Sometimes when she looked at her best friend Marta, Cassie found it hard to believe that they were even friends, let alone best friends. Marta had long blond hair and green eyes, and at five-nine, she had a figure like a fashion model. She always wore amazing looking clothes and every boy in the school wanted to go out with her.
And here I am, Cassie thought, six feet tall and skinny, and while the boys sometimes look at me, mostly they look up at me and then go away. Finding clothes is impossible: the skirts are all too short and the jeans that are long enough are baggy. Well, who cared about boys anyway? They were stupid. Except her brother, Tom. He was cool, and despite the fact that every girl in the school practically drooled when he walked past, he hadn’t let it go to his head.
Well, why wouldn’t they drool? He was six-foot-nine and growing, he was the biggest basketball star they’d ever had, and he was handsome, with brown hair and big blue eyes and he was absolutely buff. He didn’t even behave like one of those jocks who thinks he’s been appointed king of the world. Just her luck he had to be her brother. On the other hand, if there was one guy like Tom, there had to be another ... somewhere.
They sat in Marta’s room, upstairs in the big old house, just sort of hanging out and talking, which Marta was very good at, and it was the usual stuff about who liked whom, when suddenly Marta sat up straight in her chair.
“Did I ever tell you that this house is haunted?”
“It’s true. We have an honest-to-God ghost! I can’t believe I never told you that.”
“Maybe because you knew I wouldn’t believe it?”
“Probably. But it is true. I saw it.”
“R-i-i-ight,” Cassie said, drawing out the word. “But didn’t you just spend half the day in school spreading some goofy rumor about some new guy in town?”
“That’s not a rumor but I’ll tell you more about that later. Right now I want to tell you about the ghost.”
Cassie grinned. “Okay, let’s hear it.”
If Marta heard the irony in her voice she didn’t show it. Instead she launched into her story with the enthusiasm she brought to every story and rumor.
“I only saw it once. Last year, two days before Hallowe’en. I was coming up the stairs and we were still fixing up the house and there was only a single light in the hall and when I turned toward my room there it was.”
In spite of herself, Cassie felt a shiver tickle up her spine.
“It was a woman, a young woman with long black hair and she wore a blue velvet dress and she floated right down the hall at me and I couldn’t even run I was so scared. She was transparent and she moved right through me and it felt like I’d stepped into a big refrigerator in the middle of summer and then she went down the stairs and disappeared into the wall.”
She stared at Marta, waiting for the punch line, but there was none.
Marta believed she had seen a ghost. And though she might look and even act like the biggest girly-girl in school, Marta was always on high honors, and, more to the point, she was very good in math. So, if she said she had seen something, then she had seen it.
“You’re not lying, are you,” Cassie said.
Marta shook her head, her blond hair flopping from side to side. “I know how weird it sounds. It’s why I never told anyone ’til now.” Cassie could see the anxiety in her eyes.
“I don’t know what to say,” Cassie said.
“Do you want to see it?”
“I think it will turn up again two days before Hallowe’en and that’s next Friday. I’m gonna watch, but it would sure help if there was someone to keep me company. That last time I was so scared I peed my pants.”
Cassie laughed. “Oh my God! You didn’t!”
Marta blushed and nodded. “I actually did.”
Cassie looked at her friend, her head cocked to the side. It all began to sound suspiciously like the sort of trap Marta set for other girls, getting them hooked and then dropping the bomb. On the other hand, she had never done that to her. But then nobody ever teased her or made fun of her. What was up with that?
“You believe me, don’t you?”
“I think I actually do.”
“Will you come over?”
“I don’t believe I’m agreeing to sit up waiting for a ghost.”
“Since I saw it, I’ve read a lot of stuff about ghosts and I’m pretty sure she’s harmless. She was probably murdered here and for some reason her spirit stayed behind. That happens when someone is murdered or when there isn’t a proper burial or when the murderer is never found. There are whole books about that.”
Slowly, Cassie had recovered. “There are books about nearly everything, but that doesn’t mean what they say is true.” “I know, I know. But I also know what I saw. And after I got over being scared, I decided that I wanted to know more about her but I was afraid to start asking questions because if something like that got out in school, I’d get geeked.”
“Marta, get real! Girls like you never get geeked. Now, me? I’m like a charter member.”
