Updated: Jul 3
To see the spins by which this chapter was plotted, scroll to the bottom for a list or click on the image below to see the original Live Spin video! Otherwise, keep scrolling past the photo to read Chapter 4!
As always, this chapter is mostly unedited... please excuse any errors!
Chapter 4 Spinner Story
Jay sighed and sank against the building as the car drove away. “How am I supposed to raise $1200 in two days?”
Spectral eyes popped up before her, and an ethereal hand slowly materialized mid-air, pointing at the wall. “Jayana, look.”
Jay tipped her face to the side to see what the ghost was pointing at – a flyer, taped to the building. She pushed away from the wall and turned to read it.
Bi-Annual Giant Cupcake Competition!
Bake the best cupcake, and make it HUGE! The bigger, the better!
Cupcakes will be judged on appearance, size, and taste.
Final winner receives a $2000 cash prize!
Saturday, January 19th
Entrants must arrive by 9AM sharp!
Downtown Events Center Courtyard
Bring your baking best and we’ll do the rest!
“Jay,” the ghost whispered. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Jay threw up her hands. “No. I know exactly what you’re thinking, but I know nothing about baking. I’m a take-out sort of girl.”
“Jay,” the ghost huffed in annoyance. “It’s like you remember less about your own family than I do!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Have you never looked in the top cabinets in the kitchen?”
“What? Of course I – “ Jay stopped. “Actually, no, I’m not sure I have.”
The ghost sighed dramatically. ”Well, hurry, let’s go!” He vanished, and Jay stared at the empty air above the sidewalk for a moment before he reappeared. “Why didn’t you – oh.” He raked his eyes down to her feet, starting to blister in her tattered high heels. “You humans and your pesky physical bodies. Why can't you learn to apparate like those wizard people in that book you like?”
Jay stared. “Um... because I’m... real?”
The ghost huffed again. “Alright, fine, let’s go find your car. I think I know where you left it.”
Jay knew where she’d left it, too – at the pageant. But that was on the other side of town. “How do you suggest we get there? I’ve got no phone, no money, and I am not walking across town in this meatball-soaked dress and high heels. My feet are already killing me!”
“With an attitude like that you won’t get anywhere, Jayana,” the ghost chided. “Perhaps you could ask that nice, attractive paramedic for a ride?”
“What?” The paramedic who helped Jay had been friendly, but middle-aged and definitely not what Jay would describe as attractive. Jay followed the ghost’s gaze back to the scene of the meatball incident. The ambulance Jay had been examined in was packing up – but the paramedic who had checked Jay was standing just beside the ambulance, talking to another paramedic who stood on the driver’s side with the door ajar, a guy who looked a few years older than Jay – and who was, as the ghost had pointed out, rather attractive.
Jay felt a little surge of nerves as the attractive paramedic noticed her looking over and smiled at her – then an immediate rush of guilt at the thought of Kyle, though she wasn’t sure why. The young paramedic turned back to the middle-aged one, who said something else and then walked around to the passenger side and climbed in. The younger one walked to the back and shut the doors, then strode back toward the driver’s door.
“Hurry, Jay, they’re getting ready to leave!” the ghost shouted.
Jay swallowed, then forced herself off the sidewalk and through the crew of meatball-mess cleaners to the ambulance. “Excuse me... um... sir?”
The driver spun back and gave Jay a concerned look that somehow only made him look more handsome. “Yes? Is everything alright?”
Jay glanced down at her ruined dress and pushed back her embarrassment. She must look terrible, but there were bigger concerns at the moment. “I’m sorry, but I – I don’t have my phone or my purse, or anything, and my car was left behind at the pageant before I was brought to the hospital earlier. I – is there any way I could get a ride somewhere? Even partway would be a big help.”
“Wow,” the paramedic said. “It sounds like you’re having a rough day.”
“That would be an understatement,” Jay admitted.
The paramedic studied her eyes for a moment, then his look of concern spread into a staggering smile. “You know what? Sure.” He turned back toward the ambulance. “Hey, Bob! You mind letting this nice lady ride shotgun?”
The older paramedic leaned across the seat to peer at Jay through the open driver’s door. “For her? Of course.” He winked, then slid out and climbed into the back of the ambulance.
The attractive paramedic turned back to Jay, and swept his arm dramatically toward the ambulance. “Your chariot awaits. I’m Ryan, by the way.” He grinned.
