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Authors: Mary Downing Hahn

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BOOK: Deep and Dark and Dangerous
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Emma studied the colorless lump of ice on the Popsicle stick. "With you?"

"I don't see anyone else. Do you?"

"Not now." Emma scowled at me. "But I bet we'll see Sissy later." With that, she stalked off to her room. I followed to see if she needed help with her bathing suit.

"I can do it myself," she said and closed the door in my face.

A few minutes later, the two us were wading in the shallow water along the shore. To my relief—and Emma's disappointment—Sissy wasn't in sight. The ruined castles lay where we'd left them. Emma knelt beside hers and began to repair it.

Leaving my pouty little cousin to work on her castle, I began collecting interesting stones and driftwood. I hadn't talked to Dulcie about my idea yet, but I was sure she'd let me use her potter's wheel.

After a while, Emma came over and nudged my pile of stones with her toe. "Want to play in the water?"

I took her hand, and we waded into the lake. Emma seemed almost herself. She splashed and dog-paddled in the shallow water, wallowing like a puppy.

When I noticed her lips and nails turning blue, I led her to shore and dried her with a big beach towel.

"Do you want to go back to the cottage?" I asked. "You're shivering."

Emma shook her head. Droplets of water flew from her wet hair. She spread the towel on a sunny patch of sand and sat on it. I saw her glance toward the Cove as if hoping to see Sissy.

"Why did Sissy get mad at me?" Emma asked. "We were having fun and laughing, and then all of a sudden she got mad."

I wasn't sure what to say. If I criticized Sissy, Emma would get cranky again. To avoid that, I shrugged and said I didn't know why Sissy acted the way she did. "Some kids are like that."

Emma hung her head and toyed with strands of her wet hair. "Sissy mixes me up," she whispered. "Sometimes she's nice, and other times she's mean."

"Maybe we should go to the Cove tomorrow," I said, "and find some other kids for you to play with."

Emma hunched her bony shoulders. "I don't want any friend but Sissy."

I lifted her chin so I could see her face. "You just admitted she's mean. Why do you like her so much?"

Emma pulled away, pouty again. "I wished and wished for a friend, and she came."

I looked at her more closely. "Wishing didn't have anything to do with it. You were at the beach, and she was there at the same time. That's how people meet."

Emma poked at the sand with a stick. "She came because I wanted her to come."

"That's what you think." Sissy stood a few feet away, her hands on her hips, her hair a cottony tangle. "Nobody can make me do anything. I only do what
I
want to do."

"Where did
you
come from?" I was definitely not happy to see her.

Sissy pointed toward the woods behind us. "I sneaked up on you, didn't I? I'm as quiet as an Indian."

All smiles, Emma jumped to her feet and ran to grab Sissy's hand. "I was scared you were mad at me."

Pulling her hand away, Sissy flopped down beside me. "How old are you?"

"Thirteen. Why?"

"Do you have a boyfriend?"

"No."

"When my sister was thirteen, she had a boyfriend." Sissy looked me over, taking in my skinny legs and arms. "She had a really good figure, and she wore lipstick and nail polish. She was pretty, too. In fact, she won a beauty contest when she was only fifteen—Miss Webster's Cove. She got to ride in a motorboat parade and throw roses in the water." Sissy hugged her knees to her chest as if she was holding tight to the memory.

"I didn't know you had a sister." Emma squeezed in between Sissy and me. "Why doesn't she ever come here with you?"

Sissy picked up a small scallop shell and examined it. "She's grown up now. Why would she want to hang out with kids?"

"What's her name?" Emma asked. "How old is she? Is she still Miss Webster's Cove?"

"Don't you know it's rude to ask so many questions?" Tossing the shell away, Sissy jumped to her feet and pointed at the lake. "Look at those guys out there."

Not far from shore, two boys sped toward us in a motorboat, towing a suntanned girl on water skis. Over the engine's noise, we heard them laughing and shouting to each other.

"Lucky ducks," Sissy said. "I wish I had a boyfriend with a boat." Her voice was so full of longing, I almost felt sorry for her.

"You're too young to have a boyfriend," I said. "Just wait till you're a teenager. You'll have plenty of boys to take you water-skiing."

"Don't be stupid." Sissy pulled at a strand of hair, her face angry. "I'll never have a boyfriend."

"Why do you care?" Emma said. "Boys are dumb."

