Once upon a time, in a very old three-story house in Chicago, there was a girl named Grintha Morse. Grintha was a disagreeable, selfish girl who only seemed to like gold. She constantly disagreed with her teenage sister Ashley, and her parents were always frustrated with her. She refused to wear anything that didn't have a little gold on it, painted her room gold, and even made Ashley's four cats gold collars. She stayed this way until she was 11, and something amazing happened to her that she never told anyone. What was it, you ask? It all started one crisp fall day, when Grintha went to the library to do some research.
She was doing a report on Robert de Beckard, an obscure English explorer. He left for America a wealthy man who was rumored to have a valuable ring with magical powers in his possession, and came back poor and the laughingstock of his former friends, the rich nobles, and, according to her mean teacher Mrs. Nice, he had built her house a long time ago. She had checked out all the libraries around Chicago for books on him – all but one. None of the other libraries had anything, so Grintha had to go to this one. It was old and ugly, from its weathered red brick walls to the crumbling limestone steps. The only thing that kept it from being torn down was that the mayor had declared it a historical site because it was one of the oldest buildings in Chicago, and had some of the oldest books.
As she carefully stepped up the crumbling steps, Grintha wondered if there would be anything there on Robert de Beckard, who she jokingly thought of as "Sir Rob" Maybe he didn't exist at all, and Mean Old Nice was wrong and had sent her on a wild goose chase for fun. She's certainly mean enough to do that, thought Grintha, which makes sense, because she doesn't like gold. Anyone who doesn't like gold is certainly capable of being mean.
"Whoa!" she cried as the last step crumbled under her foot. She flailed her arms, dropping her gold backpack, and crashed to the ground. She sat up, dazed, and put a hand on her bleeding nose. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw a librarian come out of the door, walking as fast as she could in her furry high-heeled boots, but at the same time making sure not to get any mud on the white fur.
"Oh dear, oh dear, are you all right, honey?" fussed the librarian as she helped Grintha up, "Oh dear, that nose is gushing, honeybun. Come on, honey dear, let's get you some tissues. Oh dear, oh dear. Don't worry, honey darling, you'll be all right, oh dear."
"I'll be okay!" Grintha snapped back, blowing bubbles with the blood gushing out of her nose. Inside the library it smelled like her attic, musty and stuffy. She sneezed, sending more blood onto her already-bloody gold shirt and a little onto her sparkly denim skirt.
"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear," the librarian mumbled to herself as she looked around her ancient wooden desk that was right in front of the door. She finally produced a box of tissues from somewhere under the desk and began to mop up the blood. Grintha grabbed a tissue and moved away from the librarian, wiping at her nose by herself. She's not even wearing gold! Grintha thought, examining the librarian's outfit, it's just that ugly green skirt and jacket set. At least green looks good with her red hair, though red looks bad in a tiny bob like that. Wait – there is a little gold on her outfit, that trim on the skirt and neckline. I guess it's okay, then, if it has gold.
"I forgot to introduce myself, honeybun," the librarian said apologetically as she fished out another box of tissues to replace the near-empty one Grintha had just used up, "my name is Dorothy Honey Darling, but you can call me Miss Anne."
"Why?" asked Grintha, glad that her nosebleed had finally stopped, "Your name doesn't have Anne in it."
"Oh, well, everyone calls me Anne, hon, and I like it better that Dorothy, dear oh dear, Dorothy is simply horrid, it is simply dreadful, honey dear!"
"Whatever, I get it. I agree, Dorothy's awful." Grintha shrugged. The last thing she wanted to do was to set the talking machine off again. "My name's Grintha. Have any books on Sir Robert de Beckard?"
"Oh, what a lovely name, honey, I mean, Grintha dear, oh how lovely! Such a pretty name, Grintha darling!" She cheerfully pinched Grintha's cheek. "I have a niece just your age who's coming to visit, you'd like her, you're both such cute girls! How old are you, you can't be less that eight!"
"I'm eleven," Grintha said warily. Either this librarian was really chatty or really nosy. Mama had warned he against chatty strangers asking too much.
