My mom calls us three boys with one brain. Adam, Jordan and I (I'm Byron) are triplets, and we're the same in a lot of ways.
We're all fifteen, and we are all about to finish up our sophomore year at Stoneybrook High School in Stoneybrook, Connecticut. We're all five foot six and skinny, with pale skin, blue eyes, dark brown hair, thick eyebrows, and freckles in the summertime. What I'm trying to say is that we're identical, except for things we can change like our hair. (In case you were wondering, Adam has spikes, Jordan's is kind of shaggy and long, and mine's a normal, boring kind of medium-short.)
We all like games and sports. Okay, so I think watching football on TV is dead boring (Jordan finds it riveting), but we all like to play something. Jordan's catcher for the SHS Tigers. He's really good. Adam's a first baseman. I'm on the intramural soccer team. We all play basketball for fun, but we're too short to make the team.
We're all good with kids. Aside from us, there are five other kids in our family (yes, that's a total of eight). Four of them--Vanessa, Nick, Margo, and Claire--are younger than us, so we triplets are old hands at playing pretend and sorting out arguments. We've all made some extra money baby-sitting around town. In fact, Adam's the president of a baby-sitting business, of which I'm an associate member (I'll explain later).
The three of us are also different in a lot of ways, though. Jordan is the best athlete and the only one of us with any musical talent. Adam's the funniest and most outgoing. I'm sort of clumsy and anxious, and my feelings get hurt more easily than the others'.
In the genetic lottery, I think I lost out.
There's one other thing. I almost hesitate to mention it. Adam has a girlfriend, and Jordan has had lots of dates, but I haven't ever even liked a girl. I'm starting to think the three of us are kind of, well, wired differently.
Here's an example of what I mean. The three of us have a computer which we share in our room (which we also share). I logged in the other day and a bunch of porno ads popped up. Ladies wearing only leather corsets or high heeled shoes (why? why? why wear nothing but shoes?) Women with breasts the size of soccer balls (how? why? is that natural?) The whole incident upset me for two reasons.
(1) Even though the computer is just ours--we saved up for it ourselves--it's pretty common for one of our sisters to ask to use it to check her MySpace or something. My littlest sister, Claire, is eleven. She doesn't need to see stuff like that.
(2) The pictures did nothing for me. Guys are supposed to be turned on by that kind of stuff, right? I mean obviously Adam or Jordan is (I suspect Jordan; Adam's better with computers and probably would have wiped the virus). That's not the kind of site I want to look at when I'm up late and bored on the internet.
No, I look at Jeff's blog.
I went there after I rolled back the computer to the last point before Jordan messed with it. Jeff still hadn't updated since April 21.
just saw the latest spy rogue movie. wow, plot holes you could drive a mack truck thru. good times.
Jeff Schafer is a boy who used to live in our town when we were all about ten. After about a year, he moved back to California to live with his dad. We've sort of kept in touch through email. We see him a couple times a year when he's here visiting his mom and stepfamily. And, of course, I read his blog.
I tried to keep a blog of my own for a little while, but I didn't have anything to say. Nothing I wanted people to know, anyway.
I scrolled back up to the infamous November 12 entry.
yes everyone who asked that was me at homecoming w/ jason. yes i know we are the first dude/dude couple in vista history. no we are not together, but yes i am gay (wink wink gentlemen)
The first time I read that, back in November, I thought it must be a joke. But when I read the comments, it seemed like his friends were taking him seriously.
gentlemen: don't listen to him, he is a crap date. didn't even offer to pay
that's b/c i knew you wouldn't put out
good for you kiddo
You and Jay were SO CUTE together. You should convert him.
maybe if he bought me a corsage i would consider his lifestyle!
Kudos on being open enough to come out on your blog. :) We're all really lucky to have you on the Gay Straight Alliance exec board this semester. Be true to yourself and keep on keeping on!
I've never had an openly gay friend before. Well, I'm not sure if you would even count Jeff as my friend anymore. The last time I sort of spoke to him directly was over six months ago, and that was just to say "ha ha" to a funny link he sent me and my brothers.
I scrolled forward to the December 24 entry, which was titled, "Jealous, East Coast?" and linked to a picture. I'd already looked at that picture a lot of times, but I clicked on it again, just for fun.
The image shows a boy in swim trunks, standing over a sand castle. He's about my age, tall and lean. He has deeply tanned skin and unkempt blond hair which is falling in front of blue eyes, and he's grinning a wide, dimpled grin. Droplets of water and sand cling to his arms and legs. The sea sparkles behind him. He looks like something out of our old Ancient Gods and Heroes storybook.
You're probably guessing now that I am gay.
I don't know what to tell you. I don't want to be. I don't want to be different from everybody else in my family and everybody else that I know. I don't want to cause trouble for Jordan and Adam, or for any of my friends. Guys at school already think I'm kind of sissy and weird. I can only imagine how bad things would get if they found out I really was a "butt pirate gaylord fag."
Plus, I'm a baby-sitter. Parents have a hard enough time accepting boy baby-sitters. I don't need another strike against me. I read about a Boy Scout troop where the leader was fired because a parent found out that he was gay. He hadn't even mentioned it to the boys, but the parent still got freaked out that he was going to recruit the kids or something. I don't think that can really happen (nobody recruited me), but parents aren't known for taking chances when it comes to their children.
I can't be gay. It's just not an option.
But when I look at that stupid picture, I get a funny, fuzzy feeling in my chest.
It's hard to argue with funny, fuzzy feelings.
I'm lucky in one way. As far as confusing, embarrassing gay crushes go, a guy on the opposite coast is pretty safe. It's not like anybody's going to find out.
I still had the picture up when the door flew open and Adam and Jordan tramped in. I instantly felt myself blushing to the roots of my hair. Luckily, neither of them seemed to notice. Jordan threw a basketball at me and said, "Hey, is that Jeff? Did we get a new email?"
"No. This is from the blog." I mean, it was no use lying. Tossing the basketball from hand to hand, I struggled to return to my normal temperature and color.
Jordan leaned over my shoulder. "Does he have a new entry?"
"Um, he saw Spy Rogue." I threw back the ball and hit the back button until I got the most recent entry, quickly skipping over the picture and the gay stuff.
"That's old," said Adam. Now they were both looking at Jeff's blog over my shoulders. I knew it was a public website, but I felt very exposed. I closed the window. The quicker we got off the whole topic of Jeff, the better.
"You know what? He's a fucker," said Jordan, punting the ball into his bunk. "You'd think he'd write a goddamn email when he had news. I guess we don't count as friends anymore."
"What? What news?" said Adam.
"You didn't hear? He's coming back. Mal heard it from Mary Anne. Dawn and Jeff are going to be here in Stoneybrook for the whole summer."
I didn't freak out about Jeff coming back. I couldn't. I told myself it was going to be fine. I told myself that once I saw Jeff, I'd realize the golden-god image of him was just a daydream. He probably didn't even look like that, really. Anybody can photograph well.
Aside from me, I mean. Even in baby pictures, you can pick out which triplet is me. I'm the one that looks nauseated or has his eyes closed or is eating something.
But I digress. If pictures can make me look uglier than I really I am (I hope), then they can make Jeff look more like a radiant, sun-kissed California surfer angel than he really is. Right? Right.
Anyway, I had other things to think about, like the end of the school year. We all took our final exams, handed in our final projects, and spent the last few days watching movies in class. On the last day of school a bunch of us skipped out early and goofed around at the creek. We set up an obstacle course with sticks and rocks and backpacks, and we tried to set up a bowling lane down a dried part of the creek bed. Sometimes I think we make good babysitters because we are all basically big kids.
At quarter past five Adam said, "Okay, guys, I got to get going. It wouldn't look good if the president was late to his own meeting."
The other guys groaned.
"The ladies need to be excused," said Tommy Gibbs, "for a meeting of the Gay Cocksuckers Club."
Adam threw dirt at him. "That makes no sense," he said. "Ladies aren't even allowed in the--awwww, you tricked me!" Adam's the kind of person who, when guys call him gay, can get away with agreeing or exaggeratedly fluttering his eyelashes. I never try that because I'm afraid it would be too convincing.
"You coming, guys?" Adam was talking to me and Shea Rodowsky. We're two of the three associate members of the club, which basically means we don't need to come to the meetings but we can if we want to.
"Love to, can't," said Shea. "Me and my dad are putting the engine in the T-bird today. Gotta get going before it gets dark anyway." He picked up his backpack and dusted the dirt off it.
Darn. If he had gone with Adam, I probably could have stayed behind. But I felt bad letting my brother walk off alone while the others were making fun. Plus, he knew I didn't have anything else going on.
I started feeling better about the meeting as soon as we got out of the park and started running toward Bradford Court. Adam thinks club meetings are a pain sometimes, but I kind of like them (maybe because I don't go to that many). Something about the routine and the organization is soothing.
The Baby-sitters Club originally started six years ago. Kristy Thomas, a girl who used to live in the neighborhood, got the idea while she watched her mother making phone call after phone call to find a sitter for her little brother. Kristy got a bunch of her friends together and they decided to band together and hold meetings. Three times a week, parents could make one phone call and reach four (or more) baby-sitters.
Over the years, the club grew and shrank. My older sister Mallory was a member for awhile. So was her best friend Jessi Ramsey. So were Jeff Schafer's sister, Dawn, and his stepsister, Mary Anne Spier. Kristy, Mary Anne, and another girl, Claudia Kishi, were the three constant members: there at the beginning and at the end. Last September, all three of them went away to college and the club was officially disbanded.
Well, for months, parents in Stoneybrook didn't know who to turn to for baby-sitting. They'd relied on the club for so long. Adam, Jordan and I picked up a lot of work, but we couldn't cover it all. Finally, the clouds parted, and the sun shone again, for Adam had decided to re-form the club. Or, technically, to form an entirely different but very similar club. Kind of Baby-sitters Club: The Next Generation.
Adam is the only triplet who is 100% in the club. Jordan decided he didn't have time to be a babysitter and a sports superstar, and I sort of wishy-washily half-joined (associate members don't attend regular meetings or get first shot at jobs, they just pick up the slack when there are too many jobs for the main members). But there are still plenty of baby-sitters and plenty of jobs to go around. The new version of the club is very successful, and parents love it.
We even have the same meeting place and phone number as the original club. Somehow, Adam fast-talked Claudia Kishi's parents into letting us meet in her old room and use her private phone line. (They hadn't gotten around to disconnecting it. We pay the bill now, which is fine with Claudia. Sometimes we get calls for her and pass them on.) Claudia's parents always seem a little disconcerted to have six kids not related to them tramping through their house three times a week, but they don't really seem to mind. Mrs. Kishi says it makes the house feel full of life. I think the Kishis are lonely since both of their daughters left home.
Claudia even gave us permission to partially redecorate her room. We put a big map of clients' homes on the walls, and we set up a clunky old computer for club business. Even though a lot of her stuff is still in there, including artwork she made on the walls, we mostly think of it as our office now.
So Adam and I were pretty surprised when we ran up the stairs (the Kishis keep the door unlocked on meeting days) to find Claudia, Kristy, and Mary Anne sitting there in our office.
Claudia and Mary Anne were lounging on the bed, looking at magazines, and Kristy was sitting in the director's chair where Adam usually sits, rolling a pencil over her knuckles. Karen Brewer, one of the normal (new) club members, was sitting on the floor drawing in a notebook. Kristy is her stepsister, and I guess they had come over together.
"Nice punctuality," said Kristy. I'm not sure if she was being sarcastic. It was 5:24.
"Hi, ladies. Interested in learning how to run a baby-sitting club?" said Adam smoothly, slinging his bag on the back of Claudia's desk chair.
"Don't get uppity, now, Pike," said Kristy. "I remember when you two were baby-sittees."
"The student has become the master," said Adam.
"I'm designing an amazing flying machine," Karen remarked, off in her own little world. She picked up a stray pastel from Claudia's floor. Karen is twelve, and one of the club's junior members. She's great with kids because she has endless energy and she comes up with these wild stories. She can also be immature, though. It didn't help our case that she seemed to turn back into a kid when she was around Kristy.
"Where are the rest of your members?" said Kristy, looking at the clock.
"Five or ten minutes late isn't the end of the world," said Adam, I think because he knew it would shock and horrify her.
"So, how've you guys been?" I said brightly, trying to break the tension. "Everyone having a good summer?"
"Excellent, thank you," said Mary Anne.
"Fabulous," said Claudia. "Plenty of time to work on my art. And I just got back from a nice long visit to Stacey in New York."
"I can just imagine you and Stacey hitting the town together in your crazy outfits, flirting with guys. It's so glamorous and cosmopolitan," said Mary Anne.
"Don't forget Jessi! I guess that American Ballet Theatre program is pretty intense, but we managed to drag her out on Saturday."
"That's nice!" said Mary Anne. "Me, I love having a whole summer stretching ahead with nothing to do but enjoy my family."
"Not to mention Logan's back in town," said Claudia with a knowing look.
Mary Anne blushed. "Well, we'll see about that."
"Are, um, Dawn and Jeff back yet?" I asked innocently.
"Their flight gets in late Saturday night," said Mary Anne. "Hey, wait, how'd you know about that? Jeff wanted it to be a surprise. He's really anxious to see you guys."
"Yeah?" Adam looked pleased.
"Whoa," said a small voice from the doorway. "Um, hi, everybody." Becca Ramsey had arrived, and she instantly looked terrified. She's only thirteen and kind of shy, but she's earned the rank of vice president. The new BSC was half her idea, and she's surprisingly brilliant at problem-solving.
"Come on in and sit down, Becca," I said. Since I'm sort of a guest, I don't like to throw my weight around, but Becca looked like she was waiting for someone to tell her it was okay.
"Let's get this party start--who are these people?" That was Sasha Nunez in the doorway, with Milo right behind her. They're the newest members of the club, and the only ones who weren't baby-sat by the original BSC.
Sasha is fifteen, like us. She's the club treasurer. She makes a great one because she is strict and no-nonsense, and doesn't let us spend money on anything frivolous. Kids always know where they stand with Sasha, and she's a wiz at dealing with troublemakers. Actually, she's kind of bossy, and I get the feeling she only lets Adam be president because she likes him so much (they're boyfriend and girlfriend).
Milo (pronouned Mee-lo), aka Emilio, aka Ifrid the Righteous Thunderbolt of Justice, aka Emmy Lu Lu, is Sasha's twelve-year-old brother. (Guess which nickname he came up with, and which one Sasha came up with.) Milo is probably about the most laid-back person I have ever met, and that includes Dawn and Jeff. Half the time Milo seems to be zoned out, especially in meetings, but he's very attentive when it comes to children, and he has superhuman patience. Like Karen, he's a junior member, but he also holds the position of webmaster. He's a total computer prodigy.
"They're just observers," Adam explained to Sasha, gesturing back at Kristy, Mary Anne, and Claudia. "They will maintain complete silence during the proceedings."
"What?" said Claudia. "I didn't agree to that. You know this is my room, right?"
"Let's humor them," said Kristy, quirking an eyebrow.
"Okay then," said Adam uncertainly. "Who are we missing? Nobody? Great. Let's come to order."
Everybody was already in order, sitting cross-legged on the floor like kindergarteners. The club meetings I've been to have been pretty laid-back, but I guess we all felt a little cowed by the college girls in the room.
Adam nodded curtly to himself and picked up the phone.
"Whoa, what are you doing?" said Kristy. She seemed to have forgotten her promise to be silent. "You're using the phone? What if a client is trying to get through?"
"Um, call waiting?" said Sasha.
"We run things a little differently than you did," Adam explained. "We just have the parents leave us messages. No more 'call between five-thirty and six' crap."
"It's a stupid time, if you think about it," Sasha remarked. "Right smack in the middle of rush hour."
"What would you know?" said Claudia.
"But you still only meet three times a week?" Kristy shook her head. "What if a client calls, say, tonight at 6:05, looking for a sitter for tomorrow?"
"We have a policy. You're only assured a sitter if you call forty-eight hours advance. Less than that, you might get a sitter, but there's no guarantee."
"What about Sundays?" Kristy challenged. "Monday meetings are more than forty-eight hours from Fridays, and the weekends are the busiest time!"
We looked at each other. Kristy sure was on top of things.
"Well... look, it's the same problem you faced with your meetings," said Adam defensively. "In that case, they just have to call one of us separately. The numbers are all on the website."
Mary Anne cleared her throat, and we all looked at her. In a polite but businesslike voice, she asked, "What if a client forgets to put key information in the message, like the time or day they need a sitter for, or if it's a new client and they don't say where they live?"
"We call them back. No big deal," said Sasha.
"But they could have called anytime, right? By the time you get around to calling them back, they might not be home," Kristy pointed out. "Has that ever happened?"
Adam, Becca, Sasha and I glanced at each other. (Milo and Karen were drawing.) Actually, this was a problem for us. Adam had spent hours playing phone tag in his spare time.
"Um. Why don't we just get to the calls?" suggested Becca.
"Good idea, Becca. Thank you. That's what we're here for." Adam called up the club voice mail account and put the phone on speaker. The first call was from Mrs. Newton, a longtime client, who has three kids: Jamie, age nine; Lucy, age six; and Sarah, age one and a half. Adam called up the schedule spreadsheet on the computer. Everyone crowded around it (well, all the regular members).
"Whoa, whoa, what is this, a flash mob?" said Kristy. "Who's your secretary?"
"We don't have one."
"You don't have a secretary?" Mary Anne sounded shocked. In case you couldn't figure it out, she was the secretary of the original BSC. "But that's the most important job!"
"Hey!" said Kristy.
"Well," said Claudia, "it is."
Kristy thought for a second and nodded. "Okay. You're right."
"That's the problem," said Adam. "It's too big a job for one person."
"Mary Anne handled it okay," said Kristy.
"Anyway," said Sasha, "we all have positions already except Karen, and she can't be the secretary. She's a total spaz."
"Hey! That's my sister," said Kristy. "Karen can do anything she wants to do."
"But I do not want to be secretary," said Karen. "I am a total spaz."
"It'll be better once Milo gets the online scheduling system up," said Adam. "Parents will pick the date and time and sitter, whoever it is will get an email, and blammo. We won't even need meetings!"
"Online scheduling? No meetings?" Kristy practically fell out of her chair. "It'll never work!"
"Hey!" said Sasha. "Are you doubting my brother's powers of internet wizardry?"
