Tag Archive | suspense

Ebook Romance Stories: Review of “The Price of Silence”

Review of “The Price of Silence” by Debra Ullrick

Stupendous read! Absolutely fabulous! Will leave you wanting to read more by this amazing author!

Staci Stallings is an amazingly gifted writer. Her characters are fabulous and her writing is so poetic. I love all of her stories! I’ve read, The Price of Silence, three times now. It’s that good. Wait, did I say good? Make that great! There are places in this story that keep you on the edge of your seat, holding your breath, wondering what’s going to happen next, and places that have you crying–so get the Kleenex–and other places that have you saying, “Ah-h-h.” Because of the strong message in, The Price of Silence, I think it should be mandatory reading in every middle school and high school. Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t easy. And sometimes we stand alone when we do choose to do what’s right. Find out if protagonist Robyn Lockhart does what’s right in the face of danger, and if she stands alone. The Price of Silence, is an excellent read for all ages. I highly recommend it, and all of Staci’s books.

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Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt from “The Price of Silence”

The Price of Silence Final cover 1-18-2014

Excerpt from “The Price of Silence”

“Oh, you’re here, great,” Kat said suddenly, piling her things on the desk next to Robyn.

“Yeah,” Robyn said, feeling like a barnacle on a boat.

Kat sat down at her desk. “I told you it wouldn’t be so bad today.”

“Where is everybody?”

“Mondays and Wednesdays are nuts,” Kat said. “The paper comes out on Tuesday and Thursday, so most of the time, the rest of the week is like this.”

“This is better,” Robyn said, glancing over her shoulder.

“I agree.” Kat stood. “Ready?”

“For what?” Robyn asked, stumbling to her feet.

“An interview with Findley.”

“Now?” Robyn asked as the panic caught up with her again.

“Yeah, my story for Tuesday is on campus crime and what they plan to do about it.”

“Campus crime?” Alarm bells rang in her head.

“We’ve always had cars broken into and stuff taken from lockers, but this year seems worse than usual,” Kat said as she led the way out of the newsroom.

“Why?”

“I don’t know really. It’s a guess, but word has it that when Reese Jones took over the Scorpions, their initiation process got a lot tougher.”

“The Scorpions?” Robyn asked more alarmed than before.

“James Madison’s version of the Mafia,” Kat said, nodding. “Our very own, home grown gang bangers.”

Gangs? Robyn had heard of them, of course, but she’d never thought she’d see one up close and personal.

“So, what’s Findley going to do about it?” Robyn asked, intrigued with the topic despite the fear lurking just behind her consciousness.

“That’s what we’re going to find out.”

*~*~*

In ten minutes they were sitting in Mr. Findley’ office, and somehow it looked different today. Less threatening. Robyn was sure it was because this time she had Kat by her side.

“The number of reported crimes around school has almost doubled in the last six months,” Kat said, sounding every bit the big city crime reporter. “What plans do you have to combat this problem?”

“Well, Miss Layton, we’ve already implemented the security patrol around school. Their presence has helped,” Mr. Findley, a gray-haired man of almost sixty, said as if that should answer all questions.

“How has that helped? Crime has gone up,” Kat said not letting him off the hook.

“Well, we feel their visible presence on campus helps to deter crime in certain higher crime areas.”

“What do they look like—the campus patrol, I mean?” Robyn asked much to the surprise of everyone in the room.

“They’re the guys in the blue jackets that walk the halls during and between classes,” Kat said dismissively as she focused on the next question in her notebook.

“Huh. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one,” Robyn said, speaking her thoughts as they crossed her mind. “I didn’t even know they existed, which seems kind of strange because I’ve been caught in the halls after the bell’s rung several times during the last three days. It seems like one of them would’ve asked what I was doing.”

“Well, we only have ten of them, and they can’t cover every hallway all the time,” Mr. Findley said, sliding toward the defensive.

“So, they only work if they happen to be where the trouble happens?” Robyn asked clearly unconvinced. “Sounds pretty ineffective to me.”

“Well, we had to start somewhere, Miss Lockhart.” Mr. Findley’s tone registered a trace of annoyance.

“Do you have security cameras?” Robyn asked totally into the interview now and forgetting that she was supposed to be only observing.

“We’re looking into that, but it’s only one of several options at this point.”

“What other things are you considering? Parking lot patrol? Metal detectors? Student Crime Stoppers?” Robyn asked.

Mr. Findley bristled under the barrage of questions. “Those are all options.”

“Does the state give you any money for all of this? I mean putting this stuff in place can’t be cheap,” Kat said, breaking into the conversation.

“No, it’s not cheap.” Mr. Findley sighed. “And no, for the most part the funds we get are not supposed to be used for these things—they’re mostly for new textbooks, computer equipment, facility improvement that sort of thing.”

“It seems to me that textbooks and computer equipment aren’t going to help a whole lot if the students don’t feel safe,” Kat said. “Shouldn’t their safety be a paramount consideration?”

“It is, I assure you. We’re doing everything we can to keep our students safe while they’re on our campus.”

“What about the Scorpions?” Robyn asked, jumping into the topic foremost in her mind. “How are you dealing with them?”

“The Scorpions.” Mr. Findley looked from Robyn to Kat and back again, and Robyn felt Kat straighten at her elbow. “Well, as with any other group that threatens the well-being of the students, they are being dealt with in the fairest way possible.”

“How?” Robyn asked again.

“How?” He scratched his nose. “Well, the best way to explain it is to say it’s on a case-by-case basis, I suppose. It’s not easy to link an entire group to a crime and make things stick. You can only convict the person who actually commits the crime.”

“Okay,” Robyn said slowly as she pieced together what he was really saying. “So, let’s say someone is being initiated into a gang, and they’re told to swipe a stereo. If that person is caught, then that person and not the gang is punished?”

