Twelve-year old Emily wants nothing more than a "do nothing" summer break with her best friend Sarah. Her plans for watching movies and hanging out at the neighborhood recreation center are destroyed when Sarah is shipped off to stay with her grandmother and Emily is recruited by Lolfus, the king of the trolls who live under the city and who saved her life just a few months earlier, to help investigate an above-ground mystery caused by another frightening race of mythical creatures.
Emily and Lolfus face off against a twisted and cunning opponent and risk everything to keep the balance between old and new, above-ground and underground, good and evil.
This contemporary urban fantasy is the second installment of the River City Secrets series that began with Underground.
Waiting for summer vacation was every bit as hard as waiting for Christmas morning. Emily felt like she’d been staring at the calendar and counting down the days since February, probably because that’s exactly what she’d done.
Her friends didn’t understand why summer vacation was so exciting for someone who was homeschooled. Just because she didn’t leave every morning to go to a school building didn’t mean that she wasn’t stuck slogging through Algebra and or getting caught by her mom (who was also her strict teacher) dozing off during American History. A break from lessons for three months, even if those lessons were taught at home, was still a reason to celebrate.
Emily was most excited about her summer plans with her best friend Sarah. The plan was simple: to do as little as possible. The neighborhood recreation center had a huge L-shaped swimming pool that became the hub of all middle and high school socializing during July and August, and that’s where the girls planned to spend every daytime hour they could tolerate outdoors. They had a stack of DVDs nearly four-feet tall that they planned to watch while basking in the air conditioning during those hours they couldn’t tolerate.
It would be a life of leisure for the next twelve weeks—starting tomorrow.
The sun was hanging low in the sky and Emily’s mom had just started cooking dinner when she heard a knock at the back door. “Emily, it’s Sarah,” her mother called from the kitchen. Sarah lived only a few houses down on the street behind theirs. The girls used the alley to go back and forth almost exclusively.
Emily practically bounced to the back door, giddy with the excitement of her lazy days ahead, only to find Sarah looking wilted on the other side. “Hey, what’s wrong?” Emily stepped aside to hold the door open as an invitation for her friend to enter.
“Summer is ruined, that’s what’s wrong.” Sarah never beat around the bush. “My parents decided to wait until today to drop the news on me that I’d be spending the summer with my Grandma in North Carolina. The whole summer.”
Emily felt her mouth drop open and worried for a second that her chin might hit the floor from the shock. “What?” she squealed. “But this is Do-Nothing Summer! I thought they knew that.”
“Yeah, well, my mom got all nostalgic and started talking a couple of weeks ago with my dad about how she used to spend her summers in her teens with her grandmother in the country and how she learned to fish, plant stuff, sew, and whatever. They seem to think I need that.”
Emily was frozen. She couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t do anything but stare at Sarah with wide-eyed disbelief. Her mom broke the silence when it started to get awkward, “It might be fun, you never know. I always wanted to learn country skills when I was young, but summer camp in the city just wasn’t the same kind of thing.”
“I guess it might be, but my Grandma lives in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. There’s nobody around even close to my age. And Emily and I had plans to hang out at the pool.” Sarah turned back to Emily then, “I don’t want to leave you having to go solo, but I don’t really have any choice. Believe me, I’ve been trying to get out of it for the past three hours and my parents aren’t budging. I’m sorry.”
And just like that, Emily’s excitement for spending the summer hanging out with her best friend was squashed.
Sarah had only been gone for a week, but it seemed to Emily like she left a year ago. The first few days, Emily felt like she had so much nervous energy to burn off that she spent her time cleaning and organizing her room. When that was done, she moved on to helping her brother Max with his. Her mother must have figured she was desperate if she was going to help Max with chores, so she forced Emily to go to the pool.
She, her mom, and Max walked the five blocks from their house to the recreation center on Thursday morning. It was still early June, so the heat wouldn’t start pounding down on them until after lunchtime at least, but the air felt thick and heavy with humidity already.
The closer they got to their destination, the more kids and teens she saw heading that way, too. From the looks of it, Sarah must have been the only one who had someplace else to go because by the time they signed in at the center and went out back to the pool, Emily would have sworn that every kid from the neighborhood elementary, middle, and high school was there.
