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  Taking Care Of Terrific

  Lois Lowry

  * * *

  Houghton Mifflin Company Boston

  * * *

  Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

  Lowry, Lois.

  Taking care of Terrific.

  Summary: Taking her overprotected young charge to

  the public park to broaden his horizons, fourteen-year-

  old baby sitter Enid enjoys unexpected friendships with

  a black saxophonist and a bag lady until she is charged

  with kidnapping.

  [1. Baby sitters—Fiction. 2. Parks—Fiction.

  3. Boston (Mass.)—Fiction] I. Title.

  PZ7.L9673Tak 1983 [Fic] 82-23331

  ISBN 0-395-34070-5

  Copyright © 1983 by Lois Lowry

  All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced

  or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or

  mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by

  any information storage or retrieval system, except as

  may be expressly permitted by the 1976 Copyright Act or in

  writing from the publisher. For information about permission

  to reproduce selections from this book, write to

  Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue

  South, New York, New York 10003.

  Printed in the United States of America

  HAD 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12

  * * *

  For Erik and Richard

  * * *

  Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come.

  — Chinese proverb

  Chapter 1

  I threw down the book I'd been trying to read, stared out of my bedroom window for a while at the tops of the trees, sighed, and picked up my sketch pad. I doodled a few designs: leaves and stems curling around each other, intertwined. Carefully I colored in the leaves with a green marking pen, leaving some white spots for highlights, so that they looked glossy and radiant.

  Maybe, I thought glumly, I'd feel better if someone sprinkled me with fertilizer. Plants do.

  Once I bought a dumb little jade plant at a street fair. It really needed somebody; it looked crummy and neglected, like an orphan who's never been taken to the zoo. I gave it to my mother on her birthday, and she took over with her little tweezers and tweakers and her bottles of plant food, talking to it: "There, now. This will make you perk up," and eureka, it perked up. Grew. Flourished.

  Probably my mother talked like that to me when I was little. She hasn't for a long time, though. My parents chose the Carstairs School because in the catalogue it said, "We encourage independence." (It also said, "We charge fifty-two hundred dollars a year tuition for day students, plus lab fees and books, and our graduates get into the best Ivy League college"; but the thing that hooked my parents was the "We encourage independence.")

  Murmuring "There now, this will perk you up" to a fourteen-year-old girl probably does not encourage independence. So that is why my mother says that only to small droopy plants suffering from aphids or root rot. To me, when I look, feel, and am droopy, discouraged, depressed, and practically about to throw myself out of my bedroom window because nothing in my life seems to go the way I want it to, my mother says, "Enid, for heaven's sake, you have to learn to solve your own problems. And it might be a start if you would do something about your hair."

  Sometimes I wish I were a philodendron.

  If I were a philodendron, I would not be sitting here, a prisoner in my own bedroom, thinking about what happened this summer, scared stiff and super miserable.

  It was the best summer of my life. I found some new friends. They were friends who needed me. They were wilted. I tried to encourage them to bloom, just the way my mother coaxes her begonias into blossoming. And it worked. I saw it work. We put the whole thing together so that on one night—just last week, a night I'll never forget no matter what happens, and even if I never see most of those friends again—on that night we were all together, and a thin slice of moon was shining; there was music playing, and the green was all around us so green that you could feel it down inside your soul, and everybody's life was changed. At least for an hour. Maybe that is all you ever get in this world, one hour like that.

  Then, of course, came the horrible rest of it: police, some on shiny-hooved horses, others in cars with blue lights flashing; newspaper people yelling questions that had no answers; a TV guy with a camera balanced on his shoulder. Bright lights and bright lights and bright lights; handcuffs and shoving and a loudspeaker. Finally, in the police station, my parents. My mother actually had no make-up on; they'd gotten her out of bed. Very few people have ever seen my mother with no make-up. And until that night, I doubt if anyone had ever seen my mother cry.

  And now I've been in my bedroom for a week: my bedroom with the yellow bedspread that I once thought made me feel cheerful all the time. It doesn't anymore.

  Downstairs, people have been coming and going for a week. Conferences have been held in my father's study. My father is a lawyer, and he is representing me even though he hasn't handled a criminal case in years. From my window I can see the taxis and the cars come, and I can see the people come up the front steps of our house. Policemen in uniform. Lawyers, one of them a man with a face like a frozen leather glove. Wilma Sandroff, the world-famous child psychologist, hotshot expert on getting in touch with your feelings, which is a lot of crap because Wilma Sandroff hasn't been in touch with her own feelings in about forty-nine years, and I happen to know that her own three children hate her guts. And that one of them, her oldest, is at this very moment sitting in his own bedroom three blocks away.

  Well, I don't want to think about him now.

  They are all downstairs negotiating. What they are negotiating is what is going to happen to me.

  If I have to go to jail, I wonder if they will let me keep a little green plant in my cell.

  Chapter 2

  Just to put things into the right perspective: I changed my name first. Before the kidnapping—and all the other crimes they're accusing me of.

  So it was not that I was using an alias, the way the newspapers said.

  It was this way. I have always hated my name: Enid Irene Crowley. Now really. It would be a terrible name even for an old woman; for a fourteen-year-old girl it was unbearable.

  Maybe you have never noticed, but the most hideous adjectives end in the letter d. Pick up any one of Stephen King's horror novels and open to any page; you'll find them: horrid, putrid, sordid, acrid, viscid, squalid. And the very worst: fetid. Probably you don't even know what "fetid" means; it isn't a word you hear people use very often. But if you read a lot, the way I do, especially horror books, you come across that word, usually describing the breath of creatures who have returned from the grave and are covered with green slime. They all have fetid breath.

  Enid isn't a repulsive adjective, as far as I know. But it sounds as if it should be. I find myself making up sentences with the word "enid" in them. Like: "She had been trapped in the crypt for seventeen days; her fingernails had begun to rot, she was suffering from gangrene of the toes, and her once-lustrous blond hair had become limp and enid, with moss growing in it."

  You can see why I decided to change my name.

  Of course I didn't do it legally. Since my father is a lawyer, I suppose he would know how. But I couldn't ask my father to do that. It was his great-aunt whom I was named for: the very rich one. I think they hoped that she would leave her money to me. She didn't, of course. She left it all to a residential home for seafaring men; no one could figure out why, and they tried to contest the will. But apparently she was of