This story takes place in early August 1996, just before the Septuplets start ninth grade and about a month after their 14th birthday.

The Other Side of the Lake
A Carlson Septuplets Story

"Everyone come out in the dining room!" Mrs. Carlson called, her voice echoing throughout the house. "Your dad and I need to talk to you!"

"Just a sec," came a distant-sounding voice from upstairs. Melissa was upstairs in her room talking on the phone. She was the only Sept with her own phone; she was the only one who wanted one. She didn't have her own line, however. And today, she had been talking for over an hour and a half.

Molly, Monica, Megan, Mary, Meredith, and Michelle had all been busy with their various projects too, but they dropped them and dragged a very annoyed Melissa away from the telephone to see what their parents wanted. They knew that if they didn't drag her away now, they'd have to wait another hour and a half for her to finish her gossiping.

"We need to talk about this year's vacation," Mrs. Carlson said. "Where are we going to go?"

"How about spending a week at Cedar Point?" Mary suggested enthusiastically.

Michelle, Meredith, and Molly all said, "Yeah!"

"Why don't I take the kids and you can stay home and relax, like you've been wanting to do?" Mr. Carlson suggested. He was a roller coaster fan too. The only Carlson who wasn't was Mrs. Carlson.

"I don't think so," Mrs. Carlson said. "I was thinking of--"

"Why don't we go to California? We've never been there, but everyone else has!" Melissa interrupted.

"No, not many people around here have been to California. But Florida, that's where everyone from Michigan goes, and we haven't been there either!" Molly said. "Let's go there!"

"We can't afford to go there this year if we're going to Japan in 1998 or 1999, like you all wanted to do, especially since we just went to Atlanta in May for your aunt's graduation," Mrs. Carlson explained. "Although, if this movie deal comes true, we may be able to go to Florida next year and still go to Japan in the late 90's. But we don't know if that's going to happen yet." A few months earlier, the Carlsons had received an offer from a movie company wanting to make a new feature film about the Septuplets. They would film it in 1997 and it would be released in 1998. With the money from that, they could easily afford both Japan and Florida. All the Septs except for Megan and Molly had agreed to the movie deal, and the two who disagreed were slowly being convinced. But that's another story. As of now, the Carlsons didn't have enough money to take a big vacation every year and still send the kids to college.

"Well, why don't we go to Toronto or Chicago, or something like that?" Molly suggested.

"That's a good idea, Molly," Mr. Carlson agreed.

Mrs. Carlson, however, had other plans. "No, that would still be expensive. Here's what I was thinking. You girls have never been camping. Why don't we do that this year?"

"Nooo!" the Septs all wailed. "Not camping!"

"We have so been camping," Mary pointed out, "it was just a really long time ago. I can sorta remember it."

"Why leave all this technology that has taken so long to develop and go back to prehistoric times?" Meredith asked.

"Well, it's obvious to me that you girls are spoiled by all the comforts of modern life. You need to toughen up and see what it's like to live outside! What do you think, Peter?" Mrs. Carlson said.

"I think camping sounds like fun," he said. All the Septs groaned.

"Oh, don't be that way," Mrs. Carlson said. "Camping will be fun. You just have to give it a chance."

So it was decided: the Carlsons would be going camping for vacation. Mrs. Carlson was thrilled; the Septs, however, were not.


On Sunday, August 11, the Carlsons packed up the Sept Van and headed for their campsite.

All the Septs brought big bags of things to do in the car. Mrs. Carlson caught Mary carrying a rather large bag of things into the van.

"Mary, do you think you're going to be that bored on this trip?" she asked.

"I'm not planning on being bored, I'm planning on being indecisive," Mary explained. So Mrs. Carlson let her bring her huge bag.

