Ada lagged behind Rodger and his uncle as they left the ticket window to go outside and wait in the boarding area. The platform shook as the ten‑o‑five came rumbling in, on time. Rodger nodded, satisfied, and pocketed his father’s railroad watch. Dust whipped through the air as the passenger train came to a noisy halt.
Rodger clapped his uncle on the shoulder.
“Be a while before I see you again,” at once regretting Kyle’s departure, but weary of his advice, “so take it easy, old man.”
Kyle threw an arm around Rodger’s shoulders and spoke confidentially into his ear.
“Remember what I said about the three kinds of heroes?”
“Yeah, the scared, the quiet, and the showy ones.” Rodger thought of his dad, his self-confidence all these years, knowing what he was about.
“Well, there’s another kind. The military man. Not the glory hound or fighter jock. This man’s intelligent, capable, and above all else, loyal. To a fault. No mountain too high for him to scale or a war too far away. He walks along the edge of an abyss and dares man or God. He’s the man the Greeks immortalized.” Kyle sighed, dropping his arm from Rodger’s shoulder.
Rodger kept his face expressionless. Kyle frowned at the ground.
“Reconsider going overseas, son. You’ve done your duty.”
Rodger smiled. “You’d better say good‑bye to Ada again. Never figured you for a love‑’em-and-leave‑’em kind of guy.” He went and sat on a bench as Ada met Kyle.
Ada gave Kyle a sisterly hug. But Kyle’s hand reached and held Ada’s, prolonging the lovers’ moment. Rodger looked away. Seeing Kyle and Ada together made him a little uncomfortable, yet it hadn’t surprised Adele at all.
He made a fist and pounded lightly on the wooden back of the bench. There had been so many little things that got to him. Perhaps he’d been away from home too long. He’d felt a keen disappointment with his uncle, the only man left in the family who should have understood his position. He closed his eyes, letting the sunshine warm his face. Ada had said his father had given him wings; it seemed lately everyone wanted to clip them.
When he looked over again, Ada was standing alone. Kyle waved from the window as the train pulled away. Rodger jumped up and walked briskly to Ada’s side. Thank God she didn’t cry. He reached for and squeezed her arm.
“Want a cup of coffee at Joe’s?”
Ada nodded. “We shouldn’t be too long, though,” she peered at him, “if you’re serious about remodeling that kitchen. Adele said she would be at the house by eleven‑thirty.”
“Of course, I’m serious, that’s why I bought all the material,” Rodger retorted, leading her by the arm to the car.
“And left it so that I have to climb over it every time I go out the back door.”
As Rodger eased onto the car seat next to Ada, he pitched his head backwards toward the depot.
“I’ve lost the only ally this side of the continent.”
Ada’s laughter blended with the purring of the Chevy’s engine. “It must be hard living with women.”
Out of habit, Rodger scanned the sky above and over each shoulder before he released the brake. “I find salvation at the gym.”
Ada watched him. “Are you doing well?”
Rodger parked the car at the diner and grinned at her. “Better than I thought. I’m in great shape, and it’s all still there.” He squared his shoulders. “Those two kids don’t know what they’re up against.”
Ada’s lips drew thin. “Do you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you trying to prove something?”
“That I haven’t forgotten.”
“I don’t expect you’ll ever forget much, Rodger.”
Ada slid out the door and walked unescorted into the café. Rodger followed her and sat across from her at a table.
“Miz Ada,” the proprietor scurried beside the table, nodding respectfully at her. “Rodger? Is it really you?” The small man’s eyes bulged comically. “Sure good to see you back, son.” Joe beamed. “Home for good, son?”
“No, leaving soon.” Rodger shredded the paper napkin along the edges. “Just coffee for us.”
“Right up. Fresh pot, too.” Joe wiped his hands on the white apron as he left.
The silence stretched between him and Ada until Joe slapped the cups down in front of them. “Now, you come round and see me while you’re here. Talk about the old times.”
“I will, Joe. See ya around.”
Another customer came in and sat at the counter. Rodger recognized Mr. Tollsend, the president of the Longhorn Bank. He nodded to Mr. Tollsend, then faced Ada.
“Offered me a job last week.”
Ada stirred her coffee, although she hadn’t used either sugar or cream.
“Have you considered it?” Then setting the spoon alongside the cup, she added hastily, “The pay would be good. Adele and Jonelle would be happy here.” Her forehead wrinkled. “And, Rodger, you’d be good at a management job.”
Rodger lowered his voice, “I told him I’d think about it. But,” he recoiled, “I’d never fit in, Ada. You know that. Maybe I’ll go to college on the GI bill. There’s a future in airplanes for commercial use.”
