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Lily's in London?!It's a God Thing!
By Nancy Rue
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Women of Faith
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAll right, Liliana," Mudda said. "Enough partying. It's time to get down to some serious business."
Lily Robbins felt her blue eyes widening as she stared into her grandmother's face. Around her the party crowd on the deck seemed to hold its breath, as if everyone were using the same pair of lungs. Forks full of potato salad stopped midair.
"What do you mean, 'enough partying,' Mudda?"
That came from Lily's ten-year-old adopted sister Tessa, who hadn't been in the family long enough to be used to calling her new grandmother "Mudda," the way Lily and her brothers did. Tessa's mossy green eyes narrowed just as dramatically as, Lily knew, her own were popping out of her head. Lily tugged nervously at one of the curls that had escaped from her wild red ponytail.
"I thought this was all about Lily tonight," Tessa said. She started to curl her lip. "How come you're saying she has to do some stupid serious thing?"
Lily heard her father whisper, "Watch your tone, Tess," but Tessa was fearless in the face of the sometimes-grumpy Mudda, who was looking particularly disgruntled at the moment - until Lily saw the glimmer in her bright-blue eyes, which meant she was probably up to something. Lily's mother had obviously caught on, too, because she elbowed Mudda, her ponytail bouncing. Mudda's hair, in its crisply cut, gray, helmet style, didn't budge an inch.
"Come on, Mudda - what's this serious business?" Mom said.
"Well, presents, of course," Mudda said. "I saw them stacked in the family room like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I think it's time we got to them before they fall over."
"Yes!" Tessa bounded toward the back door.
"Man," said Lily's eleven-year-old brother Joe. "I never saw a chick who could change moods so fast."
"Unlike you," Art said, "who's been in the same foul mood for two weeks."
That was true, Lily thought. Joe had been walking around with his lip practically trailing on the carpet for days, his eyebrows down to his upper lip in a scowl that seemed to be pasted permanently onto his face with Superglue. Still, Lily had also noticed that lately her brother Art, who was almost eighteen, was making more and more comments that sounded as if they ought to be coming out of a grown-up's mouth.
"He's seventeen going on forty," she had heard Mom say to Dad.
Well, duh, Lily thought. Because he's the one who's getting to stay in his own hometown and at his own school, while the rest of us go thousands of miles away, where we don't know anybody, where people aren't even Americans - and for a whole year!
"You comin', Lil?"
Lily looked up to discover that the only person left on the back deck with her was her best friend, Reni, standing with her hands on her hips.
"You don't look that thrilled about opening your presents," Reni said. "What's the deal?"
Lily gazed at her in surprise. Reni was definitely her best friend of all the Girlz, but she wasn't usually this sympathetic. Her very black eyes looked bigger than ever, framed by her tight cornrows of hair, and they actually looked sad. It took a lot to make Reni sad. But then, this was a lot. Lily stood up and started for the back door.
"I'd be more thrilled if they weren't going-away presents," Lily said. "I don't wanna go to England, Reni. I mean, I do, because Dad wants us to. But I don't want to leave you."
"I don't want you to go, either," Reni said, swallowing hard. "I don't think I'll be able to stand it without you."
"But you'll still have Kresha and Suzy and Zooey -"
"They aren't you!"
"But Reni," Lily said, "I won't have anybody."
Reni got another huge gulp down past the lump in her throat and then folded her arms across her chest as if she were warding off a blizzard.
"Okay, we gotta stop this," she said. "You're always gonna have us. We're gonna email you, like, six times a day and -"
"It won't be the same," Lily said, "and you know it."
They both turned to see Kresha peering at them through the screen door, her nose pressed against the mesh as though she were six years old. To Lily, it was as if they were all little kids now, each one of them on the verge of a tantrum.
"Your grandmudda - she says she will open the presents her own self if you not come."
Lily straightened her shoulders. If Kresha, who was Croatian but spoke almost perfect English now, was slipping back into her old butchered sentences, she really was feeling bad. Lily pulled open the door and put her arm around Kresha's thin little shoulders.
"No way she's opening my presents," Lily said.
"I believe it," Reni said. "I'm still scared of that lady."
As if to prove it, Reni hurried ahead of them through the dining room and into the family room. But Lily lagged behind a little in the kitchen, dragging her fingers across the back of one of the chairs.
