Title: Five Days to Change the World
Summary: The Unicorns say Ellen can’t talk to Amy at their party. Ellen can only talk to her date. The solution is obvious. To Ellen, at least.
Notes: (because I don’t see these as warnings) girl/girl tween slash, hand-holding.
Dedication: for Wing, who begged for this in her recap.
Timeline: All over the place, just like the books. It’s set straight after Mary is Missing, but I borrow pairings that happen later, and reference “sort-of boyfriends”. So, um… I’m feeling very Jamie Suzanne today.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
On the walk home from school one afternoon, Ellen said the most puzzling thing: “I’ve been thinking,” she said with a serious look on her face.
Lila pretended to ignore her, and turned towards Jessica. Jessica knew why, of course, it was because Ellen was bound to mention Amy Sutton. She had spent the past week blurting out Amy’s name, no matter what the topic. They could be talking about Johnny Buck (“I wonder what Amy’s favourite song is…”), Lila’s new shirt (“Maybe I should buy one – in a different colour, obviously. I wonder what Amy would think of that.”) or how awful the meat loaf had been at lunch today (“Did you see Amy’s interview with the lunch lady?”), and Ellen manage to bring up Amy.
“That maybe Amy Sutton would make an excellent Unicorn!” Ellen burst out.
Jessica and Lila stopped walking and turned to face Ellen in a synchronicity so perfect, the rest of the Boosters would have wept to see it.
Jessica felt a wave of irritation, Ellen’s adoration for Amy didn’t appear to be wavering in the slightest, and it was bad enough that her twin thought Amy was something special, but now her name came up in Unicorn circles as well.
“What?” Lila asked.
Ellen opened her mouth to repeat herself, but Lila waved her off.
“Ellen.” Lila’s voice was tightly controlled – and Jessica recognised it well. The last time Lila had used that tone was when her credit card was declined at Kendalls. The sales girl had been reduced to tears after only two sentences and had resigned before Lila had even finished speaking.
“The Unicorns are the prettiest and most popular girls in Sweet Valley Middle School. Amy Sutton is a tomboy with stringy hair whose only friend is Elizabeth Wakefield.”
“Besides,” Jessica said, “she won’t even want to be one.” When Lila’s fierce glare turned itself on Jessica, she hastily added, “Which just shows what a loser she is.”
“Amy Sutton is not a loser!” Ellen shouted. “She was the one who saved my life when–”
“Yes, yes, she hit a kidnapper with a chair leg,” Lila said blithely. “But that doesn’t make her Unicorn material.”
Ellen sighed and stared at the ground. “I know, but you said I could only talk to Unicorns at your party, and I really want to speak to Amy.”
That had been Lila’s idea. And it had been a good one – Janet had been very enthusiastic about it, and Jessica had been quite jealous of the attention she’d given Lila.
An idea suddenly struck Jessica, one that would kill a bunch of birds with a single stone, and if there was one thing Jessica liked, it was a spree killing. It would: hopefully take Ellen’s mind off Amy; win Lila’s favour for changing the subject; and probably impress Janet Howell with the maturity of her thinking.
“I don’t see the problem with speaking to non-Unicorns.” Jessica paused, just long enough for Lila to narrow her eyes at Jessica. “In fact, I think everyone should bring dates.”
In response, Lila beamed, but Ellen looked troublingly thoughtful.
“So,” Ellen said with a smile. “Would you like to be my date to Lila’s party?”
Amy frowned thoughtfully. She found Ellen’s apparent fondness oddly endearing – although she wished Ellen had become fond several months earlier, it would have eased Ginny-Lu’s first few weeks in Sweet Valley. And honestly, she had no real problem with Ellen wanting to be friends with her, but being the date of another girl was just… odd. She had never heard of such a thing.
Slowly, she replied, “I don’t think two girls can date.”
“Oh, they can!” Ellen said excitedly. “On my last trip to San Francisco, I met two cute boys – Charlie and Adam. I really thought Charlie was going to ask me out, but Adam asked me to stop flirting with his boyfriend.” Ellen blushed at this point. “I felt really bad about that. But if boys can date, then it makes sense that girls can too.”
