Authors: Kathi Daley
Halloween in Paradise
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Katherine Daley
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
This book is dedicated to my best friends in high school; Betty, Marijo, and Mary.
I also want to thank the very talented Jessica Fischer for the cover art.
I so appreciate Bruce Curran, who is always ready and willing to answer my cyber questions.
And, of course, thanks to the readers and bloggers in my life who make doing what I do possible.
And finally I want to thank my sister Christy for always lending an ear and my husband Ken for allowing me time to write by taking care of everything else.
Come for the murder, stay for the romance.
Zoe Donovan Cozy Mystery:
The Trouble With Turkeys
Big Bunny Bump-off
Beach Blanket Barbie
Turkeys, Tuxes, and Tabbies
Ghostly Graveyard –
Santa Sleuth –
Paradise Lake Cozy Mystery:
Pumpkins in Paradise
Snowmen in Paradise
Bikinis in Paradise
Christmas in Paradise
Puppies in Paradise
Halloween in Paradise
Whales and Tails Cozy Mystery:
Romeow and Juliet
The Mad Catter
Grimm’s Furry Tail
Much Ado About Felines
Legend of Tabby Hollow –
Cat of Christmas Past –
Seacliff High Mystery:
The Conspiracy –
Road to Christmas Romance:
Road to Christmas Past
“Coach Jensen.” Carly Rice one of the juniors on Tj Jenson’s soccer team, poked her head through her office door in the physical education building at Serenity High School. “You wanted to see me?”
“I did. Please come in and have a seat.” Tj motioned to the only surface in her cluttered office that wasn’t covered with file folders or athletic equipment. As chairperson for the department, it was her responsibility to apply for grants and file reports, two jobs she could never seem to find time to do, despite the extra prep period she was granted for just that purpose.
“I suppose you called me in to tell me that I’m being suspended from the team.” Carly sat down as instructed.
“You know I have no other choice,” Tj answered with sympathy in her eyes. “If I could do things differently I would.”
Carly, a petite junior, was the very best forward Tj had on her team. She really did feel bad that it had come to this. Tj could see Carly was struggling with her emotions as she looked down at the hands folded in her lap. If there were any other option she’d take it. Not only was Carly’s suspension going to hurt the junior herself but it was going to hurt the team, which at this point was on track to make the state finals. Tj had worked with many talented kids during her tenure as a coach and physical education teacher, and few exhibited the drive to compete and win that Carly did. Or at least she had until her world crumbled around her and everything changed.
Carly sighed. “I guess I’ll kiss any chance at a scholarship good-bye, which means I won’t be able to go to college or get a decent job. I may as well pick out a box to live in and get on with my life.”
Tj suppressed a smile. Carly really did have a flare for the dramatic. “I don’t think things are quite that dire. At least not yet. You’re still a junior, so you have time to redeem yourself, especially if you begin to demonstrate a new attitude. But I will admit that if you don’t learn to control your temper, you won’t be allowed to try out for the team next year. Soccer isn’t football. You can’t just tackle people who are in your way.”
“I know. I just get so mad. I really can’t help it. Someone gets in front of me and the only thing I can think of is how much I want to flatten them.”
And flatten them she did. Carly was a tiny thing, but she could take down her opponents as effectively as any linebacker. She’d let Carly’s bad behavior in class and on the soccer field slide as long as she could because she knew how much being on the soccer team meant to the teen, but after she’d tackled to the ground a member of an opposing team and then intentionally elbowed her in the stomach, she’d realized she had no choice but to suspend her.
“I understand you’ve had it rough,” Tj added. “I can’t imagine how awful it must be to lose a brother. I understand you’re angry and need an outlet for your emotion, but the league has very strict rules regarding intentional roughhousing.”
“Have you considered counseling?” Tj tried.
Carly glared at her with dark brown eyes filled with pain. “My brother died. I’m angry about
,” she emphasized as she tucked a lock of her long brown hair behind one ear. Tj could see she was fighting back tears as she spoke. “I’m not a nutcase who needs to see a shrink.”
“I never said you were a nutcase. I will admit I’m not an expert on the subject, but I’ve heard there are wonderful counselors who can help you work through the feelings you’ve been dealing with since Kenny was killed. Maybe you should speak to Mrs. Remington.”
Sheila Remington was the school counselor.