Rodger scratched the bridge of his nose and leaned onto his elbows, close to Ada. “It’s gonna be a hot ‘un today, Miss Ada. A real scorcher. Maybe me and the wife’ll go on down to the creek for a spell and let the kids catch ’em some crawdads.”
Ada bit her bottom lip to cover her smile. “I’ve missed your incisive comments on our small town ways.”
“Commentator, that’s me.” He slurped his coffee. He held up a hand and ticked off his fingers.
“Weather, kids, family; or family, kids, and weather.”
Ada paused, the cup halfway to her lips, then replaced it without sipping any coffee. “Perhaps there’s a reason to think about one’s family. There’s safety in the familiar.”
“Safetytown, U.S.A. It’s what the damn war’s all about.”
“No, Rodger,” Ada gazed at him evenly, “that was World War I.”
Rodger drummed his fingers on the table. “Adele seems to like it here.”
“She’s the kind of woman who makes her own life, Rodger.” Ada gave him a little smile. “She’d adapt in the Mojave Desert.”
Rodger played his napkin corner back and forth. “I think it’d be a mistake to move her out to Texas with me. I might not be at one base too long.”
Ada shook her head, negating him. “You’ll have to give yourselves time to make happiness. Get used to one another.” She slumped back against the chair. “All this week you’ve been working frantically. Have you ever heard of a carpenter wasp?”
Rodger chuckled. “I feel a parable coming on.”
Ada continued, ignoring his remark. “Carpenter wasps are the most intelligent species of either bees or wasps. They cut tubular nests in wood. The males die during cold weather, but the females live on to start a new colony.”
Rodger draped an arm over the end of his chair. “So I better finish this project before the first snowfall?”
“No, I just brought it up so I could get around to asking what’s bothering you.” Ada chipped at the tabletop with a fingernail. “I remember you when you were younger. Always attacking the yard work before a big game or fight with the vigor of a man possessed.”
“Maybe I am possessed.” He tried to figure out what Ada wanted from him. She had loved Sam and Uncle Kyle. Not exactly the kind of men who were root‑bound. “This town’s too small for me.”
Ada turned her head and looked out the window. “There’ll be changes. Just you wait and see how fast this town changes, Rodger. It’s in the air. And perhaps,” she twisted back to stare directly at him, “you’re part of it. Rachel talks about going to college, maybe getting into medicine. A career! And your mother encourages both girls to think about a college education and a career.”
He pondered that for a moment. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He pulled out his wallet and laid the dollar across the check. “This’ll cover it.”
Standing by the car, he pulled himself into a long stretch. Ada cocked her head to one side. “Your shoulder healed fast.”
Rodger hunched his shoulders, then pushed them in small circles. “Been working out every day. Makes a difference.” He paused, and she stopped beside the car. “If you want, I’ll go with you to the cemetery and tend Sam’s grave. Anytime.”
Ada’s face set, a sad mask of her other self.
“No, Rodger. I’ve said my good‑bye.” She eased herself into the car, and Rodger shut the door. Ada rolled down the window and leaned out to speak to him. “When’s your match?”
He walked around the car, opened the door, and got in. “Friday afternoon.”
Ada nodded. She sat pleasantly silent on the way home. Rodger hummed. They spied Adele rounding the corner with the baby buggy at the same time.
She waved, hurrying over to them as they climbed out of the car.
“Whew! I feel like I’ve walked a mile!”
“Come in and rest a spell with a cold drink.” Ada gripped Adele’s elbow and led her to the steps. “Rodger can bring the baby and buggy up onto the porch for us.” Adele disappeared into the house with Ada.
Rodger bent over his sleeping daughter. The deep creases in her face had smoothed out, and she no longer looked like living parchment paper. She suckled in her sleep. He tapped her tiny fist with his forefinger. She stirred.
“Hey, doll baby,” he whispered, “it’s Daddy.”
Jonelle opened one sleepy eye and then closed it again. She yawned and threw her fisted hands into the air, arching her back. Rodger leaned in and scooped her up.
“Come out and see the world.” He sat on the porch step and propped her in his arms.
He wanted to say something important to her, like a father should to his daughter, but the words evaporated. Jonelle strained against his arm. Such a solid little creature. Her fine, dark hair might have been penciled in. He ran his hand over her downy head, letting his palm rest on the pulsating soft spot. She made strange, gurgling noises in her throat, neither crying nor demanding, as her head wobbled right and left. Suddenly, he thought of LinChing. He had always tried to do the right thing for Mary Elizabeth, just hoping his best was good enough. Rodger looked down at Jonelle. “That’s about all anyone can do, just his best.” Someone rustled behind him.
