Excerpt for Saving Mount Rushmore by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

SAVING MOUNT RUSHMORE

ANDREA JO RODGERS


Saving Mount Rushmore

By Andrea Jo Rodgers

Copyright 2017 Andrea Jo Rodgers

Smashwords Edition


Published by Anaiah Adventures

An imprint of Anaiah Press, LLC.

7780 49th ST N. #129

Pinellas Park, FL 33781


This book is a work of fiction. All characters, places, names, events are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any likeness to any events, locations, or persons, alive or otherwise, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form. For inquiries and information, address Anaiah Press, LLC., 7780 49th ST N. #129 Pinellas Park, Florida, 33781

First Anaiah Adventures ebook edition November 2017

Edited by Kara Leigh Miller

Book Design by Laura Heritage

Cover Design by Laura Heritage


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and remains the copyrighted property of the author. Please do not redistribute this book for either commercial or noncommercial use. If you enjoyed this book and would like to share it with another person, please encourage them to download their own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.




This book is dedicated with love to my children, Lily and Thomas.



Acknowledgements


Thank you to my husband Rick, my sister Thea, my children Lily and Thomas, and friend Katy for their time and encouragement.


A special thank you to our wonderful tour guide of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, Cynthia “Cindy” Pullen-Esposti of GeoFunTrek Tours.


Also, thank you to the staff at Anaiah Press and especially my editor, Kara Leigh Miller, for her professional assistance.




Table of Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Mount Rushmore Timeline

Facts about Mount Rushmore

Discussion Questions

For More Information about Mount Rushmore

For More Information about St. Michael the Archangel

About the Author



CHAPTER 1


There’s been a change in our summer plans. We’re going to Africa.”

Upon hearing his father’s words, John Jenkins’s jaw dropped, and he nearly tipped backward off his kitchen stool. Struggling to regain his balance, he lurched forward and grabbed onto the edge of the granite countertop. “Really? Africa?” He’d be the envy of all his classmates.

“I’ve been offered a terrific opportunity to spend the summer at a dig site called Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania,” John’s father, an archeology professor, explained as he pushed his glasses farther up onto the bridge of his nose.

John’s mother, an emergency room physician, placed her hand on her husband’s shoulder. “And I’ve decided to go with him. There are many people in Tanzania who need medical help. The hospital has agreed to let me take a leave of absence, and they’ve donated a bunch of medical supplies for the cause.”

“Awesome. I want to help, too,” John said. “I know CPR, and I took a basic first aid course at school a few months ago.”

John’s mom gave him an “isn’t-that-so-sweet-of-you-to-offer” smile as she pulled her long, dark hair back into a ponytail. “Actually, I’m bringing Kaycee to help.”

Kaycee was sixteen but acted like she was already eighteen. She flashed him a superior look. “You’re way too little to go on a mission trip. Mom and Dad are sending you to stay with Great-Aunt Martha in South Dakota.”

Kaycee was a big-time eavesdropper. She didn’t seem surprised by their parents’ announcement, so John figured she must have previously overheard them discussing it. He glared at her. “No, I’m not. I’m only three years younger than you. I haven’t even seen Aunt Martha in ten years,” John protested. “Why send me there?”

Kaycee shrugged. “They’re sending Wyatt to spend the summer at Grandma and Grandpop’s house in Maryland.”

At the sound of his name, Wyatt paused from playing with his toy trucks. “Hurray! Grandma and Grandpop’s house.”

“Why does he get to go to Grandma and Grandpop’s?” John frowned as he sprung to his feet. It didn’t seem fair that his four-year-old brother would get to visit his grandparents, while he was being sent to a state more than halfway across the country.

“Now Kaycee, that’s enough. John, you know Wyatt still wets his bed. I’ll have to remember to senda mattress protector with him.”

“Why can’t I go with him?”

“Your aunt really wants to see you. She said she has big plans for you.”

John eyed his mother suspiciously. “What kind of plans?”

“Oh, you know, this and that,” his mother replied vaguely as she began unloading the dishwasher and putting dishes away.

“You’re going to fly to South Dakota with me, right?” John had never traveled by himself before.