Jay returned his smile and followed him toward the ambulance. “Thank you so much. I’m Jay.”
Ryan opened the passenger door for her and offered his hand to help her up into the vehicle, which Jay accepted, then gently shut the door behind her. Once he walked around and climbed into the driver’s seat, he turned to her. “Where to, my lady?”
Bob snorted from the back of the vehicle, and Ryan cut an annoyed glance at him.
“My bad,” Bob said. “By all means, continue.”
Ryan turned back to Jay expectantly. “So, where to?”
Jay recited the address of the pageant. “That’s where I left my car. And my purse. And my phone. Not that I can get any of them – but maybe at least my car is okay. It was on the other side of the lot.” Then she quickly added, “But if that’s too far, then just –however close you can get me. Seriously, I appreciate any help but I don’t want to get in the way of your work.”
Ryan stared at her. “You were at that pageant? Please tell me you weren’t one of the ones still in the building when it collapsed. I mean, a bad day is one thing, but – “
“Um, yeah. That was me. And Kyle, my... friend.” She supposed she and Kyle were beyond just strangers now, after what they’d been through. “That’s why I was at the hospital. I was getting checked out for a concussion.”
Bob leaned toward her from the back. “A building collapse and being hit by falling spaghetti trays all in one day? Did you walk under a ladder or open an umbrella inside or something?”
“Something like that,” Jay muttered. “Anyway, if it’s too much trouble – “
“Don’t even worry about it,” Ryan said. “We do have to track miles, but... I’ll figure something out. After the day you’ve had, I’ll drive you right to the door of your car. Just relax. We’ll take care of you.”
Jay sank her head back against the seat. “Thank you. Seriously.”
Ryan started the vehicle.
“Buckle up!” Bob shouted from the back. “Ryan’s a crazy driver!”
“Shut it, Bob,” Ryan called back.
Jay buckled her seat belt and gripped the edge of the door, just in case, but as Ryan pulled out and headed down the block, Bob’s warning seemed unfounded. Ryan drove carefully, glancing over at Jay periodically as he tried to make small talk. “So do you do pageants often?”
Jay shook her head. “No, not usually.”
Ryan began to say something else, but in the back, Bob’s voice mumbled to someone. Jay startled upright, her first thought being ghost, but when she looked back, of course Bob wasn’t talking to a ghost – he was on his cell phone.
She turned her attention back to Ryan, who was staring at her like he expected an answer. “I’m sorry,” Jay said. “Can you... repeat that? I got a little distracted.”
Ryan laughed. “No worries. With everything you’ve been through, I’m sure you’ve got a ton on your mind. I’ll just let you relax.”
Jay muttered her thanks and sank back against the seat again, half disappointed to have ruined the conversation and half relieved not to have to make small talk anymore... or to explain why she had entered a pageant in the first place.
A few minutes later, they pulled up to the site of the pageant. Jay’s pulse quickened at the sight of the collapsed overpass, the crushed building, the destruction – she was to blame for all of this. At least no one besides herself and Kyle had been hurt.
“Whew,” Bob whistled from the back. “This is about as bad as I imagined. The people who were around here were lucky today.” He leaned up toward Jay. “Except you and your friend, of course. I’m real sorry about that.”
Ryan pulled into the parking lot and glanced over at Jay. “Which side were you parked on?”
“Over there.” Jay pointed beyond the ruined building, to the small, undisturbed lot behind it.
“I think I can get through.” Ryan navigated the ambulance around the edges of the lot and to where Jay had pointed.
“It’s the red one,” Jay said, pointing to her small sedan. Most of the other vehicles in the lot were gone, which made sense, since everyone else had escaped the building uninjured and would have driven home as soon as they were able to leave.
True to his word, Ryan drove her straight up to her vehicle, stopping so that Jay’s side of the ambulance was just far enough from her car that she could easily get out.
Jay reached for the ambulance door handle, then froze. “I – I don’t have my keys.” Her keys were in her purse... somewhere in the rubble.
Bob poked his head up, holding up his cell phone. “Actually, I think I can help with that. I was just talking to one of the officers who were here earlier. They found some personal belongings of pageant contestants backstage and have been calling everyone to come pick them up. It’s Jayana, right? That’s what you told me before? They weren’t able to contact you because your phone was in your purse and there was no home or work phone listed for you, but they have your stuff.”
