October was soon coming to an end. And that meant one thing was on everyone’s mind: Halloween. While I thought the concept was ludicrous—really, who would believe in ghosts and goblins, and why would anyone want to dress up in stupid costumes?—everyone else at school was excited.
Grandmother was throwing a huge Halloween party this Saturday in our garden and inviting the whole school. She was making it this weekend’s special public event test, and since nobody knew I was a Lockhart, the trick was for me to keep it a secret. I couldn’t reveal that I lived here, and the servants were being instructed to treat me just like everyone else.
Our school hadn’t been planning any Halloween dance, but Grandmother had convinced Principal Tate to host it at our mansion. Together, they told everyone that this generosity on Grandmother’s part was because she and Principal Tate were good friends, and Grandmother was one of the school district’s benefactors.
But the only reason Grandmother was doing this was to spite me. She’d wanted me to attend the Homecoming game and dance, but I had luckily avoided that because it had been the same weekend that I’d played piano at the senior center. She’d wanted me to do both, but I’d argued with her that it was supposed to be only one public event per weekend. Those were the rules from the beginning, and she couldn’t change them.
So she’d planned this dance instead.
It was the Tuesday before the dance, and we’d just finished our lessons for the day. The four thieves were planning on what costumes to wear. Well, at least Tony and Stan were. Heath and Marcus were probably as excited as I was. They sat there looking incredibly bored, as Tony prattled on about how he wanted for us to be a gang of pirates and one captured highbred lady, which would be me, of course, while Stan argued for a barber quartet and one diva, me again.
Grandmother promised she would hire a tailor to make any costumes we wanted, but we had to agree on one theme by tonight in order for the tailor to be able to finish the costumes by Saturday.
“This is getting nowhere,” Heath groaned. “I want to go to bed.”
“If you and Marcus had some input, we’d be done by now,” Tony said.
Marcus looked at me. “My input is I think we should let Emma decide. This is her first real Halloween party after all.”
I glared at him. It was an automatic reflex now. I didn’t exactly hate him though. I didn’t really know how I felt about him. I’d listed the points for and against him, but they just about weighed even. Points against him were he’d forced a kiss on me in the alley, he’d tried to steal my family’s roses, and he’d threatened all the students at school in order to make them stop bullying me. Points in his favor were although he’d threatened everyone at school, he’d done that for me, and he’d only forced a kiss on me because I had been kind of a brat.
In conclusion, Marcus just confused me. So I covered up this befuddlement with antagonism instead. He didn’t make it hard to do at all, especially when he picked fights with me, just like now. I couldn’t believe he’d just passed the ball to me. And the others were agreeing with him.
“I totally forgot about that,” Stan said. “Yeah, Emma should decide.”
Stupid Marcus! I hated making decisions like this. If I chose something nobody else liked, they’d be angry with me.
“I don’t want to decide,” I said.
“Oh, come on Emma,” stupid Marcus said again. “There must be someone you’d love to be. Speak up.”
Fine, if he wanted me to speak up, I would. “I want to be myself. We should all just be ourselves.”
There, I’d said it. That was what I wanted to be, and if they didn’t like it, they’d have to pick something else by themselves.
The four thieves stared at me in stony silence, and then one by one, they broke into applause, making me very confused. Did they actually like the idea of dressing as ourselves, or were they being sarcastic? I wished I was better at reading people.
“But it won’t be fun for you if you’re just yourselves,” I protested. “Grandmother wouldn’t even have to hire a tailor.”
“That’s not true,” Tony said. “Think about it Emma. We’ll dress as the four thieves, just as you’ve dubbed us. And you’ll be the rich heiress, but nobody knows you actually are a rich heiress, so it’s the perfect costume. It’s…ironic.” He laughed manically.
“We’ll dress like bandits,” Stan added. “And this way, I get to have my tattoo back, if just for a day.”
“I like it,” Heath said. “Meeting dismissed. Bedtime for me.”