“I’m really sorry, but your father and I are busy with work, so we don’t have time to fly all the way to South Dakota and back. We need to tie up a bunch of loose ends before we can travel.”

“I’m only thirteen. I can’t go on a plane by myself.”

“You’ll be what’s called an unaccompanied minor. It’s a special program for kids ages five to fifteen. We’ll drive you to the airport and get you safely on the plane. A flight attendant will help you with whatever you need.”

“So, he’ll have a babysitter,” Kaycee said, obviously relishing the discussion.

John ignored her. “If you take me with you, I promise I won’t get in the way,” he said, clinging to the hope that he could somehow change their minds.

“I’m sorry, but it’s all settled. Like I said, your aunt needs you.”

John highly doubted this statement. Why on earth would Aunt Martha need me? John loved his parents. He really did. However, because of their careers, they were always busy. As the middle child, sometimes he felt downright invisible.

“Can Ranger go with me to Aunt Martha’s?” John asked. Ranger, a jet-black Belgian Shepherd (one of the smartest dogs to ever live, in John’s opinion), went with him everywhere.

“I’m sorry, but no,” Mr. Jenkins replied. “It’s too hard to put a dog on a plane. We’re sending him with Wyatt to your grandparents.”

“And anyway, dogs aren’t allowed to travel with unaccompanied minors,” Mrs. Jenkins added.

On the morning that they were supposed to drive him to the airport, his mother was called in to work at the hospital. “I’m really sorry, but it’s an emergency. Your father is going to bring you to the airport. He’ll take you all the way to the gate.” She kissed him on the forehead and hugged him goodbye. John’s stomach sank to his toes as he watched her disappear out the door.

He plopped down onto the kitchen floor next to Ranger and scratched him behind his ears. John felt queasy at the thought of spending the summer at his Great-Aunt Martha’s ranch in Middle-of-Nowhere, South Dakota. What would he do without his buddies, Chloe Armstrong and Jackson Miller? The three had had big plans to go surfing at the New Jersey beaches and visit the boardwalk amusements parks, just like they did last summer.

“I’ll miss you,” Wyatt said, interrupting John’s thoughts.

“I’ll miss you too, buddy,” John replied, patting his brother’s head. He found a small lollipop stuck in one of Wyatt’s red curls and pulled it out with a gentle tug.

“Time to go,” Mr. Jenkins said, but then took a work-related phone call just as they were about to depart. That made them leave twenty minutes later than they planned, so then it was rush, rush, rush. John hated every second of the ride. No Mom. No Chloe or Jackson. No Ranger. Just the prospect of what promised to be a long, boring summer with nothing to do on an out-of-the-way cattle ranch.

His dad seemed pre-occupied with whatever he’d talked about on the phone call and with the heavy traffic. As they got closer to the airport, he turned down the radio and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get you there on time.”

John wasn’t worried. He wouldn’t mind missing his flight. Maybe then his parents would change their mind and take him to Africa after all. But no such luck.

Mr. Jenkins, tall and lean, used to run track in high school. Now, as they rushed through the airport, John had to practically run to keep up with his father’s long, effortless strides.

They passed through airport security, and before John knew it, they were standing at the departure gate. His dad waited until it was time to board the plane, and then gave him a rib-cracking kind of hug. “I love you, and I’ll miss you. Be good for your Aunt Martha.”

John nodded, too choked up to speak. He watched as his father’s narrow shoulders disappeared from view as he melted into the crowd.

A kindly flight attendant escorted John to his seat, which was next to a window. After listening to various safety instructions, they flew high up in the sky. He enjoyed gazing out into the clouds and watching as the buildings and cars grew smaller and smaller until they were just distant specks. He passed the time by watching a movie until the pilot said it was time to land. As the plane approached Rapid City Regional Airport, John felt like his stomach was flipping and flopping. What if I get lost? What if Aunt Martha forgets to pick me up today?

* * * *

As it turned out, John didn’t need to worry after all. Aunt Martha’s ranch foreman was standing at the airport arrival gate, holding a sign that read, “Welcome, John Jenkins.” Dusty Furman was a true-blue cowboy from his wide-brimmed Stetson to his dusty leather boots. He tipped his cowboy hat, firmly shook John’s hand, and simply said, “I’m Mr. Dusty. Welcome to South Dakota.”

