Being dead became fashionable approximately forty-five minutes after Samantha "the Divine" Devereaux came back from summer break.
Although stylish as ever, there was still something off about the Divine Devereaux. She strolled down the hall wearing a cleavage-baring top, a miniskirt, and stiletto heels. Her long blond hair had been freshly highlighted.
But unlike after previous summer vacations, Samantha didn’t have that sun-kissed Cabo glow. Her skin was, forgive the phrase, dead white.
A large silver pendant hung around her neck, but I couldn’t get a close look at it. I wasn’t the only one trying to sneak a peek, because heads turned more than usual as she strutted down the hall.
"Get out of my way, Daisy," she snapped at me as she passed by.
She was only slightly hampered by the coffin she was dragging behind her. At first I thought it was a giant wheelie backpack.
But my clue came when Penny Edwards, who could have brought home a gold in social climbing if it were an Olympic sport, rushed up to Samantha. "Where did you get that . . ."
"Coffin," Samantha supplied helpfully. "Mort’s Mortuary. Burnished mahogany. Scaled to size for those of us with petite frames." I could have sworn she eyed my thighs with a look of scorn.
"Lined with satin?" Penny asked.
She recoiled in horror. "Silk, of course."
"Of course," Penny tittered. Samantha went on her way, and Penny, faster than you could say dead girl walking, was on her cell phone to Mort’s Mortuary.
After first period, I saw Mr. Amador, our principal, talking to Samantha in the hallway, so I loitered long enough to eavesdrop.
He started with a lot of throat clearing and then said, "My dear, why on earth have you adopted such an . . . unusual look? You look like a vampire."
"The preferred term is ‘undead’ or, if you must, ‘living challenged,’" she said, nose in the air. "I’m not a vampire. The thought of drinking blood is disgusting. And think of all those calories!"
"But, but you’re a student council member, head cheerleader. You represent Nightshade High to the world . . ."
"Now I represent Nightshade looking like this," Samantha said.
While Mr. Amador sputtered and coughed, she swept away but called over her shoulder, "And why don’t we let Daddy’s lawyer decide whether or not I can continue to attend Nightshade High looking like this?" With that she snapped open her cell and punched in a number. Interesting that she had Daddy’s lawyer on speed dial.
After Samantha lawyered up, Mr. Amador had no choice. He had to let Samantha wear whatever she wanted, as long as it was within the school dress code. And since our school dress code didn’t say anything about dressing in black, dead white skin, or bloodred lips, he was stuck.
By the time the dismissal bell rang, I was sick of hearing everyone talking about Samantha’s new "look." I shut my locker, which closed with a clang.
"Hey, Giordano, what’s up?" Ryan Mendez asked. He was the closest friend I had these days. His dad was chief of police in Nightshade.
When I didn’t answer but just stood there frowning, he continued, "I saw your mom on the news last night."
My mom had been helping his dad solve crimes since Ryan and I were both in diapers. Mom’s a psychic, the real deal, not the kind who reads your palm for ten bucks. Although she could probably do that, too. Instead, she spends her time crime solving.
We live in a small town—peaceful enough, I guess, but it’s always been a little strange here. Nightshade started as a little frontier town a couple of hundred years ago, and it had a long history of strange occurrences, odd inhabitants, and most of all, secrets. The town was full of secrets.
I realized I hadn’t responded to Ryan. "Yep, Mom said as soon as she touched the scarf, she knew where the body was."
"Cool." Ryan turned to get a better view of Samantha giggling with Penny at her locker.
"What do you think about all that?" I murmured, with a nod toward Samantha.
"She still looks beautiful," he replied, not taking his eyes from her.
I restrained the involuntary gag that rose to my throat. He’s had a crush on her since second grade.
I made a face.
"Daisy, I know you don’t like her," Ryan continued. "And I know she embarrassed you back in middle school, but she didn’t mean to."
Embarrass was an understatement. Humiliate. Devastate. Annihilate. Those were more accurate word choices.
"I don’t want to talk about it," I said. "In fact, I’d be happy if her name was never mentioned again."
