Since our Canby friends visited Andy’s home in the last book, it’s Jane’s turn to shoehorn her square-peg roommates into her circular world. Incidentally, I like that this is something the series did with the new girls – devote a book to visits to each of their home states. With the old girls, they only ever visited Shelley’s family in Iowa. I guess Manhattan and Washington, D.C. are only big enough for one girl of Canby Hall.
But before we can get to the proceedings in snooty high-society Boston, we have to start off on the grounds of Canby Hall. And ugh … Alison’s back. Or more accurately, she hasn’t left yet. Good grief, get a move on, woman! I always liked her, until her horrendous wedding and its surrounding events made me disdain her with a vigor I normally reserve only for Dana. The current girls of 407 are headed to her going-away party, which is complete with skits and poetry readings. Jane has been nominated as the fourth-floor poem reader because of her “strong voice.” Alison cries. They give her a cake that’s really papier-mache moulded around a rock. Then they bring out the real thing, a chocolate cake, because chocolate is the one non-health food item that Alison loves. “She couldn’t resist the stuff and all her girls knew it.” Really? This is news to me. Alison then gives a thank-you speech in which she introduces her replacement, the new housemother, Meredith Pembroke, who is dressed for the party in a suit and a stern bun. She endears herself to the gathered girls by announcing that this is technically a school night, and anyone who is not back in the dorm in 15 minutes will receive a demerit. The girls realize that a new, post-Alison era at Baker House has begun.
We then cut to Jane, Cary, Andy, Matt, Toby and Randy sledding down a hill and later having a snowball fight. This is the first time that Cary is described as “short.” Anyway, when the girls are alone, Jane invites her roommates to her parents’ upcoming Barretts’ Landing Party: a party at their mansion in Boston to commemorate the arrival of the first Barretts on the shores of Massachusetts 300 years before. (Incidentally, the book’s back cover states that this blessed arrival occurred in 1663. This book was published in 1987 and is certainly not supposed to be taking place in 1963. So the year of this party can’t be the 300th anniversary – in which case why are we having a party?) Andy and Toby are understandably nervous about being the only black/ranch-type people there. Jane assures them they won’t be, that it’s not a big deal, that surely they know which fork to use for escargot and how to do the waltz. (Does she know anything about her roommates at all?) When Andy and Toby become even more concerned, Jane runs off in tears. They go after her and promise her they’ll attend and won’t make fools of themselves, which we all know is the most ridiculous promise in the history of all-girls’ boarding schools.
Andy, still worried that she’s going to be totally out of place, decides to call the person she apparently now goes to for all race-relations advice: Faith. DEAR HEAVEN, MAKE IT STOP. By “it,” I mean “any mention whatsoever of Room 407’s Old Girls.” I find I am able to stand them less and less in my old age. Anyway, it is stated that Andy first met Faith over Thanksgiving weekend during Alison’s wedding (not true) and that Faith “was one of the most sophisticated young women Andy knew. Ultra-cool.” (Take it from me: also not true.) Faith advises Andy to get an etiquette book from the library and to remember “what they used to say in the sixties. Black is beautiful!” Faith also, very reasonably for once, points out that she visited Shelley in Iowa where there are far fewer black people than in Boston, so this party isn’t really that big a deal. Andy feels better, until she hangs up and is confronted by Meredith Pembroke, who gives her a demerit for making a phone call after eleven PM. When Andy explains that everyone makes their calls after eleven because that’s when the rates drop (thank you cell phones, have I said that before?) Meredith shrugs and says that in that case, everyone will get demerits. The new housemother is definitely a super-fun gal.
Later that week, Jane is getting ready to invite Cary to the Barretts’ Landing Party, but she knows she needs to stuff him full of pizza to increase her chances of getting him to agree to come, since he considers himself an escapee from Boston high society. She then pontificates about how “the Barretts are really part of the heritage of this country”, how various Barretts were involved with Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride and the Boston Tea Party, and how her dad and all the firstborn Barrett sons are named David French Barrett. (Even though he was David Quincy Barrett just one book ago!) When Andy teases her about her zeal, Jane is insulted, and when Andy apologizes, Jane forgives her, saying generously, “I think you just didn’t understand.” Jane, after all, truly believes her roommates should be honoured to be invited.
