It was a mistake. I knew it was a mistake the moment I agreed.
I'm sorry, that's a very bad way to start a journal. Jane told me that if I want to be the Watson personality I should learn to write down my thoughts, but I've started it all wrong. Let me try again.
Hi. I'm Charlotte Holmes and I just moved here recently.
No. That's not good either. Let's just skip the introductions for now and get straight to the story.
It started as an average school day. Same boring classes to barely pay attention to. Same lunch with Jane at the far table. Until Stephanie Morgan walked over to our table with a large smile and a stack of envelopes.
"Hey, guys! How are you?" she spoke cheerfully, but her fingers drummed ominously on the stack of envelopes
Don't get me wrong, Stephanie's not evil or anything. Just... I don't know. She always felt like a suspicious character to me.
Jane smiled at her. "We're okay. What about you? I see you're getting ready for your birthday." She nodded to the stack of envelopes.
"Yup!" Stephanie's smile widened. "I have invites for you two here somewhere... One sec."
She flipped through the envelopes. She pulled one near the top out and handed it to me, then flipped the entire pile and found Jane's.
"Alphabetized by last name?" I asked, mainly to show Jane I was paying attention too.
Stephanie nodded. "Sleepover Saturday night. I hope you can make it."
I barely had time to say thanks before she moved on to her next victims.
I had already decided I wasn't going when I got home from school, but somehow my mother knew about it. She must have been stalking me. Either that or Stephanie was calling to ask for RSVPs from people.
"So what are you bringing to the party this weekend?" she asked, barely an hour after I got home.
"I'm not going to any parties right now."I told my mother, "I have way too much schoolwork."
She laughed. "Charlotte, honey, you've barely touched your schoolwork."
"See? I can't go."
"It's not like you would be doing it if you were home. Either you catch up on all your schoolwork, or you're going to that party."
It wasn't that far into the school year, but I was already very behind. The classes moved from topic to topic very quickly, and I was busy being rebellious. Jane had convinced me to do some work, so I wasn't too far behind in the classes we had together, but other than that, there was no hope.
"Who will hang out with you? I don't want you to be lonely." I was grasping at straws, and we both knew it. I didn't even get a verbal response, just a skeptical look.
"Fine." I gave in, "I'll go, but I won't promise to have fun."
My mother smiled, satisfied, and left the room.
Like I said, it was a huge mistake. The minute I knocked on the door, wearing my long blue dress special for the occasion, Stephanie swung it open. I was used to overdressing a little, but Stephanie was wearing pajamas, so I was extra overdressed.
"I didn't realize I was supposed to come in my pajamas." I admitted as I handed her the present my mother had picked up and wrapped. "Happy birthday!"
"Thanks! And you can change now if you like. No biggie. Come in!" she stepped back and gestured with her free arm to the room behind her. I was the first one there. Even after I changed, no one showed up for a while.
"Am I early?" I never knew when to come to a party. Obviously not before the time on the invitation, but at the time? Or after?
"Nah. Everyone else will be here soon enough. No biggie. Besides, this just means we can get to know each other better. I know you're new here. Where are you from?"
Stephanie then unleashed a barrage of questions so long I lost track of half of them, and when Jane and the rest of the party guests arrived, I was thrilled to fade into the background.
As I decorated a cupcake, Jane went over all the guests for me. (I had been assured they were dairy free, and Jane had a specially ordered gluten free cupcake in the kitchen and it was still sealed so it wouldn't get gluten in it. She didn't seem to mind not getting to decorate it.)
"That's Larissa." She gestured to a girl with long black pigtails dressed in pale purple pajamas. "She's in drama club with Steph. Most of the people here are, actually."
I carefully pressed five red sprinkles into the white frosting on my cupcake, their points touching. Then I did the same with blue, pink, yellow, and green. As I finished my fireworks design, I moved my shoulders until the ache of leaning over too long subsided.
Suddenly, someone shrieked.
I jumped, and turned to the source of the noise. Stephanie had frosting on her face and clothes. There were bits of cake everywhere on that side of the room. I looked at Jane, and she backed away from Stephanie. I looked back at the victim. She was holding a toothpick umbrella in one hand. Tears formed behind the frosting on her face.
"I don't know what happened!" she told her mother who had come in to investigate the shriek, "I tried to put the umbrella in my cupcake and it exploded!"
