Authors: Kim Harrington
dark cloud followed me to school Monday morning. Not that I usually walked there all smiles and rainbows â I'll admit I'm not a morning person in general. But now, there was even more of a reason to feel down.
I slogged up the sidewalk alone, hoping my eyes weren't too puffy from crying. The day before, I'd had a huge argument with my best friend, Darcy Carter. We'd been joined at the hip ever since she moved to our small New England town of Danville years ago. And our lives had recently gotten a whole lot more interesting. Darcy and I had formed our own detective agency, Partners in Crime. We'd solved some cool cases and helped out fellow classmates.
But Darcy had started feeling jealous about time I was spending with other friends. And I was getting aggravated with her mood swings and her bossiness.
It came to a head yesterday in one of those horrible conversations that seem to happen so fast, you can't control the words coming out of your mouth. Pent-up feelings came pouring out. We both said things I'm sure we didn't mean (at least
didn't). And, before we knew it, we were agreeing to end our friendship and close down our detective agency.
I'd had this terrible feeling in my stomach ever since, and I spent most of last night crying. But I was also still mad at Darcy for the things she'd said.
I had no idea what today would bring. I knew we'd see each other at school, and the thought of it made me so nervous. How should I act? Should I ignore her? Try to apologize?
Normally, when I was a jumble of anxiety like this (which was often), Darcy would say, “Calm down, stress ball. Everything will be all right.” But I couldn't turn to Darcy for help when she was the one I was stressed about.
“Norah! Norah!” a voice rang out.
My heart revved and I looked up, but it was only Maya Doshi. Not that I didn't like Maya. I did. But, for a second there, I had thought it was Darcy calling me. Maybe wanting to apologize and make up.
Maya started running toward me, her thick black hair held back by an orange headband. She'd moved to town this year and was a seventh grader at Danville Middle School with Darcy and me. She was super shy and had trouble making friends but, while solving a case for her recently, we'd helped bring her out of her shell.
I stopped in my tracks. Maya seemed really keyed up about something. And that wasn't the only strange thing. There were no other kids hanging around the front of the school. Where was everyone?
A minivan pulled up to the curb and I could see my classmate Abigail Mattimore in the backseat. But I watched as Mr. Hogan, the vice principal, walked up to the driver's side and said something to Abigail's mom. Quickly, the car pulled away. I blinked in confusion. What was going on?
Maya finally reached me, out of breath. “The field house â¦” she gasped, “is on fire!”
My head rocked back. “What?”
The field house was behind the school, so I couldn't see it from here. But I looked up into the sky and â¦ I'd been right. A dark cloud
followed me to school. For real.
“You don't smell it?” Maya asked incredulously.
My nostrils twitched. Yes, there was a smoky stench to the air. I'd been so lost in my thoughts, I hadn't noticed.
“Come with me,” Maya said. “Everyone's watching it.”
Maya jogged off and I followed, past the main entrance and around the corner of the school. There was a large group of kids huddled together. A pillar of smoke rose into the air above their heads. The burning smell intensified. Maya grabbed my hand and pulled me through the clumps of boys and girls.
When we finally found a part in the crowd, my heart caught in my throat. It was one thing to be
the field house was burning. The true shock came from seeing it with my own eyes. Flames leaped out of a hole that was once a window. The air was painted in shades of orange and red. The fire sounded like a monster, making cracking, spitting noises. Two fire
trucks were parked beside the building, and a long line of firemen pointed a hose at the flames.
Even as far back as we were, I still felt the heat on my cheeks. I looked around, and everyone's face mirrored the shock I felt.
Danville Middle School's gym was a notoriously nasty old place with chipped floors and ancient equipment. So the school started building a field house. A separate building that would have a shiny new basketball court, an indoor track, and pull-out bleachers for spectators. Most people were pretty excited about it. (Well, except for the soccer team. It had been built on their field, so now they had to practice at the high school.) It had almost been finished, too. They'd painted the outside red and black, our school colors. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was supposed to be in two weeks.
But now it was wrecked.
I wasn't a sporty girl at all, but I still felt a twinge of sadness looking at the charred remains of the building. I wondered what had caused the fire. Maybe something with the wiring or electricity. I remembered that had been the issue when there'd been a small fire in our neighbor's house years ago.
The smoke was making my eyes sting. I took my glasses off and held my hand up to my face for a moment. Kids in the crowd were moving around, jostling one another for a better view. And suddenly, I reopened my eyes and found myself beside Darcy.
She wore jeans and a long-sleeved black T-shirt. Her short, choppy black hair lifted in the breeze â except for the purple streak that was tucked behind her ear. Her wide brown eyes watched the flames as they licked at the sky. I opened my mouth, wanting to say something, but I didn't know what. Maybe I'd start with “hi.”