"Hey, Kresh?" she said.
"What was it like for you, coming to a foreign country?"
"You mean America?"
"But America is my home now!"
"I know - but when you first came, was it scary?"
Kresha nodded solemnly. Her sparkly eyes seemed to be remembering things as they peered through her bangs.
"I could not understand what people were saying," Kresha said. "I don't know - didn't know - what were the rules in school, and ..."
"Everybody made fun of me when I tried to talk in English." Her eyes perked up suddenly. "Until you, Lee-Lee - and the Girlz Only! You change everything for me."
Just as suddenly as she'd started to smile, Kresha's face crumpled and she threw her arms around Lily's neck. Lily hugged her and thought, There won't be any Girlz Only Club in Oxford to help me. I'm going to have to take the teasing and the rules and all that stuff all by myself.
"Are we crying?" asked a voice from the dining room doorway.
Lily looked over Kresha's trembling shoulder at Zooey, her round-faced friend who, she knew, could melt into tears on a second's notice, especially if one of the other Girlz was doing it. Lily swallowed the lump in her throat that threatened to turn the whole scene into a crying marathon, and let go of Kresha.
"Not anymore," Lily said. She gave Kresha a nudge and heard her noisily snuff the rest of her own tears up through her nose. "We're done. Did they start without me?"
"Not yet," Zooey said. "But Tessa's about to wet her pants. It's a good thing she had her party last week or she'd be climbing the wall."
As if on cue, Tessa suddenly appeared above Zooey, atop the shoulders of Shad Shifferdecker.
"Don't bang my head, Shifferdecker," Tessa said, ducking her short, dark-haired head to keep from hitting the top of the doorway.
Lily saw Zooey stiffen out of habit. After all, Shad had been a permanent pain in the neck to the Girlz all through sixth grade. But Lily grinned at him. After seventh grade he'd turned out to be not so bad. She could actually stand him now that he no longer called her "Robbins" as if the word meant "goose poop." He still called her "Robbins," but it was different now. In fact, she'd confided to Art just a few days earlier that Shad was starting to grow on her.
"Like a fungus between your toes," Art had said. After she'd popped him one, he got a little serious and said, "You've probably got a crush on him."
"I so do not!" Lily had practically shrieked.
"Methinks the lady doth protest too much," had been his answer.
That's what she meant by Art talking as if he were this adult or something. He was even looking older, in a thin, pasty kind of way.
She looked now at Shad and stifled a sigh. It didn't matter whether she actually had a crush on him or not, because by the time she got back - in a year - he would have forgotten what her name was. Period.
"Hey, Robbins," he said. "I can't keep my girlfriend here under control much longer - and I am not even dealing with that Mudda woman."
Suzy squeezed her head between Shad and the door frame and said, "You'd better hurry, Lily, or she really is gonna get mad."
Suzy always thought everybody was going to get mad, Lily knew. That was just Suzy. But Lily herded the whole group through the dining room anyway. One more second with her friends and she was going to start the kind of crying that wouldn't stop, no matter what you did. Besides, Reni's dad was there with his camera, and Lily definitely didn't want all the photos of her going-away party to show her with snot running out of her nose.
Mudda gave her a friendly scowl when she got to the family room, and pointed to the big La-Z-Boy chair next to the stack of presents, which had shifted considerably to the right. Lily was sure Tessa had been poking at them.
"Sit!" Mudda said. "Before the crowd goes mad!"
As Lily sank into the chair, she looked at the "crowd" around her. Just about everyone she loved was there - Mrs. Reinhold, her English teacher; Ed and Victoria, the two college kids who coached the Shakespeare Club; and Mr. Miniver, a man she could barely get through a day without because he was the best counselor in the entire middle school world. Even Herbie, from the Double H Stables, was there, although he hadn't brought Big Jake, her favorite horse on the planet. Lily had already said good-bye to him. Talk about some snot on that occasion.
Of course there were her Girlz, who right now she couldn't even look at for fear of losing it completely. She looked instead at Joe, who had already had his going-away party last weekend, attended by every kid in Burlington, New Jersey, he'd ever played baseball, basketball, or soccer with. He'd had fun at his party - but right after that he'd started setting the record for long-term sulking. Lily knew he was as bummed about leaving the sweaty little eleven-year-olds he was always punching as she was about leaving the Girlz she shared absolutely everything with. Maybe she shouldn't look at him after all.
