Lucky Jars & Broken Promises
Family was very important to Penelope Kingston. She often thought about the expression family ties, because her family ties had to stretch a rather long distance. You see, Penelope’s dad had a new family, and they lived in another state.
Penelope loved her weekly Skype sessions with her dad. He usually called on Thursdays at 5:20 p.m., between work and his regular squash game. The first fifteen minutes were
totally for Penelope, and the second fifteen minutes were supposed to be for her brother, Harry. But lately Harry hadn’t always shown up for his turn.
This worried Penelope. Didn’t Harry realize how important family ties were? Especially really stretchy ones like theirs. But on the positive side, Harry skipping his turn meant Penelope got an extra fifteen minutes of her dad—all to herself.
While Harry checked that the sound and picture were working, Penelope prepared for the call. She gathered all of her latest schoolwork and put it in a neat pile on her dressing table. Then she did an extra tidy-up around her bedroom, making sure it would look as organized as the study her dad called from. She brushed her hair, smoothed the creases in her shirt, and double-checked that there was nothing stuck in
her teeth. It was essential to be absolutely ready and sitting at the dressing table with the laptop in front of her by five fifteen p.m. Six weeks ago, her dad had called four minutes early, while Penelope was in the bathroom. He had left a message on Skype.
Sorry I missed you. I’ll try again next week. Dad x
When they finally Skyped a whole week later, Penelope had almost certainly forgotten some of the very important things that had happened the previous week. In fact, she had a hollow, antsy feeling about all her lost news. All the things her dad would never know about her. Since then, she’d kept a list of important events in her iPhone, just in case.
Penelope was absolutely ready and sitting
at her dressing table when the Skype call came through. In one corner of the screen, she could see herself. The biggest area, though, was taken up by her father. He had already changed into his squash gear. Penelope preferred seeing him in a suit and tie, but even in sports gear he looked neat, tidy, and very well-groomed.
Suddenly, she had a flash of him trimming his nose hair in their bathroom.
Penelope’s memories of living with her dad were strange that way. Penelope couldn’t remember anything about the day he left them for good, but she could remember him trimming his nose hair! (Penelope did not—as far as she could tell—have nose hair, but if she did she would most likely trim it too.)
As Penelope listened to her dad talk, she looked at the books on the shelf behind him.
She wanted to check if they were still arranged in alphabetical order. They were. (Penelope’s own books were currently organized by color. She made a mental note to tell him this.)
Really, the two of them were extremely similar. Sometimes (and this was an absolute secret), Penelope wondered what it would be like to live with her dad and his new family. Whenever she thought about this, she pictured herself sitting at her dad’s desk while he looked through her excellent school reports, nodding his approval.
IT WAS A VERY PLEASANT IMAGE.
Sometimes Penelope’s Very Pleasant Images grew into Lovely Daydreams, but this one never did. It was always interrupted by a Very Big Worry about her mum and Harry. How would they get along without her?
She loved her mum and Harry, but they were messy and disorganized. Without Penelope around to look after things, who knew what would become of them?
Her dad took off his glasses, polished them, and put them back on. “My goodness, Penelope Kingston,” he said. “Have you grown?”
Penelope shook her head. Because she sat up very straight, people often made the mistake of thinking that she was quite tall. Until she stood up. When she was standing, NOBODY made that mistake.
“I have been trying to grow, Dad,” she explained. “I’ve been eating growing-type foods
and I even did stretching at a Pilates class with Mum the other week. But Ms. Pike has a wall chart in our classroom and she measures us every month. I’m the only one who hasn’t grown. For two whole months!”
Penelope paused for a moment before adding the next bit. It felt like a slightly mean thing to say. “I think some people have been cheating, though.” Rita Azul had been wearing new shoes on measuring day, and they had seemed Very Chunky.
Plus, Penelope had a strong suspicion that Joanna (the naughtiest girl in the class) had been standing on tiptoe when Ms. Pike measured her.
Just then, Penelope had a thought. It wasn’t very nice, but unfortunately Penelope was no more in control of her thoughts than she was of her memories, or her height. The thought
was that her very best friend Bob had sticky-up hair that really should have been flattened before Ms. Pike did her measuring. Still, there was no doubt that Bob had grown. They had been almost exactly the same height when Bob first arrived at Chelsea Primary. Now, Bob was a whole head taller than Penelope (not even including her sticky-up hair).
“Well, Penelope, if kids aren’t being honest, they’re only cheating themselves,” her dad said. “Perhaps you should see a doctor. I’ll suggest it to your mother.”
Penelope had mixed feelings about this idea. On the one hand, it was nice to be taken seriously about not growing. Her mum didn’t take it seriously at all. Even Grandpa George (who was excellent to discuss most things with) just told her to let things happen in their own time.
On the other hand, her mum almost
certainly wouldn’t like her dad’s suggestion. Her dad made quite a lot of suggestions that her mum didn’t like.
“Sienna is quite tall for her age,” Penelope’s dad said. Sienna was Penelope’s half sister. “She’s in the seventieth percentile.”
Penelope wasn’t sure what a percentile was, but whatever it was, Sienna was obviously doing well on it, and her dad seemed very pleased.
Penelope quickly held her schoolwork up to the screen so he could be happy about that instead. So far this year, except for P.E., she had received nothing but As and A+s. It was very nice to share that with him (even if it was over Skype and not while she was sitting at his actual desk).
