bitsy and the mystery at tybee island excerpt
Bitsy and the Mystery at Tybee Island
âHe is, too!â
âHe ainât, either!â
âHe is, too!â
âHe ainât, either!â I screamed back at my little sister.
Grief!Â Why in the world did Mother and Daddy want so many kids?Â It was peaceful and calm and quiet and easy when it was just me.Â Now I have to deal with two bratty sisters plus another kid on the way.
I glared down at Ann with her grimy little hand on her hip, tapping her dirty, bare foot.Â Itâs amazing how someone so small can make your life so miserable.
She balled her fists, stretched up on her tiptoes, and screeched at the top of her lungs, âHe is, too!â
Iâd had enough.Â I bent over her, stared into those squinty blue eyes, and growled through my teeth, âHe…ainât…either.âÂ We were eyeball-to-eyeball, nose-to-nose.Â Her hot breath hit me in the face, but I didnât blink.
âBitsy, whatâs going on in here?â my mother yelled as she came through the back door with her empty laundry basket.
Now, correct me if Iâm wrong here, but werenât there two kids in this argument?
I stood up real straight and held myself as tall as I could.Â âAnn says that Bobby Crumley is my boyfriend, and he ainât.â
âHe isnât,â Mother said.
I turned to Ann and smirked.Â âSee, I told you so.â
âNo, Bitsy,â my mother corrected.Â âYou said âainât,â and it should be âisnât.âÂ Now yâall stop all this fussing and set the table for supper.â
I just looked at my mother and didnât say a word.Â Is that it?Â âNow yâall set the table for supper?âÂ How about an apology from Ann?Â Is that too much to ask around here?Â Grief!
I climbed up on the counter and pulled down five chipped plates from the cabinet.Â I wanted to ask my mother what was the big deal about setting the table anyway.Â Itâs not like we have a real supper.Â Itâs not like we have real food.Â But I kept my mouth shut.
As I set the plates on the table, Mother sliced the fatback and threw it in the frying pan, just like she had done for the past three days.Â I watched the sweat trickle down her face and wondered if she was as tired of fatback and honey buns as I was.
Mother says we should just thank the good Lord that we have food to eat.Â She says there are poor kids who donât have any food at all.Â Now, donât get me wrong, I thank God everyday for the greasy fatback and old honey buns.Â But I certainly wouldnât mind it if He decided to send some pizza my way. Hey, maybe on that day I could send my fatback and honey bun to the poor kids!
Anyway, Ann plopped down in front of the TV and started watching Sesame Street with my baby sister, Lynn, while I did all the work.Â But I wasnât complaining.Â At least they werenât bugging me for once.Â I looked across the room at Ann and wondered how we could possibly be sisters.Â I guess you could say weâre complete opposites.
Iâm always the shortest person in my class; thatâs why they call me Bitsy–my real name is Elizabeth Ruth Burroughs.Â I have short brown hair thatâs real curly, and brown eyes, and a big dimple right in the middle of my chin, just like my daddy.Â Iâm not the least bit shy, and I can beat up any guy my age.Â Iâve done it lots of times.Â Iâm the only girl in the whole softball league, and most of my friends are guys.
And then thereâs Ann.Â Her real name is Margaret Ann, after my Aunt Margaret.Â But Mother didnât want to have two Margarets in the family, so we just call my sister Ann.Â Anyway, like I said, sheâs not at all like me.Â Sheâs kinda tall for her age, has straight blonde hair, and those squinty blue eyes.Â Sheâs real shy and doesnât like to be with other people.Â I wish she didnât like to be with me, but she sure seems to be hanging around all the time.Â And believe me, a twelve-year-old does not want a six-year-old hanging around.
Now, my baby sister Lynn isnât as much trouble.Â Maybe itâs because sheâs just three and hasnât learned how to aggravate me yet.Â Or maybe it just doesnât seem like sheâs as much trouble since she looks exactly like me.Â But sheâs still a bratty little sister.Â Her name is Lynn Jeannine.Â Mother wanted to have a redheaded daughter, but Lynn ended up looking just like me and Daddy.
