Who doesn’t remember staying up past their bedtime, reading way too many Goosebumps and Fear Street novels that they knew would haunt all of their dreams? Well, we have some
terrifying great news for you! R.L. Stine is back and scarier than ever with Drop Dead Gorgeous! And considering we need to wait until summer for the next season of Stranger Things, this seems like the perfect way to pass the time.
Just like Eleven, Morgan Marks is the mysterious girl in her new town. She’s smart and beautiful and everyone is captivated by her. But her past is veiled in mystery, and no one knows where exactly she came from. Enter the seriously creepy plotline.
Already hooked? Read the first three chapters of Drop Dead Gorgeous and decide if you think Morgan’s dark secrets are about to be dug up for all the world to see.
I’m always so happy to get back to you. The truth is, I never really feel like myself until I’m with you. It’s as if I can reveal myself only to you.
I know I could write this on my phone, or maybe with one of those diary apps on my laptop. But I like the feel of your soft leather cover, the rich glow of your creamy paper, and the pen in my hand, the scratch on the paper that seems so real, so close from thoughts to words.
You are so close to me. You are my private listener, Diary. Away from all snoops. Away from everyone who might misunderstand me. It’s so easy to eavesdrop online.
So let’s start a new page. We are all about fresh starts, after all.
Yes, I’m excited. So many possibilities, so many dreams to fulfill, ambitions to achieve. And should I say danger to face?
A fresh start for me is all about new friends and experiences. New guys. New laughs. Even romance? What a quaint, old word.
I feel a warm glow as I think about this, Diary. I know I’m not a talented writer. I don’t need to be a talented writer to tell you the truth of my life.
But fresh starts always give me this warm feeling, this tingle of excitement. So many new ways to satisfy yourself . . . to satisfy your hunger.
Yes, Diary, fresh starts mean so much more to you—when you are dead.
TOLD BY JULIE HART
“You know I can’t serve you alcohol. You have to be twenty-one.” The waitress was a lanky beanpole of a girl with stringy hair, watery brown eyes, and a tense, impa- tient frown on her face. Her name tag was pinned on upside down, but I could still read it: Jeannie. She tapped the iPad in her hand, eager to take our order.
“We’re not here to drink,” I said. “We’re here to see Zane.”
She blinked at me. “Who’s Zane?”
“Our friend,” I said. “He’s doing a stand-up routine tonight.”
“I’m laughing already,” she said. She tapped the iPad some more.
“I’ll just have fries and a Coke,” Amber said.
“Is Pepsi okay?” the waitress asked. “Sure.”
Does anyone ever say no to that question?
I stared at the menu. “Can I have a cheeseburger?” “You don’t have to ask permission,” Jeannie said. She
tapped on the iPad.
“You’re funny,” Amber said. “Do you do stand-up, too?”
It was a logical question. We were sitting in Chuck- les, after all. That’s the only comedy club in Linden.
The waitress nodded. “Yeah. I do stand-up. I also do brain surgery. And I’m an astronaut.” She turned to leave.
“Our friends are coming,” I told her. “There will be five of us.”
“Well, that just made my night,” she said. She stepped up to another table, a table with three guys, and began tapping her iPad again.
Amber grinned at me. “I don’t think she likes her job.”
I laughed. “Is she the most sarcastic person in the world or what?”
It was a little after eight thirty and the club was fill- ing up. I glanced around the tables, which were jammed tightly around the square room. They were filled mostly with twentysomethings. A lot of students, probably from the community college. Some couples holding hands over
the small tables. Tall beer glasses at just about every table.
Amber and I were the only high school students that I could see. It was an eighteen-and-up club, and they were serious about not serving people under twenty-one.
The performers were adults, too. But Zane’s cousin,
Martin Finn, owns Chuckles, and he said Zane could come to open mic night and bring some of his friends.
Amber tangled a wisp of her brown hair, spinning it on a finger, then untangling it, then tangling it again. Amber is kind of a tense person, and that’s one of her habits.
Actually, she hates her hair. Maybe that’s why she tortures it. It’s light brown and not really curly and not straight, either. She hates her hair, and she hates wearing glasses, and she thinks her nose is too long. She’s always putting herself down, and if you try to say some- thing nice, she says you’re a liar.
“I look like an anteater next to you,” Amber said to me once when we were standing in front of a mirror together. She tugged at her nose.
“I think anteaters are cute,” I said, giving my blond hair a fluff.
“Shut up, Julie.” That’s her normal reply.
It’s probably why we’ve been friends since third grade. Only really good friends can tell each other to shut up all the time.
