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As Kathleen fights her way out of a web of lies, the trust she has in those closest to her shatters. In the end, she's pushed to a terrible choice: who lives, and who else dies.
Kathleen Hayson thinks her biggest problem is her mother. The only runner up—her mouth. With a wit sharper than her mother's perfectly manicured nails, her clever remarks create more problems than they solve.
But it's not her clever remarks landing her knee-deep in trouble. This time, Josh Colby is to blame. Kathleen's former childhood friend has become the school's most stuck up jerk. Before, she'd have told him to piss off and write his own stupid letter to the town slut/minister's daughter. Now Kathleen's escalating problems at home force her to reevaluate how flexible her principles are. She agrees to write the controversial letter Josh has requested.
Enter Rigel, a smartass magical creature who invades her room one night, promises he has come to help her. When a boy Kathleen hates turns up dead and her mother goes missing, the letter becomes a key piece of police evidence – implicating Kathleen. As she fights her way out of a web of lies, the trust she has in those closest to her shatters. In the end, she's pushed to a terrible choice: who lives, and who else dies.
1: Misguided Desperation Comes A-Knocking
My mom’s a liar.
What parents aren’t, right? They tell their kids lies about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Even the Boogeyman who crouches in the shadows beneath beds has his legend whispered into the ears of young green bean-haters.
I wished my mom would use her power of deception for good. For one, I wouldn’t have to chase down people in the dark, braving the muggers and would-be rapists who lurk in the bushes on my street.
If she’d told the boy who came knocking I was upstairs in my room, then we could have had a quick—though unlikely civil—conversation on the front porch. Instead, she told him I was out with another boy.
And she didn’t just tell this to anyone. No, of course not. She told this to Josh Colby.
It was the equivalent of having some celebrity knock on your door after their car broke down. Except, as far as celebrities go, Josh’s status didn’t reach beyond the doors of our high school. We’d known each other for the many years of our educational careers, and mostly succeeded with our mutual effort to avoid speaking to one another.
Mocking doesn’t count.
I was too lazy to run for more than a block. To scream seemed an easier solution. When a male voice called back, I smiled at my small victory of intelligence over physical prowess.
He sounded close, within a block or so, but I couldn’t see him. The sliver of moon lacked radiance as it was smothered by dark clouds, but the streetlights were enough to confirm there was no silhouette of him on the sidewalk. He must have cut through a neighbor’s yard to head back to his house on the next street over.
“What did you want?” I winced at the sudden, sharp brilliance of lightning. Spots did flip-flops against the stretched shadows on the grass as my vision tried to recover. The scent of ozone carried on the cool breeze blended with that of a fresh cut lawn.
“That you, Elchubba?”
Elchubba is not my name. Not even close. Not that many of the kids at my school cared, and several might even be shocked to discover my real name was Kathleen. Not Kathy. Definitely not Elchubba. To my eternal frustration, I won that clever little nickname in junior high. Mostly because Ryan Dixon is a jerk, but also because I was horizontally challenged and usually clad in black from hair strand-to-toenail polish. It’s to do with Elvira. Lame, I know.
I just hoped Josh hadn’t asked my mother if Elchubba was home. I wouldn’t put it past him. Instead of correcting him, I turned on my heel and headed home. I didn’t answer him on principle.
My house was still a sadistic distance from me when I heard Josh stumble through some bushes near the sidewalk behind me. Oh, heavy black boots, how you’ve failed me again.
He mumbled a curse behind me after the distinct sound of his rubber soles tripping over a crack in the sidewalk. I didn’t slow down. Maybe he would follow me all the way back to my front door so I could slam it in his face.
He outpaced me to step into my path. I considered knocking him on his boney ass. I had the weight and momentum to do it. A whiff of whatever cheap, man-scent product he used to attract girls assaulted my nose. It reminded me of dish soap and burnt popcorn.
“Please, would you just stop?” Josh said.
“Fine. What do you want?”
A car horn blared a few blocks away, followed by the squeal of tires. Josh glanced around like a super secret spy.
My response was an eye roll and crossed arms. If he didn’t want to be seen talking to me, then he shouldn’t have answered me. For that matter, he shouldn’t have come over.
Josh said, “I need you to do me a favor.”
The laugh that escaped me sounded more maniacal than I expected. “You’re high.”
Great. I wound up chasing a boy I hated down the street to do a favor for him. It was not the pinnacle of my existence. At least I hope not.
“No, I’m serious.” Josh leaned closer and dropped his voice. “I’ll pay you.”
“Then it’s not a favor. It’s a business proposition,” I said. “If you’re going to pay me for services—of the non-prostitutional variety—then it’s a business arrangement, not a favor. A favor I’d do for free.”
The hopeful look that passed his face prompted me to add, “For friends, not for you.”
“Okay, whatever.” Josh fished in a pocket of his too-baggy jeans and pulled out a folded bill. It was too dark for me to see which president. He smiled, his teeth a perfect picket fence of glaring white. “I want you to write a letter for me.”
My eyebrows lifted without my permission. “A letter? To who?” I didn’t ask why me. I was editor for the school paper and wrote for the quarterly lit magazine.
“I’m not telling you unless you agree to do it.”
My eyes narrowed. “I’m not going to be suckered into writing a bomb threat or some stalker letter to a model you masturbate to.”
“No, no. It’s nothing like that.” Josh slouched and lowered the hand which held the bill to his side. “I was watching some old movie on TV tonight, and it got me thinking—”
“I’m serious, stop it. Well, this guy writes letters for a girl, but they’re from another guy who likes her.”
“You watched Cyrano de Bergerac?”
“Who? No, it was Roxy or Roseanne or something.”
“Roxanne?” I shook my head. “You were inspired by Steve Martin. Of course. You noticed that didn’t end well for the one guy, right?”
“Well, yeah. But that’s because the guy writing the letters steals her away. That won’t happen with us because you’re a girl. I mean, unless you’re a lezbo.”
My frown was so deep, my brows nearly touched. “How politically correct of you.”
“Oh . . . you mean you are?” He stepped away as if he’d just realized I was Typhoid Mary.
I was offended on behalf of sexual libertines everywhere. “Yes, and we’re highly contagious. You better leave before you start wanting love letters for Ryan instead of whichever girl gets your mangina tingling.”
For the record, I’m not a lesbian, but I didn’t care what he thought.
“Well, she’s not,” Josh said. “So it wouldn’t matter if you liked her or not.” He lifted up the bill again. “I’ll give you twenty dollars to write a letter that a girl would like, and make it sound like me.”
I chuckled. “Those two concepts don’t mesh.”
“Just take it, all right?”
“No, I’m pretty sure my morals exclude this . . . escapade of falsehood.”
“What? Jesus, why can’t you talk like other people?”
“My intellect prevents it, sadly.” My wry smile belied any regret.
“No, you just like being freaky little Elchubba,” he shot back. “Only not so little.” He glared at me as he stuffed the money back in his pocket, and then strode away in a huff.
He couldn’t have been more wrong. I didn’t like being Elchubba at all. I didn’t like being called that, I didn’t like being overweight, and I didn’t like that I had to go back into my house and explain to Darth Mother who Josh was and why I chased him down the street.
Sometimes, I feel like life is trying to swallow me whole. I do my best to flail about and get caught in its throat. More than once I’ve been sure I was hanging onto life’s uvula by my fingernails. Which, of course, just tickles life’s throat until it coughs me back out.
God, I’m tired of being coated in life’s phlegm.
But my curiosity was piqued. What girl could Josh possibly think was worth all this trouble?