A Carlson Septuplets Story
Virginia Nole hated going to her cousins' house. She hadn't been there since her cousins were newborn babies, but it had been so chaotic there that she never wanted to go back. Of course, now that her cousins had been around for two and a half years, maybe no one paid attention to them anymore, or at least not as much. No, she knew that wasn't true. Virginia heard about her cousins almost every day: they were on the news, or featured in commercials, or in toy stores featuring their toys, or in clothing stores featuring baby and toddler clothes with her cousins' label on them.
When Virginia's cousins, the famous Carlson Septuplets, were born in July 1982, her family had gone to visit them. They stayed at a motel, but they spent all their time either at Aunt Robin's and Uncle Peter's house (they were the Septs' parents) or at the hospital sitting in waiting rooms, waiting to see their cousins, who couldn't leave the hospital. They got to see the babies twice. Virginia wasn't very interested in seeing seven babies who had to be kept in special cribs because they were too small, or something like that. She wanted to go somewhere cool for her summer vacation, like to California. Not to some boring town in Michigan to see some boring babies.
It wasn't just that the Septuplets were boring. They were annoying, too. It wasn't the Septs themselves who annoyed her, of course, since they couldn't leave the hospital. It was the TV people. The people from the news who constantly followed Aunt Robin and Uncle Peter around. They were always at the hospital, trying to get the babies on TV, or at the Carlsons' house. The most annoying part of all of this is that she didn't even get to appear on television herself; only her aunt and uncle did. Even though she didn't want people to think of her simply as "the Septs' cousin," it would have been cool to be on television. Besides, people already had given her that label, so it wouldn't have mattered.
When Virginia got back after visiting the Septs, it seemed like everyone had heard her name on TV and wanted to know what the babies were like. She told them: "They're boring and they live in weird cribs at the hospital." Everyone still seemed to think they were really cool, and still bugged her to tell them about the Septuplets.
Now it was almost Christmas of 1984, and Virginia's family was visiting the Carlsons' again. Another vacation spoiled by the Septs, Virginia thought as they were driving from her home, near New York City, to the Septs' house near Detroit. When they had seen Aunt Robin and Uncle Peter at Christmas in 1981, before the Septs were born, they had come to Virginia's house. But now they couldn't bring the babies, so Virginia got to spend seven hours in the back seat of their van with her annoying little brother, Colin, who was nine, and her airheaded big sister Paige, who was fifteen. (Virginia was twelve.)
When they finally arrived in Westfield, Michigan, it was dark out and it was snowing hard. There were lots of lights on in the Carlsons' house, and you could see silhouettes of lots of people who were walking around in front of the windows. Virginia picked up her small suitcase and followed her mom, dad, Paige, and Colin to the door. Colin rang the doorbell.
A very fat lady with white hair who was smiling a very big smile answered the door. "Hello!" she said enthusiastically. She paused and stared at them for a moment, and then exclaimed, "Why, you must be Robin's little sister, Susan Nole!" Without waiting for a reply, she added, "And you're her husband Drew. And who are you children?"
"Paige Nole," Paige introduced herself.
"I'm Colin," Colin said, smiling as much as the lady.
"Virginia," Virginia said.
"Oh, you're Susan and Drew's kids!" the lady laughed. Obviously, Virginia thought. "Why don't you come on in?" She lead them into the living room where lots of grown-ups were sitting around talking and eating chips and dip. Virginia, Paige, and Colin seemed to be the only kids. "Robin, your sister is here!" the lady called.
Virginia's Aunt Robin ran out from the kitchen. "Well, hello, Susie! Hello, Drew! It's great to see you! We haven't seen you since the babies were born, have we?"
"No," Colin replied, although Aunt Robin hadn't been talking to him.
"Colin! Virginia! Paige! How have you three been doing?"
"Fine," Paige and Virginia replied, both trying to sound enthusiastic but not succeeding. Aunt Robin didn't seem to notice.
"Great, Aunt Robin," Colin replied, still smiling a lot. He glanced around and then asked, "Where are the Septs? Can we see them?"
"Your Uncle Peter is back in their room right now, getting them ready for bed. They've been back there in the playroom all afternoon, because we didn't want to bring them all out until everyone got here to see them. But since you guys are the last ones, I guess that means we can bring them out now! Peter!" she called to her husband, "Would you bring the babies out now?"
"They're coming, dear," Uncle Peter called back.
"Mommeeeee!" came a cry from the hallway. A toddler with short brown hair and wearing light blue pajamas (the kind with feet) came running out of the hallway. Her pajamas had a small black square patch on sewn on them, with a sky blue star in the center. "Mommmmeeeeee!" she cried again.
"Oh, Monica," Aunt Robin said. She handed her a training cup filled with what looked like apple juice.
