Chapter 1

Fay LaFarge rolled quietly out of bed and held her breath so she would be skinny enough to squeeze past the bedroom door without making it creak.  There was a new, crisp, completely unopened box of Cinnamon Rogers cereal in the kitchen, and she wanted the prize in the package.

If she woke up Skipper, who was five, he would pout and whimper and make Mom feel sorry for him. If she woke up Tilly, who was fourteen, Tilly would start her misunderstood teenager drama and make Dad feel sorry for her. But Fay being ten, was neither cute nor misunderstood, and if nobody would look out for her, she’d sure as heck look out for herself.

Like a stealthy, slinky cat, Fay crept down the stairs, stepping carefully over the third stair from the bottom, which always squeaked. There was just enough morning light that she could see, on the kitchen counter, bright and tantalizing, the fresh box of Cinnamon Rogers.

Sneaking, sneaking, the prize as good as hers, Fay reached for the box.

“Hands off!” shouted Tilly from the hallway. “That box is mine!”

Fay clutched the cereal to her chest, grabbed a wooden spoon, and leapt into position like a swordfighter.
“Not while I’m living!” she cried.

Tilly never sneaked. She stormed. And before Fay could react, Tilly stormed to a strategic position in front of the dish cupboard and turned to glower darkly at Fay.
“You might have the Cinnamon Rogers, but you’ll never get a bowl!”

“Scoundrel!” gasped Fay as she faced off on the opposite side of the kitchen table from Tilly.

“I don’t want the Rogers,” chimed in Skipper, who was thumping down the stairs on his bottom. “They’re too cinnanummy.  I  just want the PRIZE!”

“The prize,” said Fay, “is tiddlywinks. You never beat me at tiddlywinks! Are you sure you want it?”

“I want it!” cried Skipper. “And it’s called Flippin’ Eights, not tiddlywinks!”

“Whatever,” said Fay. “but you still want it, even after I saw you trade your apple for a Goober Bar at lunch yesterday?”

“Spy!” said Skipper.

“Sneak!” said Fay.

“No bowl!” growled Tilly.

“Hey!” said Fay, suddenly looking out the kitchen window. “United Delivery is bringing a package…and it’s that hot  United Delivery guy!”

“No way!” cried Tilly. She ran to the window, combing snags out of her hair with her fingers.

“Thanks for the bowl,” said Fay, making a dash for the needed dish, and sliding into a chair at the breakfast table.

Tilly looked disgusted. “There’s no delivery guy, you dweeber.”

Fay was even more disgusted. “Somebody already opened this box. There’s no prize either.”

“Wasn’t me,” said Tilly.

“Me neither,” said Skipper.

“Me,” said Mrs. LaFarge, walking into the room with baby Lynette on her hip, “I opened it last night. Lynette had an earache. I gave her the tiddlywinks in the box to cheer her up.”

“They’re not tiddlywinks,” said Skipper. “They’re called ‘Flippin’ Eights.’”

“Mom!” scolded Fay. “Lynette’s too little for tiddlywinks! She’ll choke and die and turn blue!”

“She’s almost two,” said Mrs. LaFarge, sliding Lynette into her highchair. “Besides, I’ll keep an eye on her.”

Fay, Tilly, and Skipper looked at each other in disgust and shared defeat.

“I’m having toast,” grumbled Tilly with a scowl.

Mr. LaFarge entered the kitchen, stepping carefully over the bits of cereal Lynette was busily flinging on the floor. He buttoned his white lab coat and adjusted his name badge.              
“Don’t tell me,” he said .“You think Cinnamon Rogers are too cinnamon-tasting?”

“Who cares if she does, Dad?” said Fay, answering quickly so Tilly couldn’t. “She can eat plain Jolly Rogers. Don’t change the flavor for Tilly.”

“Mine Roshers!” squealed Lynette, flinging another handful of cereal.

“They’re not too cinnamony, Dad,” said Tilly, rolling her eyes. “You’re a perfect chief chemist. They’re not going to fire you. I just feel like toast.”

Mrs. LaFarge picked several stray bits of cereal out of Mr. LaFarge’s hair.
“Nobody creates better flavors than you Lyle,” she said lovingly. “You have a magic touch. Jolly Rogers cereal is practically addictive.”

Mr. LaFarge drummed his fingers on the table. “Toast, toast, toasty sweetness,” he said thoughtfully. “Would you say Jolly Rogers have just the right amount of toasty sweetness?”

“Just right,” answered Fay. “Except for one thing…Make them put more than one prize in each box.”

“That’s not my department,” replied Mr. LaFarge. “I’m just the flavor guy. But don’t expect Mr. Arg to spend money on extra prizes…he’s a little tight that way.”

“Watch what you say about your boss,” warned Mrs. LaFarge, picking more Cinnamon Rogers out of Mr. LaFarge’s hair, “because he’s…well, your boss.”

“Yes, he’s my boss,” agreed Mr. LaFarge, with a slight shudder. “And what a weird day that was when they put him in charge. Something about his take-charge attitude is what they said…but he takes more business trips than anyone I’ve ever heard of…”

There’s not much time to dawdle over breakfast on a school morning, so Skipper and Tilly had soon piled their dishes in the sink and gone off to get dressed as Mr. LaFarge left for the cereal factory.

Fay, however, was not concerned with whether her clothes matched, and poured more Cinnamon Rogers into her bowl.  Then, something in her bowl went “clink.”  “Clink,”  was not the sound she expected from Cinnamon Rogers, so she fished around with her spoon, and scooped out…a quarter.

No. It wasn’t a quarter. Instead of being round it was  not-quite-round around the edges, and there was no eagle, and no “In God We Trust.” Instead, on one side, was a picture of the sun with its rays pointing to the words “pass with time or pass time by.”

Fay turned it over. Cool. Very cool. On the flip side a cracked skull lay in two split halves under the words “either way your time will pass.”

Turned out Dad was wrong. Mr. Arg was already putting two prizes in each box, and this time, Fay realized with delight, she had gotten there first.  She smiled and, as sneakily as always, put the coin in her pocket.

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