BSC058 - Stacey's Choice - Martin, Ann M.
The dry leaves crunched under our sneakers.
"I just love autumn, don't you?" said Mallory Pike.
"Yup," I replied. "Well, actually I like all seasons. And I like them even better now that I live here in Stoneybrook." "How come?" "Because the seasons seem more real in the country. In New York they get sort of flattened out. Do you know what I mean? You can barely tell one from the other. In the autumn, you don't see the leaves change color unless you live near a park. In the winter, hardly any snow falls, and most of what does fall melts, because the city is so warm. Especially the streets and sidewalks." "What with the subways and all," added Mal knowledgeably, even though she has been to New York, like, three times.
It was a Monday afternoon. Mal and I were walking home from school together. We go to Stoneybrook Middle School. Mal is in sixth grade and I am in eighth. (She's eleven and I'm thirteen.) I am Stacey McGill. My parents named me Anastasia Elizabeth McGill, but they're the only ones who ever call me that - and when they do, I know I am in Deep Trouble. As you may have guessed, I used to live in New York City. In fact, I still go there pretty often. That's because my dad lives there. He and my mom are divorced now.
My recent life has been rife with drama. (I just love that phrase! I read it in a book.) Maybe other kids have led more dramatic lives than I have, but mine has to be up there in the top twenty percent or so. (Which reminds me - I love math, too.) I am a native New Yorker. I was born in the city and I grew up there. My mom and dad and I lived in the same apartment until I was twelve. Then my dad's company transferred him to Connecticut, so we moved to Stoneybrook. I guess grown-ups aren't always too good at making up their minds, because after we'd lived in Stoneybrook for less than one year, Dad's boss transferred him back to New York. So we picked up and returned to the city - but to a different apartment.
Okay. I thought that was that. I had liked Stoneybrook all right, and I had loved my new school and especially my new Mends, but I missed the city. I didn't mind returning. But I did mind that my parents started to fight. Not just a spat every now and then, but lots and lots of long, shouting arguments. Even so, I was taken by surprise when they told me they had decided to divorce. I thought that only happened to other families. Worse, Dad had decided to stay in the city (with his job), but Mom wanted to go back to Stoneybrook - and I had to choose which of them to live with. In the end I chose Mom, not because I love her more than Dad, but because I found myself missing Stoneybrook and needing my friends here.
Those things happened awhile ago. Now Mom and I are settled into a little old house which is directly in back of Mal's. And in the city, Dad is settled into a tiny two-bedroom apartment. (The second bedroom is mine, for when I visit my father.) Mallory and I had reached her driveway, the spot where we usually separate. She follows the walk to her front door. I cut through her backyard and then mine, and enter my house through the kitchen.
"You're coming back at four, right?" Mal called over her shoulder.
"Yup. I'll see you then!" Mal is the oldest of eight children. (Hers is the biggest family I have ever known.) I was going to help her baby-sit for her younger brothers and sisters for an hour, and then we were going to go to a meeting of the Babysitters Club together. (My friends and I call it the BSC. I'll tell you more about it later.) I cut across the lawns and ran into my house. "Hi, Mom! I'm home!" I called. I headed for the refrigerator.
"Hi, honey." Mom entered the kitchen, looking pale and tired. She's been looking that way a lot lately. It comes from being a single parent who's job-hunting and doing temporary work.
"Wow," I said as Mom sank into a chair. "How many interviews did you go on today?" "Two," she replied.
"Just two?" I would have guessed about ten.
"Just two. But I've lined up several more." I nodded. "Mom, you don't have to rush, you know. I mean, about getting a job. Dad's paying alimony and child support . . . isn't he?" "Oh, of course," Mom assured me. "But it isn't the same. Now his salary is paying for a house and an apartment. The money doesn't go as far these days. So I do need a job." "Yeah." I was carefully putting together a snack. I always have to plan my meals and snacks carefully. This is because I'm a diabetic. Diabetes is a disease in which this gland in your body, the pancreas, stops producing the proper amount of something called insulin. Your body needs insulin to break down sugar. If this system goes out of whack, you can get really sick. (Well, I can. I'm a brittle diabetic, which means I have a severe form of the disease.) Here's how I control my diabetes: by sticking to a strict no-sugar diet, and by giving myself injections of insulin. I know that's gross, but it has to be done.
"What are your plans this afternoon, honey?" Mom asked.