They were camping in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan, so it was a fairly long drive from Westfield, which is a suburb of Detroit. As Michelle noted, it wasn't much of a vacation if they weren't even going to leave their home state; however, Mrs. Carlson pointed out that sometimes they went to Mackinac Island which was also in Michigan, and they considered that to be a fun vacation, so she didn't want to hear any more complaining about it. The car trip was not much fun. The Sept Van was stuffed with tents, food, suitcases, portable chairs, inflatable mattresses, the Septs' bags of stuff to do, and lots of other things. Sitting in an overfilled car all day is no fun at all.

They left Westfield early in the morning and arrived at the campsite around 5:00 PM. Although the campground was public, the section the Carlsons were in was not near anyone else. Most families camped in the family and small group area, but the Carlsons were in the large group area because they had four tents. There were other large groups staying at the campground, but it was a very large area, and the Carlsons had asked for reservations far away from everyone else. They knew that if other people found out that the famous Septuplets were camping there, they wouldn't have any peace. So they were all alone.

Surprisingly, they had a rather good campsite. They had expected a not-so-great one because they asked to be far away from everyone else, but that's not how it turned out. They were only about a hundred yards from beach on Sapphire Lake, the campground's main attraction.

"Hey, Mom! Dad! We're going down to the lake, okay?" Michelle called as soon as they got there. "C'mon, guys, let's get our swimsuits on and go!"

"Not so fast," Mrs. Carlson said. "Stay here and help set up the tents."

This order provoked another group groan from the Septs. They had no idea how to set up a tent.

"Monica, Molly, you two pull out the tents. Melissa and Megan, you two unroll them all. Everyone else, pull out all those rods and attach them to each other with these little metal connectors," Mr. Carlson instructed. Everyone did that. He showed everyone how to set up the first tent. Then the Septs were left to set up the other three. After much struggling and arguing amongst themselves (mainly between Molly and Michelle who kept insisting the other was doing everything wrong), they finally had all the tents set up. They arranged them in a circular fashion around the campfire.

Of the four tents, two were called "six person" and two were called "four person." Of course, this was much higher than the practical number of people each tent held. Mr. and Mrs. Carlson got one of the six person tents.

"Let's split up into two groups of two and a group of three, and the group of three can have the six person tent," Megan suggested.

Everyone agreed, and they split up in the usual fashion: Melissa and Michelle together, Mary and Meredith together, and Monica, Megan, and Molly in the six person tent. They set up their sleeping bags and other things in their tents, and then it was time for dinner. Of course, the Septs wanted to go out to eat, but Mrs. Carlson was determined to have 'real camping experience' so she boiled some water on a little camping stove they had brought and boiled some macaroni noodles. She had brought some milk and butter and other things in the cooler, so they could have macaroni and cheese for dinner. That was okay with the Septs; they loved macaroni and cheese. All of them thought that it wasn't much of a 'real camping experience' to have macaroni from a box, but no one complained because it was better than having to cook something over a fire!

After dinner, it got fairly cold out and no one wanted to go swimming. So the Septs decided to explore the campground instead.

They had not been gone for even five minutes when Melissa cried, "Help! I'm being attacked by bugs!"

"Yeah, me too," Meredith added, "I think we've entered the home of the killer mosquitoes!" Monica, Michelle, and Mary all nodded while swatting the little pests.

"Don't worry, I'm prepared!" Molly said. She had been carrying a small pouch with her for the walk. From it she pulled a small container filled with a whitish-yellow cream. "I made some bug repellent with my chemistry set before we came," she explained. "Here, try some!"

"Uh..." Michelle hesitated, "what's in it?" Everyone wanted to know; no one wanted to smear Molly's science experiment all over herself.

"It's 100% organic! Well, maybe more like 85% organic, but it's all healthy stuff," Molly said. "I read all the warning labels and things like that before I made it, of course!"

"Oh, Molly, we don't want to waste it," Monica said, politely trying to avoid using it, "I mean, there's seven of us and not much of your bug cream there, so why don't we just use the spray-on stuff that we brought, OK?"

"Well, if that's what you want to do," Molly replied. "Suit yourself."

