Thursday, April 27, 2017

City of Secrets--Chapter 7

City of Secrets

Chapter 7




Chapter 7
Previously:  Frankie, slacker and social outcast, vowed to turn over a new leaf at the start of her senior year, but so far, nothing has been working out the way she'd planned. She was forced to run out in the middle of class--talking back to the teacher in the process--which lead to her getting detention on the first day of school. 


Chapter 7
Frankie


     Frankie forgot about Billy as she neared the mansion. Not in any hurry to get inside, she slowed her steps, despite the rain. Nancy West, the housekeeper and Frankie’s self-appointed nanny, was on vacation. Nancy was more of a mother to Frankie than her own mother, and she was the only adult in the house who treated Frankie with respect. If it weren’t for Nancy, Frankie’s home life would be unbearable.

    The limousine was sitting outside the garage, engine running. Lonnie, the driver, stood by the passenger door, umbrella held over his head. “Good afternoon, Ms. Moreno,” he said cordially.

    “Maybe for you, but I’m guessing you didn’t walk home in the rain. Use your brain, Lenny,” she said, intentionally getting his name wrong. He was only being friendly because it was his job, and she was certain that every staff member with the exception of Nancy spied on her for Henry and Marcella. Lonnie looked flustered, but said nothing. She walked past him toward the front door, but cringed when she saw it was already open. Her stepfather, Henry Carlton, stood in the doorway. It was clear from the expression on his face that he’d heard her remark to Lonnie.

    Henry towered over her, his mouth set in a thin line, his blond hair slicked back (Frankie suspected he dyed away the gray), and his blue eyes cold. “Charming as always, Francesca.”

    “You know me,” she said, false sweetness in her voice. She looked pointedly past him, wishing he would move so she could go upstairs and disappear in her room, but no such luck. He remained where he was, glowering down at her.

    “Your mother and I have accepted the fact that you clearly feel we’ve done you some great injustice, but the staff have done nothing to deserve your attitude. Apologize.”

    Frankie gave her stepfather the most innocent look she could muster. “I’m sorry you have no sense of humor. I’m sorry you wish I’d never been born. I’m sorry I’m an embarrassment to you. Wait, scratch that. I love that I embarrass you.”

    Henry sighed. “How long do you expect your mother and I to put up with this insubordination?”

    “Ooh, points for the word of the day! I expect you to put up with it until June, when I’m eighteen and out of high school. Come on, Henry, don’t tell me you’re not counting the days?” she asked, a hint of a challenge in her voice.

    Henry met her challenge with a smile—it was as icy as his gaze. “At this rate, Francesca, you are not going to be out of high school in June. The principal called. Seems you walked out in the middle of class. Got yourself detention already. Congratulations. I think that might be a new record.”

    “I went to every class!” Frankie shouted defensively, because she really had intended to make a new start. It wasn’t her fault morning sickness had been given its name by a complete moron. “I just got—” She cut herself off. She’d been about to say she’d gotten sick in eighth period, but that might lead him to ask why she’d gotten sick. “I had an emergency. My period started.”Yeah right, she thought. If only.

    “I don’t care what the excuse is this time. This behavior has to stop,” Henry said firmly, though his cheeks were tinged pink. Frankie couldn’t help but be pleased by his embarrassment. Henry stepped into the house. “Come inside, we need to talk.”

    Oh, hell no, Frankie thought. “Billy’s being creepy again. Asking me weird questions about what I want. Can’t you tell him to go home?”

    Henry’s expression softened. He sighed, turned back toward the door and called, “Lonnie, tell—”

    Frankie didn’t listen to the rest of the exchange. Instead, she turned and headed through the foyer toward the stairs. Water dripped onto the hardwood floor as she went. She was halfway up when Henry called out, “Francesca! Get back down here!”

    “Sorry, no can do.” She continued up the stairs, but froze as her mother, Marcella Carlton, started heading down. “Oh, wonderful. Marcella’s home.”

    Frankie had stopped calling her mother “mom” sometime in middle school. At first Frankie had done it to hurt her, but the plan had backfired. Marcella had looked relieved the first time Frankie had called her by her name. It had almost been enough to make Frankie go back to calling her mom, but she couldn’t; it hurt Frankie too much. Marcella suited them both better.

    “You will treat your father with respect, young lady.”

    “Stepfather,” Frankie corrected, knowing they were about to get into an argument they’d had hundreds of times before. Frankie knew nothing about her biological father. Henry had married Marcella when Frankie was a baby, but she’d never been close to him. He’d never acted as though he’d wanted a daughter. As far as Frankie was concerned, he would always be her stepfather.

    “He welcomed you into his home. He raised you as if you were his,” Marcella said, her words so full of passion that Frankie wondered who Marcella was trying to convince.

    “If that were true, he would’ve given me his last name. Instead I have yours. Why is that? Shouldn’t I have my real father’s last name? Daddy dearest didn’t want anything to do with us? Or was it you he didn’t want anything to do with? What’s the matter, Marcella? Did he reject you? Or maybe you didn’t even know his name, is that it?” Frankie knew she was pushing it, but the red-hot anger that was spreading from her chest to her entire body wouldn’t let her care. Marcella had never answered a single question about Frankie’s father. Not one. Frankie didn’t even know whether or not he was Latino. It wasn’t fair. Marcella clearly wanted nothing to do with Frankie. How dare she push Henry—who also wanted nothing to do with Frankie—on her? How dare she keep Frankie’s real father from her? It wasn’t that Frankie had any delusions that some magical, wonderful father was out there somewhere—she’d learned a long time ago not to bother with fantasies—but she didn’t understand why Marcella insisted on pushing Henry on her.

    “Henry. Is. Your. Father,” Marcella said, the anger in her voice matching Frankie’s.

     “You just keep telling yourself that.”

    Mother and daughter glared at one another, frozen in their fury. Looking at the two of them was like looking at an older and younger version of the same person. They had the same bronze skin, sharp features, and wavy black hair (though Frankie’s had a streak of purple in it). Their eyes—lighter than their hair, but darker than their skin—would turn a lesser person to stone at these moments. Even Henry didn’t like to come between them; he was currently busying himself by checking his voicemail.

    “Go downstairs, Francesca. Henry and I need to speak with you,” Marcella said, not breaking her gaze.

    It was the fact that Marcella had conceded and called him Henry, combined with the fact that Frankie was running out of fight for the day that made her give in. Without a word, she turned and trudged back to the foyer, dropping her backpack at the bottom of the stairs. It left a small puddle of water around it, which Henry glared at.

    Henry slipped his phone in his pocket. “Your mother and I are going on an unexpected business trip.”

    “What business? The team had a losing season,” she said. Henry was the owner of Colorado’s professional baseball team, which hadn’t made the playoffs in years. It was a fact Frankie never let him forget, though at that moment she regretted it. She didn’t want to risk pissing them off too much and having them decide to leave her with a babysitter.

    Henry cleared his throat and looked at Frankie pointedly. “It’s a business trip for your mother. We’re looking at a restaurant she’s thinking of acquiring. As you know, Nancy is out of town as well. That means you’re in charge, but this isn’t a free-for-all. We expect the house spotless when we return next Monday. We’re leaving you the minivan. Mrs. Singer is going to call and check in with Tommy on a nightly basis. We will hear a good report. Is that clear?”

     Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, Frankie thought. “Yeah, it’s cool. Everything will be fine,” she said, speaking politely to Henry for what she thought was the first time in weeks. She decided it was more like months. If she really thought about it, it was probably years.

