“Suddenly the curtain moved all by itself.”
The late June sun found its way onto the front porch. I squinted into the glare at my best friend. “How?”
Lily Randazzo shrugged. “No one was standing anywhere near the window. And it was closed, so it wasn’t a breeze that moved it.”
Lily’s voice grew quiet. “Everyone in room seventeen of the Spalding Inn sensed what was happening. Mr. Spalding was there, in that very room, pushing back the curtain and looking out the window. He was staring at the pond where he had drowned fifty years ago.”
“Drowned?” I repeated. “Wait, is Mr. Spalding . . . dead?”
“He’s d-d-dead?” Lily’s five-year-old sister, Cammie, stuttered.
“Totally dead,” Lily confirmed. “Now he’s a ghost trapped in the inn.”
“Ghosts are scary.” Cammie tugged their dog, Buddy, closer.
“Even scarier,” Lily continued, “was when Mr. Spalding’s ghost pulled down the window shade. Right after he did that, there was this supercreepy wailing noise that sounded like it was coming from within the walls and from under the floors. Everyone was so freaked out. . . .”
“What was it?” Cammie asked. The color drained from her normally rosy cheeks.
“The ghost of Mr. Spalding was crying out in pain and frustration!” Lily explained, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“Did you help him?” Cammie grasped Buddy tightly.
Lily gently tugged one of her sister’s black braids. “No, silly. I wasn’t there. I was watching a movie.”
“What movie?” I asked.
“The Haunting at the Spalding Inn. It was soooo good! And Justin Drexler was totally amazing! He played Mr. Spalding’s great-grandson. At the end of the movie, you find out . . . oh, I don’t want to ruin it for you!”
“No, tell me!” I said. “You know scary movies and I don’t mix. I’ll never see it.”
“Well, you find out that Justin’s character is a ghost too! I had no idea the whole time . . . he’s such a great actor, Sar! I think he might get nominated for an Oscar for his performance.”
Justin Drexler was the guy Lily—and half my friends, to be honest—had a crush on. He was a pop star turned movie star.
“And look at how amazing-looking he is! He’s even cuter with this new haircut!” Lily extended her phone to me. On the screen I could see a picture of a smiling guy with brown hair. He was definitely cute. Lily continued to gush. “And he has this great blog where he talks about all sorts of stuff, like what charities are important to him. I also read on his blog that he’s writing a book! He’s really into talking about how anyone can do anything they put their minds to. He’s so positive! I can’t wait for his book to come out!”
“Really?” Reading wasn’t Lily’s thing. I could finish an entire book in the time it took her to daydream through the first page.
“I know, right?” Lily grinned.
Lily continued to talk about Justin, and I did my best to listen, but I was a little preoccupied. My mind was on another guy. I tried to change the subject and hoped I wasn’t being too obvious.
“So, Buddy’s previous owners are coming for a visit soon, right?” I asked as I reached over to rub Buddy’s belly. “When is that? And is that kid coming with them this time?”
Him. The boy with the white-blond hair. The boy with the piercing green eyes. The boy I couldn’t stop thinking about.
“The grandkid. What’s his name . . . Mason?” I asked. Of course I knew his name. I’d tattooed it on my brain ever since I saw his photo. Lily was forever crushing on celebrities like Justin Drexler, but I was crushing on a boy who wasn’t famous. A boy I’d only seen in one picture.
“It’s Mason,” Lily confirmed. “Mason has a little brother and sister who are twins. I think they’re nine. They’re supposed to visit sometime this week.”
I nodded, not wanting to press for any more details but hoping she would offer more. She didn’t. Lily looked
back down at her phone, checking out a few more pictures of Justin before putting it down with a happy little sigh. Her eyes wandered over to the small sign that advertised Lady Azura’s business: PSYCHIC, HEALER, MYSTIC.
“I bet Lady Azura would really like The Haunting at the Spalding Inn. She would definitely appreciate Justin’s convincing portrayal of a ghost. You should totally take her to see it, Sar! It’s not that scary!”
I gazed at the large bay window. The heavy red curtains blocked my view into her fortune-telling room. The curtains had been closed all the time lately. “She’s too busy with nonstop clients these days to go to the movies,” I replied.
“I think it’s so cool,” Lily gushed. “I mean, before everyone realized that she could communicate with the dead, no one knew about Stellamar. We were just this quaint New Jersey shore town. Now Stellamar is famous! Lady Azura is famous! Can you imagine how fun it must be to have powers like hers?”
I poked my finger through a small hole in the hem of my T-shirt. Could I imagine what it was like? Yeah, I pretty much could. “It’s not all fun all the time,” I replied slowly. “I mean, some of her clients are . . . well,
complicated. It can be really stressful sometimes.”
“But she has these amazing abilities. And she’s famous! Reporters come here!”
“They’re gone now,” I pointed out. Right after Lady Azura had uncovered the Meyers’ jewels, the story went viral, and reporters camped out on our porch for a couple of weeks. Once I even had to sneak out the back door to get to school.
Lily folded the green paper into a fan. “I liked having them here. Why did they all leave so suddenly?”
