The Lucky Winner

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Chapter 23

“Ella!”

I jumped.

I was standing in front of my open locker. Zoe stood next to me with her hands on her hips.

“What? Why is everyone yelling at me all of a sudden?”

“Because you didn’t hear me when I called your name the first time. You were staring into your locker like you were sleep-standing,” she cocked her head. “Were you?”

Sleep-standing. Hmm. Was it possible to lose consciousness for a split second when your thoughts carried you away? It sure felt like it. I’d opened my locker and traveled into space, thinking about what Detective Lake had said to my parents. Misty Anderson, whose body was found at the bottom of the river, that complete stranger who was murdered or committed suicide, had entered our house. She was the intruder. One day, she decided to travel all the way to North Dakota from Nevada, and randomly—or possibly knowing we had the money—broke into our house, and got murdered or killed herself after her weird snooping in our house.

Was that the way of it? It didn’t seem to make any sense at all. She had to have known we won the money. But then again, how could she have known?

Suppose she found the bank account login information in my parents’ bedroom, and then gave it to her criminal associate in Paraguay. Perhaps the associate hired someone else to kill her after they got the money, so they didn’t have to share the money with her?

Possibly.

But if they were such skilled cyber criminals, like Detective Lake said they were, wouldn’t they have been able to hack the computer and get all the information from cyberspace instead of sending someone to physically search our house?

At any rate, what I needed to do at that moment was respond to Zoe.

“Maybe,” I sighed. “My brain’s out of capacity to hold anymore weirdness.”

“Jerry stuff still bothering you?”

That’s right… The only weirdness she knew—along with everyone else—was Jerry’s death. I truly wished I could just let it all out. I needed to keep my sanity somewhat intact.

“It’s crazy they still don’t know who shot him. I know,” said Zoe as she opened her locker and stuffed her backpack inside it. “Especially considering his dad is the Chief Deputy Sheriff! Insane. He must be going nuts.” She looked at her reflection in the mirror that hung inside her locker door, making sure her eyeliner was evenly distributed on both of her upper lash lines. “Nobody heard anything, nobody saw anything. How’s that possible, right? So I know why you’re still weirded out by it.”

The police hadn’t found any witnesses or evidence—no bullet casings, nothing at all. They said it had to be a job done by a professional, or possibly someone from law enforcement, the military, or something of that nature. Kyle was definitely not any of those.

“I might want to move away to a big city so I don’t get murdered like they do here in broad daylight,” Zoe said as she closed her locker door.

I reacted to the word, move. Suddenly, another pang of guilt attacked me. Dad wanted us to move away without telling anyone where we were headed. How would I say goodbye to her? To Sophia? I wished I never had to. At that moment, it was clear that I didn’t want to move away. At least, not like that.

“Well, hello, hello, ladies,” Sophia said when she showed up. She was in an excellent mood; her face glowing, and the pink flowered skirt she wore showed off her signature legs.

I didn’t know what exactly had changed, but it seemed to me Sophia was becoming prettier by the day. “What are you girls talking about without me?” We group-hugged as she air-kissed us.

“About Jerry, sweetie,” said Zoe.

Sophia’s face lost its glow instantly. “Oh.”

She proceeded to her locker as if suddenly losing interest in both of us altogether. I supposed she really was over that topic.

“Are those new?” Zoe pointed at her irresistibly cute, white boots.

There was no doubt Sophia stood out in Littleside High School. In addition to being model-worthy pretty, nobody in Littleside would wear shiny, white boots. And she always wore her clothes in a classy, fashionable way. Never cheap-flashy.

“Yes, they are. Aren’t they lovely?” She posed, tilting her right leg and regaining her glow. “Hey, do you guys want to go to the Grande Mall tomorrow?” asked Sophia and her ocean-blue eyes flew wide open with excitement. “Let’s go on a shopping spree!”

I realized she was trying to get us out of our gloomy moods, but it seemed a bit over the top. Besides, knowing my tight budget, she’d never suggested any shopping sprees before. She knew I was always envious of her generous allowance from her parents and freedom to buy whatever she wanted. She’d been more than considerate by not dropping words like shopping spree in my face. She certainly had no knowledge about the money we won, so it was very strange for her to say that now. She must have been distracted by something. Had she fallen in love perhaps? But it would have been weird if she kept it from us. She would have told us the second it happened. Remember, we had no secrets from each other. Well, that was, except for me…

Then I saw Kyle walking toward our direction.

Are you freaking kidding me? Why?? I panicked, screaming inside my head.

I knew he had no reason to be in that section of the floor. His locker was located near the entrance and all his classrooms were upstairs, so there was no need for him to walk down into that particular area—not where our lockers were located! I was three hundred percent certain he was trespassing in that area deliberately.

I just stared at him, being at a loss for words. How could he be so clueless and obvious? Or did he know how obvious he looked but didn’t even care? Was that it?

“Hi, Kyle,” Zoe greeted him. “I like your new look.” She gave him a thumbs up.

“Hey. Thanks,” said Kyle, stealing a glance at Sophia.

I rolled my eyes.

After he left, I turned to Sophia, winkling up my nose. “You can just tell him to get lost, if you want to, you know. You’ve been really nice, but if you keep on being nice to him, he’ll just keep doing stuff like this. God, could he be more obvious? How embarrassing!”

“It’s okay. It’s not like he’s bothering me or anything.”

Wait.

Did Kyle suddenly turn into some sort of a likable geek? As I thought about it, lately, I didn’t remember girls making eww faces at him. Rather, they seemed to look at him like he was a cute little, stray mutt.

Our teacher approached us. She was walking with a sturdy man who had a beer belly and a mustache. He was dressed in a sheriff’s uniform.

They seemed to be looking for us. They stopped right in front.

“Hello, Mrs. Parker,” we chorused. We were always very polite to our teachers. We weren’t quite the teachers’ pets, but we knew it was important to be liked by them.

“Hi, girls. Chief Deputy Harris would like to ask you a few questions,”

It was the Chief Deputy Sheriff—Jerry’s father. I’d never met him in person before.

The three of us exchanged looks. He probably intended to ask every single student questions, desperate to find any clues that could possibly identify his son’s murderer.

I wondered if he would ask me about Jerry and Kyle. It didn’t seem like a good idea to tell him Jerry was always bullying Kyle. If he were a crooked man and needed anyone he could blame or frame, Jerry’s bullying target would have been an easy mark. As much as I still suspected Kyle as the killer, having the Chief Deputy Sheriff suspect him was a different story. Knowing his reputation, I refused to feed him my brother. Not yet. Not until I found a piece of substantial evidence.

But what would I do if he asked me about Jerry’s relationship with Kyle? Should I lie about it? Could I?

I hoped he wouldn’t ask me about it.

“I need for you to come down to the station with me. I’ve contacted your mother. She’s on her way,” said Chief Deputy Harris with a stern look.

Then he took one of us with him.

Sophia.

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