The first dusting of snow fell a few days before Thanksgiving. There was only just enough to cover the ground, but Milo’s backyard looked as if it had been covered by a pristine white sheet and the snow had settled in a thin layer on the roof and window ledges of Doof’s shed, making it look as though it had been decorated with white icing. The only sign of life in the snow covered yard was a clearly marked set of boot prints leading from the shed to the back door into the kitchen, as well as two sets of platypus tracks. When Milo woke up on the morning of Thanksgiving, the smells wafting up into his bedroom from the kitchen made his mouth water. He tugged on his bathrobe, pulled some clean clothes out of his closet and stumped down the hall to the bathroom. Milo pushed open the bathroom door and went inside. He flicked on the bathroom light, which flickered once and then went out. The emergency light over the bathroom door came on and Milo continued his usual morning routine unhindered. The mirror over the bathroom sink spontaneously cracked while Milo was brushing his teeth. After he had finished in the bathroom and gotten dressed, Milo casually sauntered downstairs to the kitchen.
When Milo arrived in the kitchen ten minutes later, after picking up all the fallen pictures in the upstairs hallway, and after having put his foot through the stairs twice, it was to the smell of scrambled eggs and bacon, which spontaneously burst into flames as he entered the room. “Morning, Sara,” he said cheerily.
“Morning little bro,” replied Sara, as she reached for the fire extinguisher to put out the grease fire on the stove.
Milo eyed the charred mess on the stove. “Sorry about breakfast,” he said, looking slightly sheepish.
Sara was just opening her mouth to reply, when Martin walked into the kitchen, still in his pajamas and slippers. Like his son, Martin cast an eye over the stove, which was now covered in a thick layer of fire retardant. “Oh,” he said, “I thought I smelled Murphy’s Law torching breakfast.”
“Morning, Dad,” said Milo.
“Good morning, kids,” said Martin. He eyed the mess on the stove again. “So whose idea was this?”
Sara shrugged apologetically, “actually, it was mine. It was supposed to be a surprise.”
Milo was rooting through the pantry for pancake mix and a mixing bowl. “It’s OK, Dad,” he said, “I got this.”
Sara cast a half amused look at her brother as he enthusiastically set about making pancakes. “Milo, are you sure?” she asked. “The last time you tried to cook you covered the entire kitchen with mac and cheese.”
Milo casually waved away Sara’s concern. “It was a lesson learned,” he said, reaching into the fridge for milk and eggs with his grabber arm from his backpack. “Murphy’s Law and yeast don’t mix.” He poured the wet and dry ingredients into the mixing bowl and mixed everything together. Milo reached under the kitchen counter and pulled open a cupboard door, which came off in his hand. Milo left the doorknob on the kitchen counter, reached under the kitchen counter and pulled out an electric frying pan. He plugged it in and got a shock, which left Milo’s hair smoking slightly and standing on end. He smoothed down his hair while Sara laughed at him. Milo spread butter on the hot pan and soon he had half a dozen pancakes sizzling on the griddle. He was shovelling pancakes onto a plate when Brigitte walked into the kitchen.
She sniffed, taking in the mingled smells of burned bacon, hot coffee and chemical fire suppressant, and took in her family rattling around the kitchen. Martin was sweeping up the remains of a coffee cup which had shattered in his hand. Sara was cleaning up the mess of charred bacon and eggs and fire retardant on the stove. Milo was casually flipping pancakes at the electric frying pan on the other side of the kitchen. “Murphy’s Law torch breakfast again?” she asked to the kitchen at large.
“Yep,” said Milo. He shovelled some pancakes on to a plate and handed them to his mother. “Morning, Mom. Pancakes?”
The doorbell rang at around 2:00 that afternoon, as the smells of a turkey dinner came wafting out of the kitchen. Milo skidded slightly in his stocking feet as he ran to get the door. He threw open the door to find his aunt and uncle and cousin standing on the doormat.
“Hi Milo,” cried Uncle Joe. A little snow drifted down out of the lead coloured sky.
“Hi Uncle Joe, Aunt Laura,” replied Milo, “Cousin Nate.”
A slightly surly looking, dark haired boy around Sara’s age stood between Uncle Joe and Aunt Laura. “I do not have Murphy’s Law,” said Nate Murphy by way of greeting. “It skipped me.”
“Right,” said Milo, chuckling. Behind Uncle Joe, half way up the front walk from the road, a ten year boy was getting to his feet, having somehow managed to slip and fall on mostly dry pavement. He got to his feet, brushed himself off and walked very carefully up the sidewalk to Milo’s front door. “Hi Reggie,” he said.
“Hi Milo,” said Reggie. He nodded at Nate, “you should see what he did when we went Italy this summer.”
“Oh,” replied Milo, his curiosity aroused,“what happened?”
