"He-llo? Earth to Alice?"
Tess's laughing voice brought Alice back down to reality. Tess was waving a hand over Alice's face. "I thought you had gone catatonic or something. Come on, the others went behind the house. I think they're going to try to sneak in through the backdoor."
Alice followed Tess, but not before looking up at the window again. The curtain remained stationary, as if mocking Alice. Maybe I imagined it, she wondered. She was certainly jumpy tonight, and with Gwen and Althea screeching like that, it was no wonder her eyes -- and her mind -- were playing tricks on her.
"You don't have to be afraid, you know," Tess said, glancing at Alice as they walked past the sycamore trees that ringed the house. "I've been in this house before, years ago, as a kid. My brother dared me."
"Wow, you went by yourself?"
Tess shrugged. "He said he'd give me ten dollars. Ten dollars is a lot of money to a seven year old!"
Alice laughed along with Tess at this. "But still... You must have been scared."
"Aw, it wasn't so bad. Just a bunch of cobwebs and broken glass. Nothing much to see. Didn't you have any haunted houses back in Connecticut, where you lived?"
"Nope, nothing so exciting as a haunted house. Just a lot of elderly folk. Oh, and cows."
"Well, I'm glad you moved to California. I love living here."
"Me too. So far, I mean."
They walked on in companionable silence. Alice's heartbeat was coming back down to a more normal rate. If Tess hadn't been scared by the house -- and she certainly didn't look scared now -- then maybe Alice had no reason to be afraid. For some reason, she trusted Tess. She knew her best out of the group, except for Gwen. And to be completely honest, Alice had accepted Gwen's overtures of friendship because she had known this was her one ticket to popularity, her once chance at being something other than the mousy nobody she'd been back in Fairfield.
When they reached the other girls, Gwen was shining her flashlight through a window, peering through the rough pieces of driftwood that had been used to board it up. Althea was rapid-fire texting on her cell phone and Alanna was attempting to peer over at Althea's phone.
"Quit it, Alanna," Althea snapped, shoving her phone back in her pocket. "You're always snooping in my stuff."
"Both of you quit it! I need help. The backdoor is locked and these boards weren't here last week. I don't know how we're going to get in." Gwen turned around, her eyes flashing to where Tess stood next to Alice.
"Hey, you're like tiny, Tess. I bet you fit in between the boards if we push you hard enough."
"You're crazy, " Tess scoffed. "I am not being pushed through a window."
"I'll let you have my mani/pedi appointment at Sparkles."
A few minutes later the girls were trying to push Tess through the small space in between the boards.
"Be careful with this shirt! It was a gift."
"Tess, it's flannel. That's so 1997," Althea smirked.
Before Tess could reply, she suddenly disappeared through the window, landing with a soft whump inside the house.
"Tess! Are you okay?" Alice called out.
"Shh, we don't want to call unnecessary attention to ourselves," Gwen snapped.
Yeah, should have thought of that before you went screeching like banshees, Alice thought to herself.
Tesss's disembodied voice could suddenly be heard from inside. "Yeah, I'm good. Let me just find the door."
"Hurry up, I have to pee," Althea whined.
"Ugh, gross! The bathrooms must be all moldy and disgusting. Why don't you just use a bush, Thea."
"Why don't you just shut up, Lanna."
"Um, guys?" Tess's voice came again, a little louder this time. "I think we have a problem..."
"What, is the door broken or something?" Gwen asked, rattling the doorknob.
"No. We're not alone."