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NEW YEARS SURPRISE 1 page

 

 

"Five more minutes till 1965!" someone yelled.

 

The New Year's party swirled around Beth Fleischer, her friends shouting and laughing, the Beatles' "She Loves You" throbbing from the hi-fi—so loud, the whole room shook.

 

A Coke bottle rolled across the living room carpet and hit Beth's foot. She nudged it aside with her toe and kept dancing. Her new white boots pinched her toes, but Beth didn't care. She knew they looked cool with her new miniskirt.

 

"Wow!" Todd Stevens shouted in her ear. "Groovy party!"

 

Beth tilted back her head and stared at Todd. She thought he looked like a movie star—with eyes even bluer than Paul Newman's. All the girls at Shadyside High thought he was fab.

 

But Beth wasn't sure how much she really liked him. How could she not like a boy every girl wanted? She couldn't answer that question. The whole thing made her feel weird.

 

She began to dance again. Then she scanned the room for Jeremy. She knew she shouldn't be thinking of Jeremy while she was dancing with Todd. But she couldn't help it.

 

There he is, Beth thought. Jeremy stood all alone near the kitchen, sipping a soda. He looks so cool tonight. Why doesn't he ask someone to dance?

 

Someone bumped into a floor lamp. It crashed to the floor, but Beth couldn't hear the sotind over the music. "Karen's parents are going to kill her!" she shouted to Todd, trying to be heard over the noise.

 

She glanced around the room. No sign of Karen.

 

Now that Beth thought about it, she hadn't seen Karen for hours. Did she leave? She wouldn't leave her own New Year's party, would she?

 

Karen and Beth were close friends. They spent hours talking about boys and movies and rock music—especially the Beatles. They made up stories about how they went to London and met the Beatles in person, and all four of the rock stars asked them for dates.

 

The hard part was deciding which two Beatles to go out with, since all four of them were so far out.

 

Beth searched the room again. Two boys arm-wrestled over the coffee table, while their friends cheered them on. Some girls checked out Karen's tall stack of records. A couple Beth didn't know were making out in the corner.

 

But no Karen. Where could she be?

 

"Fifteen seconds!" a boy on the other side of the room yelled. "Fourteen… thirteen…"

 

Everybody stopped dancing. Someone turned the hi-fi down, and everyone in the room joined in the countdown. "Twelve… eleven… ten…"

 

Karen has got to make it back here in time for midnight! Beth thought. I can't start the year off without my best friend here!

 

"Five… four… three…"

 

Come on, Karen. Where are you?

 

"Happy New Year!"

 

Midnight. Cheers. Horns blowing.

 

Todd pulled Beth to him and kissed her. "Happy New Year, Beth."



 

But Beth's mind wasn't on Todd's kiss. She was worried about Karen. And she couldn't stop thinking about Jeremy. He must feel so lonely tonight. No one to kiss on New Year's Eve.

 

"Earth to Beth!" Todd called.

 

"Huh?" she replied.

 

"Remember me?" Todd sounded annoyed.

 

She shifted her attention back to Todd, smiled, tried to act like a girl having a great time on a super date. But her eyes drifted to Jeremy.

 

A group of tough-looking guys had gathered around him. What do they want? Beth wondered.

 

Another song started. Chubby Checker singing, "Do the Twist." All around Beth, kids started to twist.

 

One girl was really good—smooth and sexy. She flipped her long blond hair as she moved. Beth wished she could dance like that. Every time she tried the twist, she felt clumsy and stupid.

 

Beth checked on Jeremy again. One of the hoody-looking boys grabbed Jeremy's Coke and drank it. The other guys laughed.

 

"Have you seen Karen?" Beth asked Todd.

 

"Not for a while," he answered.

 

"The party is going to get totally out of control if she doesn't do something."

 

Todd followed her gaze over to Jeremy. "He's fine. Why do you worry about him so much?"

 

He's not fine, Beth thought. I know him better than anyone—and he's definitely not fine. She didn't bother trying to explain her feelings to Todd.

 

Todd nudged Beth and pointed to the stairs. "Want to sit over there?"

 

Four couples sat on the carpeted steps, making out. Jenna Cosgrove had smeared pink lipstick all over Joe Hart's face. Joe didn't seem to notice.

 

Beth felt tempted, but she didn't want to make out in front of the entire party. "Not there," she insisted. "Everybody could watch us."

 

"Nobody's paying attention to them," Todd replied.

 

Before Beth could answer him, a loud burst of laughter distracted her. One of the tough-looking boys had poured a Coke over Jeremy's head.