From out of the hall came two more babies who looked just like the first one, except one of them had an orange star patch and one of them had a purple one. The one with the orange star tried to take the cup from first Sept, whom Aunt Robin had called Monica. The one with the purple star saw all the strange people in the room and ran to her mommy.
"Michelle, stop it," Aunt Robin said, pulling the orange star Sept away from the sky blue star one (Monica), and picking up the one with the purple star. The other four babies toddled out of the hallway. They all looked like the others except their stars were red, yellow, green, and cerulean blue. The red star Sept ran toward the coffee table in the center of the room and climbed up on it, grabbing a fist full of chips out of a bowl that was on the table. The cerulean star Sept ran after her and climbed up as well, knocking over the bowl of chips onto the floor. She pulled a leaf off of a potted plant that was on the table and started chewing on it. The green star Sept ran over to the Christmas tree that was in the corner of the room and started tugging on one of the lower hanging ornaments. The yellow star Sept stood in front of the first person she came to, who happened to be Paige, and looked up at her innocently with her finger in her mouth.
Everyone started saying things like, "They're so cute!" and "They're even more adorable than they seemed when I saw them on TV!" No one seemed to notice the trouble some of them were causing. Aunt Robin ran over and picked up the Sept who was tugging on the Christmas tree and handed her to a relative who wanted to hold one, and then ran over and picked up the chips and put them back in the bowl, then handed the two Septs who had been climbing on the table to two other relatives. Paige, enchanted by the Septs like everyone else, picked up the Sept who was standing in front of her.
"They must be so much trouble, though," someone said. They must have been the first person there to notice the havoc caused by the seven toddlers.
"Well, we manage," Aunt Robin said with a smile, "but I still haven't had time to get my Christmas shopping done, and there's only a few days left before Christmas. None of the kids around here will baby-sit, either. They all volunteer once but after that, they don't want to do it any more. Of course, I never have only one kid watch them; it would be too much for one person. I usually hire at least three or four middle school, or even better, high school kids to watch them as a team. Even that way, though, no one wants to do it anymore...."
"Hey, Aunt Robin!" Paige cried, "I could watch the Septs! With Virginia! And Colin too, even though he's only nine."
Virginia glared at Paige. Paige didn't seem to notice.
"That would be terrific, Paige!" Aunt Robin said. "Would you and Virginia and Colin be able to watch them tomorrow while your uncle and I finish our Christmas shopping? Of course, we'll pay you per toddler per hour!"
"Sure!" Paige squealed, delighted that she was going to get to baby-sit the famous Carlson Septuplets. No one seemed to think that Virginia wouldn't want to help, so no one asked her. No one asked Colin either, but he was playing with a baby too so he probably would like it.
Virginia was extremely angry that she had been volunteered to baby-sit, but she didn't say anything because no one would listen to her. They were all too busy talking to each other, mostly about the Septs.
Around ten thirty PM, Mrs. Nole (Virginia's mom) insisted that Virginia, Paige, and Colin start getting ready for bed. Aunt Robin showed them to their bedroom. It was the biggest bedroom in the house. At first Virginia was surprised that they got to sleep in the biggest room, but then she noticed some things that made her see why they hadn't given this room to any of the adults. There was only one bed. Three rolled-up sleeping bags were tossed in a corner. Seven small cribs were shoved aside to make room for the sleeping bags.
"Aunt Robin, is this where the Septs sleep?" Virginia asked.
"Yep, this is their nursery," Aunt Robin replied. "I thought you kids would like to get to see your cousins a little more, since most of the time the grown-ups are fussing over them and you can't play with them! Also, I hope you don't mind, but none of the adults wanted to sleep in sleeping bags. You kids don't mind it though, do you? Kids are tougher than grown-ups!" Aunt Robin smiled, thinking the kids would think it was an honor to get to sleep in sleeping bags in the Septs' nursery. Paige and Colin seemed to agree. Virginia didn't.
As soon as Aunt Robin left, Paige flung her suitcase on the single bed. "I get it," she demanded. "I'm the oldest."
Virginia didn't care about the bed. "Paige, you airhead! Why did you say I would baby-sit the Septs? Watching seven wild babies is the last thing I want to do on my vacation!"
"Relax, Virginia. You really need to chill out. Baby-sitting's not that hard. We'll just take them to the mall so I can finish shopping."
"To the mall?!? Are you crazy? That's where Aunt Robin and Uncle Peter are going! If they need a baby-sitter to go to the mall then obviously it's because they don't want the Septs there to be there!"
"Aunt Robin and Uncle Peter probably just want a little time away from the babies. They just want to shop without having to watch out for seven kids. Maybe they needed to buy presents for the Septs or something. Besides, I need to Christmas shop. And I want to see if the mall around here is better than the one at home."
"Paige, you are such an airhead. All you like to do is shop. Well, I'm not going along with it. I'm not going to go to the mall with those babies. That would be insane. You can do it by yourself."
