Friday, June 10, 2011
On Baby-Sitters Club Super Mystery #last: Chapter 5
Okay, so first, a note: The characters, places, and situations created for the Baby-Sitters Club series are the property of Ann M. Martin and Scholastic. (If they were mine, you know Janine would have gone all A Beautiful Mind by now.) Everything that isn't real life and isn't Ann M.'s is mine, and if you violate my copyright, I will cut you. On with the show.
In our last episode, Mallory had herself a little sleepover.
“Does everyone have sunscreen?” I couldn’t believe what a mother I’d turned into. I’d always prided myself on being so laid back, even when I was a baby-sitter. But now that I had two of my own, I had to hold myself back from hovering.
Calantha rolled her eyes. “Yes, Mom,” she said.
“Yes, Mom,” Teal echoed, doing a decent four-year-old attempt at Calantha’s all-pro eye-roll. I had to keep an eye on that one.
“You put it on them yourself, Mom,” Brent said, eyes all sparkly in that way that kept me from hitting him, and he kissed me on the cheek. He pulled into Sharon’s—Sharon’s and Richard’s—driveway. “And I have an extra bottle of it. We’ll all be fine.”
I grabbed his face and kissed him on the lips. “I know. You take good care of my girls.”
We piled out of the rental car, and Calantha raced to the front door, opening it without knocking. We followed a little more slowly, Teal carefully assembling her backpack to go inside even though she’d be back out in the car in less than twenty minutes.
“And we’re going to see the giraffes,” Calantha was chattering to Mary Anne when we caught up with her. “They have the same number of bones in their necks as we do, but theirs are really long. And we’re going to see the elephants, and there are two kinds of elephants, African and Indian. Elephants gestate for twenty-two months. That means how long they’re pregnant.” Brent and Mary Anne’s husband Stephen had bravely volunteered to take the girls to the zoo while Mary Anne and I caught up and did some last-minute planning. “I have to go to the bathroom.”
“I have to go to the bathroom, too!” Teal ran off after her big sister.
Stephen stood silent in the hallway, wide-eyed, looked exactly like a man who’d never had to look after two little girls before—much like Brent had early in our relationship, staring at a two-year-old and a four-year-old like they were alien creatures. Brent caught the look and laughed. “You ready to go, buddy?”
“Stephen has snacks for you,” Mary Anne said. “Carrots and celery and peanut butter. It’s all organic. And flax crackers—I don’t think they’re cooked.”
My heart melted a little. “It’s okay. We don’t do raw anymore,” I said. “That’s so thoughtful. Thank you.” She shrugged.
The girls returned from the bathroom. “Teal did number two,” Calantha announced. Stephen blanched.
Brent laughed again. “Are we ready to get this show on the road?” The girls cheered and charged out of the house toward the car, leaving Teal’s pink backpack and a shell-shocked Stephen by the door.
Mary Anne leaned up to kiss him. “You’re going to do fine,” she said, leaning up to kiss him. “They’re Dawn’s. They’re good kids.” More heart-melting. He kissed her back, shouldered Teal’s backpack resolutely, and marched out the door after the crowd.
“He is so completely lost,” Mary Anne said, watching them go. “I really shouldn’t find it as funny as I do.”
“No, it’s definitely funny,” I said. “Brent has four younger brothers, and he still didn’t know what to do with the girls in the beginning.”
“Stephen has an older sister,” Mary Anne said. “She has a son and a daughter, but he hasn’t gotten much exposure to them. This is going to be an experience for him.”
We watched the car pull away and stood silently for a moment, enjoying the peace and quiet. I moved first, in the direction of the kitchen. “Do we have food?”
“Tomatoes and cucumbers from Mrs. Ramirez next door,” Mary Anne said. “And now that I know you eat food that isn’t raw, you can enjoy them as part of a sandwich.”
“Such luxury.” She pushed past me to dig through the fridge. As promised, tomatoes and cucumbers, even with a little bit of dirt still on them, and avocado sandwich spread. “What, did you buy out Whole Foods?” I asked.
