Authors: Mary Downing Hahn
"Remember that photo I told you about?" I asked her. "The one where the girl had been torn out? Well, her name started with
and I was wondering—"
"Will you please stop talking about it? How often do I have to tell you? I don't know Teresa, I don't know why her name is on that stupid game board, and I don't know who the girl in the picture was! She could have been named Tillie or Trudy or Toni."
Dulcie's sharp voice startled both Emma and me. I stared at my aunt, puzzled. Why was she so angry?
"Don't be mad, Mommy," Emma begged, close to tears.
"I'm not mad." Dulcie plunged her hands into the soapy water and began washing the dishes with swift, jerky movements. If she weren't careful, she'd break everything in the sink.
I grabbed a dish towel. "Want me to dry?"
Keeping her back turned, Dulcie shook her head. "I'd rather you read to Emma."
"But, Mommy," Emma began.
"Go with Ali," Dulcie said. "I need some time to myself."
Emma followed me into the living room and sat beside me, her small face glum.
I put my arm around her and drew her so close I could smell the sweet scent of her hair. "Would you like to hear another chapter about the Moffats?" I asked.
Emma nodded and snuggled against me. While I read, I thought about my aunt's reaction to Emma's questions. She remembered Teresa, I was sure she did. Why wouldn't she admit it?
The next morning, I slept late, probably because I'd tossed and turned most of the night, dreaming about Teresa. When I stumbled downstairs, eager for orange juice, I found Emma sitting at the kitchen table with Sissy. Turning her face so only I could see it, she smiled her smirky smile.
"Look who's here!" Emma cried, obviously delighted. "Sissy came to play with me!"
"Whoop-di-do," I muttered. "Where's Dulcie?"
"In her studio. She's got lots to do today, so we shouldn't bother her."
I took my seat at the table. Dulcie had already filled a bowl with my favorite cereal. As I added milk, I was aware of Sissy sitting beside me, close enough to touch. I wasn't in the mood to put up with her. Not after a bad night's sleep.
Ignoring me, Sissy busied herself pushing Cheerios around her bowl with her spoon, sinking them into the milk and watching them pop up again. As far as I could see, she hadn't eaten any of them.
I tapped her shoulder to get her attention. "It's bad manners to play with food." Even to myself, I sounded like a crabby old lady.
"So?" Sissy shrugged and continued to stir the cereal into a gloppy mess.
"So, if Dulcie was nice enough to fix cereal for you, you should eat it."
"Dulcie didn't give me this. Emma did. I told her I wasn't hungry, but she fixed it anyway."
I looked at Emma, and she nodded. "Mommy wasn't here when Sissy came, so I got to be the hostess."
"I hate cereal unless it's got lots of sugar on it." With a frown, Sissy pushed her bowl away. "Let's go to the lake, Emmy."
"I still have my jammies on."
"Get dressed, then, slowpoke." Sissy followed us into the living room and flopped on the couch. "I'll wait here."
Leaving Sissy looking at a magazine, I took Emma to her room and helped her out of her pajamas and into her favorite yellow bathing suit.
Emma ran to the living room to make sure Sissy was still there, and I dashed upstairs and yanked on my bathing suit. When I came down, Sissy was looking at the names written on the Candy Land board. The minute she saw me, she shoved it aside. The board fell off the table and onto the floor with a faint thud.
"Candy Land is a baby's game," Sissy told me. "I outgrew it a long time ago."
"Emma likes it," I said.
"No, I don't." Emma stood in the doorway, frowning as if I'd betrayed her. "I'm way too big to play it."
"You weren't too big last night," I reminded her.
"Well, today I am!" Emma flounced past me and smiled at Sissy. "Do you want to swim or build castles?"
"Both." Sissy let Emma take her hand. I followed the two of them outside.
At the top of the steps, Sissy looked back at me. "You aren't invited."
"Sorry, but Emma doesn't go anywhere without me," I said.
"I don't need you to baby-sit me," Emma protested. She was learning to scowl exactly like Sissy. The nasty expression didn't suit her sweet little face. Nor did the sly look she gave Sissy, hoping for her approval.
Sissy ran down the steps ahead of Emma and me and stopped at the bottom, almost as if she was afraid to go farther. "Is your mother in the studio?"
Emma nodded. "She's painting a big picture of the lake, all dark and scary, like a storm's coming." She reached for Sissy's hand. "Want to see it?"