They all ran back to the campsite and sprayed themselves all over with bug repellent before continuing on their exploration. What they discovered from the hike was that there was not much of interest to do at the campground. The only interesting thing they found was a little boat dock, complete with a paddle boat rental.

"Hey, let's ask if we can rent a boat!" Megan suggested.

"That's a good idea, Megan," Monica agreed.

"Sounds like fun," Mary also agreed.

"I'll go ask," Molly volunteered. She went up to the ticket window of the little building by the paddle boat dock. There was a bored looking man inside. "Hello," Molly greeted him. "Can we rent a boat?"

"Are your parents here?" he asked, sounding as bored as he looked.

"They're back at our campsite," she said.

"No children are allowed to rent boats without a parent or guardian's permission," he said.

"Oh." Molly said. Turning to her siblings, she said, "C'mon, we need to get permission from Mom or Dad before we can get one." So for a second time, they all ran back to the campsite.

"We also need money," Melissa mentioned. "Did you ever think of that?"

"Oh,," Monica remembered that it would cost something. "How much was a rental?"

"I think the sign said it was $5.00 per boat for one trip, $10.00 for an all day rental, and a really good deal was $25.00 for a four day rental," Molly said. When they reached the campsite, Molly explained this over again to her parents.

"I don't know," Mrs. Carlson said, "Why don't we do this as a family one day, instead of you girls running off right now alone?"

"Please?" the Septs begged. "We're bored out of our minds already," Melissa added.

Mrs. Carlson was about to start on her "how can you be bored already" lecture, but Mr. Carlson spoke up and said, "Why don't I take them down and get them a boat for the evening. We'll get the one trip rental, since it's already seven o'clock. Okay?"

"Oh, okay," Mrs. Carlson consented.

"Yay!" all the Septs cheered, and they and their dad headed back to the boat rental. Since only four people fit on each paddle boat, they rented two. Mr. Carlson said he wanted to come, but that he was too tired tonight so he would just go back to the campsite since he was done giving the boat rental people permission for his kids to go on the boats. The Septs agreed to that.

"Okay, who knows how to work one of these things?" Monica asked.

"I do," Mary said. "I did it before, but it was a long time ago. I'm sure I can remember how to, though."

"Hey, I can do it too," Melissa said, not wanting to be outdone.

"Can I steer?" Megan asked. "I bet I can figure it out."

"All right," Mary said. "You can do it instead of me, if you want." Megan did want to, so she steered one instead of Mary. Megan climbed into the front left-hand seat of one paddle boat, and Mary climbed into the seat on the right. Monica and Meredith got into the seats in the back. Melissa was about to sit in the seat that corresponded to Megan's in her paddle boat, but then she noticed that there were paddles there and not in the back seats.

"But I don't want to paddle!" Melissa whined. Since the element of competition with her rival sister was gone, she wasn't interested in controlling a boat anymore. And she was in too lazy of a mood today to help propel the boat.

"Don't be such an airhead," Mary replied. "Aren't you strong enough to paddle a boat?"

"Probably not," Meredith said.

"Well, at least I--" Melissa started.

Molly interrupted her. "No! Do NOT start another of your little fights now. Let's just go, okay? I'll paddle and steer the boat. Michelle, you can help me paddle, right?"

"Sure," Michelle said. She didn't want to desert Melissa and make her look lazy, but she wanted to get going in a hurry, so she agreed to paddle.

"Let's go," Meredith shouted, and they did. Megan had no trouble steering the paddle boat. Molly crashed into the other boat once, but other than that, she had no trouble either.

Sapphire Lake was a fairly small lake. You could easily see across it, and you could see people who were standing on the opposite shore, although it was too far away to tell exactly who the people were. It was much longer than it was wide, so they took the boats up to the closer end of the lake and back. When they were almost all the way back to the dock, they came to a small peninsula that stretched out into the middle of the lake. On the small section of land, there were some little buildings that looked like cabins, and also some picnic tables and a sandy beach that apparently had recently been used for swimming; someone had left a huge inflatable zebra float toy on the shore and there was a sandcastle there, too.

