Authors: Annie Bryant
Maeve cupped her ear. “Listen!” she said. There was a soft hooting that sounded like it came from the trees just behind them.
“Owls!” Sam said excitedly.
“Oh, no,” Katani moaned. She liked some things about the nighttime, but creepy noises were not among them. Looking at the stars was pleasant; imagining big birds of prey that hovered all around in the darkness was not!
Behind them, Mr. Taylor talked softly on his cell phone. “That’s right, Larry,” he said. “It’s been a rough day, and we’re temporarily stranded…Well, no…Thanks for the offer, but we can’t stay with you…I’ve got to get my daughter and her friend to New York City, and hopefully tonight…Yup, I’m sure we’ll do it another time soon…Sure thing, Larry…Thanks for being so understanding.”
He clicked off the phone and smiled cheerfully at Katani. “Well, this is quite an adventure!”
Katani tried to smile at him. She also knew lots of people who thought outdoor adventures were great, who liked dealing with challenges and problems. Katani Summers was not a nature lover, and furthermore, she’d already overcome a ton of problems just last week. And for what? To end up stranded in the middle of nowhere in the dark with a hooting owl, an injured man, and a crippled vehicle?
, Katani thought dismally,
is definitely overrated
Give me fashion any day!
en minutes crawled by, though to the stranded travelers it felt like an hour. The night sounds grew louder, as Mr. Taylor managed to lower himself into a comfortable position without groaning. Maeve and Katani looked nervously at each other. This was not fun. Would Mr. Taylor ever be able to drive?
Then suddenly, they heard a sound that made them all hopeful. It was the low rumble of a car.
Even better—it was a state trooper’s car!
“Look!” Katani cried. She threw up her arms and shouted, “Stop. Please stop!”
The car slowed down and pulled to a stop behind them.
“Oh, sweet!” Sam exclaimed. “Whoa, a state trooper! Awesome! This is almost as cool as meeting an army dude!”
“Sam, stop trying to sound like you’re a teenager,” an annoyed Maeve snapped at her brother.
Ignoring his sister, Sam dropped his jack on the ground and dashed over to meet the trooper. The trooper was a tall young man who drove a beige cruiser with flashing lights.
The trooper got out of his car and sauntered over to Mr. Taylor, who was on the grass. He was clad in full uniform with a brimmed black hat, shiny black boots, and a black leather belt. “Wait ‘til I tell Harry!” Sam murmured under his breath when he saw the shiny gleam of the trooper’s pistol resting safely in the holster.
“What seems to be the trouble here?” the trooper asked. No one answered for a minute. Mr. Taylor strained to sit up and actually made it this time.
Sam straightened to his fullest height, which at eight years old wasn’t all that impressive, and whipped his hand sharply to his brow. “We have the situation under control, sir,” he barked. Sam gave him a fierce salute and added, “You can go back to your duties now.”
The trooper raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?” he remarked, looking at the flat tire and the stricken Mr. Taylor. “Well, maybe I can still be of some help.”
He started toward Mr. Taylor. “He’s so handsome!” Maeve whispered to Katani. Katani hadn’t even noticed. She was just thrilled that ever since they had been discovered, the creepy night sounds seemed to have vanished.
The trooper squatted by Mr. Taylor. “What happened here, sir?” he asked. Mr. Taylor explained how he’d tried to lift out the spare tire and had thrown his back out. The trooper nodded. “I have some Advil and some ice in the cruiser. Would that help?”
Mr. Taylor looked relieved. “Yes, a lot!”
“You’re our hero!” Maeve blurted out. Katani gave her a look as the trooper turned. “What?” Maeve asked Katani, who rolled her eyes.
The trooper passed Sam, who was still standing stiffly at attention. “At ease,” the trooper said with a wink after he snapped off a smart-looking counter salute. Sam sighed and brought his hand to his side.
“Here you go,” the trooper said. He handed Mr. Taylor a first-aid sample packet of two Advil pills along with an ice pack. “I’ve pulled my back before,” he said. “The ice and Advil really does the trick. Give it about ten minutes.”
Just then, they all heard the screech of tires. “Gee, it’s getting a lot busier on this road,” Maeve said to Katani.
“Yeah! Two more cars…we’re very popular,” Katani said. Her heart lifted when she saw that it was a tow truck. The words “Sally’s Service Station” were painted on the side in blue letters.
