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Baby-sitters Club: The Next Generation Super Special #1: What Happens in Sea City...

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Dear Sasha,

Having a great time! Wish

 

Dear Sasha,

It rained today. Life is misery when you’re not

 

Dear Sasha,

You’re really missing out. The beach is beautiful. Shimmering water, sparkling sand, hot lifeguards (Jordan and Shea have a crush on the same girl! She IS pretty cute.) Actually, there are a lot of cute girls here. Maybe you should have

 

Dear Sasha,

It’s beautiful here, but not as beautiful as you, my sugar crumpet of love. Prithee how dost thou keepest thy shiny treacle tresses so shiny and treacle-like


I sighed and threw another postcard in the trash. I should really start writing out what I want to say on scrap paper instead of wasting so many postcards. Or at least using a pencil. But that would be admitting I have nothing to say to my girlfriend.

The gooey love letter approach was no good. It all came out sounding like parody of Vanessa, because that’s what it was. Anyway, Sasha hates sentimental crap. I once told her she had eyes like limpid pools (I read it in a book), and she said, “Well, you have a face like a frying pan, but you don’t see me complaining.”

It shouldn’t be this hard. When we’re together, we have no trouble thinking of things to say. But none of the things we usually talk about seemed right for a postcard: weekend plans, club business, and arguing. We’d still be in different towns over the weekend. The club seemed to be humming along nicely, from what I could tell reading the blog, and I didn’t want to undermine her authority by being a butting-in Kristy Thomas. That left arguing. Don’t think I didn’t consider picking a postal fight.

I guess I was still a teeny bit mad at her for not even trying to come. Why was I sitting here agonizing over a postcard for someone who didn’t give crap? She hadn’t written to me, either.

(Okay, so I was the one on vacation. What was she going to do, send me a postcard? “Greetings from Beautiful Stoneybrook?” But should could have at least dashed off a quick “bored, missing you” email.)

Mad as I was, I didn’t really want to pick a fight and make things worse. The truth was, things had been... off between us lately. Arguing used to be good fun. We’re both loud, opinionated assholes, and we (used to) like that about each other. But then we got in a monster fight when Shea was accused of stealing from a client. We made up after he was proved innocent (yay!), but we’re still guarded around each other. Arguing isn’t as fun now that we know how nasty it can turn.

Laughter erupted from downstairs. I sighed, flipped my pencil over my finger, and spun in my chair. Everyone was somewhere else having fun without me. As usual. I’m always the mature one stuck doing some chore. Baby-sitting, cruise directing, maintaining a long-distance relationship.

Time for plan F: just list things that have happened, like a “What I Did Last Summer” composition. Boring, but it would fill space. I grabbed the last blank postcard and dashed off,

Dear Sasha,

Greetings from SCNJ! It’s great here, as always. Yesterday, Becca and I taught Squirt how to make witch castles, and I taught some random kids  a biology lesson about tide pools. Becca thinks I should take pictures and make a book for the kids back home. Today it rained, but there’s an old Pike tradition for rainy days at Sea City... mini-golf! Lame, but fun. My sisters manage to still suck after all these years, but Becca and I kicked ass.

How are you liking office, Madame Acting President? Looking forward to hearing everything when I get home!

xo
Adam

I stamped it, shoved it in my pocket, and ran downstairs.

It was still raining, but the gang had brought a beach party into the dining room. Becca and Vanessa were dancing and singing “Hollaback Girl” along with the staticky portable radio. Claire and Margo, optimistically dressed in their bathing suits, were building a house of cards. At the other end of the dining table, Byron had laid out every cold cut in the house and was lovingly constructing an enormous sandwich.  Jeff was leaning on the windowsill, chomping on a peach. Shea was tipped back to the wall in a chair, reading a crumpled paperback, earbuds in his ears. There was a beach ball floating around, food wrappers and random towels everywhere.

I pulled up a chair at the table stole some of Byron’s cheese. “What were you guys all laughing so hard about just now?”

