Title: The Middle School Gets Married
Tagline: Wedding bells in Sweet Valley?
Summary: Married, with children… [Wing: This is not a reference I expected to see here. Is it an actual reference to the show? No idea, but I like it.]
As part of a health-class project, all the students at Sweet Valley Middle School are pairing up into simulated marriages. Their assignment is to manage a make believe household and care for an egg that represents a baby.
The only problem is, their teacher. Mr. Siegel, is picking the couples Elizabeth Wakefield finds herself paired with snobby Bruce Patman, who refuses to help out. Jessica Wakefield’s pretend husband, Rick Hunter, teases her mercilessly and refuses to stop. And Todd Wilkins gets stuck with Lila Fowler, who only wants to eat out! [Dove: Lies, Lila/Todd get two lines of screen time and the subject of eating doesn’t even come up.] Can the middle-schoolers survive two whole weeks of married life?
I love-love-love this book. This is one of my favourite tropes, and I love to see it popping up in media I enjoy, and this book started my love of it. Dawson’s Creek did a marriage project episode, and it was pretty good. But, y’know, the downside of Dawson’s Creek is that Joey’s in it.
I wish there were pictures of all the couples. I always assume the couple on the right/back of the cover is Lila/Todd, but maybe it’s Sophia/Patrick, since they get more screen time. Sophia has black hair on both her previous book covers, and the boy doesn’t look like Patrick or Todd particularly, but I will concede that he has Patrick’s hair. [Raven: How do you know this? They are all literally the same, especially the boys.] [Dove: … I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was a tween. Shut up.] [Wing: I sort of want Dove to annotate every cover with the character names and what is wrong with the depiction.]
We open with an assembly explaining the marriage project. Unsurprisingly, the Unicorns think it’s wonderfully romantic. More surprisingly, so do the likes of Randy Mason, Todd Wilkins, and even Elizabeth Wakefield. [Wing: WHUT. No, I do not believe Randy, at least, would think that, and am struggling to believe that Elizabeth doesn’t see the potential downsides.]
Of course, the Unicorns take it a step further than most. Janet Howell asks if they can have weddings. Mr Siegel shuts that down immediately. This project is about marriage, not weddings. Students will be paired up randomly and spend two weeks working on home ec, social studies, budgeting, etc.
Even outside my love of this trope, this is a fucking brilliant idea, and it really should be done in schools every year. I came out of school completely unprepared. I could solve for x, but I couldn’t wire a plug, budget for my household or even cook anything that they taught me. I could cook other things that I’d learned at home, but my school taught us how to make cheese on toast (already knew that), some kind of rice ring mold (“excellent for parties”, my home ec teacher informed us) and how to make brownies from a packet mix (a six year old could do that). [Raven: Personally, I think the big thing schools needs to teach kids is how to fucking Google something. So many people don’t know how to do X, Y, or Z, when THE KNOWLEDGE OF HOW TO DO EVERYTHING IS AVAILABLE 24 HOURS A DAY FOR VIRTUALLY FREE, and they haven’t the sense to go search for the answer.] [Wing: Ostrich says that someone needs to teach the teachers this at his school, the kids have it down. But he also claims that the classes he took in high school did teach him things like balancing a budget and how to be domestic; to be fair, he is really good at those things, but I am skeptical that school taught him anything that useful. (Then again, when he was in Hawaii, he also learned macrame and surfing at school, so maybe.]
Mr Siegel informs them that each couple will get a manual, and every single part of the project must be completed as a couple.
Jessica thinks to herself that sounds awesome. She can always count on someone else to do the work, and she can just glide on by effortlessly. This again backs up my theory that if we just killed Elizabeth, Jessica might become a functional member of society. Well, actually, it backs up my theory that if we just killed everyone who indulges Jessica, she might become functional.
As they are dismissed from the assembly, the Unicorns blather excitedly about the project. Lila thinks her dad will probably splash for a small wedding (“You know, two or three hundred of my closest friends, a gorgeous white dress, a cake with ten layers…”) and Mandy pitches the idea that they might get stuck with a geek.
Over with Sophia Rizzo and her new BFF, Sarah Thomas, they are also discussing the project. Sophia thinks it’s archaic nonsense. She’s vehemently opposed to arranged marriage, especially with the selection of idiot boys that Sweet Valley Middle School has to offer. [Wing: I love you, Sophia.]
Sarah, on the other hand, thinks it sounds both romantic and interesting. She says that when her mother was alive, they loved romantic things like picnics and candlelit dinners. Sophia retorts that when her dad was around, her parents just fought and fought and fought. Sarah points out that if the couple respect each other, they don’t have to fight. This actually causes Sophia to consider the situation. Her mother and Sarah’s dad never fight.
Even so, she’s worried about the boys she might end up with. Patrick Morris is the only boy with a brain in the school, and the odds of being married to him are slim. But if she did wind up with him, the project would be a breeze.
The next day, Jessica is fifteen minutes early to school. That’s probably a personal record for her, but that’s spectacularly late for me. The entire school is early too, since they’re all keen to find out who they’re married to. She passes Ellen, who’s mortified that she’s stuck with Winston Egbert – cheer up, Ellen, at least he’s a Booster – and is worried that Janet Howell will never let her live it down. It’ll reflect badly on the Unicorns. Jessica moves on and encounters Janet, who is furious that her beloved Denny Jacobson (heart condition Pamela’s brother, not dyslexic kid) is teamed up with Cammi Adams. And also that she’s been partnered with Randy Mason. That really does reflect badly on the Unicorns, Janet.
Jessica moves on. She sees Aaron, who’s been looking all over for her… to say that he’s sorry they’re not paired up. He’s with Veronica Brooks, who I’m frankly astounded is still breathing after the shit she’s pulled.
