Authors: Jeanne Birdsall
“That’s Rosalind,” said Skye.
They both slid out of bed and crept quietly out of their bedroom. And there was Rosalind, wrapped in a quilt. She opened the quilt, and now there were three girls huddled together at the top of the steps. Only a few minutes later came the sound they’d all been waiting for—their father’s car pulling into the driveway.
The sisters leaned back into the shadows as Aunt Claire appeared in the hallway below them—she must have been listening for the car, too. The front door opened and Mr. Penderwick came inside.
“Well, Martin?” asked Aunt Claire.
He laughed, but his laugh was part groan.
“In English, please.”
Then the adults went into the living room. If a translation was given, it wasn’t heard by the three upstairs. Skye and Jane looked hopefully at Rosalind.
She shrugged. “I don’t know
“You need to hurry up and learn more Latin,” said Jane. “Or we’ll never know what’s going on.”
“Though maybe that would be for the best,” said Skye, yawning.
“No, it absolutely, positively would not be!” Rosalind stood, jerking the quilt off her sisters. “Now go back to bed and get plenty of rest. Tomorrow we have a lot of thinking to do.”
Skye and Jane watched her stalk back to her room.
“Thinking about what?” asked Jane.
“Who knows?” Skye shook her head. “But I bet I’m not going to like it.”
The Save-Daddy Plan
M SURE I BROUGHT
a pair of slippers with me,” said Aunt Claire. It was Sunday afternoon, and Rosalind was helping her pack to go home.
“Are they red?” asked Rosalind from the floor. She pulled a pair of fluffy red slippers from under the bed. They were damp in patches, and one had a ragged hole where the toe used to be.
“I hope they weren’t your favorites.”
“Only my second favorites,” said Aunt Claire, dropping them into the wastebasket. “I figured Hound was annoyed with me about the blind date, but I didn’t think he was annoyed enough to eat my slippers.”
Rosalind knew her aunt was trying to make her laugh, but she wasn’t ready to laugh about the blind date, or the dating scheme, or anything about her father and dates. Too obviously not speaking, she folded a bathrobe and placed it neatly into the suitcase on the bed.
“And, sweet niece, you’re annoyed with me about the blind date, too. Here, chew on these.” Aunt Claire pulled a pair of socks out of the bureau and handed them to Rosalind.
“I’m not annoyed with you.”
“Well, just a little, I suppose.”
“That’s better,” said Aunt Claire. “Honey, I know that your dad’s dating is odd and maybe a little scary for you. Your mother was worried that it would be, but she was also so worried about him being lonely.”
“He’s never said he was lonely.” Rosalind tossed the socks into the suitcase and slammed it shut.
“I know he hasn’t, but still it could be nice for him to meet new people—women, I mean—every once in a while. You can understand that, can’t you?”
No. Besides, so far, meeting new women had been anything but nice. Rosalind had looked up
in her Latin dictionary, and it meant “torture.” Her poor father, being tortured over dinner and a movie. Still, she was glad he’d hated his date, for he definitely would not be marrying Ms. Muntz.
But she couldn’t tell Aunt Claire any of that. “I’ll take your suitcase out to the car” is what she did say, giving Aunt Claire a hug to soften her abruptness.
After she’d put the suitcase into the car, Rosalind sat down in the grass and went back to what she’d been doing for the last day and a half—trying to figure out how to stop this terrible dating. So far she’d come up with nothing but a name: The Save-Daddy Plan. She knew in her deepest heart that a more honest title would be the Save-Rosalind-and-Her-Sisters Plan, but she was not ready to admit that even to herself. And besides, she wasn’t the one using words like
A football flew from out of nowhere and bounced in front of her.
“Tommy!” yelped Rosalind, for there was only one person in the neighborhood annoying enough to throw a football at her.
him, loping across the street after his ball, in his helmet and shoulder pads. “I thought you might want to do some drills.”
“No.” She grabbed the ball and tossed it neatly back to him.
He caught the ball and flopped down beside her. “Maybe later, then.”
“No.” She went back to the Save-Daddy Plan. Having Tommy there didn’t distract her. He was as much a part of Gardam Street as the maple trees and the cul-de-sac.
“Jane told me about Mr. Pen’s blind date,” said Tommy after tossing the football in the air several times. “How did it go?”
“It was fine, I guess.”
“Fine like he liked her?”
“No, fine like he didn’t, thank goodness. Tommy, I can’t help thinking about Anna’s father, and about that boy we met this summer—”
Tommy interrupted. “Cagney.”