Kristy squinted at Milo. "How old are you, kiddo?"
All three college girls looks unimpressed.
"You all were twelve when you started this stupid club," Adam pointed out.
"Girls mature faster than boys," said Claudia.
"Oh, fuck that!" shouted Adam, getting to his feet. "I'm sick of that sexist bullshit!"
All the guys in the club are a little sensitive on this topic. The club is half guys, but Sasha, Becca, and Karen still get most of the work. I guess turnabout is fair play, because women have been discriminated against a lot throughout history, but I mean, we're not the ones who discriminated against them.
"Nice language! Very professional!" Kristy snorted.
Adam's face was red, and he looked like he was about to explode.
"Easy, baby," Sasha murmured, rubbing Adam's arm.
Adam took a deep breath, closed his eyes and then opened them again. He smiled a creepy smile, and said in an eerily calm voice, "We have business to conduct. If you would like to socialize with the new club members, we shall be holding a--an official Alumni Dinner next week!"
I know for a fact the idea of an Alumni Dinner had not occurred to him until that very moment.
"Are you seriously kicking me out of my own room?" Claudia asked.
"It's okay," said Kristy. I think her respect for Adam had gone up like thirty points. "The kids have their work to do. Let's go for coffee."
I've always liked Kristy, Claudia, and Mary Anne, but when they left, there was a collective sigh of relief.
I'm a huge girl. I must have changed my clothes twenty times before the First Annual Official Baby-Sitters Club Members, Alumni, and Friends Dinner Event. Adam had scheduled it for Sunday afternoon specifically so that Dawn and Jeff could attend (Dawn as an alum, Jeff as a "friend," I guess). It's not that I was trying to impress Jeff, exactly. I just didn't want him to think I was a total dork. I ended up in my relaxed fit jeans and a blue ringer tee under a big orange button-down shirt. I thought I looked nice, but not like I was trying too hard.
Stacey McGill, one of the original club members, drove us to the party. Her mom's house is right behind ours, so it was convenient. Besides me, Adam was coming (of course), plus Mallory (as an alum), Jordan (because the rest of us triplets were going), and Nick (because he wanted to see everyone before he went away to science camp for the summer.)
"This was a great idea, Adam--Mr. President," Stacey giggled. "I can't wait to see everyone." At least she didn't seem to have a problem with the way we were running the club.
"Well, you will. Everyone RSVP'd, except Shannon Kilbourne, and I guess I didn't expect her to fly in from Paris... I guess," said Adam, grinning. "Thanks for coming all the way from New York. We're honored."
"No problem! I couldn't miss an old-fashioned BSC get-together."
The Brewers' house was a natural choice for the party because (1) it's huge--literally a mansion--so everyone could fit; (2) Karen and Kristy already live there (at least part of the time); and (3) Mrs. and Mrs. Brewer are really nice. I like the Brewers' house a lot. You can tell they're rich because their stuff is nice, like they have classy art and antique furniture and all that, but it's not one of those cold, creepy rich-people houses with rooms the kids aren't allowed to go in. It's warm and comfortably cluttered, and there are always tons of people around. I guess it's like home that way.
As soon as we walked in the door, the shrieking began. A bunch of the old club--Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Abby Stevenson--were already there, and they all kind of mobbed around Stacey and Mallory and formed a giant group hug. Us guys slipped away before we got sucked in.
In the living room, Karen was giving makeovers to her best friends, Hannah and Nancy (not baby-sitters, but I guess she couldn't have a party and not invite them) and her seven-year-old sister Emily. All four of them were dressed in their pajamas, like they thought this was a slumber party. Kristy's brother Dave, who's twelve and a pretty good guy, was lying on the couch watching Mythbusters. Nick immediately joined him and a bunch of Magic cards sort of materialized between them.
The three of us got roped into helping Mr. Brewer set up chips and salsa and sodas and stuff (okay, we offered--we are such nice responsible boys). At some point Sasha and Milo arrived. I was a little worried about them since they don't know everyone as well as we do and they don't know the older girls at all, but I shouldn't have. Sasha immediately grabbed Adam and dragged him off somewhere. Milo became fascinated with the surround sound system and appointed himself official DJ.
A chorus of screams in the hall meant another celebrity guest had arrived. I took a breath and went to the hall to check it out. It wasn't Jeff and Dawn, though, but Jessi Ramsey, giving a big, ballet-style bow. Becca and her best friend, Charlotte Johanssen, came in behind her, holding casserole trays. Stacey gave Charlotte a bear hug.
Charlotte is the third associate member of our club. Stacey is her role model. If it weren't for Stacey and Becca, Charlotte probably would have done Latin club or Mathletes or something instead of baby-sitting after school. She's a total genius and gets straight A's without trying. She's great with smart, nerdy kids, because she likes educational toys and projects, and she knows the answers to all their questions, or else knows how to find them.
Shea arrived next, with his two little brothers (Archie and Jackie, ages nine and twelve). The younger boys joined the Magic game, and Shea and Jordan started arm-wrestling, which seems to happen whenever they get together.
Shea is probably the least traditional baby-sitter in the club. He's a strong-and-silent tough guy type, not the kind you'd expect to love kids. He's great with them, though. He's like the cool big brother everybody wants. All the girls like him because he's a bad boy, but he has a learning disability, which makes him vulnerable. I'll admit he is good-looking, but he doesn't have any effect on me, thank goodness. For one thing, he's just a freshman, and kind of an asshole. For another, I've got Jeff to compare him to.
Except I have to get over the Jeff thing now.
Every time I heard the door open, I jumped. My palms were cold from sweat, and I must have looked ill. Adam asked in his best baby-sitter voice of authority if I needed a liedown. In response I got into a boxer pose and gave him a couple of slow-motion upper cuts to the jaw.
I wasn't even excited. I was grimly nervous. Every time it wasn't Jeff, I was relieved. I guess I thought he was going to take one look at me and know. Special gay powers, or something. I wished I had not spent so much time perfecting my outfit.
More cheers, followed by an "awwwww!" I edged over to the doorway and peeked into the foyer. Logan, the only boy from the original Baby-sitters Club, was hugging Mary Anne.
"Goop alert!" shouted Kristy. That's what Jeff used to yell whenever anyone was getting too lovey-dovey.
"Where are the Schafers, anyway? They're coming, right?" I could have hugged Mallory for asking.
"Absolutely!" Mary Anne beamed. "They're here, safe and sound. And jet-lagged. They were still asleep when I left the house this morning."
"So what's this I hear about Jeff being gay now?" said Claudia.
I did my best to melt into the shadows. Actually, the safest thing would have been to disappear, but I had to hear this.
"Mm-hm. That's what Dawn says," said Mary Anne. "She's really proud of him, actually."
"Sure. He marches to the beat of his own drummer," said Abby. "Then he says, 'Say, drummer, I like your rhythm. You have quite a way with a stick.'" She gave Jeff a Cary Grant accent, for some reason.
"Ew, stop," laughed Claudia. "He's just a kid."
"Do you think he can really be sure?" Mary Anne wondered. "Dad thinks it might just be a phase."
"Fifteen isn't too young to know who you like," said Stacey. "I'd had plenty of boyfriends by then. You and Logan had been dating two years."
"That's a little different," said Logan.
"Well, let's all try to be extra nice to him," said Mary Anne. "It can't be easy."
"Is anyone else hungry?" Kristy yawned. "I'm going to tell Watson to get the pigs in blankets circulating."
I ducked back into the living room and pretended to be fascinated with an old Mad Magazine as Kristy walked by.
Then I heard a huge scream from the foyer, followed by a series of shrieky aftershocks. "Oh my lord!" "Eeeeeee!" "Your hair!" "You're so tan!"
My heart thundered into overdrive. No mistaking it. The California contingent had arrived.
One moment passed, then another. The shrieks faded to a dull rumble.
He's probably normal-looking, I told myself, and then, He probably didn't even come.
And then he was there, standing in the doorway.
He obviously hadn't put much thought into what he was wearing, but somehow, he made a white T-shirt and jeans look like designer fashion. Unlike most of my T-shirts, his actually fitted him perfectly, showing off his slim waist and muscular arms. (He'd been working out since the beach picture.) The bright white set off his golden skin perfectly, and contrasted with his dark wash rock star jeans. Around his throat he wore one of those hemp-and-shell surfer necklaces. His pale blond hair had been cut short and stuck out in every direction. He was grinning that wide, friendly, dimpled grin of his.
Oh, man. Oh, man. I was in trouble.
"Hey heyyyy!" said Adam.
"My man!" said Jordan.
They went up to Jeff and clapped him on the back and shoved him like he was just a normal person and not, I don't know, unusually hot to the touch or fizzing with tiny bolts of lightning.
"You could've told us you were coming, jerk!" Jordan cuffed him upside the head.
Jeff grinned easily, dodging. "I wanted it to be a surprise. I should've known nothing can stay secret with a bunch of girls around. Hey, Byron."
"Ag," I said pleasantly. I was going for "hi" but I kind of swallowed at the same time. For some reason, even though I was standing right there, I hadn't expected Jeff to notice me.
Trying desperately to be normal, I reached out to give him a friendly punch on the arm. I knew it would be wrong to let my hand linger on him, so I overcompensated, and just sort of let my knuckles graze over his arm and continue on through the air in a weird, slow arc. Everyone was looking at me. I suddenly realized I hadn't so much punched him as I'd lightly caressed his bicep with the back of my hand.
Jeff turned back to Adam and Jordan, which was probably for the best. "So, you guys miss me?"
"Fat chance," said Adam. "It's much better since you left."
"What do you do out in California?" Jordan asked.
"Ahh, everything. Live. Swim. Surf."
"Smoke a lot of weed, man," said Adam in a throaty Jeff-as-stoner voice.
Jeff grinned and shrugged. "Whatever. You gotta come out sometime. It's fucking paradise. What do you guys do with yourselves out here?"
"You know, the usual," said Adam casually. "Play baseball. Be president of the Baby-sitters Club."
"Oh yeah, Dawn told me about that. That's cool, that makes total sense if you think about it. You're great with people."
"Hey, what about the rest of us?" said Jordan, mock insulted. He said what I was thinking. That happens sometimes with triplets.
Back in the day, the old Jeff probably would have shot back, "Nope, you're a jerk." Instead, the Gap model that had replaced him looked taken aback, and said, "Uh, do you baby-sit too?"
"Not me. Too busy. I'm in training all summer," Jordan said, swinging his arm. "Pitching and catching from when I get up to when I go to sleep."
"Wow, awesome! You must be really good."
"He is," said Adam. "See, he's the jock triplet. Me, I'm the smart, attractive, interesting one."
"How about you, Byron?" said Jeff.
Why did he keep talking to me?
"He's the mental cripple," said Adam.
"I mean, are you in the Baby-sitters Club?"
"I'm, uh, a--thing," I tried to explain.
"An associate member," Adam provided.
"Why not a full member?" Jeff challenged.
This was a disconcerting question for a number of reasons. First, guys normally rag on me for being a member at all, not for being not involved enough. Second, the way he said "full member" sounded weirdly dirty.
I said, and I quote: "Um."
To recount, I had said the following so far to Jeff: "Ag," "I'm, uh, a thing," and "Um." He must have thought Adam was right about me.
Before I came up with any actual English words, the whole troupe of first-generation babysitters filed into the living room.
"Okay, kiddos, let's talk pizza," Kristy boomed. "Is anyone not okay with cheese?"
"We should get hoagies!" said Jackie.
"No, Thai food!" said Karen.
"Let's get a Fudgie cake!" said Emily.
"It's pizza. Pizza's simplest," said Kristy firmly.
"What are you, the dictator?" said Sasha.
Mean looks were starting to go around, and since I'm fundamentally terrified of conflict, I jumped in. "Cheese is okay with us!"
Jeff cupped his hands around his mouth and called, "Avocado salads."
Dawn wrinkled her nose. "You know what Connecticut avocados are like."
"Oh, right. Greek salads!"
"Dressing on the side," Dawn added, peering over Mary Anne's shoulder as she wrote in a small notebook.
"What are you, watching your girlish figure?" said Jordan, reaching out to pinch Jeff on the hip.
Jeff grinned. "Hey, gotta be ready for the swimsuit issue."
Ohhh. Not a mental image I needed.
"Ugh. Not a mental image I needed," Jordan cringed.
"Last call for pizza choices!"
"It's okay, Kristy," said Adam, annoyed.
"Okay, whatever, don't come crying to me about the selection when the food comes," said Kristy. "Now then, games. Those of you who want to play baseball outside, come on over with me and Abby. It's just for fun so don't worry if you're not a star. Those of you who'd rather play board games, stay here with Dawn and Mary Anne. Stacey and Claudia will be leading a screening of the intergenerational classic The Music Man in the second floor family room."
"Um, excuse me, but are you trying to baby-sit us right now?" Sasha demanded. "You know we're actually baby-sitters, right? This isn't some kids' birthday party."
"It's a boy/girl party," Karen added unhelpfully.
"It's true, you guys," said Adam, coming up behind Sasha and wrapping his arms around her waist. "We really don't need to be entertained. We know what to do."
Sasha nodded, and the two of them swayed along with the quiet rock music Milo had on. "Hang out. Talk. Eat. Dance."
The lights suddenly dimmed. Off in the corner, Milo was fiddling with a remote control.
"Dance?" I croaked. I thought of Jeff and his friend, Jason, at the homecoming dance. Both wearing tuxedos. Holding hands. In front of everybody. "I can't dance!"
"Byron has two left feet," Shea reported. He did a little impromptu soft-shoe move. I swear I heard Karen sigh dreamily.
"Don't worry, Byron," said Mary Anne. "We'll all dance with you."
"Yeah, By, don't worry," Jeff said seriously. He put a hand on my shoulder. "You won't be left alone."
Adam and Jordan laughed, taking the joke in the spirit it was intended, but I was mortified. I shrugged him off. "Go 'way, jagoff!"
"Go 'way, jagoff!" Adam and Jordan imitated, using their "Byron is a girl" voice.
"Obviously," said Kristy, hitting the switch so the lights came back on to full power, "you kids don't know what you're doing. Come on. You're baby-sitters. Set a good example for the kids." She gestured at Emily and Archie, who were obliviously playing poker in a corner. "I was going to withhold judgment until I observed further, but the right decision is now clear to me. Everyone, I have something to say. Kill the music, Milo. Everyone!" Kristy put two fingers in her mouth and whistled. The room fell silent.
Kristy looked around, satisfied, nodded, and declared, "Effective immediately, I am retaking control of the Baby-sitters Club."
The party kind of fizzled after Kristy's announcement.
I think she was hoping for cheers. She seemed confused when there was no reaction. We all just kind of looked at each other dumbly. Adam gestured at us, like, "Come on, guys, where's the angry mob?" Jeff bit his lip and looked away, the classic "overhearing your friend's parents fighting" expression. Becca and Jessi exchanged worried glances. Karen just looked from Kristy to Adam like she was watching a tennis match, even though neither of them were doing anything, just eyeing each other suspiciously. Mary Anne's lip trembled. Logan put his arm around her comfortingly.
Sasha broke the silence first, saying, "Ha! That's funny! You think you can just waltz back in here and--"
Then everyone started yelling:
"Hey, the club was Kristy's idea first!"
"Don't you girls have anything better to do than steal our jobs?"
"We're the only reason you guys are getting any work at all!"
"You drove the club off a cliff and now you want it back!"
"You guys are all being totally insane!" That was Mallory.
Someone whistled, and we all looked at Kristy, but it wasn't her. It took a moment to realize it was Adam.
"Let's talk about this later," he said firmly. "This party is supposed to be fun." He looked around. "Everyone, have fun!"
Milo put the music back on. Emily and Archie went back to their card game. Dave turned on the TV. Becca and Charlotte began pulling board games off a shelf.
Now that's leadership.
Shortly after that Adam and Kristy competitively organized rides for everyone. In Mrs. Rodowsky's station wagon on the way home, I relaxed for the first time all day.
It wasn't the club tensions that bugged me, though. It was Jeff. In between watching him and trying not to look like I was watching him, I was exhausted. As long as I was near him, I was hyper aware of everything he did. Every time he looked at me, casually touched me, or mentioned my name, my heart raced. So much for trying to get over the crush: my best plan was just to avoid him from now on. If I spent any more time around him, I might just die of a heart attack.
I found him on our doorstep the next day. Just opened the door and there he was on the front porch, a walking statue of the god Apollo.
I was not even safe in my own home!
"Waugh," I said. Then, realizing it would be more appropriate, I managed to add, "Hello."
There. Words. That wasn't so bad, was it?
"Heya, Byron." Oh, man, I loved the way he said my name in his California surfer-dude voice: all slow and drawn-out, like it was a pleasure to say. No, no. Get ahold of yourself. "Where's Adam?"
"Adam?" I wasn't prepared for the question, and I blinked.
Jeff laughed. "Sorry, was that rude? I'm more than pleased to see you, of course."
Now, why'd have to go and say something like that? I didn't know how to respond. I'd lost all track of what was a normal amount of guy banter, and what was super gay flirting. I definitely couldn't gauge that on myself. "It's okay," I said, slowly and carefully. There, that was probably fine. "I don't know where Adam is. At Sasha's, maybe."
"I was going to head over to the meeting with him."
"The Baby-sitters Club meeting?" I said, surprised. "You're going?"
"Yeah! Adam invited me to join the club."
"You?" I repeated.
"Yeah, me. What, is that an insult?" Jeff laughed. "I've actually been doing a lot of baby-sitting in Palo City."
"Sure. Grace is five, and there are lots of other kids in the neighborhood."
"But, uh, you're only here for the summer, right?"
"There's such a thing as a temporary job. Can't wait to get rid of me, huh?"
"Well. No. What?" What was I supposed to say? "Actually, Jeff, yes, things were much less complicated when you lived on the other side of the country. Begone, and never darken this doorstep again."
"Well, guess I better head over," said Jeff, looking at his watch. "You coming?"
I paused. I'd sort of tentatively planned to go, but now that I knew that Jeff would be there, I knew I should just say "no." Being around him was not a good idea.
But when a beautiful god-king type guy is asking you to go somewhere with him, I mean, it would take stronger person than me to refuse.