Jay exhaled in relief. “I don’t have a home phone and I work from home,” she said. “Thank you. My cell is all I’ve got, and all my important stuff is in my purse. Is there – I mean, how do I get it?” She berated herself silently for not thinking of her lost keys sooner; now she was stuck here with a car she couldn’t even drive.
“Not to worry,” said Bob. “I asked them to bring it here. It should be here any minute; they weren’t far.”
Jay sighed and gave Bob a grateful smile. “Thank you.”
Bob smirked at Ryan. “Who’s the knight-in-shining-armor now?”
Jay arrived home about an hour later. She eyed her sofa, longing to just collapse onto it, but one look at her sauce-covered, filthy dress drove her toward the shower instead. She sighed in relief as she peeled her high heels off her blistered feet, and turned the water on to let it get hot. She was about to strip off her ruined dress when floating eyes popped up in front of her. “Jay! Hi!”
Jay stifled her scream – she really should be used to this by now – and sighed. “What are you doing here? I thought you ghosts promised not to pop into the bathroom. Privacy, remember?”
“Yes, Jay, of course, that’s why I caught you before you got undressed!”
Jay narrowed her eyes. “Fine. Whatever. Can you leave now? And – wait. Where are the others?” There were usually at least four or five ghosts floating around her house, popping up to bug her the moment she got home. But this one who’d been following her since the hospital was the only one to appear so far.
“Staying away, Jay. I told them it was best – after what happened, they... they are worried you are mad at them.”
“Worried I’m – of course I’m mad at them! And you, too! But that doesn’t stop you from bugging me!”
“Jay, I had nothing to do with the pageant, or the ladybugs. That was Simon, I swear!”
Simon. The leader of the ghost gang that hovered about her house – as far as Jay could tell. The ghosts were never very forthcoming with details about themselves or what they were doing.
“And the hospital was the others, I’ve already told you that.” The ghost’s eyes were wide and pleading. “Jay, please, I’m trying to help you. Really. The rest of us know you’re upset, so they are... taking a step back. To let you calm down.” The ghost smiled. “You’ve got me, for now. I’ll help you!”
Jay groaned. Calm down? There was no calm for her until the ghosts were gone. But at least one was better than five. “Okay, fine. But – can you leave now? I really want to take a shower.”
“Yes, Jay, of course,” the ghost nodded. “But after that, the cupcake, right? There’s not much time to waste. The contest is tomorrow!”
Jay took a deep breath and let it escape. “Sure, yes. The cupcake. Right after I wash all of this off of me, okay?”
“Okay, Jay. I’ll meet you in the kitchen.” The ghost vanished.
“Fantastic,” Jay muttered.
Jay stood on a chair, reaching toward the cabinet over the refrigerator. “Are you sure it’s up here?”
“Yes, Jay,” the ghost said. “Your grandmother’s recipe binder is definitely in that cabinet. Your mother used to use it. Don’t you remember?”
Jay forced back the wave of painful emotion at the mention of her mother, a mix of grief, anger, and longing, and stretched her arm further into the cabinet, feeling blindly along the shelf she wasn’t quite tall enough to see clearly. Her hand brushed something solid, and she grasped it, dragging it off the shelf. A three-ring-binder dropped onto the top of the fridge in a puff of dust, and Jay turned her face away to let the dust settle, then heaved the heavy binder off the fridge and climbed down from the chair.
She set the binder on the kitchen counter, then grabbed a paper towel to clear the dust from it. Why didn’t she remember this thing? She’d spent countless hours in this kitchen, sitting on the stool at the island watching her mom cook – before things had really gotten bad, before she had decided it was safer to hide in her room. But her mom had never referenced this book, to Jay’s knowledge, even though she occasionally mentioned that something was a family recipe. Maybe she’d known all the recipes by heart.
Jay flipped through the labeled sections, finding the one tagged “Desserts.” Her heart squeezed at the looping cursive of the hand-written label, unfamiliar yet so similar to her mother’s handwriting. It must have been her grandmother’s, a woman who’d died before Jay was old enough to remember meeting her. Jay took a breath and turned the page, searching for the fabled cupcake recipe.
There it was – Triple-Chocolate Cupcakes with raspberry filling. The hand-written recipe was topped with a sticky note, which was in Jay’s mother’s writing. Won county baker’s fair – first prize! Jay stroked the note, a flood of memories washing over her at the familiar cursive, then moved the sticky note to the counter and began to read the recipe. Simple enough, she thought. It didn’t require any complicated tools or any fancy steps. It was just a cupcake recipe.
