Some children are very careful around adults. They hardly ever talk back. They always do their chores. They make sure not to wear scuffed shoes when it’s time to visit the grandparents.
This was not the case with Charlotte Lily Edwards-Gray. Charlotte was not someone who enjoyed being told what to do, when to do it, or even what to wear. And she wasn’t just visiting her grandparents anymore.
Her parents had dropped her at their house exactly three years ago when Charlotte’s father was chosen to embark on a trip around the world for his business – and no children allowed. The night before they left, Charlotte’s mother swaddled her in a thick blue blanket and kissed the top of her head. Charlotte thought she could still hear her mother choking back tears as she put her into the arms of Grandma Shrew. Grandpa Grim had to cancel their trip to the World’s Fair. Three years later and he still grouched about it.
Every morning, her grandparents tried to make her look “presentable” by tying two little yellow bows into her hair, and every morning, when they turned their backs, she would yank them right back out. One time, Charlotte yanked and snarled her stringy brown hair into a knot so terrible that she had to cut it out; needless to say, she wore her sweatshirt hood up for a few months after that incident.
“Oh Charlotte,” they said, “why must you be such a nuisance? Quit being dramatic.”
Grandma Shrew and Grandpa Grim ate the same meal every day for breakfast, lunch, and supper: cabbage soup with a few stale crackers from a large box that seemed to have been sitting in the back of the cupboard for years, and a lump of dry meatloaf. That wasn’t even the worst of it. Written on a wooden plaque hanging on the kitchen wall were the words “Number 1 House Rule: No dessert.”
“Dessert will make you fat and foolish and rot all your teeth,” they said.
Her grandparents even forbade her from participating in her school’s monthly dessert bake-off competition.
“Too much sugar,” they said.
Since she couldn’t make them, Charlotte thought her recipes instead. “Gooey crunchy chocolate crisp cookies with rainbow sprinkles on top – now those would be a sure winner,” she said to herself.
The next night at dinner, Charlotte casually brought up her cookie idea. Maybe this would change their minds about next month’s bake-off.
“Why, that sounds positively revolting,” cried Grandma Shrew. “I would never eat that in a million years! Not even if I was starving on a desert island in the middle of the ocean, or if I was forced to by the President, or even if...”
Grandpa Grim interrupted. “That’s enough, now. Charlotte, don’t be a pest. Do us a favor and get to your room; we need some peace and quiet.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes and sighed as she dragged herself all the way up to her top-floor room. But she didn’t sulk, as one might think she would. Instead, Charlotte Lily Edwards-Gray planned. She had been mulling a great, marvelous plan in her head for weeks. By morning, she could hardly contain herself from hopping around with excitement.
“Wake up, you lazy girl!” crowed Grandma Shrew, right into Charlotte’s ear in the wee hours of the morning. “It’s already six a.m. and you’re still asleep in bed living off of your own grandfather’s retirement fund!”
“But Grandma,” Charlotte said, “I’ve already been up for hours.”
Grandma Shrew’s cheeks flushed, and her eyes bulged out like an angry puffer fish.
“No more excuses,” her grandma scowled, and marched out of the room.
Charlotte followed her downstairs and to the table, where she found herself face to face with a bowl of grayish water and limp leaves of cabbage. It seemed to stare back.
“Ick,” she mumbled under her breath.
Charlotte waited until her grandparents were distracted by the morning news before she grabbed her untouched bowl and snuck out the door. On her way out, she silently repeated Grandpa Grim’s credit card number over and over, as she always did whenever she snuck out. Who knew when she might need it? Once Charlotte got outside, she poured the murky broth over a small shrub growing through the cracks of the sidewalk.
“Sorry, little guy,” she giggled to the plant.
Charlotte skipped along, closing her eyes and humming. She skipped herself straight into something. It was a huge greenish leathery tree trunk.
“How peculiar,” she said. “I certainly don’t remember this tree being here last week.”
“Well that’s not a polite thing to say when you first meet someone,” a loud voice thundered back.
Charlotte tipped her head back to try to find a source for the voice. It had come not from a tree trunk, but from an enormous brontosaurus in the middle of her street.
“Oh my, I am terribly sorry for bumping you,” Charlotte stuttered. “I was just on my way to the grocery store.”
