Prose, Grades 7 – 9: First Place

There’s a Reason — Anna Rakhmanov

What time is it? I thought groggily. I squinted at the bedside clock but didn’t actually process what it read, so I just rolled over. I actually rolled into Jack, so I decided that it must be early. I sighed and closed my eyes again, but to my surprise, I couldn’t immediately go back to sleep.
I had another go at reading the clock and was astounded to realize that it was nine-thirty. Now I was worried. I tossed back the covers and got out of bed, making Jack groan. Was he sick or just tired? Despite my concern, I had higher priorities than waiting for him to wake up to ask how he was feeling.
Avalon was probably awake, since it wasn’t exactly as early as I had assumed. Careful not to wake Jack, I crept into the hall. I continued my sneaking until I was right in front of Avalon’s door and tentatively pushed it open. Her room was empty. That wasn’t good. She could get into very little trouble from the confines of her room, but there was no end to the mischief that she could accidentally cause when given free roam of the house.
Camelot, her stuffed camel, was gone too, so I could only believe that she was fully awake and most likely restless. I was almost waiting to hear something break so that I could know exactly where in the house she was.
I ducked out of her room and walked down the hall, trying to be as quiet as possible so as not to wake Jack. When I got to the steps, I tried to jump over the creaky fifth step from the top but lost my balance and grabbed at the railing, narrowly avoiding going tumbling down. I carefully descended the rest of the staircase and found Avalon in the kitchen, standing on a chair, reaching for a box of cereal. She was holding Camelot.
“Get off!” I told her, unreasonably scared. I had stopped in my tracks, and my eyes were wide. If she got hurt, I don’t think I could live with myself.
“Daddy!” she said smiling and put her camel down on the counter. “I was wondering when you’d get up.”
“Step off the chair, please.” I started to inch forward, to catch her if she fell. I knew I was overreacting, since the chair was only about two feet off the ground, but it was some paternal instinct that I didn’t know I had.
“I’m not that high off the ground. And besides, I’m hungry. Can you make me breakfast?”
“Just… get down. Please. You’re scaring me.”
She lightly hopped down and grabbed her camel. “Now can you make me breakfast?”
“Are you okay?” I looked her over, looking for something that would suggest that she’d hurt herself.
“I’m fine. Nothing happened. But I’m really hungry. I was going to wait until you were awake, but you’ve been sleeping for so long!” She hugged me and then looked up. “Are you going to make me breakfast?”
“You’re famished, aren’t you?” I asked her. She nodded. “All right then. What do you want?”
“Your heart’s beating really fast,” she informed me. “And I want pancakes. Is Dad awake?”
“No, I let him sleep.”
“Oh. Can I help make pancakes?” She was surprisingly cheery, especially since none of us are morning people. Except maybe Jack, but he was asleep, so he didn’t count.
“Sure. Can you, um…”
“Find the recipe?”
“Yes! Could you do that?” If I was being truthful, I didn’t know how to cook anything — not even something as simple as pancakes — without the recipe, and I had no idea where that was.
“Do you know where it is?” she asked me.
“Alright, we don’t need it anyway.” Maybe she didn’t, but I did. “Daddy, get out the measuring cups and spoons, and I’ll get out the dry ingredients. I’ll tell you the measurements, and you put them in a large mixing bowl.”
“How do you know the recipe off the top of your head?”
“Dad and I make pancakes every Saturday. Didn’t you notice?” I had noticed that pancakes magically appeared every Saturday, but I didn’t know that she was involved. “You usually sleep in, so you’re not awake when we do. Now get out the utensils. We should get on this. We’ll surprise Dad when he wakes up.” She grinned widely.
“Alright,” I said doubtfully. She started to rummage around, grabbing this ingredient and that one, until she had a group of things that I thought seemed appropriate. I was still looking for the measuring spoons.
“Do we have blueberries?” she asked, turning to look at me. She sighed. “Daddy, the measuring spoons aren’t in that drawer. You get blueberries if we have any, and I’ll get all the things we need.” I let her take over my search and found some blueberries in the fridge.
She completely took over to my delight and called me back to her side when it came time to use the stove. “Can you help?” she asked.
“Maybe. Depends on how hard this is.”
She rolled her eyes at me. “Use the quarter-cup measuring cup to scoop out the batter and then wait for one side to brown, then flip it and wait for the other side to. Then take it out of the pan and put it on a plate,” she said patiently, as if this was obvious.
“I can do that.”
“Do you need me to watch?” she asked me, as if I was the child here.
“I think I can do this without help.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. I’m an adult. I think I can handle a stove.” Even though I reassured her that yes, I could handle the stove without setting the house on fire, Avalon insisted on watching me so that nothing bad happened. That was not reassuring.
I was struggling profoundly. She actually had to help me flip the first batch, since I dropped one on the floor and, being a mature adult, pretended nothing happened and did not wash it off like I would have had I been 15 years younger. Unfortunately for me, my culinary skills haven’t advanced since then.
I heard movement upstairs, and Avalon perked up. “Dad’s awake! He’s going to be so proud of you!” I didn’t think it was me he should be proud of, but I said nothing. She was the one doing the work.
A few minutes later Jack stumbled down the stairs. Avalon ran up and jumped on him. He caught her, and she immediately started talking. “Dad, Daddy helped me make pancakes as a surprise for you!”
“Tim, I didn’t know that you could assist in the kitchen.” I had come out to join the conversation, and he was looking at me in shock. I thought that was unnecessary.
“I’m full of surprises.” He leaned in to kiss me, and Avalon wrinkled her nose.
“Eww. What’s that smell?”
“Tim, did you leave the stove on?” Jack asked in alarm. Did I? Seeing my look of panic, Jack put Avalon down and rushed into the kitchen.
“Daddy!” she scolded. “Do you need me to look over whatever you’re doing?” She shook her head in disappointment. “You need to be safe.”
Jack came back out with his arms crossed. “There’s a reason that I’m the one who cooks around here.”
“I know,” I said, hanging my head. I wasn’t just putting on an act. I really was ashamed that I had made such a basic mistake. What if this had been more than just a scare and had resulted in someone getting hurt?
Avalon wrapped her arms around my neck. “It’s okay, Daddy, we all make mistakes.” She pulled back and smiled widely. “I’m still hungry, you know. I need my pancakes.”
“I’ll do those,” Jack volunteered. I trailed him into the kitchen once again and stayed a safe distance away from the stove. Avalon followed.
“Are you feeling okay?” I asked Jack, remembering my initial assumption on why he was sleeping in.
“Yeah, why?”
Avalon was ignoring us and making designs with whipped cream on the few pancakes that had survived my culinary adventure.
She looked up guiltily. “I thought I’d give myself a treat.”
“Go ahead,” Jack said surprising me. “You didn’t burn the house down, you deserve it. You were saying, Tim?” She went back to what had now become whipped cream with pancakes, and I focused my attention back on Jack.
“It’s just that you never sleep in.”
“I had to teach that fu… luffy. That fluffy night class last night.”
“Nice save.”
“Thanks. But who goes to a class at eleven p.m.? Who?” I mentally prepared myself for his complaining, while discreetly stealing the whipped cream from Avalon to slather my own serving. After all, I hadn’t burned down the house either.