“That’s the one,” the ghost nodded, popping up beside Jay. “Now, how are you going to make it huge?”
Good question, Jay thought. She was certain there were probably adjustments needed for converting a normal cupcake recipe into a giant cupcake and yet still maintaining consistency and structure – and how in the world would she manage to bake something giant with normal pans? Would she have to do it in layers? This called for some internet searching. She pulled out her phone.
After several failed attempts at baking and layering cakes of various sizes, Jay was ready to give up. All of her cupcakes looked like leaning towers held together with gobs of frosting. “I can’t do this. I’m clearly not meant for baking. We’re going to have to think of something else.” She leaned in for one last attempt at straightening her pathetic monstrosity with an icing-laden spatula.
The ghost paced nervously behind her – hovering above the floor – as he had been for the last few hours. “Jay, why are you doing it that way? Jay, just – just let me do it.” He grabbed the spatula from her hand, startling her – the ghosts could interact with objects, just not people – at least until recently – but that didn’t stop it from being weird when a ghost snatched something from her hand.
The ghost adjusted the tilting cupcake and smoothed out the bunched frosting with a few expert swipes. It was still a mess, but it looked far better than it had a second before. The ghost glanced back at Jay. “This one may be too far gone, but we still have enough ingredients to try once more. We’d better hurry, though, we’re running out of time. Let me see that recipe again.”
Jay held out the notebook, and the ghost looked it over.
“No wonder this isn’t working. Jay, this isn’t the family recipe! Your grandmother must have withheld some ingredients from this or copied down the wrong thing, because I happen to know that this isn’t – “ He stopped.
Jay narrowed her eyes. “How do you know so much about my grandmother and her recipes? Did you haunt her too, or something?”
The ghost blinked. “Not exactly. But that’s not important right now. The important thing is to get the right cupcake made and we’re running out of time!”
Jay glanced at the clock. Midnight. No wonder she was so tired. She glanced around the kitchen, messy bowls and dirty pans and utensils scattered everywhere. “Even if you know the missing ingredients, I’m hopeless at this. I was clearly not meant to be a baker. I hope you’re better at this than I am, or we should just give up now.”
The ghost stared at her. “Trust me, I am.”
“What, were you a chef or a baker in your past life or something?”
The ghost stared again, not answering. Jay guessed that might be a yes; from what she’d figured out, they were forbidden to talk about their lives before ghosthood – but silence was either a sign she’d guessed correctly or an indication the ghost was too frustrated to reprimand her for asking.
“If you really can help me,” Jay said, “then why have you just been hovering there complaining at me this whole time?”
The ghost sighed. “I can help you, Jay, but I can’t do it for you. Now come grab a spoon and do exactly what I say.”
It was 7 AM – two hours before the competition started – when Jay finally collapsed on the couch, running only on adrenaline and coffee. The intoxicating smell of chocolate cake filled the house, mixed with the sweet tang of raspberry filling. The cupcake – as large as Jay’s torso – sat in all its glory on the kitchen counter, on a tray ready for transport. “It’s beautiful,” Jay said, glancing back at the kitchen counter. “I hope it’s big enough.”
“It will have to be,” the ghost said. “If not, hopefully its taste will make up for its size. Your grandmother’s recipe really is exquisite... so I’ve heard. Not that I was able to taste-test it.”
“I did, and it was wonderful,” Jay said, thinking of the scraps she’d snatched and eaten.
“Now, just an hour of sleep, okay? I promise I’ll make it to the competition, but I’ve got to get at least a little rest or I won’t even make it to the end of the block.”
“Fine, Jay,” the ghost said.
Jay set her phone alarm and wriggled onto the couch’s surface, pulling down the throw blanket to cover her. The ghost’s voice, more gentle than usual, floated in just as she drifted off. "Sleep well, Jay.”
Jay’s alarm blared her awake much too soon after. She groaned, almost swiping Snooze before remembering. “The cupcake,” she groaned, rolling off the couch. She looked at the time – 8:00 AM. Only an hour to get dressed, load up the cupcake, drive the thirty minutes to downtown, and check in for the contest. Time to get up.