I wish Amber could just calm down. She bites her nails, and tortures her hair, and I guess she’s just not happy in her own skin. But she’s a good friend. We really do care about one another.
And she’s smart and serious and maybe the top student at Linden High. That has to count for something. For sure, she’s gotten me through a lot of trig and chem tests. I’m not dumb—(yeah, dumb-blond joke here, ha-ha)—but I don’t think I’d get the same grades without Amber’s help.
Amber pushed her glasses up on her nose. “What made Zane want to do this anyway?” she asked.
“He’s been writing his comedy act for weeks,” I said. “But what made him think he’s funny? Zane isn’t funny. He’s so shy and quiet. He never cracks jokes in class.”
I shrugged. “Beats me. It’s just something he wanted to do.”
“You’re like his best friend,” she said. “Didn’t he explain it to you?”
“No. He says a lot of stand-ups are shy and quiet till they get onstage.”
Amber bit her bottom lip. “Yeah, but what if he gets onstage and he’s still shy and quiet?”
A middle-aged couple squeezed into the table next to ours. Amber and I nodded hello. The man had a big belly poking out of his Hawaiian shirt, and he had a lot of trouble fitting it behind the small table.
“Liam should be the stand-up comic,” Amber said. “Liam is funny.”
I nodded. “Liam is funny. Funny-looking.” Amber grinned. “Do you think?”
Liam Franklin is an awesome guy. But his hair stands straight up on his head and his nose is like a bird beak. Add that to his tiny, round black eyes, he looks a lot like a rooster. Seriously.
And as we talked about him, Liam appeared. He slid through a line of people waiting for tables and dropped down across from me, beside Amber.
Despite the warm spring weather, Liam wore a heavy black leather jacket. He had a black-and-red Cleveland Indians baseball cap on backward.
“Hey, this place is crowded,” he said. “I’ll bet they all came to see Zane.”
“For sure,” I said.
“He’s going to bomb big-time, isn’t he?” Liam sighed. Amber punched the sleeve of his jacket. “I thought you were Zane’s friend. We’re here to support him, right?”
Liam didn’t answer. He unzipped the leather jacket halfway, reached inside, and pulled out a bottle of white wine. “Some refreshment, courtesy of my parents, who don’t know about it,” he said, grinning.
“Did you bring a corkscrew, too?” I asked. “It’s a twist-off cap.”
Amber glanced around. “We’ll get caught.” “No one is watching,” Liam insisted.
“They card everyone here,” Amber said. “They’re very strict. If we get caught—”
“If we get caught, they’ll take it away from us.” Liam shrugged.
“Did you bring cups or anything?” I asked. I saw the waitress walking toward us. She had our food on a tray.
“Wine tastes better right from the bottle,” Liam said. Amber squeezed his arm. “Hide it. Quick. Hide it! Here she comes.”
Liam lowered the bottle to the floor between his legs.
Jeannie set down our order on the table. She turned to Liam. “What can I get you?”
“What beer do you have on draft?” Liam asked. She squinted at him. “For you, I’ve got root beer.”
“Sounds good,” Liam said. “I’ll have a cheeseburger, too. Can I have cheddar cheese?”
She stared at him. “Oh. You’re a gourmet.” “Funny,” Liam said.
“And the Indians suck,” Jeannie said, squinting at his cap.
“You’re just trying for a big tip,” Liam said. We all laughed, even Jeannie. She turned and made her way back toward the kitchen.
Liam reached down to the floor and fumbled with the wine bottle. “I saw Delia and Winks outside,” he said, motioning to the door with his head. “They were having a major fight, I think.”
Delia Foreman and Winks are our other two friends. Winks’s real name is Rich Winkleman, but no one calls him Rich, not even his parents.
Amber rolled her eyes. “So what else is new?” “Yeah. They fight a lot,” Liam agreed. He twisted off the wine-bottle cap and placed it on the table. Then he glanced around to see if anyone was looking, raised the bottle, and took a long sip.
He tried passing the bottle to Amber, but she waved no with both hands. I took it and had a quick taste. “Oh, yuck. That is awful! Are you sure that’s wine? It tastes like soap!”
“Could be colder,” Liam said. He took another drink and lowered the bottle to the floor.
“Delia is just too serious about Winks,” Amber said, shaking her head.”
“You’re definitely right,” I agreed. “I mean, how long have they been going together? A month? Maybe six weeks?”
Amber rolled a french fry between her fingers. “He is going to hurt her. I know he is.”
“Nah. Winks is a good guy,” Liam said. I could see he was checking out three very hot young women squeezed into a booth across from us.
