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Authors: Carol M. Tanzman

Circle of Silence

BOOK: Circle of Silence
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THE BIGGEST STORY OF MY LIFE COULD BE HOW IT ENDS

It’s my turn to run a
Campus News
crew, and I’ve put together a team that can break stories wide open. And
Washington Irving High has a truly great one to cover, if only we can find a
lead.

A secret society has formed in our school. It announced its
presence with pranks: underwear on the flagpole, a toilet in the hallway,
cryptic notes. A circle of silence keeps the society a mystery. No one knows its
members, agenda or initiation secrets—until a student lands in the hospital
under
strange
circumstances.

I
will
blow this story wide open
and stop others from being hurt…or worse. And while my ex, Jagger, might want to
help, I don’t trust him yet. (And, no, not because of our past together. That is
not
important to this story.)

But whether you find me, Valerie Gaines, reporting in front
of the camera, or a victim in the top story of the newscast…be sure to watch
Campus News
at 9:00 a.m. this Friday.

Henry points to the glass-enclosed case that everyone,
including Mr. Wilkins, passes by every day.

“I don’t know how long it’s been there. I just noticed it,”
Henry tells us.

At first, all I see are the usual trophies: WiHi’s 1994
Sectional Wrestling Trophy, 1953 City-Wide Baseball win, 2011 Girls’ Varsity
Basketball champs, Debate Team Champions of 1966.

At last, though, the fakes become apparent. Once I notice
them, it’s impossible not to stare at the two “added” to the case. They’re the
type of trophies a little kid gets after soccer season, but the first one is
more menacing than anything from a recreational center league. A thin rope loops
around the girl’s neck. The other end is attached to the shelf above so that the
trophy hangs. The original nameplate has been replaced with “Roving
Reporter.”

The second fake is scarier. The player’s head is chopped
off.

* * *

Praise for Carol M. Tanzman’s
dancergirl

“This addicting, thrilling mystery hits upon many of our worst
fears.”

Booklist

“An explosive read that will grab you from the very beginning
and not let go until you’ve read the last page. I read this in one
sitting.”

Starry Sky Books
blog

“A fantastic read that I could not put down.”

The Book Barbies
blog

“A page turner…. Had me hooked from the beginning straight
through until the final sentence.
Dancergirl
had me
twisted round its proverbial finger.”

The Little
Munchkin Reader
blog

“The creepy atmosphere [was] really well-done…this is a great
read.”

Paperback Treasures
blog

“Tanzman [has] created realistic, likable characters…kept me on
the edge of my seat.”

Nicole’s YA Book Haven
blog

“I loved this book so much….extremely entertaining…I highly
recommend this book.”

jj iReads
blog

Books by Carol M. Tanzman
from Harlequin TEEN

dancergirl

For Jack, Liana and Dylan
with love and gratitude

PROLOGUE

Bad idea, bad idea, bad
idea…

The words keep time with my pounding heart. Dashing,
darting…hurtling forward. It’s like a nightmare. Chasing after the school bus,
the train, a minivan. No matter how fast I run, I can’t get there in time. I’m
left stranded, alone, surrounded by abandoned warehouses, darkened streets and
smelly drunks….

This isn’t a dream. I know where I’m going. I just can’t
move fast enough.

Jagger. Jags! I asked you not to do this.
Begged you…

My cheeks feel wet. How did I not see the approaching storm?
But the streets aren’t slick and the pitter-patter of rain does not mingle with
the sound of my feet slapping against rough cobblestones.

I touch my face. Taste the droplet. Salty…

That’s when I know I’ll be too late. Instinct, ESP or maybe
just plain terror breaks through. Because it’s my fault. I pushed too hard; it
went too far.

Whatever terrible thing I am about to see, I could have
stopped. No matter what anyone tells me, no matter who insists, “You can’t blame
yourself,” I will always know, deep down, that it’s a lie.

PART ONE
SEPTEMBER–OCTOBER

1

My sweaty palm pushes the Media Center door open on the
second day of senior year. The single most important class of my life is about
to begin.

“Don’t look so worried, Val,” Marci tells me. “We got this
covered.”

I give my best friend since eighth grade a pained look. Sunny
Marci. Always seeing the bright side. Except this time, she’s especially naive.
There’s no way it’s a sure thing.

Together, we move to the table Mr. Carleton assigned to us.
Yesterday, he divided the class into two permanent
Campus
News
teams. First order of business today: each crew votes for
producer. The job I covet. The position I worked really hard, during both
sophomore and junior years at Washington Irving High School, to get. If mine, it
could propel me straight into the college of my dreams.

I steal a glance at my competition. Raul Ortega. His dark
chocolate eyes take everything in. Taller by about three inches than me, he
wears his hair in a brush cut that tops a solid body. Raul’s definitely the guy
you want on your side in a fight. Not that he’s a hothead. On the contrary, the
dude’s cool. He knows his way around TV Production almost as well as I do.
Exactly the reason he might get more votes than me.

He feels my look, turns. Grins nervously. Oh yeah, Raul wants
it, too. The real question is: which of us does the group want? Besides Marci
Lee, the team consists of Omar Bryant and Henry Dillon. With five votes, there
won’t be a tie.

