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Authors: Jessie Rosen

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September
5

Laura

 

By Friday afternoon, people had
mostly stopped greeting Laura’s face with awkward stares, but Charlie didn’t
seem to fall into that category. He’d gone from friendly to standoffish since
that first English class, and Laura assumed it must have something to do with
Amanda’s “word” with him on the first day of school. Since that moment, Charlie
had backpedaled on being the friendly Big Man on Campus. He wasn’t exactly
ignoring Laura, but he and his friends were suddenly very busy over lunch.
Luckily, she had found a place to hide out for the half hour.

On Wednesday morning of that first week, Laura found the
activities bulletin board posted outside the guidance counselor's office. Smack
dab in the middle was a piece of white paper with the words “
THE CHRONICLE
NEEDS SMART PEOPLE THAT LIKE TO
WRITE. INSANE SCHEDULE & WE WORK OVER LUNCH. DON’T COME IF THAT’S A
DEALBREAKER
.”

Laura didn’t know who wrote that sign, but they seemed to
have exactly the kind of bold personality she was looking for more of in her
life.

Becca Asher, editor in chief of
The Englewood Chronicle
,
EHS’s weekly student newspaper, did not disappoint. Not only was she feisty,
independent, and clearly whip-smart, but she was also only a sophomore.
Apparently the student-run paper was defunct before she arrived—no one in
their generation read anything that didn’t come to them via text, and no upperclassmen
had stepped in to take it over. Within the first two minutes of the
Chronicle
info session, Laura learned that Becca’s mom was the editor of the county’s
largest paper,
The Chronicle
would soon be in print
and
online,
and everyone in the room had two articles due tomorrow.

 “So, if you’re still standing in this room, you start
right now,” Becca said, making Laura like her even more.

Becca was a Lois Lane-type shrunken down into a four-foot-eleven
Filipino frame. She dressed exclusively in jeans and T-shirts, ate her weight
in junk food that never seemed to affect her tiny build, and rarely spoke in
complete sentences. She was the polar opposite to Laura—the former people
pleaser—which was one of the reasons Laura loved her instantly. The other?
Becca was immediately honest about the meaning behind all those strange stares.

“You’re that girl everyone’s talking about,” she said within
seconds of the new
Chronicle
staff’s first lunch session.

“Yeah, if only I knew what they were saying,” Laura replied.

“You look like Sarah Castro-Tanner.” Becca said it so
matter-of-factly that Laura almost didn't realize it was the first time she was
finally hearing an explanation.

“Who’s Sarah Castro-Tanner?” she asked.

Becca's face fell, but she plowed through whatever
thoughts were behind that feeling.


Was
,” Becca corrected. “Killed herself a year and a
half ago.”

“Oh my God…” Laura said. “That’s…awful.”

“Gets worse,” Becca said. “First suicide on record in this
lily-white Disneyworld of a town.”

 “Does anyone know why she killed herself?” Laura
asked.

“No,” Becca said, “not really. And you definitely won’t get
anyone to talk about it.”

Laura understood. There was something about a suicide that
made people more nervous than a murder. With a murder, there was someone to
blame. With a suicide, you can't face the killer and ask,
why?
Or
what could I have done to prevent this?
Or more importantly
could this
happen to me, too?
It was clear that, in Englewood, people preferred things
neat and tidy, not in any way out of control.

Charlie clearly fit that description, and yet Laura couldn’t
seem to shake the fact that she totally adored him. By the end of English class
on Friday morning, she had to stop herself from visibly swooning.

“Okay, I’ve struck out five out of five times on
understanding a word O’Malley is saying today,” Charlie complained. “She is
speaking English, correct?” Laura knew that he was trying to focus on anything
other than the fact that they’d just been awkwardly paired to dissect love
letters exchanged between poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett before
their marriage. It was like the cosmos knew how Laura felt about him and wanted
to have a little fun. Laura wondered whether the cosmos was, in fact, an
incredibly observant English teacher.