She passes Elizabeth, who is talking to Bruce Patman. Having recently found out what a complete tool he is, she feels a bit sorry for Elizabeth that she’s stuck with him.
She races on, having been significantly waylaid by everyone else’s spouse news, and she now has one minute to check her hubby and get to class. And she ploughs straight into Rick Hunter. They both drop their books and Rick clutches his nose. She asks if she hurt his nose, and he snaps back he’s holding his nose because his ear hurts. She doesn’t like him much, he seems nice to everyone else, but goes out of his way to tease her, and he’s one of the few people she hasn’t double-crossed, so what gives? [Raven: I’ve seen enough Hentai to know where this is going.]
Rick deduces that she’s in a rush to find out who her husband is. He says “Poor Jessica” and says she wouldn’t be in such a hurry if she knew. After he mocks her a bit more, she strides off and finally checks the list.
Anyone wanna guess who her hubby is? Yes, it’s Rick Hunter. Obv.
“Come on, Elizabeth. Please?” Todd was saying as he and Elizabeth hurried to Mr. Seigel’s classroom. “Mr. Seigel likes you. If there’s one person he’ll listen to, it’s you. Everybody listens to you.”
Elizabeth couldn’t help feeling flattered. “Thanks. Todd. That’s really nice of you to say. But I don’t think he’s going to change the list just because I ask him to.”
That’s how chapter three opens. With Todd shilling Elizabeth. As if we didn’t already know she was perfect. But as Elizabeth steps forward to earnestly plead their case, she finds Mr Siegel shouting at an angry mob of kids who all hate their spouses. Even a Wakefield couldn’t argue this one.
Over with Sophia, she’s the one happy person in the whole school. She’s actually paired up with the very handsome and very clever Patrick Morris. Elizabeth catches her putting on lip gloss and Sophia feels embarrassed. [Wing: Ugh, how adorable are you, Sophia? So adorable.] At this point Patrick rocks up so they can go to class together. Sophia can’t find her book. Patrick doesn’t mind waiting while she looks. She doesn’t want to make him late for class. This circular faffing goes on for a few minutes before Elizabeth suggests that they go to class and share Patrick’s book. [Raven: Circular Faffing! I wouldn’t Google that if I were you.] Sophia whispers to Elizabeth that she and Patrick are perfect together.
You’re not. I want to knock your heads together already. Faffing is annoying. It’s annoying to live, it’s annoying to listen to, and it’s annoying to read. This is the one subplot I could live without. I’d rather they’d focused on Lila and Todd. Or Ellen and Winston. I bet that would be fun in the hands of the right writer. (Fanfic…?)
Later, Elizabeth waits for Bruce to show up for another assembly. He doesn’t. Mr Siegel won’t let Elizabeth in, because all parts of this project have to be completed together. He says she needs to tell Bruce he’s not being fair. Married people must communicate. I seriously feel Mr Siegel is overestimating even Elizabeth’s abilities here. My headcannon? Mr Siegel has been waiting all year for an excuse to slam a door in a Wakefield’s face.
Elizabeth sulks, here she is saintly and ready to learn and excel and show the rest of Sweet Valley how brilliant she is compared to them, and dickhead Bruce is letting her down. If it was anyone else I would deeply sympathise. I hate being reliant on other people who are constantly late/don’t turn up for project work/don’t do their bit. But since it’s Elizabeth, a very immature part of me is dancing around, pulling a funny face and sing-songing, “ner-ner-ner-ner-nerrrrrr!” at her.
Anyway, of course Bruce shows up at the last minute. Elizabeth tells him the situation, and Bruce tells her to chill, he “had business”, which is what his dad always says when he’s late. He started using this phrase when he realised that Mrs Patman didn’t appreciate hearing, “I was banging the lowly factory workers and abusing my power as their boss,” as an excuse for being late to dinner. It’s a bit gauche.
The two go into the assembly, where Mr Siegel is explaining how important budgeting is, and explaining that the manual gives an estimate based on national averages for the costings involved. Elizabeth takes reams of notes. Bruce plays with his hair. She asks if he’s going to take notes on anything, and he tells her no, she’s already doing that. He can’t even be bothered to take a manual, he just passes the stack to Elizabeth. She’s fuming. Clearly she’s going to have to do the whole project herself, because Bruce is too cool for this shit.
(Hey there, readers. Does anyone else find this funny in relation to Sweet Life? Try to be non-spoilery in your responses. Wing and Raven have no idea what’s coming.)
Over with the fun twin, Jessica is having an ohshit moment, as she realises that the project is graded, and it looks like they’re both slackers, since Rick is drawing “a very unflattering caricature of her” while this all goes on. She’s frantically taking notes, knowing that her parents will ground her if her grades don’t exist (but apparently not knowing that the next ghostie won’t have read this book, and therefore no grounding will stick). Rick comments they’re going to be very broke if Jessica is in charge of the money, since she’s put down $1m a month for utilities.
“Forget about it.” Rick grinned. “We’re probably going to fail this whole thing anyway.”
“I can’t afford to fail,” Jessica retorted.
“I’ll bet you can’t,” Rick teased. “You airhead types aren’t exactly whizzes at school.”
“Oh yeah?” Jessica gave him a level stare. “I haven’t seen your name on the honor roll lately, either.”
“Maybe because you don’t know how to spell it.”
“I know how to spell your name,” Jessica snapped. “B-O-N-E-H-E-A-D!”
Rick threw back his head and laughed. He didn’t have a comeback, but he didn’t even seem to care. Somehow, that just made Jessica feel more irritated. It was especially annoying to be insulted by somebody who refused to be insulted back.
