The thing about Chloe is, you never know what she’ll do. She’s crazy. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. It’s just that she’s totally unpredictable. Take the Junior Prom, for instance–she wore a tuxedo. Not that weird, you say? It was her date’s
tuxedo. And she actually convinced him
to wear her prom dress. And this is Josh Stone we’re talking about, King of the Jocks, not some poor little freshman so in awe of her he couldn’t say no. Why did she do it? She said that shade of pink was perfect
with his skin. If you knew Chloe, you’d know that is so typical.
So that Monday on the lunch lawn, when Chloe told me her new house was haunted, I pretty much took it in stride. I mean, things that sound outrageous when someone else says them sound like everyday stuff coming from Chloe.
“Yeah, right,” I said, peeling my orange. “I’ll bet it’s Elvis.”
“Don’t be silly,” she giggled. “Elvis is dead.”
You see what I’m up against. If she wasn’t my best friend, sometimes I think I would just write her off.
“I thought that was kind of a prerequisite,” I said.
“His name is James,” Chloe told me, ignoring my sarcasm, as usual.
“Oh yeah. James Dean. That was going to be my second guess.”
She laughed. “You never believe me, Melissa, but I always turn out to be right. When are you going to learn?”
I didn’t say anything back to that, because basically I couldn’t. Unfortunately it’s pretty true. The thing is, though, her stories are always so totally unbelievable. Take the story in question, for example.
I sighed. “So what makes you think you have a ghost in your house?”
“Well, I can see him, for one thing. And he talks to me. He’s a really interesting guy–cute too. I know you’re going to love him.”
“No doubt,” I said, completely unconvinced. “And how do your parents like . . . what’s his name again? James?”
“They can’t see him,” Chloe answered, pulling another speck of pickle out of her tuna salad sandwich and adding it to the growing pile of condiments on the pink paper napkin in front of her.
“Of course not,” I said, sarcasm flowing once again. “That’s so convenient.”
“Yes, it really is,” Chloe agreed, missing my point completely. “Can you imagine my mom dealing with a ghost in her new dream house? Or my dad either, for that matter–he’s still in shock over the payments. It’s a lot better this way. Everybody’s happy.”
That, of course, was the understatement of all time. If the average family is happy, then Chloe’s is delirious. Her mom and dad are as in love as when they met twenty years ago. It’s a crazy story, but then it involves Chloe.
You see, her dad is British, but he got sent to Japan to shoot some photos for the magazine he was working at–he’s a photographer. He met Chloe’s mom on a bus, and it was love at first sight. They got married a week later and eventually moved to California.
The rest, as they say, is history. Chloe and her older brother, Chaz, were both born in California–half Japanese, half English, and 100 percent American. Chloe of course gets no end of enjoyment out of watching people try to figure out how a girl who looks like she does could be named Chloe Hart. If they’re unfortunate enough to ask, she always tells them she’s Norwegian. That shuts them up every time.
“And Chaz? Can Chaz see him?” I asked at last.
“Not yet. James and I are still trying to decide if that’s a good idea. You’re the first person I’ve told.” Chloe glanced quickly over her shoulder to see if anyone was listening. “I would have told you sooner,” she added apologetically, “but I
only found out a week ago, and I’m still getting used to the whole idea myself.”
“No problem,” I said. At that point, of course, I had no idea exactly how big a problem it was going to turn out to be.
Chloe gathered up the napkin containing the spurned pickle specks, stuffed it back into her brown paper bag, and looked around at the other students lounging on the lunch lawn with satisfaction. “Thank God it’s the last week of school,” she announced. “I don’t know how much more of this I could take.” She stretched her bare legs out more comfortably on the grass and turned her face up into the sunlight.
“How much more of what?” I asked.
“You know. School.”
“Oh, right. It must be awful. Josh Stone practically on his knees asking you out every day, everyone else trying to get you to go out for cheerleader next year or at least class president, all of your teachers telling the whole class how much they’re going to miss you, cute guys practically lining up to sign your yearbook–I can see why you have to get out.” Of course I was exaggerating, but not much. Everyone loves Chloe.
“Oh, Melissa,” she giggled. “You know that’s not true.” But she looked pleased just the same. “Anyway, you’re just as popular as I am.”
I snorted so hard that Diet Coke almost came out my nose. “Please!”
