Ann M. Martin, author of The Baby-sitters Club series,
brings the town of Camden Falls to life through the
eyes of sisters Flora and Ruby from the moment they
arrive. It’s strange to be in a new place. But
luckily, it’s a very welcoming place—where
new friendships and new adventures are found around
^^^^ Chapter 5 ^^^^
A Peek in the Windows
When the Row Houses were built, which was more than
fifty years before Min was born, they were some
of the grandest homes in Camden Falls. Each was
three stories high, topped off by an attic accessible
by a ladder that dropped down into a hallway below.
On the first floor were a large kitchen, a butler’s
pantry, a dining room, and a living room. On
the second floor were four bedrooms. And on the
third floor were several smaller rooms, the sleeping
quarters for maids. In 1882, the wealthy people
who lived in the Row Houses all had maids who slept
in the maids’ quarters, and butlers who used
the butlers’ pantries. But now, 125 years
later, while the Row Houses were still grand, the
people who lived in them did not have maids and
butlers, or chauffeurs and gardeners, for that
matter. Many of the butlers’ pantries had
been turned into breakfast nooks or mudrooms, and
the rooms in the maids’ quarters were nurseries
or playrooms or offices or dens or guest rooms.
The backyards, which once boasted formal gardens,
were now cluttered with basketball hoops and vegetable
plots, jungle gyms and storage sheds and swing sets.
Even Min’s yard, with her carefully tended
flower beds, was home to a tire swing and a tree
fort that Flora and Ruby’s mother had played
with when she was their age. The twelve children
who lived in the Row Houses these days (twelve if
you counted Lydia, Margaret, and Robby, who were
teenagers and did not consider themselves children)
ran freely through the eight yards and in and out
of the houses, comfortable with each of their
neighbors, old and young.
Now, if you were walking north along Aiken Avenue
and came to the Row Houses on a warm Sunday evening
in June, you would find most of the windows open
to let in the summer air. And if you paused on the
sidewalk, you might be able to take a peek in the
windows and glimpse the lives of the people inside.
In the house on the left end, you would find the
Morris family, Elise and Paul, their four children,
Lacey, Mathias, Travis, and Alyssa, and their hamsters
and guinea pig. Supper is long over — the
Morrises eat early — and Alyssa and Travis
are already in their pajamas. Mrs. Morris is commenting
to her husband that the children are growing
up so fast. This fall Alyssa, who’s the youngest,
will be in all-day preschool, and what will Mrs.
Morris do with herself while the children are
In the next house you would find Bill and Mary Lou
Willet. They’re nearly seventy-eight years
old, both of them. Their birthdays are just a week
apart in August. Mr. Willet is encouraging his wife
to change out of her clothes and into her nightgown,
but she won’t. She’s been wearing these
same clothes for four days and four nights now,
and Mr. Willet can’t convince her to put on
anything else. He can’t convince her to take
a shower, either, or to comb her hair or take her
pills or brush her teeth.
“Come on, honey,” he says. “You’ll
feel so much better in a nice clean nightgown. Trust
But his wife, who’s patting their cat, Sweetie,
replies, “You know, my sister was here again
today and we had such a pleasant conversation.”
Mrs. Willet’s sister has been dead for more
than twenty years.
Next door to the Willets are the Malones. There’s
Margaret, sixteen now, drinking tea with her father,
Dr. Malone, the dentist. They’re sitting at
the kitchen table, their cats, Twinkle and Bandit,
nearby, and Dr. Malone is laughing at something
Margaret has said. Upstairs, Lydia, who’s
fourteen, has shut herself in her bedroom and is
sitting before her computer, instant messaging
her friends. When her father calls upstairs to her,
she ignores him.
The house to the north of the Malones’ is
Min’s. She was born in that house —
she was Mindy Davis then — and has lived there
for most of her life, first as a child with her
parents and her brother and sister, later as a wife
and mother, and now as a grandmother. On this evening,
Min, Flora, Ruby, Daisy Dear, and King Comma are
in the kitchen and Min is making dinner. Daisy and
King are lying on the floor just inches apart, and
this is one of the first times they have been so
close to each other without growling.