I love these two. It’s so much fun to see someone out-Jessica Jessica. If Elizabeth had a spine, this entire series could be so much sassier, but instead she just rolls over for Jessica. It’s nice to see someone give Jessica a taste of her own medicine, but not in a cruel way (like Veronica), but just in a relentlessly “aren’t I charming even when I’m not” way. It’s satisfying and fun. [Raven: Agreed. Although it’s obviously leading to the “I-mock-you-because-I-like-you” trope that’s not particularly enlightened.] [Dove: Agreed. But somehow when Jessica’s on the receiving end of the shit she pulls, I just don’t care.] [Wing: I hate that trope most of the time, though if both sides are snarky and teasing each other, it works for me, and it’s working for me here. Jessica has met a match, and I love it.]
Mr Siegel reminds them that they have to spend every waking moment with their spouse, including lunch. Rick wants to go straight to lunch, but Jessica wants to drop off her bag, so Rick takes her bag for her. Jessica is taken aback by a simple act of kindness, and again when he holds the door open for her. She thinks maybe he’s not such a dick after all.
This hope is short-lived. Once they’re in the lunch line he comments on her lunch choice: spaghetti (it’ll make her fat), soda (will give her pimples), garlic bread (will give her bad breath), and he doesn’t want a chubby, spotty spouse with bad breath. Ordinarily I’d be against the fat/body shaming, but honestly, Jessica has racked up so much bad karma in this area, I can’t really say it hurts my soul to see a perfect Wakefield fleetingly worry about their appearance. Also, it gives us the wonderful Wakefield logic of “Elizabeth isn’t fat, so I can’t be either”, which is the same logic that failed so hard when Elizabeth assumed she and Jessica started their periods together.
Jessica snaps back that she doesn’t want to be married to someone who’ll be bald by tenth grade. She and Rick have a back and forth on this, which causes Jessica to stomp off and find someone else to sit with. She chooses Todd and Lila, who are arguing about the budget. Rick follows anyway because of THE RULES.
Lila can’t see the point of a budget since her income is limitless. Jessica quickly regrets her choice when Rick cheerfully asks if she has a trust fund. He then comments he didn’t do well with his random spouse, since she lacks money and brains. Jessica snaps he’s a loser, but it’s nothing to do with her. She’s fed up with the whole situation and it’s killed her appetite, so she gets up ready to stomp off again. Rick says he was kidding and gives an expansive shrug/gesture, which knocks Jessica’s tray over, sending her food and drink flying.
Jessica steps back and slips on the spaghetti. She lands on her ass, covered in spaghetti sauce. Rick immediately falls about laughing, and Jessica is furious and humiliated. True. Everyone hates wearing stained clothes, but girls are particularly humiliated by red stains on the seat of their pants/skirts. [Raven: Gotta share this again…
Lila hands her napkins, and Todd – who is Edward Cullen/a 1950s housewife – suggests she wash off the sauce before it stains, but Rick keeps on laughing, along with the rest of the students.
Over with Sophia and Patrick, they’re as boring and faffy as they were before. Patrick offers Sophia some of his fries. Sophia wants them but doesn’t want to look like a pig, so offers him her desert. Patrick says yes, but only if they share it. It’s supposed to be all cute and I just don’t care. Patrick is boring in my eyes. The book about him was boring. He doesn’t play sexy instruments. And Sophia is a shell of her feisty self. I just want these two out of my book. I want to read Ellen/Winston (new tag: Not enough Ellen) or Lila/Todd instead. [Raven: Is it supposed to be cute, though? I thought it was supposed to be sickening. A bit like Big Mac and Cheerilee under the influence of the love potion / poison in MLP:FIM.] [Dove: I honestly don’t know. That final line about Sophia suddenly not being hungry when he smiles at her could go either way.]
The next day in assembly, Mr Siegel announces that each couple is about to have kids. No, Nydick is not at the helm of a mandatory tween breeding [Raven: Tweeding!] programme. (I spent ages trying to figure out a way to word that that wouldn’t attract CP hunters, unlike Raven’s wording which would be hilarious but get us on some kind of a list.) They are being given eggs to represent babies. I kind of wish this would get revisited with the new battery operated babies who cry and need changing and everything. That would be awesome. [Wing: Terrifying. I’m so glad I never had to do a parenting project or even a marriage project.]
Mr Siegel explains that each couple will be called to the front and asked a question. They have a few seconds to discuss and decide the answer, and if they don’t answer they lose marks. Apparently every single couple will get a different question. That’s smart, it stops them prepping in advance, but this is the entire middle school, so that’s a lot of questions to come up with.
Rick and Jessica are the first couple called. Mr Siegel tells them their egg is a boy, and he wants to know what they will name him. I’m going to quote the whole thing:
“Let’s name it Steven,” Jessica suggested to Rick.
“Steven!” Rick groaned. “That’s your brother’s name. Don’t you have any imagination?”
“Well, then, you think of something,” Jessica snapped.
“I like Fido,” Rick said.
“That’s a dog’s name.”
“Well, I’d rather have a dog than a baby,” Rick said with a shrug.
“I’d rather have a dog than a husband,” Jessica retorted.
Practically the whole audience burst into laughter except Mr. Seigel.
“Your time is up,” Mr. Seigel said. “What’s the baby’s name?”
“Steven,” Jessica answered.
“Fido,” Rick said at the same time.
“What was that?” Mr. Seigel asked.
“Steven!” Jessica insisted.
“Fido,” Rick argued, laughing.
“I must ask you two to reach a decision. If you don’t, your grade will be marked down five points.”
Jessica and Rick looked at each other in astonishment. “But that’s not fair,” Jessica protested.
