Chapter OneNo way would I
ever want to be a lifeguard here," Maggie said.
Sophie tilted her head back to look from under her floppy hat at her
Sophie's best-best friend, Fiona, didn't look up from the miniature
hut they were building in the sand with dried seaweed sticks. She kept
poking them in the sand with one hand while she brushed the usual
strand of hair out of one eye with the other.
"Why not, Mags?" she said.
Kitty wrinkled her made-like-china
nose, now spattered with freckles. "I
wouldn't want to be a lifeguard, but I
might want to be saved by one." Her
dark ponytail bounced as she giggled - which
she did at the end of almost
"Of course you would," Darbie said, her Irish accent lilting
through. "If it was a boy lifeguard."
"Gross," Fiona said.
Sophie looked at Maggie, whose dark eyes were going from one
of the Corn Flakes to another.
"So why wouldn't you want to be a lifeguard here, Mags?" she
All the Corn Flakes sat back on their heels and squinted
through the sun at Maggie.
"Because your little brother and sister are always screaming
like there's a shark attack 24/7," Maggie said. Her words seemed
to make soft thuds in the sand. But Sophie thought being at the
beach even made Maggie's matter-of-fact voice sound lighter.
"How does the lifeguard know when to save somebody and when
She nodded toward Fiona's little brother, Rory, and her even
littler sister, Isabella, who hadn't stopped shouting and squealing
the whole five days they had been at Virginia Beach.
"Izzy and Rory have to make all those sounds at the seashore
because they're little," Sophie said. She had also felt like holding her arms
out to the ocean and squealing several times since she and the Corn
Flakes had been there, and she was TWELVE. It was as if the waves
themselves, tumbling over one another like puppies, were setting her free.
Well, that and the fact that she was here with the four people in the whole
world she could be herself with.
Sure, we're flakes, Sophie thought happily. And we do corny stuff - but
we are who we are.
"At least they're making happy noises for a change," Darbie said,
nodding toward Izzy and Rory. "Usually they're shrieking like
terrorists." She clapped a sunblock-shiny hand over her mouth and
looked quickly at Fiona's mother. "No offense, Dr. Bunting," she
said through her fingers. "They're perfectly charming."
Dr. Bunting pulled off her sunglasses and turned to Darbie. "You
were right the first time. They are little terrorists."
"What I can't get," Fiona said, "is why they always have to be
throwing something - buckets, sand, food - on each OTHER."
She sighed out loud. "It's heinous."
Dr. Bunting blinked her gray-like-Fiona's eyes and put her
sunglasses back on. "If tossing a few Cheetos is the worst those
two do before we leave here, it's because Miss Genevieve is the
nanny from heaven."
"I thought we were supposed to call her the au pair," Maggie
"Just call me Genevieve." The blonde, creamy-skinned woman
who was on her knees making castle towers pointed a graceful
finger at Rory. "Get more of that sand you just gave me," she said
to him. "With it just wet enough, we can build anything."
Rory trotted obediently toward the water with his bucket and
shovel, and Dr. Bunting looked out from under the brim of her
white visor. "See what I mean?" she said.
Sophie tried to imagine Fiona's last nanny playing at the beach
with Rory and Izzy dumping seashells over each other's heads. Miss
Odetta Clide had handed out demerits if they spilled their milk. True,
she had turned out to be less like a steel rod than they'd thought at
first, but she NEVER would have gotten on her hands and knees in
The Corn Flakes - including their newest member, Willoughby - had
all been worried about who would take Miss Odetta Clide's place
when she married Fiona's grandfather Boppa, and they went off to
Europe on their honeymoon for the summer. With Fiona's parents
taking all of the girls - except Willoughby, who was on vacation
with her family - to Virginia Beach for ten whole days, the choice
of a nanny would determine the amount of fun they could have.
Sophie watched Genevieve drip wet sand through her hand to
create a castle tower, the way soft ice cream piled on top of a cone.
The au pair's thick braid hung over her shoulder like a silk rope,
and her blue eyes seemed to hug Isabella as the curly-headed
four-year-old tried to dribble sand through her tiny fingers. I
want to be like Genevieve when I grow up, Sophie thought. IF
I grow up.
Not that she WANTED to - at least not right now. Here - building
a little beach hut out of dried sticks of seaweed with her
best friends, she didn't have to think about anything scary, like
starting middle school in two months .
"Okay," Sophie said out loud. "Everybody tell their favorite
part about being at the beach so far."
