Today was the worst day of her life.
Julia Olsen pushed open the front door of her home. All she wanted was to go to her room and hide. She didn’t want to see anybody. She felt so miserable, she could cry.
Trey Carrington broke up with her.
They started going steady before last summer. She a sophomore back then and he a junior. Tall, cute, star quarterback of their high school football team—she’d had a crush on him for months! And she thought everything was going so well!
She stomped into the house and headed straight past the stairs to her room. Her world falling apart, she didn’t see the can of paint on the floor. By the time she realized it was there, her toes had already smashed against it and she tripped.
“Arrrgghh!” Her body slammed hard onto the wooden floor.
A workman rushed over. “Sorry. We forgot about that one.” He hurried to pick up the can of paint. The abominable blue was spreading all over the tip of her shoe. “Sorry about the floor. Oh well. No harm done. We haven’t put in the carpet yet.”
The carpet? Who cared about the carpet? What about her? Her toes! It hurt. And her shoe! Her beautiful hot-pink jelly shoe! It was ruined.
“Here, let me help you up.” The workman tried to lift her by the elbow.
She yanked her arm away. “I’ll get up myself.” She pushed her body up from the floor. How she hated having these workmen around. They’d turned this house into a war zone. The suffocating paint fumes, the pounding hammers, the earsplitting drill against the walls. She hadn’t had a day of peace since her family moved in two months ago.
This house was her parents’ dream home. They’d always liked this area of Rogers Park. Close enough for her mom to commute to her office in downtown Chicago, yet far enough away from the noises and crowds of the city, this house was the final missing piece of the ideal suburban life her parents had always wanted to live. Her dad snagged it before it went onto the market after he got a tip that it would be up for sale. Finally, Robert Olsen could move his family out of their old condo into a grand Victorian-style house.
Having purchased it, he went to town remodeling it. Repainting the living room, replacing the bathroom sinks, renovating the kitchen. All the creative concepts he had stored in his brain from his two decades of work as an interior designer had erupted into what he believed would become his very own masterpiece.
With all the commotion going on, they couldn’t even fully unpack. Piles of unopened boxes lay in the corners and every hallway. The place was a certified mess.
Not that anyone besides her cared. In the study, her dad yabbered on to a client on the phone with the door wide open. In the living room, her fourteen-year-old brother Jason loafed on the couch, oblivious to the construction noises or the fact that his sister had tripped and nearly killed herself. His eyes remained fixed on the TV screen as he took Link on another never-ending quest to rescue the dumb and useless Zelda.
“Ugh.” Julia took off her paint-covered shoe. Once in her room, she threw her schoolbag down and went into the adjoining bathroom to try to wash the blue stains away. Water didn’t work. She tried nail polish remover. It was no use. The nail polish remover only smeared everything even more.
This was her favorite pair of shoes.
She slumped and sat down on the bathtub rim.
The phone rang. She dropped her shoe and ran back into her room. “Hello?”
“Julia!” Nicky, her best friend, said on the other end. “I just heard. Everyone in school’s talking about it. What happened to you and Trey?”
Julia flopped back onto her bed. The giant Jonny Depp poster loomed on the wall. “We broke up.”
“He said he still likes me, but he thought we were getting too serious. He said he wants to concentrate on his classes and football.”
“Classes and football? What’s that gotta do with anything?”
“I don’t know. I don’t understand. If you like someone, wouldn’t you want to get serious?”
“Maybe he’s afraid he likes you too much.”
“You think so?”
“Hell, yeah! Guys get scared when they start getting too close to a girl. Well, high school guys anyway.” Nicky had to sneak that in, never losing a chance to remind everyone of the fact that she was now dating an “older” guy. A college guy. “What else did he say?”
Julia tried to recall what exactly happened earlier this afternoon. She’d already replayed the scene and every detail dozens of times in her mind. Still, she couldn’t understand. Out of nowhere, Trey pulled her aside in the hallway by the lockers and told her, “I think it’d be better if we just be friends.”
In an instant, her whole world went dark.
“Why?” She remembered asking him, but she hardly heard herself. Falling. She was falling. Everything was falling. She was slipping into a downward spiral to a bottomless pit where she would disappear and never be able to come out again.
While she spun further and further into the vortex, a string of excuses rolled out of his mouth. SATs. Classes. Football practices. His words jumbled together, drowned out by the buzzing in her ears. Somewhere along the line, he high fived two of his teammates walking by.
“I guess I’ll see you around.” Trey left with his friends without a second look back, leaving her standing alone, hugging her books.
