Curling her fingers around the edges of the volume, Mom scooted it away, just the tiniest bit. "Nothing you need to worry about. Just something I'm looking into for Maya."
She inhaled sharply through her nose, the same way Finn always did right after she told a lie. My chest tightened, and I fought the urge to yank the book back, to see for myself what Mom was so interested in. It had to be about Finley. But if it was, why wouldn't she tell me, let me help her?
Because she's afraid you're going to screw it up, a voice hissed in my head. Because if you had just gone into the house with Finley that night, she might still be here.
Blinking against a sudden stinging in my eyes, I just nodded. "Okay."
The silence that hung over the table was threatening to turn awkward, so I cleared my throat and said, "You know, the only part of the Mary Evans things that doesn't make sense to me is the frog and the Barbie."
Mom rested her elbows on the book in front of her. "You're right. There are plenty of stories about ghosts attacking people, but that level of physical manipulation...it would take a lot of energy. That's not just wielding a weapon; that's planning."
I nodded, drumming my fingers on the table. "It seems kind of advanced for a ghost."
"Advanced, yes, but not unheard of."
Mom and I both jumped as Torin's voice floated through the kitchen. I glanced around, wondering where he could be, and my eyes landed on the clock above the stove. It was framed in a beveled mirror, and even though all the little pieces of Torin were hard to make out, I could still see him in there.
"Torin, you know you're supposed to keep to your mirror," Mom said, getting up and heading for the clock. She lifted it off the wall, and Torin made an aggrieved sound.
I stood up from the table, leaning one hand against it. "Have you seen something like this before?"
Mom stopped, the mirrored clock held out from her body. I couldn't see Torin's face, but I heard him clearly when he answered, "Only once. My coven raised a particularly nasty ghost. On their own, spirits are usually harmless, but if they've been summoned forth by any type of magic, well. Completely different kettle of fish."
Lowering the clock to the table, Mom considered that. "So you think a witch or a warlock could have somehow raised this spirit?"
"Possibly." Mom had put the clock facedown, so Torin's voice came out muffled. "Or, at the very least, powered it up. Isolde mentioned that there had been very basic haunting activity at this school for quite some time. So why now? What changed in the past few months to turn an ordinary specter into something that can perform such feats as securing a dead frog to a door, or mutilating a toy?"
I chewed my lip. How long had Dex been in Ideal? It couldn't be a coincidence that just when this guy, who was clearly something, showed up, Mary Evans had become Uber-Ghost.
But Mom just shrugged. "Well, it's not like it matters. Powerful or not, ghosts are easy to dispose of. And we just have a few more days until the full moon. Izzy will get rid of it, and that will be that."
Except that I wasn't sure that would be that. If someone was raising ghosts, what was to stop them from raising another one once Mary Evans was gone? For just a second, it was on the tip of my tongue to tell Mom about Dex. But what if I did, and she decided this case was too big for me after all, and just decided to take it over herself?
I glanced at the pile of books on the table-Mom's super-secret "research" that she still wouldn't tell me about.
If she was going to keep her secrets, I would keep mine.
"Here." Romy added a sweater to the pile in my arms. "Redheads look good in green."
I cast a doubtful look at the sweater. "This...doesn't look like green."
The shade should've been called "Radioactive" or maybe "Noxious." That had been one of our vocabulary words this morning.
Frowning, Romy reached into the rack and pulled out a black skirt. "Here, Ninja Lady," she said, tossing it to the top of my stack. "You can wear it with black."
We'd been shopping for over an hour, and Romy had already talked me into a pink blouse, two pairs of jeans that were not black, three T-shirts in various shades of purple, and even a yellow sundress. "First day of spring, if I don't see you rocking this, I'm going to be very disappointed," Romy had said when she'd shoved it into my arms.
"Deal," I'd replied, even as a little voice inside my head reminded me that I wouldn't be in Ideal in the spring.
Now I gently put back both the green sweater and the black skirt. "I think we're set, Romy. My mom's credit card can only take so much."
Romy heaved a huge sigh and ran her fingers longingly over the green sweater. "What if I bought it, and then you could borrow it sometimes?"
I laughed. "Clearly, you and that sweater were meant to be."
Once we left the store, we still had nearly half an hour to kill before her mom was due to pick us up. Ideal had one mall, and while it wasn't exactly upscale, there were a few nice stores, and I had to admit, the smells wafting from the food court were pretty tempting. But rather than head that way, Romy steered us toward a particularly sad-looking toy store.
"You know, I'm actually all stocked up on My Little Ponies," I told her as she dragged me through the entrance. Romy rolled her eyes.
"First of all, no girl can ever have enough My Little Ponies. That's just science. But secondly, we're not here for those. I need to get a new Ouija board. The one we have is all scratched up and smells like school."
Oh, right. The seance was coming up. I'd promised Mom I'd stop it, and what had I been doing instead? Going to basketball games. Shopping for clothes.
"Are we really gonna do the seance thing?" I asked as Romy moved toward the board game section.
