Friday, July 08, 2011
On Baby-Sitters Club Super Mystery #last: Chapter 6
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 Dawn would have come to the bacony Dark Side 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, Dawn and Mary Anne had it out, and they had an unannounced guest.
“Seriously, Dawn, it’s possible to do the hippy-dippy-unshaven-earthchild thing without looking like Joan Baez.” I yanked the ankle-length skirt out of her hand and replaced it on the rack. “I don't even know why Shannon has that thing.”
“Anna Sui showed long skirts for spring,” Shannon called from the back of the shop.
“She also showed puffed sleeves and socks with sandals, but I’m not sending Dawn down the aisle looking like Little Retirement Villa on the Prairie.” I dug further into the rack. “Now here’s what I'm talking about.” The fabric was light and crinkly and vaguely paisley, but tiny pleats and a fitted waist made the look a little more modern. “Throw on a long, beaded necklace, and no one will ever know you wear deodorant. Mary Anne, stop looking at clothes. Just stand over there by the shoes until I’m ready for you.”
“I want to shop with Claudia. She’s not as mean,” Mary Anne said, but she obediently went to the shoe wall to watch Shannon set out a new shipment of towering wedges. I was going to have to do some shopping for myself before we left.
To be completely honest, I probably didn’t need more shoes. Thomas and I didn’t socialize a whole lot, outside of cocktail parties with his colleagues that weren’t really the place to break out the sky-high zippered peep-toes I was eyeing. Still, I was bound to make it out with a few girls from work, and those shoes plus an indecently short dress were certain to get our bar tab paid.
Focus, Stace. “Shannon, I’m thinking box pleats and an apron front for Mary Anne,” I said.
“Let the grownups talk, Mary Anne. Shannon?”
“There are some really nice structured dresses on that rack near the front window.”
“Awesome.” Before I could make my move, though, the bell on the front door chimed and Claudia and Jessi walked in, each with a handful of shopping bags. “Fancy meeting you here,” I said. “Burning the magnetic strip off your credit cards?”
“Just checking out downtown,” Claudia said. “It’s a lot more developed than it used to be. Hey, Dawn, this was on your car.” Claudia handed Dawn a folded note.
Dawn unfolded it. I could see the big, bold Sharpie letters through the paper, and it didn’t take her long to read them. “This is fucked up,” she said. “What does this mean? What is this?”
Claudia took the note back and read it. “That’s wrong. That's so wrong.” She showed the note to Jessi, who cringed, and then handed it to me.
I will find you. Holy shit. “I told you there was something fucked up about that car,” I said, handing the note back to Claud. “I told you.”
“What car?” Claudia asked.
“There was a car parked in front of Dawn's house this morning, but they said it probably wasn’t anything,” I said, jerking my chin at Mary Anne and Dawn, who were still speechless. “But it was the same one that nearly killed us in the parking lot last night, and now they’ve left some fucked up note on Dawn’s car.”
“Well, we don’t know if—”
“Shut up, Mary Anne,” Dawn said. Her hand was shaking a bit as she took the note back from me. “I don’t know what the note means, but I think it’s safe to assume that the person who was staring at my house all morning is the one who left a note on my car. I mean, let’s not be dumb here.”
Mary Anne’s lower lip trembled in a way I recognized from middle school, back when she’d lose it every time someone so much as raised their voice. She took a deep breath, though, and her voice was steady. “We don’t know who, exactly the note is for,” she said. “Last night, we were all at the restaurant. This morning, the car was parked in front of Sharon’s and Dad's house, but Dawn, Stacey, and I were all there. And now the note was on Sharon’s car. There’s definitely someone stalking us—one of us—but right now, we don’t know who.”
“What does that mean?” Jessi asked.
“It means one of us is in danger,” Mary Anne said. “And right now, we all need to be worried. Shannon, what's Kristy’s phone number?”
“Why are you calling Kristy?” Dawn asked.
