Authors: B. A. Frade,Stacia Deutsch
That whole “investigate this on my own” thing I'd come up with in English class didn't seem so good on the way home. What if the book was really possessed? What should I do then? What did possessed books want? I didn't know what to do, but with every question, I got more and more scared.
I needed advice. Since Sam wouldn't believe me anyway, there was only one other option. She was going to have to dust off her rusty, hardly-used-anymore imagination, but I had no doubt once she did, she'd know I was telling the truth and want to help.
I burst into the apartment like I'd been shot out of a cannon. “Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!”
“Whoa, slow down, Emma.” Mom was bent down behind the door. When it flung open, the knob nearly rammed into her ear. Luckily, she jumped back in time.
“Mom, you aren't going to believeâ” I dropped my backpack on the floor. “I can't explain. I just have to show you.” I knelt down on the floor beside her and reached into my bag for the journal.
“Emma, I really don't have time right now.” That was when I saw that she was leaning over her suitcase. I hadn't really processed why her head was so close to the doorknob, but now I understood. The zipper on the old bag was stuck, and she was hunched down, struggling to get it closed.
She was leaving.
Mrs. L was probably waiting for me upstairs. There was no way I was going to show that old bat the mysterious journal. She'd probably want to use the pages to line her ferret cages.
“Mom, I have something toâ”
“Help me out here, Em.” Mom looked so frazzled, I left the journal in my bag and sat down on top of her suitcase. She easily tugged the zipper closed. “Thanks,” Mom said, then pointed to my room. “Go pack.”
“But Iâ” I really wanted to show her the book before she left. Deep inside, there was a part of me that thought once she saw it, she'd stay home.
“There's been a change in plans,” Mom told me. She ran to the bathroom and grabbed her hairbrush. I waited for her to explain while she ran it through her dyed-red hair. We used to look more alike until she started messing around with the color. Of course, I still have her straight, sharp nose and slightly oversized ears if someone really cared to look.
“Work called. I have to leave earlier than expected,” Mom said, tying her hair up into a bun, which only emphasized the Glick-family ears.
My shoulders slumped. “Oh,” I said.
“And Mrs. L can't take you.”
“Did you say âcan't'?” My eyes widened. “As in âcannot'?”
“One of her ferrets had to go to the vet hospital. She just told me. It was very sudden,” Mom explained.
“That's too bad,” I said sarcastically, wondering where this was going.
“I worked everything out with Sam's mom.” As she said it, my heart jumped in my chest. “I'm going to drop you off on the way to the airport. You'll have the whole weekend with Sam. Won't that be fun?”
I didn't want to jinx it, but I had to ask, “And the cousins?”
“Yes. Riley's only ten, but Cassie is sixteen. I figure if Mr. and Mrs. Murdock think Cassie is old enough to watch Sam for two nights, then she's old enough to watch you too.”
“Great!” No more questions. No more stalling. I had to get packed before she changed her mind or Mrs. L called to say her ferret had recovered and she was going to be home after all.â¦
I made it to my room in four seconds and was ready to go in less than a minute.
“Do you need your backpack?” Mom said, with one last check that the stove was off and the lights out. “Take it if you have homework.”
“Oh, right.” Homeworkâ¦ HA! Whatever I hadn't finished at school could wait. I would finish up Sunday night when I got home. I decided to leave my packâand the journalâbehind. Mom and I could investigate it together later. Maybe by then whatever disembodied spirit was living in the pages would have moved on to a new home. Mrs. L might like someone to talk to.â¦
As we walked out the door, Mom asked, “Did you want to show me something?”
I smiled. “No. It wasn't important. Iâ¦ Iâ¦ I just wanted to tell you that Mrs. Frankle says hi.”
Mom dropped me off. She wanted to talk to Mrs. Murdock, but Sam's mom had run to the store for a few last-minute things and wasn't back yet.
“I'll check in later, then,” Mom said, and gave me a big “I'll miss you” kind of kiss.
As she got into the car to leave, Sam and I did a happy dance and she whispered, “I thought your mom was ruining your life.”
“I was wrong.” I had goose bumps as a flash of Mrs. L's goopy goo went through my imagination. “She's not ruining my life. By leaving me here, she's saving it!”
I waved good-bye one last time as Mom drove away.
We'd barely gotten inside when a cab pulled up in front of the house. It wasn't one of those normal-sized taxis. It was a big van.
Sam grabbed my hand, dragging me back outside, toward the van. “Come on, Emma. Cassie and Riley are here early! Come meet them.”
I had to jog a little to keep up.
The cousins didn't get out right away, so we hung back as the driver began piling luggage on the sidewalk.
“Wow,” I said to Sam. “They sure come with a lot of baggage.” I looked at my own little tote. “I hope I have enough clothes.”
Sam laughed. “If you need more stuff, just take what you want.” For years, Sam and I had been sharing clothes. We had the same casual style, meaning we weren't the best dressed at school, but we weren't the worst either. She added, “Half the stuff in my closet is probably yours anyway.”
Sam lurched forward when Cassie got out of the van, but then pulled back again because Cassie wasn't ready to be welcomed. She was arguing with the taxi driver. From the bits I could hear, she was mad that he wasn't careful enough with a massive wooden trunk she'd brought. I could see her eyes flitting from the driver to the trunk and back again.
