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Agatha's Fourth of July, Part I

by Emma Redmer

Disclaimer: The WENN characters are owned by Rupert Holmes, Howard Meltzer Productions, and some other cable channel that used to run WENN. The original characters and the storyline are mine.

Rated: G


July 4th, 1957

The first thing I was aware of was that it was hot. It was really, really hot. I was sweating through the thinnest blanket and pair of pajamas I owned. The window was opened, trying to catch some nonexistent breezes. I heard two little voices whisper and felt something tickle my feet. I decided to ignore the voices and catch a few more minutes of shuteye before Dad bellowed for me to get out of bed and Mom told him to keep his voice down.

"Do you think she'll get up, Mandy?" one little voice asked.

"Nahh," the other added, laughing. "Daddy will have to drag her out by her feet first!"

I sat up and threw my pillow in the direction of the two little voices. My sisters Amanda and Sarah ducked out of its way and nearly fell on the floor, overcame with giggles.

There are seven people in my family all together. I'm twelve, Pete's ten, Mandy's eight, Sarah's seven, and Tom is four. There's also Mom, Dad, our cat Daphne, our puppy Crockett, the frog that Pete has hidden under his bed, Sarah's birds Daffy and Donald, and my goldfish. Dad likes to joke that we never have to go to the zoo when we want to see animals. We just have to check under the furniture.

"What do you two want?" I asked. "I'm losing sleep, you know, and it is summer vacation."

"Mommy says you have to get up," Sarah insisted. I heard a bark and felt something licking my foot. "She says that she's gonna need everyone's help today."

I dragged myself out of bed and nearly tripped over Crockett, who barked enthusiastically. "Mom says to feed Crockett," Mandy stated.

"Why?" I muttered. "I thought it was Pete's turn to feed him." I barely made it downstairs before I fell over Tommy, who was carrying Daphne the calico cat. The cat looked like she definitely did not want to be carried.

"Mommy say feed doggie," Tommy recited. Crockett was already drooling at my heels.

I made it to the kitchen, passing Pete, who stared at Captain Video on TV. Mom was already there, putting out cereal and milk. I yawned. "Where's Daddy?"

"He's at the station," Mom explained as she handed me a bowl. "Eat and feed the dog. Aunt Maple and Uncle Victor will be swinging by with David in an hour, and we have a lot that needs to be done if we want to be ready for the picnic tonight."

My parents own a small radio station called WENN. It's really great. Dad recently remodeled the studios to play mostly music and news. We still run some dramas and variety shows, but there aren't many left. I miss it a lot. We used to have fun, appearing on all the shows. There aren't many shows for us to be on anymore. Mom says that, with the way things are going, they'll probably all be gone soon. Everyone who works at the station is close, like family. All the staff are kind of like uncles and aunts. Not that I don't have enough of those, too. Mommy has lots of relatives. I don't know Daddy's relatives well, except for Rita and Kyle Chandler and their son Eddie. Daddy's mom died before he knew her. Aunt Agatha, who I was named after, died not long after I was born. Grandpa Mitchell died two years ago, but I don't think he and Daddy really liked each other much.

Anyway, Aunt Maple and Uncle Victor aren't my aunt and uncle, but they might as well be. Same with Hilary and Jeff Singer and the Foleys and the Tracers. I've known them all my life. They were all coming to the big WENN Staff picnic. Aunt Hilary and Uncle Jeff only work at the station sometimes now. They mostly work on stage, in small shows. Aunt Hilary says that some of them might have a shot at Broadway. Aunt Hilary used to be a big star on the stage.

Crockett was rubbing at my leg, his way of saying he's hungry. Mom was boiling eggs and mashing yolks. "Dad went to WENN to give Uncle Mackie today's programming schedule and read 'The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere'. He'll be home by noon."

I dumped some dry dog food into Crockett's bowl. He yapped happily and chomped away. We got all of our pets in the past year, when the people who own this house loosened several of their original rules, including the one that said "no animals".

"What's for breakfast?" Pete asked after "Captain Video" was over.

"Cereal," Mom replied. "I don't have the time to cook, and it's too hot, anyway." I opened the big cabinet with all the cereal boxes. "Hey, Mom, do we still have any Toasties left? You know, the boxes that Mr. Medwick gave us when Pennsylvania Pantry was sponsoring 'Rich Conwell, Boy Adventurer'"?

"Do we have any with Joe DiMaggio on the cover?" Pete asked. He loves baseball. Joe DiMaggio is one of his many heroes.

"In Pittsburgh? Nawww." I grabbed the last box and handed it to him as the girls scurried into the kitchen, with Tommy and Daphne behind them.

Mom fed Daphne and then returned to her eggs. Mom's pretty. She's not like all the other moms on the block, who don't do much besides talk and play bridge and cook. Mom's a writer. She's written all the shows at WENN since before World War II. She and Dad are both taking on Disc Jockey duties now as well, playing records on our music shows and improvising chatter between songs. She also says that she's writing a series of books about a group of kids who encounter aliens. Some of the parents who live around here think my folks are weird. Dad doesn't spend his whole day behind a desk and Mom doesn't spend her whole day at home. I don't care. I like different.

