Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case.
Corey looked down the snow covered slope with misgivings. She hung tightly to the poles in either hand and had her skis planted firmly in the snow.
“I’m not going down that,” she said stubbornly.
Terese was next to her, likewise positioned. She was refusing to look down, her gaze instead pulled up to the sky. “I don’t want to go down that, either. Can’t we take one more turn on the smaller slope?”
“Oh, come on,” Skyler said, trying to cajole them into going down the slightly higher slope. “It isn’t that bad. All you need is a little push. Here.”
Skyler slid a little closer to his daughter. Her squeal pulled Dimitra’s attention over to them. Smoothly, she glided over to them before her husband could lay a hand on Corey.
“Skyler Zeus Adams, if you push either girl down that slope, I won’t make any hot chocolate for you when we get home.”
Corey’s head whipped around as Dimitra said her husband’s full name. Her eyes were wide and her lips parted. She looked startled, but not as startled as she was when she found herself going down the slope.
“Corey!” Terese yelled as she started down the slope after her friend, who was wildly swinging her poles around.
Fortunately for Corey, there were no trees on this slope, but she still hadn’t quite mastered skiing and wasn’t sure what to do with the poles. She tried to stick them down into the snow, but couldn’t quite make contact. She screamed as she neared the bottom and collapsed into a heap. A second later, Terese joined her, but pin-wheeled out of control as she lost her poles while trying to use them to stop. Behind her, Skyler and Dimitra came to gliding stops by Corey.
“I’ve got Terese,” Dimitra said.
Skyler nodded and bent over his daughter while Dimitra went over to Terese.
Corey was spitting out some snow and shaking more snow from her hair. Her cheeks were ruddy and her ski-covered feet were sticking up, but she looked otherwise fine. She looked up at her father as he unstrapped the skis.
“Your middle name is Zeus?” she asked, eyes wide.
He gave her a crooked smile. “Yeah. My mom loved Greek mythology. I was born during a snowstorm and my dad couldn’t get to the hospital for almost a week. So, my mom named me. She thought Zeus would make an odd first name, so it became my middle name. Since he’s the god of the sky, I was named Skyler. My dad wasn’t too pleased, but the name was already on the birth certificate.”
Corey giggled and looked up as Terese and Dimitra walked over to them.
“Are you okay?” Dimitra asked, falling to her knees and hugging her daughter tightly.
“I’m okay, but can we be done with skiing for today? My bottom hurts and I’m really cold.”
“Yeah, we’re done,” Skyler said. “Let’s get everyone back home for some hot chocolate. How does that sound?”
“I like that!” Corey said.
“Can you take me home first?” Terese asked.
“Of course, sweetie,” Dimitra said. “Those were your mom’s instructions anyways.”
Terese nodded. “We’re going over to my grandparents’ house. So I have to be home soon.”
Corey swung her legs as she and Skyler sat on the stools, waiting for the hot chocolate to be finished. She was humming softly to herself and looking everywhere but at her father. At the counter across from them, her back turned, Dimitra was pouring hot milk into three mugs. She finished each mug off with a heaping pile of whipped cream and dusted each with a little bit of nutmeg. After placing them on a tray, she brought them over and served her daughter and husband, saving the last for herself.
“Why don’t you come sit with us?” Skyler asked, patting the stool next to him.
Dimitra picked up her mug and warmed her hands around it. She smiled and shook her head. “That’s okay. I need to stretch my legs out. Besides, I can watch the both of you better from over here.”
Corey giggled as she smeared whipped cream all over her mouth. She quickly licked it up or wiped it away with a finger before sucking off the remaining whipped cream from her finger.
“Drink properly, Corey,” Dimitra said.
Corey licked her lips again before taking a proper sip. As she drank, she looked over at her father from over the top of her mug. Then she put her mug down and turned to face him.
“Sandra and Patricia were two girls who were mean to me in the first grade,” Corey stated, her voice quiet, her gaze steady.
Across from her, Dimitra set her mug down a little too hard, spilling some of her hot chocolate across the counter. But she didn’t pay it any mind. Her gaze was focused on Corey. Skyler slowly took his mug from his mouth and put it down. The dull clink seemed to resonate in the still silence for a second as he turned to face his daughter.
“My biological parents tried to be the best they could be, but they were lousy parents. My father refused to believe I was his. My mother thought I was fragile and always tried to protect me. She wouldn’t let me go to preschool. I never had a friend. My father thought my mother coddled me too much. They argued about it a lot. That’s what they had been talking about the night they died.”
Abruptly, Corey turned back and picked up her mug. She took a long sip before placing back on the counter. She raised her gaze to Dimitra and held the woman’s green eyes.
“Sandra didn’t want Terese and me to play with her group of friends because my parents had died and I was the one who found them. Everyone thought Sandra was cool, but she was just mean. I used to keep a little teddy bear in my desk. It was comforting. After recess, I put my hand in my desk to touch it, to feel better. Sandra and Patricia caught me and teased me about having a stuffed animal at school.”
