It was pizza night. Every Friday night, Chief picked up two large pepperoni pizzas on his way home from the base. I had just pulled the cheese off my slice and was about to put the pepperoni back on when Chief tapped a spoon against his glass of sweet tea.
Ting, ting, ting. "Girls, I have an announcement to make."
"Are we going to get a dog?" I asked.
Chief grinned, and then shook his head."We've been assigned to Pensacola, Florida."
Chief always said "we" when he talked about being assigned somewhere even though he was really the only person in the family being assigned to a new base. He would say, "When a man joins the Navy, his family joins the Navy."
That's because every year or two we had to pick up and move. I've lived everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. Before we moved to San Diego, we lived in Texas, Guam, Mississippi, and New Hampshire.
Everyone in my fourth-grade class called me Piper Reed, Navy Brat. I didn't mind, but my big sister, Tori, who was in the seventh grade, did. In fact, she didn't want Chief to be in the Navy. She wouldn't even call him Chief. She called him Dad.
"Pensacola?" Tori looked like her eyes were going to pop out of their sockets.
"When?" I asked.
"Two weeks from today," Chief said.
"Two weeks!" cried Tori. "It's only October. We've never moved during the school year!"
We always moved in the summer. That gave us a chance to make some friends before school started. Suddenly I felt like a fish was swimming around in my belly.
Tori pushed her plate away. "The Navy is ruining my life!"
"Tori," Mom said, "stop being dramatic. Everything will be fine."
"Where's Pepsi-Cola?" asked my little sister, Sam.
Mom smiled. "In Florida. Now, finish your pizza and I'll show you where Pensacola is on the map."
When we moved here, Mom had tacked a great big map of the world on the back studio wall. She said, "You're children of the world.You might as well get to know it."
"I don't want to eat my pizza," said Sam.
"I don't want to move," said Tori.
"Sorry," Chief said. "That's the Navy life."
Tori folded her arms across her chest. "Well, when I grow up, I'm not going to marry anyone in the Navy or the Army or the Air Force."
"How about the Marines?" I reminded her.
"Or the Marines."
"Don't worry," I told her. "No one will probably want to marry you anyway."
Tori burst into tears and ran out of the kitchen. A second later her bedroom door slammed.
Mom shook her head. "Piper Reed."
"I didn't say she was fat!"
My sister really wasn't fat, even though I sometimes called her that. She was a little chubby though. The last time she got upset, she threatened to go on a hunger strike. She didn't eat for two whole hours.
Mom stood. "I'll check on Tori. Piper, why don't you help clean up?"
"Jeepers! I have to do the dishes just because I'm not a big crybaby? Besides it's Tori's turn."
Chief started stacking plates. "Tell you what, Piper. Show Sam where Pensacola, Florida, is on the map and I'll help your mom."
I saluted him. I was the only daughter who did that, too. My sisters needed to learn some respect. Chief may not be an officer, but he wasthe highest rank an enlisted man could be in the U.S. Navy. He fixed jets better than anyone. He even taught other people to do it.
Sam had a pile of pizza on her plate with the cheese missing. I hated cheese on my pizza, and that's all Sam liked about it.
I took Sam by the hand. "Come on."
Sam and I walked downstairs to Mom's studio. It really wasn't a studio, just a basement where Mom did her art. Mom lighted strawberry-scented candles whenever she worked down there, but I could still smell the fumes from her oil paints.
This was the first home where we lived that wasn't on a military base. When we arrived in San Diego, Mom and Chief found an old gray house to rent with a big yard and a huge climbing tree. Atire swing hung from a low branch. Higher up, Chief had built a tree house. That's where the Gypsy Club met.
I loved the tree house. Chief built it for all of us, but Tori hardly climbed up. And when she did, she never did anything fun. She'd just read a boring book or play Scrabble with one of her boring friends. Sam was only five and too little to climb up there unless Mom, Chief, or Tori went with her. So it was really like the tree house belonged to me.
I'd had a lot of good times in the tree house. I'd lost a front tooth, spied on our neighbors, played pirates with the other Gypsy Club members. Thinking of missing all that stuff made me feel that fish bumping against my belly again.
