Read Fifteen Online

Authors: Beverly Cleary

Fifteen

Fifteen
Beverly Cleary

Contents

Chapter 1
Today I'm going to meet a boy, Jane Purdy told…

Chapter 2
“Pop, have you ever thought about getting a dog?” Jane…

Chapter 3
It was not until the next morning that Jane began…

Chapter 4
All day Sunday Jane drifted around the house in a…

Chapter 5
By quarter to six on Saturday Jane, who had been…

Chapter 6
“Love me on Monday, but don't love me one day.

Chapter 7
When the bell finally brought to a close the period…

Chapter 8
Saturday morning, soon after breakfast, Julie phoned.

Chapter 9
Although babysitting with Patsy Scruggs was hard work, Jane was…

Chapter 10
For the next three days Jane wondered what she should…

Chapter 11
The next two weeks passed quickly for Jane. It did…

Today I'm going to meet a boy, Jane Purdy told herself, as she walked up Blossom Street toward her babysitting job.
Today I'm going to meet a boy
. If she thought it often enough as if she really believed it, maybe she actually would meet a boy even though she was headed for Sandra Norton's house and the worst babysitting job in Woodmont.

If I don't step on any cracks in the sidewalk all the way there, Jane thought, I'll be sure to meet a boy. But avoiding cracks was silly, of course, and the sort of thing she had done when she was in the third grade. She was being just as silly as some of the other fifteen-year-old girls she knew, who
counted red convertibles and believed they would go steady with the first boy they saw after the hundredth red convertible. Counting convertibles and not stepping on cracks were no way to meet a boy.

Maybe, when she finished her job with Sandra, she could walk down to Nibley's Confectionery and Soda Fountain and sit at the counter and order a chocolate Coke float; and if she sipped it very, very slowly, a new boy might happen to come in and sit down beside her. He would be at least sixteen—old enough to have a driver's license—and he would have crinkles around his eyes that showed he had a sense of humor and he would be tall, the kind of boy all the other girls would like to date. Their eyes would meet in the mirror behind the milk shake machines, and he would smile and she would smile back and he would turn to her and look down (
down
—that was important) and grin and say…

“Hello there!” A girl's voice interrupted Jane's daydream, and she looked up to see Marcy Stokes waving at her from a green convertible driven by Greg Donahoe, president of the junior class of Woodmont High School.

“Hi, Marcy,” Jane called back. People who said
“Hello there” to her always made her feel so unimportant.

Greg waved, and as the couple drove on down the hill, Marcy brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes and smiled back at Jane with the kind of smile a girl riding in a convertible with a popular boy on a summer day gives a girl who is walking alone. And that smile made Jane feel that everything about herself was all wrong. Her yellow cotton dress was too—well, too little girlish with its round collar and full skirt. Her skin wasn't tan enough and even if it were, she didn't have a white piqué dress to show it off. And her curly brown hair, which had seemed pretty enough in the mirror at home, now seemed childish compared to Marcy's sleek blond hair, bleached to golden streaks by the sun.

The trouble with me, Jane thought, as the hill grew steeper, is that I am not the cashmere sweater type like Marcy. Marcy wore her cashmere sweaters as if they were of no importance at all. Jane had one cashmere sweater, which she took off the minute she got home from school. Marcy had many dates with the most popular boys in school and spent a lot of time with the crowd at Nibley's.
Jane had an occasional date with an old family friend named George, who was an inch shorter than she was and carried his money in a change purse instead of loose in his pocket and took her straight home from the movies. Marcy had her name mentioned in the gossip column of the
Woodmontonian
nearly every week. Jane had her name in the school paper when she served on the clean-up committee after the freshman tea. Marcy belonged. Jane did not.

And if I were in Marcy's place right now, Jane thought wistfully, I wouldn't even know what to say. I would probably just sit there beside Greg with my hands all clammy, because I would be so nervous and excited.

Jane reached the end of Blossom Street and paused to catch her breath before starting to climb the winding road to Sandra's house. She looked back through the locust trees at the roof of her own comfortable old house in the center of Woodmont. In recent years this pleasant village had begun to grow in two directions. Toward the bay, on the treeless side of town, there was now a real-estate development called Bayaire Estates—block after block of small houses, all variations of one ranch-style plan, which Jane thought of as
the no-down-payment-to-veterans neighborhood because of the advertisements on billboards along the highway. On the other side of the Purdys' part of town, where Woodmont rose sharply into tree-covered hills, there were also many new houses, referred to in advertisements as “California modern, architect-designed, planned for outdoor living.” These houses were being built into the hillside among the gracious old redwood homes, now called “charming rustics.”

