My first impression of the house wasn’t paranormal. I was only six years old when we moved into the Big Blue House, so I paid attention to the house size and features, like how I would have my own room. I remember all the activity starting right around my thirteenth birthday, though. It just started, and it hasn’t stopped since.
“We have five out of the seven classes together. The only ones we don’t have together are social studies and math.”
Baker was my first best friend that was a girl. Since second grade, my best friends were Cody, Nick and Doug. Boys play better games at recess, and tell better jokes. Becoming best friends with Baker in sixth grade orchestra showed me that girls can be fun, too.
“Oh, yeah?” I said, taking back my schedule. I folded it and tucked it into my backpack.
It was the end of the first day of a new year. We were following the crowd of seventh graders through the double doors into the small gym where my P.E. class would be again this year.
Across the gym from us the sixth graders were going out their own door. It was funny to think that Baker and I had gone out that door last year and were now going out this door. Next year we will be going out the door in the large gym, and then after that, we won’t be going here anymore. We’ll be going to high school.
“Are you scared you’re gonna forget your lock combination again?” Baker said.
“You’re quiet. Are you okay? Do you miss your sister?”
I glanced back at the sixth graders. Sara was in there somewhere, but she had her own friends and wouldn’t ever notice me. Oh wait. “There she is,” I said. “She sees me! HII, SARA!” I whipped my hand back and forth in the air. Her eyes got real wide when she saw me doing it, and she waved back. I realized then that I was probably embarrassing her, which only made me happier for some reason.
“Did you see the new P.E. uniforms?” Baker said.
“I like it better than last year’s. What do you think?”
“Yeah, I didn’t like the light blue.”
“Who’s your stand partner this year?” I said.
“Savannah. You get Charles. Ugh,” she said.
“I know, he had violin lessons, but he’s so shy, it’s crazy!” I said.
“He’s not on our team this year,” Baker said.
Every grade has two teams, a red and blue team, because there are so many kids in such a small middle school. If you’re on the blue team, you have the strict teachers who always follow the rules; the red team has the nice teachers who give you bags of candy on the first day. I never had those teachers, thank God. They drive me crazy breaking the rules.
“I know,” I whined, only because I would miss joking with Charles in class. “At least we get to see him in orchestra.”
The buses were starting their engines. That was the drivers’ ways of telling all us kids to hurry it on up or they’re leaving without us. I said bye to my best friend. Beautiful Elizabeth Baker was funny and not a lot of people understood her, but I seemed to get her. I think she’s a blast, and she gives the best warm hugs.
“Bye, Baker! See ya tomorrow.”
Waving, Baker hurried to her bus. I ran to the bus and took my usual seat. Miss Patti was a really nice bus driver. She really liked me, too, because I follow the rules so she keeps the first seat on the right reserved for me. Not that any of the kids want to sit in the front anyway. They’re afraid she’ll hear them talking about her or that they’ll get in trouble.
Sara is back there with those kids. She sometimes sits in the middle, but most of the time she’s at the back with Tristan and Suzanne. Sometimes I’m glad she does. Gives me time to do my homework before I get home so I have more time to write my stories after dinner.
The buses took off. They always parked on the side of the school outside the gyms. On their way out the buses made the same circle we did when we run the mile in P.E. Around the first island and past the second, but instead of turning around for a second lap, the buses head straight in a line out of the parking lot and down the hilly road toward home.
I tuned into my reading hoping to get a headstart on my AR points, and when I looked up all the eighth graders were gone. It was weird how all the older kids got off first. It was just luck that they lived farther away than us. And I say luck because the bus seems like more fun when they’re not judging the younger kids or influencing them to worry about stuff they’re not supposed to. Those older kids have my little sister worrying about boyfriends when Sara never cared about them before.
The bus ride was really beautiful the first day home from seventh grade. The sky was puffed with gray clouds carrying rain. By the time we got to our stop, it was sprinkling. I didn’t bring an umbrella because I didn’t know it was supposed to rain, and plus I’m not scared of a little water.
Guess I didn’t need to worry about an umbrella anyway. Mom was waiting at the bus stop for us with one that was big enough for me and Sara. Ooh, and a tub of homemade chocolate chip cookies. I thanked God because I was starving.
Miss Patti opened the bus doors for us.
I wasn’t afraid to show excitement for my mom. The way I saw it, none of their moms or dads were here. My mom was here because she loved us enough to get off work for our first day back to school.
