Marcia’s Madness: Chapter 1
We often thought it would be nice to be a great detective, like Nancy Drew. If we were Nancy Drew, each time a mystery arose we could devote all our energies to solving it. Of course, we’d done our research. We’d gone to the library and looked at the Nancy Drew books there.
That’s when we discovered that there were fifty-six books in the original series and that Nancy was eighteen years old in book one and still eighteen at the end of book fifty-six. Marcia had pulled out her calculator and done the math: Nancy Drew solved mysteries at the rate of one every 6.5178571 days. We couldn’t compete with that!
We’d learned the hard way that there was no hurrying Time. Things would happen when they happened, and there was no use our trying to solve things too quickly. We would get our powers and gifts when the time came and we’d learn answers when the time came. We’d had to learn patience, not an easy thing to learn, particularly for Rebecca. Or Georgia. Or Zinnia.
Plus, unfortunately for us, we weren’t old enough to be great detectives. We were only seven years old and wouldn’t even be turning eight until August 8, 2008. This meant that while we would have liked to have spent all our time trying to solve the mystery of our parents’ disappearance and all the other mysteries that had arisen since their disappearance—like what was Mommy really working on, how was Crazy Serena related to us, what was the Wicket up to now that she was back, and, oh yeah, WHAT OTHER EIGHTS?—we simply didn’t have the time. We had no time to solve the mini-mystery of what those two women were doing in that picture with Mommy and we had no information on “Other Eights.” Who else lived a life like we did that we could ask? And it wasn’t exactly like we could go to the police…
We were too busy leading the lives of normal kids: doing homework, preparing all our own food, taking care of the house—cleaning up after that flock of pigeons had been no small feat!—plus paying bills, driving cars, fighting back against evil every time it reared its ugly head. So we really didn’t have endless amounts of time to spend on trying to solve the mysteries of the universe, much as we might have liked to.
Yes, sometimes it was hard being us.
* * *
“Mayday! Mayday!” Annie cried, emerging from Daddy’s study.
“Yes.” Georgia yawned. “We do all know it’s the first of May, also known as May Day.”
“Don’t you remember?” Rebecca sneered at Annie. “We were all there at school today when the McG, following Mandy Stenko’s suggestion, had us all dance around that silly maypole in honor of the day?”
“I thought it was kind of fun,” Petal said quietly. “All those pretty colored ribbons wrapping around the pole.”
“Ribbons,” Zinnia said wistfully. “Ribbons always remind me of presents. It would be nice if it were a real holiday—you know, a present-giving one—so that maybe I could—”
“I didn’t say May Day!” Annie was exasperated. “I said Mayday!”
We all reflected on this, at least the ones of us who were there. No one had seen Marcia since we’d come home from school.
“May Day? Mayday?” Rebecca shrugged. “I fail to see the difference.”
Jackie looked at Annie. “Do you mean ‘Mayday’ as in ‘an international radio-telephone signal word used as a distress call’?”
Jackie was big on vocabulary. Sometimes it seemed to us that she had swallowed a whole dictionary!
“Is Jackie right?” Durinda asked Annie soothingly. Durinda was big on soothing. “Is that what you mean?”
“Oh no!” Petal said. “Not a distress call! Does this mean we’re on the Titanic? Do we need to send out an SOS?”
“No, we’re not on the Titanic,” Annie said. “But we may need to send out an SOS if I don’t find out what happened to all those bills.”
“What do you mean,” Rebecca demanded, “ ‘what happened to all those bills’? If you’re talking about the bills that come to the house each month—for electricity and cable TV and things like that—it’s your job to pay them.”
“Yes, I do know that,” Annie said irritably. “The problem is, I can’t find them!”
“I still don’t understand,” Georgia said, “and that’s really saying something. After all, as we all know, ever since getting my power and having my own month, I am marginally smarter than I used to be.”
“Believe me,” Rebecca held her thumb and forefinger about one-sixteenth of an inch apart as she sneered at Georgia, “that is a very small margin.”
Annie shook her head, ignoring the squabbles of siblings.
“It’s like this,” Annie said. “Every time we get the mail, I take all the bills out and put them in the top drawer of the desk in Daddy’s study.”
“Oh, that sounds like a real system.” Rebecca rolled her eyes.
Annie continued ignoring Rebecca.
“Then,” Annie went on, “I pay all the bills on the first of the month. It’s a habit I’ve gotten into since reading a book on household finances which suggested doing that so it’s easy to remember.”
“Huh,” Rebecca admitted. “You may have something there—you know, regarding a system.”
“The problem is,” Annie said, “that today is the first of the month and when I went to look in the top drawer just now…all the bills were gone!”
“Oh no! Oh no!” Petal cried. “This is awful!” Petal stopped looking distressed long enough to look puzzled. “What does that mean, the bills are gone?”
“ ‘They’re gone!’ means they’re gone!” Annie said, looking almost as distressed as Petal had a moment before. “Somehow they’ve become misplaced. And if I don’t find them, if I don’t pay each and every bill on time, the Bill Collectors will come after us.”
“Oh,” Durinda soothed, “I’m sure it can’t be as awful as all that.”
“But it is,” Annie insisted. “It’s what that book I read on household finances said: if people don’t pay their bills on time, the Bill Collectors come after them!”
“Why don’t we just start looking then?” Jackie suggested in a reasonable tone of voice. “I’m sure if we all look, we’re bound to find them.”
“That’s good.” Annie visibly fought to gain control of her panic. “That sounds like a good idea.”
“Great,” Jackie said, and then she began to organize all of us; all of us except for Marcia, that is, who still hadn’t shown her head.
“Durinda,” Jackie said, “you search the kitchen.”
