The smell of oatmeal and brown sugar coming from the kitchen made my stomach growl, but when I burst into the room, it was empty. Well, not completely empty. I skidded across the floor in my best impression of mom’s favorite movie Risky Business and yelled “Ta-Da!” only to find my reflection staring back at me in the window above the sink. I was the only one in the room, surrounded by faded brown and orange flowered wallpaper. At least, I think they were flowers?
We inherited the house from my grandmother, so the ‘flowered’ wallpaper wasn’t all that was from Good Housekeeping circa a million years ago, the fridge was puke green and so were the countertops. I wasn’t sure what the floor was, but ugly came to mind. It wasn’t like I had tons of people over. My best friend Molly Potts, and well, that was it. Mostly.
I know I should be thankful, but it’s hard not to get upset. I kind of dwell on things a lot. Bad things happen. Sometimes, there’s a string of bad things like grandma Helen dying six months after dad, and how mom frowned a lot, and how I was stuck with a little brother named William.
Speaking of William, maybe there’s a bright side to this morning after all. He wasn’t at the kitchen table making disgusting slurping noises with his milk. Aha, a silver lining. Instead, I should worry about phantom smells like ‘smelling my favorite breakfast in the whole world’ but no breakfast. Was that even normal?
I pondered the possibility of being crazy as I smeared jam on a slice of bread when another thought occurred to me, did mom forget she had to take us to school this morning? Again. She blamed it on getting old. I blamed it on how she had to work two jobs. I told her, I, Pepper Marie Rose, could walk to school just like Molly and she only lived a few houses away from us. She gave me the look. I haven’t brought it up since. Brownie points, one and two.
I stuffed the last bite of bread in my mouth and ran upstairs to my bedroom. It was five to eight. I still had time. Grabbing a purple hoodie with the words: ‘I Hate the Color Purple’ embroidered on the front, I scrubbed my teeth and pulled my hair into a frizzy ponytail. I wish I could say “curly,” but it so wasn’t.
Most girls in my seventh-grade class loved anything to do with le fashion, especially Jenna Lynn, who would whine to anyone within earshot about not having a thing to wear or how her mom refused to buy her the latest beauty guru palette. I’d rather have a painter’s palette, personally. What’s worse is that her locker was next to mine. I couldn’t escape the haze of perfume. A prisoner of dumb luck is what I was, but my mom even more so. Guess who her boss was? Yep, Mr. Lynn. Can you imagine? Plain dumb luck.
Sliding down the bannister, I slid into the living room making a giant accordion ripple in the area rug just as my dad’s cuckoo clock struck eight. Or, at least, it was supposed to, but nothing happened, not even a soft, “cuc-koo”. Nothing and when I say ‘nothing’, I mean the cuckoo clock was gone!
I stood staring at a blank spot on the wall where last night my dad’s cuckoo clock once hung. Now it was nowhere in sight. Was this one of my brother’s tricks? Balling my hands into fists, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “William? Where’s my cuckoo?”
I glanced around the room, which was dim, dusty, and filled with old junk. The wallpaper wasn’t as bad as the kitchen’s but instead of orange and brown flowers, it was supposed to look like wood paneling. Um, no.
Mom said it was cozy and how her mom and dad had similar paneling when she was growing up. Really? Oh, boy. I dropped to my knees and began a frantic search, but all I found was a family of dust bunnies under Grandma Helen’s rickety china cabinet.
Grinding my teeth, I stomped back upstairs. William was probably hiding in his closet thinking this was the best joke ever. I wasn’t laughing. If the cuckoo were in pieces, I would never forgive him!
“William?” I called down the hall, “Where are you, toad face?”
I pushed open the door to his bedroom and made a beeline for his closet. With a loud “A-ha!” I stood pointing down at the bare floor. Huh? Where was he?
Oh, no, what if he had broken the cuckoo and was trying to bury the pieces in the backyard?
Racing down the stairs and through the kitchen, I skidded to a halt as I realized the back door was bolted from the inside. No way he could be in the backyard if the door was still locked. Could he? Not unless he went through the front door, walked around the house, and jumped over the fence. He wouldn’t go to all that trouble, would he? Wait. Of course, he would. This was William. Grade A brat.
Twisting around I almost tripped over my backpack just as the front door was opening inward.
“Mom,” I stopped mid-leap when I saw her stepping through the front door, William directly behind her. “Daddy’s cuckoo clock is missing!”
“Slow down, Pepper. The cuckoo clock isn’t missing; William and I took it to Mr. O’Leary’s Antique Shop. He agreed to meet with me before he opened the store.” She handed me a sack and some change, “I thought we would be back before you woke up.”
“Oh.” Don’t get me wrong. I am super glad the cuckoo was in one piece, but it also meant my brother wasn’t guilty of anything, yet. “Why?”
“Pepper, I don’t have time to explain.” She gestured to the sack in my hand. “I bought you a couple donuts from Holes Cafe, but it's time to go.”
My brother peeked from behind my mother’s back and stuck his tongue out at me. He was such a little twerp. I bet he did break daddy’s cuckoo clock. That’s why mom had to rush it to Mr. O’Leary. My brother’s hair swept up into points on both sides of his head for a reason, and nothing mom did could make them lie flat.