"Dulcie'd love to meet you," I added.
Sissy took a quick look through the open door. Dulcie stood with her back to us, hard at work on another painting, darker than the first two.
Lake View Three,
she was calling this one.
"Hi, Mommy," Emma called. "We're going swimming!"
Sissy drew in her breath sharply and ducked away, as if she didn't want to be seen. Not that it mattered. Without turning around, Dulcie said, "Stay close to shore, Emma. Knee-deep, remember?"
Sissy ran to the end of the dock and posed in a diving position. Her tanned skin contrasted with her faded bathing suit and her pale hair. "Dare me?" she called to Emma.
"Not unless you swim really good," Emma said uncertainly.
"The water's over your head," I added.
"I'll do it, if you do it," Sissy said to Emma.
"No." I grabbed the straps of Emma's suit. "Emma can't swim."
"I can so!" Emma struggled to escape.
I held her tighter. "You're not allowed to jump off the dock unless your mother's here."
"Do you do everything Mommy says?" Sissy asked Emma. "Are you a little goody-goody girl?"
Emma looked confused.
"She has rules," I told Sissy, "like everyone."
"Not me," said Sissy. "I don't have any rules at all. I do whatever I want." With that, she jumped off the dock and hit the water with a big splash. She popped back up almost at once, laughing and spluttering. "Emma's a baby. She sucks her thumb and poops her pants and drinks from a bottle."
Emma began to cry. "I'm not a baby. I'm almost five years old. I can do whatever I want, too!"
With a sudden twist, Emma broke away from me and ran to the edge of the dock. Before I could stop her, she'd leapt into the lake. One second she was beside me, the next she was gone. I stared at the water in disbelief, too surprised to move.
In a few seconds, Emma's head emerged, eyes shut, mouth open, gasping for breath. Before she could sink again, I was in the lake beside her, holding her the way the lifeguard had taught me in swimming class.
Emma clung to me but turned her head to shout at Sissy, "See? I'm not a baby!"
Sissy paddled closer. Her hair floated on the water like pale yellow seaweed. "I bet you wouldn't jump if Ali wasn't here."
"I'll always be here," I told Sissy. To Emma I said, "If you do that again, I'll tell your mother."
"Tattletale, tattletale," Sissy taunted. "Nobody likes tattle-tales."
"I'll jump again if I want," Emma said, but she made no effort to break away from me. I had a feeling she'd scared herself. The water was deep, and she couldn't do much more than dog-paddle a few feet.
On the sand, the three of us built castles. Neither Emma nor Sissy said a word to me. They sat close together, their heads almost touching, whispering and giggling.
"It's rude to whisper," I told Emma.
Sissy smirked. "So? Nobody invited you to play with us."
Emma carefully duplicated Sissy's smirk. "Why don't you go home? Sissy can be my babysitter."
"Two's company, three's a crowd," Sissy added. "Don't you know that yet?"
"If anyone should go home, you should!" I wanted to slap Sissy's nasty little face, but I knew that would only make things worse.
"Just ignore Ali," Sissy told Emma. "We don't like her, and we don't care what she says or what she does. She's mean."
"Meanie," Emma said. "Ali's a big fat meanie."
"Ali's so mean, Hell wouldn't want her." Sissy's eyes gleamed with malice.
Emma stared at her new friend, shocked, I think, by the word "Hell." Sissy smiled and bent over her castle, already bigger than the one she'd built yesterday. "It's not bad to say 'Hell,'" she told Emma. "It's in the Bible."
Emma glanced at me to see what I thought about this. I shook my head, but Sissy pulled Emma close and began whispering in her ear. Emma looked surprised. Then she giggled and whispered something in Sissy's ear that made her laugh.
I pulled Emma away. "What are you telling her?" I asked Sissy.
"Nothing." Sissy pressed her hands over her mouth and laughed.
"Nothing." Emma covered her mouth and laughed, too. She sounded just like Sissy.
I wanted to get up and leave, but I couldn't abandon Emma. Instead, I moved a few feet away and watched the two of them. Their castles grew bigger and more elaborate. Everything Sissy did to hers, Emma copied. It was pathetic.
"It's nearly lunchtime," I told Emma. "Why don't we go back to the studio and get your mom?"
"Do you want to eat lunch with me?" Emma asked Sissy.
She shook her head. "It's almost time for me to go home."
