Dana wishes she’d have just followed one rule...
The Mystery of Windesta Creek
The Maroon Bathing Suit of Doom
The next day, I pondered over what Gwen said. Lil isn’t Aunt Greta? That couldn’t be possible!
But then again, Gwen had known Greta for years, and said outright that Lil wasn’t her. Plus, Lil had gotten so many details about her own life wrong- I mean, how could that be justified?
But Lil probably was my Aunt. I mean, there must have been a different Greta that Gwen was getting mixed up with. Lil and Greta were the same person. They had to be, or I wouldn’t know what I’d have to do.
I decided the whole thing was just too confusing to wrap my head around.
So, I painted Lil’s fence a creamy yellow on her orders. I made her a quiche. I tried to prove to her that I did not struggle to read the fantastically advanced book that was Junie B. Jones. I tried to paint little things in the house, like the crystal chandelier, or the embroidered tapestries, or the mahogany table. I wondered how a volunteer could live in such luxury. But no matter how fancy the chalice was that my brush strokes replicated, no matter how many sparkling gem colors I mixed, the paintings never seemed right. I ditched them all.
Gwen hadn’t spoken to me at all since she told me that Lil wasn’t Aunt Greta. And that continued for almost a week, me painting, cooking, cleaning (cough, cough, slaving) over Lil. It continued until I found a new object of interest to paint.
The forbidden room.
“ I’m going upstairs to paint.” I told Lil.
“ Have fun, and don’t stain my rugs!” She replied. So I scurried up, and tried my old trick of picking the lock. It didn’t work. The door wouldn’t open, and it hurt me to try when I opted for kicking it with bare feet. Ouch. There was something metal in there.
After a half hour of kicking, pleading, and fighting with the door to no avail, I tried something else. I looked through the key hole. I wanted to see a little of what Lil’s sanctum would look like. I pictured it as having yoga posters all around, like ‘ Feel the movement of your soul!’ or ‘ Believe in yourself, and believe in peace’. Maybe there would be calming music, and a mat, or maybe a big, comfortable couch for Lil to sit in when she tired of her stiff, golden loveseat thing.
I didn’t see any of those things. Instead, all I saw was a bit of dusty old wood panels on a wall. Pity, really, because from the outside of the mansion it looked like it would be a huge room. Instead, it was a few feet of space, and that space wasn’t even decorated in the slightest.
I sighed. That was truly a disappointment. Why would such a place be forbidden, if no one would want to go in there in the first place? So, I smeared myself with sun tan lotion, put on the only bathing suit I could find, which was, unfortunately, a frumpy maroon one piece, but who cared? It was an island, and I was going to the beach. I needed to get away from Lil’s constant demands.
Though the sand was rocky, the waves were warm, and it was high tide, a perfect time for splashing. I found a perfect little shell, and gazed at it. So smooth, so perfect. Even it’s ridges were polished. I loved shells like that, and I had a few at home. Mom collected a lot more then I did, in jars, all over every room in our little house. We spent so much time at the beach during the summer that the pictures I took in the hot weather starkly contrasted with the snowy photos I had for school.
So I let it be, and I rode the briny waves, no surfboard needed... until I heard a voice. A familiar one at that.
“ Hey, Dana.” It was Parker! I whirled around to see him, and he wasn’t here to swim. He wore jeans and a black tee-shirt, and scuffed up sneakers. I stayed deep in the water so he wouldn’t see my Bathing Suit Of Doom.
“ Hey, yourself.” I replied, then mentally smacked my head. What would bring me to say something on that level of lame?
“ So, what’s up?” I tried again, and hated it again. I just gave up on speaking.
“ Um, I came to say that, although I hate to admit it, Gwen’s right. Lil is not your Aunt. She doesn’t even look like you.” I had to admit that was true. Our family had been short through the generations, and not one of us had red hair.
“ So, assuming that she actually is a fake- what do I do now? I can’t leave the island, and how can I stay with her if she’s a complete stranger, Parker?” I hoped he couldn’t see that I wasn’t just anxious- I was terrified. A helicopter with red and white markings chopped the air above us. It was low, and it was probably landing here or near here. Curious, because I thought nothing could get on the island but the ferry.
“ The only thing you can do. Pretend she’s your real Aunt, and scope out her place.”
“ Like- you mean I should spy on her, and find out what she’s up to? ‘Cause I don’t think people pretend to have nieces on a daily basis.”