The meeting turned out to be a big event. The entire second-generation club showed up, including me, Charlotte, and Shea, plus of course Jeff. From the old club, Kristy, Mary Anne, and Claudia were present. Stacey and Jessi were back in New York; Dawn, Abby, and Logan were working; and Mallory was abstaining on moral grounds. She refused to choose between Kristy and Adam. "As far as I'm concerned, you're both being doinks," she told Kristy on the phone.
It was a tight squeeze. Claudia's room wasn't really built for more than about eight people. Just like the previous meeting, Kristy took the director's chair, and Mary Anne and Claudia took prime places on the bed. They'd probably showed up early to claim their places. Adam took the desk chair like before. Sasha sat on the floor at his feet, looking loyal and angry as a pit bull. Becca sat on the desk, in a space she'd cleared between the computer and the wall. Milo and Karen sat on the floor. Jeff half-sat, half-leaned on the radiator. I ignored the voice in my head which told me to stand as far away as possible, and squeezed in next to him. We weren't touching, exactly, but as we sat side by side with our arms crossed in front of us, I could feel that his skin was still hot from the bike ride.
Focus, Byron. Focus.
At the crack of 5:30, Kristy cleared her throat. "I think we all know--"
"--why we're here!" Adam finished. "Now, obviously, there are a lot of baby-sitters in this town for the summer. I have a proposal--"
"So do I," said Kristy. "As founder, I claim my right to--"
"Who died and made you queen? Last time I checked, Adam was president," Sasha cut in.
"Maybe we can all be president!" Karen said desperately. "Hey, guys! Let's hug and make up!"
"This is way beyond hugging," said Adam.
Kristy stood up. That's how we knew she meant business. "This club was my idea," she said, "and without me, none of you would be here. In my absence, Adam has done an admirable job, and when I go back to school, maybe he can take over again. But for the time being, I'm home, and there's nothing like the real thing."
"You're a real something," Sasha muttered under her breath.
"Now then," said Kristy, clapping her hands. "I want to make this transition as simple as possible. While I have my problems with Adam's 'call whenever' policy for clients, I'm not so naive as to think they can be re-trained. So we'll retain the voicemail system. However, I am instituting several changes effective immediately. First, we will re-record the outgoing message each day giving the first date for available jobs."
"You think parents are stupid enough they don't know what day is two days in the future?" said Sasha.
"I think it's good to make policy absolutely clear," said Kristy.
Becca looked worried. She hates recording voicemails even more than talking on the phone, and she was glad when Adam recorded the current outgoing message in his "radio announcer" voice.
"Second, I understand you pay dues as a percentage of your earnings. We'll be returning to a flat fee. Third--"
"Excuse me, that's my treasury policy you're messing with!" cried Sasha.
"It's undemocratic," Kristy explained.
"That's intentional. Some people sit more than others," Adam explained.
"That shouldn't be the case. Clearly, you need better organization. Third--"
"Some people want to sit more than others," Sasha said.
"Then those who wish to sit less can become associates. Third, we will reinstitute the club notebook."
This time, it was Claudia who groaned.
"What's the club notebook?" said Adam warily.
"We had to write up all our jobs," said Claudia.
"What do you mean, 'write up'?" I said. Mallory had never mentioned this.
"You know, what happened. Whether we ran into any problems. What we did with the kids."
"Like a composition?" said Charlotte.
"Kind of. More like a diary entry, only for everybody to read," said Mary Anne. "Then everybody would read it during the week."
"Homework!" said Adam. "It's homework for baby-sitting! My team won't stand for that. You think we don't have enough homework?"
"It's the summer," Mary Anne pointed out.
"All the worse!"
"Your team is now my team, Adam, and they'll do it, because it's useful," said Kristy. "How do you think we all know everything about every client? Mary Anne, what is Nina Marshall allergic to?"
"Strawberries," said Mary Anne without thinking.
"Oh, see, you don't understand. We kind of divvy up the families," Becca spoke up, her voice sounding very high and tight. "I have my people I usually sit for, Adam has his, and so on."
"Well," said Kristy, "that won't stand."
"It will when she gets a call from the Mendozas," Sasha muttered, making Adam laugh. The Mendozas only speak Spanish.
"Finally," said Kristy, who either didn't hear that remark or didn't care to follow up, "due to the influx of new talent, as well as the return of several key players, there will be some changes to the offices. In addition to me as president, Claudia will recover the status of vice president, since after all, we are still using her room. Mary Anne will be returning as secretary. Due to possible work conflicts, Abby and Dawn will be sharing the role of treasurer."
"Oh, fuck you," said Sasha, leaping to her feet. Adam grabbed her by the arms and held her back.
Kristy looked surprised. "Do you need to be removed?" she asked. She sounded like she really wanted to know.
It's not that Sasha really likes being treasurer all that much. She's good at it, and she's grown to sort of love the treasury envelope, but she'd really rather be president. I think it was the principle of the thing at this point.
"Hey, guys!" I said, waving my arms. "Let's calm down and think about this!"
"Seriously," said Jeff. "Shouldn't we at least hold elections or something?"
"That can certainly be arranged," said Kristy thoughtfully. "It would be more interesting to have elections with non-candidate voters. Only the senior members would be allowed to actually run for office, of course."
"Okay, that's it," said Adam. "Kristy, I appreciate all the thought you've put into this, but we're going to have to say no. We want to keep things as they are."
"Speak for yourself," said Claudia.
"And," said Adam looking her in the eye, "we don't need any more baby-sitters."
Jeff sank down a little against the radiator and put on a pair of sunglasses.
"You can't have the Baby-sitters Club without Kristy," said Mary Anne. "I mean, you can, obviously--but not if you have a choice."
"Give it a chance, guys," Mary Anne urged. "Things will be better than ever. Kristy has a lot of great ideas."
"We have no shortage of brainpower," said Adam. "Come on, step aside. This is our club now."
"And it's my room," said Claudia. "I didn't want to bring this up, but--"
"Do it," said Kristy. "Pull out the big guns."
"Technically, you can't meet here if I don't want you to."
"Now, I want reiterate, we're not talking about kicking anyone out here," said Kristy. "We can put all of you to work. It's just a change in management."
Adam pushed out from the desk and went to the door. "You can keep your stupid room. My club is leaving."
"Yeah!" Sasha bounced on her feet and followed him out of the room.
Milo got up silently to join them. Shea strode out without a backwards glance. Becca bit her lip, and then followed. Charlotte ran to catch up with her. Jeff stood up from the radiator, and I followed him.
I paused on my way out and looked back in through the doorway. "Uh... Sorry it had to go this way."
"It's okay, Byron. No hard feelings," Mary Anne assured me. She looked sad.
Adam joined me. "You coming, Karen?"
She stood in the center of the room, looking torn. She looked from Kristy, to us, back to Kristy. "I--I can't," she wailed.
Adam nodded. "Understood. Hup to, team."
I was walking down the beach with this gorgeous guy. He had blond hair, blue eyes, and stubble. He looked a little bit like Cam Geary, only more grizzled and outdoorsy. Actually, he kind of looked like the guy who plays the Spy Rogue. He was wearing a crisp suit and carrying an Indiana Jones fedora and whip, almost apologetically.
"I'm afraid my international hero work will keep me busy all season," he said in an English accent. "We shall have to move the ceremony."
"It's okay," I said understandingly. "The world needs you... almost as much as I do."
Overcome by the romance of the moment, he took my hand and placed it against his heart. For some reason, he wasn't wearing a shirt under his suit jacket, and his skin was warm to the touch.
"Fuck those guys," said Adam's voice, and I woke up.
In real life, my hand was near something warm: Jeff's arm. He was sitting on my bunk, and I opened my eyes to sight of his back. I rolled over quickly, wrapping myself in my sheets.
"Byron's up," said Sasha.
The bed mattress shifted as Jeff turned around. "Good morning starshine!"
"Uurrrrgh," I grunted.
"They'll see. We are not giving up without a fight."
"Adam, um, do you think we should step out?" Becca's voice. Great, they were all here.
"Why?" said Adam. He kicked the bed. "Get up, Byron."
"The girls will leave, at least," Sasha said. "Come on, Beck."
"It's okay. It's okay." Surrounding myself completely with the sheet, I pulled myself out of bed. "What time is it?"
"Ten," Jeff answered. "You're up just in time for the emergency meeting of the... uh..."
"First order of business will be coming up with a new name," said Adam.
I grabbed the first clothes I could find. I couldn't agonize over it with everyone standing there. I changed in the bathroom into what turned out to be khakis and an enormous, wrinkled Red Sox T-shirt with a bleach stain. Much dorkier than Jeff's cool California casual tie-dye T-shirt and cargo shorts, but whatever. Who cared? No matter what I wore, Jeff was as unattainable as the imaginary spy from my dream.
I walked back in the room to find Adam sitting on his bed with Sasha, trying to open one of those impossible plastic electronics packages. Jeff was still sitting on my bed, and Becca was in the inflatable chair. I didn't know where Milo was; at home asleep like a normal person, maybe.
I sat down at the desk, safely far from Jeff.
"Okay, come on, people," Adam mumbled around the plastic box, which he was trying to bite open. He spit it out. "New name brainstorm. Let's go."
I was already at the desk, so I picked up a pen and wrote down everyone's suggestions.
The Baby-sitters Company (Becca; "too derivative" according to Adam)
Kids Kids Kids (Adam; "They'll think we're the kids," Becca argued)
Childcare Management Professionals, Inc. (Sasha; deemed "too cold")
Best Baby-sitting Club (Adam; deemed "too defensive")
Let Us Watch Your Kids (Jeff; deemed "too needy")
Youth Oversight Brigade (Sasha; Adam said, "Your ideas are getting really 1984.")
The Sitting People (me, before I thought it through; Sasha looked around said, "Yup, that's what we are.")
"Okay, forget the name," said Adam. He'd finally broken open his package. Something silver dropped out. "Here. Let's set this up."
"What's that?" I asked.
"Our new club phone," said Adam proudly, holding it up. "I got Claire and Margo to whine at Mom till she agreed to take us to the mall. Mom had to sign for it, cause you have to be eighteen, but it's really ours. All of ours."
"How much did it cost?" said Sasha.
Adam looked around guiltily and then whispered in her ear.
"What!" she cried. "Our treasury's wiped out!"
"Well, we need a phone."
"How are we supposed to conduct a war without a budget?"
"I have a little money saved up. I can front us. Anyway, I repeat: we need a phone," said Adam, annoyed. "Anyway, I think Kristy's right about one thing. We need to re-record the voicemail each meeting. We can tell them when we're available and any other special announcements, 'Happy fourth of July' or whatever. It keeps us relevant. Also, I think we should do it in English and Spanish. You know, inclusive. The bilingual thing is like our one edge."
"Great, so I have to record it each time?" said Sasha.
"I was thinking you once a week, Milo once a week, and me once a week, if you don't mind coaching me on my pronunciation."
"I can do it, too!" said Jeff. "I know a little Spanish."
"Me, too," I said. "I mean, I take Spanish."
"I take French," said Becca, sounding relieved.
We all listened while Sasha rattled off the message in one perfect take. It turned out that she also had a radio announcer voice.
"The only problem is," said Adam when she hung up, "the old club has the phone number everyone knows."
"No, the problem is that they're eighteen, and we're twelve to fifteen," said Becca. "They are literally adults. Which would you rather hire for your kids?"
"Whoever was the best sitter," said Sasha staunchly.
"That's them, too!" said Becca. "Don't get me wrong, I think we're great, but most of the parents know them better. Mrs. Newton has been using Kristy practically since Jamie was born. Jamie loves Kristy."
"Let's focus on problems we can solve," said Adam irritably. "Do we have a master list of clients?"
Everyone was silent.
"Have... have we ever made one?" I asked finally.
"We could probably piece one together from the back schedules," Becca suggested.
"I'll tell Milo to work his Excel magic," Sasha nodded.
"Okay. We'll assume we can get the list. We'll call up all our clients--"
"What should we say exactly?" said Becca nervously.
"We can't tell them about the split," said Jeff. "That makes us all look like assholes."
"And unprofessional," Sasha said, "which is worse."
"I guess we can just say that we're not using Claudia's room anymore, since she's back in town--" I began.
"And give the old club free advertising," Adam finished glumly.
"Why don't we just say we've changed our number?" said Sasha. "No details."
"That's fine for our exclusive clients, but I'm betting the old club is going to call up all the parents they used to sit for to tell them they're available," said Adam. "I don't want to give people conflicting information. That also makes us look like assholes. We have to come up with some reason we're not working together other than that we hate each other."
"We don't hate each other, right?" I said. "I mean, we have different ways of doing the club, we're incompatible, whatever, but does that mean we can't hang out with them? You know, socially?"
"Why would we want to?" said Sasha.
"Hey, one of them is my sister," said Jeff.
"Dawn's really joining their side, huh?" said Adam.
"Well, it's mostly symbolic. She's too busy working on the farm to do much actual baby-sitting. She basically just comes home and falls into bed."
"Sounds like Jordan," Adam remarked.
"But they're her friends," said Jeff. "She knows I'm working with you guys because you're my friends, but that doesn't mean me and her are against each other."
Suddenly, the new phone rang and buzzed at the same time. We all jumped. Sasha picked it up and said, "Hello, Kid Containment Squad. You have children, we have answers."
Jeff's mouth fell open and he look at me, like, "Can you believe this?" I covered my mouth with both hands.
"I'm afraid you have the wrong number, but be sure the call back for all your baby-sitting needs. Don't laugh when I'm on the phone, guys!"
Adam rolled on the bed, he was laughing so hard.
The door opened, and Jordan was halfway to his bed before he did a double-take. "What's this, a party?"
"A meeting of the Kid Containment Squad," Adam said with a straight face, and that set the rest of us off again.
"You're friends with Kristy," I said to Mallory the next day. We were drinking lemonade on the porch while Claire and Margo "worked in the garden" (attacked each other with the hose). "Why is she doing this?"
Mallory shook her head. "She's a great leader, but she can go temporarily mad sometimes."
"So... she's Napoleon."
"Not exactly. Look, I agree she's being weird, but I get it, kind of. She misses the club, and it's not like she has anything else going on here in town. It can be hard to come back for the summer." Mallory's not in college yet, but she's been going and coming back longer than any of the other baby-sitters. Back when she was a freshman, she decided to leave SHS and go away to boarding school in rural Massachusetts. This is because she hates us so much.
No, I'm kidding--I know she doesn't hate us. She was basically run out of town by mean kids at school who were bullying her. For months, random kids shoved her in the halls, vandalized her locker, and called her names. Not for any special reason, except that she was kind of nerdy and weird.
(Imagine what's going to happen to me.)
It's hard to believe now that Mallory was ever that spazzy girl that was picked on. The first time she came back from school, she'd switched from glasses to contacts, had her hair straightened, and started wearing lots of makeup. She looked like a different person. She's sort of toned it down since then, but she looks much more poised and grown-up. Every time we go to meet her at the train station for a visit, there's a moment where I wonder, "Who's that lady?"
"Whenever I come back," Mallory continued, "I always feel like Rip Van Winkle--you know, I was asleep for a whole year, and now everything's different."
"Nothing's ever different," I said, "and you miss a lot of boring stuff. You're the one who changes. The rest of us stay the same."
Mallory laughed and shook her head. "That's not how it looks to me."
I decided not to ask her for specifics.
On Friday evening, the club gathered in our room to listen to our new voice mail. Two associates were even present, Charlotte and me.
I didn't plan to get more involved in the club once Jeff joined, but it was hard to miss meetings that were held in my room. (Shouldn't they have been held in Becca's room? If you believe the original club, the function of the vice-president is to host meetings. Oh, well. I understand why it was easy to use my house. There are so many of us kids that our parents barely notice when there are a few more around.) And, yes, it was hard to miss meetings when I knew Jeff would be there, just sitting in my room. Sitting on my bed.
The meeting started off promisingly enough. Mr. Mendoza had left a message about two hours after Sasha called him with the new number, asking for two appointments over the weekend. Sasha translated the message, but since it was mostly "niños" and "domingo," even I could understand it. Sasha and Milo each took a job.
The next message was from about thirty hours later. Since the club had only let clients know about the number change two days earlier, and since we normally have eight or ten jobs to schedule in every meeting, a day and a half was a big chunk of time without a call.
The message was from Mrs. Walling, a new client who'd never met the original BSC. She's a stay-at-home mom with two kids under two. She just said she needed someone for the next afternoon from three to four-thirty while she had a hair appointment.
"You can have it, Jeff," said Adam. "I promised you at least a job a week, and I can't guarantee there'll be another one that doesn't ask for a particular sitter." Or another one at all, he didn't add.
There next message was from Becca's mom. She needed someone to look after Becca's six-year-old brother, whom everyone calls Squirt, for an entire day while she worked at a temp job.
"Anybody else need a job?" Becca offered.
"Just take it," said Adam.
We all sat in silence for a moment after the computerized voice said, "There are no more messages."
"Well," said Adam finally, "at least all the regular members have a job. We don't always have something for you guys."
"Hey, we're okay," I said.
"Right," said Charlotte. "We're just here for solidarity."
"Me too," said Jordan from his bunk.
"But what about you, Adam?" said Becca. "You don't have anything."
Adam just shrugged.
I knew what he meant, so I interpreted: "The captain goes down with the ship."
"It's always slow in the summer, isn't it?" said Charlotte, forcefully cheerful. "Camp, family vacations..."
"That's the trouble," said Adam. "Three girls can really handle it, especially since they can drive and stay out all night."
"And since everyone in town already loves them," said Becca.
"Well, we just have to make it through to the summer," I said, trying to be encouraging.
"You mean it's going to be like this all summer?" said Milo. "Every summer?"
"At least for the next four years," said Becca. "By that time I'll be a senior. And you guys will be gone."
"Don't forget winter break," said Charlotte. "College students get like a month."
"You mean they can just come back here whenever they want," said Milo, distressed, "and take our jobs and pillage our clubhouse like a roaming band of barbarians?"
"This is totally unfair!" Sasha exploded. "Why do they want all these jobs anyway? They're adults. They can do anything they want. Why are they stealing the only job we can have?"
Adam shook his head. "All's fair in love and war."
Sasha stayed behind after the meeting and sat on Adam's lap at the desk, reading Yelp reviews of restaurants they could go to, while Jordan and I played cards. There aren't a lot of rules at our house, but one of them is that Adam and Sasha aren't allowed to be alone in the bedroom.
