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Authors: Ann Herrick

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BOOK: It's All in Your Mind
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The next morning I was thrilled when there was no mention of Papa needing me to work with him. The entire day stretched out before me, and I could imagine Nolan calling to whisk me away on another adventure. Because that, I decided, was what going to the fair with him had been.
with him would be one long adventure. Not that we'd committed to a life together.  Of course not. But I could dream, couldn't I?

"Vija. I said, 'Would you please pass the tea?'" Papa said.

"Hmm? Oh, sure." I passed the warm sweetened caraway tea that we used to pour over a ripe rye bread cut into small pieces coated with honey and pressed red currants. Maybe Nolan and I could go to the beach or the state park or—

The phone rang. Oh, no! It was so early, it had to be one of Dad's customers wanting some extra work done. If only I could make myself disappear!

Mom answered the phone by the second ring. "Of course," she said. "Just a moment." She put her hand over the mouthpiece. "Vija. It's for you."

For me? Holy moly! It must be Nolan. I tried to look oh-so-casual as I stood and walked over to the phone. Mama handed me the receiver. I turned and pretended to look out the back door at a squirrel, so Mama and Papa would not see the slow secret smile spreading across my face. I took a deep breath and quietly let it out. "Hello."

"Vija, I'm sorry to call you so early. But my assistant is sick, so I have to be at the store by nine o'clock.  I need to you to babysit this morning."

My heart plummeted. It was Mrs. Kukk. She had three boys, ages four, six, and eight, and they all had energy to spare. But I could not turn her down. For one thing, she was good friends with my folks, and a widow, and therefore it was practically an obligation to help her by babysitting. For another thing, she owned the store where I bought my ceramic horses, and she was nice to me, allowing me to buy on layaway, no matter how long I took to pay. "What time?"

"Eight-thirty. That'll give me time to be ready to open by nine."

"I'll be there," I said, trying to sound a lot more eager than I felt. I hung up the phone and said, "I'll be babysitting for Mrs. Kukk. I have to be there at eight-thirty."

"Mrs. Kukk is such a lovely woman," Mama said. "And her boys are so sweet."

"Um. Yes." I could agree about Mrs. Kukk, but Mama had never had to babysit those three breathing tornadoes. Maybe I would take them to the park and let them burn off some of their energy there.

As soon as I finished breakfast, I hurried upstairs and dressed in my most rugged shorts and sneakers, so I could keep up with the Kukk kids. I wove my hair into a single braid, then slid on a touch of Baby Pink lipstick to remind myself that even though I'd be draped in three ruffian boys all day, I was still female.

I had my hand on my bedroom doorknob, when the phone rang. Maybe it was Mrs. Kukk, to tell me that her assistant could work after all and she didn't need me! I jumped across the bed and answered the phone in the middle of the second ring. "Hello!"

"Hi, Vija." That smooth, low voice was not Mrs. Kukk. It was Nolan.

"H-h-hello." No-o-o-o! I already said that!

"Hey, I thought we could hang out at Hammonassett Beach today."

For one brief ecstatic moment, I was in orbit. Hang out at the beach with Nolan! What bliss! Then my memory was restored, and I realized I couldn't. I was royally shafted! "Oh, Nolan. I'd lo-o-ove to go to the beach with you." I strung out the word
, so he'd realize how much I really wanted to go. Playing hard to get was just not in my system. "But I have to babysit."

"Can't you get out of it?"

Get out of it?
I get out of it? No, not if I wanted to keep a roof over my head. "I wish I could. But I can't."

Silence drifted through the receiver. I felt I had to fill the void. "It's for Mrs. Kukk, a friend of my folks, and I said I'd do it, and, well, I just have to." Hoping for a bit of sympathy, I added, "I'll be spending the day chasing three brats around the playground at the park in the hot sun." I felt kind of guilty using the word "brats," because they weren't really. They were just super energetic. But I was desperate.

"I see." I couldn't tell if Nolan was disappointed, or irritated.

"Another day, maybe?" I
boldly suggested.