“Boyfriend?” Amy asked in confusion. “So they had more than one date? It wasn’t just to get around a situation like this?” This was even more confusing. She had never heard of two boys going on a date even once.
Ellen nodded. “They held hands sometimes – when other people couldn’t see. I think it’s supposed to be a secret. People can’t know about this, otherwise everyone would do it, right?”
That certainly made sense to Amy. If people found out they didn’t have to date and eventually marry the opposite sex, so few people would. For example, she liked Ken Matthews just fine, but if she had the choice, she’d rather spend time with her friends. Boys could be so stupid – they could spend hours blowing spitballs at each other and laughing like it was the funniest thing ever. And, if she was honest, boys probably would rather spitball each other than make awkward conversation with girls.
Wait! Ellen had said something else. “They held hands?” Amy asked.
Ellen nodded sagely.
“… and they liked it?” On this, Amy was doubtful. The boys at Sweet Valley Middle didn’t seem the type to want to hold hands with anyone – girl or boy. Amy had kissed Ken Matthews at Julie Porter’s party some time ago. It had been quick and awkward, and afterwards Ken had then spent a minute in silence, staring anywhere but at Amy. Then he had avoided her for two hours. And just as she was leaving, he had come up to her and started telling her a really boring story about the last time he bought new sneakers.
Amy’s daydreams may not have been as romantic as, say, Jessica Wakefield’s, but they were significantly better than awkwardly bumping her face against Ken’s followed by absolutely nothing. Amy wasn’t the type of girl who wanted a rock star to offer his hand, pull her up on the stage and tell the world she was the most beautiful girl in the world (she had overheard Jessica and Lila discussing how awesome that would be once), but she would have liked to be able to sit down next to Ken and have a conversation with him, maybe hold hands under the table – and if Bruce Patman came over to offer his two cents about how gross that was, she’d have liked Ken to ignore him, rather than flush with embarrassment, and run after Bruce, desperately trying to wash away the humiliation of liking a girl.
But that was how boys were. It was hard to believe that two boys could be sweeter to each other in such an unusual and ground-breaking way, when most boys she knew couldn’t even be sweet in a traditional way.
Amy felt very torn. She wondered if Charlie and Adam had been playing a joke on Ellen when they said they were dating.
“So?” Ellen said.
“You have given me a lot to think about,” Amy said slowly.
“If you’re not sure about it, why don’t you write to your penpal? She’s in San Francisco, right? Maybe she knows about Charlie and Adam?” Ellen offered.
That… wasn’t a bad idea. Lila’s party was on Friday, so there wasn’t enough time to send a letter and get a reply, but she could call Sam. And maybe she could even hit the library and see if any other boys or girls had dated their own gender. She felt her reporter’s instinct start to kick in. Her mother was a TV reporter – maybe she knew something about this.
Amy felt exhilarated as she realised that she could break this story in the Sweet Valley Sixers. And, to be honest, she couldn’t report on what she didn’t know, so, much like when Elizabeth stuck by Lois Waller in the Bike-a-Thon to get first-hand experience of her story, Amy should definitely try dating a girl.
“Ok, Ellen. I would love to be your date for Lila’s party.”
“So, I would like an update on who has secured a date for Lila’s party.” Janet sat on a chair in the corner of Lila’s room. The rest of the Unicorns were scattered around on the bed and floor cushions, and she looked down on them in a very queenly fashion.
She favoured Jessica with a small smile before adding, “I have dropped some hints to Denny Jacobson and I hope to have an official request from him by tomorrow. He told Jake Hamilton that he thought Lila’s party sounded fun.”
An excited whisper ran through the group.
“I bet he’s just working up the courage to ask you,” Jessica said.
Lila nodded authoritatively. “It takes a lot of nerve to ask a Unicorn out. We are very pretty and special. Getting turned down is the absolute end.”
Janet gave another approving smile. “And where is everyone else with their dates?”
