"I heard a rumor about you," Penny Edwards said to me. The gym was crowded and noisy, so I had to move closer to hear what she had to say. The girls’ volleyball team was practicing at one end and Samantha was at the other end, barking orders like a gorgeous blond drill sergeant. I couldn’t hear Samantha from where I stood, but whatever she said sent her minions scurrying.
I smothered a sigh. Penny had never been one of my favorite people, but I thought she’d changed over the last few months. Apparently, I was wrong.
"What rumor?" I said, not really wanting to hear the answer.
"That you and Ryan are shoo-ins for king and queen of the Midnight Ball." She smiled at me and I caught a glimpse of the kinder, gentler Penny.
"I hope not," I said. "Samantha’s been working really hard on the ball. I hope she and Sean win." Samantha Devereaux was my best friend, who for a time had been my worst enemy — or at least a thorn in my side — and was back to being my best friend again.
We’d been through a lot during our junior year at Nightshade High, but I was expecting smooth sailing for our senior year. Or as smooth as it could be, considering that we lived in a town that was a little different, to say the least.
"Samantha’s deﬁnitely a contender," Penny said. "Especially since everyone who is a resident of Nightshade gets to vote."
"Well, please tell everyone I don’t want another crown." Last year, I’d been crowned homecoming queen in a bizarre turn of events. I didn’t want to sound ungrateful, but that was enough glory for me. Samantha thrived in the spotlight. I did not. Now that she and I were ﬁnally friends again, I wasn’t going to let some tinsel crown come between us.
Penny gave me a half wave and headed to the locker room. I watched her go.
"Daisy, look out!" Samantha warned me as a giant orange jack-o’-lantern rolled down the aisle. I put out a hand and concentrated. It rolled to a stop in the nick of time and narrowly missed squashing me ﬂat.
You had to stay on your toes when you lived in Nightshade, and having psychic powers helped. I looked around the gym to see if anyone had noticed my public psychic slip, but everyone’s attention was on the volleyball game going on at the other end.
"Halloween is over a month away, you know," I said, gesturing toward the bright decoration.
Samantha peered at me from behind a huge box of orange and black streamers, cardboard black cats, and ghosts. "It’s not just any Halloween," she replied. "It’s Nightshade’s two hundredth anniversary celebration. I’m one of the chairs."
"I know. I was just telling Penny how hard you’ve been working." Samantha volunteered for practically every committee the high school had. Now that it was ﬁnally our senior year, she didn’t seem to be slowing down at all.
"Gotta go!" I said, as I remembered the other thing Sam liked to do, which was rope me into volunteering for whatever pet project she was involved in. I’d wait for Ryan somewhere far, far away from my volunteering happy friend.
"Don’t you dare take a step out that door, Giordano!" she said, only half teasing.
I repressed a sigh. Sam was unstoppable. Besides, I had to admit, I had fun when I was around her. At least, most of the time.
"I have plans for those psychic powers of yours," she continued. "How else are we going to hang these decorations on the ceiling?"
"Okay, if you promise not to try to squash me with a squash again."
"Who’s trying to murder you this time?"Ryan said. He put his arm around me and gave me a hello kiss. My boyfriend was the best thing about senior year, although I had to push away the thought of what would happen to us once we graduated. I’d worry about that when the time came.
"Hi,Ryan," Sam said."Where’s Sean? He promised me he’d help." Sean was Samantha’s boyfriend and Ryan’s best friend.
"He’s still in the locker room," Ryan replied. "But he mentioned you guys might need another hand."
Samantha’s momentary irritation at her boyfriend disappeared. "Can you haul these outside?"
Ryan took the box from Samantha. "Where do you want these?"
"I rented a truck," she replied. "It’s in the ﬁrst stall in the parking lot." The ﬁrst stall in the parking lot was Principal Amador’s, but if anyone could get away with commandeering his spot, it would be Samantha.
Sean walked up, carrying a green gym bag under his arm.
"What took you so long?" Samantha said.
"Sorry, babe," he replied. "I got caught up talking to Wolfgang." She made a face. "What were you doing talking to him?" "He’s helping Coach with the stats," Sean said. "I can’t ignore him." "Why not?" she replied. "After what he did this summer, he deserves to be ignored." Wolfgang Paxton was a freshman who had been giving some of the football players a little something extra in their Wheaties, and the summer had ended with half the football team becoming werewolves. The ones who weren’t already, I mean. Fortunately, the side effects of Wolfgang’s "hairballs" turned out to be temporary.
"Don’t worry," Sean said, soothing her. "He’s calmed down since the summer." Samantha held out her hand. "Keys, please. I need to take this stuff to the Wilders."
Sean opened his bag and dug through the contents. He didn’t notice when a heavily embossed envelope fell out and landed on the polished ﬂoor.
I stooped down and picked it up. I wasn’t trying to be nosy, but the blood-red wax seal aroused my curiosity. It looked like a fancy invitation, with creamy white stationery that was silky to the touch.
I handed it to Sean. "That’s not mine," he said. He shoved the envelope into a pocket, then peered into the bag. "I must have grabbed the wrong bag." He hurried off to the locker room.
He returned a few minutes later, carrying an almost identical gym bag. "I grabbed Wolﬁe’s by mistake."
Sam checked her watch. "C’mon," she said."We’re late."
Ryan and I just stood there until Samantha barked out, "Are you coming?"
"Coming where?" I said.
"The Wilder mansion," she replied. "I’m storing stuff there until we can clean up the haunted house."
"What haunted house?"
"That old deserted mansion up by the Wilders—Merriweather House. It’s going to be the centerpiece of the town celebration. We’re having the Midnight Ball there. It’s supposed to be haunted."
"It sounds . . . monumental," I said aloud, but I was thinking that it sounded like a monumental amount of hard work. Everyone in town knew the dance would be the culmination of the anniversary events, but I had just assumed it would be held at the Wilder estate, which was the biggest, fanciest place in town.
After loading the truck, Ryan and I got in his car and followed Samantha and Sean to the Wilder estate.
"How’s your dad?" Ryan asked.
"He’s . . . okay," I said.
"That bad, huh?"
Another thing I loved about Ryan. He could tell what I really wanted to say, without me having to say it.
"He’s getting better, but he’s still . . ."
"Distant?" Ryan guessed.
I nodded. "He says he doesn’t want to talk about it." My Dad had been through a traumatic experience. Most of Nightshade had thought he’d run off with another woman, but the truth was he’d been abducted and held captive by the Scourge, an anti-paranormal group. Mom had rescued Dad from their clutches, but not until he had been gone for six long years.
Dad hadn’t left the house much at all since his return. Mom had made a few tentative noises about him going back to teaching, but he hadn&#...