The Harder the Fall
Okay. Everything is going to be fine. I just need to stop obsessing over all the crazy things that are happening to me, and just relax. Of course, this is easier said than done.
I mean, let’s look at a quick recap of my life, shall we?
1. I can see ghosts. That, in and of itself, is completely scandalous. I’m only twelve! How am I supposed to be expected to deal with the pressures of helping ghosts move on to the other side? It would be a lot of work for a grown-up, even. I have my hands full just trying to get through seventh grade.
2. I have my first maybe-almost boyfriend, Brandon Dunham. Brandon is sweet and smart and very cute, and he helps me with my math whenever I need it. He even gave me my very first kiss ever. He is pretty much the exact kind of person you would want to be your first crush. But still. Having a maybe-almost boyfriend can be stressful.
3. Brandon Dunham’s mom died when he was younger, and now she is one of the ghosts I can see. (See number one, above.) When she first appeared a couple of weeks ago, she kept going on and on about how I should add myself to the green paper. I had no idea what that meant until a few days ago, when I was at Brandon’s house studying with him and I looked at the green paper he’s always carrying around in his backpack. And it turns out that the green paper is a list of things his mother wrote to him before she died—a list of things she thinks he should stay away from.
I quickly figured out that the fact that Mrs. Dunham wants me to put myself on the green paper means that she doesn’t want me dating Brandon. But why? And how am
I going to help Mrs. Dunham move on if her unfinished business involves me staying away from her son?
Not that I think Brandon and I are, like, destined to be together or anything. I mean, we’re only twelve. But still. You can see why I might be just a tad bit distracted, even though it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m supposed to be relaxing and having a fun time, enjoying what’s left of my weekend.
“What’s going on?” my best friend Ellie asks me as we walk down Main Street. When the weather’s nice, Ellie and I sometimes spend our Sundays down on Main Street. We buy fresh fruit salads and hot chocolates from Donelan’s Market, look at all the different stationery at Poppy’s Papeterie, and browse for cute hair accessories at Jasmine’s Boutique.
(I’m a huge fan of hair accessories. I like to try to make sure my hairstyle matches my mood. Like today, for example. My hair is in lots of beachy waves around my shoulders, because I’m kind of feeling loose and up in the air.)
“Nothing’s going on,” I tell Ellie. Which is a lie. But I can’t really tell her the truth. In fact, I can’t tell anyone the truth. No one knows I can see ghosts. I wish I could tell Ellie, I really do. But I can’t risk the fact that she might not believe me, or she might think that I’m crazy. I don’t know what I would do if I ever lost her friendship.
“Are you sure?” Ellie asks. “Because you’ve been really—”
“Oh, look!” I exclaim, pointing to a storefront on the corner. “There’s a new salon opening up.” They have a huge sign in the window that says ALL NAIL POLISH 50% OFF.
“Don’t change the subject,” Ellie says as I stop in front of the store and peer in the window.
But Ellie’s cut off by a woman poking her head out of the door of the salon. “Hello, girls!” she chirps. She has short blond curly hair and she’s wearing silver-and-turquoise rings on almost every finger.
Hmm. I’m not sure I’ll be getting my hair done here. You can tell a lot about how good a place is at cutting hair from how their employees look. And this woman is in desperate need of . . . I don’t know, exactly. Highlights. Or a brush.
“Welcome, girls, welcome!” she says, ushering us inside. “Welcome to the Serene Spa and Wellness Center.”
I frown. The sign on the door says HAIRCUTS.
She must notice that we look confused, because she quickly rushes on, “We haven’t had time to change our sign yet. We just recently decided to make this into a full-service spa.” She throws her hand out in a flourish, like she’s indicating how awesome the place is.
Ellie looks at me and raises her eyebrows. I know she’s thinking the same thing I’m thinking. That this place definitely
doesn’t look like a full-service spa. Not that I really know what a full-service spa looks like. I mean, I’ve only seen them in movies.
But I’m pretty sure they include lots of white towels and well-dressed attendants ready to wait on you hand and foot and bring you whatever you desire, as long as it’s good for you. Things like raspberry-flavored sparkling water and cherries dipped in dark chocolate. (Dark chocolate is totally good for you. It has, like, a million antioxidants.)
This place has none of those things. All it has is a reception desk, a few folding chairs scattered around the waiting room, and one nail station right at the back.
“Well,” I say slowly. “We don’t really need a full-service spa. Um, but maybe we could have a manicure.”
“Of course!” the woman says, and leads us over to the nail station. She frowns. “We only have one manicure table,” she says. “So one of you will have to wait.” She pushes a stray curl off her forehead and smiles. “And the shipment of nail polishes that was supposed to come in yesterday never came, so we’re a little limited in our selection.”
“That’s okay,” I say, smiling nervously at Ellie, who doesn’t look too happy. In fact, she looks like she wants to hightail it out of here. Ellie’s a stickler when it comes to things like customer service. She’ll totally leave a place if she feels like she’s not getting good treatment.
Usually I agree with her, but how can I leave now? This poor woman seems so excited to have us here. We’re probably her first customers ever.
“I want orange nail polish,” Ellie says firmly, which is kind of ridiculous, because she doesn’t even like the color orange.
“That’s wonderful!” Sharon says. “Because that’s one of the colors we have.”
“Oh, great news,” I agree, pushing Ellie toward the uncomfortable-looking chair that’s sitting in front of the nail station. “I’ll just wait up front and read a magazine or something.”
