Strider Security

SIXTEEN IN NO TIME

 

CHAPTER ONE

The door was shut. That was very weird. Celinda never shut her bedroom door when she went out.

“Maybe Mom tried to clean my room,” she said to her friend, Mandy.

“That’ll be the day,” Mandy said.

Celinda turned the knob and pushed the door. It opened all of three inches before coming to a sudden, screechy stop.

“What gives?” Celinda asked, pushing against the door. Each time she pushed, she was rewarded with a chorus of screechy, whiny noises.

“Balloons!” Mandy said excitedly, peeking through the three-inch opening. “It’s full of balloons!”

“Oh my gosh,” Celinda said, her face pressed into the small opening. “This is unreal. There are zillions of them.” Celinda spun around to face Mandy, her eyes wide. “That means—”

“A date!” they said in unison. “Yes!”

“Who do you think did it?” Mandy asked excitedly.

“Travis Foxx, I hope.”

Mandy snorted. “Yeah, right. Travis Foxx is only, like, the most popular guy at North High. Like he’s going to ask you to the Prom? I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Get real, Celinda.” She nudged Celinda aside so she could take another turn peeking into the room. “Wow! We’ll have to pop some to even get the door open. What do you have that’s sharp?”

“Just a sec,” Celinda said, running back down the hall. She grabbed the banister and swung herself around and down the stairway, taking the steps two at a time all the way to the bottom. In the kitchen, she hurriedly grabbed a couple of paring knives from the knife drawer and raced dangerously back up the stairs.

“Here,” she said, handing one to Mandy. “Stab away.”

Mandy smiled from ear to ear as she ceremoniously poked the nearest fluorescent purple balloon through the narrow opening.

POP!

“Oh!” she exclaimed, jumping back as a shower of multi-colored confetti sprayed through the door in their faces.

They both laughed as they shook the tiny papers from their clothes.

“Cool,” Celinda said. “There must be a note inside one of them. We’ll have to pop them all to find it.”

“Sweet. This’ll be fun.”

Mandy pushed the door open as far as she could and hurriedly popped half a dozen balloons. Confetti showered through the opening like a New York parade.

“Your mom’s not going to be very happy when she sees this,” she said, before popping another three balloons.

“We’ll clean it up before she gets home. Don’t worry.”

After a couple dozen more popped balloons, they were finally able to squeeze through the door and into the room. When they shut the door, the balloons settled in around them and left them standing up to their armpits in a sea of purple, pink, orange, and every other color imaginable.

Celinda giggled, threw her arms out, and swung around in a circle, sending balloons flying in all directions.

Mandy joined the fun, and the sharp knives found plenty of targets in the process.

Soon it was a wild race to see who could poke them the fastest, and the air was alive with pops and swishes—confetti and balloon fragments flying everywhere.

Finally, exhausted and giddy, they both fell face first onto the double bed, sending yet another shower of colored paper flying into the air.

“Whew,” Celinda said, breathless. “That was way fun.”

“Amen to that.”

“Now all we have to do is find the note.” Celinda stood right back up.

“Yeah. And find out who’s the lucky guy.”

They stowed their knives on the dresser, got down on their hands and knees, and began raking through the piles of confetti with their fingers.

“Maybe it’s Donald Dullman,” Mandy said with a smirky grin.

“What? Are you nuts? He’s like the biggest geek in school.”

“No, he’s not. He’s okay. And he really likes you, Celinda.”

“Yeah, right.”

“No, serious. Haven’t you seen the way he looks at you all the time?”

“He doesn’t look at me.”

“No. Just a thousand times a day.”

“I found it! I found it!” Celinda shrieked, holding up a folded paper.

“What does it say?” Mandy asked, practically climbing over Celinda’s shoulders to see it.

“It says ‘YOU’,” Celinda said, after unfolding the small white paper. “Just ‘YOU’.”

“Weird.”

“There must be more,” Celinda said, searching frantically through the mess.

Mandy joined the hunt. “Here’s one!” She hurriedly unfolded it. “It says, ‘THE’.”

“I found another one!” Celinda shouted. “ ‘WILL’.”

After a few more minutes of frantic searching, the two girls arranged nine papers on the bed until they made them into a sentence.

“‘WILL – YOU – GO – TO – THE – JR – PROM – WITH – ME?’”

“There’s no name! There’s no name!” Celinda said desperately. “Who’s it from?”

“We must have missed one,” Mandy said, dropping to her knees in the inch-deep confetti. “Keep looking.”

They crawled back and forth from one side of the room to the other, looking behind the dresser, under the bed, in the wastebasket, and in every corner.

“Nothing,” Celinda said, exasperated.

“How about the closet?” 

Mandy jumped up and pulled opened the bi-fold doors, releasing a dozen bright red balloons out into the room.

