Authors: Lisa Graff
Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Family, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Orphans & Foster Homes
HE OWNER THOUGHT, AS HE SEARCHED THROUGH HIS BOOKSHELF
, that perhaps he heard a soft scuttling noise from the ceiling above, but when he looked up, he saw nothing. Just his old ears playing tricks on him again. He glanced at the St. Anthony’s suitcase waiting patiently on his tattered bedspread. The Owner was desperate to open it, to look inside. But it had been fifty-three years already—he could certainly savor this moment the way it was meant to be savored.
The bookshelf along the far wall of the Owner’s bedroom was lined with jars, top to bottom. To someone who didn’t know any better, they would probably look like simple peanut butter jars. All of them unmarked. All of them empty. But the Owner could tell them apart, and they most certainly were not empty.
This was his collection of Talents. Talents for origami and dog-training and computer-repair and whistling, and dozens of others he’d managed to nab over the years. The Owner had always believed that there was really only one Talent you needed in this world: The Talent for appropriating other people’s Talents.
Selecting a jar from the back, one which had not yet been filled, the Owner—
—unscrewed the lid. Then he lifted his right hand above the empty jar and squeezed it into a fist. Tighter and tighter he squeezed, until at last . . .
Where just a moment ago there had been nothing, now suddenly there was the Talent the Owner had plucked from the man in the gray suit, clean and condensed and opaque, like an ice cube. The Owner had seen the sight a thousand times, but he never tired of it.
As the Owner reached for the lid to the jar, the Talent began to dissipate, just as the Talents always did if you left them to their own devices. A fine mist rose out of the jar, higher, higher, straight into the air vent above. The Owner thought he heard a soft sniffle escape from the vent, but when he shot his eyes up to check, there was nothing. Tricks from his old ears again.
He returned his attention to his Talents.
ILL PRESSED HIS FACE HARDER AGAINST THE GRATE, UNTIL HE
was sure the metal zigzags were patterning his nose. When he unintentionally sniffed up some of the mist, he had the strangest desire to tie a knot.
Down below, the Owner screwed the lid down tight on the jar in his hand. And, as Will watched, the ice cube that had appeared from nothing only moments before evaporated to mist inside the jar, and then thinned into a haze, and then disappeared completely. Within the span of an instant, the jar appeared just as empty as before. The Owner set it back on the shelf with the others, then pulled a new jar from his pocket. He opened it, raised his hand above it, fingers stretched taut, and again a mysterious icy stone appeared, just below the old man’s skin. But this time, the ice cube melted into the Owner’s palm, and his feet began to rise—one inch, then two—until he was floating above the ground, the way Will was accustomed to seeing him.
Will tensed his muscles the way the knights in his storybooks would if they’d just caught an evil wizard doing something suspicious. He’d been searching for Sally, but he just might have found an adventure.
Down below, the Owner crossed to the bed with the suitcase on it. He was up to no good, Will was certain of it.
And then the Owner took something new from his pocket, and began to pick his teeth with it.
As wide as a rib of celery and as long as a pencil.
The Owner was picking his teeth with Will’s mother’s hairpin.
Suddenly, Will wasn’t Will anymore. Suddenly he was
Will, a brave knight whose job it was to retrieve precious stolen objects from spooky evil wizards.
With the quick thinking and courage of the very best knights from the very best storybooks, Sir Will wrenched the grate off the bottom of the vent. (It was heavier than it looked, but not too heavy for a knight.)
Sir Will leapt to the floor. (It was a long leap, and scary, but not too scary for a knight.)
And before the evil wizard could roar out a “Just what do you think you’re—” Sir Will had kicked him square in the shin and snatched his mother’s prized possession from his old, grizzled fingers.
Then Sir Will ran.
