Chapter 1 1
Whoooa!” I stopped and grabbed Lenny Boyle’s arm. “Check it out!”
I had to shield my eyes against the harsh, bright lights. Lenny laughed and pretended to stagger off the sidewalk.
Cassie Wylant and Jordan Townes were half a block back, arguing again. They had been fighting all night, even while they were dancing. Sometimes I wonder why Cassie and Jordan are dating. They’re always breaking up, then making up, then breaking up again.
“Hellllooo!” I called, trying to get their attention. “Take a break, guys. You’ve got to see this!”
They stopped and gawked at the amazing sight. Even Cassie had to laugh. It’s hard to get Cassie to laugh. She’s a great friend, but she really doesn’t have much of a sense of humor.
In fact, she’s the most serious person in our crowd. Always study, study, study. It was great seeing her lighten up and dance at Red Heat tonight. Her copper-colored hair was flying. Her hazel eyes reflected the flashing lights.
If only she and Jordan didn’t fight all the time.
He’s so good-looking—and he knows it. And he’s always coming on to other girls. I think that’s what starts most of their fights. I don’t know for sure.
Cassie and I are good friends. But Cassie sort of keeps herself tightly wrapped up. She doesn’t reveal what she’s really thinking—not even to me.
But now, walking home from the dance club, we were all thinking the same thing: How could Mr. Crowell do this to his front yard?
All four of us stopped and stared at the brightest, ugliest, craziest, tackiest display of Christmas lights we’d ever seen! Red and green lights blazed from the roof, around the windows and doors, along the gutters—and in all the trees!
Mr. Crowell had two Santas facing each other in identical, glowing sleighs. Reindeer with flashing red noses, elves, gremlins, Santa’s helpers, bright purple mice, bright white snowmen, neon animals I didn’t even recognize—and twinkling, flashing, glowing lights everywhere!
“It’s brighter than the dance club!” Jordan declared, shaking his head. His dark eyes twinkled too, reflecting the red glare of the lights.
“He’ll need a calculator to add up his electric bill!” I chimed in.
Everyone laughed. You see, Mr. Crowell is our math teacher. And he doesn’t allow us to bring calculators to class.
Lenny scowled. “We should smash them,” he muttered.
Mr. Crowell is not Lenny’s favorite teacher.
In fact, Mr. Crowell isn’t anyone’s favorite teacher.
Every school has at least one teacher that everyone hates. At Shadyside High, Mr. Crowell wins that prize.
I’m so easygoing and sensible, I get along well with all my teachers. All except Mr. Crowell.
Diane Browne, please complete this equation to the fifth decimal. I can hear his high, shrill voice. It always gives me chills, like chalk scraping on a blackboard.
I snuggled against Lenny. We were both glowing from the lights of the front yard. The tiny stud in Lenny’s ear sparkled like a star. I kissed his cheek.
Poor Lenny. Mr. Crowell was toughest on him.
All the teachers were tough on Lenny. I guess because Lenny doesn’t care much about school. Because he doesn’t play the game. Because he’s kind of tough-looking.
Why do I go out with a guy like Lenny? A quiet, sensible girl like me?
Because I know him well enough to get past his surface cool. Because I know he’s a really good guy underneath. He acts tough—but he’s really a marshmallow.
Actually, I’m surprised that Lenny wants to go out with me. I’m not as pretty as a lot of girls. I mean, I’m not as pretty as Cassie, for example. My blond hair is kind of scraggly and my nose is a little crooked. And I can’t afford really nice clothes.
But Lenny and I have a good time together. When he’s not in one of his angry moods. Those times when he gets low, there isn’t much I can do. Just wait for him to come out of it.
“I can’t believe that a total grump like Crowell has so much Christmas spirit!” Cassie exclaimed.
“Did you ever see anything so ugly?” Jordan demanded, grinning. “I love it! I want to do this in my front yard. I’d keep it going all year!”
I laughed. Cassie shook her head disapprovingly. “You have no taste,” she said softly.
“I know,” Jordan shot back. “That’s why I go out with you!”
Cassie shoved him into a hedge.
“No. I’m serious.” Jordan grinned. “Mr. Crowell should win an award for this.”
“He should be arrested,” Lenny muttered bitterly.
Jordan laughed. “Excuse me? Arrested? For what?”
Lenny shrugged. “I don’t know. Littering, maybe.”
“I’m serious!” Lenny insisted. “I really think we should get my dad’s Jeep, come back here, and drive it back and forth over all these stupid lights and Santas and reindeer. You know. Crunch them all to bits.”
“Whoa,” I murmured. I took Lenny’s arm. “Take it easy,” I whispered. “We all hate the guy. But—”
“Not as much as me,” Lenny cried.
“Hey, we all have Crowell stories,” Cassie added. “Remember the time I lost my math notebook, and he dropped my grade a whole letter? And then I found the notebook at the bottom of my locker. I brought it in to show him—and he still wouldn’t change my grade!” Cassie tossed back her coppery hair. “Remember that? And I’m his best student!”
“Remember when I got caught passing that note to you?” I asked Lenny. “It was sort of a mushy love note. And Mr. Crowell grabbed it and called me up in front of everyone, and made me read it out loud?”
Just thinking about it made my face go hot. “That was the most embarrassing day of my life!” I declared. “I wanted to murder Mr. Crowell!”
“Me too,” Lenny muttered.
Jordan tugged Cassie toward the street. “Let’s get out of here. I’m getting a sunburn from all these lights!”
Lenny and I followed them across the street, then down the block. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. None of the other houses was decorated.
A strong, cold breeze fluttered my hair. I pulled my down jacket tighter and snuggled against Lenny as we walked. “What time is it?” I yawned.
“Not too late. A little after midnight,” he replied.
Up ahead of us, Cassie and Jordan were arguing again.
“I’m really tired.” I sighed. “I worked all afternoon at the mall. Then it was so hot in the dance club…”
“That was fun,” Lenny said, kicking a soda can across the street. “It felt good to kind of let go and just dance. You know?”
I nodded. “Yes, it did.” I snickered. “Jordan thinks he’s such a great dancer,” I whispered. “But he works too hard at it, don’t you think? He tries to be so cool, but—”
I stopped with a sharp gasp.
I saw something. A shadow. Something moving on the side of a house.
“Lenny—look!” I grabbed his arm.
He saw it too.
A dark figure. Climbing out of an upstairs window.
“He—he probably robbed the place!” I sputtered.
All four of us stared at the figure as he jumped to the ground.
“Quick—let’s get out of here!” Cassie whispered.
The burglar climbed quickly to his feet, spun around—and saw us.