Are You in the House Alone?by Richard Peck
An updated look for the classic YA thriller from genre heavyweight Richard Peck
Sixteen-year-old Gail is living the upper-class suburban life when she begins receiving terrifying phone calls and notes in her locker. And the calls keep coming. When she's attacked by the town's golden boy everyone refuses to take action against him and his powerful family. A… See more details below
An updated look for the classic YA thriller from genre heavyweight Richard Peck
Sixteen-year-old Gail is living the upper-class suburban life when she begins receiving terrifying phone calls and notes in her locker. And the calls keep coming. When she's attacked by the town's golden boy everyone refuses to take action against him and his powerful family. A frightening drama that deals with heavy teen issues and the idea of justice (or lack thereof) from bestselling author Richard Peck.
- Penguin Young Readers Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.47(w) x 8.18(h) x 0.50(d)
- Age Range:
- 12 - 17 Years
Read an Excerpt
I eased the receiver back on the cradle, and the minute—no, the second I took my hand away, the phone rang. It was almost supernatural. When the receiver was next to my ear again, it was still warm.
And there at the other end was the most terrifying voice I’d ever heard. Sometimes I still hear it, just as I’m going to sleep or in a room that’s too quiet. It wasn’t quite human. Neither male nor female. A high, hollow voice, someone crying out the words from the inside of a bell. Disguised, falsetto, almost like a child shrieking. But more controlled than that because I understood every word.
“ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE?”
There was a sobbing, whistling laugh. It was too terrible to be real. And too real to be a horror movie. If there’d been a hundred people in the house with me, all ready to defend the place, I’d still have been paralyzed.
And then that voice again.
“ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE?”
Also by Richard Peck
Bel-Air Bambi and the Mall Rats
Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death
Close Enough to Touch
Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt
The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp
The Ghost Belonged to Me
Ghosts I Have Been
The Great Interactive Dream Machine
Here Lies the Librarian
The Last Safe Place on Earth
A Long Way from Chicago
Lost in Cyberspace
On the Wings of Heroes
Remembering the Good Times
Representing Super Doll
The River Between Us
A Season of Gifts
Secrets at Sea
Secrets of the Shopping Mall
Strays Like Us
The Teacher’s Funeral
Those Summer Girls I Never Met
Through a Brief Darkness
Unfinished Portrait of Jessica
Voices After Midnight
A Year Down Yonder
NOVELS FOR ADULTS
New York Time
This Family of Women
Past Perfect, Present Tense
Monster Night at Grandma’s House
Invitations to the World
are you in the house alone?
Table of Contents
From the first warm night of spring until autumn, Steve and I would slip out to the Pastorinis’ cottage on the lake, Powdermill Lake. How often? Ten times? Twelve? I don’t remember now. I kept no diary. We left no clues.
All our fantasies, Steve’s and mine, seemed to come true in that little dark corner of time. We thought that making love was being in love. I never wanted to imagine what might come next. That would have spoiled everything. The best part was the way we seemed to be absolutely alone together. And now I know we weren’t alone out there at all. Someone was watching us, maybe every time.
We’d leave our clothes in a heap before the cold stove in the cottage. Then we’d bang back the screen door and pound down the sloping lawn to the pier, our footsteps rumbling on the boards like thunder. And then we’d dive into the lake.
I remember one October night when it was still as warm as August. I remember it because it was nearly the last time. There was sheet lightning over the Connecticut hills to the north, and the steamy mist rolled off the center of the lake. The surface of the water wrinkled with raindrops all around the white circle of Steve’s head, and his arms wavered just below the surface. I stood with my toes hooked around the end of the pier, wet already from the rain. But I hung there, almost overbalanced, before I plunged into the black water.
For some reason I’d grabbed up my yellow slicker and held it over my head all the way to the end of the pier. Then I let it drop, and it collapsed there at my feet like a parachute. Steve floated farther out on his back, and I could see the length of his body luminous in the darkness. The lake was shallow a hundred yards out. It was always exciting, never dangerous. Before I dropped into the water, Steve called my name and laughed, waving me in.
My name, Gail, carried in waves across the lake and probably up above the treetops.
There was a big stand of rock up there, just above the cottage. It was like a watchtower, and the top of it was as flat as a table, weathered smooth. Everybody knew the path that led up to it. On clear nights sometimes Steve and I climbed up there to count the stars—or just to sit together, very close and quiet, pretending we could read each other’s thoughts.
I wonder now if someone else was with us that night, standing up on the watchtower rock, hearing Steve call my name, watching me drop into the water and seeing us swim toward each other.
Only the mighty Lawvers would give a dinner party for a bunch of high-school juniors. A real dinner party, with damask dinner napkins and finger bowls, with Lawver Mother at one end of the Duncan Phyfe table and Lawver Father at the other end. And two pairs of edgy sixteen-year-olds facing each other in between, across a bowl of stiff chrysanthemums.
