Authors: Jeanne Birdsall
Just like that, Skye’s temper was gone, and she didn’t care. For what good was a temper if you couldn’t throw it away when your sister was being kneed in the ribs? She stopped thinking and started running, firecrackers of anger going off in her brain. Like the wind, she ran, and then faster even than that, her feet pounding the earth, her fists clenched, ready to smash in Melissa’s face. Which she would have done if Melissa’s midfielder hadn’t jumped her from behind. And then of course the Antonio’s Pizza forwards leapt on the midfielder to avenge Skye, and then Melissa started screaming “MURDER!” and her forwards attacked the other forwards, and then all of the midfielders, the defenders, and even the goalkeepers had joined the battle, and referees’ whistles were blowing, and coaches and parents were shouting and running onto the field, and then—
The game was officially declared over, and everyone was sent away in disgrace.
The Penderwicks’ ride home was an unhappy one.
“The referee told me this league has never had a brawl of that magnitude,” said Mr. Penderwick after a long, painful silence. “Of course, at the time I was pretending to be a casual passerby and not a father at all.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy.” Skye was more than sorry—she was miserably unhappy with herself. After working so hard to stay calm, she’d thrown her temper to the winds and, in doing so, ruined the game. What would have been a glorious win for Antonio’s Pizza was now nothing, null, a forfeit. She’d let down her team, her coach, and the entire Penderwick family. “Aunt Claire, I apologize to you, too, since you probably had to pretend you weren’t my aunt.”
“Apology accepted.” Aunt Claire smiled, which did much to lighten Skye’s heart. “I must say your mad charge at Melissa was impressive. Perhaps you should switch to ice hockey or professional wrestling.”
“Claire, please be serious,” said Mr. Penderwick.
“I am being serious.”
“Skye was only defending me, Daddy. For all she knew, Melissa had dealt me a mortal blow,” said Jane, who hadn’t been hurt at all. “And it was my fault for being Mick Hart.”
“Yes, Jane, about Mick Hart. His charm is wearing thin. Can’t you send him back to Manchester or wherever he came from?”
“I suppose so. It’s just that being Mick Hart keeps me from crying. Maybe I should have cried instead.”
“If crying was truly your only other choice, yes, you should have.”
Jane bid a wistful farewell to Mick Hart. “But, Daddy, in defending me, Skye was also defending the family honor, you know.”
“Of course I know. The point is that perhaps the family honor need not be defended so vigorously.”
“I think Skye was wonderful,” said Batty.
“No, I wasn’t, you nincompoop,” said Skye. “I’m the captain and I wrecked the game. But for the rest of the season I’ll be well behaved if it kills me.”
“Try not to take it that far.” Mr. Penderwick sighed. “How I came to be surrounded by such warlike women is beyond me. Rosalind, give me the Latin for ‘war.’”
“I know that,” said Rosalind, pleased with the change of subject.
“Correct. And from
which means ‘female warrior.’”
Penderwick!” Jane put up her fists, longing for the chance to show the world a true female warrior. Batty, unwilling to be any less of one, put up her fists in challenge.
The ensuing boxing hilarity lasted the rest of the way home, which gave Skye time to ponder the mysteries of temper. For as much as she wished she’d kept hers that day, the ensuing battle between teams had been glorious. And then, too, there was the sweet memory of Melissa being scolded by her furious coach. Should that have felt so good? It was all quite confusing, and Skye needed to sort it out. As soon as she could, she’d go up to her roof and think.
But when they pulled into the driveway, the new next-door neighbor was pulling into her driveway, too, and Mr. Penderwick said that this was an excellent time to formally introduce themselves. So rather than escaping to her roof, Skye found herself reluctantly following her family next door. She wasn’t in the mood to be introduced to anyone, but especially not to the new neighbor, not now. For she knew that this woman taught astrophysics at her father’s university. Having a great deal of respect for astrophysicists—and a dream of being one herself someday—Skye didn’t want to meet one without some intelligent questions prepared. A soccer free-for-all isn’t the best thing for making you feel intelligent.
The woman was tugging the baby out of the car seat when they reached her. Up close, her red hair turned out to be a pretty auburn, with lots of wave, and her eyes were a golden hazel, large behind glasses. Large and shy. Like a deer’s eyes, Jane said later.
If Mr. Penderwick noticed that she was shy, he gave no indication of it. “We’ve come over to say hello. Ms. Aaronson, this is my sister, Claire, who’s visiting for the weekend. And here are my daughters: Rosalind, the eldest, then Skye, and then Jane. My youngest…”
He paused and looked around doubtfully, as though expecting Batty to be gone, which is what usually happened around strangers.
