Claudia And The Terrible Truth

BOOK: Claudia And The Terrible Truth
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Claudia And The Terrible Truth

 

Ann M. Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Chapter 1.
    "Aah! Alone at last." We gazed deeply into each other's eyes and smiled happily. Then the object of my affections began to drool.
    Was I grossed out? No way. I just wiped off the drool with the cuff of my shirt and went on gazing and smiling.
    Now, if I were talking about a guy — say, my boyfriend, Josh — things might be different. I'd be pretty freaked if he started to drool in front of me. But a little drool is nothing between me and my beloved cousin, Lynn. She can do no wrong, as far as I'm concerned. And since she's only six months old and teething, her lack of saliva control is no big surprise.
    "I can't believe you're mine, all mine, for a whole week," I told
Lynn
. She gurgled happily. She may not be able to talk yet, but I can translate her little noises. She was letting me know she was as excited as I was about our time together.
    Five minutes earlier,
Lynn
's parents had finally left. My uncle Russ practically had to shove my aunt Peaches out the door. "What if she starts running a fever?" Peaches asked, clutching
Lynn
as if she couldn't bear to turn her over to me. "What if she falls out of her crib?" "Claudia knows what to do," said my mother soothingly, putting an arm around Peaches. (They're sisters.) "She can handle any situation that comes up. Remember, she's a professional baby-sitter." I nodded. "That's right," I said. "
Lynn
will be in the care of a full-fledged founding member of the BSC." I grinned proudly. I didn't have to explain to Peaches and Russ about the BSC. They know those initials stand for Babysitters Club, and they know what the club is all about. You can't find better, more experienced sitters anywhere.
    "Not to mention the BSC member's sibling and parents," added my older sister, Janine. "Well be here too." 'And you two deserve some time off," put in my dad. 'After all, you haven't had a vacation since
Lynn
was born." "Hear, hear," said Russ. "Now, let's say good-bye and be on our way. There's a golf ball with my name on it, and a nice hot sauna waiting for you." They'd booked a week at a classy resort about an hour and a half away. Russ pretended to swing a golf club. It was the first day of March, so he wouldn't be doing a lot of outdoor golfing. But the place had an indoor driving range, and Russ couldn't wait to check it out.
    Reluctantly, Peaches handed
Lynn
over to me. "Don't forget to warm her formula," she said. "But don't make it too hot. She might — " " — burn her mouth," I said, nodding as I hugged
Lynn
to my chest. "I know." Peaches had given us a five-page memo detailing
Lynn
's routines. Not that I needed it. I've taken care of
Lynn
plenty of times — she's practically spent as much time at my house as she has' at her parents'! But just to make Peaches feel comfortable, I recited her directions from page three, paragraph seven: "Warm the formula until a few drops shaken on the inside of your wrist feel neither hot nor cold. Hold
Lynn
in a near-upright position for feeding. Make sure to burp her afterward." I could have continued, with the three paragraphs specifying exactly how to burp her, but it didn't seem necessary. Peaches was nodding.
    "I guess she'll be okay," she said. 'After all, this is like her second home." She gave
Lynn
one last kiss, turned to join Russ, and, without looking back, managed to walk out the door. I knew that had required a humongous effort on her part, so I took pity on her. I followed them to the door and said in a squeaky voice, "Bye-bye, Mama, bye-bye, Dada! Have a good time!" I lifted
Lynn
's arm and made her wave to them. Russ cracked up, and even Peaches managed a shaky smile. I knew they'd have a terrific time once the trauma of leaving
Lynn
was over. I stood in the doorway, waving to them until their car was out of sight. Then I carried
Lynn
straight up to my room, closed the door behind us, plopped her down on the bed, and lay down next to her.
    I'd been waiting for this moment all day: the moment when I would have
Lynn
to myself.
    Speaking of "myself," I guess I should tell you who I am. My name's Claudia, as you have already guessed. Claudia Lynn (yes, that's where the baby's name came from) Kishi. I'm thirteen years old and I live in
Stoneybrook
,
Connecticut
, with my mom, my dad, and Janine, who's sixteen. All of us are Japanese-American. Janine is a genius. My mom's a librarian (she'd left her job early that day in order to be home when
Lynn
arrived), and my dad does something I'll never understand with stocks and bonds. My mother's mother, Mimi, lived with us until she died not long ago. I was closer to Mimi than to anyone else in my family, and I miss her every single day. I wish lived long enough to meet
Lynn
.
    Even though
Lynn
is only half Asian (Uncle Russ is Irish, with red hair and freckles), I think she'll grow up to look like her mom. She already has dark hair and dark, almond-shaped eyes. Maybe a freckle or two will pop out one day, just to make Russ feel better.