It was toward one of these new houses in the hills that Jane now walked so reluctantly. Sandra Norton and her parents had lived in Woodmont only a few months, having recently returned to this country after two years in France, where Mr. Norton had been the American representative of an airline. Already Sandra was notorious among Woodmont babysitters. The last time Jane sat with the eight-year-old girl, Sandra had grabbed a Flit gun full of fly spray and aimed it at a new chair upholstered in pale fabric. Before Jane wrested the Flit gun from Sandra she was drenched in fly spray. Afterward she had laughed about the incident and turned it into a funny paragraph for a babysitting (baby-running was really a better word) article she had written for Manuscript, the
Woodmont High literary club. Nevertheless, it was not an experience she would care to repeat.

When Jane reached the Norton house, which was set on a flat area bulldozed out of the side of the hill, she found Sandra, dressed in a cowgirl costume, in the front yard bending over a bed of snapdragons. Her blond hair, with its uncared-for permanent wave, hung like raveled rope on either side of her thin little face.

Jane walked across the tender new lawn. “Hello, Sandra,” she said cheerfully. “What are you doing?”

“Catching flies and shutting them up inside snapdragons,” replied Sandra, without looking at Jane. An angry buzzing came from the blossoms in front of her.

Jane noticed Sandra's mother looking impatiently through the picture window so she hurried to the front door, which Mrs. Norton opened at once. She was wearing a silk suit the color of sand and a tiny pink hat smothered in flowers and misted with veiling. Jane felt young and dowdy beside her.

“Hello there, Jane,” said Mrs. Norton breathlessly. “I was so afraid I couldn't get anyone to look after Sandra, and I didn't want to miss the hospital
guild's tea and fashion show. See that Sandra takes a nap. She went to the city with us last night and she's a little bit tired today.”

“Yes, Mrs. Norton,” answered Jane. That made two people in a row who had said “Hello there.”

Mrs. Norton swept past Jane, leaving a cloud of expensive scent (probably Chanel Number Five, Jane decided, since Sandra's mother had been living in France), and then she paused. “Oh, yes—and don't let Cuthbert out of the house. We just had him bathed at the veterinarian's and I don't want him rolling in the dirt. It takes weeks to get an appointment to have a dog washed. It's worse than trying to get an appointment at the hairdresser's.” Her high heels clicked down the brick walk. “Good-bye, chick,” she called to Sandra.

“I want you to stay home.” Sandra stared unhappily at her mother.

“I'll be back before you know it,” Mrs. Norton said with artificial gaiety, and hopped into her car.

Jane was alone with Sandra. She walked across the grass to join the child, who was still occupied with the buzzing snapdragons. “Come on, Sandra,” she said. “I'll help you let the flies out of the flowers before we go into the house for your nap.”

Sandra, who was holding a fly by the wings,
pinched opened the mouth of a blossom and popped the fly inside. “My mother said I didn't have to take a nap,” she told Jane.

Now what do I do, Jane wondered. That was the trouble with babysitting. Mothers always told sitters what to do with their children, but they rarely told them how to do it. Perhaps if she did not mention the nap she could entice Sandra into the house and read to her until she fell asleep. “If you were a fly, would you like to be shut up in a snapdragon?” Jane asked, to change the subject.

“No. That's why I'm doing it,” said Sandra. “My mother said Julie was going to sit with me.”

“Julie couldn't come, because she had to sit with Jackie,” Jane explained. Julie was her best friend. The two girls often handed over babysitting jobs to each other. The only reason Jane was sitting with Sandra today was that she and Julie felt that some day they might be broke enough to really need to sit with Sandra and so in the meantime it would be a good idea to keep Mrs. Norton's business.

“I'd rather have Julie than you,” said Sandra flatly.

Maybe she would, thought Jane. Julie was such a comfortable, cheerful person that all the children
liked her. But this was not getting Sandra into the house and persuading her to go to sleep. And if she could not do that, Jane knew that she was in for a long and difficult afternoon. “I know what,” she said brightly, as if she had just had an idea.

Sandra looked at her suspiciously. She was, Jane knew, a child who had had many babysitters and was undoubtedly onto all the tricks of getting her to mind.

“Let's go in the house and see what Cuthbert is doing.” Jane held out her hand to Sandra. Into the house—that was the first step toward a nap.

“He's asleep under the coffee table,” said Sandra. “That's all he ever does. He's a dumb dog. I'd rather have a horse.” Sandra stared up at Jane as if she were taking her measure to see just how far she could go with this sitter.