Mr. Findley nodded. “That’s correct.”

Robyn had no pen and no paper, and she hoped Kat was taking good notes. “Well, what if a school-sponsored group were to require their potential members to commit a crime to get in, what would happen then?”

Mr. Findley sat in silence for a long moment. “Well, I suppose their right to operate on the campus would be revoked.”

“So, what you’re saying is if you’re legal, the whole group gets punished, but if you’re not, nothing happens to the group, only to the person unfortunate enough to get caught,” Robyn said.

“Doesn’t seem quite fair when you put it like that,” Mr. Findley said with a sigh, “but yes, I suppose that’s what I’m saying.”

“So, the only real way to get the Scorpions or any other gang off the campus is to catch and convict every one of its members,” Robyn said, zeroing in on the real story. “How many members are there in this gang?”

“It’s hard to say.” Mr. Findley rubbed his nose as if he was battling a monstrous headache.

“Some reports say up to a 100 or more,” Kat mumbled as she scribbled furiously in her notebook.

“So,” Robyn said, disliking the picture that all the pieces of this puzzle were making, “theoretically, they could commit 100 or more crimes, and if they are all caught by your group of ten guys in blue suits, and if they haven’t added any more members, and if they actually go to jail or something for every crime, then the halls will be safe for the other students?”

Mr. Findley sat like a stone statue.

“May we take that as a yes?” Kat asked, looking up, her pen poised for the answer.

“All I can say is we’re doing our best to prevent and reduce crime on campus,” Mr. Findley said, emphasizing each word. “We’re implementing policies and incorporating new rules to combat the problem.”

“And while you’re doing that, are we as students just sitting ducks?” Robyn asked pointedly.

“Or are there things we can do to help ourselves?” Kat asked quickly softening the question.

“Well, as a matter of fact, there are several things you can do—like making sure your cars and lockers are secure. Don’t leave valuables in them if at all possible. As far as in school, keep your eyes open and report any strange activity. If you’re here at night, use the buddy system to go to cars…”

“So, we’re not talking about just robbery then. Are we, Mr. Findley?” Kat asked, breaking into the list.

He sighed heavily. “No, Miss Layton. We’re not.”

A shiver ran up Robyn’s spine. Suddenly this wasn’t about playing reporters any more. This was serious. “Has someone been attacked?”

“Back in February, a girl was jumped out by the gym,” Kat said, not letting the look Mr. Findley gave her intimidate her into sweeping the story under the carpet. “Luckily a couple of people came along just as it happened. She was okay, but it not long after that, she transferred.”

“Unfortunately, we can’t be everywhere at once,” Mr. Findley said clearly on the defensive now. “Students have to use their heads and not get themselves into a position where they can easily be injured or harmed.”

“Like the hallways between classes,” Robyn laughed with a shake of her head.

“The hallways, Miss Lockhart?”

“Yeah, I got knocked down the other day, and I was almost trampled to death.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Mr. Findley said, more guardedly than the statement warranted.

“You know, come to think of it, how do I know whoever did that to me, didn’t do it on purpose?” Robyn asked, suddenly seeing the incident in a whole new light.

Mr. Findley tilted his head. “What do you mean?”

“Are you kidding?  Even a naïve girl from Iowa can see the potential for crime in that hallway. Three thousand students and what, ten security people?  One knockdown in a crowded, frenzied hallway?  Shoot, by the time you get your bearings back, your stuff could be halfway to Mexico.”

Kat nodded. “She’s got a point.”

“Yes, I believe she does,” Mr. Findley finally agreed as he opened a folder on his desk and studied something. “In fact, that’s a problem that has just started surfacing. I’ve had three complaints about incidents just like that cross my desk in the last week.”

“So, the halls aren’t as safe as we think they are then?” Kat asked, intrigued.

“Apparently we have a long way to go in securing the building.” Mr. Findley looked at them both. “I honestly wish there was some way to ensure that every student was safe every second of every day they’re here, but I can’t. Maybe the two of you can get the word out so the students can help us help them. It would be a start anyway.”

“It can’t hurt,” Robyn said suddenly seeing a myriad of things she had done wrong in the last week.

“Well, thanks for your time, Mr. Findley.”  Kat closed her notebook and shook his hand.

“Thank you, Miss Layton, and you too, Miss Lockhart.”  Mr. Findley stood and shook their hands. “I’m glad you decided to join the newspaper staff, but I’m thinking I’d better be more prepared for interviews after this.”

They all laughed, and then Kat and Robyn made their way out of the office. They were almost out of the building before either of them spoke again.

“I don’t care what you say,” Kat said. “You’re joining the staff.”

*~*~*

It seemed like only seconds before Robyn was back home sitting at her own kitchen table trying to concentrate on Trig. But Trig was the last thing on her mind. This story was big. Much bigger than anything she’d ever worked on at Lakota. It was downright frightening to think that at any moment in the hallway she could be the victim of a crime.

She reviewed the knockdown incident again, and it was clear that no one except Kat had even noticed or cared that she was in trouble. How easy would it have been for someone to grab her stuff and be gone?  Too easy, she thought with a shiver.

“I wonder what kids who’ve been going there all their lives think about this,” she said, tapping her pencil on her Trig homework lost in thought. “Do they see the threat? Or are they so used to being bounced around in the hallway, they don’t even think about it?”

One way or the other, she needed to find out. She pulled a clean sheet of paper out of her notebook and scribbled a few questions down. Tomorrow she would do a little unofficial polling of her own.

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Ebook Romance Stories: Character Interview “The Price of Silence”

The following is a feature story in the James Madison High School Chronicle on the recent controversial suspension of one of the student body’s newest members and Chronicle reporter, Robyn Lockhart.  It is not intended to influence the investigation into the incidents surrounding Miss Lockhart one way or the other.  It is only to give the students the chance to see the different sides of the story and decide for themselves.