“Would you like a cold drink?” Adele poised the glass over his head.
“You wouldn’t dare do anything of the kind,” Rodger looked up, “because I am holding your daughter in ransom.”
Adele leaned down and kissed him on the lips. “I’ll pay, just name your price.”
Rodger reached for the glass. “You can’t afford it.”
Adele stepped down next to him. “Fred Hewling called this morning. Has a job offer, if you’re interested.”
“Nope.” Rodger chewed an ice cube. “I don’t figure on settling down here.”
Adele shrugged. “That’s okay by me. And baby.” She twisted a loose thread along the hem of her shirt sleeve. “Wherever you go, I’ll follow. It’s been like that since the dawn of time.”
“It’ll be best for you both to stay here for now, though.” Rodger slipped the glass down Adele’s bare leg. She jumped back. “Don’t know where I’ll end up.”
“You’ll stay stateside, won’t you?” Adele’s eyebrows pinched together. “You’ll be satisfied instructing?”
Rodger stared in front of him. Jonelle lay quiet in the crook of his arm. “Depends.”
“You’ve got a lot more to lose than just your life.” Adele’s voice hardened.
“And who doesn’t? Damn it, Adele, has it been so long ago that you’ve forgotten? Practically all the guys are married and have one or two kids. I’m nothing special.”
Adele massaged his arm. “You are to me.”
Rodger lifted his arm with her hand still on it and kissed her five fingers. “You make me that way.” He glanced at his watch. “I’ll work around here until four and then go to the gym.”
Adele sat down next to him, gripping his arm.
“Must you go through with the fight?”
Rodger cringed. “Of course. It’s not a big thing, Adele. Just a game to see who wins.”
She patted him. “I know. It’s just we haven’t been together much, even though we’re in the same place at the same time.”
“I’ll be back for dinner. Do you want me to swing by here and walk home with you?”
Adele plopped her chin in her hands. “You always slide the subject right on by me. Like fast pitch.” She looked at him from the corner of her eye. “No, I promised your mother we’d have dinner with her. I got her to change it to six‑thirty.”
Rodger rolled his eyes. “Wonderful.”
Adele wrinkled her nose and shrugged. “Rodger, she has good intentions.”
Rodger drank deep of lemonade. “This takes me back to when I was a kid.” He smacked his lips and Jonelle flinched. Rodger looked down. “Ada’d bring me something iced as soon as I got done with the chores.”
Adele reached over and took the baby from him. “Well, you got the reward before the labor today. Get busy.”
Rodger sprang up, dramatically pointing to Jonelle. “Who’ll protect this poor child from such a taskmaster?”
Adele slapped at his knee. “Holler if you need any help and I’ll make a note of ignoring you.”
They walked side by side into the house where Ada sat at her sewing machine, rubbing her arthritic hands together. She pushed her glasses against her nose and peered at the material in front of her.
Rodger stopped and pointed. “Whose?”
“Kathy Weatherling’s christening her baby boy this Saturday. I have to get it done.”
“Must be her second? Geez. We can come back tomorrow.” Rodger rinsed his ice cubes into the sink. “That way you won’t be disturbed.”
Ada pinned him with her unblinking eyes. “You won’t be interrupting me.”
Rodger threw off his shirt. He worked out by the garden, well into the afternoon, until Adele called to him to come and eat lunch. He wolfed down his sandwich then returned to the backyard.
As Adele tidied the kitchen, Ada returned to the sewing machine. Adele fed and rocked the baby asleep, then laid her down. She came out to where Rodger was sawing a two‑by‑four.
“I’m going to pull out a weed or two,” she dipped to one knee and tugged at a plant.
Rodger mopped his forehead. “I’m going to be working inside.”
Adele blocked his retreat. Rodger stared back into her probing eyes. If there were no words for it, there couldn’t be any conflict.
Adele started to speak to him, then turned back to the garden. “My timing seems to be off.”
In the kitchen, Rodger hammered steadily, enjoying the rhythm of the swing and smack and listened with one ear for the old grandfather clock. He had lowered one set of cabinets when the clock chimed three o’clock.
Outside, he could see Adele and Ada sitting beneath the awning talking. Rodger took a step back to the opened window and listened to snatches of their conversation.
Ada gestured at the garden. “... time and so much dying. He’s still reacting to all that.”
Adele shook her head vigorously. “No, it’s something else. He’s closed down. Away.”
He ran his hand along the underside of the cabinet, then turned and looked out the kitchen window at his mother’s house. Choices. He had to choose.