Of course nearly everybody in Oldfield Village went to the Lawvers’ Thanksgiving Day receptions. But for the rest of the year the Lawvers withdrew into their Old Settlers’ Set.
While I was trying to get dressed for the ordeal, my mother was in and out of my room twenty times. On the last trip she was carrying an evening skirt of hers, jet black. “Gail, with a dressy blouse, maybe you could carry this off.”
“Mother, I’m practically pulled together already. A non-dressy blouse with a V-neck sweater and a short skirt. Alison’s wearing more or less the same. We worked it out. And look, Mother, stockings.” I stuck out one leg at her.
“Well, at least you’re not in Levi’s,” she said, still holding the evening skirt high. I’m not in Levi’s any more than anybody else, but she had to say something. Finally she gave up, coming back only once to fire a zinger at me. “Better be downstairs when Steve gets here. It would kill him if he actually had to come in and carry on a civilized conversation with me and your father.”
“All right, Mother.” No time to get into Steve with her. I’d have met him on the corner if I’d had the nerve. And it wasn’t even our own plan. The only reason we were going to the Lawvers was because of Alison.
I thought of her as my best friend then. Since she’d been going with Phil Lawver for two years, his parents had given in and decided it was time to Receive Her Socially. To be subtle about it, they told Phil to invite another couple, any other couple, probably. So Steve and I were appointed. Or maybe summoned is the word. “Do it for me,” Alison had said. “Then I’ll owe you a favor, and I won’t forget.”
I stood in front of the mirror, brushing my hair, waiting for all that body and bounce they promise you on the commercials. I was just getting past the phase where you still search the mirror expecting to surprise yourself with Sudden New Beauty. Instead, I just looked very very clean. Besides, my mother kept appearing in the mirror over my shoulder every two seconds, which is distracting.
When I couldn’t think of anything else to do to myself, I started down the stairs. In the living room Mother’s conversation was coaxing Dad out from behind the October Architectural Record magazine. She was all over the house that night.
If I sat down, quietly, on the third step from the landing, I could look straight out through the fanlight window over the front door. That way I’d see Steve when he started up the walk and could pass the time eavesdropping on the living-room conversation. I was just beginning to see my parents as people once in a while, and not just as parents. This wasn’t one of the times.
“Seems a bit—premature—to me,” Mother was saying.
“What does?” Dad said.
“Lydia and Otis Lawver putting their stamp of approval on the Bremer girl. Now if she and Phil were already in college, and the whole thing looked inevitable—”
“Lydia and Otis Lawver never put their stamp of approval on anything,” Dad said, trying to quell the conversation.
“You know what I mean. Of course, it’s very nice—and gracious. I suppose we’d do the same thing if Gail was—seeing—a suitable boy.”
“I hope we wouldn’t do anything just because the Lawvers do it.” Dad’s voice sounded weary.
“I know we can’t hope to copy the grandeur of people like them. And I don’t suggest we try. After all, they are almost absurdly lofty. Still . . .”
It would have been nice, I sat there thinking, if Dad had come to the rescue after Mother’s crack: the one strongly implying that Steve wasn’t a “suitable boy.” There were even times when I suspected myself of going with Steve mainly to spite my mother. It was hard to keep a sense of proportion between them. I was never exactly sure whether I was acting or reacting. That was the kind of thing I worried about back then.
I saw Steve through the fanlight window, coming up the walk. But before I opened the front door, I reached inside my blouse and pulled up the chain with the little green heart on it, letting it dangle on the outside of my sweater. The stone heart Steve had given me.
“I know it’s a Friday night, but come straight home!” Mother called from the living room. “I mean it now!”
Steve drew me out into the evening. We walked down the street, hand in hand, through spirals of autumn-smelling bonfire smoke. He hadn’t gone all the way to a suit, but under a wool jacket he wore a white shirt and a tie. His dark hair curled down over the white collar.
“Do you mind going to the Lawvers’?” I said after a little while. “I know you and Phil haven’t got a lot to say to each other.”
“I’m not all that crazy about Alison either, as a matter of fact,” he said. “But it’s no big thing. My family’s been going to the Lawvers’ for years.”
“Sure we have. We’ve been repairing the plumbing in that mausoleum of theirs for generations. Probably an early Pastorini put in the first flush toilet for an early Lawver.”
“History’s so fascinating,” I said. “What did your family do for them before flush toilets?”
“Supplied them with chamber pots for under the beds, I guess. Your basic thunder-mug type with the big pink roses on them.”
“Well, enough about history.”