“Thanks,” he replied. The airport was bustling with people walking in many different directions. Dusty led him through the crowd to the luggage terminal and effortlessly grabbed hold of John’s new gray suitcase and duffel bag. He couldn’t help but notice it would take about four or five of his arms to equal one of Dusty’s.

As soon as they climbed into Dusty’s big brown truck, John texted his parents. Landed safely. Love you. After a half-hour drive from the airport, Dusty pulled into a long tree-lined driveway. A wooden sign with the name “Winding River Ranch” hung near the entrance.

Now, John found himself gazing up at his aunt’s large, sprawling white farmhouse. It had a big, wide front porch with a neat looking wooden swing on the right side. There were large green fern plants hanging from the porch ceiling and lots of flower pots with colorful flowers lining each side of the porch steps. Just to the right of the bottom step was a large bronze statue of St. Michael the Archangel. An American flag, anchored on one of the porch columns, waved proudly in the breeze.

There were several outbuildings, too, like a white garage with black shutters, which matched the ones on the house. Just a short distance away was a red barn with white trim work. Next to the barn was a chicken coop with a bunch of brown chickens strutting around and pecking at the ground. Overall, the ranch seemed warm and inviting.

Martha Jenkins rushed down the walkway toward John, reminding him of a battleship moving swiftly through ocean waters. “Why, just look at you, John Jenkins. Aren’t you a scrawny little thing,” she exclaimed, engulfing her great-nephew in a giant bear hug until he gulped for air. “The last time I saw you, you were only knee-high.” She flashed a brilliant smile, her white teeth contrasting sharply with her very tan, extremely wrinkled face. Ever since her husband died a few years ago, Martha ran their small South Dakota cattle ranch on her own, with help from Mr. Furman.

John hated to admit it, but he was rather scrawny. At his home in New Jersey, he was the skinniest boy in his class and the second shortest, too. He figured he probably wasn’t any taller by South Dakota standards. Other than his underwhelming stature, he was an average kid. He had short brown hair, brown eyes, and a bunch of freckles on his nose, which he hated. Last year, in what he liked to describe as a “science experiment,” he’d tried to scrub them off with bleach spray. It hadn’t worked, he wrecked his favorite T-shirt trying, and his mother had an absolute fit when she found out. She’d taken him straight to his pediatrician, Dr. Hornsby, who’d made him wear a Band-Aid on his nose for an entire week.

Four horses from a nearby corral came to the split-rail fence and nickered. “Always looking for a hand-out.” Aunt Martha laughed, pulling a few carrot pieces out of her floral apron pocket. She handed one to John, and he promptly fed it to a brown and white horse that nuzzled his forearm. “Cosmo’s a paint horse,” Aunt Martha said. “I think he likes you. Of course, the carrots might have something to do with it.”

John tentatively reached out and rubbed his neck. Although he’d taken a few riding lessons, he was more used to surfing waves than being around horses.

“Okay, I’ll see you two around supper time,” Foreman Dusty said, swinging John’s suitcase, duffel bag, and navy-blue backpack out of the rear of the pick-up truck. “There’s a fence that needs mending in the far pasture,” he explained, waving one of his big, burly arms in the general direction he was heading. “We sure are pleased to have you visit, John.”

“Thanks,” John managed to say as he took hold of his bags. Suddenly, it hit him how very far away he was from home. He knew he could text his parents with his cell phone. They had even bought him a laptop so they could have video chats, but it wasn’t nearly the same as being with them in person.

“Let me show you to your room and you can settle in,” Aunt Martha said kindly, apparently sensing that he was fighting off a sudden wave of homesickness. “Then we’ll have a nice afternoon snack.” It just so happened that the word snack was one of John’s very favorites.

After eating a delicious slice of warm, homemade apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream, John wandered along the brick path which connected the ranch house to the garage. Aunt Martha’s longhaired miniature dachshund, Custer, “velcroed” himself to John’s heels. Custer was small and skinny, just like John. Aunt Martha had adopted him a few years ago, after someone had abandoned him in nearby Custer State Park, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Petting Custer made John think of Ranger, and he hoped his buddy was faring okay at his grandparents’ house.

