Thirteen-year-old Ellie Charles has everything going for her: she’s the smartest, prettiest, best-dressed, and most popular kid at Lincoln Heights Middle School. She’s also the meanest, by design. Ellie’s got sharp edges, which she uses to keep herself at the top of the social food chain.
But one night, hours before her school’s winter dance, a frightening accident leads her to encounter a ghost who just might change everything. This ghost, of a girl dressed all in black, makes Ellie visit her own past, present, and future—reliving her parents’ divorce, her struggles in school, and worst of all, her massive falling-out with her best friend, Marley. Can what Ellie sees inspire her to change her ways? And is a new perspective enough to save her life?
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
News flash: It's not easy being perfect. It's actually a massively huge burden being the smartest, prettiest, best-dressed, and most popular kid at Lincoln Heights Middle School. But somehow I manage. And it's a good thing I do.
The kids at my school are like sheep. They need someone to follow. Otherwise they'd simply wander around, lost on some disgusting, smelly, old farm, or whatever it is sheep do all day long. Who knows? Who cares? Not me.
My point is this: The vast majority of my classmates crave someone to look up to, someone who is excellent at telling people what to do, how to think, and why their haircut is hideous. I am that lucky person: Ellie Charles, in charge of, well, pretty much everything that matters here at Lincoln Heights Middle School.
Need a visual? My hair is long and wavy and caramel with natural golden highlights. My eyes are greenish blue, kind of like an arctic tundra, except icier. I have dimples when I smile, which is most of the time, because, duh, why wouldn't I always smile when I've got so much going for me? My teeth are perfectly straight and white and I never even needed braces. I don't wear glasses, either.
Of course I get straight As, but they don't come easily. I work for them and I work hard, studying for a minimum of three straight hours every single night. If my teachers don't give me enough homework, I make up my own: memorizing all the state capitals, or inventing random math problems like 173 times 465 divided by two. The answer is 40,222.5. I did that right now, in my head.
I'm like a human calculator except way cuter, and with a much better wardrobe.
You think I'm lying?
I don't care what you think. I've got more important things to worry about.
It's 3:15, and the end-of-the-day bell just rang. The halls are crazy frantic. Kids are yelling and running and practically bouncing off the walls with energy. Tonight is the Winter Holiday Semiformal. This dance is the most important event of the school year, not including graduation, and it's fewer than four hours away.
As president of the student council, chairperson of the dance committee, and soon-to-be valedictorian, it's my responsibility to make sure everything is perfect. This has got to be the greatest school dance in the history of school dances — not simply at Lincoln Heights Middle School. I mean school dances everywhere, in the whole entire universe, so when you Google best middle school dance after tonight, you'll see pictures of my handiwork.
The pressure is on and everything starts now.
I throw open the double doors to the gym and waltz on in.
The entire committee is already there and waiting — fourteen kids, personally selected and trained by yours truly, except not one of them seems to notice my entrance.
I slip into the one empty seat in the circle of chairs, in between two of my besties — Sofia Green and Harper Delany. Both of them are staring at their phones, zombie-like. They don't even glance in my direction.
I groan loudly. "Ugh, what is that horrible smell? Who farted?" I cup my nose with one hand, and wave my other hand in front of my face.
The random chatter stops. Now everyone's eyes are on me — like they should be.
"You all smell that, don't you?" I ask, surveying the room. Some people nod. Others look confused. Most of them squirm in their chairs, fearfully. Except wait a second ... not everyone is paying attention. Jeremy Hinkey is still doodling on the cover of his notebook with a black Sharpie, completely ignoring me. I narrow my eyes and point at him. "It was you, wasn't it, Germ-y?"
He looks up, startled. Soon confusion gives way to terror. Much better. "W-w-w-what?" he asks, his voice trembling.
"That smell. You farted — and I'm not talking about some innocent little blip. This was a 'silent-but-deadly' and you look so guilty right now. You may as well save us the time and admit it."
