“Welcome to Chicago!” Aunt Ella sang. “Chicago, Chicago, it’s the first scheduled stop on the Ashton Twins’ Thirteenth Birthday Road Trip Tour!”
I would have died of embarrassment if there had been anyone else in Aunt Ella’s car except for Stacey and me. Our eccentric aunt drummed the steering wheel and bobbed her head as she sang, which would have been totally dangerous if we weren’t crawling through rush hour traffic.
I nervously checked my watch again. My guide book says Chicago has all kinds of cultural blah-blah-blah, but Stacey and I really only cared about the big Jay Draken concert at seven-thirty. Jay Draken is an amazing singer, aside from being totally gorgeous and a super-nice guy. He goes to Africa every year, just to do volunteer work! And if we ever actually reached Chicago, my sister and I would be sitting in Section 203 of the United Center when Jay Draken took the stage!
“And Chicago is also the hoooooome of deep dish pizzaaaaaa,” sang Aunt Ella. “Once more with feeling!” she added, and Stacey just had to join in for another verse.
“Don’t encourage her,” I hissed, but the awful singing drowned me out. Stacey bounced up and down in the front seat beside Aunt Ella, who used the entire dashboard as a drum set.
It was up to me to watch for our exit and plot out our evening. “We can walk to the United Center in ten minutes from our hotel. Even if we’re a little late, we’ll just miss the opening act. They’re just a bunch of Singing Chicks wannabes.”
“Nothing’s more annoying than the Singing Chicks,” Stacey noted. I was tempted to record a few minutes of her and Aunt Ella harmonizing about the Cubs, Bulls, and White Sox, but I’m not that cruel.
When Aunt Ella’s car pulled up in front of the Holiday Inn, I practically flew out of my seat so I could shower and get dolled up for Jay. After grabbing the two little black suitcases we had wedged into the backseat, I slammed the door shut and yelled, “Come on!” I wondered how could my twin and our aunt be so lethargic. Hadn’t they heard my time calculations?
Stacey finally got out of the car, so I dropped our suitcases on the ground, pulled out the handles and dragged them behind me toward the hotel entrance. I turned around to see Aunt Ella toss her purple purse at Stacey. What was going on?
Aunt Ella beamed at me. “Tiana, I’ve gotta get to Indianapolis ASAP for trapeze rehearsals.”
“I’ve joined the circus!”
“You’ll be fine. The credit card used to book the room is in there.” She jutted her chin out at the purse in my twin’s hand. “I’ll be back to pick you two up tomorrow afternoon.”
What? She was leaving us alone overnight?
Before I had a chance to protest, Stacey slammed the door and Aunt Ella drove off.
Oh my gosh! Aunt Ella must have told Stacey all this while I was napping in the backseat on the way to Illinois. No wonder my sister was so excited. “Stace!” I yelled. “Mom and Dad are gonna kill us. And her.”
“What Mom and Dad don’t know can’t hurt us.”
“We have to call and tell them Aunt Ella left us.”
“Because it’s the right thing to do.”
Stacey rolled her eyes. “Says who?”
“This is dangerous!”
She took the handle of her suitcase. “Relax, Ti. Nothing’s going to happen. And aren’t you excited that the Jay concert starts in just twenty minutes?”
“Nice try at distracting me,” I said, but I was sort of coming around. I’m way more responsible than Aunt Ella, so I could probably take care of Stacey and me for just one night.
We went into the Holiday Inn, each of us dragging one little black suitcase on wheels. If they let us check in by ourselves, I’d take it as a sign that everything was okay. But if they didn’t let us check in, I’d totally call our parents and tattle on Aunt Ella.
We stepped up to the desk and Stacey smiled with no teeth. I don’t know why, but she thinks her lip-only smile is more mature than her toothy smile. “Hi. We have a reservation. Ashton.”
It totally didn’t matter that Stacey had tried to look older. The lady at the reception desk was ancient—she seriously had to have a three-digit age—and she squinted at the computer screen for a whole minute before she asked, “Emma Ashton?”
Stacey said, “It’s Ella.”
Mrs. Ancient squinted harder. “Oh, it does say Ella. Will you be putting it on the same credit card you used to hold the room?”
“Yes.” Stacey opened up Aunt Ella’s purse, flicked past gum wrappers, almost empty bottles of nail polish, and a large pink envelope, to get to Aunt Ella’s wallet. There was a MasterCard sticking out of it.
She handed Mrs. Ancient the card and muttered out of the side of her mouth, “Ti, stop biting your lip and looking all nervous!”
Mrs. Ancient swiped the MasterCard and handed it back to Stacey like it was really her card. My twin stuck it back in the purple purse and Mrs. Ancient gave us the credit-card-esque things they call “keys” in hotels, told us our room number was 617, and pointed out where the elevator was.
We each pulled our suitcases over to the elevator and pushed the up button. And you so will not guess who we saw when the elevator door opened!