"I'll go," Colin said.
"Thanks, Colin," Paige smiled.
"You're insane too," Virginia said. "Oh, never mind. Do what you want but I'm not going."
"Fine with me," Paige said, ending the discussion. They got ready for bed and went to sleep.
The next morning Virginia woke up at eight o'clock. Colin was not in his sleeping bag; he always got up early. Paige was still sleeping; she always got up very late. Aunt Robin was in the room getting the Septuplets out of their pajamas and dressing them in corduroy jumpers and turtlenecks and little velcro shoes. All the outfits were identical except that they corresponded in color with each Sept's star color. The star patches were not sewn on these outfits.
"Good morning, Virginia!" Aunt Robin said cheerfully. "If you're hungry, Uncle Peter is in the kitchen making pancakes for everyone."
"Oh, okay," Virginia replied. Then out of curiosity she asked, "When do the Septuplets eat? Are they having pancakes with everyone else?"
"No way," Aunt Robin replied. "As much as everyone loves these kids, no one in their right mind would want to eat with them. Unless they like having food tossed at them and other gross things I won't mention."
Virginia went out into the kitchen to have pancakes. Some of the Carlsons' other relatives were already down there. After a while Paige, Aunt Robin, and Virginia's parents joined them.
"So, Robin tells me you kids volunteered to watch the Septs while we finish Christmas shopping," Uncle Peter said. "Are you still up for it?"
"Sure!" Paige replied.
"I don't know...." Virginia began, but Aunt Robin didn't seem to hear her.
"Well, Uncle Peter and I plan on leaving at about ten o'clock, and we're going to be at the mall until about five or six PM," Aunt Robin said. "Think you can handle them that long? For most of that time, no one else will be here. Your mom and dad tell me that they need to do some shopping too so they're going with us. Your Aunt Harriet and Uncle Gerald and the Septs' other aunts and uncles and various relatives have other plans too so you'll be on your own."
"That's okay. We'll be all right," Paige assured everyone. Virginia glared at her, but Paige just shrugged innocently.
"When we get back we're all going to go see a Christmas light display at this place your Uncle Peter told us about," Virginia's dad said. "It's supposed to be really great. How does that sound?"
"That sounds cool," Virginia said.
"Great." They let it go at that.
Virginia had brought a book she was reading from home. She read that until ten o'clock, when Aunt Robin and Uncle Peter were ready to leave. Everyone else except Virginia's parents had already left for the day. Virginia, Colin, and Paige were in the living room with the Septs, who were in two playpens whacking each other with stuffed animals and throwing them from one play pen to the other.
"Before we leave, I just wanted to make sure you know a few things," Aunt Robin said. "They can have lunch at noon. Just make them some plain macaroni noodles with butter, and if they eat that then they can have some chocolate ice cream. They love ice cream. They'll start getting tired at around three so put them in their cribs for about an hour for a nap. And they can play outside in the snow or go to the playground if you feel up to it, but I'm warning you: it's a challenge to take these kids to the park and keep them under control!" Aunt Robin laughed. "And one more thing, in case you can't remember which baby is which, there's a list of names and matching colors on the refrigerator door. In fact, they can talk well enough to tell you their names now but it's hard to get them to cooperate. They only like to talk to each other and sometimes, if we're lucky, to their dad and me. After all, they're not really babies any more. They're almost two and a half!"
"Come on, Robin, we'd better go. I'm sure they can handle the kids!" Uncle Peter said. "Bye, kids!"
"Bye," Virginia, Colin, and Paige replied.
After they had left, Paige said, "So, do you want to go now?"
"No," Virginia replied, "I'm not going to the mall with them. You can go, but remember, I said I'm not going. Didn't you hear what Aunt Robin said , that it's a challenge to take the Septs to the playground? What do you think going to the mall with them is like? And I don't really want to do that."
"Well, too bad," Paige said. "You have to come with me and Colin because Aunt Robin thinks you are helping, and you don't want to let her down, do you? And I'm going and Colin's going, and you're not allowed to stay here by yourself. You have to come with me."
"I can so be left alone. You know Mom and Dad won't get mad at me for staying by myself. They haven't since I turned twelve, which you know is the legal minimum baby-sitting age, or at least it is at home. And speaking of legal minimum ages, how do you know they're going to let you drive here in Michigan? Maybe the legal age is higher here. You are planning on driving, right? Or are you just going to carry all the babies to the nearest mall?"
"I have a drivers' ed student permit, and in drivers' ed they said it's legal anywhere regardless of minimum age. Besides, I think the legal age here is 16 and I'll be sixteen in a few months and I'll get a real license."
"Whose car are you taking? Didn't Mom and Dad take their car?"
"No, they went with Aunt Robin and Uncle Peter because they didn't want to have to find two parking spots. And Mom left her keys for me because I told her I would like to go somewhere to finish Christmas shopping for a little while."