"Why can't one of you get a girlfriend?" Sasha complained. "I want to go on a double date."
"Set them up then," said Adam. "Don't you know any girls?"
Oh, God. I hoped she didn't know any girls.
"Nobody's around for the summer... My cousin Frank is kind of girly. I mean, he likes Broadway musicals. Maybe good for Jeff."
I sat up. "You--you know about Jeff?"
"What about Jeff?" said Jordan. "What's the joke?"
"You mean that he's gay? Why wouldn't I? It's not a secret."
"Jeff's gay?" Jordan cried.
"Where've you been?" said Adam.
Jordan crossed his arms. "Nobody tells me anything."
"People don't--I mean--nobody has a problem with it?" I stuttered awkwardly.
"Like who?" said Sasha.
"Why should we care who Jeff wants to bone? It's got nothing to do with us," Adam shrugged. "Anyway, I'm his boss, and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal. When you run a business, you have to think of these things."
"Isn't your business failing?" said Jordan.
"Isn't your face failing at not being punched by me?"
"What about--you know--parents and stuff?" I said. "They're okay with a gay baby-sitter?"
"Well, I didn't send out engraved announcements, or anything."
"I touched him!" said Jordan suddenly, bringing the chair he'd been leaning back in down to the ground with a thump. "Ew, ew, I talked about pitching and catching! Do you think he took that to mean...?"
"You dimwits have nothing to worry about," said Adam, rolling his eyes. "Jeff didn't take your pathetic fist-bump as a come-on. He told me I'm not his type, and if I'm not, you're not."
"You asked him this?" said Jordan incredulously. "Isn't that kind of like waving a red flag in front of a bull?"
"It was a joke," Adam explained.
"Not a very good one," said Sasha. "See, Jordan, Adam was nervous at first, too."
"I was not. It was just a joke. They can't all be winners."
I rolled back onto my bed. Not even his type. Nothing to worry about.
So why did I feel so shitty?
I swear I didn't mean to memorize the date and time of Jeff's job. I just didn't happen to forget it. On Saturday at 3 PM, I was reading a book down at the park. And I thought, well, the Wallings' place is on my way home (ish), so why don't I just walk by the house and make sure it hasn't burned down or anything?
I knew I was being silly. There is nothing special about a house where one of your friends is baby-sitting. A house looks like a house from the outside, whether the parents are home or not.
Things worked out better, or worse, than I could have hoped. I'd just rounded the corner when I saw Toby Walling toddle out onto the sidewalk, heading for the street. Instantly I broke into a sprint. I managed to sweep him up just as he was about to trip over the curb. He was confused and frightened at finding himself unexpectedly in a strange person's arms, and he began to wail.
Jeff turned around. He'd only been a few feet away, on the lawn, but he'd been bending over Cara's stroller, and she had been taking up all his attention. His mouth dropped open. I don't know what surprised him more--that Toby had gotten so far away, or that I had suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
"Hello," I said lamely, but I barely heard myself. Toby and Cara were both screaming.
Jeff ran a hand through his sweaty hair. Up until today, I'd only seen him happy and cheerful. Now, he looked drained. "Jeez. Thanks, Byron. If you hadn't been walking by just then..."
"You'd have noticed in a second."
"A second might've been too late," Jeff muttered darkly.
Toby wrenched out of my arms and ran to Jeff. He clung to Jeff's leg and peered at me suspiciously.
"You know me, Tobe," I said. "I made you that plane, remember? Zoooom." I didn't have a paper plane to demonstrate with, so I made a flying motion with my hand.
Toby gave Jeff a "who is this guy" look.
I sighed. "Okay, whatever."
"He's in one of those moods," said Jeff. "I only won him over with food. Hey, hey, shhh." He rocked Cara, who was still crying bitterly.
"May I?" I held out my arms.
"What? Oh, sure, gladly. If you can figure out what to do with her."
As luck would have it, Cara quieted down as soon as Jeff handed her over. I think she was more startled than anything else. I quickly checked her diaper--dry, of course, because that would have been far too easy, and not something Jeff was likely to miss. I'd spent a couple of long evenings trying to get Cara Walling to sleep, so I remembered some of the things she found comforting. I began to sway slowly and rubbed her back in circles. I guess she decided she didn't care about whatever had been bothering her, because she didn't start crying again. She snuggled her head into my neck.
"At least you like me," I said.
"Whoa!" said Jeff, quiet but obviously impressed. "You're like the Baby Whisperer!"
"I do what I can," I said modestly. I'd really just lucked out, but I wasn't about to admit it. "She likes it when you rub her back."
"I promise I'm not actually a terrible baby-sitter," said Jeff. "This sucks. With the club on the rocks, too. F... darn. I knew I should have let Adam take this job."
"You think he could do any better?" I shook my head. "You're not a bad baby-sitter. Anyone can get overwhelmed, especially with two kids under two."
"Yeah, I guess." Jeff flashed a heart-melting smile. "Thanks."
"Glllgh," I said, by which I meant, "you're welcome." I added, "You, uh, you want me to stick around a little bit?"
Well, come on. I couldn't leave the kids.
"Really?" Jeff's eyes lit up. "Sure, yeah! That'd be great!"
I knew he was excited about having help with the baby, but it still made me feel fuzzy and special.
We took the kids inside for a snack. There was a mop lying in the middle of the kitchen floor and a bucket of sudsy water by the table.
"Oh. I was cleaning," Jeff remembered. "Mrs. Walling said she'd pay extra if I got to it and the job was easy at first..."
"You've got backup now. Go ahead and finish up if you want. I can handle the snack."
"You sure? I'll split the money with you, of course."
"Eh, that's not necessary," I said, settling Cara into her high chair.
"Come on. You've got to let me pay you back somehow."
I looked at Jeff, who was leaning on the mop, looking at me expectantly, and I got all flustered and forgot what we were talking about.
"Yeah, sure, okay," I murmured, hoping that made sense in context.
He grinned at me and then started mopping.
Oh, man. We were flirting, weren't we? Obviously, it wasn't going anywhere. I wasn't even his type. Actually, I was glad for that. Otherwise, I might have worried about getting carried away.
I warmed a bottle for Cara and spooned out yogurt and cereal for Toby while Jeff quickly finished the floors and sponged down the countertops. When he was done, he took over feeding Toby, getting him to open his mouth with an elaborate pantomime about zoo animals. Even Cara laughed at his funny faces, dribbling milk all over her face. I had to take her into another room to get her to finish her lunch.
We were just finishing up when I heard Toby shriek from the kitchen. I took Cara back to check it out. Toby was sitting on the ground, red-faced and bawling.
"We were playing and he hit his head on the counter," Jeff reported.
"Switch," I said, handing Cara to Jeff.
I'm pretty good with hurt kids, if I do say so myself. I checked him over elaborately, then used my magic to heal him, then I tickled him. Meanwhile, Jeff got Cara cleaned up. Then we each took a kid and put them down for their naps.
Toby dropped off shortly after I started reading him his story (I have a boring voice I can use when I want a kid to sleep) and I joined Jeff in Cara's room. He was standing by the crib, watching her drop off. He nodded at her as I came in, and I peeked into the crib. She did look awfully sweet, all snuggled up with her hand over her face. As adorable as she was, though, I preferred looking at Jeff's face as he watched her. He just stood there smiling in pure delight at her cuteness.
Then Jeff turned his head toward me and totally caught me watching him. I looked away quickly, my face hot. I picked up a pink stuffed bear from a shelf and pretended that it interested me greatly.
"Bears are cool," I whispered. At least I was careful not to wake the baby with my inane babbling.
"Especially that one," Jeff whispered back. He nodded toward the door and began tiptoeing out.
Downstairs, a door opened and a voice called, "Hello?"
"Come on," said Jeff, punching me on the arm. "After we get paid I'll buy you an ice cream."
What happened to your health food kick, is that just ancient history?" I asked as Jeff paid for our ice cream cones.
"What do you mean? I eat normal food," said Jeff. "It's you Connecticut people who stuff yourselves with nothing but fat and starch and corn syrup. Have you ever even seen a vegetable? I'm surprised you don't have a severe vitamin deficiency."
"Maybe I do. Maybe that's why I'm so shrimpy."
"You're just, you know," said Jeff. "Compact. Economical."
I licked my cone, silently giving him the finger with my free hand.
Jeff grabbed a handful of napkins and kicked the door open, holding it open for me with his foot. "Chocolate," he explained, "is my one weakness."
"Oh yeah. I remember that time you swindled Margo out of her Hershey's Minis for two dimes and a special rock."
"Hey, she made her own decision. I just offered her a choice."
"You bamboozled her with your superior fifth-grade math skills!"
"Yeah. Yeah, I did."
"Adam made you an honorary Pike triplet that day."
"Thank God that wore off." Jeff grinned at me, squinting in the sun. I could see then that he really was good old Jeff. He was still new, beautiful, stranger Jeff, but he was old Jeff too. Seeing that flash of the bratty, mischievous kid he used to be made him even more attractive (as if that was possible). Even though I wasn't attracted to Jeff at the time--at ten, I wasn't attracted to anybody--it brought back nice memories, and made him seem more familiar and human.
We walked on toward the park, licking our cones. I've never thought of eating ice cream as a sexy activity, but every time I glanced over at Jeff, his tongue was darting out of his mouth and lovingly caressing the chocolate. I wondered if he was doing it on purpose. Then I found myself getting really self-conscious about the way I was eating my own ice cream, so I just wolfed it as quickly as possible to be done with it.
Jeff stopped mid-stride to watch me. He was half-smiling, and looked impressed.
I quickly swallowed a mouthful of sugar cone. I explained my talent, "I can, uh, fit a lot of stuff in my mouth."
"Clearly," said Jeff.
Ack. No. Worse, worse. I blushed furiously.
Jeff strode on ahead, but then he shot me this wry, knowing little grin over his shoulder. I tramped after him, feeling light-headed and vaguely feverish. I wasn't his type, right?
I racked my brain for a topic, anything innocent.
I think Jeff knew I was doing it, because he said conversationally, "So did you hear the one about the two muffins?"
"What?" I said.
"There were these two muffins in the oven, you know, just chilling and getting baked, and one of them says to the other, 'Damn, it's hot in here!' And the other says, 'Holy shit, a talking muffin!'"
I had to laugh because it was just so stupid. Jeff grinned. He always had loved dumb jokes. "That's pretty corny," I said.
"Well, they were corn muffins."
"Oh, I see. That makes sense, then."
There was a break in conversation as we climbed over the wall at the edge of the park and made our way up a steep incline, crunching pine needles. We walked side by side, silently, but it felt like comfortable silence now. The air smelled fresh and piney.
"So," I sad after awhile, "I bet you can't guess who from our class went on to win the all-state science competition."
"Is this a joke?"
"No, it's news about people you used to know."
"Okay. Who is it?"
Jeff cringed automatically.
"He's not a bad guy, really," I said. "He turned out pretty smart."
Jeff grunted. He used to get in a lot of fights with Jerry Haney, right before he left for California. I remember thinking that was really weird, because most of the time, he was very mellow.
"You know what?" said Jeff then. "You probably met me at the most fucked up I've ever been in my life. It's kind of a miracle we're even friends."
I shrugged. "I thought you were pretty cool."
Jeff laughed and nudged my shoulder with his. "You're so fucking nice. You don't have to lie."
"I'm not lying!"
"Well, then... thanks." Jeff ducked his head. He looked as flustered and bashful as I usually feel. I hadn't seen that look on him in a long time. "In case you were wondering, I'm way better now."
"Sure," I said. "For one thing, you're very modest."
"Oh, yes." Jeff beamed. "I am amazing, aren't I?"
I had to stop myself from agreeing out loud.
We walked on through the shade of the trees, far away from any path. The air was fresh and cool and smelled like pine. Jeff found an old dodgeball in the brush and dribbled it with his feet, soccer-style.
"You play?" I asked.
"Yeah, you?" He kicked the ball from foot to foot.
"Here. I'm open."
"No way. You think we're on the same team right now? This is one-on-one, you against me. You want it, you have to take it from me."
"Fine, jerk." I came up to steal the ball. It's not hard to guard in a one-on-one game, and he knew what he was doing. I'm pretty quick on my feet, though, and after a couple of feints I confused him and managed to get the ball away. He made a noise of surprise and came on after me, stepping in my path and trying to trip me up. We were both alternately swearing, grunting, and laughing.
I kicked the ball off into the brush behind us. "Goal!"
"You can't just kick it anywhere and say that's the goal."
"That was the goal! I decided way at the beginning. I just didn't say anything because..."
"Because?" Jeff prompted.
"I wanted it to be a surprise."
"Fine," said Jeff, retrieving the ball, "then this is my goal," and he kicked it hard.
I intercepted it. "What, between my feet?" I teased.
"In that case I guess you've scored a lot of goals today."
"You, shut up."
Jeff came after the ball, more aggressive than before, checking me with his shoulders. If that was the way he wanted to play, it was fine by me. It was nice to stop talking, stop thinking, and just play.
Playing through trees was tough. I wasn't used to so many obstacles. He used them better than I did. He got me turned around while I was running backwards and I backed up smack into a tree.
He laughed, but his triumph was short-lived, because while he was distracted, he stumbled over a root. He nearly fell into me, just at the last moment managing to put out his hand and brace himself against the tree behind me.
Our eyes met. I was aware of his arm brushing my shoulder. I could smell his sweat.
It seemed like a long time that we just stood there. The ball lay forgotten at our feet.
I don't know if he was leaning forward or I was, but slowly, incrementally, we were moving closer together. Classic lead-up to a kiss, right? You see it in all the movies. But I still didn't believe it. I was about to kiss Jeff? Jeff was about to kiss me? Madness!
At the same time, it felt like we'd crossed a line somewhere, and now, it was inevitable. Impossible and inevitable both. My brain couldn't handle it. I felt like a cartoon robot, overheating and saying "Does not compute! What is this human emotion 'love'?"
I put my hand on his face, partly to stop him from moving any closer, and partly because I wanted to have my hand on his face. He took in a sharp breath through his open mouth and sort of leaned into my touch, eyes closed, and I think that's what completely melted my brain.
Without thinking about it, I did what I'd sort of wanted to do ever since I saw him, and ran my thumb over his lower lip. A shiver ran down my spine as I felt his tongue hotly brush my fingertip.
Somewhere off on the path, a dog barked, and a little girl yelled, "MOM!"
There are moments in your life when you realize you're standing the middle of the park, in the middle of town, with your finger in the mouth of your childhood friend.
"I have to, I have a thing," I mumbled. I yanked my hand away. Tripping on my own feet, I reeled backward out of the space between Jeff and the tree.
"Okay, um," said Jeff, bewildered. "See you."
I didn't know what I was doing. I think I saluted. Then I ran down the hill, over the stone wall, and back out into the real world.
I barely got any sleep that night. Part of it was lingering excitement--a guy licked my hand! Okay, that's kind of weird, I guess, but it was the most play I'd ever gotten. I mean, once I kissed Haley Braddock, but I don't think that counts because neither of us enjoyed it. Getting close to Jeff had scared the hell out of me, but I can't say I didn't enjoy it.
Okay. Yes. It was probably time to admit that I was 100% gay for sure. That's pretty unambiguous evidence, right there. When somebody licks your hand, and you think "Mm, yeah," instead of "Ew, gross," you are just into that person and there's nothing you can do about it.
The more I thought about it, though, the weirder the whole incident seemed. How did he know I was interested in him? Was it totally obvious? Was I throwing off signals everywhere? Did everyone else know, and they were just too polite to tell me? Was he really interested in me? Why? How? And what was I going to do now?
KRISTY: Sunday. The Newtons are always a dream to sit with. Jamie sure has grown! Pretty soon he'll be a baby-sitter himself. Lucy's going through the typical six-year-old attention-hog stage. We should all be sure to give her lots of positive reinforcement. Sarah is a perfect angel.The Pike triplets, on the other hand, are getting out of control. I practically had to baby-sit the whole pool to make sure they didn't smash any heads. And what's up with Byron Pike and Jeff Schafer? I sense fractures in the junior club.
Jordan, Adam and I were all free the next day, for once. Jordan was off on a weekends, and Sasha was visiting relatives for the weekend, so we had Adam. Adam suggested swimming, so we put on our swim trunks, grabbed our towels, and walked barefoot down to the public pool. I think we all had problems we wanted to forget. We were all keyed up, pushing each other and shouting. At one point Adam jumped on my back and covered my eyes, like I was a giant he had to fight. This is how we show affection.
There were a bunch of girls from school at the pool, wearing bikinis and tanning themselves on deck chairs, and that made Adam and Jordan even crazier. They kept pointing at things and declaring them to be "that-a-way." (For your information, we all have fairly pathetic muscles. Even Jordan is one of those guys who's stronger than he looks.) I joined in, like I always do, so as not to stand out. The girls giggled at us.
There were a lot of kids around, too, even in the Olympic size pool (there's also a wading pool for little kids). It was nice to horse around and splash each other without worrying about being somebody's guardian, although I was privately keeping an eye out for the children in our immediate area. I think Adam and Jordan were doing the same thing. Adam took a second out of a game of swim tag to casually redirect a random child who was about to swim into the wall. Jordan jumped out at one point to give a Eleanor Marshall a quick diving lesson. During water Frisbee, I pushed Adam out of the way before he collided with Jamie Newton.
Just as I tackled Adam, Kristy's voice rang out over the pool. "Watch out, Jamie!"
Jamie turned around. He seemed surprised to see us right behind him. "Hey, guys," he said, confused.
"Easy on the horseplay, there, triplets," Kristy called. She was sitting at the edge of the pool, putting sunblock on Sarah Newton. Lucy was swimming back and forth in front of her, demanding, "Look at me! Look, Kristy! Look, I'm swimming!"
"Nice job," said Kristy.
"Awesome butterfly stroke, Luce!" Adam called, to one-up her.
"Come on," I said, handing him the Frisbee.
"Just once, I wish Kristy would really screw up with a kid," said Adam, making a fist as his side. "Serve her right."
"She won't," I said. "Anyway, I don't want anything bad to happen to the Newton kids."
Adam cuffed my head. "You think too much."
After that, though, we both kept a close eye on Kristy's charges in case we could step in and be the heroes.
