weren’t any left within comfortable arms’ reach, then tilted his head and squinted at Logan. “Did you see it happen?”
Logan looked up, lips drawn tight.
Jayden dropped his seed. “What?”
“Ronnie. Did you see her disappear?”
Jayden picked the seed up, staring at it, the pattern of veins in its leafy blade. “We were all looking up at the eclipse.”
“With those glasses.” Logan framed his fingers around his eyes. “The cardboard ones.”
Pete nodded and looked back towards the girls. Even with his glasses he couldn’t read their expressions, but they looked more somber than usual. “Didn’t hear anything either?”
“Nope.” Jayden poked at the grass in front of him. “I was standing right next to her. Totality only took a few minutes, but when we looked around again… she was gone.”
“Crap,” Pete said.
“Yeah,” Logan said.
“What do you think happened to her?” Pete asked.
“Hailey and Isabelle are coming over,” Logan said, voice low.
Pete took his glasses off and put them in his pocket. Jayden had noticed that he always did that when talking to girls… maybe because he thought he looked better without them. Jayden didn’t feel up to making fun of him for it. Not today.
Isabelle Lu led the way, Hailey following, to stand somewhat awkwardly alongside to the tree.
“Hey.” Jayden noticed that she had her hair down, for once.
“Hey,” Pete chimed in a second later, sitting up straighter, probably to appear taller.
Logan said nothing, squinting up at the girls against the sun behind them.
“Did you…” Isabelle started. “Has your dad said anything about what happened?”
“No.” Jayden shook his head. “Well, they’re talking to Mr. Burroughs. Getting a statement?”Hailey’s eyes widened. “Is he a suspect?”
“He was right there with us the whole time,” Logan said.
“Yeah, no, he didn’t do anything,” Jayden said. “At least, I don’t think so. But you know, they have to make sure.”
“Yeah.” Isabelle sank to sit alongside the tree, legs curled up beneath her. “Right.”
Hailey sat next to her, turning to Logan. “Your mom say anything about how Mrs. Lopez is doing?”
He shook his head. “Not to me, but I heard her tell dad that she’s a wreck.”
“Mom was saying they were going to do something for her at the book club,” Jayden said.
“Yeah, my mom was pissed about that,” Isabelle said. “Technically I’m not allowed to talk to you anymore.”
“Technically?” Jayden asked.
“Technically she can’t do anything to stop me,” Isabelle said. “I can talk to whoever I want. What’s she going to do? Ground me from church?”
“You’re grounded from everywhere else,” Hailey said.
Isabelle snorted. “Whatever.”
“It’s a free country,” Pete said.
“I hope she’s okay,” Hailey said.
“She is,” Logan said. “Ronnie’s badass.”
“What if someone took her?” Hailey asked. “Kidnapped her?”
“She’s too fast for that,” Logan said, putting an arm around her shoulder. “No way anyone could catch her.”
“Where’s Connor?” Isabelle asked.
Jayden nodded off across the schoolyard towards where a group of kids were gathered. “Playing soccer.”
“How can he play sports when his cousin is missing like this?” Pete asked.
“That’s just how he’s dealing with it,” Isabelle said. “Some people just try and keep busy so they don’t have to, like, think about it. I might skip practice, though.”
“Yeah,” Jayden said. “Sorry our crazy moms don’t want us hanging out anymore.”
“Screw them,” Isabelle said. “You want to meet up at Dairy Queen after school? Mom will think I’m at practice.”
“Yeah, until the school calls home to see where you are.” Jayden’s serious face was ruined by the smile playing at the corner of his lip.
“I don’t care,” Isabelle tossed her hair back. “But I really need to just hang out with you guys, if you’re in.”
“I’m in!” Pete said, almost too quickly.
“Me too,” Hailey said.
“Yeah, okay,” Logan stood up, brushing bits of maple seed from his shorts.
“Alright.” Jayden didn’t really feel like hanging out, or ice cream, or really much of anything other than going home and laying in the dark and worrying about Ronnie. Was she okay? Alive? Dead? He was right there. Right next to her. He… the way he felt, he was always super-aware of exactly where she was and what she was doing when they were in the same room, like he had a special radar dedicated exclusively to tracking her. Except for this one time, when he was staring at that damn eclipse, the one time it mattered, and now he’d lost her. Forever.
But that didn’t really matter, did it? The others were hurting, too. Isabelle had been her best friend. And going out together for ice cream… well, if it made other people feel better than it made him feel worse, then that was a good trade off, right?