“You woke me up at eight o’clock in the morning on a Saturday to clean?” Margo moaned. “I need to sleep.”
Byron didn’t so much as flinch. He was leaning against the doorframe, a roll of tape in one hand. “But if everyone starts cleaning the attic now, we’ll be done in a few hours. And us moving into the attic means that you get your own room,” he reasoned.
“Only when Mallory and Vanessa are at Riverbend,” Margo reminded him.
“Your point? They’re gone like nine months out of the year.”
“Well, they’re home now, so what difference does it make if I want to go back to sleep?” she demanded.
“Hey, Margo!” Jordan called from the hallway, where he was stacking several empty boxes near the staircase leading to the attic in the hallway. “You coming or not?”
“It is Saturday!” she repeated, screeching the last word. This time, Byron cringed. Sometimes he wondered how he and his brothers had managed to keep their hearing intact when they had Claire and Margo for younger sisters. “I am going back to bed!”
Byron shrugged, apparently deciding it was a lost cause, and left the room. Margo slammed her door and flopped down in bed, burying her face in her pillow. Victory.
A few minutes later, her bedroom door creaked open. She pulled the covers tightly around her body. Her siblings were pains.
“Rise and shine, Margo,” Jordan said in a sing-song voice that was oddly menacing. The next thing she knew, the covers were being ripped away from her and bright sunlight was blinding her vision. Of course Jordan had opened the blinds. At least Byron had been more considerate.
As she rolled over so that she was lying on her side, she saw that she wasn’t alone. Adam had come in the bedroom along with Jordan, and was standing near the window. So Adam had technically been the one to open the blinds. Both of them were being annoying jerks, so it really didn’t make much of a difference.
“Mom said we have to clean out the attic today,” Jordan told his sister. Margo bitterly wondered why he chose today to care about what their mother said to do. “So get your lazy ass out of bed.”
Margo shot up at the insult, glaring. “Well, I was going to help,” she lied, “but now I’m not. You can’t just call me --- hey! Stop it! Put me down!”
Adam and Jordan had come up on each side of Margo, lifting her up out of bed and carrying her out of the room. But at Margo’s request, they dropped her and she landed in the hallway on her bottom.
“Are you awake now?” Adam smirked.
Margo got to her feet haughtily. But even though she didn’t look too happy about it, she she realized she wasn’t going to win and stalked off in the direction of the attic.
“I think we can take that as a yes,” Jordan told Adam softly, grinning.
“You’re the ones that want to move up here,” Margo complained to the triplets once they’d all arrived in the attic, surveying the pile of boxes with disdain. Claire, Nicky, and Vanessa had already started going through their things. Mallory wasn’t in the attic yet, which was totally unfair. “Why do we have to help?”
“Well, technically you don’t have to help…” Jordan pointed out. He looked at Byron.
“Yeah,” Byron agreed with a sideways glance at his sister. He kicked aside a few toys that were in his way. “We can just throw away your stuff, if you want.”
“Or donate it to Goodwill,” Adam supplied helpfully.
Margo glared at her brothers. “It is probably all old junk that I don’t care about anymore,” she grumbled, before crossing the room and beginning to dig through a box that had MARGO sloppily written on the side with a black Sharpie.
The triplets rolled their eyes at each other.
“Hey, it’s my Lucy dress!” Claire spoke up, holding the frilly ensemble in front of her. She twirled around. “You know, I had good taste for a five-year-old.”
Nicky, who had started flipping through a photo album he’d found in one of the boxes, looked up. “I remember that,” he said. “Didn’t you, like, wear it for a week straight? Even when you went to bed? Your five-year-old self also had hygiene issues.”
“I did not!” Claire protested, throwing the dress in the ‘keep’ pile. “You were the one with the Spiderman shirt, and you refused to let Mom wash it because you were afraid it would shrink. Or that the color would fade. Or… hey,” Claire stopped mid-sentence, noticing a flash of red cloth sticking out beneath her dress. She bent to pick it up, and then waved it above her head like a flag. “You found it!”
