Ripples MacLean gripped the edge of her bathroom sink and stared hard at face peering back at her. The gilded mirror could only say one thing.
She was ugly. And there was nothing she could do about it.
“Hey! I gotta go to school today, you know!”
Sighing, she opened the bathroom door and rolled her eyes. “It’s all yours, kid,” she told her younger brother, Wave.
Wave plowed in.
Ripples wrinkled her nose. “You stink! Where did you sleep, with a skunk?”
For her answer, all Ripples got was a door slammed in her face.
Shaking her head, she smoothed her new tee shirt and headed down the narrow hall of her parents’ trailer to the kitchen. Both mum and dad had already left for the day, which meant Ripples was in charge of her brother. No mean feat. Wave had been hanging out with some tough kids from Dorchester, and Ripples knew he’d been getting into no-good because of that.
And, she decided as she stared at the mess of banana and orange peels he’d left on the counter, he was getting worse.
At least he ate breakfast, she resigned to herself.
Grabbing a Popsicle from the freezer, Ripples headed out to catch the bus.
Art class was the highlight of her day. Her final project, worth 50% of her mark and a chance for an art scholarship at Mount Allison University, hinged on her collecting Popsicle sticks. Now, as she dumped the ones collected for her into her backpack, she knew she had enough.
Ripples smiled. Her airship was coming together.
That evening, while her parents were watching some stupid news show about a stolen primate, Ripples slipped out to the shed behind the trailer. She’d been building an airship and with all she’d learned in science class, she was sure the project would not only win her the scholarship, but also a patent for airship design.
But the smell! “Ugh!” she spat out as she opened the shed door. “It stinks in here.”
A screech cut through the air and Ripples jumped, her foot knocking the door behind her closed.
Then, swinging down in front of her, holding Popsicle sticks from her wrecked airship, was a horrible, stinking monkey!
She leapt back in shock and fear, her heel hitting the closed door and her hands grabbing anything to steady her.
The monkey jumped down, snatched the Popsicle sticks from her hand and swung back up to its safe place in the shed’s rafters.
The stink of dung and rotting fruit hung around her. Ripples could do only thing.
She tore out of the shed, screaming, “Wave! You moron! Get in here!”
The monkey swung down and sailed through the air to land on her back. She screeched again, and before she knew it, neighbours were descending on her.
The police, too. That crazy guy next door, Beattie Daniels, had called them.
Her parents tried to pry the monkey free, but its grip on her hair was as tight as its grip on the Popsicle sticks.
Snapping at anyone who came near it, the monkey held her captive.
And Wave was nowhere to be found.
Thankfully, one police officer had the presence of mind to shove a baby’s toque on the monkey’s head. Disoriented, the creature released its painful grip.
“Well, that’s one mystery solved,” he said grimly.
“Oh, Ripples, how could you!” her mother wailed.
“Could what?” Ripples answered, rubbing her sore head.
“You’ve been going into that shed for weeks, now. You’ve stolen that stupid monkey, haven’t you?”
“We would have paid your tuition if you didn’t win that scholarship. We’d have found the money somehow. I know I keep telling you how poor we are, but you don’t have to resort to stealing!”
“Stealing what?” Ripples asked.
“That monkey. It’s been all over the news. It’s a rare Apricot Monkey worth millions, and its owner says he’s received a ransom note on it.”
Shocked, Ripples could only stare at the group around her. The following hours were a blur. Her family’s ancient, (at least a year old), computer was taken as evidence. It held the ransom note in its files and worse, Ripples thought belatedly, Wave was nowhere to be found.
He was with his buddies in Dorchester, Smash and Divert Taptree, two siblings who were known for trouble ever since they emigrated here from the wilds of New Jersey.
Now, finally, back home, with Waves denying everything, Ripples sat in the shed. Thankfully, the police had released her under the care of her parents, who showed their support by ordering her to clean up the shed.
Shoulders slumped, she sank onto an old stool and sighed. Around her were the scattered remains of her Popsicle airship. The frame was still intact, but the monkey had strewn everything else. Not wanting to clean up something she didn’t mess, Ripples decided to finish her creation. She knew her parents couldn’t afford any tuition, and she had incredible faith in this airship.