Most of the older teens leaned against the chain link fences in little groups and talked and laughed together while casting glances at other groups of the opposite sex. The middle-schoolers alternated between chasing each other around the adjacent basketball courts and jumping into the deep end of the pool to see who could make the biggest cannonball splash. Max joined the elementary age kids in the shallow end and earned instant respect for how long he could hold his breath underwater.
Emily felt like she stuck out and couldn’t seem to find the fun her mother insisted was there at the pool waiting for her. What her mom didn’t understand was that being there only reminded her that Sarah was six hours away. This was their summer plan. She was supposed to be leaning against that fence with her and whispering about who had a crush on whom, and yet here she was, following her mother to an umbrella-shaded table full of parents. Parents!
She squeezed in between her mom and a woman whose face she recognized, but had no idea of her name or even which kid she belonged to. Emily sat staring at the concrete near her flip-flops for a while when her mother nudged her with an elbow, “Hey, why are you still her with all of us old people? Shouldn’t you be over there gossiping or whatever it is that you kids do now?”
When she looked up to respond, Emily noticed Vivi striding over to their table. Vivi, which she assumed was short for Vivian, lived a few blocks from her in one of the biggest and oldest houses in the neighborhood. Her family was rich, and they had no problem with flaunting it, either. Vivi didn’t have any brothers or sisters, so her parents spent all of their time, attention, and money giving her whatever she wanted.
In a nutshell, Vivi was kind of a spoiled brat.
“Emily! I’m so happy to see you here!” Vivi cooed like they’d been close friends their whole lives, but in reality they had only attended some of the same birthday parties and neighborhood barbecues in the past couple of years.
Emily had wondered before if Vivi even had any close friends after she’d noticed the way the other kids seemed to give her plenty of space. Were they afraid of her family? Her family’s money? After getting to know her a little, Emily decided it was because Vivi didn’t really understand the meaning of the word “no” and was terribly bossy because of it.
“Uh, hey Vivi.” Emily picked at a thread on the towel in her lap.
“Why are you over here? You should come with me and we can sit on the edge of the deep end and help judge the cannonballs!” She paused and scrunched up her forehead. “Wait, where’s Sarah? I didn’t think you two went anywhere without the other one?”
Emily sighed. “We don’t usually, but she’s in North Carolina for the summer.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. Vivi’s excitement ramped up to dangerous levels and she squatted next to Emily’s chair and gripped her wrist to tightly that she had to fight the urge to swat at her with her free hand.
“Oh, Emily! You can’t be by yourself all summer! I know just the thing--we’ll be summer besties.”
Resisting he look of horror that threatened to take over her face took all of Emily’s concentration. “Oh, uh… That’s okay, Vivi, I’ll be…”
Vivi cut her off before she could finish, “Don’t be silly! You’re right down the street, my house is practically empty because my parents are in Europe and it’s just me and the nanny, so you can come over every day. We’ll do our hair, watch movies, have fashion shows, and all kinds of awesome things!”
Oh, no. No, no, no. This was supposed to be Emily and Sarah’s Do-Nothing Summer. It certainly was not going to be Emily and Vivi’s anything. Emily was just about to try and let her down gently when her mom chimed in with, “That sounds like a great idea, Emily. I’m getting a little tired of you moping around the house.”
Her eyes nearly bulged out of her head, but she still managed to shoot her mother a “how could you” look that was easy to interpret. Betrayed by her mom. Yep, her own mother had sold her out to the neighborhood bossypants.
“Cool!” Vivi said. Emily knew that with both her mother and Vivi against her that she didn’t stand a chance if she tried to argue. She tried to put on a fake smile to at least satisfy them both for now, but Vivi’s excitement was too much to be suppressed and she grabbed Emily by the hand and pulled her up out of her chair and started dragging her towards the pool. “Come on, let’s go make plans for all of the stuff we’re going to do!”
Emily found it hard to believe that for the whole week before that very moment, she thought Sarah leaving for the summer was the worst it could get, but now Vivi had proven that it could still be worse than she had feared.