Jay brewed some coffee and got dressed, having just showered the night before. She kept her makeup and hair to a minimum, and by the time she got back to the kitchen, her nerves about the contest had her almost so awake she didn’t need the coffee. Almost. She poured a mug anyway and set it on the counter to cool. This was it – her chance to get the money for the dollhouse. If she didn’t make it, she was out of options and basically out of time. What would the ghosts do to her if she didn’t retrieve the object? She didn’t want to find out.
Thoughts of ghosts and danger made her wonder about Kyle. She glanced at the clock on the oven – 8:20 AM. She needed to leave soon, but she could spare a couple minutes to check in on Kyle. Would he even be awake yet? If not, she could at least ask a nurse how he was doing. She searched the number for the hospital on her phone and dialed.
The operator connected her with Kyle’s room. Jay was surprised when someone picked up on the second ring.
“Hello?” Kyle’s voice, rough from sleep or painkillers or maybe both, floated through the phone, sending Jay’s nerves into overdrive... but in a good way.
“Hi,” she said. “I – just wanted to check on you. Oh, sorry, it’s Jay.” “Jay,” Kyle breathed into the phone. “I’m really glad you called.” He sounded like he meant it. “How are you?”
“I’m good. But how are you feeling?”
“Really sore, but okay,” Kyle answered. “They’re releasing me this afternoon, actually.”
“That’s great!” Jay said, then waited for a response. After a few moments of silence, she began to wonder if he’d fallen asleep or something, but then he spoke again.
“Listen, Jay, I... hate to ask this, but... do you think maybe you could give me a ride home from the hospital later today? I know we don’t know each other well, but – I trust you, and... I don’t really have any friends or family nearby, and I’m not supposed to drive on pain meds... You know what, nevermind. I’ll just Uber or something, I – “
“No,” Jay interrupted. “Don’t be silly. I’d be happy to drive you.”
“Really?” Kyle asked.
“Yes,” Jay said. “Honestly, I would. I – “ she hesitated, uncertain whether it was weird to admit that she wanted to see him again, and settled instead on logistics. “What time should I be there?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I think around noon. Can I call you?”
“Of course,” Jay said.
“There may be a recent call log or something on this phone, but let me write your number down just in case.” Jay heard Kyle groan and then some shuffling, then he said. “Okay, got a pen. Ready.”
Jay recited her number.
“Got it,” Kyle said. “And Jay... thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Jay answered. “I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“Okay,” Kyle said. “I can’t wait.” He hung up.
Can’t wait. His words lingered in her mind as excitement for seeing him later simmered in her chest. Would it be awkward? They barely knew each other, but – there was something about him that made it feel like that wasn’t the case. Maybe it was shared trauma, but... perhaps it was more. Perhaps they were truly compatible. That would be a surprise; every relationship Jay had tried so far ended in epic failure within a matter of weeks. She’d all but sworn herself to singlehood until her thirties, after her last dramatic breakup... but Kyle made her wonder if perhaps she should reconsider that. You’re getting way ahead of yourself, she reminded herself. She barely knew Kyle. But she would like to get to know him better, for sure. Today might be a good start.
Jay jumped, then spun to see the ghost glaring at her from behind the kitchen island.
“Don’t you even care about the contest? Come on, let’s go!” the ghost yelled.
Jay sighed. “Okay, fine. Let’s go.” The sooner this was over with, the better.
Jay arrived at the courtyard and checked in for the competition, balancing her giant cupcake on a platter and trying to ignore the stares. Most everyone else had fancy trays with covers or lids – she did not. But whatever. Her cupcake was roughly the same size as most of the others; she would be on equal footing for that part of the competition, at least.
Jay took the event program she was handed, then followed the instructions of the check-in person and set up her cupcake – complete with anonymous number card – on the display table, then floated off into the crowd, hoping to evade notice until absolutely necessary. How long did events like this generally last? It was already 9 AM, and she had somewhere important to be at noon.
The ghost hovered nearby, out of sight, but occasionally popping up near Jay to whisper comments about their competitor’s cupcakes. “I have a good feeling about this, Jay,” he said after making his final round of spying on the other entries. “Our cupcake is at least as good as the best of the others, and that’s not even considering the taste.”
“That’s good to know,” Jay whispered behind the cover of her program, not wanting to garner stares for talking to herself. She was skeptical they’d actually win, but since everything basically depended on it, she hoped he was right. Jay’s Plan B was a little flimsy, since it involved breaking and entering, another thing for which she didn’t exactly have the skill set.
