The Haunting of Elmwood Manor
THE IDEA WAS SCARY. Exciting. Overwhelming.
She wanted to tell her best friends, Amber and Scout, about her new ghost-hunting business. Amber being Amber, she would freak out and say no way before Pekin could explain all the reasons it was a good idea.
Pekin had decided to do all the legwork before telling Amber and Scout about her big plan. Get her ducks in a row, be ready to answer any question or objection they threw at her. The next day, she would convince her friends how exciting this adventure would be.
Despite her anxiety, Pekin slept fairly well and was awake half an hour before her 7:30 a.m. alarm. She rolled onto her back and opened her eyes, nervous at the prospect of coming clean with her friends. With extra time before needing to get ready for school, Pekin propped up on her pillows and looked around her room, going over her plans.
Her bedroom reflected her personality, more practical than all fan girlie over the latest boy band. She kept it clean, her bed made every morning. Clothes were never tossed on the floor. She wasn’t into the rumpled look. A full-length mirror was tacked to the closet door for examining her outfits, since changing her clothes multiple times before deciding on the perfect look was her norm.
Two posters graced the walls, both copies of the ones hanging in Agent Mulder’s office in The X-Files, one reading “I Want to Believe” and the other proclaiming “The Truth is Out There.” A white bookcase reflected her obsession with the paranormal, as it was stocked with tales of haunted houses and ghostly visitations. Ghosts weren’t the only thing Pekin loved. Her bookshelves also contained a healthy dose of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books. Sure, they were popular when her mom was a kid, but they were still full of great ideas for teenage sleuths and fueled her daydreams of solving mysteries.
Her gaze fell on a photo of the three friends she’d stuck in the mirror of her dresser. She loved this picture. It was taken six months ago, and showed Pekin, bookish and nerdy, and Amber, looking short next to Pekin and Scout, her beautiful auburn hair wisping around her face. Then there was Scout. Tall, good looking in a Bill Gates sort of way, glasses, studious. And the reason Pekin loved the picture.
Pekin had known Scout since second grade (he was in third grade at the time, an older man), and this year he’d blossomed (if you could say that about a guy), shooting up three inches, getting contact lenses, losing the braces. Her heart plunked the first time she saw him after summer break was over and he’d come back from spending two months in Europe with his family. But he couldn’t know about that, and she made sure not to let on that she liked him, not even to Amber, who would no doubt let it slip to Scout. Pekin would be so embarrassed if he knew.
Twirling a strand of blonde hair around a finger, she pondered how to approach Scout and Amber. Pekin wanted to be a ghostbuster. She wanted excitement, and imagined herself and Scout searching for ghosts in haunted houses. Amber would be there, too, of course, but Amber didn’t figure in Pekin’s daydreams the same way Scout did.
Still dressed in pajamas, Pekin wandered into her walk-in closet and inspected her options. Jeans, of course, but what top? She selected a white T-shirt with a big orange Cheshire Cat grinning on the front. She loved the way her hazel eyes popped when she wore it. Running her fingers through her hair, she turned sideways so she could admire the way it fell around her shoulders and down her back, then headed for the bathroom to brush her teeth and shower.
During her shower, Pekin considered her outfit, the one she’d picked for the day. Scout once said that the Cheshire Cat was his favorite Alice in Wonderland character. She hoped he’d notice her shirt and admire it the way she wanted.
As if. The three of them had been friends for ever. They’d grown up together. Scout probably thought of her as a sister. Just because she now saw him in a new light didn’t mean he felt the same about her.
Amber had already started attracting attention from boys. Pekin was a bit jealous, but not about the other boys. She only wished Scout would notice her in that way.
Pekin stepped out of the shower and used a wide-toothed comb for the damp tangles of her hair, confiding in Grandma Virginia that this business was a perfect fit for her. She’d been obsessed with all things ghost for as long as she could remember. She couldn’t count the number of times she, Amber, and Scout had sat in her family room watching scary movies or TV shows.
Pekin was nervous about meeting Amber and Scout for lunch. She’d been nervous pretty much all the time since she’d taken steps toward making her big idea a reality. As her planning had taken shape, she’d found it hard not to give off any clues that something was different with her.
The time had come to fess up.
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