A Perfect Storm
“It’s only week three of school and already I’m bored with all the guys at Stellamar Middle School,” my best friend, Lily, announced as she stirred the pool of butterscotch sauce at the bottom of her sundae glass.
“I know, right?” agreed Avery. She grimaced, her mouth revealing this month’s band color, which was bright green. The bands she used for her braces tended to change color from one orthodontist appointment to the next. “That’s the problem with living in a small town.”
“It’s true,” sighed Marlee. “All the guys do at lunchtime this year is sit around in big packs talking about sports. They don’t pay attention to any of us.”
“Except Sara, here,” said Avery, pointing at me with her spoon. “They notice you, because you give off that ‘I’m not interested’ vibe, which of course makes them
interested. Can you teach me how to pull that off?”
“She pulls it off because she’s actually not interested in any of them,” Marlee joked, grinning at me. “Right, Sara? You’re not crushing on anyone at school so far this year, right?”
“Earth to Sara,” said Miranda, waving a hand back and forth in front of my face.
I jumped. Tried to focus on my friends. Tried to recover and act like I’d been paying attention, when really, I’d been staring out the window at the man standing on the sidewalk. He was dressed in strange clothing, unlike anything anyone else wore these days. Beneath his battered sailor hat I could see long, jet-black hair, loosely tied back in a ponytail. His pants were knee-length, his soiled blue coat fastened with big brass buttons, his thick-soled black shoes topped with large buckles.
Oh, and he shimmered slightly around the edges.
He was a spirit. A spirit I’d seen before, back at my house.
The question was, what was he doing here, outside Scoops Ice Cream Parlor? Had he come here to look for me?
Lily nudged me. “You okay?” she asked.
I smiled weakly. “I’m fine,” I said. “I guess it’s been a long week.” But I wasn’t that fine. I was having that familiar, unpleasant reaction, the one I thought I’d conquered. The tingling feeling that had started in my left foot was moving up my leg. The air around me had grown thick. The lights had grown dimmer, though I know it didn’t seem that way to anyone except me.
My eyes darted toward the window again. The spirit wasn’t paying any attention to me. I began to relax a little. Maybe he wasn’t here to talk to me. He seemed to be muttering to himself. Rather abruptly, he spun on his heel and marched away, his head down, his hands clasped behind his back. Before he’d gone more than a few paces, he grew transparent. He shimmered for a moment, like a barbecue grill on a hot summer day, and then vanished.
Perhaps I should explain.
You know how kids sometimes talk about how they feel different, that no one understands them, that they just don’t feel like they fit in sometimes?
Well, trust me. I win the prize. Because I really am different.
I can see spirits. Dead people.
I’ve seen spirits since I was little. Up until recently, I hadn’t told anyone about it, not even my dad. But now he knew. And he’d moved us to this shore town in New Jersey the year before, so we could live in a big, ramshackle Victorian house with Lady Azura, my great-grandmother. She had powers too, and she’d been helping me with my own powers. Which was handy, because her house was filled with spirits.
Only two other people know about my powers. One is a boy named Mason Meyer, the guy I have a crush on, though he doesn’t know that. Mason goes to a different school. I had barely seen him since the summer had ended, but we did text a lot.
The other person who knows my secret is Lily. Lily Randazzo, my best friend.
Now, back in the ice-cream shop, she saved me, by directing our friends’ attention away from my weird, distracted behavior.
“You guys!” she hissed. “Turn around! Act natural! I just spotted Mason Meyer outside, and he’s heading in here and he has a friend with him. A totally gorgeous friend.”
The rest of us settled down. We pretended we were engrossed in a deep conversation with one another as we heard the bell of the shop tinkle.
Lily and Avery and Miranda had squished in on one side of the booth and were sitting with their backs to the door, Lily nearest the window. Marlee and I were facing the door, so we had a good view as the two guys came in.
I forgot all about the spirit. My mouth went dry and my palms got wet—but this was what usually happened when I first saw Mason.
He noticed us right away and jerked his chin up in a quick hello gesture, grinning sideways a little. I saw him say something to his friend, and the two ambled toward our booth. I wasn’t going to pretend I hadn’t seen him. I looked up. Smiled. Felt that familiar sensation I’d been feeling whenever I was in Mason’s presence, like electricity crackling through my body. I could feel myself flushing. No doubt my fair skin was turning an embarrassing shade of pink, right up to the roots of my blond hair.
I could feel his green eyes gazing at me. I had to look away quickly. He had that effect on me. Like
all my bones had turned to rubber. Instead I looked at Lily.
Lily was blushing. Lily, the world’s most extroverted, outgoing, never-at-a-loss-for-words person on earth, appeared to have lost the power to speak.
Still avoiding Mason’s gaze, I checked out his friend.
Oh. No wonder.
“This is Calvin,” Mason said to us, gesturing to his friend.
“Hey,” said Calvin with a shy grin. His voice was deep and smooth.
“Hey,” we all murmured back.
Calvin was tall—even a little taller than Mason, who was already taller than most boys our age. His dark-brown hair was short on the sides and a little longer on top, and his eyes were a light shade of hazel. I knew that Lily had a weakness for guys with dark hair and light eyes. Especially ones this cute.
