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Chapter One

I know what Professor Albany is going to say before he opens his mouth. I've been babysitting for the Albanys for about a month, and every time he gets ready to take me home, he says the same thing.

I gather up my books and papers, watching him. He's kind of short for his age, and I'm tall for mine, so we almost see eye to eye. Like always, he's wearing one of those preppy outfits-blue oxford cloth button down collar shirt and gray slacks. To me anyway, he looks like a newscaster instead of a U. of C. professor. Most of the people around here look more rumpled. As soon as Mrs. Albany pays me, he turns to her and says, "I better hurry and take Blue home before they tear down her building."

He always says it like he thinks it's some kind of joke, and laughs to prove it. It's true my building's really old and my parents are worried it's going to get torn down, but I don't think it's funny. Anymore than when he started calling me Bruise. See, he said, Schwartz, which happens to be my last name, comes from the German word for black. So, like my name is really Black and Blue -like a bruise. He laughed a real lot over that one. Luckily, he forgot about it pretty fast. Too bad he can't do the same with his cracks about my building.

But I am not going to let it get to me. I need all the babysitting jobs I can get. My family has zero extra money. The only way I am going to ever get any good cooking tools, those black shoes with the bows at Marshall Field's or a computer is if I get the money myself. And there is everyday spending money for things like after-school pizza at the Medici and bus fare downtown.

I put the money in my school bag and take my jacket off the chair. That's when something really weird happens. When I go to put it on, out of nowhere this gold bracelet falls out and hits the floor. I look at it totally surprised and wonder where it came from. The Albanys both stare at it, then at me.

"That's my bracelet," Mrs. Albany says.

"Blue, do you want to explain?" Professor Albany says, looking at me with one of those raised eyebrow expressions.

"Huh? What do you mean explain?" I say confused.

The bracelet is still on the floor like some kind of tiny gold sparkly worm.

"Explain what you're doing with my wife's jewelry?" His mouth goes into this phony kind of smile, and his voice sounds sing-songy like when people talk to little kids. "I know it must be tempting to see nice things..."

Then it hits me like a brick what he's getting at. It must have looked like it came from my jacket. He thinks I was trying to steal it. It feels like my insides just dropped to the floor. Is he crazy? Me, steal something? Never. I have to make them understand there's some kind of mistake here.

I'm so totally shocked. I tell them twice I have no idea how the bracelet got there. They have to believe me. "You can't think I took it?" My voice sounds squeaky, and my cheeks feel hot.

"I probably dropped it in the chair when I was rushing to get ready, and it just snagged on Blue's jacket," Mrs. Albany says picking it up.

"That must be what happened," I say quickly.

Professor Albany agrees, but something in the way he says it makes it seem like he isn't sure. "Okay, Blue, we'll give you the benefit of the doubt, this time."

Even though I'm angry at being accused, I'm still relieved. I can't afford to lose any customers. For once, I'm even glad when he goes back to his bad jokes about my building as he drives me home.

"Oh, good, it's still standing," he says in pretend surprise, stopping in front.

I go through the front hall, which is lit by a naked light bulb. There's no buzz door or carpet on the stairs, but it feels like home. I storm up the stairs, still upset the Albanys could think I would steal something.

As I pass Mrs. Bliss's door, it opens.

"Blue, I hear Chef Randy is making a Pfannkuchen tonight. It's some kind of giant baked pancake," she says, peeking out. She has white hair and eyes so blue I sometimes think she wears those colored contact lenses. We almost always watch Chef Randy together.

The TV is already tuned to the cooking channel when I go in. We don't have cable, so the only way I can watch it is at Mrs. Bliss's. I usually love to watch Chef Randy. But after what just happened, it's hard to care that he has all the ingredients lined up in those neat little bowls. Or that he's wearing a white apron with a hand towel hanging over it. I'm staring at the screen but not really seeing all his great cooking equipment. Well, maybe I do notice that blue KitchenAid mixer. But my mind keeps going back to what Professor Albany said about giving me the benefit of the doubt this time. What if something like this happens again? It gives me the creeps to think about it

I try to make myself pay attention to Chef Randy. He's using his super powerful stainless steel blender for the batter. He takes one of his many spatulas to scrape the little bowls full of flour, eggs, sugar and milk into the blender. He even has a bowl for the vanilla extract. Real vanilla extract. That's the only kind he uses. Then he takes another bowl with a chunk of butter and scrapes it into a pan. He must have tons of those bowls.

Whenever I cook, I have to keep stopping to measure stuff and then put it in the mixing bowl. It would be so nice to be able to line everything up the way he does and then just keep adding the ingredients. It would be nice to have one of those great electric mixers too, and all those neat spatulas. All my tools are just make-do. One of my goals in life is to become a successful souffle maker. So far my specialties are simpler things like oatmeal cookies and pop corn balls.

Blue Schwartz and
Nefertiti's Necklace
by Betty Hechtman

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