"Oh look, Grintha dear, it's my niece coming up now, see out the window, the silver convertible?" Grintha sighed as Miss Anne brushed past her to the and looked around. The library was small and square, with just a bunch of boring short wood shelves in neat rows, covered with dust. In the corner to the right there was a tiny little table with an ancient computer on it, with a sign over it reading, "Computer Lab – Be Quiet!" The sign had several cobwebs hanging off it, with a tiny spider on one of them. There were only four windows in the small building – one on each wall. No gold to be seen, Grintha thought with disgust as she tugged on her blue-and-gold butterfly-print sweater from her backpack to hide the bloodstains on her shirt.
She turned around and walked out of the door after Miss Anne. Stepping out of the car was a girl who seemed to be the opposite of Grintha – she had short, curly blond hair and dark blue eyes in contrast to Grintha's long, silky black hair and amber eyes. She stopped short when she saw Grintha and her eyes opened wide behind her pink glasses.
"Lilly honey darling, it's okay, her name is Grintha she's just your age and she is so nice, oh darling, you've grown, honey! You're almost taller than I am!"
"No I'm not, Aunt Dorothy. And you're wearing high heels." Grintha was surprised to see the shy girl talk, somehow. The poor kid looked scared silly of her. She put on her most friendly fake smile, which almost dropped with surprise as a tall woman slid out from the car. She had the same red hair as Miss Anne, only it was long and pulled up in a stylish bun that complimented her butter-yellow sweater perfectly.
"Well, who is this red haired lady with a bob? Who are you and what have you done to Dorothy?" The stranger asked with a wide, gorgeous smile as she reached out to hug Miss Anne.
"Oh May, joking as ever!" Miss Anne laughed from the stranger's hug. Grintha fidgeted awkwardly. She felt like she was in a different world than them, kind of like when Ashley's cats played right in front of her but ignored her. She wished Ashley were here, she would know what to do. Closing her eyes tight and thinking hard, she decided Ashley would probably clear her throat, cough, or sneeze subtly. She decided to clear her throat.
"AH-HEM!" Miss Anne, Lilly, and the stranger all jumped. Grintha blushed, she didn't want it to be that loud!
"Oh yes dear, this is my sister, May, May Flower. May dear, this is Grintha, she's such a sweet girl, and oh! She's just your age, Lilly." Miss Anne babbled, looking like she was sure Lilly and Grintha were long lost friends.
"Um, hi?" Grintha replied, unsure about Lilly, who looked more shy than scared now. "Say hello to Grintha, Lilly, say hi, girl," Lilly's mother prompted. Lilly, who now looked embarrassed, muttered a barley audible hi. Grintha felt a little bad for her – she would just die if she had a Mama like that! Lilly's Mama wasn't even wearing a fleck of gold! Neither was Lily, though, Lilly was wearing all blue, all over. That kid must like blue something big! Grintha thought, Maybe I'll give her a chance though, she seems nice, but man! She's shy!
"Well, now, shall we go up to the library? I'm just dying to show it to you, May dear," Miss Anne gushed, "So many old books, rare copies of Shakespeare, even! Can you believe it, honeybun? And the windows are so pretty! There are four in all. Four windows!"
Grintha rolled her eyes. This was the weirdest research trip ever! An ugly library, a crumbling step, a nosebleed, a babbling, nosy librarian who says "honey" and "dear" and "darling" WAY too often, a shy, blue-loving girl, and a gorgeous, fashionable, embarrassing mother, all in fifteen minutes. What a research trip!
Grintha lifted her head to catch the sunshine as she biked back home on Kittycat street. Her head was buzzing with all the things that she had read in the one and only book about Robert de Beckard. According to legend, in one of the houses he built in modern-day Chicago, he used a cave to make a secret passage filled with fabulous treasures and a tiny tin ring that had magical powers, but only for those who find it for others. Wow!
Also, she had talked to Lilly. It had taken her a half an hour of being nice to get her to say something besides "sort of," "nah," or "yeah" in a tiny voice. That something had turned into a loud babble about how much she loved the ocean, then she had blushed and retreated into back into silence.
