"I figured out the perfect solution," I said.
"You did?" Alexander perked up.
I took a breath, excited by my problem solving. "You can't move out of the Mansion if no one buys it.,."
Alexander nodded. "True..."
"So, we have to make sure no one does."
"How are we going to do that?" he asked.
"Glad you asked. Gossip runs through this town like a flood. Usually the rumors are about you, your family, or me. Now we'll be the ones to spread them about ourselves."
"What will we spread? How can we convince people not to buy the Mansion?"
I hated to disappoint him. He was so proud of his grandmother's mansion. Just as I adored it, he obviously did even more.
"Have you been around this town?" I asked. "I can't imagine anyone would be interested in buying the Mansion anyway, with all the rumors surrounding it for years. But now that it's for sale we can't take any chances. We have to spread our own. Verify the Mansion is worse than they thought.Bats, mold, or rusty pipes, None of these women would step one of their Prada-wearing feet inside even view it."
Alexander's pale face lit up.
"But what if someone from outside of town comes to take a look."
"They have to stop at Mickey's gas station. Or stay al Dullsville's bed and breakfast. They'll find out fast enough about the money-pit mansion and then we'll be able to heat their tires screeching away."
He picked me up and kissed me for a long time.
"Where do we begin?" he asked with renewed hope.
"We'll have to set everything in motion tonight. We can't waste any time."
Alexander and I met Matt and Becky by the fountain al Dullsville's town square.
Matt was in his jersey and soccer cleats and Becky had her pink sweater tied around her waist.
"Thanks for helping us, guys." I said. "We can cover more terrain if we have more mouths."
"We'd do anything to help Alexander stay in town," Becky said.
"Now, the key spots for tonight are the square and Dullsville's country club," I told them. "I'll cover school tomorrow."
"Matt can get the two of us into the club," Becky offered. "No problem."
Sporting soccer cleats and dirt-stained elbows at the conservative club were even more favorable than a black lace bodice and combat boots.
"Meet you back here in an hour," I said.
Alexander and I took the north side of the square, while Becky and Matt took the south.
We popped in and out of boutiques fake browsing and zealously talking about the miserable condition of the Mansion. The sight of Alexander and me together on the square was enough to get gossip going, but the fact that they had inside dirt-literally-on the Mansion made every patron's and salesclerk's ears perk up.
"Missionaccomplished," I said as Alexander and I headed back to the fountain.
"Hey- you got s.h.i.+rley's side," Becky said, already waiting.
"We planned on that," I said, nudging her, "My treat."Alexander spoke with the same authority as a coach buying his players food after a win.
"No one ever listens to what I say," my shy best friend said as we headed into s.h.i.+rley's. "But when we brought up the Mansion and the cracks in the foundation-everyone in the restaurant heard.""It could have been because you were almost screaming," Matt said, "And we didn't have a reservation."
Just then an elderly couple sitting at a small table sharing a sundae glared back at us.
The woman said, "I think I heard that girl say that mansion has cracks in the foundation."
"I know," the man replied. "I thought he said his girlfriend ran screaming from it."
I gave Alexander's hand an extra squeeze and the thumbs-up to Matt and Becky.
a.s.sorted dripping ice creams in tow, Becky drove us to Dullsville's country club, which was a sn.o.bby members-only club sprawled out over several acres. It included indoor and outdoor tennis courts, an eighteen-hole golf course, a gift and pro shop, and a four-star restaurant. Signs about the upcoming Annual Art Auction lined the gra.s.s like it waselection day .
"We'll wait here," I said to Matt and Becky.
For a few minutes, members with tennis rackets, golf clubs, and yoga mats were coming out of the club- returning from workouts like it was their job. When it quieted down, a couple carrying boxes filled with pottery struggled to open the front door. Alexander jumped out of the truck and opened the clubhouse door for them.
"That is as close as I could get without a white s.h.i.+rt," he said when he got back into the truck. We held hands with crossed fingers until Becky and Matt returned.
By the time I got home, word had traveled so quickly about the undesirable money pit on Benson Hill that my parents had already heard the news and were greatly concerned.
"Maybe you shouldn't return to the Mansion." My mother confronted me as I started for the stairs.
"Why?" I asked.
"I heard the walls could fall down at any minute."
"I thought you didn't believe in gossip. Besides, who told you that?"
"That doesn't matter," she began, then shouted, "Paul-"
"But the game's almost over-"he hollered back."Paul, this is important."My dad reluctantly joined us, clutching the remote like it was a lifeline."It's about Raven visiting the Mansion," my mom said. "I think until Alexander moves, it is best they spend time over here.""You can't ban me from the Mansion!" I exclaimed.I had no idea my plan would work so well. But now it was working against me."That house is in dire straits," my mom went on."I thought it was pretty sound. It was old and dusty, but I think it was as st.u.r.dy as a castle," my dad said."See!" I pleaded."But there were bats," my mom argued. "You both saw them.""But I love bats.""They are flying rodents," she challenged."Not all of them."My parents both looked at me curiously."Sarah, can we discuss this later?" my dad suggested."Mom, those are just rumors. You've taught me all my life not tobelieve the negative gossip in this town. Are you telling me, in this case, that your own advice has been wrong?"For a moment, my dad was no longer interested in the game's outcome, only in my mother's response."Fine.Rumors are just that. I was inside the house, too. And it was a wonderful house.""Thanks, Mom," I said, and took off for my room."But just as a precaution," she called, "maybe you and Alexander could start hanging out in his gazebo."
I had never been so eager to return to school as I was the next day.
