Chapter Two ~ A Hypocritical Tea Party
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.
Melissa and Elizabeth stood absolutely still for a moment. Then Elizabeth made a strangled noise, tore off her shirt, and fumbled to turn it right side out again. Melissa sprinted for the clump of grass and yanked on the backpack. One of the straps caught on a hidden branch and as she tugged, the zipper slid open and pencil cases, pens, erasers, a water bottle, a pesto & cheese sandwich, and 23 marbles for show and tell disappeared into the grass.
“Leave it,” said Elizabeth in a strangled voice. In her hurry she’d put her arm through her shirt collar and squeezed her head into one of the sleeves.
The renewed chugging of the bus engine came closer and closer.
“My shoes!” she gasped.
“Where?” cried Melissa.
For answer, Elizabeth turned and ran back up the drive. Melissa followed, leaning forward as she ran, her backpack bouncing on her back. Elizabeth was trying to scratch her nose and run and breathe all at the same time. This proved difficult since her head was through her shirt sleeve and the material was constricting her esophagus.
“Where are they, where are they, where are they?” shrieked Melissa as the school bus squealed to a stop at the end of the drive and honked impatiently.
“Lilacs! There!” Elizabeth dove into the bush and grabbed. One shoe, two shoes. “My sock!”
Melissa spotted it on the geranium hedge and yanked it off. “Hurry up!” She tossed it to Elizabeth then ran back towards the road.
“I’m coming.” Elizabeth scrambled to her feet with one shoe half on and the other in her hand. She tried to run, but tripped on a trailing shoelace and landed flat on her face.
Melissa heard her fall, stopped, and after a tense moment of decision, ran back. Just as she made it to Elizabeth the school bus revved its engine and drove off. Both girls heard it round the corner on Clemens and chug up the hill.
Melissa sat down hard. “Now you’ve done it.”
Elizabeth raised a dusty and depressed face from the drive. “I shall go and tell Mum and she’ll drive us to school.”
They contemplated this.
“No,” said Melissa, crossing her arms, “that would be far too practical.”
Elizabeth winced, then sat up and tried to pull her shirt off. After a brief but violent struggle, she flopped onto her back with the shirt sleeve stuck over her head, resigned to death-by-asphyxiation.
“Oh bother,” said Melissa. She grabbed the end of the shirt and pulled.
Fabric scraped over Elizabeth’s nose.
“Ow!” she protested.
Melissa didn’t relent. Instead, she kicked off her shoes. One of her socked feet landed on each of Elizabeth’s shoulders.
Elizabeth could feel her neck stretching longer and longer. Soon her head would come right off. She imagined the newspaper headline: “Sixth Grade Girl Decapitated by Best Friend in Driveway.”
Then the shirt sprang free and she could breath again.
“Thanks,” said Elizabeth, sitting up and massaging her face. “I’ll try not to do that again.”
“Humph.” Melissa scowled and shoved her feet back into her shoes with more force than necessary. “There’s a great many things you should try not to do again after the way you’ve acted this morning, Elizabeth.”
“Oh you’re one to talk!” said Elizabeth, yanking her shirt on properly this time. “I would NEVER have thought of not going to school.”
“I wouldn’t have either if you hadn’t acted like a stupid nincompoop, turning your clothes inside out and backwards and changing your name and and…” Melissa got up and marched down the road.
“Fine,” said Elizabeth, “Go ahead!” She stood up and dusted her clothes, blinking tears from her eyes as Melissa disappeared around the curve. “I don’t care. I don’t.”
Elizabeth wiped her nose on her sleeve. She straightened her clothes and put her socks and shoes on and swiped strands of dusty hair off her cheeks.
She felt sick. A tight, frightened, lurching kind of sick that started in the pit of her stomach and spread to her fingertips. What was she going to tell her mother?
She took a step towards the house, then stopped. Perhaps she ought to think about it first. Yes, that’s what she’d do. She’d come up with a practical reason for the whole fiasco. Mum would appreciate that. Elizabeth nodded to herself, hopped over the geranium hedge, and lay on her back. Looking up at the maple leaves always helped her think.
