Ramona walked briskly down the sidewalk, too conscious of her dignity to pick up her feet and really run, but in a hurry all the same. She needed to get home and phone Daisy right away, and she already had one unavoidable delay facing her in the form of her little sister, who needed to be picked up from her friend Brianne's house and walked home. But maybe, just maybe, if she was quick enough, Ramona could swing by the Quimbys' house first, grab her cellphone, and start dissecting the events of the day while she went for Roberta. Why did her mother have to be so old-fashioned, anyway? Nobody else her age was forbidden to take their cell to class. It wasn't fair: she only got caught texting that one time, and it had been during art class, too, which everyone knew she'd get top marks in no matter what she'd done.
Then she grinned to herself, and almost skipped with pleasure. Cellphone or no cellphone, she'd been the undisputed centre of attention, with not one but three boys asking her to next Friday's dance, and the whole school gossiping about it and wondering which one she'd choose. Okay, so one of them had been Howie, and that hardly counted--probably he'd only asked her because he wasn't interested in anyone, and looked on her as just an old, reliable friend, and not an actual girl. But Dan was a guy, one with the right sort of gleam of interest whenever he spoke to her, and Mark Smith--being a transfer student, and hence an unknown quantity--was even more intriguing. She looked forward to a pleasant evening spent hashing out her options.
Then she got close enough to her own house to see that Roberta wouldn't need picking up at all. She was sitting huddled on the front step of their house, and obviously in tears.
Forgetting her own dignity as an almost-adult, and the possessor of a red hot social life, Ramona ran the rest of the way home. "Roberta!" she gasped. "What happened?"
Roberta looked up at her, just once, then buried her face back in her knees. "Nothing. Go away."
Ramona sat beside her calmly. "Did you and Brianne have a fight?"
Roberta just sniffled. Ramona just waited, patiently, until finally her little sister blurted, "She's so stuck up and mean."
Ramona smiled, just a little. "So you had a fight?"
"She said she had more important things to do than hang out with someone who wasn't in dance or gymnastics, and that we have nothing in common any more." The words came out with little hiccupy gasps as Roberta struggled not to cry. "So I said what about the Pets Club, and she said that was just for babies."
Ramona felt a flash of sympathy. "So you came home?"
"Yes, but first I...I..."
"You what?" This was beginning to feel like something that couldn't be cleared up in five minutes, not even by a wise, mature, practically adult older sister.
Roberta sniffed once more, then shifted sideways so Ramona could see the little glass bowl she'd been blocking with her body. "I kidnapped her goldfish," she admitted.
Brianne answered the door when they rang the bell. Ramona was glad. This was all bad enough, without having to explain it to somebody's parents.
Roberta was standing with her head held high. She tossed her hair defiantly, and handed over the bowl. "We brought your fish home."
"Nice," Brianne sneered, "since you stole it in the first place."
"I did not," Roberta cried, goaded beyond truthfulness. Ramona somehow didn't blame her.
Brianne looked scornful. "If you didn't steal it, then why are you the one bringing it back?" Good point, thought Ramona, who was surprised to find herself disliking Brianne. After all, Roberta had perpetrated the fish-napping; she was in the wrong. But there was something so annoying about Brianne's smug little face that Ramona, who had been intending to be a responsible big sister and make Roberta apologize, found herself unexpectedly reluctant to do that.
"We intercepted the kidnappers," she improvised. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Roberta's tear-stained face turn up to stare at her. Her little sister's eyes were wide with shock, and the tiniest of smiles turned the corners of her mouth upward as Ramona went on. "Three men in dark coats. They were walking right down the sidewalk with your fish."
"They were not," said Brianne, but she sounded uncertain.
"Roberta recognized your fish," Ramona went on, "and said we had to get him back. So we went right up to them and told them to hand over the goldfish." She couldn't believe she was doing this. What on earth would Dan make of this? Not to mention the new guy. This was not, she told herself, the kind of behaviour popular people indulge in. Roberta looked like she'd found a new heroine, though, and after all, no one had to know about this.
"Then what happened?" Brianne sounded caught up in the story in spite of herself. Maybe she'd recognized the futility of arguing with an actual teenager.
Roberta spoke up, voice ringing with pride. "My sister said she'd take their picture and forward it to the police right away if they didn't give him back." Ramona nodded solemnly, and held up her cellphone, which she still hadn't gotten a chance to use. Right now she was enjoying herself enough not to mind. Much.
Brianne carefully set the bowl on the floor before turning back to them. "Thank you," she said dramatically. "I don't know what I would have done without him!" Ramona would have bet cold hard cash that the kid hadn't even noticed the fish was missing until they'd showed up, but Roberta was obviously enjoying the opportunity to modestly claim it had been nothing, nothing at all.
"Perhaps we could start a detective agency," Roberta said. "If you aren't too busy with dance and gymnastics, I mean."
On the way home Ramona remembered she was too old for this kind of thing. "Roberta," she said sternly, "lying is very wrong. You know that, right?"
"Yes," said Roberta, smiling hugely. "I won't lie ever again, Ramona, I promise. Oh, thank you!"
Ramona tried hard not to laugh. This, she thought, was way more fun than Beezus' style of older-sister-ing. She had a sudden urge to phone up Howie. He'd suffered enough of her own antics, and those of Willa Jean; surely he'd appreciate this, if only for old times' sake. He might be the most boring boy in the world, but he'd known the old Ramona. He was the only one the new one could see herself confessing this to, the only one who'd understand that just for a moment she'd given in to the urge to behave more like her younger self than the slightly glamorous new one.
Perhaps, she thought, he'd be fun to spend an evening with after all. When he'd walked up to her in school and asked her out, it had been the first time he'd even talked to her in ages. She thought about the dance, and decided, just this once, to sacrifice the probable delights of taking a "real date" for the comfortable pleasure of going with a friend she could really talk to. She suddenly wanted one last night that owed more to the child she'd been than the woman she was becoming. There were a lot of years left to be grown up in.
Besides, she thought, it had been a long time since she'd hung out with Howie. Maybe he'd turned out to be someone interesting.