Chapter One ~ The Oatmeal That Started It All
Sunshine streamed in through the kitchen windows of 662 Bella drive. It shone on the sparkling countertops, the dish towels hanging in straight rows, and the contest taking place at the kitchen table. Seated at one end and scowling ferociously was Elizabeth Leticia Morgan, freckled, brown eyed and eleven years old. In front of her was a bowl of oatmeal, as thick and flavorful as glue. Presiding over them both was Jane Morgan, brown-eyed, brunette, mother, maker of oatmeal.
Elizabeth lifted her spoon from the bowl, bringing with it a gob of breakfast. She glared at it and tried to shake it off, but the oatmeal only quivered, reminding Elizabeth of boogers. Ewwww. She shot her mother an accusatory look. “Why can’t I eat cocoa puffs?”
Jane Morgan set her gardening book down with a tired-sounding thump. “Because cocoa puffs won’t tide you over until lunch.”
“I hate oatmeal,” said Elizabeth, giving her spoon another shake.
“But it’s the best for you, dear,” said her mother, straightening a rose in the vase in front of her. “It’s the most practical breakfast there is.”
“And practical people are the ones who make it in the world,” said Dale Morgan, building inspector, father, and connoisseur of self-help books. He strode through the kitchen with his clipboard in hand, gave his wife a peck on the cheek, and squeezed Elizabeth’s shoulder, then carried on through to the garage. In a moment, Elizabeth heard the car fire up and drive away.
Elizabeth grimaced. Every morning she had two choices: eat her nasty practical oatmeal or listen to platitudes and then eat her nasty practical oatmeal. Wretched blechy stuff. Elizabeth resisted the urge to stamp her practical close-toed shoes and rip her practical pony tail out of her scalp.
“Hurry or you’ll miss the bus,” said Jane, lifting the vase of roses and taking it to the sink to change the water.
Elizabeth forced down several bites, swallowing with effort, then scraped the last of the gluck into the trash while her mother’s back was turned. She grabbed her backpack off the counter and exited through the front door. The screen clapped shut behind her.
Elizabeth raced around the first curve in the drive, then slowed down to scratch her nose. Running always made her nose itch.
Sunlight filtered through the foliage and cast dapples of light and shadow on the long, curving driveway. Elizabeth craned her neck as she walked so that she could see the maple leaves shimmering and dancing overhead. She’d often admired them before, but this morning her forehead creased and a frown twisted her features. She could imagine her father looking up at them and saying something about chlorophyll and photosynthesis and oxygen.
“Without trees we couldn’t breathe, Elizabeth,” he’d say, proud that even the maples and oaks on his property were practical. But what was practical about the way the sun fell just so through the leaves, or the way their shadows danced on her arms?
Nothing came to mind, not in one step, or two, or fifteen. While she thought about it, a chipmunk scampered across the road in front of her and wind rustled through the branches. Elizabeth hiked her pack higher on her back and scrunched her eyebrows together. Well. That just went to show that there was more to life than her parents let on. One thing was for sure, something had to be done.
“I’m sick of it,” Elizabeth declared. “From now on I refuse to be practical. In fact, I swear to never be practical again. So there!”
With that, Elizabeth yanked her backpack off and dropped it onto the drive. She removed her shoes and tossed them into a lilac bush, hurled one of her socks onto a row of geraniums, and tied the other into a bow on her belt. Then she stripped her shirt off and put it on again inside-out-and-backwards. Last of all, she pulled the elastic out of her ponytail and mussed her hair into a tangle.
Satisfied, Elizabeth re-shouldered her pack and set off down the drive with a new bounce to her steps—though that might have been caused by pebbles. In a few moments the end of the driveway came into view. Standing off to one side in their usual spot was Melissa Jean Halcot, gray-eyed, down-to-earth, and best of friends.
“Hi Melissa Jean!” Elizabeth shouted (having just decided that saying hello from a distance was impractical).
Melissa waved and smiled—at least until Elizabeth got closer. Then her expression morphed into one of surprise and anxious curiosity.