Dumped. She’d been dumped. All she wanted to do was hide her face. As soon as classes ended, she zipped her way down the hall out of the school building, mindful to keep her head down so no one could look at her like the big laughingstock she was.
She came straight home. But dammit! This horrible mess of a house. She couldn’t find a nook anywhere to hide. The ruckus of the workmen drummed straight through her door. She could hear them chatting and laughing through her walls.
“Julia? Are you still there? What else did he say?” Nicky prodded.
Julia came out of her thoughts. “He said it’d be better if we just be friends.” A lump rose in her throat. Friends. How could they just be friends? She gave him her first kiss!
“He’s so immature. You should, like, totally forget about him. I’m telling you. Forget these high school guys. Keith can introduce you to his friends.”
Julia rolled over onto her stomach. Keith was Nicky’s new boyfriend at Chicago Western University. Julia had only met him once when she went with Nicky and him to see Weekend at Bernie’s. Nicky was dying to introduce him to her. The fact that he was a college freshman had practically got Nicky swooning to the moon.
Julia didn’t like him much though. The whole time they were in the theater, Keith had his hands all over Nicky. Nicky kept squirming and shifting in her seat, even as she tried to brush it off like it was no big deal.
“I don’t want to meet Keith’s friends. He’s . . .” Julia’s voice trailed off. She wanted to say he was a pervert, but she didn’t know how to tell Nicky that.
“Oh. I gotta go. It’s almost seven. Keith’s picking me up in half an hour. I have to get ready. We’ll talk more tomorrow, all right?” In a flash, Nicky was gone, leaving Julia holding on to the phone receiver.
“Sure. We’ll talk tomorrow,” Julia said to the empty dial tone. Should she call Trey? She so wanted to talk to him.
She held the receiver against her chest. Her heart thumping, she dialed Trey’s home number.
“Hi, we’re not home right now,” the answering machine at Trey’s home greeted her. “If you would leave a message, we’ll get right back to you.” She hung the receiver back on her neon-pink see-through phone. How many times had she waited for it to light up when she was expecting his calls?
Bang! Bang! Bang! The hammering on the walls drove her nuts. She put on her headphones and pressed the play button on her Walkman. Paula Abdul, block out the noise, please?
Why didn’t he like her anymore?
She took out a notebook of poems hidden in her dresser drawer. Such heartache, all her feelings. She sat down on her bed and began to write.
Once I thought you loved me
But your words were just a lie
Your kisses, they meant nothing
My pain, it will not die
No! She tore out the page, crumpled it, and tossed it into the trash. It was no use. She couldn’t write the verses right when she felt this upset.
At least it was Friday. She wouldn’t have to see him or anyone else at school for another two days.
She stared across the room. Above her desk, the mirror on the antique wall clock glinted under the beams of twilight shining through the blinds.
What an old-fashioned piece of work. Her dad said it was a vintage “New Hampshire clock.” It didn’t match the Ikea furniture she wanted at all. With its gaudy gold frame and burgundy finish, it looked like something straight out of an old man’s home library. Her dad raved about the maple leaves hand-painted around the clock face on the top panel. She didn’t see what was so special about them. They looked like some awful print on an old lady’s bedsheet. The mirror in the lower panel had blank spots where the silver finish had chipped off near the right rim of the clock’s case.
As much as she hated her room’s decor, she had no choice but to live with it for the time being. The clock, along with her bed and desk, came with the house as part of the sale. Her dad had some brilliant idea about how to repair the clock and this furniture and use them to create a modern-vintage motif for their new guest room. Problem was, the guest room right now was stacked wall-to-wall with boxes still waiting to be unpacked. Julia was stuck with these ancient relics until the renovations were done.
This stupid clock. She couldn’t wait to get it out of her room.
Did this old thing even run anymore? She got off the bed to take a look.
How did this thing work?
She opened it and checked. An old black-and-white photo of a young soldier, like those often shown in World War II documentaries, lay inside the base. She picked it up. How old was he? Seventeen? Eighteen? Clean-shaven in his cap and uniform, he looked almost too young to be in the army.
But, well, he looked kind of cute.
What was she thinking? He was probably somebody’s grandfather by now.
She put the photo back in the clock. The previous owners must have forgotten it. This wasn’t something people usually discard.
Next to the photo lay a small key. Julia inserted the key into the winding hole. A perfect fit. She turned it a few times, and the second hand began to tick. What a surprise. This thing was still alive, barely.
