The duct tape was strong and, unfortunately for Penelope, the scissors were dull. The blades struggled against the dark silver tape, which had been used to seal all the edges and flaps of the wet and dented cardboard box.
Whoever had sent this to her and her mother, certainly went to a lot of trouble to make sure it wouldn't open on accident.
Penelope bit her bottom lip in frustration as she worked on the tape. She grumbled and muttered a variety of words under her breath that she knew her mother would never have approved of. Finally, after a solid five minutes of struggling, she managed to get one strip of duct tape completely cut through.
By now Minnie had become quite curious about the box and was practically trying to nose her way into the gap that Penelope had created.
"Out of the way, Minnie," Penelope said as she tried to pull her cat away from the box so she could continue cutting. There were two more long strips she needed to get through before she could even think about opening the box.
Then something in the box jumped.
"What the--!" All thoughts of opening it the rest of the way fled the startled girl as she shoved it quickly off her lap in surprise before scrambling up the back of the sofa, along with her cat, who's fur was standing completely on end. She stared at the box in fright as whatever was inside it kept jumping and shifting on the living room floor.
"Mom! MOM!" Penelope yelled as she pulled her feet up on the top of the sofa's back.
"What's wrong, honey!?" Geraldine Falkner, her long blonde hair partially braided, rushed down the stairs as quickly as she could. The older woman froze when she saw moving box, as her daughter began speaking as fast as her voice would allow.
"Some creepy delivery guy gave me this box just now and something's alive inside it and you should call the police or the FBI or someone cause something is NOT RIGHT about this AT ALL!"
At that precise moment, a bright flash of lightning and a deafening crack of thunder rattled the windows of the house, making Penelope squeak with fright. Interestingly enough, the thunder seemed to startle whatever was in the box as well, and it suddenly stopped moving.
Geraldine, on the other hand, didn't pay the storm outside any mind. In fact, she didn't even seem to be all that alarmed by the box and its unusual movements just moments prior. She folded her arms across her chest and glared at the box with mild irritation. "I can't believe him! He couldn't send this via normal channels like a sane person, oh no!" She rolled her eyes. "He had to go for the theatrics. Stormy night... Spooky delivery man... Creepy whatever in a mysterious box.... I swear to God the next time I see him I'm going to give him a piece of my mind!"
"Give who a piece of your mind, Mom?"
"Who else?! Your father!"
Penelope's eyes went wide. "That thing's from Dad?" It surprised the girl to hear her mother speak about her father. Her parents had divorced when she was just a toddler, and she could count on one hand the numbers of time she'd seen the man since she was four. The last time she saw her dad was on her ninth birthday.
"Here you go, sweetheart," her father had said with a bright smile. "Happy Birthday!"
"Thanks Daddy!" Penelope said with a cheerful smile. It wasn't often that she saw her father, and she'd always loved it when he visited her, even though he irritated her mother to no end.
The nine-year old girl looked at the box curiously. It was a pretty normal looking box wrapped completely with brightly colored paper. She shook it curiously, then jumped a little when something inside the box moved in response.
"OH!" she exclaimed. "Something's moving inside!" Penelope's eyes lit up. "Is it an animal? A new pet?!"
"Kinda... Sorta..." her father said sheepishly. Then he grinned at her coyly. "Why don't you open it and find out?"
Before she could get the chance, though...
"Eric!" her mother's voice cut through the air as the older woman stormed over to the father and daughter. "What do you think you're doing?!"
Penelope's father narrowed his eyes, and the smile faded quickly into a more serious expression. "I was giving my daughter her birthday present."
"Hey! That's my present!" Penelope cried as her mother snatched the box out of her hands.
"No!" Geraldine said as she shoved the box back into her father's hands. "Absolutely not! She is far too young!"
"She's the same age I was when I got my first--"
"I don't care! She isn't you!"
"It's her birthright!"
"It's not your decision!"
Penelope's father glared at her mother before sighing and tucking the box under his arm. He regarded her now teary eyed daughter with an apologetic expression. "I'm sorry Penny. What your mom says goes..." He shot Geraldine a dark look. "...for now."
Then he knelt closer and put his lips next to his little girl's ear and whispered so that only she could hear. "Don't worry. She can't keep your gift away from you forever. I'll make sure of that." When Eric pulled back, he had a mysterious smile on his face, and he winked at Penelope.
Then he left the party, and that was the last time Penelope saw her father.
"So this is from Dad?"
With a long-suffering sigh, Geraldine nodded. "Unfortunately, yes." She immediately moved to pick up the box and began to turn towards the kitchen..
Cautiously, Penelope began to climb off the sofa. "Wait! That box is for me, isn't it? What are you doing to do with it?"
Geraldine turned to glance at her daughter over her shoulder. "Throw it out, what else?"
"But it's from Dad!"
"Which means it's nothing but trouble. Trust me, Penelope. You're better off not accepting anything from that man."