Authors: Ann M. Martin
Claudia and the New Girl
Ann M. Martin
I'd been watching this fly for ages. First it had landed on the back of Austin Bentley's head and crawled around on his hair for a full minute. Then it had flown to Dorianne Wallingford's right sneaker, but had had to move when Dorianne used her sneaker to scratch the back of her left leg. It tried Pete Black's pencil, but Pete flicked the pencil immediately and sent the fly on its way again.
I wondered whether the fly was a boy or a girl. I wondered whether flies have families. I wondered whether flies have family reunions and decided they didn't, because family reunions are almost always picnics, and at a flies' picnic, how could you tell the guest flies from the regular, uninvited flies who just want to land on the food for awhile? Then I wondered what it would be like to look out through those gigantic fly eyes, and whether flies would say "eyesight" or "flysight."
I wondered whether the fly found English class as thoroughly boring as I did. I'll say this about Mrs. Hall, our teacher. She at least tries to make the class interesting. For instance, most of the other English classes in our grade have to read The Yearling and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Mrs. Hall is doing something different with us — this big project on books that have won the Newbery Award. This gives us a pretty wide selection of books (and some of them are an awful lot shorter than The Yearling), but the thing is I just don't like to read. Except for Nancy Drew mysteries. They're fun. And I'm a pretty good sleuth.
Mrs. Hall was talking about From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Westing Game. Okay, I'll admit it. I hadn't gotten around to reading either one, even though there is a character in Mixed-up Files with my name — Claudia. In fact, the only Newbery Award-winner I had read so far was this one called Sarah, Plain and Tall. That was because it was just fifty-eight pages long.
"Claudia?" said Mrs. Hall.
"Yes?" (Was she just trying to get my attention or had she asked me some question?)
"Can you help us out here?" (I guess she'd asked a question.) I could feel the blood rising to my face. I looked down at my notebook in
which I'd been doodling pictures of some of the kids I baby-sit for. "Urn, with what?" I replied.
Mrs. Hall sighed. "Claudia Kishi." (This was not a good sign. Mrs. Hall hardly ever uses our last names.) "Would you please pay attention?"
I nodded. "Yes," I managed to reply.
Mrs. Hall shook her head sadly. I wanted to add, "Sorry for ruining your day," because that's just what she looked like — a person whose day had been ruined. By me! I felt kind of powerful, although I wasn't proud of it. Imagine being able to ruin a grown-up's entire day single-handedly.
Mrs. Hall took my boredom pretty hard. "Class, please close your books and take out a fresh piece of paper. I want to give you a spelling check." ("Check" is Mrs. Hall's term for "surprise quiz.")
The class groaned. A few kids directed murderous glances at me, as if this whole thing were my fault. Well, I bet I hadn't been the only one watching that fly and doodling in my notebook.
"The words," Mrs. Hall went on, "will be taken from chapters seven and eight of Mixed-up Files, which you should have read last night."
"Should have" is right, I thought.
"The first word/' Mrs. Hall said, "is 'pha-raoh/ "
I waited for her to use it in a sentence (not that it would do me any good). Mrs. Hall always uses spelling words in sentences, and she pronounces the sentences very carefully, with lots of emphasis.
"The children are studying a famous Egyptian pha-raoh."
Ah-ha! I thought. Mrs. Hall was giving us a hidden clue. She used "famous" and "pha-raoh" in the same sentence. They must begin with the same letter. Now, I'm a terrible speller, but I do know that "famous" begins with an "f." Very slowly, I printed "f-a-r-o" on my paper. Then, thoughtfully, I erased the "o" and added another "r." At the last moment, I tacked a "w" onto the end. That looked pretty good. Farrow. I was proud of myself for thinking to add one of those killer silent letters to the word. Who invented them, anyway? They're such a waste.
" 'Institute,' " Mrs. Hall went on.
I barely heard her. Outside the window, our varsity cheerleaders were practicing for our upcoming game against Stamford Junior High. They were really good. I wished I could do a split. Then I remembered what I was supposed
to be doing, and scribbled "instatute" on my paper. Not a moment too soon.