 

Stand up to him! Beth thought. But Jeremy did nothing.

 

She watched him stumble backward, bumping into a girl. "Hey!" the girl snapped. "Watch where you're going."

 

Jeremy moved sideways, taking wobbly steps, trying to maintain his balance. But his feet got tangled, and he fell, landing next to the food table.

 

Everyone but Beth found Jeremy's awkward fall hilarious. Even Todd.

 

Beth saw Jeremy's face turn bright red.

 

I've got to go to him, Beth decided. She started across the room.

 

But Todd grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the dark den. "No one will see us in there," he urged.

 

She hesitated, gazing back at Jeremy. Todd wouldn't want her to try to comfort him. Jeremy probably wouldn't want her to come over. He'd tell her to mind her own business.

 

Todd tugged on her hand. They squeezed past two boys discussing cars. Beth had seen them around school but didn't know them.

 

"I want one of those Mustangs," the taller one said. "A red convertible with a big V-8. Oh, man, I'd die for one of those."

 

"A Corvette would eat you right up," the other boy responded.

 

"Get serious! All you'd see of my Mustang would be the taillights."

 

A group of kids began singing "Auld Lang Syne." Nobody knew the words, but they knew they were supposed to sing it on New Year's Eve. The record player nearly drowned them out—Roy Orbison singing "Pretty Woman."

 

The door burst open.

 

Beth turned—in time to see two young men wearing ski masks rush into the room.

 

She saw the ski masks first.

 

Then she saw their pistols.

 


Chapter 2
FIREWORKS AT MIDNIGHT

 

One of the men pointed his pistol at a girl who was by the record player. "Turn that off!" he barked.

 

Roy Orbison abruptly stopped in midnote.

 

Silence now.

 

Beth couldn't move. She kept her eyes on the pistols, afraid to glance away.

 

"Happy New Year!" the other man bellowed. "Everyone against the wall. Now!"

 

Todd tugged Beth's hand, pulling her against the wall. She could feel her knees trembling. What are they going to do to us? she wondered.

 

"We want your wallets and your watches," one of the intruders announced.

 

Beth unfastened her watch and slid it off. She held it out in front of her and kept her eyes on the ground. She didn't want to draw any attention to herself.

 

Should I give them my earrings, too? Beth wondered. She hated to give up the little diamond drops. They had been passed down from generation to generation in her family, always going to the firstborn girl on her sixteenth birthday.

 

"Hand 'em over!" one of the men yelled, interrupting her thoughts. "Try anything stupid and this guy gets it."

 

Beth jerked her head up. Jeremy! He's got Jeremy! No! she thought. Don't hurt him. Please.

 

Beth shuddered as the gunman pressed the gleaming barrel of his gun against Jeremy's temple.

 

All the color drained from Jeremy's face. "P-please," he whimpered. "Give them what they want."

 

Beth tried to catch Jeremy's gaze. She willed him to stay calm. Do what they ordered.

 

"Don't shoot me," Jeremy begged. "Please don't shoot me." He stumbled forward a step.

 

Beth cried out.

 

"Hey! I told you not to move!" The intruder twisted the gun against Jeremy's head.

 

"I… I didn't mean to," Jeremy moaned. "I didn't."

 

"Yes, you did."

 

Jeremy shook his head, his eyes wide with fear.

 

"Everybody pay attention," the robber com-manded. "This is an example of what happens when you don't cooperate."

 

Again, he pressed the gun barrel against Jeremy's head.

 

Then he pulled the trigger.

 


Chapter 3
A BUMP IN THE NIGHT

 

Beth screamed.

 

The room rang out with screams.

 

Jeremy's eyes bulged. He staggered forward, but didn't go down.

 

The gun didn't fire! Beth realized. Jeremy is okay! The breath she had been holding escaped in a loud whoosh.

 

Everyone stared at the intruders, stunned, afraid to move.

 

Beth frantically scanned the room. No one would try to help Jeremy, she realized. No one could do anything.

 

Then, to her amazement, the intruders pulled off their masks.

 

Huh? Why are they letting us see their faces? Beth asked herself. Are they planning to kill us all?

 

Then Beth recognized them. Two seniors from Shadyside High. Party crashers.

 

The robbery is all a stupid joke, she realized. A dangerous, dumb joke.

 

The two boys laughed gleefully and punched each other's shoulders. "Do these guns look real to you?" one of them asked. "We bought them at a toy store."

 

"I knew they were fakes!" a girl declared. "They looked like plastic."

 

"P-please give them what they w-want," a boy imitated Jeremy's terror-filled voice.