     Henry looked at her skeptically. “It better be,” he said. “Tommy! Come downstairs please!”

     A herd of elephants stormed through the second floor and descended the stairs. Skidding to a halt just before running into Henry with a “whoa!” was not a herd of elephants, but a scrawny, seven-year-old boy. Frankie laughed, and she could’ve sworn Marcella was trying to keep a smile off her face.

    Henry gave Tommy a stern look. “Watch where you’re going, son.”

     Tommy swayed on his feet, waving his arms in the air. “Sorry, I was going so fast I almost couldn’t stop!” he said with a giggle. Frankie thought it was funny, though she couldn’t help but gape at her brother, who was wearing a tuxedo. What had Henry had him doing that required a tuxedo? She didn’t even know they made child-sized tuxedos.

    “You know there’s no running in the house, young man,” Henry said.

     “Yes, sir. Sorry, ” Tommy said, his eyes wide. Frankie figured that Henry was made of stone, otherwise he would’ve melted right there. With his mother’s black hair and his father’s blue eyes, Tommy was a heartbreaker. Technically, he was Frankie’s half-brother, but she didn’t think of him that way. She’d adored him since the second she’d laid eyes on him.

     “Your mother and I are headed to the airport. The phone numbers are on the refrigerator. You call us or Mrs. Singer if you need anything, you hear?”

     “Yes, sir,” Tommy said. Henry stepped forward and gave his son a light, crisp hug.

    “I love you, sweetheart,” Marcella said.

     “Love you too, Mommy.” Tommy threw his arms around Marcella. She knelt down and hugged him tightly.

     Frankie looked away. Marcella had never hugged her like that. When Frankie was really little, she’d been convinced that she must smell bad or something, because Marcella never got too close when she hugged Frankie. As Frankie had gotten older and grown closer to Nancy, her mother had simply stopped hugging her altogether.

    Before Tommy had been born, Frankie had told herself that Marcella just didn’t like kids, that she must not have wanted a child in the first place. It had almost been enough for Frankie to accept Marcella’s total lack of interest in her. But then Tommy had come along, and Marcella had showered him with affection. Frankie had needed Nancy to step in as a nanny, but Tommy hadn’t, because he had a mother who loved him.

    But Frankie was over it. She didn’t care anymore.

     At least that was what she told herself.

     “I’ll miss you so much, sweetie.” Marcella kissed Tommy on the top of the head and followed her husband to the door.

     “Be a good boy, son. Remember, don’t hesitate to call,” Henry said, glancing at Frankie.

     “I won’t,” Tommy said.

     Marcella blew Tommy a kiss. “Bye, sweetie.”

     “Bye, Mommy,” Tommy said.

     Henry and Marcella walked out the front door without another glance at Frankie, but she didn’t care. She was just glad they were gone. For an entire week, she was free. 

----------------------------------------------


Monday, April 24, 2017

City of Secrets--Chapter 6

City of Secrets

Chapter 6





Previously: Penny is trying to focus on getting a scholarship to an Ivy league college, all while dealing with the death of her brother, a mother who has mentally checked out, and a father who does everything he can to avoid his own family. Frankie, slacker and social outcast, vowed to turn over a new leaf at the start of her senior year, but so far, it's been harder than she thought. 

Chapter 6
Penny

     Penny grabbed her backpack and settled in the living room, which looked liked the battleground of a war between Better Homes and Gardens and Seventeen magazines.

    It was the perfect room to bring guests into for tea, or drinks after dinner. With a couch, a loveseat, and two matching chairs, there was plenty of seating. There were enough knick knacks around to give people things to look at, but not enough to cause clutter. The room was styled in white, cream, and blue, which Penny's mom said would be calming and induce conversation.

    Layered on top of this presentable, conversation-inducing room was an assortment of books, notebooks, pens, pencils, and highlighters spread out on the coffee table, end tables, and floor. Several college brochures poked out from various places. A yellow sweater was draped over the arm of the white chair, and a purse and backpack were resting comfortably on the blue chair. A pair of mud-caked sneakers sat in the corner. Lip gloss, foundation, and a bottle of clear nail polish sat on the shelf underneath the coffee table.

    After returning from her summer internship, Penny had made the living room into an extension of her bedroom. Her music player was now permanently hooked up to the stereo and she’d moved her desk downstairs. This would absolutely not, never in a million years have been allowed in the past, but she was pretty sure neither of her parents had noticed. Penny made a point to avoid her bedroom as much as possible, because going into it meant that she had to walk past Richie’s room, and that was too much to bear sometimes.

    She set her backpack aside and settled on the couch with her laptop. Don’t do it, Penny. This is pathetic. It was, but she was going to do it anyway. She was hopeless; she’d already accepted that. With a sigh of defeat that made her heart feel heavier than it already did, she opened her laptop and pulled up the website of the rock band Hell’s Descendants. Actually, she wasn’t entirely sure if they were considered rock or heavy metal. She wasn’t into that kind of music, despite the fact that she’d grown up with Richie blasting it through the halls.

    Hell’s Descendants was the group her mom had referred to as “that silly band.” That silly band’s first album had sold more copies than any album in whatever genre they were in close to a decade. Their first U.S. tour had sold out in all but three cities. Hell’s Descendants was Richie’s life’s work. Richie’s and Josh’s. Richie was the guitarist and Josh was the vocalist. They’d done all the work—from music and lyric writing to publicity—together. The bassist and the drummer had just come along for the ride.

    Penny hadn’t known what she’d expected Josh to do when Richie died.

    What she hadn’t expected was for Josh to skip the funeral. She hadn’t expected him to ignore her calls, to act like he hadn’t been her friend as well as Richie’s. She hadn’t expected him to audition guitarists practically before Richie’s body was cold. She’d never imagined that Josh would replace Richie and go on tour as though Richie had meant nothing to him.

    That was exactly what he’d done.

    Penny looked at the tour schedule, which was pointless because she’d memorized it months ago. The band was off tonight. They’d played in Seattle the previous night and tomorrow they’d be in Salt Lake City, which would be their last stop. They’d be back in Caribou Canyon by the end of the week. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

    She clicked out of the website and opened her email. There were no messages from Josh. Of course there weren’t. He hadn’t contacted her once since he’d left, despite the promise he’d made when he found out about the tour. She remembered it like it was yesterday...
 

   ...They were in the clearing by the columbines in Fairview Woods. She was beginning to think of it as their spot, which was dangerous, because only couples had spots, and they weren’t a couple. They were friends and they would only ever be friends. But still, they’d been meeting there a lot lately, and she couldn’t help but think of it as their spot.

    They were sprawled in the grass, their heads facing each other and their bodies angled away. Books were spread out all around them. They’d come there to study, which meant that Penny was studying and Josh was writing song lyrics, doodling, or doing anything he could to avoid any actual studying.

    “I can’t go,” Josh said, out of the blue.

    Penny looked up to find him staring at her, his eyes wide and thoughtful. It made her heart skip. “What are you talking about? This is what you’ve been waiting for.”

    “I’m talking about you.” His voice was soft, his words matter-of-fact. Her eyes widened and she sucked in a breath. Warmth spread throughout her body. But then he grinned, that silly, over-the-top grin he gave whenever he was joking around. “We’ve never been apart before. I don’t think I can take it.” He put his hand over his heart and winked.

    Her own heart sank and she felt stupid. Again. When was she going to stop falling for his teasing? He was a shameless flirt. He flirted with every girl he came across, and some of the boys. It was just who he was, but Penny thought she should be excluded from it. They were friends. She shouldn’t be a game to him. But still, he flirted with her as brazenly as he flirted with everyone else. She hated it. She loved it.