"Okay, fine," Virginia reluctantly agreed, "I'll come. But only because Aunt Robin wants me to help, and since Mom said it was okay for you to take her car. And I'll only come on one condition: that you tell Aunt Robin and Uncle Peter and Mom and Dad that I was against this mall thing from the beginning and I didn't want to go but I only went because I couldn't stop you from going and you needed lots of help."
"Yeah, sure. Now come on," Paige ordered. Virginia found seven matching baby winter coats in the closet, each one with a different color star patch. They each got one Sept out of the playpen and put them in the coat with the star color that matched the baby's jumper. Paige and Virginia put the other four in their jackets and Colin ran out to get the list of names and star colors in case they needed it. Then they loaded all the babies into the Noles' van. Paige sat up front to drive, and Colin and Virginia sat in the back with the Septs.
The roads were not especially icy or hard to drive on for any reason, but riding in a car that Paige was driving always was a little bit scary. The Septs were not helping calm Virginia down, either. They were giggling and pulling each other's hair and tugging on the seat belts, trying to climb out of them. Two of the Septs succeeded but Virginia and Colin managed to get them back in the seat belts.
Virginia decided to try to get the Septs to talk. Maybe they would help her remember which of them had which color! "So, what's your name?" she asked the Sept wearing purple. The Sept just put her thumb in her mouth and stared at Virginia. She tried again. "Are you Meredith?" she asked the Sept in cerulean blue. This Sept just glanced at the sky-blue Sept who was sitting next to her and they started giggling.
Colin took the list of names and colors out of his pocket. "You're Melissa, aren't you?" he asked, pointing to the Sept dressed in red. The toddler thought for a minute about something, and then nodded. "You're Michelle," he said to the orange Sept, who nodded. "And Meredith," he told the yellow Sept, who nodded as well. "And you're Mary," he said to the green one, who replied, "YES!" at the top of her lungs. The entire bunch of babies started laughing hysterically.
"Okay, okay, calm down," Virginia said, trying to get the Septs to be quiet. "Let's see, who's next, Colin?"
"Molly," he said, pointing to the Sept in cerulean.
"YES!" Molly replied. The Septs started laughing again.
"And you're Monica," Colin said to the sky-blue Sept.
"YEEEEess!" Monica squealed. The Septs seemed to think that was even more funny then just shouting and continued laughing.
"And Megan," Colin said to the purple Sept, who immediately stopped laughing and nodded. The other Septs stopped laughing and looked at her. They seemed disappointed that she hadn't squeaked "Yes!"
"Okay, so we have, in rainbow order, Melissa, Michelle, Meredith, Mary, Molly, Monica, and Megan," Virginia said. The Septs didn't agree or disagree so Colin said that was right. Virginia started going over the names in her head so she could remember them. Melissa, Michelle, Meredith, Mary, Molly, Monica, Megan. Melissa, Michelle, Meredith, Mary....
"We're here," Paige said. "Unload the Septuplets and let's hurry. I want go get a good start on shopping!"
Paige walked ahead carrying Melissa, the red Septuplet, and left Virginia and Colin walking behind, struggling to keep up with Paige and keep track of the six other babies at the same time. As soon as they entered the mall, which was very crowded, people began to stare and point at them. A small crowd seemed to be forming behind them, following them around the mall while keeping their distance and trying to remain inconspicuous.
"Is it just me, or do you notice a small crowd following us around?" Colin asked Virginia, after they had been at the mall for about an hour.
"There is," Virginia agreed.
"Let's tell Paige," Colin said. "I want to go home now anyway, and that would be a good excuse. I'm tired of wandering around with these babies."
Colin left Virginia with the six babies they were watching in the back corner of a clothing store where they were waiting while Paige looked at the clothes. The small crowd, which was getting bigger, began to move closer to the corner, so Virginia herded the six Septs up to the front of the store where Colin, Paige, and Melissa were standing.
"This outfit is just the coolest!" Paige cried, holding up a pink shirt and black skirt.
"Paige, I thought you were Christmas shopping, not picking out clothes for yourself!" Virginia accused.
"I am Christmas shopping. I just saw this outfit and I thought it was cool. But since you guys are being so whiny and driving me crazy I guess we can go. I've got most of my gifts now anyways. Come on." She picked up Melissa and they headed back toward the door they had come in though. On the way they passed an ice cream shop.
"Ice cream! Ice cream! Ice cream!" the Septs began to cry, and started heading toward the store.
"No, you guys, come on," Virginia said. "We have to go home. And you haven't even had lunch yet! You can have ice cream when you get home, all right?"
"Oh, come on, Virginia," Paige said, "They've been pretty good today, not complaining about all this shopping. I'll buy them some ice cream. They can have lunch when we get home."
"But their mom said...." Virginia protested.
