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A New Start
The days of winter break had been filled with gloriously not setting an alarm clock and staying up late playing video games. Now, back at school almost a month later, it was as if those days had never happened at all.
"Good morning, Dewbert! Time to wake up!" his mother chirped as she opened his curtains to the darkness outside.
Dewey moaned. Although each morning waking in the dark was its own form of unique torture, only a few hours at school and he was right back into the swing of the familiar rest of it — classes, vending machines, his friends. Everything had returned to normal except Clara was still gone. At first, Dewey enjoyed the slower pace that came with the office being closed. It had been a busy end to the fall semester, and he enjoyed carefree afternoons flying his drone and playing computer games when his homework was done.
"What's today, Mom?" he asked, yawning as he stretched.
"No, I mean the date?"
"Oh. The twenty-seventh."
Dewey felt his heart jump into his mouth. He sat up.
"Last time I checked," she laughed.
"That's beyond great!"
"Oh, yeah? Why?" she asked, picking up a pair of pants off the floor and folding them. "Are these clean?" She suddenly had second thoughts.
"Yeah. I think so." He didn't answer her question about feeling excited because he couldn't think of a good reason to give her.
Dewey's mom gave him a funny look.
"What'd you do, put a chocolate bar in your pants?"
"I think that's a distinct possibility," Dewey grinned.
"Ugh, Dewey." She threw the pants over her shoulder. "Okay, get up. Make your bed, would you?"
She left to go rouse Dewey's little sister, Emma.
The twenty-seventh meant Clara and Wolfie would finally be back in the office. He threw the sheets and comforter over his pillow. Good enough, he thought. Dewey could hardly wait for his school day to start so it would end.CHAPTER 2
When Dewey walked into the office after school, the first thing to hit him was the familiar smell of cookies in the oven. In his mind, Dewey knew that he missed Clara and Wolfie, but now he could feel it in his whole body as the sweet warm smell of cookies lifted him up like a magic carpet.
Wolfie came running out first, followed closely behind by his ninety-four-year-old assistant Clara Cottonwood. Dewey threw his arms around Clara's shoulders as Wolfie jumped up on his leg.
"Good to see you, Sir," smiled Clara warmly hugging him back. "Wolfie. Down." A timer went off in her kitchen, and she ran off to take the batch of cookies out of the oven. Dewey coaxed Wolfie back up.
"So, how was it?" Dewey plopped down at his desk and began to warm up the computer.
"Marvelous! Wolfie wanted to learn to ski, but I'm afraid he's too small. We still had a time of it romping in the snow and chasing rabbits, right?" she asked, petting Wolfie.
"What?! Dog skiing?"
"Skijoring. Cross-country skiing with a dog! You hook the dog up and they pull you. But he's only eighteen pounds, and they need to be at least thirty-five."
"Still, a barrel of fun. I'd throw a snowball and it would break. He'd go off searching high and low and come up looking like father Christmas."
"How about you, sir? What have you to report?"
"Oh, not much. Same ol'. Dad has a new class of kids, and it's his last semester student teaching. Everything else, thankfully, is pretty much the same. I'm wondering how backlogged we are," said Dewey, looking at the chats and texts.
Clara and Dewey had been in business well over a year. Dewey's reputation as a problem solver began back in elementary school, when his good friend Seraphina begged him to rescue her from her over-protective mother. One pack of powdered sugar donuts, a stakeout, and some fancy footwork later, Dewey had freed his friend Seraphina and found himself a reputation. He soon got so busy helping kids solve their parent problems that he needed help. He enlisted his long-time babysitter, Clara Cottonwood, for the job. Together, with her own able-bodied furry assistant Wolfie, they established a suitable office space for clients hidden up in the attic of Dewey's home.
"Oh, sir. All set for you. See? That spreadsheet there. By topic. Teacher problems are there and the parent ones are over here," she said pointing.
"There is one," she continued, "I thought you might want to consider just due to the sheer number of times you've been contacted in our absence."
Dewey looked up for Clara to continue.
Clara sorted the document by name. "Twenty-seven times," she nodded seriously.
"Oh. Wow. Yeah — pull that info first, would ya?" Dewey sat back and began to crunch on an iced lemon cookie.
"It's a parent problem," Clara said. "The client is Archie. Tomorrow too soon?"
"For twenty-seven requests? Better make it yesterday," Dewey laughed as he packed up his stuff to head out. "Skijoring, huh? I could use a mode of transportation around town like that. Maybe we should fatten you up, dog, and I'll get a skateboard or some roller-skates. Not a bad idea. Throw him a cookie, Clara."CHAPTER 3
When Dewey showed up at the vending machines the next day, Seraphina was hanging out with a girl who he'd never seen before.
"Dewey, this is Elinor."
"Hey," Dewey said.
"I met Elinor over break, but I didn't know she was going to go to school here."
"Me neither," Elinor shrugged. "My parents just decided to stay."
Elinor, whose father was Japanese-American, had short dark hair; one side was cut shorter than the other, and there was one patch of pink.
Dewey tried to feed his dollar into the vending machine, but it kept spitting it back out.