“Yes!” Celinda yelled, grabbing one of the paring knives. In no time, she had all twelve of them popped, and the big, red paper that fell out was more than obvious. She practically ripped it open.

“TRAVIS!” she screamed, bouncing up and down. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” She clutched the paper to her chest, closed her eyes, let out a longing sigh, and lay back into the cushion of confetti. “I think I’m going to just die.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“I told you so. My very first date, and it’s going to be with Travis Foxx.”

“Yeah, but aren’t you forgetting—?”

“Mister Wonderful, himself. I’ll be the envy of the whole school.”

“No, Celinda, listen—”

“I can’t wait to see the looks on everybody’s faces when I walk in on his arm.”

“But, Celinda—”

“Prom dress, gorgeous hair, makeup—”

“But—”

“But what, already!” Celinda barked.

“The Prom is next Friday.”

“And your point is . . . ?”

“Your birthday is next Saturday. Duh. Like . . . one day too late?”

“I know,” Celinda said, pouting and sitting up slowly. “But I’m working on Dad. I think he might give in. He’s a real sucker for sad eyes and batting eyelashes.” Her eyelids fluttered.

“That’ll be the day,” Mandy said, standing up and brushing debris from her pants. “Your parents are worse than mine with that dumb rule. There’s no way.”

“It’s not fair!” Celinda said, throwing the red “Travis” paper angrily across the room. It floated down harmlessly three feet away. “Who invented this stupid Sixteen rule, anyway?”

“Not teenagers. That’s for sure.”

“I mean . . . what difference does one lousy day make, anyway? It’s not like I’m going to get twinkled by some Fairy Godmother the instant I turn sixteen and turn into a Princess or something.”

“Not likely.”

“You’re a big help.”

“Well, try all you want,” Mandy said. “But don’t say I didn’t tell you so.”

“Hey! I know,” Celinda said excitedly. “I could sue.”

“What?”

“You know. Take them to court or something.”

“Who? Your parents?”

“It’s been done before. I read about it somewhere.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Hey, I have rights, too, you know.”

“Yeah. You have the right to remain silent . . . which means shut up and do what you’re told. That’s what my dad always says.”

Celinda folded her arms and looked up at Mandy. “So what about you? Your birthday isn’t until the next Monday—two days after mine.”

“So what? Who’s going to ask me to the Prom?”

“Hey. It could happen.”

“Yeah, right. When the earth stops turning and time stands still. You’re the beauty queen around here. I’m about as popular as a skunk at a picnic.”

Celinda giggled. “Not true. You’re pretty enough. Look in the mirror. You’re just not interested in anybody but Shawn.”

“Shawn? Ask me?” Mandy laughed. “Now that will really be the day. All he’s interested in is Libby Miller.” Mandy pulled a sour face. “Little Miss Perfect.” She sighed. “I’ll be ninety-four with gray hair, false teeth, and a walker by the time Shawn even knows I exist.”

“No, you won’t. You just need to get his attention somehow. That’s all. You’ll see.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Of course, I’m right. I’m always right.”

“We better clean this up,” Mandy said, changing the subject, “before your mom shows up.”

She started scooping handfuls of confetti into the miniature wastebasket.

“Yeah. I’ll get some trash bags,” Celinda said, heading out the door.

When she came back, Mandy was sitting on the bed looking appropriately sad.

“So, how are you going to answer Travis?” Mandy asked.

“Well,” Celinda said, looking dreamily at the ceiling. “I was thinking of doing the Helium-Balloons-On-A-Mile-Long-String thing. You know . . . tied to his mailbox or something? Then he has to pull the whole thing down to get to the balloons, but the answer is inside the mailbox the whole time.”

“No, what I meant was, are you going to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?”

“‘Yes,’ of course. If I say ‘No,’ he’ll never ask me again.”

“Oh? And then what happens when you have to cancel because you haven’t turned the magic age yet?”

“It’s under control. Trust me. I’m working on it.”

Mandy shook her head. “It’ll never work,” she said, taking a trash bag. “You’re dead.”

“I’ll get down on my knees and beg, if I have to.”

“Like that’s going to change anything.”

“Come on. Be positive. You know me. I’ll think of something. There has to be a way. I’ve just got to find it, that’s all.”

“Well the dance is only nine days away. I wouldn’t wait too long, if I were you.”

“Maybe I can petition the school to move the dance to the next weekend.”

“Dream on.”

* * *

The rest of the evening for Celinda was a disaster.

Her mom came home in the middle of the cleanup, which resulted in a lot of questions and a lengthy explanation about being asked to the Junior Prom—which, of course, resulted in the You-Can’t-Go-Until-You’re-Sixteen lecture.

At the supper table, Celinda’s stomach was totally tied in knots, making it very difficult to eat much. But she forced a few forks of food in anyway, while Dad did his usual review of the workday. He seemed to be in a pretty good mood.

