“Oh, you’ve dripped your Popsicle all over me—again. Didn’t I tell you to eat it before it melts?” Cody Bannister sighed and tried to wipe the sugar-saturated liquid from his pants, but it stuck. Trixie, the Bannisters’ chocolate brown golden doodle, barked. She knew Cody’s archnemesis was approaching.
But the situation requires some exposition. When Cody Bannister moved from 582 Gambit Lane to live with his wife Charlotte at 285 Chester Court, he did more than simply rearrange the battered address numbers his parents gave him as a going-away gift. While Mr. and Mrs. Bannister knew that, sooner or later, life would change for their most middle of middle children, only Trixie realized right away that Cody’s new life with Charlotte would present a challenge to his unusual superpower. Unfortunately, since the Bannisters didn’t always remember to ask her opinion, Cody suspected no problems.
“This new adventure’s going to be great, Trixie,” Cody informed her, the day before he and Charlotte tied the proverbial knot, “and it’ll be even better because you agreed to supervise the newest Bannister household.”
Trixie sniffed modestly. Of all Mr. and Mrs. Bannister’s seven children, she felt a special responsibility for Cody. The rest of the children could look out for themselves quite well—the eldest, Arnold, made a surprisingly good living speeding around in racecars, and the youngest, Maisie, had recently emerged from the fabled teenage stage—but Cody was the only Bannister child with a superpower.
Cody didn’t quite understand all that Trixie was thinking, but he made a fairly good guess. “Come on, Trixie,” he laughed, scratching her in her favorite place behind her ears, “you know these fingers of mine haven’t failed yet.”
As he spoke, he snapped his fingers in the direction of the unpacking debris still scattered across the lawn of 285 Chester Court. Boxes folded themselves into precise cardboard stacks, and foam peanuts rolled into symmetrical piles. Trixie nosed the last peanut in front of Cody’s newly polished shoes, but he laughed again.
“I left that one especially for you, Trix,” he said, “as long as you’re sure you won’t eat it.”
Trixie’s sniff turned disdainful at the thought of anyone, dog or otherwise, eating a packing peanut. The starry look, which signaled to Trixie that Cody was thinking of Charlotte, had drifted back into his eyes, so she rolled the last peanut into place and trotted off. She knew the starry look would have to compete with plenty of new worries, but she decided to let him enjoy the moment. Sooner or later, Cody’s archnemesis would appear.
For once, Trixie’s estimate was slightly sidetracked. Cody’s archnemesis did in fact make his appearance, but Cody seemed unaware of that fact for an untowardly long time. When Charlotte carried home the very small bundle that was Noah Norbert Bannister, Cody carried the birth certificate with all the proud pomp of a new father. Perhaps Noah Norbert’s size put Cody off the track—even Trixie had second thoughts.
“There’s someone new to look after now, Trixie,” Cody announced, as Charlotte installed Noah in his carefully assembled crib. “But he’s so small, he shouldn’t be much trouble.”
With one glance, Trixie realized that the starry look had returned to Cody’s face. She sniffed Noah Norbert thoroughly and sneezed. Charlotte exchanged a look with Trixie and laughed.
“Much trouble?” she repeated. “Oh, Trixie knows trouble when she sees it. Did you forget all about growing up with Arnold and company?”
Trixie thumped her tail against Charlotte. Anyone who understood dogs as well was babies was worth keeping. Cody looked down at Trixie, waiting for a tail-thump of his own.
“I didn’t forget,” he insisted, grinning when Trixie finally obliged, “but I think Noah will be different. Maisie could be cranky, and messy, and even a little wild, but Noah—”
“Will be just the same,” Charlotte smiled, as Trixie added her agreeing bark. “Just wait and see.”
It didn’t take Cody long to see what Trixie had predicted some time before. Although Cody could clean almost anything with a snap of his fingers, his skill did not extend to a certain necessary article of Noah’s. The baby’s nappies had to be cleaned with sweat and elbow grease, no matter how often Cody’s fingers snapped. For the first time, Cody actually used some of the cleaning supplies gathering dust in the upstairs closet of 285 Chester Court.