Everyone else had similar tales of hints, or hopeful words, but nobody had secured a date yet. On the one hand, Jessica was determined to be the first Unicorn to get an official date to the party, but on the other, Janet had looked worried that someone might get asked before her.
“And you, Jessica?” Janet asked.
“Aaron Dallas stopped me in the hallway to ask if I’d done Mr Nydick’s homework,” Jessica replied with a proud smile.
“Oh, Jessica!” Lila exclaimed. “He’s definitely going to ask you.”
“Yes, everyone knows that boys only ask about homework when they want to spend time with you,” said Tamara Chase.
“You should have mentioned the party,” Kimberley said. “Then he would have asked you for sure.”
Jessica didn’t let the smile falter for a moment, but she had mentioned Lila’s party. Unfortunately Aaron had to rush to class, so he didn’t get chance to ask her. “I will next time,” she promised.
Ellen looked up and gave a smile. “Oh, I already have a date.”
There was a pause. Janet frowned, clearly upset that a sixth grader had managed to get a date before she – president of the Unicorns – had. “Who?”
The chill in Janet’s voice was palpable to everyone but Ellen, who beamed excitedly. “Amy Sutton.”
There was a moment of aghast silence before everyone found their voices. All at once.
“Is that even legal?” Lila asked. “I’ve never heard of such a thing!”
“It’s a secret because otherwise everyone would do it,” Ellen said. “But Amy’s going to do a report about it in the Sixers.”
“Everyone would not do it!” Jessica burst out. She would happily take Aaron Dallas, Bruce Patman and Rick Hunter as her dates if she was allowed. She would not take a girl.
“If you ask me,” Janet said darkly, “this kind of behaviour could have lasting implications. I bet if you keep this up, you won’t make it to high school.”
“Elizabeth!” Mr Bowman said as he entered the small room used by the Sixers staff.
Elizabeth turned to smile at her favourite teacher. Today he was wearing a plaid jacket, a red bow-tie with tiny trucks on it, a polka-dot shirt and green velvet pants. Elizabeth exchanged a small smile with Amy at his attire. “Yes, Mr Bowman?”
He held up the most recent copy of the Sixers, “I think we need to talk about this.”
Elizabeth couldn’t fight the smile that spread across her face. “It’s our most popular issue to date. Even the seventh and eighth graders have been talking about it.”
“Nobody’s even picked up Gazette 7&8,” Amy noted with pride.
“I think we may even need to run more copies,” Elizabeth said.
“No!” Mr Bowman shouted. He coughed, and lowered his voice. “No, that won’t be necessary.” He took a seat and unrolled the paper, open to Amy’s article, the headline read: BOY-GIRL DATING IS NOT MANDATORY! “I’d like to talk to you both about this article of Amy’s.”
Amy frowned. “Did I get something wrong? I went to the library, and checked everything twice. I was there for hours.”
“No, Amy, I’m sure your research was fine. But do you both really feel this was an appropriate article for the Sixers?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Well, not exactly. Amy and I talked about it, and we agreed that the Sixers doesn’t often do pieces about romance and dating, but since so few people know that you can date boys or girls, it was worth making an exception. But because it was a fluff piece, we put it on page four.” Elizabeth smiled again. “Was that wrong?”
Mr Bowman groaned.
Jessica found herself at Aaron’s locker. She had walked past three time, hoping he would spot her, but when he didn’t – his gaze was firmly fixed on a copy of the Sixers – she had to make him notice.
“Hi, Aaron – gosh, how funny bumping into you here!” she gushed. She flicked her hair over her shoulder just like Connie Boyer did when she wanted a guy’s attention, but Aaron was still looking at the sixth grade paper.
“Oh, hi, Jess,” he said, flicking his eyes briefly in her direction. “Have you read this piece by Amy Sutton?”
Jessica gritted her teeth in frustration. Amy! Amy! Amy! It was all anyone seemed to talk about at the moment, from Ellen to her sister, to the Unicorns. There were other people on the planet! Some people could be so selfish. “Uh, yes, I did.” She forced some sweetness into her voice. “We were just talking about it at the Unicorner, and then we talked about Lila’s party.”
