Falling in Love . . .
Shelly fells as if she's living in a fantasyland. She's spending the school year in southern California, where flowers bloom in November, oranges grow on trees, and lawns are mowed in winter. When the star of the basketball team smiles at her, Shelly feels as if she's been touch by magic. Now she's about to discover the magic of falling in love!
A bittersweet story of first love from one of America's most beloved children's authors.
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July 28, 2003
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Excerpt from The Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary
Arcadia, Georgia, Present day Friday, January 26, 1:25 a.m.
He'd chosen her with care. Taken her with relish. Made her scream, long and loud.
Mack O'Brien shivered. It still gave him goose bumps. Still made his blood race and his nostrils flare as he remembered how she'd looked, sounded. Tasted. The taste of pure fear was like nothing else. This he knew. She'd been his first murder. She would not be his last.
He'd chosen her final resting place with equal care. He let her body roll off his back and drop to the soggy ground with a muted thud. He squatted next to her and arranged the rough brown blanket in which he'd wrapped her like a shroud, his anticipation growing. Sunday was the annual cross-county bicycle race. One hundred cyclists would be passing this way. He'd placed her so that she'd be visible from the road.
Soon she would be found. Soon they would hear of her demise.
They'll wonder. And they'll suspect each other. They'll all be afraid.
He stood, satisfied with his handiwork. He wanted them to be afraid. He wanted them to shake and tremble like girls. He wanted them to know the true taste of fear.
Because he knew that taste, just as he knew hunger and fury. That he knew all those flavors so intimately was their fault.
He looked down, nudged the brown blanket with his toe. She had paid. Soon, every one of them would suffer and they would pay. Soon they'd know he'd returned.
Hello, Dutton. Mack is back. And he wouldn't rest until he'd ruined them all.
Cincinnati, Ohio, Friday, January 26, 2:55 p.m.
"Ow. That hurt."
Alex Fallon glanced down at the pale, sullen teenage girl. "I suppose it does at that." Quickly Alex taped the IV needle in place. "Maybe you'll remember this the next time you're tempted to skip school, eat an entire hot fudge sundae, and end up in the ER. Vonnie, you have diabetes and denial won't change that. You have to follow--"
"My diet," Vonnie snarled. "I know already. Why can't everybody leave me alone?"
The words echoed in Alex's mind, as they always did. Gratitude to her family mixed with the sympathy for her patient, as it always did. "One of these days you're going to eat the wrong thing and end up . . . downstairs."
Vonnie gave her best shot at belligerence. "So? What's downstairs anyway?"
"The morgue." Alex held the girl's startled gaze. "Unless that's what you want."
Abruptly, Vonnie's eyes filled with tears. "Some days it is."
"I know, honey." And she understood more than anyone outside her family imagined. "But you're going to have decide which it's going to be. Live or die."
"Alex?" Letta, their charge nurse, poked her head into the examination room. "You've got an urgent call on two. I can take over in here."
Alex squeezed Vonnie's shoulder. "I'm done for now." She gave Vonnie the eye. "I don't want to see you in here again." She handed the chart to Letta. "Who is it?"
"Nancy Barker from Fulton County Social Services down in Georgia."
Alex's heart sank. "That's where my stepsister lives."
Letta lifted her brows. "I didn't know you had a stepsister."
Technically Alex didn't, but the story was too long and her relationship with Bailey too convoluted. "I haven't seen her in a long time." Five years, in fact, when Bailey had shown up on Alex's Cincinnati doorstep higher than a kite. Alex had tried to get Bailey into rehab, but Bailey had disappeared, taking Alex's credit cards with her.
Letta's brow creased with concern. "I hope everything's okay."
Alex had been both expecting and dreading this call for years. "Yeah. Me, too."
It was one of those sad ironies, Alex thought as she hurried to the phone. Alex had been the one to attempt suicide all those years ago and Bailey was the one who'd ended up an addict. Family had made a huge difference. Alex had had Kim and Steve and Meredith to get her through. But Bailey's family . . . Bailey had no one.
She picked up line two. "This is Alex Fallon."
"This is Nancy Barker. I'm with Fulton County Social Services."
Alex sighed. "Just tell me, is she alive?"
There was a long pause. "Who, Miss Fallon?"
Alex winced at the "Miss." She still wasn't used to not being "Mrs. Preville." Her cousin Meredith said it would be just a matter of time after her divorce, but a year had passed and Alex felt no closure. Perhaps it was because she and her ex still crossed paths several times a week. Right at this moment, as a matter of fact. Alex watched Dr. Richard Preville reach next to the phone for his own messages. Carefully not meeting her eyes, he bobbed an awkward nod. No, sharing shifts with her ex was not speeding her along the road to relationship recovery.
"Miss Fallon?" the woman prompted.
Alex wrenched her focus back. "Bailey. That is who you're calling about, isn't it?"