The brontosaurus softened at her flustering and sighed.
“It’s quite all right,” he said. “No one really thinks to look out for great old dinosaurs like us anymore. You could say we’ve lost our popularity.”
Charlotte looked up at him with her large green eyes. “I happen to find dinosaurs positively phenomenal,” she told him. “Now tell me, do you have a name? Mine is Charlotte Lily Edwards-Gray.”
The brontosaurus chuckled. Then he made her promise not to laugh.
“I promise,” Charlotte said, holding out her pinky. “I pinky promise, cross my heart.”
“All right then, that’ll have to do,” said the dinosaur. “Although I don’t believe I have a pinky. My name,” he said with a flourish, “is Teensy Tiny the Third. My friends call me Teensy. Although I’m afraid they’ve all gone extinct – I’m the only one left.”
Charlotte grinned. “It was lovely to meet you,” she said, “but I must get back to work.”
Teensy’s face dropped, disappointed that the conversation was cut short. “Wait a minute,” he said, “must you go so soon? What’s the rush?”
Charlotte turned back to look at him. “I really have to go before the store closes. I need the freshest strawberries, the most decadent chocolate syrup, the shiniest sprinkles...” she said. Her eyes shone with excitement.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Teensy interrupted, “what have you got cooking in that little head of yours? It sounds rather interesting, please do tell.”
So, she told. Charlotte had always imagined herself as a bakery chef, whipping up fluffy muffins with drizzles of tart berry jam and warm chocolate mousse crème puffs so sweet that they needed to be accompanied by a tall glass of milk. The restaurant, as Charlotte pictured it, was atop a great hill right in the middle of town, so everyone could look up and see its brilliant white doors that said Charlotte’s TrEATs. Inside, there would be a long green carpet (her favorite color) leading all the way to the kitchen, which she would have the pleasure of walking down every time she entered. The walls would be covered with pictures, pictures of famous people who had eaten there. There would also be letters from critics and adoring fans of all ages. But the best part, Charlotte told him, was the special room for kids only – a place where they could eat as much dessert-of-the-day as they wanted without anyone telling them “no.”
“Now Teensy,” Charlotte said. “Tell me about yourself.”
“Well, back in my youth I was a popular fellow. Never alone, never lonely. But one day, there was a terrible drought that killed almost all the plants – we began to starve with nothing to eat! The only vegetation left was a large bush spotted with tiny orange berries. I knew they looked suspicious. I told everyone not to eat them,” Teensy said.
Charlotte saw his eyes tearing up.
“But no one listened,” Teensy continued. “They were poisonous! Ever since then, I’ve... I’ve learned to be on my own.”
Charlotte’s eyes widened in surprise. “Oh Teensy,” she said gently. “I’d be happy to have you by my side. We could even open the restaurant together! But come along, we must hurry.” And with that she jumped up, patted Teensy on the leg, and scampered onward.
“Over there!” yipped Charlotte, as they walked through the fruit aisle. “These are the most perfect sugar apples I have ever seen! They will do just wonderfully in my recipe for sugar apple tart. And over here, these salmonberries would be great for the glaze!”
By the time they had successfully filled their cart with ingredients, the sun had set and it was nighttime. Grandma Shrew and Grandpa Grim hadn’t even noticed she was gone, so she and Teensy walked to a park and found a nice snuggly spot under a weeping willow tree. They spent the rest of the evening talking about their favorite foods and meals until their eyelids started getting heavy, and they fell asleep.
The next morning, the two friends were woken up by a horrendously loud, eardrum- bursting shriek. It reminded Charlotte of a time long ago when her mother had burnt a batch of cookies and set off the smoke alarm. She sat straight up with her fingers plugged in her ears.
“Over there by the pond,” Teensy said, “that little boy has just been stung by a jellyfish. Let’s see if he’s all right.”
By the time they got there, the boy was gone and they were left standing next to a little pond whose clear blue water reflected light into beautiful rainbow prisms that twinkled on the surface. Suddenly, the rainbow was broken by a slimy pink tentacle poking through the water.
“Voila!” cried the jellyfish, her thick French voice bubbling up to the land. “I have just completed my most beautiful watercolor painting yet! Ah, such lovely colors, such depth and dimension!”