"Um, yeah. Whenever I get another free night, that is." Walking her fingers down stacks of boxes, she finally found the one she was looking for. "Aha!"
As she pulled the Ouija board from the shelf, I shifted my bags to my other arm and put a hand on the box. "Look, I love a good seance, but Ouija boards are so old-fashioned. Isn't there something more...technical we could use?"
Romy didn't take her hand away from the box, but she did frown thoughtfully. "Like what?"
"I don't know. Didn't Anderson just get a new EMP reader? Maybe let him use that. And, I mean, honestly, Romy, do you trust Dex with a Ouija board?"
It was the right thing to say. Romy visibly flinched. "Ugh. You're right. He'll just push it around to say inappropriate things and then swear it was Mary Evans, 'that saucy wench' or something."
I couldn't help but laugh. "Yes. Yes, he will do exactly that."
The box slid back onto the shelf. "Anderson has been wanting to try out his EMP recorder. See if we can record any ghostly energy spikes. And even Dex can't screw that up." Then she wrinkled her nose. "Except he probably could."
I tried not to sigh with relief as Romy turned away from the board games. "Awesome," I said. "Besides, I've been wanting to see what kind of gear Anderson has." Mostly to make sure it didn't actually work, but I didn't tell Romy that.
We left the toy store, making our way down the mall toward the entrance. Some '80s soft rock ballad was playing, and a harried-looking mom walked past us, a little kid tugging on her hand. A few feet away, there was a big fountain splashing turquoise-colored water, a couple of girls sitting on the edge, giggling together.
"Are you an alien?"
"What?" I asked, turning to Romy. She was smiling, but there was genuine curiosity in her dark eyes.
"You're looking around the mall like you've never been in one before. And sometimes you look around the school that way, too."
"Oh," I said, heat rising to my face. So much for "blending in."
"Where did you live before this?" Romy asked, maneuvering around a couple of old ladies power walking.
"Tennessee." Immediately, I wondered if I should add more, so I hurried on. "I went to a really small all-girls school, so, yeah, this is all a little new to me."
That apparently satisfied Romy. "Okay. So why did your mom pull you out of that place and move you to freaking Ideal, Mississippi, a.k.a. The Most Boring Town on Earth?"
"Oh, I don't know," I said, swinging my bag. "My last school didn't have ghosts. Or ghost hunters for that matter." I thought about Ivy Springs, the way Leslie and her identical cousin, Lila, would sometimes laugh together and link arms and bump hips and stuff. I wondered if I should attempt a hip bump now.
But Romy was a lot taller than me, so my hip would just hit her thigh, and...yeah, we could skip that bit.
Suddenly her entire face brightened and she grabbed my arm. "Oh! Speaking of ghost hunters..."
She reached into her purse, fishing around for something. "Remember when you asked if there was some connection between Beth and Mr. Snyder? You know, something that wasn't gross and illegal?"
"Right," I said as I dodged a couple of kids with balloons tied around their wrists.
"Well, I did a little Internet sleuthing and found this." She pulled a folded-up piece of paper out and handed it to me. It was a mention on the Mary Evans High Web site. The title read, MEHS CELEBRATES AN 'IDEAL' HISTORY.
"So last year, the school did this big thing about the history of the town and how many students and faculty had had family here when Ideal was founded. And check it." She pointed at the picture. "There's Beth, there's Snyder."
I recognized Beth easily enough, also noting that Adam and Anderson were in the picture. Mr. Snyder, a dark-haired guy who looked to be around thirty, was the only adult.
"I mean, it's not much, but it's something, right?" Romy was watching me with big dark eyes.
"Yeah," I agreed, studying the photo.
They have to pay, Mary had said. Thought. Felt. Whatever all of that shrieking in my head had been. But Mary had frozen to death, according to the legend. A crappy way to go, but not exactly something you could blame other people for. But what if Mary did hold someone responsible and was seeking revenge through that person's descendants? Stranger things had happened.
"I still wonder why now, though. A hundred years she's been dead, and she just now decides to go crazy?" I glanced over at Romy.
She shrugged. "Who knows why ghosts do things?" Then she grinned. "Ooh, or maybe our town is, like, built over the underworld! And psychic evil energy is just now leaking into Ideal." She mulled that over like a little kid making a Christmas list. "Man, think of all the ghosts we'd have then," she said wistfully, and I nearly laughed.
I wasn't sure how anyone could be excited about their town potentially being a portal to Hell, but I clapped a hand on Romy's shoulder and said, "We can only hope."
A few days later, I sat at the dinner table with Mom, twirling spaghetti around my fork. "So Mrs. Steele was telling us that Macbeth was a real person who really killed a king, but that the witches and the ghosts were all made up. Which, I mean, obviously they weren't."
I took a bite of pasta, chewing and swallowing before saying, "It's lame. I think everyone would be a lot more interested in the play if they knew how real it all was. Maybe I'll write something about that in my essay."