But she was beside him, tugging at his sleeve. “I’m right here,” she whispered.
“How interesting. Yes, you are.” He put his hand on her head. “My youngest, Batty.”
“Daddy, ask her what the baby’s name is.”
Though Batty was still whispering, the woman had heard. “His name is Ben,” she said. “Ben, say hello to the Penderwicks.”
“Duck,” said Ben. His red hair was a shade brighter than his mother’s.
“‘Duck’ is his only word,” she said apologetically. “And, please, everyone, call me Iantha.”
“Iantha, astrophysicist,” Skye blurted out before she could stop herself. Humiliated, she edged over until she was hidden behind Rosalind. That was the end of impressing the new neighbor. Skye told herself that she didn’t really care, anyway. After all, that Ben would be around all the time. She had no use for babies.
Jane was making faces at her, but their father hadn’t seemed to notice the gaffe.
“Iantha,” he said. “A lovely name that means ‘purple flower.’ The base is Greek, but then there’s the Latin adjective
too, which means ‘violetcolored.’”
“Oh?” Iantha was clearly puzzled, though not unpleasantly.
“Don’t mind him,” said Aunt Claire. “It was nice to meet you, and I hope none of us drive you crazy.”
The grown-ups shook hands, and Rosalind did, too, as the oldest sister, then they all drifted back toward their own house.
“Just a tip, Martin,” said Aunt Claire when they were far enough away from Iantha. “Don’t blather on about Greek and Latin to your blind date tonight.”
“Curses rain down on my blind date!” said Mr. Penderwick vehemently.
“Daddy!” Rosalind was shocked, for their father never showed temper.
But Skye laughed and squeezed his arm, and together everyone went inside.
The First Date
FTER CHANGING OUT
of her soccer uniform, Jane gathered some supplies—an apple, a pen, and a blue notebook—and headed up Gardam Street. She was going to Quigley Woods, her favorite place in the whole world.
Quigley Woods was forty acres of glorious wilderness carved out of the middle of Cameron. No one remembered who the Quigleys were, or what they’d done when they lived there. The only traces of them were low stone walls that wandered here and there through the woods—so maybe the Quigleys had been farmers, or herders, or as Jane liked to pretend, aristocracy escaping the French Revolution, though she hadn’t come up with a good reason why French dukes and duchesses would have been named Quigley. Anyway, now the land was owned by Massachusetts, but since the major entrance was off the Gardam Street cul-de-sac, the children of Gardam Street considered it their private domain.
It was an unwritten rule of the neighborhood that you didn’t go into Quigley Woods alone until you were ten, and even then, you didn’t go deep in without at least a teenager, if not an actual grown-up. Everyone knew what “deep in” meant—past the wide burbling creek that cut across the main path about a quarter of a mile from the entrance. This still left what felt like a vast natural kingdom to play in, and Jane and her sisters knew every tree and rock and dip of land.
That day she headed to what she called her Enchanted Rock. Though she was ten, all certainty of magic had not yet been squashed out of her, and she believed that if there was any at all in Massachusetts, it would be stored in that rock. Her sisters could know none of this—Rosalind was too old for magic adventures, Batty too young, and Skye had given up on magic the day she discovered long division.
“Hello,” she said when she reached her destination. “It’s me, Jane.”
She was in a round clearing in the woods, filled with wild asters and ancient rambling roses planted long ago by the mysterious Quigleys. But the asters and roses, however lovely, were overshadowed by Jane’s Enchanted Rock, in the center of the clearing. It was big—taller even than Jane, and just as wide as it was tall—and with lots of smaller rocks piled up around it. Jane was sure that such a large rock would have a fabulous history. Maybe it was even a meteorite, tossed out of the heavens to land here in Quigley Woods. The smaller rocks she wasn’t so sure about. Maybe they’d been dragged to that spot by some fantastical magnetic force in the big one, doomed for eternity to serve as its worshipful underlings.
“And I have an offering.”
She hoisted herself up onto the smaller rocks, then knelt and reached way down, feeling along the surface of the big rock. Years ago she’d discovered a natural crevice down there, just wide enough for her hand and just deep enough to make it the perfect hiding space. She used it for only certain of her treasures, those most likely to be happy in magical surroundings. Like the shells she’d collected on Cape Cod the last summer her mother was alive; the poor doll named Anjulee, whose head Skye had knocked off; the pen with which she’d written her first Sabrina Starr book; and a Bruins ice hockey puck that Tommy had left in the Penderwicks’ driveway last winter. Many times she’d imagined him wondering aloud what had ever happened to his Bruins puck, and she would be able to say, Why, Tommy, I’ve kept it safe for you all this time.