Why is it, Jane wondered, that substitute teachers and babysitters are so often targets for children?

“Okay, let's go in the house,” agreed Sandra suddenly.

Jane could not help wondering uneasily what the glint in Sandra's eye meant. She hoped she could figure out a way to get Sandra to sleep quickly, because there were so many things
indoors that she could get into mischief with—knicknacks that could be broken, lamps to be knocked over, lipstick for marking wallpaper. After the experience with the Flit gun Jane knew she could not trust Sandra for one instant.

Jane glanced around the Nortons' living room, so different from her own home, where everything was comfortably worn. “A house is meant to be lived in,” her mother often said. Here everything looked brand-new, as if the furniture had been delivered only the day before. The wooden pieces were square and simple and, except for a few cushions in brilliant colors, everything in the room was carefully neutral. Over the fireplace hung a painting made up of drips and dribbles, splotches and splashes, in the same colors as the cushions. The room looked, Jane decided, interior decorated. Not even the layer of dust or the heap of magazines and newspapers on the coffee table or the overflowing ashtrays made the room seem as if a family really lived here. And isn't it funny, Jane thought; if I were blindfolded and set down in the house of any one of my babysitting customers I could tell where I was by the odor of the house. The Nortons' house smelled of fresh plas
ter and wallpaper and stale cigarette smoke.

Cuthbert was, as Sandra had predicted, asleep under the coffee table. Now the fat pug dog rose and shook himself, scattering his hair over the carpet. He was an ugly little animal with a black face on a tan body, pop eyes, and a nose so upturned that it was difficult for him to breathe. Panting asthmatically, he ran toward Jane, his kinky tail wagging, his bulging eyes beseeching her for attention. She knelt and patted his head. Cuthbert was overcome with emotion; his breathing rasped louder, and he ran back and forth under the edge of the coffee table to scratch his back. Then he collapsed on the rug and panted.

Sandra opened the front door. “I'm going to let Cuthbert out,” she cried. “Here, Cuthbert!”

“Oh, no, Sandra,” protested Jane. “Your mother said not to. He's just been washed.”

But Cuthbert was not going to miss this rare opportunity for freedom. As fast as his short little legs would carry him, he scrambled out the front door and down the steps.

“Oh, Sandra,” said Jane reproachfully, and ran after the dog, who had scurried down the brick walk and across the lawn.

“Go on, Cuthbert!” shrieked Sandra, jumping up and down in the doorway. Cuthbert scuttled under a bush.

Don't roll in the dirt, Jane pleaded silently. Please don't roll in the dirt when you've just been washed. She got down on her hands and knees and crawled under the bush toward the dog, who puffed and wheezed as he watched her with his bulging eyes.

“Don't let her get you, Cuthbert,” screamed Sandra.

A branch caught in Jane's hair, and while she worked to disentangle it, Cuthbert stopped wheezing and began to bark. A car horn tooted on the road.

Oh! thought Jane as she looked toward the curb. Oh, no! Greg and Marcy, headed up the hill in the green convertible, were looking at her and laughing.

“Hi,” Jane called, trying to sound gay.

“Why don't you bark back at him?” Marcy asked, and Greg laughed and drove on.

Jane felt her face grow hot with embarrassment. Greg's laugh she did not mind, because it was a friendly laugh; but she did not like to be laughed at by a girl riding in a convertible. She wished she
had come back with an answer, something like, “I only bark in English and this dog has been living in France.” Jane sighed. That was the trouble with her. She always thought of the right answer too late, or if she did think of it at the right time she was too shy to say it.

Jane dived farther under the bush and caught Cuthbert by one foreleg. He yapped hoarsely and hysterically while she dragged him out and picked him up. He wheezed and snuffled as he tried to wriggle out of her grasp, but she held him tight. Then his clunky little body relaxed and he struggled to get enough air through his turned-up nose. Poor thing, thought Jane; I believe he's relieved to be caught. He wouldn't know what to do with his freedom if he had it.

She hurried up the brick walk with the fat little dog in her arms. And this was the day I was sure I would meet a boy, she thought. And now look at me—all rumpled, with leaves in my hair and grass stains on my skirt. Jane noticed apprehensively that Sandra was no longer in the doorway. Certainly the child would not be sleepy after the excitement of making her sitter chase Cuthbert. But she found Sandra sitting quietly in a chair looking at a copy of
Vogue
. Jane carefully shut the
door and shoved Cuthbert under the coffee table.

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