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"But you promised." Zibby glared at her mom.
"Ten more minutes, Zib. Then we'll go home."
"Not home! You said we could go to Sportsmart."
"We will, we will. That's what I meant." Nell Thorne was distracted, glancing around the large convention hall at all the booths and displays. "Now wait here like a good, sweet, wonderful girl for just ten more minutes, and then I promise I'll be ready to go." She gave Zibby a bright smile and dived back into the crowds of people.
Zibby glowered after her. She gave a swift, backward kick to the wall she was leaning against. Charlotte, at Zibby's side, threw her a scornful glance.
"You baby," said Charlotte. "Now that you're twelve, do you think maybe you could not have tantrums in public? It's so embarrassing." Charlotte, Zibby's cousin, was twelve, too, but acted like she was about twenty-five.
"I just want to get my Rollerblades." This was so stupid-having to hang out here while her mom moseyed around looking at dollhouses. "You'd think getting my birthday present would be more important than some dumb doll show."
"It's a miniatures convention," Charlotte corrected Zibby. "And it comes only once a year, so give your mom a break. Anyway, I don't think you're having such a bad day just because of some Rollerblades. I bet you're upset about the wedding-and Ned."
"That's stupid," Zibby retorted, her voice rising. "And so totally not true." She kicked the wall again, really hard this time, then jumped back when a bell started ringing somewhere nearby. Sort of a clanging handbell. As if her kicking the wall had set off an alarm or something.
She closed her eyes to blot out her cousin's disapproving face. She wished she could just blot out this whole day. Charlotte was right about one thing: Zibby was having a really bad day. Today was August 30, her twelfth birthday, the day she had been waiting for all summer-but there were three things wrong, and she couldn't change any of them. She was furious and getting more furious by the minute.
First of all, the special plan for this birthday to go camping with Amy, her best friend in the whole world since they were three years old, had fizzled into nothingness with the shocking news that Amy's family was moving away-immediately-because Amy's parents had great new jobs in Cleveland and had to start working as soon as they got there. Which was last week.
Second of all, Zibby's mom, Nell, had planned a birthday dinner at Zibby's favorite restaurant-the Fat Lady-for a special treat. Normally, that would be a good thing-and Grammy and Gramps were invited, too, and Aunt Linnea and Uncle David with Zibby's cousins Charlotte and Owen, and of course her mom's fiancé, Ned Shimizu. But then Nell had insisted on inviting Ned's two bratty kids, Laura-Jane and Brady. Zibby liked Ned well enough, but his kids were horrible. It was a good thing they would keep living with their mother over in Fennel Grove even after the wedding. The wedding was happening in about two and a half weeks, but the birthday dinner at the Fat Lady was happening tonight. Zibby wasn't looking forward to either.
Third on the birthday-disaster list-and the most pressing right now-was the fact that Nell had promised Zibby they could go to Sportsmart to buy Rollerblades. Zibby had saved her allowance for months, helped out with her mom's catering company, and pulled a million weeds in Gramps's vegetable garden. Now, with the added birthday money from her dad, who lived in Italy, Zibby had one hundred and eighty-six dollars in her pocket-more money than she'd ever had before. More than enough for the coolest royal blue and silver Zingers and a matching helmet. Her mom insisted Zibby also get new, thick knee pads and wrist guards, but at least Nell was going to pay for those. If they ever got to Sportsmart.
The problem was that just before they left the house, Aunt Linnea phoned to tell Nell about the miniatures convention down in Columbus-the nearest big city to their small town of Carroway, Ohio-and then Nell had dragged Zibby to this convention first, promising they'd stop at Sportsmart afterward.
Well, Zibby was still waiting for afterward. Before they'd arrived at the place, Zibby hadn't even known what a miniatures show was, though Aunt Linnea talked about them often. Now she knew more than she ever wanted to know. This miniature world was not for kids-adults were the ones milling about by the hundreds. Everybody was so excited about looking at dolls and doll furniture, and even the miniature stuff people used to build the dollhouses: shingles and bricks and stones and boards. Zibby loved building things and was a very good carpenter, but she didn't have a dollhouse and didn't want one. She wanted royal blue and silver Zingers.