"Here," Elinor said handing him a crisp bill. "Try this."
"Oh, pretty!" Dewey said admiring how new it looked.
Seraphina looked up and flushed. She thought Dewey was commenting on Elinor, not the dollar bill. Elinor wore a bright four-tone vest, and her thin, bare arms hung by her side. She had a small nose with two perfectly symmetrical nostrils, should anyone care to notice such things. Seraphina thought she was pretty. Maybe Dewey had noticed that, too.
"Shame to put it in there ... but ..." He put it in and handed her his soggy wrinkled one in exchange. Out plopped a fruit leather and a quarter in change.
"Thanks. I wonder wh —" but he choked on his words as Colin approached him from behind and wrapped his arms around his throat.
As he coughed, he sputtered, "There you are!" He and Colin began to head over toward the grass.
"You coming?" he asked Seraphina and Elinor.
"No, you guys go ahead." And they headed off in the opposite direction giggling together.
"Oh, great," Dewey said.
"Did you not just see Seraphina go off with that new girl, Elinor?" Dewey ripped a bite off of his fruit leather.
"What new girl?"
"Are you — What? Hello!?"
"How much time is left?"
"Dunno. Ten minutes?"
"Wanna go see if Mr. Peters is around? He's always good for a laugh."
"Sure, why not."
* * *
Dewey had forgotten all about his fake glasses! That afternoon as he waited for Archie to arrive, he settled them smartly on the bridge of his nose, and took a selfie, and then a couple more. Not bad, he thought. Still no Archie, though, so he fluffed up the landing pillow, and moved some cookies around on a plate. It was good to have Clara back, alright. Clients were back to entering through the ducts and sliding into the office with cookies hot out of the oven waiting for them along their way (so as to discourage any claustrophobia, she'd always said). Dewey had just popped one of those ginger babies into his mouth when Archie made his landing.
Archie Thomas was a sixth grade student at his school. He had attended a different elementary school from Dewey, so he didn't know him all that well, but he certainly had seen him around with a pack of other sixth graders. Archie had brownish-red hair, fair skin, and tiny brown triangular and round freckles all over. Today he wore an oversized black t-shirt displaying the periodic table of elements in Minecraft.
"Hey, Archie. This is Clara, and I see you've met Wolfie." Dewey offered Archie a hand to pull him up off the lime green cushion on which he'd landed. Wolfie, who'd settled into Archie's lap, wasn't moving, though.
"Move, dog!" coaxed Clara with her hands on her hips. Dewey bent over and scooped him up, and Archie stood and shook Clara's hand.
"Nice to meet you," he said to Clara.
"I hope you'll pardon some people's less-than-professional conduct," she said, shooting Wolfie, still in Dewey's arms, a look. "Would you please sit down? We'll get you some paperwork and refreshments."
"Those cookies on the way in were so good! Did you make them?"
"She did!" Dewey said putting Wolfie onto his dog bed.
"Today's under-the-glass-domes were ginger snaps. I've got some shortbread bites coming out of the oven in just a few."
"Mmm," Archie sniffed the air in approval.
"So, tell me Archie. What brings you to my office today?"
"It's my parents. They're driving me crazy."
"Well, you've come to the right place." Dewey pulled out some paperwork for Archie to fill out. Dewey could feel, though, that Archie really wanted to talk about it, so he held back handing it over just yet, and waited for him to open up about the problem.
"They're ridiculously strict. They have a complete ban on electronics on weekdays. Can you believe that?" Archie's mouth hung open after he finished registering his complaint, as if the weight of his words still weighed it down. Dewey could see the remnants of Clara's cookies.
"Man, something really does smell good."
"I know. She's good." As if on cue, Clara walked back in with a plate of little cream-colored squares the size of sugar cubes, flecked with multi-colored sprinkles.
"Shortbread bite?" she offered.
"Thanks! Oh, man those are good!"
"Help yourself," she smiled. "More are in the oven."
Dewey grabbed a handful and shook them into his mouth as if they were dice.
"Oh, yeah! Great, Clara!" he barely got out without spraying. He stopped himself from speaking more until he'd chewed and swallowed.
"So, back to your problem. That sounds bad. Tell me more."
"Well, there's not much to say. They're complete tyrants. I'm not allowed to play any video games on school days. I do it anyway, of course."
"I go to Sebi's or Judah's mostly. Or I'll use the school iPads at school at lunch, sometimes."
"Ha-ha! We do that, too!"
"I don't know. My mom's mostly the problem, I think. My dad just doesn't want to fight her on it. He uses his computer all the time. She likes to model for me not doing it, though, so it's no- electronics-all-around! Except Dad."
"Interesting," Dewey said, tapping his pen again the rim of his eye glasses. "Let's have you fill out the paperwork and send it in. I'll have more thoughts for you after that."
"Okay," sighed Archie. It just seemed too good to be true that he could ever actually be a normal kid playing video games on a Tuesday at home. He'd come this far, though, so he put his hand out for the paperwork.
"Already emailed it to you," Dewey smiled. "Leaves your hands free for some cookies, if you want, on your way back out."