"Jane," I turned to look at my friend. "This looks like a mystery for you to solve!"
"I can't." She shook her head. "I would have to inspect the evidence, but it's not gluten free. Charlotte, you're on your own."
I sighed, but stepped forward and asked Mrs. Morgan if I could inspect the cupcake that had exploded on her daughter. By the time I got to the scene of the crime, I had no way of knowing if it had been tampered with. Still, after inspecting the chocolate cake remains, I found a small sliver of rubber. Someone had put a balloon in Stephanie's cupcake.
My mind started racing down pathways I didn't know existed. Why would someone want to sabotage the party? And who had access to the cupcakes?
"When I had inquired about the cupcakes, Stephanie said she had made them with her mother before any guests arrived," I told Jane, "but Stephanie wouldn't be trying to do that to herself."
"Maybe she got the wrong one," Jane suggested.
"Or maybe someone knew the activity was planned and brought one to switch out. It's both lucky and a pity we were on the other side of the room."
I wished there was a way I could have been closer, but with Jane's gluten allergy I was more just happy that the crumbs hadn't gotten her.
"Lucky for you, there are a lot of witnesses. Let's see what we can find out from them."
While we waited for Stephanie to return to the party, Jane and I walked around asking questions. I wrote down our findings on a napkin, (Why is it that the best thinking is always done on a napkin?) but I'll do my best to put it in here.
People near Stephanie:
They're all in drama club. Maybe Stephanie got the main part in their next performance?
I'm so bad at this. It's just after midnight, but we haven't gone to sleep yet. Everyone else is doing nails, but I don't like having my nails done. They only get ruined from my paint.
If I had my guitar, I might play to organize my thoughts. After I wrote everything down, we were going to watch a movie, but nothing was working. I'm beginning to wonder if Stephanie's mother is doing it. The cords were all disconnected and tangled and we couldn't figure anything else out. Stephanie has been getting increasingly frustrated.
Does it really make sense that Stephanie's mother would sabotage her daughter's party? I'm going to ask if there are other family members who aren't here.
She has a brother! That makes so much more sense. He and their father are away for the weekend. Some sort of consolation for being kicked out. I bet he's not too happy about that.
Jane still refuses to take the initiative on the case. She says the movie thing was a coincidence and I should learn not to jump to conclusions. I don't know. She's acting pretty suspicious herself if you ask me. But she couldn't have done the cupcake. And she'd need a motive. Maybe she's an accomplice? I need research.
After I put my journal away, things got pretty crazy. Stephanie didn't seem to want me to do too much digging on her family, but she gave me a photo album to flip through. It was pretty old, but I still recognized her and one other girl who seemed to show up a lot. Jane was in half the pictures. Did they use to be besties? Did they have a huge fallout? Did Jane actually have a motive?
Anyway, with that on my mind, I rejoined the group. Stephanie decided that we should ditch the party schedule and tell spooky stories. Penny told a story about a certain type of golden spider that sucked people's blood and then spit it out, and then when we tried to go to sleep, there were five golden spiders in a bright red stain on both Stephanie and Skylar's sleeping bags.
Upon closer inspection, the stain pealed off very easily and resembled strawberry fruit roll up in consistency smell and taste.
Stephanie's brother couldn't have known what story Penny would tell, so that ruled him out. Penny didn't sneak out after, and she might have admitted to that if it was her, so it would go with her story. But the spiders matched the description, and were real. Anne collected them, proving that she's not afraid of them, and brought them outside.
The Morgans didn't have a bathroom in the basement where we were sleeping, so everyone left the room at least once. It was hard to keep track of it all, and when the things were happening.
Each time something happened, a few of the girls from the drama club started crying, but I couldn't decide if it was a cover or they were actually scared.
We finally went to bed around 1:30, but the temperature kept jumping around and no one got much sleep. When we woke up in the morning, someone had drawn horns and a mustache on Stephanie's face in black marker. She looked mad. Really mad.
"Okay. Enough is enough."
Everyone turned to look at me. Some of them looked relieved. Some looked nervous. I thought I even caught a few smiles, but when I looked at those girls the smiles were gone.