"She won't care," Paige said. Still carrying Melissa, she lead the other Septs up to the ice cream place's counter. "Seven baby cones of chocolate ice cream, please," Paige said to the order-taker.
"I want some too, Paige! I want mint chip," Colin cried.
"Me too," Virginia agreed. "I'll have mint, too."
"I don't have much money, you guys," Paige said, handing the first two cones to Michelle and Megan.
"Please?" Colin begged. "Dad'll pay you back."
"Oh, okay, fine," Paige said. "Two mint chips, baby cones too, please." Paige handed the next three cones to Molly, Meredith, and Mary. Then she paid the cashier. Virginia and Colin got their cones, and Monica and Melissa got the last two chocolates, and they went and sat down at a table in the center of the mall.
Virginia had forgotten about the crowd, but it was still following them around, and getting bigger every minute. People were pointing and staring more now. One lady who looked about twenty-five years old came up to them and said, "Excuse me, but those kids...they're the Carlson Septuplets, aren't they?"
"Umm...well, yes, they are," Colin said.
"Oh," the lady said. "Thank you, I was just curious. I think they're so cute!" she turned and walked back to the crowd and whispered something to some other people. Suddenly someone snapped a picture with a bright flash. People began talking loudly and didn't bother anymore to be unobvious. Some people were waving at the Septs, and they were smiling and waving back. Their faces were sticky with chocolate and their jumpers had drips of ice cream on them, but people seemed to think that made them even cuter.
"Paige, we'd better get out of here," Virginia advised.
"Okay," Paige said, but before they could do anything a group of four kids approached them. One of them said, "Hey, are you like, their sisters and brother or something?"
"No, stupid, the Septuplets don't have any other siblings!" another of the kids said.
"We're the cousins," Paige said. "We're baby-sitting, and we've got to leave now. Sorry."
"Wait, could you give us your autographs?" Another of the kids thrust a pen and paper into Paige's hands.
"Well, okay," Paige agreed. She signed it, and then gave it to Colin and Virginia and forced them to sign it. She gave it back to the four kids who faded into the crowd, which had now closed in on Paige, Virginia, Colin, and the Septs. Virginia named off the Septs and their colors in her head, checking to make sure they had all of them. Okay, here's Melissa, she thought, pointing to the red Sept, and Michelle, and Meredith, and Mary, and Molly, and...here's Megan. Wait a second, that's--six! One's missing! She counted them three times over and still came up with six. There was no sky-blue Sept.
"Paige!" Virginia cried, "Monica's missing!"
"What??? Are you kidding? Where is she?"
"I don't know! What are we going to do?"
"Look for her!" Paige ordered. "I'll stay here and watch the others."
Virginia and Colin searched through the crowd, but they could not find Monica.
"Paige, we can't find her!" Colin cried.
"Look, there's a mall security guard!" Virginia almost shouted. "Go tell him Monica's missing!"
Paige ran up to the security officer. "Excuse me, sir, but my cousin's missing. We looked all over for her, but we can't find her anywhere!" Paige cried, near tears.
"Okay, hold on a second. How old is your cousin? What's her name? What does she look like?" the officer asked.
"Well, she's about two and a half years old, and she has shoulder length brown hair and green eyes, and she's wearing a sky blue jumper. Her name's Monica Carlson."
"What?" the guard cried, "Did you say Monica Carlson? One of the Carlson Septuplets?"
"Yes," Paige said. Now she was starting to cry.
"Don't worry, miss, we'll find her," the guard said. "Right now you go up to mall security and wait there. I'll get a search going and we'll bring her up there as soon as we find her. I'm sure it won't take very long." He didn't sound very sure, however.
Paige got Virginia, Colin, and the other Septs and they all went up the nearest escalator. At the top was the mall security office. As soon as they went in, the receptionist said, "You kids just wait there. They're looking for the missing kid right now. I just got the message from one of the guard's radios. Where are your parents?"
"They're not here, and neither are the Septs' parents," Paige said, still crying. "We're baby-sitting the Septs for them."
They all sat silently in the security office, staring at the clock. The remaining six Septs sat on the floor. They seemed to know something was wrong because one of them was missing. They all sat silently until Molly started to whine. That got all the others started whining too. Paige, Virginia, and Colin didn't know how to make them be quiet so they didn't even try. Paige just picked up Melissa, who seemed to be her favorite Sept for some reason, and continued staring at the clock. They sat there for forty-five minutes, doing nothing except staring at the clock and worrying. At exactly twelve eighteen, the office receptionist's phone rang. She answered it, and listened for a while, then said "Okay. I'll tell them. Okay." Then she hung up.
The three kids felt hopeful for a minute, but all the receptionist said to them was, "They haven't found the kid yet. They're doing all they can and they've got security guards at all doors in case someone is trying to leave the mall with her, but they recommend that you kids go home now and we'll call you as soon as we find her."