I watched Lily pick up her glass of water and take a big, gasping gulp. I suppressed a smile. She’d already fallen for him.
I’d met Mason during the summer, through a series
of weird coincidences. Lily and her family now owned Buddy, a sweet little dog who used to belong to Mason and his family. I sometimes wondered if Mason and I had been meant to meet each other, and if Buddy had brought us together.
Mason went to a school two towns over, in Harbor Isle. I had no idea what he and Calvin were doing at Scoops right now, since Harbor Isle had plenty of fun places to hang out. Maybe, just maybe, he’d come because he knew this was a place I liked to hang out with my friends? I dared to hope that was why. I also dared to hope he had half as big a crush on me as I did on him.
Avery glanced from me to Mason to Lily to Calvin. She giggled again. “So what brings you guys here?” she asked the boys.
“Just passing by.”
Calvin and Mason had answered at the same time.
A movement out the window caught my eye. There was that spirit again. What was he doing here? I never saw our “house spirits” anywhere except in our house. This was one of the spirits I rarely saw,
and I’d kept my distance from him because he didn’t seem very friendly. I had assumed, based on his hat, that he was an old sea captain or sailor or something. The late afternoon light cast his face in shadow, as the sun was setting behind him, so I couldn’t see his expression very well. But why would he be outside Scoops?
Once again, he didn’t try to get my attention. He didn’t even look up at me as he passed by the window. I felt relieved all over again that he wasn’t here looking for me, but also really puzzled about what he was doing.
Yeah, the whole thing was weird. Weirder than the usual weird, I mean.
Even though I had been focusing on the spirit, I became aware that an awkward silence was descending on our group. I tore my gaze away from the window. Lily was still clearly unable to speak coherently. Luckily, Miranda stepped up.
“So I heard about your award,” she said to Mason.
“What award?” asked Avery.
“People were talking about it in dance class the other day,” she explained to us. “Harbor Isle Middle
School had a big ‘silly award’ competition in honor of their homecoming. Evidently Mason got the Best-Dressed Jock Award, and it was published in the Harbor Isle school newspaper. It just came out today.”
“How did you hear about it before the paper came out?” asked Marlee.
“Jody Jenner’s in our dance class, and she’s on the school paper,” said Miranda.
“Did you hear about it too, Lil?” Avery asked, giving her a not-very-subtle Say something! look. Lily and Miranda were in the same dance class, so it would make sense if Lily knew about it too.
Lily blinked at her. “What? Oh. Um. What?”
I almost laughed but caught myself at the last minute. She really liked Calvin!
“Is that true, bro?” said Calvin, turning on Mason. “I haven’t seen the paper yet. That’s pretty funny.”
“Yeah, hilarious,” said Mason through gritted teeth.
I knew how much Mason hated being talked about. He tugged at the neck of his sweatshirt, like it had suddenly grown too tight, and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“So how’d the soccer game go yesterday?” I blurted
out, desperate to change the subject for his sake.
“Oh, ah, good,” said Mason. “Awesome, actually.” He shot me a grateful look.
“So you guys won?” I asked.
“I didn’t know you played a fall sport,” said Marlee.
“He’s the goalkeeper,” said Calvin. “But I’m the real reason we win games. I play sweeper, so I save his neck ten times a game.”
Lily finally came back to earth long enough to laugh at Calvin’s joke. He looked pleased to have gotten a reaction from her.
I thought we’d safely deflected the conversation away from his award. But Miranda refused to let it go. “Yeah, Jody told me all about the article in the school paper,” she said. “Jody won an award too—I think she won Coolest Family. Her dad’s a famous director. Hey, Mason, maybe that means you and Jody were made for each other!”
I couldn’t get mad at Miranda for her comment, because she didn’t know about my crush on Mason. But I did sneak a peek at Mason to see how he was responding. He definitely seemed to be blushing. He looked at me, and I quickly looked away.
We all whirled around to look toward the counter. Lily’s cousin Dawn Marie, who worked there as an ice-cream scooper, was leaning over the counter and staring at the floor, a shocked look on her face.
A metal container full of spoons had crashed to the floor. Spoons had skittered to all corners of the black-and-white-tiled room.
“That was weird,” said Dawn Marie to us. “I was nowhere near those. It’s like they just jumped off the counter.”
We all hopped up to help collect the spoons.
I was stooping down, trying to collect them with the handles all going the same way, when I felt Mason’s arm brush mine. A jolt rippled through my whole body.
“Nice attempt at changing the subject,” he murmured out of the side of his mouth as he scooped up a scattered group of spoons.
“Yeah, well, I tried,” I murmured back. My hair was falling down across my face, so I hoped the others wouldn’t notice our private discussion. Or how much I was now blushing from being so close to Mason.
But a few feet away, I could see that Lily was giving me a Look. A whole bunch of emotions chased one another across her face—interest in the nature of my relationship with Mason, excitement about the fact that Mason had a crush-worthy friend, curious about how the canister of spoons just happened to have done a swan dive off the counter.
There’s something else you need to know about Mason. He can move objects with his mind.