Robyn Lockhart

Hero or Villain?

If given the chance, don’t call James Madison senior Robyn Lockhart brave.

Upon hearing that word, she will tell you, repeatedly, that moving from her former small town in Iowa to the big city took all of her courage before she ever even made it to James Madison.

“The truth is I didn’t want to come here,” Lockhart said in an interview from her home pending the investigation into the incidents leading to her suspension.  “When my parents split up, it was my mom who wanted to move here.  I was just part of the baggage she happened to bring along.”

However, it wasn’t long after her arrival in these halls that Lockhart began to make her mark through her stories in the Chronicle.

“Robyn Lockhart?” Principal Findley said.  “Yes. Yes. Of course I know her, but I’d rather not discuss the circumstances surrounding her status at the present time.  We will just wait to find out what the investigation uncovers.  Beyond that I have no comment.”

Others, however, were more willing to come to Lockhart’s defense.

“Let me tell you something,” Mr. Tucker, Chronicle advisor, said.  “Robyn Lockhart is nothing but an asset to this school.  She put herself on the line to get the administration to pay attention to the problems we’re having–not just once but several times.

“In fact, I’ve not met a more compassionate, concerned student in all my time here.  Robyn will stand up for what she believes in even if her very best friends are questioning how smart she is to do that.  Take Sean Hudson for example.  The other day in class the two of them got into this heated exchange over a poem that would have left a presidential candidate winded.

“If you ask me, James Madison needs more Robyn Lockharts rather than suspending the one we’ve got.”

Nevertheless, when this Chronicle reporter caught up with Chad Mayes, a James Madison senior and one of Lockhart’s reported friends, a different side of the story emerged.

“I’m not one to point fingers and think bad of people,” Mayes said.  “But when you see the evidence I saw in that hallway after that fight, well, what’s a guy to think, you know?  What is it they say, ‘Who are you going to believe–me or your lying eyes?’  Yeah. Evidence like I saw doesn’t lie no matter how much you might want it to.”

However, the longer one follows this story, the more angles one finds.  For instance, Kathryn Layton, a reporter with the Chronicle and reportedly one of Lockhart’s best friends, provided a very different take than Mayes who is her boyfriend.

“Robyn is no thief.  I can tell you that,” Kat, a James Madison senior, said.  “I don’t know how it happened, but I was there when it all went down at the school that night.  I’ll tell you this, Robyn did not do what they are accusing her of doing.  She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s all.  I know Robyn Lockhart.  I trust Robyn Lockhart.  She is my friend.  You cannot tell me any of this was her fault.”

So, who is the real Robyn Lockhart?  Is she a thief or a hero who fights for justice and right?

“Don’t even go there with that whole villain story line,” Sean Hudson, Lockhart’s other good friend (obviously despite the flare-up in Mr. Tucker’s class), said.  “Robyn is a good person.  In fact, she is the best person I know.  She went into that school building the day after the break-in.  Why?  Because the students of James Madison deserve better than their getting right now that’s why.  She went in there, knowing she might get into trouble and knowing she was walking into a minefield.  But she went in.  For me and for you.  For all of us because she was trying to get to the bottom of all the junk that’s been happening around here.

“And if you’re wondering, the answer is yes.  I am talking about the break-in, but I’m talking about so much more than that.  I’m talking about the incident at the gym last February and the countless stolen items and instances of bullying that nobody wants to talk about.  Robyn may be just another student in the hallways, but she is a student who cares more about this school than most of us who have been here for years.  So put that in your little paper and give Robyn a break for a change already.  She doesn’t deserve all the nasty things people have been saying about her.”

So who is Robyn Lockhart?  Innocent small town girl?  Or dangerous thief and fomenter of trouble at James Madison?  We will leave that up to you and the investigators to decide.

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Ebook Romance Stories: “The Price of Silence,” Chapter 1 & 2

The Price of Silence Final cover 1-18-2014

The Price of Silence

by:  Staci Stallings

~*~

To all those who taught me that

Standing up for right is always

Worth it and that courage

Is choosing to do the right thing in the moment

—rather than a lack of fear.

Thank you.

~*~

Chapter 1

With every step she took across the hard, gray concrete, Robyn Lockhart wondered again why her mother insisted on being so unreasonable. Getting divorced was one thing, but moving half a continent away in the middle of junior year was downright cruel.

Robyn hugged her three new notebooks to her chest as she climbed the steps to James Madison High School. How could she expect to catch up with only three months of school left?  This was truly the most selfish thing her mother had ever done, and that was saying a lot. She yanked the door to the school open and was met by a gust of stale, dank air.

Ugh. She hated the place already. With reluctant steps she forced her feet to carry her down the dim hallway. “Right now Jill and Lisa are meeting at the lockers to talk about the weekend.”

In her mind Robyn could see them standing at the lockers, and she wondered what new stories Lisa had to tell today. She was always coming up with something to keep them laughing and shaking their heads at the same time. But now, thanks to her mother, Robyn was here 600 miles away from the wild stories, walking into a principal’s office, and wishing only that she could vanish into thin air.

“May I help you?” the prim receptionist asked from behind the counter.

“I need to see Mr. Findley.” Robyn willed her soft voice to stay steady. “He’s the principal.”

“I know who Mr. Findley is, Dear,” the lady said not altogether kindly, and Robyn clutched her books tighter. “May I ask what this visit is in reference to?”

“Oh, I’m Robyn Lockhart, I just transferred from Iowa.”

“One moment, Miss Lockhart,” the lady said and disappeared through a door at the back of the office.

