"Guess what, Pete?" my brother, Fudge, said. "I'm getting married tomorrow."
I looked up from my baseball cards. "Isn't this kind of sudden?" I asked, since Fudge is only five.
"No," he said.
"Well ... who's the lucky bride?"
"Sheila Tubman," Fudge said.
I hit the floor, pretending to have fainted dead away. I did a good job of it because Fudge started shaking me and shouting, "Get up, Pete!"
What's with this Pete business? I thought. Ever since he could talk, he's called me Pee-tah.
Then Tootsie, my sister, who's just a year and a half, danced around me singing, "Up, Pee ... up."
Next, Mom was beside me saying, "Peter ... what happened? Are you all right?"
"I told him I was getting married," Fudge said. "And he just fell over."
"I fell over when you told me who you were marrying," I said.
"Who are you marrying, Fudge?" Mom asked, as if we were seriously discussing his wedding.
"Sheila Tubman," Fudge said.
"Don't say that name around me," I told him, "or I'll faint again."
"Speaking of Sheila Tubman ..." Mom began.
But I didn't wait for her to finish. "You're making me feel very sick ..." I warned.
"Really, Peter ..." Mom said. "Aren't you overdoing it?"
I clutched my stomach and moaned but Mom went right on talking. "Buzz Tubman is the one who told us about the house in Maine."
"M-a-i-n-e spells Maine," Fudge sang.
Mom looked at him but didn't even pause. "And this house is right next to the place they've rented for their vacation," she told me.
"I'm missing something here," I said. "What house? What vacation?"
"Remember we decided to go away for a few weeks in August?"
"Yeah ... so?"
"So we got a great deal on a house in Maine."
"And the Tubmans are going to be next door?" I couldn't believe this. "Sheila Tubman ... next door ... for two whole weeks?"
"Three," Mom said.
I fell back flat on the floor.
"He did it again, Mom!" Fudge said.
"He's just pretending," Mom told Fudge. "He's just being very silly."
"So I don't have to marry Sheila tomorrow," Fudge said. "I'll marry her in Maine."
"That makes more sense," Mom said. "In Maine you can have a nice wedding under the trees."
"Under the trees," Fudge said.
"Tees ..." Tootsie said, throwing a handful of Gummi Bears in my face.
And that's how it all began.
That night we went to Tico-Taco for supper. I wasn't very hungry. The idea of spending three weeks next door to Sheila Tubman was enough to take away my appetite. I wish the Tubmans would move to another planet! But until that happens there's no way to avoid Sheila. She lives in our apartment building. We go to the same school.
I kind of groaned and Dad looked at me. "What is it, Peter?"
"Sheila Tubman," I said.
"What about her?" Dad asked.
"We're getting married," Fudge said, his mouth full of chicken and taco shell.
"I'm not talking about your wedding," I said. "I'm talking about spending three weeks in Maine next door to the Tubmans."
"It won't be as bad as you think," Mom said.
"You don't know how bad I think it will be!"
"Sheila's older now. She's finished sixth grade, same as you."
"What's age got to do with it?" I said. "She'll still be the Queen of Cooties."
"What's cooties?" Fudge asked.
When I didn't answer he tugged on my sleeve. "What's cooties, Pete?"
"Since when am I Pete?" I asked, shaking him off.
"Since today," he said.
"Well, I prefer Peter, if you don't mind."
"Pete is a better name for a big brother."
"And Farley is a better name for a little brother!" I figured that would shut him up since his real name is Farley Drexel Hatcher and he's ready to kill anybody who calls him that.
"Don't call me Farley!" he said. Then he really let go and yelled, "I'm Fudge!"
The waiter, who heard him from across the room, came over to our table and said, "Sorry ... we don't have any tonight. But we do have mud pie, which is almost the same thing."
Dad had to explain that we weren't talking about dessert. And Mom added, "We never eat dessert until we've finished our main course."
"Oh," the waiter said.
But before he had a chance to get away, Fudge looked up at him and said, "Do you have cooties?"
"Cooties?" the waiter asked. "For dessert?" He looked confused. Especially when Tootsie banged her spoon against the tray of her baby seat and sang, Cootee ... coo-tee ..."
I could tell Fudge was about to ask the same question again, but before he had the chance I clamped my hand over his mouth. Then Dad told the waiter we didn't need anything else right now.
The waiter walked away shaking his head and I took my hand away from Fudge's mouth. As soon as I did, he was back in business. "What's cooties?" This time the people at the next table looked over at us.