“I don’t mean to be rude,” Teensy said, “but it looks like you stung a young boy in the process.”
“Excusez-moi - pardon me, I didn’t see you there! I stung someone, you say? I always do that by accident--even to my own kin. I just can’t help it.” She paused for a moment and looked at them with a warm smile. “I’m afraid I haven’t introduced myself yet, I am Camille LeTentacles, the most ah-mazing artist on this side of the pond.”
“And I don’t suppose you have any sort of background or interest in cooking for a restaurant, do you?” Charlotte asked.
“Oh my, I have had more than 45,000 babies in my lifetime. How do you think I fed them all?” she said. “I can make hundreds of sandwiches in no time with these tentacles. And I have an endless supply of jelly. I am a jellyfish, after all.”
Charlotte was delighted. They chatted for a while about Charlotte’s plan, until Camille mentioned something about an abandoned warehouse nearby.
“Everyone’s talking about it, but no one can find it!” Camille said. “Sounds like a perfectly good building for your restaurant. I just assumed you’d need a building; you’ll have to forgive me. I like to talk and talk and assume and you know what they say, when you assume--”
“That’s enough,” interrupted Teensy, though the edge of his wrinkly lips had curled up ever so slightly. “I suppose we could consider starting the restaurant in a warehouse, don’t you think, Charlotte?”
Charlotte frowned. It wasn’t what she had envisioned for her three-story palace of a restaurant, with its pictures and lights and green carpet. But then again, what option did she have?
“That sounds lovely,” Charlotte decided. “Thank you for the kind advice, Ms. LeTentacles.”
“But of course,” the jellyfish responded. “And please, call me Camille. But before you go, I was wondering if you could you use an extra set or two of hands. With my painting just finished, I’ve run out of things to do!”
“Of course!” Charlotte said. “We would love to have you on board.”
Teensy mumbled something about “too many arms.”
“Ah, yes, merci my dear, this will be just lovely,” Camille said, starting to climb out of the pond. “What a wonderful time we will have all together. Oh! But I mustn’t forget--” she cut off midsentence to dive back down into the waters. She popped back up seconds later. “My crème de la crème, my beauty secret of the century!”
She held out a small jar for Charlotte and Teensy to see.
“Imported from Paris, of course. This luxurious hydration cream is why I look the way that I do--eternally youthful and glowing, that is. I cannot stand how dry my skin gets when I’m out of water–truly dreadful. But no worries, I’ve got enough in here for days.”
Camille stopped talking and looked Teensy up and down. She clucked her tongue.
“With that dry skin though,” she said, “I wouldn’t mind sharing a bit. I’ve always been one to help the less... aesthetically fortunate.”
Charlotte stifled a laugh. With that, they began to search for the alleged warehouse.
After a good deal of walking, they stopped in front of an ugly dark gray cement building.
“Oh dear,” said Charlotte. “This will take more work than I thought. We must dust and wash and paint and so much more!”
“Now, let’s be rational,” sighed Teensy. “First things first, we need to hang some lights in here. We won’t be able to do anything until we can see this place.”
“Oh yes, yes, yes!” cried Camille. “Elegant chandeliers, we’ll need fifty! And dazzling, colorful lights, so bright that you’ll be seeing spots and stars for days!”
With Camille getting worked up about the details, and Teensy more stressed than usual, Charlotte decided to break down the work and give each of them a special job.
“Okay, listen up!” said Charlotte. “Teensy, you’re in charge of finding a nice new carpet to cover this grimy floor. Lights too,” she added.
“I can do that,” he said enthusiastically. “Why, this long neck was practically made for hanging lights on restaurant ceilings! And these strong sturdy feet--perfect for stomping down a carpet!”
Charlotte giggled at the old dinosaur’s excitement. “And for you, Camille, can you paint over these drab grey walls?”
“Why, that sounds like my type of job!” she exclaimed. “I can see it now: swirls of red here, dots of blue there, ah it will be lovely!”
“And what will you do?” Teensy asked Charlotte.
“I’ll bake, of course!” she said. “No matter what the place looks like, we won’t be getting any customers at all if there’s no dessert. Now, everyone get down to business.”