“What?” Rosalind hadn’t meant Cagney. And now she realized that she’d never gotten around to telling Aunt Claire about him—and love—and heartache. All of that seemed so long ago now.
“Cagney the gardener, who was older than you and so cute, blah, blah, blah.”
“What do you mean, blah, blah, blah? I’ve barely mentioned him to you. Besides, I meant Jeffrey, who’s Skye’s age.”
“Sorry. Of course you did.”
Rosalind shook her head. Sometimes Tommy didn’t make any sense at all. “Well, anyway, Jeffrey’s mother—”
“But you have to admit you’ve told me plenty about Cagney. I’ll prove it. He’s a Red Sox fan. He played basketball in high school. He wants to be a high school history teacher. He’s obsessed with the Civil War. He gave you a rosebush as a good-bye gift and you planted it beneath your bedroom window. He dated some girl named Kath—”
Rosalind cut Tommy off with an impatient wave of her hand. “All right, fine, I won’t ever bring up Cagney again when you’re around. I wasn’t talking about him, anyway. I was talking about Jeffrey’s mother dating this Dexter creep—”
“Of course, I don’t care that you liked Cagney.”
“You know what, Tommy? I don’t know why I bother to talk to you at all.”
“I don’t, either.” He stood up. “I’m going to run some drills by myself.”
“Fine. And by the way, you look goofy wearing that helmet all the time.”
“Fine, and—and—and…” He spluttered to a stop, then stomped away.
Spluttering and stomping were not usual for Tommy, and for a while Rosalind wondered what had set him off. But her father’s dating was the greater problem, and by the time the family was gathering to say good-bye to Aunt Claire, she’d forgotten all about Tommy and his nonsense. Blah, blah, blah, indeed.
No one ever liked seeing Aunt Claire go away, but the sisters were relieved that this particular weekend was almost over. The First Awful Blind Date Weekend, it would be called for the rest of their lives.
“Thank you for all of our gifts,” said Rosalind, who was first in line for hugging.
“But don’t bring any next time,” added Skye, second in line.
Aunt Claire laughed. She knew what Skye meant.
So did Jane. When she hugged Aunt Claire, she whispered, “I don’t mind getting books even when there isn’t strange and disturbing news.”
Batty proudly stood tall in the red wagon for her hug. Hound tried to do the same, but managed instead to knock both Batty and the wagon over. After picking Batty up and inspecting her for damage—none—Mr. Penderwick helped Aunt Claire into the car. “When can we expect you again?”
“I’ll check with you in a few weeks. Maybe you’ll have managed to go on another date by then.”
He closed the car door with a bit of a bang. “I don’t know where you think I’m going to find all these dates.”
“You can at least try. And if you can’t, I’ll find you some more.” Aunt Claire waved cheerfully, then drove off.
“Maybe she’ll develop selective amnesia before she comes back,” said Mr. Penderwick, “and I will be spared the rest of the dates.”
“Maybe,” said Skye doubtfully.
would still remember, Daddy,” said Jane. “And you did promise. Besides, our serene and happy family life has already been irretrievably altered by your first date—a few more won’t make much of a difference.”
“Terrific.” He looked pleadingly at Rosalind, but she had no comfort for him, only the Save-Daddy Plan, and she couldn’t have told him about that even if she actually knew how it was going to work. “Well, I’d better go grade some papers, unless anyone needs to have a talk first. Like about your lives being irretrievably altered, for example.”
“No, thank you,” said Rosalind, speaking for all of them.
He wandered alone back into the house, his shoulders drooping. Rosalind was more determined than ever to save him—and yes, all of them—from this burden of dating.
“Time for a MOPS,” she said.
A MOPS—a Meeting Of Penderwick Sisters—could be held anywhere, but unless the weather was too cold or wet, the girls preferred a certain fallen oak tree in Quigley Woods. It had crashed to the ground years earlier in a great storm, its huge gnarled roots torn out of the ground. These roots had in the past given the Penderwicks protection from invading armies, imaginary or real, real meaning mostly Tommy and his brother, Nick. But as Rosalind, Skye, and Jane were too grown-up now for war games, and Batty wasn’t allowed in Quigley Woods alone, the oak had become less of a fort and more of the perfect private meeting place.
When the sisters arrived, Rosalind chose her root first—her right as the caller of the MOPS—and the other three sat on lower roots on either side of her. Hound settled down beside Batty, facing back along the path, just in case anyone threatening should come along. When everyone was in place, Rosalind officially opened up the meeting.