At dinner while trying to choke down the evening’s special of “Fisherman’s Catch,” which may or may not still be alive, next-door neighbours Dee and Maggie try to convince Andy and Toby to tell Jane that her family’s fancy society party isn’t their cup of tea (Boston pun!) and that they don’t want to go. Nice friends! Andy and Toby tell them how proud Jane is of her ancestry, and that they can’t disappoint her. But they’re nervous.
Meanwhile Jane has shoved enough pizza down Cary’s gullet and is back at his dorm for their monthly open house. One Monday night a month, friends and girlfriends are allowed in the Oakley Prep dorm rooms as long as the doors are open. How positively quaint! But I like it. We are told about Cary’s computer-loving roommate Stu, a man of very few words. I’m pretty sure Cary was living with a completely different roommate a couple of books ago, but I can’t find the reference now. We are also told that Cary is extremely neat and organized, which sort of lets the air out of Jane’s excuse that she’s a slob because she was waited on by maids all her life. So was Cary! Anyway, Jane eventually gets to what she is secretly calling The Difficult Question. Newsflash, Jane: If you can’t ask your boyfriend to come to your family’s party, you need a new boyfriend. Anyway, after she very carefully brings it up, Cary shocks her by begging to attend. Apparently his anthropology teacher wants them to study a cultural rite, and he thinks this will be a perfect opportunity. When Jane is offended, he reminds her that they first met because she was writing a paper on the unusual experience of seeing his band play. Unable to give in, and aggravated by the arrival of the aforementioned Silent Stu, Jane stomps out of the room.
Andy writes a snail-mail letter to Faith in which she states that Jane has gone off the deep end and is now just spouting Barrett facts 24/7. Andy proceeds to share some of these facts, including the story of one Amanda Barrett, a women’s tennis champion from the 1800s, and notes that everyone is getting so sick of the Barretts that they hope to eventually hear about a Lizzie Barrett who eliminated her whole family of Barretts. In addition, Meredith Pembroke is continuing to hand out demerits like candy.
By Chapter Six, it’s finally time for this much-anticipated weekend in Boston. Jane goes up early and Cary drives Andy and Toby. In the car, they listen to “great music” such as Lionel Richie and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. (However, I have no right to put quote marks around “great music,” as one look at my iTunes playlist would tell you.) Jane lives in hoity-toity Louisburg Square, where Louisa May Alcott and other famous people lived. Colour me impressed.
Cary drops Andy and Toby off and they ring Jane’s doorbell. When a woman answers the door, they assume it’s Jane’s mother. Turns out, it’s the maid. (Who didn’t see that one coming?) She escorts them to the south parlour, which is lavishly and expensively decorated, and leaves them there to await the arrival of Charlotte, Jane’s older sister. The girls are nervous so they start clowning around, flinging themselves on the furniture and tugging on a rope hanging from the ceiling, which turns out to be a summons for the butler. When he arrives, the girls jokingly order tea, crumpets, scones and cherries jubilee, which is just stupid if you ask me. They may not be rich, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have manners. Of note, Toby has “no idea” what scones are but knows people in English novels are always scarfing them. Ah, the pre-Starbucks days! After the butler leaves, Toby and Andy start messing around with a chessboard that has pieces clearly indicating a game in progress. Are you people in kindergarten? Then Charlotte arrives. She’s described as slightly overweight and dressed to look much older than she is. I just don’t understand this physical description. Why is her weight even mentioned, and why is she a stuffy dresser? Are we supposed to conclude that she’s unattractive? Especially given the later events of the book, this just doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, she’s also stuffy in personality, which takes Andy and Toby aback, as they’d heard so much about Jane’s awesome older sister. They assume she doesn’t like them. Which isn’t an unreasonable assumption, given that just as Charlotte is about to show them to their room, the butler returns with the expansive spread of food they ordered. Charlotte is shocked, and then sarcastically notes that they seem to have made themselves at home already. Can’t say I blame her. Then she leaves and says when they’re done, the butler will show them their room. Oh, and that dinner is in less than an hour.
