A group of friends attend a lake party following the last day of their junior year of high school. The story follows Lizzie and her best friend Mackenzie who are simply looking to enjoy their first night of summer. What they don't plan on is to discover a crime is committed the night of the party, and no one knows who did it. Everyone from their school who attended the party suddenly becomes a suspect.
Junior year. While many predicted it’s endless, tormenting ways I found that my third year of high school had flown by. Since seventh grade my friends and I had all been obsessed with being seniors in high school – the senior prom, yearbook photos, one final hurrah and being the kings and queens of the school. I was eager and ready for it, don’t get me wrong, but a part of me wanted to linger in the summer between junior and senior year forever with the feeling of being infinite.
My finger traced over my picture in the yearbook, and then I frowned at the name beneath it. Elizabeth McCormick. I don’t know why I hated being referred to as Elizabeth over Lizzie. It wasn’t a terrible name, and I was named after both of my parents’ mothers; my grandmothers. A part of me actually cherished the name but for some reason it made me feel old. Lizzie felt much younger, and that was what all of my friends called me.
“Hurry up Lizzie.” My best friend Mackenzie sat beside me at a table in our pottery class – the last class of the year on our half day of school. “Just sign his yearbook and let’s get out of here.” Her voice was quiet and she looked around as she spoke.
I wasn’t wholly sure what to write. The yearbook in front of me belonged to Shifty Daniels, given name Even, but nobody called him that. From what I’d heard Shifty was a nickname that had been given to him in elementary school because he couldn’t sit still, and I had no idea if he embraced the name or simply didn’t bother to fight it.
I had never had a full conversation with Shifty. He was quiet, a trumpet player in the band and had been a background character in almost every school play. Still, we’d gone to school together throughout junior high and high school and so I sighed the small space next to my picture with a generic message. Have a great summer. See you when we’re seniors!
“He’s looking at you,” Mackenzie whispered. Even without glancing up at her I could tell she was doing that ventriloquist thing with her mouth in order to make it seem like she wasn’t speaking.
“Here you go Shifty.” I closed the book and handed it to him.
Mackenzie reached for her backpack and slung it over one shoulder.
“Wait for the bell,” Mr. Stein, the pottery teacher ordered behind a scratchy voice. He eyed Mackenzie and me, and we slowly sat back down on our stools by the table.
“Thanks,” Shifty said quietly, snatching the yearbook back without so much as a half-second’s worth of eye contact.
“You’re welcome.” I tried to smile but he didn’t look at me long enough to see it.
Mackenzie looked at me and mouthed the word ‘weirdo’, making both of giggle.
“Where’s your yearbook Liz?” she asked, glancing around the nearly empty table.
“In my bag.” I shrugged. “We’re out of here in two minutes. I think I got all the signatures I’m going to get.”
“You have the entire inside cover reserved with your name on it,” I reminded her, “And it’s not like you’re not coming over my house.”
“No one took my page?” Mackenzie asked. She raised her eyebrows and I purposely took my time in answering before finally feeling a smirk sneak across my face.
“No… no one took your page.”
The final bell rang prompting every student in the class to stand up at once with the scraping of the metal against the floor from the legs of the stools.
“Have a good summer everybody!” Mr. Stein called out, adjusting his eyeglasses. “See most of you next year.”
Mackenzie and I were the first two out of the classroom because of how close we sat to the door. We hurried out the door, exchanged a few hugs with random classmates and headed out to the parking lot to my car.
“We’re officially seniors,” I said, twirling the keys around my finger.
“Old ladies. We’re going to be gray soon.”
I laughed and slipped the key into the car door, making all four locks on the old Ford I drove pop open at once. I looked up as Mackenzie began toying with the door handle on the passenger side and saw her gaze was focused over my shoulder. When I turned I saw a group of four boys piling into the car in the next space over.
They weren’t just any boys, they were the boys. Sebastian Alexander, Johnny Kahn, Mickey O’Hara and Xavier Delaney. Everyone at Harmon High School knew who they were. When it came to social status, the four of them were at the top of the food chain.
“Have a good summer.” Sebastian gave a head nod and though I spoke with him on occasion, I wasn’t close enough to him where conversation was a regular thing. My heart fluttered for a second and the thirteen year old girl that was stuck inside of me took over.
“You too.” I managed the get the short sentence out without sounding totally brain dead.
“See ya…” Mackenzie’s voice came quietly from behind me and I knew she felt the same way. Ninety percent of the girls in our grade did, and though we pretended to be, we were no exception.
“Oh, uh…” Sebastian reached into the pocket of his partially open button-down shirt. He handed a piece of paper to Mickey over the roof of the car and gave another nod. “My sister’s having a grad party tonight at the lake. Here’s the flyer she’s been leaving on people’s cars.”
Mickey, the meathead of their group, made the handoff and I glanced down at the piece of bright orange paper.
“The more cups she sells, the more money she makes.” Mickey smiled and pushed back the messy blond hair that hung nearly to his eyes back with a headband.
I felt the butterflies in my stomach reside. For a minute I thought Sebastian might have actually been seeking our company, but now I understood – they were throwing a keg party, probably charging five dollars for a cup to drink. The more people the better. Still, being invited felt good and I figured Mackenzie wouldn’t mind being in the company of some of the better looking guys in our grade for a night.