Had. It was definitely past tense, here. Her airship would never be ready in time for the deadline.
Hours ticked by, until Ripples heard her mother call out to her. It was already late, and probably supper was on the table.
Ripples set down the nearly finished airship and rose, grimacing at her stiff muscles.
She stepped out of the shed, and directly into the stranger standing near the threshold.
He caught her arm to stop her from falling. Ripples looked up into his face, and found him smiling at her. His ball cap hid a straight crop of thick hair, and his summer tan shone on his youthful face.
She didn’t feel like smiling back. “Can I help you?” It was the most civil thing she could say to him.
“Ripples MacLean? I’m Trim Bronzal. Rufus is my monkey.”
Rufus? It took a minute for Ripples to connect the screeching demon from the shed with the name, but when she did, she backed up. “Are you here to charge me with kidnapping? I didn’t do it, you know.”
He smiled, and she could see he was far younger than she expected. “I know. I’m here to say thank you for finding him.”
“More like he found me. Or jumped out at me in a screeching attack.”
“That’s Rufus. Sorry.” His grin widened. “Look, your parents invited me for supper. Why don’t we go in? Then after, if you like, I can help you clean up.”
Now he was talking her language. Any help with this mess would be gratefully accepted. They walked into the trailer, and though Ripples felt a bit self-conscious about living in small quarters, she found herself relaxing. If Trim was bothered by the basic meal of Hamburger Helper and frozen peas, he didn’t show it at all. In fact, he charmed everyone from her parents to her nasty little brother. Before long, everyone was contributing to the shed clean up. Throughout, Ripples found herself telling him about her Popsicle airship design.
“I’d love to see it. I know some people who’d be able to help you perfect your design.”
“Thanks, but it’s too late. I had to have that design in by tomorrow morning in order to qualify for the scholarship competition.”
“But getting a patent would be worth more. Especially if it was bought by some company big in the aerospace industry.”
Ripples knew her eyes had lit up, but one big question remained. “But that doesn’t answer who sent you the ransom note, and how Rufus ended up in our shed.”
From the corner of her eye, Ripples spied Wave sneaking out. But her father was quicker, slamming the door shut on his son’s face. “Not so fast. Ripples has a good question and I think you have an answer for it.”
Wave shot Trim a frightened look. “It started out to be just a joke. At least that’s what Smash and Divert thought. They just needed a place to keep the thing for a day or two. But we didn’t know he was stolen or anything! Honest!”
“Stolen by whom?” Trim asked, his forehead creasing.
Wave hesitated, then blurted out, “Beattie Daniels. He’d asked us to do it!”
Ripples gasped. “I know why, too! I showed him my airship design and he was really interested. He wanted to buy it from me, but I said no. I bet he did all this so that monkey would wreck the ship.”
“More like discredit you. Then Daniels would steal your design.” Trim shoved his hands onto his hips and looked very, very angry. “Your ship is innovative and with you gone, and your family not knowing much about the design, he was free to sell it and make millions.”
“Millions?” her mother echoed.
“Yes, Mrs. MacLean. Ripples stood to earn that much if she had a good negotiating team behind her. I would have seen to that.” He smiled sheepishly. “I’d have liked to be a part of that team, too. We could help her get that engineering and design education, too.”
Ripples’ mum sank into the dusty chair nearest her. Ripples smiled at Trim, thankful that he was here with them.
“We’ll see that the police know about this,” her dad said, his hand still firm on Wave’s shoulder. “And we’re grateful to you, Mr. Bronzal.”
“Call me Trim.” He grinned broadly, right at Ripples as she blushed. “And I think you’ll be seeing more often.”
Ripples gathered up her battered airship. “Just as long as Rufus stays at home, okay?”
Trim nodded as he helped her pick up her tools. “That’s a promise. The first of many, I hope.”
As the rest of her family filed out of the shed, Ripples smiled back at Trim. “You bet!”