“I meant to put that in the give-away pile,” Nicky informed Claire defensively, trying to snatch the shirt out of her grasp.
“Su-ure you did,” Claire stuck out her tongue, dangling the shirt in front of him like a prize. He was older and taller, but she was fast. “Did you miss your Spiderman shirt, Nicky? Maybe if you ask nicely, Mom will sew it on a quilt for you. Then you can sleep with it every night.”
“Cut it out, guys,” Mallory said from the doorway. Claire nearly knocked over a pile of boxes marked as ‘fragile’ as she danced around the room, trying to evade Nicky. “You’re going to break something.”
“So what if they do?” Margo snapped. Her hair was sticking up all over the place, and her face was a mess of yesterday’s makeup. She still didn’t seem very thrilled at being woken up at eight o’clock. “It would be less crap for us to go through.”
“I think it’s her time of the month,” Nicky whispered to Byron, who grimaced.
“Some of this stuff could be special,” Mallory walked into the room and opened the nearest box and began to dig through it as if to prove her point. Moments later, she pulled out a few beheaded Barbie dolls and sighed. “… okay, so maybe nothing in there is worth keeping, at least,” she admitted, dumping the entire box’s contents in the ‘trash’ pile. “But I’m sure there are plenty of keepsakes up here.”
“I found my Lucy dress and Nicky found his Spiderman shirt,” Claire offered.
“I’m twelve,” Nicky defended himself, suddenly lunging forward and capturing the shirt from Claire when she wasn’t expecting it. He made a big show out of throwing it in the ‘give-away’ pile. “I don’t need a stupid Spiderman shirt.”
As soon as he’d whirled around, Mallory placed a finger to her lips and quickly returned the Spiderman shirt to the ‘keep’ pile. Claire stifled a giggle.
Mallory turned out to be right. Although the attic was mainly full of junk, they found a few treasures, too. The triplets' Wandering Frog People and old Matchbox cars were discovered in a crate labeled 'shoes' (no one asked). A thick notebook full of illustrated stories that Mallory and Vanessa had created together had somehow wound up in a box full of Mrs. Pike's old cookbooks. One of Margo's old report cards ("Margo is a very gifted student, but she often gets in trouble for bossing other students around and talking too much during class") was crumpled at the bottom of a box filled with artwork that all of the kids had made while they were at SES.
The boxes marked as 'fragile' turned out to be a mixture of china that Mrs. and Mr. Pike had received as wedding gifts (but for some reason never opened) and old Christmas decorations. Vanessa pulled a gorgeous angel tree topper out of one of the boxes. "I wonder why we've never used this," she said absently.
Mallory turned to see what Vanessa was talking about. "We have, remember?" she replied. "Dad used to put an angel on top of the tree every Christmas, but they would always end up falling off and breaking so Mom and Dad started using stars instead."
"I remember that. They just, like, dove to their death," Jordan spoke up dramatically from where he'd been digging through a box of old action figures. With one final look, he kicked the box in the general direction of the 'give-away' pile. "Our house is so crazy that it makes angels commit suicide," he declared.
Mallory rolled her eyes. "Or we had so many little kids screaming and running in the house that the Christmas tree would literally shake and cause the angel to end up in a million tiny pieces on the floor."
“Yeah, right, we were angelic little kids,” Jordan corrected.
“Yeah, just as angelic as you are now,” Mallory snorted, fixing her fourteen-year-old brothers with an amused look. “Or as angelic as you were last night, I guess I should say? What were you guys doing out so late, anyway?”
“Us? Out late? Never.”
“Oh, really? Because I could have sworn I heard you guys sneaking out after Mom and Dad went to bed, and then---”
“Mal, cool it,” Jordan broke in, rolling his eyes. “No big deal, okay? You’re not our mother.”
“I was just curious,” Mallory shrugged, lowering her voice so that none of the younger kids would overhear. “I like to have fun too, you know. If there was a party, you should have told me. I can’t ever find anything to do in this town.”
