Disclaimer:

I don't own any characters from the books.

Author's Note:

The Jennie McGrady Series is my most favorite series in the entire world! If you haven't read them, I most certainly recommend all of these literary treasures (There are 15 in the whole series, so if you get hooked, be sure to set aside an appropriate amount of reading-time LOL).

Anyways, I wanted this category to show up on the site, so I decided to start it off with a little one-shot (told in first person POV, so it'll be a little different). It begins in the middle of the first chapter of the first book. I decided to put a little twist on the story, to see how Jennie's reaction to Michael may have been different if she had known about him before he suddenly showed up on her doorstep. So, here goes and I hope you will enjoy it.

(NOTE: The storyline isn't too much different from the original)


Mom invited me to have tea with her, but I shook my head firmly knowing exactly what she would say. I didn't want to talk about it. Actually, that wasn't entirely true. I did want to talk about it. I wanted to talk about Dad and I wanted to talk about Gram's disappearance, but I didn't feel I could talk about it with her and I wasn't in the mood to try. "Um… can't right now. I'm soaked to the skin and…. I have a ton of homework to do." The second part was a flat out lie, I had finished my term paper earlier that day, but I knew the 'soaked to the skin' comment wouldn't have bought me enough time.

She was persistent. "Jennie, please. Just a few minutes. This is very important."

I wanted to refuse again, but I didn't. She was serious. There would be no getting out. I sighed, "Okay. Why don't you get the tea ready and I'll go up and change clothes?"

She nodded and I turned, heading straight for my bedroom. Once closed inside, I hastily slipped out of my rain-soaked sweats and pulled on my favorite pink robe. I sat on my bed and grabbed the phone, planning to call Gram, just praying she'd answer. I could take a few minutes. With the cake not yet done, I knew it would be a little while before Mom noticed my prolonged absence. I pressed the receiver to my ear and waited. The phone rang and rang until finally, the answering machine picked up.

No. Please no.

I hung up the phone and tried the Johnsons next. Again, there was no answer. I frowned. This wasn't good. This wasn't good at all. If Gram was missing, I wouldn't be taking that trip to Florida with her, but then again, that wasn't my main concern. The fact was, I wanted to ask Gram about helping me find Dad. I wanted to spend the summer with her and then ask if she would help me. After all, she didn't share Mom's views on the subject. I knew she thought he was alive, just as I did. Dad wasn't dead, he was just… misplaced.

"Jennie! Are you coming?" Mom called up the stairs.

I knew I had taken too much time.

Hurriedly, I placed the phone back on the side table and pulled on a pair of dry jeans and a cotton top. I paused only a moment to assess my hair at the mirror and then slipped on a pair of loafers as I hurried down the stairs.

Mom was in the kitchen when I returned. I entered quietly and took a seat at the table.

"Good, you're back." Mom came to the table with two mugs of steaming hot water and a basket of teabags. She set one of the mugs in front of me and took a seat. I instantly reached for a bag of peppermint tea. Mom watched as I dunked it, before continuing. "You're awfully quiet tonight." She observed.

I looked up at her and shrugged. "I guess."

"Something on your mind?"

I shrugged. It was just as I thought; she wanted to talk about Dad.

She sighed then and continued. "Well, I have a couple more things to do for dinner before our guests arrive. Maybe you'd like to help me?"

I placed the spent teabag on a napkin. "Sure." I was confused by her sudden change of subject. I thought she wanted to talk about something. I thought she wanted to talk about Dad. I guess I should have been glad that she had dropped it, but something just wasn't right. Mom seemed on edge. Maybe she's worried about Gram? Yeah, she, me, and the rest of the family.

Mom smiled weakly and then selected her own flavor of tea from the basket. "By the way, I have something I've been meaning to ask you..." She dunked the teabag.

I looked up at her. I figured this reaction didn't call for words. She had my attention.

"What would you say if I…" She thought for a while, as if carefully choosing each word. I wasn't sure if I wanted to know what she was going to say. I took a sip of tea. "What would you say if I started dating other people?"

The tea I had in my mouth suddenly found it's way back into the cup. "W-What?" I couldn't believe it! Was she serious? Mom wanted to date again? What about Dad? What about… I thought back to what Nick said in the car. 'I asked God if Daddy could come home for my birthday and He said yes.' My sweet little brother would be disappointed. I had to stop this.

Mom kind of frowned. "Jennie, you need to understand something…"

I cut her off. "Understand? What is there to understand? Y-you can't date other guys, Dad's still alive, and you're still married to him!" I was now on my feet. I wouldn't stand for this. The reality was just too upsetting. How could she do this to us? How could she do this to Dad?

"Jennie? Sit down."

Her voice was stern. I obeyed.

She sighed. "Jennie, your father has been missing for five years. There's no way he is still alive. We need to stop chasing fantasies and accept reality as it really is."

"But you're still married-"

Mom shook her head. "I'm going to get divorced." She stopped suddenly and bit her lower lip, "No, that sounds all wrong…" She shook her head. "Jennie, what I'm trying to say is that it's time we all move on, and I am moving on. You'll really like Michael, I'm sure. Once you meet him, everything's going to be-"

"Michael?" I questioned.

