When Tess’ grandmother was young she won a patriotic beauty contest and was crowned "Miss Land of Free." She was honored with a diamond and gold tiara, which today is worth more than $100,000.
Now that Grandma has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she’s decided to give the tiara to either Tess or her sister. When the sisters are sent to spend the summer with their grandparents at their lake house, Grandpa sets up a competition. The one who wins the most “points” for helpful behavior gets the tiara.
It’s not an easy task for thirteen year-old Tess, whose older sister has always been the "perfect" one. But when a secretive family moves in nearby and Grandma disappears, Tess learns a lesson about prejudice, fear, and the real value of doing good—a lesson that may be worth even more than the tiara.
It didn’t take the girls long to find Rock Creek Road. It was just where the receptionist said it would be. It was a quiet street lined with sycamore trees. The lawns in front of the two-story houses were neatly kept. It didn’t look to Tess like a street where a terrorist would choose to live.
“There it is, Bree,” she said. “918. Stop here.”
Brianna pulled the car alongside the curb. The house was white stucco with a red door and a large picture window. Attached to the house was a garage with the door wide open.
“It doesn’t look like anybody’s home,” Tess said.
“I guess that’s good for us,” Brianna said. “So we’ve seen the house. So what?”
Tess thought for a second. “I want to see what’s in the garage.”
“You can see from here. It looks to me like anybody’s garage. You don’t think a terrorist would leave his garage door open if there were bombs in it, do you.”
“I’m going to get a closer look,” Tess said. She opened the car door.
“Are you crazy?”
Tess didn’t answer. She walked up the short driveway until she was just at the entrance to the garage. Brianna had been right. It looked just like anybody’s garage. There was a metal rack on one side holding what looked like old paint cans. On the other side were two plastic garbage cans. She stepped into the garage and took the cover off one. There was a plastic bag inside. She touched it. It felt like garbage.
There was absolutely nothing in that garage that looked like it belonged to terrorists. All of a sudden a picture came into her mind. She was back in front of Congress again and the president was saying to her, “Tess, you mean to tell me you were actually at the home of the terrorists prior to the explosion and didn’t look hard enough for evidence? Senator, I think we should see if this girl has committed any federal crime by her carelessness.”
Brianna was waving her to come back. Instead, Tess stepped across the lawn and went over to the picture window. She had just cupped her hands over her eyes and was starting to peer into the living room when she heard a man’s voice.
“Can I help you?” it said.
She spun around. There was a short man with a grey beard standing on the doorstep. “Why are you spying into my window?” He said. He didn’t sound happy at all.
Terry Baldwin lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Megan, and his dog, Rasputin. His is a technical writer for a national trade journal. In his spare time, he volunteers for an organization which provides social work opportunities to young people of various faiths.