Usually when Ellie and I get our nails done, we sit next to each other and gossip about people at school. But like Sharon said, there’s only one nail stand.
“You’re going to be doing my nails?” Ellie asks Sharon skeptically.
“Yes.” Sharon nods and sits down at the nail station. She goes to open a bottle of orange nail polish and almost spills it all over. Yikes. “I just got my nail tech certification a few days ago.” She points up to the wall, where a certificate is hanging in a gold frame.
“You’ve only known how to do nails for two days?” Ellie asks.
“Oh, no. I’ve only been certified for two days. But I’ve practiced on loads of people.” Sharon beams.
“Okay, well, see you in a few minutes!” I yell, and then I head back to the waiting area before Ellie can change her mind. I’m sure she’ll be fine. I mean, it’s just nails. What’s the worst that can happen? She gets a little nail polish on her?
We can’t just leave and crush poor Sharon’s dreams. What if we left and she started thinking she was the worst salon owner ever and that she should just give it up and go back to whatever her job was before? I really don’t want that on my shoulders. And I doubt Ellie does either.
I grab a magazine and sit down in one of the folding chairs. I wonder how long it will take Ellie to get her nails done. I hope not that long. The smell of chemicals in this place is starting to give me a headache.
I pull my phone out and check to see if I have a text from Brandon. But there’s nothing. I wonder if I should text him. Not that I have a reason to text him, but do I really need a reason? I could just be all casual and ask him about the math homework or something. Of course, he would probably see right through that. I don’t want to play hard to get, but at the same time—
“Excuse me,” a voice says. “But is this Sharon’s Haircuts?”
I look up from my phone to see a girl standing in front of me. She has long wavy dark hair and bright blue eyes. Her skin is pale, and she has a lot of makeup on. Like, a lot
of makeup—smoky purple eye shadow, bronzer, mascara, and a slick of bubble-gum-pink lip gloss. She’s wearing a short black skirt, a hot pink top, patterned tights, and leg warmers.
“Well,” I say, “I think that’s what it used to be called. But now they’ve changed the name. They’re a full-service spa now.” I throw my hand out in a flourish, the same way Sharon did.
“A full-service spa?” the girl exclaims. “How the heck is she going to handle that?”
“Oh!” I brighten. “Do you know her?” Maybe this girl will fill me in on this Sharon person’s backstory. Like how she came to own this salon. Maybe there’s something really juicy behind it.
“Yes.” The girl sighs and flips her hair over her shoulder. “She’s my mom.”
“Wow,” I say, “that’s so cool, your mom starting her own salon. Does she give you free manicures and stuff ?”
She looks at me like I’ve asked the most ridiculous question she’s ever heard. “Of course not.”
Right. Well, maybe her mom’s one of those people who want their children to learn the ways of the world and work hard for things. Maybe Sharon was a doctor or something and she’s totally rich and sunk her life savings into this
place to follow her one true dream. And she doesn’t want to spoil her daughter, so she makes her work for everything, even manicures at the salon that she owns.
“Good idea,” I say. “It’s always better to work for things in life. That’s my motto.” It’s not really my motto, but whatever. It could be.
“Anyway,” the girl says, shaking her head and looking at me like I’m crazy. She starts looking around, peering into the back. “What’s she doing back there, anyway?”
“She’s giving my friend a manicure,” I say. And then I realize something. “Hey, are you going to be starting school with us?”
“Starting school with you?” Now she’s looking at me like I’m even crazier than before. She’s definitely a rich kid. They’re always looking at you like you’re crazy, even when you’re saying something that’s totally reasonable.
“Yeah,” I say. “You just moved here, right? So you’re probably going to be going to my school. What grade are you in?”
“Me too! Maybe I can show you around.”
She shakes her head. “You don’t get it, do you?”
Okay, now she’s gone a little too far. All I’m trying to do is be nice. Not to mention the fact that poor Ellie is back there with this girl’s mom, probably getting orange nail polish splashed all over her.
“Never mind,” I say, picking my magazine back up. “Sorry for, like, trying to be nice.” Not my wittiest retort, but it should get the job done.
“No.” She shakes her head and then bites her lip, looking frustrated. “I’m not . . . I mean, I don’t know how this works, exactly.”
“How what works? Responding when someone’s being nice to you? I’ll tell you what you don’t do—act all snotty.”
“No.” She shakes her head again. “I’m Lyra.”
“Great,” I say. “I’m Kendall.”
She’s looking at me expectantly. Okay, this is getting weird. Like, what is this girl’s deal? Why is she out here, in her mom’s hair salon, acting like she’s never been here and staring at me like she’s waiting for me to say something?
“Kendall?” Ellie calls, coming out from the back of the salon. She’s holding her hands up. One of her hands has the nails painted orange, and the other hand has the nails painted blue. Which makes no sense.
“What happened to your nails?” I ask her.
“Oh.” She looks down. “Um, they ran out of orange nail polish.”
Wow. This place is a big disaster.
“Who were you talking to?” Ellie asks. She looks around the waiting area, her eyes sweeping right over the girl standing in front of me.
I’m about to tell Ellie not to be rude (although, let’s face
it, if Ellie’s going to be rude to anyone, it should be Lyra—I mean, she kind of deserves it) when a sick feeling rolls through my stomach.
“Now do you get it?” Lyra asks, crossing her arms over her chest and giving me a satisfied smile.
And then I do get it.
Ellie can’t see Lyra.
Because Lyra is dead.