I said. “No one
is as popular as you are.”
She opened her eyes just long enough to favor me with that very trying expression she has when she thinks she knows more than you do.
The thing is, I know I’m popular. I’m also pretty good-looking–in the exact opposite way of Chloe. A lot of girls could probably do more with blond hair, blue eyes, and a figure like mine–heck, I
could probably do more with them–but I just don’t care that much most of the time. I go through stages.
“So what are we going to do after school?” I asked finally.
“I thought you wanted to come over and meet James,” Chloe said, as if it were all settled.
“James. Right. How could I forget?”
“Meet me in the parking lot after sixth period, then,” she said, smiling a beautiful closed-eyes smile.
I waited for Chloe in the student parking lot after school, and by the time she showed up at her canary yellow Karmann Ghia, I was prepared to really enjoy my afternoon. There was no doubt in my mind that I was not
going to see a ghost, but if we were very quiet and very lucky, we still might sight the elusive Chaz–Chloe’s older and oh-so-gorgeous brother. Not that I would tell Chloe for a minute what I was thinking. She had only scorn for all the girls her age who chased Chaz year after year with zero success. And now that Chaz was in college, my interest in him was even more futile. But hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?
“I know what you’re thinking,” Chloe announced as she dumped her books into
he backseat through the hole that used to be her rear window. In true Chloe style, she had cut the old vinyl window out of the rag top shortly after she got the car, reasoning that windows in a convertible were pointless anyway.
“You do?” I asked, feeling a little sick to my stomach.
“Sure. You’re nervous about meeting James. I mean, what do you say to a dead guy, right?” She giggled at her own joke as we got into the car and I fumbled around for the seat belt–something you definitely don’t want to be without when Chloe’s driving.
“Right,” I said, immensely relieved that she didn’t know me quite
as well as she thought she did. “I’ve been thinking about my opening question. I mean, it would probably be kind of rude to ask him how he died, us just having met and all, so I’m thinking of asking him if he knows Marilyn Monroe.”
“Oh, Melissa,” Chloe giggled again. “You’re going to love him. You’ll see.”
I knew she was pulling my leg, but I figured the game would be over soon enough when we got to her house and “James” failed to appear. And anyway, it was
pretty good entertainment.
We drove through the downtown streets by school and out to the coast, where we cruised along the white stretch of beach for as long as we could before we had to make the turn toward the foothills and Chloe’s house. The day was glorious–does that sound too stupid? Well, you know what I mean. Absolutely beautiful. It was practically summer and you could smell it. A hot ocean breeze funneled through the open car, blowing our loose, flowered dresses over our knees and sending our hair streaming out behind us like the banners of two different countries. Cute guys on the boardwalk even stopped to whistle at us as we went by.
Way too soon, we were at Chloe’s house. I still couldn’t believe that she was actually living in the old Harding mansion. It’s practically the biggest house in town and very pretty, in a 1920s, Hollywood-Spanish, white-stucco-and-pink-bougainvillea kind of way. Mr. and Mrs. Hart loved it for years. They had even talked to old Mrs. Harding about buying it a few times, but she didn’t want to sell, and Chloe said they couldn’t afford to pay her what it was worth, anyway. No one could believe it when Mrs. Harding died and her will said that the house should be sold to the Harts for half its value (which was still a lot, by the way) and the money donated to charity. Nobody challenged it, though.
“This doesn’t look like a haunted house to me,” I observed as we pulled off the big, circular gravel driveway into the little shaded alcove that Chloe calls her carport. Everything about the house and yard was immaculate, and new white lace curtains billowed in the breeze at every second-story window. The flowers were blooming everywhere, including halfway up the walls on the sides of the house, and enormous clumps of white and purple wisteria hung down from trellises over all the doors. As we got out of the car, I could hear someone splashing in the huge rectangular swimming pool in the backyard, and I swear my heart missed a beat. Could it be Chaz? And there was something else.
“Do I smell cookies?” I asked hopefully.
Chloe laughed, knowing my weakness for a good chocolate chip cookie. “Probably. My mom’s gone all domestic on us now that she has her dream house.”
“Well, I’ve got to tell you, Chloe,” I said, heading up to the walkway. “I don’t know about you, but I’m terrified.”