When Andy and Toby are eventually shown to their attic room, which is beautiful and cozy but not fancy, Toby gets teary-eyed. Turns out she’s always dreamed of a little place like this, pretty but not intimidating, and she doesn’t know how she’ll ever have that since neither she nor her dad know anything about decorating. Andy offers her decorating expertise once they get back to school. Andy then gently presses Toby on the meaning of the tea bag hanging over her bed in Room 407. And in a moment I’ve remembered ever since, Toby is just about to tell her when … Jane bursts in. Opportunity lost forever.
Jane is thrilled to see them but breaks the news that, in her house, everyone dresses up for dinner. The only skirt Toby has is denim, and Jane realizes that will have to do. Andy points out that she’s already wearing a skirt and a sweater, but Jane notes that a Tina Turner sweatshirt is not exactly a sweater. Jane then begs them to dress up because if they don’t, her parents will think they don’t care enough to make an effort, and won’t get to know how great her roommates really are. JANE. If this is that important, why on earth didn’t you give your friends a heads-up before they arrived, so they could pack or borrow whatever random items they needed to survive a weekend at your place? For crying out loud!
Andy and Toby arrive in the dining room to find the rest of the family already seated. Is that how you treat guests? Let them find their own way to dinner? Anyway, Mr. Barrett says that he hears they have “representatives from the Windy City and the Lone Star State,” and Andy immediately pegs him as a Corny Father, who likes to say things like “Cat got your tongue?”
“Cat got your tongue?” asks Mr. Barrett.
The dinner is the rousing success you and I knew it would be. The first course is artichokes, and Toby proceeds to pick hers up and take a huge bite out of it. When she notices the others peeling off individual leaves, she tries to save herself by saying that they must eat their artichokes Boston-style. Andy’s knit tie falls into her bowl of Boston clam chowder and soaks up half the soup before she notices it. I am left wondering why she was wearing a knit tie. Then the maid brings a platter of soft-shell crabs, which Toby tries to take to pass around the table instead of letting the maid serve each person individually. Mrs. Barrett says, “No my dear. Those are for everyone. There aren’t enough for you to have them all.” That is just mean! The whole point of good manners is to make other people feel comfortable, not to highlight the difference between your privileged upbringing and their ignorance. Mrs. Barrett is the one who needs that etiquette library book. Toby is then further humiliated when she tries to daintily cut away little pieces of crab and Mrs. Barrett tells her to just eat the whole thing, shell and all. Fingerbowls with water and lemon wedges then arrive, and Toby drinks hers. Mr. Barrett continues Mrs. Barrett’s example of terrible hospitality by saying “We use our fingerbowls Boston-style” and making a big deal of washing his fingers in it. Don’t be jerks, you supposed pillars of society. Your guests already feel bad enough! Meanwhile Charlotte is completely silent. Jane is desperately trying to get her parents to like her friends, noting that Andy loves ballet (to which Mrs. Barrett says they’ll have to introduce her to a family friend of theirs, Mikhail Baryshnikov) and that Toby comes from a ranch. The disastrous dinner ends with Mr. Barrett going off to make his next move “by telex” to Olaf. Turns out he’s been playing a chess game for two years with some guy in Norway, and it’s the thing he loves most in the world. Andy and Toby gulp.
Later that night, Andy and Toby are in bed and Jane comes into their room. She says she thinks her parents liked them. She also says that Charlotte is “usually a little reserved – I think it has to do with being self-conscious about her weight” but is even more so than usual this weekend. Again with Charlotte’s weight! Not nice or relevant, people! Then Jane tells them about Cary coming over to meet her parents. Where were Andy and Toby? Shipped off to the attic? They’re his friends too, why weren’t they there when he visited? Anyway, Cary gave his usual bad-boy performance and Jane’s parents weren’t impressed. After he left, Jane helped her mother with the hats.
