The place had always given him the collywobbles with its cracked sidewalk and ivy-shrouded portico. He didn’t want to know what kind of slithering, slinking creatures hid in the thorny sea of weeds that was the yard. Or how big their teeth were. Not to mention the rumors about Mrs. Vanwilkes herself. About how she was a witch who murdered her husband. And how she hated all men. Including boys. Especially boys.
Swallowing, he approached the door and knocked.
When it creaked open after a gut-clenching moment of waiting, he blinked. This couldn’t be Mrs. Vanwilkes. The blue-eyed blonde girl regarding him from across the threshold was anything but scary. In fact . . . she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. Pearlescent skin. Strawberry mouth. Just looking at her made his insides feel all gooey. Was she Vanwilkes’s granddaughter?
“Come in,” she said, voice like a tinkling glass wind chime. Pretty and delicate.
He obeyed immediately, drawn as if on a string, and thrust out the box. His hand shook. “These are for you.”
She took it with pale, elegant fingers, studying him in a way that made his cheeks warm. “I like cookies.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets. Okay . . . so she’s weird. Still better than scary old Mrs. Vanwilkes. “Me, too, I guess.”
With a graceful, almost unnoticeable move, she locked the door, her smile sweet. The click echoed in the silent room, making the dusty, spindly-legged chairs, grandfather clocks, and sheet-draped lumps of mystery furniture seem more menacing somehow.
Derek frowned, his nervousness returning. “Why’d you do that for?”
Her fingers curled around the Tagalongs until the box dented, and he noticed for the first time that her nails were yellow and brittle. And in the dust motes of the shadowed foyer, her hair didn’t look as blonde and luminous as he’d first thought, either. She ignored his question and asked, “Do you know what I like about boys?”
He swallowed, nervous worms beginning to wriggle in his belly. “What?”
Her eyes flashed, mouth stretching into an unnaturally wide smile. She no longer looked beautiful. She came toward him. “Nothing.”