3.) Well Known Lines
He was already regretting this. This was not what he planned. She was not supposed to be hurt.
Lewis seemed to lose his anger as quickly as it had come. He sank to his knees on Cleo's bedroom rug, looking defeated. Emma was at Cleo's desk, Rikki on the floor by the door. They were silent except for the occasional sniffle from any of the three. Lewis's breath hitched as he spotted something in front of him, tiliting his head and squinting his eyes in confusion. He crawled forward to the foot of Cleo's bed, pulling at a tiny triangle of paper peeking out from underneath the mattress.
"What is that?" Emma asked, Rikki also standing slowly.
"Help me," Lewis demanded, attempting to lift the mattress himself. Both girls helped, freeing the paper Lewis had noticed. It was a standard manila envelope, wedged between the slats of Cleo's bed. Lewis stared at it in his hand for a moment, debating.
"Open it," Rikki told him. He bent the metal tags until the flap came free. Lewis turned the envelope upside down, letting its contents fall to the floor.
Inside were pictures. As soon as he saw what they were of — who they were of — Lewis found himself unable to touch them. He let the photographs sit in a pile in front of him, until Rikki began spreading them out so they could see each one. Every single picture was a candid shot of Cleo. Cleo laughing with friends, Cleo putting on her hat at work, Cleo eating lunch at school, Cleo looking out her bedroom window, Cleo diving fully clothed into the water. All three of them felt disturbed and violated. Lewis's stomach turned as if he might be sick.
Emma carefully picked one up, turning it over. The back was blank.
"Is there anything left in the envelope?" she whispered. Lewis peeked inside, pulling out a piece of plain paper, folded small, that had stuck to the inside seam. He unfolded it, his hands shaking. Once he had read it, he placed it in the center of the photos, smoothing out the creases so the girls could read it themselves.
"'Dear Cleo,'" Rikki read hoarsely. "'Just a reminder that I know your secret."
She looked at the others. Emma was reading the note again, as if there was some clue in the handwriting that could lead her to Cleo's whereabouts. Lewis was shaking his head, his eyes panicked, his internal monologue a never-ending pattern of no no no no no no no no.
"We need to give this to the police," Emma decided.
"Will it change anything?" Rikki asked, her faith in the police already long lost. "It's not like we can tell them the secret."
"No, but –" There was a soft knock at the door that interrupted her. Rikki opened it a crack, peering out into the hallway.
"What do you want, Kim?" Rikki asked as kindly as she could manage under the circumstances.
"Can I come in?"
Rikki looked to the others for confirmation. Emma was scrambling to get the photographs back in the envelope.
"What's that?" Kim asked, her eyes widening as she looked past Rikki into the room.
"No! What are those? Does it have something to do with Cleo?"
"She…seems to have a…secret admirer," Rikki explained tactfully.
"Who sends her photos?"
"Creepy ones," Emma said, beckoning Kim into the room. Rikki closed the door behind her. "This isn't the good type of secret admirer."
"Is it the same person who sent the notes?" Kim asked innocently, sitting on the rug beside Emma.
"Cleo's been getting notes. I don't know who they were from, but she always threw them out. She tore up the first few, but I…." she cut herself off.
"You what, Kim?" Lewis prodded patiently.
"I kept some of the other ones."
"Go get them. Please."
Kim returned not a minute later with a handful of crinkled paper. Each was written on a piece of plain copy paper, torn in half, with the uneven shredded edge at the top. None of them were signed, but all agreed the handwriting matched the note from the letter in the envelope. They got progressively more disturbing:
Cleo, nothing has changed. Meet me and we can discuss options.
Cleo, we could work well together. Don't miss this opportunity.
Cleo, I know your secret. Don't forget about my offer.
Cleo, we're running out of time.
Cleo, I'm losing patience.
"Kim, when did these notes start arriving?" Emma asked.
"I dunno. Awhile ago, I guess. She got one every few weeks."
"Why didn't she say anything?" Rikki sighed.
"Maybe she…thought it wasn't a big deal?" Emma suggested. "But I don't see how! These notes are really scary. She was being stalked."
"Don't you think we should've…noticed?" Lewis asked. "I mean…there must've been signs."
"Well it's not like you've exactly been around enough to notice," Rikki accused under her breath. Lewis looked at her pleadingly, his expression one of not this again.
"I can't look at these anymore," Emma said finally.
"Me neither," Lewis whispered.
Emma gathered up the photographs and notes and tucked them back into the envelope.
"We need to give these to the police," she repeated.
"Just give us a day to look into this ourselves," Rikki pleaded. Glancing at Kim, she whispered to the others, "This…admirer knows."
Emma bit her lip, glancing from Rikki to Lewis, who still had his vacant eyes on the rug.
"Alright. So, we'll hang onto this until tomorrow?" she confirmed. Rikki and Lewis nodded, and Emma placed the envelope in Cleo's desk drawer. Just as the envelope was out of sight, Mrs. Sertori poked her head into the room.
"Kim? It's time for bed."
Kim didn't protest; dark circles under everyone's eyes betrayed the common weariness.
"And Don says you're all welcome to stay," Mrs. Sertori told the teenagers in her daughter's room. "Just…let your parents know where you are, please."
Kim followed her mother out of the room, and Emma pulled out her phone, stepping into the bathroom to call home. Rikki was already texting her dad. Lewis stood with a sigh, picking his own apparently indestructible phone off the floor. When they reconvened a few minutes later, the desk drawer with the envelope seemed to draw all of their attention, like some unknown horror they couldn't bear to see but couldn't possibly ignore. They stood facing it awkwardly until Rikki finally broke the silence.
"Someone knows our secret."
The other two nodded.
"What can we do?"
"No idea," Emma whispered.