The ambulance is on its way," Mom announced as she rushed into the bedroom. When she saw Grandma Charlotte's gray face her eyes grew teary. "I should have called for the ambulance as soon as we arrived. Jessica, go out to the porch and wait for them."
I was glad to get out of there. I didn't want to be the room if Grandma Charlotte died. With the scrapbook clutched in my hands, I waited for the paramedics. My fingers traced over the faded dragonfly that had been embroidered onto the cover. At one time it probably was black, but now it was sooty gray.
A distant siren wailed. It grew louder as it got closer and died when the ambulance pulled up in front of the house with its red lights still flashing. I led the two uniformed men to Grandma Charlotte's room and then hurried outside.
I waited in one of the three wooden chairs that stood guard on the porch. With nothing else to do, I figured I might as well look at Grandma Charlotte's scrapbook. The first page read:
The words were written carefully in black ink on yellowed rough paper. Three faint pencil lines served as a guide for the letters. At eleven, Grandma Charlotte had neater handwriting than I do.
"I wonder what Grandma Charlotte meant by the 'riddle of the Liberty Lady?'" I whispered.
Maybe there wasn't a riddle, but something Grandma Charlotte made up like hearing people in the house when Mr. Thomas said no one was there. Of course he could have lied.
My right knee began to bounce. I had to push it down with my hand to make it to stop. What was taking the paramedics so long?
I turned to the second page. This scrapbook wasn't anything like the ones Kelsey and I planned to make. The pages were heavy off-white paper, kind of like construction paper, but different. Instead of mostly photos, Grandma Charlotte had filled the pages with an assortment of stuff.
There were cut-out newspaper clippings and pictures of animals from magazines, all carefully glued down. She must have kept every birthday, Easter, get well, and Christmas card.
One page had black hair taped on it with just one word written, "Mixie's." Gross. Who was Mixie?
The photographs were small and black-and-white. She had used the same little black corner frames to hold all of them in place on the pages.
A cute little Scottie dog appeared in several. Mixie. I flipped back to the page with the hair.
Dog hair. Double gross.
In one picture Grandma Charlotte was climbing a tree in a dress. Except for the hair-style and the dress, Grandma Charlotte could have been my twin.
"That's weird," I said and studied the black-and-white picture. "Grandma Charlotte is so old, but if she looked like me when she was my age, does that mean I'm going to look like her, when I'm her age? Scary." I made a face. I want to look older, but not that much older. "I wonder if she had dark red hair, too?" I couldn’t tell in the black and white photo.
I shivered even though it wasn't cold and turned the page.
In the next picture of her she was dressed as a princess with a tin-foil crown. Below it is said, "TOOTH FAIRY PRESENTS." I guess she was supposed to be the tooth fairy. She'd glued three copper pennies, two nickels, four dimes, two quarters, a fifty cent piece and three silver dollars in a circle.
On the third to the last page was a letter. It was from my great-great grandfather to Grandma Charlotte. She had labeled it, Daddy's last letter to me.
June 16, 1932
Happy birthday. I hope the Sutro Baths are enjoyable and a suitable place for you to spend your most important twelfth birthday. I miss you and your mother. I'm sorry I'm not there with you. There is a special birthday present waiting for you when you return next week.
I arrived home from New York last evening and have secreted away our future. Tell mother all is not lost. I beat the bank's closing and have a golden surprise hidden away at home. If something should happen to me, solve the riddle of the Liberty Lady.
I hope to see you soon.
On the second to the last page was a short newspaper article. The headline read, Pedestrian Killed in Hit and Run. "Mr. Jonathan A. Weston was tragically run down by a hit-and-run motorist on the evening of June 20,1932."
Under it was glued a memorial card from his funeral.
Grandma Charlotte had put several small pictures of her father on the same page. He had a wide smile under a large handlebar mustache. This page was not as neat at the others. The writing was smudged and the page had been spattered with water.
Pasted on the last page of the scrapbook was a hand written poem. The writing was the same as in the letter. At the top, the author had drawn a dragon. Each corner had been decorated with clusters of leaves and flowers.
I read the poem aloud.
"From the east to the west they traveled.
From the North to the South I'm told.