Dingle-ding! Grintha sighed and pulled over to the curb, where she flipped her gold touchscreen phone out of her pocket and opened the text, which was from her Mama. "Grintha are you still at the library? Be home by dinner OK?" Grintha tapped the REPLY button and texted "On my way Mama. Found out cool stuff about Sir Rob too!" back to her Mama and tapped SEND.
Hopping back on her bike, she whizzed down the last hill before the turnoff for her house, enjoying the feel of the wind sweeping her hair along. As she neared the curve though, her phone rang with the same dingle-ding, startling her. She swerved toward the curve to read it and put on her brakes, but she was going so fast that she crashed into the curb!
Grintha flew off the bike and landed a few feet from the curb on her left shoulder and let out a painful grunt. Woozily, she sat up and crawled to her bike. It was badly mangled – the front wheel was bent from the impact as well as the seat broken and the chain snapped. She pulled the phone out of her jacket pocket again, just to find it smashed from the collision. She sighed and rubbed her throbbing shoulder. It looked like she would have to walk home.
"Hey gal, need some help?" Grintha whirled around to see a blond middle-aged woman in a white sedan peering out the window. Beside her sat a gorgeous, bored-looking dyed-black-and-red-haired teen and behind two rowdy blond boys who looked like identical twins. Grintha said warily, "Can I borrow you phone to call Mama?" She had been warned by Mama about strangers offering help as well as nosy strangers like Miss Anne.
"Of course, honey. Now, I don't have a cell phone of my own, it broke two minutes ago, literally, but Isabelle has a phone!" She gestured to the teen and held her hand out for the phone. Isabelle weakly protested, "But Mo-ther, it's my phone! She can have Jonathan's or Isaac's phone!" The woman gave her a stern look, and Isabelle sulkily gave her the phone. Black sparkly, ugh, thought Grintha, a Superman phone from the boys would have been better. But she took the phone with a fake smile and dialed her Mama, who answered it promptly.
"Hey Mama, my bike crashed and it's damaged, so I need a ride."
"Oh no! Grintha, where are you? Are you damaged?"
"I'm at the last curve of Kittycat street, no I am not damaged, Mama, pipe down."
"Okay, Grintha. Hey, which phone is this? The caller ID shows Julie Brinkman."
"My phone got squished, I'm using a phone, um, that the librarian lent me, um, she was getting off work as I came, and she lives near us, so she was kind of following me and saw me crash." Grintha lied, sure that her mother would go ballistic as soon as she heard that she was using a stranger's phone.
"OK Grintha, good to know. The librarian's name was Julie Brinkman, then?" Grintha felt a twinge of guilt for lying to her Mama, but decided it was the best thing to do.
"Um, there were two librarians, and one's name was Mrs. Darling, she said to call her Miss Anne." Isabelle gave her an impatient look. "Look, I gotta go. Bye Mama!" She hung up and handed the phone back to Mrs. Brinkman. "Thanks! Mama's coming," she said, ignoring Isabelle's eye roll as she got her phone back. To encourage them to leave so Mama wouldn't see her talking to strangers, she waved and said bye.
"Bye-bye!" Mrs Brinkman called back gaily as she started up the engine and drove away, getting awful near the speed limit. Grintha nearly collapsed from relief as she saw her Mama's red corvette speed up the road as fast as the white sedan had left.
"So that's what happened?" Ashley said as she brushed her curling black hair, which was nearly the same as Grintha's. The sisters looked nearly identical, the only difference being Ashley's curls and blue eyes in contrast to Grintha's only slightly wavy hair and brown eyes. They shared the same golden tan skin, though, and their hair was the same color. Both of their faces were small and round, too.
Now Ashley's piercing blue eyes seemed to see right past Grintha's bluff. Grintha fidgeted as she sat on the top bunk of her and Ashley's bunk bed. Well, who cares, she might tell Mom and Dad, too, Grintha thought as she said " Uh-huh. Hey, there's a stain on my gold nightgown!" Ashley let out a groan and snapped, "All that glitters is not gold, Grintha. You're eleven, but you're acting six. Good night." She snapped off the light and dove under her pink blanket.
