Authors: Ann M. Martin
On an afternoon in early October, the sun shone down on Aiken Avenue in Camden Falls, Massachusetts. It shone on the Row Houses and their small tidy yards and on the children of the seven families who occupied the eight attached homes. The second house from the left, formerly the home of Bill and Mary Lou Willet, was currently without an owner. But it wouldn't be empty for long. The
sign that had stood staunchly in the front yard for four weeks and three days (Flora had counted) was gone. Everyone wondered who would be moving in, and when. It had been a long time since there had been a new family in the Row Houses.
Flora Northrop, sitting on her front stoop, pushed Grace Fong's stroller lazily back and forth with her foot and considered changes. She had recently decided that life was a continuous series of changes, which was unfortunate, since she didn't like change. No, that wasn't true, Flora realized as she watched Grace gaze up and down the street with the wonder of a seven-month-old. Some changes were welcome and exciting. Grace's birth, for instance. A new baby at the Row Houses was a very welcome event. And Flora had been excited about leaving elementary school behind in the spring and entering seventh grade in the big central school in September. Two fine changes.
“Hey, guess what!” called Lacey Morris, galloping across the lawns to Flora and Grace.
“Just twenty-six days until Halloween!” announced Ruby, who was at Lacey's heels.
Lacey glared at Ruby. “
was going to tell her.”
“Well,” said Ruby, “the, um, important thing is that she knows.”
“Huh,” said Lacey.
Flora raised her eyebrows at her younger sister. “Ruby, remember what Min told you about hogging conversations.”
“To do it?” said Ruby, and Lacey giggled.
“Anyway,” said Flora. “Only twenty-six days? That's pretty exciting.”
“I'm going to be a scarecrow,” said Lacey.
“I'll be your crow,” said Ruby.
“What are you going to be, Flora?” asked Lacey.
“I'm not sure â” Flora started to answer. She glanced up as the door to Olivia's house banged open, and Olivia and Nikki ran across the yard.
“Ooh,” said Nikki, stopping to stroke Grace's fine hair, “she's so cute!”
Olivia stood back, hands on her hips, and glared at Flora. “Is this going to be a regular baby-sitting job?” she asked.
Flora shrugged. “I don't think so. Mrs. Fong just asked me to sit today.”
“Why didn't she ask
?” said Olivia, frowning.
“Probably because you're too young,” said Ruby, and Olivia made a face at her.
“Girls, girls,” said Flora.
“So what about your Halloween costume?” Lacey asked again.
“Hey, maybe you guys could be farm animals,” said Ruby. “Except one of you could be the farmer. Get it? A farmer, a scarecrow, a â”
“We get it,” said Olivia.
“But,” said Flora, “I'm not sure we're going to go trick-or-treating this year.”
cried Ruby. “What do you mean? You
Flora, Olivia, and Nikki exchanged glances.
“We're just not sure â” Flora began.
“We might be too old â” said Nikki.
“Just because you're in seventh grade â¦” Ruby muttered. She crossed her arms. “You'll change your minds,” she said.
As Flora watched Lacey drift back to her house, she recalled the previous Halloween. She and Ruby had been living in Camden Falls for just four months. She had been a whole year younger, but sometimes she had felt like the oldest person in the world, older even than Min, her grandmother. That Halloween had been one of the first holidays she and Ruby had spent without their parents. Maybe, Flora thought now, it was a good thing Halloween in Camden Falls was celebrated so differently from Halloween in the town in which she and Ruby had grown up. There, kids just went trick-or-treating up and down the streets in their neighborhoods. Here, some kids did that, but most wound up on Main Street, trick-or-treating at the stores.
, Flora thought again. She lifted Grace out of her stroller and sat her in her lap. The very biggest change in Flora's life â Flora knew with absolute certainty that no matter how long she lived, she would experience no bigger change â had occurred on a snowy night in January almost two years earlier. That was when the car in which she and Ruby had been riding with their parents had collided with a truck, and the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Northrop had been taken immediately. Min, their busy grandmother (Min was short both for Mindy and for “in a minute”), had arrived that very night and had taken care of Flora and Ruby until the end of the school year. But as soon as school was over, she had packed up their things and moved them to Camden Falls to live in the house in which their mother and Min herself had grown up.
This change, Flora knew, was certainly not all bad. Of course, if she could somehow have her parents and her old life back, if she could reverse time and stay home on that stormy night, she would do it. No question. But all things considered, her new life in Camden Falls was more than satisfactory. She and Ruby lived next door to Olivia in the Row Houses, and Olivia Walter was one of her best friends. Nikki Sherman was her other best friend. Flora was grateful to have made good friends so quickly. Furthermore, Olivia's grandmother and Min owned Needle and Thread, a sewing store on Main Street. How many girls who loved to sew, as Flora did, had a grandmother with a sewing store? Flora knew she should count her lucky stars.
“Hey, where's Robby?” Ruby asked suddenly, the subject of Halloween costumes apparently forgotten.
“Mom and Dad gave him more hours at the store,” Olivia told her.
“Really? That's great,” said Nikki.
Olivia's parents had recently opened a store, Sincerely Yours, on Main Street, not far from Needle and Thread. One of the first people they had hired to work in the store was Robby Edwards, who lived in the second to the last Row House on the right. Robby, who was eighteen and had Down syndrome, had graduated from high school in June and then proudly started his new job.
“He must be really happy,” said Flora.
don't sound happy,” said Ruby. “What's the matter?”
Flora shrugged. “I was thinking about changes,” she said. She shifted Grace in her lap.
Olivia and Nikki plopped down on the stoop on either side of Flora, but Ruby cocked her head and frowned. “Again? We've already had this discussion.”
“You could be a little more supportive,” Nikki said, and put her arm around her friend.
“Well, Ruby's right, actually,” said Flora.
“Thank you,” said Ruby contritely.
was the one who didn't want things to change?” said Olivia.
“Change is hard for lots of people,” Nikki pointed out. “But think of all the good changes.”
“That's what I've been saying!” said Ruby.
Olivia replaced one of the barrettes in her wild hair. “Actually, I still wish certain things could stay the same forever. I wish Mr. and Mrs. Willet hadn't moved away.”
“Me, too,” said Flora.
“But aren't you excited about getting new neighbors?” asked Ruby. “Maybe it will be a family with ten kids! The youngest one could be Grace's age, so she wouldn't be the only baby in the Row Houses. Then there could be, like, a five-year-old for Alyssa Morris, a few boys for all the brothers around here, a girl for Lacey and me, some teenagers for Robby and for Lydia and Margaret Malone, and a cute boy for you guys to drool over.”
“We do not drool!” exclaimed Nikki.
“Well, anyway, Olivia already has a boyfriend,” Ruby said smugly. “Olivia and Jacob, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S â”
“Jacob is not my boyfriend!” cried Olivia.
“Or maybe,” continued Ruby, as if she hadn't heard either Olivia or Nikki, “it will be a young couple and the woman is pregnant and she gives birth to sixtuplets, or whatever you call six babies, and a TV station wants to do a show about them, and we all get to be in it. Just think â week after week of TV cameras everywhere. I would make sure to practice my tap routines on the sidewalk so I could get discovered.”