“What hats?” Andy and Toby say in unison, with rising dread.
It seems that at this ritzy shindig, the men wear Pilgrim’s hats and the women wear bonnets. They’re personalized, so Toby’s has a horse on it and Andy’s has a ballet dancer. For some reason, this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Toby and Andy flat-out refuse to wear any hats. Jane explodes that they’re selfish, that they “display the table manners of cave dwellers,” and runs out of the room. I see she gets her charm from her parents! What did she expect when she didn’t prep her roommates at all on what they’d need to do that weekend? What kind of person throws her friends to the wolves without any warning?
The next day, Andy and Toby escape the Barrett mansion and go sightseeing with Cary, who gives them an insider’s tour of Boston. At Quincy Market, they find a shop devoted to rainbows. Toby decides she loves rainbows and buys a rainbow bedspread, a rainbow rug, and a rainbow mobile (!) for her side of Room 407. Rainbows may have a slightly different connotation these days, but our friend Toby lives in a more innocent time. Cary, after annoying the saleswoman by asking if she might have something in black and white, buys Jane a rainbow pillow as a make-up present. They wander through the shops, with Cary buying a Dire Straits pin and Andy buying a chocolate bar in the shape of a ballet slipper. (Do even your confections have to be ballet-themed, Andrea? I have a headache.) Cary then takes them to have authentic fish and chips, another thing Toby apparently knows nothing about. The sheltered child is then grossed-out by the idea of vinegar as a condiment, and oysters as a food. Seriously? Andy rightfully points out that this is the same girl who eats Canby Hall cuisine without complaint. Cary then takes them to the Smyth Museum, where Jane’s mom is the curator, and which has miraculously changed names since the last book. Andy and Toby, who are getting to know Cary a lot better, compare notes on him. Andy says she thinks Cary is better for Jane than stuffy Neal. Toby says she thinks Neal isn’t stuffy, he’s just trapped by social expectations and really has a wild mountain lion inside of him trying to break free. Andy is momentarily speechless by this interpretation. Cary takes them to the Barrett Collection wing, where a museum employee gives them a brochure on the family. Turns out Jane wasn’t exaggerating; every amazing story she told about her family was true. After a stop at Filene’s Basement (where they buy Cary a unisex tie in the shape of a fish, whatever that could possibly be), they call Jane to tell her they’re on their way home.
Jane is furious that they left without waking her and were gone the whole day. Her family thinks that Toby and Andy disappeared so they wouldn’t have to help with the party. In Jane’s words, “They pretty much think you’re the lowest of the low.” What kind of family is this? Way to make your guests feel great! Even if it was true, Jane, keep it to yourself! But why aren’t you correcting their misunderstanding? And why is this rich family doing all this pre-party work themselves? Don’t you have maids and cooks and hatmakers to take care of it for you?
When they arrive, the house is in a frenzy. Everything I know about rich people, I learned from Downton Abbey, which is how I know this doesn’t make sense: the cook is yelling at the maid for letting a sauce boil over. The maid who answers the door wouldn’t also be working in the kitchen! Unless perhaps the Barretts do hired-help Boston-style. Jane takes Andy and Toby to see her dress, and somehow this is the first time this whole weekend that they’ve been in her room. Of course she has a gorgeous gown, which make Andy and Toby’s regular-person duds pale in comparison. Charlotte comes in and, when asked if she has a date, stammers that she doesn’t because she wanted to be free to help her parents with the party. Andy and Toby think this sounds bogus. Back in their room, Andy surmises that Charlotte has a secret tragic romance. When Toby scoffs, Andy reminds her that it was she, Andy, who first suspected that Alison had a new great love. If their interfering with Alison’s love life is any indication of what’s going to happen to Charlotte, Jane’s big sister should book a spot in the nearest convent immediately.
