The Teacher's Pet: Part Three
I had been mentally piecing together a short speech to give Georgia throughout the rest of that Neoschool day. I liked the result, and practiced it on Maja and Kelsey during the ferry ride back to Roo Island.
"It sounds good," Maja said casually. She resumed flipping through her book, Shocking Pranks, which she'd already finished five times. It was the only book she would read without being asked.
"I like it." Kelsey smiled. "It'll work, I know it will."
"Dear Breadmaster, it has to," I said, taking my seat again. I'd been standing in front of the sisters for better practice. "Otherwise I'm doomed. And you can bet it'll just continue on through the higher grades if Georgia decides to teach there, too."
"Don't worry," Kelsey assured me. "This is going to work."
"Hey," Maja broke in. "Did I tell you what I found in our attic yesterday? A whole roll of bubble wrap! So I brought it downstairs and let Forrest tramp all over it. It scared the daylights out of him; it was hilarious! I'm going to hide some in Tamerick's pillowcase and he'll freak when he goes to lie down!"
Forrest was Maja's Pyon, a Lost Desert petpet. And Tamerick was that poor, tortured older brother I mentioned earlier.
"An attic?" I wrinkled my forehead.
"You've got one, I think," Maja said. "Our houses are about the same model. Haven't you ever been up in yours? There's all sorts of treasure there."
"I guess I never thought about it," I said thoughtfully. "Georgia stays after Neoschool to clean up her classroom, so she's always about an hour later home than me. I think I'll try searching my attic for a while. Who knows what's up there?"
"Cool," said Maja. "Let me know what you find. Oh, and the entrance to ours is in the ceiling outside the main bathroom. It's a hatch with a metal loop that you have to pull down with a hooked rod. Darth keeps ours in that tiny closet by the laundry room. You might check there."
"Got it." I nodded.
"EVERYBODY OFF!" called the ferry driver as the boat lurched to a sudden stop at Rainbow-End Harbor. "SEE YA TOMORROW, KIDS." The driver, Perry, was an Elephante and always used a voice to match his size.
Maja, Kelsey, and I fought the stream of pets rushing off the ferry and onto the pier. We walked home together, with Maja doing most of the talking. This of course meant that the conversation was focused on memorable pranks she'd pulled off (putting crushed red pepper in her owner's slice of pie, rigging Tamerick's mattress to tip him off his bed...) pranks she was planning on doing (salting all the milk in the house, soaking Tamerick's floor in oil to make it super-slick...) and asking what pranks I had pulled off (nothing). Still, as unvarying as the conversation was, I admired Maja's creativity and cleverness, even if it did result in intended disaster.
They arrived at my house first, a quaint home painted light blue with white shutters and a white porch. I bid them farewell and started up the walk. I took out of my backpack a crumpled manuscript written on notebook paper and slapped into a clear plastic binder; it was the curriculum my friends and I had pieced together over the past few weeks. Clutching it to my chest, I mounted the clean porch steps and stood in front of the door.
I unlocked it with my spare key, ran up the stairs to my room, and dumped the teacher's guide on my bed. I had about an hour to kill, so I decided to check out the attic. I found the hooked rod right where Maja said Darth kept hers. It took a while of staring at the ceiling before I found the metal loop Maja had mentioned. No wonder - it was painted white, just like the wall above my head! What kind of architect designed that? An impossible-to-find attic entrance. Brilliant.
I successfully opened the attic. A flight of wooden stairs, still in excellent condition because the house was fairly new, unfolded as I yanked on the metal loop with the rod. I still felt a little anxious going up into the highest point in the house. I mean, I'd been living in that house for almost five months and hadn't known our house had an attic! That's a little weird.
The attic was unpainted and wide both in length and height. There wasn't much to see except half a dozen beaten-up cardboard boxes which contained, probably, whatever junk Georgia hadn't wanted to keep downstairs when she moved, or hadn't had room for. I rooted through these and found a photo album with two whole pages containing pictures of Georgia and a friend; the rest of the album was blank. I also found some tacky souvenirs, a string of Christmas lights, and a box of cute home-made Christmas tree ornaments. There were crocheted Puppyblews, Onas, and Polarchucks, and I wondered if Georgia had made them all herself.