“Here, use mine.” Shannon came around the counter and handed her phone to Mary Anne.
“Thanks. I’m calling Kristy because she’s…”
We all stared at each other for a minute.
“We call Kristy because she’s the one we call,” Jessi said finally.
“Hey, Kristy,” Mary Anne said into the phone. “We—It’s Mary Anne.” She frowned at us. Baby? she mouthed. “We’re at the shop. Listen, Claud just found a threatening note on Dawn’s car, and it’s starting to look like—we just thought we should all get together and talk about it.” She listened. “Exactly, yeah. We were going to go back to—Uh-huh. Sure.” Listened. “Yeah, I guess. We’ll see you then.” She hung up and handed the phone back to Shannon. “She wants to meet at her place, because she has a whiteboard,” she told us.
“I’m shocked,” I said.
“She can’t make it until after school, which is”—Mary Anne checked her watch—“in two hours. I say—”
“I say we go back to the house,” Dawn interrupted. “Everything’s weird, and I want to see my kids.”
“I was going to say we go back to the house,” Mary Anne said. “Whatever the hell is going on, we need to stick together.”
By the time we got back to Dawn’s house, she was practically bouncing in her seat. As soon as we pulled into the driveway next to her rental car, she was out of the car and into the house. By the time we made it inside, she was sitting on the floor with Brent and her two kids, surrounded by drawing paper and markers. Brent was wearing what probably passes for makeup when you're six and only have access to magic markers.
It was interesting to see a man really fathering. I didn’t get to see Thomas with his kid much—he only got Tanner every other weekend, and they usually went to some kind of sporting event or something. Our place wasn’t really all that entertaining for a kid. The only really kid-friendly thing we had was the Xbox, which Thomas had gotten specifically for Tanner along with every video game a fifteen-year-old could want. Sometimes, I’d wander in to see Tanner on the floor, blasting giant alien cockroaches, while Thomas half-read the paper and half-watched the game.
I was also impressed with how well Brent and the girls got along. I knew their dad wasn’t really involved that much, and it was probably easier for them since they met Brent when they were pretty young, but still, I was… kind of jealous, honestly. Thomas always said I was paranoid, but I was pretty sure Tanner didn’t like me all that much. I thought he probably blamed me for his parents splitting up, but it wasn’t my fault. Thomas made the first move. I was the one holding off this smoking hot guy in a gray suit and a corner office all through my internship, and when I got hired as a research analyst, he was the one who asked me out for drinks.
He said his marriage was on the rocks and he and his wife were getting separated. I was able to understand him in a way his wife didn’t. Laine told me he'd never leave his wife for me, that they always say that and never mean it, but that December, he did. My Christmas present was our loft in Manhattan, and our wedding was in June.
But I wasn’t about to tell Tanner any of that.
Dawn’s youngest daughter—I think her name was Teal—was showing Dawn something what she'd drawn. Honestly, I had no idea what the hell it was supposed to be, but I knew from my baby-sitting days that the only thing you ever say is, “What a nice picture! Tell me about it.”
“Wow, what a great picture!” Dawn said, holding the drawing at arm’s length and gazing at it like it was Picasso's first foray into magic marker. “Tell me about it.” But she actually seemed interested in what the kid was saying, and she and Brent were both nodding like they were paying attention. Good job, them. I didn’t know if I could pull the same thing off with my own kids, when I had them. Thomas and I were planning on having our own kids—something for both of us, with our stellar combination of brains and good looks—and but we weren't going to get started until I was done with my master’s degree in a few years.