That’s pretty cool
, she thought,
a service station with a girl’s name
The young woman who jumped down from the truck looked like a Hollywood movie version of a garage mechanic. She was slender and blue-eyed, and her light blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Katani noticed that she was wearing some kind of jumpsuit, though it was hard to make out much as the darkness was thickening around them. “Hi, I’m Sally,” she said. “Triple-A sent me to fix your flat.”
There was something quite impressive about this Sally woman, Maeve thought. She couldn’t be more than five
foot three, and yet here she was, striding confidently over to the front of the car, assessing the situation in a couple of swift glances. She looked at Mr. Taylor recovering on the ground, the state trooper, and Sam, who was inspecting the flat. “You girls must have had a very, um, exciting day…” Sally said, giving the girls a sympathetic smile as she went back to her truck.
Sam offered her the jack he had been playing with, but she declined, saying kindly, “You’ve got good tools there, but I do better with my own.” She brought back an assortment of objects, including an industrial-size flashlight, and placed them within easy reach by the flat tire, clicking on the flashlight so it illuminated the entire area. The girls drew closer to her like moths to a flame. “So do you guys know much about car maintenance?” Sally asked. From the baffled looks on Maeve’s and Katani’s faces she concluded, “I guess that’s a no!”
“I don’t know the first thing about changing a tire!” Maeve admitted, and Katani nodded in agreement.
“I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s not as hard as it looks. Watch, I’ll show you,” Sally declared. She looked at the tire. “I see someone tried to get the hubcap off.”
“That was Sam,” Maeve said proudly.
“The hubcap is the cover on the wheel, and sometimes it’s got kind of a sporty design. You’ve heard people talking about stolen hubcaps?” asked Sally.
“Well, in movies,” Maeve said, exchanging glances with Katani. Katani nodded. The amount of stuff Maeve learned from movies was incredible.
“Well, hubcaps sometimes do get stolen in real life,”
Sally said. “People steal them because they can sell them to someone else with a totally different car and the hubcap will still fit. Also people with sporty cars like to have sporty covers on their wheels to match, so there’s a big market for them.”
“Is it sort of like the different covers you put on cell phones?” Maeve asked, thinking of her own pink, sparkly cover on the phone she’d mistakenly left at home.
Sally nodded vigorously. “Exactly!”
“Oh, I get it,” Katani said, surprised that she really did understand. Sally explained things so simply, and at the same time she treated the girls as if they were her equals. It made it easy to learn from her.
Sally carefully laid the hubcap down a few feet away and said, “First, the lug nuts.” She showed them some small, shiny, nutlike objects around the edge of the tire. “They keep the tire securely attached to the car,” she said. “We’ll loosen these bad boys, but we won’t take them all the way off yet. Now, the jack.”
She swiftly stuck the jack in back of the flat tire and began to pump it up.
When she saw the girls’ puzzled looks, she explained, “We have to lift the car up in order to change the tire. That’s what the jack does. You just put it in the same area as the flat but far enough away so it doesn’t interfere with your changing the tire. Then pump it up!”
She pumped vigorously, and in a few minutes the jack was holding the car aloft. She whipped off the lug nuts and placed them inside the hubcap for safekeeping. “Hey dude.” Sally nodded to Sam. “Keep an eye on these, pal.
We don’t want them rolling away.” Sam was thrilled to be given a job.
Katani was fascinated as she watched Sally work. Maeve was captivated as well. The way that Sally demonstrated how to change the tire really made it seem possible!
, Katani thought.
I think I could do that!
Maeve broke away from Sally to see how her father was doing. The trooper had helped Mr. Taylor sit up. His face had a lot more color now, and he hadn’t made a single groan since he’d put the ice pack on his back. “Hey, Dad, you look better!” she called. Things were improving.
better, honey,” her father called back. “The Advil and ice really did the trick! I think I can drive again as soon as the tire is ready.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” the trooper declared. “You think you could stand up and stretch a little? Might help even more.”
Mr. Taylor seemed agreeable, so the trooper helped him up. With one last mighty, “Uuuuuughhhh!” Mr. Taylor struggled to his feet.
“Yay, Dad!” Sam cheered.