He had known long ago, when he had left for Chicago to fight in the Golden Gloves, that he’d made up his mind not to come back. That night before leaving, he’d gone into his sisters’ room and stood there for a while as they lay sleeping, whispering baby snores, and the moonlight streamed in from an uncurtained window across the beds. He had known that by leaving he would step across that threshold into another reality, the real world where he would be on his own. And maybe never come back home again.
He ran the cold water and washed his hands, fixing his stare on the upstairs bedroom window. His father had snagged him on the way out the door, asking if he could do anything for him. All Rodger had wanted was for him to be there, for the fight, for his big victory. But his Dad had commitments to the bank, and he was sorry he couldn’t make it to Chicago to see him fight. Rodger understood. Only too well.
He dried his hands on a rag flecked with varnish. He wanted to grab Adele, shout out loud and clear that he loved her. He loved their baby. But damn it, he was not the summation of their lives in this small town where he’d always be known as John’s boy, The Kid or a war hero.
Ada’s voice drifted through the still afternoon air. “And the military is his only opportunity for flying.”
“Goddamn planes!” Adele sniped. “He’ll never be unfaithful as long he has a flying mistress.” She twisted aside. “I loved to fly, but I guess it wasn’t my whole life.”
Rodger went to the window and watched the two women.
Ada leaned forward, clasping Adele’s hand. “He’s a man with direction and purpose. And I’ve a deep down feeling we won’t ever stop him from going where he wants.”
Rodger grabbed his shirt and buttoned it as he left through the front door to go to the gym. He shook free of strain as he walked along the sidewalk. Maybe Ada was right. Maybe this town would change. The unlit gaslights reflected the glaring sunlight. Rodger shielded his eyes as he searched the cloudless blue sky. Maybe it was the quiet that got to him.
He didn’t mind the curious stares of the youthful men in the gym training beside him. Like during a preflight check, the adrenalin began flowing, and his mind focused sharply on the mission ahead of him. Every day, the two younger men were there sparring in the ring or working the bags. Rodger skipped rope, eyeing Reb and his friend as they jigged in the ring.
He offered to spar with a thin Negro boy who never spoke. Rodger liked this dark‑skinned, morose kid, who took it all too seriously. Rodger was huskier, but moved lightly on the balls of his feet. The long arms of his opponent stung with well‑placed punches.
Rodger held back. Whoops and hollers for the Negro echoed around the gym. It was always like that, people not really knowing what’s behind the obvious. Big Red had warned him early on never to show his style in the prelims. Like a good poker game, leave ’em guessing. He fended off an onslaught of fists but took a jab in his middle. At the end of the third round, their time up, he slipped off the gloves and extended a hand.
“Good show, kid.” The young man returned the handshake. Rodger waited for him to say something, but he didn’t speak. As they separated to go to the showers, Rodger noted with satisfaction that the men clustered in two groups placing bets on tomorrow’s fight.
He left amidst snide remarks and jeers of his hometown crowd, satisfied that he had them right where he wanted them.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Don’t Take it Personally, It’s Not About You
By Aaron Karmi, MA, LCPC
When you take things personally, you feel offended and disrespected. Your reaction is either to defend yourself or submit passively. Either way you take someone’s criticism and view it as a literal, personal and serious threat. You want to correct the perpetrators and prove them wrong. In turn, you make something big out of some behavior that is so little. You want to maintain your innocence and try with all of your might to defend your beliefs, which only serves to heighten the conflict.
You cannot take someone’s opinion personally, because the truth is that all humans are dealing with their own feelings, beliefs and opinions. No one’s judgment is superior, it’s only an opinion. It is not about right or wrong, it’s just an opinion.
Read the entire article at PsychCentral.com>>
5 Ways to Mindfully Handle Negative Comments
by Steffi Erbilgin
Putting yourself out there is hard. It can be brutal. You could be the most talented, entertaining, sweetest soul on Earth and still be confronted with negative comments. No one is immune. Whether it’s a video posted, an article published, a piece of art created, even a single idea shared, anything can warrant a negative response in this day and age of strong opinions and anonymous digital presence.
I used to think it would be an easy enough task ignoring all the negativity that comes along with public sharing. We see the comments and judgment of others on a daily basis. It’s easy to assume as long as they have a sufficient level of self-esteem they’ll be able to see the comments for what they are, to rise above it. But it’s always different when the shoe’s on the other foot.
When I received my first negative feedback I became obsessed. On one level I knew it was completely ridiculous to let one comment from one stranger have such an impact. I study the ego and how one should not personally take offense, as it’s the ego that’s offended and the ego that does the offending. But it still hurts. I’m still human. After all we are given egos for a reason and although I see mine for what it is it doesn’t make it suddenly vanish or become incapacitated.