“Wow,” John murmured as he pushed the barn door open. It was chock-full of just about anything you could imagine: a horse carriage, a tractor, knick-knacks and bric-a-brac, and a whole bunch of dusty antique furniture. He was magnetically drawn to a six-foot tall, wood-framed antique mirror. He glanced into the mirror and, for a second, he saw the reflection of someone else! He stared briefly at a young girl with shoulder length pigtails and a bright smile. Custer barked twice, and then the girl vanished. Now, all he could see was a skinny kid with a bunch of freckles. It’s just me.

He tapped the mirror and ran his fingers slowly along its frame. He didn’t notice anything unusual, except it wasn’t dusty like the other furniture in the garage. In fact, the mirror appeared amazingly spotless, like someone had recently cleaned it. Puzzled, he stepped back and looked at it from a distance. It appeared to be a normal mirror—the kind you might see in a big dressing room or walk-in closet.

He spent the next hour investigating some of his great-aunt’s antiques. He checked all the nooks and crannies in an old roll-top oak desk, hoping to find a secret compartment. He climbed up into the horse carriage to see what it might have been like to travel back in the 1800s. When he heard his aunt calling him, he jumped down from the carriage and headed back along the brick path toward the house. Custer, taking his lead, followed close behind. He found Aunt Martha in the kitchen, placing a pot roast, mashed potatoes, and corn on the table. The delicious aromas wafted into his nostrils, and his stomach growled loudly in anticipation.

“Did you find anything interesting out there?” she asked, gazing inquisitively at him.

John almost asked about the mirror but thought better of it. After all, he didn’t want her to think he was totally crazy by asking, “Aunt Martha, when you look into the mirror in your barn, do you see your own reflection or someone else’s?” Instead, he decided to play it safe and said, “You sure have a lot of antiques.”

“Oh yes, your Uncle Geoff was a big collector. I don’t have the heart to get rid of them. A few of them are quite special…” Again, Aunt Martha paused and looked him straight in the eye. He got the strangest feeling she wanted to ask him about the mirror, but he was determined not to take the bait.

Mr. Dusty entered through the back door, hung his hat on a hook, and joined them at the kitchen table. “John, since it’s your first day here, why don’t you lead us in grace?”

John bowed his head and murmured a short prayer of thanks. When he finished, they dug in. “Remind me where your parents are off to this time,” Aunt Martha said, dishing him out a helping of mashed potatoes. He used his fork to dig out a hole in the center and then poured in so much gravy that it spilled over and ran down the sides of his “potato-volcano.”

“They’re at a dig site in Tanzania, excavating fossils. I’m sorry they sort of dumped me on you,” John added, trying not to sound full of self-pity, like the poor kid whose parents didn’t want him around.

“Is that what you think, child?” Aunt Martha asked, wide-eyed. “Why, I told your parents I needed you here with me this summer. Otherwise, they would have sent you with Wyatt to spend the summer with your grandparents.”

John was astounded. Why on earth would Aunt Martha need me? He’d honestly thought his mother made that up just to make him feel better. He glanced at Mr. Dusty, hoping he might cast some light on the subject. However, Mr. Dusty was too busy chomping on a large mouthful of pot roast to add to the conversation. John’s mouth flapped open and closed like a freshly caught flounder, but no words came out.

“Didn’t they tell you about St. Michael the Archangel Academy?” Aunt Martha asked, a frown crossing her face and giving her even more wrinkles.

“St. Michael the Archangel Academy?” John echoed, now thoroughly confused. Custer nudged his shin under the table. Without thinking, he reached down and gave him a small piece of pot roast.

“Yes, St. Michael the Archangel Academy. We call it St. Michael’s for short,” she explained patiently. “It’s a top-secret school that helps authorities fight crime. Since you’ve turned thirteen, the academy has invited you to participate in your first mission.”

“Aunt Martha, I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” John said, flabbergasted. Mission? What kind of mission?

