Sorry To Keep You Waiting
Author: Angelena Fox-Francisco

Chapter 1
the detective's daughter

    The newspaper thumped on the table in front of me as my father walked by, sipping his coffee. He leaned against the wall to put on his boots.
    I swallowed as I read the headline on the front page. I gazed up at him. No wonder he'd been so quiet the past few days. His job as part of the Murder Squad must get so... sickening.
    I skipped through the first paragraph. Grace Reichard, seventeen years old, junior at Mt. Elliot High, killed last night, found on highway, midnight, parents devastated.
I saw the photo of Grace, her eyes staring at me blankly, her lips trapped in a half smile, parted just a bit, her cheeks barely lifted. I flipped the paper over so I didn't have to see her.
    Junior at Mt. Elliot. I guessed Dad would question if I'd known her or even been friends with her.
    I pondered how many times I'd seen her, how many words shared between the two of us and knew it was enough to be considered an okay relationship for two students in high school. But friends?
    No, not even kind, little Grace had managed to become that.
    "You, uh, you better get ready for school, Lizzie. You got a paper due? History?"
    I stood, nodding. He always knew about my assignments, sometimes before I did.
    Stupid detectives, I thought as I headed to my room. Why couldn't Dad be something cool, like a fireman or a jet pilot? Then I could skip my homework and get away with it.
    I spotted the clock, shaped like a white and blue penguin, hanging on the wall opposite the bathroom. Crap, I only had ten minutes! I flew into my bedroom, stubbing my big toe on the doorjamb and getting whacked in the forehead by a falling jigsaw puzzle when I opened my closet door to get dressed.
    Slipping my thin arms through the gray sweater of my school uniform, I groaned. Today was off to an interesting start.
    It was all over school. By lunch, I'd eavesdropped on sixteen conversations in the hallways about the Reichard girl. I'd seen newspapers sticking out of at least twenty student's bookbags, flashing the picture of the seventeen-year-old, framed by the creative words of an imaginative writer, pleading for the murderer to be caught, punished, and taught a lesson, such as the fact that killing was, in fact, not okay. I was feeling sick to my stomach and not ready to turn in my History paper at all. I couldn't remember what I'd written about. Had I even completed the assignment?
    I sat at a close-to-empty table, avoiding the areas where gossip about Grace would reach my ears. I unwrapped my tuna sub, a blessing sent from the ever-so-faithful Subway on the far edge of town and sank my teeth into it. I ached with hunger despite the sick feeling gnawing away at my insides.
    I planned to eat quickly so I could hurry out of the cafeteria before someone sat down next to me, but I hadn't even gone through half my lunch when someone did.
    I knew him. I'd seen him before. Tall, dark haired football player with no chance of impressing me whatsoever. Yet here he sat, facing me with a curious expression, his green eyes peering at me glamorously.
    Oh, please, not about Grace! I felt the jock's gaze on me and cringed as he spoke.
    "Hey, your dad's the detective, right?"
    Of course it's about Grace.
    How many times had a recent crime sent people running to me to ask me if my father was on the case or if he had solved it yet? I'd lost count of the endless questions, the endless headlines Dad had thrown at me. Missing Parrow Boy Found Dead, Man Charged With Murder Again, Another Jack the Ripper Strikes. Kids at school suddenly recalled my existence all for this. When someone was killed, I became the source for the answer to the mystery, inexplicably popular for a few short weeks until their guy was proved guilty and sent off for twenty years behind bars.
    "Hey. Did you hear me? Is your dad the detective or not?"
    I nodded without meeting his gaze. Duh. Didn't he see the signs, the flashing lights around me? They appeared just in time for another victim to show up at the morgue. While they were identified, I was recognized.
    "How long has he been on the Murder Squad?"
    I shrugged.
    "So, is he any good?"
    I shrugged again.
    "Do you know who killed..." He pursed his lips, but he didn't need to say the name. We both knew. Everyone knew.
    Sure, of course I knew who killed Grace. I sighed, annoyed. In fact, I had a date with the killer. We were buddies, best friends. I knew all, heard all, saw all. Maybe I had even been there when Grace was killed and dumped in the middle of the road last night. Who did this kid confuse me for? The bad guy's lapdog or my dad?
    "Hey, are you deaf, too? I know you can't talk, but do you have a hearing problem or something? Hey! Can't you at least look at me?"
    I faced him, not really angry, but if I glared at him long enough and pretended I was really upset, he might take off. Why wasn't he with his friends, the goof-offs that said they played football but really only showed up on the field to watch the cheerleaders dance around in miniskirts. What was so important about me, the detective's daughter, to make this boy strike up a random conversation with me, whether he liked me or not?
    I looked away, forfeiting the plan to glare him down. He probably hated me. Why else would he talk to me now, after someone from our school had just died? He probably wasn't thinking straight. He hated me. He'd called me deaf. He'd said I couldn't talk.
    I clenched my fists in anger. They just didn't understand! Clueless! Cruel and stupid and misunderstanding. No one even took the time to ask. They just wanted to know if I had any idea who the killers were. If my dad was any good. Not about me. About the criminals and my dad.
    The jock eventually got up and went to the table full of laughing, pretty girls with glossy lips and long, shiny, curly hair, the table overpopulated by huge, crazy seniors with the muscles and the good-looks and clever lines and the key to the fastest cars from Japan or some distant planet that teenage boys raved about.
    I didn't care that I wasn't like them. I was normal looking. Real looking. They were fakes with pretty masks and empty brains.
    I stood up and tossed the rest of my lunch into the trash and ran to the bathroom. I pulled out my toothbrush and washed out all the junk that got stuck in the wires of my braces then wandered the halls with an even worse feeling in the pit of my churning stomach.

