THOUGHTS & PRAYERS

a novel

Straight-A student Lily Jeong, misunderstood by helicopter parents and ignored by thoughtless classmates, sneaks her manipulative boyfriend into Rockwell High believing he’ll get revenge for her recent public humiliation. But he breaks his promise that no one will get hurt, and minutes later, fourteen people are dead. 

 

Plagued by guilt, Lily invents one lie after another to evade arrest. While devastated survivors grieve, investigators make slow progress identifying the accomplice, and class president Keisha Washington—Lily’s long-time nemesis who narrowly escaped death—resolves to hunt down the culprit herself. As Lily dodges detection, she bonds with Sofia Hernandez, who lost her best friend, Caitlyn  Moran, in the shooting.

 

The adults around them—Joe Hernandez, Sofia’s father and the first policeman to enter the school; Charmaine Robinson, a nurse whose husband died protecting Keisha; and former Army Colonel Mike Moran, Caitlyn’s father—also struggle to piece together their wrecked lives. When they come together in a support group, instead of finding solace, their mounting feelings of grief and anger drive them to protest and vengeance. Will they ever find justice and peace?

CHAPTER ONE

 

Lily

 

She slipped through the empty halls, invisible and silent except for her heart, which clattered like a tin can against the school’s metal lockers. This is wrong. This is sinful. You will burn in the holy fires of hell for this. But it also hammered for him. His feathery voice in her ear. His fingertips on her wrist. The thread of his pulse on her skin. The only boy who ever paid attention to her. He was her salvation.

They would burn together.

 

Down the stairwell, through the east corridor, her shadow broke over shafts of morning sunlight on the floor. It was a beautiful October day. The worst things always happened on the most beautiful days.

Whistles screeched out of the gymnasium. Freshmen’s sneakers thumped and squeaked. Poor freshmen. She paused, her palm flat on the cinderblock wall, and thought of her sister, Violet. Next year she’d walk these halls of pre-tension, mockery, delusion, torment . . . No, Lily thought. He would stop it. He would shut them up. And he promised no one would get hurt—just scared. He’d scare the arrogance out of them.

 

He promised.

 

She pushed up her glasses and moved forward, past the cafeteria’s warm, yeasty smell of baking rolls and the long-faced janitor mopping the sticky breakfast floor. She had to pee but couldn’t stop, couldn’t be late. When she flitted past the outer wall of the auditorium, sweat beaded along her hairline. Her breath came in spurts. The auditorium was where her complete humiliation had happened. Her cries and their laughter still echoed. Her parents would be so dishonored if they knew what she had done. She smashed her hands over her ears and scurried like a mouse away from the excruciating memory.

 

Finally, she reached the double steel doors. Each one had a crash bar—emergency exit only. They couldn’t be opened from the outside. No one used this exit except drama kids after late rehearsals. No cameras monitored these doors. Lily checked her watch. She was two minutes early. Two minutes. Not enough time to go to the bathroom, but time enough for second thoughts.

 

Her back fell against the cinderblock wall. Her knees bent, and she slipped down to a chair position. She closed her eyes and forced deep breaths to her belly. This is wrong. This is wrong. Her leg muscles tightened like they wanted to run. Run, run, run away from this madness, away from this pain. But where could she possibly go? Not to her strict parents. Not her sister or a teacher or minister. She had no real friends. There was only him.