“There’s a little hippie grocery around the corner from our house. Reeks of pachouli, but they have a good selection of vegan stuff.” I kicked her ankle. She kicked me back.
“Got plans for the day?” I asked when our sandwiches were assembled and we were sitting at the dining room table.
“Oh, I have a very important shopping trip lined up with Stacey.”
I laughed. “Of course. Seriously, though.”
“No, I’m serious,” Mary Anne said. “Last night, I told Stacey what I was wearing, and she flipped out. Just lost it, like I’d told her I was wearing a dress made of meat. And then for some reason I agreed to let her take me shopping.”
“You ever going to drink margaritas again?”
“And that’s why I don’t drink.”
“So you don’t have to go shopping with Stacey?”
“That, and the carbs,” I said. Mary Anne snorted. “I have to wonder how she’s doing after the night she had last night. Her car’s parked practically in the middle of the street.”
Mary Anne frowned. “I don’t think she drove here. And I know Claudia wouldn’t have let her drive home after she drank so much.”
“I guess it’s someone else. Water?” Mary Anne nodded, and I jumped up and headed into the kitchen. When I reached into the fridge for the water pitcher I found… an extra surprise. “Um, Mary Anne?” I walked back into the dining room dangling the striped bikini top from one finger. “Did you lose this?”
She burst out laughing. “It’s your mom’s. She bought it for the honeymoon. There’s probably a zucchini tucked away in her suitcase right now.”
“Remind me to check on that.” I looped it over the back of my chair. “That’s a bit sassy for Hilton Head, don’t you think?”
She shrugged. “Probably. But they’re only going to be there for three days, so I guess she wanted to make the most of it.”
“Three days? Seriously?”
“Well, yeah,” she said. “It’s their second honeymoon—third each, really, total—and they didn’t want to do anything huge. Plus, my dad can’t be out of town for too long right now. He’s working on a big case.”
I had to sit silent for a few seconds to gather my thoughts. “So she gets an extra-short honeymoon because Richard can’t drag himself away from the office?”
Mary Anne stared. “And because it’s not a great time right now, and because it’s expensive, and because of a dozen other good reasons,” she said. “Not just because of my dad.”
“I’m just saying it’s not a good start,” I said. “They started having problems in the first place because your dad was spending so much time at work, and—”
“They started having problems because your mom didn’t understand my dad’s commitment to his clients,” she interrupted. “Which she knew about before she married him. And which really worked to her benefit when your dad was suing her.”
“There’s such a thing as balance,” I said.
“And there’s such a thing as not sleeping with your cooking instructor,” she shot back. “Sharon kept pressuring Dad to give up the job he loves—and is really, really good at—and he just tried to make her happy—”
“Make her happy? All she wanted was time—”
“—up to the point of taking those classes with her, and do you know he doesn’t even like vegetarian food?” she said. She jumped up from her chair and started stacking plates and cups from lunch. “Their entire marriage, he’s been eating tofu-ginger salad and bean sprouts and hating it. But he did that for her. And how much did she appreciate it?”
“She needed someone to pay attention to her, and she found someone,” I said, following her into the kitchen. “No, I can’t defend what she did, but one cooking class a week isn’t the same as coming home in the evening and having a conversation with your wife.”
“Your mom wasn’t spending all that private time with a hot young grad student for the conversation.”
“I told you I can’t defend what she did,” I gritted out. “But can’t you understand wanting to spend time with someone who wants to spend time with you? Someone you have something in common with? Richard should have been grateful someone was picking up his slack.”
“This is funny to you?”
“No. This is very, very not funny to me.” I leaned against the fridge and sighed. “Why are we doing this? Why are we fighting? You’re my best friend. You’re my sister.”
Mary Anne put down the plate she was holding. “Yeah, but they’re our parents,” she said. “There’s DNA there. We have to defend them.”
“And when we think they’re making a mistake?”
Her eyes jumped to mine. “You think this is a mistake?”
“Maybe,” I admitted. “If your dad isn’t going to ease up on work—and if my mom isn’t going to start being more understanding,” I said, heading off her incoming objection, “maybe they need to take some time before they recommit.”
