EXCERPT: The Falling of Stars by Traci Finlay
When a high school freshman commits suicide, everyone at Liberty School of Excellence is shocked—especially Eve Hunter, who is not only the English teacher at Liberty, but also a friend of the victim’s family. Although devastated, Eve is prepared to offer her love and support.
But when the grieving mother discloses her theory that her son was secretly bullied to death at school, Eve is conflicted. Not at a prestigious school like Liberty, Eve is certain. Regardless, she agrees to do some underground (and possibly illegal) investigating—even if that means risking her career. After all, the pain of losing a child trumps that of losing a job.
Eve isn’t the only one delving into secrets. Her son, Malik Hunter, is a sophomore at Liberty whose perfect life is a perfect lie. Behind his good looks, straight A’s, and the facemask of his football helmet, Malik battles a crippling depression. But someone sees through it all. Someone who reaches out to him on LibertyNet, the school’s online intranet. Someone who seems to know Malik better than he knows himself. Someone evil.
Eve believes a cyberbully may be lurking in the dark realms of LibertyNet.
Malik knows there is.
Unless anybody in this household is willing to reveal their secrets, someone could end up falling over the edge … literally.
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She stares at my lips and says, “Tell me a secret.” She’s smiling, even though she’s hiding behind her cup. I can tell because her eyes are twinkling.
I lean back in my chair. “What kind of secret?”
She shrugs and sets her cup down. “Everyone knows everything about you, Malik. Your life’s an open book. We know your parents, everything you do on campus, which cheerleader you date, what you eat for lunch … tell me something no one knows.”
I tug on my bottom lip as I stare at her. “I don’t want to play football anymore,” I say before realizing what a stupid idea this is.
Her jaw drops and she glances around, like she’s scared someone might’ve heard. “Malik, did you say what I think you just said?”
“You—but you’re like, the best football player ever. You’re gonna get a scholarship! What would your dad say? Oh my gosh, he’d die. Your teammates would die! The entire school would go under.”
I hold up a hand, laughing nervously. “Okay, okay. See why I didn’t want to say anything? You’ve just described the apocalypse.”
“But why? Don’t you love football?”
I nod as a leaf flutters from the tree onto the table. “Do you have any idea how much pressure I’m under, twenty-four, seven?” I glance at her as I pick at the leaf. “So many people rely on me for so much, and … I just want to relax sometimes, you know? Just be a kid and fuck around. Take off the pressure, just do my own thing.”
“Well, what is your own thing? What would you be doing instead?”
“I don’t know, anything. I don’t want to be associated with something so severely, you know? I mean, you hear my name and you immediately think ‘football.’ I’m not allowed to be human. To make mistakes. I gotta be like a soldier, on guard at all times. And I take a lotta heat if other people fuck up, too. I—it’s just—”
I stop and look at her, and she’s assessing me. I can’t believe I just spoke all these words aloud. To another person. What have I done?
About the Author: Traci Finlay
Traci Finlay grew up in the Midwest and transplanted to Florida for college. She received a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts with a minor in English, met and married the love of her life and moved to Miami, where she currently lives with her husband, two sons, and two smart-mouthed dogs.
Growing up, she loved reading books, but had a particular passion for mysteries. Throughout her adulthood, she’s taken many writing courses and written three psychological thrillers she plans to publish soon.