Read the entire article at HuffingtonPost.com>>
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
"Can we all be engaged and committed to political causes without resorting to personal attacks that can slide easily into bullying language? Our kids—future voters in not so many years—will benefit. Our democracy will be much the better for it."
Political Bullies and Your Child
by Gail F. Melson, Ph.D., author and researcher on child development and family relationships
This political season is one for the books. Regardless of political affiliation or views, many of us are hooked on the latest twists and turns of this spectacularly unprecedented and unpredictable political race for the presidential nominations in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Never before—at least in modern memory—have so many expectations been overturned, so many surprises surfaced.
Not the least of these surprises is the language of the leading contender (as of this writing) for the Republican Party nomination to run for president. Donald Trump regularly peppers his political speeches with insults, put-downs, and “potty words.” In fact, his litany of insults against opponents, journalists or anyone disliked comes straight from the grade school bullies’ playbook. He calls them “babies,” “losers,” “little,” “a nothing,” and urges them to “go home to mommy.” These short, simple words (pegged at a 2nd grade reading level) are precisely the words most often found in the verbal insults schoolyard bullies hurl at young children.
Surveys and polling don’t tell us how many children and teens are absorbing Mr. Trump’s speeches on television, radio, newspapers or social media. From one perspective, we hope the answer is: “A great many.” For any democracy to thrive, civic engagement should start early and build steadily as children mature. In this case, however, when we encourage children to watch, listen and pay close attention to the words of political actors in the current nomination race, we are also exposing them to classic bullying language and threats, this time coming from an important and influential adult. Do we seek to engage children and teens in the current political drama, or do we try to censor, protect, or ignore the bullying that has become part of it?
Read the entire article at Psychology Today>>
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
I shoved two suitcases into the trunk of Dad's BMW Saturday morning, excited about our big weekend in Victoria. I thought we were headed straight for the Canadian border, but he pulled into Denny's parking lot in Des Moines.
"Why are we stopping here?"
"Oh, let's eat here and talk." As he fidgets with his coffee cup, I count the streaks of gray in his thinning hair, waiting for him to bring up the subject I dread. Sylvia.
"A penny for your thoughts." He asks that, but never waits for my reply. "Dusty," his eyebrows pucker as he stares at me, "I want to discuss your attitude. Concerning Sylvia."
"My" attitude? I try not to let my voice get an edge to it, hoping we can reach an understanding of some kind.
"There wouldn't be a problem if she would only stop calling me Elizabeth. I hate it."
"She doesn't do it to irritate you," Dad keeps looking at his watch, then sipping his coffee while I finish my French toast.
"It's her attitude, Dad." Before I can say anymore, he jumps on me.
"It's your attitude. You act as if she were invisible when she's talking to you."
"Dad! are you listening to me? I told you I've asked Sylvia to call me Dusty, but she goes right on calling me Elizabeth, so I don't answer her."
"So why make such an issue of it?" He squeezed my hand, smiling at me. "Sylvia's right. You should go by Elizabeth. You don't want to start high school with a childish nickname, and you might as well start the change-over now. It'll be easier for everyone."
Another one of those little hurts to be filed away. My nickname meant a lot to me, and I thought the specialness of it meant something to him, too. It was no use trying to make him see my side of it, because I think he stopped listening to me somewhere at the beginning. "Well, anyway, Dad, I hope we can have high tea at the Empress Hotel---Tanya said it was the highlight of her trip and I want to do that, for sure, okay?"
He sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Princess, I'm real sorry, but I can't get away all weekend. I just can't."
My breakfast turned to cement. "Dad!" I wailed, "you promised!" He frowned and motioned me to be quiet, but I wasn't going to let it go that easily. "I bet you'd have the time if I were Sylvia," I said in a fierce whisper.
"Oh, calm down. We'll do it another weekend." He glared back at me, then suddenly relaxed. "Would you like to go pick out a new dresser right now?" He looked as though he thought it might make up for the lost weekend, this token offer of his.
"Oh, sure. Why not?" I said, imitating him when he's being sarcastic. I drank the last of my lukewarm chocolate, not certain if I hated him a little bit or a whole lot. "I'd like to get another star kit to paint constellations on the ceiling. Could we do that, Dad?"
"Sure, we'll do it sometime soon." He must have anticipated me, for he added, "But not today."
It seemed I was getting pretty good at tucking little hurts away, in a hidden pocket near my heart, but somehow it didn't seem worth the effort to stay mad at him. We spent all afternoon selecting an unstained cedar chest of drawers and bedside tables. We were both zapped after wrestling everything into my bedroom. I could tell Dad didn't really want me to stay the night and actually, I didn't mind spending Saturday night at home just watching TV with Frank while my Mom painted in oils on canvas in the back room.