She turned to her presents.
"Finally!" Tessa said. "You want me to help you?"
Lily wrinkled her nose at her. "Let me think about it - NO," she said.
"Brat," Tessa said back.
Nobody said anything. "Brat" was far better than any of the things she'd called Lily when she'd first come to live with the Robbinses. Besides, Lily knew she didn't mean it at all. Tessa was in fact the only one of the three Robbins kids going to England who was excited about it. She hadn't been able to stop talking about it for a month, and most of that had been questions fired at Lily. The child could quiz worse than Mrs. Reinhold.
"Guess who this one's from?" Tessa said, thrusting a small rectangular package onto Lily's lap.
"What is she, clairvoyant?" Art said. "Let her open the card."
While Tessa cross-examined Art on what clairvoyant meant, Lily read the card from Mrs. Reinhold. She had written,
Write down every detail that touches you. Don't trust yourself to remember - and you will want to remember.
Though Lily doubted that, she did like the leather journal and the accompanying silver pen. She'd never owned anything but plastic gel pens in colors Mrs. Reinhold would never let them use to write their papers. Though now it wouldn't matter what color she wrote in, since Mom was going to be home-schooling her and Joe and Tessa. Another weird change.
Lily decided it was best to keep focusing on the presents. There was a scrapbook from the Girlz so when she came back, they could see every single thing she'd done.
"Take pictures of Big Ben and the queen and everything!" Zooey said.
"Those are in London - we're living in Oxford," Lily said.
"But you must go to London," Mrs. Reinhold said, nodding her head at Mudda as if they were thinking with the same brain.
Mudda agreed with a nod of her gray helmet-head. "London was made for you, Liliana," she said. "Joanna, Paul - you must see that she gets there."
"What about me?" Tessa asked.
"I'm not sure whether London is ready for you, Tess," Dad said.
Ed and Victoria gave Lily a book on the new Globe Theatre in London so she'd be ready to go see some real Shakespeare. They were obviously pushing London, too. It gave Lily the first glimmer of excitement she'd felt since the gloom had set in. That might not be so bad. A place made for her.
Mr. Miniver's present was a funny book on English slang.
"You'll pick it up straight away on your own," Mr. M. said, faking a British accent that came out of his nose. "But this should give you a leg up, right?"
"What's he talking about?" Tessa asked.
Lily had no idea and that scared her all over again.
After she opened the package of four disposable cameras from Shad, Art wiggled his eyebrows at her from across the room and mouthed the word romantic. Lily ignored him and turned to her last present from Mudda.
Tessa couldn't hold herself back any longer and proceeded to help Lily rip the paper off. Inside was a small canvas bag with pockets and a shoulder strap. It was khaki and cool-looking - not exactly the kind of present she would have expected from Mudda. She was more the sensible underwear-and-socks type.
"The instructions are inside," Mudda said. "You can read them later."
"Read them now!" Tessa said.
She leaped at Lily, arms flailing at the bag. When Lily pulled it out of her reach, Shad snatched it and held it above Tessa's head.
Before she could start to bellow - as only Tessa could - Mom stood and said to Zooey's mother, "Didn't you bring some kind of scrumptious dessert?"
Tessa was immediately all over that, particularly since there was chocolate involved. Lily could barely get down two bites, even though there were also raspberries and whipped cream on the concoction. Zooey's mom knew those were her favorites, because she had fixed her so many snacks down in the Girlz Only room in Zooey's basement. The thought gave Lily another stab of sadness.
It was hard to say good-bye to people she knew she wouldn't see for a year. But it was harder yet to part with the Girlz, even though they would probably be with her every possible minute for the next five days and were even going to the Philadelphia airport to see the Robbins family off.
Every time I say good-bye to them now, Lily wrote in her Talking to God journal that night, it brings me one good-bye closer to really leaving them. I don't know if I can do this, God!
Tears trailed down her cheeks and this time she let them come, nose goop and all. No one was there to see it except her big stuffed panda, China, and of course, Otto.
Excerpted from Lily's in London?! by Nancy Rue Copyright © 2003 by Women of Faith. Excerpted by permission.
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