I meant it too. There was something feudal about Oldfield Village and all its smug snugness. All those old New England families living by their ancient codes like Pilgrims before we New York types moved in and turned it into a suburb. We seemed to have changed the town from a real place into a reasonable facsimile, all carefully restored down to the last gold-plated lightning rod.
Alison’s family and mine had both moved up from New York. But hers got here first. They arrived when she was in first grade because they were escaping the New York school system. And then the Bremers had “gone native,” as people said. Her father gave up Wall Street and opened a paint and decorative-hardware store in the Village Center. So Alison really fitted in more than I did. Maybe that’s where our friendship began. She knew her way around. I didn’t. I wasn’t a misfit, but I never could see Oldfield Village as the center of the universe.
We hadn’t moved out of New York until I was ready for middle school. Then my dad commuted to his architectural firm in Manhattan. I never forgot our first autumn here. Dad wore his new glaring red plaid lumberjack shirt from Abercrombie and got a terrible case of blisters all over his hands from the first leaf-raking. I thought the village was on fire because everybody burned mounds of leaves as big as haystacks at the curbs. That was back when I was always at Dad’s elbow, “helping” him, being his little girl, and maybe his little boy too. But I was a New Yorker born, and years later I could still feel city cement under my feet, even on the historic brick sidewalks of Oldfield Village.
I didn’t really mind feeling I didn’t belong one hundred percent. It wasn’t just the old families rooted like ancient oaks. It was the school too, with everybody locked into little groups and branded like cattle. The heads were at the top, running the Student Council during the week and smoking joints on the weekend at Friendly’s. And the rest of us in the middle all divided up into fairly straight little cells. Then down at the bottom, heads again—zombies in plastic leather.
Sometimes even before last fall I felt strangled by the place. Everything so neat and perfectly organized. On the surface.
Steve’s hand tightened on mine when we got to the stone gates of the Lawver place. When the house was already a couple of hundred years old or so, a Victorian Lawver had added a curving drive and a lot of trees—to screen the house from the town growing up around it. Steve called it a mausoleum. It was more like the world’s largest barn, to house a family too self-confident to worry over the latest trend in Good Taste.
One dim lamp beside the flat front door winked light through the shrubbery. “Well, here we go,” Steve said. “One serf and a barbarian approaching the moat. Wonder if they’ll let down the drawbridge.”
After he’d lifted the door knocker and let it fall with a crash, he ran his arm around my waist and started kissing me under the ear: a sort of tingling annoyance. He was still doing it when Phil Lawver opened the door, wearing a gray flannel suit that would carry him right on into Yale.
He was tall and athletic with ice-blue eyes. His hair was blond, slicked down and damp at the ends, as if he’d just stepped out of the shower after a squash game.
He was usually smooth in an absent-minded way, but the sight of us turned his face red. “Yeah, well, come on in. Ah . . . glad to see you.”
He led us like a young lord through the big double parlors where the Thanksgiving reception was always held. We went past the wing chairs and the portraits of Lawvers all the way back to the time of black hats and buckled shoes. They were descended directly from the first Thanksgiving. And they’d always had plenty to give thanks for ever since.
The family, and Alison, were sitting in the room beyond that, a study with book shelves and a fire snapping in the hearth. It occurred to me that Alison planned to live in these rooms one day, stepping in to form a link with Phil in the endless chain of Lawvers. At the age when the rest of us were tacking up posters of David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen, Alison was sketching floor plans full of eighteenth-century furniture and giving china patterns serious thought.
She was sitting with the firelight on her face in a chintz-covered sofa beside Mrs. Lawver, nodding at her conversation. When I saw how Phil’s mother was dressed, I was glad I hadn’t given in to Mother’s wardrobe suggestion. She stood up in a long black crepe skirt and a dressy blouse, along with a string of the family pearls.
Then she turned her cameo face to us and said, “Gail, how nice. How is your darling mother? I haven’t seen her since the Women’s Exchange benefit. And your father? That grueling commute every day! How awful for him!” She had one of those distantly echoing voices, coming to you from high atop a Connecticut hill.
Phil retreated behind the sofa from all this graciousness, bumping into his father, a shorter, rounder version of Phil. “And Steve—it is Steve, isn’t it? How very nice that you could come.” Mrs. Lawver put out a long white hand and gathered Steve into the circle.
They were like a family portrait in faded, muted colors. A painting of themselves in their own museum. Study in Gray Flannel and Black Crepe.
“Otis, come and meet these young people. Gail is the Osburnes’ daughter. You know those people who have done such a sweet restoration of the old Milton house. Really very clever. Father’s an architect.
“And this is the youngest Pastorini boy.”