Andy’s red miniskirt and white top and Toby’s brown skirt, blue shirt, and tan vest are not exactly on equal footing with Jane’s strapless pink tulle gown. But since it’s all they have, they attempt to use the shower to steam the wrinkles out of Toby’s outfit. This is unsuccessful (though the process reportedly leaves their hair, I quote, “frizzled”) so they go in search of an iron. As they head down the servants’ back stairs, Toby bumps into Andy, who bumps into the wall. Naturally, they hear a click and discover a secret passage. I am totally, completely, not making this up. I feel like we just took a detour into a Nancy Drew.
“We probably shouldn’t go in,” Toby says.
“Oh right,” says Andy sarcastically. “Let’s just forget the boring old secret passage and take the regular stairs. I’m a little tired of secret passages this month, anyway.” As ridiculous as this is, I do love these two.
They go through the secret door and descend down three flights of a secret staircase. While doing so, they smell lilac perfume. The staircase ends at a blank wall. They bump into it and another secret door opens, leading to a closet. They start laughing about something inane and, even more inanely, actually fall out of the closet onto the floor of the room beyond. They find themselves in the basement servants’ lounge, in front of Charlotte and McNulty, the chauffeur, who are kissing.
It is noted that Charlotte and McNulty make an odd couple, since she’s a head taller than him and “outweigh[s] him by quite a few pounds.” WHAT is this obsession with her weight? In any case, Charlotte is freaked out to see them. She starts telling some whopper about how McNulty was teaching her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. That was such an ’80s trope in books and on TV, and does anyone ever buy that? Toby and Andy tell her to cut the crap and that her secret’s safe with them. She says she’s been wanting to tell Jane, but their parents have old-fashioned ideas about servants. McNulty is a struggling artist and he really needs the chauffeur job, and he’ll get fired if her parents find out. Toby’s and Andy’s lips are sealed.
Cut to the party, where Andy and Toby are making small talk with various adults (ie. boring people.) And wearing the hated hats, I might add. An older woman asks Andy where she goes to school. When Andy tells her it’s Canby Hall, the woman muses, “Isn’t that the school young Jane attends? I really should introduce the two of you.” Andy tells her they’re roommates. “Oh, I see. Well then, you’ve probably already made each other’s acquaintance.” Andy resists the temptation to say that in fact they haven’t, as it’s a pretty big room. Hee! (As an aside: did Charlotte go to Canby Hall too? I don’t recall that ever being mentioned.)
Cary shows up dressed relatively normally, and the teens decide the party is lame-o. Mr. and Mrs. Barrett come up, and the latter is concerned that the party has a “certain flatness” to it. Apparently, some people are setting up the Parcheesi board, and someone else is napping in the south parlour. Mrs. Barrett thinks it is likely that these are not positive signs.
Neal Worthington shows up and flirts charmingly with Toby. Their repartee culminates with him suggesting he drive up to Greenleaf the following weekend and take her out for their first date to Pizza Pete’s. But how can that be their first date? Wasn’t he supposed to pick them up from the airport and take her for pizza after their waitressing stint in Chicago? Was he detained by a Pilgrim-themed emergency or something? Whatever. They go into the conservatory and talk some more. Neal says Toby has such a special way of saying things. Since what she said was, “It’s like someone set up a piece of summer in the middle of winter,” I feel like Neal’s laying it on a little thick. But he’s supposed to be a genuinely nice person, and there aren’t that many of those in any situation, so I’ll give him a pass. Then he tells Toby how he’s expected to go to Harvard and join his father’s law practice and then marry a girl from one of the acceptable Boston families, and how his dad refers to marriage as “merging stock portfolios.” Turns out Neal isn’t so sure having his life decided for him is what he wants. He might have more in common with Texas Toby than with the Boston bluebloods with whom he was raised.
As they leave, Jane and Cary come into the conservatory and start making out. When her mother catches them and is not pleased, Cary calls himself “SuperCary” and jumps onto a table to reveal Superman suspenders underneath his suit. After a pause, Mrs. Barrett bursts out laughing and says she’s starting to see what her daughter sees in him. I am mystified. If this was me, I would honestly be concerned that he was deranged.
