My little sister, Sam, knelt on the sofa, staring out the window. Our next-door neighbors moved off base last week, and she was watching for our new neighbors to arrive.
That's the way the Navy life was. Someone was always coming and someone was always going. Before we moved to Pensacola, we'd lived in California, Texas, Guam, Mississippi, and New Hampshire. Just when a place started to feel like home, we had to leave, again.
"The moving van is here!" Sam called out.
Tori and I rushed over to the window. My older sister was twelve and boy crazy. She probably wanted some goofy guy to move next door so that she could flutter her eyelashes at him. I was hoping for a fourth-grader, another potential Gypsy Club member. I started the Gypsy Club when we lived in San Diego. I'd already recruited three members while in Pensacola.
"I hope there's a five-year-old girl, just like me, moving in," said Sam. She leaned to the far right, stretching her neck as if she expected a kindergartner to pop out of the van.
I pointed to Sam's reflection in the window. "There she is."
"Right there. She looks exactly like you."
When Sam caught on, she stuck out her chin. "I'm not stupid."
"I know. You're a prodigy--a spelling bee prodigy."
Tori gave me a shove with her elbow. "Move over, Piper. You're hogging all the space, and I can't see."
"You just take up more room," I told her. When I wanted to get back at Tori, I mentioned her chubby body.
Tori's face turned purple. "You're mean, Piper Reed!"
She was right. Since Chief left, I'd said something mean every day. That meant I'd said seven mean things because seven days had passed since our dad left for ship duty.
A big calendar hung on our kitchen wall with a red X crossed through each day. Chief would be gone six long months. Each day we took turns marking off another day. Even Mom got a turn. In the Reed household we took turns for everything. And that means I'malways in the middle because I am the middle.
Mom handed the marker to me. "Go ahead, Piper. It's your turn."
"Why do I always have to be last?" Sam asked as I marked an X over November 11. I guess there were worse things than being in the middle. At least I wasn't Sam who wouldalways be the baby of the family, even when she was ninety-five years old.
"It can be fun to be last," Tori told Sam. "Haven't you heard 'Save the best for last'?"
"That's easy for you to say," I said. "You're always first."
Sam fixed her hands on her hips. "Well, I'm going to be the first one to kiss Daddy when he gets off the ship."
Mom sighed, but she wasn't paying any attention to us. She stood at the kitchen table, looking over her paint box. Monday she'd start teaching art at our school. That's when our art teacher, Mrs. Kimmel, goes on maternity leave. School would be weird having Mom there. I hoped she wouldn't ask me in front of the class if I remembered to brush my teeth.
"What about papier-mâché?" Mom asked, thumbing through newspaper scraps.
"We did papier-mâché piggy banks last week," I said. "Remember?"
Mom made a snapping noise with her tongue. "Oh, yeah. Drats!"
"Why can't they do papier-mâché again?" Tori asked.
"I want the students to make something different."
"You could let us have recess during art," I suggested.
Tori scowled. "Why would she do that?"
I shrugged. "Well, that would be different."
"We didn't do papier-mâché," said Sam.
"You didn't?" Mom sounded excited.
"Mom," I said, "think about it. Twenty kindergartners with a bunch of mush and newspaper strips? They would be a disaster."
"Oh," she said. "Good point."
Sam looked offended. "No, we won't."
"Piper is right," Mom said.
Sam frowned at me. "You spoil everything!"
"Sam, you could handle it," said Mom, "but so many of your other classmates wouldn't be able to create papier-mâché without making a huge mess."
Sam straightened her back. "That's true."
Great, I thought. Sam, the prodigy. Sam, who could read better than me, and now I couldn't even count on her to make a big mess with papier-mâché.
Mom turned off the pot of beans on the stove. They'd been cooking all day, and the smell of sausage and onions filled our kitchen.
Grabbing her sketchbook, Mom said, "We'll eat dinner soon, but first I'm going to take a bath. Creative ideas always come to me in the tub."
"Like a think tank?" Sam asked.
Mom smiled. "Yes, I guess you could say that."
Maybe I'd take a long soak later because Ineeded a good idea, too. I wanted to accomplish something fantastic so Chief would be extra proud of me when he returned.
I walked over to the computer. "I'll check our e-mail to see if Chief wrote to us yet."
Tori and Sam followed me.
Every day Chief e-mailed us. Sometimes there was a message waiting in the morning. Sometimes it was there after school. But no matter what, a message was there every day. We could count on it.
I've only been gone a week and already it feels like a year. But that's because it's the first week. The time will pass quickly, just wait and see. But don't grow too much. I won't recognize you.
By the way, I forgot to tell you a few things. Make sure you print the attachment and put it on the refrigerator.
That could mean only one thing. We opened the attachment.
"Great," Tori muttered when a list appeared.
1. Sweep the porch every afternoon.
2. Rake the yard once a month.
3. Wash the car at least every other Saturday. Don't forget the tire rims.
Chief didn't need a think tank to make lists. He could make one anytime--while he ate a Big Mac or watched TV or stretched out on the couch. Mom called it his hobby, but I think it's because you have to know how to make lists when you're a chief in the U.S. Navy.
A few minutes later, Sam called out, "They're here! The new neighbors are here!"
The three of us raced outside. I decided I wouldn't mind if there was a bratty girl Sam's age or a goofy boy Tori's age, as long as there was someone my age. Someone who could become an official Gypsy Club member and say "Get off the bus!" when they were excited. Itwas my goal to spread that saying around the world, and I'd already spread it to California and Florida.
A blue car had parked next door. A second later, a man got out from behind the driver's seat and then his wife opened the passenger door. The lady smiled at us.
I wasn't sure of their rank, but I salutedthem anyway. "Hi. Welcome to NAS Pensacola, home of the Blue Angels!"
The man's face broke out into a big grin. He even had dimples.
Tori elbowed me. "What are you? The welcome committee?"
"That's a lovely welcome," the lady said. "My name is Yolanda and this is Abe."
"Good to meet you," Abe said. "I guess the people in Florida are as warm as the climate."
They seemed nice, but where were their kids? Maybe their kids were grown. But Yolanda and Abe looked too young for that. Maybe they didn't have any kids. My shoulders sank.
Then Yolanda opened the car's back door and ducked her head inside. I heard her say, "Come on, Brady. Don't be shy."
Brady? That could be a girl or a boy. That could be a five-year-old, or a twelve-year-old,or maybe a nine-year-old. That could be a future Gypsy Club member.
But a moment later Yolanda straightened and in her arms was a little kid. A big little kid. Almost the same size as Sam.
Yolanda kissed the top of his head. "This is Brady. He's two years old. He's kind of tall for his age."
Brady held out three fingers. "Twee!" he said. "You have a good ways to go before you're three," Yolanda said, smiling.
We stood there, studying Brady. He had dimples just like Abe. None of us said a word. Then Bruna walked over to them and wagged her tail.
Brady pointed to her, bouncing on his mother's hip. "Dog!" he said.
Great, I thought. Just what I need--another child prodigy!
PIPER REED, CLUBHOUSE QUEEN. Text copyright © 2008 by Kimberly Willis Holt.