Francesca and Eliza (Excerpt)
As Tara walked to her friend Rhea’s house, she marveled at the direction her life was taking. She had come into a new town and a new school with only her dreams of becoming a professional reporter and now everything was about to come true! Within two months she had been accepted to write for the school newspaper and then she had sent samples of her writing to the national newspaper. A week ago, the newspaper had replied back praising her work and even though her mother had reminded her that it had been a form letter, she was not about to be deterred. One day she would become a full time award winning journalist.
To make absolutely sure that she wouldn’t have to start from scratch in her job, she had secretly started to look for interesting stories, even if it meant idle school gossip that could be manipulated into a general interest story that might take the whole country by storm. She frowned as she recalled her sister’s reaction when she had confided in her about her dreams and ambitions. Her ten year old sister had burst out laughing and had asked her if her acne condition was a good enough story to take the country by storm.
She had of course unceremoniously thrown Tizzy out of her room. So what if people didn’t take her seriously now. One day, all of them would sit up and listen to whatever she wanted to say. She would start off as a small town journalist whose stories had become so compelling that every city would plead with her to join their newspapers. But she would have to start with this boring old Grimledge town. Even the town’s name was so boring!
But there just had to be something that might concern the town. So she had done something that she was proud of. She had become friends with what was considered the popular friend circle in school. She had seen them loitering about outside the school and she immediately decided they were the ‘too cool to stay in school’ types. She found it a little silly but maybe that’s how the schools were in these towns.
Her new friends had no idea that she wrote in the school paper because she always used a pseudonym, and she had to do this so that they would have no reservations of sharing any gossip with her. They were the ‘in’ crowd and who would have more gossip than them?
She smiled at herself and wondered how smart she had gotten. The day would come where she would become a renowned investigative reporter. Her appeal would be her intelligent mind and her exquisite taste in clothes, hair and makeup.
Her shoulder length dark hair was tied back neatly in a ponytail. She always wore an ironed beige jacket over almost everything, and her jeans were boot-cuts. No matter what she wore, she always wore medium length boots with long heels of course. It was then that she realized the purpose of this sleepover. She was an undercover journalist who was going to get the story of the millennium from her new friends!
She frowned and looked around for a pair of jeans she had bought long back and hadn’t bothered to wear. She fished out a boring brown sweater from the last shelf and loosened her tight pony tail. She looked at herself and sighed. The sacrifices she had to make to become a successful journalist.
She knew it was just a sleepover she was going to (actually her friends had insisted that it was a club meeting she was attending), but she wanted to dress her best. She always wanted to look proficient no matter what. But the sacrifice would be worth it, she told herself. It was only fashion after all.
She reached the front door and pressed a finger on the doorbell. She gasped as she saw a broken nail and quickly fished out a nail file. As she heard dull footsteps, she quickly filed her nail and slipped it back in her pocket as the door opened.
“Mrs. Morris!” Tara smiled. “I’m Tara, Rhea’s friend.”
The woman smiled pleasantly at her. “Oh, I’m not Mrs. Morris. I’m the caretaker. Come on in.”
“Thank you.” Tara said and walked in. Once inside she quickly glanced around her. “The house is…er…incredibly clean.”
Mrs. Morris beamed at her. “I’ll show you to Rhea’s room.” She said and proceeded to lead her upstairs. “How do you find this town? Rhea said you had just moved in two months back. I arrived here myself just two weeks back.”
“Oh, it’s beautiful!” Tara said. “Everyone is so nice to me and made me feel welcome at once.”
The caretaker nodded her head and opened a door. “Rhea, your friend Tara is here.”
“Thank you so much.” Tara said and walked into the room.
“Let me know if you need anything.” She said and before she closed the door, “Tell your mom that she has raised such a polite little girl.”
Tara’s mouth opened wide and her eyebrows shot up. Little? She wasn’t little! Young she could cope with, especially young woman. But… Little?
Rhea gave a short laugh. “Don’t mind her, Tara. Come on have a seat.”
Tara turned around and smiled at her friend. “Oh, I wasn’t perturbed by it at all.”
Maya laughed. “Yeah? That’s why your face was like…” Maya opened her mouth wide and widened her eyes, “What???”
Tara laughed and put down her overnight bag near the others. “I was just a little surprised, that’s all.”
“Whatever!” Maya giggled.
“So where’s Nita?” Tara asked. “Hasn’t she come yet?”
“Oh she did!” Rhea said and rolled her eyes. “But guess where she’s now?” Rhea pointed towards the bathroom door.
“I have to powder my nose!” Maya mimicked.
“I mean seriously, can’t she just say that she has to go to the bathroom?” Rhea said. “What’s with the ‘I have to powder my nose’ bit?”
Tara laughed with the others but inwardly she reminded herself not to use that phrase in front of them. It was what she always used too.
Two minutes later Nita finally came out of the bathroom and smiled at Tara. “Hey! You finally came!”
“Yeah!” Tara said and hugged her.
“Okay, okay!” Rhea said. Places everyone and let’s start the club meeting.”
“But can’t we change into our night clothes?” Maya whined.
Rhea sighed. “Okay! Everyone, you have five minutes to change.”
“Five minutes? That’s it?” Nita asked.
“Starting now!” Rhea said and rushed off to her closet to pull out a pair of pajamas.
In five minutes flat, everyone was wearing their nightclothes.
“Now can we start the meeting?” Rhea asked.
“Yes!” Everyone said in unison.
“Okay, then.” Rhea walked over to the light switch and pressed on it. Suddenly it was completely dark.