She set the clock to the current time of six and watched the seconds pass. If only she could turn back time. When Trey asked her out to a White Sox game last April, it was the happiest day of her life.
The pendulum swung back and forth, but time only moved forward.
“Julia!” her dad called from the living room. “Time for dinner. Your mom will meet us at Uno’s.”
Uno’s again? They hadn’t had a proper home-cooked meal since moving in. The workmen had turned the kitchen into a disaster.
“Coming!” Julia pulled an old pair of Keds out from under the bed and put them on before going to her dresser to spray her hair.
What happened to her? In the mirror, her carefully teased hair looked flat. Even with her large hoop earrings on, she felt plain and ugly.
She put the hairspray down. Why bother? Trey wasn’t her boyfriend anymore.
She grabbed her denim jacket and flipped off the light switch. Just before the light went out, a flicker of movement appeared in the New Hampshire clock’s mirror, like someone walking away from the railing of a ship.
Did she imagine that? She flipped the lights back on. The mirror reflected only her closet on the opposite side of the room. Nothing unusual about her closet. Its door was closed.
This house was haunted! Oh God. It better not be. This house was giving her enough headaches as it was.
“Julia!” Her dad called again. “Let’s go.”
She glanced at the clock one more time, turned off the light, and hurried out.
* * *
At Uno’s, her mom broke the news they’d been anticipating for months. She had made partner at her law firm.
“My gosh! Barbara! Why didn’t you call and tell me?” Robert beamed with pride. “I would’ve booked us a better restaurant. Champagne! We need champagne!” He pretended to look around for a waiter even though Uno’s didn’t serve champagne.
“I wanted to tell all of you at once. Julia and Jason were at school.” Barbara looked at her children. “We can go out and celebrate for real tomorrow night.”
“Congratulations, Mom.” Julia forced herself to smile. She was happy for her mom. Really! But her heart still ached like hell. Besides, making partner would mean her mother would have to work even longer hours. This was not good for her health. Back in the summer, her mom had gone back to work in less than a week after her appendicitis. She really could’ve used more rest.
The waiter set the food down on their table. Julia stuck her fork into her chicken and broccoli alfredo. Why did she order this? Pasta alfredo was so fattening. On the other hand, what did it matter if she got fat? Trey didn’t like her anymore.
“Julia?” Barbara asked. “Are you all right? You look so down.”
“Is something going on at school? I know you have the PSAT next weekend.”
The PSAT. That dumb test was the last thing she wanted to think about.
“Better start hitting those books,” Robert said. “You gotta get your grades back up.”
Her grades. She didn’t want to think about her tumbling grades either.
“Junior year will be the toughest,” her dad lectured on through a mouthful of pizza. “Your grades this year will matter the most to all the colleges. Especially Harvard.”
“Robert.” Barbara stopped her husband with her eyes and lightly shook her head.
“I don’t want to go to Harvard,” Julia said. Everyone told her she should apply to Harvard because her mother had gone there. She was so sick of it. She wished she could get away.
Get away. Yeah. That was what she wanted. She wanted to take a road trip across the country with Nicky when they graduated from high school. Or go backpacking in Europe. They’d be eighteen then. They’d be able to do whatever they wanted.
At least no one was bugging her to apply to Parsons where her dad went. Parsons specialized in art and design, and she didn’t have an artistic cell in her bones. But why wouldn’t people stop bothering her about Harvard? With her grades, she was a long shot to get in. When she got rejected, she’d only look stupid.
“Do you have other colleges in mind?” Barbara asked.
Julia dug her fork into her food without looking up. “Tufts, maybe. Amherst. Swarthmore.” Those were the schools Nicky wanted to go to. For herself, Julia had no idea. “I can always go to UI.” She shrugged. Why not? The University of Illinois was close to home. Having to go to a new school faraway where she didn’t know anybody didn’t exactly thrill her.
Her parents looked at each other. “All those are good schools,” Robert said with a firm nod. Julia wished he would stop doing that. Stop acting like he understood her and supported her when he clearly knew she only said what they wanted to hear to get them off her back.
“There’s still plenty of time.” Barbara passed the chicken wings, Julia’s favorite. “Small steps. Focus on your PSAT first.”
“That’s right.” Robert rested his hand on his wife’s back. “Let’s focus on today. Your mom made partner. We should all be happy. Julia, let’s get some dessert. That’ll cheer you up.”
“No, it won’t.” Jason slurped his Coke. “She’s got boy troubles.”
Julia glared at him. “Shut up. What are you talking about?”
