Here’s it is. After trading ideas with writers for the month of October, below is “Let’s Write a Mystery Together Online–the Whole Story”. Enjoy! If you’d like to read other collaborative stories, click here.
“What’s she doing here?”
My cousin Julia glared daggers at the dark-haired girl who turned every head as she strutted across the beach Every guy looked toward her, and every girl looked away.
Julia glanced up and down the beach. “Where’s Aiden? He doesn’t need Olivia latching onto him.”
“Too late.” I tightened my grip on my Coke.
My older brother’s ex-girlfriend oozed up to him, a flirty smile on her perfectly painted lips.
“Here.” Julia thrust her Coke into my empty hand.
“What’re you going to do?” I said.
“What do you think? Drop kick her into next week. He’s spent six months getting over her. He doesn’t need …”
Julia ranted on, a speciality of hers, as Olivia stood on her toes and whispered something into Aiden’s ear.
Aiden jerked away.
Olivia stepped back, no trace of that smile on her high-cheekbones face. Actually, no trace of any emotion. That was first time I’d seen Olivia without some expression. Usually a nasty one.
Aiden strode quickly toward the parking lot.
Julia started to go after Aiden, making sure he was all good. But she went after Olivia instead.
“Hey!” Julia picked up speed as Olivia darted down the beach toward her rental house. “Yeah, you better run!”
I caught up to Julie mid stride. “Julia, get a grip.” I held her shoulders, made her turn and face me. “Look, your brother doesn’t need you to fight for him.” Julia steamed, barely listening. “Seriously. He’s good.” I lowered my sunglasses. “Enough of this. I’m starving.” We walked back, gathered our beach gear and headed toward the house.
“I saw you go after her,” Aiden yelled down from the balcony.
Julia snapped her head up. “I thought you left?” Julia looked toward the parking lot, saw his car.
“I’m in the process of leaving,” Aiden hissed. “Leaving to never return.” He clutched the balcony handrail, his face etched with distress.
Julia leapt up the spiral stairs, taking two and three at a time. “No way. What’s going on?” I followed her, still holding onto the Cokes and wondering why I never get an important job.
Aiden hung his head. “I can’t say.”
We reached the balcony, Julia stepping directly in front of him. “Meaning?”
“It’s over, Jules. Olivia is on her way to destroy me. She’s the only one who knows, and now she’s off to report me.” Aiden pushed off from the balcony, grabbed his half-empty duffel bag, and thundered down the spiral stairs.
“The only one who knows what?” I asked. The only response was the squealing of Aiden’s tires.
Julia snatched the Cokes from my hand and set them on the table. “Cal, we’ve got to follow him.” Pulling out her fob, she raced down the stairs.
I had just enough time to fall into her truck before she tore away from the beach.
Flooring it, Julia got close enough for us to follow Aiden’s hatchback away from the beach and lake, winding higher and higher into the thickly wooded hills as the sun sank behind them, touching the half-stripped branches of oaks and maples with crimson light.
“How could Oliva destroy Aiden?” I said, my gaze glued to his tail lights.
“We have to find out.” Julie tightened her white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel.
Aiden peeled off a gravel road and screeched to a halt beside the burned hulk of the Kelton mansion. He jumped out of his car.
Julia braked hard, and we both stared at the ruins.
“What’s Aiden doing here?” she said.
Julia slammed her car into Park and we jumped out, running toward Aiden’s hatchback. He was already picking his way down the grassy slope toward the charred remains of what was once the county’s richest mansion. The Kelton Mansion. Rumors and sketchy photos swirled with eyewitness claims of what had actually happened to the old place, but none of the stories were consistent. The most logical sounding story I’d heard was that last year after homecoming, the football players had a party there. The cross country team crashed the party, and somehow the whole place blew up, killing Aiden’s best friend Kyle, the same Kyle who is Olivia’s brother. When her brother died, Olivia became obsessed with figuring out who was responsible. She and Aiden had already been together for 2 years, and I knew for a fact he wasn’t at the party and couldn’t have had a part in the explosion. But Olivia could never know why Aiden was at the beach that night instead of the mansion. That had to remain a family secret.
Julia and I followed Aiden, scanning the area for anything suspicious. Suddenly Aiden hurled a brick at the burned skeleton of the mansion. “This wasn’t supposed to happen!”
“No duh, but why does he look so guilty?” Julia asked me. I shrugged, wondering the same thing.
She slowly walked up to him. “What wasn’t supposed to happen?”
“Olivia is going to tell everyone the explosion was my fault. And the family secret is the only way to prove my innocence.”
“So she knows? And she’s blackmailing you?” I asked.
Aiden’s response was to chuck another brick at the black remains. “We have to come up with something. If everyone finds out, it’ll ruin the whole family name.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “Olivia is going to blame you for the fire and her brother’s death even though she knows you were at the beach with us that night?”