I spent the last weekend in October with Dad. And Sylvia. Friday night, we went miniature golfing, which wasn't too bad, considering we ate hot dogs and drank soda pop for supper. I kind of enjoyed the evening and hoped we might do something like drive to the ocean Saturday, but Dad had an important project and was gone all morning. At breakfast, I told Sylvia about how Dad and I were going to decorate the bedroom.
"Elizabeth, let's do it and surprise your Dad." She even winked!
"Ah, well," I hedged, "I think he wanted to do it with me, you know, quality time with his daughter and all that."
She looked at me for a long minute, then lit up. "Oh, Elizabeth! I bought you something special---for all your help." She sort of laughed, like she felt awkward giving me the tiny box with a porcelain figurine of a unicorn.
"This is really pretty, Sylvia. Thanks." Knick-knacks are not my style, but I was flattered. I was afraid to pick it up, it looked so delicate. The shimmery white coating on it glistened in the cool morning sunlight that fell across the table where we sat facing each other. "I'll put it center ring on top of my dresser." I smiled extra long and hard.
I took the little unicorn to my bedroom and looked at it in the palm of my hand for a long time. I turned it upside down to see if there was as sticker on it, thinking maybe I could get a matching one sometime. Sure enough, there was a sticker. From the Empress Hotel.
I left the unicorn in the box with the lid on it. I didn't touch it again, wouldn't even look at it if I could help it. But it sat there in the middle of my dresser, reminding me of the weekend that should have been mine with Dad. I sat on the bed, reading a mystery anthology on the electronic reader Dad had given me for Christmas, but my mind kept wandering.
When we were a real family, it seemed like it could never be any other way. My friends were always telling me, "Dusty, you're so lucky!" and I guess I believed them. Like I believed in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny; then one day you find out you've been had.
Just like the stupid sci-fi stories I read, I used to imagine myself as a veterinarian aboard a space ship journeying to a distant galaxy, light years away from the Milky Way and Earth. My parents would be with me, too. Dad would find a way to put his management consultant ideas to work and Mom would have an art gallery on board the starship. Or maybe by that time, they'd just want to sit and watch old movies and talk about the "good old days".
I turned off the reader, my mind too stretched out of shape to hold any more words or anymore dreams.
When Dad came back at lunchtime, he stayed awhile in the living room talking with Sylvia. Eventually, he came into my room.
"Hi, Princess. You're kind of quiet." He stood there with a big, stupid grin on his face.
I sat up, cross-legged. "You and Sylvia went to Victoria, didn't you?"
His grin disappeared. He didn't answer right away. "Yes, we did. That was a while ago, and it was spur of the moment."
"You lied to me." I don't think he heard me, maybe because my voice was too soft and mushy. But my guts roiled and felt like lava about to erupt. I couldn't trust my voice anymore.
"I haven't forgotten my promise, but I wanted to take three days with you, not just an overnight stay." He sat down beside me. "How about if I get a season ski-pass as one of your Christmas presents and maybe we could ski on a week day during Christmas vacation at Crystal Mountain, if we get any snow this year."
I just sat and looked out the window at bobbing boats. When I thought my voice wouldn't crack, I answered. "Slinky's invited me to go to Disneyland with them New Year's week." I wanted him to ask me to stay with him all of Christmas vacation, maybe take me to Disneyland himself.
"Sounds like a good deal, kid," Dad seemed real pleased to be off the hook, "but I want you to make plans to be with me Christmas Eve." He smiled, holding in his secret, waiting for me to get excited, then whispered, "I'm going to give Sylvia an engagement ring. She doesn't know it, just you and her parents know. Don't you think that'll surprise her?"
"What!?" I croaked. "How can you? You haven't even known her that long, Dad." He might as well give me a one way ticket to the moon. I was about to protest more, but he silenced me with a look.
"Long enough," he snapped, and added in a hoarse whisper, "Keep it a secret, will you?"
Yeah, I'd keep it a secret. The best way I know how: I wouldn't think about it. I didn't want to be around him, near him or ever speak to him again.
I told myself that it didn't matter, and mentally shut the lid down on the hope chest that had all my special dreams inside. "I don't feel all that great. Would you take me home?" I really did feel kind of sick.
"Look, honey, the three of us could go to Vancouver. We'll go to Stanley Park and Granville Island and make it our special weekend."
"No, thanks, Dad." I gathered up my things, ignoring him sitting there watching me, not saying anything more to him on the way home.
Mom was surprised to see me. "What's the matter, Dusty?"
