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Linda Joy Singleton

Dead Girl

Dead Girl -1

Acknowledgments

From idea to book, the path to publication for Dead Girl Walking has taken twenty years. There are many people who helped along the way that I’d like to thank: my first critique group, which saw the first version of this book (formerly titled Turn Left at the Milky Way) in 1988—Micqui Miller, Eloise Barton, Barbara Woodward, Nan Finch, and Dorothy Skarles; talented author Julia DeVillers, who while at a SCBWI conference in the early 2000s offered great critique suggestions and encouraged me to keep working on this book; the wonderful authors in my face-to-face critique group — Patti Newman, Erin Dealey, and Connie Goldsmith; and my savvy editors — Andrew Karre, who came up with the idea of turning this book into the first title of a series and to add dark villains, too, and Sandy Sullivan, who improved the final draft. Thank you everyone!

1

“I am so dead!” I groaned when the road ended at a decaying graveyard.

Slapping the steering wheel of my mother’s third-hand Toyota stung my palm and solved nothing. This could not be the right road. Where were the perfectly mowed, ginormous lawns and elegant homes of Gossamer Estates? Obviously I’d made a wrong turn, which — considering the importance of today — could be the most disastrous wrong turn of my life.

“Amber, um, are we lost?” asked a timid voice. Trinidad Sylvenski had been so quiet I’d almost forgotten she was in my passenger seat. Her slim shoulders hunched over as she peered out the window. She was a new student at Halsey High so I didn’t know her well, but if my career plans worked out we’d soon be better than best friends.

“Lost? Absolutely not.” An aspiring entertainment agent could never admit fear in front of a potential client. I flashed a grin that the book The Cool of Confidence promised worked in any stressful situation.

“Are you sure?” Trinidad bit her peach-shimmered lip. “You hit the steering wheel kind of hard and you seem really tense.”

“Me? Not even.” Another book, Positive Persuasion, advised to always put forth a positive attitude. “I know exactly what I’m doing. Could you hand me the map?”

“Sure. Here.” Trinidad’s whispery speaking voice was a huge contrast to her powerful singing voice. I’d only heard her sing once, but that’s all it took to be blown away. Finding raw talent in my own school was an amazing stroke of luck. I’d expected to wait years — well, at least until college or an internship — to make my mark in the entertainment-agency biz. According to my books, an agent’s age wasn’t a factor; preparation and persistence mattered most, along with the ability to jump at an opportunity.

Checking the lavender-scented map printed in purple calligraphy, I could find where we wanted to go (Jessica Bradley’s house), but not where we were (creepy graveyard). Like it was a wicked algebra problem, I knew the mysterious X answer but not the formula to get there. But I kept smiling, like I had everything under control.

“Shouldn’t we turn around and look for Jessica’s street?” Trinidad asked.

“Excellent idea. But we probably should call to let her know we’ll be late.” And to get directions out of this God-forsaken dead end. Trying to remember all those confusing turns made my head ache.

“Use my cell.” Trinidad fished inside her dainty silver clutch bag and withdrew a rhinestone-decorated phone. I tried not to drool as she flipped it open.

“Oops.” She frowned.

“What’s wrong?”

“No power. Guess I forgot to recharge my battery — again. You got a phone?”

Don’t I wish! But there was no extra money for frivolities (that’s what Mom called anything I’d wanted ever since she had the triplets). So I had no phone, no car, no college fund — stuff that was handed to other kids like candy on Halloween.

I started to confess my non-phone status when I remembered that Mom always left her phone charging in the Toyota. It was a business phone, only to be used for emergencies. Well, this ranked as an “emergency” to me.

Only when I checked the cell, take a guess …

Full battery. But no signal.

“Is your phone dead?” Trinidad’s voice quavered.

“No, I just can’t get reception inside the car. Not a problem. The signal is sure to be stronger outside. Once I get a signal, I’ll call Jessica and we’ll be on our way.”

Trinidad stopped biting her lip and smiled in a stunning display of white teeth and dimples. With my guidance, that mega-smile would shine from CD covers someday. Assuming we ever made it out of here.

Stepping out of the car, I searched for signs of life or even a street sign. But all I saw was a creepy landscape of headstones guarded by a rusty iron fence that stretched for miles. There wasn’t a breeze, as if the wind couldn’t find its way into this desolate place. I hated roads that ended when they weren’t supposed to, but mostly I hated my sense of direction. It was like a metaphor for my life; even when I thought I knew where I was going, something usually happened to spin me the wrong way.

Today was supposed to have been my Big Chance.

Invited to a party by the Jessica Bradley. Not the most popular girl at school (that would be Leah Montgomery), but Leah’s best friend — which would give me a toe upward on my career staircase. This was not about becoming popular. I mean, I’m not that shallow. It’s just that my Networking Works! book said making it in Hollywood was all about connections. No fakeness allowed; just enhance your opportunities by getting to know influential people.

Jessica and Leah reigned as school glitterati. But even more important, Leah’s father, as part-owner in Stardust Studios, had music industry connections.

This is how I wrangled an invite to Miz J’s big party:

I was wandering around the halls, my arms wrapped around a huge HHC (Halsey Hospitality Club) gift basket to welcome the school’s newest student, Trinidad Sylvenski. When I’d started the club my freshman year, we had three members. I was a senior now, and we still had three members. Everyone loved the baskets, but passed on joining the club. So our trio of membership included my best friends, Dustin Cole (a computer genius) and Alyce Perfetti (Diva of Basket Design), plus me.

It was part of my role as Official New Student Greeter to give Trinidad her “Hello Halsey!” basket. Lunch period was almost over when I finally found her leaving the cafeteria with Jessica. As I joined them, I overheard Trinidad say she couldn’t go to Jessica’s party on Saturday because her car was in the shop.

Be bold and take command of fortuitous opportunities (advice from one of my books).

I wouldn’t have had the nerve to say even one word if Leah was around. Blonde, beautiful, and rich in all

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