Outside In by Beverly Sommers

Outside In

By Beverly Sommers

252 pages

Published by Harlequin Books (1990)

Jill Peters worked with the World Health Organization in Ethiopia, but when news came to her that her younger sister had drowned to death, she returned to America to find out what really happened. 

Susan Peters’ sudden death had been classified as suicide, and her parents had been living in guilt ever since. Her parents had thought they were to blame for not being alert on Susan’s suicidal tendencies, and they had been depressed with that notion.

Jill was convinced that Susan was not suicidal. Susan always shared her secrets with her, and Susan frequently wrote letters to her. All her letters indicated Susan was happy and not bothered by anything depressing. Jill also read jottings from Susan’s diary to look for any suicidal thoughts, but found nothing. In fact, Susan was in love with someone at school, whom she had referred to as “the prince” in her entries. No names were offered regarding the identity of the ‘prince’, but Jill believed that he could know something regarding Susan’s death.

Despite finding proof that Susan was not depressed, Mr and Mrs Peters were still unable to forgive themselves. Hence, for the sake of her parents, Jill vowed to find out the truth about Susan’s death so that her parents would stop blaming themselves and be at peace with what had passed.

Jill decided to pose as a 17-year-old high school girl and enrolled herself at the school where Susan went to. Jill was determined to uncover who was Susan’s ‘prince’ and then try to get more information about her death from the boy. Susan’s death could be a freak accident, or even murder. It could be anything but suicide, Jill believed.

And so Jill registered herself at Palm Cove High School as Jill Wyckoff, assuming the name of a family friend. She also created a cover-up story of being the daughter of missionaries’ in Africa who had just transferred back to America.

Based on Susan’s diary entries, Jill learnt that the ‘prince’ had dark hair and dark eyes, and he was in Susan’s civics class. So Jill looked forward to civics class to do her sleuthing. It turned out there were several dark-haired boys in the class, and some of them were good-looking enough to be Susan’s ‘prince’.

However, Jill soon became distracted by the civics teacher, a Mr Doug Lacayo, who couldn’t be a few years older than Jill herself. Jill was, in fact, 27 years old. Mr Lacayo was about 29. If only she could reveal her real self, she would love to date him. But then, as a supposed under-aged high school girl, Jill had to suppress her feelings for her teacher. Otherwise the relationship would be considered illegal and Mr Lacayo could lose his job.

In truth, Jill’s feelings were actually mutual. Mr Lacayo found himself attracted towards Jill, for she appeared to be different and more mature than the other students in the class. Jill was concerned with world issues, and she was able to offer educated opinions on almost all current issues being discussed in class. In short, Jill was more of a woman rather than a girl. And she was certainly Mr Lacayo’s type.

But Jill’s status as his student had prevented Mr Lacayo from initiating any moves to suggest his interest. In fact, Mr Lacayo was totally freaked out by his feelings towards her that he even attempted to avoid her or gave her the cold shoulders.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

As weeks gone by, Jill had not come any nearer to uncovering the identity of Susan’s ‘prince’. Moreover, the fact that Susan had been dating him in secret (as told in her diary) made it even harder to pinpoint the guy, as there were no witnesses who would know of their relationship. She had tried to date some of the guys whom she suspected, but as far as she could say, no one was princely enough.

Jill was also frustrated with her feelings towards Mr Lacayo. If only she could reveal her identity – and especially her age – she would not mind making the first move to pursue the elusive teacher. Distressed, Jill finally decided to reveal herself to Mr Lacayo and maybe get him to help her in the investigation. In fact, she really missed being in the company of an adult.

The determined Jill had to corner the frightened Mr Lacayo at home before bombarding him with confessions about her true identity. Mr Lacayo was relieved that Jill was not an under-aged girl after all, and he was willing to help her in the investigation.

Mr Lacayo offered to create a questionnaire about the dating habits of a high school student and distribute it in the next class under the pretense of doing an academic research on the topic. One of the questions in the survey was to know whether the respondent had been dating secretly anytime during the past year – which was around the time when Susan had been seeing her prince secretly.

Afterwards Jill and Mr Lacayo went through the filled questionnaires together, trying to deduce the ‘prince’ candidate. Based on the answers, only three boys in the class had dated secretly during the past year: Alan, Peter and Judd. Jill had tried going out with Peter before, and she had decided he was too shameless to be a ‘prince’ – he had fondled her during their very first date! Meanwhile, Judd already have a steady girlfriend.