He shakes his head furiously. "No, I didn't fart. I don't even smell anything."
"Well of course you're going to deny it," I say, pointing out the obvious. "Because farting in public is disgusting, right?"
"Yeah," says Jeremy. "But I —"
I cut him off before he can finish. "Thank you for finally speaking the truth, Germ-y. Don't you feel so much better now?"
Everyone else in the room cracks up, but I raise my hand to silence them. "Excessive flatulence is no laughing matter, people. It's a serious medical condition. Germ-y, as a concerned citizen and friend, I strongly urge you to call your doctor immediately."
"But I don't have a problem," Jeremy insists. "I didn't even fart. It wasn't me."
I shake my head. "I cannot deal with this now. You are totally distracting everyone and we have a lot to do, so just get out of here."
Jeremy's face is bright red. His eyes are glassy and he's blinking furiously, as if trying to hold back tears. "B-b-b-but you can't kick me off the committee. I'm helping with the decorations."
I sigh loudly and dramatically. "No, you were helping with the decorations. Now you are free to leave. And don't bother coming back tonight."
"Wait, what? You can't ban me from the dance," Jeremy replies, standing up.
"Not officially," I say. "But if I were you, I'd steer clear."
Jeremy opens his mouth to argue, but no words come out. He's speechless — finally. And he's actually crying.
Here's a secret: I love making people cry.
But I am careful to hide my joy, keeping my expression neutral, even slightly disapproving.
Kids stare in horror and disgust. Emmett and Chiara, who happen to be sitting next to him, actually inch their chairs away, as if being a loser is contagious. And who am I kidding? Of course it is.
When Jeremy finally realizes he's got zero chance of winning this argument, that things can only get worse for him, he picks up his grubby old backpack, slings it over his shoulder, and bolts out of the gym.
"Don't let the door hit you on your way out!" I call. Except it's too late. The door actually does hit Jeremy on his way out. Perfect.
I could take things further, make some sort of mean joke, but there's no point. I turn to the remaining kids. "Guys, I'm so sorry you had to see and smell that ugliness. I'm sure Jeremy is totally mortified. Poor guy. I'm going to call him later and check up on him, make sure he comes to the dance tonight. Everyone deserves a second chance. And I do hope he calls his doctor in the meantime."
"That's so nice of you," Sofia says. She reaches out and pats my knee.
Harper pats my other knee.
Lily Brenner and Maddie Meyer, my two other best friends, nod along with me.
Actually, the entire room is nodding, possibly out of fear, but I have no problem with that.
"It's the least I can do," I tell everyone, with an exaggerated shrug. And it's true.
Because here's another secret: Jeremy is innocent. Pretty much everyone is. Yup, that's right, no one actually farted, at least as far as I can smell. But my plan totally worked.
Now that I have everyone's attention, I open up my notebook and begin. "Okay, we have three hours to turn this dingy little excuse for a gym into a magical winter wonderland. Everyone turn off your phones, and I mean power off. Switching them to silent mode isn't good enough because I'll still hear them vibrate, which could not be more annoying, okay? I'll wait."
Everyone pulls their phones from their back pockets and purses and book bags and turns them off. Once they are done I say, "Now let's get to work. Adam Weatherby — what's going on with snacks?"
"Oh, that's me!" Adam stands, not realizing he's got his three-ring binder on his lap. It slips off and snaps open when it hits the ground. Pages scatter. He gasps as he looks at the mess, cheeks burning up in embarrassment.
I notice a math test among the mess of papers, a red C+ scrawled across the top. Reaching down, I pick it up with two fingers, crinkle my nose as if it's a rotten banana peel dipped in raw sewage, and hand it over. "Here you go, dude. Sorry you didn't do better."
Somehow Adam turns even redder.
I love it.
A few people giggle. Normally this would be an awesome thing to laugh about, but we don't have enough time. There's too much to do. So I give them my best dagger-eyed stare — silencing everyone.
