Cynda and the City Doctor - Theodora Taylor

Chapter One

“Mabel’s dead. She’s going to die!”

“Mabel’s fine. She’s not going to die,” I assure my stepsister, Erin, as I crawl into the fireplace. Then I mutter under my breath, “Not unless I kill her.”

“What did you say?” E demands, her voice an indignant screech.

“Here, Mabel, Mabel,” I croon up the chimney instead of answering. “Please come down so that E can go to school.”

I shine my phone into the dark fireplace, hoping the sound of my voice will get the kitten to come down. But she doesn’t so much as mew.

Please don’t be dead, I silently beg. If this animal went up into the chimney to die, I’m never getting E out the door.

“She’s dead!” E wails. “She’s dead or she would have come down by now.”

I sigh. “Why don’t you go get all your things ready for school so that you don’t miss the bus?”

“Who can think of school busses at a time like this?” E demands, her voice on the verge of tears. “Does Mabel’s life mean nothing to you?”

Okay, I am incredibly proud of E for getting into the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama early decision. It’s a super competitive program and I respect her dedication to becoming a high-caliber actress.

But mornings like this make me really wish she could tone down the dramatics.

“Mabel’s life means a lot to me,” I answer. “But considering this is the third time she’s gotten stuck up the chimney, I’m not sure her life means a lot to her. Now could you please make sure you have your backpack so that I don’t have to drive you to school?”

“Cynda! Cynda! Where’s my tuba? I can’t find my tuba! And I know I left it by the door!”

I don’t have to scoot out of the fireplace to figure out that this voice belongs to my stepbrother, Aaron.

Yes, seriously. His name is Aaron. He and Erin are twins. My stepmother, Rachel, was married to the drummer of an R&B cover band, and not my practical father when she had them. And she’d thought it would be cute to name both twins after their father.

It wasn’t. Rachel and her first husband divorced after signing their kids up for a lifetime of confused second takes whenever they introduce themselves. And now everyone who knows them just refers to them as A and E to avoid confusion.

But as bad as I feel for A about his full name, I don’t believe his claim for a second. I know for dang sure that kid is not responsible enough to leave his instrument by the door.

“Where was the last place you used it?” I ask him before calling up to Mabel. “Here, kitty, kitty. I’m going to need you to come down because everybody’s got to get to school and work.”

“The last time I had it was in the garage,” A answers. “But it’s not in there.”

I can see the bottom half of his cargo-pants covered legs walking back and forth in front of the fireplace. He paces like a chubby tiger whenever he gets agitated.

“Did you check just to make sure, A?”

I should have known better.

The legs abruptly stop pacing. “I told you it wasn’t in the garage! I put it by the door. Why don’t you ever believe me?” Puberty isn’t quite done with him yet, so his voice cracks with all sorts of shrieky indignation.

“Your stupid nerd horn doesn’t matter, A! Mabel’s dead!” E yells at him.

Apparently, E looked at our disaster of a morning and thought to herself, you know what this situation needs? A sibling fight. Inside the fireplace, I sigh and scrub a hand over my face even though all the coronavirus experts have been advising people against touching their faces for months now.

“My horn’s not stupid. You’re stupid!” A immediately shoots back. Good thing he plans on becoming an engineer. If that’s the best comeback he can muster, any job requiring debater skills is not in his future.

“At least I’m not heartless,” E replies. “Don’t you care anything about the innocent kitten we promised to nurture in our home?”

“Mabel please come down, I can’t take much more of this,” I beg up the chimney.

“Yeah, that’s why you’re the stupid one,” A answers, his voice triumphant. “Mabel’s in my room, hanging out with Dipper.”

“What?!” E and I say at the same time.

“E, tell me…tell me Mabel was not in A’s room this whole time!” I growl, scrambling out of the fireplace.

“Let me just check,” E answers, her pretty light brown face crinkling