Where are we? Sweet Valley Middle School: multidisciplinary project
Recap: Mr. Seigel, science teacher, has called a special assembly to announce that the entire middle school will be doing a multidisciplinary project (math, home economics, social studies, and science, apparently) that involves him choosing pairs of names out of a hat, and then those students will be “married” for the duration of the project. Jessica and Lila think it’s “totally romantic.” Elizabeth and Todd exchange meaningful smiles and she drops her pencil from the sheer intensity of it all. Sophia, someone I’ve never heard of, thinks couples fight all the time and hopes she gets paired with Patrick Morris, the only boy she gets along with.
Sophia does get paired with Patrick, except they’re too busy being polite and accommodating toward each other to make any decisions. Elizabeth gets paired with Bruce, who initially is inclined to ignore the whole thing and let her do the work. Todd gets Lila, and Jessica gets Rick Hunter, an older boy she bickers with constantly.
Lila thinks it’s ridiculous she has to work on a budget, since she’s never going to have to live on a budget, because she has a trust fund. Ha.
At the next assembly each couple has to go on stage, where they’re given a name and instantly asked a question for points. Jessica and Rick get asked what they’ll name the egg, fight over it, and Jessica breaks their egg. She names the second egg Steven Fido the second (Steven was her choice, and Fido was Rick’s). Sophia and Patrick are asked where their egg-daughter should go to nursery school. They do the “what do you think? I don’t know, what do you think?” thing for so long they run out of time and lose points on their project.
While working on their budget Jessica gets exasperated with Rick, because he wants to be a rock star and is goading her constantly, so she takes a swing at him and breaks their second egg (it was in his pocket).
Elizabeth invites Bruce over to work on their project. He shows up for dinner, and is dazzled by Mr. Wakefield’s ability (and willingness) to cook dinner and help them with their schoolwork. Bruce immediately develops a sort of man-crush and throws himself over-enthusiastically into being a better father and husband than his own. It’s amusingly written but also unexpectedly touching. Aww, Bruce. You idiot. Elizabeth starts to feel crowded out of her own project, and resents him for implying she can’t take care of their egg.
Jessica sits on, and breaks, their third egg. Meanwhile Sophia doubles down on her efforts never to express her own opinions, because she doesn’t want to sound bossy like Janet Howell.
Elizabeth points out to Jessica that what Jess is experiencing (having to be the responsible one because Rick won’t take anything seriously) is exactly what Elizabeth goes through with Jessica all the time. When Bruce is out of the room Elizabeth accidentally breaks their egg, and substitutes one from a bowl in the fridge. (Later he will discover it’s hardboiled and get mad at her.)
Sophia and Patrick go grocery shopping and are completely unable to decide what they should cook (each couple has to prepare dinner). Jessica and Rick go shopping, fight, and break another egg-child, and Bruce’s over-parenting is starting to drive Elizabeth to slam groceries around in irritation.
On their third unsuccessful trip to the grocery store Patrick and Sophia have an enormous fight. Jessica and Rick get told off for wasting time during their cooking session, break another egg, fight, and then Rick kisses her. Elizabeth has a tantrum and throws her plate on the floor because Bruce wouldn’t listen to her about hating spinach, and he responds by calmly telling her perhaps she hasn’t been getting enough sleep. She silently vows never to get married.
Sophia finds out her mother is getting remarried to the man she’s been dating (Sarah’s father–Sarah and Sophia are friends), and she tells them marriage ruins everything. Based on, you know, her extensive experience pretending to be married to Patrick.
Rick is now being polite and friendly to Jessica, instead of telling her to lay off the pasta or she’ll get fat, or telling her she has no brains. So now she starts to lose interest in him. Jessica is like a case study of bad romantic choices.
In the end the students (all of them, not just the ones getting page time) rebel during assembly, yelling that the project is impossible. Mr. Seigel is pleased, because apparently the point of the project was to demonstrate that marriage isn’t just romantic, and it can’t work unless both partners know each other well and are clear about what they expect to get out of the relationship. Wow, that is both manipulative and futile, since you just know Elizabeth (for instance) will walk away thinking the whole thing would have worked perfectly if only she’d been paired with Todd…
Bruce shook his head regretfully. “I’m going to make a copy of that article on spinach for Mr. Seigel. Maybe he doesn’t know how hard it is to get enough iron. You know what else? The manual said most people don’t get enough calcium, either.”
He chewed thoughtfully and swallowed. “Come to think of it, Elizabeth, I haven’t seen you drink any milk lately. But don’t worry. I’m going to start reminding you to drink some every day at lunch.” (p. 89)
I’m sorry, that is adorable.
“So listen,” Bruce said, trying hard to keep his voice casual. “This husband and fatherhood thing was cool and all, but I’m afraid its time to go back to my bachelor ways.”
“Okay,” Elizabeth said agreeably.
He studied her for a moment. “But, uh, even though we’re not married anymore, remember what I said. OK?”
“Calcium and iron,” he answered. (p. 130)