“For sure he’s a good guy,” Amber said. “But he isn’t serious like Delia. He doesn’t have a serious bone in his body.”
“True,” Liam said, grinning. “But that’s why he’s a good guy.”
“I tried to warn Delia about Winks,” I said. “You know. Just trying to be helpful. I mean, Delia only moved here last fall. She doesn’t really know anyone.”
“Except us,” Amber said.
“She seems so . . . helpless,” I replied. “Innocent. I’ve been trying to take care of her a little.”
Amber pushed her glasses up on her nose. “That’s what I like about you, Julie. You want to take care of everyone.”
Liam’s eyes flashed. “Julie, would you like to take care of me?”
“Shut up, Liam.”
Amber squeezed my arm. “So when you warned her about Winks, what did Delia say?”
“She told me to mind my own business.”
Winks and Delia appeared across the club. They were holding hands, but they had these strained, phony smiles on their faces. Delia looked pale, and, even from halfway across the room, I could see that she had been crying.
Winks smiled when he saw us and came bouncing up to the table. He’s a big, red-haired teddy bear of a guy, and his whole body bounces when he walks. He’s open and friendly and loud and funny, lots of hugs and fist bumps, the kind of guy you like instantly when you see him.
They say opposites attract, and I think Delia is his opposite in many ways. She’s shy and speaks in a whispery mouse voice. She’s tiny and delicate, with pretty dark eyes and shiny black hair that falls in ringlets down to her shoulders.
“Hey, what’s up?” Winks grabbed the wine bottle from between Liam’s legs and took a long slug. He wiped some wine that ran down his chin with the back of his hand, then lowered the bottle to the floor.
Delia dropped into the chair next to me. “How’s it going? You already ordered?”
“You talk to Zane? Is he nervous?” Winks interrupted. “I haven’t seen him,” I said. “They have a green room. You know. For the performers to hang out. He’s back there.”
“If he bombs, I’m outta here,” Winks said. “I don’t want to face him.”
“If he bombs, we’ll just tell him it was a bad crowd,” Liam said.
We didn’t have any more time to talk. The lights dimmed, and a spotlight swept over the small stage in front of us. A young guy wearing a blue-and-red Chuck- les T-shirt over baggy denim jeans stepped onto the stage carrying a hand mic.
“Hey, everyone, I’m Stanley D and it’s open mic night,” he said. “You know what that means. You’d better drink up. It’ll make these guys seem a whole lot funnier.”
That got a small laugh.
“First up, we’ve got a very young comedian from Lin- den High North. He’s so young, I had to burp him after his dinner! Let’s give a Chuckles welcome to Zane Finn, everybody!”
Mild applause. Most people kept right on talking.
Zane stepped onto the stage and took the mic from the emcee. He was wearing his usual faded jeans ripped at both knees and a maroon T-shirt with big white letters that read: DON’T JUDGE ME.
He saw us. Our table was just to the side of the stage. He smiled at me. He didn’t seem nervous at all. “Hello, everyone, I’m Zane,” he said, raising the mic to his face. “Zane is an old biblical name that, I think, means, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ At least that’s what my rabbi told me.”
That got a good laugh.
I turned to see my friends’ reactions. Whoa. Winks and Liam weren’t even watching. Delia and Amber gazed up at Zane onstage. But the two boys were turned away, their attention somewhere else.
I turned and followed their gaze. It was easy to see what they were staring at.
A girl. A girl sitting by herself at the table behind us.
A beautiful girl with wavy copper-colored hair and big green eyes. High cheekbones like a model and dramatic red lips. Maybe the most gorgeous girl I’d ever seen. Beautiful, like from another planet.
Zane was into his routine onstage. But I was like Winks and Liam. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
And I couldn’t stop thinking, Why does she look so sad?
JULIE HART CONTINUES
I forced myself to turn back to Zane. He had been calm and assured when he walked out. But now the mic trembled in his hand.
“Some people said I’m too young to be funny,” he said. “But I think we’re funny from the time we’re born. I mean, what’s funnier than pooping in your diaper?”
That got mild laughter. Someone in the back shouted, “Go change yours!”
Zane blinked but didn’t reply. “My girlfriend didn’t want me to go onstage,” he continued. “She said I’m not good-looking enough. She said I have a good face for podcasts.”
More polite titters.
I flashed him a thumbs-up to help encourage him.
But I don’t think he saw it.
Where was Zane looking? It took me a few seconds to realize he was gazing past our table. He had his eyes on that beautiful girl behind us.
