On the way to school that morning, Tia explained her
problem to Holly. One of the best things about Holly was that she was a terrific
listener. She listened thoughtfully, nodding occasionally. But when Tia concluded
by saying, "What should I do?" Holly said nothing.
"Holly!" Tia moaned desperately. "You're the
intelligent one! You're supposed to figure it out!"
"Well," began Holly, frowning, "it's obvious
that you can't go to the dance AND babysit Tommy and Tamara at the same time.
And clearly, babysitting for NP is pointless because even if you do get the
dress, you couldn't wear it, because the dance will be over by the time you
finish babysitting. Maybe you could save the dress for the next dance?"
"No!" Tia protested. "I want it for this dance!
And besides, Nick might not ask me to the next one. And," she continued, answering
Holly's unasked question, "I would never have the courage to ask him myself."
"Aren't we optimistic," Holly muttered sarcastically.
"I heard that," Tia said. She knew Holly was
just trying to make her feel positive by being funny, but it wasn't helping.
"Well…" Holly said, "what if you babysat the
twins until it was time for the dance, and then asked your owner to watch them
while you where at the dance?"
Tia considered it, then replied shortly, "No
can do. Funshine Farm closes at six. And don't forget, my owner makes it clear
that she won't take on any of my responsibilities. Besides, what would Christine
say to that? She'd ask my owner to babysit Tommy and Tamara from then on, and
I'd ruin my truce with Christine again."
The two of them sat in silence for a while,
until something sparked in Tia's mind. She had an idea…
"Holly," Tia whispered excitedly, "what if I
took Tommy and Tamara with me to the dance?"
Holly gasped. "With you?! Tia, that would be
a total and complete disaster! Do you know how much trouble they could get in?
And how could you possibly watch them? You'd be too busy dancing with Nick!
And what on earth would Christine say?"
Tia hadn't contemplated that, but then she said
quietly, "Christine doesn't have to know."
"Well, if I told her she'd never let me. I need
to prove that I'm responsible!"
"Look, Tia," Holly said impatiently, "taking
two young pets to a Neoschool dance is not the way to do that! And besides,
you wouldn't have the NP until after the dance!"
"Well, I could ask Christine to pay me when
she brings the twins. I could tell her I needed to buy something important.
She'd understand. Then I could take the twins with me to Neopia Central, buy
them doughnuts or smoothies or something to keep them busy, then get the dress."
"But what if Christine asked what you wanted
Tia paused, not sure what to say. "I'd tell
her… that … that… oh, I don't know what I'd tell her, I'd think of some excuse."
"Don't try to talk me out of it," Tia interrupted
determinedly. "This is my plan, and it's going to work. You'll see, Holly. So
will Christine, and everyone in my neighborhood who has ever doubted me. You'll
all see," Tia finished stubbornly.
"Well… okay, if you're sure, Tia."
And Tia meant it. Here was a chance for her
to prove herself, to show everyone that she wasn't some irresponsible, unreliable
pet that couldn't watch two younger pets. She could babysit well, and she would.
She definitely would.
Tia found it near impossible to concentrate in school that day. And for once,
she wasn't daydreaming. She was pondering. Endless questions raced in and out
of her mind. Questions like: Will Tommy and Tamara behave? Will Christine be
suspicious when I ask to be paid beforehand? Will she find out about the dance?
Will Nick like the navy blue dress?
As she sat in detention writing yet another
essay for Mrs. Owens (this time about paying attention in class) Tia struggled
vainly to find a better solution. She was unsuccessful everywhere. Maybe her
original plan, taking Tommy and Tamara with her to the dance, would work. It
would have to work. There was no other way.
When the final bell sounded at last, Tia seized
her books and dashed out the door. Catching a dirty look from Mrs. Owens, who
was policing the hallways, she reduced her pace to a walk.
Nick requested Tia to sit with him on the bus-like
carriage again. Tia was thrilled at the invitation, but she really needed to
sit with Holly. She needed to talk to Holly. But Holly was sitting with Louis,
yakking spiritedly, quite unlike her normal calm manner.
