They spotted me around the same time, and Romy waved, gesturing for me to come join them. I picked my way up to the very top of the bleachers, trying not to step on anyone's hand.
Once I was there, Anderson scooted closer to Romy, leaving a space between him and Dex. I squeezed into it, and if my hip bumped Dex's, so what? Everybody was practically sitting in each other's laps as it was.
"Look at you," Dex enthused, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "Embracing school spirit, supporting school athletics."
"Yeah," I said, "I'm here-"
But before I could say anything about Adam, Romy leaned across Anderson and said, "It's actually awesome that you showed up. This is kind of an impromptu PMS meeting."
Dex rolled his eyes. "By which Romy means she tricked me and Anderson with the promise of manly things like sports only to foist her ghost-hunting agenda on us once we got here."
"I knew it was a PMS meeting," Anderson offered in his deep voice. "I hate sports."
Dex flung his hand out toward the court. "Well, I don't. I have a very vested interest in watching those dudes in blue beat the ever-loving crap out of the Mary Evans High Hedgehogs."
"Wait, our mascot is the hedgehog?" I asked.
"Up until a few years ago it was a Confederate soldier," Anderson told me. "But then everyone decided that was offensive, so they'd let the student body vote on a new one. That's how we'd ended up with the Mary Evans High Hedgehogs."
He nodded, and for the first time, I saw the mascot. He was standing near the cheerleaders. There'd been some attempt to make him look tough. The hedgehog's quills had been tipped with silver paint to make them look sharp, and his face was twisted into a snarl.
But all the quills and fierce expressions couldn't disguise the fact that, at the end of the day, the mascot was just a six-foot-tall hedgehog.
It was hard to tear my eyes away from that spectacle, but I finally turned to Romy and asked, "So what ghost business are you working on tonight?"
Romy huffed out a breath, ruffling her bangs. "Well, it was supposed to be the seance. My mom got off early tonight, so it was the perfect chance, but when we got here, the stupid trailer was locked."
Looking at me, she added, "I tried texting you like a billion times."
I'd left my phone at home. I still wasn't used to carrying it around, which I obviously needed to get better about. I really didn't want these three doing a seance.
"Romy asked us to break a window," Dex said, "but I told her I was not prepared to commit a crime, even in the name of science."
"Any chance you'll have another free night soon?" Anderson asked.
Before Romy could answer, Dex said, "Why is Adam Lipinski coming toward us?"
"Oh!" I had kind of forgotten about Adam. But there he was, making his way up the bleachers with two cups in his hands. "He's, um...we're here together," I said, and almost as one, Romy, Dex, and Anderson turned to look at me.
"Like, you're on a date?" Romy asked, both eyebrows raised. "And you came to sit with us?"
"He said to find seats," I told her, lifting one shoulder in a shrug.
"He probably meant for the two of you," Dex said, pulling his leg as far away from mine as he could. "And preferably seats that didn't have you wedged between two other guys."
Romy was already at the very end of the row, and Anderson was as close to her as he could get. Dex had a little space on his side, and he scooted away from me, giving Adam just enough room to squeeze in between us.
He handed me my Coke, the cup icy and slick in my hand. "Thanks," I murmured, suddenly unsure and embarrassed again. Was I not supposed to sit with my friends? Was that why Adam's shoulders were all...weird?
Taking a sip of my drink, I wondered why it was there were a million books on ghosts and legends and monsters, and nothing useful like, How to Go On a Normal Date Without Looking Like a Total Spaz.
"You guys talking ghost stuff?" Adam asked, and next to me, I felt Anderson tense a little.
But Romy leaned over, pleasantly surprised. "We were, actually. Okay, so everyone knows that this place has a ghost, and-"
"And you guys are going to slap on your tinfoil hats and get rid of it?"
Adam said it with a little smile, but it still sounded... snide. Mean, even.
Romy's expression hardened and she turned her attention back to the court. "No, we only use our tinfoil hats when there are aliens involved."
On Adam's other side, Dex sighed dramatically and leaned back against the wall, pulling his sunglasses out and slapping them on his face. He then stretched out his long legs, crossing them at the ankle, and folded his hands over his stomach.
Frowning, I leaned forward a little, trying to see past Anderson. "So, since the seance didn't work out, what PMS business are you dealing with tonight?" I asked Romy.
Her eyes flicked back to Adam for a second before she said, "I just thought with the mutilated doll and everything, we might need to keep an eye on Beth."
"She's cheering tonight," Anderson offered, nodding down at the gym floor. Sure enough, there was Beth standing in a line with a bunch of other girls in green and white, silver pom-poms in her hand. I remembered the doll wearing a rough copy of that same outfit, all mangled and covered in fake blood.
Then next to me, Adam snorted and said, "Oh, that psycho Barbie she found in her locker? Please, that was totally just Ben being a jerk."
"It's more than just that," Romy said, but Adam rattled the ice in his drink and rolled his eyes. "Of course it is. You know, Romy, this ghost hunter thing was cute when we were all in elementary school, but now it just makes you a weirdo. You get that, right?"