The door rang as I was finishing my Toasties. All five of us sprang up at once, joined by Crockett, but I got there first.

"Aggie! Happy Fourth of July!" My best friend Ophelia "Lia" Singer threw her arms around me. "Aggie, you've got to see this!" She waltzed into the middle of the living room and turned in a circle. "I finished it! Mom says its the best thing I ever did."

Lia sported a white shirt and blue satin circle skirt. The skirt sported design of red and white stars, and the shirt's collar and cuffs were trimmed with red sequins as well. Her ponytail was pulled back with a red, white, and blue scarf.

Lia makes a lot of her own clothes, as well as clothes for her mom, dad, and sister Juliet. She loves to dress up in big, poofy skirts with lots of petticoats and detail. Whenever I rip my jeans or tear a hole in my skirts, I go to her and she makes it look like it never happened.

"Wow, Lia," I said, "you look swell."

"Yeah," Pete added. Pete has always had a crush on Lia. He thinks she's cuter than Debbie Reynolds, who he just saw in the movie "Tammy and the Bachelor" the other day with his best friend Andrew McKinney and Andrew's sister Joan. He knows that I know, too. He offered to buy me milkshakes at Roth's Candy Shop every day for a week if I didn't mention it to the rest of our family. I said I'd think about it.

"You're so pretty!" Sarah squealed. "I wish I could have something pretty like that."

"Hi, Lia," Mom said. She looked swell, too, in a simple blue sleeveless sundress and low-healed shoes. "You did a wonderful job on that outfit."

"Thank you, Aunt Betty," Lia agreed. "I've worked on it for weeks, ever since we got out of school. It takes a while to get all these sequins on just right."

Mom looked at the clock. "You'd all better get dressed. Aunt Maple and Uncle Victor should be along soon, and we have to be ready for the Fourth of July staff picnic by two."

The six of us and Crockett raced upstairs and into our rooms. Lia sat on my bed and watched as the three of us wriggled into our clothes. "Hey, Aggie, are you going to wear that dress I made you?" Lia asked. "You know, the red one with the two-tiered skirt?"

"No way," I said firmly. Lia is always complaining that I have no sense of style. I don't like style. If style is barely breathing in a tight dress or sweating in a crinoline, then I'll wear jeans and shorts for the rest of my life, thank you! I threw on a red and blue shirt and pair of old blue overalls.

Lia did comb my hair for me, though. "You never do it right," she insisted. "It always looks like you never bothered."

"What's the big deal?" I asked. "You run your comb through it, you go outside."

"You really should grow it out again," Lia started. I was about to comment that I liked my hair short so I didn't have to worry about it, but I bit my tongue. She's just trying to be nice.

Amanda turned on the little radio in our room that's always tuned to WENN. "Hey, guys," she squawked, "Daddy's on the air!"

I recognized the voice of my father right away. He has a beautiful, gentle voice, full of mystery and laughter. He was reading the Emma Lazarus poem about the immigrants. We all sat down and listened.

"Mom and Dad have the day off," Lia admitted. "Mom says she doesn't want to go anywhere near the station or even think about working. Dad and Grandmaman Marguerite are making potato salad and melon balls. Mom and Juliet went to the market to get potato chips and pretzels."

"Our mommy's making devil eggs!" Sarah exclaimed as she tried to button her red and white checked dress. "An' she's gonna brings lotsa pies, too."

"Deviled Eggs," I corrected, but something outside interrupted me.

A honk from outside and the sound of a loud, happy Brooklyn accent brought all of us downstairs again, with Crockett howling underfoot.

Amanda was the first one downstairs. "They're here!"

We all ran outside and onto the porch. Uncle Victor unloaded suitcases, while Aunt Maple and David carried boxes and bags into the house. Sarah grabbed Crockett before he darted out the door. "Hiya, gang!" Aunt Maple said with a big grin.

Aunt Maple's pretty, but in a different way than Mommy or Aunt Hilary. She has a big, horsey smile, and she's always dressed in bright clothes and wild hats and jewelry. Aunt Hilary makes fun of her, but I like the way she dresses. There's no one like Aunt Maple anywhere. Uncle Victor is quieter, but he's really smart. He ran WENN when Mommy first moved to Pittsburgh, but now he's in charge of a TV station in Washington D.C.

"Where's Scott?" Uncle Victor asked as he handed Pete and me a suitcase and headed inside. "I was hoping to discuss several ideas for new television and radio programming with him."

"Dad's at the station," I explained as we dumped the suitcases on the floor next to the TV. I smiled and Pete licked his lips as the scent of baking cherry pies drifted out of the kitchen. "And Mom's baking pies."

"I can certainly smell that," Uncle Victor admitted with a grin. "I'm going to bother your mother and see if she's willing to part with a slice of her mouthwatering concoction." He nodded at me. "You two drag David out of the car and take him for a walk. He's been sitting for hours."