Marta laughed. “No you’re not. You’re just tall. Different category. Guys can’t deal with tall until they get taller. You watch, Cass, by this spring there’ll be tall guys all over the place.” She shook her head. “I’m not saying they’ll be as hot as Tom, but at least you’ll be able to look them in the eye when you dance with them.”
Cassie laughed. “You think?”
“Guaranteed. Guys don’t grow as fast as girls and they keep on growing for much longer.”
“I’m still growing,” Cassie said. “The doctor says I’ll probably be about six-three.”
“That’s what he says.”
“So you’re pretty much limited to the guys on the basketball team, then.”
“Well, that may not be all bad. Especially when I tell you about the new guy.”
“I talked to Mary Jean who had talked to Salina, whose mother sold them the house, and she says he’s six-foot-five, a junior, and he has really big gray eyes and dark brown hair and he’s a little shy. Isn’t that awesome? I mean, he sounds like an absolute stud, doesn’t he? I think he does, anyway, and I can guarantee he is going to be one hot item the day he shows up, which is supposed to be this week or next, depending on when they move in.”
“Where?” Cassie asked, squeezing in the single word as Marta paused to breathe.
“Bassett Road, they bought the old Gamble farm and listen to this, they have horses!”
“He rides horses?”
“I don’t know if he does, but his sister does and she’s just a kid in eighth grade, and she’s supposed to be some fabulous polo player. Can you imagine? Polo, of all things.” She looked up quickly. “Do you think he plays polo too?” She looked puzzled. “I never met a guy who played polo. Do you know anything about that?”
Cassie shook her head. “I don’t even know anything about horses. When I was ten I wanted to learn to ride but nobody had stirrup leathers long enough.”
“My parents hate horses.”
“But you don’t.”
“How would I know? I’ve only ever seen them in the Memorial Day Parade.” She grinned. “But you can bet I’ll be doing my homework, I mean, who won’t be? You’re gonna have to stand in line to get a book on horses from the library once this gets out. After all, polo players always come from rich families and tall, handsome polo players aren’t exactly common around here.”
“You don’t know that he plays polo.”
“Well, he has to, doesn’t he? With all those horses it’s, like, not possible that he doesn’t play.”
Cassie laughed. “Marta, are you hearing yourself?”
“Of course I am. I know I sound crazy but what I don’t understand is why you aren’t just as crazy because we’re talking six-five here, Cass, six-five, that makes him five inches taller than you. My God, you could wear heels!”
“I don’t even own heels. I wouldn’t know how to walk.”
“There’s nothing to it. A little practice and away you go. I must have a dozen pair. I love the way they make my legs look.” She stopped and whirled around. “I just had another thought. They probably play tennis and golf too. I don’t know how to play either of those sports.” She threw her hands into the air. “God! I don’t know how to play any sports.” And then she seemed to remember who she was talking to. “But you do. You play all of them. Your family even belongs to the country club.”
“I come from a family of jocks, remember?”
She grinned. “How could I forget? I never miss a basketball game. None of the girls do with Tom playing. It’s gonna be really dull when he isn’t here next season.” It was a sore point. Hardly anyone went to see the girls play except the parents. Marta should have known that, Cassie thought, but how could she? She didn’t play a sport so how could she possibly know what it meant to have people cheering for you. It was time for a reality check.
“Marta, how tall are you? Five-nine? Tom is six-nine and he’s still growing. He’ll probably grow another two inches. Six-eleven, an inch shy of seven feet. He already has to duck through doorways.”
“But height doesn’t matter does it, I mean,” she looked embarrassed, “I mean, as long as the girl is shorter …” She whirled around. “Sorry, Cass, I didn’t mean to …”
Cassie grinned. “You don’t have to be sorry. I’m the one who’s six feet tall … and growing.”
“You really are still growing?” She made it sound like she was standing on the beach about to be engulfed by a tsunami.
“I told you ... six-three.”
Marta frowned. Every inch a girl grew taller, meant there were fewer available boys, and that was too terrifying to even think about.
“On the other hand,” Cassie said, “The air is cleaner up there because fewer people breath it.”
“But doesn’t hot air rise?”
“Hot, moist air settles.”
“That is so much more than I want to know.”
“On the other hand, I can sink a hook shot from behind the three point line.”
Because Marta was focused elsewhere, the irony escaped her. “Where will you get clothes? Not to mention shoes!”
“Shoes are less of a problem than clothes, but this week my mom is taking me to a dressmaker and from now on everything will fit.”