 

"P-please don't shoot me!" someone else imitated Jeremy, shaking his whole body.

 

Everyone laughed. Except Beth. She saw Karen at the doorway, congratulating the two boys.

 

Karen? How could she do that to Jeremy? Beth wondered. She's supposed to be my friend.

 

Karen was in on the whole thing! Beth realized. That's why I couldn't find her at midnight. She was making plans with these two creeps.

 

Beth yanked her hand from Todd's. "Karen!" she screamed. "How could you do this to Jeremy?" Beth's face felt on fire as her anger raged.

 

"Beth, it was just a joke," Karen replied. "Something to liven up the party."

 

"It's not funny! It was stupid and mean!" Beth shrieked.

 

I'll never forgive Karen. Never! Beth thought.

 

One of the boys tossed Jeremy a toy gun.

 

"Don't shoot yourself!" someone yelled.

 

More cruel laughter.

 

With a furious scowl Jeremy heaved the gun against the wall. Then he took off, pushing people out of his way as he hurtled to the front door.

 

Beth started after him. But Todd moved in front of her, blocking her path. "Hey—where are you going?"

 

"Todd, you don't understand. I—"

 

"I'm tired of being ignored," he declared. "All you've been doing this whole night is watching Jeremy. Why don't you let him take care of himself?"

 

"He needs me," Beth protested.

 

"Then maybe I'll find someone who pays a little attention to me." Todd turned and stormed away.

 

I hate him! Beth thought. I hate them all for what they did to Jeremy.

 

Beth saw Jeremy bolt out the front door. She thought about getting her coat. But then she'd never catch up to him. So she ran out into the freezing night.

 

"Jeremy!" she shouted, her boots sinking into the deep snow that blanketed the front yard. "Wait up! Where are you going?"

 

He spun around to face her. His handsome face was twisted in anger. "Beat it, Beth. Leave me alone! I'm sick of being made fun of!"

 

He turned away with a scowl and trudged over the snow to his beat-up Ford Fairlane.

 

Ignoring the freezing, swirling winds, Beth ran after him. "They were just kidding you. Come back. The roads are all icy. You're too upset to drive!"

 

"Go back to the party with your stupid friends! Leave me alone! You're not my mother!" Jeremy slid behind the wheel and slammed the door. Snow toppled off the car roof.

 

Slipping and sliding, Beth rushed around the car and jumped in the passenger side. "I'm going with you."

 

The tires spun on the icy street as he pulled away from the curb.

 

"The roads are all covered with ice," Beth cautioned. She fastened her seat belt and checked to make sure Jeremy had his on. "Be careful, Jeremy. This is stupid. Pull over. Let's talk."

 

Jeremy ignored her. Squinting through the snowy windshield, he sped through a stop sign without slowing down.

 

"Jeremy! Don't drive like this. Please!"

 

The car slipped dangerously close to the snowbank at the edge of the road. Beth shut her eyes, sure they would hit it. But Jeremy managed to steer the car back toward the center of the road.

 

"Slow down," Beth pleaded. She gripped the dashboard with both hands.

 

Jeremy paid no attention. Trees and telephone poles flashed by in the car's headlights.

 

Beth studied his face in the dim glow from the instrument panel. His jaw was set, and he stared straight ahead, his eyes filled with anger.

 

Why do they have to hurt him like this? Beth wondered. Why do I have to be Jeremy's only friend?

 

The car skidded out of control. Jeremy spun the wheel, struggling to keep from sliding off the street.

 

"Slow down, Jeremy. Please!"

 

They sped down the two-lane highway. Beth usually loved to speed through the darkness. It was a great feeling of freedom.

 

But not tonight. Not on these icy roads. Not with Jeremy driving so recklessly.

 

Jeremy plowed through a snowdrift, sending waves of white snow flying in all directions.

 

The highway glistened like silver under the headlights—a solid sheet of ice.

 

We're not driving. We're flying, Beth thought, feeling the panic tighten her throat. We're flying out of control.

 

"Jeremy, the road is too slippery!" she wailed. "I'm begging you—slow down!"

 

"Hey," Jeremy snapped. "It's New Year's. Why can't I have a little fun?"

 

The windshield fogged over. Beth could barely see out. "Turn on your defroster," she urged.

 

He shrugged.

 

"Jeremy! Turn it on! You can't see!"

 

"It's broken."

 

"Why didn't you get it fixed?"

 

"Because I didn't. That's why. Leave me alone, Beth. I didn't ask you to follow me."

 

Beth wiped the windshield with her sleeve. But it only smeared it.

 

"Oh, please," Beth begged. "We can barely see the road."