Jay flipped through the event program to calm her impatient nerves, and found that the cupcake competition was only one event happening. On the other end of the courtyard, there was a small craft festival and even a children’s science fair, all happening today as part of some grand community event.
Jay glanced at the times for the cupcake contest – winners wouldn’t be announced for at least two hours. There were several rounds of judging, first a collection of community votes which attendees had until 9:30 to submit , and then the favorites went before a panel of judges for an elimination round, and then the top few were pushed through to another round of judging by the elite bakers of the town. Already she saw several of the other entrants floating among the cupcakes, furiously marking down tallies on the voting card rubrics as they examined their competition. Jay roamed over toward the other side of the courtyard, eager to put some distance between herself and the cupcakes.
Jay drifted around the craft festival for a while, admiring paintings and investigating strange crochet cats with googly eyes. A delicious smell from a nearby food stand caught her attention, and her stomach grumbled. Despite her nerves – which normally impeded her appetite – she hadn’t eaten since a quick snack before baking last night. She couldn’t afford much, given the $287 in her bank account – but hopefully after today she wouldn’t need that for buying a dollhouse, and she had a job project in the pipeline that should be bringing in a check in a few days, if all went well. Self-employment wasn’t all she’d anticipated it being, but she was still struggling to grow her graphic design business. Hopefully her current financial situation was only temporary. Either way, right now she needed to eat; even the smell was making her feel shaky from hunger. She got in line for the food, which from the sign seemed to be some kind of waffles, eggs, and bacon platter. Hopefully it would taste as good as it smelled.
She bought her plate of breakfast and settled down at one of the picnic tables to eat. It was actually pretty good, but she forced herself to take her time eating it, not wanting to upset her already-nerve-strained stomach. She finished her food, then threw away her trash and glanced at the time. 10:45. This day was crawling by. She headed for the science fair section and roamed through, looking at the different entries. About ninety percent of the entered experiments seemed to be some version of a homemade volcano. Jay’s attention caught on a giant, ceramic volcano that seemed to be handcrafted and painted, with tiny clay trees and huts dotting its surface. It was massive, at least as big as the 8-year-old scientist standing next to it. I don’t want to be anywhere near that thing when it erupts.
Jay’s phone rang, and she rummaged through her purse and answered just before it went to voicemail. “Hello?”
“Hi, Jay,” Kyle said. “I’m getting ready to check out, they just need to go over all of my care instructions , and the doctor has to officially come release me. But looks like it will be noon, like I thought. Will that work for you?”
“Yes, of course,” Jay said. “I’ll be there.”
“Thanks,” Kyle said. “Oh, gotta go – the nurse is coming back in. See you soon.” He hung up.
Jay glanced at the time on her phone. 11:00. Plenty of time to finish up here and still pick up Kyle, hopefully as the new bearer of a $2000 prize. Speaking of which... Jay hurried back across the courtyard to check on the cupcake competition.
The cupcakes were in the final round, and the finalists had been moved into a closed tent for private judging by the bakers. The losing cupcakes which had already been eliminated had been set aside for pickup. Jay scanned the pickup table, but didn’t see her cupcake. Was it possible it had made it to the finals? “Excuse me,” Jay said, approaching the mostly-deserted check-in area. “Could you tell me if my cupcake has been eliminated?”
The woman at the table looked up. “Oh! It’s you! We were looking for you. No, dear, yours made it to the finals! Congratulations! The judges should be declaring the winner in the next twenty minutes or so.”
Twenty minutes. The hospital was only about ten minutes from the event, so that would still leave her plenty of time to pick up Kyle. Jay nodded her thanks and moved over to some chairs on the side to await the verdict on her cupcake.
Twenty-three minutes later, the judges emerged from the tent, and from the looks on their faces, the decision had not been entirely unanimous. Oh well, Jay thought. I just need to see if I won and get out of here.
“Would all Cupcake Contest, Craft Festival, and Science Fair finalists meet at the central stage, please? We are ready to announce the winners,” a voice blared from speakers set into the stage in the center of the courtyard.
Jay’s stomach tightened. She hadn’t realized all three events were being judged. Would she have to wait for them to announce all the winners before getting her prize, if she even won? But she couldn’t afford to leave, not if there was a chance of winning. The rules they’d given her upon check-in clearly stated winners had to be present to collect the prize. She sighed and followed the crowds over toward the stage.
