Don’t Move a Muscle!
“And I want it to have a halter top. Or maybe spaghetti straps. Of course my mom says it can’t be strapless.”
“Mine won’t let me get a black dress. She thinks it’s too formal. But I found something online that I think she’ll say is okay. It is so, so gorgeous.”
“Well, my parents say they won’t pay for a dress for an eighth-grade dance. But I’ve saved up a lot from babysitting.”
Four girls were sitting at a lunch table in school. Three of them had been talking about clothes for ten minutes. Those ten minutes had seemed more like ten hours to Cora Nicolaides, the fourth girl at the table. The eighth-grade dance was in a couple of weeks. Her
three best friends—Hailey, Amber, and Skye—had dates for it. Cora didn’t.
Hailey must have sensed how Cora was feeling. “Sorry, Cor,” she said. “This must all sound stupid.”
“No, it’s fine,” Cora said honestly. “I’m interested. It’s just . . . you know. I wish I could go too. The four of us have always done everything together.”
“But you can go! Lots of people are going to the dance without a date!” objected Amber. “Just come on your own and hang out with us.”
“Be bold,” Skye added.
Easy for them to say, thought Cora. Her friends had enough self-confidence for thirty people. And why not? All three were smart, athletic, and pretty. Cora knew she was smart, but she hated sports. (Reading was what she liked.) Pretty? Hard to say. She liked her hair—a tumbling cloud of dark brown curls. Her green eyes and thick black lashes were okay too. But wasn’t it really a person’s expression that got other people’s attention? And Cora was sure she looked too serious and shy for anyone to notice her.
Sometimes she wondered if Hailey, Amber, and Skye would have been her best friends if they hadn’t all been
in the same second-grade class. For so long they’d all been interested in similar things: crafts, animals, video games . . . but now the three other girls seemed to care much more about gossip. Who was going out with each other? Who was going to Brooke’s party that weekend? Why had Aiden been grounded?
Cora was interested in those things too, of course, but only up to a point. Was that going to become a problem? What if the three other girls moved on—found a new friend who was more outgoing, more like them? Then Cora would be on her own. And a lot of the time she felt lonely enough already.
But now Cora realized she was starting to feel sorry for herself. Don’t wallow, she thought. It won’t get you anywhere.
“So when are you guys getting these dresses?” she asked cheerfully. “Because you know I have to approve them first.”
“I was thinking this weekend would be good,” said Amber. “Maybe we could all go together?”
“Yes!” said Cora. Quickly she checked the calendar on her phone. “Why don’t we all go on Saturday afternoon? And then why don’t you come over for a sleepover?”
Her friends all promised to check with their parents
as soon as they could. “Perfect. I can’t wait to see what you guys pick out!” Cora said, hoping she sounded convincing.
Right then the bell rang to signal the end of lunch period. In the hustle to return trays and collect books, Cora felt free to drop the cheerful act. She sighed as she heaved her backpack onto her shoulder. The sleepover would be fun, she knew, but she also knew that most of their conversations would end up at the same place—the dance. Her friends would start by talking about the dresses they’d bought. Then the conversation would move on to their dates. And Cora would be nodding enthusiastically, trying to be a good sport.
Maybe I should buy a dress just in case, she thought. I might suddenly get the courage to go. Or it’s just possible that someone might—
But she cut herself off midthought. She’d better face it. Unless she went to the dance alone, she wouldn’t be going at all.
The middle school bus came so early in the morning, and took so long getting to school, that one of Cora’s
parents usually drove her and picked her up. Her dad was working from home today, so it would be his turn for pickup that afternoon. Cora took her time as she walked to the car-pool section of the parking lot after school. Her dad was usually a little late, and besides, she was deep in thought. It wasn’t the dance that was on her mind this time—or at least not the actual dance. It was a problem from her math class. Her math teacher, Mr. Ferris, always made a big deal about how helpful math could be in real life. That afternoon he had come up with a problem that was obviously meant to be “timely.”
The dance committee is setting up square tables for the eighth-grade dance. Each table seats four, and the committee may use as many tables as it needs. Tables may be pushed together, but no table arrangement may seat more than twelve. (Why? Because Mr. Ferris says so.) Show three different ways that sixteen couples could be seated for the dance.
Cora wished Mr. Ferris had written “thirty-two people” instead of “sixteen couples,” but this was the kind of math question she liked. She was walking slowly along, staring at the ground and imagining different table arrangements, when someone suddenly crashed into her.
“Whoa! Sorry! I didn’t see you.”
Startled, Cora looked up at the boy who had just bumped into her. He was a little older than she—ninth or tenth grade, maybe?—and incredibly handsome. He had dark, wavy hair, an olive complexion, and eyes that were almost black. He was several inches taller than Cora, and he was smiling down at her. His smile was pretty incredible too.
“I—I’m the one who should be sorry,” Cora stammered. “I was thinking about a math problem.”
“And I was going too fast,” said the boy. “Tell you what. We can both be sorry. How does that sound?”
Cora smiled shyly back at him. “Sounds good.”
“I guess I just proved that haste really does make waste,” said the boy. “Wait—that didn’t come out right. It’s never a waste to bump into a cute girl.”
Cora could feel herself blushing.
“But,” he continued, “I did drop all these postcards I’m supposed to be rushing to the post office.”
Now Cora saw that a pile of cards was scattered all over the ground. “Let me help!” she said. “Seeing as I’m so sorry and all.”
“Thanks—that’d be great. By the way, my name is Evan.”
Cora. Do you go to school here?”
Evan was down on his knees scrambling for the postcards. He stopped for a second to gesture toward the high school across the parking lot and the football field beyond it. “Yup, right over there. I’m a freshman. I’m on my way to work.”
Evan laughed. “Well, ‘work’ sounds better than ‘after-school job,’ don’t you think?”