“You? A party?” Jordan asked, looking as if he was about to burst out laughing. That was not what he had been expecting from Mallory.
Mallory looked as if she was trying to decide whether or not he was messing with her. Finally, she settled on shoving him. He shoved her back.
“Look what I found!” Claire suddenly squealed, interrupting her older siblings. She carried over an old shoebox filled with dusty cassette tapes.
Margo, whose mood hadn’t improved much, groaned. “That is it? Tapes? When are we going to be done?”
“Not just any tapes!” Claire informed Margo happily, singling one out and offering it to her older sister. It had a homemade label across the front, with messy scrawl written in red marker. “Christmas tapes.”
Margo frowned, as if she didn’t know what that had to do with anything, before reading the title. “ ‘Our Twelve Days of Christmas.‘ The one we’ve been trying to find for years?”
“We should go downstairs and listen to it!” Nicky suggested.
Margo quickly agreed. Anything to get out of cleaning the attic.
Mallory checked her watch. “We haven’t eaten anything yet. Do you guys want to take a break?”
Half an hour later, the Pikes were sitting around the kitchen table --- they’d decided to do a smorgasbord for brunch. After wolfing down three fried bologna sandwiches, Byron went off in search of the cassette player. He popped the tape in and pressed play. There were a few moments of pause, and then Mrs. Pike’s voice could be heard singing…
“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… some garbage in a bare tree!”
The Pikes stared at each other for a few seconds, then burst out laughing at the memory. On the tape, Mrs. Pike repeated her opening line (“On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”) and this time was joined by Vanessa’s choice of “two curdled gloves.” Adam’s “three stooges” followed, then Mallory’s “four crawling nerds” and Margo’s “fiiiiive hornet stiiiings!”
By this point, all the Pikes except Margo (who still hadn’t given up her pouting) and Adam and Jordan were joyfully singing along. (“I thought you liked singing!” Claire complained to Jordan, to which he’d replied “I have standards.” But Claire would’ve had to be blind to miss the way the corners of his mouth kept twitching as each new day was revealed.)
When the five-year-old Claire’s voice cried out “six silly-billy-goo-goos!”, Claire’s face turned so red that everyone started laughing so hard and Byron had to pause the tape because they couldn’t hear the song.
“Is there a problem, Claire silly-billy-goo-goo?” Nicky taunted as soon as he managed to catch his breath. His eyes were dancing.
“I know where you sleep,” Claire growled. Her ‘cute’ phase was not something she cared to be reminded of. Nine years old, and she still couldn’t escape it.
“Or better yet,” she added evilly, twirling a strand of her around one of her fingers. “I know your girlfriend’s phone number. I’m sure she would love to hear all about your Spiderman shirt…”
“Oooh, I’m scared,” Nicky rolled his eyes, taking a bite of his sandwich. He continued to speak as he chewed. “Hannah isn’t even my girlfriend.”
“Hannah?” Byron joined the conversation. “So that’s her name. … Wait, Hannah as in Linny Papadakis’ sister? How’d you get with her?”
It had only been meant as good-hearted teasing, but---
“Fuck you,” Nicky retorted.
“Hey, watch your language!” Mallory intervened, glaring at the triplets. It was, after all, because of them that Nicky had recently developed such a fondness for swear words. They appeared completely unconcerned, though, and Nicky ignored her.
“You know how he always asks Mom to drive him to David Michael’s house? Well, he’s really been hanging out with Hannah,” Claire informed the table at large. She was enjoying this. And it was all Nicky’s fault for making fun of her. “Everyone in the Krushers is talking about it.”
Claire and Nicky went into another round of bickering. Margo groaned and banged her head on the table. Byron fixed another sandwich. Finally, Vanessa decided enough was enough.
“Will everyone please shut up?” she requested. No one heard her, so she tried again. “Shut up!”
