I know my mom--my real mom--cares about me.
So what if she never writes or calls? She's probably really busy.
But it will be so cool having her visit. We can go shopping and talk and...I don't know...bond or something.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
"Lacey--dinner!" my father called up the stairs.
I groaned. I wanted to say I wasn't hungry, but my stomach was rumbling in a way that was impossible to ignore. I tossed down the Cosmo Girl magazine I'd been reading, brushed my hair out of my eyes, and dragged myself out of bed.
Dinner is not my favorite time of the day.
For starters, my darling stepmother, Victoria, has all these rules. We're supposed to behave the way normal families do--with some "class," as Victoria is fond of saying. Dinner must be eaten in the dining room. We're also supposed to engage in polite conversation. This is a total joke, considering that Victoria and I can't stand each other--or that my half sister, Penelope, is mostly interested in Teletubbies, or that my dad can't wait to escape and go read The Wall Street Journal.
Fun, fun, fun, I thought miserably. I braced myself for the evening's drama as I walked into the dining room. The table looked like something from Martha Stewart. White tablecloth, napkins, and plates. A big, dramatic centerpiece with white flowers. In case you haven't guessed, formalities are a major priority in the Frells household. So is the complete absence of color. Everything is done in black and white. Victoria thinks beige is too bright.
Dad sat at the head of the table, still dressed in his suit from work. Penelope was wiggling around in her booster seat. I pursed my lips. She reminded me of some kind of fish, caught on dry land. I could hear Victoria puttering around in the kitchen.
"Hi, Lacey!" Penelope said brightly as I slid into my seat.
"Hi," I mumbled. As far as kids go, I guess Penelope isn't all that bad. But still, she is three--and I'm the one who gets stuck babysitting her most of the time. I glanced across the table. "Hey, Dad."
He cleared his throat, then coughed awkwardly. "Um...hi," he said.
I stared at him for a moment. Dad seemed even more nervous than usual. Then again, he always acts nervous when I'm around. He can't look me in the eye, and he talks way too fast--it's like he's afraid at any moment I might throw a fit or something. I can't exactly blame him, though. I have freaked out more than once. But it's not my fault. It's totally impossible to maintain control all the time, living in the same house as Victoria.
"Mommy, I want milk!" Penelope screeched.
"Coming!" she answered.
My own drink was already on the table--diet Coke in a cut-glass wine goblet. Like I said, we're big on formalities here. The food stood waiting in three covered serving dishes. It was Wednesday, which meant the dishes contained baked chicken breasts, steamed broccoli, and wild rice.
Victoria coasted into the dining room. She was dressed in a spotless business suit. Today's outfit was charcoal gray--actually a radical color choice for my stepmother.
"Here's your milk, sweetie." Victoria put a sippy cup in front of Penelope. She caught Dad's eye as she slipped into her chair next to Penelope. I saw him nod almost imperceptibly.
So. They had a secret. My stomach tensed. Suddenly I wasn't hungry anymore. The last secret nearly killed me. Dad and Victoria had dropped a major bomb on me a couple of months ago: Victoria was pregnant. The way they acted when they told me was...well, sickening. Nonstop giggles. Gooey kisses and baby talk. They couldn't have been more excited about having another kid. But I saw their "good" news for what it was a warning. I already spent half my life baby-sitting Penelope. I was not looking forward to living with a new screaming, smelly brat.
Victoria uncovered the food, and we started to pass it around.
"Would you like some french fries?" Dad asked me.
My jaw dropped. Victoria never varies her Wednesday menu. Suddenly it was out with wild rice, which I loathe--and in with french fries, my favorite. Victoria never even eats fries because she says they're loaded with fat and salt and they're "bad for digestion."
"Um...sure," I said.
Dad passed the fries.
I swallowed. Nobody spoke--not even Penelope. We all watched as Victoria put a couple of pieces of steamed broccoli and a piece of chicken on Penelope's plate.
"So...how was school today, sweetie?" Victoria asked.
That was it. Victoria had never once called me sweetie--ever. And she had to be talking to me because Dad and Penelope didn't go to school.
I dropped my fork. It fell to the plate with a sharp clatter. "What's going on here?" I demanded.
Victoria shifted her gaze to my father. I was getting a very bad vibe. Either my dad and his wife had been replaced by alien clones or they were hiding something huge. An awful thought flashed into my mind. Victoria was having twins! I slid my hands under the table and crossed my fingers. Please don't let it be that. Baby-sitting for one kid was bad enough. Two was awful but unavoidable. Three would be terminal.
Dad squirmed in his seat and stared at his napkin. He cleared his throat again. Finally he looked up and met my gaze. "I got a call from your mother today," he said.
Time came to a standstill. Mom? No wonder they were acting so freakish. The mere mention of my mother is enough to raise the tension in Dad and Victoria's house to meltdown level. But why hadn't Mom called me? She never talked to Dad if she could avoid it.
"What did she say?" I asked cautiously.
"She's coming to town," Dad mumbled. He sounded like his best friend had just died.
My heart began to race. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Now this...this was good news. Very good news. I hardly ever saw Mom. I hadn't seen her in almost two years, in fact. My parents got divorced when I was six. The lawyers and judges thought my father should get custody of me just because Mom is a high-powered fashion photographer and magazines like Elle and Vogue are always flying her all over the world.
That's how I started my prison sentence in this house.
Of course, Mom tries to stay in touch as much as possible. She sends me postcards all the time from cool places like the Cayman Islands and Rio de Janeiro. And she always calls on my birthday. But her travels hardly ever bring her to Sweet Valley. There aren't a lot of fashion magazines in this town. That's why she lives in New York City. Right after the divorce, she moved into an apartment in downtown Manhattan. I've never actually been there, but I'm sure her place is totally glam. For instance, I bet it contains actual colors. Unlike some places I know.
"When is she coming?" I asked casually.
"Friday," Dad said. His expression was blank--but I could tell he wasn't thrilled.
Friday, I thought. Two days away. So soon. I didn't even know what to think. My brain felt like it had been plugged into an electric socket. I couldn't focus.
Victoria sighed. "I just wish Sonia had given us more notice," she said sourly--emphasizing my mother's name. (A much cooler name than Victoria, by the way.) It figured she would be irritated. My stepmother hates surprises and spontaneity as much as she hates bright colors.
"Where's she staying?" I asked.
"The Mercer Grand," Dad said. "Some magazine is paying for the room."
"How appropriate," Victoria said. Her tone was dry.
I shot her an annoyed look. The Mercer Grand is very Hollywood, very cool. I couldn't wait to go meet my mom there. I could just picture it: There we would be, sitting in the hotel lobby, surrounded by rock stars and famous actors...hanging, bonding, sharing a little mother-and-daughter face time.
But for some reason, my stomach felt funny. It was almost the feeling I get when I have to take a big test I haven't studied for. A definite ache.
It was nothing, though. Victoria was probably right about french fries after all.
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Econo-Clad Books, 2000. Book Condition: Good. Former Library book. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP68902782
Book Description Econo-Clad Books, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: Used: Good. Bookseller Inventory # SONG0613275276