"Hey, what's that place?" Michelle asked?

"I don't know. It must be another part of the campground," Molly said.

"No, the campground is only on this side of the lake," Monica disagreed.

Then some kids ran out of the cabin and towards the main part of the shore. They didn't notice the Septs and their paddle boats. "Look, there are other kids there. Maybe we can go visit them," Meredith suggested.

"We don't even know them," Melissa scoffed. "I'm cold. Let's go back now."

"Fine," Molly agreed reluctantly. All the other Septs wanted to stay in the boats a little bit longer, but they knew Melissa would probably complain until she got her way so they decided to skip that part and appease her now.

They paddled back to shore, returned the boats, and headed back to the campground. That night was -- to put it mildly -- a rather unpleasant night. Rain poured down on the tent starting around eleven o'clock, letting up a bit at five the next morning, but a moderate drizzle continued into the morning. The tents were cold and very, very humid. Even the sleeping bags became extremely damp. It seemed like the tents would collapse from the heavy rain, but fortunately, they didn't. In the morning, seven wet and mildly annoyed kids complained to Mrs. Carlson about camping. They didn't want to stay at the campground all day. Their parents said they had plans to go visit some friends of the family who lived in the area, so they did that. They got back in the evening, and prepared for another wet night. The second night was exactly like the first. It hadn't stopped drizzling since last night. The Septs wanted to go somewhere again -- somewhere fun this time -- but today was scheduled as a "stay at the campground day." Mr. Carlson said that it was supposed to get sunny later. No one believed him, but miraculously, around one o'clock, the rain stopped and the sun did come out.

"Hooray!" Megan cried.

"The rain stopped!" Monica added.

"Let's go swimming!" Meredith suggested.

"Yeah!" everyone agreed. They got on their swimsuits and raced to the beach.

After an hour or so of splashing around in the shallow water near the shore, a thought popped into Michelle's head.

"I have a great idea! Why don't we rent a boat and go over to that camp we saw the other day? We could meet some of the kids over there. It's kinda lonely over here, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is," Monica agreed. Some people may not see how the Septs get lonely, with six other kids the same age to play with. But they're used to having each other around and would rather have other kids around; after all, would you want to hang around with only your siblings all the time?

"But we don't even know those people," Megan noted. Appropriately called "the shy Sept," Megan didn't really like meeting new people.

"It doesn't hurt to make new friends!" Michelle said.

"Yes, it does," Megan disagreed.

"Especially for us," Molly added.

"What do you mean?" Monica asked. The other Septs gave her puzzled looks.

"Think a little, please," Molly continued. "What are they going to think if seven kids who look alike come over to their campground?"

"Oh, don't be so paranoid," Meredith said. "I'm not going to let the fact that I'm a Sept stop me from meeting new friends."

"Yeah, Molly," Michelle said. "Why are you always bringing that up?"

"Because it's always a factor for us," Molly explained. But no one listened.

"C'mon, you guys! Let's go see if we can rent paddle boats again," Mary called. She ran back to the campsite. Everyone ran after her, except Molly who walked slowly mumbling, "this is a bad idea, a really bad idea...."

Mr. and Mrs. Carlson were not at the campsite. The Septs couldn't find them anywhere.

"They must have gone for a walk or something," Megan said. "They wouldn't have gone anywhere else without telling us."

"Hey, I know!" Michelle exclaimed. "Why don't we swim across the lake to get there? The camp is on the whole other side of the lake, I think."

"Swim across the lake?" Melissa cried. "Yeah, right! What do you want to do, drown and die?"

"It's not very far," Michelle said. "If it was land, you could probably run across it in about ten seconds."

"More like twenty," Meredith disagreed.

"Whatever," Michelle said. "Anyway, my point is, it's not that far!"

"I think we should do it!" Mary agreed. "It sounds fun. It's only about a seventy-five yards across. That's less than three laps in the Westfield High School pool!"

"See, Mary wants to do it! Who else is on my side?"