All that glitters is not gold. Grintha wondered what it meant. Silver sparkled too, as well as diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, even glass as some plastics....was Ashley saying that she should switch to silver? Or ruby red? Or emerald green? Or plastic?! No, that didn't makes sense. You're eleven, but you're acting six. What did that mean? Was she acting – imossible! – like a bratty six-year old? Grintha sighed and snuggled underneath her gold covers. She would think about it more in the... Grintha didn't finish the thought. She was already asleep.
Over the next few weeks, Grintha visited the library almost daily to look at the book about Robert de Beckard, much to Miss Anne's delight. She got to see Lilly a lot too, and warmed up to her a little. She had found that Lilly liked blue because it reminded her of the ocean where she used to live in Hawaii, right next to the beach, and that she was so shy she hadn't tried anything new in three years, until she had made friends with Grintha. She also liked bracelets, and her most prized possession was a bracelet made out of a slightly brittle braided green string that had a little cowrie shell dangling from it that she had made herself out of seaweed. Grintha started to worry about her, until she thought she would do anything to give Lilly a confidence boost. Nothing she tried worked, not even the funny tricks from Mama's super-thick Psychology book. Grintha got more and more desperate and more and more curious about the legend of Sir Robert de Beckard, until one day, her parents were gong out and had left Ashley in charge of Grintha.
As soon as they were out the door, Ashley called up her friend Auderia, went to her and Grintha's room, and shut the door. Knowing from experience not to open the door or get yelled at, Grintha wandered into the cold stone basement with a flashlight to look for a secret door, even though she had searched the basement three times for one.
But wait – she hadn't looked behind those heavy-duty storage shelves in the corner. How could she have missed it? Grintha navigated through a sea of boxes to get to the shelves, and removed the boxes of dolls and toys that Grintha and Ashley had outgrown onto another shelf and scooted the shelf over, grunting several times from the weight. Bracing herself for either disappointment or extreme surprise, Grintha peered behind the shelves.
Nothing except cobwebs on a smooth stone wall. Grintha sighed and started to move back, but remembered all the Nancy Drew mysteries where Nancy had to search for a hidden button. She pressed her hand onto the wall and began to move around, making sure to feel every inch of wall. As she got closer and closer to the corner, she got discouraged. After all, what were the chances that the legend was true, or that it was Grintha's house? She moved along the last few inches, with a slow, steady hand, ready to pull away and go back upstairs.
Pop! Creak! Grintha jumped back as the formerly-smooth wall shifted under her hand in a circular shape and a little door slowly creaked open on the opposite wall! Grintha gasped and slowly moved toward the door and peered inside, cautiously. The bright glitter of gold and silver shone back at her and made her jump.
Grintha gulped. After weeks of daydreaming that the secret passageway would be in her own basement she was scared silly! Come on, Grintha, she thought, pull yourself together. Take a deep breath. Must find the magic ring. Come on! She took a deep breath, following her own advice, and grabbed a very big, very powerful flashlight from a shelf, shone it through the doorway, and gasped.
The floor of the passageway was covered in a thick, shining carpet of gold with tiny diamonds, the size of a pinhead, sparkling from all over it, making it a both gleaming and sparkling walkway fit for an emperor!
The walls and ceiling were even more breathtaking, though – you couldn't tell where the wall ended and the ceiling began, because they were all connected in one smooth archway that was coated in gleaming silver. The coating of silver was also glittering with diamonds – and rubies, and emeralds, and sapphires, and amethysts, and turquoise... you name it, it was there, and all at least the size of the eraser of a pencil.
Grintha felt as if she were caught in slow motion. She reached out and trembling hand to touch the silver on the wall, as if to make sure it were real. Then the slow motion snapped, and she stepped inside the passageway and shone her light ahead, not realizing that the door was beginning to creak softly and close.
That was when she saw something that terrified her.
Huge ones, the threads as thick as a piece of yarn. It could only mean one thing. Gigantic spiders!!