    She rolled her eyes, hoping it would make up for the blush that probably rivaled the red of some of the columbines. “You’re a dumbass, you know that?”

    His grin widened. “Hey, you should come with me. I want to see your hair under the California sun.”

    She was soaring all over again. Even his stupid lines made her giddy. “It’s going to look dirty blond. Just like it does here.” She found herself looking at 
his hair, which was a shade of auburn that complimented his amber eyes. He took great care into spiking it with gel, but the breeze had ruffled it, giving it a stylishly messy look. She wanted to run her fingers through it.

    “I know. But it will be a glamorous dirty blond.”

    She laughed. “Haha. No glamor for me this summer. I’ll be in a lab, doing very unglamorous things.”

    He pouted, sticking his lips out slightly. Her stomach flip-flopped as she thought of leaning forward and kissing those lips. She wondered how soft they would be, what his mouth would taste like, how his tongue would feel. . . . He raised his eyebrows. Flames kissed her cheeks as she worried that he knew what she was thinking. Embarrassed, she looked down at her books.

    “Okay. Fine,” he said. “But, I’ll email you every day. And text you. And send you Snaps. And Tweet at you. Oh yeah, and Facebook. Can’t forget that one.”

    She looked up and laughed, harder than necessary, because the thought of him doing all those things had her heart fluttering all over again. “You’re insane! You won’t even have time for all that.”

    He shook his head, his expression serious. “That’s not insane. Now, if I were going to call you everyday on top of all of those other things, now that would be insane. But seriously. Email. Everyday. I promise.”...

 
     ...He hadn’t. Not once. But he’d made that promise before Richie’s death. Everything had changed after that. For some reason, Josh had decided that he and Penny couldn’t be friends anymore. She couldn’t help but wonder if Josh had only been friends with her out of an obligation to her brother.

    Penny had never had friends her own age. She was friendly with people at school, but not close with anyone. She'd always been the nerd, the girl people talked to because the teacher made them, or because they really needed help passing a class. Richie had always been protective of her, but would he really have gone so far as to guilt his friends into being nice to her?

    She didn’t want to think about it anymore. She grabbed her backpack and pulled out her textbooks. At least she had school to focus on.

 
• • •
Frankie
 
    Frankie was a block away from her house when the rain started coming down. “Fucking fantastic,” she muttered. She shouldn’t be surprised. The whole damn universe was against her. She’d lost her umbrella a week ago and hadn’t gotten a chance to get a new one. But if she hadn’t gotten detention, she wouldn’t have gotten caught in the rain. She wouldn’t have gotten detention if Chase hadn’t . . . She shook her head, not wanting to think about that.

    If Marcella had loaned her the van, it wouldn’t have mattered what time she’d left school. There. She liked blaming Marcella much better than blaming Chase. It meant she wouldn’t have to think about him. She tried her best to never think about Chase, but sometimes the thoughts invaded her mind against her will. . . . She shook her head again.

     Frankie’s mother and stepfather owned three vehicles between the two of them, one of which was a chauffeur driven Chrysler limousine. Unless Marcella and Henry had figured out how to defy physics, it wasn’t possible for the two of them to use three cars at the same time. There was no pattern to when Marcella chose to loan her the van; sometimes it just sat in the garage all day.

    By the time she reached the wrought-iron gate of the Carlton estate, she was drenched. Her hair clung to her face and water dripped down her neck. The only part of her that was dry was her feet, thanks to her steel-toe work boots. She stepped through the gate and paused to use the sleeve of her green army jacket (a thrift store find) to wipe away what remained of her black lipstick. It was a shame to take it off—Henry and Marcella hated it—but so did her little brother Tommy. He’d said it made Frankie look scary, and her love for Tommy won out over her desire to piss off Henry and Marcella. Besides, there were plenty of other ways to piss them off. The purple streak in her hair was one of those ways. Lucky for her, Tommy thought the purple was awesome.

    “Good afternoon, Frankie.”

    Frankie jumped. She hadn’t seen Billy Gardner—who was in fact, the gardener—standing in the yard trimming the hedges. Or more like hiding behind the hedges and pretending to trim them. He wasn’t even holding the trimmers with two hands. In his other hand was an umbrella. What the hell is wrong with this guy? And everyone calls me a freak.

    Frankie thought Billy was a creep, and she wasn’t alone. It was the only opinion she shared in common with the other girls at school—she’d heard them gossiping about him. Billy was in his fifties, lived alone in a cabin outside city limits, and kept to himself, except when he was gardening. Frankie suspected that he did the grounds keeping for most of the town in order to spy on people, though for what reason she didn’t know. Maybe it was a way to get out his voyeuristic tendencies without getting caught. He was always polite enough, but there was something about the way his eyes—which reminded her of the dregs at the bottom of the coffee pot—bored into her that gave her goose bumps.

    “Jeez, Billy. Why the hell do you always have to sneak up on me?” she asked.

    “Just doing my job, miss. I didn’t mean to scare you.” He sounded sincere, but he wasn’t smiling. He rarely did. He tilted the umbrella in her direction. “You ought to carry one of these with you all the time, what with how much it rains here.”

    Frankie glared at him, wishing her gaze could intimidate him, but she had a feeling it didn’t faze him. “No shit. I lost it. Why are you working in the rain, anyway?”

    “Rain doesn’t bother me. It practically is home to me. Here, why don’t you take mine?” He held the umbrella out to her.

    “It won’t help now. I’m already wet,” she said, her tone implying that this should’ve been obvious.

    He didn’t pull the umbrella back. “But you’ll need it next time. Don’t you want to be dry?”

    “I’ll get another one by then. Keep it.” Frankie didn’t like to take help from anyone, not that offers came often, but she especially wasn’t going to take something from Billy.

    He pulled the umbrella back. “Then what do you want, Frankie?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper.

    She opened her mouth to ask him what the hell kind of a question that was, but the words died on her lips. There was something about the way he looked at her that made her think about the question, but it was the wrong one. Her life was so full of problems that it should’ve been: what do you need? She needed so many things that if she were to get into it with creepy Billy Gardner the gardener they’d be standing there until her biggest problem was visible to the entire town. Frankie thought about what would happen if she did just that and suddenly she was doing something she hadn’t done in what felt like months: she was laughing.

    It boiled up from deep inside her and once it was out, she couldn’t control it. It was a cackling, maniacal sounding laugh that was louder than the raindrops pouring down around them. She clutched her stomach and doubled over while Billy stared at her. Frankie didn’t care. It felt good to laugh, even if that laughter came from a place of pain. If she didn’t laugh, she would cry, and Frankie only cried at night, when she was sure there was no one around to hear.

    “Is everything all right?” Billy asked.

    “Don—don’t you—s—see, Billy? I don’t w-want anything,” Frankie gasped between bursts of laughter. She held her arms out and spun in a circle. “I already have it all.” With that she walked past him and up the long driveway. Once she was away from Billy, her laughter faded. The only thing it left behind was the fleeting hope that maybe she’d managed to out-creep the creep and he might leave her alone in the future. That would be something at least. 

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

City of Secrets--Chapter 5

City of Secrets

Chapter 5




Previously: Though grieving the death of her brother, model student Penny Harper begins her senior year with the resolve to focus on her future. 

Chapter 5 
Penny


    Penny walked quickly, knowing it wouldn’t be long before the rain came. The sky had gone from its usual pale gray to a threatening charcoal. She reached the end of her driveway, and froze at the sight of the SUV parked there. It belonged to Brook Forest, a friend of her parents. If Brook was there, then her father wasn’t.