But Samantha Devereaux was all anybody wanted to talk about. The rest of the week was devoted to watching her every move and then rehashing it endlessly. The goths howled with rage and frustration: The popular kids, now sporting Samantha’s look, were on their turf. Finally, in protest, the goths, girls and guys, switched to lime green or hot pink skirts, matching sweater sets, and pearls.
The one thing that people didn’t seem to be able to duplicate was the pendant that never left Samantha’s neck. I was curious about it, but since I wasn’t in her close circle of friends, I still hadn’t gotten a good look at it.
By Friday, I’d had more than enough of the Samantha Devereaux madness. After school, I sat on our porch swing with a glass of lemonade, trying to clear my head of the week’s weirdness.
That’s when I saw Samantha climbing into her boyfriend Sean Walsh’s bedroom. She was using her coffin as a step stool to get in through the window. Sean had lived next door to us since third grade, so I knew his bedroom was on the first floor, with the window near the big rose bush. A few minutes later, I heard Sean’s deep voice, a series of giggles from Samantha, and then silence.
Samantha Devereaux was dead and she was getting more action than me. Life wasn’t fair.
My moment of solitude didn’t last long anyway.
"It’s your turn to cook dinner, twerp," my sister Poppy announced. She was only a year older than me, but she liked to push me around. Now that she was a senior, it was even worse.
She threw herself beside me on the swing, and it rocked violently.
"My lemonade!" I said, but it was too late. I watched as the glass started to tip over and then . . . didn’t.
I looked up. Poppy smiled complacently.
"Show-off," I said. I headed for the kitchen.
Life wasn’t fair. Poppy never used her telekinesis for anything major. I thought of all the things I would do if I had her powers. But I didn’t, so it looked liked I’d be making dinner again the old-fashioned way.
Not only am I the baby, I’m the only nonpsychic in the family. My dad disappeared under mysterious circumstances when I was eleven. He was a normal just like me.
Do you know how hard it is to be the only nonpsychic in a family of psychics? Trust me, it’s tough.
Like the time I had a date with Brian Miller (my first and last date, thanks to my sister Poppy.) I borrowed Poppy’s sweater without asking, thinking she’d never find out. Her psychic abilities hadn’t fully developed yet, so I figured I was safe.
But she knew all right.
When Poppy discovered her sweater was missing, she just concentrated and told it to come on home.
Unfortunately, I was with Brian at the time, sitting at the Dairy Queen. I was also wearing the sweater in question.
The date had been going well. He talked about himself—but not too much—and he had an adorable smile. The smiled faded fast when he saw my sweater hover in the air and then float out the door.
Luckily, I was wearing a cami under the sweater or it would have been even more embarrassing. As it was, Brian broke out in a sweat. He didn’t even finish his sundae, and I was home twenty minutes later.
Needless to say, I never borrowed Poppy’s clothes without asking again and Brian Miller never asked me on another date. And neither did anybody else.
It seemed like I was always the one who ended up cooking dinner. Mom’s cases often kept her late. My other sister, Rose, who was a freshman at the local college, UC Nightshade, was always studying, and Poppy was—well, I don’t know what Poppy was doing, besides annoying me. She certainly wasn’t cooking dinner.
I rummaged through the contents of our fridge, which were pretty pathetic. Some wilted lettuce, a couple of cartons of suspicious-smelling takeout, and a twelve-pack of diet soda. I found some decent veggies in the keeper and some cheese. Not much to work with in the nutrition category. We needed to go grocery shopping again.
"I’ll stop at the market after class tomorrow," Rose said, not even looking up from her books, which she hunched over at the kitchen table.
I hated it when she popped in and out of my mind without my consent. I knew she didn’t mean to do it, but I didn’t have to like it. There were certain things that were meant to stay private. Like certain thoughts about Ryan Mendez.
"Sorry," she added. "I know you hate it. I was thinking of something else and accidentally wandered in."
At least Rose tried to respect my privacy. "No, I’m just in a bad mood," I said. "Thanks for taking on the shopping."
I took the vegetables I’d found out of the fridge: tomatoes, mushrooms, and an iffy onion. I washed the tomatoes and set them aside, then I chopped the onion and mushrooms to sauté with a little garlic. I found a package of noodles and took out the bag of preshredded cheese. Lasagna it was.