We found David sitting outside on the porch, reading something or the other. Dave mostly takes after his dad, except for his hair, which is almost as red as Aunt Maple's. He wears glasses, which always slide down his long nose. Lia played jacks with Amanda. Crockett watched them, probably hoping to eat a jack. I took the book out of his hands and read the cover. "The Man in the Iron Mask"? I frowned. "It's too hot to read this kind of stuff. How long is this book, anyway, nine hundred pages?"

"It has 494 pages, to be exact, Miss Agatha Sherwood!" snapped David. "It's also a classic, full of adventure and romance and..."

I tossed the book inside. "Cm' on, Dave, get your head out of clouds. Let's go for a walk, you, me, Pete, and Lia. You haven't seen the neighborhood in a while."


I ran inside before he could say no. "Mom, we're going for a walk! We'll see you later!"

"Oh no, you don't!" Mom exclaimed. Her nose was dusted with flour and sweat from working in the hot kitchen. "I want you to stop at the market. We need cheese, rolls, and peaches."

I knew better than to argue with Mom when she was tired, hot, and trying to keep wandering hands off of her pies. She gave me the money, telling me to bring her the change and not spend it at Roth's Candy Shop or Figaro's Pizza. I promised, and we left.

The market was four blocks down, at the end of the neighborhood. It was owned by the dad of a friend of mine, Miguel Gardoza. They live in the apartments above the market with Miguel's mom and his brother Jose. Miguel was putting canned tuna on the shelves. "Hi, Mig," I said.

He laughed. "Hi, Aggie! I haven't seen you since school let out. How's your folks? Still spinning records at that radio station?"

I nodded. "Yup. Dad's there right now. He should be home soon." I grabbed a bag of rolls off of a display and ducked when I was pelted with bread.

"Aggie!" Miguel wailed. "I just set up that display! Why do you always have to cause trouble? You know better than pull from the bottom!"

"I just picked up bread," I grumbled. "I didn't see where I got it from."

"Hey, Sherwood!" sneered a voice. I stiffened and turned around. I knew that sneer. "Whatcha doin' hidin' under all that bread?"

Howie Meisner and his two best friends stood in the doorway to the market. Arnold and Calvin are big and stupid. Without Howie, they're harmless. Howie's the problem. He's big and smart, and he knows how to get me mad. He picks on everyone he can. He's the only person at school who gets into more trouble than me. He can't stand me because I won't let him touch my sisters and brothers, Lia, or David. He knows I'll fight him, and I don't care if I am a girl. I can beat him. I have beaten him before.

Miguel glared at him. "Are you trying to steal from the store again? You know Papa said he'd call the police the last time you took stuff."

He snorted. "Nahh, I ain't stealing. Just thought the boys and I would celebrate the holiday. Nuthin' wrong with that."

Pete arrived up front with the cheese. "Ok, sis, I'm ready." He noticed Howie. "What are you doing here? I thought your mom sent you to some kind of summer camp until September."

He laughed. "I got kicked out after some fusspot counselor caught me using the meatloaf special to set off fireworks." He shook his head. "No sense a' humor, right boys?" Arnold and Calvin just nodded. They weren't known as men of many words.

I went to inspect the peaches. Mom gets mad if you buy peaches that are bruised or rotten. I normally just grab whatever my hand reaches, but I didn't feel like upsetting Mom. Howie, however, didn't move. "Whatcha' doin', Sherwood?"

"Stuff." I pushed him aside and went to the produce section. I found some nice, fat peaches that seemed to be in decent condition. I gathered a few and headed to the front desk. Mr. Gardoza gazed warily at Howie and his pals. Miguel was re-arranging the bread display.

David stood in front of the magazine rack, probably looking for something to read. I gritted my teeth when I saw Howie make a beeline for him. Howie loves to pick on Dave. He's the perfect target - shy, quiet, well-read, not good at defending himself. "Nerd" is the nicest of the names David's been called.

Howie grabbed what David was reading out of his hands and handed it to his goons, who threw it over their shoulders. "Hey, Comstock," Howie grinned, "I didn't know you were back in town."

"I didn't want you to know," David muttered. "The last thing I want to explain to my parents and Aunt Betty is a black eye."

I handed the peaches to Pete and rushed to defend Dave. "Don't start on him, Howie!" I yelled. "You know what I'll do to you."

"Agatha..." David started, but Howie laughed.

"Don't blow nuthin', Sherwood. I was just engaging Comstock in some friendly conversation." Howie slapped David on the back so hard that he ended up on the floor. Howie and his boys laughed again as Lia and I helped David to his feet. "So long, suckers!"

I went to chase him out of the store, but Miguel stopped me. "Don't let him get to you, Aggie," he warned me. "It's not worth it."

"He's right, Aggie," David agreed. He brushed himself off. "See? No harm done."

"We'd better get going," Pete pointed out. "Mom's going to worry if we don't get this back in time for the picnic."

On the Edge of the Precipice Series

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