“Wait! Did I hear that right? You get to have all your clothes tailor-made? That is so awesome!”
“Does this new guy have a name?”
She laughed. “Wait ’til you hear this. Random Chance.”
“No. It’s true.”
“Who would do a thing like that to a kid?”
“He goes by Rand.”
“He’d have to, wouldn’t he?”
“Random Chance? Don’t you get it?”
“It’s the kind of name somebody might give a kid if they got pregnant accidentally.”
“Oh, yuck! That is so nasty.”
Clearly she had thrown a rock into Marta’s gristmill and it had stopped the wheels. Suddenly there was a downside but Marta quickly found a way around it.
“My aunt named her daughter Pasadena,” she said, “because that’s where she was conceived,” Marta said. “But everyone calls her Dena and she won’t even admit to the first part of her name.” She wrinkled her nose. “She is kind of odd, though.”
Cassie grinned. Mission accomplished. His stock had dropped and though the decline wouldn’t last if he were even half as good-looking as Marta believed, it did give her a window. It seemed only fair, especially given his height. With her luck he’d only like shorter girls.
“Does he play any regular sports?” Cassie asked. “If he’s any kind of an athlete at six-five, he’s gotta play basketball.”
“I remember Salina telling me he was an all–something or other in basketball.”
“I guess.” Suddenly Marta understood and her jaw dropped. But she said nothing, instead looking at her friend, seeing her for the first time ever as possible competition. She shook her head. No way. She was just plain old Cassie, too tall, too thin, and … actually kind of pretty and with some carefully applied makeup and more than just a ponytail hairstyle ... she shook her head again. It wasn’t going to happen. Nothing to worry about. Too tall, too thin. Nonetheless, it was time to change direction. “Were you serious about coming over on Friday to see if the ghost comes out?”
“My parents are going over to see some friends and then on Sunday there’s the big Halloween party. Ugh!”
“I take it you don’t like the party?”
“It’s so weird. Everybody gets pretty drunk and they act like idiots and they’re all wearing weird costumes. I just stay in my room and watch movies with the sound way up so I don’t hear them.”
“My parents are coming.”
“I wonder why they never came before?”
“I don’t know. I never even thought about it.”
“They’re like the biggest celebrities in town.”
“How can you not know that? They both played professional sports and made a lot of money and had great careers. Everybody in town knows who they are. And when my father talks about your father, you can tell he’s in awe. But not about sports. It’s your father’s job he talks about.”
“How weird is that? I mean, they’re my parents and I know all that stuff but I never really thought about it. Talk about dumb.”
“Not so dumb, though. Only the highest grades in the class.”
“That’s a different kind of smart. Academics, I’m good at.” “Sometimes I hate being a girl. Guys never have to worry about getting good grades, but it’s not the same for girls.”
“Why do you care, Marta? All you have to think about is getting into a really good college. This is something I know about. I’m tall and I’m good at sports and guys don’t want to deal with that either.”
“So you’re saying I might as well not worry about how high my grades are.”
“Maybe the way it works is that the guys who aren’t threatened by smart athletic girls are the ones worth knowing.”
“At this point, more like hope.”
She shook her head. “I need to be sure about this.”
“You think Tom is threatened by something like that?”
“Let me point out that there is only one guy like Tom in the whole school and at the moment he belongs to someone.”
“What kind of a college do you want to go to?”
She shrugged. “My sister went to Bates.”
“I know what you’re up to. You’re just trying to get me confused so you get a chance at Chance.” Cassie laughed. “A chance at Chance ... I like it.”
“You’re not answering the question.”
“A chance at Chance?”
“But weren’t you doing the same thing, trying to make me think he was out of my league?”
Then they both laughed because, in the end, they were good friends and also because it was truly funny, and then, as conversations often do at such times, theirs flagged and then darted off in a new direction.
“Did I ever tell you that my parents looked at this house before they bought the one we live in now? My mom told me the place was really spooky and there was something in the air that made them very uneasy.”
“No way. Do you think they saw her?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I just hope she shows up. And I’m glad you’re gonna be here. I keep thinking that it could get nasty or weird and I wouldn’t know what to do.”
“You think I will?”
“You don’t get rattled. No matter what happens, you don’t get rattled. When Jared’s little sister fell into the deep end of the pool, you just dove in and got her before she even swallowed any water. Nobody even knew what happened except that you were swimming along, towing her around the pool, and she was laughing and splashing.”