"Umm..." Meredith considered it. "I am!"

"I am too," Monica said.

"If you're all going, then so am I, I guess" Megan said.

Only Molly and Melissa remained unconvinced. When the other Septs decided to go anyway and leave them there, they decided to follow the rest. They would never admit it, but the Septs always liked to stick with each other when their friends weren't around. Monica left a note for their parents telling them that they decided to swim across the little lake and see what was on the other side. Then they all headed back to the beach.

Mary, being the unofficial leader, started swimming first. "Come on!" she called back when she was about twenty feet out. "It's not even very deep. Only about four feet!"

Michelle, the one who had suggested swimming across, was already following her. Meredith came next. Monica and Megan exchanged glances, shrugged, and followed. Molly sighed and came next. Melissa had found an old inner tube they brought to camp and hurriedly inflated it, then followed the others.

It only took them about three minutes to swim across. It got pretty deep in the middle; obviously, they couldn't tell how deep, but it was over ten feet. They reached a sandy beach where there were two towels spread out on the shore, but no other signs of people.

"So, now what?" Monica asked.

"Let's go look for people," Meredith suggested.

"Are you kidding?" Melissa cried. "I don't want to walk around in a camp we aren't part of in front of people we don't know wearing just my swim suit!"

"And an inner tube," Monica pointed out, giggling. Melissa was still clutching the inner tube. All the other Septs laughed too, except Melissa's constant ally, Michelle. Melissa glared at Monica fiercely, which made everyone laugh harder.

"I thought we were just going to stay on the beach anyways," Molly said. "Then we'll only meet people who come down here." Molly suggested this not to help Melissa, but because she didn't want to meet anyone and get any attention about being the Septuplets.

"No," Meredith replied, "Where did you get that idea, Molly? We wanted to visit the camp!"

Mary, Meredith, Monica, and Michelle were all wearing oversized T-shirts over their swim suits; it was a habit they had when they were going to the beach because the Septs usually got very sunburned very quickly. The T-shirts helped keep them from turning bright pink. Michelle offered her drenched T-shirt to Melissa, who accepted it grudgingly. She complained that she didn't have a nice, dry shirt.

"But Melissa, your shirt would get wet anyway if you put it on over a wet swim suit and your hair was soaking!" Megan observed. Melissa just continued glaring.

"I think we should split up," Molly suggested. "That way we could cover more ground."

"Why do we want to cover more ground?" Megan asked.

"Well, it makes sense to, doesn't it?" Molly said.

"No, it doesn't," Meredith replied. "I know what you're up to. You just want to make it less obvious that we're septuplets."

Molly just rolled her eyes as if that was absurd. In reality, Meredith was exactly right and the other Septs knew it.

"Okay, Molly, it's pretty obvious that Meredith's right," Mary said, "but if it makes you feel better, that's what we'll do."

"All right, then," Melissa said. "Good bye." She started walking off. Michelle, of course, ran after her.

"I'm going by myself," Molly said. She turned and left.

"Okay, I guess that leaves the four of us," Monica said. "Anyone else care to split up?" No one really wanted to, so Mary, Meredith, Monica, and Megan all headed off to explore the camp.


Molly was the first to encounter some people. A group of two girls and three boys wearing swim suits and carrying towels were heading towards the beach, where Molly had come from. She walked right past them. They didn't pay any attention to her. Molly didn't care much. She wasn't really interested in meeting people. She continued walking until she came to a little square where two cars were parked. There were four cabins there. She heard someone shriek inside of one of them and then at least ten kids burst out of the door and ran frantically down the path Molly had come from. They didn't care about Molly either. Molly was a bit startled, and she decided she definitely didn't want to meet any more kids. She started walking back on the path she came from. When she was close to the beach, she looked down and found a patch of stones where she thought she saw a petoskey stone. That's the state stone of Michigan, and Molly liked geology and collecting rocks, so she sat down and tried to figure out if her especially interesting rock was really a petoskey stone. That could occupy Molly for hours.