Dragon wings beat the rhythm,
Of the hidden treasure of gold.
There came a lone Liberty Lady,
In her right hand she held a key.
She rode a magical beast;
The iron horse of victory.
In secret silence she came to stay
In our house hidden safe away,
Not like the other fallen In depression on that Black Day.
She covered herself in star flowers,
Dreaming of fortune for hours;
Hidden deep beneath the wood
Alone in her ivory tower.
Dragon wings beat the rhythm,
Of the hidden treasure of gold.
Find the Liberty Lady,
For her secrets to be told.
Of all the hidden treasures I own;
The money, gold, and precious stones,
Not one of them can compare,
To the love a-waiting at home."
"That's some poem."
Mr. Thomas's nephew stood at the edge of the porch. He had come from the backyard and was carrying two Cokes.
"It's okay," I said and then ignored him, hoping he'd go away. He didn't.
I closed the scrapbook and set it in the empty chair next to me. "It's something my great-grandma Charlotte had in her scrapbook from when she was a kid."
"Here." He held out one of the two Cokes. "I'm Josh. Sorry I was a jerk earlier."
"It's okay." I said and took the Coke. I didn't want it, but I took it anyway. He might have put poison in it to get even with me. "Thanks." I pretended to take a sip.
He sat on the porch railing. He didn't look so bad when he wasn't glaring at me. He still wasn't as cute as Todd or as tall. I wondered what Kelsey would think of him.
"I'm Jessica." It was impossible to be rude when he was trying to be nice, not if we were going to live in the same house for the next two months." I should have known the Coke wasn't Gram's or Great-Grandma Charlotte's. They never drink anything but water, plain ice tea without sugar, or sour lemonade."
He laughed and then said, "Let's just forget it?"
We drank our cokes in silence. I stole a glance at Josh and decided he really wasn't so bad. At least he was someone close to my age. Someone to talk to.
"I was wondering," I said. "Why did your uncle want to spend the summer in Eureka? It's foggy half the time and there's nothing to do here."
"He's a writer, but I haven't seen him write since we came. He says he's soaking up local color.” He crumpled his coke can. “Hank isn't my real uncle. I don't even really like him."
"Then why are you with him?"
"It was him or a foster home."
"Oh," I said. When he didn't say more, I felt I'd been a little too nosy and stared at the street like it was exciting to see a car drive by. A group of older teenage boys came around the corner. One bounced a basketball, three had skateboards, and one coasted on a mountain bike. They crossed the street and disappeared around the corner.
"Hank isn't so bad," Josh said to end the silence. "He pretty much lets me do what I want as long as I stay out of his business. The only thing I have to do is be in my room by ten and stay there."
"You're lucky. My parents still think I'm too young to be left alone during the day which is why I'm stuck up here until Gram is out of the hospital and back on her feet."
He finished his soda and belched. I sort of laughed and his face reddened.
"Is the old lady going to be okay?" he asked.
"I hope so."
"Is she normal?" He tapped his head with his finger.
"Yeah. She was okay when she and Gram came down for Christmas. She's just old, not crazy."
"Well, before you got here she said all sorts of strange things about lost ladies and prowlers in the house. She kept pointing to the walls and crying there were too many dragons. She even said your grandmother's accident wasn't an accident. It was creepy sitting with her."
The front door opened. A paramedic guided the front of the narrow gurney. Great-Grandma Charlotte was strapped down, but her head rocked from side to side.
Her eyes fixed on the scrapbook in the chair. She cried out in a feeble voice, "Don't let him get his hands on that. You have find the Liberty Lady first." Then she closed her eyes and lapsed into unconsciousness.
The legs on the gurney folded up as the men slid it into the back of the ambulance. One paramedic hopped in beside her and the other man hustled to the driver's seat. The back doors slammed shut and the ambulance sped down the street. Its lights were flashing, but they didn't turn on the siren.
"Jessica, we have to go," Mom said. "We'll follow them to the hospital."
I handed Josh my half-full soda and scrambled into the car taking the scrapbook along.
Would the ambulance get to the hospital in time? Even though I'd rather be back home with my friends, I didn't want Grandma Charlotte to die.
Be sure and come back next week to find out what happens in