When she got home, Mary went straight to her room. Gran was asleep in front of the TV, so it was easy for her to tiptoe by and not have to explain why she had tear tracks down her face.
Gran tapped on her door the next morning. "Are you feeling all right, dear?" Mary groaned and burrowed deeper into her covers. It was late in the morning, well past when she usually got up. She’d been hiding in hope that the day would go by without having to deal with anything. Gran let herself in and stood at the end of the bed. Mary blocked her out until the old woman grabbed the comforter and jerked it off.
Mary sat up and tried to grab the comforter back. "I’m not feeling well."
Gran held onto the bedding with a vice like grip. "Maybe if you got up, you’d feel better."
"Nuh uh," she said. She gave up on the tug-of-war for the comforter and curled up tight in the bed sheet.
Mary cracked open one eye and looked down at the end of her bed. Gran stood there with legs splayed and fists on hips. Her steel hair was pulled back into a sloppy bun, and she had her apron on. Sunday was not a day of rest for the Dubont/Hellick household. Mary didn't want to clean, she just wanted to wallow, but Gran was not about to let that happen. She had to think of something quick if she wasn't to shirk her chores.
"What time is it?"
She shot out of bed and started scrambling for clothes. "Oh man, I’m late. I’ve got to go."
"Go where?" Mary glanced at her. She knew Rachel was out of town. She had to think of something fast.
"I have to go to Cy’s. We’re partners on an English project."
"I’ll drive you over." She froze with one shoe halfway on.
"It’s okay. I can walk."
"That’ll just make you later. I’ll drive you over." She risked another look at her grandmother to see if she knew she was lying, but Gran had turned her back to begin picking up things around her room. She finished putting her shoe on and stood up.
"Okay, thanks." She grabbed her book bag and stood.
"I’ll get my keys." Mary nodded and made her way to the station wagon. This was what happened when she lied to Gran. She felt awful and got into trouble, even when she wasn’t caught. The drive over was quiet. She was scrambling for a plan, but nothing was coming to her. It was going to be bad. All she could do was brace herself.
"I’ll walk home," she said as she got out of the car.
"Are you sure?"
She nodded and closed the car door. She waited for her to pull away, but the car stayed there idling. She was waiting for her to go up to the house. To see her safely inside.
She walked across the yard up to the door. She felt cold, and she was sweating. This was bad. What had she been thinking? She went up to the door and knocked. What if Kyle answered the door? Mary glanced back at the station wagon still at the curb.
The door opened while her head was still turned. "What are you doing here?"
Mary turned back. "Hi." With a few jaunty beeps, the station wagon pulled away. Mary turned and waved. She was smiling, but it was another lie.
"Was that your grandma?"
"Yeah, she drove me over."
"What, to apologize?"
"No, I told her we had to work on an English project together."
"But you’re here to apologize, right?"
"Then why are you here?"
"I wanted to get out of doing chores?" Yes, this was going well.
He shook his head. "And you thought you could just come over here and hide out like last night didn’t happen?"
"No, I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t think she’d insist on driving me over. I wouldn’t be here otherwise."
"So you lied to your grandmother. My picture of you just keeps changing."
"Look, I’m sorry for just showing up, but we do need to talk. Last night was a big mistake, but we have to deal with it."
"Deal with it? Us? No, it was your mistake. You scared everybody. You did it on purpose, and it wasn’t cool."
"But I didn’t do it on purpose. I mean, yeah, I asked Ricky a really bad question, which I shouldn’t have, but--"
He threw up his hands to stop her. "I cannot believe you. You’re still going on with the hoax? With me?"
"What? It wasn’t a hoax. Your house is--"
He slammed the door in her face.
"Cy!" She banged on the door. "I can explain!"
"It wasn’t a prank! I swear!"
He jerked the door back open. "Shut up! This is my home. You’re messing with my home--The place where my folks sleep at night, and you’re trying to ruin it with your ghost talk. Go away. We don’t know each other anymore." He slammed the door again.
"Cy!" she shouted, but there was no response.
She stepped off the doorstep with wobbly legs. He wasn’t going to listen to her. He wasn’t going to let her explain. He didn’t want to hear.
Mary walked to the park and lay on a bench until the sun was low. She didn’t think. She didn’t cry. Those weren’t tears she wiped off her face.
When she went home, Gran was busy reading Tarot cards for some giggling college girls. Mary fixed herself a bite to eat and stayed in her room. Gran called up to her and asked her if she needed anything. She called down that she didn’t. She must’ve sounded normal because Gran didn’t come up to check on her, but she didn’t look normal. For some reason, her eyes were red and puffy.
