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Authors: Eloise McGraw

Tangled Webb

BOOK: Tangled Webb
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Flo Can, Susan Fletcher, Ellen Howard, Marian Martin, Milena McGraw, Winifred Morris, Dorothy Morrison, and Marge Zimmerman the best of critics, and the best of friends

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!

—Sir Walter Scott,



There's something funny about Daddy's new wife.

Kelsey, her name is. And that's what I'm calling her, not “Mother,” because Margo was my mother, and she's dead, and nobody else could be Margo, ever.

I didn't call Margo “Mother” either because she said it made her feel like somebody else, but I can
doing it. I can't even imagine calling Kelsey that. She hardly looks much older than me, though Daddy says she's twenty-five. I don't mean she
like a kid, at all. But she sure looks younger than she is. Of course, I look older than twelve, Alison says—in fact, everybody says. I guess it must be true. I always hope they mean I look sort of mature and sophisticated, like high school kids. But I have a feeling it's only because I'm the tallest girl in the seventh grade. I tower over Alison, and she's already thirteen. I'm even taller than most of the boys.

Oh, well.

About Kelsey. I don't know what it is, exactly. I keep trying to put my finger on it, because it bothers me. I mean, I thought we were going to like each other. And what if we don't?

like her that first evening, when Daddy took us both
out to dinner so I could meet her. She's real pretty—no, that sounds too fluffy. She's real
, in a sort of outdoorsy, natural way—though not fascinating and beautiful like Margo was—and kind of thin and dark-haired, which
like Margo. And her face is—I don't know—interesting. The expressions keep changing. You can practically tell what she's thinking, or at least how she's feeling, from one second to the next. It makes you want to keep watching. I could see right away why Daddy took to her. Besides, he told me she's an old-movie freak, same as he is. Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton—he loves stuff like that, and so does she; they found that out the very first day they got acquainted. I guess the same things strike them funny.

She's not as laid back as Daddy is, though. She has this kind of breathless laugh; it kind of bothered me that first evening. I kept wanting to tell her to relax, I wasn't going to bite. I know now she's just a sort of uptight person, though you can see her trying not to be. But I could tell she and Daddy both felt easy with each other—and that he really loved to be with her. Anybody could have seen from a mile off that she thought
was about perfect.

I was
jealous, either. I was
Daddy had finally found somebody he wanted to go out with more than once, because like Alison's mother says, he's still a young man and shouldn't be acting middle-aged. (Actually he's already thirty-five going on thirty-six, but maybe she doesn't know that.)

Anyway, Kelsey has the kind of smile that makes you smile back whether you were planning to or not, which got us off to a good start, and she acted like she was glad to meet me, and asked a lot of questions about school, and my friends, and what I liked to do and all—not being nosy, but as if she really wanted to know, so I told her. And she told me about her little
boy, two and a half years old, whose name is Preston. In fact, we got along just great.

Of course I didn't know Daddy was going to actually
her and bring her and Preston right into our house to live with us. Maybe I wouldn't have been so enthusiastic if I'd realized that—and how soon it was all going to happen. I mean, he'd only known her for a month or so. But he says it wasn't even a week before he was wanting to take care of her forever.

Well, and maybe I'd have been all for it, anyway. Especially after I'd seen Preston.

But now there's this other thing. I can't tell exactly what it is. It's just the way Kelsey acts sometimes. Like she just all at once closes a door in your face, right while she's smiling.

Maybe she's just nervous about me, or something. Daddy said she might be. Scared I wouldn't like her—because of Margo. Well, I'm all
to like her, if she'll let me. But she'd better begin letting me! She's had nearly three weeks now since the wedding. The first week, of course, they were down at the beach on their honeymoon, while I stayed over at Alison's. Some honeymoon, Alison said—with a two-year-old along! Well, I
offer to keep him. I wouldn't have minded. I've baby-sat with little tiny kids lots of times. Daddy could even have got old Mrs. Evans, who used to baby-sit me, to come stay with both of us. But Kelsey acted kind of panicky at the very idea. It's like she can't bear to be separated from Preston.

I guess I shouldn't blame her for that, though I've noticed most parents grab the chance to get away from their two-year-olds for a little while. She's just different, I guess. I'll probably understand when we get better acquainted.

If we ever do.

That's what's bothering me, really. I can't see we're making
any progress—and it's not my fault. Maybe she wants to know
, the way she's always saying. She seems to mean it. But I don't think she wants me to know

And I don't know how I feel about that.


I was writing all that in this new Blankbook during English class today—well, I'd finished my essay, and I've been dying to start on this book because I just love the red leather binding. Vinyl, I mean. I think it's the prettiest one of all the Blankbooks I've had. It's recycled paper too.

Anyway, I'd sort of forgotten where I was, and all at once I heard, “JUNIPER WEBB!” in Ms. Davis's worst voice.

