Chapter 6

Bring on the Goths! thought Olivia.

"You're late," said Sophia, charging up with her black scarf swinging. "I've been out of the photo lab for twenty minutes already.You weren't trying to back out on me, were you?"

"No," said Olivia, making sure she didn't bounce. "I just ran home to change. And I couldn't find my"--she hesitated and Sophia peered at her skeptically--"my fuzzy backpack," Olivia finished.

Sophia's mouth dropped open. "You mean my fuzzy backpack that you borrowed and never returned!"

Oops. "I guess that's the one," Olivia said hoarsely.

"Well," said Sophia, "it is a killer fashion state- ment.You look deadly."

"Thank you," said Olivia.

"So let's go." Sophia pushed her toward the sidewalk. "I don't want to be late!"

So far, so good, Olivia thought with a rush of relief. If she could make it to the meeting without arousing Sophia's suspicions, everything else would be easy.

They cut across the school parking lot and turned onto Thornhill Road. Olivia glanced over and caught Sophia sneaking a sideways look at her.

Shoot, Olivia thought. She's onto me.

Sophia stopped and grabbed her arm. "We need to talk," she said seriously.

Olivia held her breath and waited for the ax to fall.

"Listen, I know you're not going to enjoy this," Sophia said, frowning. "In fact, you're going to hate it. But I really want to be on the planning committee."

Olivia let herself breathe again. It seemed Sophia hadn't discovered her secret--yet! And Olivia had been head of the planning committee for the spring carnival at her old school. It rocked. "Planning committee for what?" she asked curiously.

"The All Hallows' Ball," Sophia said apologet- ically. She sounded like a little kid who knows she's in trouble. "Every year, they use the same lifeless professional photographer with a comb- over, and I think I could do something seriously great and candid. But we have to be on the plan- ning committee first."

Olivia blurted, "That sounds cool."

Sophia looked completely shocked, and Olivia realized that Ivy would not think party planning was cool. At all.

"I mean you taking the pictures sounds cool. Not party planning," Olivia added hastily.Then she continued in a glum tone, meant to convey Goth resignation, "Just don't expect me to say anything in this meeting. I'll sit there, but that's it."

"Agreed," Sophia said, looking relieved. "Thanks, Ivy."

As they walked, Olivia wondered why she hadn't heard anything about the ball before. At her old school, there would have been posters everywhere.

The tree-lined street had turned into a con- crete thoroughfare, and they walked past a Funky Chicken and a Marly's Discount Superstore. Sophia leaped up on a bench and tiptoed along it, jumping down. Olivia struggled to limit her reac- tion to a close-lipped Goth smile, but it wasn't easy. Then she noticed Sophia's earrings--two little black bowling balls with white bowling pins dangling below them.

"Your earrings are so cute!" Olivia exclaimed.

"Don't be such a witch," Sophia replied drily. She must have thought her friend was being sar- castic.

Olivia mentally kicked herself. She had to stop using words like "cute," or she'd never make it through the afternoon in one piece.

Sophia veered into the parking lot of a giant FoodMart. Olivia was a little surprised, consider- ing they were already running late, but she fol- lowed Ivy's friend inside without comment.

Maybe they were supposed to bring food to the meeting, like pretzels or something.

But Sophia didn't even go to the snack aisle. Olivia followed her past paper towels and laundry detergent to the back of the store. They stopped in front of a scruffy stock boy with jet-black hair and a nose ring, who was stacking cases of cran- berry juice on a cart.

Out of nowhere, Sophia said, "Pumpernickel."

Well, that's a lame meeting snack, thought Olivia.

Without even looking at them, the boy silently pulled a key from a chain that hung from his belt loop and unlocked a gray door marked STAFF ONLY.

Sophia walked through, and Olivia hustled after her.

This is weird, thought Olivia.

They started down an impossibly steep, dimly lit staircase. There was no handrail, and Olivia was scared she'd trip over her boots. Sophia bar- reled down fearlessly ahead of her.

Clearly this thing was a total secret, Olivia decided. But what kind of dance required a hush- hush meeting in the basement of a supermarket?

The only thing Olivia could think of was a TV special she'd seen about some girls in Europe who threw massive raves in warehouses. All their planning was top secret because the cops were always trying to bust them.

My mom will never let me go to this dance, thought Olivia with a tinge of disappointment.

The stairs led to a long, narrow hallway. The girls passed an unmarked door, behind which Olivia could have sworn a crowd of people was laughing and talking. Finally, after squeezing past a stack of chairs, they reached the end of the hall and another nondescript door.

Sophia pushed it open, and Olivia was surprised to find herself in a room that looked a lot like the conference room at her dad's old office: dry-erase board, pukey beige carpet, black imitation-leather office chairs. The only real difference was the huge round stone table in the center of the room.

There were some Goths standing around drinking cherry punch. A serious-looking girl with chunky glasses was organizing papers on the table.

"Hi, Soph," said a girl wearing a studded collar.

She nodded at Olivia. "Hey, Ivy. I can't believe you actually came."

Olivia had no idea what the girl's name was. She shifted uncomfortably.

