Mom rang the doorbell again. No one came.
"This is strange," she said. "They knew we were coming. There's supposed to be a lady from the Senior Care Center to stay with Grandma Charlotte until we arrived."
"Try the door," I suggested. "Maybe it isn't locked." I reached for the knob, but before I touched it, the door jerked open.
"What do you want?" A strange bearded man stood in the doorway and scowled at us. He was tall like a professional basketball player. Dust and cobwebs clung to his hair and covered his clothes.
"I'm Mary Oliver. This is my daughter, Jessica," Mom said and pushed passed the man. "I've come to take care of my grandmother and my mother." She set her suitcase on the scratched hardwood floor. "Who are you and where is my grandmother?"
"I'm Hank Thomas." The man stuck out his hand, but my mother didn't shake it so he slid it back into his jeans pocket. "Your mother rented the third floor to me for the summer. I'm here with my nephew."
"But where is my grandmother?" Mom asked used her I-asked-you-a-question-and-I-expect-an-answer voice. I've heard it lots of times. "I understood someone from Senior Care would be with her until I arrived. What's happened? Is she okay?"
"She's fine," he said. "She's resting in her room. My nephew is sitting with her."
"But I arranged for a professional nurse to be with my grandmother. Where is she?"
The man coughed. His eyes darted around the room. "There was a mix-up and no one was available." Mr. Thomas sounded annoyed. "I volunteered to keep an eye on her until you came."
He looked at us for a moment longer and then added, "I have to warn you, she's a bit confused. This morning she said she heard a prowler last night. I didn't hear or see anything suspicious. Neither did my nephew." He looked at me with his cold blue eyes. "She imagines things."
There was another uncomfortable silence. He creeped me out. I slid the suitcases I'd carried next to the one Mom had brought in. I couldn't wait to get out of there.
"Mom, can I have the car keys? I'll get the rest of our stuff while you check on Grandma Charlotte."
Mr. Thomas was gone when I returned.
It took three trips to bring everything in. I was panting by the time I was done. I went into the kitchen to find something to drink. There probably weren't any sodas in the refrigerator, but I looked anyway. To my surprise there were four six-packs of Coke. I grabbed a can and popped it open.
It was cold and tasted great, especially after the long trip and all my hard work.
"Who said you could drink my Coke?" an angry voice demanded.
A boy about my age stood in the doorway with his hands on his hips like he though he was cool or something. He was shorter than me, but his face looked older. He wore baggy black jeans, a white oversized T-shirt and a blue baseball cap pushed on backwards over short brown hair. He had freckles and his dark brown eyes flashed with anger.
He reminded me of this jerk we have in class who's always in trouble. Definitely not my kid of guy, even if he were taller.
"You must be the nephew," I said thinking they went to the same charm school. "My name is Jessica and my grandmothers live here. I don't need permission to have a soda."
"You do when it's mine. You owe me fifty cents."
I had been going to apologize. Instead I took another long drink, finishing the soda, and tossed the empty can into a small plastic trashcan next to the stove.
"I don't owe you anything."
"You better not drink anymore of my Coke," he said as I brushed passed him.
I didn't answer. I was angry. How could Gram rent part of her house to strangers? And to creeps like Mr. Thomas and his nephew? Summer was becoming less and less fun.
I wandered around the ground floor until I found Great-Grandma Charlotte's bedroom. The door was open. Mom sat on the edge of the bed. I knocked just loud enough to get her attention and she waved me into the room.
Great-Grandma Charlotte lay on her back with a red, white and blue crocheted afghan draped over her legs. She clutched an old cloth-covered scrapbook to her chest. Its corners were frayed and the material faded.
Grandma Charlotte's lips moved like she was talking, but her eyes were closed. I inched closer. I couldn't understand what she was saying.
Mom put her finger to her lips and whispered, "Shh. She's rambling about intruders and a secret treasure. Please stay with her while I call for an ambulance."
Mom hurried from the room, leaving me alone with Grandma Charlotte. I moved closer to the bed, but I didn't want to get too close.
Grandma Charlotte's eyes flew open and stared at me like a trapped, wild animal. She held out the black, cloth-covered scrapbook to me. I took it. I don't know whose hands were shaking the most, hers or mine.
She motioned for me to lean close and whispered just loud enough for me to hear, "I've kept this all these years, but I could never solve the riddle of the Liberty Lady."
She put her frail hand on mine. There was a creepy burn scar between her thumb and forefinger. Her fingers were cold. "Soon it will be too late. You have to find the treasure. Promise me you will try? Please?"
"I will, Grandma Charlotte," I said. I didn't know what else to say.
"Bless you," she said and slumped back onto the mattress. Her eyes rolled up so all that showed was the whites.
Be sure and come back next week to find out what happens in