    "It's a whole lot of bull," my father shouted. He slammed his keys onto the table. I jumped, my mechanical pencil slipping from between my fingers and clattering to the floor. "They really expect the world of us, and then they turn around and call us on being stupid and worthless, nothing more than infants."
    Yeah, I'd seen this one coming. A murder that spreads around the school faster than most, students around every corner hounding me for answers. My dad had every right to be ticked off.
    I picked my pencil back up and finished writing my essay. Dad sat, huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf, watching me from underneath his dark, bushy eyebrows, waiting until my attention was no longer diverted.
    I paused before I closed my notebook, then gave up on stalling and shoved it into my bag.
    "Can't believe Marshall. He's usually so calm. But this murder's got him jumpy. I swear, he was up and moving out of his chair every few minutes and I had to get up and push him back down and he screamed at me to leave him alone. I wonder what's gotten into that guy. He's got three kids, you know, all in elementary school. Don't know how he does it. And that poor woman. He's married to her now, but I heard they got divorced way back when. That was before they had them little 'uns. Now they have more pressure to stay together, gotta support the kids and pay the bills and there ain't no way he could walk out now. Marshall sure got himself in a load of trouble with that woman. What's her name again? Britney or something like that. Well, anyhow, he told her off and now he's paying for it. And now he's telling me off every time he sees me. He won't stop shaking, that guy. I swear there's something wrong with him. Say, Lizzie, would you like to go out to eat tonight? I got the money."
    I barely caught on to the question. The words were all slurred together. He waited for me to reply, his eyes half-crazed.
    I nodded, a lump in my throat. It reminded me of those late dinners with Mom. He must've thought of that. He must realize I would realize that. My eyes narrowed, I tried to figure out what he was thinking. It was half an hour till midnight and he wanted to take me out? What was this about? I'd already eaten. Not much, just a ham sandwich and a bag of potato chips. I didn't want to tell him no, especially with all that he was going through.
    He stood and grabbed his jacket, which he had hung by the door. "Come on, come on, then," he stuttered, his hands trembling.
    I stared at those hands, remembering what he had said about Marshall. He was shaking, my dad was shaking.
    I put my sneakers on, hearing my dad's foot tapping nervously against the floor to a strange pattern.
    Ugh. Why hadn't my dad joined SWAT or something that wouldn't cause such an emotion imbalance to him, the people at school, or anyone? I thought of the jock, coming up to me today, not yesterday or any other day. I thought of all the students who figured that because my dad was on the Squad, he would tell me everything.
    Well he didn't tell me everything. That was just a fact of life. As a detective, you're trained to lie and to detect other lies. Hence detective. You don't share anything with family members or friends, and hardly ever the family of the victim. They just get told what they want to hear, that the Squad is doing their best to find the murderer and that everything is going well.
    When there were children killed, wasn't the child's family on a detective's hit-list? I remembered meeting Grace, seeing her brothers and her parents pick her up from cheerleading practice.
    I gasped. Cheerleading practice.
    "Lizzie? You coming?"
    My dad had the door opened with one hand, waiting. I slinked under his arm, nodding, pulling on a trench coat over my pajamas. I took a deep breath and pondered how close the jock and Grace Reichard might have been.

    The lights scared me. They flashed blue then red, blue then red, turning the world into ice then fire. I stared at the police cars parked by the side of the road, my eyes blurring as I saw the yellow caution tape. I bent my head down before I saw too much. Before I could take in anything that might be a little bit more than I could handle.
    Dad turned when he heard me gulp. "You okay?"
    I shrugged.
    The car screeched to a halt at the intersection. I let my eyes lift just enough to see the men gathered around, discussing, most likely, the cause for the sudden end to Grace's life. I let myself think about the same thing, seeing in my peripheral vision a group of people surrounding the yellow tape. A few cops warded them off but no one listened.
    "This is where they found her," he said, "Almost on the exact edge of town, on the-"
    I cleared my throat before he could continue. He nodded, understanding immediately.
    "Sorry, Lizzie. I forget sometimes how sensitive you are about death."
    I heard the words behind what he said and lowered my gaze again. I hadn't been very accepting of any death after Mom's. Of course not. Not after finding out the truth. Not after my dad had gone crazy searching for her killer. Not after I'd realized why she was dead and how much everyone had kept hidden from me.
    "Do you want to eat at Subway?"
    I nodded. I felt sick again, but I needed a nice tuna sub to calm me down. Maybe a fresh chocolate cookie. Maybe a large Coca Cola and a slice of apple pie. Maybe a trip to the bathroom so I could wash my face with ice cold water and pretend that everything was alright.
    He pulled into the lot and cut off the loud engine.
    The yellow tape was still clear in the distance, bright and there and utterly visible. I couldn't help but notice it and the throng of witnesses surrounding the crime scene.
    "Okay, let's go, girly."
    He only called me that when he was trying to annoy me. I turned to him and rolled my eyes extra big, just for him, then stuck out my tongue. That made him grin.
    We got out of the car, slammed our doors, and walked arm in arm to Subway.

