The Jeweled House by Bernadette Cortas by Bernadette Cortas - Read Online

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Summary

Will Ally survive her punishment? Or will her ten days, in an unfamiliar city, in an old rundown house, helping her great-aunt pack moving boxes, bore her to death? Many things are changing for this 12-year-old girl, and finding herself in unfamiliar territory only adds to her frustration, until she learns of her ancestor's secret.
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ISBN: 9781483511979
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The Jeweled House - Bernadette Cortas

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Chapter 1

Aquamarine: provides direction in life and calms ones nerves

Out the plane window, the ground was rising up to meet her, faster and faster. Trees grew larger and larger. Their leaves waved wildly as if warning: Turn back, Ally! Turn back! Her stomach somersaulted into her throat as the plane’s landing gear groaned and shook beneath her seat.

She closed her eyes and squeezed her lucky amulet hanging around her neck. The plane hit the ground hard, rocking and bouncing the passengers around, before cruising to a stop. Welcome to Chicago crackled through the static of the plane’s microphone.

While the other passengers jumped from their seats, grabbed their bags, and filed out of the plane, Ally remained seated, listening to the cacophony of clicking seatbelts. Outside her window, heat was visibly rising from the tarmac. A baggage handler tossed luggage from an opening in a plane onto a large baggage carrier. He glistened with sweat. Ally empathized with the man, assuming he would prefer to be somewhere else. She would prefer to be home with her friends, enjoying the summer, but instead had been sent here to help an elderly relative for the first ten days of her summer vacation.

Excuse me, said a flight attendant. Ally looked up at the woman standing over her with her hands on her hips. Her smile had sharp edges. You have to exit the plane now.

Ally released her seatbelt.

Nice necklace, the woman said, pulling a discarded coffee cup from a seat pocket.

Thanks, said Ally. But to her, it was more than an ordinary necklace. The bluish-green stone, the size of nickel that hung on a thin, leather cord, was a gemstone known as aquamarine. She trusted in its power to give her guidance and direction in life. Ally also liked that aquamarine stones have the ability to calm a person’s nerves.

The attendant slammed the overhead compartment door shut above Ally’s seat. Let’s go.

Ally collected her Be Jeweled magazine from the seat pocket in front of her, and followed the lanky attendant in her fitted navy blue uniform and tidy hairdo. She reminded Ally of a Barbie Doll.

Is someone meeting you today? asked the attendant, suppressing a yawn.

Ally straightened her back, standing as tall as possible. No. I’m taking the ‘L’ train. She had ridden the ‘L’ only once before from the airport to her great-aunt’s house in Chicago, but that had been with her mother seven years ago, when she was only five years old.

You can find your luggage at baggage claim number B-4. Would you like help locating your bags? The flight attendant was facing the wall of the plane, stuffing tattered magazines into a rack. She yawned again. Ally thought the woman could use a cup of coffee. Or better yet, a carnelian gemstone, which people carried for high energy.

No, thank you, I have all my luggage right here. She tried to move past the attendant, but the woman was blocking the aisle. Ally faked a little cough.

The attendant turned and faced her, crossing her arms. Where are you headed?

To—the—train, said Ally, enunciating each word. Remember? I said I was taking the ‘L’ train.

Right, right. The attendant looked her over. Ally awkwardly adjusted her backpack on her shoulder, her duffle bag in her other hand. To catch the train you follow the signs for baggage claim, then take a left at the bottom of the escalator. The attendant paused to check her nails. Enjoy your stay. Thank you for flying with us, she said. And with a well-practiced smile, she finally stepped aside and out of Ally’s way.

The steamy-hot gangway reminded Ally of how she could be home right now, spending the long, hot afternoon swimming with her friends at the city pool. But, in the back of Ally’s mind, she knew that would not have happened. She would most likely be confined to her backyard, babysitting her four-year-old brothers (known as the terrible triplets), as they pummeled each other in their baby pool.

Checking her watch, she was surprised to see it was already eleven o’clock in the morning. An icy chill greeted her as she entered the frigid air conditioning of the airport. People were everywhere. Some scurried about while others sat waiting. Ally believed that everyone in the world belonged in one of two categories: those who make things happen, and those who wait for things to happen. She strived to be in the first category.

As she headed off to find her train, she glanced at the baggage claim board, and remembered the flight attendant saying the baggage claim carousel number for her flight was B-4. Following the signs to the train, she muttered, B-4 to herself.