I smiled. Lily used to dance down the sidewalk to our house. She jetéd and twirled for the reporters. She hoped one of them would discover her and bring her to Hollywood. Never happened. They were only interested in Lady Azura and her powers, and soon even she wasn’t all that interesting anymore.
“Kiwi, the Australian teen pop star, was trampled by a horse at a ranch in Montana. They all left yesterday to cover that story,” I explained.
“That stinks. Is Kiwi okay?”
“Bruised her toes. Vocal cords are fine.” I watched a frazzled-looking woman with long, wildly curly hair shuffle slowly across the street toward our house. She
titled her head to better read the number hanging beside the front door. Client, I thought. Another client coming to call.
I hated that I felt jealous. All year I had been trying to help Lady Azura grow her fortune-telling business. I’d made flyers and posted online messages. Now, boom! After the Meyers’ case made headlines, everyone wanted to see Lady Azura.
It’s a good thing, I told myself. I should be happy for her.
Lily sang Kiwi’s latest song, “Dancing Down Under,” while performing a series of wiggles and kicks that went with the song. Cammie tried to mimic the steps. I sat on the porch floor, watching an elderly man and woman head toward our house. The woman held a heavy-looking pocketbook in one hand and grasped the man’s arm with the other. He had a slight limp. More clients.
“Sara, it’s easy. Try it,” Lily called.
I didn’t move. Instead I tracked three more people trailing the elderly couple to the house. A man with wire-rimmed glasses. A man in a bathing suit with bits of seaweed clumped in his wet hair. A woman in spandex shorts and a jogging top, covered with dirt. She
had a large gash on her left leg that oozed blood. I wondered what had happened.
Buddy barked. A high-pitched yelp, repeated again and again.
“Shh!” Lily said, interrupting Kiwi’s song.
Buddy pricked his ears and turned his head toward the street. Toward the line of people forming behind the frazzled-looking woman with the crazy hair.
I sighed. I’d planned on spending time with Lady Azura before Dad got home from work. That was never going to happen with all these new clients waiting to see her.
Buddy continued to bark.
Lily stopped singing. “What do you see, Buddy? Do you see a squirrel?” She scanned the front yard.
“There’s no squirrel,” I said. “It’s all those people. Buddy’s upset by all those people.”
Lily scrunched her nose, already spattered with early-summer freckles. “People?”
I waved to the growing line. “Them.”
Lily seemed confused. “What people? Sara, there’s just one woman standing by the curb.”
“She has a lot of hair,” Cammie whispered to me.
I took another look. A closer look. My stomach clenched. My left foot did that weird tingly thing. Lily was right. There was just one woman. One alive woman. But there were other people too. Other people only I could see.
All the other people were dead.
I bit my lip. I can see ghosts. I can talk to them too. If Justin Drexler was really a ghost, I’d probably have a much easier time meeting him. I was born with this ability, and other ones too. But I don’t really like to talk about it.
Not even with my best friend.
I could tell her now, I realized. I’d been thinking about telling Lily for months. I was sure she wouldn’t judge me for it. Maybe she’d even think it was cool. At least, I liked to think that maybe she would. After all, she liked ghost movies so much . . . maybe she’d like knowing that her best friend was living a real life ghost movie.
It felt wrong to keep such a big secret from her. Lily thought she knew everything about me: that I moved from California last summer, that my mom died when
I was born, that I’m good at art, that I get hiccups when I laugh too hard. What she doesn’t know is what really makes me “me.”
My big secret.
“Oh, I know that.” I forced a laugh. “I was exaggerating. It just seems like Lady Azura has a never-ending line of people outside. That’s all.”
I couldn’t do it. Not now. Not in front of Cammie, who totally couldn’t keep a secret. Not when summer was just beginning. . . . Seeing ghosts isn’t like confessing being scared of the dark or sleeping with a teddy bear.
The front door squeaked open. A tall woman I didn’t know stepped into the sunlight.
She smiled at us. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying. Then she lowered her head and hurried toward the silver car parked at the curb.
Lady Azura’s tiny body looked childlike framed in the doorway. A few stray pieces of her long, mahogany-dyed hair skimmed her false eyelashes. She smiled, and I could see she’d applied a fresh coat of crimson lipstick. I could also see the exhaustion tugging at her papery skin. All these clients wanted her to reach out
to the dead for them. They all wanted something from her. I felt bad for her. Calling up ghosts took a lot of energy.
“Lady Azura, have you heard about the new movie The Haunting at—”
“Later, Lily dear. Sorry.” Lady Azura beckoned to the woman with the hair. “Mrs. Merberg, please come in. I am so sorry I am running late.”
Mrs. Merberg slowly climbed the porch stairs and shuffled through the door. Her shoulders slumped, as if she dragged a fifty-pound weight on her back.
Then I watched the elderly man and woman enter my house.
And the man with the glasses.
And the guy in the wet bathing suit.
And the jogging woman with the nasty gash.
One by one, each spirit entered my house.
Lady Azura gave a little wave, then shut the door behind her.
My stomach churned with dread.
My house was filled with ghosts.