Now ask me! she thought. She had given him the perfect opening.
“Oh, yeah, Friday, right?”
Aaron still wasn’t looking at her. Ingénue said you should maintain eye contact, flip your hair and bat your lashes to show a boy you liked him. It didn’t have any advice for when a boy barely looked at you.
“Are you going?” She took a tiny step closer and let her arm “accidentally” brush against his.
“Yeah, I think some of the guys are going.”
Jessica withheld a groan of frustration. “And have you heard that some people are taking dates?”
At this, Aaron looked up. He held the paper up. “Yes, actually I had heard that. Excuse me, I have to talk to Jimmy Underwood. See ya, Jess!”
Ellen stopped Amy in the halls between classes. “Just to let you know, because I asked you, I’ll pick you up so we can go to the party together. I think that’s probably the easiest way to do it, don’t you?”
That hadn’t even occurred to Amy, she had just planned on meeting Ellen at Lila’s. But if she was going to give dating a girl a fair trial – there might even be a follow-up article in there – it was probably a good idea to do things right. “Absolutely.”
“What colour dress are you wearing?” Ellen asked.
That was a very Unicorn question. Probably Ellen was wondering if they would clash or something. “Navy blue,” Amy replied.
“Jessica!” A voice hissed her name and an arm shot out of the gap in the banks of lockers and dragged her into the nook.
Jessica found herself face to face with Lila Fowler, who was hunched against the wall with an uncharacteristic look of defeat on her face.
“What’s wrong?” Jessica asked.
“I was just wondering,” Lila said airily, as if it was perfectly normal to hide away in an alcove and have whispered conversations, “how things were going with Aaron?”
Jessica had heard a disturbing rumour that Aaron had invited Jimmy Underwood to be his date to Lila’s party. For a second she thought that Lila was going to rub her nose in it that her sort-of boyfriend had a sort-of boyfriend of his own. Then, she realised with some relief, that if Lila was going to gloat, she wouldn’t have tucked them away in a secret corner to do so.
Jessica thought for a moment. “No official ask yet,” she offered cautiously.
Lila heaved a sigh of relief and moved an inch or two closer. She muttered something through clenched teeth – Jessica only made out Jack Hamilton’s name.
“Sorry, what?” Jessica asked.
“I said,” Lila whispered, still barely audible. “That Jake Hamilton is going with Rick Hunter.”
Jessica let out her breath slowly. Curse Ellen and her obsession with Amy and their silly revolution on dating. “Aaron’s going with Jimmy Underwood.”
“Janet’s going with Denny, Grace is going with Winston, Mandy and Mary are going with the Peters – I have no idea which is which. Every Unicorn has a date – a boy,” Lila groused. “It’s not fair. Do you have any idea who’s still free?”
Dating fever had swept the school, and even nerds like Randy Mason and Leslie Forsythe had dates. Possibly with each other for all Jessica knew, but if they could get dates and she and Lila couldn’t, something was very wrong with the universe.
“There’s only one thing for it,” she said with a sigh. “We’re going to have to go together.”
“I don’t want to date you,” Lila snapped.
Jessica took that slight on the chin with as much grace as she could muster, but part of her wanted to leap out of the nook and shout at the world that Lila’s sort-of boyfriend was dating a boy. The only thing that stopped her was that the same was true for her too. “And I don’t want to date you either, but we’re in a bind here. We are the prettiest and most popular girls in the sixth grade–”
“That’s true,” Lila said with a nod. “We are so much prettier than Ellen or Mandy.”
“–so the only people left dateless that are good enough to date a Unicorn are Unicorns.”
Lila looked thoughtful. “I hadn’t thought about it that way. I do find it annoying that the boys don’t have an official group of elite that we could date – it would weed out the undesirables.”
“So, are you in?” Jessica asked.
“Yes, it’s a date.” Lila still sounded petulant though.
Jessica heaved a sigh of relief. If there was going to be a revolution, at least she’d be a part of it, whether she actually wanted to or not.
And at least her date was pretty and rich. That much would win approval with the Unicorns.
Amy found herself uncharacteristically nervous as the afternoon became evening. She had returned home from school, showered, washed her hair (she had tried a new crème rinse, which had made no impact at all on her stringy hair) and her mother had put it into an elaborate French braid (which had made an impact – a good one). All things considered, she thought she looked rather nice in her navy blue dress.
“What time is it?” she asked.
Her mother, Dyan Sutton, looked up from her book. “It’s nearly six.” She gave her daughter a smile. “Are you nervous, heading towards your first date?”
“No!” Amy said. It wasn’t really a date – it was research. And ok, maybe she had worn a dress and asked her mom for help with her hair, but it didn’t mean anything.
“It’s ok to be nervous,” Dyan said. “And I think Ellen is lovely. Any girl that recognises how brave you were to take down a kidnapper and admires everything that you are is a very sensible girl.”
Amy goggled. She doubted Ellen Riteman had ever been described by anyone as a “sensible girl”.
As the hall clock chimed six o’clock precisely, the doorbell rang.
Amy went to the door and opened it. On the other side stood Ellen, looking very pretty in a light pink dress, with her hair curled. She was carrying a bunch of red carnations and a gift-wrapped box.
Amy was slightly taken aback – she didn’t realise that dates came with gifts.
Ellen crossed the threshold and held out the flowers to Amy. “I wasn’t sure if corsages were just for boy-girl dates, and I really wanted to get this right, so I bought you flowers.”
Amy was too flattered to even notice that corsages – boy-girl only, or otherwise – were usually for formal dances.
Dyan swooped in to assist. “Let me take them, we don’t want you messing up your nice dresses, girls.” She took the flowers into the kitchen, and left Amy and Ellen alone.
“The flowers are really pretty,” Amy said, suddenly feeling shy.
“The lady in the shop told me they meant admiration.”
A blush heated Amy’s entire face, not just her cheeks. From anyone else but Ellen, she would have been mortified, but for some reason, it just made her feel oddly fluttery.
“I also have this.” Ellen held out a small box wrapped in purple paper with silver ribbons.
“Oh, Ellen, you shouldn’t have!” Amy moved from shy to awkward. Flowers were sweet, but she felt bad taking a gift from Ellen, especially when this date was for researcher.
When Amy made no motion to take the box, Ellen opened it for her. Inside was a friendship bracelet made out of knotted thread. “See, I made this, so you would remember tonight. I put green and blue in it, because you were wearing a green blouse with blue jeans the day I thought of it, and then I put a single strand of purple in – that means me – and I knotted in some silver beads, because it reminded me of our Booster batons.”
Amy was touched. It was a really thoughtful gift. “Thank you, Ellen.”
When she held out her wrist for Ellen to tie it on, her palms felt oddly sweaty.
There was a flash of light. “Got it!” Dyan trilled, brandishing a camera.
Amy rolled her eyes. “Mooooooom!”
Dyan was unrepentant. “Oh no! This is a big moment – my girl is going on her first date, and that was a perfect picture. I’m taking photos.”
Jessica could not get over the threshold of Fowler Crest.
“I can’t believe you!” Lila raged. “You turn up as my date with no flowers, no gift, no corsage! What’s wrong with you?”
“Corsages are for dances,” Jessica replied weakly.
“There will be dancing at my party!”
“Lila,” Jessica said. “Please be reasonable. We were backup dates for each other.”
Lila’s face fell. “Well there’s no need to be hurtful about it. I thought it went without saying that gifts and dates went together hand in hand.”
Even if Jessica wanted to buy a gift, what did you buy for the richest girl in Sweet Valley, the one who had everything? Especially when Jessica had less than two dollars to her name. She narrowed her eyes at her friend. “If you don’t let me in… you won’t have a date at all.”
Lila sagged a little in disappointment. “Fine! But now we have to go upstairs before my guests arrive and try to find a piece of jewellery that nobody has seen before so I can tell them you gave it to me.”
“Pick something pretty.” Jessica smiled as she added, “and expensive!”
