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Are You Scared Yet?
By Hunter Morgan
ZEBRA BOOKS Copyright © 2007 Hunter Morgan
All right reserved.
Chapter One The phone rang as Delilah flung open the front door and dashed back into the house. Her keys weren't on the table in the foyer where they belonged. She hurried into the kitchen. Not on the counter where they didn't belong, either.
She was tempted to ignore the ringing phone. She was going to be late to the press conference at Maria's Place. Snowden had just been telling her last night what an honor it was for her, as well as for the Stephen Kill police department, to have one of their own invited to cut the ribbon for the opening of the new wing. He said that kind of good press couldn't be measured; promotions and more money in the department budget, to say nothing of the good will instilled with the community. If she didn't hurry, there'd be no good will for her or the department.
She swept the cordless phone off its base on the counter as she breezed by, glancing at the caller ID screen. Rosemary.
Now she was really tempted not to pick up. The phone continued to ring. She went down the hall to her bedroom. Keys weren't on the dresser. They weren't on the bedside table. "Come on, come on," she muttered.
On the fourth ring, the answering machine clicked on. She heard the canned recording, then an urgent voice from the kitchen. "Delilah? Delilah, are youthere? If you're there, could you pick up?" A pause. "Please?"
Her sister was crying. And this wasn't the first call from Rosemary in tears in the last couple of months. Her forty-seven-year-old husband had left her for their thirtysomething dental hygienist. Boob job included. Rosemary had had to put her kindergartener in daycare half days so she could go back to work full time. And Callie ... Their Callie was giving her a run for her money.
She spotted her ring of keys on the carpet, half concealed by the bed's dust ruffle. She dropped to her knees, hitting the "on" button on the phone as she grabbed the keys. "Rosemary?"
"Oh, you're there. Thank goodness." Rosemary sniffed. "Delilah, I have to talk to you. I-"
"Look, I'm really running late and I've got a bad battery on my cell, so I can't even call you from the car." She caught a glimpse of herself in the full-length mirror on the bathroom door.
She looked like an honest-to-God policewoman in the dress uniform, right down to the shiny badge and new commendation ribbons over her breast pocket. So why, after eight years of service, did she still feel like a fake?
"I can't talk right now." She pushed her blond bangs out her eyes, the keys jangling as she hurried back down the hall. She left her hat in the cruiser. At least, she hoped to God that's where she'd put it. "See, darlin', I'm late to this thing-"
"Delilah, she's been arrested."
Delilah didn't have to ask who. She was afraid to ask for what.
"She's been released into my custody, but I can't do this. I can't keep doing this."
"Oh, Rosemary. I'm so sorry." Delilah halted at the kitchen counter. "I really do have to go, but how about if I call you back tonight? As soon as I get home."
"You ... you'll call me back?" Another sniffle. "We'll talk about this? Because, Delilah, I've been thinking a lot about this the past few days and I just don't think I can-" Her sister's voice on the other end of the line cracked and Delilah felt a chink open in her carefully constructed armor. She'd separated herself from Callie emotionally a long time ago. It was what was best for Callie. For both of them.
"I swear, on Granny's grave," Delilah said, noticing that her Sticks-of-Georgia accent came back full force the moment she spoke to anyone from home. "I'll call you back." She disconnected before Rosemary could say anything more and laid the phone on the counter.
"Tell me this isn't happening," she murmured, hurrying for the door. "Tell me, Granny, this isn't my worst nightmare coming true."
"Sister Julie ..."
Julie was surrounded by a sea of voices, swarmed by the citizens of Stephen Kill, all wanting to offer her congratulations. Have a moment of her time. And they deserved it, every one of the two hundred people milling around. It was these simple, kind, good and generous-hearted people who had made today possible.
"Señora Santori." Julie opened her arms to greet the closest person to her, a middle-aged Mexican woman in a bright red dress. "Thank you so much for coming." She smiled as she turned away to greet Dr. Cary, a local dentist and heavy financial contributor. "Thanks so much for coming, Jeremy." She shook his hand as she squeezed past him into the dining room that was as congested as the front foyer.
There, the house's administrative assistant, Monica, had cleverly pushed together two old-fashioned farmhouse kitchen tables to serve as a square buffet. The tables, covered in elegant white linen, were laden with finger sandwiches, potato and pasta salads, and fresh fruits. It was a simple but impressive display, from the old silver teapot holding fresh flowers, to the mismatched stacks of china luncheon plates, obtained by Monica from every flea market, yard sale, and antique store within a sixty mile radius of their small town. The dishes, like the shiny, dented teapot, had cost them next to nothing, yet they gave off the radiance of being worth far more than most people would probably first give them credit for. Much like her flock of pregnant teenagers, she thought to herself as she greeted another one of her volunteers.
"Have you seen Detective Sergeant Swift yet?" Monica called over the hubbub from the doorway as she swept a pile of dirty plates off an antique oak sideboard.
