Authors: Linda Palmer
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-169-1
Copyright © 2013 by Linda Palmer
Copyright © 2013 by Linda Palmer
Background: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / sandralise
Hands: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / windu
All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
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"Please sign in."
on the sheet the parent volunteer had indicated, I smiled absently at her and gravitated to the nearest wall. There I sandwiched myself between two standup posters, one a witch and the other a mummy, while shy me caught my breath and oriented to my surroundings. The gym decorations were way over the top in the best of ways, I quickly decided, and the blaring music totally rocked. Too bad more than half of the students packed into the place didn't really know each other.
I blamed the Louisiana State Legislature more than the masks and costumes everyone wore. After all, our lawmakers were the ones who'd consolidated five rural schools to save education money. And as a result, the senior class of my old high school in Ville Cachée had not only been transplanted to a so-called central location in Martinsburg, it had been merged with other senior classes, more than quadrupling our numbers with students we'd never met, many of them former sports rivals.
Two months of all attempts to shuffle everyone had failed, ranging from weekly rah-rah assemblies to deliberately integrated classes. I'm pretty sure that's why the principal had decided to throw a Halloween masquerade dance with three rules: mandatory attendance, a mass unmasking at eleven, and no names exchanged before then. Guess he thought we'd mix and mingle better if we didn't know who was who, and I'll admit the concept intrigued me and probably everyone else. Anonymity could be enticing, especially for a girl with no boyfriend and my kind of secrets.
So there I stood on a Saturday night, dressed as Daphne Blake in spite of my dark hair and desperately scanning the disguised basketball court for the rest of the Scooby gang, specifically Tyler Richter and Brynn Tucker, friends from Ville Cachée that I chauffeured to Martinsburg High every day.
When I spotted a masked Shaggy in his signature green V-neck and drab brown pants, I smiled, glad that Tyler had gone with that character instead of Scooby-Doo, a costume that would've been hot and cumbersome. I didn't see a Velma Dinkley around and assumed that Brynn hadn't arrived yet. Wishing we'd all come together as originally planned, I headed straight to Tyler...or tried to. The gym floor was crowded, and a barrage of spirits, most of them shockingly young, clamored for my attention even though I'd politely asked them to back off before I ever entered the building. For some reason, I just hadn't gotten the hang of setting boundaries even after all the years of practicing.
Finally breaking free of the throng, I paused for a sec to re-remind all ghosts I was off duty for the night. I also tugged down my periwinkle mini-dress and rearranged my iconic lime green scarf before sidling up to Tyler. A quick onceover left me in awe. His usually blond hair might've been sprayed a little dark, but it was styled to Norville "Shaggy" Rogers perfection. He'd even glued on chin whiskers that weren't quite a goatee but were still scruffy enough for anyone looking at him to get the idea. I playfully popped the elastic band of his black mask, which was wider than my green one and covered more of his face. "Hey, you. Great costume."
He flinched. "Er, thanks."
"Spotted Brynn yet?"
Assuming he hadn't heard me over the din, I raised my voice. "Brynn. Can you believe John insisted on driving her here?" I referred to her brand new stepdad. "If he doesn't stop trying so hard, she's going to go postal on him."
Tyler, who'd been sulking all day, didn't answer, no big surprise. There was only one thing he hated worse than dances, and that was small talk.
So I kept on babbling in hopes he'd warm up. "Gym looks awesome, but I still wish I was anywhere else, don't you? I hate Martinsburg High. Just hate it. And I can't believe my senior year is being wasted in this impersonal dump."
Irritated that he wasn't taking the bait, I tried again to draw him out. "Old man Marsh is almost as bad as Brynn's stepdad when it comes to trying too hard, don't you think? Honestly, if he'd just quit pushing, we'd probably blend. As it is, the whole getting-along thing feels like an assignment. Not that I don't give him credit for trying to make lemonade out of the lemons legislators lobbed at us, but this is not how I wanted my senior year to be."
Tyler continued to stare ahead. I wanted to slug him for being such a dud. Chitchat wasn't exactly my forte either, but at least I was trying.
"Nice job on this." I inspected his whiskery chin, which looked pretty awesome. "And the hair, though you could've gone with lighter spray. This looks as black as mine. But you still make a dashing Shaggy. Bet you're glad you didn't go with the Scooby costume."
"You mean like that one?"
I looked where Tyler pointed and saw a tall, masked guy wearing a brown flannel dog suit topped with a cartoon Scooby-Doo head, signing in at the side door a few yards away. Beside him stood a masked Velma, practically jumping up and down as she frantically waved to get someone's attention. Could that someone be me? It took a moment for everything to register.
