The Lucky Winner

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Chapter 24

“So what do we know about Misty Anderson? Why do you think she broke into our house? Any idea at all?”

I asked when I came home to two emotionally-drained parents. I was planning to wait to ask that question until they started talking, only because I didn’t want them to think I was at the door listening to their conversation. But when I sat down at the table and neither of them said a word to me except Hi, honey, I had to get down to business.

“I overheard him. When I was leaving for school,” I added, when I saw the looks on their faces.

After a pause, Mom said, “We don’t know…”

“Are you sure you don’t know her? Could someone you know possibly know her?” I was sure the answer to that was no as they’d already told Detective Lake, but I had to ask them anyway. Memories sometimes didn’t come into your head right away. Sometimes, they came later after giving it more thought.

“We are sure…” Mom said, staring at the salt and pepper shakers on the kitchen counter.

Dad quietly sat on the couch, lost in his own thoughts.

“Detective Lake said not to go anywhere while this case is under investigation…” Mom mumbled, her eyes still locked on the salt and pepper shakers, as if somehow they managed to calm her down.

I didn’t hear that part. He must have said it after I left. I didn’t want to be standing at the door when he exited the house, so I left before the whole conversation ended. The last thing I wanted was for him to think I was a weirdo.

Wait. Don’t go anywhere while this case is under investigation?

“Investigation of the cyber crime? Or the murder of Misty?” I twisted my lips. “If you mean the latter, it sounds like we’re the prime suspects.”

Mom pried her widened eyes off the salt and pepper shakers and her gaze whipped over to me. “Why on earth would we be suspects? We’re the victims, for Christ’s sake.”

Mom had never said for Christ’s sake before.

“What did he say about no forced entry?” I knew Detective Lake said, according to the witness’s statement, that it looked as if she were entering her own house—like she had the keys to our house. I heard that part but I wanted to hear it from them. To test their mental status? I wasn’t sure.

“Uh… I’m not sure…”

Mom wasn’t exactly relaying what Detective Lake had said.

“So our moving plans are currently on hold, I guess?” I noticed a slight relief in my own voice.

Anyone with a sane mind would have wished to move as far away as possible from this insanity as soon as possible. However, somewhere in my mind, I knew the simple move could not be the solution to any of this. And of course, any reason to delay breaking the news to Sophia and Zoe made me that much happier.

“Dad?” I had to make sure he still could talk.

When he didn’t respond, I began to worry. I walked over and around him, so I could see his face and affirm he wasn’t brain-dead.

He looked up, “What?” He seemed oblivious that I was home and talking to Mom. Seriously? It was official. Dad had joined the Nutty Club.

“You didn’t hear me at all?” I was more worried than accusatory.

“Sorry, sweetheart. What did you say?” He looked truly exhausted.

“I said, we’ll have to put the move on temporary hold.”

“Yeah,” he nodded without looking at me.

The door opened and Kyle entered.

“Kyle,” Mom called out to him.

“Yeah?”

“Could you sit down for a second?”

Kyle glanced over at Dad and me in the living room, and took a seat at the dining table.

Mom didn’t speak right away, so I felt obligated to start the conversation. I took a few steps closer to him and folded my arms.

“Did you know Misty Anderson?” It came out funny, like a flat-out accusation.

I waited for his response, expecting him to grimace and say, Of course not.

My prediction was slightly different. His eyes shifted over to Dad and Mom, then came back to me. He finally said, “No.”

“Did you know she was inside this house?”

He took a moment before proceeding more carefully. “Who told you that?” Then again, his eyes shifted over to Dad, then Mom.

“Did you know she was in this house?” I repeated, pressing harder.

“I said I didn’t know that woman, didn’t I?”

“Say yes or no.”

“No.”

“Well, she was. Now you know.” I was doing a horrible job in telling him what had happened. As if I were subconsciously enjoying my role as a mean detective, interrogating my prime suspect.

I supposed it was too much of a stretch to suspect him of having any connection to Misty. There was no evidence to back up such a theory. The only possible way for them to have ever connected would have been online, through dating sites or some sort of forum. But that was not a plausible scenario at all. Judging from the ID picture I saw on the news, the woman was pretty hot. There was no way some hot, older lady could have been interested in a nerdy high school kid. Not unless she was a cougar with a extremely peculiar taste in boys.

Kyle stared at me.