Corey ceased to speak again. She drew a design on the countertop before taking another sip, finishing off the whipped cream. Slowly, Skyler lifted his mug and took a long sip. Dimitra finally noticed her mess and reached for some napkins to clean it up. Corey looked over at Skyler and commanded his attention.
“Mrs. Allen was the meanest teacher in the school. All the third graders had horror stories about her. She yelled at us and threatened us with a ruler if we misbehaved. She was really nice to all the parents, but mean to all the students. The parents never believed the students because she always acted really nice with them. She asked me a simple question, but I was too scared to respond. I didn’t think she wanted an answer. But she did. She hit my desk with the ruler and scared me silly.” Corey paused. “I was glad when the principal told us she was dead. We were all relieved.”
Corey took a hasty, big gulp of her cooling hot chocolate, finishing half of the mug. She stared hard into the mug for a few seconds, blinking. She swallowed and looked up at Dimitra.
“Andy lost his job and became an alcoholic. He started beating up Helen. He wanted to hurt me, too, but Helen wouldn’t let him. She put herself between us. She was a good mother. She tried to protect me. Andy killed her the night he died. I don’t think he meant to; he was just really drunk. He passed out before he reached my room. I thought they would be okay in the morning, because they were always okay. But I found them dead instead.” Corey looked down at the counter. “I’m glad no one’s died since you adopted me.”
Dimitra and Skyler shared a look.
“Corey,” Dimitra said slowly. “Do you want to watch TV while you finish your hot chocolate?”
Without looking at her, Corey nodded. She hopped down from the stool and Skyler handed down her mug. Smiling her thanks, Corey took her mug and went over to the couch. As she turned on the TV, Dimitra walked around the counter and took Corey’s seat.
“She gave me the information I need,” Skyler said softly. “All the people who died have intended to harm her in some way. All of them. Even the two girls. Corey knew all of them and they wanted to hurt her. Someone’s trying to kill everyone around her.”
“Well, everyone who means her harm,” Dimitra said softly, putting a hand on his arm.
Skyler nodded. “Yeah. Everyone who means her harm.”
“It’s like she has some kind of guardian angel,” Dimitra murmured.
“But who could it be?” Skyler asked, turning his eyes on his wife. “Who has she known? Who would protect her from the time she was four?”
Dimitra glanced over her shoulder to where Corey was sitting on the edge of the couch, finishing off her hot chocolate. “I don’t know, Sky. Why don’t you ask her? She opened up just now. Maybe she’ll say something more.”
Skyler nodded and finished off his own hot chocolate. Dimitra took the mug from him with a smile. He smiled back and got off of his stool. Dimitra watched him as he walked over to their daughter.
“Corey, honey?” Skyler said as he crouched down next to her. She turned her bright eyes on him. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” Corey said, her eyes wandering back over to the TV, where some cartoon was playing. “Is it important?”
“Has there been anyone you’ve known ever since you were a little girl, since the time you were still with your biological parents?”
Corey pursed her lips, her eyes never staying from the TV. “No,” was her only reply.
“Are you sure?”
Skyler studied her for a long moment. Then he rose with a sigh and headed back to his wife. Dimitra was still sitting there with both mugs sitting before her.
“Anything?” Dimitra asked.
Skyler shook his head. “No, but I have an idea. Do you remember her neighbor, Mrs. Appleton? It occurred to me that Corey’s never lived more than a few miles away from where she lived for the first four years of her life. Mrs. Appleton lived across the street. She was very protective of Corey and had wanted to take her in after her parents died. I’m going to go give her a call.”
Dimitra nodded and watched him turned and walk off.
Skyler headed straight for his office. He carefully closed the door and flicked on the room light. Walking over to the phone that sat on his desk, he flipped through the file on Corey’s case until he found Eva Appleton’s number. He quickly dialed it and listened to it ring a few times.
“Hello?” a young, female voice said.
“Hello. This is Skyler Adams. Is Eva Appleton there?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the woman said. “My aunt died two years ago and my uncle moved away. They left the house to me. I’m really sorry. Were you a friend of hers?”
Skyler took a deep breath. “No. I encountered her a few years ago and thought I’d call to say hello. Anyways, thanks for letting me know. Have a good day.”
“Thank you. You do the same.”
The woman hung up. Skyler hung up a little more slowly. He leaned heavily against his desk and folded his arms. After spending a moment lost in thought, he left his office and returned to Dimitra.
“Anything?” Dimitra asked quietly.
“No. Mrs. Appleton died two years ago. There’s no way she could have been the murderer.”
“So where does that leave us now?”
Skyler turned to look at Corey as the little girl laughed at something in the cartoon she was watching. “I don’t know. I’ll try harder, maybe see what else I can get from her. But we have time. She’s our daughter now.”