Zach refused to look at her. They walked down the alley behind his house, looking for answers. After being told they’re main suspects, Zach had gotten quiet. Nova had the opposite reaction, springing out of her seat and screaming incoherently about the unfairness of the situation. To her it was clear: she knew that she hadn’t done it, and although she didn’t know Zach well, she figured he’d never betray his family. Anyone who saw the misery on his face would know. Somehow compelled by their argument, the police had given them a day to exonerate themselves, installing trackers on their phones to ensure there’d be no escaping. Nova didn’t understand Zach’s quietness, she could barely contain her anxiety.
“I can’t believe they only gave us 24 hours. How are we supposed to do their job in 24 hours?” she asked, eager to provoke some reaction. There was none. “If they can’t solve it after years of training, how are we supposed to?” Silence. “You know,” she added, “the worst part about this is we still have to do homewor-”
“Did you do it?” he asked quietly, looking at her sadly. Although he asked calmly, the implications of his words were loud. She didn’t know why but she suddenly felt angry. After all they went through, how could he think that?
“Zach, are you serious?”
“I have to be. I need to know it’s not you.”
“Would I be here if it was?”
“Maybe. I don’t know who to trust.”
“Trust me,” she took his hand. He looked down at their intertwined fingers. “I’m trying to clear my name as much as you are. I wouldn’t do something like that.”
Zach nodded. Nova wasn’t sure if her words were enough but he wasn’t arguing.
“So what exactly are we looking for?” he asked.
Nova didn’t have a clue. “Any sign that someone was here on the night of the murder. Maybe they left something.”
“Like a glass slipper?”
“No, idiot,” Nova said, stopping in front of one of her paintings. “Something murdery.”
Zach stopped beside her, admiring the art with a small smile. “You’re good.”
“I know,” she said, blushing. “But my favorite painting got ruined.”
“That one?” he asked, pointing to the one he'd helped fix.
She nodded, glancing at the non-artistic spray of blue they had left on the wall. She could still see the smear of red underneath.
“Are you still hellbent on killing the perpetrator?” Zach supplied.
The use of “killing” was harsh, but–
“How could I be so dumb?” Suddenly it all fit into place. Her heart thundered and her throat dried.
“Care to fill me in?”
“The smudge. No one walks in this alley at night. They wouldn’t be here unless they had a reason. The murderer did this. They messed up my art on the way to your house.”
“That could be from anyone or even an animal,” Zach said a mix of skepticism and hope on his face.
“I don’t think so,” she said, stopping at his doorstep. There rested a bouquet of white flowers, identical to the Valentine’s grams being sold at school. As Zach moved to pick them up, a card fell out.