"I'm sitting at the Pikes' with Mal, but just for an hour. Then we're going to the BSC meeting. I'll be home by six-fifteen." "Okay. Where's Dee going?" (Dee is Mrs. Pike, although that isn't her real first name. That's my mom's nickname for her. She and Mrs. Pike have gotten to be very close friends.) "A school meeting," I replied. "The elementary school. Something about Claire's kindergarten class, I think." "Mm." Mom nodded absently.
"Why don't you take a nap?" I suggested. "You look exhausted. I can start dinner. And I can finish it after the meeting. We can eat a little late tonight. I'll bring another snack to the meeting." (I also have to be careful about when I eat.) "Well, I think I'll just take you up on your offer," said Mom.
"Good." The phone rang then, and I told Mom not to bother with it. Whatever it was, I would handle it. "Hello?" I said. I closed my eyes, allowing myself to wish that Sam Thomas would be on the other end of the line. Sam is my new friend. Who's a boy. I hesitate to call him my boyfriend, but, well, we date sometimes. Sam happens to be the older brother of Kristy Thomas, president of the Baby-sitters Club and one of my good friends. Sometimes this situation has been a bit awkward, but that never prevents me from hoping Sam will call.
"Hi, Stace! It's your old dad," said the caller cheerfully.
"Hi, Old Dad!" I replied. "You sound, urn, perky." "I have good news. Would you like to hear it?" "Definitely." "Your old dad has finally been promoted." "Hey, great!" I cried.
"Nope," said Dad. This is better than 'Hey, great.' This is major. I've been named vice-president of the company. I'm getting a raise, a bigger office, the works. It's what I've been waiting for." "Oh, my lord! Congratulations! Dad, that's fantastic!" "Thank you, thank you. You can't see it, but I'm taking a bow." (I giggled.) "The company is even holding a dinner in my honor." "Wow." That was impressive.
"I'd love for you to be there." "Where? At the dinner?" "Where else?" "You mean kids can come?" "Well, I don't think any other kids will be there. But you're special. You're the daughter of the man being honored. You can be my date." "Cool. Okay. When is the dinner?" I was hoping Dad would say it was going to be on a Wednesday night or something, and then I could have a little break from school. But he didn't.
"It's a week from this coming Friday," he replied. "I thought you could stay in the city for the weekend. We'll make it special. I'll get tickets to something for Saturday night" - when Dad says "tickets to something" he means tickets to something on Broadway, like a play or a musical - "we'll eat at Tavern on the Green, go out for Sunday brunch, what- ever you want. Oh, and why don't you buy yourself a new dress or outfit to wear to the dinner. Put it on a charge card. I'll pay your mother back." "Awesome! Thanks, Dad! Listen, I have to go. I have a sitting job. But I'll tell Mom about the weekend, and I'll call you later so we can talk some more. Congratulations again!" A few minutes later I was once more running through the yards, and then knocking breathlessly on the Pikes' back door.
Margo let me in. She's the seven-year-old Pike. Claire, the kindergartener, is the five-year-old. Then there are eight-year-old Nicky, nine-year-old Vanessa, and the ten-year-old triplets, Adam, Byron, and Jordan. (They're identical.) "Hurry and come in!" exclaimed Margo, tugging at my hand. "Come see what we're doing. We are very busy." Margo pulled me into the rec room where I found her brothers and sisters poring through magazines and comic books.
"What is this? A reading club?" I asked.
Jordan snorted. "A reading club?" "Jordan," said Mrs. Pike warningly.
"Sorry," said Jordan immediately.
Mrs. Pike looked at me apologetically. Then she said, "Mal, Stace - this should only take about an hour. I know you have a club meeting at five-thirty. I'll try to be back by five." "Okay/7 Mal and I replied.
Mrs. Pike hurried through the door to the garage, and I approached Jordan. "So what are you doing?" I asked.
"Ordering stuff," he replied.
Vanessa looked up from a corner of the couch where she was sprawled, one magazine open in her hands, two others spread across her stomach. "You wouldn't believe what you can order," she said. "And cheaply. I already ordered a sample of hair conditioner. And a bust-developer. The bust-developer cost five dollars, almost, but the conditioner was practically free." "Now we're going to see what else we can get for free," added Nicky.
"Here's something!" Adam called out triumphantly. "Well, it's almost free. For twenty-five cents you can order a trial pack of Ever-Flow baby bottle liners." Mal and I exchanged a Look. Oh, well. At least the kids were busy. They entertained themselves until their mother returned.
"EvenFlo baby bottle liners!" cried Mal.
"A bust-developer!" I crowed.
"I think my brothers and sisters are truly looney-tunes," added Mallory. "Every last one of them." "How long have they been 'ordering stuff'?" I wanted to know.