Sissy gave her a look intended to wither. "What do
you
know about boys?"

Emma drew in her breath and edged away from Sissy. She wasn't about to argue.

"I'm hot," Sissy said. "Let's go swimming."

Emma jumped up and splashed into the lake behind Sissy. I followed, letting the cold water creep up my legs, chilling my skin. When she was waist deep, Sissy dove in and disappeared.

A few seconds later she popped out of the water and ducked Emma. The moment Emma came up for air, Sissy ducked her again. And again. And again. Her face was angry, her eyes cruel.

By the time I pulled Emma away, she was spluttering and coughing.

"What were you doing?" I shouted at Sissy. "You could drown somebody that way!"

Sissy paddled a few feet away, her anger replaced with a sly grin. "I was just fooling around," she said. "Don't get so worked up."

"You scared Emma."

"Can't you two take a joke?"

"It wasn't funny!" I yelled.

Emma clung to me, shivering and crying. "I want to go home!" she wailed.

"That's just where we're going." I stalked back to shore, carrying Emma. "You go home, too, Sissy. And don't come back till you can be nice."

Sissy stayed where she was, knee-deep in the lake, a skinny kid in a faded bathing suit. "I was playing," she yelled after us. "That's all. It was a game."

I guessed that was the closest to an apology we'd ever hear from Sissy. But I was still mad. And Emma was still upset.

"Never do that again!" I shouted.

With a smirk, Sissy spread her hands, palms out, and sloshed to shore. Turning toward the Cove, she walked away.

For once, Emma wasn't sorry to see her go.

 

The next morning was bright and sunny, a perfect day—too pretty to work, Dulcie said. Instead of going to the studio, she loaded Emma and me into the car and headed for the ocean. We explored the rocky cliffs and the lighthouse at Pemaquid Point, and threw bread crumbs to the seagulls like all the other tourists. We stopped in Boothbay and browsed in art galleries and craft shops. I bought two Maine T-shirts, one for me and one for my friend Staci. Dulcie treated Emma to a fuzzy handmade bear, a notebook with a hand-tooled leather cover for me, and warm wool sweaters for all three of us. On the way home, we stuffed ourselves at a fudge factory.

The next day was just as perfect as the day before. Dulcie took us to a dairy farm, where we bought slabs of pale cheese and jars of honey and blueberry preserves. We spent the afternoon riding rented horses on wooded trails.

The sunshine came to an end with an evening thunderstorm. A heavy rain fell all night and into the next morning. At breakfast, Dulcie frowned at the gray skies. "Back to work," she said glumly.

Just as Emma and I began a game of Candy Land, we heard what sounded like a scream or a shout of some kind.

"What was that?" Emma whispered.

"I don't know." I went to the door and peered out into the rain, my heart thumping with fear. Had it been a cry for help? Someone drowning?

Dulcie came running toward me, her hair wild from the wind and the rain. Her wet, paint-smeared T-shirt clung to her skinny frame, and her faded jeans dripped water.

"It's your mother," I told Emma. "Something's wrong."

Emma knocked the board aside, scattering the playing pieces, and ran outside. I followed her, unable to imagine what had happened, and stared at my aunt fearfully. I'd never seen her cry, never seen her so upset.

"My paintings," Dulcie wailed. "Someone broke into the studio and wrecked everything. All my work, my paints, my brushes."

Emma clung to her mother. "Mommy, Mommy," she sobbed. "Don't cry."

"I can't believe it," I whispered. "Who would do something like that?"

"Come and look." Dulcie ran back down the stairs to the studio.

Emma and I hurried after her. The rain pelted us, and we held tightly to the railing, afraid of slipping on the wet steps.

From the studio's doorway, Dulcie gestured at the wreckage. It looked as if someone had thrown bucketsful of sand and lake water on the floor. Paint tubes were scattered, tops off, colors oozing out. Brushes stiff with dried paint littered the worktable. Splattered with ugly shades of reds, yellows, and green, the paintings lay in a heap in a corner.

One painting leaned against the easel. In black paint and large clumsy letters, someone had scrawled:

I'M WATCHING YOU TELL THE TRUTH OR ELSE

Emma clutched her mother's hand and pointed at the painting. "Bones," she whispered. "There's bones at the bottom."

I drew in my breath. She was right. In the painting's lower right-hand corner, in the darkest part, was a small, clumsily drawn skeleton.

Hiding her face, Emma cried, "I don't want to see the bones."