And that was that.
For the rest of the week, all anyone could talk about was the big Halloween party. It was the only subject I heard in the hallways during passing periods, during lunch, and even behind the teachers’ backs during class. Everyone was curious to meet the owner of Splash and Spray whom they’d only seen on television and in newspapers. But they were even more interested in finally catching a glimpse of Mrs. Lockhart’s elusive granddaughter, rumored to either be closeted somewhere in the attic or to be haunting the mansion.
Most people believed the latter, and it made Lockhart Mansion the perfect backdrop for a spooky Halloween party.
“Oooo…haunted mansion,” Jasmine Carwarner, the star of our school’s swim team, remarked in the hall. She was actually pretty nice, as she’d been one of the few who hadn’t ever bullied me. She’d even helped me clean my hair several times after catching people throwing food at me. “I wonder how the granddaughter died. Poor girl. Such a tragedy to die so young.”
“Am I the only one who doesn’t believe she’s dead?” her friend replied with a scoff. This girl was Julie Poray, the editor of the school newspaper. “I still think she’s hiding somewhere in that mansion, and I’m going to find out the real story on Saturday.”
“I wonder if the granddaughter was pretty,” Jasmine, ignoring Julie. “I’ll bet she was. All rich girls have that elegant, sparkling quality to them. We’ll have to find a picture.”
“Now you’re talking,” Julie said. “A picture would be gold for the paper.”
If only they knew if they just turned around and snapped my picture, it would save them the trouble of snooping around my house. And I was far from having any kind of elegant, sparkling quality.
All the curiosity regarding Mrs. Lockhart’s granddaughter was making me nervous. If Julie or someone else decided to poke their noses around my house, they might discover my identity. I knew Grandmother was taking extra precautions, making sure all our pictures were out of sight, but still…there was a chance the servants might miss something. And then everyone would find out who I really was, and I’d fail this weekend’s public event test, and everyone would know the real Emmaline Lockhart didn’t have that “elegant, sparkling quality” to her, as Jasmine had predicted.
I needed to calm down. I felt like throwing up, and I could feel one of my tantrums coming on. From beside me, Heath put a steadying hand on my shoulder. He was the only one who noticed my panicked state.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll make sure everything goes well.”
His words made me feel a little better, as I remembered at least the four thieves would be there to help me. But asking me to stop worrying was like asking a cat not to torment a bird. It was asking the cat and me to go against our natures.
The servants had already removed all signs of my presence in the house by the time I came home from school on Friday. My pictures had been removed from all walls and shelves and were safely stored away somewhere in the cellar, which would be locked during the party. After the four thieves and I dressed, our rooms would be locked before the party, and we wouldn’t have access to them until everyone left.
In the back of my mind, I knew it would be near impossible for anyone to discover my secret simply by nosing their way through the house. Even so, I was awake the entire night, thinking about all the different ways the party could go horribly wrong. As dawn drew near, I’d thought of fifty-two worst-case scenarios before finally falling asleep for all of an hour. I was groggy and grouchy the rest of the day.
At about three o’clock, I heard the first of our guests begin to arrive. It was only the set-up crew, come to decorate the house and get the party organized. They weren’t allowed anywhere near my corner of the house, but even so, I sneaked a peek from behind the banister of the stairs. There was a group of about twenty of them, all looking wide-eyed and curious as they made their way through the foyer. At the head of them was Jasmine Carwarner, looking none the less intrigued as the rest of them. If she knew I was Emmaline Lockhart, I wondered if that curiosity would be replaced with contempt. Sighing, I headed back to my room to get ready.
The costume I was wearing was made of blue silk, draped in a shimmery, silver sheen. It was strapless and flared out like flower petals to reach just past my toes but still not quite hit the ground when I walked. They hid the fact that I was wearing simple silver flats. As much as Grandmother would have liked me to wear heels, she knew I wasn’t ready for them and would trip after taking one step.