Tia and Nick chit-chatted all the way, but Tia
really wasn't aware of what she was saying, or what Nick was saying, for that
After tossing Nick a cheery smile and concluding,
"Goodbye. See you at the dance tomorrow," Tia entered her NeoHome and ambled
over to the mail. Looked at the letter, wondering if she was making the right
decision. She then decided to pay Christine a visit.
Christine answered on the first doorbell ring.
"Hi," Tia replied timidly.
"Tia!" Christine echoed. Obviously she was pleased
to see Tia. "So nice of you to stop by." After a pause, she said bluntly, "Well,
have you decided to accept the babysitting job? I know that Tommy and Tamara
are quite a challenge, but I have faith in you."
Tia inhaled a nervous breath and then nearly
whispered, "Yes, I'd like the job."
"Excellent!" Christine cheered thankfully. "You've
made my day."
"I just have one question," Tia said shyly.
"How-how much will you be paying me?"
Christine laughed jovially. "Well, let's see.
I'll need you from three until about ten, so that's seven hours. And I'd say
500 NP per hour is a reasonable price, wouldn't you?"
Tia instantly reviewed what Dr. Ballard had
been teaching his Basic Mathematics class. "So… that's 3500 NP total," she finished
glumly. That wasn't enough for the dress. She might as well refuse the job.
"Oh, no, that's not enough!" Christine insisted
firmly. "That's per pet, and since I've got two, I'll give you 7000 NP in total."
It took all her available effort for Tia to
stifle her whoop for joy. "Th-that sounds good," she managed to say."
"Okay, then it's all settled. I'll bring the
twins over tomorrow at three. You'll be back from Neoschool by then, won't you?"
"Yes, if I hurry."
"Oh, Tia, there's one more thing I must ask
Tia abruptly fell silent. All she could think
was, uh-oh, that can't be good.
"Didn't you say you had plans for tomorrow night?"
Christine inquired curiously.
"Did you cancel them?"
"Did you change your plans."
"Well, I certainly hope I didn't disrupt your
"Okay then," Christine said, deciding not to
press the issue any more. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yes," Tia agreed. "See you tomorrow. Goodbye.
And thank you!"
Tia's dreams that night were all the daydreams she could never complete in
class. Nick was the star of every one of them. Tia pictured herself dancing
rhythmically beside him, looking fabulous in her sparkly navy blue dress.
The dream that woke her up featured Tommy and
Tamara. Tia had been dancing with Nick, when suddenly everyone was watching
the ceiling. Tia unwillingly stopped dancing to look, and her jaw dropped in
shock. Tommy and Tamara where grasping the disco ball, laughing, swinging… then
the string holding the ball stretched, and it came crashing down-
Tia sat bolt upright in bed. No, she told herself,
today is NOT going to be like that. Everything is going to go perfectly.
If only she could believe her own words.
Clearly, Tia's focus was elsewhere that day during Neoschool. She kept seeing
flashbacks of her nightmare. Would her strategy, taking the twins to the dance,
really work out the way she'd hoped? Composing yet another paying-attention
essay for Mrs. Owens allowed her more time to dwell on it.
When the last bell rang, Tia gathered her books
and meandered slowly to her locker. The longer she dawdled, the longer she'd
avoid Tommy and Tamara. Once she was sure she could linger no longer, she slung
her backpack over her shoulders and hurried outside to catch the bus.
Since Nick was sitting at the back with some
of his friends, Tia immediately sat down with Holly. "Where's Louis?" she asked.
Holly sighed. Her eyes were glazed and dreamy.
"Sitting with his friends," she replied vaguely.
"Holly, you're not like yourself at all!" Tia
said, waving her paw in front of Holly's face.
With a snap of her head, Holly seemed to come
out of a trance. "I'm awake," she said confidently.
"That's good," Tia said. "Listen, Holly, I'm
worried. All I could think about today was the dance, and the twins-"
"Yeah, I noticed," Holly interrupted, giggling.
"I saw you in detention for… what, the fourth time this week?"
Tia blushed. "So? That's not the point. What
if things don't work out?"
"Things will work out," Holly insisted, as the
bus slowed to a stop on Tia's street. "All right? Keep telling yourself that,
and I'll see you-and the twins-at the dance tonight at seven."
Tia nodded and departed, sighing as she saw
Tommy and Tamara bouncing around on her front lawn.
To be continued…