THE SAMPLING: A Trio of Sophies

By Eileen Merriman

Eileen Merriman has been a constant fixture in the Aotearoa YA scene since the 2017 release of her debut, Pieces of You. Each of her books has taken an unflinching approach towards teenage lives and their associated challenges and issues. This week, her latest book, A Trio of Sophies, has hit shelves, and here are the first few chapters to get you hooked.

Day 64

Today is the first of September, the first day of spring, and it’s been sixty-four days since I last saw Sophie Abercrombie. It’s been sixty-four days since anyone saw Sophie Abercrombie.

The prettiest Sophie.

The missing Sophie.

It’s been sixty-four days since anyone saw Sophie Abercrombie.

The Trio of Sophies is no more. When was the last time I had to explain about us? Perhaps to the police: ‘Sophie Twiggs is Sophie T, Twiggy to her friends.’ I remember telling them that she’s the sporty one, a bit like Sporty Spice from a pop band my mum used to listen to when she was in high school. The female officer smiled at that. ‘I’m Sophie M, Sophie MacKenzie, Mac to my friends,’ I went on, but didn’t add what I always think at this point: that I’m plain-Jane Sophie — not too pretty, not too sporty, but smarter than both other Sophies combined. It’s true — all I care about is getting good enough marks to get into medical school, so I can study to be a forensic pathologist. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

The police kept asking when I last saw Sophie A, so I had to tell them what I had witnessed.

The last time I saw Sophie A, she was kissing James Bacon. She could have any guy she wanted, but she was kissing an English teacher who was eight years older than her. Was. Is. I hope it’s is.

Thanks to Mr Bacon, I know the difference between past and present tense.

Day 63

It’s been sixty-three days since Sophie A went missing, and her picture is still all over the newspapers and on the TV. People are seeing her in all sorts of places, strolling along Piha beach or down Queen Street and even on the Gold Coast of Australia. But every time the police try to chase a lead, it comes to nothing.

I read somewhere that most crimes are committed by someone the victim knows, which I guess is why the cops have been talking to Mr Bacon and Dave Williams, Sophie A’s stepfather. Not to mention half of year thirteen at Eastbrook High, including yours truly.

Of course the police talked to me and Twiggy. We’re Sophie A’s best friends, after all. We didn’t have much to say, apart from me telling them about Sophie A kissing Mr Bacon, which I offered up straight away. The kissing thing happened the day Sophie A went missing.

Of course the police talked to me and Twiggy. We’re Sophie A’s best friends, after all.

But who knows if Sophie going missing had anything to do with Mr Bacon. How would I know? I don’t know anything. I’m just trying to keep my head down and study. This business has tossed the whole community upside down. I wish it could just return to normal. I’m going to screw up my exams at this rate, and then I’ll never get into university.

I hope they find her alive, but it’s not looking good.

Day 62Twiggy gave me a ride home from school today, for the first time in weeks. I was walking out of the school gates when I saw her parked outside in her orange Mini Cooper. Twiggy’s parents gave it to her for her sixteenth birthday, before she’d even passed her learner’s test.

I got a new pair of shoes for school for my sixteenth birthday. Twiggy doesn’t know the difference between a need and a want. She doesn’t have to.

Twiggy probably wouldn’t have given me a lift home if she hadn’t accidentally looked me in the eye. I smiled and waved. The passenger window came down, and Twiggy called out, ‘Want a lift?’ As always, her liquorice-black locks were tied up in a ponytail. Her mouth was smiling, but her dark irises were flat.

Her mouth was smiling, but her dark irises were flat.

‘That would be great. Thanks.’ I shut the door and Twiggy pulled into the traffic. ‘That Biology test was awful, wasn’t it?’

Twiggy adjusted her rear-vision mirror. ‘What’s your idea of awful — ninety per cent?’

‘Don’t be like that.’ I was twisting a chunk of hair into a side plait. I dyed it silver-blonde last summer. Goodbye, mouse. Why I didn’t do that sooner, I don’t know.

‘Just saying.’ Twiggy barely slowed as we went through a roundabout and sped up the hill. Around us, students sauntered in twos and threes in their puke-green Eastbrook uniforms, laughing and yelling at each other. ‘I’m hoping my assignment will make up for my shit test score.’

Starting on a plait on the opposite side, I said, ‘If you invest enough, it will.’

Twiggy stared at me for a moment before looking back at the road.

‘If I invest enough. It’s never enough, is it, Mac?’

‘It’s your future,’ I murmured, just before my seatbelt snapped tight across my chest. ‘Jesus!’

‘Cat,’ Twiggy said, and we both watched a tabby tail disappear beneath a bush. She exhaled and indicated right, driving away from the big houses with their wide driveways and SUVs, away from the beaches and the mums in their activewear pushing designer prams.

As we drove down the hill, the houses became smaller and closer together. Our bungalow is squeezed between a block of flats on one side and a sagging villa with ever-changing tenants on the other side.