"Not yet." Julie smiled, lifting her arms in feigned exasperation. "But how would I know? We're packed to the gills."
"An impressive turnout. You did a super job." Monica smiled back shyly.
"No, you did a super job," Julie called after her as Monica disappeared into the kitchen. She raised her voice in a manner that could have been considered inappropriate for an almost-forty-year-old woman wearing a nun's habit. "I couldn't have done it without you!"
"She's right. This is a remarkable turnout."
Julie turned to the soft-spoken black man with the incredible blue eyes. He was so tall that she had to raise her hand to shake his. "Chief Calloway. Thank you so much for being here, and thank you for loaning us your officer."
"We're very proud of Detective Swift, as we are of all our fine officers."
Movie-star handsome in his dress blue uniform, he seemed to exude a confidence in himself that splashed off onto others. With Chief Snowden Calloway protecting the town, everyone felt a little safer. He'd certainly proven his mettle the summer before with those hideous murders. "What a very politic way of responding." She shook her finger at him. "I could use a few lessons. Is Detective Swift here yet?" She took a step back, making way for one of her girls.
"I haven't seen her." He raised his glass as the teenager ducked under his arm to pass from the kitchen into the dining room, carrying an oval china platter of cheese and crackers.
"Need help?" Julie was already moving to greet another volunteer.
"I've got it." Blue-eyed, blond-haired Tiffany set the dish on one of the tables, shifting another plate to make room. Wearing a denim jumper and white T-shirt, she didn't look old enough to be seven months pregnant. She didn't look old enough to be allowed to cross the street alone. "Thanks, Sister."
Tiffany had come to Maria's Place after being put out of her home in Dayton, Ohio, by her stepfather for getting "knocked-up" at fourteen years old. Put out by her stepfather, who Catholic Social Services suspected was the father of her baby ... After the baby was born and placed for adoption, Tiffany would be returning home, like most of her girls. Home to finish high school, go to college, find a nice man, marry, settle down, and have children she could keep. That was Julie's wish for all eleven of the girls currently staying with her and Sister Agatha.
Maria's Place had been Julie's dream for many years before she saw it begin to come to fruition eight years ago. In a time when pregnancy in teenagers was no longer a shameful secret hidden in families, in a time when young girls showed off their rounded bellies almost as a badge of pride, there was little need for a safe place for pregnant teenagers who couldn't go home. But that didn't mean there was no need. It had taken Julie more than ten years to convince enough nuns and priests in the Benedictine Order of the necessity of a haven like Maria's, and then another two for her to find this old farmhouse in southern Delaware and enough church funding to open the doors to her first two girls.
Now, they worked and lived almost entirely off donations, and their program had become so successful that in the last six months they had been able to build a much needed addition to the house. Today was the ribbon cutting, its official "opening," and every volunteer who had worked at Maria's Place or given a contribution since the day it opened had been invited. From the look of the old farmhouse bursting at the seams with guests, it looked to Julie as if they all took as much pride in their accomplishment as she did.
"Sister Julie?" An attractive woman in her early thirties in a pink linen suit slipped between two guests, trying to reach her.
"Yes, I'm Sister Julie." She extended her hand.
"Well, I guess you must be." The woman chuckled. "Only person I've run into in a nun's habit since I arrived. Who else would you be?"
"Actually, there's also Sister Agatha, though I would guess she's in the kitchen. She finds so many people a bit overwhelming." Julie lifted her hand to her wimple to be sure no hair peeked out from beneath the white band. She rarely wore her habit and wasn't entirely comfortable in it. It wasn't required by the Benedictines in the capacity in which she served in the town, and her uniform of the day was usually jeans and a T-shirt; however, for an event like this, it was good for the Catholic Church for her to don her habit, at least for a few hours. "I'm sorry, I didn't get your name?" She shook the woman's hand warmly.
"Goodness, I'm sorry. I'm not new at this. Really, I'm not. I ... you just surprised me. You're not what I expected."
"Ah, a product of a Catholic education."
"Our Lady of Perpetual Grace, Danbury, New Hampshire. The nuns I grew up with were all well past their one hundredth birthday and sporting hairy moles and wicked rulers." The woman's handshake was quick, but firm. "Marty Kyle, WKKB, Rehoboth Beach. I have the six o'-clock news." She said it as if Julie should have recognized her.
Julie didn't, but then she rarely had time for TV. She did, however, recognize the name. It had been on one of the many press releases Monica had sent out to newspapers and TV and radio stations. PR too good to turn down, Monica had insisted as she made Julie sign each letter personally.
"You have quite a turnout here. There must be close to two hundred people. All volunteers?"
"Yes, I suppose they are, Mrs. Kyle, although we're certainly not checking at the door." Julie laughed. "Financial contributors as well, of course. And then some media representatives such as yourself." She graciously indicated the reporter.
