The Nicholls family has just moved into the Addison's old house, and Claudia is excited to sit for them. She's met them before, and liked the boys (Joey, 7, and Nate, 5). Mr. Nicholls is another story; he was friendly enough to Claud, but pretty pushy with his sons. The same pattern holds true when Claudia arrives for her sitting job, and she starts to notice some odd behavior in the boys. They're much more concerned with keeping things tidy than most kids their age usually are, and they're unsure about going next door to play. Claud also thinks that they just plain look worried. She forgets about their behavior until the next time she sits for them. She brings along her Kid Kit that time, and when Nate puts a tiny tear into one of the books, he starts crying like he'd done something really wrong. Claudia assures him that everything is okay, but wonders what's going on behind the scenes. Did they have a bad experience with another sitter, or did she herself do something to make them so ill at ease? Claud herds the boys into the kitchen for a snack of celery and peanut butter, but before they can finish, Mr. Nicholls comes home. Claudia had left the peanut butter on the counter, and when Mr. Nicholls sees it there, he blows his top. Claudia admits it was her, and the yelling stops. He tells her it's no problem, and that he thought one of his "dumb, slobby sons" did it. Claud can't believe what she's hearing, and she refuses a ride home. She also realizes that the boys aren't scared of her; they're scared of their dad.
The next sitting job is more or less uneventful. Claudia spills her grape juice, and the boys go nuts trying obliterate any trace of it, and she finds out later that neither of them is allowed to have a stuffed animal; their dad thinks they're babyish. Next time Claud is at the Nicholls," the boys are being punished because Joey touched his dad's briefcase. He didn't take anything from it, he didn't break it, and he didn't even move it. He just touched it, and because of that, both boys are being punished with lots and lots of chores. They're just finishing up the garage when Mr. Nicholls goes home. Claudia offers to show him all the hard work they did, but all Mr. Nicholls can see is the mop they left out to dry. He pays Claudia and hurries her out of the house. She remembers that she left her jacket in the boys' room, so she runs back to get it. She hears Mr. Nicholls yelling at the boys, and then....he slaps one of them. Claudia doesn't see it happen, so she's not 100% sure that that's what she heard, but when she's in view of the garage again, she notices that Joey's cheek is red and that Mr. Nicholls seems awfully eager to hide both boys from her view.
Claud is obviously freaked out by what she saw and heard, so she calls an emergency BSC meeting that evening. Her friends encourage her to talk to her mom as soon as she gets home from work. Mrs. Kishi decides that the first step should be for her to talk to Mrs. Nicholls, who also works at the library. Unfortunately, it doesn't do any good; Mrs. Nicholls just denies that there's a problem, and then calls Kristy that night and cancels all her upcoming BSC jobs. Not long after, Claudia gets a call from Erica Blumberg, Nate and Joey's new sitter. When she arrived at the house that afternoon, she was told that the boys were being punished and needed to stay in their room alone that afternoon. After Mr. Nicholls left, though, she heard crying from upstairs and went to investigate. She found Joey with a black eye, and Nate with bruises on his arm. That's when she called Claud. Claudia quickly calls her mother at the library, and Mrs. Kishi tells her that she's headed over to the Nicholls' to get the boys out of there. Claud goes over there as well and arrives just as Mrs. Kishi and Mrs. Nicholls arrive. Unfortunately, Mr. Nicholls is also there. They get everyone into the Kishi car, and (after dropping Erica off at home) take Mrs. Nicholls and the boys to Mr. Kishi's office in Stamford. Mrs. Nicholls has a sister in New York, and they go to stay with her while Mr. Nicholls gets the help he needs.
Thoughts and Things
- I remember reading somewhere that Ann didn't want to do a child abuse book, but I think it was a good idea. After all, lots of girls took up baby-sitting because of this series, and knowing what to do in a possible abuse situation probably would have been good for them to know.
- Thank the Lord that the BSC involved a parent as soon as they knew something was going on!
- The most heart-breaking part of this book for me was the image of poor Joey and Nate having their stuffed animals thrown away by their awful father. I'm so glad Claudia sent them new ones at the end. :)
- If this is the old Addison house, why are Joey and Nate sharing a room? Corrie and Sean had separate ones.