Carly looked Tj directly in the eye. “Help me? You think she can help me? You think
can help me? Do you have any idea what it’s like to be the child who didn’t die? To be the child who knows deep in her heart that her mom—and everyone else, for that matter—wishes she was the twin who died and Kenny was the one who lived?”
“I’m sure your mom doesn’t think that.”
“You don’t know. You don’t know anything,” Carly yelled. “My mom
me. Every time she looks at me, I can see it in her eyes. If I hadn’t forgotten to check in while I was out with my friends, Kenny wouldn’t have come looking for me, and if Kenny hadn’t been out looking for me, he wouldn’t have been riding his bike on the street, and if he hadn’t been riding on the street, he wouldn’t have been hit by a car. Kenny is dead and it’s my fault. I know it, my mom knows it, everyone knows it. Even my friends don’t want to hang out with me anymore.”
Tj suspected Carly’s friends were avoiding her because of the chip on her shoulder that was causing world-class mood swings and violent outbursts rather than the fact that they blamed her for Kenny’s death. Still, Kenny had been popular. Really popular. He was the star of both the football and baseball teams, and prior to his death, he’d been dating Portia Waldron, the most popular girl in the junior class. Tj realized Portia could very well have blackballed Carly from the social circle she’d previously hung out with. Tj hated to think the girl would do such a thing, but she’d been around long enough to know that kids could be cruel.
Carly stood up as Tj struggled for the right thing to say. She hated to leave it like this, but as hard as she tried, her brain refused to formulate words that might prove helpful in this situation.
“If that’s all, I need to go. I have class,” Carly announced. “Not that it will matter if I’m late because I’m flunking anyway, but I suppose I have to be somewhere, so it may as well be class.”
“Carly.” Tj attempted to stop Carly from leaving, but the girl didn’t even look back as she slammed the door behind her.
Tj let out a groan. That certainly hadn’t gone like she’d hoped. She wanted to help Carly, but she had to admit she was in over her head with this one. Tj knew Carly needed professional help she wasn’t qualified to give her. She’d talked to her mother about it, but the mom had been unresponsive. She knew the woman was having a hard time dealing with Kenny’s death and had all but shut down, but Carly needed someone to help her if she was going to be able to work through her grief and get on with her life.
“I take it your talk with Carly didn’t go well?” Gina Roberts, the new math teacher, poked her head into Tj’s office shortly after Carly stormed off.
“Not even close. If it’s possible to make things worse I think I just did.”
Gina left the door open as she walked into the office and took a seat on the other side of Tj’s desk. “The girl needs professional help.”
“She really does,” Tj agreed. “The problem is, she’s totally closed to the idea and her mother doesn’t seem willing to pursue it. I wish I could force the issue, but I don’t really have any grounds to do so. Carly is self-destructive, but other than being overly aggressive on the soccer field, she hasn’t hurt anyone, and I can’t honestly state that I think she’ll seriously hurt herself. If I thought that bringing the situation to the attention of child services would help I might consider it, but to be honest, I think that will just make things worse. Carly is a good kid. I really believe she can work her way through this if she’ll just forgive herself. At this point I don’t think she believes she deserves any of the good things in life that she’s worked so hard to achieve. It’s almost like she’s punishing herself by creating situations where she knows she’ll lose things that were previously important to her.”
“Don’t give up on her,” Gina counseled. “I can see she wants to open up to you. Part of me thinks she acts the way she does to get your attention. I haven’t spoken to her mother, but I’ve heard through the rumor mill in the teachers’ lounge that there are staff members who have tried with zero success to get her mom to agree to counseling. I can’t imagine that if I had two children and I tragically lost one, I’d push the other one away, but then again, I have no children, so what do I know? Carly likes and respects you. In my opinion, you may very well be the only person who can help her.”
“Maybe, but I had to suspend her from the soccer team for the rest of the season after the incident this weekend. It’s not only going to hurt her shot at a scholarship but her removal from the team also means I won’t have as much time with her as I did when she came to practice every day.”
“So make her some kind of an assistant,” Gina suggested. “I’d be willing to bet a paycheck that if you asked her to help you out she would.”
Tj considered the idea. “I’ll think about it. I don’t want it to seem like I’m rewarding her bad behavior, but I might be able to work it out so that her helping me appears to be punishment to the other girls. Thanks for the suggestion.”
