Authors: Meg Cabot
Grandma told Uncle Jay all over again about how terrible the airlines were, while the rest of us read the menus and figured out what we wanted to eat. Red Lobster is one of Kevin’s favorite restaurants because it’s pretty fancy, and he likes everything fancy, and also it has a nautical theme, and he likes pirates. And Mark likes it, too, because just about his favorite thing to eat in the world is fish-and-chips.
But Red Lobster is probably my most hated restaurant in the whole world, because it violates my two biggest food rules—
Never eat anything red
Never eat anything that once swam in the ocean.
I am not a vegetarian, although I tried
to be for one day once until Dad took us to McDonald’s and I couldn’t resist the smell of the delicious burgers there.
I just don’t like fish. I don’t like how fish tastes. It tastes…well, like fish. Back when we had an oven, Mom tried to make fish every way there was to make it—fried, broiled, baked. Nothing. I didn’t like it any way there is to prepare it. She even took me out for sushi once. No way. I just don’t like fish. I don’t like shrimp, I don’t like lobster, I don’t like scallops, I don’t like tuna fish sandwiches, although I do like goldfish crackers. I just don’t eat anything that once lived in the water.
This is a rule.
So when we go to Red Lobster, I order a hamburger. With no ketchup or tomato.
The fact that I don’t like fish shouldn’t bother anyone else. It really isn’t anyone else’s business. It doesn’t hurt anyone but me, and maybe my parents, because on the nights that we are having something fishy, they have to make me something else, such as peanut butter and jelly (with grape, not strawberry, jelly).
But I don’t mind. It’s not a big deal. Except maybe when I am eating at someone else’s house and they serve tuna salad sandwiches and I have to hide mine in my napkin and flush it down the toilet later.
But when the waitress came around to take our dinner orders and I asked for a hamburger, well done (because I don’t like to see any red parts, on account of not eating anything red), Grandma went, “Don’t be ridiculous, Allie. Why are you getting a burger? You’re in a place that specializes in fish. Why don’t you order the fish-and-chips, like Mark?”
“Allie doesn’t like fish, Mother,” Dad explained.
“Allie’s a carnivore,” Uncle Jay said, toasting me with his Coke. “Aren’t you, Allie?”
“How’s your kitten, Allie?” Harmony asked, smiling. Harmony has a beautiful smile. Plus, she’s very nice.
“Well,” Grandma said, “then why doesn’t she get some shrimp, like Kevin?”
“Because she doesn’t like shrimp, either, Ruth,” Mom said, taking a sip from her drink, which had a fancy umbrella in it. “She’s fine with just a burger.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, because Dad had told us in the car on the way to the airport never to say yeah to Grandma, but always yes, ma’am. “I’m fine with just a burger.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Grandma said with a harumphing sound as she stared down at her menu. “Getting a burger at a fish place.” Then, shaking her head, she ordered a lobster dish from the waitress.
Tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t believe it! Not only had Grandma disapproved of me ordering something different from everybody else—when she, of all people, should know better (being a fellow tomato hater)—but she was killing one of the lobsters from the tank! How could I ask her advice regarding what to do about Rosemary now, when it was clear she didn’t even care about the life of a possibly monogamous crustacean?
I was trying hard not to let my tears spill out and splash onto the tablecloth when I felt a warm hand settle over mine. I looked up and saw Uncle Jay smiling down at me from between the brown bristles of his mustache.
“Don’t let her get to you, Allie,” he whispered while Grandma was busy arguing with the waitress about how
she wanted her lobster broiled and not steamed. “It’s not worth it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, looking away. I knew Uncle Jay and Grandma didn’t get along. They haven’t seen eye to eye ever since Uncle Jay dropped out of the premed program at the university and decided to study poetry instead. Grandma doesn’t think there’s any future in poetry. Which makes it clear she has never heard of the poem “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
“Yeah,” Uncle Jay said, giving my hand a pat, “I think you do. But you’re a tough kid. You’ll work it out on your own. You always do.”
I didn’t know what he was talking about. I’m not a tough kid. If I was a tough kid, I wouldn’t be so nervous about this spelling bee coming up. I’d have punched Rosemary in the nose already. I’d have told Grandma I had every right to order a burger in a fish place if I wanted to.
