"Sure," I replied as she dashed out the door.
As soon as she was gone, my eyes fell on her bag. Should I look through it really quickly? I wasn't sure if there was anything related to PMS or the case in there, but Mom said to check everything. If anyone asked what I was doing, I could just say I was looking for a pen.
My fingers were already reaching for the strap when something heavy landed on my desk. Startled, I looked up to see Adam sitting there.
"Hi," he said, smiling.
I drew back my hand. "Um. Hi."
"So I guess you decided to be a ghost hunter after all." He was still smiling, but there was something weird in his face. He looked kind of...bummed.
When I didn't say anything, he hurried on. "I mean, I just saw you talking to Romy and Dexter when you walked in, and you guys seemed really friendly. Especially you and Dex."
I was so confused that all I could do was stare at him while my brain raced for something to say. Why did Adam care who I was hanging out with? "They're nice," I finally said lamely, and Adam gave a little shrug.
"So, anyway, I was going to ask you this yesterday, but...you know."
Adam had gone kind of red and stammery, and I braced myself for whatever it was he wanted to ask me. "Anyway," he said again, "could I get your number?"
I blinked. What-oh, my cell phone number. Which he wanted. So he could call me.
"Sure," I said, hoping I sounded normal. Because this was normal. Boys asking for your phone number. I scrawled it across a sheet of notebook paper and handed it to him. Adam grinned, looking relieved.
"Awesome," he said, nodding his head.
Romy returned, flopping into her desk with a huge sigh. When she noticed Adam, she gave a little wave. "Hey, Lipinski."
"Romy," Adam replied, but he didn't really look at her. To me, he said, "Okay, well, I'll, uh, see you around, Izzy." He waved the piece of paper. "And call you."
"Right," I said, still wondering what his deal was.
Once he was back at his own desk, Romy leaned over. "How do you have two dudes crushing on you in less than twenty-four hours at this school?"
I whirled around. "What?"
"Lipinski practically left a drool marks on your desk, and Dex is even goofier than normal in your presence."
The third bell rang then, saving me from answering. But as I pulled out a pen and paper for Mrs. Steele's vocabulary quiz, I snuck a glance at Adam a few rows over. He was sneaking a glance at me, so I quickly looked back to the front of the room. There had been something kind of...dreamy in his expression, but that wasn't because he liked me. How could he? We'd spent all of five minutes together yesterday.
As for Dex, well, he was Prodigium. And probably only interested in me because of that. And Adam had asked for my number because...actually, I couldn't think of any other reason besides that he wanted to call me. And why do boys ever call girls if not to ask them out?
Scribbling out the definition of "moratorium," I tried very hard to ignore the sinking sensation in my stomach. All that TV I'd watched aside, I really didn't know anything about normal teenage interaction. I'd prepared myself for ghosts and keeping my cover story consistent, but the one variable I hadn't even considered was...humans. Regular people. With regular emotions and thoughts and wants that weren't all tied up in the supernatural.
I couldn't get suspicious over every single person who showed the slightest bit of interest in me. Clearly, I was going to have to brush up on my Normal People Skills.
Maybe a new season of Ivy Springs was already out on DVD....
By the time English ended, I'd made myself a list of things I needed to get. More DVDs, obviously, but I also wanted some of those magazines I'd seen in drugstores and gas stations. The ones with glossy-haired girls on the cover and titles like American Teen and Sassy Miss. I wanted to be both of those things. Okay, so maybe I could do without being "sassy" for now, but there had to be good info on regular teenage stuff in there. Those magazines always had articles about "How to Tell if a Boy Likes You!" and "Could Your Lipstick Kill You?"
I'd also added "makeup?" only to cross it out. Maybe I should read that article about killer lipstick first.
Making the list cleared my head a little bit, and I was actually in a good mood once we got to P.E., despite the fact that Coach Lewis handed me a uniform as soon as I walked in. Once I was changed into the ugliest T-shirt/shorts combo on earth, I followed Romy out of the locker room and into the gym.
Ben was there, sitting on the bleachers, his arm in a sling. I waited for him to shoot me the Death Glare, but he was too busy talking to a blond girl next to him.
"Who's that?" I asked Romy, nodding toward the girl. I hadn't noticed her yesterday.
Romy heaved a sigh. "Beth Tanner, Ben's girlfriend since, like, the womb. They've been on and off for a while."
"Right now they seem...off," I said, which was kind of an understatement. Beth's face was the same bright red as the free-throw line, and I thought I could see tears shimmering in her eyes.
Ben reached out with his uninjured arm to take her hand, but she threw it off. "Seriously, what is wrong with you?" she screamed, her voice echoing in the gym.
Now Ben was raising his voice, too. "It wasn't me." He lifted his injured arm as far as it would go, thanks to the sling. "How could I have done it with this?" As he said it, his eyes fell on me, and I swear his face paled a little.