When they all return to the party, it’s in bad shape. People are already leaving. The hired band is playing elevator music. But Cary finds out they also play rock and, naturally, are willing to have him join them. Of course! A random high-schooler who’s never rehearsed with them in their entire lives! They start off with a Motown medley (including “Where Did Our Love Go?” and “My Girl”) because, you know, it’s that easy. Also naturally, Andy decides to give an impromptu group disco dance lesson. And … these teenagers save the party. OF COURSE. Soon the entire Boston-proper crowd is getting down to Cary’s cover of “Gimme That Old Time Rock and Roll”, Jane is showing her mother and sister some of the “newer, trickier moves from Canby Hall and Oakley Prep dances” — because, people, that is where America unveils its newest, hottest moves — and even the servants are dancing. The neighbours ultimately call the police because of the noise. Boston’s upper crust has finally entered the 1980s.
Late that night, the Barretts, Andy and Toby are foraging for a midnight snack. Toby offers to make huevos rancheros. But there are no tortillas or refried beans, because as Jane puts it, “To folks around here, a hamburger is pretty much as ethnic as their eating gets.” This seems like an unfair slam against Bostonians. I just can’t believe that’s true. Anyway, they end up making huevos rancheros with Boston baked beans and toast and gathering around the kitchen table to eat them. Jane, who doesn’t yet know about her sister’s torrid love affair, mentions that she saw Charlotte dancing with McNulty. Before Charlotte can come up with a response, Mrs. Barrett says she danced with McNulty too, and found out he’s a talented artist. There’s hope for Charlotte and her one true love! Mr. Barrett lets the girls know he knows they screwed up his chess game but he’s OK with it. Andy and Toby realize Jane’s family is cool after all.
The next day, they all head back to Canby Hall. Andy and Toby let Jane in on the secret of Charlotte and McNulty, and Jane is floored. She knew nothing of their romance or, even more unbelievably, of the secret passage in her lifelong home. They are all greeted by the lovely Meredith Pembroke, who is writing demerits for them because they signed the weekend signout sheet in pencil, when the Canby Hall rule book clearly states signouts should be written in ink. When they groan, they each receive another two demerits for insubordination.
The 407 girls discuss the new state of affairs with Dee and Maggie, who say rumour has it that Meredith was a prison warden before coming to Canby Hall. Someone else said her older cousin’s roommate went to school with a Meredith Pembroke in New Hampshire who was the wildest girl in the history of the school. Others believe Meredith takes lemon juice supplements to increase the sourness of her disposition. The girls decide to beat Meredith at her own game and not break a single rule. However, Toby is then given a demerit for using a hair dryer, since no electric appliances are allowed in the dorm. (In what year was this rule book written? Are even alarm clocks verboten? Whatever would Meredith say about my iPad?) When Toby argues that that rule refers to hotplates and refrigerators, and that everyone uses hair dryers, Meredith is unmoved.
As the week goes on, Andy gets a demerit for a late-night phone call to Faith. All three roommates get three demerits each because of the mess on Jane’s side of the room. Jane gets another five demerits when she’s caught kissing Cary on the front steps, since public displays of affection are forbidden. Andy gets three demerits for an unauthorized pet in the room – her goldfish. The girls, becoming alarmed at the rapid accumulation of demerits (twenty means a girl has to go before the all-campus board) decide to go to headmistress PA for help. They barge in on her at home, where she’s cooking. Andy, who prides herself on being able to identify any ethnic cuisine since she comes from a restaurant family, shows her amazing, incredible skill by recognizing the “exotic spice smells” as Indian. What a talent! Turns out PA is cooking her way through an Indian cookbook. They put her tandoori chicken at risk of burning while they kvetch about the overzealousness of Meredith. PA tells them that they are not the first girls to come and complain about the new Baker housemother. She also says mysteriously that she’s not going to do anything yet and that sometimes when the dust settles things have a way of working themselves out.