Luckily, the girl in the chunky glasses cleared her throat in an official way and bailed Olivia out by saying, "We're five minutes late. Let's get started."

Olivia was already lowering herself into a seat when she noticed that everyone else was simply standing behind their chairs. She jerked herself back up.

The room was silent. The girl in charge held her hands above the table like she was warming them over a fire and closed her eyes. "May the Secret be cloaked in darkness," she said solemnly.

"And never see light of day," the group responded as one.

Olivia was baffled. This must be the weird sense of humor Ivy was talking about, she thought. She hoped no one had noticed that she hadn't joined in. They were now all sitting down, so she quickly slipped into her chair.

"Okay, people," the girl began. "We only have three weeks to pull off Franklin Grove's two hun- dred and second annual All Hallows' Ball, and I'm determined to make it the best one ever. This is the first of three planning committee meetings. Today we need to decide on the theme and who's going to be responsible for--"

She was interrupted by raucous laughter in the hallway, and suddenly the door swung open. In slouched four boys with dirty-looking hair and heavy metal T-shirts.

It was the boys who had cornered Olivia in the hall at school, the ones Ivy called the Beasts. Olivia clutched her backpack nervously under- neath the table. It's okay, she told herself. Ivy isn't scared of them.

"What a surprise!" the girl leading the meeting said coolly. "You guys are late."

"Sorry, Melissa," said one Beast sarcastically as he and his friends grabbed seats. "We had to, uh, grab a bite."

The other Beasts guffawed dumbly, but every- one else just groaned.

"You wish," said a girl with a streak of white in her hair.

"As I was saying," Melissa snapped, calling the meeting back to order. "The first thing we need to do is pick a theme. Let's brainstorm."

People started calling out ideas. A boy with a shaved head said, "What about a costume ball?"

"Or a forest party?" suggested the girl with the white streak. "Like where everybody dresses up as trees and things? We could do it in the woods."

"The Ball of the Future?"

"What if everybody had to wear something purple?"

"I once went to a sweet sixteen where there was an ice cream bar, and people were seriously into it."

"I know! What about Franklin Grove Star Search?"

Melissa did not look impressed.

Oh, my gosh, Olivia thought suddenly, I have the best idea! "How about a vampire theme?" she blurted. "You could do coffins instead of tables, and spiderwebs and bats hanging everywhere. And . . . ooh, you could even get a big projector and show that old Dracula movie--you know, the black-and-white one with that Bela guy? And someone could take black-and-white photographs of all the guests!"

Nobody spoke for a long time. At last the boy with the shaved head said, "So you want to per- petuate the stereotype?"

Huh? thought Olivia.

"No, Ivy's onto something . . ." Melissa decided, nodding slowly. "Retro is in."

"Can you imagine? Everyone in fangs and capes and stuff?" mused the girl with the streak of white hair. "That would be deadly."

"I agree," said the girl with the studded collar, turning to Olivia. "This idea really sucks, Ivy."

For a second, Olivia thought she might get thrown out of the meeting, but then she remem- bered again that "suck" was good. She glanced over at Sophia, who was staring at her in shock but who still managed a small, surprised smile.

In the food court at the mall, Ivy fidgeted at a little table, watching as Brendan Daniels waited in line at Deep Slice for a small Carnivore's Delight pizza for the two of them to share. A long silver key chain looped out of his back pocket. He turned and smiled at her from under his cowl of dark curls. She gave a small breathless wave and continued stacking the spice shakers on the table.

Their date so far hadn't gone anything like Ivy had imagined. The first thing Brendan had done was lead her right past Spins and Dungeon Clothing to the arcade, where he challenged her to an air hockey tournament.

For the next forty minutes, they had barely spoken. Instead, they shouted and laughed and banged their little round paddles on the table as the thin puck whizzed between them, cracking against the boards.

Ivy took four games out of seven. "You let me win!" she had said, grinning and bravely nudg- ing Brendan's arm as they walked out of the arcade.

"You think so?" he'd replied, spinning on his heels and grabbing her hand. "Then let's make it best of eleven."

Brendan had won that round, but only just. He'd promised Ivy they'd keep a running tally.

Now she was watching as he filled two huge cups at the drinks dispenser. When he comes back, she thought, remembering her sister's advice, I'm going to ask him about himself.

Brendan approached carefully, his eyes on the two tall cups that were filled to the brim with red lemonade. Steam rose off the pizza and bathed his face. He set the food down in front of Ivy and looked at her.

"You know I've been scared to death," he said.

"Of spilling something?" Ivy asked, pretending to be distracted by balancing the oregano atop the pepper atop the salt.

Across from her, Brendan shook his head. "I have so many questions I want to ask you," he told her.

Ivy blinked at her tower and prepared to put the crushed red pepper flakes on top. "Like what?"

"I don't know." He shrugged. "Everything?"

Ivy couldn't help recalling what Olivia had said about boys who ask questions. Boyfriend material! she thought, her heart pounding. She tried not to seem excited.

Brendan asked, "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

Ivy's hand jerked, and the chili peppers knocked into the oregano, and the entire tower of spices collapsed, crashing right into Ivy's full cup of lemonade and sending it flying.