He was already on his feet and reaching out for the few postcards Cora had picked up. She handed them over reluctantly. If only there had been a lot more postcards so that Evan could have stayed longer! But it wasn’t going to happen. He’d gotten all the cards back in order much too quickly.
“Gotta run—I’m already late,” he said. “See you around.” In a few seconds he had turned the corner and disappeared from sight.
Wistfully Cora watched him go. She had just had an actual conversation with a high school boy! Unfortunately, she would probably never see him again. . . .
“Who was that? He’s cute.” Hailey had come up from behind without Cora even noticing.
“He’s definitely cute,” Cora agreed. “His name is Evan. He’s a freshman. He has a job after school. And that’s probably all I’ll ever know about him.”
“I know one more thing. He dropped that card.” When Hailey pointed, Cora realized that one of Evan’s postcards was lying at her feet. She picked it up and looked at it more closely. The picture side had a black-and-white photo showing a cluster of statues on a lawn somewhere. Along the bottom were the words METAXAS SCULPTURE GARDEN PRESENTS . . .
“Presents what?” said Cora. She flipped the card over. “‘The unveiling of our newest acquisition,’” she read aloud. “Oh—it’s Sunday the eighteenth, the day after the dance.”
“What’s an acquisition?” asked Hailey.
“I think that’s what museums call it when they buy a work of art,” answered Cora.
“You can’t invite someone to a work of art!”
“No,” said Cora, “but you can invite them to come see it. The statue must be covered up, or something, and people can come watch them uncover it.”
But Hailey didn’t seem interested in that part of the story. “It’s like Cinderella in reverse!” she said now. “The
prince dropped his postcard when he ran away. Don’t you want to track him down so you can give it back?”
Cora shook her head. “He’s probably a mile away by now. And it’s just one postcard. He won’t miss it.” Carefully she tucked the card between two books in her backpack so that it wouldn’t get bent.
Hailey gave a fake-romantic sigh. “Your only souvenir of the mysterious Evan.”
“Oh stop,” said Cora. She was relieved to see her dad’s car pulling up. She waved at him, then turned to Hailey. “Want a ride home?”
When the two girls had arranged themselves in the backseat and Cora’s father had pulled out of the parking lot, Hailey said, “Okay. So. How did you meet cute, cute Evan?”
Cora gave her a quick explanation, and Hailey nodded in a satisfied way. “Very romantic.”
“Is this guy someone I should know about?” asked Cora’s father, glancing at Cora in the rearview mirror.
“Dad! No! I’m sure I’ll never see him again,” said Cora.
“He must work at the sculpture garden,” suggested Hailey. “It’s pretty close by. Have you ever been there?”
“No. I’ve only heard the name.”
Hailey, who was never shy about asking for favors, leaned forward in her seat. “Mr. Nicolaides, could you please drive us past the sculpture garden? Your uneducated daughter has never seen it before.”
“Guess I’ve failed as a parent,” said Cora’s dad. “Well, it’s easy to fix. Sure, I’ll take us over that way.”
The garden was on a quiet street a few blocks from the girls’ school. The house, a dark-red Victorian, was tucked back from the road. Stone paths led to the front door and, from a side door, into the sculpture garden.
Nothing about the house should have been unsettling. It should have looked like the cozy nest it had been built to be. But instead it looked forlorn and neglected. The dark, shaggy shrubs in front hadn’t been trimmed in ages. Inside, Cora could see that curtains had been drawn across every window on both floors.
The garden didn’t look very welcoming either. Cora hadn’t been quite sure what a sculpture garden was. The phrase had made her imagine rows of dignified, regal marble statues, something like what you’d find in the ancient Greek and Roman wing of an art gallery. And “garden”? Of course that called to mind her parents’ cheery garden in the backyard. This was nothing like that. The
lot was enclosed by an ornate wrought-iron fence that made the statues look like prisoners. Stunted trees had been placed here and there. Apart from them, there was also a tall rectangular hedge—a labyrinth, Hailey said.
The statues Cora could see from the road had been arranged in clusters. They’d been carved out of some kind of grayish stone and made to look like gods, goddesses, and heroes, though here and there Cora spied a few ordinary people from different periods in history. They were very realistic. For some reason, Cora didn’t enjoy looking at them.
She shuddered a little. “Kind of creepy,” she said.
“Totally creepy,” said Hailey emphatically. “When I was about five, my parents took me here. I don’t remember it too well, but my mom says I completely freaked out—they had to take me home. What I don’t understand is how anyone could collect statues like these.”
“There have always been rumors about this place,” said Cora’s father. “Statues coming to life, strange goings-on in the museum—things like that. All urban legends, but still spooky. I’ve heard that the garden was built over an old cemetery, and I’ve also heard that it was built right on top of a fault line. Have you looked at this long enough?”
said both girls in unison.
As Mr. Nicolaides began to drive away from the curb, a branch on one of the nearby trees suddenly shifted position—or at least that was how it looked. Most likely it was the wind. But Cora had the unmistakable impression that an unseen hand had shoved the branch away.
The branch had been concealing the face of the nearest statue. And the expression on the statue’s face was terrible.
It was the figure of a woman. She was wearing a tight-fitting buttoned jacket and what looked like a hoopskirt from the nineteenth century. The clothes had been carved with such amazing skill that the long stone skirt actually seemed to be rippling like fabric. Her hands were covering her eyes to shield them from . . . what?
Whatever it was, it had been something very, very bad. The woman seemed to be twisting away from an invisible tormenter. And her mouth was open in a silent scream of horror.
The car had pulled into traffic now, but Cora couldn’t stop staring at that statue’s face. Of course it wasn’t a real person. Of course not. And yet Cora was absolutely certain that the statue was begging for her help.