The notes were appearing everywhere. Everyone was talking about it. The first time Harriet and Beth Ellen ever saw anyone get one was one day in July when they were in the supermarket in Water Mill. They were standing at the checkout counter waiting to pay for their cookies. The woman with mean eyes who always checked them out was getting ready to charge them, when she suddenly drew her hand back from the cash register as though bitten by a snake.
"What in the world . . . ?" she shrieked, and Harriet almost broke her stomach in two leaning over the counter to see. The woman held up a large piece of paper on which was written awkwardly in red crayon:
Jesus hates you
"What is that? What in the world is that? Why would someone do that? What could they mean by that? Why would they say that to me? To me . . . to me?" The woman screamed on and on. A clerk came running. The manager of the store came running. Harriet stood with half-closed eyes, watching. Beth Ellen stared. Everyone began talking at once.
"Jake at the feed store got one."
"They're all over town. Everybody in Water Mill has gotten one."
"Why doesn't somebody do something? What is this?"
"They have. Mr. Jackson went to the police."
"Well, they're looking around. What can they do? They can't find out who's doing it."
"Maybe they're protecting somebody."
"Yeah. Didn't have none of this all winter. One of those summer people flipped, maybe."
For some reason everyone turned and looked at Harriet and Beth Ellen. Harriet was so busy writing down everything in the notebook she always carried that she didn't notice, but Beth Ellen started to back out of the door.
"This all you have, kids?" The woman at the register suddenly became very sharp and businesslike.
"Yes," said Harriet in what she hoped was a disinterested way.
Beth Ellen was already out on the street. Harriet saw her streaking for the long black car.
"Well, I'll tell you," said the checkout lady as she put the cookies in a bag, "there's some mighty strange people in these parts of a summer."
Harriet stood a minute with the bag in her hand, hoping the woman would say more, but she just looked at Harriet expectantly. Feeling foolish, Harriet turned abruptly and left the store.
Outside, she walked slowly to the car. The air on this early morning was sweet, faintly wet, and clinging. She felt the same nostalgic joy that she felt every year. The memories of every summer of her life seemed to make the air thick and rich. It was all so beautifully familiar: the short stretch of stores along the Montauk Highway, the flag in front of the tiny post office, the sign saying You are entering Water Mill, New York. Slow down and enjoy it, which now was a virgin-white with black letters but by the end of the summer would be scrawled with drunken wit.
Even Beth Ellen, who sat waiting in the backseat of the big car driven by Harry, the Hansens' chauffeur, seemed a patient memory. Funny about Beth Ellen, thought Harriet as she climbed into the backseat. I never see her in the winter the way I do Janie and Sport, even though I go to school with her; and in the summer she's my best friend, just because she lives in Water Mill too, I guess.
The car glided off. She punched the button which raised the glass between the backseat and the front. She liked privacy. Besides, she liked pushing all those buttons.
"No, no," said Beth Ellen and pushed it again so that it lowered, "we have to tell him where we're going."
"I have to go to your house. I left my bike there," Harriet said, pushing the button again briskly. "Then shall we go to the beach?"
Beth Ellen looked frightened, but that was so much her normal expression that Harriet thought nothing of it. "I don't know if I can ride good enough to go that far."
"Sure you can. How're you ever going to learn if you don't try it? What good is a bike if you just ride around your driveway?"
"But I only learned a month ago." Beth Ellen began to munch a cookie in a distracted way.
"Well, I don't care if you come or not." Harriet delivered this last looking sideways at Beth Ellen. It worked.
"I didn't say I wasn't going. I want to go."
"I know what let's do." Harriet made her eyes into slits and pushed them so far sideways her head hurt. "Let's just run past the Evil Hotel on the way."
Beth Ellen turned an intense red.
"Hee, hee," said Harriet and looked out the window.
"If you want to," said Beth Ellen, trying to look bored. She succeeded only in looking faintly sick to her stomach.
"If I want to!" said Harriet rudely. "HAH!"
"I thought you were writing a story about it," said Beth Ellen.
"I am," said Harriet, "but only because we've spent practically the whole summer there! I haven't anything else to write a story about! What have I seen this summer? Only that silly Bunny! And what have I heard this summer? Only that silly Bunny play the piano!" She sounded quite angry. "Well!" she said emphatically and stopped.
"Well, you don't have to come," said Beth Ellen with a little smile.
"I'm coming," said Harriet. "I have to finish my story now, don't I?" She grabbed for the cookie box and stuffed three in her mouth. Beth Ellen smiled. Harriet saw her and said with her mouth full, "Listen, Mouse, for a mouse you sure get your own way all the time." Beth Ellen looked out the window to hide her tiny smile.
The car turned into the driveway of Beth Ellen's house. "I have to go and see my grandmother before I go," said Beth Ellen in a rather mournful way.
"That's okay," said Harriet. "I'll just fool around here." She didn't even look at Beth Ellen, because she was watching Harry. She had been spying on him all summer, and he bore careful watching. Harry seemed to lead a very curious life.
"And anyway," said Beth Ellen as she slammed the door to the car, "it's you that call it the Evil Hotel. I don't."
Harriet started to shout something after her, but Beth Ellen shot through the door. Hhrumph, she thought, I just called it that to bug her. I never saw anybody with such a crush. I hope I never have one.
She marched off to the servants' quarters, which were attached to the garage. Covering her course as well as she could by a row of hedges, she stationed herself at the window of Harry's room.
Excerpted from The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh. Copyright © 2002 by Louise Fitzhugh. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.