Petal's Problems: Chapter 1
"We've been invited to a wedding? " Durinda said.
"In France?" Rebecca said.
"And who, by the way," Georgia said, "are Martha Huit and George Smith?"
"Don't you remember," Annie said, "our relatives Aunt Martha and Uncle George, who used to come visit us occasionally?"
We supposed we'd always known about these people. We dimly remembered that Aunt Martha thought that everything made her look fat, and Uncle George liked to cook but was very bad at it, which meant we had to lie so as not to hurt his feelings. But we didn't know anything about them beyond that, plus we hadn't seen them in so long that, frankly, we'd forgotten all about them. And anyway, we'd learned to be suspicious of relatives. So, we thought as we narrowed our eyes in suspicion, who were these people really?
"Is it just me," Marcia wondered aloud, "or does anyone else feel like it's supposed to be June already . . ."
"I'm glad it's not June!" Petal cried. "I hope that wretched month never comes! Perhaps time has stopped, or even started running backward? But oh no! What if it is running backward and it keeps on running backward? Eventually, I will be a baby again and then—gulp!—after that I will cease to exist!"
"But I don't understand." Jackie was puzzled. She was also ignoring Marcia and Petal, as were we all. "I always thought Aunt Martha and Uncle George were from the same side of the family—you know, brother and sister."
"Oh," Zinnia said wistfully, ignoring nearly everyone and everything. "I would like to go to a wedding. I'm fairly certain they have lots of presents at those."
"Apparently not." Annie answered Jackie, ignoring Zinnia. "The invitation specifically lists them as Martha Huit and George Smith." She shrugged. "So I guess they're not from the same side of the family, not brother and sister at all. If Aunt Martha is a Huit, she must be Daddy's sister, and if Uncle George is a Smith, he must be Mommy's brother."
"Who knew?" Jackie looked stunned.
"Apparently not us." Annie shrugged again. "Anyway, now it looks like Daddy's sister is marrying Mommy's brother."
"My, we do come from an odd family," Rebecca said, a dark gleam entering her eye. Some of us found that disturbing, how rather pleased Rebecca appeared at the thought.
"So what are we going to do about the invitation?" Durinda asked Annie.
Since Mommy and Daddy's disappearance back on New Year's Eve, Annie had taken over as head of our household. It fell to her to make all the important decisions, like what to wear to Will's birthday party or when would be the best time to change the oil in the Hummer. But some of us thought that in this particular instance—this particular instance being what to do about an invitation to a wedding in France—it shouldn't be left up to just Annie. Some of us thought it would even be a good idea, the best idea, to put it to a vote. Too bad for some of us then.
"We have to say no, of course," Annie said simply.
"But why?" some of us shouted.
In this instance, some of us equaled Georgia, Rebecca, and Zinnia. The first two were always up for an adventure, and the third loved the idea of going anyplace where there might be presents, even if those presents weren't for her.
As for the rest of us . . .
Annie had already made up her mind.
Durinda was content to let Annie decide.
Jackie wasn't the shouting type.
Petal was too grateful it was still May to be bothered with anything else.
And as for Marcia . . .
"But it is supposed to be June, right?" she said, perplexed for once. "Honestly, am I the only one to notice that there's something wrong here?"
"But I want to go to the wedding," Zinnia said, a tear threatening to spill over the edge of her eyelid. "Even if it's in France, I want to go."
"Don't you see, though?" Annie said gently. "That's part of the problem. It is in France."
"Annie's right," Petal said, finding something fresh to worry about, even though she'd just been told it was never going to happen because, according to Annie, we were not going to the wedding. "We can't go to France! We'd have to swim there! And if we tried to swim all that way —wherever France is—we would drown!"
"Well, no," Annie said, "we won't drown."
"Of course we'd drown!" Petal barreled on. "How could we not drown? We will—"
"We won't drown," Annie said, beginning to lose patience, "because we won't be swimming."
That stopped Petal in midpanic. She was stumped.
"But if we don't swim, then how would we get there? I'm fairly certain France is not right next door . . . is it?"
"Of course it's not." Rebecca sneered at Petal, then turned to Annie. "Is it?"
"Well, it could be," Annie said. "But whether it's just a country away or a continent away, we wouldn't swim to get there. We'd fly."
"Oh no!" Petal clutched her head as she began running in circles. "This is even worse than swimming! We can't fly like birds!"