Aiden shook his head almost hard enough to fling off his crewcut. “No. She thinks the family is lying for me, that I wasn’t at the beach. She’ll reveal the secret if I don’t confess.”
“We can’t let her do that,” Julia said though her teeth. “If we could figure out what really happened, we could clear you and satisfy Olivia.”
“If the cops haven’t solved the case by now,” said Aiden, “how can we in 48 hours?”
I gasped. “That’s all the time she’s given you?”
“I wonder.” I pulled at my lip and gazed up at the darkening hills.
“Wonder what?” Aiden screamed. “We’ve got to do something.”
“I wonder if the cops have talked to everyone who might have been here at the mansion that night.” I started up the steep slope and entered the woods.
“Where are you going?” Julia asked, running to catch up to me.
“Up to the still. For inspiration. Or a clue.” Doubtful, but I think best in the woods, so I walked in that direction. Julia followed, and I eventually heard Aiden’s footsteps trailing behind us on the leaves and twigs.
Anybody who knows anything about our county’s history has heard the stories of the crazy old guy with the moonshine still who made millions and did a bunch of other unsavory activities to add to his wealth. Mysteries surrounded the guy’s uncanny ability to evade the law and his sudden disappearance. But nobody, and I mean nobody, knew that he was our great-grandpa. When your ancestors have a reputation as clean as John Wilkes Booth or Al Capone, you don’t brag about your lineage. Aiden, Julia, and I were taught from infancy to never reveal our family history.
Right before he disappeared, he told Dad and Uncle Jim that he’d hidden much of his wealth, and his kids’ and grandkids’ birth certificates, on the beach. It was a secret they wished they hadn’t heard, and for years they pretended they didn’t. Until a few weeks ago when realtors started zoning the grove of trees by the beach. An excavator and cement truck showed up there, and a public groundbreaking was planned. If shrewd great-grandpa told the truth about the beach, his wealth and our family heritage would be discovered. It was time to act. The reason we chose homecoming night to take care of it in secret was because anyone with enough community spirit to care about the newly zoned beach would be cheering on the team at the football game.
When we first heard sirens screaming out to the mansion, we were glad because it gave us extra time to search. But after the ashes settled and questions began, the fact remained: all of Kyle’s closest friends except Aiden were there that night. It threw Aiden into the center of everybody’s suspicion since Olivia and Aiden had recently broken up. People said maybe Aiden killed Kyle to get back at Olivia. Bogus. But we couldn’t admit why weren’t at homecoming so we had to keep silent.
Voicing my unspoken question as we walked, Julia asked, “Why did you tell Olivia about great-grandpa?”
“Why did Samson tell Delilah about his hair? I was in love and stupid.”
“Why does she want to blame you for Kyle’s death?” Julia asked the next obvious question.
“Why did Delilah tell the Philistines to gouge out his eyes? Olivia is hurt because her brother died so she’ll hurt other people out of pain.”
I held a branch of prickers to the side so it wouldn’t snap Julia and Aiden. “So she’s threatened to say you planned and started the fire to kill Kyle. But you guys were best friends,” I said. “Who would believe it? And why does she hate you that much to destroy us all?”
We arrived at the old crumbling site of the still, the place where our wicked great-grandpa did way worse stuff than make moonshine. Aiden kicked a rock and sighed. “Because,” he took a breath and Julia waved her hand in a circle, gesturing to hurry up and tell us. “Because she started the fire. On accident. Never meant for it to get out of control. She just wanted to add fireworks to the party, and then it killed her brother.”
“Why did she confess to you?”
“She didn’t. I figured it out. I wanted to find out who killed Kyle, so I asked questions. If I hadn’t confronted her about it, she wouldn’t have had to blackmail me. I should’ve gone straight to the cops.” Aiden leaned against a tree and hung his head.
“So if she can blame you, she stays out of trouble,” I said.
Julia started pacing and thinking out loud. “She knows you were at the beach, and she knows you won’t admit it.” Then she snapped her fingers. “Hudson!”
“Huh?” I asked.
“Hudson went to the party, but since he’s hoping for valedictorian, he made everyone promise not to tell he was there, and he left before the cops got there.”
Aiden and I stared at Julia. “How do you know that? And how does that help us?”
Julia beamed triumphantly. “It helps us because …
I think I can get Hudson to admit he was there and you weren’t, Aiden.”
“How?” I said.
“Because Hudson and I have sort of been dating.”
Aiden’s jaw flopped loose like mine did.
“And you haven’t told us?” Aiden yelled.
I flung out my arms. “There are way, way too many secrets in this family.”
“We haven’t told anyone,” said Julia. “Even though our family looks respectable, that’s not good enough for a Whittaker. Hudson’s parents wouldn’t want him entangled with someone who might keep him from going on to great things–whatever those are.”
“Hudson was at the beach,” I said. “Text him and see if he’s still there.”
As Julia typed, Aiden said, “If he beat it before the cops came that night, Hudson won’t jeopardize his future to help us.”