With a gasp of horror, I whirled to face Shaggy. "Tyler?"
"Oh my God." I slapped my hand over my mouth. "I thought you were someone else."
"I am so, so sorry." I stuck out my right hand, trying to recover from my social gaff by introducing myself. Then I remembered the rules and quickly took it back. "I'm from Ville Cachée. You?"
"Oh! So you actually went to school here before the merge?"
"Yep, been attending this impersonal dump for years."
Since there was nothing I could possibly say to make things right, I pasted a smile on my face. "Well, it was nice
meeting you. Will I see you when the clock strikes eleven?"
"I'll think about it." He left me.
Of course I wanted to die. Unfortunately, Brynn rushed up just then and grabbed my arm, her brown eyes open wide. "Who. Was. That?"
"No idea. Thought he was
." I punched Tyler's muscled arm even though it wasn't his fault I'd just made a fool of myself.
"Ow! Told you I was going to be Scooby."
"Yes, but I hoped you'd have better sense." I dug in the pocket of my dress for a tissue and dabbed Tyler's moisture-beaded forehead just above the brown mask and below a fringe of blond hair. "You're already sweating like a pig."
"Oh yeah?" He sniffed an armpit.
I rolled my eyes.
"We should track that guy down." Brynn absently messed with her stiff brown hairdo. "After all, he sort of completes us and in the best of ways."
I thought of the mystery Shaggy's wide shoulders and could only agree. "Doesn't he?"
Tyler snorted his opinion of that. "Where's the punch bowl? I need something cold to drink."
We set off in search of it, ducking under the loops of cobweb someone had draped from the gate of the cardboard stone wall separating the refreshment table from the dance floor. When I felt a crunch under my shoe, I glanced down and saw a huge spider. I squealed and jumped back, a sound lost in the hard beat of a rock song. Tyler hooted and picked up the plastic arachnid I'd just squashed. That's when I realized someone had littered the edges of the dance floor with bugs that definitely added to the
Suddenly the overhead lights went down and black lights came up in their place. The skeletons dangling here and there glowed an eerie green, as did the stand-ups lining the walls. Yeah, whoever had decorated the place had gone all out. And it was eye catching in the creepiest of ways, right down to the grotesque jack o' lanterns stacked on bales of hay in every corner. No smiley-faced pumpkins here.
"What kind of vibe did you get from him?" Brynn was still stuck on Shaggy.
"No vibes. He's alive, remember. I'm not worth a crap with the living. Besides, I checked all sidekicks at the door." That's what I'd called my psychic gifts since I was eight.
"You can do that?" Tyler asked.
"I can try."
Since both my besties were used to my weirdness, they accepted my answer with solemn nods. Just then, the DJ put on P!nk, who sang about getting the party started.
In the mood to cooperate for once, I grabbed Tyler's hand. "Dance with me?"
"In your dreams."
I didn't take the rejection personally. Though amazingly coordinated on the basketball court, he had the dance moves of an ostrich. Luckily, I didn't really need a partner to get into the music. I moved onto the floor, not in the least self-conscious for once. These days, dancing alone was perfectly okay, and I'd only taken lessons since first grade. All around me students in costume gyrated to the infectious beat. I cleared my mind, closed my eyes, and went with the music.
My eyes flew open. Shaggy stood in front of me, all six-foot-whatever of him and nothing but hot.
I swear my heart skipped a beat as I otherwise went very still. "Yeah."
"Your boyfriend doesn't dance?"
"My...? Oh, Tyler. Not my boyfriend, though he is a friend that's a boy."
"Dance with me?" Oh God. Had I really just asked that?
Just as he shrugged a startling okay, P!nk sang her last note. The music died, but only for a second. Then Enrique Iglesias began crooning "Hero." I winced. Great. A slow song.
My cheeks began to burn. "You don't have to."
Shaggy held out his hand in reply. I put mine in it. He pulled me closer.
The moment we came together, I knew why I'd blurted that dance invitation. I'd experienced this Shaggy's mojo before and been equally sucked in. Where, I didn't know, though I was positive it had been in my distant past. "Have we met?"
"You mean before ten minutes ago?"
"I'm pretty sure I'd remember if we had."
His offhanded compliment struck me speechless. So we swayed to the music in silence, our bodies occasionally brushing. Each time, I felt that zing that told me I should know the guy. I peeked around his biceps, trying to see Brynn and Tyler. They stood right where I'd left them, both of them gaping at me.
"What?" asked Shaggy, turning us so he could see what I was staring at.
"My friends are surprised I found a dance partner."