“Haven’t you ever noticed there’s something special about you?” Aunt Martha asked. “You know, a special gift? A God-given talent?”

John gave her a blank, confused stare. “Aunt Martha, I hate to break this to you, but look at me. I’m just a regular, average kid. There’s nothing really special about me.” He sneaked another look at Mr. Dusty. He was still chewing away, seeming to find nothing unusual about their conversation.

“Nonsense,” She clucked. “You wouldn’t have been selected for St. Michael’s if you didn’t have some sort of extraordinary God-given talent. I suppose it’s just hidden really well.” She seemed to emphasize the word really. “No worries, we’ll figure it out, by and by. And now, you must be exhausted from the long trip. Time for bed. We have to get up early tomorrow so I can take you to the academy.”

Before he went to bed, John texted his parents to say goodnight. He decided not to mention St. Michael’s yet. I wonder why they didn’t tell me anything about the school.

John climbed into his cozy bed, which had a cool stars-and-moon quilt. He went to sleep that night with his head spinning. He couldn’t imagine why he had been chosen by St. Michael’s. Is it possible there’s something truly special about me?



CHAPTER 2


John didn’t sleep well. At first, he couldn’t fall asleep because he kept thinking about missing Jackson, Chloe, and his family. After he finally dozed off, he kept tossing and turning, waking up and thinking about St. Michael’s. He knew that St. Michael wasn’t actually a saint, but rather an archangel. In fact, he was the leader of all the angels in God’s army. He remembered reading in the book of Revelations that he successfully led God’s army against Satan’s forces during the war in Heaven. Questions swirled around in his head. Why was the school named after him? Where is the academy? Will there be lots of other kids? Will the people there have super-cool special talents? He wasn’t convinced yet that he truly had a special gift. He figured that if he did, he would have noticed it by now.

After an amazing breakfast of pancakes, sausages, and fruit salad, Aunt Martha announced it was time to go. She paused to study John’s faded blue “I Love the Jersey Shore” T-shirt, which had a large, toothy shark face on the front. “Well, the dress code at the academy is on the casual side,” she said, trying not to smile. “I suppose your outfit will do.”

John glanced down self-consciously and tried to smooth out some of the wrinkles from his shirt and dark blue shorts. He supposed they had been rather crumpled in his suitcase on the way to South Dakota.

“But I do have something to make your outfit complete,” she said. She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out a silver chain with a quarter-sized medallion on it. “Your Uncle Geoff wore this every day. Now it’s your turn. It’ll help keep you safe.” She placed it around his neck. One side had an engraving of St. Michael the Archangel, sword in hand. On the other side were the words, For God and Country.

“Gosh, Aunt Martha, thank you so much,” he said, slipping the chain around his neck and sliding the medallion under his T-shirt to keep it safe and close to his heart. “I’ll take good care of it,” he promised.

“I know you will, child. And now we really must go.”

“Is St. Michael’s far away?” he asked, trying to sound confident but feeling rather nervous. He tried to quell the butterflies that were dancing around in his stomach. He felt like a little kid on his first day of kindergarten.

“Yes and no, depending on your perspective,” Aunt Martha replied. Custer hopped along next to her, begging to go. “Oh, not this time, Custer. John’s going to school to get oriented.”

John noticed they were heading towards the garage, but he hadn’t seen any cars parked in there yesterday. Are we taking the horse buggy?

Aunt Martha walked directly over to the strange mirror that John had studied earlier. “Grab my hand,” she directed. “It’s faster than driving.” Then, just like that, they stepped directly into the mirror. John felt his entire body get sucked into a giant wall of gelatin. His fingers slipped out of Aunt Martha’s and his arms flailed as he was pulled forward and downward through a long, brilliantly lit tunnel. He bounced from side to side against the squishy walls, and then began twirling so he didn’t know whether he was right-side up or upside down.

Suddenly, before he could steady himself, his body came to a screeching halt, and he was abruptly shoved out of the tunnel. He struggled to regain his balance but failed miserably. He landed ungracefully with a loud thump on his hands and knees, skidding along a hard tile floor. When he glanced up, Aunt Martha was standing calmly in some sort of hallway, looking like she launched through Jell-O-tunnels every day. She gave him a hand and pulled him unceremoniously to his feet.

