Chapter 1: The First Week in September 1 THE FIRST WEEK IN SEPTEMBER
The blob of green gel oozed like something from the bottom of a decaying swamp. It spread and settled in its container, quivering, as if searching for a way to escape or a way to take over.
Deena Martinson plunged her hand into the porcelain sink and slowly squeezed the gelatinous mass.
“Yuck!” she said. “Are you sure you want to put this on your hair?”
“Go ahead,” said her friend Jade Smith. Jade was sitting on a wooden stool in front of the bathroom mirror, a towel covering her shoulders, her freshly washed auburn hair hanging in damp coils down her back.
“I know your mom’s a professional hairdresser,” said Deena, “but this stuff looks like the thing that ate Cincinnati. And I won’t even tell you what it feels like.”
“Go on,” Jade insisted. “My mom uses it on her hair all the time, and it looks great. All shiny and full of body.”
“Are you sure you don’t mean dead bodies?” cracked Deena. She began applying the gel to her friend’s hair. Soon the long tresses were covered with slime and gave off a faintly Jell-O-y scent.
“Now what?” she asked when she had finished.
“Now we wait for it to dry,” said Jade. “At which point I’ll be ravishing. Sure you don’t want to try it? We could do your hair in spikes.”
Deena fingered her own baby-fine hair. It was shortish, and blondish, and straightish. All she could do was wear it layered and hope for the best. Her mother said her hairdo made her look like an angel. She wasn’t sure she liked that idea, but spikes didn’t sound any better. “No, thanks,” she said. “I have enough problems without trying secret formula x-oh-nine or whatever it is.”
“It could be your big chance,” said Jade, but she didn’t push. She didn’t seem to care much. In fact, she sounded a little bored—as bored as Deena felt.
“What a way to spend Saturday night,” said Deena with a sigh.
“Yeah, I hate to admit it,” said Jade, “but I’ll actually be glad when school starts Monday. It’ll be great to see all the kids, start going to dances and games.”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Deena.
“Hey, Miss Enthusiasm.”
“It’s just I don’t know what to expect,” Deena said. “Things are going to be different.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just found out that my brother, Chuck, is going to be living here.”
“Your brother? You don’t have a brother,” said Jade.
“My half brother, actually. He’s my dad’s son from his first marriage. I’ve only met him a few times. He’s coming to Shadyside for his senior year.”
“Really?” Jade was all ears now, but then she usually was where boys were concerned.
“Down, girl,” said Deena. “Chuck is nothing but trouble. In fact, that’s why he’s coming here. He was supposed to graduate from Central City last year, but he got expelled. His mom and my dad decided he’d do better in a small town like Shadyside.”
“Expelled?” said Jade. “What for?”
“I’m not sure,” said Deena. “It had something to do with some kids he hung out with. He actually got arrested one time. He’s been getting in trouble ever since he was little.”
“He sounds interesting,” said Jade with a mischievous smile.
“To you, Freddy Krueger would sound interesting,” cracked Deena, wandering into her bedroom.
“It’s just that the regular boys at Shadyside are so predictable,” said Jade, following her. “That’s ‘predictable,’ spelled B-O-R-I-N-G.” She pulled the towel off her shoulders, then shook her damp hair out and pirouetted in front of the full-length mirror on Deena’s closet door, admiring her figure. She was wearing a pink-and-white-checked jumpsuit with short sleeves. Deena had heard that redheads weren’t supposed to wear pink, but Jade looked good in every color of the rainbow—and she knew it. In fact, she was very vain. But, Deena had to admit, Jade had a lot to be vain about.
“How’s your hair doing?” Deena asked to change the subject.
“Still cooking,” said Jade. She suppressed a yawn, then sat on Deena’s bed and began using an emery board on her already perfect nails. She looked around the room, and her eyes stopped on a bright blue plastic object on the bedside table.
“What’s this?” she said.
“My new phone,” said Deena. “When my dad got promoted to vice president of the phone company, they gave us the latest instruments.”
“It’s pretty rad,” said Jade, picking it up. “It looks like the control panel for a jet plane or something. What are all these buttons for?”
“They’re for programming in phone numbers,” said Deena. “You push one button, and the phone automatically dials a number. That button’s for putting the caller on hold. And this switch”—she pointed to a switch on the handset—“turns it into a speakerphone, so everyone in the room can hear the conversation.”
“Yeah?” said Jade. “That sounds like it has possibilities. In fact, it gives me an idea. Whose numbers are in it?”
“I haven’t programmed in too many yet,” said Deena. “Just my grandmother, Mrs. Weller next door, and you, of course.”
“Me? Really? How do I dial it?”
“Just punch number three.”
“Watch this. My little sister Cathy’s babysitting the kids tonight.” She punched number three, then flipped the switch for the speaker, a strange smile on her face.
“Hello,” she said, holding her nose so she sounded as if she had a cold. “Miss Cathy Smith, please.”
“This is Cathy Smith,” said the voice on the other end. Through the speaker her voice sounded hollow and far away, as if it were coming from the bottom of a well.
“I’m calling from the Shadyside Mall Association,” said Jade, still holding her nose. “Miss Smith, I regret to inform you that you have been selected worst-dressed shopper of the month.”
