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Main Street #8: Special Delivery

Flora Marie Northrop lay in her cozy bed in her cozy home in Camden Falls, Massachusetts, and reflected that there was nothing quite like a Sunday morning. Except maybe for a Saturday morning, but Flora's Saturday had been busy. She and her sister and their friends had spent much of the day at Bingham Mall (without adults—the first time for all four of them), and she had gotten out of bed early that morning in a great rush of excitement. Now, on Sunday, she lay contentedly under her comforter, wriggling her toes in the delicious warmth, her hand caressing her cat, King Comma, who had crawled under the covers sometime during the night and hadn't stirred since.

Flora yawned mightily. She lifted the covers and peered in at King. "I'm surprised you aren't meowing for your breakfast," she said to him. But then she squinted at her clock and saw that it was only seven-thirty—which was why she was very surprised to hear the doorbell ring just a few moments later. "Who on earth could that be?" she asked aloud. She raised her shade and looked out onto the front lawn. She couldn't see who might be standing on the stoop below, but she thought that the car parked in front of her house belonged to Aunt Allie.

Curious, Flora slid out of bed, leaving King purring in his snug cave, and hurried out of her room. She met her grandmother Min in the hallway. Min was tying the sash of her ancient bathrobe and trying to pat her hair in place at the same time.

"It's Aunt Allie," said Flora. "At least, I think it's her car parked in the street."

"Goodness me," said Min. "I hope nothing's wrong."

Flora was certain her grandmother was remembering the night nearly two years earlier when she had received a phone call from the police saying that Flora and her sister, Ruby, and their parents had been in a car accident, and that Mr. and Mrs. Northrop had died. One phone call, one ring of the doorbell, and lives could be changed in unthinkable ways.

Flora rushed ahead of Min down the stairs, but Min said, "Let me answer the door," and peeked cautiously through the front window. "My stars and garters, it is Allie," she said. She flung open the door. "Allie? What's the matter? Has something happened?"

Flora could tell from the smile—no, the grin—on her aunt's face that nothing was the matter, and that whatever had happened was very good.

Allie closed the door in a hurry, but a gust of cold air burst inside anyway, and Flora shivered. "I'm sorry," said Allie. "I'm sorry to come over so early, but I waited as long as I could—" She stopped suddenly, put her hand to her mouth as if she might begin to sob, and then grinned again. She drew in a breath. "Is Ruby up yet? I have something important to say, and I want to say it to all of you at once."

Flora, now dying of curiosity, hurled herself up the stairs, calling over her shoulder, "I don't know if she's awake yet, but I'll get her." She left her aunt and her grandmother behind, Allie shrugged out of her heavy coat, and Min saying, "I'll put on a pot of coffee."

Flora knocked on Ruby's door, waited less than a second for an answer (which was not forthcoming), and then threw the door open. "Ruby!" she cried.

Still no answer.

"Ruby Jane!"

"I'm sleeping," said Ruby from beneath her own comforter.

"No, you're not. You're talking to me. You have to come downstairs right now. Aunt Allie is here and she says she has something important to tell us." When Ruby said nothing, Flora added, "It's a big mystery."

"What time is it?" muttered Ruby.

"Seven-thirty-three," Flora replied instantly.

"That's too early."

"That's what makes this a mystery. Come on. First Aunt Allie was smiling, then she almost cried, and then she started smiling again. Something's going on. And she won't tell us what it is until we're all there."

"That's blackmail," said Ruby.

"Maybe she won the lottery," suggested Flora.

Ruby flung her covers back. "Huh. And she wants to share her winnings with us. Okay." She found a sweatshirt swirled in a mound of clothes at the foot of her bed and pulled it on over her nightgown. "We do have interesting lives. First we became orphans, now we're going to be rich orphans."

"I hardly think—" Flora began to say, and then stopped. Arguing with Ruby was usually pointless, just one of the many ways in which she and her sister were different. Ruby, ten years old and in fifth grade at Camden Falls Elementary, was stubborn and talkative and overly confident. Her life revolved around performing—singing, acting, and dancing (she was a triple threat, she had once told Flora with great assurance)—and she liked nothing better than being the center of attention. Flora, twelve and a seventh-grader at Camden Falls Central High School, was quiet, shy, craved time spent alone in her room, lived in fear of being the center of attention, and engaged in activities that were as quiet as she was—sewing, knitting, reading, and attending to her homework. Flora was responsible and studious and usually at the top of her class. Ruby was impulsive and hasty and paid little attention to her grades. She gave Min a run for her money. (Flora had overheard her grandmother say this to Allie one day, which had made Flora even more aware of all that Min had given up in order to take care of her daughter's daughters, more aware of everything that had changed in Min's life as well as in Flora's and Ruby's in the last two years.)

"Hey, space cadet!" called Ruby rudely from her doorway. "I thought you said Aunt Allie won't tell us whatever it is until we're all downstairs. Let's get going."

Flora shook herself from her thoughts and followed her sister to the living room. Min and Allie were sitting side by side on the couch, Daisy Dear stretched languidly between them, her big doggie head in Min's lap, her rump in Allie's lap. Flora could smell coffee brewing.

"Oh!" said Allie when she caught sight of the girls, and Flora had the feeling once again that her aunt might start to cry. "Ruby, thank you for getting up early, honey. I have something to tell you, all three of you. I wanted to tell you last night, but" (Allie turned to her mother) "I knew you were out with Rudy Pennington."

Flora tried not to scowl. Exactly how often did her grandmother plan to go out on dates with Mr. Pennington? So much dating at their advanced age was unseemly.

Allie folded her hands in her lap. "I have big news," she announced.

"Yes." Ruby nodded solemnly. "The lottery. We know."

Allie looked puzzled, and Flora elbowed her sister, then pulled her down until they were squished together in an armchair. Aunt Allie clasped and unclasped her hands, looked in turn at Min, at Ruby, at Flora, and finally said, "I'm going to be a mother."

     
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