“See you there?” Sebastian asked, looking at me first and then arching his neck to flash a smirk at Mackenzie.
“Oh… sure.” Mackenzie cleared her throat and smiled. “Yeah.”
Mickey hurried into the passenger seat without another word, and the other two boys said nothing. Through the glass I heard him holler something about school being out.
“Later.” Sebastian slunk into his car and I looked over at Mackenzie, who giggled. The two of us climbed into my clunker and glanced over at the car next to us. Mickey held a wad full of orange flyers that they had yet to hand out, and while a part of me, again, felt like we were of little importance to them, a party at Sebastian’s lake house didn’t seem all that bad.
“Lizzie, are we going to go tonight?” Mackenzie asked me. “I mean… we’re used to little garage parties with, like, our group of eight or nine people.”
“That… or dancing to the Freaky Friday soundtrack and drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade on the random occasion that our parents go out.”
She laughed. “Yes, that too.”
I sighed, “What do you think?”
Mackenzie smiled. “Is there really anything to lose?”
Mackenzie picked me up in her bright yellow Jeep Wrangler a little after eight o’clock that night. My friendly jealously still lingered over the vehicle that I had dreamed of owning since I was twelve, but I had to say if it could have been anyone other than myself who was driving it around, I was glad it was my best friend.
The mid-June air was warm but not overly hot. Mackenzie had the top off of the Jeep and her long, dark hair was already wind-tossed when she pulled into my driveway. She wore big sunglasses despite that the sun would surely be down at any minute. While the two of us liked to look nice, most days we were perfectly content in jeans and old t-shirts. That night, however, we spruced it up a bit with flowy sundresses and straightened hair.
I climbed up and into the Jeep, swinging my body in the rest of the way before slamming the door shut.
“Not a bad way to start off the summer,” she commented, putting the car in reverse as she backed out of the driveway.
“A little different than I figured,” I agreed with a nod. “I thought tonight we’d probably be roasting marshmallows in my parents’ back yard and watching movies until two in the morning.”
“While your little brother bothered us,” Mackenzie added with a laugh.
I cranked up the music so we could sing along loudly to it over the sound of the whipping wind that picked up once the speed of the vehicle began to climb. I loved driving around with Mackenzie. We were stilly together, and laughed a lot. There was no pressure to be cool, or act right. There was something about being with just your best friend for a bit that made you feel free.
“Do you think Ginny or Olivia were invited?” Mackenzie asked, attempting to tuck a few strands of hair behind her ears.
I shrugged. “We should have called them.”
“What about the guys… Seth, Nick…” Mackenzie cleared her throat, “Jason.”
I turned and smiled at Mackenzie when she spoke the last name. Seth, Nick and Jason were all in our close-knit group of friends. For years Mackenzie had had a thing for Jason, and I sensed he had a thing for her just the same. Neither of them, however, had even made the slightest move to take things farther than a friendship.
“Jason… hmm…” I tapped my finger on my lips. “Maybe you should call him and ask.”
“Well, why don’t you call him and ask?” she asked, “I’ll call the other two.”
“Okay.” I smiled and tried to get a reaction out of my friend. “Gosh, he was looking really cute today too. I mean really cute.”
Mackenzie turned to me and shook her head as the two of us let slow smiles spread across our faces at the same time. “You’re a jerk.”
“Hey you wanted me to call him,” I cleared my throat and then paused. “You know… I seriously think he likes you too.”
Mackenzie used to vehemently deny her feelings for Jason until I gave her a guilt trip about being her best friend and insisting I should know just about everything about her. That was when she caved and swore me to secrecy about her internal love for our mutual guy-friend.
“If things didn’t work out it’d be weird,” she said simply, and then smiled. “Let’s just focus on tonight.”
I nodded. “Deal.”
The house the Alexanders owned on Emerald Lake was semi-private, with only a handful of other lots nearby. You had to drive down a dirt road to get there, passing a wide open field and a collection of wooded areas before the five or six houses were exposed.
An unofficial parking area sat about fifty yards behind the homes and an assortment of cars were already scattered about in all shapes and sizes. Some were beaters like mine, others were a little fancier, and there were a few pickup trucks among other types.
Next to the cars were two sand volleyball pits where people were playing while others watched with red cups in hand cheering on their friends. Closer to the woods were horseshoe pits where similar, smaller crowds gathered.
I looked at Mackenzie as she parked the car. She lifted her sunglasses so they rested of top of her head and then gave herself one last look in the mirror.
“How do I look?” she asked. “Should I have put the top up on the car?”
“Do you have anything in here that people are going to steal?” I scanned the back seat of the nearly empty car.
“Only my Breaking Dawn book,” Mackenzie said with a laugh, eyeing it on the back seat.
“So, no then.” I laughed, being a fan of the Twilight series myself, but still hating to admit it.
She shrugged and tucked her keys neatly into the small purse that hung across her body. “Ready to go?”
I nodded and the two of us made our way through the series of cars, past the volleyball pits and down toward the lake where a number of other people from our school were gathered.