Maeve turned back, smiling, to Sally. “Dad was in bad shape there until the trooper showed up.” She stole a glance at the handsome trooper, who reminded her of Brad Pitt, then turned her attention back to the tire.
Sally agreed, “Well, that’s one of the reasons we have state troopers. To help travelers in need, right? Okay, we’re almost done.” She quickly shifted the flat tire off the wheel and replaced it with the spare. “Who put the spare over here?” she said with a smile.
“That was me,” Sam said, coming over to watch her. There was a hint of pride in his face.
“Well done,” Sally told him. “You put the spare right where a mechanic could easily reach it. Nice going.”
Maeve and Katani looked at each other. They decided not to embarrass Sam by pointing out that putting the spare on the ground was about as far as he could get in figuring out how to change the tire!
Sally was right…there really was nothing to it. The new tire was ready to go in no time. Sally placed the lug nuts in their proper position, but she didn’t tighten them all the way. “Just remember to put them on in a star pattern. And don’t tighten them all the way until you’ve let down the jack.”
Once Sally had gently let down the jack and removed it, she used a small hand drill to tighten the lug nuts all the way. She replaced the wheel cover and wiped her hands on her denim jumpsuit.
“Finished!” she announced.
“That’s it?” Maeve couldn’t believe it. “I always thought cars were so complicated—my mother complains about them all the time!”
“It’s really not that bad once you get the hang of it,” Sally reassured her. “In fact, you can take classes that’ll teach you stuff like this. You can learn how to change tires and change oil, and how to do simple maintenance on your car…that kind of thing. Let me tell you, girls, the secret to a happy life is to to do what you are most interested in and to learn about the practical things too, like car maintenance. You’ll feel very independent. I took a class
like that in high school and ended up rebuilding an old Volkswagen Bug I found in a junkyard. Drove it for three years, too. Boy, oh, boy, was the rest of my class jealous!”
“That’s a great idea,” Katani said to her. “I’d like to run my own business someday, and I hate the idea of being dependent on other people to do things I should know how to do myself.”
Sally picked up her tools and looked appraisingly at Katani. “Good attitude! Being empowered—that’s the ticket.”
“I can’t believe how far we still have to go tonight!” Maeve said with a laugh, looking a lot more cheerful now that her father was feeling better and the car was fixed.
“Well, it looks like my work here is done!” Sally declared with a big smile. Maeve almost burst out laughing. Sam was dreamily staring at Sally!
The trooper was ready to leave too. “Take this extra packet of Advil with you, just in case,” he told Mr. Taylor.
Sally organized her paperwork while the trooper made sure that Mr. Taylor was comfortable walking around by himself. “Thanks so much, Officer. And you too, Sally. You two were real lifesavers today!” Mr. Taylor said gratefully.
“You can say that again!” Katani mumbled softly.
Sally took a clipboard over to Mr. Taylor. “All you need to do is sign here, and I’ll be on my way,” she said, handing Mr. Taylor the AAA form.
The trooper gave Sam a final salute and then turned to the girls. “You two, watch out for this guy,” he instructed, tilting his head at Maeve’s dad. “Make sure he doesn’t do any more heavy lifting!”
“Don’t worry,” Sally called as she got into her truck. “If they ever get another flat, I think these ladies will be able to handle it!”
The girls laughed and waved good-bye to Sally and to the trooper.
Mr. Taylor restarted the car, and Maeve and Katani felt a wave of relief as they finally pulled onto the road again. “That trooper was soooo dreamy!” Maeve whispered to Katani.
Katani nodded. “Sally was way cool too,” she added. “I feel like telling my grandmother to start a car maintenance class at school. I mean, how can you really be independent if you don’t even know what to do when your car breaks down?”
“I don’t know,” Maeve said. “It sounds great, but”—she glanced down at her soft, pink sweater—“angora-wool blends really don’t match with car grease.”
“Well, someday I am going to take a class like that,” Katani declared. “I never want to be stuck by the side of the road again!” She dug out the notebook she kept for business ideas and carefully noted down Sally’s suggestion. That one was a keeper!
t was almost eleven o’clock and completely dark by the time the Taylors’ station wagon reached the streets of Greenwich Village in New York City. “We should be right around the corner,” Maeve whispered reassuringly to Katani. “I can’t wait. I’m so tired I could fall asleep right here!” True to her word, in about a minute Maeve had completely dozed off. Sam had been asleep since they left Connecticut.
