Memories disguised as dreams woke me up halfway through the night after Nicky Wright’s death and Patrick Longmeier’s return to Juniper.
I lay awake in the dark, Patrick’s presence so strong he could have been there next to me, his hand reaching out across the space between us.
Juniper High School, ten years ago:
Patrick wore the confidence of someone to whom life comes easy. He had the numbers to back it up. From batting average to touchdown records and AP scores to a position as student body president, this guy was going places.
I, on the other hand, was going only as far as my own confidence would take me. In high school, that meant I remained behind the scenes as editor of the Miner, our high school newspaper. I wanted nothing more than to be a star reporter, but at the time, I couldn’t muster up the courage to put a byline in ink.
A newsroom is at once the best and the worst place for a romance to take root.
I met Patrick Longmeier in the Miner’s newsroom junior year and our relationship was at once a triumph and a disaster.
The big story that year was the senior class and its ongoing pranks. First, they filled the pool with goldfish. Then, they repeatedly kidnapped Hettie, the guinea pig Mr. Braun kept as a class pet, and placed her cage in different spots: on the roof of the principal’s office, hanging from the flagpole, floating in the pool (from which the goldfish had been removed).
Patrick took these pranks very seriously, working his sources to get a lead on what would happen next, so he could capture it on film and in print as soon as possible.
I, on the other hand, found them amusing but feigned interest in the surprise produce the cafeteria ladies would stock in the salad bar each day (on rare occasions it was kiwi, but most often it was bell pepper).
As the editor of the Miner, I noticed Patrick only because of his propensity to overuse commas.
The two of us rarely had occasion to speak, and when we did, it was only in passing.
Surprisingly, our schoolmates created an incongruity that baffled both of us: instead of talking to Patrick, they sought me out with inside information.
Patrick probably wouldn’t have noticed me—Rosie Taylor in the wallflower uniform of jeans and a black t-shirt—but one day, I got a tip on the senior prank story (yes, it was Lady Luck showing her face even back then).
Tammy Beckett, a senior girl who shared my affinity for orange slices on spinach salad, whispered during lunch, “You work for the newspaper, right?”
The present-day Rosie Taylor would perk up at this, but the high school version of me shrugged and nodded while shoveling a bite of spinach into my mouth.
“Want a tip?”
I shrugged. Again. It’s not that I was indifferent; I was thrilled she was offering. But my reticence prevented me from showing it.
I’d later learn that the ability to act somewhat disinterested is often the catalyst sources need to spill their biggest secrets.
“Next prank’s tonight,” Tammy said. “They’re stealing street signs. Stop signs, yield signs, speed limit signs.”
Tammy speared an orange slice beneath a few spinach leaves and took a bite of her salad. She chewed and chewed. It took her a long time to answer. She had probably read that same article in Health class, which said you should chew each bite at least twenty times. She said, “And they’re putting them all over school. You know, like the walkways are roads.”
I couldn’t deny it was clever.
“Thanks,” I said.
Later that day, in journalism class, I overheard Patrick talking to our advisor, Mr. Crane.
“I mean, I know it’s not like we’re not going to have an exclusive,” he said. “But I’d love some action photos, you know? This is the most-talked-about senior class ever, but they’re not doing the talking. I can’t catch them in action.”
I’d just come into the classroom and was counting copies of the paper to be delivered to each homeroom class. He was so obviously frustrated. So I blurted out my little piece of news, not knowing I was getting myself into.
“Tonight,” I said. “They’re stealing street signs and putting them up at the school.”
Patrick looked at me, mouth open.
“How do you know?”
I shrugged. “I can’t say.”
Tammy hadn’t said as much, but I’d seen enough TV to know a reporter doesn’t reveal her sources.
“When?” Patrick said. “Where?”
“Ten p.m.,” I said. “At the Wild West shopping center.”
Patrick stood up then, looking somewhat unsure of himself. He glanced wildly around the room, obviously in search of something important.
“Where’s Eleanor?” he said, and I realized he was searching for someone, not something.
“Out sick,” I said, and only then did it dawn on me that I had more information than I realized. “Strep throat. It’s going around.”
“Eleanor’s the only one who’ll go with me,” he said.
“Take Rosie,” Mr. Crane said. He was distracted, scouring some website for a new template for the school newspaper.
Patrick and I looked at each other.
“Rosie?” he said.
“Me?” I said.
Mr. Crane turned around and looked at each of us in turn. Then he shrugged as if this were no big deal, as if he weren’t setting into motion a series of events that would leave me permanently scarred.
Patrick and I met at nine forty-five at the Taco Shack across the street from the Wild West shopping center. He thought the early meeting time meant we could find a vantage point from which to watch the sign stealing. I thought it meant I could buy a churro.
I had a plan, which I hadn’t yet told Patrick.
Although he opened the door for me, he didn’t come inside. Instead, he waited on the sidewalk, arms crossed, toes tapping, checking and re-checking his camera.
“Patience is a virtue,” I told him as I came back outside, churro in hand.
“Let’s go,” he said, jerking his head toward the Wild West. As we crossed the street, he looked at his watch. “We have seven minutes.”
“I have a plan,” I said, realizing I sounded both annoyingly cryptic and reasonably self-assured.
“I’m sure you do,” he said, and I stopped myself from saying, “Just wait and see, asshole.”
Instead, I said, “Follow me.”
We walked into the movie theater, and my friend Charlie Winn grinned from his spot behind the counter. “Never thought I’d see you walking into a movie theater with Patrick Longmeier,” he said.
At that moment, Charlie wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know. Patrick and I were from two different worlds. I shrugged at Charlie. Because at that moment, I didn’t care. I’d later learn that comments like Charlie’s were the reason I’d experience massive heartbreak.