    The alarm sounded before I was ready to be conscious. I groaned and threw my pillow at my windowsill where I stored my favorite books and reading glasses, which I never wore except at home, and my alarm clock. It screamed out in piercing bells like a fire drill, too loud and impossible to ignore.
    It fell to the hard floor, unaltered. The endless bongs rang on until I was practically screaming myself.
    But my voice remained inside, hidden, protected and secret, silent behind my dry lips.
    "Lizzie! It won't help me either if that keeps going off!"
    I sighed and kicked the stupid machine as I crawled out of my bunk bed. I'd been asked before why I bothered to have one, since I was an only child and didn't invite anyone over to sleep in my room, but when asked that, I just smiled, thinking, That's for me to know and for you never to find out.
    I clicked the OFF button on the alarm, which had knocked into my dresser-- full of not clothes but any other miscellaneous objects that had nowhere else to hide-- and threw my white pillow onto the top bunk. The bottom looked rather bare without a mattress or blanket. It was completely empty with hardly even any dust.
    I rushed into the kitchen to kiss my dad goodbye before he headed off to work. He smiled at me and said, "Have a good day," then ran outside, the door slamming behind him. I heard his car cruising out of the driveway, the engine making weird noises again. Great. Dad might not even notice, not with Grace's death on his mind.
    That was the moment I remembered, thinking of Grace, what I'd discovered, or rather, my theory. I hurried back to my room and got into my school uniform. The gray sweater wrapped over my white blouse uncomfortably and the black skirt fell just above my knees but didn't show any skin because of the white knee-highs. The tie was also black, hanging loosely from my neck, the same as everyone else's, the only part of me that made me similar to anyone at school, or anyone at all.
    I nearly tripped when I ran out the door. My bag thudded against my back as I hurried, catching myself just in time before my face could slam into the ground. The house wasn't that far from the school, just a mile or so. Running there and back five days out of seven gave me enough exercise to probably compete in the Olympics. I could keep going and not feel tired. It was a great feeling, sprinting through town with my feet slapping the sidewalk, the wind rushing past me and blowing strands of my dark hair out of my ponytail, my legs flying out and pushing me forward to my destination. My sneakers scraped the leaves underneath me with a satisfying crunch, the last off of the trees, the true sign of a coming and soon-to-be winter.
    The school appeared around the corner. I slowed gradually, entering the high school grounds at a steady walk.
    Then I stopped completely. Wait. Wait! I couldn't... I just couldn't do this.
    I stood, breathing in evenly with no sign of having raced little more than a mile up and down hills, realizing the problem to my plan.
    I had wanted to confront him and ask him his relationship with Grace. He must've known her. He was a football player and she was... had been... a cheerleader. They might have even been friends. Best friends. More than that, even.
    But I wasn't talking. And I had almost broken that cycle, almost caused a hinder to my silence.
    I glared at the ground, tears falling. They stung my eyes, making it impossible to see.
    So stupid. How could I have missed that? Wasn't it painfully obvious that talking to someone meant actually talking? Speaking outloud, breaking my silence, destroying my decision, and ruining everything? I couldn't speak! I wouldn't. It was that simple. The tears burned my cheeks, the salt dripped onto my already dry lips and cracking them.
    "Hey,"  a voice called, frighteningly close.
    I jumped, wiping my eyes and staring up at the blur. The figure fluttered in my altered vision, fuzzy and horribly close.
    Backing up, I blinked away the last of the salt water. I recognized him and nearly cried out. Again. I clamped my mouth shut, wishing I could control myself.
    "Sorry, I hope I didn't scare you. Uh... you're Lizzie, aren't you?"
    The jock started walking beside me and I followed him. He seemed so casual next to me, walking slowly and acting like we actually could get along, despite his popularity and my being mute.
    "Oh, right," he muttered, talking to himself it seemed. "I forgot, sorry. Um. I just wanted to, you know, tell you that, well, I can help your dad."
    My eyes widened.
    "I don't know. Maybe not. It was just a thought. So, I figured, well..." He held out his hand to me and met my confused gaze. "I wrote down my number. Call me, er, have your dad call me. I hope it'll help."
    The strip of notebook paper fell into my palm as I reached for it. My hand closed instinctively around it before it could fall.
    "Oh, and uh... my name's Matthew, if that helps." He laughed softly. "I'll talk... uh... I'll see you later."
    I stood in the middle of the courtyard, tears dried on my face, watching the boy walk into the school and disappear in the huge crowd of students.
    I clutched the piece of paper with Matthew's number written on it, bringing it to my chest and nearly crying again in gratitude.


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