Mr. Carleton takes attendance and then says, “Okay, folks, you
know what to do.”

For a moment, our table is silent. Afraid that I’ll come off as
either too confident or too bossy, I resist the urge to take charge. Raul’s busy
giving the other two boys meaningful glances. A sinking feeling hits the pit of
my stomach. Did he talk to them last night? Make them promise to vote for
him?

That would totally suck.

Marci jumps in. Energetically, she tears a piece of paper into
five pieces. “You all have something to write with?”

Henry whips out a pen. A classic overachiever, he skipped both
second and third grades, won a national award for drawing in eighth and captains
the chess team.

“I’ve got extras!”

Underneath the curtain of brown hair that covers his forehead,
Henry shoots Marci puppy dog eyes. He’s been quietly crushing on her for at
least a year. Quietly—since she’s dating a football player. Doesn’t matter to
Henry. He’d probably faint if Marci actually kissed him.

Omar extends a well-manicured hand. “I forgot a pencil.”

“Forgot?” Marci counters. “Or never had one in the first
place?”

He wriggles his eyebrows. She indulges him a laugh before
handing over a slip of paper.

At first glance, Omar Bryant’s a diva. When he was eight, he
put on a sparkly cape for Halloween and refused to take it off until Christmas.
Didn’t care what anyone said—then or now. But dig deeper and you’ll hit the
sensitive soul of a true artist. Everyone in
Campus News
knows he has a great eye and a steady hand. When he gets behind the lens,
his focus is total.

Marci hands out the rest of the paper. Names are scribbled.
Without a word, we all fold the slips into tiny squares, as if that can disguise
who voted for whom. Five tiny bundles are tossed onto the table.

“I’ll count.” Carefully, Marci unfolds the first piece of
paper. “Valerie Gaines.”

I keep my face neutral because that doesn’t mean much. It’s
either my vote—or hers. The second paper has Raul’s name on it. So does the
third.

A wave of disappointment hits. I
told
Marci I might not win. Not if it’s boys vs. girls—with the boys
outnumbering us.

Marci gives me a cheerful look after unwrapping the fourth
vote. “ValGal.”

Obviously, that’s hers. The score’s tied. Raul leans forward,
triumph etched across his face. I can practically see the writing inside the
final piece of paper.

Raul Ortega.

“Valerie,” Marci says.

“What?”

She waves the slip. “The last vote’s for you. You won!”

The shock on my face is genuine. As is the surprise in Raul’s
eyes. Marci shoots me an “I told you” smile before prancing to the whiteboard.
She grabs an orange marker and writes
Valerie Gaines, B
Team Producer
.

Mr. Carleton nods. “Team A, you have a winner?”

Scott Jenkins raises his hand. His stick-up sand-colored hair
and square jaw make him look skinnier than he actually is. Given who’s on A
Team, he’s the person I’d vote for, too.

Scott’s good but I’m better. I work harder. I care more. I
won’t ever let my team down.

The teacher heaves himself out of his chair. “Good choices,
folks. Now listen up! Rule review so you can’t say you didn’t know ’em when you
break ’em. Each show consists of four segments, no more, no less, interspersed
with anchor ins and outs. Sixteen minutes total. Remember to look for the angle.
What’s the way into the story? Teams alternate weekly broadcasts. B Team’s up
first, then A.”

Which doesn’t make sense. You’d think A Team would start
because, well, it’s first in the alphabet. But that’s how Mr. Carleton thinks.
Roundabout. And backward.

“Last three rules. First—” he holds up an index finger “—a
Question Sheet must be filled out before every interview.” Two fingers go up.
“Rude behavior or fooling around in hallways when you’re shooting Will. Not. Be.
Tolerated. Third. Do not
open a case unless it’s on
a table or the ground because equipment in said case
will
fall out. If it breaks, your folks pay. Trust me, they Will.
Not. Be. Happy.”

Mr. Carleton, a portly African-American man, keeps his head
shaved smoothly and his desk immaculate, proof positive that he’s a fan of the
“less is more” theory. Tightly edited sequences, one-word sentences.

He continues with basic equipment sign-out procedures. When
he’s done, he glances at the clock. “Okay, teams, with whatever time’s left,
start planning your first broadcast.”

Excited, I pull out my
Campus News
notebook, but before anyone can say a word, the door flies open. Every
head turns.

“Omigod!” Marcis hisses. “What’s
he
doing here?”

My heart takes a nosedive straight into my stomach.

Jagger Voorham! Pouty, rocker-boy lips, hazel eyes that change
color according to his mood, and yes, supercute. Slacker Jagger crosses the room
without bothering to look at anyone, including me. As if he doesn’t know I’d be
front and center.

He hands Mr. Carleton a mustard-yellow Schedule Change form.
The teacher frowns.

“Don’t worry, Marci,” I whisper. “Carleton’ll never let him
into the class. Jags didn’t take Intro. He can’t be in Advanced.”

Resolutely, I tap the notebook and try to discuss stories for
the first broadcast. But everyone’s focus is on the quiet conversation at the
front of the room. Finally the teacher nods.

