The Lucky Winner

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Chapter 22

“Look at this one, Ella. It’s in Los Angeles. You’d love it.” Dad angled the laptop so I could see the object of his vision.

On the laptop screen were pictures of a gorgeous Spanish-style house with a nice garden and a water fountain. He’d been doing the MLS searches all morning to look for our new house.

Mom was quiet, preparing breakfast in the kitchen. I figured they must have talked privately last night, and she’d agreed to his moving idea. And if it weren’t Littleside, it seemed no matter where we relocated, it didn’t change for her. Because it wouldn’t be Littleside.

“Looks awesome,” I said, glancing at the pictures.

What was wrong with me? I should have been jumping up and down until I couldn’t possibly any longer. The house was absolutely gorgeous. I’d always dreamed of a Spanish-style house and Dad knew it.

When my grandparents died, even though we’d been very close, I didn’t grieve right away because it seemed so unreal to me. Maybe this was like that. Or maybe it was one of those situations when you wished for something so long that when it finally came true, you didn’t know how to switch moods.

Also, the way my parents did a one hundred and eighty-degree reversal on their initial stance sort of creeped me out. I did realize the various insane incidents that were happening must have been affecting both of them terribly. But still.

However, in truth, was it possible for us to continue living in fear in Littleside? No, it wasn’t. Had it ever been possible for me to live in Littleside? No, it hadn’t.

How would I tell Sophia and Zoe goodbye though? I had no idea. My brain was rejecting the mere thought of it.

Kyle came out of his room and glanced at the pictures of the houses on Dad’s laptop. He didn’t say a word.

Mom brought breakfast to the table and we started eating. Kyle still didn’t speak. I wondered what he was thinking.

Dad snuck a glance at him, but didn’t speak, either. Maybe he decided to give Kyle more time to think it over. Pushing was never a good idea. I saw Kyle sneaking a peek back at Dad when he wasn’t looking.

We all ate our breakfast silently. It was so quiet, it was like standing alone in the middle of a desert with nobody else for miles.

Kyle finished first, and took his plate to the sink. All of our eyes followed him until he disappeared back into his room.

“What if he says he wants to stay here and live alone?” I asked Dad, with my voice lowered in case Kyle could hear us.

Dad poked a sausage with his fork. “He’s coming with us. He’s not staying here.” He turned to me with a strict look on his face that I’d never seen before. I felt like I was addressing a complete stranger.

Kyle would soon turn eighteen. Legally, he could live alone if he wanted to. I wondered why Dad was being so forcible on that, but at the same time, it was understandable. No father would want to leave his child behind in a crazy place like this.

“Why do you think he wants to stay here?” I asked. I was merely curious. Did my parents ever have suspicious thoughts regarding him?

“We should find a house this week. Start packing,” said the stranger that I called my dad, as he scrolled down to see more houses while munching on the sausage. He used to tell Kyle and me not to look at our phones while we ate. Laptops were strictly off limits.

“This week? So soon?” Mom and I chorused.

“Why wait?” He twisted his eyebrows. Then his intense eyes looked straight at me. “This was what you always wanted, Ella.”

Why was it suddenly all about me?

“I know, but…” I scooped up a forkful of scrambled eggs and swallowed it. “It all just seems, like, so rushed. That’s all.”

I turned on the TV for some distraction. The news reporter was talking again about the dead woman, Misty Anderson. The reporter said her former boyfriend, a casino owner in Nevada, was reportedly missing, and the police were investigating whether or not a connection existed between the two incidents.

“Ella, turn off the TV when I’m talking to you!” Dad’s sudden loud command made me flinch.

I turned off the TV, looking startled. “You don’t need to yell at me. What’s going on with you?” I protested. It wasn’t like we had a house rule prohibiting us from watching TV while we ate. He had no right to raise his voice at me. As a matter of fact, he’d never raised his voice before. Okay, so now did he officially belong to the Paranoia Club? My confidence would surely be stretched if I had to handle both parents joining it.

Mom’s surprised eyes were on him too, and her coffee mug stopped midair before reaching her mouth.

“Sorry… I just… want to get away from it all. For you guys,” he lowered his eyes like a little boy who was being scolded by his mother.

Mom reached her hand across the table and put it on top of his, as if to convey the feeling was mutual.

He gazed at her hand that gently rested on his. “It’s going to work out. We’re going to be happy again. Everything’s going to be fine in a new place…” His voice came out more like a whisper, as if he were talking to himself, all alone in the room.

I realized there was one thing I hadn’t known until that moment.

He was just as vulnerable as we were. And every bit as much affected as we all were by the whole thing.

I decided to head off to school. I needed to get some air. It felt as if the house lacked any oxygen. “Off to school,” I said as I got up and grabbed my bag.

I opened the front door and jumped at the sight of someone standing right in front of me. A hand was paused midair, obviously about to knock.

It was Detective Lake. He looked just as startled as I was.

A detective knocking on a family’s door at eight o’clock in the morning? My guess was right. I knew he was a hard worker. Not one to rest among the grandpa officers who couldn’t dare start their days without relaxing first at Yum-Yum Donuts.

“I guess you knew I was coming,” he said jokingly, releasing a subtle smile.

It was the first time I saw a different look on his face. The only one I’d seen until then was the no-nonsense detective look. I couldn’t help thinking how very charming he was. I’d sort of known that when he first showed up at our house, but something about that loose look I saw on his face made me reassess his cuteness caliber.

“I apologize for disturbing you so early in the morning. Are your parents at home?” he asked, as his face and voice returned to the no-nonsense Detective Lake.

“Umm…yes, they are. Mom’s about to go to work though. I think.” I wasn’t sure if I was really curious to know the reason for his visit, or if I simply wanted a solo conversation with him, but I asked, “Any news? Were you able to find something from the fingerprint analysis?”

“No, nothing from the analysis unfortunately, but I need to talk to your parents. May I?” he replied politely as he looked straight at me. I liked seeing that he was not condescending or goofy as if to intimate, You’re a minor and I’m not going to waste my time talking to you.

Mom heard us at the door and approached from inside. “Detective Lake?”

“I am truly sorry to disturb you so early in the morning, Mrs. Marcus.”

“It’s fine… is everything okay?” She said, anxious to know the reason for his visit.

“May I come in?”

“Oh… of course,” Mom stepped back and gestured for him to come inside. “Ella, go on now, and get to school,” she said as she looked at me still lingering at the door.

Detective Lake gave me a curt nod, as in Have a good day, before he entered the house.

I wanted to hear what he had to say, but I didn’t want to seem weird. Mom had already told me to leave for school and Detective Lake said goodbye. I closed the front door behind me and stood there quietly, trying to overhear the conversation. Thank goodness for thin walls.

“Hi, Mr. Marcus,” I heard him say. Then he asked something very peculiar. “Do either of you happen to know this woman?”

“Isn’t she… the one who was found dead?” said Mom.

Misty Anderson?

“That is correct, Mrs. Marcus.” There was a pause. “Do you know her?”

There was a longer pause. “I only know of her. From the news coverage.”

“Mr. Marcus?”

“Uh… same here.”

“So, that’s a no from both of you. You never met her. You didn’t know her in person. You’ve never heard of her through any friends or acquaintances, either. Is that correct?”

“Yes. That is correct,” said Mom. I could almost see her face twisting into a grimace.

“Mr. Marcus?”

“Of course we don’t know that woman. How would we know her? Why are you asking us this?” He sounded offended. I didn’t blame him. That question didn’t seem to make any sense. It seemed completely irrelevant to us.

Until I heard Detective Lake’s next words.

“One of your neighbors witnessed her entering your house.”

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