I blabbed about Alexander's haunted, smelly, or leaking mansion (depending on my mood) in the cafeteria, gym, and hallways. The day flew by and I happily headed for sixth bell, until someone stopped me on the stairs.
"Listen, Monster Girl," Trevor said. "I should have known when I picked you as a partner that I was picking the bottom of the barrel. But even I didn't realize how deep that barrel was. Either you meet me today or I'm heading straight for Mrs.Naper ."
I was grateful to Trevor. Though I'd never tell him that, I felt confident that Alexander would now remain in Dullsville. I hated to do the paper, much less see Trevor, but it was something I had to complete. And there wasn't any reason to postpone it any longer.
"Sure, today is as good as any," I said.
Trevor was surprised by my positive response.He glared at me skeptically. "I know... you're not going to show up."
"Why would I do that?" I asked. "That's so third grade."
I wanted to meet my nemesis at a neutral place. Ididn'i want him to use this as an opportunity for him and his soccer-sn.o.b posse to ambush the outsider. I neededsomi protection-a place I knew people would be around.The town square.The main library.The police station.
We settled for the mall food court. Dullsville Mall was probably no different from any other mall in America,li had the same dress, shoe, candle, lotion, lingerie, earring stores, and kiosks as any mall. I wasn't a mall rat but rather a thrift-store junkie. But there was one thing I couldn't resist at the mall: the food court. Every time my mom or Becky dragged me there for a day of shopping, I was like a vulture on an abandoned carca.s.s as I sampled the Ices, pizza, or free Chinese meat on a stick.
Trevor found me waiting with a slice of cheese pizza and a frozen cherry drink at a table in the center of the food court.
"At last I have you all to myself," Trevor said.
"Evidently not."I pointed to a kid from the next table, waving to us like we were his family.
"h.e.l.lo," the cute boy said. The small child reminded me of Trevor when he was in kindergarten-perfect blond hair, perfect white teeth, perfectly pressed clothes.
"Children are a great judge of character," Trevor commented.
"That's why he's waving at me, not you."
"Turn around, Lance. Sorry he was bothering you." The mother picked up her son and held him on the other side of their table.
Trevor took a bite of my pizza.
"Hey, get your own!"
"I heard about the Mansion," he said. "I told you it was an eyesore.Rotting away. I can't believe you hang out in that h.e.l.lhole. But maybe that's why you call it home.""You're right. When I was there last week, we discovered a room full of flies. Just like the Amityville Horror."
"And you think that's cool?"
"Why wouldn't I? Now, do you want to continue to talk more about how gross the Mansionis- "
"No-let's get started."
I hadn't even looked at the brief question sheet. It was folded up and stuck in my English notebook.
Of course Trevor kept his pristine in a folder marked "English Lit."
"Do you want to go first?" he asked. "Or shall I?"
I didn't answer.
"Please. Let me get this over with." He took out a pen, leaned in close, and began to read." 'When you were in kindergarten, what did you want to be?'"
I glared back at him.
I remembered that first day of kindergarten as clear as if it were yesterday. I had replied, "A vampire."
"A princess," I said.
Apparently Trevor remembered my real answer, too. I guess it wasn't every day that one had a cla.s.smate as odd as I had been and still appeared to be.
"That's not what you said," he challenged. "You said, 'A vampire."
"Really?I don't recall. So you are going to write that down?" I asked worriedly.
I knew I was going to stand in front of my cla.s.s and say, "I wanted to be a vampire." Trevor would then say, "Duh," and the cla.s.sroom would fill with laughter and mocking students.
Trevor scribbled something down on the sheet.
" 'Whenyou were little, what inspired you to feel this way?'" Then he paused and asked, "Looking in the mirror and having it crack in two?"
Instead of clobbering him, I laughed-the kind of laugh that escapes into the air before you can catch it. The kind of chuckle that shows a tiny form of acceptance.
Trevor obviously didn't expect me to find his remark entertaining. He was primed for a fight. We both cracked up and locked eyes. His gaze lingered a little too long, not in a creepy way, but in a way that saysI'm not ready to let this momentgo.
I felt strangely attracted to this nemesis of mine. I hated that we had any civility between us. But mostly I hated that I'd let my guard down.
I was born that way,I wanted to say. Perhaps a psychologist might trace my wanting to be a vampire back to timespentwith my father watching Dracula movies. And when my brother was born all that changed.Nosferatu kept me company on the lonely nights they were tending to the crying Nerd Boy.
"No," I finally said. "It was when I didn't see my reflection."
"Fine, I'll write that," he said. "Next question. 'Do you still have that same wish you had in kindergarten?'"
"Yes, I'm sixteen and I still want to be a vampire," I said sarcastically. I really was masking my innermost feelings. In fact, that is.e.xactly what I wanted to be.
I knew what Mrs.Naper was getting at. Some people change their minds along their life's path. And some people come into this world knowing exactly what they want to do. I was in the latter group.
" 'Whatdo your parents do? Would you want to follow in their paths?'" he continued.
"What do you think?"
I took out my paper. "I bet I can answer your questions without even asking you. When you were in kindergarten you wanted to be Superman, probably because you watched it on TV and liked being a superhero. But now, you obviously don't want to run around with a pillowcase cape. You want to be a professional soccer player. But you are afraid that once you get out of this small town, where youare Superman, you'll find out there are better players with more speed and quicker moves. And it is that part of you that when doing an a.s.signment like this would write 'real estate developer,' like your father. Because you are afraid offailure and you don't have the courage to write down what you really want to be,"
Trevor was immobilized and turned ghost white. He was blown away, as if by knowing him all these years I'd read his soul. I wasn't sure if this realization angered him or made him more attracted to me. I wasn't going to stay to find out.
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