Sara roared with laughter as she took in her brother’s utterly dumbfounded expression. “You’re welcome, little bro,” she said, grinning from ear to ear at him.
Milo came back to himself at once. “This was you,” he asked.
Sara laughed again. “Not completely,” she said, with a glance at Amanda. “We went in on it together.”
“Sara told me what his music means to you,” interjected Amanda.
Milo suddenly felt himself flush slightly. “He taught me to be an optimist,” he said. “I-uhhhh-thanks,”said Milo, “both of you.”
“You’re worth it little bro,” said Sara. At the same moment, Amanda’s phone pinged. That seemed to be the cue for Milo’s party to break up. The kitchen was filled with the babble of voices and the scraping of chairs on the tile floor. Milo walked everyone to the front door.
“Good bye, Milo,”said Cavendish warmly.
Dakota clapped him affectionately on the shoulder, “See you around, Murphy.”
“Bye, guys,” said Milo to the two time agents.
“Bye Milo,” said Melissa.
“See you at school, buddy,”said Zack.
Milo waved goodbye to Zack and Melissa, then turned to Amanda. He gave her a warm hug, which she returned. “Thanks for the Weird Al tickets,” he said. “That was totally unexpected.”
“You’re welcome,” said Amanda, “I’m looking forward to going with you.” He let go of her and Amanda walked outside to where her ride was waiting the driveway. Milo stood in the doorway and watched as the car backed out of the driveway and into the road. He shut the front door and walked back to into the kitchen. He shrugged off his backpack and quickly stowed his birthday gifts inside. He slipped his backpack back over his shoulders and bent over to gather up the large pile of wrapping paper that had accumulated around his chair at the kitchen table. He walked it out to the recycling bin in the garage. When he came back into the house, Brigitte was mopping up a puddle of water on the kitchen floor and Martin was crawling soaking wet from under the kitchen sink. The faucet was lying on the counter. It had come off in Martin’s hand when he had tried to turn on the water to rinse a dish.
Martin eyed his son. “So,” he asked casually, apparently heedless of the fact that he was dripping wet, “how long have you and Amanda been a thing?”
Milo looked momentarily confused, then started to say, “we’re not a thing,” but he was interrupted by the sound of Sara coming out of the downstairs bathroom.
“Oh they’ve been a thing since the summer,” she said airily.
“No, we haven’t-,” Milo started to say, then something clicked and he gave his sister a searching look. “You’re trying to set me up, aren’t?”
“No,” insisted Sara, then she said, “well, OK, little bro, maybe a bit.” She chuckled. “You made an impression on her somehow, though. Did you know that she submitted your name for the WIBA Award for Greatest Perseverance?”
“Really?” said Milo, in slight surprise, “how did you find that out?”
Sara shrugged. “She told me. She said that your sheer persistence was what she admires most about you.”
Milo suddenly felt himself growing hot. He had had no idea that Amanda felt that way about him.
Sara laughed. “Face it, Milo,” she said. “You got a girlfriend for your birthday.” Milo turned to his father, looking confused. “So, what should I do, Dad?”
A look of wistful amusement flickered for a moment across Martin’s face, as he realized that his son was growing up. He remembered when Milo had been born. The doctors had decided not to wait for Brigitte to give birth naturally, and had performed a C-section because Murphy’s Law had kept shorting out the diagnostic equipment in Brigitte’s hospital room. After they had brought Milo home from the hospital a few days later, Martin and Brigitte had had a long talk about what raising a boy born with Extreme Hereditary Murphy’s Law would mean. Martin thought for a second. “Well, Milo, do you like Amanda?”
Milo nodded.”Yeah, I do,”he said at once.
“Well, why don’t you ask her out to lunch and see how that goes,” suggested Martin. “You could take her to the Diner Downtown.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” said Milo. “Thanks, Dad.” Milo hefted his backpack higher onto his shoulders, said good night and walked upstairs to the usual clatter of falling pictures.
As Milo walked up stairs, he felt his right foot sink up to above the ankle half way up the stair case. He pulled his foot out and hobbled his way to the top of the stairs. From there, he turned left and walked down the hall past the bathroom and stopped in front of his bedroom door. Milo was about to open the door when he heard a series of metallic clattering noises, followed by a loud thud as his bedroom door fell inward. Milo walked into the room, shrugged off his backpack and bent over. He was in the middle of lifting the door back into position when Martin appeared, framed in the doorway.
“Pins fall out again?” he asked.