"Michael Rhodes. He's a guy I met at the singles group at church. I … invited him to the party tonight. I wanted you kids to meet him."

My jaw dropped. She invited her new boyfriend to Nick's birthday party? I suddenly felt very queasy. Downright sick. I needed to get away.

"Jennie!"

I didn't stop as I fled from the room and into the nearest bathroom, emptying the contents of my stomach into the toilet. I looked up just in time to see Mom appear in the doorway.

"Oh, sweetheart. You're sick!"

You couldn't be more right. The news of Mom's new boyfriend made me feel like I had just come down with something awful. "I'm fine." I replied weakly, as she dabbed at my face with a damp washcloth.

"Maybe you should lie down?"

I only nodded, fearing that if I said anything more, I may hurl again. I allowed her to help me upstairs and I lay down on the bed.

She sat beside me. "I have a feeling it's not the flu."

I closed my eyes and then opened them again in a silent affirmative.

She sighed. "Oh, Jennie. I know this is hard on you, but please. Give Michael a chance. I'm sure you'll really like him once you get to know him."

I don't want to know him! How can you do this to us? What about Dad? Oh, how I wish Gram were here! She'd know what to do.

Mom sighed again and stood up, opening my bedroom door. "Wash up." She said. "I'm going to finish dinner. We can talk more about this later. I don't want you spoiling Nick's party." She walked out and I moaned.

Why me? Why now? Why does this have to happen? I stared up at the ceiling. Oh Dad. Why can't you be here? I know you're not dead, so why aren't you here keeping this family together? I held back the tears I wanted to cry and flipped over onto my stomach. I knew I had better do as Mom said and get washed up and back downstairs before our guests arrive.

I got up from my bed and obediently went to the bathroom to wash my face and rinse out my mouth. By the time I got back downstairs, Aunt Kate had already arrived with the rest of the family. Gram was nowhere in sight.

Alright, McGrady. You heard what Mom said. You're just going to have to deal with it for tonight. You don't want to ruin Nick's happy day. Shoulders slumped, I headed towards the family room to join my family, only to have my plans thwarted as I passed the front door.

The doorbell rang.

"Cam somebody get that?" Mom's voice came from the kitchen.

Since I was the closest to the door, I got to it first. Taking a deep breath, I took hold of the doorknob and gave it a twist. "Hello?"

"You must be Jennie." The man who stood on our doorstep wasn't Dad, nor was he anyone I knew. His eyes were a smiling faded blue and his brown hair was light in color. I guessed him to be Mom's new boyfriend: Michael.

"Uh…"

Before I could react, Nick came rushing to my side. "Who is it? Let me see! Let me see!" He paused when his eyes settled on Michael.

"Hey there, kiddo." Michael smiled and crouched so that he was at Nick's eyelevel. "Happy Birthday." He handed him a small gift.

Nick's face broke into a smile. "Oh, wow!" He took the gift graciously and hugged it to himself. "Another present, yippee!"

"Put it with the rest." I heard Mom say and soon she was at my side, assessing the man on our doorstep. "Michael," She smiled. "Good. You made it. Come on in." The way she looked at him made my stomach churn, but it was the way Michael returned the stare that made me feel flat-out nauseous.

Michael grinned and entered the house, reaching up quickly to kiss Mom on the cheek. I fought back the urge to scream. Aunt Kate soon joined us in the front hall. "Hey, hey, and who's this? Michael, right?"

"Kate." The two of them shook hands. I watched as they began to talk. Mom hung on his arm like a silly schoolgirl. Nick soon ran up to them and latched himself on Mom's other side. I felt out of place, so I walked away from them, the frown on my face deepening with each step.

"Jennie!" My cousin Lisa collided with me about halfway across the living room. She hugged me fiercely. "I wondered when you were going to show up." She said and then added in a tense whisper. "Man oh man, I can't believe you didn't tell me."

"About what?" I asked as I collapsed on the couch. I tried to act natural. But my emotions were on a rollercoaster and I found it hard to hide both the pain and the disappointment I felt about Michael.

"You know… about Michael."

I let out a long breath. "I didn't even know about him myself until just a little while ago."

Lisa gasped. "No way! You mean your mother was dating some guy and she didn't tell you about it?" She joined me on the couch, her copper curls bouncing.

I shrugged. "Not until about fifteen minutes before you all arrived."

She tried to sympathize with me. "You must be pretty steamed."

"Try furious."

"It's understood."

I watched as Uncle Kevin and Kirk then approached to meet the newcomer. It seemed like everyone was eager to meet Michael and worse of all, it looked like they all liked him, even Nick. I really hoped he wouldn't get the wrong idea and think Michael was an answer to his prayers. That was impossible. Michael wasn't Dad and he never would be.

"Alright. Everyone, let's make our way into the dining room so we can start dinner!" Aunt Kate called out to us and I reluctantly left the couch, following Lisa into the other room. I sat in the seat farthest away from Michael. Unfortunately, that set me far away from Nick too.