Jason chuckled, almost spitting out his drink. Julia punched him in the arm. The little jerk. He must’ve been listening on the other line when Nicky called.
“Honey,” Barbara said. “Is everything okay with you and Trey?”
“Yes.” Julia twirled her fork. “Everything’s fine.” She stuffed the pasta into her mouth. “Everything’s fine.”
Barbara kept her eye on Julia. When Julia didn’t respond, she dropped the subject. “If you kids have no plans this weekend, would you like to come with us to visit Grandpa?”
“I have no plans,” Jason said. He finished the last bite of his pepperoni pizza. “Can I get a fudge sundae?”
“And you, Julia?”
Julia’s heart sank further. She could see it, Grandpa sitting by himself in the commons room at Woodridge. Since he moved to the retirement home a year ago, she’d only visited him twice. She couldn’t stand the idea of Grandpa living in that institution, like they had all forgotten him. What good would it do to spend a few hours with him now and then? It wouldn’t make things any better. “I got a lot of homework,” she mumbled.
Barbara waited to see if she might change her mind, but Julia wouldn’t look at her. Instead, she grabbed her cranberry juice and sucked her glass empty. Barbara sat back in her seat and signaled the waiter for more water. The whole time, Julia kept her eyes down and chewed her straw. Her mom letting her off easy only made her feel even worse.
“I’m building a new model of the Enterprise,” Jason said. He and Grandpa were both Star Trek fans. “I’ll bring the pieces. Grandpa and I can finish building it together.”
Julia closed her hands around her glass. How could Jason take everything so well? He never missed a chance to visit Grandpa at Woodridge. Didn’t it depress him to have to leave Grandpa there all alone? Not to mention Grandpa getting older and weaker each time they visited.
Grandpa wasn’t always so old. When she and Jason were little, they would stay with him when her parents went on vacations in the summers. He carried the full load for all three of them when he took them camping. He would stock up on Cap’n Crunch and Frosted Flakes for them for breakfast, and they’d never tell Mom about it.
All those times were gone. They would never come back. Pretty soon, Grandpa might not even have the strength to build model spaceships with Jason anymore either.
Julia pushed away her plate, her pasta only half-eaten. She had lost all her appetite.
“Can’t we try again?” Julia asked Trey in the school’s hallway. “Whatever’s bothering you, we can work it out.”
Trey wouldn’t look her in the eye. “We can still be friends.”
Friends . . . friends . . . friends . . . The word echoed around her over, over, and over. The world swirled and sucked her into a black hole in outer space. “Noooooooo!”
Jon Bon Jovi’s howling voice shot through her ears. Startled, Julia pulled the headphones off her head. What happened? Her Walkman nudged against her rib. Her body had pressed the radio button by accident. She’d fallen asleep last night while listening to music.
The morning sunlight poured in through the windows, blinding her eyes. She lifted her head to check the time on the alarm clock on the nightstand. Eight thirty in the morning. Too early. Today was Sunday.
She turned the Walkman radio off and sank back into bed.
Trey. What an awful dream.
She turned over to the other side. For a moment, she couldn’t make sense of it. A stranger’s face, smeared in dirt. He, too, was sleeping.
Groggy and only half awake, she glanced down at his body. Olive green. What was he wearing? An army uniform?
Her mind beginning to register what she was seeing, she screamed. The stranger snapped awake and stared at her wide-eyed.
In fear for her life, Julia vaulted out of her bed and ran upstairs. “Dad!!! There’s an intruder!!!!! There’s an intruder in my room!!! Help!” She fled to her parents’ room and crashed right into her dad in his pj’s. Jason swung his door open as she ran by.
“What’s going on?” Robert shouted.
“There’s an intruder in my room!” Julia cried out and threw her arms around her mom. Robert stormed downstairs to her bedroom. Jason followed with his baseball bat. Clinging onto each other, Julia and Barbara went after them.
Robert pushed Julia’s door open. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he stepped inside, accidentally kicking her textbooks and the V. C. Andrews paperbacks stacked on the floor. He opened the closet and pushed aside the hanging clothes. Nothing.
Half of the comforter had fallen off the bed. Jason lifted it and peeked underneath. “No one here.” He put down the baseball bat and checked the window. “It’s locked.” Locked from the inside.
“He was here.” Julia went to her bed. “He was right here. I woke up and he was in my bed.”
“You woke up next to him?” Jason put on his sage, know-it-all voice. “Boy troubles.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“Honey,” Barbara said. “Did you have a nightmare?”