" 'Quarterly/ "
Before Mrs. Hall could use "quarterly" in one of her emphatic sentences, the door to our classroom opened. Every single head, including" Mrs. Hall's, swiveled toward it. When we saw Ms. Downey, the school secretary, standing there, we grew really interested. The secretary only comes to a classroom for something major, otherwise the principal sends a student messenger.
Mrs. Hall crossed the room to Ms. Downey, and the two of them put their heads together and whispered for a moment. I hate when grown-ups do that. Then they pulled apart, and Ms. Downey stepped back and showed someone else into the room. Mrs. Hall greeted her warmly. "Hello, Ashley," she said, smiling. "We're happy to have you."
Then Ms. Downey handed Mrs. Hall some papers and left.
I was breathless. A new girl. We had a new girl in our class! I always think new kids, especially the ones who transfer in the middle of the school year — the middle of the day, for heaven's sake — are pretty interesting.
But this one (what had Mrs. Hall called her?) was more interesting than most. It was her
clothes that first attracted my attention. They reminded me of something. What was it? Oh, yes. On television not long ago, I'd seen this bizarre movie called Woodstock. It was about a gigantic outdoor rock concert that took place ages ago, like in the sixties, and all the young people who attended it were what my parents call hippies. You know — they wore tons of beaded or silver jewelry and funny long skirts or bell-bottom jeans. The men pierced their ears and wore their hair in ponytails and the women looked like gypsies. (Only my mom said they were "bohemian." I think it means the same thing.)
Well, this girl, this Ashford or whatever her name was, looked like a hippie. She was wearing a very pretty pink flowered skirt that was full and so long it touched the tops of her shoes — which I soon realized were not shoes, but sort of hiking boots. Her blouse, loose and lacy, was embroidered with pink flowers, and both her wrists were loaded with silver bangle bracelets. Her hair, which was almost as long as my friend Dawn's and was dirty blonde, was pulled into a fat braid (which, I might add, was not held in place with a rubber band or anything; it just sort of trailed to an end). But the amazing thing was that because her hair was pulled back, you could see her ears.
And she had three pierced earrings in each ear. They were all silver and all dangly, but none matched.
Wow. Was she ever lucky. My parents would never let me have six holes.
Boy, would I have something to tell the other members of the Baby-sitters Club that afternoon.
The girl, looking fragile and delicate, faced my classmates and me.
"Class," said Mrs. Hall, "this is Ashley Wyeth. She's just moved to Stoneybrook and will be joining us for English. I hope you'll make her feel at home."
Mrs. Hall directed Ashley to the one empty desk in the room, which happened to be right next to mine. My heart leapt. Someone new, someone different. English class had suddenly become much more interesting.
The spelling check continued and I tried to pay attention, but my eyes kept drifting to Ashley Wyeth. Not to her paper. She probably hadn't read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and anyway I wouldn't cheat. No, I was just looking at Ashley. I couldn't get over the way she was dressed ... or her six earrings.
Then there was the matter of her last name. Wyeth. I wondered if that was Wyeth as in
Andrew Wyeth, the famous painter. I may not be a wonderful student, but I'm a pretty good artist, and I hoped that maybe I could grow up to be as good an artist as Andrew Wyeth. Even half as good would be okay with me.
On my fourth peek at Ashley, just after I'd spelled out m-e-d-i-c-1-e, I caught her peeking back at me. We both looked quickly at our papers. Then I looked a fifth time. Ashley was looking, too. I smiled at her. But she didn't smile back.
When the spelling check was over, we passed our papers forward and Mrs. Hall collected them in a tidy pile.
"Ashley," she said, after she'd stuck the papers in a folder on her desk, "we're discussing two books right now — The Westing Game and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Have you read either of them?"
"Yes, I have," replied Ashley.
"Which one, dear?"
"Both of them."
Mrs. Hall raised her eyebrows.
"We studied the Newbery Award-winners in my old school last year," she said seriously.
"Mm-hmm." Mrs. Hall looked slightly disappointed. "And have you read The Yearling? Or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?" I could tell she
was thinking of transferring Ashley to one of the other English classes.
