Little Miss Whatever
by Diane Arrelle
Sandi put the screaming baby in the car seat, strapped her tight, then sat in the front passenger seat and prayed Rick would start the engine.
He turned the key and backed out the driveway and just like magic, little Marta fell asleep.
“Oh, thank you!” Sandi said and smiled at her boyfriend. “I hardly got any sleep last night, I think she’s teething.”
“Anything for you, my lady,” Rick responded. “Your wish is my command.”
She grinned, then yawned. He really was her knight in tee shirt and jeans. “Where you taking us? Remember, I promised Aunt Marie and Uncle Larry that we wouldn’t go far.”
“No, you promised them you wouldn’t drive far and I’m the one driving. Beside, far is a relative term, California is far, and in that context anywhere within New England is not. Now take a nap and I’ll wake you when we get there.”
She closed her eyes and thought about her summer. She’d planned on going to the cape with her friends, waitressing to make money for college in the fall. Then she’d had the accident and a job where she stood or walked a lot was out of the question. Luckily her aunt and uncle needed a babysitter for five weeks and offered her $1,000 to watch Marta while they were away. Not as much as she needed by a long shot, but at least it was something.
“Wake up sleepy head, we’re here.”
Sandi opened her eyes and saw they were at her favorite lakeside tourist trap. “Wow, you drove 2 hours. Boy, did I need that nap!”
Grinning, Rick pulled over. “Parking is awful, must be some special event weekend. Go take Marta and wait for me under the arch at the lake pier entrance and I’ll find a spot and bring you the stroller.”
Holding the sleeping child on her shoulder, she watched the crowds of tourists, mostly parents with small children, wandered in and out of stores. The lake beach was jammed with wall-to-wall umbrellas, blankets and chairs. Sandi sighed, and fought off the wave of jealousy and melancholy that was sweeping over her. She was tired and stuck caring for her baby cousin instead of enjoying her last summer with her friends before they all went off to different schools or jobs. It had been only a week since her uncle and aunt left, and even though Marta was sweet, she just didn’t want the responsibility. Babies were supposed to be in her future, not her now.
Suddenly she became aware of the whistles, lots of them. “Uh-oh that sounds like someone’s drowning,” she muttered and looked toward the lake, but all appeared calm. A moment later, she looked around where she was standing as shouts startled her and the baby. Everybody was running in her direction. The whistling continued but was almost drowned out by a trumpet fanfare and the shouting crowd that was circling around her.
“Rick” she screamed, hugging the child to her protectively.
“What do you all want? What did we do wrong?” she yelled although her voice was too small to penetrate all the other noises. Sandi felt dizzy, her knees weak, her stomach filled with a thousand desperate butterflies. She should have listened, stayed close to home. Now she was surrounded by strangers closing in on her. “Oh Marta, I’m sorry,” she whimpered.
The crowd parted in front of her. Sandi thought, now’s the time to escape. Run! Run now! But she was paralyzed rooted to the sidewalk. She watched in terror as five people marched through the opening and stopped in front of her. They were all dressed up with fancy gold sashes that read, COMMITTEE and were still blowing their whistles.
Three men and two women stood there smiling at her. “Congratulations!” the first man said as one of the women handed her a large bouquet of roses. “You are the lucky winner! The Arch at 11:45 a.m. was the secret designated time and place this year.”
The fear was suddenly replaced with a mixture of relief and confusion but Sandi still felt dizzy and scared. “Really?” she managed to squeak out.
“Yes, really!” Another of the men said and the crowd laughed and cheered.
She saw Rick behind the committee members and waved. “Please, let him through.”
As he joined her, he leaned over and whispered. “I just saw it’s a big event day, the Belton Beach Baby Bonanza. And Marta is now the star.”
A TV reporter came up, shoved a mike in Sandi’s face and asked, “Who’s our newest baby of the year?”
“Marta,” Sandi tried to say but her voice cracked.
“Martha. It’s a princess this year!” the reporter announced.
Sandi was lead to a convertible and Marta was put into a special car seat and with Rick at her side they rode through town waving as a high school band marched in front of them and a parade of people followed behind.
By the time Sandi and Rick were heading home five hours later, the shock was finally wearing off. Sandi held the $200 check for her and Baby Martha and thought of all the prizes they had in the trunk. “I guess I have to keep it all since I can’t tell Uncle Larry and Aunt Marie we took Marta on a day trip and I really do need the money for school…”
Rick laughed. “Good thinking! I can sell the prizes on-line for you. This is a great way to get more money.”
Sandi nodded and started looking something up on her smart phone. A moment later she smiled and said, “You know, there is a baby beauty contest with a $500 prize right outside of Boston next weekend. I think Baby Martha would enjoy being in it, don’t you?”
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Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, and has sold more than 200 short stories. She has two published books including Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories. She is proud to be one of the founding members as well as the second president of the Garden State Horror Writers and is also a past president of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. Recently retired from being director of a municipal senior citizen center, she lives with her husband, her son and her cat on the edge of the Pine Barrens in Southern New Jersey (home of the Jersey Devil).