“This deal’s looking better and better,” he said, buttering a roll.

“The Solar Energy thing?” Mom asked.

“Yeah. Their vice president took us on a tour of their new warehouse today, where they assemble and store the parts. It was quite impressive. And we saw the prototype of the new heat exchanger that they’re about to get patented. It’ll turn the whole industry on its ear.”

“Don’t you think this is all happening a bit fast, Roger? It’s been, what? Four days since Jay first told you about it?”

“Six. And we’ve been doing nothing but due-diligence and homework ever since. Don’t worry. They’re solid.”

“They better be. This is five hundred thousand dollars we’re talking about here—half a million—most of which your father is putting up, thanks to an outrageous mortgage on his estate.”

Celinda stopped eating.

Half a million dollars? That’s a chunk of change.

During the past several days, she’d been hearing bits and pieces of conversation about the “great deal,” but didn’t really know much about it.

“What if something happens?” Mom said. “He could lose everything. We could lose everything.”

“Relax,” Dad said, putting his hand on Mom’s. “Nothing’s going to happen. Pop’s just as impressed as the rest of us. And you know Pop. He never does anything half-baked.”

“I don’t know,” Mom said, pulling her hand away. “I just have a terrible feeling about all this. It just . . .” She stopped and looked away.

“Just what?”

“Never mind. I’m just scared, that’s all.”

“You worry too much.”

For the next several minutes, no one said a word. Bobby and Jimmy, ages seven and five, had mostly ignored the whole conversation, and Mom diverted her attention to feeding baby Christy in the highchair.

Dad looked happy and content.

Celinda decided that it was as good a time as any. It wasn’t going to get any better. She set her fork down and put her hands in her lap where no one could see how shaky and sweaty they were.

“Daddy?” she asked tentatively.

“Yeah, honey,” he answered automatically with his mouth full of mashed potatoes.

“Do you remember me telling you that the Junior Prom is coming up next week?”

“Sure, honey.”

She took a deep breath. “Well, it’s, like, the most important social event of the entire year, and I’ve been waiting my whole life for this to come, and now it’s here, and amazingly I’ve been asked by the most gorgeous, most popular, most incredible boy in the whole school, which is sounlikely, because he’s so popular, and everybody wants to go out with him, and if I tell him no, he’ll probably never look at me again in his whole life, and it’s next Friday already, which is just nine days away, and I know just the dress to wear, and I’m just dying to go out with this guy, and I have to answer him soon, and—”

“Wait a minute,” Dad said, waving his fork in front of her face. “Just a minute. Take a deep breath before you hyperventilate.”

Celinda took a deep breath, not quite sure if Dad was being cute, funny, or serious.

“Did you say, ‘next Friday’? Your birthday’s on Saturday, isn’t it?”

He was serious.

“Yes, but technically we’re only talking a few hours, here. It’s not like it’s a whole day. I mean, think about it. I was born like at two o’clock in the morning, right? So by the time the dance is over, I’ll be sixteen, anyway. And just think. If we had moved to Japan or Hong Kong or someplace like that, it’d turn Saturday twelve whole hours before it does here, and it’d be my birthday already, and nobody would say a thing about it. So we could just pretend we’re in Japan for the weekend . . . you know, move our clocks ahead twelve hours, eat sushi, whatever . . . and then it’ll be Saturday before I even leave for the dance, and I’ll be sixteen already, and . . . and—”

“And no,” he said.

Just like that. Plain and simple and to the point.

“But Daddy—”

“Honey, we’ve discussed this a hundred times. Our rule is that you don’t date until you’re sixteen. Period.”

“But what difference can a few hours possibly make?”

“If we start making exceptions for this, then we’d have to make exceptions for every other rule in the house. And pretty soon we wouldn’t have rules at all. All we’d have is a long list of exceptions. A house of order is dependent on solid rules and solid obedience. The answer is ‘No.’”

“But Daddy—”

“What do you think the driver’s license people would say if you went in on Friday to get your license? Huh? Do you think they’d care one little iota about the fact that you’ll be sixteen at two o’clock the next morning? Or that you’d be sixteen already if you were in Japan? No siree. They’d just say, ‘Come back on Monday when you’re really sixteen.’ It’s the same thing, honey. Laws are laws. Rules are rules. End of subject.” He turned to Mom. “Can you pass me the gravy, dear?”

“But Daddy—”

“You’re excused from the table, young lady. Bobby and Jimmy, quit staring and eat your peas.”

Celinda slid her chair back as noisily as possible and stomped out of the kitchen, up the stairs, and down the hall, where she slammed her bedroom door as hard as she could—which didn’t really do anything other than shake loose her poster of Justin Bieber.

Then she cried herself to sleep muttering over and over, “It’s not fair. It’s not fair. Why couldn’t I just be sixteen before the stupid Prom?”

 

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