Chapter 25b: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

Note: this is another short bit to finish up the chapter I started last week. As I wrote this, I was reminded once again how skimpy I’ve been at describing people. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to describe the characters because I’d like the reader can imagine a family that looks like theirs; that they could kind of identify with. I definitely don’t want to add too many identifying details late in the story, after the reader has already picked out a look for everyone. I hate when I’m three-quarters of the way through a book and I find out that the “brunette” protagonist is actually a blond. I suppose some time I should go add details back in the first chapters.

Funny related story: I remember reading Little Women back in the 1970s. I don’t remember how much description Louisa May Alcott had for her four main characters, but my ignorance of the styles of the time period the book was set in led me to imagine Amy with a variation of the ubiquitous 70s Farrah Fawcett feathered hairdo. Thinking back on it kind of cracks me up.

Chapter 25b

The trip to Reno took them through the salt flats of western Utah and the Nevada desert. The scenery was white and barren. When they weren’t watching movies, Nathan made up stories about traveling on the moon.

As they entered Reno, Nathan extended his story to include a trip to the Neon Planet. After several days in the country, the traffic, the noise, and the flashy signs everywhere made them all feel like they really were in another universe.

“This is all so different from the Badlands and Randolph. I wonder if Curt ever came here and what he thought about all the lights and noise?” Peter wondered.

“When he goes back to the 1800s,” Nathan said slowly, “What do you think he should take back with him? You’re the invention geek, Peter. What should he take back?”

“Gifts for his kids?” Ashley suggested.

“Peanut butter!” Charlie said.

“Hm.” Peter thought for a bit. “Maybe a first aid kit. And he should learn CPR. And the Heimlich maneuver.” Peter and Nathan had seen CPR and Heimlich maneuver demonstrations with their Cub Scout pack. “I don’t think he should take anything else. He doesn’t need anything else, and it would be wrong somehow to have an invention before its time.”

The conversation was cut short as they checked into their downtown hotel and hurried to prepare for swimming. After a long hot day on the road, the hotel pool sounded like paradise to the kids. Nanette and Frank joined in the fun, taking turns playing with the kids in the pool and relaxing in the lounge chairs.

After a bit, another family came to swim too: a mom, dad, and two girls. Ashley noticed one of the girls was dressed in almost the same bathing suit as she was wearing. The only difference was the straps. Ashley went over to make friends, and found to her surprise that they had more in common. The other girl was named Ashton, was the same age, and was also a fan of Historical Miss books.

The two were playing at one end of the pool when Nathan swam by and flicked water on Ashton thinking it was Ashley.

“Hey!” Ashton yelled.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were my sister!”

“Hey!” Ashley echoed. But the two girls couldn’t help laughing at the mistake.

Nathan said, “You two look a lot alike with your hair wet and the same color bathing suit. Let’s see if we can fool Mom with her glasses off!”

The two giggled while Nathan tiptoed up behind Nanette’s chair and noted that her glasses were perched on the top of her towel. She was doing a crossword puzzle, and since she was nearsighted, she didn’t need her glasses for that. Frank was playing with Charlie in the shallow end and keeping an eye on everyone else.

Just to be on the safe side, Nathan surreptitiously picked up her glasses and then came back to the girls. The girls got out of the water, draped white hotel towels around their shoulders, and stood at the opposite end of the pool grinning. They both stood straight at attention so their stance wouldn’t give them away. Nathan went over to Nanette and said, “Mom, mom!  Ashley has found her long-lost twin!  Can you tell who is who without your glasses?”

Nanette looked up from her puzzle and waved at the girls. “They do look a lot alike,” she said slowly. “I think I know which one is which, but just to be on the safe side…”

“Oh, no, you can’t have your glasses.” Nathan said, dangling them in front of her.

“Not my glasses. I’m going to do this.” Nanette took her pencil point and punched a tiny hole in the crossword puzzle paper. Then she peered through the hole. “Ashley is on the right!”

“I’m not sure what you did, but it looks like cheating!” Nathan accused, although he was smiling.

“A little trick Peter taught me,” Nanette said. “Pinhole glasses. They cut out the focussing problem a nearsighted eye has, but it makes everything a little darker, so it’s not perfect. And I thought it was Ashley anyway by the way she was holding her head.”

All too soon the hotel pool closed and they had to say goodbye to their new friends.  The Hales had a late dinner, played a family game of Uno, and then settled down for the night.

“Tomorrow we’ll spend a little time at Lake Tahoe and by evening we’ll be in Bass Lake for the family reunion,” Frank reminded everyone. “So sleep well.”

Good advice, but not so easily followed. Charlie was especially restless and kept everyone awake for the better part of an hour. When he finally drifted off, the others still had trouble turning off the thoughts rushing around in their heads. The rumble of a nearby freight train kept Frank awake and made him think about the history of the settlement of the west.  Nanette wondered where the BGs were and when they would see them next. Nathan thought about Curt and if they would be able to find him in Bass Lake. Peter was excited about seeing his cousins and wondered if they’d changed in two years. Ashley missed her friends at home, and decided they needed to buy some post cards.

Eventually, darkness and relative silence succeeded in putting their minds to rest and they slept  well in spite of themselves.

End of Chapter 25

Chapter 26 can be found here: Chapter 26: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

 

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