Chelsea glanced back to Violet and wrinkled her nose as she looked at the shoes Violet had on. “I don’t like them,” she stated in her matter-of-fact tone, all traces of the baby talk long gone.
Violet shook her head. “Me neither.”
The shopping trip had been meant to distract Violet from thinking about the recently discovered dead bodies. There was something about the two dead girls, something besides concerns over her own safety, that kept her feeling on edge.
She assumed that was natural considering that she’d been responsible for finding the girl in the lake. But she was struggling to concentrate on even the simplest of tasks, even one as easy as shopping.
Jules appeared then, practically from out of nowhere, carrying an armload of shoe boxes. “Here,” she insisted, handing Violet two boxes. “I found you the perfect pair. I wasn’t sure how the sizes ran, so I got you a seven and a seven and half.” Then she turned to Chelsea. “These are for you.” One box. Apparently she was pretty certain about the size. “Hey, A-D-D,” she called out to Claire, “come over and try these on.” She set two identical-looking boxes on a chair that she’d obviously designated for Claire.
And then she sat down in an empty seat and waited impatiently.
“What about you? Aren’t you going to pick out a pair for yourself?” Chelsea asked Jules.
“I’m done. In the time you guys wasted looking for the ‘perfect’ shoe, I found mine and all of yours. I even paid already…. They’re holding them up at the counter for me.” She leaned forward in her chair, balancing her elbows on her knees, which were spread apart, making her look extremely out of place in the upscale ladies’ shoe department.
There wasn’t a feminine bone in Jules Oquist’s body, although you wouldn’t necessarily know it from her outward appearance. It wasn’t until she moved, or spoke, or pretty much even breathed, that you couldn’t help but notice what a tomboy the athletic girl really was. Outwardly, however, she was kind of pretty. But unlike Chelsea or the other girls, Jules didn’t try to be. Hers was an understated prettiness that didn’t need makeup or hair dryers. She had great coloring, soft honey-colored hair, and generously full lips. But that was where any comparisons to the female gender ended. This extended shopping trip wasn’t exactly her cup of tea.
Chelsea opened her box and her eyes widened in surprise. “Oh my God, they’re exactly what I’ve been looking for,” she breathed. Chelsea plopped down in one of the overstuffed chairs and slid her foot into the delicate silver sandal, looking like Cinderella. And just as in the fairy tale, it fit perfectly. “Thanks, Jules.” Chelsea beamed, thrilled by her friend’s choice.
Violet opened hers next, curious now to see how Jules had fared for her.
She hadn’t been exactly ecstatic about going to the Homecoming Dance with Grady, but she had to admit she’d had a blast choosing a dress, and now, finding the right shoes to go with it. The strappy black sandals inside the box were striking. And even though Violet hadn’t thought of wearing sandals, now that she saw them, she knew they would look great with her simple, elegant black dress. She loved the strap that crossed over the front of the ankle and clasped together with a subtle jeweled buckle on the side. The first pair she tried on was exactly her size.
So far, Jules was two for two.
Claire was next, and she was having a hard time waiting for her turn. As soon as Violet agreed that she had found her shoes, Claire dug into her box.
They were all a little surprised by the bold choice…a pair of shiny, red, patent leather, peep-toe pumps.
“What’s up, Julia?” Chelsea asked, knowing that Jules hated to be called by her given name. “Have you gone all girlie on us?”
Jules looked offended by the mere suggestion and gave Chelsea a disgusted look. “I just wanted to give you guys a kick in the ass to move things along. Anything wrong with that?”
“Not at all,” Claire sighed breathlessly, looking at the shoes and not at Jules at all. “These are…they’re…hot,” she finally said, finding the right word.
They were pretty hot, Violet thought, and they would look amazing with Claire’s shoulder-baring halter dress.
Three for three was pretty impressive, especially for a girl who professed to hate shopping.
Jules stood up and stretched gracelessly. “Let’s hurry up and pay before she”—she indicated Claire with a flick of her thumb—“sees something shiny and we lose her again.”
Violet was fine with the suggestion.
The mall was crowded for a Friday night, and because of that Violet had noticed at least a couple of sensory inputs that were strangely out of place in the shopping environment. With two girls found dead so recently, she seemed to be acutely aware of everything out of the ordinary lately, as if she were searching for the echoes, even in the most mundane places.
She’d recognized one, in particular. It was the odd scent of seawater coming from an older, distinguished-looking gentleman who was shopping with his wife in the shoe department. She only noticed it when he walked right by her, and she doubted that the smell had anything to do with the ocean at all. It was old, probably very old, and she wondered if the man had fought in a war in his lifetime. Or if he’d once been a hunter.
Either way, she doubted he was the killer.
After they paid and left the department store, Violet and her friends decided to grab a bite to eat. Chelsea talked them into trying a Thai restaurant just down the street from the mall. Violet didn’t need to be convinced. One thing she wasn’t picky about was food—the more exotic the better. She especially liked anything that wasn’t frozen lasagna or pizza delivery.