Abby Miller stared at the contents of the grocery cart. “Okay, we’ve got soda, we’ve got veggies and dip, we’ve got popcorn,” she said. “Do we need anything else?”
“What about chips?” Leah Rosen, Abby’s best friend, asked.
Abby nodded. “You go get some chips and I’ll find something good for breakfast.”
Leah disappeared around the corner, leaving the cart behind for Abby. Abby wandered through the store to the frozen food section and stood in front of the breakfast case, weighing the waffle options: plain or buttermilk or blueberry or apple cinnamon or—
Suddenly Abby had the creepiest feeling that she was being watched. In the chrome edges of the case, she thought she saw something move.
But when she glanced behind her, no one was there.
She was the only person in the frozen food aisle.
Abby turned back to the freezer case and opened the glass door. She was reaching for a box of buttermilk waffles when—
Abby shrieked as she felt a swift tug on her hair. She spun around to see Leah grinning at her.
“Gotcha!” Leah exclaimed. “Wow, I really spooked you, huh? You have goose bumps!”
“Yeah, from the freezer.” Abby laughed, gesturing to the frosty air pouring out of the open case.
“Sure, Ab. Whatever you say,” Leah replied, her eyes twinkling. “Check out what I got!”
Abby wrinkled her nose. “Barbecue chips? You know I don’t like barbecue!”
“More for me,” Leah said with a grin. “Don’t worry, you’re covered.” She tossed a bag of tortilla chips into the cart and placed a jar of salsa next to it.
Abby added two boxes of frozen waffles. “We’ll order the pizzas after everybody else gets to my house, so I think that’s about everything we need.”
Leah frowned. “You’re forgetting one essential—dessert!”
“What’s wrong with me?” Abby said, laughing. “What should we get? Cookies?”
“Brownies?” suggested Leah. The girls exchanged a glance.
“Both!” they said at the same time.
“Come on, desserts are in the next aisle,” Leah said as she pushed the cart around the corner. Suddenly she backed up—right into Abby!
“Leah! What are you—,” Abby began.
But Leah frantically waved her hands at her friend and whispered, “Shh! Shh!”
“What? What is it?” Abby asked as she followed Leah to the opposite end of the aisle.
Leah leaned close to Abby’s ear and whispered, “Max! Max Menendez! He’s right over there getting candy! Do I look okay?”
Abby reached out and smoothed out the bumps in her friend’s blond ponytail. It was no secret that Leah had a major crush on Max. Every time she was around him, she got so nervous that she could barely speak. “You look great,” Abby assured Leah. “Want to go say hi?”
“Are you crazy?” Leah gasped as she tried to get a glimpse of her reflection in the freezer case’s shiny silver handle.
“Come on!” Abby urged her friend as she gave Leah a little push. “This is a perfect opportunity to talk to him! I’ll come with you.”
But Leah shook her head. “I’ll probably say something stupid,” she replied. “Let’s just wait here until he leaves.”
“Come on, Leah!” Abby whispered. “How will you two ever go out if you won’t talk to him? And this’ll be a great story to tell Chloe and Nora at the party tonight.”
“Party? What party?” a voice asked.
Leah and Abby spun around.
It was Max!
He smiled at the girls. “You’re having a party and you didn’t invite me?”
Abby looked at Leah, thinking it would be the perfect time for her friend to say something to Max. But Leah just stood there—as frozen as the peas across the aisle. Her eyes were so wide that she even looked a little scared.
“Um … of course we didn’t invite you,” Abby said, grinning playfully as she tried to save the situation. “It’s a sleepover party. No boys allowed.”
“Well, fine,” Max said, pretending to be hurt. “I’m busy, anyway.”
“Oh yeah?” asked Abby. “Doing what?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Max said with a laugh. “Nah, I’m just messing with you guys. I’m going to a movie with Jake and Toby. I thought I’d snag some candy before the show.”
“That’s cool,” Abby said as her eyes lit up. She didn’t notice the way Leah began to watch her. “What are you guys gonna see?”
“Don’t know yet,” Max replied. He laughed. “I mean, obviously some snacks were the priority, you know?”
“Well, have fun,” Abby said. “We’ve gotta go. See you later, Max.”
“See you guys,” Max said. “Hey, Leah—heads up!”
Leah jumped as Max tossed a candy bar to her. “I got too much,” he said with a smile. “You want one?”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” Leah stammered. “Th-thanks, Max.”
Max flashed another grin at the girls as he sauntered down the aisle. As soon as he was gone, Leah grabbed Abby’s arm. “Wow! He gave me a candy bar!”
Abby smiled at Leah’s excitement. “Kind of,” she pointed out. “You still have to pay for it.”
But Leah was too distracted to pay attention to Abby. “Max is so cute!” she gushed. “I wish I didn’t get so tongue-tied around him.”
“Just relax,” Abby said to her friend. “He’s only a boy.”
“Only a boy!” exclaimed Leah. “How are you not as in love with him as I am?”
Abby thought for a moment about Max’s spiky black hair and his big smile. He was definitely a hottie—but there was a guy at school who Abby thought was even hotter. “Yeah, he’s pretty awesome,” she said carefully.
But Leah gave Abby a piercing look. “You think there’s somebody cuter than Max?” she asked. “Who?”
Abby pressed her lips together and shook her head. Her crush was top secret—and she wanted to keep it that way.
“Oh, come on, Abby,” Leah begged. “I told you a million years ago that I liked Max. You owe me!”
Abby laughed. “I’m not telling. It’s not my fault you can’t keep your own secrets.”
“I’ll figure out who it is,” Leah said. “It’s not Toby, is it?”
“Not even close,” Abby replied. “Now would you please stop? I’m not telling!”
Leah clapped her hands. “I know! I know! It’s Jake, isn’t it?”