“What’s the address again, Katani?” Mr. Taylor called.
Katani looked at the directions her mother had written down. “It’s on Morton Street, just off of Houston Street,” Katani told him. “I think it’s about five minutes away.” She read the address out again, but it took more than five minutes for Mr. Taylor to negotiate the streets. Twenty minutes went by, and she realized they were good and lost. To make matters worse, it was getting really late. If they didn’t get to Michelle’s soon, she would be too exhausted to do anything in the morning!
“Katani?” Mr. Taylor asked, taking out his cell phone. “Would you mind calling Michelle and asking for more specific directions? I am not really familiar with the Village.”
He handed Katani the phone and she punched in her cousin’s numbers.
“Michelle?” she said when her cousin answered sleepily. “It’s Katani. We’re driving around the Village right now and we can’t find your street.”
Michelle let out a giant yawn and answered, “That’s the problem with my neighborhood. The entire rest of Manhattan is a numbered grid, so it’s hard to get lost there. But not the Village!”
“I can see that…Okay, I am going to give the phone to Maeve’s dad so you can tell him where to go,” Katani said as she handed the phone back to Mr. Taylor.
Michelle was right. The streets seemed to be some kind of paved over cow paths, thought Katani. Michelle kept asking them to give her cross streets so she could “locate” them. After ten more minutes of cruising aimlessly, Mr. Taylor had an idea. “Thanks for all your help, Michelle. We should be there soon,” he said and hung up.
“Did you figure it out?” Katani asked.
“Not really,” he answered. “But I have an idea…” Mr. Taylor pulled the car to the side of the street right in front of the bright lights and open windows of a Korean deli. “The only way we are going to find her place is by asking a person to point out the way. Now Katani, since these two are out like a light, would you mind hopping out and just asking the clerk for directions to Morton Street? I can keep an eye on you from right here.”
“Sure.” Katani got out and walked inside the brightly lit store. She had heard that New York was famous for its delis and now she knew why. The air was rich with the smell of cured meat and spices. There was an elderly man working at the cash register and a woman stocking the shelves. The man looked up at the sound of the bell that rang when Katani walked in. “Excuse me,” she said in a friendly tone, “we just came in from Boston and we’re kind of lost. We’re trying to find Morton Street, but we keep missing it.”
She showed the man Michelle’s address neatly written in her business idea notebook.
The clerk looked at her as though she were crazy, and pointed behind her.
“What?” Katani asked.
“One block away. You turn right at this corner, you’re there.” He waved his hands at her.
“Are you serious?” Katani asked. After all this time driving around, they were only one block away from Michelle’s house?
“Yes. Yes, that’s it.” The clerk smiled at her thunder-struck expression. “Have a good evening.”
Katani smiled gratefully at him. “You too! Thanks.”
Five minutes later, they were in front of Michelle’s apartment building. When they told the doorman their names, he gallantly held the door open and said comfortingly, “Ah yes, Michelle is expecting you.” Sam helped Maeve lug in her two enormous suitcases. Katani managed just fine with her small black carry-on bag.
Once in Michelle’s building, Maeve was eager to be on her own. “Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Sam,” she said. “I think
we’re all set here. “See you Sunday! I’ll call you.
” Katani snorted. Maeve loved to pretend she was in a foreign movie. Tonight she was in her Italian mode.
“Hold your horses, young lady,” her father said. “I’m not leaving until Katani’s cousin comes down to meet you.”
“But Daaaaad…We’re not eight!” Maeve whined. She looked at Sam, who was sleepily slumped on a bench against the wall beside them.
“I don’t care if you’re twenty-eight. I’m your father, and I will be waiting!” He raised his eyebrow, which Maeve knew was his sign that he meant business.
At first, Katani thought that Mr. Taylor was being a little overprotective. Then again, after everything else that had happened today, waiting for Michelle was probably not a bad idea! She used Mr. Taylor’s cell phone to call Michelle and ask her to come down.
Two minutes later, Michelle, in fluffy slippers and a yellow bathrobe tied hastily around her, shuffled off the elevator. As always, she was smiling. “Hi, everyone! You must be Maeve of the famous Beacon Street Girls. Katani’s told me so much about you!” she said. Maeve glowed. “And you must be Mr. Taylor. Thanks so much for bringing them.”