“Huh?” said Byron. “Oh. I forget. Vanessa and Becca were clowning around.”

Becca had really let her hair down here at the beach. If she wasn’t pretending to be a dinosaur with her own brother, she was good-naturedly yelling at one of mine. She seems timid when you see her at school and stuff, but she was holding her own in this zoo. I was impressed.

“Where’ve you been?” Jeff asked me.

I made a face. “I hate writing postcards.”

Byron smiled. “I bet Sasha likes getting them every day, though.”

Ha! Should I tell him that I had yet to actually send one? If I’d mailed all the postcards I’d started, Sasha would be up to her ears. “I guess. I think I’m running out of things to say. What would you write if it were you guys?”

Jeff’s face clouded.

“Ask us again in a month,” said Byron with a wry smile.

“Oh. Right. Sorry.” The two of them would probably never have any trouble, anyway. They always seemed to have plenty to say to each other. I dug in my pocket and pulled out the card, already creased at the corners. “Here. Tell me if this is okay.”

Byron wiped his hands on his jeans, took the card, and read it incredibly slowly. When he was done he handed it to Jeff. Shea tipped forward in his chair, put down his book, and read over Jeff’s shoulder.

“Well?” I said.

“It’s good,” said Byron in a careful voice. “A little BSC blog-y...”

“Dude,” said Shea, pulling out his earbuds. “This is all about Becca.”

“And there’s that,” said Byron.

“What? No it’s not. What are you talking about?” I took back the postcard.

“It’s true, man,” said Jeff. “You say ‘Becca’ more than you say ‘the.’”

I glanced over my writing, frowning. “Well... okay. So she comes up. I hang out with her a lot.”

“You can’t write to your girlfriend all about another girl,” said Shea.

“She’s not another girl! She’s just Becca.”

“Did I hear my name?” called Becca over the music.

“We’re talking about David Beckham,” Jeff replied.

“He’s a great soccer player, granted,” I said, as the girls lost interest, “but he’s just a kid. And a co-worker. It’s not like that.”

“Does Sasha know that?” said Byron.

“Of course. She’s not the jealous type. She knows I have to hang out with my vice-president a lot. It’s business.”

“Even on the beach?” said Shea.

“In your sexy-sexy swimwear?” said Jeff.

“Yeah, on the beach! We’re the only ones who actually step up and do any baby-sitting, if you haven’t noticed. Lord knows the rest of you fools can’t be counted on. How do you even think of her like that? She’s thir-friggin’-teen.”

Shea shrugged. “She’s gettin’ pretty hot.”

We all glanced at her surreptitiously, even the gays. Okay, she had a pretty nice shape, even though it made me feel like a perv to admit it. She was wearing a clingy pink dress, tight across the hips, narrow at the waist, and with a sweet little bow beneath the swell of her bosom. I shook my head. Becca Ramsey + nice rack = does not compute.

“That’s all fine and good for you to say, Shea. That’s age-appropriate,” I said. “You’re both going to be freshmen, right?”

“Freshmen can go out with juniors,” said Shea. “It happens.”

“I went out with a senior when I was a freshman,” said Jeff. “And when I said ‘went’ I mean ‘made.’”

“You’re precocious,” said Byron fondly.

“Well, I’m not that kind of guy, I happen to like girls my age, and anyway, I don’t see why this is even a topic of conversation, because I have a girlfriend and I always will, and I’m sending this postcard, and I don’t care,” I declared, shoving the postcard back into my pocket.

“Whatever,” said Shea.

“Jeff! It’s your jam!” Becca called over the music.

“Oh, sweet. Excuse me, gentlemen.” Jeff jumped up and joined the girls’ dance party along to the Pussycat Dolls. Jeff and Becca must have worked out a dance routine ahead of time. They had all these weird moves, snapping their fingers in unison and sucking in their cheeks, making duck lips at each other. Sometimes Jeff takes his tongue out of my brother’s mouth long enough to prove just how gay he really is.