"Actually, it's Miss Kyle. Always a bridesmaid." She chuckled, holding up a ringless left hand. "But please, call me Marty. Now, I know you haven't the time today, Sister. We'll just get your usual sound bites and get you on the local evening news, but I was hoping you might be willing to meet with me for an at-length interview. A Baltimore affiliate is looking for some news segments for a new prime-time Sunday evening newsmagazine and I think Maria's Place might be the perfect subject."
"Have you seen Amanda, Sister Julie?" Tiffany asked, squeezing by with her big belly. "She's supposed to be helping me but I haven't seen her and Sister Agatha is starting to hum. You know how she gets when she starts humming."
Julie kept her smile to herself. Sister Agatha had been with them only a few months and everyone was still trying to adjust. She had very different ideas than Julie on how the house ought to be run, but she was a hard worker and Julie had no doubt that her heart was always in the right place. "I'd be happy to be interviewed," she told Marty, already following Tiffany through the living room, into the hall. "If you'll excuse me."
"Certainly. Thank you. I'll call this week," the attractive blonde called after her.
"Have you seen Amanda?" Julie asked another teen passing them, going in the opposite direction.
Yolanda wrinkled her freckled nose, one hand on her belly, the other wrapped around a pitcher of water. "Bathroom, last I saw her." She pointed toward the back of the house. "But that was like half an hour ago."
"I'll find her." Julie laid her hand on Yolanda's shoulder. "See what Sister Agatha needs."
"But she's humming," Yolanda groaned as she slipped away.
Squeezing past two ladies in large hats, Sister Julie hung a quick right and went down another hall, this one shorter than the main hall that ran through the house. She opened the paneled cross and Bible door into a storage room that had been converted to a two-stall bathroom when they first moved into the house.
She didn't even have to lean over to look under the stall doors. Two feet with purple sneakers were visible beneath the door of the last stall, soles pointing out. Amanda was sitting on the floor.
Julie heard a sniffle.
"Amanda, honey. Everything okay? You feeling all right?" She stood in front of the closed metal stall door that looked completely out of place surrounded by hardwood pine floors, plaster walls, and a drop-tin ceiling.
"I'm fine." Another sniffle.
Julie hesitated. "You don't sound fine." She waited and when Amanda didn't respond, she rested her hand on the door. "Can I come in?"
"There's no room," the teenager said, clearly in misery.
"Sure there is. Come on ..." Julie waited another moment and was rewarded with the metal on metal sound of the stall door unlocking.
Julie slipped in and closed the door behind her. Amanda was still sitting on the floor, but had drawn up her legs, Indian-style, to make room. Julie pressed her back to the cool stall wall and slid down until she, too, was seated on the wood floor. She sat directly across from Amanda, her ugly, sensible black nun shoes touching purple canvas sneakers. "What's up?" she asked softly.
Amanda shook her head, pressing her lips together, but Julie could tell the fifteen-year-old wanted to say something. She just needed a minute to gather her thoughts. To get her emotions under control. That was all these girls usually needed. A minute to catch their breath.
Amanda tucked a lock of brown hair behind her ear. She was small, fine-boned, and though only six months pregnant, her belly appeared enormous on her five-foot-nothing, normally ninety-pound frame. "Did you read it?"
"Read what, sweetie?"
The girl stared at the small space between their feet. "The article in the news magazine. That boring one we get every week." She sniffed and dragged her sleeve under her nose.
Julie reached up and tugged on a strip of toilet paper hanging next to her left ear.
"You're always saying in civics class that we need to read that stupid magazine. See what's going on in the world. People blowing people up in the desert, suicide bombers, and shit."
Julie ignored the curse word. Cursing was a definite infraction of the rules and if Agatha heard it, there would be instant castigation and punishment-one of the many subjects on which Julie and Agatha didn't quite see eye to eye. But it was Julie's prerogative to let it slide. "This was an article about the Middle East?" She tore off a long strip of the toilet paper and passed it to the teen.
"No." Amanda scowled, snatching the paper from her. She blew her nose on the paper, folded it, and blew again. She tossed it into the open toilet bowl. "About the little boy." She said it so softly that Julie had to lean closer to hear.
"I didn't get a chance to read the magazine this week. I'm sorry. I've been super busy with the ribbon-cutting ceremony and all these people descending on us." Julie rolled her eyes, raising both hands, trying to make a joke about the craziness of their lives the last few weeks.
Amanda drew up her knees, hugging herself as best she could, considering her belly. "You should read it."
"I will. What article in particular did you want me to read? About a boy?"
She nodded, bright, shiny pink lips pressed tightly together. The girls were encouraged not to wear make-up, but it wasn't forbidden. The pink was subtle for Amanda, who usually went for fuchsia or siren red.
Excerpted from Are You Scared Yet? by Hunter Morgan Copyright © 2007 by Hunter Morgan. Excerpted by permission.
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