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Anastasia On The Case

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'Anastasia!' her mother called. 'Anastasia!'

Anastasia pretended not to hear. It was impossible to answer people immediately when lost in your own heartbreak.

'Anastasia!'

Three times was probably enough, she thought. Besides, she was pretty sure her mother was cooking lasagna tonight, and just because you were heartbroken was no reason to miss the best lasagna Anastasia had ever had. 'Yes?'

'Daphne Bellingham's calling. Are you coming down, or should I tell her you're staying up in your tower forever?'

The trouble with parents, thought Anastasia irritatedly, is that just because they got over their first heartbreak, they assumed everyone would, and they wouldn't believe that you could meet The One when you were fourteen years old, and never recover when he left -

But that was no reason not to speak to Daphne. Or to risk missing lasagna.

'Yes,' she called, 'I'm coming down.'

 

When Anastasia picked up the phone, Daphne was singing 'Islands in the Stream' at full volume. Daphne has a pretty good voice, Anastasia thought. Maybe if I wasn't heartbroken, I'd be able to appreciate it more.

'Daphne?'

More singing.

'DAPHNE!' bellowed Anastasia. The singing stopped.

'You know,' said Daphne, 'That was really loud. You should try out for cheerleading.'

Anastasia laughed hollowly. She had been practicing her hollow laugh for all the times when her parents said things like 'I know it really hurts now, sweetie, but you'll get over it,' and 'There are plenty more fish in the sea.' Anastasia didn't even like fish, for pete's sake. Once she'd stayed over at Sonya's house, and her mom had cooked kippers for breakfast, and Anastasia had to run to the bathroom to throw up, all because of the smell, so knowing that there were lots of fish in the sea wasn't all that comforting.

'I can't even climb the ropes in gym, remember? I'd be a terrible cheerleader. Plus I don't have that much cheer to spread around right now.'

'Neither do I,' said Daphne gloomily. 'You know how my parents are thinking of sort of maybe getting back together? Well, my grandmother really likes the idea. And she's paid for a holiday to Aspen.'

Anastasia tried very, very hard to be happy for Daphne, who was her only friend not already going away this holiday. She reminded herself that she was utterly heartbroken, and was probably going to spend most of the holiday weeping until she died of grief on the living-room couch. Wasting away, except for the lasagna she forced down through her misery. She thought what terrible company she would be.

'That's great,' she said, hoping Daphne couldn't sense her grief. 'Enjoy skiing.'

'That's just it. I'm not going skiing. Grandmother only paid for my parents. So they could have some - blech - "alone time". I'm spending Christmas with her.'

Oh, thought Anastasia. It was crummy enough to have to spend half your Christmas with one parent and half with the other when they had been fighting, but Christmas with Mrs. Willa Bellingham would probably be even worse. Probably she would have Christmas dinner on real silver. Probably Daphne would have to wear a dress and sit through a billion boring parties filled with boring adults, the kind who could never think to ask you anything about yourself other than 'How is school?' -

'So what do you think?' Anastasia suddenly realised that Daphne had been talking for the last two minutes.

'About what?'

'Do you want to come and work for my grandmother again? She's having loads of parties, and she says that although she's sorry she doesn't need a Companion, you were really terrific last time and she'd love to have someone reliable help out. I think she's partly asking because she had to ask me, and she thinks you can keep me working and stop me goofing off. Five dollars an hour, she says. Seven if you're working during the evening, and if it's late you can stay the night.'

Anastasia thought about this. She had been pretty mad about being a maid last time, but that was probably mostly because she had expected to be a Companion. And five dollars an hour wasn't bad pay. And Daphne would be there, so it wouldn't be boring. And Mrs. Bellingham was quite nice once Anastasia had gotten to know her.

'Would I have to work on Christmas Day?' she asked cautiously.

She could hear Daphne flicking through some papers. 'She's not having any parties on Christmas Day. Or Christmas Eve. There's one on New Year's Eve, though.'

'Probably, then. Let me go check with my parents.'

Anastasia put the phone down and went into the study to find her father. He was cross-legged on the floor with Sam and the typewriter, and he was dictating a letter to Sam. Good grief, thought Anastasia. Sam can already type faster than an adult. She walked around Sam to sit down with them, and was secretly relieved to see that Sam had spelled 'stupendous' wrong. If Sam learns to spell 'weird' before I do, she thought, I'll have to jump straight out the window.

'Dad,' she said, 'Can I work for Mrs. Bellingham again this holiday?'

'May I. May I work for Mrs. Bellingham.'

'Dad. Stop reading. Think about the question.'

Myron Krupnik looked up from 'Whitman to Espada: The American Narrative in Poetry.' He pursed his lips.

'I don't see why not,' he said. 'If you want to. Aren't you angry that she made you be a maid?'

'I was,' Anastasia confessed, 'But she apologised once I explained why I was mad, and she was really nice to Sam when he was in the hospital -'

'Mrs. Flypaper?' asked Sam, who was listening intently. 'You're working for my Mrs. Flypaper again?'

'I might be. I thought I'd check with Dad first, in case he was planning a surprise holiday of some kind.' Anastasia used the voice she'd been perfecting in between practicing her hollow laugh. This voice dripped with sarcasm.

'I thought,' said her father, 'That you were too heartbroken to appreciate a holiday, and so I spent the vast amount of savings we had on a first edition of James Joyce. No skiing right now, kiddo.'

Rats, thought Anastasia. Her dad was still far better at sarcasm than she was. Maybe it had something to do with being an English professor. Maybe he'd just had more practice.

Anastasia fell back on her last defence, the Withering Glare. She imagined this was the kind of look Juliet would give the Nurse when she got told she was going to have to marry Paris.

Her father remained stubbornly unwithered. 'In that case,' she said, 'I will have to get a job somewhere, as I am poverty-stricken. You will be very lucky if I can scrape together enough money to buy a present for you this year.'

'It's very kind of you to think of me,' said her father. 'I was beginning to worry you were going to spend the rest of your life in the tower room, like the Lady of Shallot.'

'What's "Shallot"?' asked Sam.

'Shallot is an island in the poem "The Lady of Shallot," by Lord Tennyson,' said Myron Krupnik, Professor of Literature. 'The poem is about a young woman' - here he looked pointedly at Anastasia - 'who has to spend her whole life in a tower because of a curse. When she sees a handsome knight riding by, she leaves the tower to follow him, and then she dies.'

Anastasia refused to get annoyed. I may be dying of grief, she thought nobly, but that is no reason why I can't buy my baby brother a last Christmas present before I draw my final breath. 'Can I work for Mrs. Bellingham, then?'

'You may.'

It would be nice, thought Anastasia, to spend some time with adults who didn't correct your grammar.

One's grammar, said the small voice in her head that belonged to her father.

'Rats,' she said again, and went to tell Daphne that she most certainly would be working for Mrs. Bellingham this holiday.

 

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