"For about a week." Mal and I were pedaling our bikes to Claudia Kishi's house, where the BSC meeting would be held. "It started when Adam was looking through the back of one of his comic books and found an ad for something called 'fool's gold.' The ad said he could order his very own piece of fool's gold - in a quality felt pouch with a drawstring - for just fifty cents. So he did. And he and the other kids have been ordering things ever since. None of it has arrived yet, though." We rode up Claud's driveway and chained our bikes to the lamppost. Then we ran along the front walk and let ourselves inside. (All the BSC members do that. The Kishis don't mind.) "Hello!" I called as we ran upstairs to Claudia's room.
"Hello!" Claud's voice drifted back to us. Claud is the vice-president of the BSC, I'm the treasurer, and Mallory is a junior officer.
Claudia Kishi is my very best friend in the entire world, and I am hers, even though we have only known each other since the beginning of seventh grade, when I moved to Stoneybrook for the first time. Like most best friends, Claud and I are practically twins in some ways, and true opposites in other ways. We are opposites in terms of our family situations and our looks. As you know, I have no brothers and sisters, and my parents are divorced. Claudia has an older sister (Janine the Genius) and her parents are happily married. Also, Claud has never moved. She was born in Stoneybrook and grew up in this house on Bradford Court. In terms of looks, I have fluffy blonde hair which my mom allows me to get permed, blue eyes, and I'm fairly thin, probably because of the diabetes. Claud, who is Japanese-American, has long, silky jet-black hair, and dark, almond-shaped eyes. Despite an addiction to junk food, she is not fat (or thin - she's just right) and she has a complexion like someone in the "after" part of a Clearasil ad.
But Claud and I have the exact same taste in clothes and fashion, and very similar interests. We are both sophisticated and trendy. I know I sound like I'm bragging, but everyone says this about us. We keep track of the new-styles, and we wear tights and boots, baggy tops, and big jewelry. Claud likes hats, and often wears one, and we experiment with makeup and accessories. We experiment with our hair, too, especially Claudia.
Claud and I could talk about fashion and try on clothes endlessly, but we do have other interests - and those interests are another of our differences. While I enjoy school and especially like math, Claud can't stand school. She's an awful student and a terrible speller (although she's smart). What Claud likes is art. She's been taking art classes for years, and her room is full of evidence that she's a painter, a sketcher (is there such a word?), a potter, a sculptress, and a jewelry-maker. Claud makes lots of her own jewelry and often makes jewelry for her friends, too.
Let's see. Here's one other difference between Claud and me. Claud, as I mentioned, is addicted to junk food. Also to Nancy Drew mysteries. Since her parents don't approve of either habit, Claud ends up hiding stuff all over her room - candy, cookies, Ring-Dings, Ding-Dongs, mystery books. Of course, I can't eat most of the stuff Claudia craves, but she's nice about keeping pretzels or crackers on hand for me. Claud is always thoughtful.
"Hey, you guys!" called a voice.
"Hey!" replied Claud and Mal and I.
Standing in the doorway were Mary Anne Spier and Dawn Schafer, the secretary and alternate officer of the BSC. Guess what. They are best friends and stepsisters.
Like Claudia, Mary Anne grew up in Stoneybrook and for years she lived here on Bradford Court, across the street from Claud. She's an only child, and her mother died when Mary Anne was a baby, so until seventh grade, her family consisted of her and her father. Mr. Spier was extremely protective of Mary Anne, and also quite strict with her, but Mary Anne, although she's shy, managed to make a few good friends, including Kristy Thomas (her first best friend), who's the president of the BSC, and also Sam Thomas's sister (remember?). Then, when Dawn Schafer moved to Stoneybrook from California after her parents got divorced, Mary Anne became friends with Dawn, too. In fact, Dawn soon became her other best friend. Then (and this is the good part) Dawn and Mary Anne decided to fix up Mrs. Schafer and Mr. Spier. After their parents dated for what seemed like forever . . . they got married! That's how the best friends became stepsisters. So Mary Anne finally had what she thought of as a "real family." (In my opinion, one person can be a family just as nicely as a mom and a dad, two kids, a cat, and a dog.) Anyway, Mary Anne seems happier now and a little less shy. And her dad is a little less strict. But Mary Anne is still quiet. Plus, she's romantic, and she cries at the drop of a hat. Mary Anne was the first one of us BSC members to wind up with a steady boyfriend. His name is Logan Bruno, and he's one of the nicest guys I know. He and Mary Anne are perfect for each other, although they have had their ups and downs (like most couples, I guess).