The crisp, San Francisco fog seeps in through my ajar window and tickles my nose. The resulting sneeze wakes me up. I sniff and rub my nose, jump out of bed, and find my favorite little red doll resting beside my–
"Where is it? Where is my doll?" It probably got stuck in the blanket again, as it usually does. I unfurl the blanket, waiting for my doll to plop onto the mattress.
It never does.
I can feel the sweat in my armpits. "Maybe he fell in the space between my bed and wall?" I get onto my knees and crawl under my hollow bedframe. No dice. The red doll is nowhere to be seen. "Great…"
– What troubles you, V? The Dark Spirit just woke up.
I groan. – I lost the childhood toy I always sleep with. Do you mind helping me find it?
– Posthaste! The Dark Spirit seems to be in a good mood today, fortunately. It flies out of my body, rushes through the door, and heads downstairs.
I carefully open my bedroom door and walk further down the second floor's hallway.
– If my doll isn't immediately around my bed area, that means someone took it. I deduce. – I never, ever take it off my bed. But who would want to take it? And why?
First, Griff's room. I doubt Candice took it. What business would Azilez's mom have with my toy?
I open the door to Griff's room and tiptoe to Griff's racecar bed, in hopes that he doesn't hear me, but since Griff's sensory abilities are stronger than anyone else in this house, including the Dark Spirit, Griff raises an eyebrow, opens one eye, and smirks.
"Is this really the stealth cover you have for trying to sneak into my room?"
"I'm not in the mood right now, Griff. I just lost my red doll."
"And you're looking in my room… why?"
"Well, I already tried my room."
"And you think it's in here?"
"No, not really. I just wanted you to help me look for it." I doubt Griff would take my doll. He'd ask me first.
"Oh, that's all? That shouldn't take too long. I've been dreaming about my morning tea anyway, so you caught me at a good time."
"Excellent. Let's get to work, Watson."
"No. Stop it."
We enter D's bedroom, which is also my mom and dad's bedroom. What can I say? He's still eight. Plus, imagine the nightmares he has. He was only recently saved from the clutches of the Unbound Evil.
Oh! Maybe that's why D would want to take my doll. He wants something to hold while he sleeps at night, so the nightmares are easier to handle.
Since I've got Griff here by me, we don't even have to wake them up. We can just use Griff's sensory ability to see if anyone is holding anything.
– Anything, buddy?
– Hmm… nope. D is cuddling your mom, not your doll.
Well, that's a bust. That leaves two rooms left: Vizor and Z's, and Azilez's.
This should be the only time we have to cross the hallway to go into someone's room today. Like always, Vizor's side of the room is much more organized than Z's.
Please, please let it be Vizor who took it. I don't feel like digging through Z's pile of books, clothes, and hand-me-down golf clubs.
– Anything in here, Griff?
– No. But I can feel it close by.
– What makes you say that?
– Let's just say we're not the only ones awake right now… Griff's eyes veer toward Azilez's door. You can hear the faint clanking of cups coming from her room.
The two of us look at each other and nod.
We burst through the door.
"The jig is up, Azilez!" I point to the center of her room, where she sits in an overly small chair. There is a small tea set and table next to her. My doll is sitting on the opposite side of the table in a toy highchair.
"Aww, you're never up this early, V!" Azilez doesn't even try defending herself.
"Why'd you take the doll, Azilez?" Griff asks. "You had V worried."
"Oh, I didn't mean to do that." Um… too late? "I just needed some practice."
"Practice? For what?" I twirl my hair.
"This." Azilez pulls out a flyer from her large purse, which is practically a backpack. It seems to be an advertisement for some sort of cooking competition. It's titled 'Trials of Afternoon Tea.'
"It looks like it's later today." Griff crosses his arms.
"Yeah! It's kind of important, too. It's not just the competition victory I'm after. Remember this?" She pulls out a small piece of paper from her purse, unfurls it, and shoves it in our faces.
"How could we forget this?" I remark. "It's your Platinum Chef eligibility card."
"Right! 25 out of the 30 stamps are filled here. If I can fill five more, I'm automatically enrolled in the upcoming Platinum Chef challenge."
"Isn't that show coming up soon?"
"Yeah! Next month. And this is the second-to-last competition available to get more points for my card."
"So, what does it all mean?"
"Basically, to apply for this year's Platinum Chef challenge, I have to win both today's contest and the next one. If I don't, I'll have to wait another year."
Oh man. That is urgent. I wish she just told us. I would've sat in that highchair.