“Holy guacamole,” Melissa said, looking her friend over from head to toe as though checking for evidence of a bear attack. “Are you alright?”
“I’m excellent,” said Elizabeth, flicking the tag of her shirt away from her chin. “But you can’t call me Elizabeth anymore.”
Melissa stared at her. Names, after all, aren’t things you just change. “Are you sure you’re alright?” she asked.
“Yup,” said Elizabeth. She couldn’t wait until she got to school. Mr. Doring would have a heart attack and they’d have recess for the rest of the day. “I’ve taken an oath.”
Melissa’s eyes widened. “What about?”
“To never be practical again.”
“Because I’m sick of it! I’ve reached my limit. Insanity is right around the corner if I don’t take a stand.”
“Oh,” said Melissa.
It seemed Elizabeth had already turned the corner, but Melissa was a good friend and naturally generous. She tilted her head to one side and gave the matter thought. “I suppose it is impractical to change your name. What’ll it be then?”
Elizabeth cast around for some idea. “Twigs!”
“Twigs?!” Melissa was aghast, “but that isn’t a name.”
“It is now,” said Elizabeth. “Twigs.” She liked the way it popped off her teeth.
Melissa inched away from her and looked down the street. “Our bus ought to be here soon,” she said.
“That’s the next thing!” crowed Elizabeth. She slung her backpack off, unzipped it, and rummaged through its contents. “Impractical, impractical,” she muttered, “only take the watermelon eraser, don’t take pencils to school, don’t take pens, or paper…”
“Why take a backpack?” asked Melissa. As soon as the words were out she gasped and covered her mouth.
Elizabeth beamed. “Brilliant!” She scooped her backpack into her arms, trotted to the edge of the road, and threw it into a clump of grass. Then she dusted her hands on her shirt and walked back. Melissa was good at this. A true best friend.
“Do you have any other ideas?”
Melissa still had her hands clasped over her mouth. She shook her head, but she did have another idea. An idea so ludicrous her mother would have fainted if she’d heard it. Melissa tried to hold it in, but Elizabeth looked so hopeful and excited that the words crawled out of her throat, over her tongue, and between her fingers despite her best efforts to hold them back. “You could…not…go to school…at all.” Melissa finished the last two words in a whisper.
The girls stood in stunned silence. A little breeze wafted around them and a couple of sparrows flitted by. Elizabeth could feel her heart pounding in her chest. Melissa’s eyes were owl-sized as she stared back at her. Melissa, after all, had to eat oatmeal every morning too. She wore the same practical clothes and shoes as Elizabeth, used vaseline instead of lip gloss, and studied her school books all weekend. Who knew she’d have such renegade ideas?
Then something occurred to Elizabeth. Being impractical alone was alright, but wouldn’t it be more fun to be impractical together? Why, they could do all sorts of fun things! They could put pepper in the salt shaker and hang apples in maple trees and find a Great Dane and saddle it and ride it through the woods.
“You’ve got to do it with me,” she said.
Melissa shook her head. “Absolutely not.”
“Think about it,” Elizabeth continued, “All the adventures we read about in story books, all those quests for treasure and princes and dragons, they aren’t practical, not in real life. You’ve got to be impractical to have an adventure. Besides, we’re best friends, aren’t we?”
Melissa had always wanted to have an adventure. She and Elizabeth got stacks of adventure books out of the library every week, smuggled them into the tree house in her backyard, and spent hours reading them. Sometimes the pair pretended that the tree house was a pirate ship and took turns ‘walking the plank’ onto the trampoline below.
Still, it wasn’t fair of Elizabeth to use that against her. Melissa crossed her arms and huffed, but she always did that just before giving in to something.
Elizabeth grinned and bounced up and down on her toes. Maybe they would become traveling knights or gymnasts. Maybe they’d discover a magical wardrobe or a—
But she and Melissa were suddenly slammed back into reality by a loud noise. It was the school bus honking its horn beyond the curve on Bella because Eddy Brier was late again.