The bell was still clanging, giving Zibby a terrible headache. Plus now her foot hurt from kicking the wall. It was a sweltering end-of-summer day, and even though the convention center was air-conditioned, the heat seemed to seep inside anyway. Zibby felt sweaty and flushed. She edged away from Charlotte and headed toward the snack bar to get a soda.
Charlotte followed her but kept gazing around the convention hall, probably looking for her own mother, Zibby supposed, who was somewhere in the middle of this crowd and loving every second of it. Aunt Linnea's hobby was collecting exquisitely handcrafted furnishings for her dollhouse, a replica of a famous stately English home called Blickling Hall, which took up one full corner of their formal dining room. Aunt Linnea went to miniatures conventions like this one all around the country, and now Zibby's mom was catching the miniatures bug, too. Nell was talking about building her own dollhouse. The two sisters could easily be here browsing and buying until midnight. And Sportsmart closed at nine. Summer was all but over, and school was starting soon, and Zibby needed her blue Zingers. She needed Nell to be done with dollhouses.
Zibby sipped her soda and checked her watch. "Ten minutes are up," she said over the sound of the insistent bell. "So where are they? I'm surprised your mom hasn't run out of money already. Have you seen the prices on the things she's got in those shopping bags?" She shook her head. "Must be nice to be rich."
"You're just being a pain because your precious Amy is gone," hissed Charlotte. "But I don't see why you should say mean things about my mom. I don't say mean things about yours."
Zibby flushed. "Sorry."
She really didn't mean to be rude. Aunt Linnea and Uncle David were both kind and generous people, and they had been especially helpful to Nell and Zibby when Zibby's dad moved out two years ago. At first he was just going on a monthlong business trip to Italy to help his company set up a new office there. But one month had turned into six, and the plan for Nell and Zibby to join him had come to nothing once he'd met an Italian woman named Sofia and fallen in love. Zibby couldn't believe it for a long time, not even last summer when his weekly postcard announced that he and Sofia were getting married and would Zibby fly over and be their bridesmaid? She couldn't believe her mom's reaction to the postcard, either. Nell had just read it and shrugged her shoulders. "Don't look so surprised, honey," was all she said. "I saw this coming for a long time. Even before your dad went to Italy in the first place. You'll enjoy visiting Italy, getting to know another country. Don't blame Sofia."
But Zibby had seen nothing coming, and no way was she going to the wedding, and she did blame the unknown Sofia. She had been waiting for them to be a family again, and now they wouldn't be. It had to be someone's fault. That postcard had gone the way of all the others-into her bottom desk drawer, unanswered.
Zibby drained her plastic cup of soda and tossed it toward a trash bin. She missed, and the cup bounced to the floor. Figures, thought Zibby, stooping to pick it up. She felt hot and dizzy, and her hands were tingling, and there was still that stupid clanging bell....The room seemed to turn in a fuzzy whirl. She staggered, clutching at Charlotte for support.
Then the room steadied and the bell stopped ringing. Zibby blinked in the welcome silence, and discovered it wasn't Charlotte's arm she was holding but the arm of a tall woman in a long gray dress. Charlotte was sitting by the snack bar.
"Oh-I'm sorry-," Zibby began, but the woman took Zibby's hand tightly in hers and swept down the closest aisle, with Zibby stumbling along at her side, trying to keep up. She glanced up at the woman and saw dark eyes, like coals, glittering back at her from a long narrow face. The woman released Zibby's hand, but still Zibby's feet hurried her along at the side of this woman in gray. Zibby felt as if she were still being pulled, though the woman no longer held her hand.
They walked up aisles where craftsmen were displaying miniature furniture. They walked down aisles where vendors were offering porcelain doll families, tiny cases of plastic food, and microscopic household goods of every kind-from umbrellas to hammers to lamps that really lit up. The noise level in the convention hall was deafening. Zibby knew she should be back with Charlotte at the snack bar, but she also felt exhilarated and wanted nothing in the world more than to be following this strange woman.
Zibby found herself glancing purposefully around her as she walked, as if she were looking for something-but she didn't know what. The woman in the gray dress seemed to have disappeared into the crowd, but Zibby didn't need her now. She looked right, she looked left, she was searching and searching...and then she saw it, there at the end of the aisle.
Just what she had been looking for...wasn't it?
Yes-just exactly what she had always been longing for!
Copyright © 2004 by Kathryn Reiss
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