Fiona pushed a stubborn strand of golden-brown hair behind
one ear as she poked the sticks into the adobe-colored sand like
she was doing math. "I liked it when we dug those giant bowls in
the sand and climbed in there, all of us together."
"We KILLED ourselves laughing over things that are funny only
to us," Darbie said.
"Was that your favorite too?" Sophie said to her.
Darbie kept weaving seaweed into the roof of their masterpiece for
a minute. Her reddish hair and her snapping eyes were as dark as her
flesh was white. She was the one most likely to burn like a marshmallow.
Sophie liked to think of Darbie running on the beaches of Northern
Ireland where she had lived until last year, shouting things like
"blackguards" - which Darbie pronounced as "blaggards" and meant
people who did evil things.
"My favorite," Darbie said finally, "was when we used those long
sticks to write our names on the beach - and the shells were our
periods and commas." She grinned her crooked-toothed smile.
"At least, the shells we're not taking home by the bucketful to
"I liked pelican-watching," Maggie said. She was just returning to
the job site with a bucket full of dried seaweed, her face Maggie-solemn,
as if she were doing serious business. "I liked watching
"I DIDN'T like that part," Kitty said. "We only did that when
Genevieve made us wait thirty minutes after we ate before we
could go back in the water."
Maggie cocked her head at Kitty, so that her blunt-cut shiny
hair splashed against her face just below her ears. "You have to
do that," she said. "Or you'll get a cramp and drown."
Sophie squinted her brown eyes through her glasses at Kitty.
"So what WAS your favorite?"
"It's too hard to pick," Kitty said. Her curly ponytail bounced
on the breeze, and at that moment, Sophie thought, I want her, I
want ALL of us, to stay just like we are. And I want everything we
ever do together to be as perfect as it is right now.
"While you're thinking about it, Kitty," Fiona said, "we need
more seashells for furniture."
"Why do I have to get them?" Kitty went straight into whining
mode. To a certain degree, as Fiona always said, that was just Kitty's
usual voice, just like Maggie's dropped out in matter-of-fact blocks,
and Sophie's was as high-pitched and squeaky as a caught mouse. But
right now Kitty suddenly had an I'm-about-to-cry edge to her voice.
"You don't have to get them," Fiona said, her own voice cheery.
"You can just stand there and watch while we do all the work."
"Don't yell at me, Fiona," Kitty said.
"Who's yelling?" Fiona looked blankly at Sophie. "Was I yelling?"
"All right, I'll get more seashells, Kitty," Darbie said. "And you
keep making the entrance."
"Right here," Maggie said.
She pointed to the sticks, like soft bamboo, that Sophie had laid
crosswise between two rows of those stuck upright into the sand.No offense, Kitty, Sophie thought, but we've been making it since
Genevieve hadn't let them go back into the water after they'd
eaten their sandwiches because she'd spotted jags of lightning so
far away that Fiona said the rest of them would need the Hubble
Telescope to see them. But when Genevieve had shown them
how to make exotic-looking buildings, their claims that they
were going to "go mental" if they couldn't go swimming had
"It isn't rocket science," Fiona said to Kitty. "Just put them in
"I'm not stupid, Fiona!" Kitty said. "You always make me feel
Sophie could hear the Kitty-tears getting closer, and she crawled
over to Kitty and put her arm around her. Kitty usually put her
head on Sophie's shoulder when she did that, but Sophie could feel
"What's wrong?" Sophie said.
"Is it a sand issue?" Darbie said. "I hate when it gets in my bathing
suit - especially right where it's sunburned at the edges."
"No!" Kitty said. "It's everybody being mean to me!"
Dr. Bunting toyed with a gold hoop earring as she studied Kitty.
"Define 'mean,'" she said.
"I can't!" Kitty said - and she pulled her sandy hands over her eyes
and burst into tears.
Dr. Bunting looked at Genevieve. "Oh, those preadolescent
hormones," she said.
Genevieve lifted her chin - chiseled out of pure marble, Sophie
was sure - as if she were listening to something.
"Thunder," she said. "Time to move indoors."
"No!" Rory said.
"Yes," Genevieve said.
"Okay," Rory said.
"If you can do that, you can stop a storm, Genevieve," Dr.
"What storm?" Fiona said.
Sophie looked up. The sky was like a moving watercolor picture,
all in grays, and the wind was delivering karate chops to the water.
"I felt a raindrop," Maggie said.
"Wasn't that just spray from the ocean?" Darbie said. "Isn't
that what it was, Fiona?"
"No," Maggie said. "It's rain."
