February began with a thin, freezing drizzle. It covered everything with a thin sheet of ice and left Danville looking as though the city had been encased in glass. The weight of the ice brought down tree branches and turned the sidewalks in Milo’s subdivision into a skating rink. Even with his spikes on his winter boots, Milo had to be extra careful walking to the bus stop in the morning, as his ankle, which he had broken just before Christmas skiing at Bluster Mountain had only just fully healed and was still very tender. There were a lot fewer kids waiting at the bus stop in the morning and more kids hobbling around the school hallways on crutches or with an arm in a sling and more than once the school bus had gone sliding through the intersection, having spun out on a patch of black ice that had formed the night before. It was as though all of Danville had suddenly been afflicted with Murphy’s Law.
“Oh, hi Zack,” said Milo brightly one morning in the second week of February, as the other boy came crunching through the ice from where he lived on Oakmont Street. Both Zack and Melissa had taken a lead from Milo’s book and bought the same kind of heavy duty traction spikes that Milo habitually wore on his winter boots. Milo cast a glance over Zack’s left arm, which was in a sling. “What happened?” he asked sympathetically.
Zack shrugged. “Tripped over Darius. We were helping Dad put salt on the driveway. He was fooling around and…..” he trailed off and shrugged again. Darius and Eli were Zack’s four year old twin brothers. Zack was always talking about how they could eat with their feet, an image that Milo had always found to be a bit creepy. Milo had yet to meet them. Milo patted the pockets of his heavy winter coat, as though searching for something, and eventually produced a felt tipped pen.
“Do you want me to sign it?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure,” replied Zack.
He noticed that Melissa had already written on Zack’s cast. She had drawn a heart and written, “best wishes, MC.” With fingers made fat and a bit clumsy by his winter gloves, Milo wrote in his usual crabbed scrawl, “get better soon, MM.” As Milo scribbled his message on Zack’s cast, he caught a brief glance at Zack’s face. He thought Zack looked tired and a little wan. There were bags under his eyes, as though he hadn’t been sleeping very well. “Everything OK, Zack?” he asked.
For a second, Zack considered telling Milo what he had been wanting to tell him for the last couple of weeks, but something stopped him. He shrugged again, “everything’s fine,” he said, with a slightly forced sounding note of cheerfulness in his voice. “It’s just that it’s February, you know?”
Milo nodded in sympathy. He knew full well what Zack meant. Sometimes, Murphy’s Law could work in tandem with the weather to greatly alter his current mood. The shorter days and lack of sunlight in January and February sometimes left Milo with a very, very gloomy feeling. Zack had decided that he should talk to Milo about Melissa, but he couldn’t seem to find the right way to broach the subject, or to find the right opportunity. The rational part of Zack’s brain told him that he should simply talk to Milo here and now, but every time he tried, his mind went blank and his ears were suddenly filled with a loud buzzing noise that seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Zack sighed to quietly himself again. He opened his mouth and had been about to speak when Melissa came crunching up from the other direction on her spikes.
“Morning guys,” she said with a wave.
“Oh, hi Melissa,” said Zack and Milo.
“Hi, Milo,” she said, “how’s February treating you?”
Milo shrugged. “February and Murphy’s Law,” he said. “About the same.” Zack gave Milo and Melissa a slightly confused look, “wait, does Murphy’s Law have to with February?” he asked. “Is there something that happens to Milo that only occurs in February?”
Milo and Melissa both nodded. “In the right circumstances, the weather, especially the lack of sunlight can have a negative affect on Milo’s emotional state,” Melissa explained. She gave her best friend a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.
“So it’s a bit like Seasonal Affective Disorder?” asked Zack.
“Not really,” replied Milo, as a truck jackknifed through the intersection behind him.
“It’s just Murphy’s Law in February,” said Melissa.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” asked Zack.
Milo gave Zack an appreciative look and shook his head. “Thanks, Zack, but no, not unless you can make it not be February.”
Zack chuckled. “Sorry, buddy,” he said. “I guess maybe Cavendish and Dakota could have, but they’ve been banned from using time travel, haven’t they?” Zack looked at the truck that was blocking the intersection. He pushed back the cuff of his jacket and looked at his watch. “We had better get walking,” he said, “otherwise, we’ll be late for school.”
Milo’s low mood mostly pushed Zack’s desire to talk his best friend about how the feelings he thought he might have for Melissa out of his mind. Murphy’s Law frequently reached into Milo’s life in strange and counterintuitive ways, his inability to wear lace-up running shoes, for example, but Zack had had no idea that it could do that to Milo.