“They’re finally getting along,”
Ruby whispers, not wanting to break the spell.
Then she adds, still whispering, “Min, is
there a dance school in Camden Falls?”
Next door in Olivia’s house, Mr. Walter closes
up his home office on the third floor and leaves
his computer and papers behind. He finds Olivia,
her younger brothers, Henry and Jack, and his wife
playing Clue on the living room floor. Olivia looks
up when her father enters the room and thinks he
looks not only tired but discouraged.
In the next house is Mr. Pennington. He’s
eighty-two years old, and Jacques, his cocker spaniel,
is nearly as old in dog years. Mr. Pennington is
peering in Jacques’s food dish, seeing lots
of kibble there and trying to remember if it’s
old kibble or new kibble.
In the seventh house, the house belonging to the
Edwards family, Robby and his parents are lingering
over dessert, and Robby is talking about his beloved
“When does it start, Mom?” he asks.
“In two weeks,” replies his mother.
Robby is grinning. “Swimming in the pool!”
he says. “Basketball, nature walks, arts and
crafts, swimming in the pool, snacktime when we
make our own snacks. That’s what I like best.
Making our own snacks. Except for swimming in the
In the last house, the one at the right end, live
Mr. and Mrs. Fong, artists who make furniture and
jewelry. They have a studio in town, where they
work and sell their pieces. At home they have turned
the small rooms on the third floor into a second
studio, and this evening they are there, working
side by side, their puppies resting in the doorway.
Now walk back to the fourth house, to Min’s,
and take one last peek in the windows. Min is almost
finished making dinner, and Flora is tossing
a salad. It’s Ruby’s job to set the
“Let’s use the good china,” says
Ruby. “I know where it is. We can have a fancy
You would never guess, from a quick peek in Min’s
window, that she and Ruby and Flora have been
a family for just five months.
^^^^ Chapter 11 ^^^^
On one of the very last days of July, the cool weather
still gracing Camden Falls, Nikki sat cross-legged
on a patch of dry earth in front of her house. Mae
sat beside her, holding out a fistful of dog kibble.
“Look, Nikki. Paw-Paw takes it right out of
my hand. See?”
Sure enough, the scruffy dog nibbled delicately
from Mae’s outstretched palm.
“That’s great, Mae,” said Nikki
absently. Her mind was on the arrival of Mrs. DuVane,
and her ears were pricked for the sound of tires
“Nikki?” said Mae a few moments later.
, isn’t it too bad we
have to keep Paw-Paw a secret?” She paused.
“Aren’t you listening?”
“I’m sorry,” said Nikki. “I
guess I’m just thinking about the old —
I mean, about Mrs. DuVane. That’s all.”
“She’s coming today, right?”
“Any minute now.”
“And where’s she taking you?”
“Into town to that sewing store. For some
kind of lesson.”
“I want to learn to sew,” said Mae.
“Every time I get back from the store I’ll
teach you what I learned, okay?”
“Okay. . . . Nikki? Who’s going to watch
me while you’re in town?”
Mae lowered her voice. “She’s asleep
“Oh. Already?” Mrs. Sherman was having
another bad day. “Well, you know the rules.
If Tobias and I aren’t here, you have to stay
on our property. So just . . . keep quiet so you
don’t disturb Mom, and stay out of Dad’s
way if he comes home. Maybe Tobias will be back
At that moment, Nikki heard gravel crunching. Mrs.
DuVane honked twice and waved gaily out her car
window. “Hello, Nikki dear! Ready for your
Nikki rolled her eyes, then kissed the top of Mae’s
head before starting toward the car. “Hi,
Mrs. DuVane,” she said flatly as she opened
Mrs. DuVane eyed Nikki’s dusty shorts and
her smudged legs. “Is that how you’re
going to go to the store?” she asked. Without
waiting for an answer, she glanced at her watch,
then said, “Well, you haven’t time to
change. But next week, Nicolette, try to look a
bit more presentable.”