"Hey, watch it!" Rose said. "You’re getting tomato all over my notebook."
"But I’m not chopping tomatoes," I said. When I looked over, though, there was one exploded tomato on the counter.
"Poppy, knock it off or I swear—oh, hi, Mom," I said. "You’re home early."
She stood in the doorway with her briefcase still in her hands. My mom was beautiful, even rumpled after a hard day at the office. Her long hair was midnight black and shiny, as though a cluster of stars shone in the strands.
My hair was the same basic color as hers, but on me it just looked dirty. Mom’s eyes have been compared to sapphires. My eyes are more like the color of Windex.
"Rough day," Mom said. "How was yours?"
"Same as yours," I said. "Rough."
Mom smiled in sympathy. "Do you need any help with dinner?" she asked.
"Thanks, but I’ve got it under control."
"Thanks for cooking tonight. I don’t think I could face making dinner after the day I had." She collapsed into a kitchen chair.
I looked at my mother curiously. She loved her work and rarely complained about it. She looked pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes.
I put the kettle on and made Mom a cup of tea. She sat at the counter and kept me company while I finished dinner.
After the lasagna was done and Poppy grudgingly set the table, we ate in the dining room.
"Daisy, this is delicious," Mom said.
"I used Grandma’s recipe, with a few minor alterations."
I may not have psychic talents, but I make a mean lasagna.
After dinner, Rose and Poppy headed for the kitchen for clean-up duty. Mom headed for the living room. A few minutes later, I heard her talking on the phone.
I wandered in to read on the couch. Mom had a thick file in front of her. After a short conversation, she hung up the phone with an angry click. "That man is going to give me gray hair," she said.
"What man? And why?"
"The county coroner, Bud Larson. Because he’s an idiot," she burst out. Then she sighed and said, "Forget I said that, Daisy. I’m frustrated and I’m taking it out on him."
I was quiet, hoping she would say more.
"He refuses to believe that my contributions are real, which means he doesn’t spend any time on any of the cases I consult on."
"But that’s not fair," I protested. No matter what, I knew my mom was right. She never made a mistake about her psychic readings.
"No, it’s not," she agreed, "but fortunately, Nightshade’s chief of police believes that my contributions are worth risking the wrath of the coroner’s office."
"Chief Mendez is right," I said loyally. "You’ve helped so many people."
"But people like Bud Larson are afraid of the unknown, and psychics are part of that unknown."
Poppy and Rose came in while we were talking. They carried a large dessert tray.
"We thought we could have dessert in here," Rose said.
Mom nodded. "Poppy, why don’t you get the TV trays. Daisy, this looks great." She held up a dish of ice cream and strawberries.
"Poppy must have made it." I’d forgotten about dessert, and ice cream was Poppy’s favorite.
There was silence in the room while we all dug in.
"Rose," my mom said, "do you have a minute to take a look at something?"
"Sure," Rose said, popping a strawberry into her mouth. "What is it?"
Mom took a deep breath. "I might as well tell you all. I need help with a case."
Stunned silence. Mom never, ever needed help with a case.
"You never ask for help," Poppy said, tactful as usual.
"There’s a file I want Rose to see. I can’t get a reading on the body." My sisters and I searched Mom’s troubled face. She continued, "The female victim was an unidentified young, healthy girl who seemed to just drop dead, and I can’t determine why."
"Are you losing your psychic abilities?" Poppy blurted it out. "Are you becoming a—norm?"
The horror in her voice irritated me. I don’t know what the big deal was. Being a "norm" wasn’t so bad.
"You’ve had tough cases before," I reminded her. "Like that guy in Sydney, remember? Turned out he was bitten by a spider and the bite was so small that you barely got anything."
"This is different," Mom replied. "I sensed violence—someone taking something she didn’t want to give, but there wasn’t any sign of an injury. It’s like someone just drained her of her life force. The coroner’s office is stumped."
"Tell us what you know about the victim," I suggested.
"Not much, I’m afraid," Mom said. "A female approximately fifteen to seventeen years old. The police think she was a runaway. No signs of physical trauma. But I can’t even get a glimpse of a childhood memory. It’s like every thought, every feeling she had was erased."
"Why can’t I help?" The question burst out of me.