“ That’s exactly what I mean.” Parker stated gravely, “ But don’t worry. I have a plan. Every night, you can write a message in invisible ink, and leave it on the tree house. Gwen will pick it up, and I’ll decipher it.” He handed me a bottle, and a wheel looking thing.
“ Here’s a bottle of invisible ink. Since a lot of invisible ink isn’t really invisible, and most of the time it doesn’t work, I made you a special batch myself. It is completely hidden from the naked eye, and can only be seen if you not only have a heat lamp, but a cipher. The cipher is a code you use.” He explained, pride in his voice. I never knew that anyone could make invisible ink for real- usually you can see it, even if it’s just a tiny bit. I put a little on my finger. It was legit.
“ Thanks, Parker.” I said. But as he turned to leave, I knew that there was something important I had to say before it was too late, “ Why isn’t Gwen talking to me?”
He stopped, and the wind blew away his tracks, like he had been standing there forever. He sighed.
“ She thinks you didn’t believe her when she warned you.” He said.
“ But I do!” I whined, aware that I sounded like a total baby. By now, Parker must have thought I was totally dumb.
“ I’ll tell her. She’ll see. And I’m sorry, too. For how I spoke to you last time.” I was stunned. I had almost forgotten about that. I had based him on a first impression, while he was upset. Now I saw him as he was normally... and he deserved a second chance, if anyone did.
“ I’m sorry that I had the wrong impression of you. You’re not a jerk most of the time.” I said meekly. Maybe Gwen was right about Parker taking a little time to warm up to me.
“ Well... see you soon, then, Dana.” He did a short little wave, and left me standing it the briny water, awkwardly. I realized the water was gaining some major height. I suddenly felt daunted by the crashing waves, instead of exhilarated like some people would have been. Now that I was alone, I got out, Bathing Suit of Doom and all. I dried off, and like the true ballerina that I was, I tripped over a massive rock, the largest on the beach. The rock shifted slightly, but I had taken a tumble onto the ground.
Then I saw a piece of paper under the stone, rippling slightly, sand coating it’s words. I dusted it off, and heaved the rock off it. Panting, I read the beautiful Calligraphy on a gilded page.
H, we’re watching you at all times. Put a toe out of line, and everything is ruined. Bring the shipment to us before noon, and everything will in your grasp... if you don’t, we’ll take everything you care about, H. We expect to see you then.
I gasped, then choked on myself. This was some sort of threat! Someone thought a person called “H” was going to betray them and they seemed almost... murderous! I felt like I was going to hyperventilate as I folded the letter into my pocket, and walked back to the mansion, rereading it in my head, over and over and over, analyzing every word, every letter.
I noticed something on the road I hadn’t before on the way back. An ornate house was completely empty. I could tell, because the rooms were bare through the shining clean french windows, and that no car sat in the driveway. Why would no one live in such a gorgeous home? Maybe it was too overpriced, even for Windesta Creek. I never would have guessed that any place on this island could be uninhabited.
But it was only as I was unlocking the front door to Lil’s house to spy on her as I was hit with a rock of a realization. That house was three down from Lil’s. It belonged to Miss. Hollis! And Hollis started with an “H” too... she must have been the subject of the threatening letter.
She crossed the writers of the note, and they had done exactly what they had said. If you don’t, we’ll take everything you care about, H. Miss. Hollis was gone now, like she had never even been there. I wanted to vomit. She was mean and nasty, but she had disappeared without a trace. To everyone else, it would seem like she moved, but they hadn’t seen the note...
What was I going to do?
Then it hit me. I took out the invisible ink and the cipher, and slowly, carefully wrote out 9 words: Miss. Hollis not accident. Meet tomorrow at tree at 9. I couldn’t trust anyone but maybe Gwen and Parker. I had to tell them. I had the feeling we were in too deep to get out. But we were also in this together. They were my allies here, and maybe, soon, they would be my friends. At least, I really hoped so.
As I slept, I woke to a tap at the window. Gwen had come to pick up the letter that I knew Parker would read. I handed it to her, and slept the rest of the night peacefully, keeping the threatening note to Miss. Hollis in my drawer.
That morning, I tried to look for it. Parker and Gwen would need the letter as an important clue. I leafed through all my tops. Polka dots, stripes, even one with a watermelon on the front. Not a thing. I figured I must have put it in another drawer. I checked the skirts, dresses, pants, shorts, and sweatshirts.
Then I knew a terrible truth: the note wasn’t in my drawers. Someone had stolen it. And that meant someone was watching me.
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