Suddenly I noticed something crazy—he wasn’t too bad-looking. I’d never noticed his eyes behind those Milton glasses, and even since he’d lost them, I hadn’t, because I’d never taken the time to stare at his face. Not until then. He had pretty eyes. I remembered how often people would praise and compliment him, saying how cute he was as a child.

After all, my theory could have been right.

If Misty were indeed a cougar looking for teenage boys online, it might not have been such a stretch for her to like him after his makeover pictures were posted. Misty reached out and they hooked up online—that wasn’t entirely implausible.

“Detective Lake came over this morning and told us,” Mom explained weakly. “He said one of our neighbors saw her entering our house…”

Kyle stared at her as if a million thoughts were ricocheting like stray bullets inside his head.

“He’s investigating the connection between her and the cyber criminal who stole our money.”

I jumped back in, studying Kyle’s face. “We might be the prime suspects for her murder!”

“No, we’re not,” Mom’s ghostly eyes spun over to me and lingered a bit longer than I wished.

Kyle grabbed his backpack. “Can I put my stuff in my room now?”

Mom nodded, “Sure…”

He got up. To me, it looked like he wanted to escape the conversation.

My phone vibrated.

I’ll tell u later.

It was a text from Sophia.

After Chief Deputy Harris had taken Sophia in for questioning, Zoe and I had kept texting her but we hadn’t gotten one response. Now she finally returned our texts, using only a quick, one sentence reply. It was better than nothing though. At least, I now knew she was okay.

I turned to Mom. “Jerry’s dad came to school today, by the way.”

Mom looked at me powerlessly, as if there were no more room left in her brain for any other news.

“He took Sophia to the station for questioning.” I said as I responded to Sophia’s text.

WHAT?

I flinched at the loud voice coming from the hallway.

Kyle marched out of his room and stopped in front of me. His eyes were frozen, looking directly at me. Mom and I looked at him surprised, caught off guard. He’d never said a single word that loud.

I supposed he could hear us through the door. He’d probably always been able to hear us and simply ignored us when we thought he couldn’t hear. Jerk.

“Why?” He barked in my face.

“Relax, you’re scaring me.”

“Why?” He repeated, pressing harder as if he didn’t hear me.

I rolled my eyes before releasing an audible sigh. How could someone have such a huge crush when he knew he couldn’t ever have her?

“Probably because she was his ex? I don’t know the details yet. She said she’d tell me later.” I noticed his eyes twitching. I could tell he was in deep torment.

I could easily believe he’d do just about anything for Sophia. Even murder…

“You have to give up my best friend. You need to face the reality.”

“I don’t want dinner tonight. I’m not hungry,” he said to Mom, completely ignoring me. Then he disappeared back into his room.

I shook my head as I turned to Mom. I noticed Dad was looking over at me from the living room. I wondered if he thought I was too harsh on Kyle. I had to be honest though. It was for his own sake. Trust me.

“Kyle, you should eat a little something,” she mumbled to his room as she put down a plate of meatloaf on the table.

Her voice was never very loud, but it seemed to be getting weaker and weaker, as if she were too exhausted to even speak anymore.

So I helped.

I hopped out of the chair and approached his room.“Dinner!” I shouted loudly as I knocked the door.

There was no response. He was completely ignoring me. I knocked again, louder, like I was hammering a nail into the door.

Nothing.

“He’s not responding,” I said as I walked back to the dining table. “I guess he’s not eating tonight. Like he said.”

“Open the door and ask him,” Mom told me as she looked up, placing the silverware on the table.

Opening the door on him was the last thing I wanted to do. After all these years, I still hadn’t recovered from the trauma of witnessing him with Candy. I didn’t think I ever could.

“Why don’t you open the door yourself?” I asked.

Mom put the pan in the sink to soak. “Ella, can’t you just do it?”

I heard rambling in her voice. She’d been increasingly mentally unstable since all of those incidents, and every time I saw another sign of it, I felt an eerie awareness.

I sighed quietly and walked back to his door. I cracked the door just a tad. I saw his headset sitting on the floor. I pushed the door open.

WHAT?

He wasn’t even in the room.

I looked around until my eyes landed on the window, which was the only escape route out of his room.

I closed the door behind me, and said to Mom. “He said he doesn’t want any dinner.”

Did I lie because I didn’t want to add more stress and worry on my parents more than they already had? Maybe.

Or maybe I was hatching a plan.

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