"Better a weirdo than a jackass," Dex muttered.
"You're one to talk, dude," Adam fired back, but Dex gave no indication he'd heard him.
"Whatever." Adam stood up and looked down at me. "I'm out of here. Izzy, you coming?"
As I stared up at him, I realized something. I wasn't irritated that Adam had interrupted Romy and screwed up my chances at getting more info. I was irritated because Dex was right. He was a jackass.
"No," I told him, curling my hands around the bleacher. "I think I'll stay here."
Adam hadn't been expecting that, I could tell. For a second he looked confused and then, I thought, hurt. But just as quickly, he gave me the same look he'd given Romy. "Okay, fine," he said, walking down a row. "The girl who's never seen TV before probably belongs with these freaks anyway."
With that, he turned and left. The four of us watched him go. Only when he was at the very bottom did Dex say, "Izzy, I don't think your new boyfriend is very nice."
I didn't bother to correct him about Adam being my "boyfriend." So my first date was a total bust, then. But why, watching him walk away, did I feel so...I don't know, relieved?
And then something else occurred to me. "Oh, crap. He was supposed to drive me home."
Dex slid his sunglasses down his nose, but before he could say anything, Romy leaned over. "My mom is coming to get me in like an hour. We can drive you home."
"Great," I told her, ignoring the tiny flicker of disappointment. I needed more of a chance to talk to Romy anyway.
There was a sudden shout from the crowd as-I guess-our team scored points. Everyone around us shot to their feet, clapping, but the four of us stayed in our seats.
"Well, Isolde," Dex said over the noise, "how does it feel to have declared for Team Outcast?"
I couldn't help but laugh. "Good," I told him, and I was surprised to discover I meant it.
By the time the game was nearly over, I still didn't really understand basketball, but I did learn that Dex's Nana texted him about every ten minutes any time he was away from the house, that Romy twisted one strand of hair around her finger every time Anderson said something to her, and that Anderson had, up until junior high, actually been a pretty decent basketball player himself.
"Busted my knee waterskiing," he told me, tapping the kneecap in question. "But it was all good. Led to me looking for other ways to spend my time, and then I found Ro-uh, found the club. Ghost hunting seemed like a lot more fun than throwing a stupid ball into a basket, anyway."
"Anderson here is a reformed jock," Dex said. "Which he didn't bother to tell me until we'd already been friends for a month. By then it was too late to shun him, as I should have."
Grinning, Anderson reached over me and thwacked Dex's head, sending his sunglasses tumbling.
Dex gave an outraged cry. "I am affronted! That's it, friendship rescinded."
Anderson just leaned back against the wall and laughed. "Like you said, bro, too late." He turned his gaze down to me. "Of course, if you want to escape this madness while you still can, I wouldn't blame you."
"Hey!" Romy leaned over, laying a proprietary hand on my arm. "We finally have another girl in the group. Please don't run her off just yet."
It was weird watching their easiness with each other, and then seeing them treat me like that, too. I'd never really missed having friends-you can't miss something you've never had-but I hadn't realized how, well, awesome they could be, either.
I stood up. "I'm gonna run to the bathroom. Be right back."
Romy looked like she was about to get up, too. "Do you want me to come with you?"
I hesitated, one foot awkwardly lifted over the bleacher below me. "I know where it is," I told her, remembering that I'd seen a girls' room in the gym lobby.
But that must've been the wrong answer, because Romy seemed puzzled. "Oh, okay."
I made my way back down the bleachers, and when I got to the front of the gym, I suddenly saw why Romy had offered to come with me. There were...groups of girls huddled outside the bathroom, talking, laughing, some sharing lip gloss. Crap, was that a thing girls who were friends were supposed to do with one another?
Sighing, I turned to the gym doors, noticing that just up the hill there were lights on in the school. There were bathrooms up there, and maybe they wouldn't be so crowded.
It had gotten colder, and I shivered a little as I jogged up toward the school. Luckily, the main breezeway door was unlocked, and I knew the bathroom was just inside, past the lockers.
Flyers pinned to a bulletin board ruffled in the breeze as I yanked open the door. The hall was dark, although there were two rectangles of light from the bathroom doors. I was headed for them when a glow suddenly filled the hall.
For one second I thought someone had just flipped on another light, but no. This wasn't the harsh fluorescent of the hallway lighting, or the dull amber of the bathroom. This was slightly bluish and very, very familiar.
Taking a deep breath, I steeled my nerves and turned around.
Mary Evans floated in the hall just behind me, her long white dress barely brushing the ground. In the picture Romy had shown me, her hair had been styled into some sort of fancy updo, but now it straggled down her back. She didn't speak, but her eyes roamed over me, confusion on her translucent face.
"Hi, Mary," I said, my voice loud in the quiet hall. Okay. This was good. This was confirmation that the ghost stalking Mary Evans High was in fact Mary Evans. But it was hard to feel glad about that when I remembered that the same ghost had nearly killed a guy.