Is someone coming between Cara and Steven?
Abbie had every intention of coming back to the Wakefields' house. And she was sure the best way to make them inviter her back was to make herself useful.
- p. 63
At this point in our journey, we're used to new characters popping up in books from time to time, propping up the story on their unfamiliar, misunderstood shoulders. Sometimes the characters are noble (Manuel Lopez), sometimes they're evil (Suzanne Devlin). Sometimes the new kid becomes a regular (Amy Sutton), and sometimes they're essentially never heard from again (Johanna Porter). And on some rare and beautiful occasions, the new kid is interesting, realistic, sympathetic, and manages to make both Jessica AND Elizabeth look like jerks.
Abbie Richardson is one of those occasions.
Abbie's sudden relevance at Sweet Valley High is not the result of a recent move or a family tragedy. She just broke up with her boyfriend, who went to Palisades High, where she used to spend all her free time. She hung out with his friends, sat on his school's side at football games, and didn't really have any friends at Sweet Valley as a result. Now she's boyfriendless AND friendless, but Abbie isn't the kind of girl who has trouble making friends. You see, she's NICE. Like, just genuinely a nice person. She likes helping people, and she has no ulterior motive.
Not surprisingly, this kind of personality is deeply confusing to the students of Sweet Valley High. Even Elizabeth thinks all this helpfulness seems excessive and, as you know, that's really saying something. But she kind of has a point. For example, the Oracle is having a contest for a new humor feature, and Abbie offers to help her prime competition, Amy Sutton, on her project. However, everyone is wasting their time trying to figure out why Abbie would help Amy; the fact is, Abbie is just more selfless than anyone else in Sweet Valley.
The cover of Pretenses features an angsty image of Steven and Cara. (I would like to site this cover/title as the most unintentionally hilarious one yet, since we now know that the pair's entire relationship operates on the false "pretense" that he's not into dudes. But I digress.) Abbie Richardson is not on the cover of 44, so it seems that the author would have us believe that Steven and Cara's relationship woes are the central matter. While I disagree, I will say that these woes are pretty interesting, and they blissfully intersect with the Abbie story.
Jessica, sure that time has cooled the flames of passion between Cara and Steven, suggests that Cara add some mystery to their relationship. Cara, somehow forgetting fthat Jessica wreaks only havoc, takes the advice to heart and finds herself being very suspiscious of Steven's moodiness when he comes home from college to deal with his allergy problems. Yes, I said allergy problems. We, the readers, know that Steven isn't upset with Cara, he's just super creeped out by a secret admirer letter he got, written on the same stationery his old girlfriend Tricia used. His old, dead girlfriend Tricia.
This is where Abbie comes in. When she starts coming over to work on her submission for the humor contest (a cartoon; see below for a shitty approximation), she meets Steven and they begin to have heart-to-hearts about his relationship with Cara. Abbie finds herself falling for Steven but, angel that she is, she realizes that he's taken and doesn't make a move. But when Liz walks in on Steven reading one of the ghostly love letters he's been getting, she gets suspicious. She and Jessica even go to the stationery store at the mall and try to get a description of who recently bought the style of stationery the notes were written on! This is pretty outrageous sleuthing on the part of the Wakefield twins, especially since this isnt even a Super Thriller!
The shopkeeper's description of a nice, pretty brunette buyer confirms Jessica's radical suspicions that Abbie is sending Steven love letters and trying to break up his relationship with Cara. In reality, the shopkeeper is describing Cara herself, who chose to write "secret admirer" letters to Steven in order to be more mysterious. Ironic, right? Jessica is always trying to get Cara and Steven to split up (as long-term relationships are boring), and now that she's succeeded (indirectly, as her "mystery" suggestion prompted Cara to send these anonymous letters) she's furious at the (innocent) person she thinks might be keeping the pair apart. That's deep, ladies.
Steven then does the unthinkable: he invites Abbie to a basketball game INSTEAD of Cara — after all, Cara is mad at him for being distant and who wants to hang out with a girl who's always mad at you for no reason (or, rather, for a reason that you haven't figured out yet)? All that nagging will surely cutback on the enjoyability of watching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and the '88 Lakers (the book mentions that's the team they'll see) win the NBA Championship. Abbie is surprised to be asked; she likes Steven a lot, but doesn't want to get involved with a taken man (again, NICE):
"The game will be fun. But I'm surprised you didn't ask Cara," Abbie said directly.
Steven frowned. "I appreciate your honesty, Abbie. That's one of the things I like best about you. I can really talk to you, tell you exactly what's on my mind. The sad truth is, I can't talk to Cara anymore. We just seem to misunderstand each other completely. I think we're really on the verge of breaking up."
Abbie cleared her throat. This was a hard moment for her. Partly she wanted to stay quiet or encourage Steven in some way to follow throught with this plan. If he broke up with Cara, he'd be free to date her. But Abbie couldn't be so selfish. Something told her that Steven wasn't saying what he really felt, and she just didn't believe it was really over beween them.
Miraculous! You didn't think I was joking about this whole "nice girl" thing, did you? Abbie is right, of course. The real reason Abbie understands Steven's moodiness more than Cara does is that Abbie knows about the creepy love letters and Cara doesn't. I mean, of course she knows about them – she wrote them. But she still has no idea that they were written on the same stationery that Tricia Martin used, or that Steven is so confused by the concept of stationery sets that he jumps to the conclusion that either (a) someone's playing a sick trick on him or (b) a ghost is writing him letters, rather than assuming his current girlfriend is trying to be mysterious.
That's what you get for listening to Jessica. I don't think these people will ever learn.
The final scene of this book is a sweet one. I mean in the way that revenge is sweet. Abbie is confronted about her man-stealing ways by not one but BOTH of the Wakefield twins. We all know that Abbie has no such ways, but will her niceness keep her from standing up for herself? No! Finally, she realizes that maybe she's been too nice. Being considerate is great, but ultimately she has to remember to consider herself. This is kind of a weird lesson, but since it results in the twins looking awful, I'll accept it. Abbie lets loose: