Authors: Meg Cabot
“That was Mrs. Hauser on the phone just now,” Mom said. “Lady Serena and the kittens are doing so well the veterinary hospital is sending them home. Mrs. Hauser says Lady Serena has finally started feeding them and caring for them, and in a few days, they should start growing fur and opening their eyes. And then you’ll be able to go over and pick the one that you want—though they’ll still need to stay with their mother for a few more weeks until they’re weaned.”
I just stood there, so shocked I didn’t know what to say. What with all the bad news I’d been having lately, I couldn’t believe there was actually a piece of good news!
“Is there a striped one?” I asked her. “An adorable gray-and-black-striped one with a white belly and white socks on its feet?”
“I don’t know,” Mom said. “Like Mrs. Hauser just said, none of them has any fur yet. They’re hairless, like newts.”
“Stop saying they’re like newts,” I shouted. “Baby kittens don’t look anything like newts! Newts are slimy and green! Baby kittens are cute!”
“There’s no need to shout, Allie,” Mom said. “I have enough problems, with your father springing this visit from Grandma on me.”
“Visits from Grandma are fun,” I said, surprised. “She always brings us stuff.”
“Yeah,” Mom said, popping open the freezer, since our stove still hadn’t arrived. Tonight we were having salad and frozen French bread pizzas. I was going to have to peel the cheese off mine and scrape all the tomato sauce off, since one of my rules is
Never eat anything red.
“Right. I just don’t exactly have this house ready for visitors yet.”
“Well, Dad’s got the bed ready.” We both listened as a few more swears floated down from upstairs. “Almost,” I added.
“The truth is, Allie,” Mom said, with a sigh, “this house is never going to be ready enough for your grandmother.”
I didn’t know what Mom meant by that.
I got to find out when Grandma arrived later that week, though.
I managed to avoid Rosemary—and having to punch her in the stomach, and then the nose—by never venturing out onto the playground at recess by myself. I always had my queens with me. For some reason, Rosemary wasn’t willing to beat me up when other people were around, watching. I wasn’t sure why.
Although I suspected it was because she didn’t want any witnesses who could testify against her. I saw that in a movie once.
Just as things sort of started looking up, Mrs. Hunter made the announcement that there was going to be a special all-star finalist spelling bee. The final ten from the fourth-grade spelling bee would be going up against
the top ten fifth-grade spellers. The winner of this spelling bee would be the top speller in our school and would go on to represent Pine Heights in the district spelling bee, and if they won that, in the county, and if that, the state, and if they won that, the country. And after that, the
If there was such a thing as a spelling bee for the world. Which, if there isn’t, there totally should be.
And since I’d made the final ten of the fourth-graders, that meant I was going to be in this all-star finalist Pine Heights spelling bee.
You would think I would be happy about this, but of course I wasn’t, because this was just going to be another opportunity for Rosemary to be all, “AL-LIE! AL-LIE!” and for me to fail and for her to knock me down and wipe me up like a mop. Of course I had already gotten Erica to promise she wouldn’t let Caroline near any more of her mother’s cookies, so Caroline wouldn’t get sick this time. But still.
It was a good thing I had Grandma’s visit (and getting to choose my kitten) to look forward to. Otherwise, I just
might have given up entirely and gotten into bed and pulled the covers over my head.
But Grandma’s visit was important to me, because I knew that finally I was going to have someone besides Dad to turn to for help with the Rosemary situation. Because Grandma was super old, and old people are good at giving advice about stuff (at least on TV). I figured if there was anybody who was going to be able to tell me what to do about Rosemary, it would be Grandma. I had once asked Grandma’s advice about what to do about the fact that everywhere I went, people were always trying to serve me things with tomatoes in it. One of my main rules is,
Never eat anything red.
But an important subrule of that is,
Never eat anything with tomatoes in it, or on it.
I hate tomatoes. And so, I was surprised to learn during Grandma’s last visit, does Grandma!
So I figured if anyone knew how to handle the fact that everywhere you go, people are
offering you salsa or sandwiches with tomatoes on them, Grandma would.
So I asked her, and she said, “Just say no, thank you.”
See? The woman is a genius.
Old people know everything.
That’s a rule.
So by the time Friday rolled around, the day we were supposed to drive to the airport to pick up Grandma, I was looking forward to seeing her more than I could remember looking forward to practically anything (except finally getting Mewsette and being able to take her home and put her in her pink feathered canopy cat bed, when I finally get that, too).
And when we saw her coming down the escalator to the baggage claim area, I totally beat both Mark and Kevin rushing up to her and throwing my arms around her, even though I had to run up the down stairs a little to do it.
Grandma didn’t mind, though. Even if maybe some of the other people getting off the escalator might have.
“Oh, Allie,” she said, patting me on the head. “What an interesting hairstyle you’ve chosen.”
“I did it myself,” I told her. “It’s three ponytails and a braid.”
“I can see that,” Grandma said. “Oh, hello, Mark and Kevin. Kevin, what is that you’re wearing?”
“I’m a pirate, Grandma,” Kevin said proudly.
“It’s a phase, Ruth,” Mom said, I guess seeing Grandma’s confused look as she was going to kiss Grandma on the cheek. “How are you?”
“I’m well, thank you,” Grandma said. “Don’t you look shapely, Elizabeth. Hello, Thomas,” she said to Dad. “And where is Jay?”
“Oh,” Dad said, kissing Grandma on the cheek as well. “He had some important work to do. He’ll join us at the restaurant for dinner, though.”
“I’m sure he had some important work to do,” Grandma said. “Undergraduate students who are in their sixth year of taking poetry classes always have very important work to do, indeed. What is it, Mark?” She looked down at Mark, who’d been tugging on her suit jacket.
“We made this for you,” Mark said, holding up the sign. Mark had written welcome, grandma in glue and sparkles on yellow construction paper. It was a pretty babyish sign, but Mark had decided he was never going to get his dirt bike if he didn’t show some creativity.
“How lovely,” Grandma said. “Why don’t you hold on
to it for me?” You could tell Grandma didn’t want to get sparkles on herself.
“Okay,” Mark said, looking disappointed. It was as if he could practically see that dirt bike disintegrating before his eyes. I almost laughed at him, but then I remembered Mewsette’s canopy cat bed. I seriously didn’t want Mewsette to sleep in a tap-shoe box for the rest of her life.
“How was your flight, Grandma?” I asked.
“Horrible,” Grandma replied as we all walked toward the baggage carousel her suitcase was supposed to come barfing out of. “How they think they can charge so much to jam so many people into such a small plane…and then they don’t even serve you a meal!”
“We’re going out for dinner tonight,” Kevin volunteered. “Red Lobster! That’s why I’m dressed like this. Pirates mostly ate seafood, you know, on account of they lived on the sea.”
dress like that,” Mark pointed out to him. “And for your information, pirates ate mostly hardtack, which is a type of biscuit.”
“Gosh,” Kevin said, “I would know that if I had a book on pirates.”
Mark and I gave Kevin disgusted looks, neither of us able to believe he’d gotten in his present request so fast. Especially since he was asking for a book, and he can’t even read yet.
We needn’t have worried, though, since Grandma wasn’t even paying attention.
“I don’t know if I want to go out tonight,” she was saying. “I’m so exhausted from that horrible flight. I think I’d like a nice hot bath and maybe a grilled cheese sandwich before bed.”
“Well,” Dad said, “that isn’t going to happen, unless we go out for grilled cheese sandwiches. Because we don’t have a stove yet.”
Grandma looked shocked.
she said, staring at Dad.
“Ruth, we told you,” Mom said. “Remember? Our oven hasn’t been installed yet. It hasn’t arrived from the distributor.”
“But that’s ridiculous,” Grandma said. “You moved weeks ago. What have you been feeding these children?”
“Hot Pockets, mainly,” I explained. “And microwaved oatmeal for breakfast.”
“And popcorn,” Mark said. “But just that one time.”
“Oh, look,” Mom said as the baggage carousel started to move. “Here comes the luggage. What does your suitcase look like, Ruth?”
“It’s gray with a red ribbon on the handle,” Grandma said. “Thomas, this is ridiculous. Why haven’t you called the company you ordered the stove from and demanded they deliver it immediately?”
“Well,” Dad said, “we tried that, Mother. But the model we want is on back order.”
“Well, just pick a different kind,” Grandma said.
“We don’t want a different kind, Mother,” Dad said. “We want that kind.”
“Don’t be simpleminded,” Grandma said. “Ovens are all the same. Just get a different one.”
“Ruth,” Mom said, “our house is over a hundred years
old. We want an oven and stovetop that fit in with the character of our home.”
“Is that your bag, Grandma?” Mark asked, pointing at a gray bag with a red ribbon around the handle.
“No,” Grandma said. “But surely there is some other oven that would meet your requirements.”
“There really isn’t,” Mom said. “The one we want has six burners, a built-in pancake griddle, and a warming rack for freshly baked bread.”
“Is that your bag, Grandma?” Mark wanted to know, pointing at another gray bag with a red ribbon on the handle.
“No,” Grandma said. “Why on earth would anyone need six burners? Are you planning on cooking for the U.S. Army, perhaps?”
“Grandma,” I said, feeling desperate all of a sudden. I hadn’t brought a welcome sign or worn a pirate costume. All I’d done was put my hair in a particularly attractive style. “Did you hear? I’m in a spelling bee! Not just any spelling bee, but against fifth-graders—”
“Is that it, Grandma?” Kevin wanted to know, practically throwing himself on another gray suitcase. “Is it?”
“Yes, that’s it,” Grandma said. “Somebody grab it before it goes around again!”