Virginia hadn't even thought that anyone would try to kidnap one of the Septs, but the receptionist made it seem like that was what happened. She had just thought that Monica was lost and that they would find her quickly and leave! Now that she thought about it, though, if any baby was a good choice for a kidnapper, it was a Septuplet. After all, they had lots of money from Sept merchandise and commercial appearances, and other things like that. In reality, the Carlsons spent a lot of the money the Septs earned on taking care of seven kids (which is obviously seven times more expensive than one toddler) and what they didn't spend on the babies, they put in the bank to help pay for six more college tuitions than most parents paid for at once. But a kidnapper probably wouldn't know that. They would think the Carlsons had tons of extra money. And with seven look-alike toddlers standing around, it takes a few minutes to notice one's missing! Virginia now felt sure that someone had kidnapped Monica and wanted the Carlsons to pay to get her back! And what would Aunt Robin and Uncle Peter say when they found out Monica got lost at the mall? Well, Virginia could say that she had definitely NOT wanted to go. She would not take the blame for this. She felt sorry for Paige, though, who would end up with most of the blame. Oh well, Virginia had tried to get her to stay home!
"How can we go home without Monica?" Paige sobbed, "My parents, and the Septs' parents, they'll kill me!"
"I'm so sorry," the receptionist said, "but there's nothing you can do by staying here. Why don't you give me your number? We'll call you as soon as we find the girl. I'm sure it will be soon." She sounded doubtful, however.
"Oh, it's..." Paige started, but she couldn't remember the Carlsons' phone number. Then it popped into her head. "It's 420-2398," she said.
"C'mon, Paige," Colin said, "Let's go home. I bet they'll find Monica, don't worry. But we have to go home now. Please?"
"All right," Paige consented. "Come on."
They trudged glumly to the car. Paige seemed lost in thought and didn't even bother to carry Melissa. Colin and Virginia kept a very close eye on Melissa, Michelle, Meredith, Mary, Molly, and Megan. They didn't want to lose another one. The drive home was not a cheerful one. The Septs cried the whole way home. They seemed to wonder why one of them was missing, and why no one seemed to be doing anything about it. Paige was, understandably, in a very bad mood. Virginia and Colin kept quiet so they wouldn't bother Paige, but they too were very worried.
When they got home, Paige flopped on the couch, which was by a phone, and turned on the TV. She didn't seem to be paying attention to it, though. She just kept looking at the phone, waiting for it to ring. But it didn't.
Virginia and Colin got the Septs out of their jackets and took them down in the basement, which was made into a family room. There was a Vectrex video game system down there and they played that for a while. Both of them liked video games a lot, but they were too worried to concentrate on them. The Septs still seemed panicked that Monica wasn't there. Everyone was tense. There was nothing to do but sit around and wait for the phone to ring, so that's what they did. They waited for four and a half hours, but it never rang. At five o'clock Virginia went upstairs to see what Paige was doing. She was still watching the TV, and the phone too.
"Aunt Robin and Uncle Peter are going to be back any minute!" Paige cried when she saw Virginia. "They said between five and six, and it's five o'clock now. They have to call soon! We have to get Monica back before they get home!"
"Don't worry, Paige," Virginia said, "I'm sure they'll call."
"No, they won't. And I'll be in trouble for ever."
Virginia didn't answer. And the mall security didn't call. At about five thirty, Aunt Robin, Uncle Peter, and Mr. and Mrs. Nole came home.
"Hi, kids!" Their mom greeted them cheerfully. "So how did everything go? Where are the Septs?"
"They're downstairs," Virginia replied.
"So what did you guys do while we were gone?" Aunt Robin asked.
Virginia glanced at Paige. Paige looked up and saw everyone looking at her. Then she burst into tears.
"Why, Paige," Mrs. Nole said, "What's the matter?"
"We took the Septs to the mall so I could finish Christmas shopping and one of them...." Paige started crying even harder. "Monica got lost at the mall, and the security guards couldn't find her!"
"What?" Aunt Robin, Uncle Peter, and Virginia's parents all cried at once.
"What do you mean, they couldn't find her? Where is she now?" Aunt Robin asked, sounding frantic.
"What happened?" Uncle Peter asked, sounding equally frantic.
Paige was sobbing too hard to answer, so Virginia explained. "Paige wanted to go to the mall. She said she had Mom's permission to go; she had our car keys, anyways, so I figured you had said it was okay. I didn't want to go but I thought I should because I couldn't keep Paige from going and I thought she might need help to watch the Septs. We had all of them under control but then a whole bunch of people came and crowded around while the Septs were having a snack. Someone asked us to give them our autographs even though we're not famous. We all signed it. I thought Paige and Colin were watching the Septs, but then when I turned around Monica was gone. Paige told the security guard right away and they started searching for Monica while we waited in the security office, but they couldn't find her and told us to go home. They said they'd call us as soon as they found her. They've even got guards posted at all the doors."