Somehow Robyn felt as though she were outside of herself looking in as her gaze traced the lines across the back wall of the office. She was here, but she really wasn’t. It was someone else standing here, asking for the principal, she was 600 miles away living her real life.

“Right, Mr. Hudson, I totally believe you.” A very tall, very authoritative-looking man pushed a dark-headed vagrant by the collar into the office behind her, and Robyn spun, willing herself to disappear.

“I’m telling you, Mr. Tucker, I had nothing to do with it.” The vagrant twisted, trying to look up at Mr. Tucker, but it wasn’t working.

“Tell it to Findley.” Mr. Tucker deposited his prize into one of the waiting room chairs.

“Why, Mr. Tucker,” the receptionist said, resuming her position behind the counter, “I didn’t think we would see you until at least 10 o’clock.”

“What can I say, Mary Ann?” Mr. Tucker threw his hands up. “It’s spring.”

The receptionist breathed a tired sigh and nodded. Then she seemed to remember Robyn. “Mr. Tucker, I’d like you to meet our newest student. This is Miss Robyn Lockhart.” The words were far kinder than any Mary Ann had said up to that moment. “She’s going to be in your English class.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Robyn.” Mr. Tucker extended his hand, and she shook it quickly and just as quickly let it go. “It’ll be nice to have some new points of view in class, won’t it, Hudson?”

The dark-headed criminal in the chair by the wall just grunted, and Mary Ann shook her head in annoyance.

“I take it that Mr. Hudson is not here about his placement onto the honor society,” Mary Ann said, handing Mr. Tucker a form.

“In his dreams.” Mr. Tucker hurriedly filled out the form.

Mary Ann surveyed Robyn long and hard. “Miss Lockhart, why don’t you have a seat? Mr. Findley will be with you shortly.”

Robyn looked around, and suddenly the office seemed very, very small. With reluctance holding her back, she pushed her feet over to the remaining chairs and took the one with the most seats between her and the criminal. It really shouldn’t surprise her, she reasoned. It was, after all, what she had expected when she’d been told she’d be transferred to a school with five times more people in one class than had attended her entire previous school, and yet nothing had really prepared her for outright criminals to be attending classes with her.

Tentatively she peeked through her eyelashes at the criminal, but the moment her gaze met his face, her heart tripped over itself. He didn’t look like any criminal she had ever seen before—he was gorgeous. He had abandoned the slumped over look in favor of the leaning back looking at the ceiling look, and from her vantage point, he looked like he could be a model in a GQ magazine. The straight nose, the slightly long, black hair brushed back from his high cheekbones. He looked like a god—a god in a black leather jacket.

“Mr. Findley will see you now, Miss Lockhart,” Mary Ann said, breaking into Robyn’s racing thoughts.

“Oh, okay.”  Somehow she pushed her legs under her, took a deep breath, and forced herself to walk by the unmoving figure in the chair. ‘He’s trouble,’ her mind repeated as she measured her steps into the principal’s office. ‘He’s trouble. I’m telling you, don’t even go there.’

*~*~*

Five hours later Robyn yanked the schedule out of her pocket again and scanned it as the crush of bodies around her bounced her from side to side.  English, Mr. Tucker, Building B, Room 417.

English was good. Mr. Tucker was good. Mr. Hudson, however, worried her. Maybe Mr. Tucker was kidding with the crack about new points of view in class. Surely, she wouldn’t be in a class with troublemakers. She had, after all been at the top of her class at Lakota. But Lakota and James Madison were two very different places—that much was supremely obvious.

Making herself as small as she could, she squeezed her way up the stairs and found herself in a near empty hallway at the top the second the bell rang.

“Well, I’ve been late for every other class. Why spoil a perfect record?” she said to the emptiness around her.

With a tired sigh, she trudged down the hall and finally found 417. She put her hand on the doorknob and then stopped. What if he was on the other side of that door?  Her face went hot at the thought. What difference did it make? she scolded herself. It was obvious during their brief encounter that his scope of caring did not encompass many things and she was quite sure, that certainly included her.

“Miss Lockhart,” Mr. Tucker said suddenly opening the door for her. “Glad you found us.”

“Oh, hi,” she stammered, glancing up only briefly before she returned her gaze to the squares on the floor. “Sorry I’m late.”

“No problem, just don’t make a habit of it. Please, come on in and join us.”

He pushed the door open for her to enter, which she did on lead feet. She could feel every gaze in the room on her so she kept her own glued to the floor.

“Why don’t you take a seat over there?  We were just discussing ‘A Worn Path’ page 424.”  Mr. Tucker handed her a book, and Robyn took it, breathing only a small sigh of relief that at least she had already read the piece they would be discussing.

“Now, Kathryn, I believe you had the floor,” Mr. Tucker said, turning back to the class as Robyn buried her head into the pages of the well-used textbook.

“Well, I was surprised by how courageous Phoenix was—I mean even though she was old, she didn’t back down, even when the guy held a gun on her,” a young girl with the most beautiful, long, sand-colored hair Robyn had ever seen said. Kathryn was sitting directly across from Robyn in the front row, and it was obvious by her placement in the room, and the intent look on Mr. Tucker’s face, that she was no flake.

“And why, do you think she had that courage, Mr. Mayes?” Mr. Tucker’s focus shifted only slightly as he leaned against the desk and crossed his arms.

“I don’t know,” the young man with a nice face and curly black hair directly behind Kathryn said.

“Come on, Chad. This isn’t brain surgery,” Mr. Tucker said, goading.

“Well, it’s kind of trite.” Chad’s words came slowly as if he was apologizing for them. “But I think it means she did it for love.”

Mr. Tucker cocked his head to one side. “Why is that trite?”

“It’s a little over done, don’t you think?” Chad stretched his long legs into the aisle. “I’m in love, therefore, I will brave the lions and tigers and bears—oh my!”

