“Ash, we are fast approaching the point where the only way to clean this room will be with power tools or a well-placed torch.”
“I don’t need to clean it, Dad. I know exactly where everything is.”
He frowns, and your heart sinks. Usually your dad is pretty easy-going, but when his eyebrows crease like that, it means he’s gotten a thought stuck in his head. Such thoughts do not become unstuck, no matter how much you argue.
“If, in the worst case scenario, the house were to catch on fire, getting out of this room in a hurry would be a challenge for you. Getting into this room to save you would be a hazard for me or for a fireman. No, Ashleigh, this is a few steps beyond a messy room. It needs to be tidied, and the sooner the better.”
“Can I do it tomorrow? Parker and Cogs want to go swimming.”
He surveys the room again. “You may go swimming, but I want you back here by three. You can get a few hours start on it before and after supper, and then hopefully it won’t take the entire day tomorrow for you to finish. While you’re out swimming, I’ll make a trip out to the store for some trash bags and cleaning supplies.”
“Trash bags?!”
“SOMETHING in this room has to be disposable, kiddo. You cannot possibly need every single item. I’ll expect a pile to pitch and a pile to donate, and they had better be substantial piles.”
He’s ready for an argument, which you know means there’s no way to win one. You hate getting rid of anything useful, and the fact is, you can usually find a use for almost anything. In this case, though you can see your father’s point. While you could find anything at all in this room in under a minute if you went to look for it, you’re the only one who could. You hate to admit it, but you might just have too much stuff.
“Can Parker and Cogs help me clean up after swimming if I can talk them into it?”
“You want two boys helping you clean up your bedroom?”
“Dad, they’re not boys. They’re Parker and Cogs.”
His eyebrows go up. “That reply is going to have a limited shelf life, I think. But for today, it’s fine, I suppose.”
You took turns carrying the box of donations to the thrift store attached to the Methodist church. Your dad remarked how many of the things in your donation pile came from your Aunt Rebecca. You simply shrugged, feeling no need to point out that nearly everything she sends you is pink and/or covered in little embroidered flowers. It’s fine if other girls want to wear that sort of thing, but pink isn’t your color, and it’s just about impossible to get dirt out of embroidered flowers, so you can’t wear half of what she sends you anyway.
Parker has the box as you walk up to the door marked “Donations.’ You tell him “we’re here” before knocking since he can’t see over the top of the box, and he’s been following you by watching your feet for the last three blocks.
Once you’re inside with the box on the big table in the room, the old lady inside begins going through it with an expression like a treasure hunter. “Oh, such nice things!” She turns her smile onto you, and, seeing you in shorts which have seen better days and a black t-shirt without a single embroidered rose on it, that smile fades quickly. She does her best to cover it up. “You three go on into the store while I write up a receipt for all this.”
You start roaming around the store, but it’s not long before you’ve lost your friends. You look over the clothes while Parker does the same in the boys’ section. You see a nice fleece which would be great come this winter, but in the middle of August, it’s too hot to even think about winter clothes.
Finding Cogs takes almost no work. You drift over to where there are vaguely technological stuff, and you find him with a clock tucked under his arm.
“Charlie . . .” It’s never a good idea to call him Cogs when you’re trying to talk him out of a project.
“Two bucks for this! I can have it back up and running in no time.”
“You tried fixing clocks before.” You point to the tip of your nose. It didn’t leave a scar, but you both remember the spring which flew out of his last clock. The sharp end of the wire poked you in the nose, and it bled a lot more than you’d expected.
“This one’s electric. No springs. Way easier, I can . . . Ash? You okay?”
He brings you have into the moment, and you point at the wall with your chin. “Sorry. I was looking at that one.” And you really couldn’t help looking at the clock. It’s almost exactly like the one in your Grandparents’ old house.
Grandpa had fallen asleep with his pipe still lit, and that old house burned down. They managed to get out, and you still visit them every few months, but many of their favorite things were burnt up in the fire.
“I want to get that for Dad.”
Cogs raises his eyebrows. “Forty dollars?”
“His birthday’s coming up. It’s like the one he had growing up. Can we hide it at your place?”
“Hide what?” Parker trudges over with a ball cap with the local minor league team’s logo on it. You sometimes think he must be their only real fan, since every time he’s dragged you to a game, they’ve lost badly.
“Can you guys loan me twenty bucks? I have it at home, but I don’t want to go back for it. I want to get that clock for
Dad, and I want to surprise him.”
Parker pulls out his wallet and hands over a twenty, leaving him with five to buy his new hat. “Let’s take it to my place, though. It’s on the way to yours, and it might get banged up if we leave it in Cogs’ workshop.”
Cogs opens his mouth to object, then seems to realize that’s probably exactly what would happen.
As the tallest of your friends, you pull down the clock from the wall. “It’s almost exactly like Grandma and Grandpa’s except the little things that hang down.”
“Clock weights, Except I think these are ornamental.” Cogs says with a professional air.
“Well they’re a lot bigger than the ones Grandma used to . . .” You stop as, tugging at the weight, one of them slides off the chain. It fit around the ceramic weights (now just like your grandparents’) like a sleeve. “Or they could be exactly the same.”
“Hang on.” Parker takes the sleeve out of your hand. “There’s something inside this.”
From the sparkle in Parker’s eyes, from the involuntary grin which takes up his whole face, you know one thing for certain:
Whatever’s inside that sleeve means the Pepperoni and Cheese Detective Agency is back in action.