Ten runaways. That's what the police are calling them.
Ten teenagers have disappeared from our town this year, and it's only June. I gaze out the window of the aging café, the chipped, pale, magnolia paint making it look borderline derelict, but the food is good. It's summer, but the weather hasn't gotten the memo. Dark gray clouds swirl in the sky, threatening rain again. It's been like that all day, short smatterings of drizzle. Rain that fizzles out as quickly as it appears. We have a long, school-free summer stretching out in front of us before our senior year. But we won't be able to have any fun if the weather doesn't get with the program.
"Piper, another one bites the dust," Hazel says, waving a news article on her phone at me from across the table. She pushes her shoulder-length, dark curly hair behind her ear. "Look."
ELEVENTH TEEN RUNAWAY.
"Who is it this time?"
"Lucie Bean, sixteen years old. Same age as us again. She lives about thirty minutes away. Last seen two days ago outside Huck's Café with friends. It says she left on her own but never made it home."
We live in Mauveton, population 5,839. It's a densely populated but small town with nothing to do, and the biggest city near us is more than an hour away, which makes it one of the most boring places on earth.
But still, eleven runaways in seven months seems high.
They've all completely vanished without a trace. "Where did Lucie go to school, Hazel?"
"Wow. Isn't that, like, the third person from that school?" I chew on my lip as I reach for her phone, so I can read the whole article.
"What are you thinking?" she asks, her eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"I'm thinking it's only a matter of time before someone we've shared a classroom with disappears." There's always been a high percentage of people taking off from this dead-end town, but over the last year or so, it has gotten worse. Much worse.
Hazel puts her phone down and drops her hands to the table on either side of her plate of fries—fries that she ordered for breakfast. Gross. "You seriously think they're missing, like someone has taken them, and they haven't just run away?"
"If people are going to take off from here, they tend to do it when they're eighteen. The number of younger runaways is multiplying. Don't you think something is very wrong with that?"
She chews another fry and swallows. "Maybe. The cops don't seem to share your concerns."
I shrug at her comment. "Well, they probably know better than me."
"I don't know... What if you're right? What if they don't think anything strange is going on?" She's playing devil's advocate here.
But what are we supposed to do about it? Just because I love watching mystery movies and TV shows doesn't mean I'm qualified to find actual, real-life missing people.
Potentially missing people.
"What do you recommend we do, Hazel?"
"Duh. We can try to find them."
Oh, simple as that. "How?"
"By acting like average teenagers." Lifting her eyebrows, she looks at me in triumph. "We're going to go to parties and hang out with them...wherever they hang out."
"I'm not following you here."
She rolls her dark brown eyes. "To find teens, we need to live like teens. Stereotypical ones, I mean. I don't think we count."
Hazel has a good point. Neither of us are extroverts. We spend most of our time hanging out at my house or hers, watching rom-coms after creepy mystery and thriller movies.
"We definitely don't count," I confirm.
"We're going to change that."
"Why? I mean, why are you deciding to try and figure this thing out, Haze?"
Tilting her head to the side, she replies, "What else are we going to do all summer?"
Well, nothing. Maybe we won't find anything, or maybe we'll discover where these people have run away to.
But either way, it seems like a maybe we'll end up having a decent summer instead of spending the whole time indoors.