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. When you looked into the mirror I thought for sure you were coming yesterday,” a girl with blond shoulder length pigtails said, pausing only long enough to blow a large pink bubble with her gum.

So, this was the girl he’d seen in the mirror yesterday afternoon. When he saw a glimpse of her, she must have seen him, too. She looked to be about John’s age, and he was glad to note she wasn’t all that much taller than he was. “I’m Annabelle Johnson,” she said, grabbing hold of his hand and pumping it vigorously. For a rather petite girl, she had a mean handshake.

John worried his super-sweaty hand would give away that he was feeling nervous. Really nervous. He tried to surreptitiously wipe the palms of his hands on his shorts. If Annabelle noticed, she was too polite to mention it.

John blinked as his eyes adjusted to the brightness, and he took a moment to soak in his new surroundings. They’d landed in a large, white, sterile-looking hallway. Behind him was a floor-to-ceiling mirror, which he assumed was what they’d stepped through to get here. The hallway walls were painted white and the floor was made up of big, white square tiles. Even the ceiling was white, relieved only by a bunch of long fluorescent lights. John thought the place needed some serious interior decorating.

“Let’s get you checked in and registered at the front office,” Aunt Martha said. “Annabelle, why don’t you join us?”

“I’d love to,” Annabelle replied. “Let me show you the way.” She led them down the hall, made a left turn, and then a quick right turn. “Here we are, straight ahead. Mrs. Albert is the secretary. She’ll help you to get settled in.”

The door to the office was propped open with a wooden doorstopper. John stepped across the threshold into a room that was bright and sunny, thanks to a pair of large windows. He nervously held his breath, willing his fingers to stop fidgeting.

Alicia Albert, an elderly looking woman with short, snow-white hair, sat behind a long desk that was covered from end to end with towering stacks of papers. She quickly stood when she spotted them. “Oh, Martha, what a pleasure to see you. Hi, Annabelle. This must be John, I presume.”

“Yes, it sure is. John, meet a dear friend of mine, Mrs. Albert.” Alicia Albert firmly squeezed his hand, making him wonder if she was younger than she looked.

“I can take it from here, Martha. But let’s do lunch soon, okay?”

“That sounds wonderful. Are you all set, John? Good,” Aunt Martha said before he could even answer. “I need to get back and do some work at the ranch.” She patted his shoulder and stepped back toward the doorway. “Annabelle, thanks for all your help.”

John’s gut clenched. He wanted to blurt out, “No, please stay for a little while.” However, he didn’t want to look like a complete wimp in front of Annabelle and Mrs. Albert. So, instead of asking her to stay, he simply nodded. In the blink of an eye, Aunt Martha stepped back into the hallway and was gone. Is this really happening to me? He pinched himself hard to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, but then bit back a yelp because it hurt.

“Please sign these forms,” Mrs. Albert said, pulling John from his thoughts. “And here’s a copy of the school’s rules.” She handed him a red, three-ring binder. “When you’re done with your orientation, Annabelle can bring you back, and I’ll get you your school backpack and cell phone.”

“Okay,” Annabelle said. “We’ll see you in about an hour.” Annabelle stepped into the hallway and gestured for him to come along. She was calm, confident, and self-assured. All the things that John knew he wasn’t. “How much do you know about St. Michael’s?” She paused less than a second, then chattered on. “It’s named after the archangel who fought against Satan. We fight against evil to protect our nation. Our school’s motto is For God and Country.”

For God and Country. Those are the words on the medallion that Aunt Martha just gave me. Is that a coincidence?

“We’re on Team Liberty, along with Raphael Perez and Shaniqua Forrester,” she continued, taking his arm and leading him down the hallway. “They’re both thirteen, too. Raphael’s from Boston, and Shaniqua lives in Williamsburg, Virginia. There’s also Team Freedom, Team Truth, Team Justice, and others. Oh look, there’s some of our classmates now,” she added, pointing to a bunch of kids who bustled noisily along the far end of the hallway before disappearing into a room.