"They're like nits," Mom told him, quietly.
"What's nits?" Fudge asked.
"Head lice," Dad said, almost in a whisper.
"Head mice?" Fudge asked.
"Not mice, Turkey Brain," I told him. "Lice. Little creepy, crawly bugs that live in hair." I snapped my fingernails at his head the way Sheila Tubman used to do to me.
Fudge yelled, "I don't want creepy, crawly bugs in my hair!"
Now everyone in the restaurant looked over at us.
"That's enough, Peter," Dad said.
"Well, he's the one who wanted to know."
"That's enough," Mom said. It came out sounding like eee-nuff, which got Tootsie going.
"Eee-eee-eee-eee ..." Tootsie shrieked, banging her spoon.
This is the way it's going to be all summer, I thought, only worse. So I put down my taco and said, "Maybe I should go to camp in August."
Dad got this really serious look on his face. "We don't have the money this year, Peter. We wouldn't be going away at all if it weren't for Grandma, who's paying more than her share."
"But if you want, you can bring a friend," Mom said.
"A friend?" I asked. "You mean like Jimmy Fargo?" They both nodded.
Jimmy is my best friend in New York. We've always wanted to spend the summer together.
"What about me?" Fudge asked. "Can I bring a friend, too?"
I held my breath.
"You'll find a friend in Maine," Mom told him.
"Suppose I don't?" Fudge asked.
"You're getting married," I reminded him.
"Does that mean I don't get a friend?" Fudge asked.
"Of course not," Mom told him. "I'm married and I have friends. Daddy's married and he has friends."
"What about Uncle Feather?" I said. Uncle Feather is Fudge's myna bird. "He's your friend, isn't he?"
"I can't play with Uncle Feather," Fudge said. "He's not that kind of friend. And I can't marry him either. If he was a girl bird it would be different."
"People don't marry birds," I told him.
"Some people do."
"Name one," I said.
"The guy who's married to Big Bird on Sesame Street."
"Big Bird's not married," I said.
"That's how much you know!" Fudge shouted.
He's learned to say that every time someone disagrees with him. It's a real conversation stopper. "I give up!" I said, going back to my taco, which was getting soggy.
"Up," Tootsie repeated, holding out her arms. "Up ... up ... up."
Dad lifted her out of the baby seat and she squirmed until he put her down. Then she took off, toddling through the restaurant, stopping at every table. Fudge scrambled off his chair and ran after her. Eating out with my family is not exactly relaxing.
"Here, girl ..." Fudge said, as if he were calling a dog. "Here's something just for you." He lured her back to our table and dropped some of his taco on her tray. "Yum ..." he said to her. "Yum ... yum ... yum ..."
Dad put Tootsie back into her seat. She stuffed the chicken pieces into her mouth.
"I always know what Tootsie wants," Fudge said. "That's why I'm her favorite brother."
"Tootsie doesn't have favorites," Mom told him. "She loves both her brothers."
"But she loves me best!" Fudge said. Then he looked at me and laughed. When he did, half the food in his mouth wound up on my shirt.
I called Jimmy Fargo as soon as we got home. I asked him to come to Maine with us.
"Three weeks next door to Sheila Tubman?"
"The houses are really far apart," I said. Nobody told me this but I was hoping it was true. "You won't even be able to see her house. There'll probably be a forest separating us."
When he didn't say anything I added, "And don't forget ... Sheila's scared of dogs so we can get Turtle after her anytime she tries to give us trouble." Turtle is my dog. He's big enough to look scary but he'd never hurt anybody. Lucky for us, Sheila doesn't know that.
Jimmy laughed. "Maybe I can come for a week."
"A week isn't long enough!"
"Hey, Peter ... no offense ... but a week with your family can feel like a long time."
That's because Jimmy's the only kid in his family. His parents are divorced. He lives with his father, Frank Fargo, who's a painter.
"How about two weeks?" I said.
"Is your brother bringing his bird?"
"Yeah ... Uncle Feather's part of the family," I told him. "Same as Turtle."
"So it will be your mother, your father, Fudge, Tootsie, Turtle, Uncle Feather and you?"
"Right," I said. "And my grandmother's coming too."
"The one who taught you to stand on your head?"
"Yeah." Grandma Muriel is Mom's mother. She ran a gymnastics camp before she retired.
"You think she could teach me?" Jimmy asked.