I was also wearing matching elbow-length gloves and a sapphire necklace with matching sapphire earrings. They looked expensive, but hopefully none of the kids was an expert at jewelry, because if they were, they’d know I had half a million dollars draped around my neck and dangling from my ears.
Once again, I thought about what a bad idea this party was, but it was too late to do anything now.
And to make sure people knew who I was trying to be, I held a simple black clutch that was marked with the famous white rose emblem that represented Splash and Spray. Added to that, Betsy curled my hair high above my head, and added several Lockhart Mimics to decorate, just as Grandmother did whenever she went to a company party. I also wore a corsage around my wrist, which consisted of a sole gardenia of the species jasminoides, to represent Splash and Spray’s other famous scent, Secret Love. Two sprays of Midnight Rose perfume, and the fragrance permeated the room.
If people couldn’t figure out who I was trying to be, there was no help for them. But I just hoped they wouldn’t guess I was dressing as myself.
Then again, I wasn’t really dressing as myself.
I was dressed as the heiress, Miss Emmaline Lockhart, as other people expected her to be, if the rumors of her death were untrue. But she was so far from being the real Emmaline Lockhart that she felt like a different person to me.
It was a strange experience. I’d been Emmaline Lockhart all my life, but I’d never felt less like her than I did right now as I stared into the mirror. It was as though I really was a ghost haunting Lockhart Mansion, looking at an imposter pretending to be me.
“You’re beautiful, Miss Emma,” Betsy breathed in admiration.
But I hardly heard her. I was still having this out-of-body experience, even though I was fully conscious. I was starting to feel a little sick. People would love the Emmaline Lockhart in the mirror if she were real. It was too bad she was a fraud.
“Oh, please don’t cry, Miss,” Betsy exclaimed. “You’ll ruin your makeup.” She quickly retrieved a tissue and dabbed at the stray tear running down my cheek. I hadn’t even realized I’d been crying.
Betsy hugged me from the side so she wouldn’t ruin my dress. “Miss Emma, there’s no reason to be nervous. You’ll be fine.” A knock sounded on the door. “Oh, it must be the four thieves, as you call them.” She rushed to open the door.
In came four bandits, dressed in black from head to toe. Their bandanas covered the tops of their heads, exposing only the slits of their eyes. They all wore the same costumes, but I knew who was who based on height alone. But even if they were the same height, their personalities were so different that I would never mix them up. Stan and Tony came in first, followed by Heath, and Marcus remained outside the door.
“Hey hot stuff,” Tony said. When I looked at him blankly, he said, “That means you look pretty, not that you’re a hot casserole baking in the oven.”
“Oh, in that case, thank you.” I tried to smile.
“Were you crying?” This question came from Stan. He looked worried.
Heath instantly came to my side. “What’s wrong?”
“No,” I said quickly. “It’s..the makeup. I’m not used to it, and it made me tear up a little.”
Thankfully, the boys accepted this as a valid excuse and didn’t try to question further. We snuck past the set-up team, too busy hanging up decorations to be aware of our presence, and went out to the front driveway, where Porter waited for us in a regular red minivan. He was going to drive us around until the first guests started to trickle in before we went into the party, just to make sure nobody saw us leave from the house and wondered about it.
About twenty minutes later, we entered through the front garden gate. I knew this place inside and out, and yet now, it was almost unrecognizable. The garden had been transformed into this gothic, enchanted forest. Chinese lanterns hung from the trees, casting an ethereal, orange light on the entire garden. Cobwebs zig-zagged through the bushes, while fake spiders and an occasional real one dangled from them.
There were also the usual Halloween decorations—fake blood and ghosts and severed hands. But the scariest decoration, in my opinion, was the most unique decoration that most Halloween parties would never have. And this decoration was real.