At the same time, it was weird to see Becca flirting and dirty-dancing with a boy, even Jeff. Their faces were close, easy kissing distance, and they stared into each other’s eyes with dramatic smoldering looks. Becca leaned back with her chest thrust out, Jeff hunched forward, swaying his arms, and as they moved, they somehow kept a paper-thin sliver of space between them. The slightest miscalculation, and she’d fall into him boobs-first.

“Okay, I’m here! The party can start!” Jordan bounded into the doorway and shook his head like a dog, splattering raindrops on the girls, who giggle-shrieked. He did the obligatory pretend-to-knock-down-the-house-of-cards thing, working Claire and Margo into a panic. Drawing up a backwards chair between Byron and me, he reached over the table and grabbed a handful of olives.

“What’s wrong with Byron and Jeff?” he asked with his mouth full.

“Where do you want me to start?” I said.

He swallowed and gestured. “They’re at opposite sides of the room! Is that even allowed? Who filed the handcuffs?”

“How was your date?” Shea asked in scratchy voice.

“We never went on any date!” said Byron, adding quickly, “Which you obviously know because you were talking to Jordan.”

“Fine.” Jordan poked through the pile searching for the perfect turkey slice.

“Just fine?” said Byron.

“Yeah, just absolutely fine,” Jordan confirmed.

“She didn’t like him,” I translated.

“She liked me fine.”

“Did you kiss her?” asked Claire.

Jordan glanced sharply at her, and then at Shea. “It’s not important.”

“That means no,” said Becca. The girls had turned down the volume to eavesdrop on us. Their gossip sense must have kicked in. Becca looked at me. “That means no, right?”

“’Scuse me.” Shea got up, his chair chalkboard-scratching on the floor, and headed for the stairs.

“Nice going, Jordan.” I hit him.

“What?” said Jordan around a mouthful of popcorn. “What did I do?”

“You upset Shea. You know he’s in a weird place,” said Byron. “What if he starts smoking again?”

“What if he slits his wrists in a warm bath?” said Vanessa. “That’s what it looked like he was going to do. What? Too soon?”

“It hasn’t happened yet, so, yeah,” said Becca.

“How would any of that be my fault?” said Jordan. “He’s emo. Blame God.”

“You didn’t have to go out with Adela. You know he likes her,” I scolded.

“I like her!” said Jordan. “Who says I don’t like her? She likes me, I like her. It’s not like I did it on purpose to be an asshole.”

“Jordan’s right,” said Becca. “He had to follow his heart. If Adela likes him best, maybe that’s how it’s supposed to go. Nobody’s fault.”

“Maybe,” said Byron slowly. “Poor Shea, though.”

Jeff and Byron looked at each other, then Jeff nodded like they’d had a whole other conversation. “I’ll go check on him.”

On his way out, Jeff passed Mom, coming in with a bag of groceries. She looked around, bemused. “Are we having a party? Adam, you’ll make sure this gets cleaned up.”

It didn’t seem fair, considering most of the mess happened before I even came downstairs, but I was the oldest one there, other than Byron, who is a natural force of chaos where food is concerned. I sighed. “Sure, Mom.”

“I’ll help,” said Becca quickly, gathering up empty cups.

“Why bother? We’re all just slaves to entropy,” said Vanessa.

“Auuugh!” Claire yelled, laughing, as the house of cards fluttered down around her.

“See?” Vanessa crowed.

“What’s going on, cards?” Nick wandered in. “Can I play?”

“Party’s over,” I said.

“Of course. Of course!” Nick snapped. “Soon as I walk in! Oh, Nick’s here, fun time’s over. What else did I expect?”

“Attention all Pikes and assorted guests!” I called through my cupped hands. “This is now a mess-free zone! Clean or leave, and take all toys, games, snacks, and personal issues with you.”

You never saw a room full of kids clear out so quickly.

“What can I do to help?” chirped Becca’s voice from behind me. When the dust cleared, she was the only one who’d stayed.