Instead, I just sat there, trying not to cry.
Which just went to show that Rosemary was right: I was a scaredy-cat, and not an alley cat, after all.
Every day at lunchtime and recess when we weren’t keeping an eye out for Rosemary, Erica and Sophie helped Caroline and me study for the champion spelling bee instead of playing queens. It was extra hard because in addition to studying the fourth-grade spelling bee list, we had to study the fifth-grade list, too, which included words like “giraffe” (easy—I mean, I not only knew how to spell “giraffe,” I knew baby giraffes gestated between fourteen and fifteen months) and “pasteurize” (not so easy, but it
written on every milk carton we’ve been drinking from since, like, forever).
Sophie suggested that, since we’d formed our own study
group, we maybe let some of the other kids in the fourth-grade final ten in on it.
Caroline said, “Oh, that’s a good idea. Lenny could use the practice,” but Erica said, teasingly, “I think she means Prince Peter,” which caused Sophie’s whole head to turn the color of my hot pink leggings.
So then Erica apologized profusely, because that’s what Erica always does when she’s hurt someone’s feelings, and even sometimes when she hasn’t. Sophie tried to laugh it off, saying Prince Peter was so perfect he didn’t need any practice, but we all knew she was embarrassed, so we politely let the subject drop and played a quick round of queens—with no mention of Prince Peter—to get our minds off the subject.
We were crawling out of the bushes that hid our special secret fortress from view when a terrible thing happened. Someone over on the baseball diamond kicked a foul ball and it rolled near us, and Rosemary Dawkins came running after it and saw us emerging from the twisted shrubs that guarded our refuge.
She picked up the ball and, ignoring the cries of “Kick it back!” and “Rosemary! Rosemary! Over here!” coming from behind her, studied us unsmilingly, with her eyes narrowed.
“So that’s where you disappear to every day,” she said to me. Not in a friendly voice. Not in a friendly voice at all.
I had straightened up, having finished crawling out from beneath the bushes, and now I was picking dead leaves from my hot pink leggings. I was standing too far away from Rosemary for her to hit me, unless she came at me very quickly. Still, I studied the distance between us. She would have to come at me uphill. This would put me at a distinct height advantage. I could easily reach her nose from where I was standing.
This thought was making my heart pound. I really did not want to fight Rosemary.
But I also really did not want to get knocked down and wiped up like a mop.
I made my hand into a fist, thumb on the outside, just to get ready.
“Rosemary,” Caroline said. “Go away. We aren’t bothering you.”
“Y-yeah, Rosemary,” Sophie said, her voice shaking a little. “I think the people you’re playing with want the ball back.”
Rosemary turned around to stare at—my brother Mark, of all people. He’d come running up.
“Rosemary,” he said, completely ignoring me.
You have to ignore your siblings on the playground at school unless one of them is bleeding or otherwise in pain.
This is a rule. “Are you still playing? Can we have the ball back or what?”
Rosemary turned around and threw the ball at him. It bounced once on the gravel and would have spun up and hit Mark in the face if he hadn’t caught it with a disgusted look, then turned around and raced back to the kick ball game.
So much for my brother finding out who the girl was who wanted to beat me up.
“What’s back there?” Rosemary wanted to know, tilting her head at the bushes we’d just come crawling through.
“Nothing,” I said quickly. I could see where this was going, and it was making me very, very afraid—more afraid, even, than the thought of Rosemary’s fist in my face. I didn’t want Rosemary finding out about our secret fortress and telling the whole class about it. It was
secret place! It didn’t have anything to do with her! I didn’t want to share it with anyone else! It belonged to Erica, Caroline, and Sophie, who’d been nice enough to share it with me, the New Girl.
And I wasn’t about to let it get ruined just because Rosemary didn’t like me.
“Let me see,” Rosemary said, taking a step toward me, up the steep little hill from the playground toward the bushes.
“No,” I said, taking a step toward her, down the hill. My heart was beating harder than ever. I felt so sick to my stomach, I thought I might throw up the microwaved oatmeal Dad had made me (over Grandma’s strenuous objections. She said children should have a proper breakfast of eggs and bacon) that morning.
Still. I wasn’t going to back down. I kept my fist at my side, ready to meet Rosemary’s nose if the situation absolutely called for it and a nonviolent resolution to the conflict couldn’t be found.