"Nothing." I dropped my things on the floor. "Everything."
She came over and hugged me. I burst into tears. "I hate him! I hate him with all my heart!"
"Do you want to talk about it?" She smoothed away the tears.
"He doesn't care about me! All he thinks about is that stupid Sylvia!" I pushed away from her. "I wish he'd move to Antarctica." Suddenly, I felt drained and empty and I wanted to forget about Dad and Sylvia and lies and used to be. "Can I ask Frank to come over tonight?"
"Sure, if you want. I have work to do in the back office."
I sent Frank a text and he immediately replied that he would be over after dinner, about seven. I wish he could have brought a DVD to watch, other than reruns.
During a dead spot between programs, I had a chance to talk with Frank. "Hey, Frank," I plopped a can of root beer into his hands. "Do you miss your Dad?"
He popped the tab, then quickly slurped the foam, which left a mustache on his upper lip. "No, not that much. 'Course, my folks have been divorced since I was five, so I don't remember much before then."
"Well, you see him, don't you?" I reached over and zig-zagged my finger through his foamy mustache. "He's still your Dad and all."
"Yeah, once a month he signs a child support check and writes my name at the bottom. I guess you could say he knows I exist."
"Don't you spend vacations with him?" My stomach was tied in knots, like my life depended on his answer.
"He's got his other family and frankly, my dear, I can't stand the little brats, so I don't see him that much." Frank looked at me and I must have looked pretty shaken up or something because he tried to make it seem like a joke. "Hey, we live in a disposable society--pampers, snotty tissue and kids. Just toss one out and get another to replace it. I got lucky and my Mom married an all right kind of a guy. He's a little nuts on the 'you pull your weight around here' routine, but he's nice enough. I mean, let’s face it, he lets me drive his car. To the store and back. But," he shrugs and puffs his lips, “I’m only seventeen and The Law says I can’t have passengers for six months, drive at night, or use a cell phone or a wireless device. But I can call on a wireless device if I am in an accident!” He waves his hands around. “Rah! Rah! Wowza!”
What Frank said made me feel a little better. "Yeah it's been a lot more work for me, too." Lately I had to do some of the cooking and housework because my Mom's career suddenly "took off" and her paintings have been in demand.
"Did you," I pushed around the last kernels of popcorn in the butter, searching for the right words, then blurted out, "ever catch your parents lying to you?"
He snorted and shook his head. "Yeah." He looked me over, I guess maybe my emotions wrote a term paper all over my face, because his voice got real gentle. "It's like they want you to believe they can do all, be all, for you, Dusty. They try to make everything all right, and sometimes it isn't but they can't say it like it is, so they try to tell you it isn't, and yes, they lie to you." He looks at me like he's just explained the quantum theory or something. "It's not like a personal issue, know what I mean? They do it cause they think you don't need to know all the truth, all the time, you can't handle it or something. It's up to you to level with them and tell them you know what's happening and pretty soon they start telling you what's for real." He pushes me sideways. "But ya gotta be able to handle it, Rusty-Dusty."
I batted his hand, hard. "I'm not afraid to hear the truth, Frankenstein."
He snagged my wrist. "Take my word for it, kid," he looks mean, like a gangster, "don't get whacko, if you don't wanna know the real story."
"How did you feel about your Mom getting remarried?"
"You don't have to like it, Sweetheart, but you have to live with it." He squeezed my wrist, but not enough to hurt. "If you know what's good for you, you won't make waves, get my drift?"
I jerked my hand away and turned to watch the end of "The African Queen". Most times Frank leaves at nine to catch a bus home, but tonight my Mom has offered to drive him home.
"See ya, Dusty," he waves to me as he and my Mom head out the door.
"Have a nice time tomorrow at the Science Fair with Ginny," I flap my hand in farewell, laughing out loud to have caught him off guard. He didn't figure I'd know about him asking Ginny out, but news travels fast through the grapevine, and I'm usually the first to find out on Facebook.
Except about my own best friend. I called Slinky Sunday morning and asked her to go bowling with me.
"Ah," she stalled, "I can't Dusty."
"Well?" I know she's not telling me something she ought to. "Spit it out."
"Jorge asked me to go to the Pacific Science Center, and I said I would."
"Oh." Not real original, but I couldn't think of anything else to say. I guess I wasn't too surprised, since she had been making up all sorts of excuses lately to linger at her locker as Jorge walked by on his way to football practice. "Hope you have a good time. Guess I'll see you seventh period tomorrow."
"Dusty!" Slinky chirped, "why don't you ask Frank and we'll all go together?"
"I've got too much homework, all due tomorrow. Call me later, I want to hear all about this big date of yours."