And they did. Teensy walked all around town looking for a carpet as soft as a kitten’s fur and as fluffy as a cloud. Unfortunately, the carpet he wanted was inside a store with a door so small that he couldn’t fit inside. The shop owner was very understanding.
“I used to have the same type o’ trouble,” he said sympathetically, “until I lost a pound or two, I had to squeeze through myself.”
Then, the owner brought out the carpet: Thick and green with flecks of gold. It looked like a patch of grass with morning dew still on the tips.
“This will be perfect for our restaurant,” exclaimed Teensy. “It’s absolutely impeccable!”
“Well ya know what, take it,” the owner said. “And don’t bother payin’ me either. This one has been up in the window for years and no one has ever wanted it. Consider it a good-luck gift for startin’ up your grub joint.”
Teensy thanked the man for the carpet and fastened it around his neck like a cape.
“Next stop, crystal chandelier,” he thought to himself. As he turned to walk away, the owner called out, “Send me an invite when you have your grand restaurant opening, would ya?”
Teensy smiled at him. “Absolutely.”
Meanwhile, Camille waltzed the streets downtown in search of the most beautiful paints. But after hours of looking, she couldn’t find anything. Camille had very high standards--she was a French jellyfish artist, for goodness sake.
“I’ll never find the perfect paints,” she cried. “All I’ve ever known is watercolors. I have positively no clue what to use to paint those grey cement walls. I’ll let the whole team down!”
As she was on the verge of tears, Camille felt a little tug on one of her tentacles and turned around to face a little boy. A fashionable little boy he was, with a cane and a top hat and a button down shirt with a blazer that was perfectly fitted.
“Hi,” he said, looking at her with wide eyes.
“Well, hello there,” said Camille, sniffling. “What can I do for you?”
“I can help you paint,” the little boy said. “Follow me.”
Camille couldn’t believe her luck--it’s not every day you meet a small, well-dressed child who knows a thing or two about art!
Charlotte, meanwhile, had gotten herself into a bit of a tangle. Actually, it was more than a tangle; it was a rather large knot of a problem. On her way over to buy an oven as big as a bed Charlotte ran into two people she truly wished she hadn’t: Grandma Shrew and Grandpa Grim.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” said Grandma Shrew.
“It looks like our unruly granddaughter has snuck out again and is caught up in who knows what sort of troublesome antics,” grumbled Grandpa Grim.
“Grandma, Grandpa, hello,” Charlotte said hurriedly, “I haven’t been in trouble, I’ve just been busy starting up my own new restaurant! It’s going to serve desserts only, and--” but she didn’t get to finish her sentence because she was interrupted by her grandparents’ roaring laughter.
“A restaurant?” cackled her grandma. “That is the most foolish idea I’ve ever heard! Now come home with us immediately.”
As punishment for sneaking out, Charlotte was forced to spend the rest of the day alone in the attic. After an hour, she heard a tap on the lone window. It was Teensy, tapping with his nose to get her attention.
“I’m here to get you out!” he whispered. “I saw what happened on my way to the chandelier. Quick, unlatch the window and grab on to my neck!”
Charlotte opened the creaky wood-frame window as quietly as she could, and slid down Teensy’s long neck. She landed, without a sound, on the fluffy green carpet.
A mile away, Camille and the well-dressed boy stepped into a barn. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, Camille stared at the beautiful patterns and designs on the walls. They were all done by hand--the little boy’s hand.
“Why, this is incredible,” she exclaimed, dancing around the small room. “Positively unique, absolutely creatively, phenomenally, outrageously, magnificent! Where did this idea strike you? You, strange little fashionable boy, are my muse! Teach me your ways, I beg of you.”
The boy handed her one bottle of paint. “I can’t tell you how,” he replied calmly, “because I don’t know. I just pour the paint on my hands and let my heart do the rest!” And with that, he left, leaving Camille alone and humbled with her tentacles tightly grasping the bottle.
Downtown, Charlotte was busy picking out appliances at the home goods store.
“And how are you paying, miss?” asked the manager.
“I suppose I can give you a credit card number,” she said with hesitation. “I just hope my grandparents don’t notice. I’m starting a restaurant and I need to do it as fast as possible before they realize I’m serious about it and try to stop me.”