"If she gets to, I’m helping, too," Poppy said.
"I don’t think so, Daisy." Mom shook her head. Firmly.
Poppy gave a triumphant crow, and Mom turned to her with a frown. "You either. I wouldn’t have asked Rose, but she’s the oldest and most experienced."
"But I want to help," I said.
"I know you do, honey," Mom said. "But I need Rose’s help now."
"You mean Rose’s psychic abilities," I said. I pushed away my dessert, suddenly no longer hungry. Resentment had a way of filling up your stomach. "May I be excused?"
Without waiting for an answer, I stomped off to my room. Not the most mature reaction, I admit, but I couldn’t help it. I was so sick of Rose and Poppy having a part of Mom’s life. A part I couldn’t share. I knew I’d be able to help her with this case, if she’d just let me.
I had lots of detective-like skills, such as the ability to tell if someone was lying. Having an ex-friend like Samantha Devereaux had taught me that lesson.
After pouting for a few minutes, I had an idea. As I tiptoed downstairs, I heard my name.
"It’s hard for Daisy," Mom said. "You girls need to try to include her more in your activities."
"There’s so much she doesn’t understand," Poppy said. "She’s a norm, Mom. It’s time you admit it."
"She’s a late bloomer," Mom said. "You’ll see. But normal or not, she’s still your sister, and I expect you to treat her as such."
I forgot that the bottom step creaked and put my weight on it. The sound gave me away.
"Daisy, is that you?" Mom called from the family room.
"Yes, it’s me," I said, pretending that I hadn’t heard anything. I stepped into the family room. Poppy was sprawled on the couch and Mom and Rose were on either side of her. A cozy circle. A circle that excluded me.
I made a face. "I just want the cordless to call Ryan."
"Wow, Daisy, I didn’t know you had it in you," Poppy said. "He is a hottie, but maybe a little out of your league."
"He’s my friend, remember, Poppy? Don’t be disgusting," I said. "Can I have the cordless?"
"Friend, huh? That may have been true when you were both playing in the sandbox, but if you haven’t noticed, Ryan is all grown up now."
She crowed even louder when she saw the blush spread across my face. "I knew it! You do have a thing for him."
Too embarrassed to reply, I just held out my hand for the phone. Poppy usually carried the phone around like it was her security blanket. She reached under a pillow and handed it to me.
I stomped up the stairs. Poppy was such a pain in the butt sometimes. Even if I was interested in Ryan, I didn’t have a chance. Not with Samantha Devereaux in existence.
I shut my bedroom door and locked it. Poppy’s talents didn’t include psychic eavesdropping, and Rose would never stoop so low, but there was still the garden variety of eavesdropping, like loitering outside the door to listen.
This was something I definitely didn’t want my sisters to hear.
I took a deep breath and dialed Ryan’s number. It was just Ryan, who I’d known all my life. Ryan, who’d shot up a foot the summer before high school. Ryan, with his green eyes and dark brown hair, hair that looked so soft I wanted to touch it.
"Mendez residence, Ryan speaking." Ryan’s dad insisted he answer the phone that way. You know, the polite way.
There was a lump in my throat, which blocked my power of speech. Damn that Poppy! She had to open her big mouth and make me think about Ryan in that way.
"Hello?" Ryan said. "Daisy?"
Caller ID. Sometimes I hated technology. Like now, when it would have been so easy just to hang up.
"Hey, Ryan," I said finally.
I’d called Ryan lots of times, but this was different because I needed a favor. A big one.
"Can you meet me tonight?" I asked.
"Uh, sure. Where?" Ryan’s voice sounded resigned, not exactly the reaction I wanted from the hottest guy in school. I reminded myself I had no interest in Ryan Mendez.
"At the diner at around ten thirty." Slim’s Diner was conveniently located across from the police station.
"Daisy, my curfew is midnight." Ryan’s dad was strict, being the police chief and all.
"I know, I know. It won’t take long."
"Okay," he said. "Do I want to ask what you’re getting me into this time?"
"It’s no biggie," I said, "but bring that extra set of keys. You know the ones." We both knew his dad kept a spare set of office keys at the house.
He groaned in exasperation, but he didn’t say no.
Copyright © 2008 by Marlene Perez
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