Chapter 1 1
Our milk jug igloo is the perfect spot for club meetings.
I drop to my knees and crawl inside. It’s cool and wet today, but it’s cozy and dry in here. Milk lids dot the walls in rainbow colors—blue for skim, green for low fat, and red for whole. We even have orange, which you can only get if you buy those milk jugs full of juice!
The only color that’s missing is pink for strawberry milk. I feel a twinge in my stomach every time I notice. Sofía would have brought those jugs, but we were in a fight when we built the igloo, so I didn’t invite her.
At least she’s part of the club now. I call through the doorway, “Are you two coming?”
My cousin Eli crawls in and sits across from me, his muddy knees the same color as his freckles. “She’s checking for eggs again,” he says with a grin.
I groan. Eli’s chicken coop is on the back porch too, and Sofía can’t stay away from it. She’s always watching the chickens peck at their feathers or opening the little drawers to look for eggs. I’m about to call her again when I stop.
Give her a minute, I tell myself.
I’ve been Sofía’s best friend since kindergarten, but… well, I haven’t always been very good at it. Sometimes I forget to give her a turn or listen to her ideas. A few times I’ve stopped talking to her because I was mad or hurt. I do listen when she moans about getting a word wrong on her spelling test. I put up with the way she smooths out the blankets after I sit on her bed. She also has a thing about wearing black socks with her blue sneakers, and I’ve never once said anything about it.
But Sofía has been a much better friend to me. She helps me collect beautiful trash. She trades lunch food with me to make sure I get every color of the rainbow. And this year, when I started having seizures, and none of the other kids would come near me, Sofía stayed right by my side.
I spin the friendship bracelet around my wrist and make myself wait. It’s her club too, even if it is my turn to be president.
When she finally crawls in, I scooch back against the wall, pick up our big metal spoon, and clang it against the floor. “Order! Order! The Finders Keepers Club is now in session! Vice President Eli, what’s first on our agenda?”
“Snacks. I brought popcorn.” He rattles the bag in his hand and empties it onto the floorboards in the middle of our circle.
“I brought chicles,” Sofía says, reaching into her pocket. The little rectangles click as she drops them into the pile. Technically, they aren’t a snack, since you aren’t supposed to swallow gum, but they come in cool flavors like cough drop and black jelly bean.
I reach into the front pocket of my tie-dyed hoodie. “I brought animal crackers.” I open the little box, dump it onto the floor, and scoop up a handful.
“Next is savings,” Eli says.
I crunch on my snack and turn to Sofía. “Madam Treasurer, how much money have we found?”
She peeks inside the spare jug we use for a bank. “Nine cents since we started the club. Four pennies and a nickel.”
We nod at each other, impressed. Eli was the one who spotted the nickel two weeks ago, but I found three of the pennies myself, which is the most coins, even if it isn’t worth the most.
Not that it’s a contest or anything.
I swallow and pick up two cinnamon chicles. My mouth turns spicy as I chew.
“Treasures next,” Eli says. “I’ll go first.” He opens the little baggie in his lap and holds up a limp yellow leaf.
“It looks like a fan,” Sofía says.
“That’s because it’s from a gingko tree.” He passes it around then holds up an acorn.
“What’s so great about that?” I ask. “They’re all over the place.”
“But the top of this one is still attached,” he says. “Usually they come apart before you find them.”
I nod. “Okay, cool. What’s your third thing?”
He reaches into his bag again and pulls out a pinecone. Only when I look closer, I see that it’s actually a double pinecone, fused together like a monster with two heads!
“Nice,” Sofía says, tracing it with her finger.
“Your turn,” he says to her when we’ve both had a chance to look. “What’d you find this week?”
Sofía lights up and opens her worn-out bird book. She doesn’t like finding treasures the way Eli and I do, but she’s always looking for the birds that are listed in her book, so we decided that could count as her collection. “I saw a blue jay this morning,” she says, holding up a picture.
I try to seem excited, but I’m not gonna lie. I was kind of hoping for an ostrich.
“What was it doing?” Eli asks sharply.
Sofía blinks. “Just sitting there.”
He crosses his arms. “Blue jays are mean, you know. They attack other birds.”
“They’re so pretty, though.” She fingers the edge of the page. “Their tail feathers look like stained-glass windows.”
Eli’s face softens. “What else did you see?”
“A lot more robins this week,” she says, turning pages. “And I didn’t see it, but I heard a red-winged blackbird.”
“I saw a junco yesterday,” Eli says.
“The squirrels scared him off, though. They haven’t gotten into my feeder, but they chase away the birds that eat from the ground.” He brightens. “Wanna hear me do a squirrel?”