I thought about all the dirty, smelly, sweaty swim trunks and undies that needed washing, and I said, “Nothing. You can go home.”

“Really, I want to help.”

“Um. Well, the thing is, I said I’d watch Squirt today,” I said. This was a lie, but Becca was the kind of girl who’d only stop doing you favors if you convinced her she was doing you a favor. “Can you cover?”

Of course she could.

I didn’t see anyone else until I went up to Jeff and Shea’s room ninety minutes later to drop off their clothes from the dryer. The moment I opened the door, I was enveloped in a skunky cloud of smoke. Jeff and Shea were draped crosswise on Jeff’s bed like ragdolls. Byron was sitting up straight against the wall, his hands behind his back. “Adam! Hi! Look! Adam’s here!”

Jeff leaned up on his elbows and gave me a slow, dopey grin.

I sighed. “Are you guys sure you want to be doing that?”

“Doing what?” said Shea, all wide-eyed innocence, a puff of smoke escaping his mouth.

“It’s cool,” said Jeff earnestly. “It’s not nicotine. It’s not addicting. We’re helping Shea.”

“Shh-hhh!” Byron hissed, like he thought there was still a chance I still might not know what was going on.

“It’s like that thing,” Jeff explained, ignoring or not understanding Byron’s panic. “You know that thing.”

“Where they get people off heroin by getting them on methadone?” I suggested.

“No,” said Jeff with a faraway look. “The thing. The thing thing.”

Shea rolled over, silently laughing into Jeff’s knee.

“Get off my back, Adam!” said Byron suddenly. “I’m allowed to cut loose every once in awhile. I’m good all the time.”

“Christ. Whatever.” I set down the laundry basket on the floor near the door, hoping the smoke would rise away from it. “Just don’t let Mom and Dad catch you.”

Becca may be thirteen, but she’s more mature than the rest of these clowns.

 

You’d think, with seven baby-sitters, five adults, and only one actual kid, it would be a snap to cover childcare every hour of the day with plenty of time off for everyone. What happens in practice is that nobody ever thinks it’s their turn.

The next morning was fresh, clear, and sunny, and most of us kids got up early, anxious to hit the water. (Mom, Dad, and night owl Vanessa slept in.) No sooner had we arrived on the beach and met up with the Ramseys than Jordan and Shea realized they needed to do more baseball practice (Adela in the lifeguard chair might have had something to do with that), Mal and Jessi ran off to say hi to some friends they met on the boardwalk, and Byron and Jeff decided they wanted to go mini-golfing. Nobody in their right mind would go mini-golfing when they could be swimming, so they didn’t get any company.

It wasn’t until the two of them were running off up to the boardwalk that I realized Mom and Dad wouldn’t like it. They could be going anywhere--a no-tell motel, a Turkish bathhouse. Not that I knew of any of those in walking distance.

Oh, well, it wasn’t my job to police the grown-up kids. It was my job to let Squirt climb all over me in the water.

Squirt’s not as small as he used to be, so we don’t do a lot of pick-you-up-and-throw-you-around roughhousing anymore, but the water makes it a lot easier to go back to those old games. Becca joined us, pretending to draw an invisible sword and fight the sea monster that was Squirt and me. Some kids like non-sibling baby-sitters better, but not Squirt. He has a great relationship with both his sisters, and it’s clear they adore him. Becca and Squirt’s fantasy world was full of old in-jokes and references to books I hadn’t read, and it was all I could do to keep up, following Squirt’s orders: “Go, legs, go! Chase the human! Stomp, legs! Jump. Jump higher! Jump onto that rock! Jump to the moon!”

“Okay, I don’t know about the sea monster, but the princess is getting tired,” Becca broke in finally. “What do you think, snack time?”

“Plums!” said Squirt joyfully, jamming a hand into my eye.

We waded back to the shallow surf, Squirt squirming on my shoulders until I knelt and let him climb down into the surf. He went splash-running off toward the beach blanket.