And then thereâs the new one.Â I couldnât believe it when Mother told me we were going to have another baby.Â Why would anybody want four kids?Â Especially since Mother and Daddy always say we donât have enough money.Â When she told me there was going to be another one, I asked her where the money was going to come from to pay for it.Â I even reminded her of that awful day when me and Ann and Lynn had to hide in her bedroom while that bill collector was banging on the front door.
He was yelling, âI know youâre in there, Mrs. Burroughs.Â And you know youâre three months late on your payment!âÂ It was really scary for the little kids, but I knew I could protect us if I had to.
Anyway, Mother said money isnât everything, and they were very thankful for the new baby, even if I wasnât.Â Then she told me she hoped it was another girl so we could have a Burroughs Sisters Quartet.Â She keeps saying she wants us to sing on TV like the Lemon Sisters, whoever they are.Â Can you believe it?Â Me singing with my bratty sisters?Â Now, donât get me wrong.Â I love to sing, and Iâm great on stage.Â But personally, Iâd rather just have a baby brother and sing by myself on TV.
Supper that night was like every other night, with Ann and Lynn making their usual racket while we asked God to bless the food, and their usual mess while we ate it all up.Â And, as usual, Daddy didnât get home in time to eat with us.
See, my daddy drives a bread truck, which means he delivers bread to all the stores and restaurants around town.Â Itâs a hard job and he works long hours, but at least we get the old bread and honey buns for free.Â Daddy says this job really does put food on the table.Â And I always laugh when he says it, even though Iâve heard him say it at least a thousand times.
âNine oâclock, girls,â my mother announced as The Waltons rerun ended.Â âTime for bed.â
âPlease let me stay up âtil Daddy gets home,â I begged.
âMe, too!â cried Ann.
âMe, too!â echoed Lynn.
But my mother didnât back down.Â âNo.Â I said itâs time for bed, and thatâs what I mean.â
Now, I have to give my mother credit here.Â She says what she means and she means what she says.Â So when Mother says, âTime for bed,â thatâs it.Â No amount of begging or pleading or tantrum-throwing will get her to change her mind.Â But sometimes I just have to give it a try.Â And this was one of those times.Â I needed to see my daddy.
I decided to try the adult approach.Â I didnât cry.Â I didnât even whine.Â I just said real grown-up like,Â âMother, please let me stay up.Â Iâm too big to go to bed the same time the little kids do.âÂ Now, that was a mature statement if I ever heard one.
âYes, Bitsy, youâre right.Â You really should be able to stay up later.Â But to be honest, I need you to go to bed early tonight.Â I need the peace and quiet.â
She needs the peace and quiet?Â She needs the peace and quiet?Â Iâm the one who has to live in a tiny bedroom with wall-to-wall beds holding wall-to-wall kids!Â Iâm the one whoâll have to put up with a bawling baby in the crib and Ann and Lynn sharing the bunk below me.Â Iâm the one who has to put up with kids getting into my stuff.Â Why canât some of these kids go sleep in her room where they can bother her stuff?Â Grief!
So much for adult conversation.
Fifteen minutes later I was lying in bed, feeling sorry for myself, and listening to the endless âSLURP-SLURP-SLURPâ of my two thumb-sucking sisters.Â Then I remembered the box, the big cardboard box under the crib.
You see, Daddy is always working extra jobs or inventing new gadgets in order to make more money for our family.Â His latest business was filling bubblegum machines, and a yearâs supply of gumballs was hidden in the box under the crib.
I was the only one who knew it was there.Â The day I found it, Daddy explained that there was no other place in our little house to put the box, and he would just have to trust me not to eat up all his profits.Â He didnât say I couldnât have any, he just said there were a few rules attached.
First of all, I could only chew one piece a day. Second of all, I couldnât go to sleep with gum in my mouth.Â And third of all, I had to brush my teeth after I finished the gum.Â I followed the rules almost every day.
But that night I imagined a crunchy red ball rolling around my mouth and could even taste the sweet juice as it ran all over my tongue.Â The temptation was more than I could bear.Â âIâll brush my teeth twice as long tomorrow,â I promised God.
