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"Excuse me, Don Quixote," I said. I stuck my hand into his cage. Feathers were everywhere. I couldn't believe how messy a parrot's cage could get. Don Quixote bent his majestic head with his curved beak toward me. He followed my every move, but he didn't attack me.
"You know Philippa, you're the only one he lets clean his cage, except me," said Philip.
We were in the captain's quarters, and I was helping Philip clean the cage for his parrot. Let me get something straight. I am not Philip's maid, even if he is the captain's son and the royal prince of Borgunlund. But Philip is my best friend, and he has been in a lousy mood--no make that a black mood--ever since we set sail for Parrot Island. So I didn't mind helping him out--especially since I hoped it would give us a chance to talk. A ship isn't a great place for privacy.
"Philip, what's going on?" I asked. "I can tell that you've been upset since the beginning of this cruise."
Philip took a deep breath. He finally looked at me. "How did you know that I was upset?" he asked.
"It wasn't hard," I said.
Philip turned to me. "You know, I'm not used to having a friend who can read my moods. Only my mother used to be able to guess what I was feeling."
"You just haven't seemed your old self," I said to him.
"You're right," said Philip. "You know that Parrot Island used to belong to Borgunlund, but what you don't know is that my mother drowned just off Parrot Island," he said.
"I'm so sorry," I said. "I didn't know that's where she died."
"Don Quixote was with her," said Philip. He reached into the cage, and Don Quixote stepped delicately onto his arm, the way he had been trained. I cleaned the bottom of the cage while Philip stroked his parrot. His voice was soft. "Don Q was a gift to my mother from Parrot Island when she was just my age. Parrots can live a long time, some get to be one hundred. Don Quixote is almost forty years old, and he's still young in parrot years. They are also very loyal. It means a lot to me that Don Quixote trusts you."
I smiled at Don Quixote. "You look very young for your age," I said to him. Don Quixote bobbed his head as if he agreed with me. "Fill up a bath!" he squawked. My last name is Bath. If you say my name fast enough it sounds like 'fill up a bath.' It's even funnier when a parrot squawks it.
"Don Quixote likes you," said Philip. "My mom would have been glad that you're coming with me to Parrot Island."
"I'm surprised your father and you even agreed to come back to Parrot Island," I said. "He's the captain. He could have refused to sail the ship there, or taken a short leave for this leg of the trip."
"Father was thinking of refusing but I want to see it again. I loved it there. My family used to vacation on Parrot Island together all the time. I'm kind of looking forward to going there with you."
Philip walked out onto his balcony. I closed Don Quixote's cage. I looked around Philip's and his father's stateroom. Everywhere you looked there was evidence of his mother's love of parrots. Besides Don Quixote, Philip had inherited his mother's magnificent collection of mechanical parrots.
I joined Philip on the balcony. Only the captain and his family get a suite of rooms with a balcony. My parents work on the ship, too--Mom's a dancer, Dad teaches water sports and karate--but we live below the waterline in a room without a porthole. Still, I love life on board and wouldn't want to live anywhere else. But it was a lot more fun when Philip wasn't so sad.
Philip was staring out at sea. I could see the lights of a small pilot ship, the kind that guide big ships like ours in and out of harbors. It was heading for us.
"Can I tell you a secret?" asked Philip. His voice sounded lighter. Maybe just talking about his mother had eased his mind a little.
"Does anybody ever answer 'no'?" I teased him. "Who doesn't want to know a secret?"
Philip pointed to the pilot boat coming toward us. "There's the secret. We're getting a new assistant cruise director and they sent a special pilot boat with him. Somebody high up in the cruise line insisted he be hired."
This wasn't normal! Usually, the only time the cruise ship would let someone board like this was if they were a VIP, or some celebrity that had missed the sailing deadline. I couldn't remember them ever sending a pilot ship for a new crewmember before.
A ladder was lowered to the pilot ship. A man jumped onto the ladder. He was very agile.
Then something even stranger happened. The man gestured to the crew to lower a hoist, and he pointed to an old trunk!
"That's weird," I said to Philip. "What crewmember would come on late and bring a trunk?"
Philip shrugged. "It's just his luggage."
"Only a captain's son would say that," I said to Philip. "You've seen the room my parents and I live in. A cockroach in a roach motel has more room! Nobody who works on a cruise ship ever comes with a lot of luggage. There's something weird about this dude. Let's go meet him. A mystery may be just what you and I need."
Philip grinned at me. "It's you who can't resist a mystery," he said.
"It's both of us," I said.
We walked back into Philip's cabin. "See you later, Don Quixote," I said as we passed the parrot's cage.
"In a while crocodile," squawked Don Quixote. I laughed. "I taught him that," I said proudly.
"I taught him a new word too," said Philip. "Secrets," said Philip.
"Secrets!" squawked Don Quixote.
"Why did you teach him to say that?" I asked Philip.
"Because I knew you loved secrets," said Philip. "Even though I was in a bad mood, I wanted to have a surprise for you."
I smiled. Sometimes Philip really did surprise me.
"Okay," I said to Don Quixote. "We're going to find out the secret behind that guy with the huge trunk ..."
Don Quixote cocked his head and looked back at me.
"Secrets!" he squawked again.
Posted March 26, 2012
Posted January 29, 2012