He muffed his next joke completely. I could see he was distracted by her. I turned and saw that she was gazing up at him, too. But she wasn’t laughing at his jokes. She wasn’t even smiling.
Zane seemed to get shakier as he continued. Finally, he finished his act. “This was my first time onstage,” he announced.
“Gee, we couldn’t tell!” some guy shouted. It got a huge laugh.
Why are people so mean?
I could see the hurt in Zane’s eyes. I wanted to rush onstage and give him a big hug.
“How would you rate me on a scale of ten to ten?” Zane asked the crowd.
Some people chuckled. The same guy shouted, “Minus ten!”
Zane waved good-bye, walked to the side of the stage, and handed the mic back to the host. He squeezed past a few tables and dropped down beside Amber with a loud sigh. “That went well,” he murmured, shaking his head. “I thought you were solid,” I said. “I mean, for the first time.”
He squinted at me. “Solid? What does that mean? What about funny?”
“That’s what I meant,” I said.
Zane tapped Winks’s arm across the table. “What did you think? How was I?”
“Did you start yet?” Winks replied.
Amber slapped Winks’s hand. “You’re not funny.”
Delia rolled her eyes. She sipped her Pepsi and didn’t say anything.
“I’ll bet her name is Darlene,” Liam said.
I turned to him. “What are you talking about?”
The beautiful girl. She was shaking out her coppery hair, tossing her head as if she had just washed it.
“Why Darlene?” I asked.
“She’s got to be a Jacqueline,” Winks said. “But no one ever calls her Jackie.”
“Have you both gone crazy?” Delia cried. “You’ve never seen a pretty girl before?”
“Not like that,” Zane chimed in. “I think her name is Shannon. It goes with her red hair.”
Amber grabbed my arm. “Let’s go, Julie,” she said, trying to pull me up. “We don’t have to sit here and listen to these morons. They are obviously hypnotized.” Onstage, the emcee, Stanley D, waved for attention.
“Hey, everyone, let’s give our next performer a Chuckles welcome. By that, I mean totally ignore him! His name is Bernie Glaser, everyone. Here he comes. Feel the Bern! Feel the Bern!”
Bernie Glaser was maybe in his thirties, but looked older because he was balding and kind of stooped over, and had a large Adam’s apple that bobbed at the neck of his gray turtleneck sweater.
“Can you imagine this? My girlfriend is so cheap,” he started, “she’ll only take me out to dinner two or three times a week.”
Liam’s chair clattered loudly as he jumped to his feet. The wine bottle on the floor started to topple over, but I caught it. “I’m going to ask her to come sit with us,” Liam said. “I’ll tell her we were betting on her name.”
“Let’s bet on whether she’ll come over,” Winks said. “I bet yes.”
“I bet no,” Delia said. “Look at her. You can see she wants to be alone.”
“She hasn’t smiled once,” I said, watching her as she sipped a sparkling water. “She looks so sad. Don’t bother her, Liam.”
“My girlfriend is angry with me,” Bernie Glaser said up on the stage. “She caught me cheating on her with my wife.”
Big laugh, mostly from the men.
Liam signaled to us with his fingers crossed. He rested his hand on Winks’s head as he slid past and moved to the girl’s table.
We all turned around to watch as he pulled out the chair and sat down across from her. Onstage, Bernie Glaser must have wondered what was going on.
Liam had his goofy grin pasted on his face, and he was talking a mile a minute.
The girl still didn’t smile. But she didn’t motion him away, either. A light beam from the stage caught her big green eyes and made them flash like emeralds.
Liam gestured to our table. We all quickly turned away. We didn’t want to be caught staring.
“I think she’s going to do it,” Zane said. “I think she’s going to come over here.”
“Scoot over,” Winks told Delia. “Make some room.”
“You can make some room for my fist!” Delia exclaimed. The threat sounded funny in her mousy little voice. But I didn’t think she was joking. She was totally possessive when it came to Winks. And the big idiot never really seemed to notice.
Then I saw the girl brush her hair off her shoulders
and stand up. She had a smile on her face for the first time.
“Whoa. Liam dropped the charm on her,” Zane said. “Here she comes.”
Yes. She adjusted her short black skirt and tugged down her silky green top as she followed Liam to our table.
And as I watched, I felt a chill.
A cold tightening at the back of my neck.
I put a warm, welcoming smile on my face. But I turned and whispered to Amber, “There’s something strange about her.”
Amber didn’t react. She just kept her eyes on Liam and the girl as they approached.
“You know I’m always right about these things,” I whispered. “I have a very bad feeling about this.”
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