“What would bills be doing in the kitchen?” Rebecca said with a sneer. “They can’t just walk there on their own.”
“I don’t know,” Jackie said. “Maybe robot Betty was using them as a fan to flirt with Carl the talking refrigerator.”
“Aye-aye!” Durinda saluted Jackie smartly.
“Georgia, Rebecca, Zinnia, you check out Spring, Summer and Fall,” Jackie directed, naming three of the four seasonal rooms that our scientist/inventor mother had created so we could go to whatever season we wanted whenever we were in the mood for a change. “I’ll take Winter.”
“What about me?” Petal asked.
“Why don’t you check out the basement and the Tower Room?” Jackie suggested.
“The basement and the Tower Room?” Petal gulped. “All by myself? But that’s where the spiders are most likely to—”
“How stupid of me,” Jackie cut Petal off mid-worry. “What was I thinking of? Of course you can’t do that.”
“Then what can I do?” Petal asked.
Jackie placed her hand on Petal’s shoulder as though she were about to give her the most challenging mission of all. “You just stay here and worry,” Jackie said solemnly. “Have fun with it.”
“And me?” Annie asked.
“Go through the other drawers in Daddy’s study,” Jackie said. “Maybe you missed seeing them the first time, because you didn’t expect to find them there.”
“Good point,” Annie said.
And we were off, all of us except Marcia, to do the things Jackie had suggested. Petal was particularly good at doing her part.
But after searching all the places Jackie had suggested, along with several that she hadn’t, we all met up again—all except Marcia—in the drawing room to admit that none of us had had any luck.
“They must be here somewhere.” Jackie tapped her lip thoughtfully and then her eyes lit up. “I know! What about behind that loose stone where we always find the notes?”
Jackie had made it halfway across the room when Marcia sauntered in, hands behind her back, Minx sauntering right along beside her.
Zinnia cocked her head to one side. “Is that Minx I hear,” she wondered aloud, “whistling a tune to make others think she’s innocent when in reality she’s up to no good?”
We rolled our eyes. That Zinnia! Still pretending she could communicate with cats! It was as though she thought she was Dr. Doolittle!
“What have you been up to?” Rebecca narrowed her eyes at Marcia. “I know what being up to no good looks like because I’ve done it before.”
“Rebecca’s right,” Georgia said. “We’ve both been there. We’ve both done that.”
Marcia sauntered right up to Annie. Then she produced a fistful of stamped envelopes from behind her back, waved them under Annie’s nose, and said sweetly, “Were you by any chance looking for these?”
“The bills!” Annie grasped the envelopes from Marcia’s fingers. “You found the bills!” Annie looked so relieved but as she fingered through the stack, a frown came over her face.
“But I don’t understand,” she said, holding up an envelope. “The address of the electric company is showing through the window on this when it should be our address I see.”
“Oh. That.” Marcia studied her fingernails as though she’d just had a manicure.
“Yes,” Annie said. “That.”
“Well, see,” Marcia said, still studying her nails, “I went into Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom after we got home from school and grabbed the strongbox. Then I got out the black ledger—you know, the one with the checkbook inside.” Marcia shrugged. “And then I just paid all the bills.”
Seven of us gasped.
“You did what?” Annie was practically purple with rage. Purple was a good color for Annie, which was probably why the ring she’d received as a gift had a purple gemstone in it, but not on her skin.
“But Annie pays the bills.” Durinda was stunned. “She’s the only one who knows how.”
“I feel faint,” Petal said, fanning her own face like crazy with her hand. “This is chaos!”
“It’s not chaos,” Marcia said. “It’s simple math.”
“You probably did it all wrong,” Annie said.
“Oh no!” Petal cried. “If Marcia did everything all wrong, Bill Collector will surely come!”
Petal was so upset, Durinda, Georgia, Jackie, Rebecca and Zinnia all had to fan her to keep her from fainting. Rebecca only did so reluctantly.
“I really hate giving in to this panic nonsense,” Rebecca said, “but the cats are all underfoot now, and it would be awful if Petal crashed to the floor and crushed Rambunctious.”
“Fine.” Marcia placed her hands on her hips as she addressed Annie. “Why don’t you check then?”
So Annie did. She slit open envelope after envelope, checking to see if Marcia had done everything correctly.
“Huh,” Annie said when she was finished. “You did everything right.”
“I told you,” Marcia said.
“And the checkbook?” Annie said. “You balanced that correctly to?”
“Yes,” Marcia said, then she challenged, “but you can go see for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“No, that’s all right.” Annie spoke slowly, as though she were trying to wrap her mind around a new idea. “I believe you.”
Then Annie directed Georgia to stop fanning Petal and to instead go get the tape so she could seal all the envelopes back up.
“Um, Marcia?” Annie asked after Georgia returned with the tape. “What I don’t understand is, why did you do all this? Why did you take it upon yourself to pay the bills this month?”
There was something odd about Marcia’s expression then. Was it sympathy? Was it resentment? Was it a too-sweet something we couldn’t name? It was a puzzle.
“I just thought you’d be pleased,” Marcia said. “I figured it must get tiring for you, being the only one of us who can do certain things. And it really was too easy—the bill-paying, that is—not at all like rocket science, which, I might add, I can also do.” Pause. “Can you?”
We all thought about that: the idea of one of us being able to do something that only Annie had ever done before, and even some things Annie couldn’t do, like rocket science.
It was a lot to digest.
“Durinda?” Marcia asked. “Do you think you might make me a pot of coffee? After all that bill-paying, I could really use a cup of Joe.”
Petal gasped. “But Annie’s the only one of us who knows how to drink coffee!”
And then Petal really did faint.