Now Aunt Robin started crying too. "My poor baby! Somebody kidnapped my poor baby and is going to make us pay millions of dollars to get her back! Oh, what are we going to do? This is terrible! Call the police. Call someone who can get my baby back!"
"Where are the other Septs?" Uncle Peter inquired.
"Here they are!" Colin said, leading the six toddlers up from the basement. They saw their mom and dad and ran toward them, shouting, "Mommy! Daddy!"
Suddenly the phone rang. Aunt Robin picked up the receiver. "Hello?" she said. Then after a few moments she said, "Oh. Thank you. No. We weren't with them at the time. Okay. Bye." She hung up and said to everyone else, "That was the mall security office. They haven't found Monica. The police were notified a while ago and they're also working on it. There's not much we can do now except wait." She sounded like she was trying very hard to keep from sobbing.
"Paige," Mrs. Nole said, "It's true that I gave you permission to take the car and go to the mall, but I didn't know you were planning on taking the Septuplets with you! Didn't you know how hard it would be to take seven toddlers to a crowded mall during the busiest shopping time of the year? Especially seven well-known toddlers! Didn't you realize they would attract a lot of attention? That's one of the reasons why we didn't take them shopping with us in the first place!"
"I know, but...." Paige started sobbing once again. "I didn't know they would get lost! I didn't think anything bad would happen!" Paige ran back to her bedroom (the Septs' nursery).
The doorbell rang, and Uncle Peter went to answer it. In a moment he came back and announced, "It's some people from the news. They want to know if they can do a report or something like that."
"Oh, I don't know," Aunt Robin replied, sniffling, "I really don't feel up to that right now. But you know they won't go away until they get what they want. I guess it's all right."
The news crew set up their cameras and then started doing a report from right in front of the Carlsons' house, in the snow and cold. The reporter came inside, followed by a cameraman, and started interviewing Uncle Peter and Aunt Robin. They didn't have a lot to say, so then the reporter turned to Virginia and Colin who were still sitting in the living room, and asked, "Were you the kids who were with the Septuplets at the mall when Monica disappeared?"
"Yes," Colin replied.
"Could you tell us what happened?" the reporter continued asking questions. Virginia retold the story she had told to the grown-ups when they first got home. Then the news reporter turned to the camera. "There you have it, straight from the children who were there at the time of the disappearance. We'll bring you more on the missing Septuplet as the story unfolds. And now back to the Channel 2 newsroom."
Colin turned on the TV. All the channels that ran the news were talking about Monica. Outside, more news crews were setting up to film. These stations didn't even have permission but no one seemed to care.
"Are we still going to see the Christmas lights tonight, Dad?" Colin asked.
"Well, Colin," Mr. Nole replied, "I think maybe we should wait until tomorrow on that." No one, except Colin, was in the mood to go see Christmas lights that night.
"Oh, all right," Colin said, sounding disappointed. He went downstairs to play more video games. The rest of that night was very boring. The adults sat around worrying and crying all evening, except when they had to talk to a reporter to get him or her to go away. Paige sat in the kids' bedroom crying all evening, and Colin and Virginia played video games. At nine thirty the kids went to bed. The next day, December 23, was the same way. No one did anything except worry and talk to reporters and play video games.
Around three o'clock Virginia turned on the television to see if there was anything interesting on, but most of the channels were just running news shows talking about the missing Septuplet. She turned off the TV and decided to read a book instead.
After dinner, Colin asked again if they could go see the Christmas lights. "You said we could go tonight, Dad!" Colin reminded Mr. Nole.
"Oh, that's right," Mr. Nole replied. "I almost forgot about that." He did not sound very enthusiastic about going, but he had promised Colin they would and was also very tired of being home all day worrying about Monica. "Would you like to come with us, Robin? Peter? It would let you get away from all these news crews. We could go now right now, or in a little bit. The sun's already totally set."
Aunt Robin seemed surprised that anyone could think of doing anything fun while Monica was missing, but she didn't say anything. Uncle Peter said, "I think we'll pass on that. We want to be here in case anyone calls with any news."
"Can the Septs come? Or just one or two of them?" Paige asked, appearing at the end of the hallway. Virginia thought she was crazy to ask Aunt Robin to let any of the Septs go with her right now. Uncle Peter said it would be okay, however, so Paige picked up Melissa, and bundled her up in her jacket.
"You two can bring one of the Septs along, if you want," Uncle Peter offered to Virginia and Colin. "It'll be easier only watching three of them while all these reporters are here.