“I see.”  Mr. Tucker nodded. “Miss Layton, do you have a rebuttal?”

“I think that to some extent Chad has a point,” Kathryn said thoughtfully, “but I still think that in the end, it’s true. We’ll do things that put our own lives in jeopardy to keep those we love safe.”

“Come on, Kat. It’s a cliché, and you know it,” Chad said in annoyed exasperation.

“That’s interesting,” Mr. Tucker said. “Now, correct me if I’m wrong, Mr. Mayes, but aren’t you and Miss Layton going together even as we speak?”

Chad’s face constricted like he’d eaten a rotten lemon. “Yeah, everybody knows that. So?”

“So, is there anything you wouldn’t do for her?” Mr. Tucker asked with just the hint of a smile.

Robyn suddenly felt sorry for Chad as she watched him squirm in his seat. He was stuck, and every student in the room knew it.

“What are you saying?  Would I die for her?  Lay down my life so she could live?”

“Something like that,” Mr. Tucker agreed.

“I don’t think any girl is worth that,” a smooth voice directly behind Chad said.

Robyn turned in her seat, and her heart stumbled for the second time that day. It was him. The vagrant. The god.

“Ah, Mr. Hudson, I thought you might have an opinion on the subject,” Mr. Tucker said with a smile and a nod. “Would you care to elaborate?”

Slung low in his chair, the vagrant never bothered to sit up. “Love isn’t worth risking your life for. I mean, okay, you risk your life, and she says she loves you, and then what, six months down the line you hate each other’s guts?”  He crossed his arms. “What’s the point?”

“The point is that you put someone else above yourself, Sean,” Kathryn said, visibly irritated.

“Other people only let you down,” Sean said with a dismissive shake of his head.

“Not all people are like that.”  Kathryn turned in her seat to take him on square. “What about Chad, here?  You two have been friends forever. Has he ever let you down?”

“That’s different.” The head shaking became more noticeable. “That’s about friends—not about love.”

“Oh, I beg to differ, Mr. Hudson,” Mr. Tucker said, breaking into the conversation. “I think that’s exactly what this piece is about. Let’s say for instance that Chad here needs your help with something, but it’s going to really put you out. You’re really going to have to go out of your way to do it. Would you put aside something you think is important to help a friend?”

“Probably,” Sean said with half a shrug, “but that’s different. That’s not love. That’s friendship.”

“Is there a difference?” Mr. Tucker asked.

Chad held up a weak hand. “Let me just say, I think there is a very big difference.”

Several students snickered, but Mr. Tucker never wavered. “Well, I think that love comes in a lot of different packages—sometimes in the form of a man-woman relationship, sometimes in the form of a parent-child relationship, or a grandparent-child relationship like in ‘A Worn Path, ’ and sometimes in the form of a relationship between friends. What do the rest of you think?”

Robyn tried not to be obvious as she watched Sean listen to the others expound on the truth of Mr. Tucker’s statement, but it was difficult not to attract attention because she sat in the front, and he sat in the back, an entire abyss between them. Nonetheless, even from that odd vantage point, she could see the edge around him. Yes, it was clear that Sean Hudson had weathered his share of storms, and they had made him very, very sour on life.

She wondered what he had done this morning to get into trouble. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this morning wasn’t his first trip to the principal’s office, and her thoughts wandered back and forth from the conversation in the classroom to the desk behind Chad. He had an edge, a thin, razor-sharp edge that kept everyone else at a distance, and she knew she would never have a chance with him even if she was the last girl left on the planet.

The bell startled her from her daydream, and she stood awkwardly as the other students rushed past her out of the classroom.

“Miss Lockhart,” Mr. Tucker said. “It’s nice to have you in class. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” she said shyly and followed the herd into the hallway.

The crush of bodies was still unbelievable to her. She had never seen so many people in one place in her life. She pulled the schedule out of her pocket and scanned it. Only two more classes and she would be free again. Trigonometry, Mr. Rascoe, Building B, Room 251. One thing was for sure she would get her exercise doing this.

*~*~*

By the time Psychology was over at 3:30, Robyn was exhausted. It had been seven and a half hours of lugging an ever-growing number of books up and down stairs and hallways, to rest a few minutes in a classroom, only to find that she had to do it all over again.

Slowly, she let the overstuffed backpack slide to the floor as she pulled out her schedule. Locker number 2117, Floor 2, Building C. Whatever that meant. She leaned against the wall as the hallway emptied out around her. This school was like a labyrinth, and she had the sinking feeling that by the time she figured it all out, it would be time to graduate.

“Miss Lockhart, staying after school, are we?” Mr. Tucker asked, surveying her curiously as he walked up.

She looked up and smiled at the only friendly face she’d seen all day. “No. I thought now might be a good time to find my locker, but I don’t even know where to start.”

“Oh, well, let’s see.” He took the paper from her and scanned it. “Building C. That’s where the newspaper is. I was just headed over there. I can show you if you’d like.”

“That’d be great.” Robyn hefted the backpack onto her shoulder.

“So, how was your first day?” he asked as they started down the hallway.

“Okay,” she said and then sighed. “A little overwhelming.”

“I can imagine. Was your last school this big?”

Robyn laughed as they pushed out the door into the sunshine. “The whole school kindergarten through 12th grade only had 275 kids in it.”

“Oh, so this is like culture shock, huh?”

“You could say that.”

“So, what kind of things did you do at your old school?”

“The usual, band, student council, track, the newspaper, yearbook…”

“Wow, when did you find time for school?”

Robyn laughed. “I was in line to be either valedictorian or salutatorian.”

“I’m impressed,” he said, opening the door to Building C.

“Yeah, well, it’s no big deal.” She shrugged to emphasize the point, but the words burned her throat.