While we were sitting on our towels, snacking, I saw Jamie try to get some eleven-year-olds to include him in their game of floatie catch, and that seemed promising. I was watching that scene unfold when I felt a bare foot gently kick my back. "Heya."
"Hey, Jeff! Come on, sit down." Adam scooted over, making room on the towel. Jordan scooted away slightly, looking wary, but Jeff didn't seem to notice. He sat down between Adam and me. His knee briefly grazed mine, but by the time he got settled, we were sitting close, but not touching.
Augh. Augh. Augh.
He looked amazing, of course. Even better than the beach picture. His chest and abs were more sculpted. Even his face seemed more pronounced. His tan was slightly lighter and his hair was slightly more yellow and less white--I guess because he was missing out on those California rays--but it looked good on him. He was wearing sunglasses, his shell necklace, and hot pink board shorts.
All of my muscles were tense. It was agonizing to having him this close. Two things drove me crazy:
(1) I wanted so badly to touch him.
(2) I had no idea how to treat him, and scarier, I had no idea how he was going to treat me. Would he acknowledge what happened between us? Was there anything to acknowledge?
"Great day for a swim, huh?" said Adam.
"Perfect." Jeff reached for the baggie of grapes our mom had us take along. (At least someone would eat them.) As he did, his arm brushed my knee, almost certainly on purpose this time. He glanced at me over the top of his sunglasses, smiling a knowing little smile, like he knew a secret, which he did.
I focused my attention on my ice cream sandwich, hoping none of the others saw that little look. Was he going to keep doing that? Worse, was he going to say something? I felt powerless.
The conversation went on without me. I couldn't pay attention. I watched Jeff laugh at something Jordan said. I watched him scrunch up his face and flick Adam on the head. He was so easy and relaxed. Like there was nothing at all to be freaked about. I guess for him, there wasn't. Awkward, less-attractive guys probably threw themselves at him all the time. No big deal. I tried to talk myself into relaxing.
I looked back at the group of kids in the pool. Kristy was standing in the shallow end now, bouncing Sarah in her arms, and calling instructions to the kids. While I wasn't looking, she'd organized them into positions for a sort of pool kickball game with floating bases. Jamie and Lucy were proudly fielding with the older kids. Oh, she's good.
"Come on," said Jordan, scrunching the ice cream sandwich wrappers into our lunch bag. "Where's the Frisbee?"
"Oh, cool. We can do two-on-two now," said Adam.
"Um," I said. I didn't want to encourage Jeff to stick around. "Aren't we supposed to wait half and hour after eating?"
"Come on, By," said Jeff, gripping my shoulder briefly as he got to his feet. "You can play on my team."
Too much, too much!
"Fair warning, Byron kind of sucks," Jordan warned.
"Yeah, you sure you want him?" said Adam.
"Hmm..." Jeff put his hand on his chin and pretended to look critical. He took off his sunglasses and looked me up and down, his eyes slowly sweeping my body. He was smiling with his eyes.
This was getting ridiculous. I had my pride. I shot him a withering look. "Don't patronize me!" I snapped.
Jeff looked taken aback. "Sorry."
"I don't want to be on any of your stupid teams," I announced. "I'll just be my own team and take on all of you." I hurled the Frisbee at Adam.
He caught it just before it would have hit him in the gut. "Dude, what's your problem?"
"Jeff's my problem, I'm sick of him, he's always in my face!"
I saw the exact moment the stormcloud came over Jeff's face. His brows knit, and his lips went thin. He grabbed his towel from the ground. "Don't worry. You don't have to deal with me anymore."
I watched him stalk off toward the gate. He kicked the post as he walked by and shouted, "I hate this fucking state!"
Just like that, I could feel all the anger draining out of me. What had I done?
"Nice going, asshole. You ruined our two-on-two," Adam complained, punching me in the shoulder hard. Jordan cuffed my other arm, but it was more of a solidarity move, like, Nice work getting rid of the gay kid.
From her place in the pool, Kristy rocked her baby and shook her head.
At five-fifteen on Monday, Adam got up from the computer and put his keys and the official club cell phone in his pocket.
"Where are you going?" I said. "Better hurry up, people will be here soon."
"We're having today's meeting at Sasha's."
"Oh." It hadn't occurred to me, but with the cell phone, I guessed there was no reason to have the meetings in the same place each time. I put down my Gameboy and looked around for my shoes.
"Uh, maybe you shouldn't come," said Adam.
"You know... you're an associate... there won't be any jobs for you... it doesn't make sense."
I looked at the undone laces of my Converse All-Stars. "Jeff's mad at me."
Adam sighed. "I can't afford another club split, okay?"
I lay on my bed after he left, staring at Jordan's porn through the slats of the bed. I felt like crying. I'm supposed to be the nice one, but I'd really hurt Jeff's feelings. In my head, I kept going over the crucial moment. "Get out of my face." Jeff's hurt look. The way he walked out of the pool.
His only crime was flirting with me. I should've gotten down on my knees to thank him. Instead, I snapped at him to leave me alone. What was wrong with me?
In a way, I also felt kind of angry at him. He broke the rules. He wasn't supposed to flirt with me. He was supposed to be the golden god of California. Unattainable. Distant. Perfect crush material. He wasn't supposed to want me back.
The problem with having a guy like me, an actual out gay guy, was that if I was nice to him, well, that would be it. I'd have to be gay. Publically. Jeff didn't make a secret of his sexuality. If we got together, I didn't think he'd be interested in keeping it on the down low.
What did getting together with a guy even mean? Did you do the same things boy/girl couples did? Go out on dates? Get all goopy and hold hands and kiss in front of your friends? The idea of kissing Jeff, just the once, almost boggled my mind. I couldn't imagine what might come after. I wanted him, but I was terrified to get him.
On top of that, I felt ashamed of myself for wanting to cry, which is always a vicious cycle.
The house was unnaturally quiet. I ran through the list. Mom and Dad were at work; Jordan was training; Nick was at camp; Mallory and Claire had gone to the library; Margo was at a friend's pool. Vanessa was probably around somewhere, brooding.
I was desperate, so I wandered over to her room. She'd pushed back the divider that separates her space from Nick's, and she was sitting in the middle of the big, messy room, strumming quietly on her guitar and singing, "Alone, alone, alone, alone..."
"That's exactly how I feel," I said. "Nobody understands me and I'm going to be alone forever."
"What are you talking about?" said Vanessa. "You're a triplet. There are two more exactly like you."
"They're not like me! I'm the odd man out. Do you know how lonely it is when you're supposed to be one of three but you're always the odd man out?"
"Only from all three of you whining about it all the time," Vanessa scoffed. "Jordan, all, 'Oh, I don't want to be in the Baby-Sitters Club but they're always off doing stuff without me and maybe I should join but what about the Tigers?' Adam , all, 'Oh, everybody's depending on me, I have all these responsibilities, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.' You, I don't even know what you're upset about."
"I'M SENSITIVE," I bellowed. "I AM A TORTURED SOUL."
"Join the club!" Vanessa strummed violently. "Alone, alone, alone, alone..."
I went back to my room. At least I didn't feel like crying anymore. I picked up the Gameboy.
At quarter to six, the house phone rang. When Vanessa hadn't picked it up on the third ring, I wandered into Mallory's room (there is always a cordless unit in Mallory's room) and picked it up. "Hello?"
"Adam! Thank God you're home!"
"Karen? It's not Adam, it's Byron. Are you okay? What's wrong?"
She was hysterical, but I got the gist of the problem. "I'm at the Newtons' and Lucy is missing and I don't want Kristy to think I'm a bad baby-sitter but Sarah has a cold and she's not supposed to go out and I don't know where to look!"
"Hold on, Karen. I'll be right there."
We don't live far from the Newtons, and I biked there in record time.
"Any developments?" I asked when Karen opened the door. She looked especially small and frail, struggling keep hold of Sarah. Sarah was struggling, simultaneously crying and trying to climb Karen's head.
"No. I don't know where she could be! I looked in the basement and the attic and all over the backyard, but I don't think she's hiding. I think she left. I heard the door open earlier but I thought she was letting the dog in until I couldn't find her. Oh, Byron, I yelled at her. I was trying to change Sarah and she wanted to keep on playing Downstairs Slalom. I said she wasn't allowed without me, it's too dangerous, and she went ahead, and I got so scared I yelled!"
"It's okay, it's okay," I said. "Not your fault. We'll just go out and look for her."
"I'm not supposed to take Sarah out. She's got the sniffles." As if to illustrate the point, Sarah sneezed on Karen's face.
Karen pried a torn Kleenex out of Sarah's hand to wipe her face. "At his piano recital. The Newtons are there."
I nodded. "Easy enough, then. Two kids, two sitters. Do you have any idea where Lucy might have gone?"
"I'm not sure. She wanted to play with Laura Perkins earlier, but she couldn't get a ride and I didn't want to walk her over with Sarah, so I said no. She might live in one of these houses on the block. And she wanted to go back to the pool. Byron! What if she went to the pool and fell in?"
"The lifeguards are on duty until eight. They wouldn't let that happen. Actually, the pool is probably one of the safest places she could go. Do you want to go out looking, or stay here with Sarah?"
"I've got to look," said Karen. "I've got to look or I'll go mad."
"Good thinking. You might come up with another idea while you're out there, anyway. You have your own cell phone, right?"
Karen nodded and held up her phone, which was encrusted in pink rhinestones.
"Great. You have the number here? Write yours down for me. Call every ten minutes. I'll stay by the phone." I reached out and took the baby. She didn't scream, the way some kids do when you hand them over, but she was just a squirmy and whimpery with me as she had been with Karen. "Are they are any special instructions for Sarah?"
"Not really. Mrs. Newton just said to keep her nose wiped and try to get her to sleep, but of course she won't. I think she's bored. I fed her and worked a little with her on her shapes."
"Good girl," I found myself saying, like Karen was the one I was baby-sitting. That must be how the older baby-sitters felt, I realized. It's hard to resist the urge to try to look after kids, all kids, even those who are not that much younger than you.
Karen didn't seem to mind, though. She was looking at me for further instructions.
"Well, go on!" I said. "Find Lucy. Remember to keep calling."
Karen nodded and ran out the door.
"And watch for cars!" I called after her.
Sarah buried her face in my shoulder and wept pitifully.
"Poor kid," I said sympathetically. "You don't feel well, do you? Maybe if you try to sleep."
I put her down in her crib, but she cried harder. She was soothed a little when I turned on the humidifier, but she kept screaming when I started to leave the room. Finally I sat her in my lap in the chair, put the cordless phone next to me, and put on a show for her with her puppets and stuffed animals. She actually calmed down, and began to laugh. Karen was right.
She screamed again when the doorbell rang, and I had to take her downstairs to answer it. To keep her quiet, I loaded her up with as many stuffed animals as she could carry between her arms and my neck.
I checked the peephole. Glaring back in fishbowl-vision was Kristy. What did she want?
Both of us were surprised when I opened the door.
"Byron!" said Kristy.
"Lucy!" I said. She was standing there in front of Kristy, looking slightly ashamed.
Sarah screamed. Tony the Tiger had fallen on the ground. Lucy stepped forward, dropping Kristy's hand, and picked up the toy for her sister.
Again, Kristy and I spoke at the same time.
"What are you doing here?"
"Where did you find her?"
"She was standing on the corner of Bradford Court, crying," Kristy explained.
"I wasn't crying," said Lucy. "I was sad, but I wasn't crying."
"Okay, you were sad. Where were you going?"
"You got close," I remarked.
Kristy shot me a look, and then smiled sweetly at Lucy. "Can you go play for a sec while I talk to Byron, Lucy?"
Lucy frowned. "Everybody always wants me to go away."
"That's not true," I said. "I want you here." Okay, I was nervous. What did Kristy want to say to me privately?
Kristy bent down. "I want you here very much, Lucy. I'm glad you decided to come back with me." That was smart--making her feel like it was her decision. "I need you to do a special job for me now, though. Do you usually wash your hands and face by yourself?"
"Duh! I'm not a baby."
"Okay. Can you go do that? Then I can give you a special snack."
Lucy seemed interested in this idea, so she ran up the stairs.
As soon as she was gone, Kristy leaned close and said, "How could you let a child wander off like that?"
I wanted to defend myself, but I didn't want to rat out Karen, so I said, "It could happen to anyone."
"Well, it didn't, did it? It happened to you. What are you even doing here? I thought Karen was sitting today."
Okay, fine. I couldn't keep up the lie anyway, especially if Kristy intended to stick around and oversee. Karen had to come back sometime. I couldn't just let her wander around town looking for non-lost child. "She is. She called me for help because she couldn't find Lucy."
Kristy looked stricken, and I felt bad.
"It was the responsible thing to do," I offered.
"Hmph," Kristy grunted.
"I've got to call her." I shifted Sarah's weight and reached for the phone with my free arm. "She's still out looking. She's probably frantic."
"I'll do it." Kristy grimly dug a phone out of her pocket.
"Wait," I said, but at that moment, Lucy came down the stairs.
"I'm ready for my special snack!"
"Okay, into the kitchen," said Kristy, covering the mouthpiece. "Hello, Karen?"
Since Kristy was busy, I followed Lucy into the kitchen. Special snack. Special snack.
I put Sasha in her high chair. Immediately she screamed. First things first. I got some Cheerios from the cupboard and poured them out on her chair tray. If she didn't eat them, at least she could play with them. She did seem distracted and started moving them around on her tray.
"I thought there was going to be a snack for me," said Lucy.
"I'm getting to it, kiddo, hold your horses!" I grabbed an apple off the table and found some marshmallow Fluff in the fridge. While Lucy watched, I cut the apple in slices crosswise, so you could see the star shape in the middle, and made a sort of little design around the edges with the Fluff and Cheerios.
"There," I said. "Apple snowflakes."
It wasn't much, but it was special enough for Lucy. I guess snow led her to the idea of Christmas, because she started singing "Jingle Bells." I joined in with the "Batman smells" version, making her giggle. "That's not the words!"
We started making up our own words, until Lucy said, "Kristy, come sit by me," and I realized Kristy had been standing there watching for who knows how long.
Kristy came in and sat down backwards in the chair next to Lucy. Lucy giggled at that, too.
"You weren't too hard on Karen, were you?" I said.
Kristy looked surprised at the question. "Not intentionally. I'm not mad at her. I just let her know she needed a refresher in safety."
Somehow, I didn't think Kristy had put it that diplomatically on the phone. "She was nervous about letting you down. That's why she called me. Thank you," I added, accepting the Cheerios Sarah gave me, and handing them back to her.
"I guess it can't be easy to be a seventh-grader in a club full of college kids. Maybe we expect too much of her. She is only twelve..."
"Isn't that when you started sitting?"
"Ten, actually. I started the club at twelve. I feel like I was an older twelve."
"She's a good sitter."
"I know. Kids are always asking for her," said Kristy. She sounded proud.
"Can I draw now, Byron?" said Lucy.
"Sure thing. I'll get you some paper."
Sarah seemed about done with snack time, too, so I dumped out the rest of her Cheerios and released her from the high chair.
"Well, Karen will be back in a minute, and the Newtons shouldn't be far behind," said Kristy, standing up from the table. "If you don't need me, I'll get out of your hair."
"Sure, yeah," I said. "I've got it covered."
"Yeah," said Kristy. She gave Lucy a final hair tousle as she passed. "You seem to."
Guys... Adam... Byron..." The room slowly came into focus. Jordan was standing by my bed.
"Rrrgh... What time is it?" came Adam's muffled voice.
"Five," said Jordan.
I rubbed my eyes. "At night?"
"In the morning, dumbass. Do you know where the first aid kit is?"
Okay, I was up. "What do you need it for?"
Jordan glanced at the open door and put a finger to his lips. "C'mon."
We tiptoed down the stairs, stopping to get the first aid kit out from under the living room couch (I remembered patching up Claire when she scratched her arm on a staple from the back of the armchair.) Standing, or rather slumping, on the back porch were Shea and Jeff.
Jeff was swaying on his feet, eyelids drooping. He had the start of a nasty black eye, a patch of fresh blood on the opposite cheek, and scrapes on his shoulders and elbows. His tank top and cargo shorts were streaked with dirt, and his shell necklace hung by a thread.
I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach.
"What the hell--?" Adam began.
"Shhh," Jordan hissed, clapping a hand over his mouth. "Don't wake everyone up."
Shea was in better shape. His lip was puffy and bleeding, but he was bright-eyed and grinning. He had his arm around Jeff, supporting him.
"We had a wild, wild night," Shea whispered.
My heart was racing, but I felt powerless to move. Even though Jeff was clearly alive with all his limbs intact, the sight of him all messed up like that made me think of horrible accidents. Muggings. Car crashes. Construction accidents. I felt both protective and terrified.
While I stood there like a stone, Adam shrugged Jordan away, ran up, and put his arm around Jeff's other side. Shea and Adam maneuvered Jeff onto the porch swing.
"I'll get some peas for the eye," said Jordan, and disappeared inside the house.
Adam sat down next to Jeff and opened the first-aid kit. "So what did happen, exactly?"
"I found him trying to talk his way into O'Leary's. He was already pretty drunk so I decided I'd take care of him. Make sure he didn't get in too much trouble."
"He's drunk?" I said.
"Obviously," Adam muttered. Jeff winced as Adam pressed an antiseptic towelette to the gash under his eye.
Shea casually spit a mouthful of blood into the garden and pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He's trying to quit because he doesn't want some kid to see him smoking and take it up, but he still has one in moments of stress. Sometimes I play Jiminy Cricket, but it didn't seem like the right moment now.
"Adam Pike," said Jeff, very slowly and carefully, "you are a prince among men. Please stop doing that."
"Think he got into his folks' liquor cabinet," Shea mumbled around his cigarette. He took a gauze pad out of the first aid kit, unwrapped it, and pressed it to his own arm. "He didn't want to go back home, so I got him to call and say he was spending the night at my house."
"Good thinking," said Adam, continuing to dab Jeff's cut.
I watched Adam jealously. It should have been me doing the Florence Nightingale act. I should have been the one gently washing Jeff's face, squeezing his hand for comfort. (Not that Adam was doing that last thing.) But something held me back. Jeff was still mad at me. I didn't want to draw attention to myself and upset him. He looked so frail.
He looked at Adam urgently. "Did you hear the one about the two tigers?"
"No, Jeff. What about the two tigers?"