Over on the couch, Mary Anne was sitting with her husband, who looked a little shell-shocked from his morning with the kids. I had to admit, he was a good-looking man, particularly for an academic type—that kind of rumpled look that made you want to take him home for further rumpling. The way he was looking at Mary Anne, though, made me think he wasn't the type who’d be open to rumpling by anyone but her. Mallory, who'd come over by cutting through the backyard like an eleven-year-old, was bending his ear about writing and getting published, but the whole time he had one hand on Mary Anne's knee. It was kind of gross, actually. Over on the dining room table, Claudia and Jessi were digging through the bags they’d brought back from their shopping trip downtown, and of course half of the accessories Claud had bought were dead hideous. She and I were always supposed to be the super-fashionable ones growing up, but she had no idea how much of that weight I was carrying on my own.
I sighed loudly. “Are we here for a reason? I thought we were going to talk about this stalker or something.”
“What’s a stalker?” Teal asked from the floor.
Dawn glared at me. “Don’t worry about it. Hey, you know what? Uncle Stephen writes books. I bet if you ask really nicely, he’ll help you write about your trip to the zoo.” I snorted out loud as Stephen’s eyes got huge and his hand clamped down on Mary Anne’s knee.
Brent saw it, too, and laughed. “Come on, Uncle Stephen. Let’s get some Grownup Juice and write a book about the zoo.”
“Would that be juice of hops?”
“Excellent.” Brent stuffed the markers and works of art into a tote bag and ushered the girls toward the back of the house and Richard’s office. Stephen trailed behind them. “Calantha, that drawing you made of the leopard—”
“Giraffe, of course…”
Dawn slowly stood up and made a big show of brushing off her skirt. “So, this stalker thing—” she began.
“I think Claudia should be leading the meeting,” Mallory interrupted.
Dawn stared. “What? What meeting?”
Mallory blushed. “This—this. Us.” She waved her hand around the group. “I mean, she’s the vice president, and Kristy isn't here…”
“How old are you?” I couldn't help but ask. She just looked down at her feet.
“Yeah, okay,” Claudia said abruptly, shoving her hideous accessories back into the bag. “Okay. I guess I call… this… emergency meeting to order.” Everyone laughed stiffly. “So, um, we need to discuss the matter of this weirdo who's been following us around and leaving threatening notes on Dawn's car.”
“Or someone’s,” Jessi put in.
“What are you talking about?” Dawn said. “Of course that was my car.”
“It was your mom’s car,” Claudia corrected her. “You and Mary Anne and Stacey were in your mom’s car, the car was parked in front of your mom’s house while you all were there, and the car that nearly ran us over was when we were all outside of Los Sombreros. That’s a pretty wide range of targets.”
“That’s… actually a good point,” I said.
Claudia shot me a look. “Thanks for sounding so shocked. The point is, we don’t know exactly who’s being stalked and who’s doing the stalking. We need to talk about which of us has a reason we might be stalkworthy. If we can come up with a motive, we can start narrowing down a list of suspects and work from there.”
“‘Motive’? ‘Suspects’? It’s a nasty note; it’s not CSI.”
This time, it was a full-on glare. “You know, Stacey, if your only contribution is going to be bitchery, your presence really isn’t required.”
“God, fine.” I threw up my hands. “Okay, let’s talk about motive. Dawn has an ex-husband, Jessi probably has some scorned ballerinas in her past, I’m sure I have any number of guys who find me irresistible, Mallory has… Okay, probably no one wants to stalk Mallory.” She looked down at her shoes again.
Before I could finish my objective rundown, the door opened, and Kristy came in without knocking. She was wearing khakis and a Stoneybrook High School polo shirt, and she was carrying a big binder that she’d probably put together just for this occasion. “You’re all here,” she said. “Excellent. I thought we’d all head over to my place to get started.”
“We’ve been talking it over,” Jessi said. “We’re trying to work out potential motives for our mystery stalker.”
Kristy’s face fell. “You started without me?” she asked, and just for a minute, she looked like thirteen-year-old Kristy.
“We haven’t gotten too far into it,” Claudia said. “If you want to grab that armchair over there, you can crack open your binder and take over.”
“Take over? Who’s been running the meeting?”
Coming up: The girls start getting to the heart of the mystery.