"There are eleven people down here, and I've already ruled out everyone else. That means someone right here is pulling all these pranks on Stephanie who was kind enough to invite us all to her party. Her parents let her choose whoever she wanted to come, and she chose you. That means she trusts you, and at least one of you has broken that trust. If you have something against Stephanie, that's your business. And frankly, doing this kind of thing reflects badly on you. Not Stephanie. Still, to get your revenge on her birthday? That's just mean. Honestly, I don't know Stephanie very well, but I know her well enough to know that she's a reasonable person. If you have a problem with something she did, you can talk it over with her. You don't need to hurt her like this."
I took a deep breath. I hadn't meant to say half of that. I had just meant to tell them to lay off. I hadn't felt like partying in a long time, but that didn't mean I could sit back and let someone else ruin the fun for the birthday girl.
The silence stretched for what felt like forever, and then someone started clapping. I don't know who started it, but then everyone joined in.
They started saying things like:
'She's so right.'
And a few other things that conveyed a general feeling of agreement.
When the clapping subsided, I added a bit more. "Thank you. Now I know that the person isn't going to cause any more problems, and as much as I want to finish this mystery as solved, that's not what's important. This is Stephanie's party, so let's let her enjoy it for whatever amount of time we have left. Afterwards, whoever did it can make it right with Stephanie."
"That's it?" Jane asked me, "you're just going to let it go?"
"It's not my business." I told her. "Of course I have my theories, but no one asked me to get involved."
I guess I really have changed since we moved in. But I'm not so desperate to be a detective anymore. The first case I worked on in my new life had such a different solution then I thought it would that I did a lot of thinking about solving mysteries. Real life isn't a fun puzzle to solve.
It's real people with real emotions and I really didn't want to make it worse by accusing anyone of doing something they hadn't done. I fully expected to walk away, but two of the girls stepped forward.
"It was me!" Anne and Penny spoke at the exact same time.
They glanced at each other, smiled a little and then Penny amended the statement.
"It was us." She turned to face Stephanie. "We're really sorry, but we had this script we were writing and we needed to do some research for how people would react. Then when you invited us, we thought it was the perfect opportunity."
"But it was wrong. We should have asked first." Anne continued, "you're in drama club too, you might have agreed to the experiment."
Stephanie smiled and I got the impression that the black marker seemed to agree with her smile. "I would have. I love a good performance."
I knew right then her smile was hiding something. I looked around the room. Every single girl was wearing that same secretive smile, except for Jane. Jane leaned against the basement wall, her whole body sagging with disappointment. A new thought occurred to me and I decided to test my theory.
"What's wrong?" I whispered to Jane. She straightened quickly and flashed a half-hearted grin. "Nothing. I guess I'm just not satisfied with the motive. Seriously, research for drama club? It doesn't feel dramatic enough."
"Isn't it better that everyone's happy now?"
But she still seemed disappointed.
"You know, lies are more believable when there's a bit of truth to them."
Jane glanced at me sharply. "You think they're lying?"
I ignored her question. "Isn't it interesting how you were just out of range of the cupcake last night?"
"It was really lucky." The disappointment on Jane's face was replaced with nervousness.
"Jane." I couldn't beat around the bush any longer. "Why?"
She blushed. "Why what?"
"Why would you plan this whole scheme? Why use Stephanie's party to give me a mystery? Why put yourself in potential danger?"
"What are you talking about?" She was trying to be calm, but I had been studying Jane in school for over a month now. And she wasn't in the drama club.
Somebody must have overheard my questions because the girls were clapping again. Stephanie stepped forward to explain.
"After Jane solved your first mystery, she felt guilty. You had just moved in, and tried to make some friends by helping them, but she took your spotlight, and you hid behind her. Now, Jane's pretty quiet and she didn't think your personality could fit behind hers, so she took matters into her own hands. After we planned all the tricks and got the best girls from the drama club in on it, their was only one problem."
"To get me to come." I cut in. "So you called my mom and got her in on it too?"
"Actually, I called her," Jane said, "but, you know."
"Wait." I looked from Jane to Stephanie. "Last night I saw pictures of the two of you together from a long time ago, but I didn't even know you knew each other until we got the invitations. Why would you turn your party upside down for her?"
"First off, a dramatic mystery party? Are you kidding? It's probably the best party I've ever had."
Stephanie grinned, clearly anticipating a bomb drop. "Second, I would do almost anything for my cousin."
I know that this journal doesn’t have to be educational, but I learned a valuable lesson that day. When someone who you barely know invites you to a slumber party, do your homework or you might have to go and find out that your best friend has been plotting behind your back.