“Life’s not fair,” Mr. Seigel answered calmly. “Now please choose a name. If you can’t agree, you must compromise.”
Jessica opened her mouth and shot a look at Rick, as if daring him to say a word. “His name is Steven,” she said firmly. She saw Rick’s eyes begin to gleam with mischief. “Steven Fido,” she added quickly, before Rick could speak up again and blow things for them both.
It feels like in this moment, Jessica has the measure of Rick. It doesn’t last long, but it’s pretty awesome. Mr Siegel hands Jessica the egg (not sure if this is sexism or pragmatism) and tells her that they will lose 5 points if the egg breaks.
Rick offers to take the egg, saying she’s pretty clumsy, after all, she made a huge mess yesterday at lunch. Jessica’s hands clench in fury and Steven Fido dies only moments after receiving his name.
Mr Siegel hands her a handkerchief and suggests they learn from their mistakes – in this case, when parents can’t control their tempers, the children suffer. Jessica sees that even Rick looks a bit chagrined at this. Mr Siegel hands Rick a second egg and asks the new baby’s name. Steven Fido the Second.
I feel like the ghostie is having a great time with these two.
Over with Sophia, she feels for Jessica, but is delighted that she and Patrick get on so well. When they’re called up, they’re asked where their baby (girl) will go to nursery school. Sophia wants her to go to Sweet Valley Nursery School, but doesn’t want to come across as pushy, so they both spend their minute complimenting each other’s cleverness and saying “I’ll go with whatever you want.” Mr Siegel notes that their kid will never go to nursery because her parents can’t make a decision. [Wing: I … I am actually liking Mr Siegel. Who is this slightly competent SVMS teacher?]
Janet and Randy are called next, and as the two couples pass, Sophia overhears Janet snap that Randy is to let her do the talking, she has no problem making decisions.
Patrick comments to Sophia that Janet’s horrible. Sophia sticks by her decision to do and say nothing throughout this project.
While the couples buckle down on their budgets, things are not going well for Jessica, obv. They have a list of jobs and the average salary. Jessica is going to be an actress or a model (which prompts Rick to say something about laying off the sweets – I guess all those books of bodyshaming others has completely made me not care that he’s doing it to Jessica. I love her, but she’s the worst) and Rick is going to be a rock star. Their constant bickering attracts Mr Siegel, who tells Jessica off. And I sympathise a bit here. Rick seems to start everything and she seems to get it in the neck when she’s responding.
Mr Siegel asks where their baby is. Rick points to his breast pocket. When Mr Siegel moves on, Rick needles Jessica again and she swipes him with a rolled up pamphlet. Right in the egg. (“Right in the egg”? There’s a sentence that really shouldn’t make sense.) [Raven: That’s what Hitler shouted whenever anyone kicked him in the nads. Well, nad.]
[Wing: But she’s just living her Jessica “Bodies Buried in the Mercandy Backyard” Wakefield truth.]
And Saint Elizabeth isn’t having any fun either. She’s finding it really hard to budget. She thought it would be exactly like her allowance, which is, as far as I can tell, generous enough to allow her to save all the time, which means that Alice and Ned probably pay for her necessities. Yeah, presh, it’s a bit shocking to find out that you have to pay for water and leccy, and all that shit you take for granted, right?
She tries to get Bruce engaged, but he says it’s not really his thing. I bet it’s not. He’s got a strong career of getting girls drunk and doing PG things to them without their consent with no repercussions ahead of him. Elizabeth says why doesn’t he come over tonight and Ned will help them. Bruce is shocked that a dad would have time to help his kids. I am too. We haven’t seen Ned do anything with these twins since… uh… Ithig? (Oh, and some dad jokes in The Great Boyfriend Switch.)
After school, Bruce comes over and is aghast that Ned is wearing an apron. (As am I. This is new.) Apparently he likes to cook, and Alice is “out with clients” (uh-huh) so he’s cooking tonight.
Cut to two hours later, and Bruce is fucking OVERJOYED with the concept of budgeting. He would happily do anything Ned says. NED IS FUCKING AWESOME, OK. Elizabeth thinks to herself that Bruce pretty much did the budget himself, but it’s nice to see him engaged. Ned offers some Very Important Advice at the end of their session:
His face was suddenly serious. “This is a very worthwhile project,” he said to Elizabeth and Bruce. “Marriage and children aren’t easy. But it’s just like everything else in life—law school, basketball—the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. And there’s nothing in the world more important than your family.”
Bruce takes this to heart. He tells Elizabeth that Ned is the best human ever. And we get a bit of insight here, Bruce’s dad tends to leave all the kid-interaction to his mother, and he travels a lot. He says he likes his dad, but he doesn’t really know him. When Bruce becomes a dad (probably in about two years), he plans to be much more like Ned. (So… largely absence except when the plot requires?) He asks Elizabeth if he can take home the manual Mr Siegel gave them. Family Man!Bruce is now in charge. [Raven: I actually felt sad for Bruce here. Bless him. Although I supect that empathy won’t last for long, given the vaguely spoilerific comments about his conduct that we get from Dove every time he appears in her recaps.]
[Wing: Yeah, I’m feeling similar sympathy for him that I felt when we started getting glimpses into Lila’s home life, but I love Lila and Dove has me pretty solidly in the Hating Bruce Club, so I don’t like feeling this sympathy. But, and I’m shocked I’m about to say this about a Sweet Valley character, people are nuanced and you can feel sympathy for one situation even when that person is terrible in all other situations. Do I think this is intentional for Bruce? NOPE.]
