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Authors: Brenda Chapman

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Social Issues, #Adolescence

Trail of Secrets

BOOK: Trail of Secrets
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TRAIL
OF
SECRETS

TRAIL
OF
SECRETS

Brenda Chapman

Text © 2009 Brenda Chapman

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, digital, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior consent of the publisher.

Cover art by Jock MacRae, design by Emma Dolan

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program.

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program for our publishing activities.

Napoleon Publishing
an imprint of Napoleon & Company
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
www.napoleonandcompany.com

13 12 11 10 09      5 4 3 2 1

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Chapman, Brenda, date-

Trail of secrets / Brenda Chapman.

ISBN 978-1-894917-76-6

I. Title.
PS8605.H36T73 2009

jC813'.6

C2009-900683-9

For my nephew Dylan Chapman,
who runs like the wind

CHAPTER ONE

Jen, it's for you!” Dad called as I turned to look at myself in the mirror. My hair was sticking out every which way, and my eyes looked half-open and bleary from lack of sleep.
Great
. This was the last picture of me that Pete Flaghert would be taking with him to university. I tried to flatten my hair into shape with both hands as I headed for the stairs. With any luck, Pete would be half-awake too, and he wouldn't notice how bad I looked.

He was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. His black hair was freshly cut, and he was wearing his favourite black T-shirt and new jeans. He looked rested and full of energy. His brown eyes looked me over, and I saw him smile before he glanced down at the flowers he was holding in his hands. “Hey, Bannon,” he said. “I picked you something on my way over.”

The pink roses were wrapped up in cellophane with a big white bow, so I knew he'd planned ahead. I stepped off the bottom step and gave him a hug. “Thanks, Pete,” I said. “These are really nice.” The flowers distracted me for a moment, and I forgot how miserable I was feeling. “I need to find something to put them in.”

Pete followed me into the kitchen where I rummaged around in the cupboards for a vase. Dad watched from
where he was flipping eggs in the frying pan. A plate with buttered toast sat on the counter beside a cup of black coffee. “Try under the sink,” he said.

Pete leaned against the kitchen table with his arms folded. “Hello, Mr. Bannon,” he said.

“All set for McGill?” Dad asked.

“Just about. I have to gas up the van and then pick up my parents. It's a seven or eight hour drive, so my folks want to get on the road soon.”

“Well, take care of yourself, and don't spend all your time working.” I kept my head down.
I'd
be happy if Pete spent
all
of his time working. Dad reached over and shook Pete's hand. Then he scooped the fried eggs onto the plate and took a sip of his coffee as he walked towards the back door. He liked to eat on the steps where the sun was strongest this time of the morning.

After the door shut behind him, Pete and I stood looking at each other. I was having trouble hiding how awful I was feeling and didn't trust myself to speak. Pete reached over and grabbed one of my hands.

“I'll be back for Thanksgiving. We'll be seeing each other before you know it.”

“And there's always e-mail,” I said.

“You'll be so busy with school and everything going on, you'll hardly know I'm gone,” he said. I think he was trying to convince himself as much as me. Then he pulled me to him in a last hug and kissed me. “Take care of yourself, Jen. I'll e-mail you as soon as I get settled in residence.”

“I'll want to hear all about your trip and your room and everything,” I said.

We walked to the front door together, and Pete gave me one more hug before he leapt down the front steps to his van. I waved and watched until he'd rounded the corner and was gone from sight. I knew that Pete and I would both be going through a lot of changes this year and that he might not think of me in the same way once he got to university. To be honest, I wasn't all that sure what kind of relationship we had—we'd never talked about being a couple or not dating other people. For all I knew, Pete might just think of me as a very close friend—one step up from a sister. I sighed and turned back towards the stairs. I'd change into shorts and go for a jog to take my mind off all the things I didn't want to think about. With any luck, Ambie'd be out of bed and happy for some company.

“Let's take our muffins to my bedroom,” Ambie said, already halfway down the hall. She was still dressed in her green housecoat and pink slippers the size of small, furry animals. I was happy to notice that her hair looked to be in the same bizarre state as mine. There were times I could have sworn we were twins separated at birth.

Ambie straightened the covers on her bed and invited me to sit. She plopped onto the chair in front of her computer and spun around to face me. While she talked, she peeled the wrapper off her blueberry muffin. “So,” she said, “Pete get away okay?” She licked her fingers.

“Yeah. He dropped by this morning.” I didn't want to talk too much about that. I was hoping that seeing Ambie
would make me think about other things. I realized that I hadn't talked to her in a couple of weeks and felt a pang of guilt. I'd always believed no boy would ever come between us. It probably explained why Ambie hadn't seemed too excited to find me at her door. “So, what's new with you?” I asked. “I've missed seeing you this past while.” I promised myself I'd be a better friend from now on.

Ambie took a bite of her muffin. “I missed you too, but I guess you were otherwise occupied.” She looked out the window and avoided my eyes. My pang of guilt was turning into a stab in my belly. “Anyhow, I've been busy with this and that.” She looked me in the eyes for the first time since I'd arrived, and I puzzled over what I saw in her expression. I'd never thought of Ambie as secretive, but I knew her well enough to know that she was hiding something. We'd been best friends for ten years and were probably closer than most sisters.

“Anything exciting?” I asked, waiting for her to spill her secret like she usually did.

“No. Well, nothing I can really talk about yet,” she said.

“Everything okay, though?” I probed. For some reason, her answer left me uneasy.

“Better than okay.” She stretched. “I think my life is finally falling together.” She stood up. “I hate to ask you to leave, Jen, but I have some things to do. Maybe we could go to the mall this afternoon if you want, though. I have to buy some new shoes for school.”

I pushed myself up from the bed. “Sure, no problem. I'll come back later.” Ambie was in a hurry for me to leave, but I couldn't figure out why. Maybe she just needed some
space, and she'd come around after lunch.

I walked home and opened the back door. I could see my little sister Leslie talking on the phone in the kitchen. She didn't notice me at first. Leslie had just turned eleven, and she'd shot up a few inches over the summer. I'm five eight, and Leslie looked to have passed the five foot mark, something I knew she was happy about. Mom wasn't all that tall, so I had beaten the inherited short-genes odds. We were still waiting to see about Leslie. Her brown hair had grown longer over the summer and had lost its pixie shape, making her look older. Even her dark eyes didn't look as young as they had a few months before. Part of that might have been the dilemma my mom had thrust her into when she'd recently decided to move to California with her new husband, Mr. Putterman. Mom was determined that Leslie would join her in Los Angeles before school began, but for the first time in her life, Leslie wasn't playing along. I knew her refusal to get on the plane to L.A. was causing my mom untold grief, but I was secretly cheering Leslie on. I didn't want her to leave any more than she wanted to go. Besides, my mom was the one who'd chosen this new life, not us.

Leslie's voice rose slightly. “No, I can't come Thursday. I have two dog-walking jobs on the weekend.” She listened for a few beats then said, “No, he's not here right now.” She turned and saw me. One hand came up to the side of her head, and she made circles with her pointer
finger while rolling her eyes. “Okay, Mom. I'll have Dad call you when he gets in.” Her head bobbed up and down. “I know school starts soon. Okay. Love you too.”

Leslie hung up. Her puppy-dog eyes looked at me sadly. “She wants me to come this week. What am I going to do?”

I went over and put my arm around her shoulders. “I don't know, kiddo. Mom seems pretty determined to have you move to California.”

“I want to stay with you and Daddy,” Leslie said. “I miss Mom, but not enough to move away.”

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