Grintha turned around to run, but the door had almost finished closing, and she ran right into a stone wall. She desperately pushed, but with a last creak and a pop, the door snapped shut.
She was trapped. In a dark secret passage that Ashley would never in a million years find. With gigantic spiders.
Taking a deep breath, Grintha summoned all the bravery she had in her. She would have to face her biggest and oldest fear – big bugs. She pointed her flashlight ahead at the darkness and took a few hesitating steps. The passageway took a tight curve in about ten yards, so she couldn't see how long the passageway was.
Just then, a pair of gleaming eyes peered around the corner and then scuttles into the beam of the flashlight. It was a three-foot hairy spider, with wicked, almost vampire-like fangs! Grintha screamed and closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, to her surprise, the spider was cowering. A thought popped into Grintha's head, and she screamed again. This time, the spider went running. A grin slowly spread across her face. She had found the spiders' weakness!
She ran after him, screaming louder, but hesitated as she ran around the corner. There was a long stretch of about a hundred yards before the next curve, and it was teeming with spiders! Grintha shuddered and let out an ear-piercing shriek, to which they all ran to their webs and cowered.
Grintha laughed out loud and ran as fast as she could through them, shrieking as loud as she could all the way. Every once in a while a hairy spider leg would brush against her and she would scream louder and run a little faster.
Finally, Grintha went around the corner, and, to her delight, there were no more spiders. She sat down and rubbed her tired legs and throat, promising herself that she would never scream again.
Grintha looked up quickly to make sure no spiders had followed her around the curve to growl at her, but there was no one but her.
Little pieces of silver and a few emeralds fell from the ceiling. Grintha looked up, bewildered. A sapphire smacked her elbow, getting a loud "Oof!"
The ground began to quiver under Grintha's feet. She stood up and flattened herself against the wall, remembering the advice from the book about earthquakes, cave-ins, and volcanoes that Miss Alice had given her. ("Oh honey, dear, Grintha, you'll love this book! It's about earth cakes, cave innards, and Vulcan toes! Isn't that delightful, darling, honey?")
Big chunks of rock began to fall from the ceiling. One landed where Grintha had been sitting and another right beside her and she forgot her promise not to scream.
The cave-in died down as quickly as it had started, and Grintha breathed a sigh of relief before she started coughing and sneezing from the clouds of dust that were slowly settling. She looked around between sneezes and saw that she was almost trapped, there were walls of boulders, rocks, pieces of silver, and assorted jewels blocking her from going back to the spiders and from continuing on.
But wait – there was a hole at the very bottom of one of the walls formed by a broad rock leaning against the top of a boulder. It sheltered the ground under it from falling debris and made a little hole that Grintha wondered if she could squish through.
"There's only one way to find out!" Grintha muttered to herself even though no one was listening. She gently nudged the rock and the boulder to make sure they were firm. They didn't budge. She flopped down on her belly and slid over to the hole. Closing her eyes, she began to wiggle and squirm. She got her head through – so far, so good, she thought to herself. Her shoulders were a little squeezed, and Grintha tore the right sleeve on a piece of silver from the boulder. The rest of her went through easily, thank goodness for being skinny. She straightened up, dusted off her jeans, and looked around. There were random big and small boulders blocking the narrow passageway, all the way to the next curve. She sighed and climbed over the first one.
Five minutes later (and a few scrapes, too) Grintha climbed over the last boulder and let out a whoop. I did it, she thought, and surely I'm near the end of the tunnel by now!