Jessica gets home from Rick’s absolutely furious. Her budget is filled (in the “necessity” column) with allowances for: a two storey snake atrium, parasailing lessons, concert tickets, motorcycles. If you assume rent, utilities or baby care made that list, then you’ve got a higher expectation of Rick than most. Elizabeth finds it hilarious, it sounds like the same list Jessica would make. Jessica grudgingly admits that’s true, but at least she realises that it won’t impress Mr Siegel. [Wing: (a) Hardcore ship Jessica and Rick now. (b) That looks like my kind of budget list.]
The next morning Sophia finds Jessica still desperately working on her budget. She asks why Rick’s not helping, and Jessica says that Rick is no help with anything, then adds she supposes Sophia’s is all done and ready. Sophia explains not really, because she asks what Patrick thinks, he counters with whatever she thinks is best, and no decision gets made. This raises Jessica’s eyebrows. She says that’s weird, Sophia’s usually quite outspoken. You know, like Janet Howell, but not quite as bossy. This just stiffens Sophia’s resolve to be a wet rag with absolutely no opinions whatsoever. Embarrassed, she changes the subject back to Jessica’s budget, and they’re both surprised that it’s really good. Jessica starts laughing as she realises that she had to figure it out because she couldn’t get anyone else to do it. [Wing: God, you could be funny and creative and murderous and damn smart if only Elizabeth and others didn’t do everything for you.]
Jessica rushes to Mr Siegel’s class. She hopes that Rick will be so impressed with her math skillz that he’ll stop calling her “airhead”. She runs in late, and there’s only one seat free and it’s next to Rick. She heads for it and he says don’t sit there. She’s so fed up with his nonsense she ignores his request. And of course, Steven Fido was on the seat next to him. [Raven: Why the hell did her think the fucking CHAIR was the best place for the egg? Idiot.] [Dove: The dude is baiting her hard. And I still think it’s funny.] [Wing: So … can they end up in negative points for how many eggs Jessica kills?]
They’re interrupted by a knock at the front door. It’s Bruce. He’s read the manual. Twice. And now he’s made a list of all the things a husband and father have to do. He’s done the budget, he’s done some reading, and now it’s time to spend time with the children. Elizabeth asks if he means the egg, and Bruce tells her to take the project more seriously, it’s not an egg, it’s a baby. He then produces a shoe box egg baby carrier he made himself and says he’d like to take the baby home since Elizabeth has had him all week. Then he spots the egg sitting on the bookcase and leaps forward protectively.
Bruce dashed toward the bookcase. “I had a feeling something like this might happen. The manual said that it’s almost impossible to anticipate all the things that can go wrong if fathers don’t stay on their toes.” He picked up the egg and cradled it possessively in his palm. “I sure am surprised at you, Elizabeth. How could you leave the baby lying around like that? Don’t you realize how fragile it is? That seems pretty irresponsible.”
I don’t blame him for being cross. It’s amazing Steven didn’t eat their baby, shell and all.
[Wing: I’m pretty sure in the BSC book with a similar premise someone makes a shoe-box home for the egg. I found it charming then and I find it charming now. Damn it, ghostwriter, you are the only one to make Bruce even a little palatable in these series.]
As Bruce moves, one of the straps on the carrier comes loose and he needs to fix it. I’m not sure why he doesn’t tell himself off for making something not safe enough for his baby. Elizabeth suggests that he keep the egg in his pocket. He calls Elizabeth irresponsible, and Elizabeth is slighted. Nobody has ever called her irresponsible before. She is Saint fucking Wakefield. She snatches the carrier off him and takes it into the kitchen to repair it. She staples the handle back on and swings it to test it. It knocks the egg and it rolls off the counter and smashes.
She can’t face telling Bruce because he’s being such a know-it-all (Oh, Elizabeth, look in the mirror), so she teases off the pink sticker and grabs an egg out of the fridge as a replacement.
Elizabeth has now covered up the murder of a baby. TO THE MERCANDY BACKYARD!
Over with Team Faff, they’re shopping for the meal they’re to prepare. All couples have a voucher for the local grocery store (Sweet Valley Groceries?), they have to buy, plan, prepare and eat a meal together, and then clean up. [Wing: I’m shocked that the school thought to give them vouchers rather than just having their parents pay for it.]
Team Faff can’t agree on anything. Sophia suggests spaghetti, Patrick agrees in a very neutral tone, so Sophia guesses he doesn’t like it and asks what he thinks, he says he’ll go with her decision. She worries he’s agreeing to placate her, so makes up something about Mr Siegel thinking spaghetti is too easy. Patrick suggests pork chops. Sophia hates chops. She says she loves them though. Patrick reads the situation and says they don’t have to make them. They decide to put off the decision until later. Well, providing the other person his happy with the decision not to make a decision.
Team Jeck (or would you prefer Ricica?) have no problem speaking their mind, but aren’t getting on any better. Rick suggests: dog food, frozen pizza or microwave hot dogs, followed by gum balls. Jessica snaps that they need to get it together, because otherwise they’ll fail. Jessica suggests macaroni and cheese, but gets no answer. She looks for him but there’s no sign. She decides that a salad will make it a healthy balanced meal. Uh… macaroni and cheese is healthy, is it? And you have the audacity to shame Lois for bad meal choices? Actually, this explains a lot. The Wakefields have that magic metabolism where they can eat anything they want and stay perfect, so they assume they’re on a healthy diet. Hence all the shaming of people who eat exactly the same but don’t have a speedy metabolism. Fuck the Wakefields. She decides to make egg custard as a desert. [Raven: I know that’s just so she can smash some more eggs, but damn, egg custard isn’t exactly a quick recipe… as a desert, baked egg custard takes at least an hour to cook, and then needs much longer to cool. They have an hour in the kicthen to prepare, eat and clean up the meal? Not happening.] [Dove: For those who missed the subtext, Raven has taken up baking. It’s marvellous.] As she reaches for a carton of eggs, Rick leaps out from nowhere and yells “BOO!”