"They made a mint in the stocks. One day they were trundling down the street on the back of envelope and one of them said to the other, 'I say, old chap, you have grown!'"
It had the cadence of a joke, but it made no sense. I began to worry about head trauma.
Shea didn't seem worried, though. He guffawed. "Yeah. He's been doing that all night. I've just been following him around and laughing at him. Drunk Jeff is fun! Except when he's hitting me. Well, kind of then, too."
"Hitting you, or hitting on you?" said Jordan warily. He tossed a bag of frozen peas at Adam from the doorway. He also seemed to be trying to keep his distance. I didn't know if he was as freaked out as I was at the sight of pain, or if he was simply afraid of catching The Gay. I wondered if I should tell him to stand further away from me.
"Hitting me. Violence. How'd'you think I got this?" Shea gestured at his swollen lip with his cigarette.
"Wait, you gave him that black eye?" I demanded, instantly hating Shea Rodowsky with every fiber of my being.
"No. Jerry Haney did that."
"Christ on a crutch!" Adam hissed. "You let him go near Jerry Haney?"
"I didn't know! I only went to him to get a decent fake ID. You know how Jerry knows all those college people."
"Jerry," said Jeff, his voice full of hate.
"I have to admit Jerry was being kind of a dick," said Shea. "Lording it over Jeff that he needed something from him. They exchanged words, as my mom would say, and Jeff just started whaling on him. Then I pulled him off, so he started waling on me. We went a couple rounds, called it a draw. Then he asked if I thought he was pretty and passed out. I was going to take him home, but I thought, you know, you guys might be able to help fix him up so his mom doesn't freak when she sees him."
"God damn it, Adam, you're making it worse," Jordan complained. Whatever it was keeping him from getting any closer, he'd gotten over it. He stepped up and hit Adam's hand away from Jeff's face. "Let me."
"I didn't touch his face," Shea assured us. "I punched him in the kidneys."
"Thanks, Shea. That's great." Adam stood up, letting Jordan take his place on the swing. "So how are we going to get him home?"
Shea shrugged. "Walk? I walked him here."
"His house is all the way out on Burnt Hill Road," I said. "That's an awfully long way."
"If someone lends me a bike I will be fine," Jeff announced.
"Uh, I wouldn't put him on a bike," said Shea.
"No. Do you think we should trust Mallory?" said Adam. "She can drive. We could ask her for make-up for his eye, too."
"I'm not a cross-dresser," Jeff objected.
"I don't want to make you look like a beauty queen, dumbass, I want to make you look human. Shea's right, your mom is going to freak. She'll probably think you've been gay bashed."
We agreed to trust Mallory, especially since Jordan had missed his bus and needed a ride anyway. She almost shouted when she saw Jeff's face, but we managed to quiet her down, and she instantly went into just-the-facts baby-sitter mode, interrogating us about the accident. Shea repeated the whole story, minus the parts about fake IDs.
"I honestly don't know which one of you is the biggest fool," Mallory said when she hear the story, but she sighed and agreed to help. While she got dressed and found the car keys, Jordan wrote a note for Mom and Dad explaining that he'd missed the bus and Mal was driving him in, just in case they woke up to find the car gone. Adam applied concealer to Jeff's eye while he blinked and made faces. Shea wrapped bandages around his own arm, but I think that was mostly out of boredom. I paced and fretted uselessly. Even though it was clear Jeff was mostly okay, I still felt shaken up.
Finally Mallory brought the car around and Jordan and Shea helped Jeff up.
I was missing my chance. He was about to go. I had to apologize to him. I had to tell him how much he meant to me. Who cared that the guys were watching?
Jordan and Shea walked Jeff to the stairs.
Tell him! Tell him now! I couldn't make myself speak.
Jordan put Shea and Jeff in the backseat, ducking their heads to clear the roof like a cop, and climbed into shotgun. The car moved off down the drive.
Jeff turned and looked through the back windshield. For the first time all night, he made eye contact with me. He looked disappointed, and so, so sad.
"Come on," said Adam. "Let's get the rest of our sleep."
"I'm gay," I said.
Adam shot me a look, but he didn't say anything. He just opened the door.
"Did you hear me, Adam? I'm like Jeff. I like Jeff. I'm a big gay fag."
"I heard you," said Adam. "I'm choosing to ignore you. Look, it's five in the morning, I have my childhood best friend's blood on my hands, two of my employees got into a drunken brawl. I can't deal with this right now. Go to bed."
Okay, not the best reaction, but I didn't care. It felt like a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I tiptoed up to my room, bounding on the balls of my feet, fell into bed, and slept like a baby until noon.
KRISTY:Wednesday. We don't usually write up club meetings, but since we came to a momentous decision, this one seemed important. I'm going to miss writing in this notebook. (I know, I know. Nobody else will.) Note to the original BSC: Do not allow the new generation to read this entry.It would go straight to their heads...
Eventually we did read the notebook. Also, Dawn told Jeff what happened.
Wednesday were Dawn's days to come to club meetings. She rushed home from the Stones' farm, showered and changed (she said it was absolutely necessary), and jumped back in the car with Mary Anne in shotgun. They skidded into their places on Claudia's bed just as the numbers on the clock turned from 5:29 and 5:30 and Kristy said "Order!" If they hadn't arrived in the nick of time, Kristy would have been saying "Order!" to just Claudia. Karen had taken Kristy's criticism hard, and volunteered to take a one-week baby-sitting hiatus.
"Any club business?" Kristy asked.
"What happened to Jeff?" Claudia asked, poking Dawn. "Archie said he needed eleven and a half stitches."
"Not technically club business, but okay," said Kristy.
"Archie's imagination ran away with him," said Mary Anne. "The nurse practitioner said he didn't need any stitches."
"You did, you know, seek medical advice, though? Something did actually happen?"
"He got into a fight," Dawn sighed. "Or several fights? I'm still kind of unclear on that. So is he, I think. Alcohol was involved. Uh, don't tell my parents that last part. He swore me to secrecy."
"Wait, he didn't beat up Byron, did he?" Kristy asked. I guess she remembered us "exchanging words" at the pool.
"No. Shea, a little. But that was kind of a mutual thing, I gather. There are no hard feelings. Actually, they seem closer. I saw them skateboarding today."
"See, this is the problem with the new generation," Kristy grumbled.
"Skateboarding?" said Claudia.
"No. Drinking! Fighting! Wanton violence and destruction! Can you imagine one of us doing that?"
"Uh... Kristy... you practically did do that," Mary Anne pointed out. "Remember graduation? Alan Gray's ear?"
"That doesn't count. That was payback."
"Maybe this was, too," Claudia suggested.
"Hmph," said Kristy. "I was going to make a proposal, but now I'm not so sure."
"What was it?" said Mary Anne.
Kristy explained about finding Lucy, and how she watched me playing with the kids. "When I heard they were baby-sitters now, I was imagining--I don't know what. You know how the triplets are--were, anyway, when we sat for them. But Byron was great with those little kids. Really patient and sweet."
"Actually, I think they've all done a really good job," said Mary Anne. "The clients are always asking about them. If not for them."
Claudia nodded. "Especially families with lots of boys. All those guy baby-sitters are good with them--horsing around and stuff. Playing big brother. Ms. Kelly says they're the only male role models in her boys' lives."
"I shudder to think," said Kristy.
"It's not just the boys. I know the Perkins girls loves Becca and Charlotte," said Dawn. "They're teaching them to set up a 'home office.'"
"Mrs. Prezzioso says Sasha is the only one who can get Andrea to eat her vegetables," said Mary Anne.
Kristy nodded grudgingly. "Even Mom and Watson rave about them," she admitted. "Andrew thinks Shea is Superman."
Mary Anne smiled. "That's sweet."
"I used to think so, too. But then I find out something like this--that he and Jeff apparently get wasted and hit each other for fun, and I have to wonder if they're really good influences on young minds. I mean, the triplets swear like sailors. Shea smokes. Jeff smokes pot. Sasha supposedly ran that bookie joint. Mary Anne caught Adam and Sasha in the closet during the reunion party..."
"Well, that's teenagers for you," said Claudia. "Remember Mary Anne and Logan on that ski trip?"
Mary Anne went red.
"We definitely weren't perfect at that age," Dawn said. "Still aren't."
"But we always set a good example for our charges," Kristy said.
"We did our best, sure, while we were sitting," Dawn agreed. "That's all we can ask. We can't judge them based on what they do off duty."
"They're only human," Claudia added. "They have to let off steam somehow."
"But drinking? Drugs?"
"How old was I when Ashley Wyeth convinced me to try LSD? Sixteen, seventeen?" Claudia sighed wistfully. "Still the best sex I've ever had."
"In a way," said Dawn thoughtfully, "they've been baby-sitting each other. Shea tried to look after Jeff while he was drunk, and the Pike triplets patched him up before he came home. The nurse said whoever bandaged him did a good job. I'll be the first to say my brother's an insane person and he shouldn't have been in that situation to begin with, but at least his friends controlled the damage. If I could pick any friends for him in Stoneybrook, I think I'd still go with Shea and the triplets."
"Didn't Jeff also say Byron helped him with a job?" said Mary Anne.
"Yeah. And he told me he did the same thing for Charlotte. She was having trouble getting Johnny Hobart to listen to her, and Jeff backed her up."
"The new kid, Milo, told me how to get Marnie Barrett off the couch," Claudia said.
"And Byron was only at the Newtons' to begin with because Karen asked him for help," Kristy admitted. "I hate to say it, but she's more comfortable with the new club. I think we intimidate her."
"Have we had any complaints about the new club members from parents?" Mary Anne asked.
There was a long pause.
"So what was your proposal?" Dawn asked Kristy.
"Well, I was going to ask if you guys thought it was time to--well--merge the two clubs."
Dawn, Mary Anne, and Claudia looked at each other.
"YES!" they shouted.
They all started speaking at once.
"I love the kids, but this feels wrong," said Claudia. "We're too old for this."
"I love the club, but I don't have time to baby-sit and work a full-time job," said Dawn.
"I love everything, but I feel really bad taking jobs from kids," said Mary Anne.
"It sounds to me like you guys want to give up on the club altogether," said Kristy. Dawn said she seemed hurt.
"Not entirely," said Mary Anne slowly.
Claudia nodded. "I'd like to take a job every now and then, to visit with the Newtons and the Perkinses and everyone. Maybe I could be an associate member."
"I'd still like to sit, if there are enough jobs, and if they want me, I could still be the secretary. They didn't have one."
"Honorary member sounds good to me. None of the work, all of the slumber parties," Dawn grinned.
Mary Anne laughed. "With all those high school boys?"
"Okay, maybe not with the whole club."
"I'll talk to her, but I think Abby is going to agree with you guys," said Kristy. "You know how she wants her weekend nights free to check out the comedy club circuit."
"So it's decided," said Dawn happily. "We let the kids do the work, and we're just--mascots, or something."
"But don't forget, Adam was the one who walked out," said Claudia. "If we invite them back, we can't act like it's a big favor we're doing them. We have to be ready to work with them like equals."
"That's true," said Mary Anne. "I think we should have fair elections, like Jeff wanted."
"What do you mean, fair elections?" said Kristy. "My elections would have been fair."
"Really fair," said Dawn. "Everyone votes, and anyone can run."
Kristy sighed deeply. "Motion proposed," she said finally. "All in favor?"
When Kristy's phone call came to our house, it interrupted a deeply weird conversation.
Adam hadn't mentioned the whole me-coming-out incident. I think he wanted to pretend it never happened, which actually wasn't that difficult. That whole morning seemed very dreamlike. I would have doubted it happened myself, except that the next day the porch still smelled like tobacco (my mom eyed us suspiciously), and I found Jeff's dirty, broken necklace under the swing. I put it in my pocket and carried it around all day, and the next morning, when I got dressed, I moved it to the pocket of those pants.
Yeah, I still had it bad.
That evening, Wednesday, the three of us triplets were watching TV when Adam and Jordan got into an argument about which girl from Lost City Skydivers was hotter, the blonde or brunette. I couldn't believe it when Adam turned to me and said, "Byron? Weigh in?"
I looked blankly back at him. "You think I have an opinion?"
Adam sighed. "Really? You're going with that? You're just gay now? That's your thing?"
"Wait, you're gay now?" Jordan wailed.
I shrugged, uncomfortable. "I guess."
"That's not possible!" said Jordan. "You can't have two triplets straight and one gay. It's genetic, right? We have the same genes."
"I don't know. Different conditions in the womb, maybe," I said. "Phenotypes... ribosomes..."
"You're just saying science words now," said Jordan, which was correct.
"Well, I don't know why it is," I mumbled. "I just know how I feel."
"Look," said Adam in a let's-be-reasonable kind of voice. "We've all had the odd confusing dream about Jeff Schafer. I mean, the man is a fucking god."
"Speak for yourself!" said Jordan.
"But does that make me gay? Listen. When I think about, I don't know, the other stuff--not just sex or whatever, but you know, dating, holding hands and going to prom and maybe getting married someday--I can only see doing that stuff with a woman."
I played with the fraying upholstery on the couch. "I guess that's where you and I differ, then."
There was a long silence filled only by the sounds of the girls onscreen having a knife fight.
That's when the phone rang, thankfully. Jordan snapped it up. "Yello?" He looked at Adam, brows knit. "Kristy? Okay, yeah, he's right here."
Adam took the phone, looking at both of us with an expression of "What could she want?" Jordan and I returned identical expressions of "Ask her! Ask her!"
"Hi, Kristy. No, no, no, this is a great time to talk..."
Consider this your official invitation to the special hourlong CROSS-GENERATIONAL BABY-SITTERS CLUB ELECTION MEETING on Saturday at 1:00 PM in Claudia's room. If you are on this mailing list, you are welcome to come and vote, whether you wish to hold an office or not.
Voting will follow campaign speeches. Candidates will be self-nominated. If you wish to run for office, please come prepared with a brief statement explaining what you hope to bring to the position.
* President/Vice President (running mates)
Please contact us privately if you wish to run for an unlisted office.
Thank you, and maybe the best people win!
Adam & Kristy
When Adam, Mallory and I walked into Claudia's room, I was already a nervous wreck.
Jeff was already there, sitting in the middle of the radiator. He looked at me when we came in, then looked away quickly. His eye was purple and bruised, and the cut on his opposite cheek was still taped up. He was wearing an old UC San Diego hoodie and wrinkled cargo shorts. His usually chaotic hair was strangely flat and subdued.
I loved him more than ever.
"Come on in. Find a seat," said Kristy, ushering us in.
Keeping his eyes on her, Adam took the director's chair. Kristy winced, but said nothing.
We still had a few minutes before the meeting started. If I didn't take the opportunity to apologize, I knew I would regret it. I took a deep breath and stepped up to Jeff.
"Hi," I said.
"Hi," he echoed. He didn't slide over.
"I, um." I dug in my pocket. "I have your necklace."
He held out his hand silently. For just a second, my fingers brushed against his. He glanced at me again, his eyes wide and almost sad-looking. Then he looked away again.
"I just wanted to say I'm sorry," I said. "I feel kind of responsible for..."
"Don't be," he said. "That wasn't anything to do with you."
"Yeah. I figured. I still owe you an apology, though. I didn't mean to be mean. I mean, I did, but... I regret it."
He shrugged, still not making eye contact. "No big deal. It happens. People grow apart."
"That's not--" I couldn't believe that was what he thought. I wanted to tell him everything, but it didn't seem like the time or place. The room was filling up quickly. I felt nervous and flustered. But the moment was slipping away, and I had to say something. I leaned close to Jeff and said as clearly and directly as I dared, "I--Jeff, I really like you. A lot."
He looked up at me. He looked pained. "Don't patronize me," he said.
I was speechless.
"Butch!" Shea was suddenly standing next to me, grinning and punching Jeff on the shoulder.
"Heya, Sundance." Jeff automatically made room for Shea on the radiator.
"Okay, looks like we're all here," said Kristy. "Everybody find a seat."
I looked around. Stacey, Claudia, Dawn, and Abby were crowded onto the middle of the bed, with Mary Anne and Logan cuddling up by the pillows. Mallory and Jessi sat on the floor with their backs against the bed, talking a mile a minute. Adam sat in Kristy's chair and Sasha sat in the desk chair next to him, holding his hand. Milo sat on the desk, his arm around the PC. Most of the younger generation, including Karen, was scattered on the floor. Kristy was standing. There wasn't really anywhere for me to go, so I just sat down where I was, next to Shea's feet.
Kristy and Adam looked at each other for a second, and then Kristy went ahead and spoke again. "This meeting will be pretty informally run, since we don't have a leader yet."
"Why don't we just go through the positions, in reverse order. Everyone who wants to run for Webmaster, please stand."
"Everyone." That was a good one. At first, nobody stood. Sasha hit Milo upside the head. Milo blinked and stood up.
"Okay, I don't think that surprises anybody," Adam grinned. "You still want to give your speech, Em?"
"Uh, vote for me, cause I'm awesome," said Milo.
The floor sitters started clapping and hooting first, and then the older generation laughed and joined in.
"Great. Next we'll hear from prospective treasurers."
"Procedural note," said Sasha, raising her hand. "Can we run for more than one office?"
Adam leaned over to Kristy and whispered something.
While they consulted, I looked over at Jeff. My conversation with him didn't feel finished. But since I'd never learned sign language and he wasn't looking at me anyway, I'd just have to wait.
No. Wait. I picked up a stray colored pencil from the ground and pulled a crumpled piece of notebook paper out of my pocket.
JEFF, I'M NOT TRYING TO PATRONIZE YOU. I'M SORRY I YELLED AT YOU AT THE POOL & FREAKED IN THE PARK. I WASN'T OUT THEN, BUT I AM NOW. BYRON.
I folded the note, tapped Shea on the knee, and nodded at Jeff. Shea took it and passed it on.
"Okay, Sasha, you can run for more than one office," said Kristy. "Adam convinced me. There's no good reason why not."
"Yay!" Sasha jumped up.
"You're the only one running for treasurer, so I wouldn't waste your speech on this one," said Kristy.
"No, it's okay, I have two prepared," said Sasha. She turned to the crowd. "Ladies. Gentlemen."
I watched Jeff read the note, then I watched him look over at me. He didn't look pleased, exactly. He seemed to be trying to communicate something complicated with his eyes, but then he gave up and shrugged.
I tapped Shea again and handed him the pencil.