“Okay,” said Nikki. “I mean, yes,
Nikki stared out the window as Mrs. DuVane drove
into Camden Falls. She didn’t feel like speaking.
Mrs. DuVane parked her car across from Needle and
Thread. “Now remember, Nicolette,” she
said as they climbed out of the Audi and closed
the doors behind them, “this embroidery class
is for adults, so you won’t be able to participate
per se, but there are usually two or three other
little girls here at the store, so maybe they can
teach you some things while I’m taking the
class. You can all learn from one another!”
She added brightly, “Sewing is a very respectable
“Yes, ma’am,” mumbled Nikki.
When Mrs. DuVane opened the door to Needle and Thread,
a bell rang. Nikki stepped into the cool air of
the store and was engulfed by the smell of new fabric,
of coffee, and of something sweet she thought might
“Hello, Mrs. DuVane,” called a woman
from behind the counter. “You’re just
in time for the class.”
Mrs. DuVane smiled. “And I’ve brought
someone with me,” she said. “This is
Nicolette. I know she can’t take the class,
but I thought she might enjoy looking around the
store. Nicolette is very creative. Aren’t
“I like to draw,” said Nikki, staring
down at a piece of tape that was stuck to the floor.
“Hey!” called a voice, and Nikki turned
around. Sitting on some couches at the front of
the store were three girls about her age, and spread
on a table in front of them were squares of fabric,
which the girls were cutting into shapes and arranging
in patterns. “You’re Nikki Sherman,
aren’t you?” said one of the girls.
“Yeah,” said Nikki. She couldn’t
believe her bad luck. This girl — Olivia Walton?
Was that her name? — had actually said to
her on the school playground just a couple of months
ago, “You know, if you washed your clothes
more often, they’d smell better.”
Nikki had stared at her. This tiny little girl (she
was in Nikki’s grade, but not in her class,
and Nikki thought she might have skipped a grade
at some point), this tiny little girl had had the
to tell Nikki how to do her housework.
try to wash clothes in a machine
that didn’t work half the time. This girl
probably didn’t even have to do
When Nikki hadn’t been able to stop staring,
Olivia finally said, “I — I didn’t
mean anything by that. I hope I didn’t hurt
your feelings. I just thought you’d like to
know that there’s an easy way . . .”
Her voice began to trail off. “. . . an easy
way to, um, to improve your personal hygiene.”
At this point, Nikki, disgusted, shook her head,
turned around, and walked off. Her only wish then
had been that she not wind up in Olivia’s
class in the fall.
And now here she was, facing Olivia and two of her
friends. Worse, she was stuck with them for an entire
“Come on and sit with us,” said Olivia.
“Our grandmothers gave us a job. There’s
a kids’ patchwork pillow class coming up,
and we’re supposed to make up designs for
some easy pillows. You can help us.”
Nikki sniffed pointedly at her underarms. “If
you’re sure I won’t oh-fend you,”
she said, and was pleased to note that Olivia’s
cheeks reddened slightly.
Three couches were arranged around the table. Olivia
and one of the girls sat on one, and the third girl,
the youngest-looking one, sat on another. Nikki
sat down by herself in the middle of the remaining
couch. She eyed Olivia’s friends.
“Um,” said Olivia, “do you want
to help us? Our grandmothers —”
“Am I supposed to know who your grandmothers
are?” asked Nikki.
“They own this store,” spoke up the
girl who was sitting next to Olivia.
“Wow,” said Nikki. “The owners
After a brief pause, the girl spoke again. “Do
you know how to sew?”
Nikki hesitated. She frequently mended the clothes
that got tossed into a wicker basket sitting in
the corner of the kitchen, but she had a feeling
this wasn’t the kind of sewing the girl meant.
“I can sew a little,” she said at last.
“Have you done any quilting?” asked
“Well, that’s okay.”
“I know it’s okay.”
“Hey!” exclaimed Olivia after a few
moments, during which Nikki had sat glaring at the
fabric pieces and no one had spoken. “I just
realized we haven’t introduced ourselves.