Mr. Lawver ambled forward and put out his soft hand. “Pastorini? Pastorini?” he said, “Aren’t they the—”
“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Lawver cut in smoothly. “And why don’t you pour the young people glasses of tomato juice while we have our sherry? Phil, darling, help your father.” And Phil, who I’d seen blind drunk on straight Scotch during training season, did.
* * *
There were candles in the dining-room chandelier, and a woman in a uniform to do the serving. Before we were through the onion soup, Alison had turned into a stranger. We were fairly close friends, tending to sudden eye contact and uncontrollable giggles, but she was aging by the minute, matching Mrs. Lawver’s polite and penetrating questions with precise answers. Only her eyes were eager.
“I know nothing about finance, but I should have thought your father got out of banking at just the right moment, Alison. That awful recession hit some people terribly hard.”
“Yes,” Alison said in a sort of finishing-school voice. “And being in business in Oldfield Village, he can be more active in the community.”
“Exactly. We’re very pleased to see him ushering at church. You were Episcopalians in New York, before you came up here?”
“I was christened at Trinity.”
She’ll be asking for a look at Alison’s teeth next, I thought. Then I noticed Phil looking at me. I could just see his eye between two chrysanthemums in the bowl on the table. It was like being watched through a hedge. If I’d ever liked being looked at—by anybody—I forgot it immediately. And if I’d ever thought I liked Phil Lawver, I suddenly knew better. I guess I’d always taken him on faith because Alison was so wrapped up in him. Let him look at her, I thought and went back to dealing with the onion soup that was turning cold and somewhat slimy.
Mr. Lawver pulled his vest down over his stomach and turned to Steve. “You be going into your family’s line of work when you get out of high school, young fellow? You plumbers charge more than doctors.”
Then Alison did look at me, quickly, almost apologizing with her eyes. Even Phil stirred.
“Well, Mr. Lawver,” Steve said, “I have one older brother who’s already in the business with Dad. And another brother who’s a lifer in the Marines down at Parris Island. I think I’ll strike out in a direction of my own.”
“Father,” Phil muttered, “Steve here has a perfect academic record. All A’s. He’s . . . famous for it.”
“Nobody told me.” Mr. Lawver cleared his throat. “Well, then, Steve, maybe you and Phil will be going up to Yale together.”
“I suppose Steve has a better chance of getting into Yale than I do, Father. If he wants to go.”
“You’ll get in, Phil.” Mr. Lawver patted the tablecloth confidently. “We always get in. Edna, bring in the roast!”
“Hasn’t it been curious weather this autumn,” Mrs. Lawver remarked. “All that rain and lightning and now so dry.”
* * *
It seemed a lifetime, but we got away by nine. When Steve and I left, the Lawvers assembled in the front hall, Alison next to Phil. Rehearsing her role, I thought. I didn’t envy her. I just marveled at how sure she was about what she wanted. I wasn’t sure about anything.
Steve and I didn’t say anything until we’d walked the curve of the drive. Then when we passed through the stone gates, we both let out long, relieved sighs. “May the four of them live happily ever after,” I said.
“Somehow, I don’t think happiness has anything to do with it,” Steve said. “What a night. Anyway it was good seeing Edna.”
“Edna? Who’s Edna?”
“The Lawvers’ cook. The silent slave in the uniform. She’s my mom’s cousin.”
“Oh.” And that’s all I could think of to say to that.
“But back to real life,” Steve said as we strolled along in the shadows of the oaks. “If I know my brother’s habits, which I do, he’ll be down in the Village Center at the Nutmeg Tavern. Let’s wander on down there, and I’ll borrow his car. Then we can drive out to the lake.”
“We’d better not. Mother—”
“I heard your mother when we left. She meant me to. But it’s early yet. We’ll be back in an hour or so.”
We were already walking toward the Village Center instead of back to my house, I noticed. Either Steve was steering me, or my feet had minds of their own. “I don’t think we’d better.”
“You mean you don’t want to.”
“Don’t push me into that role,” I said.
“You mean the well-known playing-hard-to-get?”
“That’s the one. It’s a little late for that, isn’t it?” The leaf shadows made the brick sidewalk wavery underfoot. We paced along with our arms around each other’s waist.
“You’re still . . .”
“I’m still what?” I said.
“Yes. Why not just ask me that all in one sentence?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I come from a long line of Italian peasants who don’t speak the sacred word s-e-x out loud. But it’s more than just that with us, isn’t it?”
“I guess—yes. But I don’t know how much more. Alison is always—”
“Let’s leave Alison out. There’s no room for her in this conversation.”
“It’s just that she’s so positive about what she wants. I mean how can she know what’ll be right for her ten years from now? I can’t see ten minutes ahead.” I gave up then because I couldn’t get my words to fit around my thoughts. Even talking seemed hopeless, without mentioning basic things like money and what our parents thought and the fact that neither one of us had really gone with other people.
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