Jay tapped her foot anxiously as the craft festival winners were announced, and then shifted impatiently as the science fair winning projects were rolled onto the stage – including the massive volcano. Time ticked by, and with it, Jay’s patience. At a quarter til 12:00, they were still allowing the science fair finalists to explain their projects before announcing the winners. How are these kids so long winded?
Jay stepped to the side and called the hospital. There was no answer when they transferred her call to Kyle’s room. When her call returned to the operator, she said, “I’m sorry, dear, I think he’s already checked out.” Jay begged her to see if they could find him and let him know she might be a few minutes late, but “I’ll see what we can do” was the only answer. Jay was about to demand something more certain when her phone let out a strange beep. Jay glanced down at it. Oh no. She’d forgotten to charge it the night before. She only had time to glance the 1% battery marker before the screen flashed and shut off. Great. She’d just have to hope the nurse carried her message properly. I’m coming, I promise.
The nerdy kid droned on about his volcano, and then finally the announcer cut him off and declared him the winner. Thank goodness. Jay sighed. The judges shifted off the stage and a new group of judges shuffled on – the bakers from the cupcake contest.
By the time they all got lined up around the mic and finally began announcing the winners of the cupcake contest, Jay was ready to scream. Third place and second place were announced with no mention of Jay, and she readied herself to run for the parking lot the moment she knew for certain she’d lost. Then: “And our grand prize winner is... Jayana Merryweather! Come up here, please, and get your prize!”
Jay gaped at the smiling announcer over the tops of the crowd’s heads, then began shoving her way toward the front. “Excuse me. I’m sorry; coming through, sorry!” She rushed through the crowd and up the stairs, her usual anxiety at being in the spotlight cast aside by her need to grab the money and get out of there as quickly as possible.
She bounced on her toes as the announcer droned on about the amazingness of her cupcake, then turned to her and held an envelope in the air with a flourish.
“Before you take your prize,” the announcer said, “Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and your award-winning recipe?”
Jay forced a smile. “Thank you,” she said. “This –“ Jay jumped as the announcer shoved the microphone in front of her mouth. “Oh. Um, this... means a lot to me. Really. You cannot imagine how much winning this prize means.”
The announcer stared at her, waiting for more, but when it became clear she was finished, he pulled the microphone back and faced the audience, still gripping her envelope of cash. “Let’s give our winners a round of appl – “
“Oohhhhh no!” a small voice cried out.
Jay spun around to see that the 8-year-old volcano scientist was crouched beside his monstrous volcano, which was now trembling furiously while a panicked-looking parent dashed back and forth around it.
“Not to worry, folks,” the announcer laughed. “Just a little mishap with our winning volcano; looks like we get a second demonstration. I saw this baby erupt earlier, and trust me –if you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat!”
“No, no, no!” the child yelled. “This is not good!”
The announcer’s smile faltered, and he turned to the side.
“The whole box of baking soda tipped in,” the kid yelled, trying to explain himself, “I set it on top so that I could move things but it wasn’t supposed to – “
The volcano tremored, and a fizzling sound erupted from deep within.
“Run!” screamed the kid, and took off into the crowd.
Jayana gaped as the volcano shivered, shuddered, and exploded – spewing a geyser of foam at least ten feet high.
The crowd screamed and jumped back as the erupting foam splattered down in great clumps of vinegar-baking soda rain, soaking the stage and spattering the crowd. The announcer got the worst of it, the descending stream hitting him full-force as he stood gaping, still holding the microphone.
Splatters hit Jay as well, but after what she’d been through, a little baking soda and vinegar was the least of her concern.
The announcer sputtered, wiping vinegar and baking soda from his face and glasses.
Jay shifted nervously, not wanting to be rude. “Um, sir?” she asked softly. “Is there something else I need to do, or... can I have the prize now?”
“What? Oh, right! Here. You’re good to go.” He shoved the soggy envelope at her, then turned back to the microphone.
“Thank you,” Jay breathed, and rushed off the stage.
“Well, now,” she heard the announcer’s strained voice call out through the speakers.
“That was unexpected, wasn’t it? Let’s give an extra round of applause for our little scientist!”
Jay ripped open the envelope, checking its contents – hundreds of dollars in cash, thank goodness, she’d have to assume it was the right amount – and shoved through the crowd as a smattering of laughter and applause broke out.
