I stood in the bathroom and held my breath. Mr. Thomas thundered down from the third floor. I tried to breathe normally, taking in slow, deep breaths. His footsteps stopped on the second floor landing.
How was I going to get out of this mess? Mom would kill me if she knew I'd been up prowling at night with a strange man living upstairs.
I stared at my reflection in the mirror. My face matched the red pajamas that peaked from the neckline of my sweatshirt.
I flushed the toilet. It would give me a few extra minutes while I thought of what to do.
Had Mr. Thomas actually seen me?
Quickly, I shed my outer clothes like a snake slipping out of his old skin. It was a good thing I'd left my pajamas on underneath my clothes. I turned on the water faucet and shoved the jeans and sweatshirt under the sink. Taking one last look in the mirror, I rubbed my wild brown curls into a tangled mass before turning off the water.
I took a big breath and opened the bathroom door. Mrs. Picket, the drama coach, would have been impressed with my yawn. My open hand covered most of my face and my eyes were half-shut.
Mr. Thomas waited by the door. He glared and his hands were balled into angry fists that hung at his sides like clubs.
"Were you upstairs?" he demanded and went on without giving me a chance to answer. "I've rented the third floor and you have no right to be up there."
I yawned again. "I don't know what you're talking about." I crossed my toes in my slippers. It was just a little fib. "I had to go to the bathroom."
I side-stepped him and started for the dragon room. He stepped closer and grabbed my arm. His hot breath sent a shudder down my back.
"I'm warning you, little girl. Stay out of my business or else."
"Jessica?" It was Mom's voice. It was about time she woke up. "Is everything all right?"
I jerked my arm from the man's grasp. "Yeah, I had to go to the bathroom." I stared at Josh's uncle like I wasn't afraid of him even though I was about to wet my pants. "If you touch me again, I'll tell."
I turned and bolted to my room.
Back in bed, I couldn't fall asleep. Twenty minutes went by and I was still, wide-awake. Upstairs it was quiet, so I turned on the bedside light and retrieved Great-Grandma Charlotte's scrapbook from the floor. Propped up in bed, I flipped to the back page and re-read the poem. What if there was a real treasure? One of gold or money or jewels?
On the ride home from the hospital, Mom had told me about Gram and Great-Grandma Charlotte's money problems. They were late on their taxes and had borrowed so much money that they were about to lose their house. If that happened, they would have to come live with us. That meant I'd have to dress like a fool all the time and Todd would never like me.
I had told Mom what Grandma Charlotte had said about the hidden treasure. Mom said there wasn't any.
What if she was wrong?
I thought about all of that and more as I sat up in bed.
"Why would Grandma Charlotte tell me to find the Liberty Lady?" It helps me think when I talked out loud.
"The poem says the Liberty Lady hides a secret, and the words 'hidden treasure' are mentioned three times. If Grandma Charlotte never found it, the treasure must be still hidden somewhere in the house."
My great-great-grandfather's letter to Grandma Charlotte said there was a "golden surprise and that he had beat the bank's closing." Maybe the treasure was gold coins.
I re-read the poem slowly and carefully aloud. It sounded nice.
"I have to write down the clues or I might miss one." I scampered out of the warm bed to get paper and a pencil.
"Brrrr, it's cold." I hopped back in bed and tucked the covers around my feet. I wished Kelsey was there. She's really good with riddles. Maybe I could call her tomorrow.
"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."
I stopped and wrote.
Clue 1: Hidden gold treasure.
Clue 2: The treasure traveled north, south, east, and west.
Clue 3: Dragon wings have something to do with the treasure.
I twisted until I stared up at the carved dragon above the bed. "Do you have a secret for me? I wonder if you were here when Grandma Charlotte was a girl."
"There came a lone Liberty Lady,
In her right hand she held a key.
She rode a magical beast;
The iron horse of victory."
Clue 4: The Liberty Lady has a key. (Statue of Liberty?)
Clue 5: She rode a magical iron horse. (Pegasus?)
"In secret silence she came to stay
In our house hidden safe away,
Not like the other fallen
In depression on that Black Day."
Clue 6: No one knew the lady came because she hid.
Clue 7: Everyone was sad and depressed.
Clue 8: There was a black day. (Stormy? Eclipse?)
"She covered herself in star flowers,
Dreaming of fortune for hours;
Hidden deep beneath the wood,
Alone in her ivory tower."
Clue 9: She's under flowers, under wood, and in a tower. (The cupola?)
The next stanza had the same stuff in it as the others. There's no point to write down the same clues twice.
"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."
Clue 10: There's hidden gold, money, and precious stones.
Too many clues.
Would I ever find out what they meant?
I stood on the bed facing the dragon and ran my hands over him, feeling for a secret compartment. I didn't find one so I snuggled back between the warm covers and switched off the light. With my head full of plans for the next day, I drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The next morning I awoke to Mom's, "Get out of bed, you sleepy head. It's nine o'clock. Breakfast in ten."