That left only Alan – whom Mr Lacayo had suspected immediately – but Jill could not imagine Alan being Susan’s ‘prince’. Alan was one of the hottest guy in school, but he had been nice towards Jill and Jill could not imagine him falling for Susan, who was the shy type. Jill dismissed Mr Lacayo’s suspicions as pure jealousy for seeing her getting along well with Alan in class.

In the meantime, the investigation had brought Jill and Mr Lacayo closer together. Just as Jill had thought everything will fell into place as she hoped, she was struck with shocking news. Phaedra, a girl whom Jill had identified as Susan’s good friend, revealed that Susan used to have a crush on someone whom she nicknamed ‘the prince’. Phaedra was not in the same civics class, but she was so convinced that Susan’s prince was Mr Lacayo himself!

Jill was absolutely heartbroken because it seemed that everything fit so well if Mr Lacayo was considered the ‘prince’. It answered why Susan would keep the identity of her ‘prince’ a secret, and why they had to keep their dates a secret. Susan could have committed suicide because she had a love affair with a teacher. Or, she could have been killed because if she revealed the secret, Mr Lacayo would lose his job.

Jill could not imagine Mr Lacayo being violent or involved in murder, but she did wonder if she had been wrong in her judgement of Mr Lacayo’s character. She could, after all, been blinded by her own feelings for him.

Jill was completely confused and had avoided Mr Lacayo all that day. What disturbed Jill most was the fact that this truth could make her jealous of her dead sister for the rest of her life.

Later that day, Alan contacted Jill and said that he wanted to tell her something about Mr Lacayo. Alan had actually seen Jill checking-in at a motel with Mr Lacayo the previous night, and he had figured out what had developed between the two. And now Alan wanted to reveal something about Mr Lacayo to her.

Jill fell to the bait and went to see Alan at a remote pier by the beach where Susan had met her death. Alan was there with his two closest buddies, Mark and David. It turned out Alan was actually out to reveal he knew of Jill’s true identity: he knew Jill was Susan’s older sister from the very first moment they met. Susan had told him about a sister named Jill who worked in Ethiopia. And he had suspected all along that Jill’s arrival at the school had something to do with Susan’s death.

Alan had took a liking for Jill, and he had found that he personally preferred Jill to Susan. Regarding Mr Lacayo, Alan actually had nothing to say but he merely suggested she leave Mr Lacayo, for the teacher appeared to be wimpy.

When Jill pressed him on whether Mr Lacayo was Susan’s ‘prince’, Alan had no idea. But he did let out that he himself was the one whom Susan had been seeing in secret, and not Mr Lacayo. Jill pressed on about the possible reasons for Susan’s death, but Alan kept insisting it was suicide. Jill was confused, until Alan eventually implied that they had included Susan in their little secret, but she could not take it.

Before Jill had any time to digest the information, the three guys then invited Jill into their secret – just like they had done with Susan. Alan, Mark and David had been killing homeless men who sheltered under the pier, convinced that they were doing it for the good of society by ridding it of people like the homeless. And now Alan, Mark and David wanted her to join them in their killing spree that evening.

Jill refused them outright, and she ran towards the pier to warn the homeless men that the boys were out there to kill them. Instead of running away to protect themselves, the homeless men stood up to protect Jill instead. The men chased the boys with whatever objects they could grab, and eventually all three boys were arrested and turned to the police.

It was one of the most traumatic night for Jill, but she was relieved that it was finally over. After giving her statement to the police, Jill went to see Mr Lacayo to make amends for her suspicions of him, and to fill him in with what had happened.

Soon the school heard what had happened and Jill’s true identity was revealed. Mr Lacayo invited Jill to visit the civics class for the last time, but this time she appeared as an adult and no more the fake student. The students discussed the issue and many were sorry about what had happened to Susan. Alan and Mark would be tried for their previous murders of several homeless men at the pier. David had confessed, and he had also claimed that it was Alan who killed Susan. Some boys in the class were also sorry because they knew Alan had been dating Susan secretly. But still, nobody actually believed when they heard rumours about the three guys’ killing the homeless, and they also had no idea that Susan might have been a murder victim, too.

Having reconciled, Jill and Mr Lacayo finally decided to get married soon. Jill wanted to return to Africa afterwards, and Mr Lacayo himself was not planning to resume teaching after the term ends. Jill planned to suggest Mr Lacayo move to Africa with her, for his services would be needed there.


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