Abby’s mouth dropped open. “No! Why would you even think that?”
“Jake?” squealed Leah. “Seriously? You like Jake?”
“No way,” Abby said firmly. “Please, can you drop it? I mean it, Leah.”
Leah sighed. “Fine, be that way. But I will find out for sure who you like.”
Abby was silent as she pushed the cart toward the produce aisle to get some strawberries for breakfast. She knew that when Leah was determined to find something out, there was no stopping her.
And Abby also knew that even though Leah was her very best friend, she couldn’t keep a secret. Leah might be shy around boys, but she wasn’t shy when it came to gossip. Abby knew she meant well, but telling Leah something in confidence was as good as posting it online.
Before long, the whole world would know it too.
After Abby and Leah finished buying everything they needed for the sleepover, Abby’s mom drove them to Abby’s house. They had just started unloading the groceries when there was a loud knock at the door. Chester, the Millers’ oatmeal-colored cocker spaniel, jumped up and ran toward the door, yipping in excitement.
“Woo-hoo!” Abby exclaimed as she hurried out of the kitchen. She flung open the front door to find her friend Nora Lewis waiting there, holding a purple duffel bag, a pink sleeping bag, and a stack of DVDs.
“Am I too early?” Nora asked as she walked inside. “My brother had to drop me off before he went to work.”
“No, you’re fine,” said Abby. “Leah and I were just getting some snacks ready.”
“Hey, Nora,” Leah said, pouring the tortilla chips into a bowl. “Which movies did you bring?”
Nora’s brown eyes lit up. “I raided my brother’s DVD stash!” she said excitedly as she spread three DVD cases across the counter. “What do you think?”
Abby grabbed one of the cases and read the title. “Attack of the Bee People?” she asked.
“Oh, it’s sooo funny,” Nora said. “It’s this movie from forever ago, and it was supposed to be really scary, but the special effects are horrible! It’s hilarious!”
“What’s this one?” asked Leah curiously. “A Love Beyond? Seriously?”
Nora sighed. “Very romantic. This guy dies, but he never stops loving this girl, even though she tries to go on with her life. My brother would kill me if it got out that he owned this.”
Abby picked up the last DVD case, which had a black cover with a pair of spooky green eyes on it. “The Hole,” she said as she read the title aloud. “This one looks scary.”
“It is,” Nora said, nodding. “It’s about a cursed grave that can never be closed, and whenever anybody visits the person who was buried there, they get sucked into it too.”
“Cool!” Leah exclaimed. “I love scary movies! Let’s save that one for right before we go to sleep.”
Abby shook her head as she dropped the DVD back on the counter. “No way,” she said firmly. “If we watch that one last, I’ll be way too scared to sleep.”
Leah laughed. “Exactly! Then we’ll stay up all night for sure!”
There was another knock at the door.
“Got it,” Abby said as she darted into the hallway. When she opened the front door, she found her friend Chloe Chang waiting on the front porch. Chester barked in greeting.
“Hi, Abby!” said Chloe as she stepped inside. “Hi, Chester.”
“I’m so glad you’re here!” Abby exclaimed. “Leah and Nora are in the kitchen.”
“Excellent,” Chloe said as she gave Chester a pat on the head and followed Abby into the house. “I’ve been looking forward to this sleepover all day!”
“Hey!” Leah said as she waved to Chloe. “Abby, did you unpack the cookies and brownies? I can’t find them.”
Abby shook her head. “Maybe we left a bag in the car,” she replied. “I’ll go check.” She grabbed her mom’s car keys and hurried outside.
Abby’s brown hair fluttered in the cool, damp breeze; in the distance, dark clouds threatened to bring a rainstorm before morning. She unlocked the car and found one last grocery bag that had fallen under the backseat.
Then Abby felt it again: that spooky sense that someone was watching her, just as she’d felt in the grocery store.
In the silence, she heard a crackling sound, like the crunch of fallen leaves. Almost like footsteps.
But that’s not possible, she thought. Abby’s house was located at the end of a suburban street, next to a woodland nature preserve where people were forbidden to trespass. In all the years she’d lived there, Abby had never seen anyone in the woods.
She’d never stepped foot in them either, not with all the large NO TRESPASSING signs, bright orange warnings that were impossible to miss.
But as she stood in the driveway, Abby couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was standing just beyond the trees, watching her.
Then she heard another sound coming from the woods. This one was familiar, but she couldn’t place it. It was sort of like the rusty squeak of an old swing set on a stormy day, when the wind pushes the swings like invisible hands.
But there weren’t any swing sets here.
Abby took a deep breath and spun around. “Hello?” she called loudly. “Who’s there?”
The noise suddenly stopped. The silence was overwhelming.
Someone heard me, she thought.
“Hello?” she called again. A few moments passed. As she glanced at the nature preserve, Abby started to feel silly. Are you some kind of baby? she scolded herself. Why are you getting all freaked out for absolutely no reason?
Suddenly a creature burst out of the trees. The black blur took to the sky, cawing noisily, beating its wings with tremendous power as it flew away from the forest as fast as it could.
A crow, Abby thought with relief; she almost laughed out loud. It was just a crow. She grabbed the grocery bag and slammed the car door shut. She turned toward the house. She was eager to get inside and forget about the fear that had spread through her whole body as she stood, all alone, by the car.
The first thing Abby saw when she opened her door was Chester standing by the front window, growling quietly. She wanted to believe he was growling at the squirrels in the yard, but she couldn’t help but think that the same thing that had spooked her had also spooked her dog. No matter how hard she tried, Abby couldn’t stop thinking about the strange squeaking sound coming from somewhere in the woods, just beyond the trees.
And she couldn’t shake the feeling that someone—or something—had been watching her.
© 2011 Simon & Schuster