I tried to pay attention to Sasha's speech while Jeff bent over the paper, but I couldn't. She was saying something about stocks and bonds.
Finally Shea kicked me with the side of his foot and handed me back my paper.
That was it. "Why?" What did he mean? I picked up a marker from the floor (Claudia's floor is pretty well stocked with art supplies) and wrote
WHY WHAT? WHY WASN'T I OUT THEN OR WHY AM I NOW?
I didn't want to waste time waiting for him to clarify, so I answered both questions.
(1) IT HASN'T BEEN THAT LONG SINCE I FIGURED IT OUT TO START WITH. (OKAY IT'S BEEN A LITTLE WHILE... BUT I'M BASICALLY A COWARD.) (2) I DON'T KNOW... YOU CAME HERE... I GUESS YOU INSPIRED ME.
"For Pete's sake," muttered Shea the next time I tapped him. He got up and made Jeff switch with him. Jeff sat down on my side of the radiator, his bare calf inches from me as he bent over the paper to write me a reply.
"--unstoppable juggernaut of unimaginable wealth!" Sasha finished. She took a bow.
Confused applause. Only Jeff didn't clap; he was still writing furiously.
"Nobody else for treasurer? Okay then..."
My palms began to sweat.
Jeff crumpled the paper suddenly and threw it to the floor. He dropped the pencil and crossed his arms.
"Let's move on."
Mallory jumped as the ball of paper rolled past her under the bed.
That's when I remembered what that piece of paper actually was.
"Nominees for secretary!"
Showtime. I jumped up.
Mary Anne was standing, too. When she saw me, she looked surprised for a moment, but then she smiled and gave me a thumbs up.
"Finally, a contest!" said Kristy. "Okay, we'll go alphabetical. Pike, then Spier. Byron, you're up."
Mary Anne sat back down on the bed.
"Excuse me," I said. I ducked under the bed and came up with the paper. "Speech kind of got away from me."
A couple of people laughed. I opened the paper and flattened it out.
I couldn't resist looking at the back, the Jeff side, before I turned to the speech. Jeff had written
so i'm your role model. great.
ok i guess it is great. welcome out of the closet etc. but......
you'll forgive me for feeling
fucking disappkinda downgraded. not what i i guess i thought we'd be something more i wanted to be your
My heart pounded. "I wanted to be your" what exactly? What, Jeff?
Someone coughed, and I remembered I was standing in front of the group.
"Uh. Hi," I said, giving a little wave to the group.
"Um." I turned over the page, but the words swam in front of me. I don't usually get nervous speaking in front of crowds, but I was having a whole lot of trouble focusing right now. Okay, forget the paper. Easier to just speak from memory. I looked out at the crowd.
"I think I'd make a good secretary for the club because I'm organized and I have a good memory. I don't have great handwriting, but I'm pretty good at computers, so as the club goes more online, I could work with Milo. I think the club needs a secretary." That hadn't taken long, but I couldn't remember any other points I'd made. I scanned the page desperately.
"Okay then," said Kristy after a longish pause.
"Oh, wait!" I said. "I had an idea. About the club notebook. I know this is probably unpopular, but I think it's a good idea. We all know a lot of stuff, but we don't all know what each other knows, if, uh, that makes sense. Especially when there's someone new, we have to catch them up quickly. But the problem with the notebook is it's not organized or searchable. I was thinking what would be great is if we had a club blog. So if elected, I can volunteer to maintain that."
"Great!" said Kristy, and she sounded like she really meant it. "Is that it?"
"Um... not quite." I smushed the notebook paper back into my pocket. This part wasn't on there. But I felt it needed to be said. I took a breath.
"Most of you guys know me as an associate member, so when I nominate myself for an office, I'm also nominating myself for being a full member. I'd like to do that even if I lose. I've always liked baby-sitting, but I didn't want to get too involved with the club. People already call me sissy or girly sometimes, and that's always bugged me. I guess I'm not as confident in my manliness as Adam and Milo and Shea."
"Yeah!" Milo struck a muscle pose, which wasn't very impressive since he's skinny and geeky and was wearing a baseball shirt with a picture of penguin on it.
"But the thing is," I said, "you can't let what people think stop you from going after what you want. Not when you really care about it."
"Yeah!" called Dawn.
"I don't want do this by half measures anymore." I looked straight at Jeff. He was looking back at me, his face unreadable. "I want something more."
I blinked and shoved my hands in my pockets. "Uh... That's all. Thanks."
I didn't expect such big applause. Mallory and Jessi both patted my legs as I walked by. Shea put out his hand for a high five, which I gave him. As for Jeff, he just gave the tiniest of nods, like Mr. Miyagi at the end of Karate Kid.
And, just like the end of Karate Kid, it was pretty much the best thing ever.
I dropped back down onto the floor beside the radiator, feeling totally exhausted and exhilarated.
Looking straight ahead, Jeff shifted his foot, pressing his warm calf against my knee, and left it there.
Mary Anne?" said Kristy. "You're up."
"I'm not following that!" Mary Anne laughed. She turned around to look at me, and I thought I registered the tiniest eyebrow raise of surprise as she seemed to notice the point of contact between Jeff and me. A huge, warm smile brightened her face. "You can have it, Byron."
"Oh, come on," Kristy complained. "Are we going to have a race, or what?"
"President," said Adam, and he stood up.
"Wait!" Karen jumped up.
"You want to run for secretary, Karen?" said Kristy, surprised.
"No. I have a--a new nomination. I nominate myself for not being in the club anymore."
"You don't want to baby-sit anymore?" Becca asked.
"No, that's not--that is not pertinent," said Karen, putting on her best adult voice. "I've given it some thought, and I'm not up to the standard of maturity that the club requires. I would like to nominate myself for the position of--of layperson."
"Karen, maybe wait until you see who wins the presidency before you decide on the standard of maturity," said Adam.
"No, Karen, no," said Kristy. "We want you in the club, no matter who wins. Forget anything I ever said to you when I mad, okay? You're a great sitter. Kids love you. We love you."
"I don't know about anybody else, but I need you in my club," said Adam. "It's not the same without you. In fact, I'd like to nominate you for the position of--Morale Officer!"
Kristy shot him a nod.
"Really?" Karen was grinning.
"Actually, it's self-nominations, so you can nominate yourself," said Kristy. "But I hope you do. You have my vote."
"Okay, I nominate myself!" said Karen. She did an impromptu jig. "And that my campaign speech."
"Perfect," said Kristy. "Any opposition?"
"Okay then. Presidential nominees, step forward," Kristy instructed herself, stepping forward. Adam and Sasha also stood.
"Okay," said Adam briskly, before Kristy had a chance to take over. "We'll hear from presidential candidates and then their vice presidential running mates. We'll go alphabetical by the presidential candidate's last name. That's you first, Sasha."
"Thank you, baby," said Sasha politely, briefly gripped Adam's hand as he sat back down. "You know I don't mean to hurt you."
"Do your worst," said Adam good-naturedly.
I put my arm surreptitiously around the back of Jeff's foot. Still not looking down, he slightly leaned more against me.
"As president," said Sasha, "I want to get you jobs. Lots of jobs. That's all. I don't want to waste your time. I will abolish meetings."
Kristy gripped the arms of the desk chair. We could all tell it took everything she had not to interrupt.
"Each week, you tell me how many hours you want to work, and I'll tell you where and when. No fuss, no muss, just work." Sasha pounded her fist into her palm. "I run a tight ship. There will be no unsanctioned shenanigans. There will also be no bullshit. You will be glad you voted for me when you are laughing at your enemies as you drive by in your Cadillac full of money!"
Adam began to clap furiously. We all joined in. I clapped around Jeff's leg. Jeff laughed and kicked me gently. When I looked at him, he was smiling fondly down at me.
I grinned back, feeling like my face was going to break in two. It seemed to hit me all at once. Did I really have a boyfriend?
"Okay then," said Kristy. "And who's your running mate?"
Sasha clearly hadn't thought about that. After a moment of confusion, she smiled brightly at Adam. "Honey?"
"Yeah, sure." Adam let Sasha pull him to his feet. He grinned at everyone. "You'll all hear about my qualifications for leadership when I run for president in a second. I just want you to know that I'd also make a great VP for Sasha because I'm head over heels crazy about her and I'm not afraid to admit it. I would follow this woman to the ends of the Earth. Even if we broke up, she would still have both my respect, and my abject fear."
Sasha beamed and gave Adam a little kiss before sitting down.
"You might as well stay standing, Adam, you're up next," said Kristy.
Adam straightened and launched right into his presidential speech without missing a beat. He didn't look at any notes. "My fellow baby-sitters. During my administration, I've made some changes, but I've tried to keep what was good about the club. Easy scheduling, now even easier with the voice mail system. Flexible and reliable customer service. Most important, a solid gold standard of fun, responsible childcare.
"Neither version of the club, old or new, is perfect. There's always room for improvement. I'm not an idea machine, like Kristy, but I like to think I recognize good ideas when I see them. I want to make your ideas work. I want you to have a voice.
"That's why this decision has been so difficult, but so essential. My promise to you is this. If elected, I will institute a term limit for the Baby-Sitters Club presidency. Two years, effective last December.
"I will do my best for the club. I will put my all into it, and I will enjoy it. But even if you all agree that I am the best president in the world, I will still step down at the end of next year, and make room for the next leader. She or he could be in this room today.
"The only way the club can continue, on and on into the future, is with new blood, new leadership. After all, this club is about looking forward. Children. The future. My mother taught us to believe that the point of raising children is to teach them to be independent. We need to raise each other."
He stopped abruptly, surprised, I think, to have given himself such a good exit line.
I disengaged my arm from Jeff's leg and clapped wildly. Everyone clapped. Even Kristy. Shea whistled. Adam gave a little bow and sat back down in the chair. Sasha sat herself in his lap and kissed him encouragingly.
Next up was Becca, as Adam's running mate. She looked terrified. We all cheered, trying to get her to realize she was among friends. Her statement was brief, quiet, and directed entirely to Charlotte.
"As vice president I am in charge of coordinating special events and programs. We have done a lot in the last six months. Examples include a music class for underserved elementary school students, a spring break day care, and the annual Mother's Day client appreciation event. I hope that we are elected so we can continue doing great work."
Finally, Kristy stood up.
At first, she just looked slowly over the room, seeming to pause at each and every one of us. She looked like a king surveying her subjects. Finally she began to speak.
"I don't have to tell you all that the club is my idea. It seems like that's all I've been saying for the last few weeks. You all know.
"What you might not know is what I've done since then. I'm in one of the best business programs in the country, at the University of Pennsylvania. Freshmen aren't required to start their own businesses, but nonetheless, I started an on-campus candygram service, just for fun. I spearheaded a committee to revamp the school's peer tutoring program. My most lucrative endeavor was probably screenprinting and selling funny T-shirts at the annual information technology conference.
"All that, and I still feel that this club is the best thing I've ever done.
"This is because the Baby-Sitters Club is not just about money. It's not just about good business. Fundamentally, it's about love."
In retrospect, it seems kind of cheesy, but it didn't seem that way at the time. Kristy's sincerity was obvious. She leaned forward as she spoke, her voice passionate.
"We love the kids we sit for. We love our clients. And we love each other. Some of us are in love with each other."
Logan and Mary Anne smiled at each other. Sasha kissed Adam's forehead. I rested my head against Jeff's knee, and I felt his hand fall into place on my head.
"Some of us are brothers or sisters," Kristy went on, smiling at Karen. "And all of us are friends. Working together has brought us closer. We're more than colleagues. We're a family. Old generation and new.
"Adam's right. The club needs to grow and change, or it will stagnate. But I also think it's important to have a sense of continuity. Respect for your past.
"Rest assured, I have a lot of new ideas for the future. At least during the summers, I hope you'll let me lead you there."
The claps started out slow, contemplative, but by the end, they were louder than the claps for Adam. Mary Anne reached out from the bed and squeezed Kristy's hand. Adam even gripped her shoulder briefly. She smiled at him, looking sort of sad.
"Claudia!" Stacey pushed her out of bed. "Vice presidential speech!"
Claudia's speech was shortest, breathy with laughter. "And you can still use my room! Mallomars for everybody!"
Everyone laughed and clapped as she pulled boxes and boxes of candy (and rice cakes) from beneath her bed and passed it around.
"We're running short on time before Logan and Abby have to be at work, so while you're passing around the food, we'll also pass out the ballots," said Kristy. "Mary Anne, you have the copies? We didn't know who would run, so it's write-in. If you want to vote for any additional positions, such as Morale Officer, put that at the bottom. You can go home after you've cast your vote in this shoebox here. Stacey and Charlotte have agreed to tabulate the results. We'll email you all tonight. And don't write your names on the ballots! If you can't spell a candidate's name, sound it out--"
"Okay, Kristy! Enough instructions!" said Stacey.
Everyone sort of paused over their ballot. We were all trying to balance food and pens at the same time, but I think we were also thinking carefully about our votes. I have to say, Kristy's speech moved me, and I felt badly that I couldn't vote for them both. In the end, though, there was really no doubt that I was going to vote for my brother. I also voted for myself, Sasha, and Milo (obviously). In the space at the bottom, I wrote in Karen for Morale Officer and Jeff as Summer Alternate Officer. At the last moment, I added another note.
I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO VOTE TO HAVE SOME KIND OF OFFICIAL RECOGNITION OF KRISTY. LIKE HOW EVERYONE HAS TO BE NICE TO FORMER U.S. PRESIDENTS & THE QUEEN MUM.
Jeff didn't take as long to vote as I did. While I was writing, he tousled my hair, then bent down and whispered, "Come home with me after this."
"Hey hey!" said Adam. "There will be silence during secret ballot!"
"That goes for you, too, honey," Sasha remarked.
I didn't need to say anything, anyway. I just nodded vigorously.
Who'd you vote for?" Adam asked as he and Sasha burst out onto the Kishis' front walk to join Jeff and me.
"You," said Jeff. "And you. And you, of course, Byron."
"No surprise there," said Sasha.
"Yeah, I was the only one who ran!" I said.
"Yeah, and he has to vote for you. He luuuuuuuurves you," said Sasha. "Like Adam voted for me."
"Wait, how'd you know?" I said. I didn't mind--I was just confused. We didn't exactly have time to tell anyone.
"Please. Everybody saw you cuddling in the meeting. It was actually really distracting. I thought Kristy was going to explode."
"You're one to talk, you were sitting on Adam's lap," Jeff remarked.
"I didn't say Kristy exploding would be a bad thing."
"Aw, come on," I said, feeling bad. "She's all right."
"Yeah, I for one welcome our new Thomas overlord," said Adam.
"You think she'll win?" said Jeff.
"Well, remember," I said, singsong, "it's not whether you win or lose--"
"Except in Thunderdome!" said Adam, as I knew he would. We immediately began laughing maniacally and mock fighting with invisible giant swords.
"I can't believe we're dating these numbskulls," Sasha said to Jeff.
"Me neither," said Jeff happily.
Jeff lives in a really cool house (I mean, when they're here in Stoneybrook. I don't know what his California house looks like). The Schafer/Spier clan used to live in this renovated old barn. It's full of high ceilings and big open spaces, and it's always full of fresh flowers and gauzy curtains. It always gives me a deep sense of calm.
"Come on," said Jeff as soon as we got inside, pulling me toward the stairs.
The upstairs rooms are smaller, but just as comfortable, with dark wood furnishings and large round windows. Jeff's room was a blast from the past. It had hardly changed since my brothers and I helped him turn it into a "superhero clubhouse" years ago. I guess he hadn't lived in it enough to bother changing it.
"Been awhile since you redecorated, huh?" I said. "Nice Spiderman sheets."
"Shut up," said Jeff. His cheeks were pink. I grinned, pleased that I'd made him feel bashful.
I was feeling bashful myself soon enough. Jeff was just standing there, looking at me. I realized I had no idea what we were supposed to do here. I was used to assuming everything was forbidden. Now, I didn't know what was okay, or what was expected. I don't think Jeff did, either. We just stood there, looking at each other and then the floor.
Finally Jeff reached a tenative hand out to me. I grabbed it gratefully and pulled him close.
"Hi," he said, smiling so that his butterfly bandages wrinkled.
"Hi," I said.
So, that was informative.
"I, uh," said Jeff. "Listen, I want to apologize."
"No, no. I owe you an apology."
"I didn't realize you were only just coming out. You go away and come back and your friend is all flirty, you just figure, 'Oh, I've been gone awhile, I guess he's been gay,' you know?"
"I was flirty?" I said. I didn't know whether to be embarrassed or pleased.
"Uh, yeah," Jeff laughed. "Pretty very. And you kept staring at me."
Embarrassed for sure. I pressed my forehead into his shoulder. "Sorry."
"Don't be." His voice sounded very resonant when I had my ear near his chest. "I only know 'cause I was staring at you."
"Aw." I was blushing, but I didn't mind anymore. I lifted my head and looked at him accusingly. "I thought I wasn't your type."
"Where did you get that idea?"
"That's what you told Adam."
"No, I said Adam's not my type."
I laughed "We're identical, dummy!"
"With one major difference." Jeff smiled at me through half-closed lids. "You're much, much cuter."
Our faces were so close. We'd been in this position before, I guess, and not exactly kissed then, but now it seemed really inevitable. I was suddenly nervous that I was going to screw it up.
"I've, uh, never kissed a boy before," I said.
"Nothing to it," said Jeff.
He leaned forward that extra little bit and, there, our lips were together. It was short, sweet kiss, the kind that almost has a "mwah" sound effect. We smiled at each other. Then I laughed.
It was so weird. This was Jeff.
"Something funny?" said Jeff, raising one eyebrow ludicrously high, just to make me laugh some more.
I did. And then I said, seriously, "No, sir," and kissed him again. Slower this time. Mmm... this was Jeff.
All of my longing and wanting suddenly seemed unbearable. My hands clenched, tightening fistfuls of UCSD sweatshirt. I pushed his mouth open with my mine.
"Whatever you're comfortable with, okay?" Jeff murmured into my ear. "I mean, I'm good with anything. You set the pace."
"You might regret saying that," I said. I kissed him again, hard, pushing his mouth open and pressing his head back into the door.
He seemed surprised at first, but then he was kissing me back just as hard. He had one hand on my back, the other on the side of my face. I slid my hands up under his sweatshirt and held him around his actual, narrow waist.