Monday came, and Mary got up early and slipped out of the house before Gran was dressed. She was avoiding her. If she didn’t know what had happened, then nothing was wrong. She walked slowly to school so she would arrive late. She was not going to spend a minute longer than she had to there. She slipped into class quietly, but as soon as everyone saw her, they began whispering. She murmured an apology to the teacher and took her seat. Those around her either moved or made it very clear that they didn’t want her near them. She stared down at her textbook as the teacher droned about parallelograms. A piece of paper floated to rest in front of her desk. On it was written, ‘What rhymes with “bitch”?’ She stared down at it and wondered when the burning at the stake was scheduled.
Her day didn’t improve as it progressed. Everyone gave her a wide berth in the halls, and conversations were cut short as soon as she was spotted. She walked in a bubble of silence and loneliness that entire day. Rachel was still in Aspen, the lucky dog, but without her, she didn’t have a single living soul to talk to.
When the last class of the day finally came, Mary wasn’t eagerly anticipating it. She was dreading it. She got to class early and sat in the far corner. Everyone took her hint and sat several seats away from her. The room filled up quickly. She watched Vicky take a seat on the other side of the room, but before she sat down, she scanned the class and found her. She gave Mary a cool once over then sat down. She put her books on the seat beside her. Mary didn’t need a ghost to tell her who that seat was for.
A second before the tardy bell rang, Cy arrived. Vicky didn’t even need to call to him. He walked straight over to her and took the saved seat. Mrs. Myers handed out a worksheet for the class to do. For twenty minutes, Mary worked on it diligently but distractedly. After the second time that she had to erase what she’d written, she looked up, and her eyes went to Cy. Vicky was saying something to him, and he was nodding his head. She saw him sigh and glance away. The only place his eyes could go was to her side of the room. Their eyes met for a second. He looked away without a reaction. She realized with a sickening gulp that Cy wasn’t sitting with Vicky because he wanted to but because he wanted to stay as far away from her as possible. That hurt.
She scribbled some nonsense onto the worksheet and looked at the clock. Another twenty-five minutes until this torture was over. She didn’t know if she could survive another twenty-five seconds.
When the last bell rang, Mary hurriedly collected her things, but Vicky wasn’t going to let her escape without one last pass over the flames. “Hey, you’re coming over tonight, right? I could really use a little tutoring.”
“Yeah, Vicky, no problem. I’m not doing anything else,” he replied without any feeling. Vicky caught Mary’s gaze and smiled triumphantly. Her friends took the cue and snickered together. Mary left the classroom without a backward glance.
She arrived home in record time too upset by Cy and Vicky to think about dawdling. Gran was waiting for her in the living room when she opened the door. Mary stopped short when she saw her. “Don’t you have an appointment this afternoon?”
“And good afternoon to you too. Mrs. Polk cancelled. How was your day at school, dear?”
“I have homework to do,” she mumbled.
Mary looked at the couch. That was the last spot she wanted to be. Staying in class and letting Vicky lord it over her some more was preferable to this. Gran pointed at the spot beside her. There was no getting out of this. Her heels dragged as she moved over to the couch and sat down.
“What’s wrong? You’ve been down the dumps lately. Was there a problem at school? Did you and Cy have a fight?”
“No, he’s fine. He finally saw what a freak I am and has wisely decided that hanging out with me would be detrimental to his mental, social, and physical health.”
“What in the world happened? He sounded like such a nice boy, nothing like most of the children around here.”
Mary crumbled. She couldn’t have held up much longer anyway. Large tears welled up in her eyes.
“Mary, what happened?” Gran asked, putting her arm around her. Mary leaned into her and let the tears slip. Gran rubbed her back and murmured soothing words as she quietly hiccupped as she cried. Gran grabbed some tissues and dabbed her face.
“Honey, tell Grandma,” she said.
She leaned back and looked at the ceiling. She took a deep breath to collect herself. “I heard a ghost in his house.” She didn’t want to tell the story. It made her sick when she thought about it now, but Gran would at least understand.
Gran squeezed her shoulders to give reassurance. “Did you tell him about it? Did that upset him? I’ve told you that those who don’t believe in the spirits wouldn’t understand your gift.”
She shook her head and sat up. “No, I didn’t tell him that there was a ghost in his house. It was worse. We were watching a movie when Kyle, Cy’s older brother, showed up with two girls from school. One of them was Vicky. They’d brought a Ouija board with them, and Vicky wanted to have a séance. I’d heard the ghost before they arrived. I knew he was trouble, but I didn’t want to leave Cy alone to deal with them. They set up the Ouija board and started asking questions, and the ghost answered. He scared everyone, but Vicky thought I was tricking them. So to call me out, she told me to ask it a question, so I did. I asked him bad questions. Questions to make him angry.”