Sara gave Mom a hug then right after, she reached for a cookie.
“How was school?”
“It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be now that we went to orientation,” Sara said. “My social studies teacher gave us all a goody bag. She felt bad for boring us with her rules and stuff about the class.” Sara pulled the plastic bag from her backpack and handed it to Mom. “Here, Mom, I saved it for you.”
“Ooh.” Mom’s eyebrows danced on her forehead. “How about we share it after dinner?”
“Ray, what about you?”
“I have all my favorite classes with Baker. My braces aren’t killing me for once.”
We passed five houses before we got to ours. It wasn’t a long walk down the hill. Not even in the rain. I still couldn’t believe this was our house. Baker was going to be blown away when she came over for my birthday sleepover.
“Bran and Sal are working right now. They’ll be home in a few hours. In about forty minutes we need to go pick up Ari from school.”
My niece was six years old. She grew up so fast. I still remember changing her diapers, helping with her bottles and cleaning up her toys. Now she’s into copying me and Sara all the time, and I’d go back to the diapers any day.
“Go upstairs and put your backpacks away then come down and I’ll show you what I bought.”
My mom was the expert at surprises, including pranks that scared the snot outta ya.
Sara and I raced upstairs excitedly. I had the room at the top of the stairs and Sara had the room at the back of the hall with the big closet. When we first moved in, Mom painted our names on our doors in her beautiful cursive. Sara’s name was blue and mine was lavender.
“So what is it, Mom?” Sara asked when she got back downstairs without me.
I hurried down and followed them to the biggest living room, which we called the Woodroom because the walls were made of wood paneling. When we first moved in, this room was the first one we finished setting up. There wasn’t a lot of furniture in here. Just the tan couch that we made face the TV. We put the TV under the window that looked into the kitchen above the sink. There were three other windows in the Woodroom, and they all had to wear curtains. The coffee table in the center of the room held potpourri that smelled like cinnamon. This room was my favorite in the house because it felt so cozy.
“I bought a canopy for the deck. I put it up earlier. Wanna go see it?” Mom said.
Mom led us out to the deck and there it was. It was made of net to keep the mosquitoes out and a roof to keep the rain off us. Man, the deck had looked so boring without this thing. Now it was fancy. There was even patio furniture inside. A glass table and ten lawn chairs with striped tan and red cushions in the seats.
“So what do you think?”
“I love it!” I said.
“It’s gonna help so much with the bugs, and the rain. And now we can have barbecues and parties out here,” Mom said.
“When are we going to have our first barbecue? Not tonight, obviously,” Sara said.
“Yeah, not tonight. We need to clean out the fridge before we get Ari. We’re going grocery shopping after she’s out of school.”
“What’s for dinner then?” Sara was always hungry, always ready to eat.
“Something quick. Maybe out to eat.”
Sara was already excited hearing we might eat out, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up. Mom was always changing her mind, trying to save money for the rest of the week. She didn’t think it was smart to spend a lot of money on one dinner when she could buy dinners for a few more nights with the same money.
I tried to open the back door to hurry inside. I couldn’t. “It’s locked, Mom. Mom?”
Mom was looking at the bay window into the Woodroom. “Hm.” She had her investigating frown on.
“What are you looking at?” I asked.
“The shades just moved and thumped that window,” she said. “Your brother and sister must be home early.”
“They have to be ‘cuz I didn’t even close the door,” Sara said.
Good thing Mom had her keys on her. My mom didn’t carry a purse like other moms. My mom always wore pants with belt loops she could hook her gold latch that holds her keys onto, and she has to have pockets so they can hold her cash and her license. She never even carries a wallet.
We hurried inside out of the sprinkling rain. The house was quiet, and something in my stomach tossed and turned like a person who couldn’t sleep at night. Something was wrong with the house.
“Brandy!” Mom called out.
The tossing and turning in my stomach hurt worse then. It hurt as much as getting hit by a kick ball. The quietness of the house after Mom called out to Brandy scared me. It was too quiet, like the house was waiting to jump out around the corner and scare all three of us.
Mom just walked into the house like she wasn’t scared. But Sara was holding my hand all the way in. She felt it, too.
Sal and Brandy weren’t home yet. Their cars weren’t in the driveway.
“So who locked us out?” Sara was freaked out.
“Who moved the shades?”
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