“You won, Jay, you won!” The ghost appeared, sailing through the air beside her as she ran. “Are you off to buy the dollhouse now?”
“No,” she said. “I’m going to the hospital.” She rushed through the parking lot, digging her keys from her purse as she went.
“Ohhh, Kyle,” the ghost said, drifting into the passenger seat as Jay jumped into her car and started it up. “Weren’t you supposed to be there a while ago?”
Jay bit back her snide reply and slammed the car into reverse. Focus on driving. She backed out of her spot, put it in drive, and sped out of the parking lot and onto the road.
Jay swung her car into a parallel parking a block from the hospital and jumped out, just barely missing a car speeding by. Her heart racing for more than one reason, she jumped onto the sidewalk and dashed down it toward the hospital.
She slowed as she approached, half-expecting to see Kyle waiting outside for her. He wasn’t. He’s probably inside. She went in, scanning the lobby. No sign of him. Could he be in the bathroom? Waiting upstairs? She approached the front desk.
“Hi, I’m here to pick up a patient who’s being discharged? His name is... Kyle.” Why didn’t I think to get his last name? “I... don’t know his full name, we – met earlier, but he just asked me to give him a ride.” Great, Jay. Now you sound like a kidnapper or something.
The nurse eyed Jay, then her face lit with recognition. “Are you Jayana?”
“Yes!” Jay said, exhaling in relief. “Yes. I’m so sorry I’m late. Where is he? Can you let him know I’m here?”
The nurse shook her head. “I’m sorry, dear. He waited a good long while, but when he couldn’t get you on the phone, he assumed you weren’t coming. He ended up calling for a different ride.”
“Oh.” Jay’s heart sank.
“Oh, don’t worry, dear. He didn’t seem mad. Maybe a little disappointed, though.” She smiled. “He really seemed eager to see you, when he asked if we'd heard from you. Perhaps you can just call him and explain what happened?” She held out the receiver of her desk phone.
Jay took it gratefully. “Thank you. Yes. Um... I don’t ... actually have his number. Could you...?”
The nurse pursed her lips and shook her head. “Oh, no, I’m sorry; I can’t give out patient info.” She sighed. “I really am sorry, dear. He has your number though, right? Perhaps he’ll call you.”
Jay glanced down at her cell phone, dead in her hand. “Yeah,” she said. “Perhaps he will.”
She plodded back out of the hospital and to her car.
“Off to buy the dollhouse now, right, Jay?” the ghost asked, popping up next to her.
“I’ll do it, alright?” Jay yelled. The ghost jumped back, blinking, and Jay immediately felt guilty. “I’m sorry. I – “ She sighed. “Just let me get home and charge my phone first, okay? Then I’ll do it. We have until tomorrow, anyway.”
“I helped you win, you know,” the ghost muttered.
“I know,” Jay said. “I’m sorry. And thank you.”
“I liked you better before Kyle,” the ghost grumbled, then disappeared.
Jay got in the car and let her head drop back against the seat, then dug the envelope out of her purse and thumbed through it, counting. $2000. Enough to buy the house and still put some money in the bank. Relief and guilt swirled together in her chest, both for standing Kyle up and for snapping at the ghost. Without his help, she wouldn’t have won the money at all. “Roger,” she said, using the name the other ghosts usually called him. “Are you there? I’m sorry.”
Low-lidded eyes slowly appeared, glaring at her from the steering wheel. “Hmph,” Roger said.
“Thank you for your help,” Jay said. “Really.”
Roger’s full face appeared, and his angry scowl slowly faded into a resigned sigh. “Oh, alright, fine. But next time you go chasing a boy, don’t forget who really matters. Got it, Jay?”
The angry look on his face made Jay pause. Was he... jealous? That was weird. She was surprised to find that she felt bad – but not out of pity or guilt. More out of... concern for harming their friendship. She actually kind of liked this ghost... especially after how helpful he’d been lately. I’m losing my mind, she thought, but still, she smiled. “Okay, Roger. Got it.”
“Good,” Roger huffed, settling back into the passenger seat. “And Jay, you may want to consider getting a backup battery for your phone. After all, it is the only way anyone can reach you... except me, of course.”
Jay shook her head, started up the car, and drove for home.
Chapter 4 Spins:
Goal: Giant cupcake
Obstacle: It’s not her family recipe
Catastrophe: Too much baking soda volcano