“Mary, why didn’t you just leave?”
“Because it was Vicky. She’s always made fun of me and picked on me as if I didn’t have enough problems. I’m sorry, Gran, but I had to give them a little taste of what I go through. I just wish Cy hadn’t been there.” She started to hiccup again. “I scared him, Gran, and now he doesn’t want to be around me anymore.”
Gran tried to comfort her, but Mary felt too guilty to be soothed. She finally sent her up to her room with a glass of warm milk and told her everything would be better the next day. Mary drank the milk and fell asleep quickly. She slept like she wished the dead would.
The next morning, Mary woke feeling somewhat better. Better being she didn’t want to move to the middle of nowhere like North Dakota and raise emus. She wouldn’t mind though spending the whole day curled in a ball with all of her bedding tightly wrapped around her, but she knew she had to go to school. She went down to the kitchen and found Gran puttering around making breakfast. “Sleep well, dear?”
Gran reached out and felt her cheek and forehead. “You look a little pale. Would you like to stay home today? I could call the school and excuse you."
She shrugged off the comforting hand. “No, I’m going. Like they say, today’s the first day of the rest of my terrible life.”
“Things will get better.” She put a cereal bowl and the milk down in front of her.
“Yeah, after I’m dead.”
“You have to be more optimistic. Things are never as bad as they appear.”
“I wish you were right, Gran."
When she said good-bye, Gran told her to be brave. Mary wished she could, but she just felt numb.
Mary was eating alone on the school lawn when someone bopped her on the back of the head. “What’s this I hear about the dead being raised at Cy’s house?”
Rachel was back. Mary smiled weakly at her. “All you hear is true.”
“What? Did you really work some mojo?”
“Yeah, but I had some help from Vicky.”
Rachel sank to the ground across from her. “What happened?” Mary gave her an abbreviated version. She’d told Rachel years ago about her ability, and her friend had accepted it. Rachel had even said she thought Mary was cooler for her ability. Mary hadn’t thought so, but she had sealed her place as her best friend with the statement.
Rachel let out a deep breath. “Man, I leave for a long weekend and look what happens.”
“Yeah, you should’ve been there. It was a blast.”
“So he’s avoiding you?” she asked still digesting what she had been told.
“Yep. Can’t blame him, really. Weirdness seems to follow me around.”
Rachel shook her head. “Mary, weirdness didn’t follow you to Cy’s house. Weirdness was already there.”
“Nice of me to point it out though.”
“So he’s totally avoiding you?” she said, making a sweeping motion with her hand.
“Avoiding me so much, he’s tutoring Vicky.”
She laughed hollowly. “That’s my life.”
“It sounds to me like you need an ego boost.”
“What I need is a lobotomy.”
“We’ll deal with Vicky later,” Rachel joked. Mary tried to smile back, but she was running out of smiles. Rachel looked at her in concern. “Mary, don’t beat yourself up about this. If Cy is really a good guy, he’ll come back to you. This isn’t your fault.”
“I don’t know, Rach. I mean, if I hadn’t spoken up during that stupid séance, he would be here now, eating lunch with us.”
“You can’t think like that. Like my mom says, ‘If’s don’t make a bit of difference.”
“If you say so.”
“What do you think about this ghost?”
“He’s mean, angry, and violent.”
“Have you told Cy that?”
“I tried. He doesn’t believe that there is a ghost, and he doesn’t want to talk to me.”
“We could find proof to convince him. This guy’s a ghost AKA a dead guy, which means he was once a live guy. In 1994. It shouldn’t be hard to find his obituary, right?”
Mary tilted her head back. Did she really want to get involved any further with Cy and his haunted house? He’d been so nice to her at first. He’d wanted to be her friend. That was until she showed him there was a ghost in his house. She didn’t really blame him for freaking. She’d freaked a little herself. But he hadn’t even given her a chance to explain. She still kind of liked him. What if by trying to help him, she made him hate her more? That question made her pause. She wanted him to like her again, but he didn’t believe in ghosts, and if she got rid of the ghost in his house, that wouldn’t mean anything to him. Right?
She was getting a headache from her internal debating. She remembered the motto of her favorite middle school math teacher, ‘Keep it simple, stupid.’ Helping people was right. She should help Cy, even if he didn’t want it or thought he needed help. Glad that she finally had it figured out, she said, “Okay, we’ll go to the public library after school. You’re right. Ricky’s obituary shouldn’t be too hard to find.”
Continue to Chapter 7