For a horrible, stomach-clenching, heart-pounding moment, I thought Rosemary was going to grab me and throw me to the ground or try to punch
in the nose.
But instead, to my incredible relief, the warning bell went off. Morning recess was over. It was time to get into our lines and go inside to class.
The only problem was, Rosemary didn’t move.
So neither did I. We both just stood there, staring at each other. I wanted to look away—I wanted to
away. But I was afraid if I did, Rosemary might come after me and hit me, and I wouldn’t see her fist coming.
“It’s time to go back to class,” Erica said, her voice sounding a little high-pitched and wobbly. “You guys? We have to go now.”
“Fine,” Rosemary said, still staring at me. “But this isn’t over.”
“Fine,” I said, staring right back at her.
“Fine,” Rosemary said. Then she let out a laugh and tossed her long, bushy hair, and said,
And then she turned around and ran as hard as she could for the line. And I stood there watching her go, feeling like Jell-O—like I had no bones at all in my body, just blood and skin and maybe a little muscle, but not any that could actually support my body. Erica put her arm around my shoulders and whispered, “It’s okay. We wouldn’t have let her hurt you.”
And Caroline and Sophie said the same thing and patted me on the arms, and I totally believed them.
Except that, really, what could they have done to stop her?
It was a big relief when lunchtime rolled around that day. I couldn’t wait to get home and have some microwaved hot dogs or some French bread pizza. Since Grandma was visiting, I thought maybe Mom might step it up and maybe even whip up some Hot Pockets. I really wasn’t prepared for the scene that greeted us when Kevin and I stepped through the mudroom door, a few minutes behind Mark,
who as usual had hitched a ride home on the back of one of the neighborhood boys’ dirt bikes.
And that was Mom standing in the kitchen next to a brand-new stove, which some men from Home Depot were holding on a dolly, while Grandma stood nearby, looking like she was pretty angry. But not as angry as Mom, maybe.
“No, Ruth,” Mom was saying. Well, she wasn’t really saying it, exactly. She was sort of shouting it. “No, I guess you’re right. I guess I don’t appreciate the gesture. I already have a stove.”
“Clearly,” Grandma said, almost shouting, too, “you do not. That is why my grandchildren have been eating microwaved meals for the past few weeks. That’s why I simply went to the store this morning and bought this perfectly nice stove and had it delivered without any problem, as you can see—”
“As we explained to you last night,” Mom yelled, “the stove we ordered
from the same store you went to
is on back order. It’s arriving at the end of the month. We already have a stove, Ruth. It’s just not here.”
“But what’s wrong with this one?” Grandma wanted to know, pointing at the stove the men were holding on the dolly. “It’s here. It’s ready to be installed. The children can have grilled cheese for their lunch.”
Mark, Kevin, and I exchanged glances. It had been a long time since we’d had grilled cheese. I personally love grilled cheese.
But even from where I was standing, I could see there was a lot wrong with the stove Grandma had picked out. It looked kind of modern and shiny, and even in the short time I had lived in our new house, I knew that wasn’t the style Mom and Dad were going for. They wanted the things inside of it to match the old-fashionedness of the house. Shiny and modern didn’t go with the rest of the kitchen, which was snug and comfy.
“It’s just not the stove we ordered,” Mom said, proving I was right. “And that we already paid for.”
“I’m sure you can get your money back,” Grandma said, glancing at the men who were holding up the stove. They looked like they were getting kind of tired of holding the stove. I’m sure it was heavy. “Can’t she?”
“I don’t know anything about that, ma’am,” said the man holding the dolly in a bored voice. “We’re just here to make the delivery. Do you want it or not?”
“Yes,” Grandma said, at the same time that Mom said, “No!”
At that moment, fortunately, Dad came home from the department where he works. He walked in and said to Mom, “I got your message. What’s the—”
Then he saw the stove, and the men from Home Depot, and Grandma. And he said, “Oh.”
The men holding the stove seemed relieved to see Dad, like maybe they thought, finally, here was someone they could ask what was going on.
“Where can we put this?” they wanted to know.
“Back on the truck,” Dad said. “That’s not the oven we ordered.”
“Thomas!” Grandma cried.
“Kids,” Mom said. “Get in my car. We’re going out for lunch.”