A squirrel paused on a branch to chatter at her, then scampered further up the tree.
“A wild animal attacked me and I barely escaped with my life,” said Elizabeth, trying out the tall tale. She squinched her lips, then shook her head. No good.
“I got dizzy and fell in the ditch and missed the bus. There must have been something wrong with the oatmeal.” That was better, but not good enough.
Elizabeth sighed. She’d just have to tell her mother the truth.
She was about to get up and trudge to the house when she heard running footsteps and then the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Propping herself on an elbow, she peered over the hedge. Why, it was Melissa! She was running flat out down the drive, her gray eyes wide as saucers.
The sound of the car grew louder and Elizabeth knew that in a moment it would round the curve and the driver would see Melissa running ahead.
Melissa must have known it too. Instead of continuing to run, she took a flying leap over the geranium hedge, rolled in the peat, and came to a stop next to Elizabeth.
In another second a Honda Civic, Mrs Halcot’s vehicle, zoomed past them and on towards the Morgan house.
“My mother,” said Melissa, breathing hard, “is wearing a maroon flounce skirt. Maroon!” Maroon, they both knew, is the ugliest color on the planet. “And why is she going to your house? She can’t know we missed the bus, can she?”
“I don’t think so, not until Mr. Doring takes role call,” said Elizabeth. She pressed her lips together. “It’s time we found out what goes on around here during the day. Besides, if we’re going to be in trouble for missing the bus it’d be good to have blackmail material.”
“Alright,” said Melissa.
Elizabeth led the way between shrubs and maple trees, the two girls creeping from trunk to trunk. It took a while, but eventually the house came into view between the trees.
They saw Mrs. Jane Morgan and Mrs. Emily Halcot sitting on deck chairs on the front porch. A small table sat between them, laden with a teapot, two dainty teacups, and a plate of something that looked suspiciously like… Elizabeth twitched her fingers. Baked oatmeal squares, she decided. Or bran bars. Definitely NOT—
“Are those brownies?” Melissa asked.
“Let’s find out,” said Elizabeth in a grim voice. She motioned Melissa to follow. Together they snuck around the house, raced across the open yard, then crept on their bellies to the edge of the porch. They peered over.
Elizabeth felt her mouth drop open. Here it was just before 8 in the morning and her mother, who had just force-fed her oatmeal not half an hour before, was sipping tea and taking large bites of brownie. Brownie! After all those lectures about being healthy and practical too. This was terrible. Wretched. Maddening. She wouldn’t stand for it.
Elizabeth balled her hands into fists and prepared to leap onto the porch and hit somebody, no matter that she’d never hit anyone in her entire life.
Before she could do it, Melissa yanked her down and gestured, slashing a finger across her throat and then putting it to her lips. She motioned towards the back of the house.
“Fine,” Elizabeth hissed. She tore her arm free, army crawled out of view of the porch, then stomped to the backyard. Once there, she shook her fists, screamed silently, and reduced a row of pansies to mush.
Melissa, who’d followed more slowly, dropped to the ground and stared unseeingly at a caterpillar making its way across the grass.
“My name is Twigs,” said Elizabeth, “I will not eat oatmeal for breakfast, I am not going to school today, and I will not be practical any longer.”
She would pack her backpack and go join the circus and be without family or friends forever. She would fight her way out of the neighborhood all alone and escape from police and survive for a month on nothing but a pesto and cheese sandwich.
Melissa sighed and got to her feet. She’d reached similar conclusions. “You’re right,” she agreed, “We’ve no choice.”
Well, at least Elizabeth wouldn’t have to do it without her best friend. “Let’s get started.”
Their first order of business was to tiptoe up the drive and retrieve all of their abandoned school items, which they decided to take along.
“After all,” Elizabeth said, “it’s probably impractical to take school books on an adventure. I know I’d rather not haul the stupid things around.” She kicked her backpack to emphasize her point. Melissa didn’t argue, just shouldered her own pack, looking like a shell-shocked WWII victim.