Charlie unlocked the door at one end of the lobby, and motioned for us to go through it. I went first, and after shooting me a quizzical look (or maybe one that implied that I was crazy), Patrick followed me.
We emerged on the roof of the movie theater, with a view of the Wild West shopping center in its entirety.
Patrick lifted his camera, panned the area below us, and whistled.
“I have to admit, Taylor,” he said. “This is more than I expected from you.”
He lowered the camera and looked over at me. It’s easy to guess what happened then: the world stopped turning, the angels sang, and I had hearts in my eyes.
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.
What really happened is that I noticed Patrick—really noticed him—for the very first time. His eyes were a brown so dark they were almost black, and they twinkled in the starlight. A dusting of freckles sprinkled across his nose. His teeth were just slightly crooked, and I couldn’t help but smile back at him.
“I think I love you, Rosie.”
That snapped me out of my reverie. I winked at him. “It’s ten. See anything?”
He grinned at me and raised the camera again. “Twelve o’clock.”
I heard the shutter open and close several times. Patrick chuckled. “Well, hot damn. I can’t believe you pulled this off, Taylor.”
Little did I know I’d fall in love with that chuckle, with the way he said my name, with the way he grinned at me like we were co-conspirators.
Back in the present day:
I looked at the clock. Two a.m. I’d left the Bugle only three hours ago, writing straight up to the deadline, Midge Barkley breathing her smoke-scented breath down my neck, looking over my shoulder. She didn’t care if I drank on deadline, and I paused every few minutes for a nip.
When we’d finally finished checking the proofs, sending the paper to print, Midge had jerked her head at the back door, and I followed her out to the patio for a cigarette.
“So tell me,” she said, her voice gravelly as she offered me a light. “What was that phone call you got today?”
Not what I was expecting.
“Patrick Longmeier,” I said.
“Sounds like a disease.”
“Sort of. He’s a guy I dated in high school.” The guy I dated in high school.
“So?” she said.
“So, he’s back. He’s in Juniper. And he’s working at the Daily.”
“No shit, huh?” Midge said on an exhale.
“No shit,” I said. I inhaled.
“So what’s the big deal? Put on your big girl panties and we’ll show him what’s what.”
“Easy for you to say,” I said. “He decimated my heart, Midge. Right down to a pulp. When I saw him today at the scene, I didn’t know whether to laugh or throw up.”
“You’ve heard the story about Patsy Grey, right?” Midge shook her head and took another drag. The end of her cigarette glowed orange.
“Just snippets,” I said. “I know you two, like, hate each other. But I never knew why. I figured it’s just because you’re competitors.”
“Oh, my dear,” Midge said. “It’s so much more than that. That woman has been a thorn in my side—no, a bullet in my gut—for the past twenty years.”
“What’d she do?” I said.
“What did she not do, more like,” Midge said. “Long story short, she and I were business partners and she screwed me over. I’ve hated her guts ever since.”
“Details?” I said, but Midge was already crushing her cigarette, quite forcefully, against the edge of the ashtray.
“Sorry, Honey. It’s late. I’ll have to give you the details later.”
No wonder Midge was always such a Rottweiler when it came to beating the Daily News on stories. Now we’d have double the reason to do so.
And it all started tomorrow, I thought as the numbers on my digital alarm clock switched over to three a.m.
Patrick Longmeier and I would grace separate front pages in the morning, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the layout. Which photo would The Daily News use? Midge had insisted the Bugle run the photo with the crime scene tape. So cliché.
(“It’s not cliché, Rosie. It’s classic.”)
This would be the first indicator of how I would fare with Patrick as my competitor. Which paper would sell more copies? Which would get more attention?
Gram had no way of knowing I’d stayed up until almost four thinking about the Nicky Wright story—and Patrick—but still, I felt the tiniest bit irritated when she texted me just after nine.
Just saw your story—and that Patrick’s, too. Yours was better written, by far. He may have included just a few more details, too. Such as: did you know Nicky Wright loved Skee-Ball? I have a feeling that’s going to play out as a major storyline, here.
I groaned and responded: Thanks, Gram. Late night. I’ll stop by later.
Then I flopped onto my back and put my hands over my face. Skee-Ball? How was that even relevant?
A few hours later, I picked up a couple of sandwiches at Stacked, Gram’s favorite deli.
“Special delivery,” I called when I let myself into her house. “Pastrami on rye with pickles. And a bottle of Fireball.”
“You keep the Fireball,” Gram said. “I have a feeling you’re going to need it. Besides, I’ve got this bottle of rum, here.”
“You’ve barely touched it since yesterday,” I said. “Or is that a new bottle?”
Gram shrugged. “I just haven’t had the taste for it.”
“Ergo,” I said, twisting the lid off the bottle, “the Fireball.”
She waved it off and unwrapped her sandwich. “So. Why did you have such a late night?”
“Deadline,” I said. “Murder. You know.”
“Nah,” she said. “A deadline night for you is ten, maybe eleven. A late night for you is two, maybe three a.m. Which tells me it was not a late night, but a sleepless night.”
She took a bite and waited for me to speak. I didn’t want her to know I’d been thinking about Patrick all night, so I took a bite of my own sandwich, a turkey, bacon, and avocado with provolone.
“Have you seen much of this Patrick fellow?” she said.
“No,” I said. “Just yesterday. What does that have to do with anything?”
“It’s just interesting, is all,” she said.
“Why is it interesting?”
Instead of answering, she took another bite. I waited her out, but she didn’t answer.
So I said, “Gram. Why did you say Nicky Wright had it coming? Do you know something you’re not telling me?”
“Not exactly,” she said.
“This is all very vague,” I said.
“I just want you to pay attention,” Gram said, repeating her words from the day before.
Feeling sarcastic, I added, “Very careful attention.”
She nodded. “Precisely.”