“Any time. The reason I’m here, however, is to talk about another student we have in common.”
“Lexi Michaels,” Tj guessed. “I was just checking my e-mail and saw the video. Who would do such a thing?”
Lexi Michaels was another of Tj’s soccer girls. The poor kid had become Serenity High School’s latest cyberbullying victim when someone posted a video of her singing in the locker room while showering. The video had been recorded when she’d stayed late after practice the previous evening. According to Gina, Lexi thought she was alone in the locker room, but apparently there had been at least one other straggler who had taken it upon herself to record the revealing and unflattering karaoke session and then posted it online for everyone to see.
“The video was posted from a burner cell, so there’s no way to trace it back to a specific student,” Gina shared. “I spoke to Lexi, who is quite predictably horrified. She went home halfway through my class and I’m not sure she’ll be back tomorrow. We were able to get our tech guy to take the video down, but I’m afraid the damage has been done. The poor girl is devastated.”
Tj shook her head. With the advent of social media and the tendency for teens to use it as a weapon, the frequency with which cyberbullying had become an issue had increased greatly.
“I’ll do some snooping to see if I can figure out who posted the video,” Tj offered. “If it happened after soccer practice it was probably one of my girls.”
“Lexi was seen hanging out with Kenny Rice before he was killed. You don’t think Carly…?”
“No. If Lexi had been physically assaulted I would believe Carly was the culprit, but cyberbullying doesn’t seem like Carly’s style at all. That’s the crime of choice of a closet bully who isn’t brave enough to do her dirty work in the open. But if Kenny was hanging around with Lexi, maybe Portia is our bully. I don’t get the feeling she was deeply in love with Kenny, but they did date, and Portia does tend to be overly territorial. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find out she’s the one who uploaded the video. I’ll see if I can find out where she was at the time the video was taken. If it wasn’t her, then maybe it was one of her crew. One way or another, I’m going to figure out who did this and then I’ll be sure she’s punished accordingly.” Tj looked at her watch. “I guess we should get to the staff meeting.”
“Didn’t you hear? The meeting that was scheduled for this afternoon was canceled.”
“No, I hadn’t heard.”
“I was in the admin office earlier and ran into Principal Remington. He told me that he was going to be tied up with Lexi’s mom all afternoon, so he was going to cancel the meeting. I bet there’s a note on the message board by now.”
“Actually, that works out really well for me. I still need to take my sisters to get their Halloween costumes.” Tj had become legal guardian for Ashley and Gracie, her two half sisters, when her mother and her mother’s third husband were killed in an automobile accident two years before. “Between preparing for the homecoming reunion this weekend and the drama my girls have been suffering of late, I haven’t had a minute to keep my promise to take them shopping.”
“What exactly happened at homecoming ten years ago?” Gina asked. “I overheard Jim Hanover talking about it with a couple of the other teachers, but I don’t know the whole story.”
“In a nutshell, one of the students, Holly Riverton, was murdered after attending a party held at the star quarterback’s home,” Tj began. “Her body was found the next morning in the woods not far from the house where the party was held. She’d been hit over the head and left to die.”
“How awful. Do they think someone who attended the party was responsible?”
“Everyone who attended the party was questioned, including me, but they never came up with enough evidence against anyone to charge them. It’s entirely possible Holly wandered away from the party and was assaulted by some random person. At this point I guess we’ll never know.”
“Was drinking involved?” Gina asked. “I’ve been to a few parties thrown by jocks in my day and they can get crazy.”
“Actually, while there was some alcohol involved, there wasn’t a lot, and not everyone was drinking. And it wasn’t really a jock party, at least not in the traditional sense. There were as many nerds, stoners, drama geeks, and academic leadership types as there were football players and cheerleaders.”
“This school must have been more socially progressive then than it is now; in my experience, the cliques tend to keep to themselves.” Gina took a handful of M&M’s from the bowl Tj kept on her desk.
“They normally did back then, too, but a bunch of students from social groups across the board were hanging out in the parking lot during the dance, which was predictably boring. Brett Conrad, the quarterback responsible for our resounding win that afternoon, drove up in his brand-new Mustang and invited everyone who was standing around to a party at his house. At that point there were more than a dozen of us, including myself and Hunter Hanson, as well as Jenna and Dennis Elston. I was a cheerleader and had been to many parties at Brett’s, but there were others we jocks had never partied with before.”