"You don't have to be mad about it, Dusty." Slinky accusing me of being mad!
"I'm not, okay? If you don't want to call me, fine, don't! Don't have a good time! I try to be nice and you get all weirded out!"
"Dusty Elizabeth Conner!" Slinky yelled. "You're my best friend, but you've no right to be mean to me!"
I stood with the phone in my hand and counted to ten, just so I wouldn't lose my temper. "I didn't mean to be mean to you, Slinky, all right? I've got a lot of homework and I have to keep my grades up, so I'm working at it. I'm being serious, like you're always telling me to be. Now, really, have a good time and call me when you get home because I want to know if you had a good time today. Because you're my best friend."
The silence on the other end of the line made me wonder if I had gone too far, laid it on too thick, so that Slinky might really get ticked off and never speak to me.
But she didn't sound mad at all. "Okay, I'll call you. Maybe around seven?"
"Wonderful," I hung up, feeling left out of everything, everyone's life. Dean and Fran were volunteering at the Science Center and I had opted out.
I'd like to throw all my schoolbooks into the trashcan. It didn't seem to make much difference if I studied or not, I couldn't seem to pass a test if my life depended on it. Mom said she wasn't worried, that when I made my mind up to snap out of it, I would. Like I knew what she was talking about! I didn't understand the bit, either, about how anger is making me want to fail. I know that really, I don't want to fail; it's too embarrassing when you've been a straight A student forever.
I tried not thinking about my Dad, instead concentrating on my homework. Then, zap! it struck me. Homework would be my excuse!
The following weeks, every time Dad called I told him that I had to do extra credit projects to salvage my grades. It worked. He stopped calling me and I got low B’s instead of D’s.
I had more time to spend with Fran and Dean; even Annie joined us for a long weekend with my Mom down at the beach over Thanksgiving weekend. We splashed around in the waves and made one huge sand castle that collapsed under its own weight.
Slinky also worked real hard, getting above-average grades and Jorge as a steady. I needed the time to study, at least that's what I kept telling myself on the Saturdays while Slinky flitted around the football field, practicing routines as a new cheerleader.
Dad turned himself into Super Dad before Christmas. He started by sending me a dozen small roses with a note asking if we could be friends again. I thought it was dumb. I didn't want to be friends with my father. Then he made a big deal out of taking me to the "Nutcracker" ballet, just the two of us, and a fancy dinner besides. I guess you might say I can be bought, but at least the horrible sadness I had been wrapped up in for weeks went away.
I didn't see Frank before Christmas. It probably was just as well that I didn't come out and ask him if he liked me, you know, as a friend or if he thought he might like me like a girlfriend, because those kind of questions can be pretty hard to answer and I really didn't want to know anyway, if he didn't like me as a guy likes a girl. The next time he wanted to come over, though, I had a lot to discuss with him, and it wasn't about him and me.
Sylvia asked me to be in her wedding! "What I am going to do, Franko? I don't like her. Besides, I'm too old to be a flower girl."
Frank looked nice in his sapphire blue cotton tee shirt and acid-washed jeans. "So tell her you're too old to be a flower girl." He's grown so tall these last few months, I hardly recognize him, but he's still the same smart-alec Frank.
"So just tell her!" I mimic him, voice cracking and all. "I thought you were the expert."
"No, Fluffy-Duffy, I was never asked to be a flower girl." He flips my nose and sneers at me.
I pinch him on the arm as hard as I can, but he doesn't even flinch. "You're full of all sorts of good advice, aren't you?"
"So go elsewhere and get the truth." He turned his attention back to the television. "I don't know what to tell you."
That's my life: just when it seemed like things were going all right, it bottomed.
I was sure my Dad would get me the star stencil kit, but he gave me an iPod, which everyone assumed I'd like. Only I really wanted the star stencil kit so I went out and bought it myself with money I had earned babysitting and doing yard work jobs with Dean and Fran. But I hadn't the opportunity to do my room at Dad's condo, or spend much time with Dad without Sylvia talking constantly about their upcoming wedding. She waved that stupid engagement ring around like it was the Hope diamond, instead of a tiny, little piece of rock that needed a magnifying glass to show it off.
And being with Slinky's a real treat. All she does is ask me zillions of questions about The Wedding. "Wow! A big blow-out! Sylvia's going to be the most beautiful bride! And your Dad and her are such a cute couple. Aren't you excited?"
"Not really." I take a long look at my friend, the stranger seated next to me. Maybe our friendship's history. But even so, I promised her that I would ask my Dad to invite her to the wedding on June 25th, the weekend after school lets out. And wouldn't you know it, he said, Yes”, and Sylvia was thrilled.