"Maybe," I said.
"I'll talk to my father," Jimmy said. "I'll let you know tomorrow."
He called back the next morning. Mr. Fargo liked the idea of Maine. He liked it so much he said he'd drive Jimmy up and camp out in the area himself.
"That's great!" I said. Maybe three weeks in Maine wouldn't be as bad as I'd thought.
It took ten hours to drive to Southwest Harbor, Maine. Ten hours in the backseat of an old Blazer with Fudge, Tootsie, Turtle and Uncle Feather, who wouldn't shut up. Some myna birds don't talk at all but Uncle Feather's not one of them. He'll repeat anything you say. Finally, I dropped the cover over his cage, hoping he'd think it was nighttime. "Go to sleep, stupid!" I told him. Stupid is one of his favorite words.
But that didn't work either. "Go to sleep, stupid ..." he chanted, until even Turtle lost patience and started barking. Grandma is really smart, I thought. She's flying up to Maine.
As we got closer to our destination, Mom started reading to us from a guidebook. "Southwest Harbor is on an island called Mount Desert." She pronounced it de-sert.
"Ice cream, cookies, brownies, pudding ..." Fudge sang.
Mom kept right on reading. I don't know why she thinks Fudge pays any attention to her lectures on history. He hears only what he wants to hear. Everything else goes right by him.
"Founded in 1905, the town of Southwest Harbor ..." You call this a town? I thought, as we drove through it. There was one street with a couple of shops. And that was about it. But I could tell Mom was really excited. She put down her guidebook and smiled at my father. "Oh, it's so quaint," she said. "Isn't it quaint, Warren?"
And my father smiled back and said, "It's perfect, honey."
Fudge chucked Tootsie under her chin. "It's perfect, honey," he said, imitating my father.
Then Uncle Feather started. "Honey ... honey ... honey." For some reason Tootsie thought that was wildly funny, and she laughed until she got the hiccups. Mom passed a bottle of water to the backseat and I stuck it in Tootsie's mouth.
"Take a left here, Warren," Mom said to Dad. We turned onto a dirt road, then pulled into a gravel driveway and parked in front of an old, weathered wood house. The first person I saw was the Queen of Cooties herself. She was standing on the seat of a rope swing. It hung from the branch of a big tree in the front yard.
She was swinging pretty high when I opened the back door of the Blazer and Turtle jumped out. It had been almost four hours since I'd walked him and he really had to go. He raced for the woods behind the house but Sheila thought he was heading straight for her.
"Help!" she screamed, wobbling on the swing. "Somebody please heeelp!" She lost her balance and fell to the ground. What a dork!
Mom jumped out of the car and ran to her rescue. "It's all right," she said, helping Sheila to her feet. "Turtle just had to wee-wee." How could Mom have used such an embarrassing expression?
By then Mr. and Mrs. Tubman, who had also heard Sheila's screams, came running out of the house. "Are you okay?" Mrs. Tubman asked Sheila.
"I'm fine," Sheila said, brushing herself off. "It was just that disgusting dog!"
Before I had the chance to tell her who was really disgusting, a man with white hair called, "Lemonade ..." We all headed for the house and gathered around the table on the porch. "I'm Buzz Tubman's father," the white-haired man said. He poured each of us a glass of lemonade. "Call me Buzzy Senior."
I polished off my drink really fast. Buzzy Senior poured me another. I gulped it down. "Long trip up here, isn't it?" he asked.
"Ten hours," I said, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. He filled my glass again.
I didn't even notice Fudge watching until then. "You must be really thirsty, Pete."
"Yeah," I said.
"Remember that time you drank too much Island Punch and you ..."
I clamped my hand over his mouth. He still doesn't get the difference between stories you tell to strangers and stories you keep to yourself. I looked at Buzzy Senior. "Fudge knows a lot about dinosaurs," I said, hoping to change the subject.
But as soon as I took my hand away from his mouth Fudge laughed. "And Pete knows all about cooties."
"Well, you can't know too much about cooties, can you, Pete?" Buzzy Senior said, smiling at me.
"And guess what else?" Fudge said. "I'm getting married under the trees."
"Do I know the bride?" Buzzy Senior asked.
"It's Sheila Tubman!" Fudge said.
"Oh, my granddaughter," Buzzy Senior said.
Excerpted from Fudge-a-Mania by JUDY BLUME Copyright © 1990 by Judy Blume . Excerpted by permission.
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