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I can box up everything you need and have it there by tomorrow as long as you whip me up me something special once this place is up and running. Is it a deal?”
“Absolutely, I’ll take it!” Charlotte said. She stuck out her scrawny arm to grab his hand and shook it vigorously.
“Don’t forget to invite me to the Grand Opening!” he called out as she was leaving.
A few blocks from the warehouse, Teensy had just stopped in front of a beautiful old church. “Such a peaceful spot,” he said. “What a shame that I’ve been moping around and for years when I could’ve been out enjoying places like this.”
Suddenly, something colorful glistened: shards of glass, beautiful broken pieces of what was once a stained glass window that had fallen from the rose window.
“Wow,” he breathed, “sensational. What a mesmerizing sight.”
Teensy realized what he wanted to do. He found plastic bags caught on nearby tree limbs and carefully collected each shimmering piece.
When Teensy got back to the warehouse, he found some old glue and got to work. He stuck the pieces one by one as carefully as a dinosaur could onto the single little light bulb hanging from a string until it was covered in twinkling colors and reflected rainbow lights all around the dark walls.
Just as he finished, Camille burst through the doors, eyes wide and tentacles still gripping the paint bottle.
“Step aside, Teensy, step aside!” she said, “I must paint and I must paint quickly, while the feeling still moves me!”
Startled and slightly annoyed that she hadn’t so much as glanced at his masterpiece, Teensy grumbled and stepped aside. Camille began to fling paint onto the wall, as fast as she could, with all of her tentacles. Then, she grabbed the string holding the light bulb and swung it round and round until it was moving in big loops and zigzags. Hoisting herself up off the ground until she was swinging midair, she reached out her tentacles and smeared the paint all over the walls, left, right, up, down. She mixed every color together, creating a splatter-paint tie-dye effect that looked like a massive flower garden, every inch filled with popping specks of color. When she finally stopped swinging, the walls of the warehouse had been transformed into four vibrant, beautiful murals.
Charlotte swung open the door to the warehouse. “Wow,” she breathed, “I don’t know what to say. Camille and Teensy, this place feels different now, special. It feels... like our place. It’s time for me to start cooking.”
Back at the house, Grandma Shrew and Grandpa Grim got their credit card bill in the mail.
“What is this!?” Grandpa Grim roared. “How could such a humongous amount of money been charged to my card? Was it you, you batty old woman?” he barked at Grandma Shrew. “Spending my retirement fund left and right, as if it were your money?”
“Me?” she shrieked. Her eyes narrowed. “How dare you. And such nerve, as if this were really your retirement money,” she scoffed. “I know just as well as you do that the money is Charlotte’s inheritance. Now believe me, I don’t plan on giving it to her either, but I would appreciate if you would not take me for a dimwit.” Grandma Shrew crossed her arms over her chest.
“All right, all right, fine. Relax old woman, don’t get your panties in a wad,” Grandpa Grim muttered. “But how do you explain these charges then? Fifty dollars at the grocery store? Several thousand spent on “culinary appliances?” I couldn’t ever imagine spending that kind of money, not even if I were starting up a kitchen from scratch!”
Almost simultaneously, their jaws dropped.
The three friends heard a soft shuffling noise at the warehouse door.
A small, familiar figure in a top hat, holding a bottle of Perrier in one hand and a tidy notebook in the other, spoke in an even tone. “My name is Cornelius Brighton Chapman. I am here to deliver your purchases from my father’s culinary store. I would appreciate your signature on the following lines – those marked with an X, please.”
As he spoke, a flock of muscular men dressed in black carried in all the appliances that Charlotte had bought. Then they were gone, before she could blink.
“Of course,” she said, taking the pen from his slender hands to sign the papers. “All done, thank you, Cornelius Chapman.”
Cornelius was about to leave when Camille stopped him. “Before you go,” she began, “would you like to help Teensy taste test our new dessert recipes? We’re about to begin!”
Cornelius put down his Perrier with a soft clink. For the first time in his life, he stammered while speaking. “I-I-I yes. I mean I would enjoy that. I haven’t- I haven’t had dessert in quite a while. Ever since...” He looked down at his un-scuffed shoes.