There was the crevice—she’d found it. And now for her offering. She pulled several sheets of paper out of her sweatshirt pocket and stuffed them deep into the rock.
“As you protect my treasures, Enchanted Rock, please accept in addition this awful thing, and purify it, and take away its power.”
Jane’s offering that day was the Famous Women in Massachusetts History essay, the one that had gotten her a
Despite what her father had said about Mr. Tolstoy and
War and Peace,
Jane felt that the essay with its big red
was a curse, a blight on her life. She had still more essays to write for Miss Bunda—how could she even begin another with this hanging over her? But if anything could lift a curse, the Enchanted Rock could. It had before. Like the time her friend Emily was so sick, and Jane had given the rock a photograph of her, and by the next day she was already getting better.
Still, sometimes the rock was a bit unpredictable. Just recently, when Jeffrey had visited Cameron on his way to boarding school in Boston, Jane had brought him here. Together they’d drawn a picture of Dexter on a piece of paper and given it to the rock. They’d hoped that the rock could get rid of Dexter’s badness, or better, simply make him disappear. But a week later, Jeffrey was calling from Boston with the news that his mother and Dexter had just gotten married and were about to leave on an extended honeymoon in Europe.
Jane hadn’t blamed the rock, since she and Jeffrey hadn’t mentioned marriage one way or the other, and they also hadn’t told the rock when Dexter should lose his badness. For all she knew, he could become a better person ten years from now, when it hardly mattered anymore. So she’d decided that she needed to be as specific as possible when asking for a favor.
“And, please, dear Rock, don’t let me ever get another
on anything I write. Thank you. Oh! And, please, no
’s, either. Thank you again. Your friend, Jane.”
Now she was done, but there was still a ceremony to perform, the same one she performed every time she came here alone. She hadn’t even once gotten results, but that was no reason to stop trying. So up to the top of the big rock she climbed, there to sit crosslegged and raise her arms in what she thought was a come-hither-to-me kind of prayerful salutation.
“O Aslan,” she said, “I await you.”
She looked this way and that, and when no golden lion from Narnia appeared, raised her arms again. “O Psammead, I await you.”
Likewise, when no bad-tempered sand-pit creature out of E. Nesbit’s books scurried into view, Jane tried once more. “O Turtle, I await you.”
She always gave Edward Eager’s wish-granting turtle extra time to arrive—he
a turtle—by counting to one hundred. “One–one thousand, two–one thousand, three–one thousand—”
Her arms dropped and she almost fell over with shock. Was it true, after all, what Mr. Eager had written? But it wasn’t a wish-granting turtle who had spoken but only Tommy Geiger, in his helmet and shoulder pads, and carrying a football.
“Hail ye, hero of the ten-yard line,” said Jane when she realized she wasn’t so disappointed after all.
“I’m not. You’ve got to stop saying that stuff.”
“But you are.”
“Stop saying it anyway.” He tossed his football straight up, then leapt high to grab it out of the air.
“Speak some Russian, then.”
“Odin, dva, tri, chetyre.”
“The language of tsars, Tommy! What did you say?”
“I counted to four. Is Rosalind around?”
“Only me,” said Jane. “That is, I. I mean, only I, Jane, am here.”
“Because I’m going to do some rough-terrain drills in the woods, and I thought she’d like to do them with me.”
“I’ll do them with you.”
“You’re too young. Maybe Rosalind will want to later.” Again he tossed the football straight up, even higher this time.
“She’s busy later,” said Jane tartly. But she regretted her tone when Tommy missed his catch and the football crashed down on his head, which must have hurt, even with his helmet on. To make up for it, she told him why Rosalind would be busy—which meant explaining about Aunt Claire’s visit and how the blind date with Ms. Muntz was happening that very evening.
“Wow, Mr. Pen on a date,” he said when she’d finished. “Poor Rosalind.”
“Poor all of us.” Jane felt herself getting tart again.
Tommy didn’t seem to notice her tone. The rough-terrain drills were calling, and with a casual good-bye, he was gone.
