Thoughts & Prayers
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?
“One of the best books I’ve read on this topic, and I’ve read A LOT.”
“I hung onto every word. I cried, I empathize with these characters. Each character is so different, and grieving in their own ways. This book was powerful, emotional, and heavy. It’s also something I hope everyone will read.”
“Gripping, frightening, maddening, heart wrenching. This book is all that and more.”
“I read THOUGHTS & PRAYERS from start to finish in one sitting, captivated by the characters and their individual and collective responses to tragedy and particularly enjoyed that both adults’ and teenagers’ points of view [were portrayed].”
Read a Sample…
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.
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.
She opened her eyes, checked her watch again: 9:21. Al-most. Across the hall, a folded piece of paper caught her attention. She scooted over, snatched it up, and unfolded it. A flyer for the fall play: Rockwell High School Theatre Department proudly presents Almost, Maine. It’s love. But not quite. Notes were scribbled on the back—a phone number, a to-do list, a list of props: ice skates, mittens, suitcase. Important stuff. Someone from drama must have dropped it. It belonged to her now. She refolded it and tucked it in the pocket of her khakis.
It was time. She peered through one of the rectangular windows, past her dark-haired reflection to the parking lot. Where was he? He changed his mind. No, no, there he was, her knight in ripped jeans and black hoodie plodding to-ward the building. His ski-type sunglasses reflected prismatic colors. A duffel bag hung over his shoulder. Her eyes lingered on the bag. Something seemed off. Why was it so big?
Hair raised on her arms. Her legs squeezed together with the urge to pee.
This is wrong.
This is wrong.
She remembered his voice and shivered. “I promise.” She placed both hands on the cold metal bar and pushed.
Keisha Washington stood in Alex Robinson’s first-floor guidance office holding the book of essays he’d just given her. He wanted her to understand the power of passionate writing. She got that. Authentic writing, he called it. For just a second, the color of his eyes distracted Keisha. She’d heard other girls gossip about her young college advisor’s looks and charisma, their mouths twisted into little grins, but that wasn’t the point of her visit. She snapped herself out of this momentary slip. Achieving her goals—that’s the reason she went to see him. And she didn’t need coaching.
“Write your heart out,” he said. “Don’t worry about demonstrating how smart you are. They’ll see your grades and test scores. Write about something that matters to you.”
Keisha glanced at the book titles on the shelves behind him, all exploring the theories of educational psychology. His framed master’s degree hung on the wall behind his chair; it was meant to impress her, but her mother had an MD as well as a couple of other letters required for a pediatric oncologist and could run circles around anyone in this building.
A small silver-framed photo of Mr. Robinson with a woman smiling up at him sat on his desk. Keisha assumed the woman was his wife. They looked happy with each other. On one wall hung Rockwell High’s blue and gold school pennant, featuring the prancing wild mustang which once boosted her school spirit, but now in her fourth year, tested her patience. A bank of bland metal cabinets held the records of the school’s thirteen-hundred students. How does he even know who I am? He must know; that’s his job. At least he knows I’m the senior class president.
She touched the crown of tight braids on her head and rolled her shoulders to loosen the tension she felt. Her face reflected in the open door’s window—high arch of an eye-brow, high cheekbones, full lips. Pharaonic, like Hatshepsut, just as Mom said. Keisha stood straighter.
The bell rang, followed by the cacophony of hordes of teenagers moving between classes. Lockers ticked open and slammed shut. Sneakers squeaked on the polished floor. “Shut the fuck up!” a male voice yelled over the low rumble. The extra-strong scent of body spray wafted into the room. It reminded Keisha of her friend Samantha, who smelled like a fresh mango. Sam would be waiting for her at her locker; they always walked to the third period together. She had to wrap this up.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Lee Anne Post is the pen name for co-authors Catherine Baldau, Tara Bell, Ginny Fite, and K.P. Robbins. Stories by these award-winning authors have appeared in numerous journals and individually they have published nine novels. They have worked as reporters and editors, in politics and philanthropy, and in advertising and educational institutions. Having met in a writer’s critique group for over five years, they were spurred by their collective grief and then admiration as they watched Park-land students deal with the aftermath of that shooting.
Pushcart nominated, Ginny Fite is the author of six tradition-ally published novels: Cromwell’s Folly; No Good Deed Left Undone; Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder; No End of Bad; Blue Girl on a Night Dream Sea, and Possession. Her collection of linked short stories, Stronger in Heaven, was shortlisted for the 2019 SFWP prize and a finalist for the 2020 Bakwin Prize. Her short stories have been published in numerous journals such as The Delmarva Review, SFWP Quarterly, and the Anthology of Appalachian Writers. A graduate of Rutgers University and Johns Hopkins University, her communications career included posts in journalism, higher education, government, and industry. She also studied at the School for Women Healers and the Maryland Poetry Therapy Institute.
K.P. Robbins creates strong female characters in her two traditionally published novels, PMS: The Power & Money Sisters and The Stonehenge Scrolls. Her short stories have been published on WashingtonPost.com and in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Virginia Writers Centennial Anthology and Art Prize Anthology, among others. A former Washington, D.C., advertising executive, she holds a degree in journalism from West Virginia University. www.kprobbinsbooks.com
Catherine Baldau is the Executive Director of the Harpers Ferry Park Association, where in her previous position as Publications Specialist, she edited several publications including the award-winning Harpers Ferry Under Fire. Her essays are published in the Harpers Ferry Anthology and “To Emancipate the Mind and Soul,” and her short fiction has appeared in SNReview. Her freelance writing has been featured in Fluent Magazine and other local publications. Thoughts & Prayers is her first novel. www.catherinebaldau.com
Tara Bell writes of a tween who saves her family from a haunting in the Middle Grade novel The Shell Ghost of San Cristobal. For years, Tara was a contributing writer and editor for a local publication The Good Shepherds, Good Town, Good News Paper. She graduated from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, with a BS degree in Recreational Therapy. In the early ‘80s she was on the staff for the autistic unit at Grafton School in Virginia. For over fifteen years she has participated as a multimedia artist in The Over the Mountain Studio Tour in Jefferson County, West Virginia. She has been a long-time member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. https://www.tarabell.info