She nearly jumps out of her skin, and obviously drops the eggs. [Wing: Can we count all of these as child deaths?]
A clerk comes over and yells at her for fooling around, and says he’s been warned that loads of middle school kids will be coming in (from a retail point of view, I really pity everyone working there, because these kids are universally asshats). Rick immediately takes responsibility and offers to clean up the mess. Jessica gets on with the shopping.
By the time she’s at the checkout, he’s done cleaning up. He apologises for getting her into trouble. They manage to have a fairly nice conversation, where they both admit that they’re constantly in trouble, and it’s quite pleasant. Until they’re asked for the voucher. It turns out that Rick has lost it. He thinks it’s funny, and never mind, Jessica can just get a new one tomorrow, then come back and do the shopping again. He’s got basketball practice. Jessica counters that she has a Unicorn meeting, but Rick says that’s not important, it’s just silly girls gossiping.
Just FYI, I do not appreciate what Rick is saying to Jessica. I’m appreciating that Jessica has got stuck with this. She has shirked for 77 books now. It’s nice to see someone glibly treat her the way she treats others.
In anger, Jessica slams her purse down on the counter.
Guess what was in there?
Elizabeth starts slamming things around, and Bruce chides her for her temper, and starts quoting the manual. Elizabeth regrets ever trying to get him engaged on the project.
Sophia talks to Sarah on the phone about the project. Sarah hates working with Jerry McAllister, he’s really klutzy and argues over everything. Sophia sighs in response and says, “I am depressed. I have the perfect husband, and I just wish I had somebody I could yell at.”
Sophia wants to ask her mom about how to deal with speaking up without being obnoxious, but before she can ask the question, her mom gets a call from Mr Thomas. Mrs Rizzo claims to love Chinese food, which Sophia knows she hates. She tells Sophia after the call that sometimes you have to compromise. Sophia still translates this as “have no opinions and never make a decision”.
[Wing: Yes, compromise. No, lying about liking something. Come the fuck, Mrs Rizzo.]
We skip to the kitchens where meals are being prepared.
Elizabeth is not allowed to do anything. Bruce chides her every time she tries to help and she hasn’t managed to do anything for this couple meal. [Wing: Percent I believe that Bruce can cook anything: ZERO.] Bruce quotes the manual and suggests she try conversing about “current events, or books you’ve enjoyed reading”. Those are probably her default topics, but Bruce is absolutely insufferable. And also it’s kind of sweet that he’s so taken with family meal times. Believe me, I hate Bruce and I won’t woobify him ever (Lila gets all the “poor little rich girl” tropes for me), but it probably says a lot that this is a brand new concept for him, and he’s throwing himself at it whole-heartedly, even if he gets it all wrong.
It probably also says a lot about Bruce that his first instinct when being a “good guy” is to override any woman in the room, and completely ignore everything she says. Believe me, Bruce, I will never like you. Literally never.
Elizabeth is allowed to set the table, and Bruce corrects everything she does. Elizabeth realises this is probably how Jessica feels when Elizabeth is being a perfectionist. I find this nearly as satisfying as Jessica’s situation, but Bruce really creeps me out.
When they sit down to eat, he says he added spinach because it’s so healthy. He asks if Elizabeth likes spinach (no) and promptly ignores her response and slops a gigantic helping onto Elizabeth’s plate.
“Don’t think of it as spinach. Think of it as a source of iron. According to the manual, women need to be especially careful to get enough iron in their diet.”
COME ON ELIZABETH! THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO TALK ABOUT YOUR FAVOURITE TOPIC: MENSTRUATION! AS AN ADDED BONUS, THIS IS ONE TOPIC HE’LL BE TOO GROSSED OUT TO HAVE RESEARCHED.
(Though I have no doubt that if he had the faintest clue about it, he’s probably try to mansplain periods to her.)
He babbles about the family man stuff, then asks Elizabeth not to tell his friends about his new change, because he doesn’t think they’d understand the importance of family yet.
Mr Siegel comes in and compliments them on everything they’ve done. Bruce asks him to join them, but Mr Siegel declines. He loathes spinach. Bruce tries his “think of it as a source of iron”, but Mr Siegel shuts that down fast. When he leaves, Bruce says he’s going to copy the article about iron for Mr Siegel, because it said most people don’t get enough iron – or calcium, for that matter. He’ll remind Elizabeth every day to drink milk.
“Gee, thanks,” she said sarcastically. “What would I do without you?”
Bruce smiled and nodded. “No problem. That’s what husbands are for. Now don’t forget to eat that spinach.”
That did it.
Before she even knew what she was doing, Elizabeth picked up her plate and threw it on the floor. “I told you!” she shouted. “I hate spinach! Why don’t you listen to anything I say?”
Bruce’s mouth fell open and a piece of squash fell out. He blinked several times. Then he calmly put the piece of squash back in his mouth.
“You know,” he said conversationally, “I’ll bet you don’t get enough sleep. I read in the manual about people who don’t get enough sleep.”
I’m never getting married, Elizabeth thought, gritting her teeth. Never, never, never.
Bwahahahaha. Also, nobody in their right mind should marry Bruce. I think it would take a turn for the sinister very quickly.
And we’re back to Team Faff. *sigh* They’re on their third trip to the grocery store, and they’re still on spaghetti for a choice. They’ve discussed a whole range of options, but since nobody made a decision, they kept looping. Sophia finally snaps that she’s sick of waiting for him to make a decision. He snaps back that he’s waiting for her. And if you think that cleared the air, you’re a mook. Now they’re pissed off at each other and still not making a decision, but I suppose at least this time it’s passive-aggressive, rather than merely passive. So… progress, I guess? This is followed by more anger and them both storming out of the grocery store. [Raven: I picture them storming out of the store, but their dramatic exit being rendered impotent as it’s impossible to slam a swishy electric window-door thing that automatically opens as you approach it. Also, most stores only have one entrace / exit, so they’ll have to stom out together, side by side.]