“So, you say you wrote for the newspaper?” he asked as they trekked down the dimly lit hallway.

“Yeah, for two years.”

“But you didn’t sign up for the newspaper staff here?”

“I wasn’t sure I could cut it here. I heard they print a paper twice a week. We were lucky to get one out a month.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what, if you ever want to come check us out, we’re on the third floor.” He pointed directly over their heads.

“We?” she asked, puzzled.

“Oh, yes.”  He held out his hands. “Meet the Chronicle’s advisor.”

“But I thought you taught English.”

“I do, but newspaper’s my first love. I had to teach English for two years to get my foot in the door here, and by the time I inherited the newspaper, I figured out I kind of like English, too. So, what can I say?  They made me a deal I couldn’t refuse.”

Robyn nodded.

“Well, this is where I get off.”  He turned onto the next flight of stairs and pointed down the hallway. “I think your locker should be right down there.”

Thanks,” she said gratefully, knowing it really would have been graduation time before she found this place.

“Oh, and if you ever want to come check out the paper, you’re more than welcome.” His smile was friendly and inviting.

“Thanks. I’ll think about it.”

With that, he turned and bounded up the stairs. Hefting her sliding backpack up again, Robyn turned down the hallway and smiled despite the looming gloom. Mr. Tucker really was nice. She was glad she’d had a chance to meet him outside of the classroom. It wasn’t that the other teachers were mean, but they were much more formal than Mr. Tucker. He seemed like he had the time to talk—not like she was wasting his time.

In the maze of gray doors, she finally located her locker. It was a tiny expanse, hardly big enough for six books, and she wondered what someone with an instrument case or a sports bag had to do to get their stuff in one. Suddenly she realized that with the proximity of her locker to her classes, she would be lucky to get here twice a day, much less before and after every class.

“Welcome to the wonderful world of James Madison,” she said as the depression settled over her once again. It was bound to catch up with her sooner or later.

*~*~*

By the time she got home, the depression had intensified until it was almost stifling. She wondered what Jill and Lisa were up to back home. They were probably at track practice. She wanted to be at track, too. Far, far away from this dingy, box-filled apartment, her mother insisted on calling a condo.

Okay, so it had an upstairs, and two bathrooms. It was awful, and it was depressing. She locked the two dead bolts behind her and slumped against the door surveying her new life. Her mother would be at work until well after seven. That meant the task of cleaning out the boxes would be hers.

On tired feet she went to the kitchen and looked through the sparse pantry. She’d have to ask her mother for money for groceries tonight. With little enthusiasm, she pulled three cans off the shelf and stacked them next to the stove. She had an hour before it was time to start cooking, so she turned her attention to the boxes.

It was a given that the “family” boxes needed unpacked first although Robyn wished she could start on the mess stacked in her own room. But knowing that wasn’t an option, she reluctantly ripped the tape off of one box marked, “bathroom supplies” and began the arduous task of making a home.

*~*~*

Aromatic smells wafted from the kitchen when the first noise came at the lock. Robyn jumped up from the table where her Trig book lay and bounded for the door.

“Hey, Mom!” she said, smiling.

“Hey, baby, smells good.” Her mother fumbled with the keys and the briefcase she held. Robyn watched her deposit her belongings on the coffee table. “Looks like you got some stuff put away.”

“A few things,” Robyn said, happy her mother had noticed.

“What’s for supper?”

“Tuna casserole.” She went to the stove and stirred the bubbling concoction. “By the way I need some money for groceries. We’re out of everything.”

Mrs. Lockhart sighed and sat heavily at the table. “How much do you need?”

“I don’t know. I guess $20. I think I can make that stretch until Friday.”

“Well, I hope so, or we’ll be eating water.”

Robyn sighed at the sight of her mother’s defeated frame sitting at the table. This couldn’t be easy on her either, Robyn thought with some amount of guilt. Somehow, she would just have to keep her own depression at bay so she could help her mom through this difficult time.

“So, how was work?” Robyn asked, trying to sound cheerful.

“It was work. I really thought this promotion was going to be great. You know?  But it’s just more work.” She fingered her daughter’s homework. “What’s this?”

“Trig.”

“Homework on the first day?  I’m impressed.” Her mother gazed at the formulas scrawled across the page.

‘It wasn’t everyone’s first day,’ Robyn’s head screamed, but she didn’t let those words find the air.

“Here’s a plate.” Robyn pushed the homework aside and set the table. “I have a lot of homework to get done tonight, so I was hoping we could eat now.”

“Oh, yeah, sure.” Her mother rearranged the plate and silverware in front of her as Robyn brought the pan from the stove. “It looks good. You know, I’d probably starve if it wasn’t for you.”

“No, you wouldn’t. You’d just have an enormous take-out bill,” Robyn laughed.

“Very true.” Mrs. Lockhart filled her plate. “So, you didn’t say. How was your first day?  Did you meet any new friends?”

“Friends? I had enough trouble trying to find my classes,” Robyn said, picturing the winding halls of James Madison.

“Well, there’s always tomorrow.”

*~*~*

After the dishes were done, Robyn escaped to her room under the pretense of a pile of homework. Actually, she didn’t have all that much, but she wanted to familiarize herself with the Trig book and study a little chemistry before tomorrow.

Her schedule wasn’t too bad, and if anything, she was ahead in most subjects, but she wanted to keep it that way. She had been at the top of her class for eleven years, and just because she changed schools, she didn’t want her grades to suffer because of it. But even as she rewrote the formulas into her notebook, her mind wandered again to the back row of the English room.

There was something about him. Him. Sean Hudson. Maybe it was his eyes, or maybe it was the I-don’t-care way he carried himself. There really wasn’t one thing that she could put her finger on, but it didn’t matter—just the thought of him was enough to send her heart racing.