    Penny shook her head. “Dad, you promised.” She didn’t know why she’d believed him, why she’d thought this time would be any different. She glared at the SUV, the anger that had been growing inside her for months boiling to the surface. “Dad, she needs you. Can’t you see you’re making it worse?” Her voice was swallowed by the wind, which was fitting, because she’d never be able to say these things to him, no matter how much she wanted to.

    The wind whipped at her back, pulling strands of hair loose from her braid. Her ears stung from the cold, but she couldn’t move. She didn’t want to go in that house. Everything was wrong inside that house. She wanted to turn around and run. “If only we got away when we had the chance, Richie.”

    She and Richie, along with their best friend Josh, had tried to run away when they were kids. Josh had been spending the night, and the three of them—always talking about how much they hated Caribou Canyon—had come up with the brilliant plan to run away to Denver, because Denver was where it was all happening. After her parents had gone to sleep, they’d raided the kitchen and snuck out the back door with overstuffed backpacks slung over their shoulders. Their adventure had lasted a grand total of fifteen minutes before Sheriff Beaumont found them at the bus stop and driven them home.

    If only she had the courage she’d had back then, but she didn’t. With heavy footsteps she forced herself to walk into a house that had never felt like home. But at least she’d had Richie to shoulder the burden of their parents’ overbearing nature with her. Now she had no one.

    The warm air was stifling rather than inviting. “Mom? I’m home!” There was no answer.

    Penny left her shoes and backpack in the entryway—a move that wouldn’t have been tolerated a few months ago—and walked into the formal dining room. This was Penny’s least favorite room in the house. It was too breakable, too fragile. The decorations were too perfect, too gold, too shiny. The room was excessive in every sense of the word. Penny had always feared she’d break something just by breathing.

    Not one of the guests her parents had invited over agreed with her. They were always raving about how bright and lively the room was. No one would dare call it lively now, not with the shadow sitting at the table that threatened to tarnish the gold antique chair or singe the embroidered tablecloth. Victoria Harper had once brought life into every room she walked into. Now she was a ghost of her former self, spending most of her waking hours looking at pictures of Richie on her tablet.

    After Richie died, the dining room was where Victoria spent most of her time. Penny had a good guess as to why: it was the room Richie had spent the least amount of time in. The family only ate dinner in there on holidays and other special occasions. They usually ate in the smaller dining room or in the kitchen. This room felt the loss of Richie the least. A person could sit here and pretend he wasn’t gone, because here, he never was.

    Penny sat down across from her mother. “Hi, Mom.” Victoria didn’t look up.

    “Mom, I’m home.”

    Still nothing. Penny gently took the tablet from her mother’s hands and moved it to the other side of the table. Victoria’s head shot up. “Hey!” She swatted at Penny’s hand, but missed and hit the table. Her face scrunched up and she glared at Penny the way a child would glare at a teacher who’d just taken their favorite toy away.

    “Mom, I’ll give it back in a minute. I just want to say hi,” Penny said, her tone patient.   

    Victoria blinked several times. “Oh.” Her blue eyes, once so animated, now had a lost looked in them. “You’re home. How were finals?”

    You already know how finals were, because I told you three months ago. When they happened. Penny took a deep breath, reminding herself to be patient, but that was getting harder and harder as time passed. “Today was the first day. We didn’t have any tests.”

    Victoria wrinkled her forehead. “Oh. Already? What are you? A junior?”

    “No. I’m a senior.” Penny stood up and started out of the room, because she knew what was coming next, and she couldn’t deal with it, not after the day she’d had. She was halfway to the door when it happened.

    “Did your brother walk home with you?”

    Penny froze and sucked in a breath. It was a punch in the gut. Every single time. She closed her eyes, feeling the strange, empty sensation of needing to cry but having no tears. She hadn’t cried since the funeral. The tears just wouldn’t come. Sometimes she was grateful, other times she wanted nothing more than to curl up and cry for hours.

    What’s his name, Mom? she wanted to ask. If you want to pretend he’s alive so badly, why can’t you say his name?She took a deep, shaky breath. “No. He’s not in school anymore.”

    It was a ludicrous response, but it was how Dr.Macky, her mother’s psychiatrist, had instructed them to handle these moments. He believed that Victoria truly did know her son was dead, but wasn’t ready to accept that fact. He suggested that the best way to handle her was with love and patience. He advised them to be cautious and gentle when speaking to her. He didn’t want anyone to pretend that Richie was in fact alive, but he didn’t think it wise for anyone to shock her with the truth either. He’d prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping pills, and was counseling her twice a week.

     Penny thought it was a load of crap. Why should her mom get off so easily? Richie’s death was horrible. The truth was shocking. No one else got to have it broken to them slowly and gently.

     “Because he graduated?” Victoria asked.

    “Last May. We were all there. Aunt Sharon came up from Boulder,” Penny said. Richie had died in a car accident the following day. Accident. Right.

     Penny had tried to comfort herself with the fact that at least Richie had gotten to graduate, but that was also a load of crap. Life didn’t end with high school. That was when it began. There was so much more that he was supposed to do. Graduation had only been the beginning. It wasn’t fair.

    “He better not be with that silly band again. He’s throwing his life away.”

    Penny had been dangling from a high wire. By one finger. That finger slipped and the world spun out of control. Penny whipped around. “Mom, just stop already! You’re—” Penny gasped and threw her hand over her mouth. Here it comes, she thought.

    But it didn’t. Victoria’s features, once permanently carved with an expression of superiority, now scrunched together like a child about to cry. As if trying to hide, she sank lower in the chair.

    Come on, yell at me, Penny thought, not realizing how much she’d wanted it to happen until it hadn’t. Tell me I’m ungrateful, tell me how little I understand about the world. Tell me I can’t talk to you like that, that I’m out of line. Send me to my room. Do something!

    Victoria tilted her head. “Wh—what did I do?”

    The swinging door that led from the dining room to the kitchen opened and Brook walked in, carrying a steaming mug in her hands. She stopped in the doorway, looking between Penny and her mother, worry etched into the wrinkles on her plump cheeks. “Is everything all right?”

    “I—I don’t know,” Victoria said.

    Penny forced herself to smile at Brook, who had always been like a grandmother to Penny; both of hers had passed before she’d been born. “Everything’s fine. Thanks for coming over.”

    “Douglas called this morning. He had to go into town. There was an emergency at the office.” She carried the mug to Victoria, who was now picking at an invisible piece of dirt on the tablecloth. “I brought you some tea, Vicki. It’s chamomile.”

    Penny bit her lip, feeling the now familiar embarrassment course through her. There was no way Brook actually bought her father’s story, but she was too nice to say otherwise. The office her father kept in town was only that—an office. It didn’t have much more to offer than his study at home did. His main office was in Denver, which he only visited once or twice a week, due to the long drive. The Caribou Canyon office was nothing more than a way for Douglas Harper to escape his family, which was something he’d been doing more and more of lately. “Yeah, I figured,” Penny said.

    “Would you like me to make you some tea? The water’s still hot.”

    “No, thank you.”

    Brook studied her for a moment, her eyes narrowed. “How are you holding up, dear?”

    “I’m fine. It’s nice to have school to focus on again.” If I have to say that one more time, I’m going to scream. 

    Brook nodded. “I’m sure it is. I made you a casserole for dinner. It’s in the refrigerator. All you have to do is put it in the oven.”

