Chapter One CHAPTER ONE
Imagine the worst smell you can think of, multiply it by rotten fish, and I promise you a turkey truck stinks worse. I’d know because I was riding in the front seat of one, sandwiched between Kate, the cheerful driver, and Danni the Body.
At least it was winter. That had to curb the stench.
And by stench, I meant the turkeys’ foul odor, not the Body’s. That’s the thing about Danni—he didn’t stink.
If anything, he smelled like the faintest hint of vanilla. That’s because he’s 100 percent polyethylene. Plastic. But more about him in a bit.
Because, hallelujah, we were rolling. Unlike Dad’s Chevy, which had fishtailed off the highway twenty miles back. Thank heavens Kate from New Horizons Poultry had spotted us. Otherwise Dad (who was pressed against the passenger window), Danni, and I would be Popsicles in no time flat. Winter Storm Bea had flown in completely unannounced—like Mom used to do—and caught western Missouri off guard, exhausting the area’s tow trucks.
“How much farther?” Dad asked. Dad was what Mom called a “chronic worrier.” Back when they still spoke.
“Oh, not long,” Kate answered, her voice chipper and her brown eyes shining beneath her Kansas City Royals cap. “Say, eight to ten miles. Hopefully, you can spot the Missouri River through the snow.”
“Hopefully.” Dad pulled his beanie down around his ears and frowned. “Thanks again for picking us up.”
Dad was bummed about his car. He’d had it for, well, forever. Since before I was born, and I’m eleven years, three months, two days, and—I checked my watch—twelve hours old. Now Dad’s Chevy perfectly embodied Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion: An object at rest stays at rest. There would be no moving his car out of that ditch until this weather passed.
Dad was stranded and stressed. The opposite of Kate from New Horizons.
“Happy to help,” Kate said, smiling. “Every day is an adventure. I like that.”
“Not me.” Dad blew into his hands to warm them up. “I don’t like surprises.”
“Yet you travel with a manikin.” Kate’s eyes sparkled, and my cheeks grew hot, despite the cold temps.
“You got me there,” Dad said with a sheepish smile. “I’m a CPR instructor, and Danni’s my training dummy.”
“Oh,” Kate said, putting it all together. “So, do you take Danni everywhere?”
“You wouldn’t believe,” I said, thinking back to one of my Rubik’s Cube competitions when the police showed up and smashed our car window to rescue the “unresponsive individual” buckled inside.
As owner of Lifeline CPR, Dad’s entire career revolved around training others to effectively and efficiently respond to a crisis. Or, better yet, to prevent crises from happening in the first place. This was why Danni the Body traveled with us everywhere, though he usually rode in the trunk of the car now, not up front. He’d also cost six hundred bucks, which Dad fretted about for a good three months. No way would Dad leave Danni stranded on the side of the road for someone to steal.
Shoot—thanks to Danni, our neighbor’s cat Cleo was on her tenth life. Cleo survived what we call the “Dryer Incident.” She was trapped inside for “only” twelve seconds, but the whole ordeal singed the hair off her tail and stopped her heart cold. But Mr. Wilkins got her blood circulating again using the improvised chest compressions he learned in Dad’s class. So, as weird as it was that my dad traveled with a manikin, Danni the Body’s all right.
Dad’s okay too. When he’s not worrying over my every move.
“So, tell me about starting your own business. I’ve always dreamed of having my own floral shop.” Kate sighed. “Seems impossible at times.”
I smiled. Even though I’d known Kate for only fifteen minutes, I liked her. And not just because she saved my tush. Kate would make a perfect florist. She’d probably give each flower a pep talk as she placed it in its vase.
While she and Dad talked shop, I reached into the duffel bag at my feet and found my Rubik’s Cube. I wouldn’t think about how late we’d be, or how weird it would look to show up in a turkey truck. I was going to take this in stride, like Mom would have. If she were here, which she wasn’t.
Her good luck pin poked me through my shirt, reminding me she was probably someplace warm and sunny, like Bermuda. If only she’d opened a floral shop instead.
I did a quick checkerboard solve, and Kate clicked her tongue in amazement.
“You can actually solve one of those?”
I nodded, bracing myself for what I knew would come next.