“Is there anything we can do to help him?” asked Zack over lunch. Zack and Melissa were alone. Milo had arranged to meet Amanda in the library to finish some of their homework.
Melissa gave Zack a sympathetic look. “It’s not normal to see Milo like this,” she said in commiseration. “He’s usually so out going, but unfortunately not every Murphy’s Law situation has a clever solution. Sometimes it’s a slog. Milo knows that. He’ll be fine.”
Zack considered this information. He didn’t like the idea of simply letting Milo stew in his own juices, Murphy’s Law or otherwise. The previous winter, while trying to get school, Milo and Zack had drifted out sea on an ice floe. They had been swallowed by a whale and Zack had started to panic. In spite of his own fear, Milo had talked him through it, and they had been able to escape and get to school on time. “Still,” replied Zack, “do you honestly think that Milo wouldn’t try to make us feel better if the situation were reversed?”
“No,” replied Melissa, “Milo would try to reach out if he could.”
“He tried to cheer me up when I broke my leg last spring,” said Zack. He had suffered a bad fall and a compound fracture while unveiling a new interpretive dance routine the previous April. As a result of the incident, Zack had briefly considered giving up interpretive dance and once again, Milo had talked him around.
“Yeah,” said Melissa, “I remember that.” Milo and Martin had both broken their little toe on their right foot, while Diogee had had a broken tail. In fact, almost everyone that Milo knew reasonably well had suffered a minor injury of one form or another on the same day. “I broke my foot,” she said. “So what are you suggesting?”
Zack thought for awhile, considering what they could do to support Milo. “I’m not sure,” he said after a few minutes, “why don’t we call his parents? Maybe they might some ideas.”
“Good call,” Melissa.
Zack pulled his phone out of his pocket and proceeded to tap through his contacts until he found “Milo’s Mom” under and dialled her number. A second later Brigitte appeared on Zack’s screen. He positioned his screen so that Brigitte could both of them.
“Hi Mrs. Murphy, “ said Zack.
“Hi Zack,”she said, “Hi Melissa. Is everything alright with Milo?”
“Oh yeah, Milo’s fine,” replied Zack, “it’s just we know how February leaves Milo feeling a little down sometimes and we wanted to do something to make him feel better.”
Brigitte nodded, “that sounds like a great idea. Let me put Martin on.” She appeared to tap something out of sight on her phone and a second later, Martin appeared on Zack’s screen. He seemed to have just come in from outside. He appeared to be in an office and was wearing a yellow hard hat and a heavy winter coat.
“Hi kids,” said Martin,”Is Milo OK? Did he forget his body armour again?”
“No, it’s nothing like that Mr. Murphy,” said Melissa. “It’s just that it’s February and-,”
“Oh, I see,”replied Martin at once. He gave them a sympathetic look. “Milo’s always found February to be a bit of slog. Somehow, Murphy’s Law gets into his head in February. There’s not much any of us can do about it, I’m afraid.”
“We know that,” replied Zack, “but Milo’s always been there for us when we needed him and-,”
Martin nodded. Of all of Milo’s many personal qualities, the one that Martin had always been most proud of was his son’s almost endless ability to put everyone around him before himself, even when other people didn’t want him around.
“-Zack thinks his spirits could use a bit of a lift,” interjected Melissa. Martin nodded again. “Unfortunately it doesn’t really work like that,” he said, “but I think Milo will appreciate the effort all the same.”
“I don’t think we should do anything too energetic,” said Brigitte.
“I agree,” replied Zack. “Just us and maybe some kids from school.”
“We could make it a surprise,” said Martin.
Melissa nodded. Milo had been positively overjoyed the previous year when Zack, Melissa and Amanda had taken him go-karting and thrown him a surprise party for his thirteenth birthday. “I think Milo would really like that.”
“So, I guess that just leaves when and where,” said Zack. Martin shrugged. “We’ll do it at our house,” he said, “but it’ll have to be next week. All the holes should be fixed by then.” Milo had fallen through his bedroom floor and landed in the basement while getting ready for school that morning.
The bell signalling the end of lunch rang and all around them kids were pushing back their chairs and shoving their books back into their bags with a loud babble of voices.
“Thanks for all your help, Mr. Murphy,” said Melissa, picking up her things.
“Oh, you’re both welcome,” replied Martin, “I don’t think Milo could have ever found better friends than the two of you if he tried.”
Zack shrugged again. “It’s the middle school code, Mr. Murphy,” he said.
Melissa nodded. “Yeah, no one gets left behind.”