"Dude, Ben McCrary is so terrified of you," Romy whispered, and I frowned.
Beth was shaking her head, and I realized Ben wasn't the only one who was afraid; Beth's red face and shrill voice weren't just from anger. Her movements jerky, she turned to the bleachers and picked up her bag, rifling through it. "I know you were upset, but this?"
She whipped something out of her backpack, and I felt my muscles tense up, but Beth wasn't brandishing anything like a weapon at Ben. It was a doll. The Barbie's hair was the same bright gold as Beth's, and it was even wearing a little cheerleading uniform in green and white, which, from all the bunting and banners covering the gym, I knew were the school colors.
But even from this distance I could see that there was something wrong with the doll. Its plastic limbs looked twisted and mangled, and there was a bright splash of red over its stomach. "This is sick!" Beth shrieked, shaking the doll, and Ben seemed to go even paler.
"Beth, I swear to God, I didn't hang that thing up in your locker." Once again, Ben gestured to his arm. "There's no way-"
"Liar!" she screamed, the word bouncing around the gym.
That was apparently enough for Coach Lewis. He turned around and blew his whistle. "Laps, all of you!"
"In here or out on the football field?" a girl asked. By this point, Beth was crying too hard to talk, and she was turning kind of purple.
The coach was a similar shade, and seemed completely flustered. "I don't care!" he snapped at the girl. "Just...go run."
I turned to Romy, only to find her staring at Ben and Beth with a strange expression on her face. "Romy?" I asked. Half the class had already starting jogging lazily around the gym, while the other half was heading for the doors.
Grabbing my sleeve, Romy tugged me toward the second group. "We need to talk to Dex."
But she didn't answer me.
Dex was on the bleachers again, huddled over a book. When he saw us, he waved and hopped down the steps.
"Did everyone get kicked out today? Was there a riot? Did you gang up to tear Ben McCrary limb from limb? Izzy led the charge, didn't she?"
"Shut up," Romy said, clearly thinking about something. In deference to Dex's asthma we walked around the track instead of running, while Romy filled Dex in on Beth's meltdown.
"Ah, high school romance. I never get tired of it," Dex said when she was finished.
"I think this is more than that," Romy said, chewing on a thumbnail. "What if the doll is like the frog?"
Dex stopped walking, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. "Okaaaay," he said slowly. "That's a...a point."
"What does any of that mean?" I asked. It was entirely too cold to be out there in a short-sleeve T-shirt and shorts, and I wished I'd brought my hoodie.
Seeing me shivering, Dex whipped off his coat and placed it around my shoulders. As he did, I caught a flash of silver on his wrist. At first I thought it was a watch, but it was actually some kind of bracelet. I was so busy trying to look for a bloodstone-I was pretty sure Dex wasn't a vamp, but it never hurt to check-that I nearly missed Romy answering me until I heard her say, "-like Mr. Snyder."
My head shot up. "What?"
"Mr. Snyder," Dex repeated. "Our current town scandal and PMS's ongoing case."
I took a deep breath, not sure how to proceed. I had to seem interested, but not too interested. "What happened?" I asked, figuring that was a safe question.
"He was nearly murdered by some sort of invisible being wielding a microscope," Romy answered.
"I'm going to need that explained to me," I said, and Dex mimed holding something over his head and bringing it down with force, making a sound like Ka-DONK.
I blew on my hands to warm them, smiling a little. "No, I understand how you can kill someone with lab equipment. It's the invisible part I'm not getting."
"Mr. Snyder was alone in that room," Romy said. "It was locked from the inside, and there aren't any windows in the lab."
That all lined up with what the newspaper article had said, although it had left out the microscope part.
"And what does the Beth doll have to do with any of that?" I asked. "And what frog?"
"About a week before Mr. Snyder nearly bit it, someone took one of the dead frogs he used in class for dissection," Dex answered, turning so that he was walking backward. "It was stuck to his door with its wee froggy head all bashed in."
I'd seen a lot of gross stuff in my day, but I still wrinkled my nose. "Ew."
"Indeed," Romy said with a shudder. "Poor frog."
"It was already dead," Dex reminded her, but Romy wasn't looking at him.
"And now the doll," she murmured under her breath.
Dex looked over the top of his sunglasses at Romy. "Sometimes I think you forget we can't all see directly into your brain, Romy. You're not exactly clarifying the situation for Izzy here."
Romy tucked her hair behind her ears. "Okay, so the police think that whoever attacked Mr. Snyder had some kind of personal grudge against him."
"Brilliant deduction on their part," Dex interjected, but Romy ignored him. "And the frog was meant as a kind of warning, some way of freaking him out. But, like we said, he was alone in the room. He swore up and down that there was no one in there and the microscope seemed to attack him on its own. Which obviously made us think ghost."
"It made you think ghost, Rome," Dex said, and Romy pushed her glasses up her nose.
"Can you think of a better explanation for a man being attacked in a locked room by something he couldn't see?"