    And if I have anything to say about it, she'll be the most creatively dressed kid in Stoneybrook, thanks to her cousin Claud. I may not be a .genius like Janine (I'm not even close, since she's taking college courses while she's in high school and I just spent some time repeating seventh grade), but if there's one thing I am good at, it's dressing with style and flair. Actually, I don't mean to sound egotistical, but I guess I'm pretty creative overall. I love to paint and draw and sculpt. In fact, I look at life in artistic terms. My room is full of projects in every stage, from just started to finished-but-could-still-be-improved-upon. And my outfits are one-of-a-kind creations, featuring my own embroidery, tie-dyeing, jewelry making, etc. I try to fix my hair a different way every day. I even find creative ways to make chores like table setting and salad making fun.
    However, I'm not so great at salad eating. I'd rather eat a Twinkie. I love junk food. It's sort of an obsession of mine. I keep an eye out for new products, but I also like the classics such as Doritos and Snickers bars. My parents have outlawed junk food in the Kishi home, but that doesn't stop me. I just hide what I buy, along |[ with the Nancy Drew mysteries my mom thinks aren't "challenging" enough for me to be reading. (Wrong.) I glanced at Lynn, who had apparently just discovered the fact that she has toes. She was thrilled. (Babies are easily pleased.) I wondered when she'd be ready to forget the baby formula and move on to some real food, perhaps some Mallomars. Soon, I hope. And while she's eating them, I can read Nancy Drew mysteries to her. I can hardly wait.
    I'm not worried about corrupting her. Good genes run in our family. Look at me. I'm perfectly healthy, with clear skin and a decent figure. You'd never know I'm the Junk Food Queen of Stoneybrook.
   
Lynn
smiled up at me and I grinned back. Then I picked her up and gave her a squeeze. "I am so happy you're here, you little pumpkin," I said, rolling over to let her lie on my belly. She gurgled. "I know, I know," I said. "You're happy to be here, aren't you?" She's such a calm, happy baby. Instead of being freaked out by a change of pace, she enjoys it.
    I guess I'm the same way. Things had been changing lately, and I thought it was exciting. The BSC had lost a pair of regular sitting charges: Corrie and Sean Addison. They'd moved away because Mrs. Addison was offered a better job in
Seattle
, and they'd sold their house to a new family, the Nichollses. The kids — two boys named Joey and Nate — seem nice. Joey's seven and Nate is just five. Their morn works at the library with my mom, and I'm not sure what their dad does. The time I met him, he seemed a little, I don't know, pushy or something. He kept bugging Joey and Nate about helping him organize the garage. I mean, they're just little kids, and they were doing their best, as far as I could see.
    I wonder if they'll end up as BSC clients. If they do, they won't be our only new clients.
    Lou McNally is an eight-year-old girl who once spent a few weeks living with some other clients of ours, as a foster child. At the time, we thought she was the "Worst Kid Ever." That's what Kristy called her. It turned out that she was just very unhappy. Her father had recently died and her mother had left the family years before. Eventually, she and her eleven-year-old brother, Jay, went to live with an uncle — their father's brother — and his wife. Now the McNallys have moved to Stoneybrook and Lou is doing much better. My friends and I have been sitting for her and Jay. We love having new clients.
    Meanwhile, I'm going to concentrate on taking care of my incredibly adorable, totally lovable, majorly wonderful baby cousin.
    "What should we do first?" I asked
Lynn
. "Play peekaboo? Change you into another one of your outfits? Teach you how to play This Little Piggy? Or just lie here and snuggle?"
Lynn
didn't answer. Then I heard a tiny baby snore and realized she'd fallen asleep on my stomach.
    "Oh," I said softly. "You want to take a nap. Sounds like an excellent idea." I closed my eyes and lay there happily, feeling the soft, warm weight of
Lynn
and smelling her delicious baby smell. She was trusting enough to fall asleep on top of me. Somehow, in her little baby mind, she knew she was perfectly safe with me. And I felt safe with her too. Like nothing could go wrong in a world with
Lynn
in it. It was a wonderful feeling, and I wanted it to last forever.
    But before I could drift into the same kind of peaceful sleep
Lynn
was enjoying, I heard the thump of feet coming up the stairs. I rubbed my eyes, yawned, and tried to figure out how to sit up without waking
Lynn
. Those thumping feet told me that bur BSC meeting was about to start.
    Chapter 2.
    The door to my room flew open and Kristy Thomas, the BSC's president, burst in. "Is she here — ?" she began loudly. Then she spotted
Lynn
, and her voice dropped to a whisper. "Oh, she's beautiful," Kristy said. 'And she's grown so much already. I can't believe it." She reached out to stroke
Lynn
's head.