    “Thanks. You didn’t have to do that,” Penny said, though she was so grateful she could’ve hugged Brook. It was one less chore she had to smile through, one less thing she had to fake being okay through.

    “It was no trouble at all, dear. I can stay if you’d like, help with the cleanup?”

    “It’s all right. We’ll be fine.” The response was automatic. She refused to take advantage of people’s kindness.

    “Your father isn’t sure when he’ll be home. He said he’d give you a call.”

    “Okay, thanks.” He won’t be home before nine. He won’t call. 

    “Well, I need to go home and make sure Mischief and Mayhem aren’t making any,” Brook said, referring to her cats. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call, all right?”

    “I won’t,” Penny said, though it was unlikely that she would. Her father, on the other hand, was abusing Brook’s generosity.

    Brook leaned down and gave Victoria a quick hug. “I’m headed out, Vicky. You take care, all right?”

    “Mmm,” Victoria mumbled.

    Penny gave Brook an apologetic smile, but Brook waved it off. “Goodbye, dear,” Brook said. She patted Penny on the shoulder before heading out of the kitchen.

    Penny picked up the tablet her mom had been looking at earlier and set it back in front of her. “Mom, I’m going to start on my homework, okay?”

    Victoria didn’t answer, but instead turned on the tablet and started tapping away at the screen. Penny sighed, turned, and walked away, wondering why she even bothered anymore.


Next Chapter

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

City of Secrets--Chapter 4

City of Secrets


Chapter 4





Previously: On the first day of school at Caribou Canyon High, senior Penny is offered a tutoring position by Ms. Miller, the guidance counselor. Penny agrees to tutor Frankie, a fellow senior who is bullied and harassed by the other students.

Chapter 4
Natasha

     Chitchat, laughter, and the banging of locker doors filled the air. The floor shook as people dashed up and down the hall. The students at Caribou Canyon High were excited; they’d made it through their first day of school. 

    Natasha was not excited. For her, it wasn’t just any first day, it was the first day at a new school, and it had been a failure. Her big plan—the one she’d been so sure of—to get in with the popular crowd had flopped. 

    She trudged to her locker, looking at the other girls for what felt like the hundredth time that day. Most of them wore jeans and carried jackets or had sweaters tied around their waists. The ones who were wearing skirts wore tights or leggings with them, or at least had on knee-high boots. They had known the temperature wasn’t going to climb higher than the mid-sixties.  

    Natasha hadn’t known. It wasn’t as though she’d never been up to the mountains. She was a Colorado native, born and raised. She’d been up to the mountains more times than she could count. She knew it was always cooler in the higher elevations, but twenty degrees cooler? In late August? Even in the nearby town of Aspen the forecast was only slightly cooler than the one for Denver. 

    Natasha’s skirt barely reached her knees, and her sweater was made of a thin material that didn’t make much difference. The purple and gold outfit had the words “Cherry Vista High Grizzlies” printed across the front. It was the cheerleading uniform from her old school, and it made her stand out, but not as much as she’d hoped. All day, people had looked at her as though she’d wandered into the building by accident. Even a few teachers had looked at her as though she were lost, despite the fact that Natasha’s name was right there on their rosters. 

    At her locker, Natasha tossed her books inside more violently than necessary. The clanging sound echoed her frustration. She didn’t understand what had gone wrong. In all the books she’d read, the new student in a small town was always fawned over. Other than the curious looks, Natasha had been ignored. It’s your own fault, she thought. Trying to be clever. You should’ve just talked to them. She should have, and tomorrow she would swallow her pride and do it, but today she just wanted to go home and cry. 

    “So. What do you think?” a girl asked. Her voice was strong and confident; it demanded that others listen to it. Natasha already knew that voice. It belonged to Laurel Beaumont. Natasha’s head filled with the conflicting thoughts: Is she talking to me? And, It worked! I knew it! 

    Natasha let out a slow breath and turned around. “Of?” she asked, forcing herself not to show her excitement. 

    Or her surprise. Standing in front of her was not just Laurel Beaumont, but Laurel’s entire entourage. They were in perfect formation. On either side of Laurel—and a few inches behind her—stood a brunette and a redhead. Natasha had the feeling that if either of the girls had the misfortune of being born a blonde that they wouldn’t be standing so close to Laurel. Behind them was a group of about ten more girls; they all had their attention focused on Laurel. A tornado could’ve swept through and they wouldn’t have noticed. 

    One girl stood by herself, her eyes cast to the floor. She was tall and thin with light brown hair and a smattering of freckles on her cream-colored skin. The backpack that was slung over one shoulder was stuffed so full it made her posture crooked. Her arms were filled with even more books. Natasha wondered how many classes the girl was taking, and if there were enough periods in the day for them.  

    All the girls were dressed similarly, and one didn’t need to be a genius to guess who set the tone. Laurel’s hair was down around her shoulders and the sides were pulled back in a barrette. Every girl whose hair was long enough wore it the same way, except for the redhead, whose curls had clearly won the battle with the barrette. 

    Laurel laughed. “Of CCH, silly.”

    Natasha smiled and looked around. “It’s a lot like my old school in some ways. You know, high school is high school. But in other ways it’s totally different. It’s so much smaller.” It was mostly true, but she’d rehearsed the lines all weekend. She wanted to say just enough to entice them to want to learn more about her, but not to leave them feeling like Natasha was too different from them. 

    “Did you have to ride golf carts to get around your old school?” the redhead asked.

    “Um, no,” Natasha said, not sure if it was a joke. 

    Laurel rolled her eyes. “Ignore Amber. We love her, but there’s a lot of empty space up there.” She tapped Amber on the side of the head and laughed. The brunette laughed with her. 

    Did she just call her friend stupid? Natasha wondered, trying to keep the surprise off her face. 

    “Whatever,” Amber said, glaring at Laurel. 

    “Your old school—that would be Cherry Vista High?” Laurel asked, tilting her chin at Natasha’s sweater. 

    Yes! “Yeah. For three years. I thought I’d be doing my senior year there, but my guardians laid this guilt trip on me to come live up here with my aunt. No offense or anything. It’s not that you guys don’t seem cool, but I didn’t want to leave my friends. Or my boyfriend.” She’d rehearsed the lie, but her stomach still somersaulted with guilt. She had no choice, but it felt like an insult to her friends, the ones she’d promised to text everyday and hadn’t. It was an even bigger insult to Nick, her boyfriend of almost two years. Ex-boyfriend, she reminded herself. Nick had been willing to do the long distance thing, but Natasha had still ended it. Her life had fallen apart, and she just couldn’t be the person she used to be. It was the right thing to do. It still hurt like hell. 

    “You have a boyfriend?” the brunette asked, at the same time as Amber said, “Guardians? What does that mean?”

    Guardian is the word you’re left with when you find out the people you thought were your parents betrayed you,Natasha thought bitterly. “Oh, Nick and I broke up before I moved. We didn’t want to do the long distance thing. And guardian is what I call my adopted parents so people in town don’t confuse them with my real parents. I’m sorry. I’m jumping ahead. I’m—”    

    “Natasha Jameson,” Laurel finished for her. “Claudia Ainsworth’s niece. And I’m—”

    Natasha took her cue from Laurel. “Laurel Beaumont. The Sheriff’s daughter.”

    Laurel’s smile made it clear that she was pleased. She pointed first to the brunette and then to the redhead. “This is Emma Crawford, and that’s Amber Abrams.” She tilted her head to the girls behind her. “And you’ll learn their names if I decide they’re worthy.” Emma and Amber laughed. 