Sean. Sean Hudson. She wondered what his middle name was. Sean Michael Hudson. Sean David Hudson. Sean Nicholas Hudson.

“Robyn!” her mother called from downstairs, jolting her back to reality. “The news is on!”

She looked down at her notebook and in one swipe ripped the page out. It was scrawled with hundreds of impressions of his name.

“He’s not your type,” she said, furiously crumpling the paper and sending it flying into the trashcan. “I’m coming, Mom!”

*~*~*

Supper and the news. They were the two times a day she could count on spending with her mother. She wasn’t sure when or why the news routine had started, but it had become a daily ritual that she had long ago made a point not to miss.

It wasn’t until after she was back upstairs in bed looking around the dark room with no sign of life on any of the walls that the depression assaulted her again.  It was always worse at night. During the day she could stay busy, but at night there was nowhere to hide from it.

The apartment was quiet around her. So different from the innumerable nights she had spent listening to the yelling on the other side of her wall. But even the quiet brought a foreboding with it. This wasn’t home—not really. This was a temporary stopover on a road leading nowhere, and as far as she could see there was no famous light at the end of her tunnel.

This was life, and it stunk.

Chapter 2

Robyn was proud of herself. She had made it to her locker twice during the day, and so far, she had only gotten lost once. The schedule was tucked safely in her backpack just in case, but she hadn’t used it even once.

Just as she reached 417, the bell rang, and she gave an apologetic nod to Mr. Tucker who smiled as she took her seat.

“I have to say that yesterday’s discussion inspired me,” Mr. Tucker began, and Robyn sat up straighter. She was determined now more than ever to make a good impression with this teacher no matter who might be sitting in the back row. “Mr. Mayes and Mr. Hudson made some very insightful observations yesterday about the role that love plays in literature; therefore, your assignment for the next 45 minutes is to construct a paper stating your opinion on that subject.”

A groan emanated from every student behind her.

“Let me make this clear. This is not a take-home assignment. You have 45 minutes, and your paper must be at least 450 words. And yes, Mr. Mayes, grammar and spelling will count.”

More groans.

“You have 45 minutes.”

Robyn pulled a fresh piece of paper out of her notebook and poised her pen, but then she stopped. What did she think?  Was the I’d-risk-it-all-for-you thing really overdone?  Or was it simply that the truth behind that statement was so real that authors in all time periods took it up?

She knew what she would’ve written even a couple of weeks before, but now she wasn’t sure. She thought about Jill and Lisa. They were good friends, but would she really be willing to lay it on the line for them?  She thought about her mother and father.             Where had love gotten them?  She was sure at some point they had loved each other. So, what had happened?

“People say that love is blind,” she wrote slowly, “but love is only blind because it has the ability to see past faults, past the rough edges of a person down to the core that is really there. Just because the phrase is over-used and has become a cliché does not diminish its truth, and so it is with the theme that loving someone can give one person the courage to risk their own life for the life of another…”

She reread the opening statement. For all the evidence against it, she knew in her heart it was the truth.

*~*~*

Fighting the clock, she had read and reread her paper three times, and yet Robyn was still finding small mistakes here and there. The bell sounded above her, and she sighed as she marked out a word and wrote a slightly better one in its place.

“Your assignment for tomorrow is on the board. Be sure to hand in your papers before you leave,” Mr. Tucker called over the noise of the departing students.

Robyn took one more look at her paper and decided it was as good as it was going to get. She pulled her backpack from under her desk and headed for Mr. Tucker’s desk.

“Given any more thought to joining the newspaper staff?” Mr. Tucker asked, taking her paper.

“I really don’t know if I’ll have time this semester.” She shrugged. “It’s tough catching up with everything.”

“Well, let me know.”

“Okay, I will,” she said. “See ya later, Mr. Tucker.”

“See ya.”

She exited the classroom and joined the mad rush of students flying down the hallway. The frenzy of the hallway was beginning to make perfect sense as she descended the stairs at the same pace as those around her. It was nearly impossible to make it to the next class on time without running and knocking a few fellow students over in the process.

Her foot hit the second floor and at precisely that moment, her body collided full-on with someone going in the opposite direction. In half a heartbeat she was on her knees in the middle of the melee with her books and papers fanned out around her.

“Oh, cripes!” She grabbed for her belongings through the myriad of passing legs and feet, rescuing a paper here and a book there.

“Are you all right?” One pair of legs stopped next to her.

“Yeah.” She dove in, dodging more feet intent on stomping on her English book. She retrieved it just in time.

“Jerks, they should learn to watch where they’re going. Here.” A hand appeared from above her. Robyn took it, pulled herself up, and came face-to-face with Kathryn, the sandy haired beauty from Mr. Tucker’s class. Kathryn stopped short. “Hey, I know you. You’re in my English class.”

“Yeah.” Robyn brushed her jeans off in embarrassment. “This place is nuts.”

“Tell me about it.” Kathryn smiled and surveyed Robyn head-to-toe. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine, but I’d better get to Trig, or I might not be for long.” Robyn swung her backpack up and jerked her mouse-color brown hair from under it.

“I hear you there.”  Kathryn waved slightly. “Be careful.”

“I will.” With a sigh, Robyn rejoined the mad rush.

Kathryn reminded her of Lisa from back home. She seemed really sweet and considerate, but she was much prettier than Lisa—or anyone else Robyn had ever known in person. The bell sounded, and the hall around her emptied. There had to be a secret to this. She shook her head in amazement. She was missing something, but the trick to navigating the halls and getting to class on time was still a mystery to her.

Mr. Rascoe stared at her over his reading glasses when Robyn entered. “It’s nice you could join us.”