Julia stared at her phone. “He’s not all that crazy about the future his parents have planned for him. He’s there.” She slid her phone into her pocket. “Let’s mount up.”
Aiden pulled away first, and Julia and I followed.
We’d just turned onto the main road to the beach when bright blue lights appeared in the rearview mirror.
Julia turned saucer-sized eyes to me. “Do you think they want us or Aiden?”
“Maybe all of us,” I said.
“What do I do?” Julia asked, eyes wide.
“You pull over! Have you never seen the news? If you’re getting pulled over, you listen to the cops.”
Julia obediently pulled over, but to my horror, I saw Aiden’s quickly car picking up speed. “What is he doing?”
“Just what we need. A chase,” I muttered as the cop walked toward us.
She turned to me and said, “Do I look innocent?” I nodded as she rolled down her window.
We heard the officer speak into his radio. “I have one suspect pulled over. The other took off, going north on Highway 14, estimated speed 75 miles per hour. Head him off at the intersection.”
Julia and I exchanged a freaked out look, and then she turned when the cop addressed her.
“License and proof of insurance. Were you trespassing on private property?”
Julia fiddled through her wallet trying to get out her license. She was obviously nervous and not accustomed to getting pulled over. She discreetly angled her head my way. “What’s the insurance thingy?” she whispered to me.
I dug in the glove box and handed her the proof of insurance. She turned to the cop. “I didn’t know it was trespassing.”
The officer eyed us both. “You didn’t see the No Trespassing signs?”
A voice on his radio rapidly spoke, but I definitely heard, “Suspect is fleeing. Reasonable suspicion that he’s the same kid accused of arson at the Kelton Mansion.”
Julia looked at me with panic in her eyes. “We’re innocent,” I whispered. “Hudson will explain it all.” I didn’t fully believe that Hudson would favor a future with Julia over his perfect valedictorian future, but obviously I didn’t know him like Julia did. Hudson and Julia. Did not see that one coming.
The officer turned his attention back to us. “The owners have threatened to press charges.”
Julia shook her head and spluttered, “The owners are our parents.” It’s true. And Julia just told a cop. How long before the whole county knew all the family secrets?
The officer narrowed his eyes, then studied Julia’s license again. For a very long moment he stared. “So that means you’re not trespassers. Where are you going now?”
“To the beach to visit my friend Hudson Whittaker.” Julia’s fingers anxiously tapped her steering wheel.
“Are you at all involved with the driver of the car that was in front of you which fled when I turned on my lights?”
Julia squeezed her mouth shut. I could see beads of sweat forming on her hairline even though it was only 60 degrees today.
When the officer raised his eyebrows, she blabbed. “Well, he’s my cousin. Her brother.” She pointed to me. Thanks. “But we don’t know what he’s doing now. Why he drove so fast. We thought he was going to the beach with us.”
The officer eyed us both and finally said he was going to let us go but he gave us a scripted talk to be very careful about who we hang out with and to let our parents know where we are and what we’re doing.
When he let us go, Julia turned off the main highway and headed toward the beach.
“Aren’t we going to check on Aiden?”
“We don’t have time to check on Aiden. We need Hudson to clear his name as fast as possible. That officer’s nametag had the same last name as Olivia. He’ll hear her dishonest side of the story.”
Julia parked at the beach and she texted Hudson as we walked. “He isn’t responding. Weird.”
Or smart, I thought.
As we approached the part of the beach where Hudson had been earlier, we saw lifeguards and beach goers gathered in a group. One lifeguard appeared to be calling 9-1-1. Hearing shouts, we pushed our way toward the group. Hudson was facing off with Olivia.
Hudson’s face was red as Olivia said, “And why would you, Mr. Perfect, admit that you were at the drinking party where my brother was killed?”
Hudson’s mom gasped. Julia walked up to him and slid her hand into his. And just then, Aiden’s hatchback tore a sandy path right onto the beach with about six cops barreling behind.
I clutched at my hair.
This was too much. Too many secrets, too many lies, too much manipulation.
“I’m done,” I said. “The truth needs to come out.”
Julia stiffened. “You mean …”
“I mean everything.”
Aiden stepped out of the car with his hands up. An officer spun him around.
“You’re right,” said Hudson. “It all needs to come out.” He squeezed Julia’s hand.
I marched toward the officers. If I walked fast enough, maybe I wouldn’t chicken out before I reached them.
Hudson and Julia fell in step beside me.
As the officer handcuffed Aiden, I said, “Excuse me. I think I–I mean, we can clear up this whole mess about the fire at the Kelton Mansion.”
Olivia shoved herself in front of us. “They’re liars. Their whole family are liars.”
“You should know,” said Hudson.
I took a deep breath and felt as if all my clothes had vanished. Funny thing. As vulnerable as I felt, I also felt I was about to be launched into the sky. Free.
“Officer,” I said, “the reason Aiden couldn’t have started the fire is because …”