“You’ll make me broke when you get your report,” he said proudly.
Penelope smiled. She knew he was joking.
Still, if things stayed on track, her report would be worth $140 ($20 for each A), which was a Very Good and Welcome thought.
“Also, I have some news!” Penelope said. She waited a moment so her dad could let his excitement build up. “Our school fair is in just two weeks. And I’m on the Lucky Jar committee!”
Penelope and Oscar Finley had been asked to organize the Lucky Jars because of their excellent work on charity days. Penelope had been honored to be asked. Lucky Jars were often the biggest seller (after cotton candy, of course). Which wasn’t a surprise. A regular, empty glass jar could look Very Enticing once it was decorated and had an assortment of lollies and trinkets inside.
Saying she was on the Lucky Jar committee wasn’t completely correct. The words just snuck out of Penelope’s mouth. She wasn’t entirely sure you could call two people a committee. But she did know that her dad (who was a politician and getting quite famous) was on several committees, so she suspected he would approve.
“That’s terrific, Penelope!” her dad said, confirming her suspicion. “I wish your brother would take a leaf from your book.”
Penelope didn’t know exactly what that meant, but she could guess. And just as her dad said it, Harry came into Penelope’s bedroom. At the moment, Harry’s hair was even longer than Penelope’s bob. It was tied in a ponytail. He had mud down one of his legs, most likely from playing soccer.
It was 5:36 p.m., which meant it was Harry’s turn to Skype, but Harry whispered that she could stay. Penelope was pleased. Even though
he had mud on his leg, she moved over so he could share her chair.
“Harry,” their dad said, “what’s your news?”
“Nothing much,” Harry replied.
Penelope bit her lip. Their father waited, but it seemed that Harry was going to stop right there.
Penelope decided to continue for him. “Harry’s soccer team is in the grand final!” she said. “Which just happens to be on the same weekend as the Chelsea Primary fair, only on the Sunday.”
“Well, well, well. Good on you, Harry,” their dad said. “It sounds like an important weekend all around. Can you both wait a moment?” He moved away from the computer and out of sight.
Penelope clicked the stopwatch on her iPhone to measure the time he was off the
screen. It was eleven seconds until he returned.
“It looks like I’ll be in town for work on the Friday of that weekend,” he said. “So how about I get a hotel for the Saturday night? The three of us can go to the fair and the soccer game—and have a mini holiday together!”
“Yes. Yes! YES, PLEASE,” Penelope said.
Beside her, Harry shrugged. Penelope wished Harry wouldn’t do that. Shrugging was NOT a good thing for stretchy family ties—particularly when there was talk of mini holidays. She didn’t want their dad to think that Harry didn’t care about spending time with him. Penelope could tell that Harry was actually quite excited by the way he was tapping his foot very quickly on the carpet.
“You might want to get a haircut before then, Harry,” their dad said.
Harry stopped his foot-tapping then, and
started to wriggle around as though he was about to stand up. Penelope knew that he hated being told to get his hair cut. But just at that moment Sienna came into their dad’s study and climbed up on his lap. Harry stopped wriggling.
Sienna was wearing a hat with bunny ears and eating what looked to be a bubble gum-flavored ice cream (even though it was quite close to dinnertime and Penelope was absolutely sure her dad had been very strict about that sort of thing when he lived with them).
STILL, THAT HAT WAS EXTREMELY CUTE.
It was also cute when she pushed her face up to the
screen and sang “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” with their father suggesting animal after animal to keep her going.
If the rest of the Skype session was about Sienna counting to ten (several times, and always missing the five and eight, even though their dad kept interrupting to remind her) that was also fine. And if Penelope didn’t get to tell her dad about her books currently being organized by color, that was okay too.
Penelope would have PLENTY of time to share everything with her dad when he visited. She was quite sure that Harry’s team was going to win the grand final. Plus (and this was the best bit), there was a good chance that she and Oscar Finley would break the school record for the number of Lucky Jars sold at the fair. When a record was broken at the fair, it was announced over the
loudspeaker. That would certainly impress her dad.
Also, Penelope would finally get to show him the jewelry she’d made for the craft stall. She’d been making some very intricate pieces lately. Her best piece was a bow-tie badge, made with modeling clay. It was amazingly neat around the edges. Her ladybird pendant was a close second.
“I’m going to give this to Dad, absolutely for free, when he visits,” Penelope told Harry after the Skype call had finished. She pointed at the bow-tie badge on her jewelry stand. “Don’t you think it will look perfect on his business suits?”
Harry stood up but didn’t say anything.
“I bet he’s going to book a fancy hotel too,” Penelope continued. “Will it have a pool and a spa, you think?”
Harry wasn’t very good at showing his
excitement. Instead of staying to talk to Penelope about hotel spas, he turned and started walking out of her bedroom.
“You’ll be able to show him your soccer moves too!” she added.
Harry paused as he got to the doorway, and turned around. He opened his mouth as if he was going to say something, then closed it again. Sometimes Harry was slow at finding words.
“Sure, Penelope,” he said eventually. Penelope couldn’t understand why he didn’t seem excited about the mini holiday they’d just planned.
Penelope wasn’t much of a dancer, but when Harry left, she got up and spun around her room.
The three of them were going to have a great time together! Her dad would probably
want to start having mini holidays like this all the time.
Maybe it would become a regular thing. It was even possible that he would regret leaving them in the first place.