“Thanks,” I said, rubbing my neck. “I’m about ready to collapse. How’d you know I needed a break?”

Becca smiled. “Intuition. You know you can always just put him down. He’ll never voluntarily stop a game where he’s giving the orders. He goes mad with power.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I don’t mind being ridden around like a pony.”

“That’s good. You’re good at it,” said Becca. “It’s a marketable skill in today’s economy.”

I laughed. Becca gets quiet in groups sometimes, and you forget she’s funny. “Maybe I’ll rent myself out for parties.”

“I’d hire you,” said Becca.

Sometimes I end up knee-deep in a conversation with no idea how I got there. There was nothing in her voice to suggest she was making a double entendre. I smiled blandly as if I didn’t even notice the possibility.

Nick was where we’d left him--sitting under the umbrella with his notebook of secret thoughts and feelings--but instead of writing dark thoughts about the rest of us, he was sitting with a little girl. They were drawing pictures.

“Who’s this?” I said.

“Liza,” said Nick, not looking up from his crayon drawing of a boy in a long back trench coat, surrounded by pink bunnies with razor sharp teeth. “Carly’s sister.”

“Who’s Carly?”

Nick sighed, aggrieved. “Mallory’s friend. Do I have to spell everything out?”

I knelt down. “Hi there, Liza! I’m Adam.”

The little girl looked at me with big, frightened eyes and moved closer to Nick.

“Those,” said Squirt, “are my crayons. Why is she using my crayons?”

Liza put down her crayon like it burned her.

“It’s okay,” said Nick, handing it back to her. “Relax, Squirt.”

“You never even color anymore, Squirt. I was going to throw those old crayons out,” said Becca. “Here. Have your plum.”

“Where’s Mallory?” I asked Nick, pulling napkins and juice boxes out of the cooler.

“Her and Jessi and Carly went off to the boardwalk.”

“And they just left her sister?” said Becca, surprised.

“Why not? I was here,” said Nick. “Me and Liza are having a good time. Right, Liza?”

Liza nodded solemnly. She didn’t look like she was having an especially good time.

“You want a snack, Liza?” I asked.

She didn’t answer.

“Well, I’ll have something,” said Nick, breaking open a bag of trail mix and handing some to Liza. “You guys like my drawing?” He indicated his disturbing nightmarescape.

“That’s really great, Nick. We’re just going to go ahead and make an appointment for you with the nice head doctor,” said Becca.

“I don’t like other people messing with my things and I don’t want to wipe my mouth right now!” said Squirt, shoving away Becca’s napkin.

Liza said the first sentence I heard her say, in a cold, arrogant tone that sounded weird coming from a four-year-old: “I didn’t want to use your stinky crayons anyway.”

“Don’t be an asshole, Squirt,” Nick snapped, shifting instantly from the gentle baby-sitter to the whiny baby-sat.

“Language! Do I have to turn this car around?” I demanded. I turned to Becca. “Why did we ever have so many kids?”

She handed me a bag of plum pits. “Take out the trash, dear.”

Things got better after the snack. The half-hour wait to get back in the water can be torture, but Nick started showing the kids magic tricks, pulling quarters out of their ears, and they were so fascinated they momentarily forgot their feud. I took advantage of the calm to take a private swim, stretching my arms and legs before the next session of horseplay.

I was making my third lap from the dock to the big rock when I saw Becca breast-stroking toward the same destination, neatly arcing her arms out of the water. She’s more bookish than athletic, but now, she looked like she was born in the water. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Jessi’s won awards for her swimming, and Becca has the same long, lean arms and legs.

We reached the rock at the same time. She grabbed hold of it, panting. It was nice to see that at least swimming as fast as me wore her out a little.

“Hi,” I said, treading water. “Did Mal and Jessi come back?”

“No. The kids are still with Nick. I just needed to get out and clear my head, you know?”

“Boy, do I. Guess I should be getting back, then. Nick’s not technically a baby-sitter.”

