"OKAY, GUYS. HAVE A GOOD TIME," NORA Kingsley said. "And remember, I'll be at the doctor's, so Charles's mom will pick you up right here by the entrance at four. If I'm running much later than I expect, I'll call the house around four-thirty."
"Yeah, Mom, we know," Jerm said. Jerm was six, and his real name was Jeremiah Kingsley.
He and Charles Sprague were already climbing out of the car. Like Beanie, Charles was ten, and he lived directly across the street from the Kingsleys in the small town of Weymouth, Maine. His hair was blond and spiky and his face round, and he often wore an old Boy Scout shirt with the badges cut off, leaving darker-colored circles where they had been.
Beanie--really Beatrice--Kingsley slid across the seat and paused. Beanie had long, medium-brown hair and brown eyes. She wore faded gym shorts and an old Weymouth Day Camp polo shirt.
"We can remember that, Mom. It's no big deal."
But the problem was that for her mother now, it was a big deal. Remembering schedules, buyinggroceries, cooking--everything was. Her mom hadn't been back to work since last April, when she and Beanie had gotten sick with a bad case of the flu. Beanie had recovered, but her mother simply hadn't.
Since her illness, her mom couldn't remember schedules at all. She had been reading those times--"four o'clock, pick up kids; four-thirty, call home" --from a piece of notepaper that lay propped beside her on the seat. A bright yellow Post-It note was stuck to the dashboard with her doctor's name on it: Dr. Leo Howell, rheumatologist. 105 Sewell Street.
Feeling fretful and torn, Beanie sat half in and half out of the car. Part of her couldn't wait to pass through the festival gates; part of her wanted to stay with her mom and make sure everything went well at the appointment.
"How come your doctor can't give you some medicine to make you better?" she asked. It was the same question Beanie had asked on her mother's two previous trips to Dr. Howell.
"He has to confirm what's wrong. And he has to rule out some more serious problems," her mother answered. "You can't take medicine if you don't know exactly what you're taking it for."
"Serious problems? Like what? What could be more serious?" Beanie tugged at a strand of hair anxiously. She was by nature a worrywart.
"Nevermind that now, sweetie. Look: Jerm and Charles are waiting."
"Yeah," Beanie muttered. "I know."
Through the chain-link fence that surrounded the fairgrounds, she could see the tents and activities of Weymouth's annual August Lobster Festival. She could hear the screams of excited kids, smell the scent of popcorn and sawdust, and see colored lights swaying on cables strung between the exhibits, lit up and waiting for night, still many hours away.
"Beanie, come on!" Jerm said impatiently.
"Yeah, what's the delay, Beanbag?" Charles added.
What if Dr. Howell had bad news? What if her mom had a brain tumor or that illness old people got, Alzheimer's? Those were serious. Mrs. Kingsley was barely able to take care of Beanie and Jerm as it was.
"Should I go with you?" Beanie asked.
"No, no. This visit is just to get some lab results. It's nothing. You go on and have fun. Come on. Out you go!"
Beanie sighed. "Okay. Bye."
She climbed out of the car and slammed the door, then watched her mom pull onto the road.
"Beanie! Come on!" Jerm urged again. "Move it, girl!"
His sweatpants were torn at the knee, and the seat bagged out. His little round eyeglasses flashed sunlight at her. He wore a faded, much-too-small black T-shirt that said VISIT MAINE. She stuck out her tongue at him.
Why did she have to go to the festival with a scrawny six-year-old instead of a crowd of girls from her grade? She knew that none of the other girls whowere sure to be here would be taking care of younger brothers and sisters. Beanie was worried about her mom, true, but that wasn't the whole story.
As she hurried after Charles and Jerm, she felt a sharp stab of self-pity and resentment that her mother wasn't strong or active anymore. Her mom always used to take them to the festival. Last year she had entertained Jerm on the kiddie rides while Beanie and Charles ran around with a group of their school friends. Her mother used to do a lot of things ... But Beanie wouldn't think about that now. She was here to have fun.
Beanie stumbled after the boys through the dry weeds. On their street, Poplar Lane, there was a girl Beanie's age, named Miranda Adams. For the hundredth time at least, Beanie wished that Mrs. Adams, Miranda's mom, were her mother. And she wished that Miranda, one of the popular girls in school, were her best friend.
They quickly bought their tickets. Today, August 30, 2000, was half-price day for kids under fifteen, and the festival was mobbed with kids dashing around in excitement.
"Let's do the Haunted House first," Jerm called out. "This way, you guys."
He started to rush ahead through the crowd, but Charles seized his arm.
"Wait, Jerm," Charles said. "We don't want to get separated in the first five minutes."
"He never waits," Beanie said. "You are so lucky you're an only child."
"Yeah? I don't think so," Charles said. "My parents worry about me too much. Have you ever seen them out in the driveway, fighting about my back brace? My mom wants me to wear it. My dad thinks I shouldn't. Blah, blah, blah. I have to put it on as soon as we get home."
"I know they don't agree about it," Beanie replied, "but I hadn't noticed the fighting."
"Yeah, well, keep an eye out. Things have reached a fever pitch."
Charles had scoliosis. His parents were divorced, and his dad lived a half hour away Beanie and Jerm's dad was dead. He'd died when Jerm was a baby and Beanie was four. Their only other relatives were their Uncle Ozzy and Auntie Jane in San Francisco. Beanie and Jerm saw them once a year at Christmas.
"What do you do when they fight?" Beanie asked.
"I sit in the car and hold my breath, seeing if I can turn blue."
Beanie laughed. "No you don't."
"Yes I do. I want to act as weird as they do."
"Your mom is kind of whacked."
"Kind of? Ha!"
"She's nice, though. Hey!" Beanie cried suddenly. "Look. A fortune-teller's tent. Wait for me, you guys, while I go in."
"Beanie, don't. It's a rip-off," Charles said. "Save your tickets for the Cobra and the Octopus."
"Just wait for me."
"Oh, man," wailed Jerm. "This is going to take forever." He flopped down on the grass.
"Goodbye, Charles. Adiós, Jerm." Beanie saluted them. "I'm going in."
Charles cupped his hands to his mouth and announced in a deep voice, "She's going in, folks. She's going in."
Beanie grinned. Then she approached the purple tent cautiously, tickets clutched in her hand.