Meanwhile, Melissa and Michelle had met some of the campers. They had followed a different path than Molly had taken, and it lead to a little grove with lots of octagonal picnic tables. Two girls were sitting at one of the tables; the rest of the grove was empty. One of the girls was reading Seventeen magazine and the other was doing her nails with bright pink polish. Melissa, being the kind of person who was into nail polish and Seventeen magazine, decided these people were potentially "cool" people who could be her friends. Michelle, although she liked Melissa a lot, did not really like things like makeup and magazines that talked about fashion and other stereotypical "girl" things. Sports Illustrated was more like her type of magazine. She did not really care to meet them. But since Melissa wanted to, she went along with her.

What Michelle and Melissa did not know was that these were the two snobbiest kids in the entire camp. There were nicer kids who liked the same things Melissa (and Michelle, for that matter) liked, whom they could have made friends with right away. Unluckily for them, these two were not like that. Cindy Moore and Traci Evans were their names, and they were bossy brats who picked on anyone who didn't meet their high standards of what's cool. Sort of like Melissa's gang sometimes did at home, but they were much worse than Melissa. And they didn't know that Melissa was at the head of Westfield's in-crowd, so they didn't care.

"Hey," Melissa said in greeting, "that's a great shade of nail polish you've got."

The girl with the nail polish was Cindy, the magazine girl was Traci; they were both thirteen years old. Both of them looked up at Melissa and Michelle, then exchanged glances that said "let's tell these losers off, then go find some privacy." Cindy said, in a tone dripping with sarcasm, "Thanks. I was really desperate for the opinion of some unknown sleazeball." Traci snickered.

Michelle gasped, surprised that anyone could be so incredibly mean. Melissa was shocked too.

"What is your problem, kid?" Michelle demanded.

"You," Cindy shot back in a stuck-up tone.

"Why don't you go back and build some little sandcastles at the beach," Traci added. "We don't usually hang around with disgusting bathing-beauties wearing inner tubes and soggy T-shirts."

"Ooh, nice comeback," Michelle mumbled to herself. From the way they talked, she decided that their IQs were probably just under that of a bottle of glue's.

Melissa was white-hot with anger. How dare these snobby campers tell her that she was disgusting?! She felt a little embarrassed to be carrying around an inner tube and wearing a soaked T-shirt. And when Melissa was embarrassed, she got even angrier. Well, maybe her wet T-shirt was not fashionable, but her clothes at home were a lot better than the ones these kids were wearing, anyway! What really annoyed her was being called an unknown sleazeball. She was certainly not an unknown! And she would see to it that they knew they were speaking to a celebrity!

"Do you even know who I am?" Melissa said flippantly.

Without giving her time to finish, Cindy said, "As if we really cared."

"I am Melissa Courtney Carlson, and this is my sister Michelle, and we happen to be two of the world-famous Carlson Septuplets!"

Cindy and Traci exchanged glances again. This time, their glances seemed to carry out a whole conversation instantaneously that said something like, "are these idiots really two of the Septuplets? Yeah, sure, they're probably just twins who think they can fool us. But what if they are and the other kids at camp find out? We've got to make sure they don't, or they'll be real popular!"

"Yeah, I'm so sure you are," Cindy said, sounding sarcastic again.

"Get lost," Traci said. Then the two of them headed down a path on the other side of the picnic grove.

Melissa glared at them, watching them go down the path. Michelle watched Melissa glare until the two girls were out of sight. Then they shrugged and went to look for someone nicer.


Cindy and Traci returned to their cabin to discuss so-called Septuplets. They knew that if they really were two of the Septs, and they came across other campers and told them how rude Cindy and Traci had been, everyone would side with the famous people and no one would like Cindy and Traci anymore. Actually, no one liked them now. They wouldn't admit it, but it was true. The other campers thought they were snobby, stuck-up, bossy brats. Cindy and Traci were always telling people what was wrong with them; they also had the annoying habit of ordering other kids around. So, not surprisingly, they didn't have many friends; they just had "acquaintances" who tolerated them.