There was something aggressive about the way Cassie stood, hands on hips, chest puffed out. If I were the cab driver, I'd have apologized, told her that the ride was free, offered to pay for the damage, and fled. But he wasn't me, and he wasn't going to give up the fare that easily.
While they fought it out, Sam and I waited.
After what seemed like a really long time, Cassie and the cab driver settled their differences. Only then did Sam's cousin Riley climb out of the backseat, hauling two overstuffed backpacks. Sam had told me that Riley sometimes modeled kids' clothing for catalogs, and I had to admit, she was adorable. Cropped blond hair, carefully styled. She was wearing a short dress with leggings and boots. I had to smile. Riley was better dressed, with way more fashion sense than me and Sam together.
Cassie, on the other hand, looked like she was about to join a death metal band. Or rob a bank. She was wearing all black. Black jeans with a black shirt and a black belt, and not surprisingly, her hair was black as well. So deeply black, in fact, it reminded me a little of that young school librarian I had met today. The one who might or might not have existed.
“Is Cassie a vampire?” I whispered to Sam, who totally didn't get the joke.
“Huh?” She gave me a sideways glance.
I shrugged and pretended I hadn't said anything at all. Instead, I pointed at the house next door. Sam lived on a quiet tree-lined street with historic houses. Sam's house was old but had a hip antique vibe. The house next door, on the other hand, looked like the model for a haunted house, with ivy and vines covering the front. It had been empty for years and would need a lot of work to get it up to the neighborhood standards. Movement caught my eye.
That new kid at school, Duke, was peeking out between the thick red living room curtains. Sam spotted him too. When he saw us looking at him looking at us, he quickly closed them.
“I think you scared him away,” I said to Sam.
“Not me,” she countered. “I'm not scary. You are.â¦”
“Nu-uh,” I teased.
We went back and forth like that a few times like preschoolers, until we both started laughing.
Finally, we turned our backs on Duke's creepy house. It was time to greet the cousins.
“Hey,” Cassie said as the taxi pulled away. She had her eyes pinned on Sam, without giving me as much as a glance.
Sam leapt into Cassie's arms. “I am so happy you're here!” Sam cheered. “Where are Aunt Alice and Uncle Bernie?”
“At the hotel. They're meeting your parents there later for the reunion,” Cassie said.
It seemed strange to me that Cassie and Riley had come alone in a cab. My mom would never have let me go anywhere in a taxi by myself. Then again, maybe things would be different when I was sixteen. I really hoped so.
Moving from Cassie to Riley, Sam gave her little cousin a bear hug and then a high five. “Wait until you hear what I have planned!” Sam told her. “We are going to have so much fun.” She tugged me forward. “Meet Emma,” she told the cousins. “She's my best friend.”
Cassie looked at me as if seeing me there for the first time. “I thought it was just us,” she said to Sam. “You know, the cousins.” She lowered her voice and said, “We haven't seen each other in a few months. I thought we were going to catch up.”
“We are going to catch up!” Sam didn't seem to feel the negative vibes I was getting. “Emma's cool,” she said, but I immediately knew that I was not welcome, by Cassie at least.
Riley was the opposite. She popped forward, and instead of a handshake, she hugged me around the waist. Her hair smelled like roses. She not only dressed better than I did, she smelled better too. “Hi,” Riley said, looking up at me with a big grin. “Can we be best friends too?”
“Sure,” I said. “I can have two best friends.” I glanced over at Cassie, wondering if there was any chance that we could be friends as well. I hoped she'd realize I hadn't meant to crash whatever she had planned.
Riley let me go, and I approached Cassie, wondering if I should hug her or shake hands, but she kept her arms crossed. So I crossed mine too.
I nodded. “Hi.”
“We're going to carry this trunk inside.” It wasn't a request. It was a demand.
I looked over at Sam, but she seemed oblivious to Cassie's attitude. This wasn't the cousin Sam had described. The writer inside me wondered what her story was. Had she changed from the way Sam remembered?
“Riley and I will take the other bags,” Sam announced. “We're going to sleep in the living room so we can all be together. I have sleeping bags and pillows and a Nature Channel documentary to watch before bed!”
A Nature Channel documentaryâ¦ that was so Sam. I would have laughed if Cassie hadn't been staring at me with those huge brown eyes of hers. She looked so serious. I hoped she wasn't going to ruin Sam's fun.
“Let's take everything to my room,” Sam said as she and Riley headed into the house, each carrying two suitcases plus a backpack.
I hefted the trunk by one handle while Cassie took the other. The leather straps cut into my hands. “What's in here?” I asked. “A dead body?”
“No,” Cassie said, but didn't react to my joke.
“Did the cab driver complain the trunk weighted
down his car?” I asked with a smile, trying again.
“No,” Cassie said simply.
“Wasâ” I gave up my questions. She'd only say “no” anyway.
We moved slowly, step by step, into the house. Crossing through the living room, I stepped toward the stairs leading up to Sam's room.
“No,” Cassie suddenly blurted.
“I didn't ask anything,” I told her, wiggling my hands around a little. My fingers were getting numb.
“I knew you were going to ask about going upstairs,” she told me. “The answer is no. The trunk goes in the basement.”
There was nothing in the basement. Just storage and spiders.