Everyone grew silent and turned to look at her as if she had three heads. Jordan, who seemed amused by her outburst, gave her a thumbs-up. Without another word, she walked to the cassette player and pressed the ‘play’ button. It didn’t take the Pikes long to forget about their petty arguments and start laughing at the song again.
“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… seven bologna-and-peanut-butter sandwiches!”
“On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… eight soggy tacos!”
“On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… nine leaping wombats!”
“On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… ten bags of Snickers!”
“On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… eleven socks a-stinking!”
“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… twelve, um… velociraptor eggs! You know, like a dozen? And then when you crack them, raaaawr!”
They went through each of the days, laughing at the ridiculous “gifts” they’d chosen and belting out ”…. and some garbage in a bare tree!” as loud as they could at the end. When it got to the twelfth day of Christmas and Nicky’s voice came on the tape recorder, everyone lost it. Nicky, Byron, and Mallory had tears in their eyes. Claire was laughing so hard that she didn’t even think to stick her tongue out at Nicky, or kick him under the table.
Even Margo, Adam, and Jordan joined in as the song descended for the final time. Mr. and Mrs. Pike returned from their trip to the grocery store as their kids were singing “… four crawling nerds!” for the last time. They sat two gallons of milk and a brown bag overflowing with apples on the kitchen counter, then paused to listen to the rest of the song.
“…. Christmas in July?” Mr. Pike questioned with a crooked grin after they’d finished.
“We found the tape while we were cleaning out the attic!” Claire explained excitedly, her cheeks pink from laughing.
“That’s great, dear,” Mrs. Pike smiled, ruffling Claire’s hair. Claire pushed her mother’s hand away. “You’ll have to play it again after we finish carrying in the groceries so I can hear it.”
The triplets, Nicky, and Claire left to help their parents bring the groceries inside.
Margo pushed her chair out and stood up. She was unaware of Mallory following her out of the kitchen, through the living room, and up the stairs. Finally, once they were in the upstairs hallway and out of everyone else’s earshot, Mallory spoke up.
“You okay?” she asked simply, catching up with her younger sister so that they were walking side-by-side.
Margo frowned, casting Mallory a side-ways look. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You seemed to be in a mood earlier, that’s all,” Mallory shrugged. She knew that was a dangerous thing to say -- if Margo was still in a mood, then she’d get yelled at for telling her she was in a mood (sisters) -- but Margo had seemed off earlier.
“Yeah,” Margo said shortly, a tone of edginess in her voice. “Of course I’m fine.”
Mallory had always prided herself on being able to read her siblings well, so she was pretty sure that something was bothering Margo. But she wasn’t going to go overboard pushing it.
Several seconds of silence passed as Margo and Mallory returned to the attic to finish going through their things. Eight people, as it turned out, could get quite a bit done together; so it wouldn’t be much longer before the triplets could start moving their things into the attic. When the triplets move to the attic, Margo will have her own room -- well, sort of. She’ll have to share with Mallory or Vanessa when they are on break from Riverbend, but for the most part… the room will be all hers.
No Claire annoying her and getting into all her things.
No Claire dragging all her kiddie toys on her side of the room.
No Claire to stay up with well past midnight, talking and giggling and then pretending to be asleep when their parents come to find the source of all the noise.
“It’ll be nice having your own room, huh?” Mallory persisted.
Margo used to dream of having her own room. But now that she was actually getting one, she sort of wanted to keep things the old way. She’d been unsure of the idea ever since it was first brought up, but a day of uncovering old keepsakes and reminiscing and laughing had really made her nostalgic. She knew that Claire would only be across the hall, so at least it wasn’t like she was moving. She just… didn’t know what to expect. It would be weird, that’s all.
“Yeah,” Margo replied distractedly, neatly arranging all the items in her ‘keep’ pile into a box. She met Mallory’s eyes, smiling at her older sister. “It’ll be cool.”
It was only a half-lie, really. Maybe part of her wanted to keep things the old way forever, but it would be nice to not have to listen to Claire’s snoring anymore.