“No! I’m not making this up. I saw him.”
“What did he look like?” Robert asked.
“I don’t know. He looked about eighteen. Nineteen maybe,” Julia said. “He was wearing an army uniform. Like those G.I. Joe commercials.”
Jason crossed his arms. “Yep. She’s finally lost it.”
“I’ll take a look around the house,” Robert said, his face no longer alarmed. He closed the closet and left the room.
“You must’ve had a nightmare.” Barbara put her arm around Julia and gave her a hug. “Junior year’s a lot of stress. Especially with the PSAT coming up. Try to relax. Do you want some breakfast? I’ll make us some toast.” Her mom left and Jason followed, shaking his head. Julia made a face at him.
“All clear!” Robert called out from the living room. “No intruder.”
But she did see him! She flipped over her bed covers. Plop. Something hard fell onto the floor and she bent to pick it up. An old brass compass she’d never seen before had fallen off her bed. She was not imagining things. Someone was here!
She started to rush out of her room to show everyone the compass, but stopped when she reached her door. Her parents wouldn’t believe her. They wouldn’t believe this compass had materialized out of nowhere.
While she tried to figure out what to do, a soft yellow glow emanated from the mirror of the New Hampshire clock. Shades of images began to take shape. The images were blurry, but she swore she could see a soldier running on a beach. He was running too fast for her to make out what was going on and she couldn’t see his face under the helmet. Someone next to him fell and he turned around. As he reached out to pull the person up, she could see the blue-and-white diagonal stripe patch on his sleeve.
She walked closer to the mirror. How could this be? Her heart beating in fear like mad, she touched the mirror. The moment her fingers landed on the glass surface, the images vanished.
She squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again. Oh God. Jason was right. She’d lost her mind. She was having a nervous breakdown. Her breakup with Trey was giving her a nervous breakdown.
She plopped the compass on her desk and rushed out of the room. Behind her, the hands of the New Hampshire mirror clock had stopped at exactly eight.
Another boring Monday. Julia glanced at the clock on the wall while Mr. Moseley, her high school counselor, droned on. Her classes ended at two thirty on Mondays. If she could leave now, she might still make it home in time to watch Guiding Light.
“Your grades this year will be more important than ever.” Mr. Moseley laid out copies of her report cards from the last two years. “Of course, your overall record is important too, but your junior year record will count heavily to the admissions officers.”
Julia’s mind numbed. Yes, yes, she knew. Her dad had already told her that. If this meeting went on any longer, she might fall into a coma.
“You had mostly Bs since high school started. You even got a few As your freshman year. What happened last semester? Why all the Cs?”
Julia twitched her lips. What happened? Trey happened. She and Trey started going out in April and she couldn’t stop thinking about him long enough to keep her mind on studying for her exams. She still couldn’t think about anything but him when she was at school. It hurt so much to have to see him every day.
“Your grades don’t reflect your potential. Every one of your teachers has said that.” Mr. Moseley leaned forward with his hands clasped. “I know you can do better.”
Julia barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. What did they want from her? She didn't flunk any classes. Besides, it wasn’t her fault all her classes were so boring. Like English. Why did they have to make her read catatonia-inducing books like Moby Dick? And why should she only read classics? There were other books outside of class she’d rather read, like the new copy of Misery sitting on her desk at home. Everyone loved Stephen King. His writing had to be good for him to sell so many books. Why couldn’t they study his books instead?
If they were reading Stephen King for classes, maybe then she could get her mind off Trey.
Anyhow, weren’t there more important things in life than wasting hours reading an excruciatingly long novel about whales written by some dead guy from the nineteenth century? What about friends? Friends were important. She always made time for her friends. Didn’t that count for something?
“You need to get your grades back up if you want to get into a good college.” Mr. Moseley ran his pen down the row of Cs on her last report card. “It’s not too late. Sometimes colleges like to see a student whose grades go up in their junior year. It means they’ve overcome challenges and improved.”
Julia shifted her eyes from his pen to his watch. No way she could make it home to catch Guiding Light now.
“History seems to be your weakest subject.” He pointed at D mark on her record. “Do you find the subject particularly challenging?”
No. She found the subject particularly boring. What good would it do her to memorize all those dates and events from eons ago? It wasn’t as if she wanted to become a historian.
“We can arrange after-school tutoring if you need extra help.”
Tutoring? Like she was stupid? “I don’t need extra help. I’ll be fine. I’ll study harder. I promise.”