One of these "acquaintances," a twelve year old girl name Kate, entered the cabin while the two girls were inside discussing whether Melissa and Michelle were Septs or not. Cindy's plan was not to tell anyone that the Septs might be here, because of course everyone else would probably believe they were the real Septs and that's what the two girls did not want. Traci, however, blurted it out before Cindy could stop her.

"Hey Kate! Did you know there are two kids around here who claim to be two the Carlson Septuplets?"

"WHAT?!" Kate shouted. "Did you say the Carlson Septuplets are here? At our camp?!?!" Since they had never talked about the Septuplets before, Cindy and Traci had not known that Kate was an obsessive fan of the Septs.

"No, you dimwit," Cindy said in a mean voice. "We said there are two girls who say they are, but are you just going to trust them?"

"Yes!" Kate replied. "Why would they lie about that?"

"Because they want to be cool," Traci said. "Ignore them. They're losers and they're lying."

"This is so cool!" Kate squealed. "I have to go tell everyone!" She ran out of the cabin.

"Oh, great, now you've done it," Cindy said. "You are such an idiot."

"I didn't think it would hurt to ask her opinion," Traci retorted. They started yelling at each other.


Monica, Meredith, Mary, and Megan hadn't come across anyone yet. They were just exploring the woods between the lake and the camp. It was a nicer area than the other side of the lake, where the Septs were camping. There was more grass on the ground than dirt, unlike the Carlsons' campsite.

They were sitting in a grassy area in the middle of some trees discussing whether to look for Melissa, Michelle, and Molly, swim back without them, or do something else. Suddenly, a mob of about ten or twelve kids appeared out of nowhere and ran up to them.

"It really is them!" one of them shouted.

"Yeah, the Carlson Septs!" another exclaimed.

"Can I have your autographs?" a third yelled.

"WAIT A SECOND!" Meredith screamed above the noise. Everyone immediately became quiet. "Why do you think we are the Carlson Septuplets?"

Kate was the one leading this group. "Because someone told someone else I know that she was one of the Carlson Septs, so we knew you were over here somewhere. Why did you come to our camp, anyway? And why didn't the counselors tell us you were visiting?"

Monica and Mary wouldn't have minded the attention, and Meredith would have loved it, but since they weren't expecting it (and because Megan hated the attention), they decided to try and convince the kids that they weren't the Septs. They obviously had to come to this agreement without talking, but they were good at mental conversations, rather like Cindy and Traci.

"You guys are just a little bit confused," Monica said. "How could we be the Carlson Septuplets! There's only four of us!"

"Yeah, so? Who says you all have to stay together? Where are the other three?" asked one of the kids.

"Well, you have a point about not having to stay together, but we really are quadruplets, not septuplets," Megan explained.

"Well, quads are still cool," one of the kids said. "Can I have your autographs anyway?" He held out a piece of paper and a pen.

"I have an idea, first" Meredith said. "Let's play hide and seek. Then we'll give you our autographs." "Okay," several others agreed.

"I'll be 'it'!" one boy volunteered.

"Good. Count to one hundred. Everyone else go hide!" Meredith directed. Everyone did. Megan, Meredith, Monica, and Mary ran the same direction, where the ran into Melissa and Michelle.

"What's going on?" Michelle asked.

"Why did you tell them you were a Septuplet?" Megan demanded.

"Why shouldn't I?" Melissa retorted.

"Hey, you are the Septuplets!" someone shouted. "See, there's more of you now!"

"I knew it," someone else said, "you look just like them."

"Let's go!" Megan shouted. They ran down the path, pursued by several of the kids, until they came across Molly. She was still looking at rocks.

"Hi," she said absent-mindedly. "What's going on?"

"Come on!" Michelle said, grabbing Molly's hand and pulling her along.