    Natasha wondered simultaneously whether or not it was a joke and if the fact that she’d been introduced meant she was worthy. She settled for smiling and said, “Nice to meet you.”

    “You too.” Laurel’s tone said, the pleasure’s all yours. “That’s Madison O’Connor.” She nodded toward the girl standing off to the side, who looked exhausted from carrying so many books. “If you need anything, just ask her. She’s my slave, but I loan her out from time to time.” This time, the group in the back joined Laurel, Amber, and Emma in laughing. 

    Natasha was too shocked to fake a smile. She’d assumed these girls couldn’t be much different from her friends in Denver, but she was beginning to see how wrong she was. Her friends back home would never say anything so mean.     

    “Chill,” Laurel said. “I’m kidding. Madison’s dad is my dad’s deputy, so we have this running joke that she’s my slave, but it’s not true, right, Maddie?”

    “Right,” Madison said, looking up for the first time. 

    “Oh, yeah, I get it,” Natasha said, though she couldn’t help but notice the fact that Madison hadn’t spoken until she’d been instructed to. Oh stop, you’re reading way too much into it. 

    “So, why are you wearing your old uniform on your first day at a new school?” Laurel asked, her tone reprimanding. 

    “Yeah, what’s up with that?” Emma asked.

    “Seriously, explain,” Amber said. No one was smiling anymore. 

    Natasha gave them what she hoped was a sheepish expression. “It’s a pact I made with my old squad. Since I couldn’t be with them today, we all agreed to wear our uniforms so we could be together in spirit.”

    “That’s so cool. Like school spirit,” Amber said.   

     Natasha nodded. “Yeah, like that.” The best lies were the ones that tugged at people’s heartstrings. Did that also mean that the best lies made their tellers feel like a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe?  

    “That’s sweet, except you go to our school now. Were you planning on trying out for the squad?” Laurel asked. 

    Natasha bit her lip, pretending to think about it. “I don’t know. I want to, but some of the girls on my old squad seemed upset about the idea, and it feels like cheering for another school would betray them.”

    Laurel’s eyes widened and she looked offended on Natasha’s behalf. “And you not cheering at all isn’t betraying yourself? Not to mention your new school?” Emma and Amber nodded in agreement. Natasha was tempted to look for the strings that Laurel had them on. 

    Natasha said, “Yeah, I guess you have a point.” 

    “Well, you should think about it. We could use you on the squad,” Laurel said. Again, her sidekicks nodded. 

    Of course you could use me, Natasha thought, Cherry Vista High Cheer Squad won the state championship two years in a row. It was why she’d worn the uniform: she’d known it wouldn’t go unnoticed by other cheerleaders. “Yeah, I’ll think about it.”

    “Great. Tryouts are Wednesday. See you tomorrow,” Laurel said.

    “Bye,” Natasha called. A chorus of goodbyes echoed through the hall as the girls followed Laurel. 

    Natasha watched them walk away, not feeling nearly as happy as she’d thought she would. These girls were not what she’d been expecting. Natasha was almost positive that they’d been planning to talk to her all day and had intentionally made her wait. She couldn’t think of any reason for that other than to draw out the torment, to make Natasha think that she was going to be ignored. 

    You’re being paranoid, she thought. How could she not be paranoid? Everything about Caribou Canyon was strange. The more Natasha learned, the more questions she had. The more questions she had, the more determined she was to find answers to those questions. It was why she was there. 

    “Natasha?”

    Natasha was so caught up in her thoughts that she hadn’t realized she wasn’t alone. She gasped and jumped almost a full inch off the ground. 

    Madison O’Connor stepped back, an apologetic look on her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

    “It’s okay. I just didn’t see you.”

    “Madison! Are you coming?” Laurel called from down the hall.

    “Yeah, I’ll be there in a sec!” Madison shouted, almost as though she were replying to a parent rather than a friend. She leaned toward Natasha and said in a whisper, “You have one last chance.”

    Natasha’s stomach flip-flopped at the girl’s cryptic tone. “To do what?”

    “Find a better group of friends.” 


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Monday, April 17, 2017

Haikus or something

Twitter told me it's National Haiku Poetry Day (that's what Twitter is good for), so here are all the haikus I can find that I've written. :)


Lush pines standing proud
Whisper of a flowing stream
Two foes embracing.

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My brain turns to mush
Seeps out my ears to the floor
Licked up by the worms.

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Winter is the best,
When all is cold and frigid
Like pretty corpses.

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They hide in darkness--
Shapes emerge from the shadows
To swallow you up.

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Blood isn’t like wine.
It’s pure refreshing water.
Yours is the sweetest.

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I love a full moon
That’s hidden behind the clouds.
The prey think they’re safe.

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She loves red roses.
They make her think of the blood
of her dead lovers.


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Your screams give me thrills.
I’m only getting started.
Won’t you scream louder?

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

City of Secrets--Chapter 3

City of Secrets

Chapter 3








Previously: Social outcast Frankie Moreno was leaving school early when she overheard classmates Penny and Chase arguing in the hall. When Chase pushed Penny against the lockers, Frankie intervened, only to find herself faced with Chase's wrath. 

Chapter 3

Frankie 

 


    Frankie’s eyes were locked on Chase’s. She wanted to look away, but she couldn’t. She’d heard girls say his eyes were dreamy, that you could get lost in them. Frankie didn’t think they were dreamy, but she could get lost in them. Lost in hell. Their hazel color reminded her of an animal’s eyes. A predator’s eyes, and a predator was exactly what Chase was.

    “Come on, Frankie. Answer me,” he said. “You think you can just—”

    The bell rang. Frankie and Penny jumped, but Chase remained cool as ever, even when the hall filled with people.

    “What are you doing with these losers, Chase?” Laurel Beaumont asked, as if she’d found Chase in the hall performing a circus act with monkeys.

    Chase turned his smile back on as though someone had flipped a switch. “Penny was telling me about her internship at NCAR. We better be careful, Laur. I think she might give us a run for our money for valedictorian.”

    Frankie watched Penny, wondering what she would do, but Penny just stood there, her expression neutral.

    Laurel tossed her hair over her shoulder—her signature move. “Who cares if Plain Penny gets valedictorian? Some of us have lives.” The girls surrounding Laurel laughed.

    “Yeah, but what’s the freak doing here?” Amber Abrams asked, glaring at Frankie.

     Chase shrugged. “She just showed up. Got all jealous when she saw me talking to Penny. She can’t get over the fact that we’re never going to be a couple.”

    If it were anyone else, Frankie would’ve had a million comebacks and would’ve enjoyed delivering each and every one of them. But not with Chase. His threats were too real.

    “Oh, gag.”

    “I can’t believe you went there.”

    “You know the story,” Chase said, walking over to Laurel's group. “We were drunk. She came on to me. I—”

    “Shut up,” Frankie said. She knew she was the one who should keep her mouth shut, but she couldn’t stand it when Chase talked about That Night.

    “Ooh.”

    “She told you.”

    “Come on, Frankie,” Chase said. “If you wouldn’t act so easy all—”

    “Enough already, Chase,” Jason Singer said. “I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m sick of listening to you brag.”

    Amber, Jason’s girlfriend, stepped out of the crowd. “I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m sick of you standing up for the freak.” She brushed past him and disappeared down the hall.

    “That’s our cue,” Laurel said. She and several other girls followed after Amber.

    “Don’t tell me you two are at it again? How are you even still together?” Chase asked.

    “We’re fine,” Jason said. “Come on. My truck’s still in the shop, and you promised me a ride home.”