"Come on, Adam, get it together," I say sharply.
"Sorry." Adam crouches down to sort out the mess he made, but he's taking much too long.
"We're not going to wait all day," I snap.
"Right. Sorry. I'm so sorry, Ellie. I don't know how that happened. I guess I just got nervous because —"
I cut him off. "Stop babbling. There's no time." Weakness can be so annoying. I don't even bother rolling my eyes because he is not worth the effort. "Forget it, Adam. Someone else. Tell me what's going on."
"No, wait. I've got it." Adam sits back in his chair and holds up a piece of paper, desperate to please. "Because of allergies, food sensitivities, and dietary preferences, Principal Gayle says we have to avoid meat and dairy and nuts and processed sugar and gluten. So that leaves us with raw veggies, sliced fruit, and unsalted popcorn."
"Which raw veggies?" I ask, raising my left eyebrow.
"Um, carrots, cucumbers, celery, and bell peppers?" he says nervously. Like he isn't even sure those are actual vegetables. "I bought bell peppers in three different colors — red, yellow, and orange."
Poor guy is so eager to please he sounds pathetic, desperate. This makes me so very happy.
"And what fruit?" I ask.
"Apples and oranges?" he asks, squirming in his seat.
"Are you asking me or telling me?" I bark.
"Telling you," he says with a nervous nod. "We're bringing apples and oranges."
"Aren't you forgetting something?" I ask.
Adam has no idea what I'm talking about. I can tell by the panicky stare he is giving me. After fumbling a bit more with his notebook and crossing and then uncrossing his legs, he says, "Um, pears? I can probably swing some pears, as well."
"That's not what I mean," I say, voice raised, completely out of patience.
"Oh." He pauses for a moment and then says, "Thank you, Ellie. You are doing an amazing job. Seriously. Totally bang-up."
"Bang-up?" I ask.
"Sorry. Not bang-up. That's so, like, ten years ago. I am just super excited to be here on this committee with you. It's been fantastic and I —"
"You forgot beverages!" I scream, interrupting because who has time for this nonsense? Not me.
"Beverages?" he asks.
"Yes, you, Adam Smeathersby, are supposed to be in charge of snacks and beverages. It says so right here in my notes. Do you need me to read you my notes, Adam?"
"Oh yeah. I mean no." He takes a deep breath and starts over again. "I mean yes, I'm in charge of beverages. Of course I know that. I'm taking this job very seriously. And I figured because of the no-sugar thing, and our limited budget, all that's left is water."
"Well, obviously. But what kind of water?" I ask.
"What kind?" he asks nervously.
"Do I have to do everything?" I ask. "Wait, don't even answer that because I know the answer is yes, I do. I mean, come on, Adam. Who doesn't know that water with lemon is an option? They only serve it in every restaurant in America. Have you ever been to a restaurant, Adam?"
Adam stares at me, silent and dumbfounded. For someone who was already quite pasty, I didn't think it would be possible for him to turn paler, but he actually does.
"Well, have you?" I shout.
He finally coughs and asks, "Oh, is that a real question? Yes I have. I have been to a restaurant. I've been to many restaurants. Did you want me to name them? I'm not sure I remember every single one but I could try. I didn't realize that I was supposed to —"
"Stop babbling!" I tell him, out of patience.
"Sorry," he whispers, confused, and now on the verge of tears.
I sigh deeply. "Water with lemon and cucumber slices," I say. "Nothing says Winter Holiday Semiformal like lemon cucumber water, okay?"
"Sure, okay. Whatever you say, Ellie. Thank you."
"Moving on to decorations," I say, consulting my list. "Who's on snow?"
Darcy Peterson raises one hand tentatively, and then puts it down again. She's biting her bottom lip and she tucks her dark hair behind her ears. Darcy is always tucking her hair behind her ears.
"You with the ripped shirt," I say, pointing at her.
