The birds woke me early the next morning. I had never heard such noisy birds. I went to the window, and they were everywhere-in the trees right outside, on the ground, swooping in and out of the barn like they owned the place, all the different chirps and tweets and warbling making this incredible commotion.
Liz and I got dressed and walked down to the house. When we knocked on the front door, there was no answer, so we went around to the back. Through a window, we could see Uncle Tinsley moving around inside the kitchen. Liz rapped on the windowpane, and Uncle Tinsley opened the door but blocked it like he had the night before. He had shaved, his wet hair was combed, the part was straight, and instead of his bathrobe, he was wearing gray trousers and a light blue shirt with TMH monogrammed on the pocket.
"How did you girls sleep?" he asked.
"Just fine," Liz said.
"The birds sure are noisy," I said.
"I don't use pesticides, so the birds love it around here," Uncle Tinsley said.
"Did Mom call, by any chance?" Liz asked.
"She does have the number, right?" I asked.
"This number hasn't changed since we got it-two, four, six, eight," he said. "First phone number handed out in Byler, so we got to choose it. Speaking of choosing, how do you like your poached eggs?"
"Hard!" I said.
"Soft," Liz said.
"Have a seat over there." He pointed to some rusty cast-iron lawn furniture.
A few minutes later, he came out carrying that same silver tray, loaded up with a stack of toast and three plates that each had a poached egg in the center. The plates had gold curlicues around the rim, but the edges were chipped. I picked up a corner of my egg and scooted a piece of toast under it, then stabbed the yolk with my fork, chopped up the white part of the egg, and mushed it all together.
"Bean always mutilates her food," Liz told Uncle Tinsley. "It's disgusting."
"It tastes better mixed up," I said. "But that's not the only reason. First of all, you don't have to take as many bites, so it saves time. Second, you don't have to work as hard chewing, because if it's all mushed up, it's sort of prechewed. Finally, food gets all mixed up in your stomach anyway, so that's obviously the way it was meant to be."
Uncle Tinsley gave a little chuckle and turned to Liz. "Is she always like this?"
"Oh, yeah," Liz said. "She's the Beanhead."
We offered to wash the dishes, but Uncle Tinsley insisted it was easier if he did them himself, without a couple of kids underfoot. He told us to go off and do whatever girls our age did.
Liz and I walked around to the front of the house, where there were two big trees with shiny dark leaves and big white flowers. Beyond them, on the far side of the lawn, was a row of huge green bushes with a gap in the middle. We walked through the gap and found ourselves in an area surrounded by the dark green bushes. A few tough irises pushed up through the weeds in old, overgrown flower beds. In the center was a round brick-edged pond. It was full of dead leaves, but in the water beneath, I saw a flash of brilliant orange.
"Fish!" I yelled. "Goldfish! There's goldfish in this pond!"
We knelt and studied the orange fish fluttering in and out of the shadows beneath the clumps of dead leaves. I decided this would be a great place for Fido to have a swim. The poor turtle had to be feeling cooped up after all that time in his box.
I ran back to the barn, but when I opened the Tupperware, Fido was floating in the water. He'd seemed fine when I fed him earlier. I set him down on the tabletop, scooting him along with my finger, trying to jump-start him, even though I knew it was hopeless. Fido was dead, and it was all my fault. I had thought I could protect Fido and take care of him, but that bus trip had been too much for the poor little guy. He'd have been better off if I'd left him in Lost Lake.
I put Fido back in the Tupperware dish and ca