Mr. Moseley laid down his pen. “You don’t have to promise me. I’m not the one who has anything at stake here. You need to promise yourself. It’s your future. Have you considered taking part in any extracurricular activities? You should. Colleges like to see that. They like well-rounded students.”
Julia twiddled her thumbs. Those annoying colleges again. Who were these admissions officers? Why did everyone suddenly expect her to live her entire life to please these nameless, faceless people?
“Here’s a list of student clubs.” Mr. Moseley gave her a flyer from his desk. “You can see if there are any activities that interest you. It’s never too late to join.”
Julia shoved the flyer into her binder notebook. “These college admissions people are idiots. What if I join a bunch of clubs but never do anything to participate? They have no way to find out if I even care. I know students who do that. They put a bunch of extracurricular activities on their college applications so they can look impressive, but they don’t ever show up for club meetings. It’s all so phony.”
Mr. Moseley listened. The understanding look on his face almost made Julia feel guilty. “You can do that,” he continued, “but if you do, the only one you’ll be cheating is yourself. The process is as phony as you make it out to be. If you get involved with something you care about, you might enjoy the experience. Depending on what you do, maybe you can even make a difference.”
How could she make a difference? She was only a high school kid. Never mind. She didn’t want to talk anymore. She wanted to get out of this meeting. “I’ll think about it.” She smiled.
“All right.” Mr. Moseley put the copies of her report cards into a stack. “If you need advice, you can stop by anytime.”
Seeing the chance to bolt, Julia sprung from her seat. “Thank you, Mr. Moseley. Bye.” She picked up her notebook and hustled out.
In the hallway, the shocking sight of Trey talking to Shannon Walters caught her by surprise. He leaned in toward Shannon and whispered something in her ear. Whatever he’d said made her break into giggles. Neither of them noticed Julia standing outside Mr. Moseley’s office.
Julia hugged her binder against her chest. Should she turn around and go back into Mr. Moseley’s office?
Trey held his arm up against the lockers and slid his other hand into his pocket.
That pose. She knew he was going to do that. He used to do that when they first started dating. Did he stand in front of the mirror and practice this pose to get it just right? Who did he think he was? Hardy Jenns in Some Kind of Wonderful? Next, he’d be giving Shannon that shy, puppy-dog grin.
No sooner than that thought came to her mind, Trey lowered his eyes and grinned.
A stab of pain cut into Julia’s heart.
Trey glanced up by chance. For a brief second, their eyes met.
Stay cool, Julia told herself. Stay cool.
But how? She wanted to run into a cave and hide. Trey turned his eyes back to Shannon as if Julia wasn’t even there.
Her chest and throat tightened, Julia looked away and walked on. No. She couldn’t cry. She wouldn’t let herself cry. The captain of the football team going out with the captain of the cheerleading squad was the corniest thing on earth. She would not cry over that. She would not.
* * *
Coming up to the entrance of her house, Julia turned the doorknob and pushed. The door did not budge. She let go of the knob. The workmen must have left work today already.
Her mind still on Trey and Shannon, she reached into her schoolbag for her keys. Of course, they had to be at the very bottom, tucked in some impossible spot underneath all her books and notepads, wallet, and makeup pouch. Couldn’t she get any breaks?
With the workmen gone, at least she could have an afternoon of peace. No drilling, no banging on the walls, no men shouting. The contractors had finished all the painting yesterday and papers weren’t spread all over the floor like before. Even the noxious paint fumes were fading. Hopefully, everything would be done soon and she could start replacing her bed and desk, and get that ugly New Hampshire clock out.
“Hi, I’m home!” She closed the front door. No answer. Her parents were still at work. Jason? Who knew where he went. Probably somewhere with his friends playing Dungeons & Dragons.
She dropped her schoolbag, grabbed a strawberry Pop-Tart from the kitchen, and went to her room. Got to call Nicky. She had got to tell her about Trey and Shannon.
Her mind singularly on the phone, Julia opened her bedroom door. Immediately, she froze.
What in the world? Someone was sleeping in her bed. It was that guy. The same one she woke up next to last Sunday.
She opened her mouth, ready to scream. The partly chewed Pop-Tart still in her mouth.
No. Wait. She was all alone in the house. If she woke him up, God knew what he would do to her. Better escape quietly and call the police.
She gulped down the mouthful of Pop-Tart and took a tiny step back. The guy shifted his leg. Her heart popped to the back of her throat and she gasped, but his eyes remained closed.
He didn’t look dangerous. He looked so peaceful in his sleep.