As soon as we got in the front door, Mrs. Hart called out in that truly unique Japanese-British-Californian accent of hers, “Is that you, Chloe? Come into the kitchen–I made some cookies.”
we whispered, high-fiving as we started toward the back of the house.
The kitchen in the Harding mansion is really incredible. It’s as big as most people’s living rooms, for one thing. I guess it was originally built for servants or something, which is why it’s kind of tucked away at the back of the house, but somewhere along the line it got remodeled and most of the back wall was blown out and replaced with glass. Big plate-glass windows look out over the back patio and swimming pool, and big plate-glass windows were giving me one of the best views of Chaz Hart I’d had in a long time. And talk about something to see! Chaz Hart is probably about the most heart-stopping handsome guy anywhere. I watched with longing as he toweled off his tall, muscular body, his short brown hair still dripping from his swim.
“Cookie, Lissa?” Chloe asked, reminding me that I was not at leisure to stare too obviously.
“Thanks,” I said, joining her at a counter bar stool and taking the big, gooey cookie she was offering. I probably didn’t need the calories, but hey–you’d have done the same thing if you’d seen it.
“How was school?” asked Mrs. Hart. Mrs. Hart is really nice and everything, but I mean it–can’t adults ever
think of anything else to ask us?
“Fine,” we both said together, our mouths full.
“Did anything interesting happen?” she pressed.
“Well,” I said, “Chloe can’t decide if she should be head cheerleader or class president next year. The entire junior class has promised to vote for her either way.”
Mrs. Hart looked thrilled. “Really?”
“No,” Chloe said, kicking me gently but meaningfully on my bare shin. “Melissa is just fooling around.”
“Oh,” said poor Mrs. Hart, looking totally confused and disappointed. “I guess I knew that.”
“That was mean,” Chloe told me as we headed up the stairs to her room. “You know my mom takes everything seriously. You shouldn’t play with her like that.”
“I forgot,” I said, feeling a little guilty. If you’d seen how crushed Mrs. Hart looked, you’d know what I mean.
“She’ll get over it. Just don’t tease her anymore.”
“I won’t,” I promised as I followed Chloe into her room. I really had the best intentions at the time.
“Whoa, Clo!” I said as soon as I got a good look around. “Been doing a little redecorating?”
“My mom did it for me,” she answered, indicating the entire room with a sweep of her right arm. “What do you think?”
“That’s what I think too,” she said, pleased as could be.
Mrs. Hart had really gone all out. It seemed like the whole room was white lace: white lace curtains, white lace canopy bed, overstuffed white chairs with white lace ruffles around the bottom, white lace valance over an antique white vanity. You get the idea.
“Wow,” I said again. It was unbelievable. It was all so romantic and . . . well . . . feminine, I guess. It looked
like a girl’s room. More than that, it looked like Chloe’s room.
“I knew you’d like it,” she said, flopping onto the bed.
And I really did, but somehow it made me feel lousy at the same time.
“It’s beautiful,” I assured her.
But the monster was out of the closet, and I knew I was going to be depressed for the rest of the day. The thing was, I knew I’d never have a room anything like Chloe’s. Not because I didn’t want one, and not because my parents couldn’t afford it, but because they’d never think of it in a million years, and I’d rather die than ask them. You see, they insist on thinking of me–when they think of me at all–as the intelligent, no-nonsense type who prefers everything to be functional and practical. I can’t begin to tell you where they got that idea, but parents have a way of forming you into what they’ve decided you are. So I’m the practical one. My room is very practical.
Unfortunately it doesn’t end with my room. My clothes are practical. My classes are practical. Everything I do is practical. Most of the time I feel like I’m in jail. Just once I’d like to be like Chloe–free-spirited, wild even, at liberty to be whatever I want one minute and something else the next. Just once I’d like to have a lacy room or a low-cut dress without everyone saying, “You
, Melissa? That’s not really your style, is it?”
The rest of the afternoon was kind of a drag. James refused to show himself (big surprise there), and I was too depressed to really appreciate how ridiculous Chloe looked scolding empty air. I was sure it was all just a big show for my benefit, but I couldn’t get into it. By the time Chloe took me home, I could barely keep up the cheerful act.
You see, I haven’t told you everything yet. My parents are getting divorced.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Ghost of a Chance by Laura Peyton Roberts. Copyright © 2006 by Laura Peyton Roberts. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.