   
Lynn
was stirring by then, making little baby noises as she stretched. "Can you go downstairs and ask my mom to heat some formula?" I whispered to Kristy. "I bet she'll be hungry when she wakes up." Kristy nodded. "I'll bring it up in a couple of minutes," she promised. She was still gazing at
Lynn
.
   
Lynn
stretched again. "Hurry!" I said. I didn't want
Lynn
to have to wait.
    Kristy bolted out the door. I started cooing over
Lynn
, telling her softly that a snack was on its way.
    By the time Kristy came back with a warm bottle of formula, the rest of the BSC members had arrived and Lynn, who was wide awake by then, was the center of attention. I'd promised everyone a turn at holding her, but I wanted to be the one to begin giving her the bottle. Kristy handed it over reluctantly and I offered it to Lynn. Her eyes closed in happy satisfaction as she sucked and drank, and my friends clustered around, discussing in whispers her shiny black hair, her perfect little hands, her gorgeous ears.
    "Okay, I have two announcements," Kristy said finally. "First of all, I hereby call this meeting to order. And second, it's my turn." She sat down in the director's chair by my desk and held out her arms.
    Carefully, I transferred Lynn and her bottle. It was hard to give her up, but she didn't seem to mind being held by another person. At first, , that made me just the tiniest bit jealous, since I want her to love me best of all. But then I decided that it was a good character trait for my cousin to have. She makes friends easily and adjusts well to new surroundings. I hope she'll always be that way.
    I wonder if the personality you have as a baby stays with you. My mom tells me that I started making- finger paintings with my strained carrots and mashed peas. 'An artist right from the beginning," she says. I looked around the room at my friends, trying to picture each of them as a baby. Had their infant personalities followed them as they grew?
    I actually knew Kristy as a baby, since she and I lived across the street from each other back then. Of course, I don't remember what she was like, since I was a baby too. But I'd bet anything that Baby Kristy was headstrong and determined to have things her way. She probably had definite opinions and wasn't shy about sharing them.
    Kristy (grown-up Kristy, that is) is the driving force behind the BSC. In fact, the business was originally her idea. Here's how it works: The club meets in my room, since I have my own phone, with a private line (that's why I'm the vice-president). We meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from five-thirty until six, and parents call us during those times to set up sitting jobs. We're very organized. We keep a dub record book with information on our clients and a calendar with our schedules. We also keep a club notebook, in which we each write up every single one of our jobs, which is not my favorite chore. Reading everybody else's entries helps us stay up-to-date on what's happening with the kids we sit for. The parents love that.
    We're excellent sitters: responsible, punctual, and caring. We love hanging out with our charges. We're not the kind of sitters who stick a movie into the VCR to keep the kids busy while we raid the fridge and talk on the phone. We think it's more fun to pull out our Kid-Kits (boxes we've filled with fun stuff such as stickers and markers and hand-me-down toys and books) and have a good time with our charges. You can imagine why kids — and parents — like us so much.
    And it's all due to Kristy. She has a real talent for coming up with terrific ideas, and that headstrong nature of hers means she knows how to make sure her ideas are carried out. Some people might call her bossy, but that's just Kristy.
    Kristy has brown hair and eyes and absolutely zilch in the way of fashion sense. Her closet is filled with jeans, turtlenecks, and running shoes. She has a huge family: her mom and stepdad, two older brothers and one younger one, a younger stepbrother and stepsister, a little adopted sister who's just learning to talk, and a grandmother who has more energy than all of the others put together. Plus a whole zoo's worth of pets. They all live very happily in her stepdad's mansion across town. Her stepfather's name, by the way, is Watson Brewer, and he happens to be a millionaire.
    Kristy's life wasn't always so easy. In fact, it was rough going for a long time, after her father left the family when she was six. I'd say she and her mom and brothers deserve some happiness.
    "Um, Kristy?" Mary Anne Spier, Kristy's best friend, was holding out her arms. "Do you think I could have a turn?" Kristy grumbled, but she knew she couldn't hog Lynn forever. She gave her to Mary Anne, who settled herself next to me on the bed. Mary Anne, who has brown hair and brown eyes just like Kristy, is the club's secretary. She keeps track of all our clients and monitors our schedules so well that she always knows at a glance who's free for what job.
    Okay, let me think about Baby Mary Anne, whose mother died when Mary Anne was very, very young. She would have been quiet, that's for sure. And much more bashful than Lynn, but very sweet and loving.