“It was no trouble at all,” he said, winking at the girls. Maeve and Katani gave each other a look. No trouble? “Maeve, take my cell phone. In case of emergencies, call your mom. And have a great time. I’ll see you back here on Saturday.” Mr. Taylor kissed Maeve on the forehead and collected Sam, and they were on their way.
“So how was the trip?” asked Michelle once they’d
wrestled Maeve’s suitcases into the elevator and were riding up. Katani looked at Maeve, who just giggled and said, “Oh it was…interesting.” Maeve and Katani took turns telling Michelle all about the Merritt Parkway, the flat tire, Mr. Taylor’s bad back, and Sam’s funny but useless attempts to help.
Michelle listened attentively as she led them into her fifth-floor apartment. “Wow, look at this place. It’s amazing!” Maeve gasped, breaking off in the middle of the story to stare around the huge room. With high, arching ceilings and big windows overlooking the Village, the apartment seemed absolutely enormous even though it was really quite small. There was even a fireplace at one end of the room that would light up by pressing a remote control. “Too cool!” Maeve whispered.
“It’s sooo fabulous, Michelle,” Katani enthused. Katani couldn’t wait to have an apartment like this.
“Well, I’m glad you like it. All right, girls, follow me. You’re going to sleep in the study.” Michelle led the way down the narrow hall and opened a door on the right. “The couch is a pullout bed, but it’s really comfy. You can ask any of my girlfriends from college. Most of them have spent a night at Hotel Michelle. You guys must be exhausted after your crazy trip, so if you want to go right to sleep that is A-okay by me—” She stopped and looked at them doubtfully. “Or do you want to eat something?”
“We stopped at a little diner back in Connecticut, so I’m all set,” said Katani. “I think if I don’t get into bed this minute, I’m going to sleep standing up.”
Maeve nodded. “Me too. I’ve never been so tired in
my whole life!” she said, collapsing on the fluffy couch.
“Sleep tight, girls.” Michelle said as she turned off one of the lights and closed the door.
“Katani, this is the greatest place!” Maeve whispered. “And Michelle is awesome! She’s so together, you know? I bet she can handle anything!”
Katani took off her coat and laid it carefully across an overstuffed chair in the corner. “She can. That’s why she got promoted so quickly at
. Everyone’s really impressed with how professional she is.”
Maeve strolled around the room, admiring Michelle’s computer desk, the neat stacks of papers and files, and the rows of framed photographs of her and various celebrities on the walls. As Maeve walked, she dropped her jacket on the middle of the floor, kicked her pink boots against the wall, then unsnapped her favorite jeans and tossed them on a chair. Maeve put on her pj’s and a minute later she lay diagonally on the pullout couch, sprawled over the blanket, and was fast asleep.
Katani stood frozen in dismay. She couldn’t leave this study so messy, with Maeve’s clothes lying all over the place like confetti! Michelle was as orderly as Katani, and would hate to see her once-meticulous study looking like a hurricane hit. Since Maeve was her friend, Katani herself felt responsible. After all, they were guests.
Slowly, she began to pick up Maeve’s coat, boots, and jeans. She folded the clothes on a low table and neatly placed the boots underneath. Then she wearily took off her own clothes and put them back in her suitcase where they’d be out of Michelle’s way.
Maeve was already sound asleep
on top of
the bed and blanket, so there was no way to make it up properly. Katani pulled a clean pillowcase over a fluffy pillow and crawled over Maeve, who had taken up most of the mattress. She wrapped herself in another blanket and squirmed around until she was finally comfortable.
Even though Katani was tired, she had a difficult time falling asleep. Too much had happened that day, and she needed to sort it all out in her mind. Maeve was so sweet and supportive. If it wasn’t for Maeve, Katani never would have had the chance to go to New York in the first place. But Maeve could be so disorganized.
Charlotte and Isabel are always so much neater
, she thought. Would she have been better off bringing a different member of the BSG on her New York adventure? Maybe Maeve was just too tired to pick up after herself, Katani thought. Was this going to happen on the whole trip, or just tonight?
Katani tried to push those thoughts out of her mind as she finally drifted off to sleep. She and Maeve were awesome friends, and they were going to have a wonderful time. This trip would be the real start of her great career in business and fashion. She couldn’t wait until tomorrow!