"I thought you didn't have any rules," I said. "I thought you could do whatever you want."
Sissy gave me a long cold look. "Maybe I
to go home."
"But you don't have to go," Emma persisted. "My mommy's very nice. She fixes good peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."
Sissy made a face. "I hate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."
"I hate them, too," Emma put in quickly. "Mommy can fix something else for us. Tuna salad, maybe."
I happened to know Emma despised tuna salad, but I didn't say anything. What was the use? She probably thought it sounded more grown up than peanut butter and jelly.
"I don't want to eat at your house." Sissy looked at me. "Not with Ali there."
"Maybe we could have a picnic, just you and me," Emma said. "Outside on the deck."
"Some other time." Sissy stood up and looked down at the castles. "They're pretty enough for a mermaid to live in," she said. "Do you like mermaids, Em?"
The Little Mermaid
ten, twelve, a dozen times. It's my favorite movie."
Sissy tossed her head to get her hair out of her eyes. "Twelve is the same as a dozen, dummy."
"I'm not a dummy," Emma said. "I just—"
With a sudden jerk of her foot, Sissy kicked Emma's castle down.
"You ruined my castle," Emma wailed. "Now a mermaid can't live in it."
"Hey!" With a couple of kicks, I leveled Sissy's castle. "There! How do you like that?"
"I don't care." Sissy laughed. "I can build another one, better than that, and so can Emma. We have all summer to build castles for mermaids."
She laughed louder. After a moment's hesitation, Emma joined in. Shouting with laughter, they held hands and spun round and round in circles until they staggered and sprawled on the sand, still laughing.
I stared at them, slightly worried, maybe even scared of their behavior. "What's so funny?"
"Everything," Sissy giggled. "The whole stupid world is funny."
"Ali's funny." Emma laughed shrilly. "Mommy's funny. You're funny. I'm funny. The lake's funny, the seagulls are funny, the—"
Suddenly, Sissy stopped laughing. Her face turned mean. "Shut up!" she shouted at Emma. "
aren't funny. You're stupid. And you're a copycat."
"I'm not a copycat." Obviously bewildered by Sissy's mood change, Emma began to cry.
"Baby, baby copycat," Sissy chanted, "sat on a tack and ate a rat." Without looking back, she ran toward the Cove, still chanting.
Emma threw herself against me and pounded me with her fists. "Look what you did! You made Sissy mad! Why can't you leave us alone?"
I grabbed Emma's shoulders and held her away from me. Little as she was, her punches hurt. "I didn't do anything to that brat. She's a troublemaker, she's mean to you, she's—"
"Don't you talk like that. Sissy's my friend!"
"Some friend," I muttered. "Calling you a baby, daring you to jump off the dock, knocking your castle down. Why do you want to be friends with a girl like her?"
"You're just mad 'cause she likes me, not you."
"Don't be silly. I don't like
Why should I care that she doesn't like
"Sissy says you're jealous—that's why you don't like her, that's why you're not nice to her. You want me all to yourself!" Emma muttered.
I stared at her, amazed. "How can you believe that?"
"'Cause it's true!" Emma shouted. "Sissy doesn't lie!"
With that, she ran away from me. Surprised by the speed of her skinny little legs, I chased her. What would Dulcie think if Emma came home crying?
By the time I caught up with her, it was too late. She'd flung herself into her mother's arms.
"I hate Ali!" she sobbed. "Make her go home. I don't want a babysitter!"
Dulcie looked at me, perplexed by Emma's words. "What's going on?"
"I'll tell you later." Without waiting for my aunt or my cousin, I trudged up the steps toward the cottage.
If Dulcie wanted to send me home, fine. Sissy had turned Emma into a nasty little brat, just like herself, and I was sick of both of them.
Dulcie fixed the usual peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chocolate milk for lunch.
Emma pushed her plate away. "I don't like peanut butter and jelly," she whined.
Dulcie looked at her in surprise. "Since when?"
"Since now." Out went Emma's lower lip in a classic pout. "They're for babies."
"What do you mean? Ali and I eat them. We're not babies."
"I want cheese," Emma said.
"I thought you liked tuna salad," I said.
Emma glared at me. "I can like whatever I like!"
Dulcie put her hands over mine and Emma's. "Would you girls please tell me what's going on?"
"It's Sissy's fault," I told her. "She's a bad influence on Emma."