"Oh, I want," nodded Archie. "Can I have a couple more of those, though, too?" he asked pointing his chin toward the plate of the small shortbread squares."
Somebody else must have thought he was being invited to help his fluff-ball-furry-self, because Wolfie got up, gave a long bone-crackling stretch, and sauntered over to the plate of cookies.
"Ha-ha! Not you!"
"Can I give him one?" Archie asked Clara.
"Give that dog a cookie and he gets nuttier than an outhouse at a peanut festival."
Dewey and Archie burst out laughing.
"I'll take that as a no-go, then! Sorry, buddy!" Archie said, patting Wolfie on the head as he walked over toward the Gator Electric Motorized Lift System they used to lift clients back up to the air vents.
"Thanks, Dewey. Outhouse. Peanut festival! Ha-ha!"
"Okay, Clara," Dewey said, walking over to get a red bell pepper from the fridge and sliced a few pieces for Wolfie. "Sit, Boy. Good! I guess we're back in the business of solving parent problems. It's good to be back!" He gave himself a slice of red pepper as well. It was nice to break up the sweetness of the cookies sometimes with something else, and he gave himself and Wolfie another slice each.
"Yes, sir," Clara said. "It's good to be back."CHAPTER 4
Elinor wasn't at all sure she liked this new school, and frankly no one had given her a good reason why they had moved. She had gone to the same school in Washington since kindergarten. All her friends were there. Then, suddenly, they take a trip one summer and just decide to stay in California? It didn't make any sense to her, and she wasn't going to pretend to be happy about it.
"So, every time we go on a vacation now I need to wonder if we're actually going to be moving there?" she asked her mother.
"Don't be silly," her mom said as she set down a plate of steamy pancakes before Elinor. "Only the good spots."
Her mom sat down beside her and pulled off a piece of pancake for herself to nibble.
"Mmm. These smell good." Elinor didn't want to feel hungry or enthusiastic about eating, but her stomach didn't get the memo and rumbled at the smell of the sweet creamy butter melting on top of the warm cake already smothered in maple syrup.
As she ate, the ache in her belly began to feel less immense.
"Bacon?" she looked up.
"Yup." Her mom stuck a couple strips of turkey bacon in the microwave and returned with them, along with a steamy cup of coffee for herself. She slid the crisp bacon onto Elinor's plate, and her own knee under her chin as settled back at the table.
"Have you made any friends yet?"
Elinor hated that question. So much pressure.
"I guess so. Seraphina's nice. Where's dad?"
"Early morning meeting. I'm driving you."
"What, no good? I'm not a good drive-you-to-school-person now?"
"No. It's fine. I don't care who drives me. I just don't want to go."
"Ah. I get that," her mom said, coming in to land on another little corner of pancake.
Elinor slapped her hand like she was a fly swatter coming down on a fly and laughed.
"Why don't you make your own?!"
"I'm trying to eat healthy!"
"Ha! Well, then, I'm trying to help you." Elinor smiled and shooed her away.
Then she cut her a piece with her fork, swirled it around in the syrup, and fed it to her mom.
"You're welcome."CHAPTER 5
Duck and Cover
When Dewey got to school, he only had about one minute and thirty-seconds before the final bell rang, so he made a beeline straight to class. When he walked into Mr. Jordan's room, there was a big poster paper sign in the doorway that made Dewey duck down to enter.
As he settled into his desk, he spotted Seraphina's new friend, what was her name, that new kid with the pink streak in her hair in their class. Funny, she must have been there yesterday but he hadn't even noticed. Kind of hard to miss that pink hair, too. People are like that, thought Dewey. You sometimes don't even see them until you've met them. Then they pop up everywhere.
"Okay," began Mr. Jordan. "You've all got your math journals."
No. No. No, I don't. I don't have my math journal. He never told us to bring our math journal.
Dewey raised his hand.
"Can I go get my math journal?"
"Sure, Dewey. But first, can you walk over to the door and have a look at the big sign, the one that hit you in the head as you walked in here today? Anybody else need to go get their math journals?"
About three additional hands went up. No, there went four, including Elinor's.
"Right. We'll just have you all take a little field trip over to the door, gather round, and Dewey will read the sign aloud for us."
"'Don't forget your math journals today,'" Dewey smiled, showing all his teeth as the whole class busted out laughing.
"Rrrruuuunnnn!" Mr. Jordan stretched out the word and they all sprinted out the door.
"Oops," Dewey said to Elinor at the lockers.
"I don't even think I have a math journal," she said.
"Ha! I don't think he would really expect you to since you're new. You just got caught in our round up. It's just a lab book like this. You're supposed to bring it to class every day." Dewey pulled out a green and white science lab notebook as he shoved everything else that spilled out of his locker back in and slammed the door to stop the avalanche.
"Got it," she said, pulling a fresh journal out of her locker.
They ran back together.
When they got back to the door Dewey ducked under the sign again, but Elinor grabbed his shirt and pointed up.
Mr. Jordon had changed the sign.
"Are you reading this one?" it read. "Initial here: X."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dewey Fairchild, Sibling Problem Solver"
Copyright © 2019 Lorri Horn.
Excerpted by permission of Amberjack Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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