Ashley nodded. "I read them over the summer. But I don't mind doing the Newbery books again. I mean, we didn't read all of them. There are too many. Maybe I could do a special project on some of the older ones. The ones from the nineteen-thirties, if that's okay."
Mrs. Hall looked impressed. I was pretty impressed myself. What kind of kid got away with suggesting work to a teacher?
When class was over, Ashley and I looked at each other again. Then Ashley said quietly, "Um, hi. Do you know where room two-sixteen is?" It sounded as if it were killing her to have to talk to me. She certainly wasn't the friendliest person I'd ever met.
"Sure," I answered. "It's on the way to my math class. I'll take you."
"Oh, okay. . . . Thanks."
Ashley and I edged into the crowded hallway and headed for a staircase.
"My name's Claudia," I told her. "Claudia Kishi. Um, I was wondering. I know this sounds funny, but are you related to Andrew Wyeth?"
"No," replied Ashley.
deciding whether to say anything else. Then she added, "I wish I were, though."
So she knew who I meant!
"Boy, so do I," I told her.
"Do you like his work?" asked Ashley. She glanced at me, then quickly looked away.
"Like it? I love it! I take all kinds of art classes. I want to be a painter some day. Or a sculptress. Or maybe a potter."
"You do?" said Ashley. "So do I. I mean, I want to be a sculptress."
She was going to say something more then, but the warning bell rang and we had to duck into our classrooms. Before I did, though, I glanced once more at Ashley's retreating figure. I knew that somebody very . . . different had walked into my life.
I didn't see Ashley again that day, but no wonder. There were only two periods left, and I had a remedial math class (that's math for kids who have a tough time with it) and a help session in the Resource Room. No way a smart kid like Ashley would have either remedial math or time in the Resource Room.
I was a little disappointed at not seeing Ashley again, but I had a meeting of the Babysitters Club to go to that afternoon, and I always look forward to meetings. Remember I mentioned my friend Dawn? Dawn Schafer is the one whose hair is longer and blonder than Ashley's. Well, she's in the club, too, and so are my other friends, Kristy Thomas, Mary Anne Spier, and Stacey McGill. The club is really fun. We meet tluee times a week, and people here in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, call us when they need baby-sitters. We get lots of jobs and I earn lots of money, which is im-
portant, because I need it to buy art supplies and makeup and jewelry and stuff.
As you can probably see, the club is really a little business. It's a year old now, and we run it very professionally. Here's how it works: we meet in my room on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons from five-thirty till six. (We use my room because I have my own private phone and phone number. For that reason, I get to be vice-president of the club.) Our clients know they can call us at our meeting times. Then they tell us when they need sitters and one of us signs up for each job. With five of us here, our clients almost always find a sitter with just one phone call, and they really like that. You're probably wondering what happens if two or three of us are able to take the same job. Who gets it? Well, luckily, we're busy enough so that doesn't happen very often. When it does, we're pretty nice about saying things like, "Well, I've got two other jobs signed up that week. You take it, Stacey," or, "David Michael is your little brother, Kristy. You take the job."
Mary Anne, our club secretary, keeps track of all our jobs in the appointment pages of our club record book. In fact, she's responsible for the whole record book (except for the account of how much money we earn). The record
book is where we note the addresses and phone numbers of our clients, information on the kids, our job appointments, and other commitments, like art classes.
Stacey's our treasurer, so she keeps track of the money we earn, as well as the money in our treasury, which comes from the dues we pay each week. Our dues money goes for club expenses. For instance, we pay Kristy's big brother Charlie to drive her to and from each meeting. This is only fair, since Kristy, our president, started the club but had to move out of our neighborhood over the summer. We also use the treasury money to buy coloring books and stuff for the Kid-Kits. (Kid-Kits are something Kristy thought up. They're cardboard cartons filled with our old books, games, and toys, plus activity books and crayons and other things we buy, which we sometimes take with us when we go on a baby-sitting job. Whenever one of us brings a Kid-Kit, we're a huge hit.)
Here are some other things you should know about the club: Dawn is our alternate officer, which means she's like a substitute teacher. She can take over the job of any other member who has to miss a meeting. We also have two associate members, Logan Bruno and Shannon Kilbourne. They're sitters we can call on in a