Home > Vanishing Girls

Vanishing Girls
Author: Lauren Oliver




“Want to play?”

These are the three words I’ve heard most often in my life. Want to play? As four-year-old Dara bursts through the screen door, arms extended, flying into the green of our front yard without waiting for me to answer. Want to play? As six-year-old Dara slips into my bed in the middle of the night, her eyes wide and touched with moonlight, her damp hair smelling like strawberry shampoo. Want to play? Eight-year-old Dara chiming the bell on her bike; ten-year-old Dara fanning cards across the damp pool deck; twelve-year-old Dara spinning an empty soda bottle by the neck.

Sixteen-year-old Dara doesn’t wait for me to answer, either. “Scoot over,” she says, bumping her best friend Ariana’s thigh with her knee. “My sister wants to play.”

“There’s no room,” Ariana says, squealing when Dara leans into her. “Sorry, Nick.” They’re crammed with a half-dozen other people into an unused stall in Ariana’s parents’ barn, which smells like sawdust and, faintly, manure. There’s a bottle of vodka, half-empty, on the hard-packed ground, as well as a few six-packs of beer and a small pile of miscellaneous items of clothing: a scarf, two mismatched mittens, a puffy jacket, and Dara’s tight pink sweatshirt with Queen B*tch emblazoned across the back in rhinestones. It all looks like some bizarre ritual sacrifice laid out to the gods of strip poker.

“Don’t worry,” I say quickly. “I don’t need to play. I just came to say hi, anyway.”

Dara makes a face. “You just got here.”

Ariana smacks her cards faceup on the ground. “Three of a kind, kings.” She cracks a beer open, and foam bubbles up around her knuckles. “Matt, take off your shirt.”

Matt is a skinny kid with a slightly-too-big-nose look and the filmy expression of someone who is already on his way to being very drunk. Since he’s already in his T-shirt—black, with a mysterious graphic of a one-eyed beaver on the front—I can only assume the puffy jacket belongs to him. “I’m cold,” he whines.

“It’s either your shirt or your pants. You choose.”

Matt sighs and begins wriggling out of his T-shirt, showing off a thin back, constellated with acne.

“Where’s Parker?” I ask, trying to sound casual, then hating myself for having to try. But ever since Dara started . . . whatever she’s doing with him, it has become impossible to talk about my former best friend without feeling like a Christmas tree ornament has landed in the back of my throat.

Dara freezes in the act of redistributing the cards. But only for a second. She tosses a final card in Ariana’s direction and sweeps up a hand. “No idea.”

“I texted him,” I say. “He told me he was coming.”

“Yeah, well, maybe he left.” Dara’s dark eyes flick to mine, and the message is clear. Let it go. I guess they must be fighting again. Or maybe they’re not fighting, and that’s the problem. Maybe he refuses to play along.

“Dara’s got a new boyfriend,” Ariana says in a singsong, and Dara elbows her. “Well, you do, don’t you? A secret boyfriend.”

“Shut up,” Dara says sharply. I can’t tell whether she’s really mad or only pretending to be.

Ari fake-pouts. “Do I know him? Just tell me if I know him.”

“No way,” Dara says. “No hints.” She tosses down her cards and stands up, dusting off the back of her jeans. She’s wearing fur-trimmed wedge boots and a metallic shirt I’ve never seen before, which looks like it has been poured over her body and then left to harden. Her hair—recently dyed black, and blown out perfectly straight—looks like oil poured over her shoulders. As usual, I feel like the Scarecrow next to Dorothy. I’m wearing a bulky jacket Mom bought me four years ago for a ski trip to Vermont, and my hair, the unremarkable brown of mouse poop, is pulled back in its trademark ponytail.

“I’m getting a drink,” Dara says, even though she’s been having beer. “Anyone want?”

“Bring back some mixers,” Ariana says.

Dara gives no indication that she’s heard. She grabs me by the wrist and pulls me out of the horse stall and into the barn, where Ariana—or her mom?—has set up a few folding tables covered with bowls of chips and pretzels, guacamole, packaged cookies. There’s a cigarette butt stubbed out in a container of guacamole, and cans of beer floating around in an enormous punch bowl full of half-melted ice, like ships trying to navigate the Arctic.

It seems as if most of Dara’s grade has come out tonight, and about half of mine—even if seniors don’t usually deign to crash a junior party, second semester seniors never miss any opportunity to celebrate. Christmas lights are strung between the horse stalls, only three of which contain actual horses: Misty, Luciana, and Mr. Ed. I wonder if any of the horses are bothered by the thudding bass from the music, or by the fact that every five seconds a drunk junior is shoving his hand across the gate, trying to get the horse to nibble Cheetos from his hand.

The other stalls, the ones that aren’t piled with old saddles and muck rakes and rusted farm equipment that has somehow landed and then expired here—even though the only thing Ariana’s mom farms is money from her three ex-husbands—are filled with kids playing drinking games or grinding on each other, or, in the case of Jake Harris and Aubrey O’Brien, full-on making out. The tack room, I’ve been informed, has been unofficially claimed by the stoners.

The big sliding barn doors are open to the night, and frigid air blows in from outside. Down the hill, someone is trying to get a bonfire started in the riding rink, but there’s a light rain tonight, and the wood won’t catch.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
» Beautifully Broken series
» Falling series
Most Popular
» Fall (VIP #3)
» A Strange Hymn (The Bargainer #2)
» Dark Harmony (The Bargainer #3)
» Hard Sell (21 Wall Street #2)
» Close to the Bone (Widow's Island #1)
» A Bone to Pick (Widow's Island #2)
» Professor Feelgood (Masters of Love #2)
» Trailer Park Heart
» Once Upon a Sure Thing (Heartbreakers #2)
» Muffin Top (The Hartigans #2)