Tara smiled to herself as she saw Rhea reaching for a flashlight in the dark.
“Okay!” Rhea said and switched on the flashlight. “Who goes first?”
“What do you mean?” Tara asked.
“We’re telling ghost stories.” Nita explained. Tara groaned. Here she was hoping to catch some gossip from the popular students and they turned out to be premature teenagers.
“We need something really good!” Maya said.
Tara sighed and wondered if there was any way she could excuse herself and go home.
“How about a werewolf and vampire story?” Rhea suggested.
Nita shook her head. “Not scary enough.”
Tara rolled her eyes. What if she acted like she wasn’t feeling well? Acting wasn’t her forte, but she could try. These dunderheads wouldn’t know the difference.
“Oooh! I know!” Maya said. “Let’s tell Tara the story of Eliza and the old school building.”
“No way!” Nita said. “We’re not going down THAT road again. I had nightmares the whole week.”
“But it will be fun!” Maya whined.
“Maya, we promised Jay that we would never speak of it again.” Rhea said.
“Who’s Jay?” Tara asked. “And why would he not want you guys to tell the story?”
Rhea bit her lip. “Well…it’s not actually a story. It’s an actual incident that happened in the old school building.”
“Or at least that’s what people say.” Nita said raising her eyebrows.
“Jay is a friend of ours and this incident kind of connects him too.” Rhea explained hesitatingly. “You see, something happened twenty years ago and Jay’s aunt who used to go in that school-was the prime suspect. So…”
Tara sat up straight. Her heart thudded wildly. This could just be the story she was looking for! “What do you mean?”
Maya took a deep breath. “Uh…Jay’s aunt was well accused of murdering her friend Eliza because she just so happened to be there when her friend disappeared.”
“Wait!” Tara said. “Was the friend murdered or kidnapped?”
“Actually, Eliza just…disappeared. She was never found! Till today, nobody knows what happened. The case was never solved.” Rhea said.
“And they say that Eliza’s ghost still haunts the old school building!” Maya said. “Isn’t it spooky?”
Tara’s mouth dropped open. Was this just a story or something that had actually happened?
Tara looked at herself in the mirror and frowned. So much for being a reporter, she sighed. She tugged at her hair and pulled off the rubber band. This was hopeless. She was trying so hard to become a world-class reporter and she had hoped that her first story would come from her school and be filled with gossip and scandal and controversies. But it was not to be. Her plan: to get into the ‘popular’ group, turned out to be futile. All her efforts were going down the drain. She ran a comb through her hair and took a deep breath.
“Come on Tara!” she told herself. “Don’t give up hope yet. A good reporter doesn’t wait for stories to happen but makes them happen.”
She took another deep breath. Maybe she still could do something. Her eyes widened and she could actually feel her mind coming up with an idea.
The story, or legend or whatever it was, could perhaps be her first report. She smiled suddenly. If this was something that really happened, then she could crack the case. Find out what exactly happened, and then she could give all her findings to the police. Once they find out what happened they would certainly reward her or print her name in the newspapers. She could already read the headlines: Amateur reporter solves years old case!
Tara felt excitement tingling through her spine. And then another thought occurred to her. What if this was just a story? Maybe Rhea was just trying to scare her. But then why would they insist on not talking about this in front of Jay?
Tara tried to remember who Jay was. She had occasionally seen him around. He was always quiet and never spoke to anyone. She was sure that he didn’t even have friends. Rhea just tried to include him whenever they had lunch and even then he was always quiet and kept to himself. Was he hiding something?
Tara smiled broadly. Yes, she would speak to Jay. Maybe he could help her write her first report!
Tara waited outside the school patiently. Rhea, Maya and Nita had insisted that she come with them but Tara had quickly excused herself. She had to speak to Jay alone. She looked at all the students that came out from the main door and tapped her fingers impatiently on the wall. Where was he? She had seen him in the morning and again before the last period. Was he in detention? No way! Jay was way too quiet to get into trouble.
Just then she saw Jay walk out the front door with his head bowed and all alone. Tara almost felt sorry for him. What had made him such an outcast?
She quickly walked over to him. “Hi Jay!” she said cheerfully.
Jay almost jumped back and stared at her for a few minutes.
“Did I startle you?” she asked sweetly.
“Yeah! Kind of!” he mumbled and started walking.
Tara rolled her eyes. “So…I hope you don’t mind but I need to ask you something.”
Jay pushed his glasses up but didn’t look at her. “What?”
Tara thought quickly. “Uh…where’s the library? I need to do research for an essay I’m writing.”
“It’s three blocks away, turn left and go straight. You should see it from there.” Jay mumbled.
Tara sighed. Jay wasn’t even looking at her while talking. How could she get the information out of him if he was so reluctant? “Well…I’m doing this research on ghosts.” She said suddenly. “I’m really interested in all this…er…supernatural stuff.” Tara shook herself. What was wrong with her? Couldn’t she even talk normally to the person she wanted information out of?
Jay pushed up his glasses and Tara noticed that he seemed a little nervous. “That’s pretty okay!” he mumbled.
“Are you interested in all this? I mean…do you believe in ghosts?” Tara asked carefully.
Jay stopped suddenly and turned to look at her. “What do you mean?” he asked angrily.
“Nothing! I just…”
“I told you where the library was!” he said angrily.
“I’m sorry Jay, but I just wanted to know…”
“I know what you want to know Tara! But I’m not telling you anything!” he snapped and walked past her angrily.
Buy the ebook here: Francesca and Eliza