“What?” shrieked Cathy at the other end. “I didn’t even go to the mall today!”
“You were positively identified by over a dozen shoppers,” said Jade. “You have exactly one hour to pick up your prize, a dozen wilted daisies.”
“A dozen what?” wailed Cathy. Then her voice turned suspicious. “Wait a minute. I know who this is. It’s not the mall. Jade, I know you—”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Jade, pinching her nose even tighter. “This is the—”
“You can’t fool me,” Cathy went on. “Next time pick on someone as stupid as you are!” The sound of the click as she hung up filled the room.
“Rats!” said Jade. “I should try it with someone who doesn’t know my voice so well. Someone who would never expect—I’ve got it! Deena, look up Henry Raven’s phone number.”
“Henry Raven?” said Deena. “He’s such a nerd! All he cares about is his computer. Why do you want to talk to him?”
“Just watch,” said Jade. “Or rather, listen—to this!” She took the phone book from Deena, looked up the number, and punched in seven digits. The sound of a ringing phone filled the room, then a click, and then the unmistakable voice of Henry Raven.
“Hello, is this Henry?” Jade was talking so low, she was almost whispering, and Deena thought her voice sounded mysterious and sexy.
“This is Henry,” said Henry. “Who is this?”
“You don’t know me, Henry,” whispered Jade, “but I’ve had my eye on you for a long time.” She whispered “long” so it sounded like “lo-o-o-ng,” her voice breathy and seductive.
“Who is this?”
“Someone… who’d like to be a good friend. I like your style, Henry—”
“Is this some kind of a joke?”
“It’s no joke,” said Jade. “I’ve never been more serious. You’re just the kind of guy a girl like me yearns for….”
There was a long silence at the other end. Then suddenly Henry sputtered, “Find another guy! I don’t have time for this!” And he hung up the phone with a bang.
Both girls fell onto the bed, laughing hysterically.
“Did you hear that? He doesn’t have time!” Deena couldn’t stop giggling.
“That was even better than I expected,” said Jade when she stopped laughing. “Now it’s your turn.”
“My turn?” said Deena.
“Sure. You heard me. We’ll just pick—”
“Jade, no!” said Deena. “I can’t even talk to people in person!”
“That’s the whole point,” said Jade. “It’s much easier when you’re anonymous. Now, let’s see,” she went on, flipping through Deena’s phone book. “How about Rob Morell?”
“Rob Morell?” shrieked Deena. “He’s one of the most popular boys in the whole school!”
“So what?” said Jade. “You like him, don’t you?”
“Sure,” said Deena, “but when he was in my geometry class last year, I could never think of anything to say to him.”
“Well, now’s your chance,” Jade said.
“But what if he finds out it’s me?”
“Just whisper, like I did, and he won’t have a clue,” said Jade. Ignoring Deena’s continuing protests, she punched in the number and thrust the phone at her friend.
“But what’ll I say?” cried Deena, looking horrified.
“Whatever comes to your mind,” said Jade. “Just be sexy.”
“Hello?” squeaked Deena. Then she took a deep breath and dropped her voice. “May I speak to Rob Morell, please?”
Great! Jade mouthed the word. After a moment a sleepy-sounding boy’s voice came over the speaker: “Hello?”
“Hello, Rob?” whispered Deena, making her voice as seductive as possible. “What’s a good-looking guy like you doing home on a Saturday night?”
“Watching some movies,” Rob said. “Who is this?”
“This is your secret admirer,” said Deena. The words just came to her.
“My what? What’s your name?”
“I can’t tell you my name, because then it wouldn’t be secret anymore.” Deena was amazed at herself. So far the words came easily, as if she were reading them from a script.
“Well, if you can’t tell me your name, tell me what you look like,” said Rob. He no longer sounded sleepy. In fact, he was sounding interested!
Deena shut her eyes and leaned back on the bed. “What do I look like?” she repeated. “Well, I’m about five four, one hundred and five pounds, with blond hair to my waist. My eyes are green, and I have full lips.”
“Say, maybe we could get together sometime,” said Rob.
“I’d like that,” said Deena. “You’re such a good-looking guy. I’ll call you again one night real soon.”
“How about tonight?” said Rob. “Or tomorrow? Can I have your number?”
“I’ve got to go now,” said Deena. “Remember, I’ll call again.”
She leaned forward and hung up the phone, then looked at Jade a moment. They collapsed back onto the bed, shrieking with laughter. “He bought it!” cried Deena. “I can’t believe it! He was practically drooling!”
“You were great!” said Jade. “You’re a natural. He’ll probably stay home waiting by the phone for the next month!”
“You were right,” said Deena. “It was easy. Much easier than talking to someone in person.”
“I told you so,” said Jade. “So who should we call next? How about—”
“Not tonight,” said Deena, looking at her watch. “It’s getting late, and my folks will be home any minute.”
“What about tomorrow?” said Jade.
Deena shook her head. “Tomorrow night my dad and I are driving to the airport to pick up my brother, Chuck.”
“Be sure to tell him hello for me,” said Jade.
“He doesn’t even know you.”
Jade turned her full smile on. “Not now he doesn’t,” she said. “But I have a feeling… he will soon.”