"I don't like to plan too far ahead," Nolan said.

That was pretty vague. But it wasn't a no, either! "Okay ... well, then ...." I glanced at the clock. I didn't have much time. "Um, I have to get going soon."

"Don't work too hard," Nolan said cheerfully, and then he hung up. I guess that was his way of saying good-bye. But I didn't have much time to think about it. I finished getting ready, then blasted off for Mrs. Kukk's house. Since it was only a couple blocks away, I walke
d, well, practically ran, instead of driving.

Mrs. Kukk greeted me at the door. "Ah, Vija! You're just in time. The boys have had breakfast. They are supposed to be brushing their teeth. There's plenty in the refrigerator for snacks and lunch. Have whatever you'd like. The boys will be happy with whatever you give them. I must run. See you a little after five!" With that, she trotted down the stairs, hopped in the car, and drove off.

I gathered my strength and headed off to the bathroom, where I found Brendan, Daniel and Stefan elbowing each other in order to be first to spit into the sink.

"Good morning, boys!"

"Hi, Vija," the boys said all at the same time, as they flashed their toothpaste-filled smiles.

Three spits, a tumble of arms and legs, and a quickly packed bag of snacks later I corralled the boys so I could take them to the park. I figured, let them wear themselves out on the playground. It was like herding kittens, trying to keep them on the sidewalk and headed in the right direction. They didn't walk. They hopped, skipped, jumped, and somersaulted. Every leaf, every twig, every pebble was a distraction. But eventually we got there.

As soon as their little sneakers hit the grass, Brendan, Daniel and Stephan moved as one toward the jungle gym. They scurried to the highest reaches, then swung upside down by their knees. I hovered close by in case one of them fell, though none of them ever had. Just as their faces turned purple from being upside down, they climbed down and raced toward the swings. "Push us, Vija," the yelled in unison.

I went from one to the other to the other, pushing as hard as I could as they all screamed, "Higher!" No matter how hard I pushed or how high they went, it was never enough. I pictured them sailing in a complete circle over the top of the swing set and back again, and still begging to go higher.

When they'd had enough, they leapt off as the swings swung forward, and checked their heel prints in the dirt to see who had flown the farthest. After much debate, it was decided that Brendan had won by an inch. Their faces bright pink and glistening with sweat, they announced, "We're thirsty!" and dashed off to the drinking fountain. They went through three rounds of taking turns gulping water and wiping their mouths and foreheads with the backs of their hands. Then, "We're hungry!"

I scooted them over to a picnic table, opened the brown paper bag, and pulled out the peanut butter and cracker "sandwiches" wrapped in wax paper. The boys devoured them in an instant, then were thirsty again. As soon as they'd gulped a few more gallons of water, they returned for the piece of waxed paper and ran over to the slide. They took turns sitting on the waxed paper, which had them zooming down the slide as fast as a blink. The challenge was to land on their feet. Brendan and Daniel managed to do so most of the time, but more often than not little Stephan landed on his bottom, which he carefully dusted off each time before he tried again.

I noticed signs that they were starting to droop. It took longer to climb up the slide. Their whoops of enthusiasm faded. Before long I'd have to herd them back home. I wished I'd packed a lunch. It was such a beautiful day, and it would've been nice to picnic under one of the huge maple trees.

I was about to round up the boys, when I heard a roaring din, and what sounded like my name. The roaring stopped, but I heard my name again, louder this time. I looked around, then took in a quick, sharp breath. It was Nolan! He was walking away from his motorcycle, carrying a flat box perched on one hand.

"Vija!" Nolan presented the box to me, with a sweeping bow. "For you."

"It's a
... a pizza!" I was dizzy with glee and surprise.

"Pepperoni. I hope that's okay."

"It's more than okay—it's really cool. How ... where ...?"

"You said you'd be taking the boys to the playground at the park. I found the park easy enough, but I had to keep asking people if they'd seen you. Of course, most everyone had noticed you and the three boys, so they pointed me in the right direction. They couldn't believe it when I told them I was bringing you lunch! They said how lucky you were."