“The only way I could solve that puzzle when I was your age was to remove all of the stickers first.” Kate chuckled. Her laugh sounded like wind chimes. The perfect laugh for a florist.
I laughed along to be polite, even though everyone over the age of thirty said the same thing about the stickers. They didn’t grow up with YouTube and Google like I did, so they didn’t have access to the hundreds of online tutorials on how to solve the original three-by-three. Still, it took hours of practice to get good. And I was pretty sure my cubing expertise had helped me win this overnight spot at the Earhart house. Not many girls cube. Even fewer compete. That’s why my first-place finish on the classic three-by-three at Regionals made quite the splash.
“Isn’t she something?” Kate asked, and motioned out the window. “The famous Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge and the Mighty Mo.”
“Whoa.” I looked up from my cube. Steel beams stretched in an arch across the muddy Missouri River. Bluffs bordered the water, which divided Kansas to the west and Missouri to the east. My skin prickled with excitement. “So, the other side is Atchison?” I asked.
Atchison, Kansas, was where the real Amelia grew up. Amelia Earhart. The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and who, years later, mysteriously disappeared with her plane while attempting an around-the-world flight.
“Sure is, kid.” Kate waited for a car to turn in front of us. “Good news. The bridge is prepped and open.”
Dad grunted, and Kate gripped the steering wheel as her rig inched across the bridge.
“Welcome to Kansas! You guys haven’t told me where to drop you,” said Kate.
“The Earhart house, please,” said Dad. “Millie has a special invitation.”
Kate smiled. “Oh! You’re one of the lucky ones. It’s been all over the radio today.”
“The contest was on the radio?” I looked at Dad, amazed.
Kate laughed. “No, the news about the flight goggles. That is why you’re going, right?”
I must have looked confused, because Kate babbled on: “Docents from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum are here to collect Amelia’s goggles for a permanent exhibit, and a big shot at Purdue University believes they should be the ones to house the goggles—which are valued at one hundred twenty thousand dollars, by the way. Can you imagine? Anyway, this is the last weekend the goggles will be on display here in Atchison. And no one knows where they’re headed next.”
“Wow. Really?” My eyes grew wide, and my fingers stilled.
“Really.” Kate laughed again. Definitely wind chimes. “Get excited, Millie. You’re about to see a piece of history before it’s—poof—gone.”
I glanced at Dad to see if he’d heard this exchange, and I noticed the worry lines across his forehead had vanished like Amelia’s plane. He was listening, really listening, to Kate talk.
The truck rumbled over some railroad tracks. I lifted my feet to ward off additional bad luck. I mean, sliding off the road was pretty horrible, but then we met Kate, which turned out good. Maybe if I thought of today’s events like a math problem, they’d cancel each other out.
We took a right, and then another. Kate shifted gears as her truck climbed a narrow tree-lined street. I struggled to read the road sign through the blowing snow. Santa Fe Street. I clutched my cube tighter. We had one more street to go.
Kate cleared her throat. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to make the next turn. So, I may need to let you out—”
“There!” I gasped. A majestic, two-story white home loomed ahead on a corner lot, blanketed in fat, falling flakes.
Kate whistled. “She’s pretty as a postcard.”
The truck lurched, and Kate steered its massive frame up the hill, as far as the stop sign. Low-lying branches scratched the top of the cab, and an angry cardinal chirped.
I leaned across Danni the Body for a better look. The home’s windows arched like those on a church. The front porch boasted eight columns, four rocking chairs—all painted white—and an American flag, which popped against the ivory house and snow. Snow-topped statues of greyhounds flanked the shoveled front walk. The whole scene looked more magical than menacing, like someone had given a snow globe a good, hard shake.
Dad reached over Danni and squeezed my knee. I knew we were thinking the same thing.
Mom would be so proud to know that I was here, at her idol’s house. I wished I could send her a postcard to let her know. Maybe then she’d come flying back. To me. To us. Of course, I’d have to know her newest mailing address to make that happen. So instead, I clutched my Rubik’s Cube and whispered so low only Danni could hear:
“Mom, it’s me, Millie. You’ll never believe this, but I’m at Amelia Earhart’s house.”