"Would you do us the favor of saying the prayer before we all eat?" Mom asked Michael as the remaining guests sat down. Uncle Kevin took the seat to my right. He smiled at me and gave me a one-armed hug.

"How's my favorite niece?"

Terrible.

Dessert was just as dreadful as dinner. I couldn't get over the fact that Mom was treating Michael as if he were already part of the family. He had the seat at the head of the table (Dad's seat) and Mom asked him to say grace. Now, he had Nick sitting on his lap as Mom lit the candles and we sang 'Happy Birthday'. At least with the lights out, and Kirk singing what he thought was the harmony, I almost forgot Michael was there.

"So…" Lisa turned to me, just as the first few plates of cake and ice cream were passed around the table. "I guess you're pretty excited about that trip to Florida coming up, huh?"

Her question confused me at first, but that was before I realized she didn't know the bad news about Gram. "Yeah."

"You're going to have so much fun! Gosh, I wish I were going…"

I only nodded.

My cake arrived and I hastily shoved a bite into my mouth and chewed slowly. Her question about Florida had my thoughts wandering back to Gram. I had to find her now, more then ever. I needed to find Dad. He needed to come home before Mom made the biggest mistake of her life.

"Great cake, Susan." Aunt Kate said as she began to enjoy her own.

"Delicious." Michael agreed and smiled at Mom.

I caught the look and swallowed hard. Why did he have to look at her that way?

After cake, Lisa and I were sent to the kitchen to wash dishes. Mom came up behind me and squeezed my shoulders. "Thanks girls, this is a really big help."

I only nodded not wanting to say something I'd regret.

"We'll wait for you in the family room."

"Okay." Lisa said.

I watched Mom leave and then turned to my cousin.

Lisa spoke first. "You don't like Michael very much, huh?"

"Not really." I scrubbed hard at a dinner plate.

"I know it's hard with your dad and all, but if you really think about it, Michael's a really nice guy, not half-bad looking either."

I frowned at her and glared venomously.

"Okay, forget I said anything." Lisa surrendered quickly and turned her attention back to the dishes. We finished our work in silence, and then snuck into the living room to watch Nick open presents.

"Alright, Nick." Aunt Kate said when she saw us enter. "Go ahead." She pushed a gift towards him and Nick instantly attacked the wrapping paper.

Several presents later, Nick was all ready for the year ahead. Aunt Kate, Uncle Kevin, and Kirk bought him a sleeping bag that Kirk showed Nick how to use in short order. Lisa and Brad brought him a squirt gun and Mom got him some clothes, crafts, and picture books of Bible stories for kids just his age. He had just released Mom from a bear hug when I handed him my gift.

"Here," I said, handing him the present, wrapped in Mickey Mouse paper with a large crimson bow.

Nick grinned at me and instantly took the gift, tearing away at the paper. He pulled out three Mickey picture books and gasped joyously. He ran to me, throwing his skinny arms around my neck, settling onto my lap. "Read me one now!" He begged, opening the front cover of the one on top.

"Wait a second, tiger," Mom interrupted and held up one last box. "You still have to open Michael's present."

To my dismay, Nick anxiously crawled down from my lap and took the gift from Mom's outstretched arms. He instantly ripped it open and squealed in glee at the sight of his gift. It was a black t-shirt with a Mickey Mouse image (in green neon) printed on the front. Nick hastily pulled off his current shirt and replaced it with the new one. I couldn't help but agree that Michael had selected the perfect gift for my baby brother.

I looked up at Michael and he smiled at me. I instantly looked away.

"Michael! Will you read me a bedtime story tonight before I have to go to bed." I looked up just in time to see Nick race over to Michael with the books I had given him.

Michael laughed uneasily, "Um… maybe you should make sure it's okay with your sister first? After all, you did originally ask her to read one to you."

"It's fine." I shrugged, trying to act as if I didn't care. Actually, it hurt. It hurt really bad to see how much Nick liked him. Why doesn't he understand? Michael doesn't belong with this family, it's all wrong.

Not much later, Brad, and the Calhoun family headed for the door. Lisa paused a moment to give me a hug. "Call me tomorrow." She said and I nodded.

Mom stood beside me as they walked out the door. Michael and Nick were already upstairs, getting Nick ready for bed. I was already feeling replaced.

"Thanks, honey." Mom said to me as we went back to the family room and began to pick up the wrapping paper that littered the floor.

"For what?" I asked, pretending I didn't understand.

"For holding back what you really feel in order to make this night special for Nick."

I shrugged and continued on with my task. I didn't want to talk about it.

After cleaning up the paper, I excused myself and hurried up to my room. Falling on the bed I pulled a pillow to my face and screamed as hard as I could, finally releasing all my pent up feelings. It just wasn't fair. Michael shows up and then everyone acts as if he's always been here. Like he's part of the family. It's just wrong! I paused for a moment as I let my words sink in. It was wrong. Everyone seemed to be moving on, and they were leaving Dad behind.

But not me.