“Maybe they do.” Mary Anne leaned back against the counter, and we just looked at each other for a minute. She looked about as tired as I felt. “But they’re adults, and they get to make their own decisions. And it’s our job to support them.”
“You’re right.” I sighed. She sighed. “We have to be here for them and for each other. They're old enough to work it out.” I sighed again. “But Mary Anne?"
“Can we get that bikini top out of the dining room? I can’t stand thinking about what it’s going to be doing while they’re at the beach.”
“Oh, my God, yes.” She disappeared, and a moment later the bikini top slingshotted into the kitchen and hit me in the chest. “Put that back in the fridge, or else she’ll never find it.”
“I can’t believe I’m actually doing this,” I said, folding it neatly and tucking it away in the crisper drawer.
The front door opened, and Stacey sailed through without knocking, looking fresh and bright and completely un-hung over. Her short dress, tights, and booties were a bit much for shopping in Stoneybrook on a Thursday, but she looked great in them. “Morning, ladies. Mary Anne, you ready to go out and find something halfway acceptable?”
“I had something halfway acceptable.”
“There’s nothing wrong with sleeves!” she said. “Sleeves in April in Connecticut—”
“Don’t have to look like my grandmother,” Stacey supplied. “Pack it up. You’re driving.”
“So that isn’t your car, then,” I said.
“Parked in front of your mom’s house.”
Her eyebrows snapped together. “I took the train. I always take the train.” She hurried to the front window. “That’s not mom’s house, that’s your house.”
Mary Anne looked out. “No, that’s your house. Or maybe the Ramirezes’.”
“Well, it’s not mine,” Stacey said. “Obviously. And obviously it’s not yours, so they must be waiting for the Ramirezes or the Bowmans.”
“Yeah, there’s someone sitting in the car.”
“Just sitting there?” I joined them at the window and peeked through the blinds—there was definitely a person in the front seat of the white Camry. “They really are just sitting there. That’s kind of creepy.”
“I know, right?”
“Hey, doesn’t that look like the car that practically mowed us down in the parking lot last night?”
“How do you even remember that?” Stacey said.
“We weren’t all completely loaded,” I said. “I think it was that car.”
Mary Anne rolled her eyes and sat back down at the table. “Yeah, they followed us here to yell at us for loitering in the parking lot.”
“It was a white Camry, though,” I said.
“Camrys are, like, the third most popular car in the country,” she said. “Chances are, there’s more than one white Camry in Stoneybrook.”
“But what if it’s the same car?” Stacey said. “There could be someone sitting out there, lying in wait for you or my mom or the Ramirezes or the Bowmans—”
“Lying in wait?” Mary Anne laughed, and I couldn’t help but laugh along. “You make it sound so ominous, like Mr. Bowman is actually an international super-spy and his presence puts us all at risk.”
“You never know.” Stacey was moving toward the front door.
“Where are you going?”
“To find out who’s sitting in front of your damn house.”
“What are you doing?” Mary Anne said. “That’s so dangerous!”
Stacey spun around. “Aha! So you do think it’s dangerous!”
“Going up to some complete stranger’s car just sitting there and knocking on the window?” Mary Anne said. “Yeah, actually, I think that’s dangerous. Didn’t you pay attention to those ‘stranger danger’ videos we had to watch in school?”
“I grew up in New York City,” Stacey said. “We got ‘stranger danger’ for bedtime stories. And that’s why I’m going out to talk to that stranger”—she pointed out the window—”to see if he’s dangerous.” She threw the door open and stepped out onto the porch. I watched through the blinds as she took one step toward the street—and the white car peeled away and roared off. Stacey watched it disappear around the corner, then came back inside.
“See?” she said. “That’s fucked up.”
“They were sitting there, and then they left,” Mary Anne said. “People do that.” But she didn’t sound convinced.
Stacey wasn’t convinced at all. “Let’s get going,” she said, leaning against the door frame. “That shit’s just weird. That, and Mary Anne’s dress.”
“My dress is fine.”
“Says my grandma.”
Coming up: We learn more about what Stacey's been up to since she bailed on the BSC.