    “Yeah, sure, man.” Without another look at Frankie, Chase followed Jason down the hall. Now that the show was over, everyone else started heading off too.

    Frankie was about to do the same, when Mr. Rosen rounded the corner. His eyes zeroed in on Frankie. “Ms. Moreno, I would’ve expected you to be long gone by now. Follow me. Detention. You can expect to be spending tomorrow after school with me as well.”

    Frankie rolled her eyes. “Fine. Let’s just get it over with.”

    By Frankie’s standards it was a compliment, but Mr. Rosen had apparently forgotten what Frankie’s usual standards were, because he said, “Keep up that attitude and we can go ahead and tack Wednesday on too.”

    Frankie wanted to remark on how Mr. Rosen must enjoy spending time with her, seeing as how he just loved to give her detention, but decided it was best to stay quiet. She was about to follow him when Penny said, “Wait, sir. I need to talk to Frankie.”

    His tone was slightly friendlier when he said, “This isn’t social hour, Ms. Harper. You can speak with her on your own time.”

    “It’s school related, sir. Ms. Miller’s orders. It’ll only take five minutes. She’ll go straight to your classroom after. I’ll make sure of it.”

    What are you, my babysitter? Frankie managed to keep this thought to herself, and was proud of the self-control she was having.

     “If I ask Ms. Miller, she’ll confirm this?”

    “Yes.”

    Frankie wondered how Penny had come up with the lie so quickly, and how she could be so confident about it. She also wondered when Penny Harper had started lying. Not that Frankie knew Penny well, but she wouldn’t have taken the class brain to be the type to lie to a teacher.

    “Very well. Make it fast.”

    Frankie had a feeling he wouldn’t have agreed if anyone other than Penny had asked. Once he was gone, Frankie said, “You don’t have to thank me, you just better watch your back.”

    “What?” Penny asked, sounding confused.

    “What do you mean, what? Chase. He’s dangerous. Stay away from him.” Frankie looked straight into Penny’s gray eyes—so much like Richie’s—willing her to listen.

    “I—I know he is,” Penny said. She wouldn’t meet Frankie’s gaze.

    “I don’t think you do. It sounded like you were egging him on or something. I’m serious, Penny. Stay away from him.”

    Penny tilted her head, looking at Frankie quizzically. “Why do you care?”

    Good question. It wasn’t as though they were friends. They’d known each other their entire lives, yet barely spoken. Was it because Penny looked small and vulnerable standing there in a baggy sweater, her usually pale cheeks tinged with pink, and her eyes wide behind her glasses? Was it because she was Richie’s sister? Or was it something else?

    “I don’t know. Just watch out.” Without saying goodbye, Frankie turned and started away.

    “Frankie, wait. I really do need to talk to you.”

    “We just did,” Frankie said, without bothering to turn around.

    “No, I mean about school. Ms. Miller wanted me to ask you something.”

    Frankie turned in surprise. “I thought you made that up.”

    Penny laughed, and something about the sound made Frankie’s heart feel lighter. “No. Ms. Miller wants me to tutor you.”

    The heavy feeling returned. “Tutor me? What, like I’m some kind of degenerate moron or something? Just tack that onto my other nicknames, why don’t you? Frankie the foolish freak. Or, how about this? Frankie the flunky.”

    Penny didn’t blink, or show any signs of being rattled by Frankie’s outburst. “No one thinks you’re dumb. You just need help getting motivated. I can only imagine how hard it must be once you’ve fallen behind. I can help you make up what you didn’t pass last year and stay caught up on this year’s material in the process.”

    Frankie studied Penny. She seemed serious, and it sounded like exactly what Frankie needed, which meant it was too good to be true. “Why would you help me?”

    “It actually helps both of us. I need something extra to put on my college transcripts.”

    Frankie rolled her eyes. “Right. Like you need help getting into college.”

    “It’s not the getting in part I’m worried about. It’s the paying for it. I don’t want my parents’ help. I need an academic scholarship,” Penny said, a faint pleading note to her voice.

    “All the other spoiled little shits are more than happy to spend their parents’ money. Why aren’t you?”

    “I’m just not, okay? So, come on. What do you say?” Penny asked, the pleading tone even more obvious now.

    Frankie knew she needed to start thinking about her future; she wasn’t going to see a dime of her mother and stepfather’s money once she turned eighteen. She had no idea what she was going to do after high school. Not to mention her other problem. The one that was growing every day. She wasn’t sure if doing better in school was the answer, but maybe it was a place to start. “Yeah, I guess.”

    Penny smiled, and the weightless feeling in Frankie’s heart returned. “Great. I’ll talk to Ms. Miller tomorrow.”

     “Okay,” Frankie said, not feeling nearly as excited as Penny. Or maybe that was the fact that she had to go to detention.

    “Hey, nice shirt,” Penny said.

    “Yeah, right.” Frankie assumed Penny was making fun of the shirt, like Emma had earlier.

    Again, Penny didn’t look fazed. “No, I’m serious. Richie had the same one,” Penny said, her tone wistful.

    This time, the weight that seized Frankie’s heart was so heavy it pulled it all the way down to her feet. Frankie stared at Penny, guilt rendering her speechless. The shirt had belonged to Richie. She and Richie had been messing around in his room when his parents had come home. Unable to find her own shirt, Frankie had thrown his on and snuck out the back door. The shirt had never found its way back to Richie’s closet. Frankie was only wearing it now because it was one of the few things she had that was baggy enough to hide her growing stomach.

    Penny knew none of these things. She didn’t know that Frankie had known Richie as more than some guy in the grade ahead of her, let alone been his girlfriend. Penny had no idea the number of times Frankie had been inside Penny’s house. Penny had no idea that Frankie had broken Richie’s heart. If Penny knew, she would hate Frankie. She would never speak to Frankie again. Suddenly, that idea terrified Frankie.

    “Are you okay?”

    Frankie blinked. “Um, yeah. I’m just tired. I should go. Detention.”

    Penny nodded. “Yeah. See you tomorrow.”

    “See you,” Frankie said. She turned and walked toward Mr. Rosen’s room, hating herself all over again for what she’d done to Richie. Now she had something new to hate herself for. She hated herself for lying to Penny, but she knew she didn’t have a choice. Penny could never find out the truth. 



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Thursday, April 13, 2017

City of Secrets--Chapter 2

City of Secrets

Chapter 2






Previously: The first day of school at Caribou Canyon High found Penny Harper grieving the death of her brother Richie. In an effort to focus on her future and boost her chances at a college scholarship, Penny reluctantly agreed to take on a tutoring job. At the end of the long and tiring day, she was confronted by Chase Martindale, her brother's killer.      

Chapter 2
Frankie


     Frankie struggled to stay focused on Mr. Rosen’s lecture, but it was no use. His voice was one long note, and it was stronger than a sedative. The sad thing was, Frankie liked English. It was her own bad luck that she was stuck with a teacher who had the personality of a brick wall. Frankie didn’t think she’d be able to stay awake the rest of the period. Several students had already fallen asleep. 

    Something sharp poked her in the arm. She turned to see a paper airplane flutter to the floor. She didn’t have to pick it up to read the message on it; it had been written in block letters with a black marker. Go back to your cauldron, you dirty witch

    Frankie huffed derisively. Go back to your cauldron? ReallyIs that the best you can do? she thought. She decided that summer vacation had left her bullies rusty. The barely disguised sound of snickering came from nearby. A glance showed Laurel Beaumont and Dave Colton looking in her direction and grinning. Frankie flipped her middle finger at them before leaning over to pick up the airplane.    