But before I got the chance, I felt a rush of heat. I turned back to the fire, and it seemed to be reaching out toward us!
I staggered back a step, as did everyone else, frightened by the sudden change. But then the fire retreated again. The wind had changed direction, that was all. But it clearly wasn't safe here. I turned to check on Darcy, but in the place she'd been standing I saw only orange embers floating in the air. I gazed around, and there she was, off by herself, taking pictures with her phone.
I crossed my arms. She hadn't even said a word to me. But, then again, I hadn't spoken to her, either.
I sighed. This was so hard.
“Students!” Principal Plati bellowed over the crowd. He cupped his hands around his mouth like a bullhorn. “School is canceled! Please head to the school lobby for dismissal!”
A few kids whooped and clapped, but most remained subdued in shock. It's not every day that you come to school and find a building on fire. Everyone started shuffling along and I somehow found myself at the end of the crowd. I cast one last look over my shoulder at the flames and saw something that made my stomach clench.
An ambulance. It had been hidden from view by a fire truck, but now it was pulling away, lights and sirens on. Meaning someone was inside it. Hurt, maybe worse.
I'd lost sight of Maya, which wasn't hard since she's the smallest girl in the school. We all got to the lobby and listened to the principal speak. He'd been able to redirect the buses, and parents at drop-off were told to go back home. So it was only those of us that
walked who needed to be dismissed and picked up by our parents.
I stood next to Hunter Fisk and Slade Durkin, two big kids who were known as our class bullies. But Darcy and I had recently made a sort of truce with them. Darcy stood on the other side of them now. Only three people away, but it felt like a mile between us. I knew her mother had longer to drive from work. I could offer to have my mom drive her home, tooâ¦.
“Dude, it's totally the Prom Killer back to haunt the halls again,” Hunter said.
“Definitely,” Slade agreed.
I narrowed my eyes. “What are you guys talking about?”
“You haven't heard of the Prom Killer?” Hunter asked.
“That's just an urban legend,” Trey Watson, another boy from my grade, scoffed.
“It is not,” Slade said. “It really happened, and it happened here in Danville.”
I noticed Darcy had moved a couple steps closer and was listening in on the conversation. A mystery like this was totally up her â and our â alley. I met
her intrigued gaze, but then she quickly looked back down at the floor.
Fine. If that was the way she wanted it. I looked straight ahead and stopped listening to Hunter and Slade. The story was probably bogus, anyway. Like the time Hunter tried to convince me that the nice old lady who lived across the street from Maya was a witch.
“Norah Burridge!” Principal Plati called out.
My mother was here. I thought one last time about offering a ride to Darcy. But instead I hitched my backpack up on my shoulder and walked out the door.
When we got home, I told my mom I was sad about the field house and went up to my room. I lay in bed and cuddled my dog, Hubble. But the real reason for my misery was that Darcy was right next door, and we couldn't hang out. Nothing felt right.
The phone rang downstairs. I stiffened, closed my eyes, and wished,
Let it be Darcy. She's sorry. I'm sorry. We'll make up. And everything will go back to normal.
Moments later, I heard Mom's footsteps on the stairs. I sat up in bed.
Please let it be for me. Please let it be for me.
She knocked. “Norah?”
I scrambled out of bed and dashed to the door, wiping the half-dried tears from under my eyes. I opened the door with a smile, but Mom had an unusual expression on her face.
“The phone's for you,” she said.
My heart beat wildly.
Yes! The fight would be done now. I'd invite Darcy over. We'd watch TVâ¦.
But then I noticed Mom was smirking. She never smirked when Darcy called. And now she was outright grinning.
As she put the cordless phone in my hand, she whispered, “It's a boy.” Then she turned on her heel and went back down the stairs, giving me privacy.
I stared at the phone in my hand like it was an alien object. A boy had never called me before. I was disappointed that it wasn't Darcy. But at the same time my whole body felt electric with happiness. Was it Zane?
I thought Zane Munro was the cutest, kindest boy in my grade â maybe in the universe. I'd had a crush on him for millennia. And Maya had told me yesterday that, miracle of miracles, Zane liked
Was he calling to
me he liked me?
There was only one way to find out.
I slowly put the phone up to my ear. I tried my best to hide my excitement and told myself to be cool.
“Hello?” I said.
Not bad. My voice wasn't even shaking.
“Hi, Norah. It's Zane.”
My heart shot through the roof and launched into orbit.
Still in control. Still masking how happy I am.
“How are you?”
“Not good,” he answered, and I realized his voice didn't sound normal. Something was wrong.
Zane cleared his throat. “I need help. I need Partners in Crime.”