That weekend Toby wakes up, all agog over a letter she got from Neal the day before saying that he can’t wait for their date. I just can’t imagine a teenage boy writing a snail-mail letter to that effect on blue personalized stationery. But I guess, in some circles, that happened? Still happens? I need to do an anthropological study on that. Anyway, Toby is so excited she just has to go horseback riding. As she heads down the front steps of Baker House, a Camaro pulls up with Meredith and a hip, punky friend of hers inside it. They are laughing, but Meredith stops when she sees Toby, and gives her demerits both for leaving the dorm so early and for leaving campus. Toby takes the demerits and keeps walking. Meredith asks her where she thinks she’s going. Toby says since she’s gotten the demerits she might as well get her ride out of it. Meredith grounds her for the rest of the weekend for insubordination. Toby yells that it isn’t fair and Meredith knows it. As Toby goes inside, she hears Meredith’s friend ask Meredith what’s going on. “You might remember someone who made a personal campaign to break every rule in our school rule book – and did. Plus breaking two rules the administration had to invent to cover stunts of yours they hadn’t had the imagination to think of in advance!”
Hmmmm. I ask you, dear readers, whatever could this mean?
Toby does not waste time thinking about it, though. She goes in the front door of the dorm and sneaks right out the back. She runs like the wind to the Crowells’ where she saddles up Maxine. Randy asks her if she’s sure she’s going to be OK riding in snow like this, since it’s a bit different from Texas. Toby rolls her eyes and ignores him. She also, like a dumbbell, tells him she thinks she’s in love with Neal Worthington. Randy then goes into a lecture about how she’s just attracted to Neal, how love has to grow, and even though he’s completely correct, he’s successfully driving even me crazy. Toby is so irritated at the fact that everyone’s always telling her what to do that she gallops out of there, pushing Maxine on a full-tilt ride and disregarding Randy’s warnings. Pop quiz time. Is this: A) a good idea, or B) a not-good idea?
Maxine flips and Toby is thrown into the snow, injuring her ankle. Now, a little late, Toby starts to panic. She really doesn’t know anything about snow. Can she sink into it, like quicksand? She tries to crawl, but can’t because of the pain. She starts calling for help. After awhile she gets sleepy and decides to take a nap. Just before she falls asleep she hears Randy calling her name, so she musters all her strength to avoid succumbing to hypothermia and calls back to him. He finds her, slings her on his horse, and rides her to the infirmary at Canby Hall. Naturally, they run into Meredith, who attempts to give Randy a demerit for having livestock on campus. As a city person, I would really, really love to try to have any rule pertaining to livestock entered into my school’s rule book. Anyway, Meredith then notices that Randy has Toby on his horse, the same Toby that was grounded earlier, and she becomes irate. She tells Randy to take Toby to the infirmary, and that her infractions will be dealt with later.
In the infirmary, all Toby’s friends are gathering solemnly in the waiting room. I don’t mean to minimize their concern, but having been witness to waiting rooms in actual Level I trauma centers where family members are actually at risk of hearing actual life-or-death news, I was not able to fully get on board with the suspense of a kid with a sprained ankle in what is basically a school nurse’s office. But I will try. The town doctor drives in and puts a soft cast on her. He also recommends a cane (a cane for a teenager with an ankle sprain cannot have been standard of care even in the ’80s) and gives her a sedative, which is everything from unnecessary in someone with an ankle sprain to really inadvisable in someone with potential hypothermia. Anyway, Randy goes up to see Toby and tells her he went looking for her because Maxine came galloping back to the barn without a rider.