By the time Ellen and Amy arrived – after many many pictures taken by Dyan – the party was in full swing. Lila Fowler had set her gardeners and handymen to work, the pool area looked beautiful with coloured lights strung up everywhere, and Johnny Buck’s latest song playing through the speakers.
Elizabeth and Todd were dancing on the patio along with a whole bunch of Sixers staff; the Unicorns were holding court on the lounge chairs by the pool; Bruce Patman and his friends were talking – in obnoxiously loud voices – to the side of them.
They made their way through the crowd, stopping briefly to say hi to their friends. Amy thought Ellen might leave her to join the Unicorns, but she gave them a polite greeting, and then said that she and Amy were getting some punch.
They found an unoccupied table by the pool and sat down. For a few moments, there was nothing but silence and she and Ellen smiling at each other.
“I was wondering how you did that last twirl at Booster practice last week? I’ve been practicing really hard and I keep messing up,” Ellen said.
Amy smiled in relief – that she could help with. “Are you practicing the twirl itself or the whole routine?”
“Just that twirl,” Ellen replied. “Sometimes I get it, but when I put it all together it goes wrong.”
Amy opened her mouth to suggest that she and Ellen could practice together, and that maybe she should try the whole routine a few times, when Bruce Patman swaggered over.
“Are you two on a date?” he bellowed loudly. “Two girls? Didn’t any boy want you?”
Amy winced. This was exactly the kind of thing that Bruce always said. He seemed to have a knack of turning up exactly when he wasn’t wanted, saying what nobody wanted to hear, and leaving everyone cross.
Ellen leapt to her feet. “Actually, we are on a date! And I don’t care if a boy wants me or not, Amy was my first choice! I think the problem is, Bruce, that you were nobody’s first choice!”
Amy felt a very unfamiliar swooning sensation. A sort of internal swooping and a breathlessness coupled with a pounding heart and a strong urge to smile. Part of her filed that away for her next article, but most of her was focussed on Ellen, who was glaring fiercely at the boy commonly known as the cutest boy in seventh grade.
Amy suddenly felt all notions of “research” get pushed away – hadn’t she wanted someone who would spend time with her without embarrassment, who wouldn’t flinch away if someone called them on it, whose company she enjoyed?
She wanted nothing more than for Bruce to go away so she could spend some more time with Ellen, and ask about what Ellen liked and what Ellen thought about things.
Bruce flailed, his mouth working soundlessly for a few moments, before Ellen added coldly, “You can go now.”
She sat down and moved closer to Amy, keeping her back to Bruce and making it clear she was done talking to him. “I’m sorry, what were you saying before we were interrupted?”
Amy reached out and took Ellen’s hand in hers. “That maybe we should go out for ice cream together after our next Booster practice.”
Ellen squeezed her hand and smiled.
“Jessica, get me a drink, would you? And I want it in a real glass, not those ghastly plastic cups everyone else is using.”
Jessica couldn’t take it any more. All evening, Lila had been ordering her around as if she was her personal servant, not her date.
“Get it yourself!” she snapped.
Lila’s face fell. “But you’re my date, you’re supposed to take care of me!”
“And you’re my date! If I’m looking after you, nobody’s looking after me!”
“But I’m the girl! I need more attention!” Lila said.
“So am I!” Jessica burst out. “This stupid girl dating doesn’t work with two girls! You need a boy to take your coats, and get you a drink and ask you to dance – I hate this!”
“So do I!” Lila agreed. “I bet it will never catch on.”
Jessica huffed, her anger cooled somewhat by Lila’s agreement. She gazed across the pool, hoping to see an unattached boy worthy of a Unicorn.
Instead she saw Ellen and Amy, sharing a table, completely oblivious to the rest of the world as they talked. Then she noticed they were holding hands – and not just casually, they were both leaning forwards towards each other, and their hands met in the middle of the table. Amy was lightly tracing a pattern on Ellen’s arm while Ellen said something funny enough to make Amy chuckle.
They both looked much happier than Jessica had felt all evening.
Lila followed her gaze. “Oh, what do they know?” she said in exasperation.
Jessica sighed. “More than us.”