Full of exhilaration, she turned the corner and stopped short. In front of her the smooth silver arch of the passageway roughened into a jagged stone doorway! The big stone door had been smashed to pieces during the cave-in, leaving an empty doorway with not a fleck of gold, silver, or jewels to be seen. She cautiously stepped onto the first step, then sped up and began counting steps. "Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty steps." Now she was on a stone platform looking at a big stone door that looked like the one that had crumbled at the head of the staircase, only this one had an inscription saying:
She pushed open the door, stepped inside, and blinked and gasped at the same time. It was a huge room coated with miniscule diamonds everywhere – walls, floor, ceiling, and even the back of the door she had just pushed open! In one corner there were heaps of gold necklaces, in another, crowns glittering with rubies, in another, heaps and piles of rare pearls and silver, and in the last, darkest corner there was a little stool. She ran over to it without hesitation and grasped the little copper box on top of it. There was no lid, but Grintha felt about for hidden buttons. Finally, a corner gave way under her finger, and a little drawer squeaked open. There was a tiny purple cushion on it, and sitting on it was a little ring. Grintha picked it up, expecting it to be made of silver and heavy, but it was lightweight and flimsy – even a little rusty. "Tin," she muttered. Suddenly it occurred to her for the first time to check her watch. The little glow-in-the-dark gold watch shone 11:55 back at Grintha. She jumped, remembering her parent's words, "We'll be back at midnight." She frantically looked around for an exit. Her parents would be home in 5 minutes! Finally, she spotted the door, smothered in diamonds. She pushed with all her strength and fell onto a pile of leaves when it gave way.
"Oof!" she cried, getting up. She had fallen right into the woods behind their house! Looking back, she saw the stone door slowly close behind her, leaving an innocent-looking rock formation.
She took off running for the house – it was right down the trail. She stumbled a few times but regained her balance quickly and finally came to the back door. Wondering if Ashley had locked it or not, she twisted the handle. It gave way under her hand just as she heard the car coming down the road. She ran through the dining room, breaking a family rule, and quickly opened the door to her and Ashley's room. Ashley was snoring softly, the phone in her hand. Relieved, Grintha climbed up to the top buck and dove under the covers. The door opened softly and Grintha's parents peered inside. Grintha held her breath, and, thankfully, they closed the door again and went away. She lay in the darkness for a few minutes and pretty soon, she was asleep.
"He-looooooo Grintha! Rise and shine, buttercup, it's a beautiful Sunday!"
Grintha opened her eyes groggily. Her Mama was in the doorway, sipping a mug of steaming tea. Grintha threw off the covers and slowly climbed down the ladder. Her Mama let out a cheerful tsk-tsk. "Still sleepy, Grintha? What were you doing while we were gone? Snooping around in the basement again?" Grintha forced a smile and said "Yeah, maybe" while thinking to herself, if only she knew.
Mama didn't notice Grintha's fake smile. "We'll leave for church in an hour, sweetie, so come have breakfast. There's scrambled eggs, toast, cereal, bacon, carrots with olive oil and mango, and orange juice." Grintha's eyes nearly popped out. "Carrots with olive oil and mango??" she said, a bit too loud.
"Hush, Grintha!" Mama scolded, then explained proudly, "I peeled the carrots and sprinkled them with sugar, then I broiled them in olive oil 'till they got soft, then put each one in a mango half, prepared just the same. It looks rather like a butterfly! Try it!"
"Okay, okay, coming!" Grintha grumbled as she yanked open her closet and selected her new dress for church. It was long and smooth, and the airy white satin complimented her golden tan skin and brown eyes perfectly. Since it was sleeveless and the temperature outside was sixty degrees, she selected her (also new) coral-red sweater to go with it and matching coral flats and dove into the bathroom to change. When she emerged, her hair had been carefully brushed with more than everyday care. The Morse family was serious about dressing for church, especially since St. Philomena's had a strict dress code.
She patted her hair one last time, and remembered the ring from the passageway, which was still on her finger. She slipped it into her purse, also matching in coral, and sat down at the table, ignoring Ashley's stare at her outfit. Her Mama had made a feast for an army, as usual, but Grintha didn't have much of an appetite. She only ate a little bacon and a few carrots with olive oil and mango, which were really pretty good. Finally, Ashley's stare got a little annoying. She asked, "Why are you staring at me?" though it came out more like "Whagashtorame?" because she forgot to swallow her bacon. She hastily swallowed, embarrassed, and repeated it. Ashley finally concentrated on her bacon. "Nothing," she muttered, but Grintha knew better than to believe her and repeated it.