She hugged her English book a little tighter to her chest. “Sorry, I had a little accident in the hall.”

“Well, in the future you should remember that being late for my class is a cardinal offense not to be repeated more than once.”

“I’ll try to remember that, Sir.” Slowly she sank into her seat in the front and sighed. Some terrific first impression she was making. First, she practically wiped out in front of Kathryn, and then she got the full brunt of Mr. Rascoe’s wrath for being six seconds late.

“Well, since you made a point of disrupting my class by being late, is it too much to ask that you work the first problem from last night’s assignment on the board for the class?” Mr. Rascoe asked with sarcasm dripping from the question.

Robyn swallowed hard and pulled her book from her backpack. “I…I can do that.”

“Well, let’s see it already.” Mr. Rascoe tapped his fingers on the desk in annoyance.

She got to her feet and forced them to take her to the front of the room. What she really wanted to do was to run away and never come back, but she knew she couldn’t do that.  So, with shaking fingers, she wrote the problem on the board and went through it slowly, explaining each step only to the board in front of her.

When she finished, she carefully replaced the chalk in the tray and turned around.

Mr. Rascoe appraised her work. “Well, I must say, Miss Lockhart, I am impressed. But try to be on time in the future.”

“I will.” Heat rose into her cheeks as she headed back for her desk.

She didn’t dare look around the room, that would be a deadly mistake, and she knew it. Concentrating on not falling on her face, she resumed her seat and spent the next 40 minutes forcing herself to not make any more embarrassing mistakes.

*~*~*

Somehow Robyn managed to make it through the rest of the afternoon with nary a mistake in sight. When she arrived home, three grocery bags and her backpack in hand, she threw the bags on the table and looked around at the still unpacked boxes. Two more days of this, and she should have most of them cleared out of the living room.

Fighting to keep the depression from finding her, she went into the kitchen to put the groceries away. If this was life, she might as well make the best of it.

*~*~*

“Isn’t the city wonderful?”

It was her mother’s grand entrance, and it never ceased to amaze Robyn how her mother could hate a place one minute and the next minute it was her Utopia.

“Yeah,” Robyn agreed half-heartedly as she watched her mother bounce across the apartment.

“So, what’s for supper, sweetheart?”

“Pizza pockets.” Robyn got up from her homework to check the oven.

“They smell fabulous.”

“You’re in a good mood.”

“I’ve got a date,” her mother said happily.

“You’ve got…a…date?” Robyn stopped, swallowing hard.

“With Matt Carson, one of the guys who works down the hall from me,” her mother said oblivious to the look of dismay on her daughter’s face.

“Matt Carson…?”

“Yeah, we’re going out Friday night. Isn’t it wonderful?”

“Yeah, wonderful.” Robyn reached for the dishes to set the table as her stomach did a backward somersault. Her mother bounced off to her room, and suddenly Robyn felt like the mother with the teenage daughter, who had a date Friday night.

Friday night?  How could her mother do this?  It wasn’t that she thought her mother would never date again, but she certainly hadn’t thought it would happen this soon. What would her father think? What would all her friends think? Then she realized that she had no friends to care one way or another about the situation.

“So, how was school?” her mother asked, breezing back into the kitchen.

“Fine,” Robyn demurred as she pulled the steaming bread-covered food from the oven.

“I’m so happy you’re doing so well.”

“Yeah, so am I.” Robyn stuffed every protest she had deep down inside her. This was no time to upset her mother’s mood, no matter how lousy she felt.

“I have a terrific idea.” Her mother dug into her food. “They’re having a Three Stooges marathon on Channel 27 tonight. What do you say we pop some popcorn and make it a girls’ night in?”

“I’ve got some Trig homework I need to finish,” Robyn said. She had no intention of wasting a whole night.

“Oh, come on, surely you can watch one with me. Just for a little while.”

Robyn shook her head imperceptibly. There was no point in arguing.

*~*~*

When she finally closed the door to her room after eleven o’clock, not one problem had been touched since her mother’s arrival four hours earlier. Robyn sighed in resignation as she clicked on the light over her desk. It was one of the few things she’d had time to find in her own boxes.

She thought again about the Mr. Rascoe fiasco. How did she always manage to get the unreasonable teachers? Somehow she made it through the classes, but in the beginning, it was pure torture. She pulled her calendar out of the top drawer and marked an X through the date. Only 43 more days of this. 43 days, and then a whole year, but she pushed that thought away. One day at a time.

Somehow, at some point, she thought willing the depression away from her, life had to get better.

The Price of Silence Final cover 1-18-2014

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The Story: The Price of Silence

The Price of Silence Final cover 1-18-2014The Price of Silence

by:  Staci Stallings

Where do you turn when the watching eyes are everywhere?

Where do you go when no place is safe?

Who do you turn to when saying anything could get someone killed?

Who can you trust when “they” could be anyone?

Robyn Lockhart liked her simple but predictable life in the small Iowa town she grew up in. But when her mother moves them to the big city, Robyn has no choice but to brave the tumultuous high school she’s thrust into. Then, with barely a blink and as an outsider looking in, Robyn begins asking questions that no one seems willing to face. Is it possible to stay silent while simultaneously shouting from the rooftops that something is deadly wrong? And if you shout, beyond those watching every move you make, who will even hear?

~*~

“Stallings takes a much darker turn with this novel than in her previous three outings and she does so very well. The sense of desperation and anguish on the part of Robyn is palpable and you definitely find yourself sympathizing with her. Stallings has created a very memorable character here… an Atticus Finch styled hero who refuses to let threats stop her from seeking the truth and justice. It would be interesting to see the author continue using Robyn Lockhart in future novels.”

–Kevin Apgar, Fun With Dead Trees

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Character Interviews — Robyn Lockhart, Hero or Villain?