Meredith and her friend Rachel show up at the infirmary. Meredith tells Nurse Zinger (I always thought this name was made up, but I just met a Zinger in real life – awesome) that she wants to see Toby, but the nurse says no in no uncertain terms. You know, Meredith is a fellow staff member. Nurse Zinger should be giving her respect in front of the students, at least. But instead she takes Meredith to sign some forms, and Rachel sits in the waiting room with Toby’s friends. Rachel mentions that Meredith was really worried about Toby, and that she’s one of the most caring people in the world. The girls are incredulous. Rachel then goes on to say that when they were in college, Meredith was the wildest girl on campus. No dorm could keep her contained. She tied sheets together to climb out her dorm window so she could get to a Stones concert. (Wait – there were dorm rules in college? I don’t know any colleges, except maybe religious ones, that attempt to exert any civilizing control over their students.) Rachel and the girls of Canby Hall realize that Meredith has been overcompensating for her past.
Toby wakes up to find her infirmary room filled with balloons of every colour, brought by Neal since she likes rainbows so much. Jane, who is never the least bit jealous despite her lifelong, only-recently-ended relationship with Neal, brings him up to see Toby, with the shouts of Nurse Zinger from downstairs: “I’ll give him two minutes up there. The last thing a resting girl needs is a guy with that kind of goony romantic look all over his face.”
Speaking for myself and every teenaged girl or boy I’ve ever known: Toby would have had to give up her sickbed, because I would have been in danger of cardiac arrest secondary to critical embarrassment.
But apparently Neal is made of stronger stock than I, because he’s not the least bit embarrassed. He tells Toby he’ll come down the following Saturday for a rescheduled date, kisses her in front of Andy and Jane, and bids farewell. Andy and Jane break out contraband Chinese food they’ve snuck in. Toby’s fortune cookie reads, “Whatever the play, enjoy being in the cast.” Hearty guffaws ensue. These are interrupted by the arrival of Meredith. Only it’s a new Meredith, minus the high-powered suits and clipboard and clad instead in jeans and a paint-spattered sweatshirt.
She proceeds to sit down and tell them about her past. Everything Rachel said was true. Meredith had been a rich girl aiming to break every rule. She was “in and out of ten schools before one of them finally gave me a degree.” Ten colleges? Again, I am amazed. Short of, say, homicide, what broken rules can get you kicked out of a college? Even campus rape doesn’t come with expulsion! Anyway, then Meredith’s father died, her mom got sick, the money ran out, and she needed to get and keep a job. PA was friends with her mom’s family, so she agreed to give Meredith a chance. (Does PA make all the hiring decisions at Canby Hall? Doesn’t the Board or anyone else get a say, or is the entire staff populated with PA buddies?) Since PA knew about Meredith’s checkered history, Meredith felt she needed to prove that she wouldn’t allow trouble in her dorm. But she went too far, the list of girls set to go before the all-campus board is so long that some will be in their forties by the time of their hearings, and now every girl in Baker House hates her. Since Meredith is suffering from a lack of common sense, or possibly a brain injury, she asks the girls of 407 for advice. Of course they come up with the perfect solution: Amnesty Day. Everyone can turn in their demerits, never hear about them again, and start fresh. As she leaves, Meredith says that her predecessor Alison had told her that if she ever needed special friends, to look in room 407. Is this place a numerology cult or something? Are they all brainwashed into loving the occupants of that room. whoever they are?
By Monday, the Greenleaf doctor has apparently taken my medical advice from 28 years in the future and Toby is suddenly on crutches instead of a cane. Meredith has put up notices on the Baker House bulletin board. One is advertising demerit Amnesty Day. The second reads:
“Some of you may have heard a rumour that when I was in college, I slid down two stories on tied-together sheets to sneak out to a Rolling Stones concert. The story is false. It was a Led Zeppelin concert.”
Friends, after a rocky start, Alison 2.0 is here!
– Toby is writing her history essay on the “Accomplishments of the Egyptians” with a pen. Remember the days?
– Toby loves any book she can find about brave pioneer women, and especially loves The Big Valley reruns. I had never heard of this show, but apparently Linda Evans and Lee Majors were in it. Why does Linda Evans look so different from her Dynasty days?
In any case, now that we have a replacement for Alison, we need a replacement for Pamela, am I right? Well the publishers have heard our pleas. Join me next time as mean girl antics return to Canby Hall!