The refreshment table was decorated with flowers from the Chiranthodendron pentadactylon, also known as the Devil’s Hand Tree, Hand Tree Flower, or Monkey Hand Tree. Native to Guatemala and southern Mexico, the tree from which the flower came was quickly becoming endangered, but we were lucky enough to have been given a tree as a present from one of Grandmother’s business partners, and I made sure it was kept in the humidified temperatures under which it thrived. The blossoms were the perfect creepy Halloween decoration because each flower was shaped exactly like a red claw. An individual blossom had five red stamens that branched out like fingers, and each “finger” contained yellow pollen that looked like “knuckles.” The older the bloom, the more the fingers curled like a claw.
Guests trickled in slowly, each dressed in colorful, interesting costumes. I saw everything from witches to mermaids, vampires to sushi chefs. There were even anime cosplayers, dressed as some of my favorite characters. Some girl was dressed like Mina, and I was a little disappointed I hadn’t thought of it.
But the four thieves were pleased with our costumes, and all that mattered was that they were having fun.
Tony slipped away to enter the bobbing for apples contest, but not before he made us promise to watch when the time came. And Stan wandered off to the dance floor to attempt to get a girl to dance with him.
“Why bother? You know they’re all scared of you,” Heath commented.
“Not the girls with a little bad in them.” Stan winked at me. “And the bad girls are the best.”
Two minutes later, we saw him dancing with an angel. The girl’s name was Mindy Chen, and she was president of Math Club.
“Well, would you look at that?” Heath whistled. “There’s hope for the rest of us yet.”
“I don’t think the girls are that scared of all of you,” I said. “Just him.” I pointed at Marcus.
“Hey!” he scowled.
“See?” I pointed out. “People are bound to be scared of someone who never smiles.”
Heath burst into laughter. “She does make a good case, Marcus. You need to lighten up a bit.”
“And what about you, Miss Pot?” Marcus accused me.
“Huh?” That wasn’t my name. Was Marcus using a code name so nobody would overhear us? In that case, he should have said Miss Hartley, or just Emma.
“I don’t think she’s learned that idiom yet,” Heath told Marcus. Then he turned to me and explained. “The pot calls the kettle black. It’s an idiom that means someone accuses another person of being something while not realizing he’s guilty of the same thing.”
I thought about this for a moment before slowly nodding. “Oh, I see.” I began reasoning it out. “The pot is calling the kettle black even though the pot is burned black too. So when Marcus called me Miss Pot, he was insinuating that I’m like the pot.” Now I glared back at Marcus. “And that is so not true. I do too smile.”
“I have yet to see that miracle,” he snorted.
“That’s because the mere sight of you doesn’t make me want to smile,” I retorted.
“All right, children,” Heath spoke over us. “Let’s not waste time fighting at a party. We’re supposed to be having fun. I want to try getting through that maze. I heard it’s spooked up for Halloween, with servants dressed as zombies that jump out at you.”
We had a maze in the garden, just like in the old Victorian gardens. I’d gotten lost there when I was eight, but I’d managed to reason if I just kept turning right, I’d eventually get out. And ever since then, it hadn’t been much of a challenge anymore. I wasn’t scared of the zombies either, since I recognized all the servants.
“You should go then,” I told Heath. “But I know that place inside and out, so it wouldn’t be fun if I went with you. I’d just give away the path.”
“See? Who’s the party-pooper now?” Marcus taunted.
“Do you want to try it with me?” Heath asked.
“Oh God no,” Marcus shuddered. “Imagine all the make-out sessions taking place. It’s something I’d rather not witness.”
“I doubt anyone would make-out with zombies chasing them,” Heath sighed. “But fine, you two are both party-poopers, and I’m going by myself.”
As soon as Heath disappeared, I aimed a knowing glance at Marcus.
“You’re afraid of zombies, aren’t you?”
“No,” he quickly denied, but the flare of red in his cheeks betrayed him.
“You so are.” This time he didn’t try to deny it. “I don’t get it though,” I said, thinking about how many times I’d watched him and the others shoot down zombies in the video game they loved. “How can you play Zombie Shooters if you’re afraid of zombies?”