    Dave’s friend Jason tapped him on the shoulder and whispered, “Pay attention.” Dave and Laurel turned back to the front. 

    Frankie brought the paper to her lips and planted a kiss next to the word “witch,” leaving an imprint in black—the color of the lipstick she’d reapplied after lunch. Frankie glared at Laurel, aimed, and launched the paper airplane. “Bullseye,” she said when it hit Laurel in the back of the head, ruffling her perfect hair. 

    “Hey!” Laurel shrieked, turning around and glaring at Frankie.  

     “Ms. Moreno!” Mr. Rosen called over the gasps. The entire class—except for the heavy sleepers—turned to face Frankie. 

    “Sorry, Mr. Rosen. Just giving Laurel the kiss of death. You can go back to whatever it was you were talking about.” Half the class laughed, while the other half called out “ooh” in a sing-song tone.     

    Mr. Rosen’s face turned red, but he didn’t look surprised. He stepped forward, though this had no effect on Frankie, considering that she was in the last row. “Ms. Moreno, we are not going to start off the year this way.”

    “Wow, you can get your voice to change pitch! You should try that during your lectures. It might keep people awake.” Frankie, shut up. You said you were going to do things differently this year. She had said that, but breaking old habits was hard. There were more oohs from the class.

    “That is enough, Ms. Moreno.”

    “She’s such an idiot,” Laurel whispered loudly. The students surrounding her laughed. 

    “That goes for the rest of you too,” Mr. Rosen added, though Frankie thought it seemed like an afterthought. 

    Frankie bit her lip. She was tempted to comment on the beard Mr. Rosen appeared to be trying to grow; it was uneven in places and partially gray. It was as if he were asking to be taunted. She managed to keep her mouth shut. When it was clear she was done entertaining everyone, the other students turned around, and Mr. Rosen continued his lecture. 

    Frankie was starting to drift to sleep when the sudden queasiness in her stomach jolted her awake.Oh no, not now. She sat up, hoping the nausea would pass. Instead, it grew stronger. She bit back a gag, tasting bile in her mouth. It wasn’t going away. She gathered her things and stood. 

     “Ms. Moreno, what are you doing now?” Mr. Rosen asked. 

    Frankie was already weaving her way between desks. “What does it look like?” She really needed to get out of there, but her classmates weren’t making any moves to pick up their things from the aisles. Dave even stuck out his foot.

     “Watch out, Frankie,” Jason Singer said. Frankie stepped over Dave’s foot and gave Jason the finger over her shoulder—because the bored sound of his voice told her that it hadn’t been a real warning. Jason and Dave were friends; pretending to be nice to her was part of their game. 

    Mr. Rosen was walking toward the door, and Frankie feared he would block it. “Ms. Moreno, you will return to your seat before I give you detention.”

    “Sorry. Can’t. I have plans with nature.”

    “She’s probably late meeting her pimp,” Laurel said. The rest of the class laughed. 

    “Don’t worry, Laurel. I’ll be sure to tell him where you’ll be waiting later.” A few people started to laugh at this, until Laurel glared at each of them in turn, her icy gaze making it clear that they would regret having laughed. 

    “Nice shirt, freak. Arch enemy? What—are you trying to warn us about you?” Emma Crawford asked. 

    Frankie didn’t bother to point out that Arch Enemy was a band; it should’ve been obvious from the shirt. Instead, she referred to the words written on the back, though they were partially hidden by her hair. “Yeah, and I’m the root of all evil. You better watch yourself.” With those parting words, she disappeared out the door. 

     The second she was in the hall, she ran toward the nearest bathroom. When she got there she threw her weight against the swinging door, let her backpack slide off her shoulders, and dove for the first stall. She dropped to her knees and knelt over the toilet just in time.

    “God, this sucks.” She leaned against the side of the stall to catch her breath. “Why the hell do they call it morning sickness anyway?” 

    When she was sure she was done, she splashed cold water on her face and rinsed out her mouth. She picked up her bag and left the bathroom, feeling lucky she hadn’t been interrupted. Luck wasn’t something she had a lot of.

    She grabbed her jacket from her locker and headed for the front door, figuring she’d deal with the consequences tomorrow. She didn’t know why she’d thought this year would be any different. 

    “I’m not going to stand here and chat about our summers, Chase.”

    Frankie didn’t recognize the girl’s voice—which came from around the corner—but the mention of Chase’s name made her stomach clench and her heart pound. She spun around and headed back the way she came. She wasn’t sure where she was going, she just needed out of the vicinity of Chase Martindale. Far out of the vicinity. 

    “Why’s that, Penny? I hear you might have some interesting stories to tell.”

     Frankie froze. Penny Harper. Richie’s sister. Richie’s sister was alone in a corridor with Chase Martindale. Richie would hate Frankie forever if she left Penny alone with Chase Martindale. Not that Richie didn’t already hate her forever. Not that he would even know if Frankie left Penny alone with Chase, but Frankie would know, and she couldn’t do it. 

     But that didn’t mean she could move to defend Penny either. She stood frozen, her legs heavy and her heart pounding so hard it felt like it might burst through her chest. Her throat was tight; she wasn’t sure she could breathe. 

    “Is this how we’re going to do it?” Penny asked. “I guess that’s good, because I don’t like games.” Her voice, which Frankie usually heard methodically spitting out facts, was cold. 

    “What are you talking about? I was referring to your internship at NCAR. You may beat me for valedictorian after all.” 

    Chase’s tone was light, almost teasing, but Frankie knew it was an act. Her vision blurred. She leaned against the wall as waves of dizziness overwhelmed her. Chase’s voice brought with it fragments of memories that swirled in her head; she fought to push them away. 

    “Oh, I’m going to beat you all right. Probably because I’m concentrating on school instead of murder,” Penny said.

    What? Frankie thought. The shock of the words jerked her back to the present.  

    Shoes squeaked across the floor. A locker door slammed shut. Or maybe something slammed into the locker. 

    “You little bitch, you don’t know when to quit, do you?” Chase said, his voice low. It was a tone Frankie remembered all too well. You breathe a word of this, and I’ll kill you, you worthless slut. 

    Penny gasped. “What are you doing?”

    It was the fear in Penny’s voice that propelled Frankie around the corner. Chase—large and wolf-like—held Penny—small and bookish—against the lockers by the shoulders.

    “Get away from h—her,” Frankie said. It came out much quieter than she’d intended and her voice broke before she was even finished. It was a wonder Chase heard her at all. Frankie could only be glad about one thing: it worked. Chase dropped his hands from Penny’s shoulders and stepped away from her. 

    He moved toward Frankie and she became aware—not for the first time—of his immense size. Football players were supposed to be big, and Chase was a good one. But he could do more with that arm than throw a football. He could do more with those muscles than tackle other players. These were things Frankie never wanted to think about again, but it was hard not to when he was looming over her. 

    He laughed. The sound bounced off the lockers and echoed in Frankie’s ears. It reminded her of the woods and sharp sticks on soft earth and the howling of coyotes and waking to the nightmare of that face and those cold eyes. “What’s the matter, Frankie? You’d rather I be on you instead?”

    Frankie blinked at him. He was smiling. How could he be smiling? Her mouth was dry. “J—just leave her alone.”     

    “You think you can tell me what to do?” Chase asked, his grin gone now. He took another step toward her, and she found herself frozen. He was right. She couldn’t tell him what to do. She’d made a mistake, and now her nightmares were going to come true. 


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