I didn't want to see them, either. As scared as Emma, I looked at Dulcie. "Do you think it's—" I broke off, afraid to say Teresa's name. The damp air was full of her, she was everywhere, I could almost feel her cold hands touching my shoulders.

In a fury, Dulcie pulled away from Emma and grabbed a tube of black paint. She squeezed what was left of it on the painting, spreading it with her hands until she'd covered the words and the bones. "There—it's gone!"

"But—"

Dulcie turned on me. "I don't want to hear another word about this. It's a case of teenage vandalism—that's all." She picked up a broom. "Now, if you don't mind, I want to clean up."

I backed away, hurt by the anger in her voice. "Can't I help?"

"Take Emma to the cottage, read to her, play games, do what I hired you to do." Dulcie gripped the broom so tightly her knuckles whitened. The veins in her neck stood out like knotted cords, and she was shaking. "I'll take care of this."

I reached for Emma's hand, but she clung to Dulcie. "I want to stay with you, Mommy. Let me help you."

"You heard what I said. Go with Ali and leave me alone." Dulcie freed herself from Emma and began sweeping the sand toward the door. Underneath her mop of wild hair, her face was an odd colorless shade—ashen, I guess, like people in shock.

Emma began to cry, but Dulcie was in no mood to sympathize. "Please, Ali, take her to the cottage."

Somehow I managed to haul Emma up the steps, rain and wind and all, and get her inside.

"Mommy's mad at me," Emma sobbed. "She hates me."

"No, Em, she's not mad, just upset." Trying to comfort her, I began stripping her wet clothes off, not easy when your hands are shaking. Dulcie's anger had frightened me. I'd never seen her behave like that. But the words and the skeleton scribbled on the painting had scared me even more.

As I rubbed Emma dry with a big soft towel, I stared out the window. All I saw was rain. All I heard was the wind in the pines and the monotonous lapping of lake water. I shivered, suddenly sure something was out there, hidden in the trees, watching us.

I helped Emma into a T-shirt and fastened her overall buckles. Warm and dry, she was still shivering. After I changed my clothes, I fixed cookies and hot chocolate. Then I read all three
Lonely Doll
stories, trying to comfort myself as well as Emma.

By the time we settled down to play Candy Land, we were both feeling pretty normal. Maybe Dulcie was right. The boys we'd seen in the motorboat could have vandalized the studio.

But why had they left that message? What did they think Dulcie was lying about? Why did they draw bones on her painting? It didn't make sense.

Let Dulcie believe what she wanted, especially if it made her feel better, but those boys hadn't vandalized her studio. Someone else had.

Emma shook the dice and made her green man hop along the road to Candy Land. "Your turn, Ali."

I shook the dice and moved my blue man seven steps closer to the corner where Teresa had written her name.

What really happened the day Teresa drowned?

12

A sudden rattling sound at the front door startled me. I wasn't sure what I expected to see, but for once I was almost glad it was Sissy. Nose pressed against the screen, she yanked at the door, hooked tight against the wind. "Let me in!"

Emma went to the door. Without opening it, she frowned at Sissy. "You can't come in unless you promise to be nice."

"I
told
you I was just fooling around," Sissy said. "You have to learn to take a little teasing."

"But—"

"Can I come in or not?"

Emma reached up and slowly unhooked the door. "If you're mean, you have to go home."

Good for you, Emma,
I thought.

"You're all wet," Emma said.

"It's raining," Sissy said. "Or didn't you notice?"

"Aren't you cold?" I asked.

Sissy shook her head. Her wet hair swung, spraying water like a dog shaking itself.

"But all you have on is a bathing suit."

"So? You wear a bathing suit to go in the water. What difference does it make if you get it wet in the rain or in the lake?" Sissy's voice dripped sarcasm, just as her hair dripped water, but her teeth chattered as she spoke, and her lips were blue with cold.

I grabbed a towel from the bathroom and handed it to her. "Dry yourself off. You're dripping all over the floor."

"Do you want a sweatshirt?" Emma asked.

Sissy shrugged. Taking that as a yes, Emma ran to her room and returned with a bright yellow Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt.

"I'm not wearing that," Sissy said. "I hate yellow, and I hate Pooh."

"I do, too," Emma said quickly, even though I knew it was her favorite sweatshirt, my birthday present to her last year.

BOOK: Deep and Dark and Dangerous
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ads

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