"Thanks, Mags," Fiona said, grinning. "You're tons of help."
"Everyone pack up what you carried down, and let's head to the
house," Genevieve said.
"Can somebody else do mine?" Kitty said. "I'm too tired - I
"I will," Sophie said - before Fiona could set her sobbing again.
"You're barely big enough to carry your own stuff, Little Bit,"
Fiona's mom said to Sophie. "What's the deal, Kitty?"
Kitty dropped onto a cooler and put her face in her hands again. By
then, the wind was scattering the beach hut and kicking sand over
Kitty's beach tote.
"I'll get that," Darbie said.
Maggie didn't say anything. She just knelt down with her back to
Kitty, and Kitty climbed on. Plodding through the sand, Maggie
headed up the beach.
"You go ahead with her," Genevieve said to the rest of them.
Genevieve rolled Izzy into a towel like a burrito, handed her to
Dr. Bunting, and then put Rory up on her shoulders. Darbie,
Sophie, and Fiona hoisted their own burdens on themselves like pack
mules and started for the big wooden house. Its wide windows
looked sightlessly down at them as the rain began to slash against
Sophie had to take off her hat so it wouldn't get blown away,
and her hair whipped across her face. A pair of windshield wipers
for her glasses would have been nice. But there was something
about the sudden storm that prickled her skin with excitement.
"Let's pretend we've been shipwrecked!" she shouted to the
"And that house is our only refuge!" Darbie shouted back.
"The only problem," Fiona cried over the wind-howl, "is that
the place is full of pirates!"
Sophie raised a fist above her head. "We have no other choice!
We must survive!"
"Help, Kitty!" Maggie cried out. "Help her!"
Kitty's finally getting into it, Sophie thought. Kitty was sprawled
out in the sand, and Maggie threw herself down beside her.
"Now is NOT a good time to start acting it out!" Darbie called to
"I'm not acting! There's something wrong with her!"
Sophie only stared for a second before she dumped her tote and the
basket of chip bags and churned her feet in the sand to get to Kitty.
She fell on her knees next to her and let her breath go with the wind.
Kitty lay on her back; face gray like ashes. Sophie put her hand on
her arm, and Kitty winced and her face twisted into a knot, but she
didn't pull away.
It was as if she couldn't.
"Please don't touch me," Kitty said. "It hurts. It hurts."
Chapter TwoFiona was suddenly holding
her rolled-up little sister, and Dr. Bunting was on the
sand beside Kitty, her white beach top whipping around her body like a
flag. Sophie felt Darbie leaning against her, their swimsuits plastered
together in the rain as they watched Dr. Bunting run her expert hands
But Maggie didn't move from Kitty's side. The wind flapped her hair
against the side of her face, and yet she stayed
still as a stone.
"Let's get you into the house, Kitty-Cat,"
Dr. Bunting finally shouted to
"It hurts to move!"
"That's why I'm going to carry you.
Up we go."
Dr. Bunting was as lean as runners Sophie had seen on the sports
channel, but she stood up with Kitty in her arms as if she were lifting
a bag of sponges. Genevieve shifted Rory onto one hip and took
Izzy from Fiona and planted her on the other.
"Heads down, everyone!" Genevieve called out. "Plow right
The two little ones squealed happily. But the Corn Flakes were
a solemn group as they plodded after them, faces cowering from
the bite of the storm.
When they got to the house, Dr. Bunting and Kitty disappeared.
Genevieve led the group inside. "Showers, ladies," she said over
"I want to see Kitty," Maggie said. Her voice was thudding.
Genevieve turned and walked backward. "I know you do. Get
showered and I'll find out from the doctor when you can see her."
"I want to see her now," Maggie said.
"Just give it a few - "
"I have to make sure she's okay."
"My mom's a doctor, Mags!" Fiona said. "Of course she's okay."
"I don't think it's as bad as it looks." Genevieve continued to back
toward the downstairs hall. "You know our Kitty has a strong sense
of the dramatic."
"What does that mean?" Maggie said as the Corn Flakes climbed
the stairs to their suite.
"It means Kitty's a drama queen," Fiona said. "Which is our own
fault. We made her that way."
"She'll be up making our film with us before supper," Sophie said
to Maggie. "You know she will."
"No, I don't," Maggie said. "And neither do you. You didn't see
her when she fell down. She went limp - like this."
Maggie demonstrated on the stair landing. We made HER a
drama queen too, Sophie thought.
"I did that when I had a bad dose of flu," Darbie said.
"Yeah, I bet she's got the flu," Fiona said.