I climbed down from my top bunk, quietly opened the lid of the box and reached my hand into the secret stash of bubblegum balls.Â My heart was pounding like a jackhammer as I waved my fingers back and forth through the round goodies.Â In the darkness, I selected the perfect gumball, pulled it out of the box, and placed it between my teeth.Â Just as I crunched the gum in two, I heard the screen door creak open.Â Daddy was home!
I threw the pieces of gum in the trashcan and ran the few steps from my bedroom to the living room.Â âDaddy!âÂ I jumped into his arms just as Mother was waking up on the couch.
âIâm glad youâre still awake, Bitsy,â he said, grinning from ear to ear.
I turned to Mother and smiled.Â I wanted to say, âSee, I knew Daddy wanted me to stay up.âÂ But I didnât say anything.
Daddy continued, âI have some good news!â
Mother pulled herself up, and Daddy patted the couch for me to sit beside him.Â His brown eyes were sparkling as he proudly said, âGuess what.Â Weâre going on a vacation!â
I jumped up and down. âA vacation!Â Weâve never had a vacation before!â
Daddy stood and held out his arms for Motherâs hug.
But Mother was already arguing.Â âRobert, you know we canât afford a vacation.Â How can you even suggest such nonsense?â
He sat down.Â âWell, Ruth, thatâs the first exciting part.Â We can afford it!â
My mother couldnât believe what she was hearing.Â âWhat are–?â
âAt work today they announced the Salesman of the Quarter.Â And guess who got it?Â Me!â
I jumped up and down.Â Daddy stood and held out his arms again.Â But she wasnât giving up that easy.
âIâm very proud of you, Robert,â she said.Â âBut what does that have to do with us going on vacation?â
I stopped jumping.Â Daddy sat back down on the couch.
âThatâs the second exciting part.Â Along with the award, I also got a hundred dollar bonus!â
I jumped up and down again.Â Daddy stood and held out his arms.
But no hug was coming.Â âHoney, thatâs great.Â But a hundred dollars wonât pay for a vacation.â
I stopped jumping.Â Daddy plopped back down on the couch.
âThatâs the third exciting part,â he said.Â âThereâs a man at work, I think youâve met him–Mr. Mull?â
Mother stared at Daddy.Â She didnât say anything.
âWell, anyway, he said we could use his cabin at Tybee Island, Georgia, for only twenty dollars for the whole week.Â And itâs right on the beach!â
I didnât jump up and down this time.Â I watched my mother and waited.Â But Daddy stood again and held out his arms.
âTwenty dollars?â she whispered.Â He had her!Â My mother could always appreciate a good bargain.Â Â At last she ran into Daddyâs arms.Â I jumped up and down.
Daddy continued with the plans.Â âAfter the twenty dollars for the cabin, weâll still have eighty dollars to buy gas and food while weâre there.â
Food?Â Did Daddy say âfood?âÂ âDo you mean real food like you buy in the grocery store?â I asked.
âYep!Â No stale honey buns or fried fatback for this family for a whole week!Â Weâll even go out to eat one night at the famous Williamâs Seafood Restaurant!â
âHot dog!â I yelled.Â âWhen do we get to go?â
âNext week?Â Robert, you know we canât go until after the baby is born,â Mother said.Â âItâs too close to time.â
âBut Ruth, next week is the only time the cabin is available.Â And the baby isnât due for another month.Â If it will make you feel better, Iâll find us a doctor as soon as we get there, just in case.Â But itâs next week or not at all.â
I looked at Daddy.Â I looked at Mother. Donât tell me this kid is going to mess up my life before itâs even born!
âOK,â Mother said.Â âJust remember, itâs a vacation for me, too.â
âUh, one other thing,â Daddy said.Â âIâve developed a suntan lotion–â
âA suntan lotion?Â Robert, what in the world do you know about suntan lotion?â
âThatâs not the point.Â Look, everybodyâs buying some kind of lotion and getting a suntan.Â And what about this stuff called Bronzetone?Â Do you know whatâs in it?Â Nothing but lanolin and mineral oil and a few other things.Â And somebodyâs making a million!Â It might as well be me!â
âDonât you see, Ruth?Â This could be our year to make it big.â
âBut Robert–â Mother tried again, more forcefully.
âNo âbuts,ââ Daddy said.Â âIâve already decided.Â My lotion is called TanTone.Â And weâll test it at the beach!â