“He’s doing a great job,” Becca assured me. “He said he could handle it. The kids are having fun, and it seems like he is, too.”

“Fun? Nick? Our Nick?” I laughed. “Fun isn’t in his vocabulary.”

Becca shook her head. “He’s really great with them, Adam. Maybe it’s time we asked him to join the club.”

“He’s just a kid,” I said instantly, and immediately regretted it. Becca wouldn’t see it that way.

She didn’t look offended, though. She replied thoughtfully, “You think that because he’s your little brother, but he’s older than Jessi was when she joined the club. He’s even older than Kristy was when she started it. Don’t you remember thinking thirteen was practically grown-up?”

“I see your point,” I conceded. “I guess it’s not always easy to tell when people have grown up.”

“Especially if they’ve been growing up in front of you,” said Becca wisely.

I looked at her for a moment. Was that comment supposed to be extra meaningful? Or was it just me, seeing extra meaning in it?

“Anyway,” she said lightly, stretching a slender arm out over the rock. “It’s something to talk about at the next meeting.”

“What’s to talk about? President aye, vice president aye, motion carried.”

She beamed. “So you think it’s a good idea?”

“All your ideas are good,” I said. “How many times do I have to tell you before you believe it? You shouldn’t be shy about sharing your thoughts.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “You don’t know the ones I don’t say.”

“Try me,” I said.

She just turned her head and looked at me steadily. There was a daring look in her eyes. A look which said, “Are you sure you know what you’re getting into?” I felt my hands go freezing cold in the water. What went on in Becca’s head, anyway?

“Well, here’s an example,” she said, and I was relieved by her normal tone of voice. “You know that buddy system you keep trying to enforce? Each older kid buddies up with a younger kid?”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. I shouldn’t have made Nicky a younger kid. I got an earful from him about that. I guess thirteen-and-a-half is a weird place for the cutoff.”

“A buddy system is a good idea, especially near the water, but you should let everyone choose their own buddies. Claire and Margo are fine together, and everyone else can take turns baby-sitting Squirt in pairs. Byron wouldn’t try to get out of taking his shift if he could hang out with Jeff at the same time.”

“I really shouldn’t have to bribe Byron,” I grumbled, “but I know you’re right.”

“We’re really already basically in pairs anyway. Jessi and Mallory, Jordan and Shea, Nick and Vanessa, Byron and Jeff... you and me.”

It was weird. Up until then, I wasn’t sure, but the way she said it, “you and me,” even in a mundane work conversation, I knew she felt it. Whatever it was. That thing between us. She felt it, too, which meant it was a real thing, and not just something in my head.

She was looking away, down at the warm swirling water. She was still breathing quickly, her mouth slightly parted, and the little shadow of cleavage at the top of her suit changing shape as her chest moved. The outline of her nipples was faintly visible beneath her wet clinging top. There was a droplet of water on her bottom lip.

She looked up at me with dark, serious eyes.

“Or how about you and Vanessa, and me and Nick?” I said a little too loud and too fast. “That’s much better, I think. I mean, we’re both official sitters, and neither one of them really is, so, you know, spread the wealth, right? If you think about it, it just doesn’t make any sense for us to be together. We don’t belong together at all. Well, I’m gonna head back. Gotta check on the kids. Enjoy the rest of your swim. Buh-bye!”

 

That afternoon I went down to the general store with the post box. I pulled out my crumpled message to Sasha, reread it, turned right around, and bought a fresh new postcard.

Dear Sasha,

Greetings from SCNJ! It’s great here, as always. I taught Squirt how to make witch castles. Later, I taught some random kids a biology lesson about tide pools. Yesterday it rained, but there’s an old Pike tradition for rainy days at Sea City... mini-golf! Lame, but fun. My sisters manage to still suck after all these years, but I kicked ass.

How are you liking office, Madame President? Really looking forward to hearing everything when I get home. I think I’m going a little loopy from Sasha withdrawal.

xoxoxo
Adam

I stamped it and dropped it in the slot.