“Yay!” Mark and Kevin screamed. “McDonald’s!”
We almost never get to eat McDonald’s, because Mom
considers it junk food, and we aren’t supposed to have junk food. But sometimes, on special occasions—like now—one of my parents will break down and let us have a hamburger with a small order of fries and a milk—never a Coke. That day is always a good day.
But while we were feasting on this unexpected bounty, my day suddenly got a thousand times better, because Mom’s cell phone rang, and it was Mrs. Hauser to find out when we could stop by to see Lady Serena Archibald’s kittens, who had finally started to sprout some fur and open up their eyes.
“Well,” Mom said, looking at her watch. “How about now?”
I nearly choked on a fry. “Now? But we have school. And what about Dad and Grandma? Don’t you have to go home and see Dad and Grandma?”
“Now would be perfect,” Mom told Mrs. Hauser.
The next thing I knew, we were standing on the Hausers’ fancy front porch in the suburbs, ringing the doorbell, and Mom was telling Kevin and Mark that if they touched anything or embarrassed her in any way, she would make
sure Grandma found out, and they could kiss any chance of getting their pirate book or dirt bike good-bye.
Then Mrs. Hauser was opening the door, looking very sophisticated (fifth-grade spelling word) in a beige silk pantsuit with little beige high heels with feathers on the toes. Mrs. Hauser always dressed up, even when she was just at home by herself like today. She also always wore a lot of perfume and makeup, including lip liner, which I saw Kevin staring at, even though
It’s not polite to stare
(this is a rule).
She screamed with happiness when she saw my mom and leaned over and kissed the air next to Mom’s face and said how happy she was to see her. Then she did the same thing to me. Then she told my brothers there were freshly baked chocolate chip cookies on a plate in the kitchen, and that they should go help themselves, and pointed to where the kitchen was.
This was all my brothers needed to hear. They ran off and we didn’t see them for, like, half an hour.
“Now, Allie,” Mrs. Hauser said. Mrs. Hauser knows I want to be a vet, and so she talks to me about her cat like
I’m a grown-up, which I appreciate. “You can’t imagine how frightened I was these past few weeks. I mean, Lady Serena Archibald of course is an incredible kitty, as you know, but I had no idea whether or not she had any natural maternal instincts. But she’s been remarkable, just remarkable. Of course I made a nursery for her in the den, but she would have none of it, just none of it, and wouldn’t you know she carried every single one of those kittens upstairs in the middle of the night and put them in my closet right on top of my Manolos? Well, I always did know she had style—just not how much style! So that’s where they are now, and I suppose that’s where they intend on staying.”
As she’d been speaking, Mrs. Hauser was leading me and Mom up a wide circular staircase to the second floor of her house and through the thick cream-colored carpeting to her bedroom, and then into her huge bedroom closet.
“Now, Lady Serena lets
near her babies, of course,” Mrs. Hauser said as she pushed back a lot of dresses and skirts so we could see where Lady Serena was hiding with her kittens. “But I don’t know how she’ll feel about strangers. Not that you’re a stranger, of course she loves you,
Allie, but she’s very protective of her little boys and girls. Let’s see how she’s feeling today.”
And then Mrs. Hauser sank down on her knees and indicated that I should do the same, so I did. And she started sorting through a lot of shoe boxes that were lying on the carpeted floor, and saying in a soft voice, “Here, puss, here, baby…”
And then, my heart thudding softly in anticipation, finally, I saw her…beautiful Lady Serena Archibald, with her long silky gray fur and her funny, smushed-in face, lying in a big box on top of a pair of suede boots, with six tiny squirming little bodies on top of her.
“Oh!” I cried. Because the little bodies didn’t look like hairless pink newts at all but were all different colors, black, white, smoky gray like their mother, and one—yes, I could see one, peeping in and out as it crawled all over the place—that was gray with black smudges like stripes and white smudges on its feet like little socks.
“What’s THAT one?” I wanted to know, pointing.
“What one, honey?” Mrs. Hauser asked. It was kind of hard to tell one kitten from the other because they were all
scrambling over one another and making the faintest little mewing sounds. Over it all, you could hear Lady Serena Archibald purring like a vacuum cleaner. She didn’t seem to mind us visiting her at all.