In Blake High's cafeteria, Meghan Weir picked at the fries on her tray. She watched Nicole and her cheerleader friends giggling and Jack...

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In Blake High’s cafeteria, Meghan Weir picked at the fries on her tray. She watched Nicole and her cheerleader friends giggling and Jack and the jocks goofing their way through lunch. Walking between buildings to her morning classes, she’d glimpsed the dove on a gutter spout, perched on a trash can and riding on the back seat of the golf cart the principal roamed the campus in. She wondered if only she was being stalked by the same white dove.

A few tables away, Nicole and Jack stared into space, asking themselves the same question. The bell rang, and the lunchroom crowd funneled into the tray-return line. Meghan pushed her tray through the window. She turned to find herself facing Erin Hobbs, her school-bus tormentor, and a cluster of cheerleaders and jocks waiting their turn.

“Love your shirt, Meghan,” Erin smirked. “I had one just like it — last year — but I donated it to Goodwill. Is that where you got yours?” The other girls snickered.

Jack shouldered his way through the crowd. He pushed Erin aside. “Move it, Erin.”

Erin made a face. “Whatever.” She dropped her tray with a clatter and flounced away. Nicole followed Erin and gave Meghan an apologetic glance. Meghan lowered her eyes, and her face flushed a bright pink.

Outside the cafeteria, the dove waited high in a tree.

On the bus ride home, Meghan, Nicole and Jack were, once again, the only kids scanning the sky, looking for a dove. Meghan was grateful for the distraction. It kept her from dwelling on the embarrassing episode in the cafeteria. Why hadn’t she shot back with something like, “What’s wrong, Erin? Can’t stand it when a shirt looks better on someone else?” How come she could never think of a thing to say until it was too late?

At the back of the bus, Erin nudged Nicole and complained. “Earth to Nicole. What is with you today?”

Nicole tried to brush her off. “It’s Monday, OK?”

“You’re still coming over, aren’t you?”

“I don’t think so,” Nicole said. “I’ve got homework, and I’m really tired.”

She was tired of Erin’s meanness, especially to Meghan. Nicole wondered how she had ever let a person like Erin Hobbs take over her life.

Up front, Meghan breathed on the window and with her finger drew a dove in the mist.

The bus hit a bump. One of the jocks let out a record-setting belch, triggering a round of high-fives. Glued to the window, Jack didn’t join in.

“Dude!” the belcher protested. Jack ignored him.

When the bus made its first stop, Nicole walked down the aisle, pausing opposite Meghan, and stared at Meghan’s drawing. Meghan wiped it off.

As the bus pulled away, the dove spiraled down toward Nicole. It dropped a square white envelope at her feet. She picked it up. The paper felt smooth between her fingers, like satin. She flipped her long blond hair back over her shoulder and looked up. The dove cooed softly and flew away.

Jack’s stop was next. The morning paper sat on the front step. His father had called in sick again. As Jack stooped to pick up the Gazette, a square white envelope landed on top of it. His name was on it. He looked up quickly and watched the dove fly off.

Meghan stepped off the bus and bowed her head against the chill. She was hurrying home when she saw a stranger at her door. A bill collector, most likely.

“Hey, kid, you live here?”

She shook her head and walked on; it wasn’t lying if you didn’t say it out loud.

She turned the corner and there was the dove, hovering at eye level with a square white envelope in its beak. The dove let go, and she caught the envelope.

Waving it over her head, she called after the bird. “This better not be a bill!”

The dove soared up toward the clouds. Had it looked back from on high, it would have seen two girls and a boy, staring in awe at their envelope’s contents. They all held glossy white cards with a message embossed in gold:

Now is the time to get excited.

You are cordially invited.

When the clock’s hands strike upon 10,

Be fast asleep in bed and then

With Christmas stocking in your hand,

Embark upon adventure grand.

Your future is bound to be bright,

Because Elf Camp begins tonight.

Tuesday: Mission Accomplished