Middle Grade Contemporary Mystery
The Mis(s)fits: All That Glitters
Lost treasure never goes out of style
Sometimes summer vacation isn’t so great, especially when you have to leave your best friend and move to a place where everyone looks at you like you have two heads. Then say the only hope you have of getting your old life back is a letter from a strange dead woman. Your chances are now as slim as a pencil skirt.
Like the back of a very old hand reaching from beyond the grave, the spidery blue veins of handwriting fanned through the letter’s waxy yellow paper in the depths of the sleek chrome trash can. One line, added to the envelope with a typewriter, stood out like a black tattoo.
“I am here, my dear, to offer you the chance of a lifetime.- Mabel Caylor, White Birch Cove”
Mabel Caylor came by her reputation as a spy with good reason. She always knew too much. Certainly she knew one is not always in the mood to say yes to the chance of a lifetime – especially when one is a twelve-year-old girl.
Chapter One: A New Season, A New Vision
On Saturday June 21 a cotton-sundress day radiated hope, happiness and promise over Manhattan, yet in the back room of a boutique on Central Park West one sixth-grade designing duo was ripping apart at the seams.
“I guess that’s it,” Celia Narro said, stroking the silver nailhead trim on her pink velvet chair. Her fingertips, rough with pricks from needlework, caught on the soft fabric. These two velvet chairs (one pink one purple), two silver nameplates (Aracelia Francisca Narro – Accessory Designer, Indira Devi Prabshan – Jewelry Designer), and two lifelong best friends with matching mirrored desks made up Narshan headquarters. One desk now stood empty beside several overflowing boxes as the relaxing hum of shopping floated back from the front of the Prabshans’ boutique.
“Are you sure you don’t want any of these pictures?” Indira said, waving at the wall of designer portraits. Chanel, Westwood, Rodriguez, Galliano, Lagerfeld, McQueen and McCartney looked comfortably at home on the pink silk wallpaper. Their favorite, the time they photobombed the Gossip Girls on set, had a soft light over it.
“Keep them for me. I’ll be back.” As Celia bit her lip and reached for a tissue Indira pulled a little tent card out of her purse and put in the middle of her desk: Reserved for Celia Narro.
“I knew you’d say that! There, it’s official!" Her eye caught a glimpse of a yellowed letter in the trash. "Hey – you’re not throwing this out are you?”
Mysterious treasures and love, pure Indira catnip! Celia knew she wouldn’t this slide.
“C’mon Indi.” Plucking the letter out she unfolded the crackling page and launched into a quavery old-lady voice.
“If you are reading this then it is at least 2014 and you shall be the next girl to live in my house, which pleases me very much. It is likely haunted but by the living not the dead. I left a great treasure for you along with what I fear is a great responsibility. You cannot accept one without the other. Being the sentimental old biddy I am I hope you will also find love during your search as I did during mine.”
She paused, waiting for a mocking laugh. Instead, Indira hung on every word, dark eyes shining.
“Go on!” she said, bouncing up and down.
“Although I have never lacked for imagination I cannot picture what your world must be. Perhaps all girls are free to learn, work and find their own happiness. If, however, the past is still vanishing in White Birch Cove there's no time to waste. Once the house is open the Triangle vultures will begin to circle. Start at the museum with my quilt. Death is so terribly inconvenient, you’ll have to finish this for me. Mabel Caylor” Celia tossed it onto the desk.
“It doesn’t even make sense. Like a total stranger is going to leave me a fortune. Get real.”
“But what if it IS real? It’s like a movie – you’ll be the princess coming to reclaim her treasure and find her prince!” Indira broke into her favorite dance move, teasing a smile out of her friend.
“I knew that Bollywood marathon last night was a bad idea,” Celia said with a laugh. “It’s just someone messin’ with me. I’ll be the new kid. They want me to show up and start asking questions like a total dorkapotomas. I’m not falling for it.”
The movers slammed the door on their way out with Celia’s boxes. The chandelier tinkled in protest overhead as a tiny gilt frame crashed to the floor. Celia picked it up. The quote slid around in her cold clammy palms. With the right pair of shoes a girl can change the world. Her parents gave it to her when Narshan opened. What's so great about change anyway, she thought. Change stinks.