"My petoskey stone!" Molly cried. "You made me lose it!" She started to go back and look for it, but then she saw all the kids running towards them. "Aiyee!" she shouted, startled. "Wait for me, you guys!" And she took off running after her sisters.

Mary, the fastest of the Septs, was in the lead followed closely by Michelle. They were very far ahead of the kids chasing them when they reached a huge open field with six hot air balloons in it.

"Wow!" Mary said. "Hot air balloons!"

"Get inside one, quick!" Michelle shouted.

"What? Are you crazy?"

"Just get inside! I'm not going to take it off the ground or anything! Let's just hide inside one!"

"Oh, okay." So the two of them jumped inside the basket of the nearest one. The other Septs were close behind, and they all hid inside that basket and the one of another nearby balloon. The kids chasing them were too far behind to see them climb inside. They all gave up looking for them and went back to camp, except for Kate and one eleven-year-old boy named Brian. They saw the balloon baskets and guessed that the Septs were hiding in them.

"Here you are!" Kate exclaimed when she found them. "What are you doing in here?"

"Hiding from the insane mob, what did you think?" Melissa replied.

"Hey, do you like hot air balloons?" Brian asked.

"Uh, sure," Meredith replied. "I mean, we like 'em but we've never been in any."

"Want to ride in one?" Kate asked. "We get to ride in them today! The counselors are going to take us up in them. In just a little while!"

"That would be fun!" Monica said, forgetting about the insane mob.

"Do you have room for us? I mean, you probably just got the right number of balloons for the campers," Molly said.

"Oh, stop it, Molly," Melissa said. "You always try and think of an excuse to keep us out of something."

"It's not an excuse!" Molly said. "I just wondered!"

"There's room," Brian said. "I think the counselors will let you ride."

They had to go back to camp and ask, of course, and that meant facing the insane mob again. But since Kate and Brian were already there, no one ran at them insanely. It turned out that two of the counselors were big fans of the Septuplets too. They said it would be fine if they rode in the balloons as long as they had their parents' permission. And the kids begged for autographs, so they had to give those too, but none of the Septs really minded. They didn't have to swim back to their camp because they were allowed to take one of the camp's paddle boats. Actually, they had to take two so that all the Septs plus Kate and her friend Alice could come too. Mr. and Mrs. Carlson signed the permission slips from the camp (Mrs. Carlson had to be persuaded, imagining how unsafe it could be, but eventually she agreed) and, after the Septs put some normal clothes over their dry swimsuits, the Septs plus Kate and Alice rode back to ride the balloons.

"Okay, Megan, Mary, Michelle, Kate, and Alice, you ride in this one with Peggy," one of the counselors directed. Peggy was one of the balloon operators. "Melissa, Monica, Meredith, Molly, and Christy, you're in balloon number two with Kim." The other four balloon filled up with campers. Then Peggy's balloon took off, followed by Kim's and the other four. The campers who were still waiting their turn watched as the balloons took off.

"Wow, we're up so high that I can see Detroit!" Melissa shouted.

"You can not," Molly disagreed, "We're too far north. Maybe you can see Lansing, but not Detroit."

"I can so see Detroit! I can see Canada, too!" Melissa insisted.

"You can see Canada from these balloons," the operator, Kim, said, "but not Detroit."

Both thinking they had won the argument, Melissa and Molly stuck their tongues out at each other.

In the other balloon, Megan commented how cool the forest looked. "It spreads out everywhere! I can't see the end of it!"

"I can," Kate replied. "Look, it ends near that big lake."

"That must be Lake Huron," Mary said.

"Yeah, it is," Peggy, the operator, confirmed.

After a while (no one knew exactly how long because no one was wearing a watch) the balloons landed again and the other campers got to go in them. The Septs said they had to go back to their camp because it was getting late. So, after waving good-bye and signing a few more autographs, Kate and Alice took them back in the paddle boats.

The hot air balloon was definitely the coolest thing the Septs did during their whole vacation. After that, it rained the rest of the time!

"The Other Side of the Lake" © 1997 by Jessie Mannisto.