Uncle Joe laughed and gave Nate a nudge, “go on and tell him.”
Nate sighed and scowled again. “I didn’t do anything,” he said in exasperation. “It collapsed on its own.”
Milo looked from his aunt and uncle, to his cousins, and back again in confusion. “What happened, Uncle Joe?”
By way of an answer, Joe pulled his phone out of his pocket. He began tapping and swiping until he found what he wanted and then handed his phone to Milo, who took it and tapped play. On the screen, Milo saw a slightly shaky image of Michelangelo’s David, then a familiar, sullen figure slouched across the camera’s field of view. For a second or two nothing seemed to happen, then with the sound of splintering stone, the David collapsed into a heap of rubble.
Milo had no idea how he was supposed to react. On the one hand, Nate had reduced a priceless work of art to the consistency of gravel, but on the other hand, “yeah, Nate,” said Milo, with a small laugh. He handed Uncle Joe his phone back, “you definitely have Murphy’s Law.” Milo turned to Reggie. “I guess you’re carving a new one?”
Reggie shrugged. “A block of marble was waiting in my workshop when we got home. Don’t ask me how it got there.”
Milo was about to open his mouth to say something, when Sara stuck her head out of the living room door. “Milo,” she started to say, “we’re waiting for you to-,” she stopped when she caught sight of who was standing on the doormat. “Aunt Laura! Uncle Joe!” She practically ran down the hall to give her aunt and uncle a hug. Milo turned to Reggie again. “C’mon,” he said, “I’ll introduce you to my friends.” Milo shut the front door after his aunt and uncle. He turned and went back down the hall into the living room with Nate and Reggie following behind him. He pushed open the living room door just in time to hear Dakota shout triumphantly, “yeah! In your face!”
Zack shook his head. “No way Dakota, you got lucky.”
“Oh yeah,” Dakota cast a sidelong a Zack, “you wanna go again big man?” Before Zack could reply, Milo entered, trailed by Nate and Reggie. “Hey guys,” he said to the room at large, “I think you remember my cousin Nate-,”
“How could we forget,” replied Melissa, with only a very slight note of acid in her voice. Zack and Melissa had met Milo’s aunt and uncle and his cousin the previous Christmas when Milo and Sara had surprised their parents by bringing Uncle Joe, Aunt Laura, Nate and their grandparents to town for Christmas Eve dinner. Zack and Melissa had found Joe, Laura and Milo’s grandparents to be perfectly likeable, but even Milo, who was almost endlessly polite, even to people who hated him or otherwise didn’t want him around, like Bradley and Elliot, had later admitted that he found Nate to be more than a little grating.
“-And my cousin Reggie,” finished Milo. “He painted-,”
“-A perfect copy of the Mona Lisa,” finished Zack.
Reggie looked at his older cousin and beamed. “You told them about me?”he asked. Milo shrugged. “I may have told them a couple of stories.” He quickly made the introductions. “These are my friends, Melissa, Zack, Amanda and Dakota. That’s Perry,” The platypus tipped his fedora and chittered a greeting, “and that’s Cavenpuss.”
“Hello, young man,” said Cavenpuss politely.
Reggie gave Cavenpuss a slightly bewildered look, which Cavenpuss studiously ignored. “What is he?” he asked Milo in a low voice.
“A long story,” replied Milo. Milo looked around the room, and turned to Dakota. “Where’d Cavendish go?” he asked.
“Probably talking to your parents,” replied Dakota, not taking his eyes off of the video game he was playing with Zack. “What can I say, sometimes he’s not that much fun at parties.”
They spent the rest of the afternoon before dinner gaming and chatting. Reggie pulled his sketch pad out of his bag and began to draw. He was sitting on the floor with his back against the sofa casually sketching and chatting with Zack, Melissa, Amanda, Dakota and Sara.
“Those are pretty good,” said Amanda peering over Reggie’s shoulder at the near photorealistic landscape flowing from the tip of his pen.
“Thanks,” said Reggie. He finished the piece, then ripped it out of his sketchbook and handed it to her.
Sara gaped at Reggie and then at Amanda. She leaned over and spoke to Amanda in a low voice. “He must really like you,” she said. “He almost never gives his drawings to anyone, even family.”
“Really?” asked Amanda.
Sara nodded fervently. “Milo loves Reggie’s art. He’s asked for one of Reggie’s drawings four times and Reggie won’t give him one.”
Amanda looked down at the sketch in her hands and she suddenly felt slightly uncomfortable. She knew almost nothing about art, but knew enough to recognize that the drawing Reggie had handed her was clearly a masterpiece. If she hadn’t actually seen him do it, Amanda wouldn’t have believed that it came from a ten year old. “Ummm….thanks, Reggie,” she said.