When he first made this discovery, Cody was delighted with Noah’s ability to neutralize his power. For reasons neither Charlotte nor Trixie could pinpoint, Cody seemed to enjoy the elbow grease involved in Noah’s care. As time passed, however, Cody’s enthusiasm began to fade.
“I’m not sure I like this, Trix,” he confided, after an apparently never-ending day of picking up Noah’s messes without involving a single finger-snap. “At first it was just the nappies, and it was almost fun, but now—”
Trixie didn’t bark, or even sniff. She only looked her listening look, and thumped her tail.
“Now,” Cody continued, looking past her into the doorway of the room where Noah slept, “I can’t clean anything he touches—at least not the way I’m used to cleaning.”
Charlotte leaned into the room and smiled. “Dirty knees, muddy shorts, misplaced toys,” she said. “Maybe Cody Bannister has finally met his match.”
Cody shook his head. “The older he gets, the more messes he makes, but I can still try harder.” He reached down to give Trixie a scratch, just missing her favorite spot. “If I try harder, my snap could clean even Noah’s best efforts.”
Trixie yawned, tilting her head so Cody’s scratch landed in the right place. She didn’t want to admit it to Cody, but a silent conference with Charlotte confirmed what they were both thinking. No amount of trying harder would guarantee an effective cleaning snap.
When summer arrived, dripping Popsicles proved an especially effective way for Noah to forestall his father’s cleaning efforts. The sticky, sugary juice would render Cody’s snaps ineffective far beyond doubt. Any level of resistance Cody had cultivated in the previous months crumbled before the melting slabs of berry-flavored ices, which made it impossible for him to tidy even his own messes. Tennis rackets, lawn equipment, and halves of pool noodles dotted the lawn, but Cody couldn’t budge them.
“Daddy, look at this!” Noah called, waving his almost-finished Popsicle in the air. “It can be a sword, or a lightsaber, or—”
“How about a traffic signal?” Cody suggested. “A big red one that says stop?”
Noah frowned. “Daddy, that’s no fun. Lightsabers are—”
“Way cooler, I know,” Cody said, laughing in spite of himself. He tossed a pool noodle into the water, and then dipped his sticky hand to create a miniature whirlpool. “How about cleaning up some of this?”
Noah sucked the last of the flavoring from his Popsicle stick. “Daddy, cleaning is also no fun.” He removed the stick from his mouth and grinned. “Can we have a lightsaber fight first?”
Cody shook the water from his fingers. “I’ll show you something even cooler than a lightsaber fight,” he said, snapping at the lawn mower. It rolled across the lawn into the garage, followed by the garden hose, which spun itself into a perfect circle.
Noah almost dropped his Popsicle stick. “Why didn’t you clean all my messes like that?”
Cody snapped his fingers at Noah’s Popsicle stick, but nothing happened. “Because it doesn’t work with yours,” he admitted. “If that was my Popsicle stick, it would’ve flown right to the garbage can.”
Trixie, who had been watching the entertainment from the shade by the house, cocked her head and barked. Noah, whose head was tilted almost like hers, turned and waved. Then he went back to thinking. Cody started to say something, but a gentle sniff from Trixie stopped him.
“Daddy,” Noah said, dropping his Popsicle stick and looking up, “sometimes it’s okay to be a little messy.”
“Who told you that?” Cody asked, glancing quickly at Trixie.
“Trixie did,” Noah replied, with a smile, “and Mommy too.”
Cody laughed again. “Well, if the two of them say so—”
“But I was thinking,” Noah interrupted, “maybe I can clean my own messes.”
Cody laughed even harder. “If you can clean your own messes, you can clean anybody’s,” he said, picking Noah up and swinging him onto his shoulders.
“Now you watch, Daddy!” From his perch on Cody’s shoulders, Noah snapped carefully at the Popsicle stick in the grass. It took a leap into his small hand, and Cody blinked.
“Maybe it’s time I got a sidekick,” he said, tilting his head back to look at Noah. “What do you think about that, Noah Norbert?”
Trixie barked her laughing bark Of course, she knew all along that Cody Bannister’s archnemesis was slated to be his sidekick—just took a melting Popsicle to prove it.