“MOPS come to order.”
“Second the motion,” said Skye.
“Third it,” said Jane.
“Fourth it,” said Batty. “And fifth it for Hound.”
“For the millionth time,” scolded Skye. “Hound does not have to fifth it.”
“He wants to, don’t you, Hound?”
“Order. You, too, Hound,” said Rosalind before he could woof again. Then she made her right hand into a fist and held it out toward her sisters. “All swear to keep secret what is said here, even—actually, this time, especially—from Daddy, unless you think someone might do something truly bad.”
The others piled their fists on top of hers, and together they all chanted, “This I swear, by the Penderwick Family Honor,” then broke their fists apart.
“We know why we’re here,” said Rosalind.
“No, we don’t,” said the others.
“Because of Daddy and the dating. Honestly, aren’t any of you paying attention to what’s happening in our family?”
“I am.” Batty dug a ginger cookie out of her pocket, ate half, then gave the rest to Hound.
“Thank you, Batty. So I’ve been trying to come up with a way to stop this dating nonsense. And don’t anyone say that it was Mommy’s idea. I know it was, and I don’t care.” Rosalind glared defiantly at the others, daring them to protest.
Skye wasn’t cowed. “None of us like the dating idea, but Daddy agreed to it, and he’s honor-bound to keep going.”
“Besides, men have needs,” added Jane. “I read that in a magazine.”
“What needs?” asked Batty.
“What magazine?” asked Skye.
“Order.” Rosalind thumped on her root. “Skye’s right about Daddy agreeing to the dates. But we all know that he hates it as much as I—we—do. I looked up that word he used last night,
It means ‘torture.’”
“Ms. Muntz tortured Daddy?” Jane was horrified. For her, torture meant being stretched on racks and beaten with chains.
“Of course not. He just meant he was miserable,” said Rosalind. “We need some way to rescue him without compromising his honor. I’d hoped to have a plan before we got here, and I’ve tried and tried, but I haven’t come up with anything except a name: the Save-Daddy Plan.”
“Good name,” said Skye. “All in favor of it, say ‘aye.’ Aye.”
“Aye-aye, Captain,” said Jane, realizing that her favorite heroine had not yet had a nautical adventure. “Why, Sabrina Starr could rescue a whale next!”
“Jane, please!” Rosalind clutched her head. Suddenly a headache was coming on. “Am I the only one who understands how serious this is?”
“Sorry, Rosalind. I do understand,” said Jane. Batty passed her a cookie as a mark of camaraderie.
“So we have a name for a plan, but no plan,” said Skye. “How about murder? As quickly as Aunt Claire comes up with blind dates, we kill them off.”
Batty looked fascinated. “How would we do it?”
“Please, please stick to the point, everyone. We have to help Daddy. And we have to make sure we don’t end up with a—” Rosalind, still unable to say that word, clutched her head harder.
“—stepmother,” finished Skye. “And I
sticking to the point. But if you don’t like murder, how about this? We can’t actually stop the dating altogether—promises, honor, et cetera, et cetera—so why don’t we find three more dates for Daddy that he’ll hate as much as Ms. Muntz? He won’t date any of them more than once, and the whole experience will be so horrible that he’ll never date again, and we’ll never end up with a stepmother. Brilliant, yes?”
Rosalind let go of her head and stared at her younger sister. “It might be brilliant.”
“Really?” Skye wasn’t used to people calling her plans brilliant. Ridiculous, crazy, dangerous even—these were words she heard more often than brilliant.
“Wait a minute,” said Jane, still puzzling it out. “We’re going to choose awful dates for Daddy? Isn’t that mean and dishonorable? Wouldn’t Daddy hate it if he knew?”
“He won’t know unless we tell him.” Rosalind’s head all at once felt better. “And remember that it’s for his own good.”
“I guess so, for though it is a mean and dishonorable plan, still, it is ultimately kinder.”
“I don’t know,” said Skye, who didn’t want to go down in family history as the one who came up with a mean and dishonorable plan. “You never use my ideas. Why this one?”
“Because there are no better ideas,” said Rosalind. “Are there?”
Skye frantically ran through several more possibilities, all of them wilder even than murder. “No,” she admitted finally.
“As I thought. Let’s take a vote. Batty, what say you?”
They all looked at Batty, who had finished the ginger cookies and was now digging crumbs out of her pocket and feeding them to Hound.