Jessica and Rick are also having fun. Everything is going wrong. Rick is doing fuck all. Jessica is not organised so everything’s burning or boiling away. Oh, and the oven’s on fire. [Wing: Everything about this is wonderful.] They bin the burned noodles and the blackened bread and start over. Jessica grabs the eggs to start the custard, but Rick decides to play up again. He pretends to be Mr Siegel evaluating their meal, swapping between the roles of Mr Siegel and Jessica. Jessica notes that he does a pretty good impression of her mannerisms, which is flattering, even if the teasing is not. Rick’s schtick is that they’re making earthworm stew with dog biscuits for desert. Unfortunately Mr Siegel catches them and isn’t amused, not only are they pissing about, they’ve wasted food and made a mess. He tells them to start over and he’ll be back in 20 minutes.
Jessica goes straight back to the egg custard, and she is furiously cracking eggs and she doesn’t register Rick’s yell until it’s too late.
Jessica explodes in rage, yelling that she doesn’t understand why she’s ruining the project, her clothes, her life, and why does he hate her so much and—
—and Rick kisses her.
And fuck anyone who tells me not to, this is my ship. This is the ship I’ve waited to get to. I like this far more than Jessica/Aaron. I like this kind of relationship for Jessica. It keeps her on her toes, and stops her from pulling this shit with other humans.
[Wing: I’m going to be heartbroken when we never see this ship again, won’t I? UGH SERIES I WANT THIS SHIP TO GO ON FOREVER.]
Sophia is not having such a romantic time. She thinks marriage is a no-win situation. If you speak your mind, you end up screaming; if you don’t, nothing gets done. If she and Patrick can’t make their marriage work, nobody can. *sigh* Am I supposed to care? I don’t.
When she gets home, everyone is celebrating. Mr Thomas and Mrs Rizzo are getting married. Everyone is delighted, except for Sophia who spits out, “Marriage stinks!” and runs out of the room. [Wing: Oh, Sophia, honey. You can do better than this.]
On Friday lunch, Rick politely asks how Jessica’s enjoying her lunch. She politely replies. It’s all very polite, and dull. [Wing: WHAT NO BRING BACK THE SNARK.] Everyone around them is arguing to the death. There are hills all over the cafeteria and Sweet Valley Middle School students are willing to fucking die on them. But not Rick and Jessica. They’re being polite. Rick is being romantic, by saying that despite everything the meal was great, because of Jessica. Silence falls. Jessica tells herself you don’t need conversation when you have romance.
On Saturday, the Unicorns gather to bitch about the project. Jessica is desperate to tell her story, but everyone’s so busy telling their stories that nobody listens to her. [Raven: This section contains probably my favourite Lila exchange of all time…
“Well, you are a little sloppy sometimes,” Tamara said.
“Sloppy! Me?” [said Lila.]
“Yeah. Remember that time Ms. Luster told you your book report was unreadable because it was covered with peanut butter?”
“It was not peanut butter,” Lila said indignantly. “It was paté.”
[Wing: Never change. #teamlila]
She later meets Rick for ice cream, and she hopes that he’ll tease her about getting fat. She starts thinking up comebacks, but he politely asks what ice cream she wants. And endless politeness follows.
He calls her on Sunday night. They have nothing to say to each other. Rick says he’s thinking of her. It’s soooo romantic. But it’s also really embarrassing. She realises she misses Rick the asshat.
Sophia has to have a talk with her mother about her outburst. (Uh… the outburst that happened on Thursday?) Mrs Rizzo asks for an explanation, she thought Sophia liked Mr Thomas. Sophia explains her whole conundrum, ending with “I’m talking about marriage. Take it from me, Mama, it’s a bad idea. I should know. I’ve been married for two whole weeks.”
And that’s how it ends. No resolve. Apparently Mama Rizzo didn’t wade in to explain that if two twelve year old morons can’t find compromise and only land on “scream your feelings” or “say nothing ever”, the same is not true of two adults who’ve been married before – one happily until death, the other having the sense to divorce when it stopped being good.
We cut to the final few minutes of the project, where each couple is in the final minutes of their work before the project ends. Everyone around Jessica and Rick are arguing. Lila and Todd are snapping over Lila’s inability to add and Todd’s obsessive neatness. Rick says he’s glad they don’t argue like that anymore, he never wants to fight with her ever again. Also, she’s really cute when she bites her thumbnail.
Jessica is repelled by such adoration and tries to move on through the project. She tries to provoke Rick by bigging up her work on the budget. She just wants him to tease her again. After several attempts, Rick instead becomes angry with her, and shouts at her that she’s showing off and putting him down. As their tempers rise, as do the tempers around them.
Elizabeth is surprised that even the geeks are learning to fight back – Randy Mason snaps to Janet that the only thing he’s learned from this project is that he hates being married to her. Elizabeth asks Bruce if she can at least look at the summary he’s done. Bruce mansplains that she can trust him to do a good job of reflecting both of their experiences.
Mr Siegel calls that there are only five more minutes left.
Beside them, more arguments break out. Bruce jumps at the raised voices, and knocks the carrier off the table, spilling the egg out. Elizabeth and Bruce stare in horror. But the egg didn’t break. Bruce wants to know why not. Because it was hard boiled. He assumes that Elizabeth didn’t trust him with an egg, so she boiled it. The manual says couples are supposed to trust each other. She hits back that the manual says couples are supposed to listen too.