“Once you’ve finished interpreting the words, I want you to
rewrite them in modern English and present them before the class,” Ms. O’Malley
said. Laura wondered if the entire class could hear her heart start beating out
of her chest at that addition to the assignment. The last thing she needed was
more eyes on her, though the chance to work with Charlie turned some of those anxious
nerves into excited ones.

 “Just to warn you, the only acting I’ve done was a
play in
fifth grade,” he said, “and I don’t think there’s much in
common between Cowboy Number Two and this Robert Browning dude.”

“It’s okay. Everyone will just be staring at my face
anyway,” Laura said.

Charlie looked back at her as if he was trying to decide
whether he could pretend he hadn’t heard what she just said.

“Curse of the new girl?” he said.

“No,” she said. “Haven’t you heard?” She lowered her voice.
“I guess I look like that girl who died. Sarah Castro-Tanner.”

Charlie’s face froze, like he was shocked to hear someone
say that name out loud.

“Yeah. I heard some people talking about that,” he said
eventually, “but I think they’re exaggerating.” His tone was kind, and Laura
loved the fact that the comment implied he’d been looking at her pretty closely
over the past few days.

 “Did you know Sarah?” Laura asked. She couldn’t resist
the chance to hear someone talk more about this mysterious doppelgänger, and why
Amanda wanted Charlie to avoid her because of the connection.

“Nah,” he said. “She kept to herself.”

“Suicide is so terrible,” Laura said. “I can imagine how
hard it was for everyone in school that year.”

“It was,” Charlie said, “but it’s not fair that you have to
deal with it now.”

The sweet look on Charlie’s face made it clear that he felt
genuinely sorry for her; that maybe if it were up to him, he wouldn’t be
staying so far away. Laura was wildly curious about what else Charlie had to
say, but she didn’t want to push him too far on the issue—not while he
was finally warming up again.

“Let’s get into this project,” she said instead. “We can’t
embarrass ourselves up there when we present.”

Thirty minutes later, Laura found herself standing in the
front of the room reading an insanely romantic love letter to Charlie Sanders—the
single most gorgeous boy in the senior class, if not the entire town. In that
moment, none of the rest of the weirdness between them mattered to Laura, and
from the completely captivated look on Charlie’s face as he read his lines to
her, she thought there was a chance he might agree.

Laura spent the rest of that afternoon in the newspaper
office trying to concentrate on the story she was researching.

“Some kids are pushing for a crew team. Principal Hayden
claims none of the rivers in town are safe to row on. Look into it,” Becca said
through a mouth full of crumb cake at the beginning of their meeting.

 Laura tried to focus on the assignment, but she
couldn’t stop thinking about Charlie—the way his lips parted and came
together when he was reading the love letters earlier in class, how tight his
shoulder muscles were against the long-sleeved T-shirt he was wearing, and that
one curl of hair on the crown of his head that flipped in the opposite
direction of all the others.
This is trouble
, Laura told herself.
It’s
the first week of school, and he’s clearly taken
.

She forced herself to shove all the Charlie images out of
her head as she continued on with her research, entering a few search terms
into the news database. She watched as dozens of links related to the term “safe
+ river

popped up. The top result on the page was the last line Laura
expected to see:
Local Girl Takes Own Life in Freezing Navesink River.
It
was
her
story.

 

via
The Asbury Park Press

 

Englewood, NJ — The ritzy commuter
town of Englewood is shocked today by reports that fifteen-year-old student
Sarah Castro-Tanner may have taken her own life with a plunge off the abandoned
freight train tracks into the icy Navesink River.
 
Castro-Tanner’s parents, Jim Castro and Alice
Tanner, both longtime Englewood residents, reported that the teen went out at
6:00 p.m. on the night she went missing to go see a movie. They called police
when she did not return by the next morning. Forty-eight hours later at
approximately 11:00 a.m., articles of clothing matching her parents’
description washed up where the riverbank meets the Hazlet inlet.
 
“We are exploring this from every angle,
including a suicide,” a spokesman for the Monmouth County sheriff’s office told
The Press
. “We have yet to discover a body. However, we’ve
estimated that river temperatures were twelve degrees overnight. A body between
100 and 150 pounds loses consciousness after approximately ten minutes in below-freezing
water, and death from hypothermia can follow just fifteen minutes after.
Currents of the Navesink and proximity to the Atlantic inlet also mean a body would
move out to sea very quickly. Further investigation is, of course, ongoing.”
 