Sam tugged at my shirt. "Piper, where's Florida?"
Her black curls covered her head like a zillion miniature Slinky toys. No one else in our familyhad curly hair. Mom said Grandpa Reynolds did when he was younger. But now he didn't have any hair.
Sometimes when Sam was driving me crazy, I liked to pretend she wasn't my real sister. Or sometimes I imagined that I was really the kidnapped daughter of a Gypsy princess. And the kidnappers had gotten scared that they might get caught, so they wrapped me in a blanket and placed me on the doorstep of this family. Of course it was only a dream. Everyone said that Tori and I were the spitting image of Mom with our blond hair.
Sam let out a big sigh and yanked at my shirt sleeve. "Where's Florida?"
"Just a second." She didn't fool me. She knew where Florida was. She just wanted me to point to the wrong state so she could show off.
I touched the part of the map that said San Diego, California. It was kind of hard to read,but Mom had marked it with a silver star.
"Here's where we are now." I dragged my finger east, then a little south. "And here's Florida."
Florida was easy to find on the map. It looked like the long, skinny bottom part of a key. I'd memorized all the states' shapes for a test we'd had this year. Montana was shaped like the head of a woman wearing a rectangular hat. Michigan was a mitten ready to catch a snowball. Nevada looked like a wide hatchet. I would have gotten a hundred on that test, if I hadn't misspelled all the words.
"Where's Pepsi-Cola?" Sam asked.
"Pensacola," I corrected her.
"That's what I said--Pepsi-Cola."
I clucked my tongue. "You're just trying to be silly."
Sam was practically a genius. She was already reading chapter books. The principal even gave her special permission to be in the Kick-Off-the-School-Year-Spelling-Bee. When she won, he called her a child prodigy. Tori said a prodigy was someone who could do something better than a lot of people. To me, it meant Sam got her picture in the paper wearing the crown she received as a prize. Sam wanted to wear that crown everywhere, even to church and the mall. It's really embarrassing to walk around with a kid who thinks she's a princess.
Sam yanked on my shirt. "I said, 'Where's Pensacola?'"
"Well, since you pronounced it right, I'll show you."
I had no idea where Pensacola was, so I pointed to a tiny dot in Florida. "Pensacola is right here."
Sam leaned close to the map. "That says Palm Beach."
My face felt hot. "Just seeing if you were paying attention. Find it yourself, Miss Smarty Pants."
Sam took a long moment checking out the Florida part of the map. Then she pressed her tiny finger against a spot. "There it is!"
Gosh, Pensacola was a long way from San Diego. I went over to Mom's desk and flipped through her drawing pad. Mom used to be an art teacher until Sam was born. Now she drew a lot of pictures at home. Inside her drawing pad was a sketch of me and my friends, the otherGypsy Club members--MacKenzie, Natalie, and Briley. Mom drew it as if she was looking inside the tree house's window.
I turned the page.
"Get off the bus!" I hollered. My Gypsy Club invented that saying. At one meeting, we decided we'd make up a cool phrase that would circle around the whole world. We'd become so famous they'd put our names in the newspaper.
Sam rushed over to me and peered at the tablet. "What?"
"It's Kip! Mom drew Kip and me."
Kip was Mr. Nelson's German shepherd. Mr. Nelson, our next-door neighbor, used to be a policeman and Kip used to be a police dog. When Mr. Nelson retired, Kip retired, too. He was the coolest and smartest dog. He could walk up a slide and slide down. He could play fetch with a Frisbee. He even protected me from the neighborhood bullies when they hung over ourfence, calling me names. Whenever they did that, he'd growl and bark. If we ever had a dog, I'd want him to be just like Kip.
"Did Mom draw me?" Sam asked, trying to turn the page.
I shrugged and stared at Mom's sketches--Kip, the tree house, the Gypsy Club. That fish was flipping and flopping. Tori was right. Sometimes being a Navy brat was the pits.
PIPER REED, NAVY BRAT. Text copyright © 2007 by Kimberly Willis Holt.