Matthew Bramble woke up to the smell of food. Delicious, freshly-baked food, to be exact.
It was the custom for families living a leisurely stroll away from one another to take turns hosting potluck Sunday brunch. That day it was the Brambles’ turn to open their home to their neighbours. They would be joined by the Mulberrys, the Slydales and the Chantillys. Maurice Chantilly and his family actually lived a leisurely drive away from Larchwood Lodge, but his daughter Esme and Matthew were best friends at school so they were always welcome.
Scrubbing himself in the bathtub, Matthew thought about how wonderful it was that school was out. This was going to be an extra special term break; the Brambles were going on a beach holiday for a week! The idea of being someplace warm in December put him in a very good mood.
‘Oh, there you are, Mattie!’ greeted his mother, Eleanor, as soon as he stepped out of the bathroom. ‘Here, put these on.’ She held out a set of new clothes, more fit for a day out in town than a lazy Sunday at home.
‘Why can’t I wear what I always wear?’ Matthew asked.
‘Oh, you know why -‘ Eleanor caught herself mid-sentence, as though something had just struck her. ‘The neighbours are coming and I don’t want you looking scruffy, that’s all,’ she added quickly. ‘Now get a move on. I’d better get the er, muffins, out of the oven.’
Matthew got dressed quickly.
‘It’s not quite my style,’ he said as he checked himself in the mirror, ‘and the t-shirt’s so baggy I can’t see my shorts!’
‘But oh well, whatever makes Mom happy. I’m too hungry to argue!’
‘Are you ready, Mattie?’ It was his father, Mortimer, calling from halfway up the stairs.
‘Haha, I see Mom’s made you dress up too,’ Matthew remarked, terribly amused.
‘You know I love your mother very much,’ he said good-naturedly. ‘Now come along.’
Matthew wondered what was making his parents especially excited about Sunday brunch. Perhaps there were having special guests?
As usual, the Brambles stood on the porch waiting for the neighbours to arrive, and as usual, the Chantillys were the first to come.
There was a chorus of hearty good mornings and how-do-you-dos, and then from behind her back, Esme produced a box wrapped in cheery yellow paper. (Yellow is Esme’s favorite color.)
‘Happy birthday in advance, Matt!’ said Esme. ‘Sorry the box is a bit squashed. Bumpy country lanes, hee.’
‘Our friends asked that we throw you an early birthday party,’ explained his father, ‘since we’re going away on vacation next week.’
‘You don’t mind, do you, Mattie?’ asked his mother.
Matthew was beaming. ‘Oh, Mom and Dad! This is the best surprise ever!’
-end of Part 1-