    After her mom died, Mary Anne lived with her grandparents for awhile. After that, she grew up with just her dad for family. Until recently, that is. Not long ago, her dad remarried a woman he'd gone out with in high school! (Sigh. So romantic. Mary Anne loves that kind of thing.) The woman had moved to California, married another man, and had two children. Then, when that marriage ended, she'd moved back to Stoneybrook, bringing her kids along.
    One of them was Dawn Schafer, who became one of Mary Anne's best friends, and then her stepsister. Dawn also belonged to the BSC and served as our alternate officer, which meant she took over the duties of anyone who couldn't make it to a meeting. However, Dawn and her younger brother, Jeff, have both moved back to California to live with their dad. I know Mary Anne misses her sister a ton (we all do), but at least Dawn comes back to visit on some holidays and school vacations.
    Mary Anne's not entirely lonely without Dawn, anyway. She still has Kristy, plus Tigger (her gray kitten) and Logan (her boyfriend) to keep her company.
    As I was thinking about Mary Anne, the phone rang and she picked it up. "Hello, Babysitters Club," she said. She listened for a moment, then said she'd call right back. "That was Mrs. Nicholls," she reported after she'd hung up. "She needs a sitter for Monday afternoon." Mary Anne began to look in the record book to see who was free. It wasn't easy with Lynn on her lap.
    “I’ll take her," volunteered Abby Stevenson, who was sitting on the floor, leaning against my bed. She stood up and held out her arms for Lynn, and Mary Anne turned back to our schedules.
    "Would you like the job, Claud?" Mary Anne asked me. "It looks like you're the only one free that day." "Sure,” I said. "I've been wanting to get to know those kids better anyway." Mary Anne called Mrs. Nicholls back and told her everything was set. Meanwhile, Abby was on the floor, making funny faces at Lynn, who was fascinated.
    I don't know Abby very well, since she, her twin sister, Anna, and their mom moved here only recently. They used to live on Long Island, in New York. Their dad died in a car crash a few years ago.
    But I know her well enough to guess that she was a happy, laughing baby. Abby is full of fun, though sometimes I think she's hiding a lot of sadness about her dad. She's full of energy too, even though she has asthma and is allergic to just about everything under the sun. Sneezes and wheezes or not, Abby is out there playing soccer, running, skiing, swimming, you name it. If it's athletic, Abby does it and does it well. Her sister's not much of an athlete, but she can play the violin like a pro. Anna puts all of her energy into music. In fact, she's so busy with rehearsals and all that she didn't join the BSC along with Abby, though we had invited them both to become members. (By the way, Abby is our alternate officer, now that Dawn has moved away.) Abby and Anna both have curly dark hair and dark eyes. Sometimes they wear contacts, sometimes glasses. Anna found out recently that she has scoliosis, which is curvature of the spine, and even though it's not a bad case, she has to wear a brace for awhile.
    "Okay, time's up," said Stacey McGill, who is the BSC's treasurer and also my best friend. "Hand that child over." Abby laughed and made one more face at Lynn. Then she scooped her up and gave her to Stacey. "Oh, you are such a little snuggle-bumps," Stacey told Lynn. She turned to me. "She is so cute," she said. "How many outfits did your aunt bring over? Maybe we can change her later." That's Stacey for you. She's even more obsessed with clothes than I am. I bet Baby Stacey was picking out her own rompers before she could even say "Mama." And since Baby Stacey lived in Manhattan, I bet her rompers were the height of fashion.
    Stacey lives in Stoneybrook now, but she still visits Manhattan often, to see her dad. (Her parents are divorced.) And when she's in the Big Apple, Stacey stocks up on all the trendiest, most sophisticated clothes anyone in Stoneybrook has ever seen.
    But there's a lot more to Stacey than good taste in clothes. She's a strong person who's had to deal with some tough circumstances in her life: not just the divorce but diabetes as well. As a diabetic, Stacey knows that her disease will probably be with her all her life but that she can control it if she's careful. You see, diabetes interferes with the way the body processes sugar. This means that Stacey has to be very careful about what she eats. Plus, she has to test her blood sugar and give herself insulin injections every day. I don't think I could do it, but Stacey says I would if I had to, just the way she does.
    As treasurer of the dub, Stacey collects dues every Monday. She keeps track of how much she collects, and we use the money to pay for such things as my phone bill and gas money for Kristy's brother, who drives Kristy and Abby to our meetings. Stacey actually likes math and is good at it, so she makes a perfect treasurer.