Toby’s (Not Quite Perfect) Yellow Cake With Chocolate Frosting
certainly the perfect cake for somebody
FOR THE CAKE:
cups flour (plus extra for preparing the cake pan)
tsp baking powder
tsp baking soda
1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature (plus extra for greasing the cake pan)
cups granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk, at room temperature
FOR THE FROSTING:
cup semisweet chocolate chips
cup butter (1
sticks), at room temperature
cups powdered sugar
cup milk, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the bottoms of two 8-inch round cake pans with butter. Using the cake pans as a template, trace two circles onto wax paper and cut them out, placing one wax circle in the bottom of each pan. Grease both pans with butter again, covering the wax paper as well as the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the inside of the pans lightly with flour, and tap the pans to distribute it evenly.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, beating until well combined.
4. Reducing the speed on the mixer to low, add about a third of the flour mixture to the batter, combining well. Add about half of the milk and combine. Then add another third of the flour mixture, the last of the milk, and then the last of the flour, combining well each time.
5. Pour the batter into the pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.
6. While the cake is cooling, make the frosting: In a double boiler or a heatproof bowl fitted into a saucepan of simmering water, carefully melt the chocolate chips. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
7. In a large bowl, cream the butter with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Gradually add about half of the powdered sugar, blending well. Beat in 2 tbsp of the milk and all of the vanilla, then beat in the remaining powdered sugar, followed by the remaining milk. Add the cooled melted chocolate to the butter mixture and beat until smooth.
8. When the cakes are completely cooled, place one cake layer on a plate and spread a thin layer of frosting on top. Repeat with the second cake layer, and cover the whole cake with frosting.
OBY WRESTLED A SLIM GREEN SUITCASE OUT OF THE BED OF
his truck. It had been a small load from the airport this morning, and not a single St. Anthony’s suitcase. The old man would be disappointed.
The front door of the Emporium slammed shut with a
and out came an enormous man in a gray suit. “Can you tell me where I might catch the bus to River Street?” the man asked Toby as he walked by.
Toby set the suitcase down in the dirt. “You’ll want the number 6,” he replied. “There’s a stop just up the road. To your left at the end of Argyle.”
“Thank you kindly.”
“Excuse me!” Toby called as the man in the gray suit started down the path. “Aren’t you forgetting your bike?” He pointed to the dinged-up bicycle propped against a brown hedge.
“Never seen it before,” the man replied with a sideways sort of grin. It was a grin that suggested that he knew more about the world than he was letting on.
He walked off down the road.
Toby shook his head and began hauling his load of suitcases inside. The store was quiet, except for the soft strains of stilted oboe music. The old man was not at his post behind the counter.
It was on his last run from the truck that Toby noticed her. He’d assumed that the person playing the oboe was the curly-haired girl, Marigold. But when he happened to glance at Marigold’s bedroom window, it wasn’t her head of hair he saw, but a close-cropped gray cut instead—and just enough of her face to recognize her.
Suddenly Toby felt unsettled in a way he hadn’t all week. His skin prickled, his cheeks grew hot. He banged closed the back of his truck and lugged the last two suitcases—
—inside the Emporium to the small office behind the kitchen. He had to leave. They
had to leave. This wretched place had been pushing Toby away for years, but now that there was someone else to think about, Toby found himself actually listening. The Lost Luggage Emporium was no place for a child, he knew that for a fact. Not with the old man and his single-minded whims.
But how to explain that to Cady, without having to explain too much?
Toby had mostly ironed out the last of his nerves when a slender shadow appeared across the top of the bag he was unzipping. He jerked up his head with a start, but it was only Cady.
“Oh,” he said, stretching a smile across his face. “Hello there.”
She blinked at him for a moment, as though adjusting her eyes to the light. “What are you doing?” she asked at last.
Toby pulled up a stool for her next to him. “Just sorting through my haul from the airport,” he told her. “Which things to sell, which things to toss.” He plucked a well-read copy of
out of the bag in front of him and pitched it into the Toss pile.