Mark threw himself on Grandma’s bag, landing on the conveyor belt so that he started going around with the suitcases. This caused Kevin to scream in terror and Mom to start running after Mark, to the annoyance of all the people who were trying to get their bags.
“Dad,” I yelled. “Do something!” I didn’t want Mark to get sucked behind the big rubber flap at the end of the baggage carousel.
“Well, don’t just stand there, Thomas,” Grandma said, recognizing the danger of the big flap as well (although Mark would probably think it was cool to go through the big flap).
But, fortunately, Mom and Dad were both on it, Dad grabbing Mark and yanking him off the baggage carousel (and also halfway into the air), and Mom grabbing Grandma’s suitcase, just as the two of them were about to go under the rubber flap.
“Well,” Grandma said when Mom and Dad came back to where we were standing, both of them panting a little. “That was exciting.”
Two hours later (because the airport is pretty far from where we live), we were all sitting around a table at Red Lobster. We kids were on our best behavior, because the last few times we’d been out to dinner, some pretty bad stuff had happened. We’d been asked never to dine at the Waffle House, the International House of Pancakes, and the Lung Chung Chinese Restaurant again due to the bad behavior of my little brothers and, occasionally, myself. Although in my own defense, my bad behavior was to protect an innocent turtle, who now lives with my uncle Jay.
But so far we’d never gotten kicked out of Red Lobster. Mom and Dad had told us if we did anything tonight to embarrass them with Grandma, they would personally take away our television privileges until we were in high school, plus we would never see dessert until the year 2042. In addition, I wouldn’t get my kitten, Mark could kiss any chance of getting a dirt bike good-bye, and they’d take away Kevin’s pirate costume.
This seemed unnecessarily harsh to me. I thought just telling me I’d never get a cell phone would be threat enough. I have only been dying for one since forever.
Grandma didn’t really have much of a chance to check out the new house when we took her there before dinner to drop off her suitcase and let her “freshen up.” The guest room where she was staying is in a different part of the house from where we kids sleep. Mom and Dad had given us a whole floor to ourselves, where it was just our three rooms and a bathroom (and the attic, which I used to think was haunted, but I don’t anymore).
The guest room used to be the maid’s room. Our house was so old it was built back in the days when people had maids and butlers who lived with them. But that doesn’t mean our house is nice. Maybe it used to be, but over the years the people who have lived in it just basically let it fall apart until my parents bought it and decided to fix it up—something they are still doing, slowly. Mom was mostly done with the painting and wallpapering, but she still had a ways to go with some rooms.
Grandma’s room was done, though, and it looked totally
pretty. Mom had painted the walls a really nice pinky beige—“blush” is what it said on the paint can—and put a pretty pink rug on the wood floor and hung lace curtains that matched the bedspread, and the bed had one of those wrought-iron frames and the room had its own closet and a little bathroom with a bathtub with a built-in shower.
When Mom asked Grandma if her room was all right, she said, “It will do,” which made Mom’s mouth shrivel up to the size of a penny. When we got to the restaurant, Mom ordered a Manhattan on the rocks, which is a drink she usually only gets on her birthday. So Mark asked if all of us kids could get Shirley Temples, which we normally aren’t allowed to have except on
birthdays, because Mom says they are pure sugar. But tonight she said, “Sure, why not?”
We were enjoying our Shirley Temples and trying not to do anything bad—I wasn’t, for instance, looking anywhere near the giant tank that held all the live lobsters, thinking about how mean it was of Red Lobster to let their customers pick out a lobster from that tank and then have
the chefs kill it and serve it to them, especially since lobsters mate for life and can sometimes be seen holding claws with their lobster husband or wife on the bottom of the ocean—when Uncle Jay finally got to the restaurant with his girlfriend, Harmony, their cheeks looking all rosy from the cold outside.
“Ma,” Uncle Jay said, unwinding his scarf and leaning down to give Grandma a kiss on the cheek. “Nice to see you. You look great, as always.”
“Jay,” Grandma said calmly as Uncle Jay sat down between me and Mark (we’d saved him a place) and Harmony sat down by Kevin.
“Ma, this is my girlfriend, Harmony Culpepper.”
“How do you do, Mrs. Finkle?” Harmony said, holding out her hand across the table to shake Grandma’s hand. “It’s so nice to finally meet—”
But Grandma was staring at Uncle Jay. “Are you growing a
“It’s a goatee,” Uncle Jay said. “I’m just trying something new.” He opened his menu as Harmony dropped her hand,
realizing Grandma wasn’t going to shake it. “So what are we having?”
“We’re having Shirley Temples!” Kevin screamed, lifting up his eye patch so he could see Uncle Jay more clearly.
“Hitting the hard stuff already,” Uncle Jay said. “I’m down with that. The lady and I’ll have Cokes,” he told the waitress. “And you better keep ’em coming. So how was your flight, Ma?”