Her parents were big on change but they were usually all talk. She never imagined they would actually go through with this whole move-to-the-country fiasco, especially after the miserable visit over spring break. With the stores closed until May even the weather gave up, spending the week in the sloppy, drizzly equivalent of worn gray lounge pants. Welcome to White Birch Cove - the place dreams go to die.
“Seriously, they might as well just lock me up,” Celia said, cracking her gum like a whip as they walked to the door. “I mean, a FARM and a restaurant in the middle of nowhere! Can you even?” She paused for effect. “Now do I look like a farmer?” she asked with one of her typical grand gestures.
Indira put on her Fake Serious Face. From the glossy black blow-out under her hat, past the necklaces rippling down her back, to the soles of her designer sandals this girl was a born New Yorker from head to toe. Indira shook her head.
“And does this look like a farm dog?” This time they both laughed because there was no way to even picture Coco’s handful of Yorkie fluff anywhere other than these upholstered brownstone streets. Coco wagged her tail. She liked attention even if she didn’t always understand it. Indira’s laugh trailed away as they turned to take the long way home, dipping through Central Park. She built up her courage over a few silent hair-twisting blocks before bubbling over in front of the Shakespeare Garden.
“Cee, I don't want to make you mad but you’d better hope that letter’s right about the treasure.” Her words picked up speed, snowballing downhill. “You’re going to find out anyway so you might as well hear it from me - the Designers Institute is having a Teen Runway Rockstar competition this summer. The winner gets a trip to Paris.” With this bomb Indira put her hands over her eyes and peeked out through the bunker of her manicure.
“You have GOT to be kidding me!” Celia shouted. “That is SO not fair! Somebody else is going to get OUR big break!” She whipped off her hat and sent it twirling into the water. An impish breeze, scented with Belgian waffles and hot dogs, answered by lifting her black bangs and skipping sunshine sparkles across the surface of the pond.
“Why are they doing this now? I can't believe it. I’ve wanted to be a designer my whole life!”
“Maybe it’s just not meant to be. We'll get another chance.”
“Lemme think for a minute. There’s got to be a way. I’m not giving up that easy.” Celia plucked blades of grass one by one and threw them like arrows toward the invisible demon of unfairness.
“There's only one thing to do,” she said. “I'm not thirteen until February. You need to enter it for me.”
“My mom's a member of the Institute. I can't.”
“We'll say we're from Queens or something. They don’t know every girl in the city. This has got our name written all over it!”
“I don't know Cee. Cheaters never prosper.” Indira toyed with her wrist-load of thin bracelets. “You know my parents, if they find out I’ll be SO busted. I don’t even want to think about what they would do.”
“Look at it this way. Would you rather make up a new designer and go to Paris or go to school with Hilde Essen after she wins?”
“Okay, you’ve talked me into it,” Indira said. “I'm down. But you HAVE to back me up on this, you can’t leave me hanging once you’re gone!”
“You’re the best Indi - we are going to set this town on fy-yaah!” Celia said, spinning to her feet. “You know you can count on me. Grab my hand a sec, I need to rescue that hat.”
As Indira held on to her left hand, Celia stretched out over the edge of the pier. As she brushed the brim her cell flipped over the edge of her pocket like Jacques Cousteau. With one soft plop it sank like a stone.
“Oh my god! That’s it, I’m cursed. Didn’t I tell you Hilde gave me the stink eye? This is officially the worst day EVER.” And it wasn't even lunchtime yet. “Let’s get going, maybe I can get padre to stop for a new phone before we leave.” All too soon they reached Indira’s doorman Amara who, like all good doormen, knew exactly how much time each tenant required for their hellos and goodbyes.
“I can't believe you're really going! Text as soon as you’re over the bridge,” Indira said, with one last lemongrass-scented hug. Sparkling tears dangled from her minky lashes. “Remember, you've got to be back by Labor Day, or sooner! Just do what the letter says, use the treasure to pay your way back.”
“Treasure or no treasure I’m going to find a way back here as soon as I can, whatever it takes. That's a promise.” Her voice, low and fierce, could have belonged to someone else. With eyes unfashionably moist the girls parted with the secret handshake they’d started in second grade. This was the first time Celia walked away wondering if they would ever see each other again. She didn’t even notice Indira’s graceful hand slipping the strange letter into her shoulder bag.