At Wits' End - Kenzie Reed

Chapter One


Sienna Ribaldi was only eight years old, but she was very smart for her age. She’d memorized every life lesson passed on to her by her family – which was mostly her aunts and uncles and cousins, since her mother travelled a lot.

Eat fruit or vegetables with every meal.

Appreciate what you have; the things you take for granted, someone else is praying for.

Be kind to animals.

If you stumble, make it part of the dance.

Pretty is as pretty does.

And most importantly, never trust a Witlocke.

So when Donovan Witlocke, who was one whole grade ahead of her, approached her on the playground during recess, she regarded him with caution. After all, the final two pieces of advice on her list were twined together like rope. The Witlockes were a very pretty family – pretty awful.

They lived on the property next to the Ribaldis, and they were rude and mean to her family, and told lies about them all the time. Donovan had dark green eyes the color of forest-floor moss, and hair the color of a sunbeam, but she suspected that he might not be so pretty on the inside, where it counted.

She watched warily as Donovan plopped down on the bench next to her. He held out a chocolate-chip cookie. “This for you.”

Sienna looked at it with longing. Nanny Sue, the Witlocke family chef, made chocolate-chip cookies that were a legend at Greenvale Elementary School. Donovan and his older sisters traded them at lunch time for anything they wanted, and a friend had shared a bite with her once. When she ate it, a chorus of angels had burst into song.

“Take it,” he urged her. She accepted it and held it up to examine it with a critical eye.

“Thank you,” she said, because she’d been brought up to be polite. Then, “Is this poisoned?” she asked. Because she’d been brought up to have a healthy suspicion of anything that “those thieving, lying bastard Witlockes” ever said or did. Also, swearing was acceptable when it had something to do with a Witlocke. So that was kind of fun.

“No, but I can take a bite out of it first if you want,” Donovan offered. He didn’t seem the least bit offended. She handed it back to him, and he took a small bite, chewed and swallowed. Then he gave it to her.

“Wait! Don’t eat that! Don’t trust him!” Her best friend Pamela barreled across the playground, all protective fury in high-top sneakers and acid-washed Justice jeans, her red ponytails swinging with every step. She screeched to a stop in a small cloud of dust that swirled up around her ankles.

Donovan flicked a glance in her direction. “I took a bite out of it,” he said, sounding annoyed.

“Maybe he poisoned the other side,” Pamela argued.

“That’s true. He could have.” Sienna turned the cookie over, examining it critically. “Or there might be Ex-Lax in the chocolate. I don’t know for sure if the part you ate had chocolate chips.”

“There isn’t,” Donovan said. “That’s a good idea, though. I’m going to do that to Jonathon next time he short-sheets my bed.” Jonathon was his massively annoying cousin. “Where did you hear about it?”

Sienna shrugged. “I have good ideas all by myself.”

He nodded. “I know. I saw your science project.”

He’d seen her science project? A glow of pride lit inside her. Her aunt and uncle had helped her build the volcano when her mother had had to fly overseas for a very important business trip. They’d made a model of Pompeii and won first place.

“I still don’t trust him,” Pamela said, squinting her brown eyes at him. “My mother says that the Devil masquerades as an angel of light offering you temptation.” She pointed at the cookie. “That’s temptation.”

It certainly was.

“The Devil?” Donovan scoffed. “Drama queen, much? And if you’ll excuse me, this is a private conversation.”

Sienna frowned at him. “Pam’s my best friend,” she informed him. “You can’t be rude to her.”

“I’m not being rude. She’s the one who’s interrupting.”

Pamela folded her arms across her chest. “I’m not going anywhere. Try and make me.” Pamela was the youngest of six and the only girl, plus her father was the police chief and he’d taught her some moves. She could make her older brothers cry. Sixth graders were scared of her.

Donovan heaved a sigh. “Will you take a walk with me over to the monkey bars?” he asked Sienna.

“Fine.” She glanced at Pamela, who was slowly shaking her head from side to side. “Pamela,