"It's the colors on your outfit," Ashley started to say, "How did you know those are Crackerstone Spy-" her eyes widened and she stopped, looking scared, and focused on her bacon again. Grintha rolled her eyes and did the same.
After church and in some comfy worn jeans, Grintha was thinking about what Ashley said. Crackerstone High was the high school down the street that Ashley went to. They claimed to be the best high school in Chicago, and accepted only the best grades. That was why Mama was pushing so hard for good grades. Papa was pushing even harder than Mama before the accident – tears pooled in Grintha's eyes. Wouldn't. Think. About. It. Can't think about it, Grintha. She tried to shove the memory of the accident that claimed Mr. Morse's life out of her mind. Must. Get. Back. To. What. Ashley. Said. Crackerstone, best or not, was an ordinary high school, except they only take straight A's in everything, every class, back until second grade. What was that about "Spy?" An idea formed in Grintha's mind, and she slowly smiled.
Just as Grintha had hoped, Ashley went over to her BFF Mary Jane's house in the afternoon. She slipped into their room and closed the door, acting like she was going to take a nap, but tiptoed over to the Forbidden Dresser instead, and slowly pulled the creaky drawer open. Makeup. She slammed it closed in disgust and went to the next drawer. It was Ashley's purse collection – the only thing weird about her. She was about to close it when she spotted a white-and-coral bag, just the same shades as Grintha's outfit.
She slowly pulled it out and turned it around in her hands. It was a simple white book-bag with coral trim and a coral coat of arms. She squinted a little as she read the tiny words aloud that were woven in and around the crisscrossing swords on the coat of arms. "Crackerstone High School – Spy Academy for Exceptional Girls." She gasped and dropped the bag. Crackerstone High was a spy academy!
"What have you done??"
Grintha whirled around and saw Ashley standing in the doorway. "No one is supposed to know – no one except students, parents, and teachers!" She sighed and ran a flawless hand through flawless curly hair. "I won't tell," Grintha squeaked, "Promise!" Ashley came over, stuffed the bag in the drawer, and slammed it shut. "Look Grintha," she said with a sigh, "This is serious. No one, not even Lilly, not even Miss Allen or whoever, can know about this. If the word leaks, they could throw me out!" Grintha nodded. "I understand."
Ashley leaned over and hissed into Grintha's ear, "If you tell anyone I'll tell them how you put pepper in your teacher's tissue box in second grade." Grintha winced. Her teacher had allergies and after two tissues, BAM! He was sneezing so hard they were dismissed for the rest of the day. "I'll tell them how you got stranded in the top of a 100-foot tree for a Jumbo Hershey's bar and the Fire Department had to get you down in fourth grade!" she retorted. Now it was Ashley's turn to wince. "I guess we're even," Grintha said, holding out her hand. Instead of shaking it, Ashley high-fived it, then she stood up, smiled, snapped her gum, and said, "By the way, you looked really cute in Crackerstone colors. You should apply in a few years, when you're about to go to high school. I can recommend you." Grintha smiled and said thanks, but inside she was thinking; no way will I go to a spy school. I think I'll be, maybe, a screenwriter. I'll make a movie out of the secret passage, about a little orphan girl named Fanny. Maybe I'll make her sort of like Lilly. Lilly!
Suddenly, Grintha remembered something she had to do. She scribbled a note for Mama, ran out to the garage and put on her helmet, and biked off.
Grintha slowly pulled to a stop in front of the old library, leaped off her bike, and ran up the old steps. The doors were unusually stubborn with her, which added to her impatience. She tugged and tugged, but the rust seemed to have glued them shut. Suddenly they gave way, and Grintha tumbled back onto the steps. Miss Alice ran out and pulled her up. "Oh, are you all right Grintha, dear, honeybun?" she fussed. Grintha didn't even reply, she was in such a hurry, instead, she asked in a breathless rush, "Where does Lilly live?" Miss Alice looked startled and stammered "Well, I – I think – I mean – Grintha dear – well, I – um, she's not in town anymore." Grintha's eyes popped open. "How?" she asked, "I saw her here yesterday!"