Oh, no. If Eli gets started with his sound effects, I might never get a turn. He stretches his mouth wide and makes a scratchy sound in the back of this throat. “Ack-ack-ack!”
Sofía beams at him. “You sound just like one!”
Eli smiles, his ears going pink.
I sigh and start twisting the strings of my hoodie.
I think Sofía notices, though, because she bumps her shoulder against mine and says, “What did you find this week?”
I sit up straighter. Not to brag, but I’d say my trash collection is the highlight of our meetings. I reach into my pocket and pull out a scraped-up doll head with rainbow streaks in her hair. “I found this in a parking lot,” I say, “but I added the highlights myself. And check this out!” I open my hand to show them an oval sunglass lens that looks like a mirror. Last but not least, I pull out my favorite find of the week: a red plastic comb with so many missing teeth that—
“It looks like the letter E!” Sofía says.
I hand it to Eli. “Just two more letters, and I’ll be able to write your name in trash.”
“I have something else for the agenda too,” I say.
He passes the comb to Sofía. “What?”
“Our club needs a project.”
Sofía tilts her head at me. “We already have a project. We collect treasures.”
“But we need something else. Something bigger. I was thinking…” I lean in closer. “You know how you see some stores and restaurants all over, no matter how far you go from home?”
“I think our club should be like that.”
“Like a chain?” Eli asks.
“Why not?” I ask. “This would still be our main headquarters, but we could open clubhouses all over town—all over the world, even. And when people land on Mars, we could be the first kids in the whole human race to build a clubhouse there!”
Eli raises his eyebrows at me. “You want to expand to other planets?”
“We can start with a new location in town.”
“Where?” Sofía asks.
“At your place.” I loop my pinky through her friendship bracelet. “You should get the next clubhouse since you didn’t get to help build this one. All those in favor?” I put my hand in the air.
They shrug at each other and raise their hands.
“Yes!” I’m so happy that I throw my arms out, lean back against the wall, and—
Oh! I’m falling!
The jugs squeak as the wall shifts behind me. Sofía grabs my arm and pulls me up as the roof caves in. “Don’t let it break,” I cry, pushing against the dome. Eli and Sofía use their hands to brace the jugs in place.
The squeaking stops. I hold my breath. We stare at one another with big eyes.
“What do we do?” Sofía asks.
Slowly, I ease my hands away. The ceiling sags a little more. “Wait here,” I say, scrambling out the door.
In a minute, I crawl back in with an umbrella from the hall closet.
“What are you gonna do with that?” Eli asks.
“Open it. But I don’t want it to smack you in the face. On the count of three, you hit the floor. Ready? One, two, three!”
Eli and Sofía duck. I press the release. The ceiling starts to droop, but the umbrella opens, catches it, and lifts it away from us.
We all let out a big breath.
“That was close,” I say. It looks like a circus tent in here now with the striped umbrella above us.
“But you can’t hold it forever,” Sofía says.
“I’ll get something to prop it up,” Eli says. He scurries out and comes back with a big white bucket. He sets it in the middle of the igloo, and I carefully rest the handle of the umbrella on the lid. When I’m pretty sure it’s steady, I let go. The umbrella tips a little, but it stays balanced on the bucket and holds up the dome. We crawl out to check for damage.
The igloo is lopsided now, and the wall has a big bulge where I fell against it. But at least it’s still in one piece. I grin at them. “Good as new!”
Eli stares at me. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah! If you tilt your head, you can’t even tell how crooked it is. Try it.”
He does, but he still says, “I don’t think that’ll last.”
“Sure it will.”
There’s a gust of wind, and the dome of jugs sways. I jump forward and throw out my arms, like maybe hugging the whole igloo would help. The wind dies down and the igloo goes still again.
I cringe. “It’ll be okay, right?”
Eli and Sofía glance at each other.
I give the igloo a worried look. “Why don’t we—”
Eli holds up a hand. “Shhh,” he says, turning toward the yard.
Sofía and I freeze. For a minute, I don’t hear anything except the soft clucking of the chickens in the coop behind us. Then the sound comes again.
“A squirrel!” Eli clambers down the porch steps with a loud bellow, waving his arms over his head. Sofía and I chase after him in time to see birds scattering into the air and something zipping away from the feeder. Sofía gasps as it streaks through the yard and disappears into the brush.
“What was that?” I ask. It didn’t look like a squirrel. It was white with colored spots.
“I don’t know,” Eli says. “Maybe a rabbit?”
Sofía starts moving toward the brush and stops.
I trail after her. “What’s the matter?” I ask, following her gaze. “What are you looking at?”
“That wasn’t a rabbit,” she says. She turns to us then, her eyes wide. “I think it was Oriol.”