Well, you know me. I’m Olivia Walter.”
, thought Nikki.) “But
you don’t know Flora and Ruby. This is Flora,
and this is Ruby,” she said, pointing to each
of them. “Flora and Ruby Northrop. And this”
(she pointed to Nikki) “is Nikki Sherman.
She’s in my grade. Flora and Ruby just moved
to Camden Falls. Flora is going to be in our grade,
too, Nikki. Ruby will be in fourth.”
Nikki, looking desperately at the pieces of fabric
being arranged on the table and having no idea what
to do with them, finally said, “So how come
you guys moved here? Did your father get a new job
At this, silence fell. Flora went still as stone,
then began arranging the fabric again, her eyes
boring into the table. Ruby slid back onto the couch
for a moment, then moved forward and whisked a triangle
of blue calico away from Flora. Wordlessly, Flora
grabbed it back from her.
“That’s mine!” cried Ruby.
“No, it isn’t. I was using it.”
“But I had it before and I need it to go right
here. See? I’m making a star
“Then cut your own triangle. That’s
why we have scissors. Anyway, a star pattern
is going to be too complicated for beginners.”
“I’m a beginner, and I’m making
From across the couch, Olivia eyed Nikki. “Nice
move,” she said.
“What? What did I do?”
“Flora and Ruby moved here because their parents
. . . their parents . . .”
“Go ahead and say it. Our parents died.”
Ruby grabbed a pair of scissors and cut a sloppy
triangle out of the calico fabric. “We’re
orphans,” she added, slamming the triangle
down on the table.
“I’m sorry,” said Nikki, and now
she could feel her own face flushing. “I’m
“It’s all right,” said Flora.
“You didn’t know,” added Olivia.
“Okay, come on. Here. Cut all these pieces
of fabric into four-inch squares.”
Nikki took the fabric and scissors that Olivia held
toward her, but she said, “Are you always
“Pretty much.” Olivia turned back to
Flora and Ruby. “Now, I think that all the
pillows should be made up of squares only. That’s
easier for beginners. Nine squares will make up
into a very nice pillow.”
Flora let out a sigh. “Okay. Half the fun
is in choosing the fabric anyway, seeing which ones
look best together.
Ruby, quit working on that star. Put the triangle
“No!” Ruby slid away from the older
girls, and for a while, Nikki, Olivia, and Flora
concentrated on laying out squares.
“With squares you could make theme pillows,”
commented Flora. “You could use this fabric
with the Eiffel Tower on it, and this one with the
globes, and this one with the French poodles to
make a Paris pillow.”
“You could do the same thing with stars,”
muttered Ruby, coming back to the group. And after
a moment, she added, “I’d much
be in a tap class right now.”
Nikki glanced at her, then back at the table, where
she halfheartedly began arranging squares of fabric
“What’s your theme?” Olivia asked
Ruby a few moments later.
“I don’t know
, okay? I’m
“Hey,” said Nikki, “didn’t
you say you were supposed to come up with several
patterns for the class? Now you only have the pillows
made from nine squares.”
“And the stars!” cried Ruby.
“Would you forget about the stars?”
“Girls, what’s going on over there?”
Half an hour later, when Mrs. DuVane’s embroidery
class ended, Nikki, Ruby, Flora, and Olivia were
still sitting on the couches, but they were sitting
as far from one another as they could manage.
“This store,” said Nikki, getting to
her feet, “should be called Sew What?”
“Ha-ha,” said Olivia as Mrs. DuVane
appeared, smiling and clutching a square of muslin
adorned with ribbon flowers and bees.
“Well, that was a wonderful class, just wonderful,”
said Mrs. DuVane. “I hope you girls had fun.
Nicolette, let’s buy you a few supplies and
then we should be on our way.” She turned
to Flora, Ruby, and Olivia. “We’ll be
back again next week.”
“Goody,” muttered Olivia.
To find out more about Ruby, Flora,
and the world of Main Street, look for the book
in stores May 2007.