Camille slid two tentacles over his shoulders and patted him on the head. “There, there, little Cornelius, what’s troubling you? There must be something the matter.”
Cornelius looked up at Camille and leaned ever so slightly into her warm embrace. “We only had sweets when... when mum was with us,” he said. “Now we don’t.”
Teensy took a step back and lowered his head. Charlotte bit her bottom lip. Camille, however, swept up the boy in a tight hug.
“Come now,” she said after a few moments. “I think this will be good for you.”
For the rest of the afternoon, Charlotte stocked the new fridge and whipped up treat after treat, with Teensy and Cornelius digging in to each one and giving her feedback to make them perfect.
“These peanut-butter brownies are a bit too... nutty,” Teensy noted. Charlotte quickly scribbled it down on her notepad.
“And this donut needs more jelly!” Cornelius called out, as Camille squeezed more fresh jellyfish-raspberry jelly straight into the dough. “I can make my jelly seedless,” she said proudly.
Cornelius gave her a high-five.
Just then, the friends heard a pounding on the door. “Open up in there! Right now!” Charlotte opened the warehouse door to reveal a stout man with a thick neck who had sweat dotting the spaces between each of his gristly black-and-grey beard hairs.
“I have been informed,” the man declared, “that this space is in violation of a restaurant sanitation regulation. Food may only be cooked and served in a kitchen that has been previously approved for cleanliness, and I’m afraid this space is not approved. You must shut down immediately.”
Charlotte was alarmed. “But how did you know that I was starting a restaurant?” she exclaimed. “And where I was?”
“My people have tracked your whereabouts using record numbers from several appliances that were delivered here this morning,” the man said. “These were, in fact, food establishment sized cooking appliances, which led us to believe we were investigating a restaurant mishap.”
Charlotte paused. “Your people?” she asked slowly, suspicion clouding her voice. “Tell me, who are these people?”
“Well,” he said, eyes darting around the room. “I, um, don’t believe I am authorized to share this information with you.”
“What about a badge then?” asked Charlotte more sharply. “Don’t you have a badge that I could take a look at, to prove you’re really from the health sanitation department?”
“No more questions,” the man said, wiping the sweat from his face. I will be back to check in three days if you and your... company have evacuated,” he said, eyeing Teensy and Camille. “Good bye.” He shut the door and was gone.
“Oh, now we’re done, we’re done for good,” Teensy cried, beginning to panic.
“He’s right,” Camille said, “there’s no way we can get our restaurant running and kitchen approved in two days!”
Charlotte had a feeling that something strange was going on. How did he track them to the warehouse? How did he know what she had bought?
Suddenly, it clicked. “Grandpa Grim and Grandma Shrew!” Charlotte said. “I know it. They must have looked at the credit card number and tracked my deliveries. They’re trying to shut us down!”
“But we don’t have time for this!” Camille said. “I don’t have the energy anymore. Oh, I feel faint.” She flopped onto a chair dramatically.
“Listen up,” Charlotte said, beckoning to her friends to gather in close. “If we can prove within three days that my grandparents are behind this, and that it’s all a trick, then we can keep the restaurant.”
“I’ll handle this one,” Cornelius said.
Cornelius took out books from the library and researched the health violations day and night. He took pages of notes, scribbling information and flipping dry library-book pages until his hands were cramped and calloused. After three days, he was finally ready.
As Cornelius shut his last book, they heard the rough knock again. Everybody stopped and turned to Cornelius to see what to do next.
“Get ready, everyone,” Cornelius said.
Camille patted him on the back. “I’ve never been more ready in my life.”
Charlotte opened the door to reveal the same unshaven, smelly, stout man. He walked right in without an invitation.
“Hello,” Charlotte said, before the man even had a chance to speak. “If we aren’t mistaken, you are the health officer that visited us a few days ago, asking us to shut down our restaurant.” She held out her hand, palm facing him, to keep him from responding. “My friends and I are more than willing to comply with you and your rules, but we do believe that we have the right to ask you a few questions before you tear this place down.”
The man was flushed, and clearly irritated by Charlotte. “Actually,” he said, “you don’t.”