The other boxes held random old shoes, scarves, sweaters, and hats, most likely Georgia's winter clothes that she hadn't unpacked because she'd moved in the spring. I found a couple of plastic Easter neggs and some mouldy science notes, but not much else of interest. I was disappointed. Couldn't Georgia keep interesting things, treasures, like Maja had found in her own attic? I sighed and turned to leave. Georgia would be home in a half hour and I wanted to practice my speech a tad more. It was when I was leaving that I spotted an old desk in the corner of the attic, all the way at the other end.
Apparently, I observed as I moved towards the desk, Georgia came up here a lot. There wasn't any dust on the desk, whose paint job was chipping and legs were dented. There was a glass of Neocola on the surface that was still fizzy, and a desk lamp sat on the corner of the desk that Georgia had forgotten to switch off. A swivel chair was parked in front of the workspace, burgundy and obviously well-loved. What really caught my eye, however, was the papers on the desk and taped to the wall in front of it.
There were twenty plus comic strips taped to the wall surrounding Georgia's desk. All of them were by the same cartoonist, and they had been cut from varying Neopian Times issues, some more recent, some beginning to yellow with age. The name printed above all the strips was "The News on Fads" and in smaller letters under it, "starring Milo and Hank". The main characters were, clearly, the Kiko named Milo and the Kyrii called Hank. Every strip I scanned had me laughing, until, when I had finished them all, my sides were pained. No wonder Georgia was such a big fan. "The News on Fads" was hilarious - all about current fads and how absurd they were. It used witty humor and sarcasm, with Milo or Hank even getting into one of the fads here and there.
The name "News on Fads" seemed familiar to me, and I realized that I'd heard kids talking about it at Neoschool. They'd all been waiting for the next installment of the running comic series to be published on Friday. I'd been too busy being made fun of and working on Georgia's teacher's guide to look into the matter. One thing I wondered was, if my owner was such a big fan of this comic strip, why hadn't she told be about it? She couldn't be embarrassed, right? It was only a cartoon.
All my answers came to me the moment I looked down at the Georgia's desk.
It's a pretty nice day when you find out your owner is famous. I knew I had to be dreaming, because the way the pieces fit was too perfect. Had I only come up to the attic before...! There, on Georgia's work surface, was a mess of papers - all filled with comic panels. Inside were drawings of a Kiko and a Kyrii, commenting on the recent Habitarium fad. Some of the cartoons were colored, some not. Some had dialogue but no balloons surrounding them, others had balloons but no dialogue inside. But one thing they all had in common was the heading written at the top of the pages: "The News on Fads".
At this point I was feeling a mixture of pride for Georgia, surprised that all these jokes were hers, and confused about why she'd never told me and why they pets at our Neoschool didn't revere her for being the cartoonist behind their favorite strip.
And that is when the door unlocked - my owner, home early. Good Hagan, I'd forgotten the early Friday release.
I didn't know what to do at first. Should Georgia know I had been up here? How would she respond? If "The News on Fads" had been kept a secret from me, wouldn't Georgia be unhappy if she knew I had found out? But I would feel horrible going on with the hidden knowledge of Georgia's talent. So I decided on what to do, and I marched down the attic stairs, not bothering to fold them back up into the ceiling when I got into the carpeted hallway. I clutched in my hand a nearly-finished comic strip, ready for submission, from Georgia's desk.
"Asha? I'm home. Where are you?"
"I'm up here, Georgia," I called down.
"Oh, okay," Georgia replied. "Can I make you a snack? Oh, I know! How about I go pick up some marshmallow pasties from that bakery a few streets over?"
"That's alright," I said. "I can just make some... uh... trail mix."
I slapped my forehead. Trail mix, Asha? Really? What was wrong with me? There went all hope of staying cool and calm, right out the door.
"Asha, are you... feeling alright?" Georgia asked slowly. She began to climb the stairs. Any nanosecond now, she would spot me standing near the attic staircase.
"Me? Yeah! Peachy, fine, just dandy - why?" I stammered. I told myself not to be nervous. Georgia loved me. She would understand my snooping around in her stuff, right?
"Well, for one thing, you hate trail mix," Georgia began. She was about to say more, but at that moment she spotted me in the hall, that secret section of the ceiling folded down, that comic between the feathers of my wings. She stopped short, did a double-take, and then just stood there in unnerving silence as she analyzed the situation.
"What? Who? How did you...? You weren't supposed to..."
To be continued...