Twiggy bumped into the driveway and killed the engine. ‘It’s been two months.’

‘Two months and one day.’ I reached for my bag.

‘Whatever. They’re not going to find her alive, are they?’ Twiggy’s voice was wobbly. It was giving me a squeezing feeling in my chest.

‘Whatever. They’re not going to find her alive, are they?’ Twiggy’s voice was wobbly.

‘Not unless she’s been abducted, no.’

Abducted.’ Twiggy’s tone was almost mocking. ‘You always have to use such big words, don’t you?’

‘Screw you.’ I opened the door so I could escape, but Twiggy grabbed my wrist.

‘Do you really think Mr Bacon’s got something to do with this?’And I said, ‘I think he’s got everything to do with this.’

Day 61

When I woke this morning, the rain was pounding the roof, crescendo-decrescendo, like the beating of my heart. It made me wonder how many heartbeats I had left. Is that predetermined, in the same way that the number of menstrual cycles I’m ever going to have is determined at birth, because all my eggs are already formed in my ovaries?

We learned that in Biology this year. I thought that was pretty amazing. That was a few weeks after I’d gone to Family Planning and asked them to prescribe me the contraceptive pill, so I could stop my eggs being released.

I wonder what happens to those eggs. Do they die? Or do they wait until I stop taking the pill, ready to be released so they can fuse with a sperm and make an embryo?

Ugh, that grosses me out. I don’t think I ever want to have children.

There was a knock on my door. ‘Sophie, you’re going to be late.’

‘I’ll get up soon,’ I called out, burrowing beneath my pillow. It never used to be so hard to get out of bed in the morning. Not because I can’t wake up, but because it’s just too hard to get moving, especially on a weekday.

I used to get up and go for runs in the morning. But I’ve hardly been for any runs since June, when my world twisted inside out, outside in.

I’ve hardly been for any runs since June, when my world twisted inside out, outside in.

I can’t wait until this year is over.

Five minutes later, Mum didn’t even bother knocking before flinging the door open.

‘If you want a lift to school then you’d better get going. It’s pouring out there, in case you haven’t noticed.’

As if I could have missed the fact it was raining. I used to love the beat of the rain on the roof, but now the sound of it makes me feel like I’m going to have a heart attack.

‘I was getting up.’ I shuffled past her. Mum was dressed in her bank-teller’s uniform, her cinnamon-brown locks tied up in a bun. Some people mistake her for my older sister, probably because she was my age when she had me, seventeen. Her parents disowned her, because they’re Exclusive Brethren and she was flouting all the rules.

She’s pretty boring now, though, working her guts out to pay for rent and food and clothes. Boring, but I love her, because she’s all I’ve got.

Especially now.

We were inching along East Coast Road in the rain, bumper to bumper, when Mum decided it was time to have a chat. I always know when we’re about to have a chat, because she always says the same thing.

‘Darling, can I ask you something?’

Groan. The answer was no, but if I said that then she’d ask anyway. So I replied, ‘Sure,’ and stared out of the rain-blurry window.

‘Look,’ she said, as we came to an inexplicable halt in the middle of a roundabout, ‘I know these past couple of months have been really tough for you.’

‘Mmm.’ A boy in a green jacket sped past on his bike. He was wearing blue headphones and singing along to who-knows-who. It looked like Peter Schmidt. The Crazy German. But what’s the definition of crazy? What’s the definition of normal?

‘I think we need to plan a trip away,’ Mum said. ‘In the October school holidays.’

‘What? Where?’

‘Perhaps to the Coromandel? One of the ladies at the bank said her family has a bach that we can stay at for a few days.’

‘Maybe.’ We’d stopped at the traffic lights. In the lane beside us was a familiar black Ford Falcon, with a very familiar man with ash-blond hair behind the wheel. Crap, what were the chances? I averted my gaze and slid down in my seat. ‘I’ve got lots of study to do.’

Had James Bacon seen me? I think he had. I could almost feel his eyes burning into me.

I saw Mr Bacon kissing Sophie in his car.

Well, I had to tell them.

‘So, take your books with you. But you should make sure you get some time out too. You can’t work all the time.’

‘You can talk.’

‘Exactly why we need a break.’ The lights went green and Mum stepped on the accelerator. Groaning, the car moved forward. James Bacon’s taillights were already disappearing around the corner, thank God.

Groaning, the car moved forward. James Bacon’s taillights were already disappearing around the corner, thank God.

‘OK,’ I said. ‘Let’s go to the Coromandel.’ Anything is better than hanging around down here, waiting for the cops to find Sophie A.

I wonder if they’ll ever find her. I wonder when they’ll stop looking.

Sixty-one days feels like a very long time to me..

Extracted with permission from A Trio of Sophies by Eileen Merriman, published by Penguin Random House New Zealand. Text © Eileen Merriman, 2020.

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A Trio of Sophies

By Eileen Merriman

Published by Penguin NZ

RRP $19.99

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