"Nolan, this is so nice. We can get a picnic table under one of the trees." By now Brendan, Daniel, and Stephan had come running to see what was going on. "Look boys, pizza for lunch!"

Three cries of, "Yipee!"

"You guys go get settled at the table over there." I pointed to one under the biggest, shadiest tree in the park.

"It was really great," Nolan said. "Everyone kept saying how nice of me it was to do this!"

Funny, but I felt the teeniest, tiniest flutter in my stomach. I couldn't figure out why. Nolan bringing me pizza was a wonderful surprise. People thought he was wonderful for doing so. The flutter was probably just because I was hungry.

As I started toward the picnic table, Nolan swept the pizza box out of my hands. "I'll carry that for you."

"Thank you." I let out a happy sigh.

When we got to the table, Nolan placed the box in the center and opened it with a flourish. The boys oohed and aahed and licked their lips. "Oh," said Nolan, "I almost forgot." He pulled a small stack of paper napkins out of his back pocket and handed them to me. "Here you go. Enjoy your pizza."

"Oh, but ... you're staying, aren't you?"

"You're babysitting. I don't want to bother you while you're working."

"B-but ... it's okay."

"No. I have a ton of stuff I need to do this afternoon." He leaned over and whispered in my hair, "Talk to you later." Then he stood up straight and addressed the boys. "Enjoy the pizza, guys!"

They nodded and uttered their muffled thanks, as all of them already had started on a slice.

With that, Nolan trotted back to his motorcycle and roared off.

"This is delicious!" Brendan exclaimed. "Your friend is so boss."

"Yeah," Daniel and Stephan chimed in. "He's great!"

Just as I picked up a slice of pizza and took a bite, a woman pushing a stroller stopped and said to me, "Oh, you're the young lady who got the pizza from that nice young man! He's so thoughtful. You're very lucky."

I quickly chewed and swallowed the pizza. There was that funny flutter in
my stomach again. Why did it bother me that such a fuss was made about how nice Nolan was? That was silly of me, so all I said was, "Yes. Yes, I'm very lucky."

By the time we'd polished off the pizza, three other people strolled by who'd help
ed Nolan find me, and they all told me either how wonderful it was that Nolan had brought me a pizza, or how lucky I was, or both. He must have told everyone what he was doing! It was amazing. I'd never even had a guy like me before, and now I had one tracking me down and bringing me pizza in the park. I wish he'd stayed to have lunch with us.  Still, I really
lucky to have someone deliver food to me like that.

Refueled from lunch, the boys had the energy to tear around the playground for a couple more hours. Then even
tually they started to droop, so we went back to their house, where Stephan took a nap and Brendan and Daniel played quietly. That gave me a chance to do a little dusting and vacuuming for Mrs. Kukk, something I knew she'd appreciate.

I also practiced my speech about how "a friend" had been kind enough to bring me a pizza in the park as a su
rprise for the boys. That way, it wouldn't raise any suspicion in Mrs. Kukk's mind that would prompt her to make immediate plans to blab to Mama about it. And, if she did ever bring it up, I could tell Mama that it was someone Caprice knew who brought it, sort of letting Mama think it was one of Caprice's co-workers and implying I'd arranged it without really saying so. It wasn't always easy to say things my way and still tell the truth, but I managed.

When Mrs. Kukk got home, I casually mentioned the pizza.  She nodded and smiled, but took more notice of the bit of housework I'd done and that the boys were pleasantly tired, and she paid me a little extra.

On the way back to my house I stopped off at Shopsave to see if Caprice was there. Just as I started in, I saw her walking out. "Caprice, hi!"

Caprice stopped and waited for me to do a U-turn. She pulled a cigarette out of her purse, and lit up. "What's buzzin'?"

"I babysat the Kukk boys today."

"You made it through alive, I see." She turned her head and blew a smoke ring off to the side as she started walking toward the bus stop.

BOOK: It's All in Your Mind
8.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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