Miss Alice looked away as she said, "Well, she and May, were, just, well, visiting dear, honey. They live in Indiana, honeybun, and just came here for a visit. They should be on the road to Indiana right now, honey, and Lilly told me to tell you she was sorry she couldn't say goodbye. Oh dear."
Grintha slumped down onto the straggly grass of the lawn, stunned. Indiana! She could never give the ring to Lilly now!
A silver convertible with its roof on appeared in the corner of Grintha's eye. She slowly turned her head toward it, tuning out Miss Alice's babble about how sorry she was. The windows were tinted, so Grintha could only see the silhouettes of a girl about her size and a woman with long hair pulled up fashionably. She dared to hope that it would slow down and stop in front of the library, but it went on. Grintha sighed slowly – but wait! The car pulled into a driveway, turned around, and headed back toward the library. She sucked in the breath that she had just exhaled and held it
This time the car stopped in front of the library. Grintha slowly got up and stared. The door opened, and a blue shoe appeared, then a blond curl, and by the time Lilly stepped out, Grintha was already at the bottom of the hill, waiting for her and laughing with relief. Lilly laughed too, and hugged her. "I have no earthly idea why I'm laughing!" Lilly said between giggles, which made them laugh harder. When they finally stopped giggling, Lilly told her why they came back. "My Mom forgot her makeup kit here. Can you believe it?" They promptly burst into giggles again. Finally, when they had run out of giggles, Grintha slipped the ring out of her pocket. "I brought this for you. It was in Sir Robert's secret passage." Lilly took it and turned it around, saying, "You're kidding, right?" Grintha shook her head and Lilly's jaw dropped. Finally, she leaned into the car, got a tissue, and wiped it off.
Grintha smiled to herself. I never thought it wipe it off, she thought with a grin that faded when Lilly was done wiping. There was a tiny stone in the ring, but it shone brighter than anything Grintha had ever seen. It was a transparent stone, like a diamond, and nothing special until you looked at it closely. When it caught the sun it bounced the light around inside of it, filling it with dazzling bursts of pink, purple, blue, and red, easily making your jaw drop. "Wow," Lilly breathed softly. Grintha reached out and touched it, and some of the pink and purple light shone on her hand.
"It's time to go, Lilly!" a voice chimed behind them, and they turned around. Mrs. Flower was walking down the hill toward them, clutching a makeup case. "Here," Grintha said, scribbling on a piece of paper and handing it to Lilly, "It's my address so we can still be pen pals. Lilly smiled, hugged Grintha one more time, and slid back into the car at the same time as her mother. "Bye!" Lilly called, waving. Grintha waved back, and the convertible sped off, heading for Indiana.
You'll never believe it! When we got back home, the first thing I did was do a cartwheel on the lawn – I haven't done one of those in years! Next, I helped Mom unpack, and I decided I'd like to try learning to play the flute, and after that, I decided I was tired of blue and pulled out my yellow shirt to wear instead. I took the ring off to change and right after I took it off, I decided that blue was better and kept my blue shirt on, then put on the ring and wanted to change things up and wear yellow, and then I took it off just to experiment. Sure enough, I wanted to stay with blue! What do you think is happening?
Grintha smiled as she read Lilly's name, she had dotted the i with a little daisy. Pulling out a piece of paper, she began to write.
I love the little daisy on the i in Lilly!
Of course I know what's happening! The ring must be a magic one, it gives you confidence!
Grintha whirled around and saw Ashley for the second time that day. "None of you business!" she snapped, and pulled the paper away. Ashley backed away, looking hurt. Grintha sighed and added, "It's a secret between Lilly and me, okay?" Ashley nodded and walked away. Grintha smiled slightly as she thought, she can have her spy academy secrets, and I can have my secrets – like what I was doing while she was yakking on the phone.
Four years later, in 2016, Grintha became the youngest screenwriter ever. What was the movie about, you ask? An orphan girl named Fanny and her cat, Phantom. When she was asked where she got the inspiration for her one-of-a-kind story, she would only smile and shake her head.