    "What's that, Lynn?" Jessi Ramsey, who was sitting on the floor next to her best friend, Mallory Pike, cupped her hand around one ear as she leaned toward Stacey. "You want to come see me and Mal? Of course you can!" Grinning, she jumped up to take Lynn from Stacey. Then, gracefully, since she's a ballet dancer, she sank back to her spot near Mal.
    "Peekaboo, I see you," Mal sang, hiding her eyes with her hands. She has zillions of younger brothers and sisters (okay, seven), so she's a pro at entertaining babies.
    Jessi and Mal are our junior officers. The rest of us are thirteen and in the eighth grade. Jessi and Mal are eleven and in the sixth. They're just as responsible as we are, but they're only allowed to cover afternoon jobs, unless they're baby-sitting for their own families.
    Jessi, who's African-American, lives with her younger sister, her baby brother, her aunt, and her parents. She loves ballet (I'm sure Baby Jessi was dancing around on tiptoes in her crib) and reading. Mal, who has reddish-brown hair and freckles, is a reader too. I bet she was always grabbing at books when she was a baby. She wants to write and illustrate children's stories someday.
    Now you've met everyone in the BSC, except our two associate members, who usually don't come to meetings but who are always ready to help out if we're swamped with work. One of them is Shannon Kilbourne, who lives in Kristy and Abby's neighborhood. The other is Logan Bruno, Mary Anne's boyfriend. Both of them are terrific with kids.
    As our meeting was ending that day, Kristy reminded us that St. Patrick's Day was coming up. "I hear there's going to be a parade downtown this year," she reported. 'And I hear some of the kids want to march in it. Maybe we should help them build a float or teach them some kind of marching routine. Let's talk about it more at our next meeting." I knew Kristy would probably have a plan by then. She loves sinking her teeth into something like that. (I, on the other hand, mostly like to sink my teeth into chocolate.) The meeting ended, and my friends took off, leaving me alone again with Lynn. "What did you think of our meeting?" I asked her. "Maybe someday you can be in a club." She smiled at me and gurgled. "Oh, you want to be president, do you? Fine by me, Miss Lynn." I lay back on my bed again with her on my stomach. We were alone once more and I couldn't have been happier.
    Chapter 3.
    "Hi, I'm — " I wasn't sure if he would remember me.
    "Claudia!" Mr. Nicholls finished. "Sure, come on in." He made a welcoming gesture and held the door open for me.
    I was surprised that Mr. Nicholls remembered my name. We'd only met before for about two seconds. Not only that, but since he was new in the neighborhood he must have met dozens of people recently. I was impressed.
    It was Monday afternoon, and I was arriving for my job with the Nicholls boys. I'd had a hard time giving up any of my precious hours with Lynn, but I was excited about getting to know our new clients.
    Mr. Nicholls was wearing a very nice-looking dark blue suit. He's short with close-cropped brown hair and a sandy mustache.
    Somehow I had been expecting Mrs. Nicholls to answer the door, but now that I thought about it, I knew she probably wouldn't be home until later. My mom doesn't get home until after six, but a lot of the librarians leave at five.
    Mr. Nicholls checked his watch. "I'd better be on my way," he told me. "Boys!" he called out.
    Nate and Joey came running down the stairs. I gave them a little wave hello as their dad began to talk to them. "I'm going out now," he said, "and Claudia will be your baby-sitter. I want you two to behave. If you don't, Claudia will let me know. Do you understand?" "Yes," said Joey in a small voice.
    Nate just nodded.
    "What's that?" asked their dad, cupping his ear. "I don't think I heard you." "YES," the boys said together.
    "That's better." Mr. Nicholls smiled at me. "I'll be back in a couple of hours. Help yourself to a snack," he said, dropping the stern voice he'd been using with his sons. "The boys may have one cookie each, and they know the rules about where to eat them," he added, giving Nate a significant look. Nate dropped his eyes. Maybe he had a hard time remembering the rules, whatever they were.
    Mr. Nicholls leaned toward the hall mirror to check his tie. Then he picked up his briefcase, said good-bye, and left. I suddenly realized I had no idea where he was going. Normally I'd have asked for an emergency phone number, especially with a new client. But I knew Mrs. Nicholls was at the library so I decided it didn't matter.
    "I hope he's going to a job interview,” muttered Joey as soon as his father's car had pulled out of the driveway.
    "Joey!" said Nate. "Shhh. He'd be mad if he heard you say a bad thing like that." What was so bad about it? I wasn't sure I understood. Then a light dawned. Maybe Mr. Nicholls was out of work and ashamed about it. I didn't think there was anything wrong with being out of work. Lots of people find themselves in that position. I remember when Mal's dad lost his job. But maybe Mr. Nicholls was sensitive.

BOOK: Claudia And The Terrible Truth
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