“Because I’m shooting them,” he said. “I’m doing the chasing, not them. Plus, I tend to punch anything that jumps out at me. Instant reflex. I doubt your grandma would appreciate it if I punched the servants.”
“You’re just like Mina,” I exclaimed. “She’s scared of people jumping out at her too. Is it because you were traumatized when you were little?”
“No.” He looked me square in the eye. “And if you tell anyone about any part of this conversation, I swear I’ll—”
“I’m not scared of you,” I said. “The worst you can do is kiss me again.” My hands flew to my mouth. Had I actually said that out loud?
Now we were both embarrassed. We sat there, looking at anything but each other. Then I heard him clear his throat. “So…would you like to dance? I mean, we’re supposed to be integrating you into the party, not keeping you on the sidelines.”
“I don’t know how though.”
“You don’t know how to dance?” he looked at me incredulously. “But I thought all rich girls had to learn how to dance.”
“I mean, I don’t know how to do what they’re doing.” I nodded my head to the dance floor. “I only know ballroom dances, but that’s not what they’re doing.” I didn’t know what they were doing, but it looked like they were just jogging in place with their hands up, and to me, it looked just plain dumb. “I refuse to look like an idiot and do that.” Some guy dressed as a devil danced past us, jiggling like a chicken.
“That is not normal,” Marcus agreed. “Most people would also say that looks wrong. But you’re right, these days, the dancing looks a lot like running on a treadmill. All right then, we don’t have to dance.” He looked a bit relieved.
“You don’t like to dance, do you?”
“You’re starting to be able to read people better,” he commented, impressed. The fact that I’d managed to amaze him was a miracle.
“I guess I am,” I said. “I figured out two of your fears: zombies and dancing.”
“All right, first of all, I’m not scared of zombies. I just get a little edgy when people dressed as zombies jumping out at me. And second, dancing is not a fear either. I just don’t like it.” But he was smiling now. Another miracle.
“Yay, you’re smiling,” I said. “You should do it more often. You look handsome.”
Now his smile grew bigger. “A compliment about me from the Ice Queen? This must be a dream. The real Emma must have karate kicked me to unconsciousness again.”
Now it was my turn to laugh.
“Well, the same can be said about you,” he said. “Smile more. You look pretty when you do.”
As soon as he said this, a boy dressed in black accompanied by a cape, a walking cane, and a top hat—I wasn’t sure who he was dressed as—walked up to us. As I got a closer view of his face, I recognized him as Dave Colter. He bowed. “Miss Emmaline Lockhart, I presume.”
I blinked, for a second wondering if my identity had been discovered, until I realized he was only talking about my costume.
“Oh..yes, Emmaline Lockhart, that’s me,” I said, trying not to sound nervous. “Even though I’m really Emma Hartley pretending to be the heiress.” Oh curses, why had I said that?
“That’s a clever costume idea,” the boy said. Then he saw Marcus and almost jumped out of his skin. “Oh, I didn’t realize you had a date.”
“I’m not her date, Dave, or should I say, the Amazing David Copperfield, the magician, not the Charles Dickens’ character,” Marcus added the magician part for my benefit, I knew, even though Dave was now giving him a funny look. It was a good thing he’d mentioned it because the book character from David Copperfield was the only David Copperfield I knew. I wondered at the strange coincidence of there being a magician of the same name. His parents must have adored Charles Dickens.
“Feel free to ask the lady for a dance.”
“Oh, right,” Dave said. “Miss Lockhart, will you come dance with me?”
“But I can’t,” I protested, but Dave urged me up persistently.
“That’s all right, I can’t either,” he said. “The secret is to pretend you can, just like everyone else. Don’t worry, just follow me.”
I looked to Marcus for help, but he was urging me away with a wave of his hand, his eyes reminding me that the whole point of this dance was to teach me to interact with people, and what better way to interact than dancing? So I took a deep breath and followed Dave.