"Oh," she says, flustered, looking down at herself, running her fingers along the slight tear in the bottom of her T-shirt. "I didn't even realize my shirt was ripped."
"That's hard to believe," I mutter under my breath.
Sofia and Harper both hear me and giggle.
Darcy's eyes go wide. She knows I'm making fun of her. Well, of course she does. She can tell by the laughter. Even though she couldn't have heard what I said. That means she can't say anything in her own defense. Cool trick, huh?
I feel that rush of power, of people being afraid of me.
Here's something I learned a long time ago: The more horrible I am, the more people fear me, and the more people fear me, the more they respect me. And here at Lincoln Heights Middle School, they don't simply respect me, they actually kind of worship me. It's an infectious, beautiful kind of power.
"What were you saying?" I ask sharply, getting back to business.
Darcy smiles, unsure. "I have a ton of cotton balls that I've been gluing together. I'm thinking we can put them around the edges of the gym and they'll look like snow cover."
"I like it," I say.
"And I've been making origami snowflakes with this beautiful silver-and-blue sparkly paper. And then I found a whole slew of Styrofoam balls that we can string from the ceiling. Like snowballs, in a few different sizes. I've already threaded them together with invisible wire," she says. "I hope that's okay."
"It's great," I say. "Good job."
Just then, Lily raises her hand. "We've also got white twinkle lights we're going to string up everywhere. It'll be fantastic."
I nod. "And what about the walls?" I ask, looking toward the cluster of theater geeks.
There are five of them, all dressed in black and various shades of gray, like a uniform. They are skinny, gawky kids with pimples and braces. Two of them are girls in leggings and baggy sweaters: Dezi Arnold and Reese Jeffries. The other three are boys in skinny jeans and flannels: Jack Gonzales, Ryan Slater, and Charlie Nguyen.
"Okay, Dezi. Talk to me. What have you got?"
Dezi clears her throat and stands, pulling Jack along with her — probably for moral support because she's too chicken to face me alone. Even though she is nervous, she also seems just about ready to burst with enthusiasm. "You wanted winter wonderland, yes?" she asks. "So we got a gigantic roll of craft paper and made mountains and a forest and, well, take a look."
Suddenly Ryan and Charlie get up and unroll a gigantic scroll. It's six feet tall and super wide — practically large enough to cover an entire wall of the gym. The whole scene is breathtaking. I can tell they worked hard on this, painting snow-covered mountains studded with green, spiky pine trees. Fluffy white clouds float overhead against a sparkling blue sky. There are a few snowman families scattered throughout, all of them with orange carrot noses, twigs for limbs, top hats, and bright scarves tied around their little snowmen necks in green, orange, yellow, purple, and blue. Red bobsleds dot the landscape, racing down hills with smiling children inside. The detail astounds me. This mural is so much better than I thought it would be. These kids have real talent.
Not that I'm going to tell them. I stand up and move closer so I can get a better look. Also, so I can see them tremble and sweat. They are scared of my reaction, even though any idiot can tell this work is brilliant.
There is no question. I love it. But obviously I keep this fact to myself. In fact, I don't even let on that I approve of the thing.
"This is just one wall," I say, frowning.
"Yes, we have three more," Jack tells me.
I nod, keeping my face completely impartial. "Okay, this one is fine. It can stay," I tell them.
Ryan and Charlie exhale loudly. The guys were so nervous they were both holding their breath.
It's inspiring, generating this kind of fear. It gives me fuel, like food or water. Sometimes I think I need it more than oxygen.
"Okay, so let's see the others," I say.
They carefully roll up the first scroll and then swap it out for the next one, and then the next. All three of them are similar and beautiful — each a distinct winter wonderland I wish I could step into, even more magical than I could've imagined. It's going to transform the entire gym. These theater geeks really did amazing work.
"How long did this take you?" I wonder.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ghosted"
Copyright © 2018 Leslie Margolis.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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