“I made you some cake,” Cady said, holding out the small plate with the fork balanced just so. “These are for you, too.” A glass of yellow wildflowers. She set them on the small desk littered with papers.
“Oh, Cady, you didn’t have to do that.”
“Try the cake,” she insisted.
Toby took a bite. Yellow cake with a creamy chocolate frosting. He pressed the moist crumbs to the roof of his mouth and closed his eyes, wishing that he might someday be the man who was the perfect fit for such a cake.
“I’m still working on it,” Cady said, leaning forward on the edge of her stool, watching him chew.
“Well, it’s wonderful.” He took another bite.
Cady tilted her head to the side. “You don’t talk much, you know,” she said suddenly.
Toby laughed, coughing on a few crumbs. He was growing to quite like this wide-eyed little girl. “I suppose I can be standoffish sometimes,” he admitted. “What would you like to know?”
Cady shrugged. “I just want to know about
” she said. “To . . . to help me figure it out, about the cake.”
Toby thought about that. “Let’s see,” he said slowly. “What can I tell you that might be interesting?” Toby scraped the edge of his fork along the plate, collecting some stray frosting. He didn’t want to lie, not more than he had already, but what could he tell her? He searched his brain until he found a memory, a good and true one, that she might enjoy. “When I was younger I used to travel,” he said at last.
Cady sat up a little straighter, interested. “What sorts of places did you go to?”
“Oh”—he slipped another bite of cake onto his tongue—“everywhere,” he said, chewing. “Europe, Asia, Australia. If I got an itch, I hopped on a plane and flew clear across the world to scratch it.” Cady laughed. “Once we even—I went to Africa to . . .”
To get married. They’d flown to Africa to get married, and they’d stayed for the adventure. And what an adventure it had been! More than they had bargained for, that was for sure. As soon as their delightful baby daughter was born, they knew it was going to be the adventure of a lifetime. It had all been so wonderful.
Until, suddenly, it was anything but.
“I went to Africa once,” Toby finished at last.
Beside him, Cady let out a breath, leaning back against a tall stack of suitcases. “I’d love to go somewhere someday,” she said.
Toby scooped the last bite of cake onto his fork. “How about today?” Here was his chance. They’d call it a bit of travel, and she’d never have to know the real reason for escaping this dreadful place. “We can go anywhere you want. Europe, Ecuador, Ethiopia.” He tensed his fingers excitedly around the cake plate. His skin felt warm, tingly, at the very idea. “We could be on a plane in an hour if we hurry. Start a new life anywhere at all. What about Switzerland? Wouldn’t that be nice, just you and me and some goats?” Cady fingered the knotted red flowers on her apron. “Or maybe something more metropolitan?” Toby suggested. “Wouldn’t you just
to live in Paris? You could see the Eiffel Tower from your bedroom window, what do you think of that? You must be sick of living in this old place already. The grumpy old man alone is enough to make someone want to leave forever.”
Cady bent to pick up the fork that had fallen off Toby’s cake plate.
She looked up. “Well . . .” she said slowly, “we can’t go tonight, can we? Because of the bakeoff.”
Toby shifted his face into a smile. “Of course,” he said. “Tomorrow, then. I mean, assuming it all goes well with Miss Mallory.”
“Do you think . . . ?” Cady’s voice grew so quiet, it was almost a whisper. “I do want to stay, you know,” she said. “I really like it here. At the Emporium, I mean.”
Toby let her take his empty cake plate. There were too many things, too many people, who could so easily ruin the life he and Cady had started together. But there was no easy way to tell her all of that. “I really should get back to my work,” he said instead. “Thanks again for the cake.”
“You liked it?”
He smiled again, a sincere one. The smiling
getting easier, this week. “I loved it,” he told her.
Toby might have failed at being a father once, he thought as Cady headed back to the kitchen, but there was no way he was going to fail again. He’d do whatever it took, but he was not going to fail.