 

Jeremy tromped down harder on the gas pedal. The old Ford roared over the ice.

 

I hate it when he's like this, Beth thought. She squinted through the fogged windshield.

 

And saw the dim figure.

 

A boy?

 

A boy in the middle of the road?

 

She screamed.

 

Too late.

 

Jeremy swerved.

 

Something bounced on the hood with a heavy thud.

 

A face appeared through the foggy windshield. A boy's face, his mouth open in a scream of surprise.

 

The boy dropped to the ground.

 

The car rolled over him with a hard bump.

 


Chapter 4
KILLED

 

Jeremy jammed on the brakes. The car zigzagged wildly. Then slid to a stop halfway across the road.

 

Beth stared out the windshield. The headlights showed nothing but the snowbank and the dark trunk of a gnarled tree.

 

"It was a boy," Jeremy moaned. "I hit him. We've got to go back."

 

"No!" Beth screamed, her voice full of panic. "Get out of here now. Before we get caught!"

 

"Beth, we have to help that boy. We can't just leave him there!"

 

"It wasn't a boy, Jeremy," Beth insisted. She repeated the words again and again in her mind. Wasn't a boy. Wasn't a boy. Wasn't a boy.

 

"I saw his face."

 

"No, we hit a raccoon or something." Beth pulled her hair back behind her head.

 

"We've got to turn around and go back. Maybe he's okay. And if he isn't, we've got to get some help for him. We've got to, Beth."

 

"You can't!" Beth cried. "You'll lose your license—maybe forever!"

 

Jeremy frowned. "Forever?"

 

"And what if—what if—the boy is dead?" Beth stammered. "They could charge you with murder, Jeremy." She shuddered.

 

"But… it was an accident," he protested.

 

"You were driving recklessly, speeding. It was your fault," Beth insisted.

 

"Wait—what's that?"

 

Beth heard it, too.

 

A siren. In the distance. Growing louder.

 

"The police!" Beth exclaimed. "We've got to get out of here! If it was a boy, they'll help him. Now, go!"

 

For a moment Jeremy hesitated. Then he floored the gas pedal. The tires squealed over the ice. And they sped away.

 

This time Beth didn't tell Jeremy to slow down. She watched the snowbank fly past in a white blur, her heart pounding.

 

She thought she saw the flash of a police car's red light behind them. But when she peered out the back window, the road stood empty.

 

We're okay, she thought. We're going to make it. We're going to get away.

 

"I can't see," Jeremy complained. "The windshield is completely fogged now."

 

"I need something to wipe it," Beth answered.

 

"There's a rag under the seat." Jeremy leaned over the wheel, struggling to make out the road in front of them.

 

Beth felt around for the rag. She pulled out a crumpled map, a soft drink bottle, a screwdriver, a Burger Basket wrapper. "Here it is!" she cried.

 

She frantically wiped the windshield. But every time she cleaned a spot, the fog came right back.

 

She was still wiping the glass when the car slid out of control.

 

She saw the look of panic on Jeremy's face as he fought with the wheel, turning it hard, one way, then the other. Trying to pull them out of the skid.

 

It all seemed to happen in slow motion.

 

The headlights swept over the icy highway. Then, as the car whirled, spinning faster, faster, the high snowbank spun into view. Then the icy highway again.

 

Beth opened her mouth in a shrill scream as the car smashed hard into the snowbank.

 

"Unh." Her scream ended in a grunt as she was thrown forward and her head cracked against the dashboard.

 

Darkness filled the car as the tall snowpile covered the windshield.

 

Beth felt warm blood trickle down her forehead.

 

She squinted hard, struggling to see through the blinding pain.

 

The pain…

 

She felt another jolt as the car broke through the snowbank.

 

The car plunged down. Down the gorge beside the road.

 

She could feel it topple, but she couldn't react.

 

She felt the warm liquid roll down her face. Felt shock after shock of pain.

 

The car bounced hard. Rolled over. Toppled and rolled.

 

Down, down.

 

"Jeremy!" she choked out. "You've killed us. You've killed us both."

 


PART TWO
THIS YEAR

 


Chapter 5
THE BODY IN THE CLOSET

 

"Brrr!" Reenie Baker shivered as she closed the back door behind her. It was only November, but already the weather felt as cold as January.

 

"Reenie, is that you?" Mrs. Baker called from the living room.

 

"Yeah, Mom, it's me," Reenie answered. She hung her heavy winter coat on a varnished wooden peg.

 

"Greta and the others are here. They're in your room."

 

"Okay, thanks."