Now the glade was once again empty except for Jane. She considered going back to summoning magical creatures but, after all, she thought, ten is quite grown-up, whatever some people might think, and therefore too old to believe in such things. So instead she ate her apple, then picked up her notebook and pen, intending to start on her next essay for Miss Bunda. Twenty minutes later, she was still just sitting there on the rock, staring off into the trees. The problem was that the topic was How Science Has Changed Our Lives, which had to be even more tedious than Famous Women in Massachusetts History. If she had to write about science, why couldn’t she write about Sabrina Starr inventing a device that could neutralize nuclear warheads from afar? Now,
would be fascinating. But unfortunately, dopey old Miss Bunda would give her another
Jane stretched out on the rock and closed her eyes. Maybe if she just lay here on her Enchanted Rock, the perfect idea for an essay would come to her. But the sun was so warm and comforting, and she was a little worn-out from the soccer game—being Mick Hart always took extra energy—that soon she was drowsily drifting away to a marvelous world where people looked for her instead of her older sisters. The next thing she knew, she was being shaken awake by Skye.
“Jane! What the heck are you doing on top of this rock?”
She retrieved her pen, which had rolled away while she slept. “Working on my essay.”
“Yeah, right. Daddy’s getting ready for his date, and he won’t leave until I manage to produce you. Thank goodness Tommy said he’d seen you here, because I was getting tired of looking.” Skye slid off the big rock to one of the small rocks, then leapt to the ground.
“What else did Tommy say?” asked Jane, following her.
“I don’t know. Who cares? Hurry!”
They sped through Quigley Woods, burst out onto the cul-de-sac, and finished up with a race down Gardam Street. When they reached their own front steps, Skye issued a warning.
“Listen to me,” she said. “Daddy’s a wreck and Aunt Claire wants us to be helpful.”
“I’m always helpful,” protested Jane, but when she and Skye walked into the living room, she understood. Her father hadn’t looked this anxious since he’d gone to the dentist to have two teeth pulled. It didn’t seem to be helping that Aunt Claire and Batty were attacking him with lint brushes, trying to remove all traces of Hound.
“Jane, thank goodness,” he said. “I thought I’d lost one of you. It did, however, occur to me that if you stayed lost for too long, I would have the perfect excuse to cancel this blasted date.”
“Sorry, Daddy,” she said. “Is there another lint brush I can use?”
“No, we’re done with the brushing.” He flapped his hands at Aunt Claire and Batty. “Now, can anyone locate my glasses?”
“I can,” said Rosalind, who’d been hovering on the outskirts. She took them off the mantelpiece and set them gently on her father’s nose. Jane thought Rosalind looked even more anxious than he did.
“Now at least I’ll be able to see the dinner menu,” he said, reaching up to adjust them.
Aunt Claire came back at him with her brush. “There’s at least another pound of dog hair on your sweater.”
“Too bad. If Ms. Muntz cares about dog hair, she’s clearly not the woman for me.”
“And you’re sure you won’t wear a suit?”
“He hates suits,” said Skye.
“Thank you, Skye Blue, and I’m not fond of blind dates, either.”
The red clock on the mantelpiece chimed five. Mr. Penderwick was due to pick up his date at quarter after. It was time to go. He kissed each of his daughters, and Hound—he never kissed Hound—and came last to Aunt Claire.
“Don’t you think we could put this off another year or so?” he asked.
“That’s a good idea,” said Rosalind.
“Have a good time, Martin,” said Aunt Claire.
“We’ll be fine.” Aunt Claire put her arm around Rosalind. “Won’t we, girls?”
“I will,” said Batty. “We’re having macaroni and cheese for dinner.”
“And the rest of you?” asked Mr. Penderwick.
“We’ll all be fine,” said Skye firmly, and Jane nodded, managing to look enthusiastic. Rosalind nodded, not looking enthusiastic at all.
“Then I guess I’m ready. I who am about to die salute you.”
“Good,” said Aunt Claire. She pushed her brother out the front door, then leaned against it as though he might try to shove his way back in. “Okay, girls, now let’s have some fun.”
Unfortunately, fun on such a night was in short supply. The macaroni and cheese was excellent—made from scratch with celery and onions and three kinds of cheese—and afterward Aunt Claire took the sisters into town for ice cream sundaes, but it was impossible not to notice all the while that their father wasn’t there. Back home again, they pulled out a pile of movies, but when no one could agree on which one to watch, and Skye and Batty almost came to blows over it, Aunt Claire lost patience and sent everyone to bed with Batty at seven-thirty.
“Are you asleep?” Jane asked into the darkness.
“No,” answered Skye. “I keep listening.”
Now they listened harder, but the only thing to be heard was the creak of a door opening down the hall.