Of course my insides jumped, and my hands did a sort of magician's trick all by themselves, stuffing the Blankbook into my ring binder out of sight; and all the time I was saying real innocently, “Yes, Ms. Davis?”

“Essays! I'm calling for the essays!”

I mumbled, “Oh—sure—sorry,” and snatched up my two pages and headed for her desk, bucking the traffic, since everybody else in the class was on the way back to their seats.

“Stay with us, Juniper,” Ms. Davis said in this perfectly mild, amiable tone, and tossed my essay onto the stack. “I don't blame you for wanting to fill these odd quarter-hours you spend waiting for everybody else, but—you
in class. Keep in touch,” she added.

I mumbled something else and went back to my seat as inconspicuously as I could, which wasn't very, of course. Alison rolled her eyes, questioning me, as I passed her. The whites just glistened against that bitter-chocolate skin of hers. I wish I had dark eyes, and at least sort of
skin, like
Margo's. No luck, I'm just like Daddy, only without the beard—speckled-green eyes and hair-colored hair. Oh, well.

I wiggled my eyebrows at Alison and shrugged, since I wasn't sure whether I'd got a telling off or a bucking up. Telling off for inattention, maybe. Bucking up for smarts. Smarts in English, anyway. I have
no problem
with idle quarter-hours in math.

The bell rang about then, and we all slapped our books together and surged out into the hall, which was deafening as usual. The minute we got to our lockers Alison yelled, “So what did she say?” real apprehensively. Ms. Davis always fills Alison with apprehension.

I told her, “Nothing much,” but she shivered dramatically as she yanked her locker door open.

“It's the
she says it.”

“Yes, but she wasn't being sarcastic this time. I
goofing off.”

“Doing what?”

I actually had my mouth open to answer, then closed it and got busy stowing my books away. I don't know why, but all at once I knew I wasn't going to show Alison this new Blank-book. The old ones were different; they're just full of silly verses and long descriptions of sunsets and copied-out jokes and drawings and who likes who and stuff. I mean, we've both been filling Blankbooks ever since we gave each other one for Christmas when we were nine years old, and sharing them same as we've shared almost everything else since third grade. But this one suddenly felt private. I mumbled, “Just doodling,” and told her to grab her jacket or we'd miss the bus.

We both got off at my stop, though Alison's apartment—well, her mother's—is three blocks farther on. We nearly always go to my house whenever Alison doesn't have her clarinet lesson or ballet practice or drama club or an orthodontist's
appointment or some other dumb thing. There's nobody home either place till five o'clock or so—her mom works at a real estate office clear downtown—but she hates to go into an empty apartment. I can't understand why. I just love to walk up Daddy's curving flagstone path that he made himself, to our red front door—it was Margo who painted it red—and get out my own house key, and give it that special little wiggle-twist you have to do to make the lock work, and then lead the way in, and sniff the sort of faint ghost-of-breakfast smell that comes out to meet me. It makes me feel more grown-up, the person half in charge of the house—equal partners with Daddy.

Of course, I'm not, anymore. Everything's different. Which I had been almost about to forget this afternoon.

I stopped halfway down the slope of our street to the dead end where our house is, hugging my books and wondering if I should warn Alison. She hasn't been over since the wedding. Last week we both had hockey practice and that journalism club meeting. And the week before had still been the honeymoon.

“Kelsey'll be there today, you know,” I said. “Preston may not have waked up from his nap and she'll want us to be quiet.”

Alison said, kind of surprised, “Well, that's okay, we're not going to yell and scream, are we? I'd just as soon begin on that math together. Then when he wakes up can we play with him?”

“If Kelsey doesn't mind.”

“Mind? My cousin Tracy
me to come play with Sammy, just to keep him out from under her feet.” Alison giggled as we started on. “I can't wait to see him! Preston, I mean.”

“You did see him!”

“Only for about two seconds.”

I guess it was just a glimpse—at the little reception down in the church rec room after the wedding. And she barely met Kelsey. There wasn't time for much socializing before Daddy said they had to start for the coast. Actually it was a kind of dim reception, just church punch and a sheet cake, with mostly Daddy's friends and some of his longtime computer customers, and two women from where Kelsey worked. She's only lived in Oregon since last fall and hardly knows anybody.

“How d'you like her by now?” Alison asked me. “I mean—is she nice?”

“Sure she's nice!” I said. “D'you think Daddy'd marry somebody who wasn't nice?”

“Well, I mean—
know. Do you

I said, “Sure! Of course.”

Maybe I shouldn't've said it so fast, or so loud, or something, because Alison gave me the kind of look that tells me she's suddenly thinking questions. I just pretended I didn't notice. Anyway, I
like Kelsey. I added, real casually, “I don't know her very well yet.”

BOOK: Tangled Webb
9.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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