 

Reenie hurried down the hall and into her room. "Sorry I'm late!" she called.

 

Her best friend, Greta Sorenson, tossed the copy of Vogue she'd been reading onto Reenie's nightstand. "Don't worry, we saved you a few problems," she teased.

 

"Yeah," Greta's boyfriend, Artie Hodges, added. "About ninety-nine of them."

 

They had a group project due in a week—one hundred killer trig problems. Reenie didn't know how they would ever finish in time.

 

"No. Only ninety-eight," Ty Lanford told Reenie. He stretched his arms over his head, balancing Reenie's desk chair on its back legs. "I finished one while those two were fighting about Artie's sneakers. He says comfortable. She says gross."

 

"Fighting, huh?" Reenie glanced over at Greta and Artie. They sat on the edge of her bed—Greta almost in Artie's lap.

 

"Now we're making up," Artie explained, looping one arm around Greta's waist.

 

Reenie tried not to laugh. They made such a goofy-looking couple. Artie in his plaid shirt, ripped jeans, hair in a buzz cut, an earring in one ear. Greta in her long straight skirt and belted jacket, every strand of blond hair carefully tousled, makeup perfect.

 

Reenie could hardly believe it, but Greta and Artie had been going together since the ninth grade. A lot longer than she had been going out with Sean.

 

"Where's Sean?" Reenie asked. "He's never late."

 

"Can't start without him," Greta replied. "He's the only one who understands this stuff."

 

"I think I saw him with Sandi Burke after school," Artie joked.

 

Greta swatted him playfully on the leg. "Don't believe him, Reenie. He's making it up."

 

Reenie forced herself to smile. She knew Artie was kidding her. But Sandi Burke could make any girl feel insecure. All the guys at Shadyside High drooled over Sandi.

 

Reenie knew she was pretty enough—tall and slim with long light brown hair. But she also knew she was no Sandi Burke. Sandi could be on the cover of one of Greta's fashion magazines.

 

"I'm serious. Sandi was all over him," Artie insisted. "Now's your chance to make a move on Reenie, Ty. Go for it."

 

"Ooooo!" Greta exclaimed. "You're terrible. Really terrible."

 

He always carries a joke too far, Reenie thought. She shot a glance at Ty. He smiled at her, but he seemed embarrassed.

 

I bet Ty doesn't know that half the girls in school are dying to go out with him, Reenie thought. I wish he could hear them talking about how cute he is. Ty had transferred to Shadyside in September, and he still hadn't asked anyone on a date.

 

"Go on," Artie urged Ty. "Reenie's—"

 

"Ty, Sean's not working at the Burger Basket today, is he?" Reenie asked.

 

Ty shook his head. "Sean is off till Saturday. We both are."

 

Then why is Sean so late? Reenie wondered.

 

Ty let his chair fall back to the floor with a thump. He turned to the trig book, open on Reenie's desk. He frowned. "I finally got to where I understood degrees of angles," he muttered. "Now I'm supposed to forget degrees and start using radians."

 

"It's a plot," Artie said. "All the teachers have secret meetings. They figure out new ways to make us suffer."

 

"Trig is an elective," Ty replied. "Nobody made us take it. I guess we can't complain."

 

"Actually studying this stuff is pretty stupid when you think about it," Artie declared. "How many people out there in the real world worry about radians and sines and cosines and stuff like that?"

 

"Engineers do," Greta shot back. She sounded irritated.

 

"Maybe I don't want to be an engineer."

 

"Right," Greta muttered. She slid away from Artie. "You want to flip burgers for the rest of your life."

 

She meant that, Reenie thought. She wasn't just teasing.

 

Artie shoved himself to his feet and strode to the other side of the room. Reenie saw the muscles in his jaw tightening.

 

Great. Now they're going to start fighting again, she thought. Reenie tried to remember if Artie and Greta had always argued this much. She didn't think so.

 

Artie flopped down on the floor across the room from Greta. He stared at the carpet in front of him.

 

Reenie checked her watch. They had to get started—Sean or no Sean—if they wanted to get a chunk of their assignment done. Even trig would be more fun than sitting in a room with Greta and Artie giving each other the silent treatment.

 

Reenie felt too warm. She wore a heavy sweater over a turtleneck. She pulled the sweater off and started to toss it onto her dresser. Then she heard her mother's voice inside her head. That's no way to take care of your things, Reenie. Hang your clothes up properly, or they won't last.

 

Okay, Mom, Reenie thought as she opened her closet door and reached for a hanger.

 

She instantly yanked her hand back.

 

Because a pair of eyes stared out at her from behind the clothes.

 


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 722


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