“Actually,” Teensy butted in, “we do. Rule #148 of the restaurant owner’s constitution clearly states that anyone who tries to impede his or her progress, for example, with claims of unsatisfactory health practices, is subject to questions from the chef and his or her managing party concerning the offense.”
Cornelius smiled and gave Teensy a subtle thumbs-up. The man shifted from one foot to the other and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He looked at Teensy, then at the others, then back at Teensy and said, “Oh fine, what’s the harm. You’re only a couple of kids with some strange pets anyway. Just make it quick.”
Cornelius stepped right up without missing a beat. “We’ll start off easy,” he said. “Last August, precisely 355 days ago, there was a new rule enacted for restaurant kitchen ventilation. What was the rule?”
The man stared at him dumbfounded. “Wha-what are you talking about? You can’t expect me to know this stuff,” he sputtered out. “This is just crazy! No one knows that.”
“Oh, quite the contrary,” Cornelius retorted. “Every health officer is expected to know the entire food regulation guide cover to cover. And you seem to be having a bit of trouble now, don’t you?”
“This is ridiculous, I repeat, just ridiculous!” Angry little bubbles of spit began to form in the corners of the man’s mouth. “You need to listen to me and close down this restaurant or I’ll... I’ll just...” He stammered, trying to find the words.
“Let’s try again, shall we?” Cornelius asked. “Now this one, you must know. What is the 12-step procedure for sanitization of cookware?”
The man didn’t know.
Charlotte stepped in. “I think you’ve made it very clear to everyone that you have no authority to close down our restaurant,” she said. “You should leave now. And tell my grandparents that they have no right sending some fraudster over here to bother me and take back my money – yes I know about the inheritance – I’ve overheard them talking. If they try any more funny business, I’ll take the matter to court.”
She stared him down before shutting the door.
Grandma Shrew and Grandpa Grim were furious.
Furious and embarrassed.
Furious and embarrassed and nervous.
They had no idea that Charlotte knew about her inheritance, nor did they know how exactly how she had managed to expose them and their plan.
“I quit, I quit, keep your money!” the man had yelled when he came running. “This girl is crazy smart and I want nothing to do with her... I have no doubt she knows how to get me into some serious legal trouble. Hire someone else to impersonate a health officer if you want, but I’m done here.”
Grandma Shrew glowered at Grandpa Grim. “It’s all your fault! This was your stupid idea in the first place! What do we do now?”
“There’s nothing to do,” said Grandpa Grim, clearly shaken as well. “I reckon we’ll have to leave town--it’s only a matter of time before word gets out about us.”
“Oh, yes,” Grandma Grim said, “what would the neighbors think of us then? We must leave. We must leave immediately.”
“And what about Charlotte?” Grandpa Grim asked.
“Leave her here; she can fend for herself,” Grandma Shrew muttered. “I, too, want nothing to do with that girl. Now pack your things, and let’s go.”
They left later that evening, and never came back.
Back at the warehouse, Teensy had brought Charlotte’s dream to life: a secret door in the back to mark the kids-only zone. Charlotte just finished baking a beautifully intricate cake for the grand opening. Of course, Camille and Cornelius had designed it and layered the tiers with none other than Camille’s best jelly.
“Now Cornelius,” Charlotte said. “Do us a favor and run up to your father’s store to invite him here as our first customer!”
“Same goes for the carpet shop owner,” Teensy chimed in. “A nice fellow he is, I’d be happy to see him again.”
“But hang on just a minute,” said Charlotte. “Come on, everyone, outside with me. We need a sign if this is going to be a real restaurant!”
Then Charlotte grabbed a wet paintbrush and hopped up onto Teensy’s head, who hoisted her up until she could reach a spot above the entrance door. When she finished, Teensy lowered her to the ground, revealing to her friends the carefully painted words:
Charlotte, Teensy, Camille, and Cornelius’s
Isabella Auchus is a tea and coffee person. She studies Psychology
and Spanish at the University of Pennsylvania and has been published in the
university-wide magazine 34th Street. She spends a majority of her time working
as the Chair of ASAP, a sexual assault prevention and activism group. Although her dedication to veganism can make
dessert a challenge, some of her top vegan treats include lentils,
apples, dark chocolate, and oatmeal.