“Actually, I think it was the screws this time,” replied Milo. Together, Milo and Martin raised the door upright and maneuvered into the proper position. Martin held the door upright while Milo replaced all the screws. Martin let go of Milo’s door, which swung easily on its hinges. The door knob came off in his hand. He placed it on the low book case next to the door and went out of the room. Milo picked up his backpack from where he had put it down earlier. He opened the flap and began pulling out its contents. He took the sky blue hard hat out of its box and hung it one of the empty coat hooks by the door next to his hazmat suit, fluorescent safety vest and windbreaker. The steel toed safety boots went into his closet next to his hiking boots and the full face filter mask went on the last remaining hook by the door. He left one of the graphic novels, Doctor Zone Unlimited: The Glorpium Gambit, in his backpack to read over lunch tomorrow. He put the others on his bookcase to read later, pinned the Weird Al tickets to his bulletin board and left Doctor Zone On-line next to his computer, before turning to the two sixth scale figures and the Time Beehicle.
Milo sat down at his desk and flicked on the fluorescent light screwed into the underside of his bunk bed. The bulb, which he had only replaced three days ago, flickered once or twice and then went out. Milo pulled open a drawer and extracted a new light bulb and replaced the old one. He flicked the light switch again and the surface of his desk was with bathed in a bright white glow. Milo took the figure of Doctor Hankry Zone out of the metal collectors’ tin. He stood around twenty inches tall and had twenty-five points of articulation. His long flowing tail coat was a deep plum colour and had a slight sheen under the light. The plastic lenses in the Doctor’s googles, around the brim of his top hat, glinted in the light and his chronotronic backpack looked as if it were made of metal. Milo pulled out the plastic tab separating the battery from the contact and pushed the button in the middle of the backpack. A pair of leds began blinking white and blue. Milo turned his attention to the various accessories that had come in the box and whistled in amazement. There were two extra heads, each with a different facial expression, as well as four extra pairs of hands and at least a dozen different gadgets and weapons. Milo took Time Ape and the Time Beehicle out their boxes and sat staring the three extremely detailed models and the dozens of accessories spread all over his desk. He looked around his room, wondering where he could put them and at the same time, feeling as though he should do something nice for Zack, Melissa, Amanda and Sara. They had clearly put a lot of thought into what they thought he might like for his birthday. He decided to put them on his low chest of drawers under the large window overlooking his tree house and the backyard. They would look good there in the morning sunlight, he decided. Milo was still wracking his brain ten minutes later as he pulled off his sweater vest and golf shirt, tossed them into his laundry hamper in the corner and then hung up his body armour. His shorts and socks followed his golf shirt and sweater vest into the hamper. Milo was still thinking as he pulled on an old pair of gym shorts and a faded Doctor Zone T-shirt and climbed into bed.
The next day was cold, cloudy and blustery as Milo and his friends walked to school. The school bus’s brakes had failed just as it had arrived at the intersection where Druid Drive met Waterford Road. As a result, it went skidding through the intersection, barely missing a city bus going in the opposite direction.
“So, Milo,” asked Zack, as the foursome crossed the school parking lot and climbed the steps into the school, “how did you enjoy your birthday yesterday?”
“Oh, it was great Zack,” replied Milo, “those sixth scale figures you got me look fantastic.”
Zack chuckled, “I’m glad you like them,” he said.
Milo seemed to spend the rest of the day something of a fog. His mind was only half on his lessons, but he generally got good grades, so this wasn’t really a problem. When Milo wasn’t thinking about what he could do for his friends in reciprocation for his unexpectedly expensive birthday gifts, he was trying to find a way get a few minutes alone with Amanda to ask her out to lunch. He thought it might just be his imagination, but in the hallway between classes, she suddenly seemed to be constantly surrounded by at least half a dozen other people, including Zack and Melissa and he very much wanted to talk to Amanda alone. He didn’t think that Zack and Melissa would laugh at him, or least if they did, it would be with him, but he wasn’t sure he could work up the nerve to ask her out in front of people he didn’t know, lest Murphy’s Law intervene and embarrass him somehow. The more rational part of his brain told him that he was being ridiculous. Milo knew that Amanda’s perception of him had changed markedly over the past year, particularly after they had competed together on Cake Splosion, earlier that year and had unexpectedly won. He really couldn’t think of a reason why she wouldn’t go out to lunch with him if he asked her, and yet he couldn’t quite shake the small voice in the back of his head telling him that she would probably say no.