“B Team!” Mr. Carleton points a finger at Jagger. “New
member.”

Do something,
Marci mouths.

Like what? Throw myself under a bus? Jump off the Brooklyn
Bridge? Drop the class?

Jagger saunters over. I look down, refusing to give him the
satisfaction of acknowledging his existence. There’s no way I want him—or anyone
else in the room—to see the tears of frustration forming hot in my eyes.

How could Jagger do this to me? My
triumphant moment—ruined!

My BFF, a four-foot-eleven, barely one-hundred-pound Korean
dynamo, kicks me. I don’t have to look at Marci to know what she’s thinking.

Who wants to deal with Jagger all
year?

That’s the moment the bell rings. Everyone in class jumps up,
as if electroshocked into obedience. Mr. Carleton gestures. “Stay a moment,
Val?”

Marci glances at me, but I wave her on
.
Scott Jenkins smirks as he passes, knowing my team’s just been
saddled with a complete neophyte. Hailey Manussian, on the other hand, shoots me
a look of sheer hatred—or maybe it’s jealousy. Like most girls at WiHi, Hailey’s
probably going through an
if only Jagger wanted to get into
my pants
phase.

Backpack on shoulder, I walk to the teacher’s desk.

“I put Jagger Voorham on your team,” Carleton tells me.

The blood rushes to my cheeks at the mere mention of his name.
“I noticed.”

“He can’t fit Intro into his schedule. I let him in because
he’s a senior like the rest of the class. Although that doesn’t mean you let him
slide. He needs to do his share. Show him the ropes, won’t you, Val?”

Despite the fact that I find it hard to breathe, I put on a
tough act. “Sure, Mr. Carleton. I’ll kick his butt.”

The teacher laughs. “I bet you will.” He points to a couple of
Student Emmy Awards gathering dust on the shelf above his desk. “Get those
stories, girl. I’m counting on you to win us another.”

“No pressure,” I say.

His bald head gleams. “Would it be
Campus
News
if there wasn’t?”

* * *

The last bell of the day is like a tsunami warning on a
Pacific island. The halls explode as almost two thousand kids run for higher
ground—which in this case means lockers and exit doors. I elbow my way down the
corridor with just the tiniest bit of amazement. Even though the school was
cleaned over the summer, initials are already chalked across the walls.

Marci stands in front of her locker, fiddling with her
lock.

“Maybe you should try your new combination,” I tell her.
“That’s last year’s.”

She frowns as she searches her backpack for the combo paper the
homeroom teachers hand out. “Why can’t they let us keep the same lockers every
year?”

“The mysteries of WiHi are…mysterious, Marci.”

The metal door pops open. She switches a book and we head down
the steps. “I can’t believe I forgot to ask at lunch. What did Carleton
want?”

“We’re supposed to show Jagger the ropes.”

“Not we. You’re the one who knows everything. I only take TV so
we can hang.” She lowers her voice. “Think you can get him to switch Jagger to A
team?”

“What am I supposed to say?”

“The guy’s a killer. Broke your heart and scattered the pieces
without a second thought.”

Ouch. Rip the scab right off the wound,
why don’t you?

Outside, the afternoon sun makes me blink. At least, that’s
what I tell myself. September in Brooklyn Heights is like an iPod on shuffle.
Summer weather, fall weather, and everything in between. This week it’s
end-of-summer-with-hints-of-autumn. That means it’s too nice to have been stuck
in school obsessing about Jagger Voorham for the past five hours.

“Mr. Carleton gave me permission to kick his butt if he screws
up,” I tell her.

“Like that’ll help. He was my dialogue partner in French III,
remember?
I wanted to murder the kid, but I
swear Mademoiselle Reynaud’s in love with him. Two-faced dog if ever there was
one.”

“Jagger or Mademoiselle Reynaud?”

The French teacher is ninety years old and mean as a pit bull.
She’s been teaching so long they’re thinking about naming the language hall
bathrooms after her. Or maybe just a stall.

“You know who I mean,” Marci sniffs.

I do—and I’m just as pissed off as she is. Why does Jagger have
to ruin twelfth grade the way he did eleventh? For months, we were lip-locked
and then one night, he finds
someone else
to soothe
his tortured soul. Or whatever that stupid cliché is. The fact that I wasn’t
enough for him, that I didn’t even
know
I wasn’t
enough, left a cavernous hole deep inside me.

“I can ask Mr. Carleton to switch him,” Marci pleads. “I don’t
mind.”

I shake my head. “Scott’ll never take him. Plus, Mr. C.
specifically asked me to help.”

“Worse and worse,” she mumbles softly.

“I heard that! You’re not helping, Marci.”

“Sorry! It’s just…I don’t want to see you hurt again.”

Again?
I almost laugh. Watching
Jagger walk into the Media Center made it clear that the hurt had never gone
away. It just got buried inside the hole at the center of my life.

“I’ll just have to deal with it. With him. What doesn’t kill
you makes you stronger, right?”

My best friend shakes her head. “Not exactly the choice I was
going for!”

BOOK: Circle of Silence
4.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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