Cassie shrugged. “I was standing in the right place.”
“But you knew what to do and you did it.”
“I wouldn’t make too big a thing out of it, Marta. I’ve been trained since I was little to react to things. It’s what jocks do. You react and your muscles are ready to let you do what you have to.”
“Do you know anything about ghosts?”
Cassie shook her head.
“Those books were scarier than seeing the ghost: all about people being dragged into graves and having the life sucked out of them, or being so terrified that they went insane.”
“Has it occurred to you that maybe this isn’t the best way to make sure I’ll be here Friday night?”
“Oh! I never thought ... I mean, like I said, I never think of you as scared of anything.”
“Why? Because I’m tall? That only makes me a better target.”
Marta laughed. “Especially for a guy six-five.”
“You know what I find really ugly? I can’t stand it when girls go all gushy and ga-ga over some guy because he’s good looking. So what if he’s good looking? I’m not going to go throwing myself at him, acting like some coy little ingénue ...”
Marta interrupted. “What’s that?”
“What you said, an onge ... something.”
“Those are the young starlets who play the gushy roles in movies. Skirt swirlers.”
Marta laughed, but nervously. “Do I act that way?”
“And it bothers you?”
“Only because you don’t have to. Marta, a girl as pretty as you are only has to walk down the hall. But you don’t need me to tell you that. You know that. You can’t help but know that. If Rand Chance is interested he’ll be knocking on your door.”
She balled her hands into fists and looked up at the ceiling. “But it’s so hard to wait!”
“Tell me about it.”
Marta looked around at her closest friend and shook her head.
“I’m not much of a friend, Cass. I should have seen that. I should have known. What an idiot!”
Cassie grinned. “If it weren’t for basketball, I’d be a basket case ... instead, I’ve got a basketball case ... full of trophies.”
Marta laughed. “Okay, this is gonna sound weird, but I do know a few things that might help.”
“Do you know anything at all about makeup?”
“My mom’s going to teach me.”
“I could get you started.”
Marta laughed. “Don’t sound like it hurts, Cass. All I’m going to show you is how to accent with a little blush, some very light eye-liner, and lip gloss.” She stood with her hands on her hips, looking carefully at Cassie, cocking her head from side-to-side. “You need to do something more intentional with your hair too, maybe get a feather cut. Then, when you wear it down it’ll give you a nice, relaxed look.”
Cassie looked doubtful. “Are you sure about this?”
“Absolutely! Now, Come over here and sit down and I’ll get my makeup.”
It took almost no time at all and true to her word, Marta used a very light touch, just enough blush to bring out Cassie’s high cheekbones, a very thin tracing of liner on her eyelids and then she added just enough mascara to thicken her eyelashes. She stepped back and looked.
“You probably should thin down your eyebrows. They’re too heavy. And they should be a touch darker.”
She unrolled the elastic that held Cassie’s ponytail in place and then fluffed her hair, picked up a brush and began, trying to get the crimp out of it left by the elastic.
“You have really beautiful hair, Cass. It’s straight and very shiny. She held up the ends so Cass could see them. “But see this? The ends are split and raggy-looking. We can hide that for now.” Slowly, she wound Cassie’s hair into a French twist and then pinned it in place. She stepped back and looked again and then seemed to look even harder. “Awesome! Look in the mirror!”
She did and then blinked and blinked again. Was it really her? “I don’t believe it!” “Me either. You’re pretty. In fact, you’re very pretty.”
“Just a little makeup did that?”
“Accents. It’s all about accents.”
“I actually look like a girl!”
Marta laughed. “I think I’ve created a monster.”
“It was just a ... random chance ...”
They laughed though they both knew that it’d be a free for all, once Rand Chance turned up. All they could hope was that they wouldn’t end up hating each other.
She looked up at Marta. “So then, let the games begin.”
Marta nodded. “Let the games begin.”
“We are really terrible, Marta.”
“Yes,” she said. “We are.” Then she smiled. “Isn’t it fun!”
Cassie rose and walked across the room and looked into the full length mirror, trying to imagine what she’d look like in new clothes. From the corner of her eye, as she turned one way and another in front of the mirror, she glanced out the window into the fading light. She saw the lights of the car that had been parked on the road go on and then the car pulled slowly away, picking up speed once it had passed the house. What, she wondered, was up with that?
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Robert G. Holland
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