Bruce doesn’t like being told that even his good persona sucks donkey balls, so tears up his summary in a fit of pique and yells that he’s never getting married.
His raised voice sets off the whole room. Everyone yells that they’re never getting married either.
Janet snaps that she doesn’t care about the grade, she’s not finishing the stupid project.
Then the eggs start flying.
I can only assume…
Randy Mason raises his hand and politely explains that you can’t just pair up two strangers and tell them they’re married and expect it to work.
Mr Siegel asks if anyone thinks they did well? Does everyone think they failed?
Everyone does think that. Mr Siegel tells them they all got an A, and they can tear up their reports if they want. The point of the project was to get them to take marriage seriously, and to understand that rushing in without thinking could lead to demonstrable unhappiness. [Raven: Pfft, what a lot of old toss. He obviously realised the project was an ill-prepared shambles, and decided he couldn’t give a screaming monkeyfuck about any of it. So he waves his cock about and gives everyone a A. Nice way to shirk all responsibility and avoid a cubic fuckton of marking, amirite?] [Dove: Also earlier in the book he claims that he thought it up. There are enough books and movies to prove that Mr Seigel is not the originator of this project, so I’m agreeing with Raven here. That was an asspull of a conclusion when he realised he had completely lost control of an entire middle school to the point where they were baying for blood.] [Wing: I’m going to break from the pack and say I buy it as the intended result. It is really the more dramatic version of a lot of the resolutions to similar plots.]
Brooke asks if he’s saying that marriage doesn’t work. He says no, but it’s not just a romantic gesture, both partners have to be clear about what they want and how to work together, etc.
Sophia tears up as she realises that just because she and Mr Faff can’t function, doesn’t mean two completely different adults couldn’t have a happy marriage. She suddenly gets excited that Sarah will be her sister. And she’d have a father too. (Uh, it’s kind of a jump to go from mom’s boyfriend of x months to “dad”, but sure, Sophia, if you feel you’re both there, go for it.)
She and Patrick apologise to each other. I still don’t care.
Elizabeth explains to Bruce what really happened with the egg, and admits she didn’t want to prove Bruce right when he’d been hunting for a reason to call her irresponsible. Bruce says that since everyone always calls her responsible, he was working double-time to prove he could too, just like Saint Ned. Elizabeth says that Ned doesn’t baby Alice the way Bruce babied her. I bet he does. Alice is off her tits on gin all day every day. Bruce decides to go back to being cool instead of a dad. And tells her to remember what he said. About calcium and iron.
Jessica sees Lila nicely say that it’s a shame Todd didn’t get to use his folder, because it’s super neat. She’s not even being snide, she means it. This makes Jessica think she can make up with Rick, but he’s striding angrily out of the room. So, no.
The next day at lunch, Jessica can’t wait to sit with the Unicorns again. Except… Lila’s going to sit with Todd because she wants to hear the end of a story about his cousin, it’s apparently “hilarious”. Randy Mason is at the Unicorner, and he and Janet are arguing about the most important scientific invention – but they’re having fun with it. Jessica asks what’s going on, and Ellen says that she thinks they’re addicted to arguing with each other. Then Winston comes over and Ellen shares her brownie with him. Mandy asks how Rick is, and Jessica snaps that the project is over.
Then Rick wanders over and comments that she sure does eat a lot of starch for someone who wants to be a model. Mandy tells him to stop being a dick, the project is over. Jessica and Rick don’t care, they’re grinning at each other.
[Wing: YES THE UNICORNS ARE DOWN WITH THE SNARK. I love them so in this moment.]
Over with Team Boring, they’re noting the odd friendships that have sprung up. And then they zero in on the one that didn’t. Cammi sits alone. She is friendless. Maria says that Cammi and Denny’s project was a bust because she got really anxious about being contacted outside of school.
(Teen jock. Shy nerd. She doesn’t want him to contact her without witnesses. Clearly it’s her fault.)
Elizabeth feels her PERSON IN NEED sense tingling. Shit must be done and Saint Elizabeth is on it. But thankfully, that’s not my problem. Have at it, Raven.
I love this trope so much. I enjoy the book too. It’s one of the rare books where I’m not wanting to skip the Elizabeth stuff. It’s really satisfying to see both Wakefields experience life as the other twin as well – and how much they hate it.
The downside? Sophia and Patrick, obviously. I would have much rather had a third story of either Lila/Todd or Ellen/Winston. Even Janet/Randy would have been better. I can understand why they didn’t do more than one of those stories (snooty girl finds she actually has fun with geeky boy) but to miss out all of them was a massive waste of opportunity. Especially when the story they chose was so boring.
And I’m going to fish for fic. If anyone wants to write/has already written some fanfic about the couples we didn’t see, please do so/link me.
[Raven: This was a fun book. The constant egg death was funny, albeit a little contrived (Rick’s repeated insistance in placing the egg in perilous positions wore a bit thin). The writing was sassy, and the end scene was cute. As Dove mentioned, having the twins being out-twinned by their respective “spouses” was excellent. I hated the way the entire project was just one big Serious Business Message, but I guess I am a little biased toward the teachers at that FUCKING school.]
[Wing: I loved, loved, LOVED Rick and Jessica, the hilarious twin role switch, the tiny bits we get to see of the other couples, the snark, oh god, the snark. Did I mention I loved Rick and Jessica? Because I did.]
I am Dove (she/her). I am: Team Jessica (Sweet Valley); Team Bad Guy (Point Horror); Team Geiger (Making Out); Team Nina/Lucas (Making Out); and I am the voice of a claymation cow named Daisy, and I was in an advert for Fairy Liquid in the 80s.