"That's funny," Rebecca said, studying Petal as she ran faster and faster. "You're doing a pretty good job of it. Any second now, you might really take off."
"We won't swim to France." Annie was getting more exasperated by the minute. "And we won't fly like birds either. We'll take a plane."
"Aiyeeee!" Petal cried. "That's the worst idea you've come up with yet!"
Zinnia crossed one arm over the other and then swept them apart, like an umpire making a call at home plate. "Can we all just ignore Petal for a moment?"
"Gladly," Georgia said.
"Do you have something to say, Zinnia?" Durinda asked.
"Yes," Zinnia said, extreme if cautious happiness entering her eyes. "Did anyone else hear what I just heard?"
"You mean Petal losing what's left of her tiny little mind?" Rebecca said.
"But that's nothing new," Georgia said. "She loses what's left of it practically every day."
"I didn't mean that," Zinnia said, growing more excited still. "I meant Annie. She said, and I quote, 'We'll take a plane.' She was talking in the present tense. That must mean we're going to the wedding. We're going to France!"
We all turned to Annie, wondering. Was this true? Even Petal stopped running in circles long enough to look at her.
" 'Fraid not," Annie said, answering our questioning looks with a rare blush. "That was just a slip of the tense. I meant that's how we'd get there if we were going, which we most definitely are not."
"Thank the universe!" Petal said, collapsing into a happy, exhausted heap.
"But why not?" Zinnia, the most disappointed among us and the last to hold on to any shred of hope, said.
"Because it is in France," Annie said. "Because we would have to fly there and we would need passports, which none of us have."
"Well, do you?" Annie demanded.
Sadly, we shook our heads. It would be nice to be international travelers, people of mystery and intrigue like James Bond 007, but that wasn't us. Even Mommy and Daddy always said it was scary enough just taking us across state lines.
"No," Annie said with a satisfied nod of the head, "I didn't think so. On top of that problem, there's the even bigger problem of what we would tell people."
"How do you mean?" Durinda asked. She may have been willing to go along with whatever Annie dictated, but even Durinda secretly longed to go to the wedding. It would be so much fun. It would be different.
We liked different. Or at least most of us did.
"It's like this," Annie said. "Whenever we have to explain to nosy parkers why Mommy and Daddy aren't around, we always say—"
"That Daddy is in the bathroom and Mommy is in France," Jackie cut in, beginning to see what Annie was getting at.
"Or vice versa," Georgia added. "Sometimes we say it the other way around. It's good to have variety, mix things up a bit."
"And that's the problem," Annie said. "How can we go to the wedding of Aunt Martha and Uncle George— Daddy's sister and Mommy's brother—without Mommy and Daddy? How could we ever explain their absence on such an occasion? Obviously, we can't say that one or both of them are in France because—"
"Because the wedding is in France," Zinnia finished, thoroughly getting it and thoroughly glum now.
"Exactly," Annie said gently.
"So what do we do?" Durinda asked.
Annie sighed. Sometimes she seemed like Atlas, trying to hold the weight of the whole world on her shoulders. Some of us thought that it could get pretty heavy, but only occasionally did Annie appear to mind. And even then, we suspected that her appearing to mind was just for show.
She studied the invitation again.
"They've included a reply card," she said at last. "It says to RSVP no later than June seventh." She handed the card out toward Durinda. "You'll take care of this for us?"
"Of course," Durinda said, reaching for the card, but before she could grab hold of it, a smaller hand snatched it.
"May I do this?" Zinnia asked timidly. "I know it's not the kind of job you'd usually entrust to the youngest—you know, the importance of RSVPing and all—but I am so sad we are not going to the wedding, I think it would make me feel just the slightest sliver better if—"
"Say no more." Annie patted Zinnia on the shoulder as another tear threatened to overspill Zinnia's eyelid. "If it makes you feel better, of course you can be the one to RSVP no for us."
"Really, people!" By now Marcia's hands were on her hips. "Doesn't anyone else think this is all too strange?" We all stared at her. What was she going on about?
"June?" Marcia tapped her foot impatiently. "Isn't it high time for it to be June?"
* * * * * * * *
And then it was June.
First it was June 1, a Sunday, and then it was June 2 and time to go to school.
But one of us was nowhere to be seen.
So we searched for Petal and found her in the first place we looked.
Petal was under her bed.