Brendan was already on his feet. "Don't worry," he said. "I'll get some napkins."

Pretty soon everybody at the planning committee meeting was talking about the theme Olivia had suggested for the ball. Meanwhile, the Beasts kept whispering and snickering to one another.

Finally Melissa turned to them and said, "Care to share?"

They all looked up. One of them said, "Uh, yeah. We got an idea."

"Okay," said Melissa.

"It's a really excellent idea for a--what do you call it?--a decoration," the same Beast went on. His friends chuckled.

"Totally excellent," one of them muttered.

"Okay," said Melissa impatiently.

"A blood fountain," the first Beast announced.

"A what?" said Melissa.

"You know. A fountain of blood." All the Beasts were totally cracking up now.

"As if," said Melissa, rolling her eyes. "Talk about perpetuating stereotypes. Besides, foun- tains were last year's party feature."

Sophia whispered, "What losers!" in Olivia's ear, and Olivia felt relieved that Ivy's friends didn't want to take her idea that far.

"All right," Melissa continued efficiently. "It looks like we've got our theme.The next big ques- tion on the agenda is where should we hold the ball? Any ideas? And, no"--she glared at the Beasts--"the graveyard is not an option!"

Olivia felt a nudge under the table, and looked over to find Sophia looking at her intently.

"Anyone?" asked Melissa.

Sophia was now pursing her lips and glaring at Olivia, clearly trying to say something with her eyes, but Olivia had no idea what it was.

Sophia sighed and turned to face the table. "How about Ivy's house?" she suggested. "You know, that mansion on top of Undertaker Hill? It has a massive ballroom on the third floor.You can see all Franklin Grove from up there."

Olivia kicked Sophia under the table. "I'm not sure that's a good idea!" she put in hurriedly. "I don't think my parents . . . I mean, parent . . . I mean, dad . . ." She shook her head wildly. Everybody was looking at her. "Well, he won't like it," she finished lamely.

"Who are you kidding, Ivy?" said the girl with the shock of white in her hair. "Your father loves this kind of thing. My parents still talk about the Dead of Winter fund-raiser he planned a few years back."

The girl with the studded collar nodded. "I'll bet he'd even be willing to help out with decora- tions," she added. "After all, he is one of the top interior designers."

"He redid my aunt's place last year," put in the bald-headed boy. "It looks killer."

Well, Olivia thought, at least that explains the inside of Ivy's house. "But a ball for the whole school is a lot of people," she pointed out.

"Don't be so dramatic, Ivy," the girl with the studded collar said. "It's not the whole school. It's just the kids in our community from middle and high school. A hundred people, tops."

Olivia suddenly understood why she hadn't seen any posters at school: this was an exclusive all-Goth affair. How intense! she thought excit- edly. Maybe that's why they're being so secretive.

"Since you came up with the theme and it's your house, Ivy, I think it's only fair that you be head of decorations," Melissa said.

"I still have to ask my dad," Olivia muttered, while thinking, Head of decorations! How cool is that?

"All in favor, say aye," Melissa commanded.

Everyone said, "Aye," even the Beasts.

"Great!" shouted Olivia. Wait, her sister wouldn't be so excited. She rolled her eyes. "I mean, great, she said sarcastically."

Olivia was still walking on air when she and Sophia emerged from the FoodMart after the meeting. Halfway across the parking lot, Sophia spun around to face her.

"That wasn't like you," she said in a quiet, firm voice.

Olivia's heart sank. Sophia's seen through the switch! she thought.

"That idea," Sophia went on slowly. "The way you spoke up. Really, the fact that you came at all." Her lips curled into a smile. "Thank you so much, Ivy!" She started talking really fast. "It is such a seriously big deal to be on the planning committee for the All Hallows' Ball at all, and my best friend"--she grabbed Olivia's hand proudly--"my best friend, came up with the theme, is hosting it at her house, and is going to be head of decorations! And guess who she is going to appoint head of photography? This is deadly!" Sophia concluded, throwing her arms around Olivia in a huge hug.

Olivia couldn't help smiling and leaping around with her, at least a little bit.

"Enough!" Sophia cried, throwing her scarf over her shoulder. "I must go home and study algebra. But I will talk to you later." She gave a little wave and took off in the dimming autumn light.

Olivia knew she should hurry home, too. She'd promised to be home by seven; her father was grilling veggies on the new barbecue for dinner. But she decided it was okay if she paused for just a second. After all, she had made it through the meeting. Not only that, but she had really contributed. Her parents would be proud of her if they knew. She felt like she was really going to love Franklin Grove. That is, as long as Ivy didn't kill her.

As she stopped off in a restaurant's bathroom to change clothes, Olivia prayed that her sister had had a good date with Brendan. Actually, she hoped Ivy was more overjoyed than she'd ever been in her entire life, because, if not, she proba- bly wasn't going to handle Olivia's news very well. After all, not only was Ivy--the official Antiperky--going to have to plan the All Hallows' Ball, she had to convince her father to host it, too!

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