B-4. Be-four. Before. Before what? Was fate trying to tell her something? Was nothing going to be like it was before she had arrived in this big city? According to Ally, life’s changes never seemed to be for the better, beginning with the birth of her triplet brothers. The arrival of a baby, times three, had hit her like an earthquake. The ground under her shifted and rolled until nothing was the same in her once-perfect, only-child world.

Another, more recent, unexpected curveball was her parents’ loud debate about whether they should attempt a trial separation. And now here she was in a strange part of the country, miles from her East Coast town, serving out her punishment. Was life about to take another dramatic turn?

As she rode the escalator down, she rolled the stone of her amulet between her thumb and finger. An anxious feeling crept inside her. The trip had been easy so far, perhaps too easy, she thought. It was like the calm before her brothers launched a surprise attack. It didn’t matter if their weapon was a squirt gun, a pillow, or small green army men their unexpected assaults were dreadfully unsettling.

Ally pulled her bag closer to her side, as the escalator, grinding and groaning, slowly lowered her all the way down.

Chapter 2

Agate: gives courage

The city bus pulled away from the curb, leaving Ally standing in a foul fog of exhaust. With her duffle bag at her feet and backpack over one shoulder, she wondered where she was, exactly. She pulled out a crumpled note from her backpack and reviewed her great-aunt’s directions.

Plane ride: Check. Uneventful.

L train: Check. Lots of business people.

Bus ride: Check. Hot, crowded and smelly.

The rest was simple: Walk east toward the dry cleaner on Belmont Ave. to Winthrop St. Take a left at the store on the corner. The Restelli home is the fifth house on the left.

Ally walked a couple of blocks, then turned at a store with Manny’s Bodega painted in bold red letters across its large front window. Stopping to adjust her backpack, she looked around and grew a little nervous. Nothing looked familiar. She twisted her necklace around her finger. Of course it doesn’t, she told herself. She was only a small child the last time she was here.

Trees covered in green buds and early leaves lined the street. Some even held onto their spring blossoms, even though it was hot for early June. The houses lined up one after the other, with small front-yard gardens. Potted flowers decorated front porches. If she were lost, Ally supposed there could be worse places.

Something caught her eye next to the grocery store’s entrance. Local Jewelry Store Robbery, read the headline of the Belmont Neighborhood News. A stack of newspapers was crammed into a metal rack with the sign: Free Local Paper. Take One. Under the headline, a photo of a jeweled necklace filled the page. Ally picked up a copy.

Hey, a voice said. Can I help you? A boy with ruddy cheeks and disheveled black hair suddenly appeared in front of her.

Startled, Ally dropped the paper.

Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you, he said. The boy, about Ally’s height, picked up the paper and handed it to her.

I thought this was free, she said, taking the paper from him.

Yeah, it’s free. I just wondered if you needed help getting to where you’re going, you know, with your bag there. The boy nodded toward the overstuffed duffle bag at her feet. Are you visiting someone in the neighborhood?

Ally wasn’t used to boys her age being friendly or helpful. Uh, I really should go. She tucked the paper in her backpack.

I have a delivery wagon. I could help you— the boy started to say, but Ally cut him off.

No thanks. She picked up her bag, turned abruptly, and hurried off down the sidewalk.

It wasn’t long before she stopped again. This time, she was standing under a huge maple tree, its branches heavy with helicopter seeds and bright green spring leaves. A tilting, wrought-iron fence stood waist-high between her and a large yellow house with white trim. This was it. This was her great-aunt’s house. She would know it anywhere. A small portrait of it hung in her family’s living room.

At first, Ally thought the house looked exactly like the picture. But the longer she eyed it, the more she noticed the yellow paint was peeling in spots, and the porch needed a fresh coat of white paint. The floral seat cushion in the picture was missing from the porch swing.

Lace curtains hung listlessly in the open bay windows. Ally couldn’t remember if these were the same curtains that were in the family picture, but she sensed something was different. The house in the portrait seemed to be full of life and happiness. The house in front of her had an eerie darkness beyond its white curtains.

She thought she saw something move in the shadows behind one of the curtains. A chill shot down her spine, despite the midday heat. What had she gotten herself into?

Chapter 3

Jade: for going back in time

The screen door banged open. A small round woman, with bright white hair, tucked tightly into a bun, stepped out onto the porch and into the sun. She wore a yellow dress, dotted with white daisies, cinched at the waist with a thick white belt. She raised a hand to her face