“Do you go to school here year-round?” John asked. He hoped not. He loved his school back home in New Jersey.

“No, this is a summer program. Think of it as an internship with classwork as well as working to help the community. Sometimes, we might get called here over the holiday breaks, when our regular schools are closed for vacation.”

“Do you live here all summer?”

“No, I come here each morning through the mirror portal, the same way you did. I live in Sedona, Arizona with my parents, little brother and sister, and my cat, Mittens.”

“Oh, neat. I’ve always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon. So, are you new here like me?”

“Good grief, no,” she replied. “I’ve been doing mishes since I turned seven.” She said it matter-of-factly, without sounding arrogant or snobbish. John found himself starting to like her. Like her like a friend, that is. Not the mushy-kind of like.

“Mishes?” he asked, trying his best not to sound dumb, but at the same time wanting to make sure he had a clue what she was talking about.

“Mishes. Short for missions. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it,” she said, twisting her fingers around the end of one of her pigtails. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, what’s your special gift?”

“It’s-I-err, what’s yours?” John asked. Really smooth, Einstein, he thought. Great way to impress her.

“Well, I’ve been told I’m a history whiz,” Annabelle said modestly. “How about you?” she asked, obviously not deterred by his attempt to stall by answering her question with another question.

John briefly thought about making up a talent, but he knew she’d figure out the truth soon enough anyway. “Well, I’m not sure what mine is,” he admitted. “My great-aunt says I’ll figure it out.”

“Oh, that’s interesting. Usually it’s obvious by the time a person turns five or six. Everyone here has one. But don’t worry. I’m sure your aunt is right. We’ll figure it out,” she replied.

John liked that Annabelle said, “We’ll figure it out” and not “You’ll figure it out.” It seemed that she already thought of him as a part of Team Liberty.

“Here we are,” Annabelle said, pausing in front of Room 101.

When they stepped inside, John quickly noted the room was the opposite of the super-white hallway. One part of the room had colorful thick foam mats on the floor. Another part had metal desks with attached seats, a SMART board, and a regular white dry-erase board for drawing things like diagrams. Toward the front of the classroom was a wide oak door with a wooden cross adorning the wall above it. He figured they must be in some sort of multi-purpose classroom.

“There’s Raphael,” Annabelle said, pointing to a stocky boy with short black hair. “He just got here about a half hour ago.” It was difficult to get a good look at his face, since he was busy doing back handsprings across the length of the gym mats. “Raphael,” she called out, “come over here and meet John.”

Raphael seemed to stop flipping almost in mid-air, gracefully landing on his feet. “Nice to meet you,” he said pleasantly. “You have forty-seven freckles on your nose.”

“Oh, stop showing off,” Annabelle chided. “As you may have guessed, Raphael’s gift is that he has amazing eyesight and a keen eye for details. It comes in really handy on our mishes.”

John couldn’t help but wonder what hidden talent he possessed that would help Team Liberty. Fortunately, Raphael didn’t ask, and he found himself breathing a sigh of relief. “Those flips you do are amazing. Is gymnastics another one of your special gifts?” John asked, impressed by Raphael’s acrobatic skills.

Annabelle giggled. “Oh, he learned those from his pet monkey.”

“You have a pet monkey?” John asked, suitably impressed.

“Yes, and as a matter of fact, Mr. Gibbons is a great gymnastics instructor,” Raphael announced, glaring at Annabelle.

“That’s not what your mom said that time she caught him swinging from the chandelier in your dining room,” Annabelle replied. “As I recall, she said that…”

“Oh, never mind what she said. Mr. Gibbons would never do anything wrong.”

“Is he a gibbon? Aren’t they really apes?” John asked.

“He’s actually a capuchin monkey. I just named him Mr. Gibbons because I liked the way it sounded.”

“You really think he would never do anything wrong?” Annabelle asked. “I guess that’s true, unless you count the time he got hold of your sister’s paint set and put hand prints all over your living room walls and floor.”

“He knew the room needed a little spicing up. What can I say?” Raphael replied. He tried to look serious but couldn’t quite manage to keep a big grin from erupting across his face. “In fact, I think he’s almost ready to join Team Liberty.”


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