"Okay," Virginia and Colin both replied. Virginia thought Aunt Robin probably didn't want to let any more of the Septs out of her sight, but she did want to take one of the Septs along. She found it hard to believe she was actually starting to like her cousins, the same ones who had ruined her vacation two years ago; the same babies who indirectly drove her crazy by being famous so that everyone who knew they were her cousins would always ask about them; the same annoying kids who she hadn't wanted to help baby-sit. She picked up Mary and put her in the jacket with the green star. Colin bundled up Megan and put her in the purple star coat.
The Christmas light display was pretty fun; it was set up so that you stayed in your car and drove through the parking lots and small roads around a big corporate headquarters. There were tunnels made of lights for driving through, there were moving figures made of lights, big screen displays of Christmas scenes from slide projectors, and normal Christmas lights too. Megan, Melissa, and Mary loved it. They kept pointing at the displays and saying "oooh, pretty!" and things like that. Mr. and Mrs. Nole, Paige, Virginia, and Colin all liked it as well. After the tour of lights they were all hungry so they decided to stop at a little restaurant for a snack.
They sat at one of the largest booths in the restaurant. Virginia, Colin, and the three toddlers sat on one side of the table. They were facing a television that was on across the room. Nothing interesting was on so they ignored it and ate the pieces of pie that they had ordered. The three Septs all got chocolate ice cream because it was the only dessert that the Noles knew they could eat. Unfortunately, the Septs weren't very hungry and were only interested in sticking their hands in the ice cream and wiping chocolate smears on each other's faces. They were about to start throwing wads of ice cream at each other when Mary pointed to the television and cried, "Monica!"
"Yeah, Mary," Virginia said, not looking at the TV, "Your sister's picture has been on television a lot today."
"Monica!" Megan cried, also pointing to the TV.
"Mommy!" Melissa shouted, noticing the television as well.
Virginia and Colin looked at the television. A news reporter was interviewing Aunt Robin on the front porch of their house, and she was holding a Sept wearing a sky blue jumper.
"It's Monica!" Virginia cried. "They found her!" Paige and their parents turned around and looked at the television. Virginia and Colin ran up closer to hear what they were saying.
"...and we're just glad to have our baby back," Aunt Robin was saying to the news reporters. Then the picture switched to one of a news anchor sitting in a newsroom. "And we'll have more on the story of the no-longer-missing Septuplet at eleven. In other news...."
"Mom! Dad!" Colin shouted, "Come on! Let's go find out what happened!"
They piled back in the car and drove back to the Carlsons' house. The news crews were still outside, but the Carlsons were ignoring them. Virginia and her family shoved past all the news people trying to get in and knocked on the door. Paige peered through the window so Aunt Robin and Uncle Peter would know that they weren't more news reporters. Uncle Peter came and let them in.
"We saw Monica on the news!" Mrs. Nole exclaimed.
"What happened?" Colin cried.
"How'd you get her back?" Paige asked.
"Well, it turns out that some crazy person had seen you at the mall yesterday and decided to take one of the babies," Uncle Peter explained. "They were planning on keeping her until we gave them one hundred thousand dollars."
"We obviously couldn't have afforded that," Aunt Robin continued. "Luckily, someone, I think it was a security guard, had seen a `suspicious figure' leaving the mall with a toddler with brown hair and a sky blue jumper. They saw them get into a car and copied down the license plate number. The police found the car a few hours ago -- it was in Cleveland, Ohio! They had taken Monica across the state line so she would be harder to find or something like that. Anyway, the police brought her back. They knew who she was, obviously, with all this news coverage. I guess we were lucky to have these annoying news people around!"
"The guy who kidnapped Monica, and someone else who was involved somehow in the whole arrangement are going on trial for kidnapping," Uncle Peter said. "It's a federal crime, you know."
"Wow," Virginia said.
It was past ten o'clock, so Mrs. Nole made Virginia, Colin, and Paige go to bed. The next day was Christmas Eve. Aunt Robin fussed over Monica all day, and Virginia, Colin, and Paige played with the other Septs. Some people came to interview the Carlsons about the whole kidnapping issue. They talked to the Noles too, about what had happened at the mall and about the issue in general. Even though the Carlsons weren't especially religious, Aunt Robin got everyone to go to the Christmas Eve service at their church. The minister there even mentioned Monica being kidnapped and talked about it from a religious point of view.
On Christmas Day, even more relatives came to the Carlsons' house. Many of them didn't even know the Noles because they were from the other side of the Carlsons' family, but they brought presents for them anyway because they had seen the kids on television. They appeared again that day; everyone watched the news which showed the interview from the day before and some information about the kidnappers and the upcoming trial.
When Virginia got home a few days later, all her friends talked about seeing her on TV. They were all excited to know someone as "famous" as Virginia. And instead of getting angry and annoyed when people bugged her about her cousins and what had happened, she enjoyed it! Now, instead of feeling like people only cared about her cousins, she felt like someone special because she was the cousin of the famous Septuplet who was kidnapped!
"Virginia's Holiday" © 1996 by Jessie Mannisto