The spokesman also reported that police collected
evidence of Castro-Tanner’s fingerprints along the railing of the bridge, which
sits over thirty feet above the river. Hers were the only fingerprints found. The
Castro-Tanners have requested privacy regarding the matter, promising to update
through the sheriff’s office following an investigation.

 

Laura’s mind filled with questions the moment she finished
reading the article, but one kept sticking out:
why did the town
assume Sarah was gone?

For the next thirty minutes, she was caught in a spiral of internet
searching. She read at least a half-dozen other cases where bodies were
presumed to have washed out to sea—bodies from murders, accidents, or suspected
suicides like Sarah’s story. In each case, police assumed the person would
never be found, but sport divers or fisherman ultimately discovered them every
time, sometimes years later. According to this article, it had only been eighteen
months since Sarah disappeared. Laura couldn’t think about the poor girl’s body
slowly freezing without getting chills all over her own body.

Laura went back to the original article she’d stumbled upon
and stared at the screen, fixated on Sarah’s sophomore yearbook picture. She
didn’t exactly see the connection that everyone else saw, but it made sense
that the whole school was affected by someone that even remotely resembled
Sarah; her story was totally tragic.

Then Laura noticed that the article featured a whole
gallery of images from Sarah’s life. She clicked through to find one of eleven-year-old
Sarah holding up a watercolor painting of a goldfish, eight-year-old Sarah
blowing out the candles on her chocolate-chip-cookie birthday cake, and Sarah
around age five, riding on her dad’s shoulders as they walked through an
amusement park. Every single Sarah had curly black hair, stark-white skin, and
deep brown eyes, and every single Sarah wore the exact same expression on her face:
loneliness.

“Everything okay?”

Laura’s stomach jumped as she whipped around in her chair.
Charlie.

“Sorry to startle you,” he said. “Are you in here all
alone?”

She looked around. Apparently she’d been too wrapped up in
the article to notice that Becca was gone.

“I guess so,” she said, quickly wiping her eyes. If she’d
gained any ground with Charlie earlier, looking like an emotional mess would
certainly send her back to square one. “I was just reading about—”

“Yeah, I see that,” Charlie said. His eyes were fixed on the
picture of Sarah blown up on the computer screen behind her. The gallery had
flipped back to that first photo, fifteen-year-old Sarah. Laura realized that
it was the version of Sarah that Charlie would have last seen, which probably
explained why his face was now the color of chalk.

“I started reading, and I couldn’t stop,” she explained. “I
guess I feel sort of connected to her because…you know…”

Charlie nodded silently.

“Can I ask you something?”

Charlie nodded, though a little nervously, Laura thought.

“Do you think I look like her?” He clearly didn’t know what
to say, and Laura couldn’t blame him. It was an awkward question to ask.

“I think everyone has a doppelgänger,” he finally said. “And
I’m really sorry that yours happens to be her, but it’s not your fault.”

Laura nodded. “I just feel bad that I’m reminding people of
this awful story,” she said. “It seems like there are so many unanswered
questions.”

“Yeah,” Charlie said. “I guess.”

Laura could tell that the topic was making him
uncomfortable, which was the absolute last thing she wanted.

“Anyway. Sorry. Hi. How did you know to find me here?” Laura
finally said.

“Kit said she heard you signed up to work on the paper. I
didn’t even know we had a paper, but that’s cool that you’re into writing.”

“Yeah, I worked on the school paper back home, so…” Laura
could tell that he’d come here for something specific, but was currently
reconsidering whatever that had been.

“Right. Cool. Well I, um…I wanted to invite you to Jeff Haskell’s
party tonight. He always does one on the first Friday we’re back at school. His
parents don’t care, so it’s pretty cool.” Then Charlie paused. It was almost
like he was reading her mind. “I know everyone’s been weird to you this week,
but I still think you should come.”

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