It was really too hot to be wearing a sweatshirt, even by proxy, but I didn't want to let him go. Then I figured he was probably overly warm, too. I lifted the bottom band of his sweatshirt. "Can I?"
"Oh, yeah. By all means."
I lifted the sweatshirt over his head and tossed it on a chair. Oh man, that body. I ran my hands over his bare shoulders.
Then, "Fair's fair," and he was shucking my T-shirt up over my head.
I laughed. "Fair? Hey, I don't have anything on under this!"
"Good," he said, but then he leaned his head back and looked at me, a time-out. "Do you mind?"
"No. No. No. Go ahead."
It was actually kind of cool without my shirt on. I got goosebumps right away, but Jeff's arms were warm. His skin felt soft against mine.
Somehow we'd moved close to the bed, and I pulled him down with me onto the Spiderman sheets. We kissed over and over, sometimes missing each other's mouths. We kept yanking each other close, and there was this amazing jolt every time the hard bulge in the front of his cargo shorts hit the bulge in my jeans. It was all moving so quickly I didn't have a chance to get nervous. And now, it definitely felt natural.
I reached between us and undid his zipper, and he fumbled with the buttons on my jeans. I reached into his boxers, and I'd barely started stroking him before he was coming stickily in my hand. He moaned in the back of his throat, and it was pretty much the hottest sound I have ever heard. He pulled me close and bit my shoulder, while I impatiently shoved my pants and boxers down and jerked against his hard stomach. Between the feeling of hot skin against skin, and the sight of his face as he pressed his head back into the pillow, mouth open, eyes squinched closed, it took about a second before I went over the edge. I held Jeff tight, my face smushed against his neck.
It was a long, quiet minute before we were able to say anything besides "Urrrhh" and "Mmmmnnngh."
"I, uh, that was," said Jeff, breathing heavily in my ear. "Well, anyway, now you've kissed a boy."
I laughed and kissed him on the nose.
It was nice to lie there with our arms draped lazily around each other. The air between us was warm and damp, and we both felt sleepy. We might have drifted off like that, except that there was a noise in the hallway and a knock on the door. "Guys?" Dawn's voice.
"Shit." Jeff zipped his fly and grabbed for his sweatshirt. "Just a sec!"
I shoved my pants and boxers back up my hips and looked around for my shirt. When I couldn't find it, I just wrapped the Spiderman comforter around me, because the door was opening.
"Jeff, I--huh," said Dawn. Jeff was still pulling down his sweatshirt when she came in, and I was lying there wrapped in the comforter trying to look casual. Jeff's face was flushed. Mine probably was too. She wasn't fooled for a second.
But she recovered quickly and finished her sentence. "--was just wondering if you wanted to have any say in the food order. The girls will be coming over soon for the slumber party, and we're getting Middle Eastern."
"Great," said Jeff. "Sign us up for felafel."
"Byron probably needs to be getting home."
"No, he doesn't," said Jeff staunchly, putting his arm around the comforter-covered cocoon that was me.
"Well," said Dawn, "you should still come and hang out in the living room now."
That, we knew we couldn't argue with. As soon as Dawn closed the door behind her, we laughed and began adjusting each other's clothes and hair, trying to look presentable.
Downstairs we sat on the couch and played Mario Kart like normal friends, except that we kept finding excuses to nudge each other with our shoulders while we played. Jeff's mom didn't seem to notice anything weird when she came in with a crossword. She just smiled at us.
"Ha!" Jeff sailed over the finish line and dropped his controller. He jumped to his feet. "Weeee are the champions, my friend..."
"Wow, you're cheerful today," said Mrs. Spier. "What did you do to him, Byron?"
Jeff grinned. I blushed deeply.
Jeff bounced over and draped himself on the back of his mother's chair, watching her fill out her puzzle. "Hey, Mom. You know how Dawn's having all her friends sleep over tonight?"
"Can Byron stay over?" He shot me a look which made me shiver. Or maybe it was the thought of a whole night in Jeff's bed.
"Chah!" Dawn scoffed from the dining room. She and Mary Anne were poring over menus at the table.
"If his parents say it's okay, I don't see why not."
"You're allowing Jeff to have a boyfriend sleep over?" said Mary Anne, surprised.
That got Mrs. Spier's attention. She looked up from her puzzle and blinked, first at me, then over her shoulder at Jeff. "What? Oh...oh. Is that--I mean--are you two--?"
Jeff rubbed the back of his head. "Uh..."
Mary Anne looked genuinely confused. Dawn looked at Jeff disapprovingly, but she didn't say anything. She and Jeff must have their own version of the Triplet Code.
Jeff looked at me, and I don't know what my look said. We hadn't even talked about what we were to each other, so I didn't want to make him label our--whatever--to his family. On the other hand, now that I was finally out of the closet, I didn't want to go back in. Not even for a shot at sleeping in his bed.
I guess that was all pretty clear, or else Jeff just got me, because he said, "Yeah. He's my boyfriend."
That sent a funny thrill down my back, too. Boyfriend. I tried it out in my mind. Hello, I'm Jeff's boyfriend. Hey, Jeff, where's your boyfriend? Set an extra place, Byron's bringing his boyfriend.
I liked it.
"But he's also my regular friend and we want to hang out," Jeff was still arguing. "I always used to be able to have guy friends stay over."
Mrs. Spier sighed. "Oh, dear. I suppose I hoped I'd get through the summer without having to make this kind of decision." She looked helpless, and I felt kind of sorry for her. Not sorry enough to volunteer to go home or anything. She looked at the girls for support. "What would Richard say?"
"Richard's not my dad," said Jeff.
"No, but he usually has good ideas."
"Dad never let me have Logan over for the night, even if we were sleeping in different rooms," Mary Anne remarked.
"That's not strictly true," said Dawn. "He's coming tonight."
"Well, but that's different. We're all adults now."
"That's not the argument that convinced your dad," said Dawn. "He just said you couldn't get into too much trouble with the rest of us in the same room."
"That's true." Mary Anne smiled. "Well, maybe the boys would like to come to the party, too."
Jeff looked a little put out, but I was willing to take what I could get. I said, "Sure, yeah! That sounds great. Thanks."
And that's how we ended up getting baby-sat, one last time.
What are the twerps doing here?" said Kristy when she arrived with Claudia and Stacey.
Jeff and I were rolling out sleeping bags by the TV. We'd moved all the furniture so everyone could spread out on the floor of the living and dining rooms.
"It's a cross-generational slumber party," said Mary Anne.
Dawn said, "Just spray 'em with water if they get out of hand."
Kristy dropped her duffel bag in the middle of the dining room. "Well," she said, "the results are in."
"Oh my goodness!" said Mary Anne. "Already? Who won?"
"Only Stacey knows," said Claudia.
"Let's just wait till everyone's here, so I don't have to announce it twice," said Stacey.
Mary Anne, Jeff and I groaned.
"If you really want to know, check your email," said Kristy practically. "I did."
Dawn ran upstairs and came back with a laptop. She sat down crosslegged on her sleeping bag, typed a few keystrokes, and looked up at us, looking stricken.
"What? What?" said Mary Anne.
"The internet's not working."
"Come on," said Mary Anne. "Let's get started on the popcorn and chocolate shakes."
"And the veggie plate and smoothies," added Dawn.
Mallory and Jessi arrived together, deep in a conversation about some books they were lending each other. They set up their stuff by the couch and I brought over a bowl of popcorn.
"Hey, so you should have had Mom put me on the phone when you asked permission," Mal told me.
"Why?" I said mistrustfully. I was afraid she'd say, "So I could have told her not to give it!" I didn't have a leg to stand on disapproving of Jeff, because of course I hadn't told my parents anything. "I'm gay and I'm with Jeff" didn't seem like news you deliver while you're on the phone asking for permission to go to a slumber party. I knew Adam and Jordan wouldn't tell, because of the triplet code, but Mallory was a loose cannon.
But all she said was, "I could have brought your toothbrush and pajamas."
I exhaled, relieved, and said, "Hey, trust me, if there's one thing this family of health nuts has plenty of, it's new toothbrushes." I didn't tell her that I preferred to wear Jeff's oversize shirt and drawstring pants for pajamas anyway. They smelled like him.
Mal squeezed my arm lovingly, then pinched it tight and leaned close to mutter, "If you don't tell Mom and Dad within two weeks, I will."
I nodded. "Understood!"
The food came, Middle Eastern wraps and pizza for the unadventurous. Then Abby burst into the house in a cloud of excitement and sneezes, and those were all the guests that were expected until 1 AM, when Logan got off from his shift at the Rosebud Cafe. Everyone settled down near the food of their choice (I had to eat veggies and felafel due to my proximity to Jeff) and looked expectantly at Stacey.
"And the new president of the BSC is..."
I was suddenly nervous. Would Stacey put on this much pomp if her friend hadn't won? I gripped Jeff's hand. He squeezed it comfortingly.
"...Adam Pike. Sorry, Kristy."
Kristy already knew, of course. She just shrugged, looking resigned. I felt so bad for her that I didn't even feel relieved for Adam.
"Oh, Kristy," said Mary Anne. She leaned over gave Kristy a hug.
"It's okay," she said. "To tell you the truth, even I voted for him."
"Really?" I said.
"You," said Kristy, pointing at me, "are not allowed to tell him that."
"No way." I crossed my heart. "It would go right to his head."
"Well, I voted for you," said Claudia.
"So did I," said Dawn.
"Let's not go over who voted for whom," said Kristy. "It defeats the point. Who won the other positions?"
"The other positions were all unopposed, so no surprises there. Milo for webmaster; Sasha for treasurer; Byron for secretary."
Jeff squeezed my hand again and quietly kissed me on the ear.
Stacey went on, "Everyone wrote in Karen for Morale Officer."
Kristy nodded approvingly.
"There were only two abnormalities in the votes," said Stacey. "One, several people wrote in 'Adam and Kristy' as president and vice president, even though they weren't, of course, running together."
"Vice-president!" said Mary Anne. "That sounds like a good compromise."
But Kristy was already shaking her head. "That's nice that people wanted that, but we did running mates for a reason. The vice president should be someone the president can work with. Becca's Adam's choice, and she's a great one. She's really done something with the role of vice president."
"Hey!" said Claudia.
"I'm not saying I couldn't swallow my pride and work with Adam--"
"She's just saying she won't," Abby joked.
"Okay, maybe," Kristy admitted. "Having to answer to a kid I once baby-sat? A boy who once cried into my shoulder because his brothers were being mean to him? That's just depressing. No offense, Byron."
"None taken," I said, "and technically the crying thing was me."
"No, it was Adam too. A different time."
"Look," said Kristy, "Either I'm going to be in charge and I'm going to take the club and run with it, or they don't want me and that's fine, I'll find something else to do."
"...to be in charge of," Abby interpreted.
"What was the other voting abnormality?" Dawn asked.
"Well," said Stacey, "those who didn't write you in for vice president wrote you in under 'additional offices,' Kristy. The wording varied, but it was generally the same idea. Some sort of symbolic title designating your importance to the club. Some people put 'founder' or 'mascot' or 'honorary president.' Someone even said 'Queen Mum.'"
"Psh, thanks," Kristy muttered.
"I think Mal put it best--"
"Hey, it was supposed to be secret ballot!"
"Oh, you know I know all your handwriting. Anyway, Mal wrote, 'President Emeritus.'"
Mal nodded at Kristy. Kristy smiled.
"Yeah, okay," said Kristy. "I could get behind that."
"Pizza toast!" said Mary Anne. "To the new Baby-sitters Club President Emeritus!"
"Pending Adam's approval!" said Kristy.
"Pending Adam's approval!" we all chorused, and raised our wraps or pizza slices high.
"Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas! Presents for everyone!" came a deep, Southern accented voice from the direction of the front door.
"Logan!" Mary Anne squealed, jumping up. She hastily adjusted her nightgown.
"And look who I found!" Logan came in, trailed by an aristocratic-looking blond-haired girl carrying a heavy duffel bag.
"Shannon!" everyone yelled.
"J'arrive!" Shannon cried joyfully. "And I brought snacks!"
Everyone crowded around the tenth baby-sitter, except for me and Jeff (who didn't really know her all that well) and Mary Anne and Logan (who were busy kissing hello). Shannon began passing out small boxes.
"Cake!" said Claudia, snatching a box and holding it close to her chest, like Gollum with the One Ring.
"And croissants, and éclairs, and macarons..."
"French junk food," Kristy translated, and Claudia's eyes got huge.
"I'm getting a headache just thinking about it," complained Dawn.
"Keep it away from Byron," said Mallory. "The triplets go into hyperdrive around sugar."
"Jeff too," said Dawn.
"I don't suppose the French make anything I can eat," said Stacey sadly.
"No, but they make something you can wear." Shannon positioned a beret decorated with a giant flower on Stacey's head.
"Ooh, la la!" said Abby. "You are ze belle of ze ball."
"Wow, surprisingly good accent," said Jessi. "You sound like my ballet teacher. Only she would never be that nice."
"Zhessica!" Abby snapped her fingers. "On ze ground and un million de push-ups! And not ze lazy American push-ups, but ze push-ups of Europe."
"Okay, now it's getting scary."
"Oh my lord, this is heaven," Claudia moaned through a mouthful of powdered sugar.
Mary Anne just beamed at the whole scene, her eyes shining. "Oh, Logan, isn't it wonderful?"
"And you're still the sweetest thing in the room," Logan told Mary Anne, wrapping his arms around her.
Several voices booed. Dawn yelled, "Goop alert!" Claudia clobbered them with a pillow.
Jeff and I darted into the fray and opened boxes until I found the motherload--a whole stack of little chocolate cakes. While everyone else chatted and cheered and pillow fought, we settled back in our own quiet corner, leaning against each other and eating delicious tiny cakes. Could anything be better?
After a moment I noticed Jeff wasn't eating--just watching me--and I swallowed and said, "What?"
"Nothing. Just you," said Jeff softly. "You might just be the best thing in the world. Definitely on the eastern seaboard. Maybe the world."
Awww. Who could resist that? I touched his forehead with mine, then tilted my head. We kissed until the volley of pillows hit.
Welcome to the Baby-sitters Blog!
Posted by: Byron
Visible to: Everyone
Need a baby-sitter?
Save time! Call:
The Babysitters Club
and reach twelve experienced baby-sitters.
Adam Pike, President
Becca Ramsey, Vice-President
Sasha Nunez, Treasurer
Byron Pike, Secretary
Jeff Schafer, Summer Alternate Officer
Karen Brewer, Junior Officer/Morale Officer
Milo Nunez, Junior Officer/Webmaster
Charlotte Johanssen, Associate Member
Shea Rodowsky, Associate Member
Claudia Kishi, Summer Associate Member
Mary Anne Spier, Summer Associate Member
Kristy Thomas, Summer Associate Member/President Emeritus
Tags: admin, flyer, <3
About the Author
Your mystery author read a lot of Baby-sitters Club books when she was growing up in Providence, Rhode Island. She is an amateur critic of books for children, and was rejected by Smith College.
Your mystery author lives in New York City with a mouse. She likes ice cream, the beach, and Stargate: Atlantis; and she hates to cook.
Look for #7
ADAM PIKE, ATTORNEY AT LAW
I rubbed my temples. "I want to help you, Shea, but you've got to be honest with me."
"When have I ever lied?" Shea crossed his arms and glared at me across the table. "Everyone think I'm a criminal because I dress kinda punk and I don't get so good of grades. It's prejudice. I'm pure as the driven fucking snow. I'm a goddamn boy scout, but do I get any credit? Everybody's against me."
I slammed the table. Shea jumped. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm defending you, dummy!"
Shea stuck out his jaw. He looked like he was either going to cry or hit me. "Some defense. You don't even believe me."
"Well, you've got to admit it looks bad," I said. "Everyone knew you were saving up for that dirt bike. Then you got that fine, and then you bought the bike? Where'd you get the money?"
Shea didn't answer. I was starting to hate his stupid face. That's an auspicious start to working together, right there.
"Where'd you get the money, Shea?" I repeated.
"I don't have to answer to you. I want a lawyer."
"I am your lawyer!"
Shea whipped a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket and tapped it against his arm.
"I thought you said you quit," I said.
"Yeah, well, I just said that because..."
He stopped short, looking at me wide-eyed. We'd both noticed what happened right there. Pure evidence. Shea was a liar.
There was a knock at the door. Shea and I both whipped our heads at the noise.
"Who is it?" I barked.
Sasha stuck her head in. "How's it going?" she said sweetly. "Need anything? Water, or anything? Kristy's ready to pass judgement."
"Five minutes," I mumbled.
"No! Hey, we're just chatting about baseball!" I said. "The case? Ha. That's going to be open and shut. Prepare to lose!"
She winked. "You're going down, sweetcheeks."
I was starting to hate her stupid face, too. That was a problem. I was guessing I was going to have to look at it a lot during our big romantic dinner.
Read all the books
in the Baby-sitters Club: The Next Generation series
#1 Adam's Great Idea
The Baby-Sitters Club have gone to college! What's Stoneybrook to do? There are many Pike triplets, and they have a plan.
#2 Becca vs. City Hall
Becca is too shy to speak up in front of the club, so how is she supposed to stand up to the school board?
#3 Sasha and the Creeping Terror
There may be one kid even Sasha can't tame.
#4 Karen's Reckless Endangerment of Minors
Fun Karen is every kid's favorite sitter. But can she be counted on in a crisis?
#5 Milo and the Indestructible Hammer of Thor
How come nobody respects Milo's gaming commitments?
#6 Byron and the God of California
When Jeff comes back to town for the summer, Byron finally has to admit he's gay.
#7 Adam Pike, Attorney at Law
When Shea is put on mock trial for stealing from a client, Adam and Sasha represent opposing sides.
#8 Sasha's Unchecked Power
In charge while Adam and Becca are on vacation, Sasha goes mad with power. But when her mom gets sick, she realizes there are some things in life you can't control.
#9 The Fight Club at Jeff's House
Go back to California or stay in Stoneybrook with Byron? Jeff finds an unusual outlet for his conflicting feelings.
#1 What Happens in Sea City...
Jordan and Shea fight over a girl lifeguard; Becca's skimpy bikinis bring out Adam's paternal side; Byron and Jeff are kicked off Fred's Putt-Putt Course for public lewdness; Mallory and Jessi have a system for roulette.