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Negative Space V
Continuation of our Tuesday serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter V

I did not follow up on Miss Carswell's invitation to phone her on the day after the pen club meeting. It would be dishonest of me (though I am tempted anyway) to blame Amanda's influence for my failure. Probably I just didn't want to hear what I imagined she'd say. And work was busy, so I really wouldn't have been able to meet her for lunch or coffee during the day anyway. Of course, I could have phoned to tell her that though, but I didn't. And that made it harder for me to phone her later on when I once again had summoned my courage or rather when my desperation had once again started to overwhelm me.
Jason had stopped writing to me. He apologized and explained in a brief phone call that he was very busy with his courses now that final exams were approaching. I asked Amanda what was up, and she just shrugged and said she didn't know. "I guess he's finding his work challenging. Maybe even more challenging than he expected. That's probably good for him, don't you think?"
Maybe it was good for him, but I didn't have to like it. I was working hard at my two jobs and studying, but I found time to write to Jason. I told him so too, and his reaction was just to say he was sorry, but he was doing the best he could. I didn't' think that was good enough, so when my mother upped the pressure on me to go out with Mike McLaren, I did. Once. Then a second time. The third time I could pretend anymore. I was so bored that I nearly fell asleep over dinner. He didn't seem to notice.

The next time I saw Miss Carswell was at the pen club meeting, midway into December, which was less than a week before Jason was scheduled to come home for Christmas break. By that time, Mike McLaren had asked me to marry him, my little brother had been arrested for smoking pot behind the bowling alley, and my big brother and his girlfriend had picked a date only a few months away for their wedding because she was pregnant and wanted to be married before the child was born. Aside from all that, I was working fifty hours a week and trying to study for the final exam in my psychology course. I can't say I was all that thrilled when Miss Carswell asked me to stick around after the meeting.
"I really need to be going," I told her. "I don't have the truck this time, and I don't like biking in the dark."
"I'll drive you home," she said firmly. "I'll even pull the font wheel off the cycle for you so we can haul the bike in my trunk if you like."
I didn't really have a choice, so I waited around until all the other pen club members had left. Miss Carswell put on a pot of water for tea and sat down at the table, facing me.
"I'm sorry I didn't phone you last month after the meeting," I began.
"That's all right," she said. "I only suggested it so you'd know I was available."
"Uh, thanks," I mumbled, watching her tap her index finger on the table top. I was surprised because she didn't usually seem nervous.
"I asked you to stay because there is something I think you need to know, Lisa."
I felt my eyes widen. "Yes?"
"Jason phoned me and told me he's bringing a friend home with him over Christmas. A female friend. I asked him if he'd told you, and he said he had not, and I got the distinct impression that he was not about to before he saw you in person. I told him I was going to because I thought you should know. He was not pleased." She frowned. "I am surprised at Jason. I'd have expected him to be more forthcoming, especially as the two of you never formally severed your relationship."
I took a deep breath, not knowing what else to do. "When you say a female friend, do you mean a friend who happens to be female or a girlfriend…, someone he's going out with?" I inquired, struggling to keep my voice steady.
She pursed her lips. "He was not specific in his information, but I got the impression that Diana, for that is the young lady's name, was not merely someone he liked to pal around with. He called her his girlfriend and told me that he wanted Amanda to meet her."
I exhaled hard. "I see," I said, not knowing whether I felt angrier at Jason or at Miss Carswell.
"I am sorry to be the bearer of unhappy news, Lisa," she said gently. "I had hoped to persuade Jason to tell you himself, but he attempted to convince me you were aware that his leaving had terminated or at least radically altered the nature of your relationship. When I tried to tell him otherwise, he became quite irritated."
"Well," I said, "We wouldn't want Jason to be irritated, would we? I guess you'd better give me that ride home."
She fixed me with a hawk-eyed stare. "I don't think so, Lisa." She stood up. "I'll make us each a cup of tea. The water is boiling."
She stood up and fussed for longer than necessary with the tea. I knew she was giving me time to collect myself, but I was still nearly as angry at her for telling me as I was at Jason for dumping me without having the decency to inform me directly. If that indeed was what he had done.
She returned with a pot of tea and two of her blue china cups and saucers. "I know it is customary for adults to advise the young that high school romances don't last and aren't meant to. That may well be true and is more often than not. However, feeling rejected and deceived is an unpleasant experience, no matter what one's age or situation. I am truly sorry, Lisa."
I glared at her. "So? So you're sorry. So what? I don't know why you had to tell me instead of waiting until Jason got here and did it himself."
She fixed me with her stare. "I thought that your knowing in advance might save you embarrassment when you and Jason do see each other."
I snorted. "Actually I doubt that very much. I'll just have a longer time to worry about how to act."
"If that's true, you're much less mature than I thought you were," Miss Carswell said severely.
I felt my face flush. "I think you just wanted to make me uncomfortable," I replied. "I'm sorry I defended you to Amanda. She's probably right about you."
She let out a sharp bark of laughter. "Amanda isn't right about very much, poor woman. Lisa, I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings. I simply assumed you'd want to know, that's all."
I shrugged, feeling as if I'd behaved badly. "Maybe I'd better just go home."
She shook her head. "I don't think so. Why don't you tell me what's going on? I've heard a little from Alton Maxwell who works at the bowling alley in town. And Billy Healy told me his son is devastated by your decision to marry Mike McLaren."
I felt my patience snap and said very precisely as I do only when I'm very annoyed, "I'm not marrying Mike McLaren. If my mother loves him so much, she can get a divorce from my father and marry him herself." I swallowed hard as what I'd said echoed in my ears. My voice lost its sharpness. "Sorry," I mumbled. "I didn't mean to say that about my mother. I got carried away."
Miss Carswell was actually grinning at me. "Well," she said, a bit gleefully, I thought, "so you do have some spunk after all."
I glared at her. "Just because I try to be a good daughter doesn't mean I'm a doormat."
She raised her eyebrows. "Could have fooled me!" she said, but the grin on her face gave her away. "So what are you going to do about Jason and Diana?"
I shrugged, surprised to notice that I no longer felt as hurt and angry as I had a few moments earlier. "What can I do? Ignore them, I guess." I grinned at her, but my grin wasn't as gleeful or friendly as hers. It had a little bit of vinegar in it. "At least now you won't be able to use my relationship to Jason as a way to pressure me to rebel against my parents and go to college."
That seemed to take her aback, so I explained, "I really didn't appreciate your pushing me to choose between Jason and my parents."
Miss Carswell didn't blink an eye and the grin didn't leave her face. "Lisa," she said calmly, "I never wanted you to choose between Jason and your parents."
"Could have fooled me," I grumbled at her.
She shook her head. "The choice was always between your needs and your parents' wishes. Jason had nothing do with it. And you dilemma still continues even though your relationship with him has changed."

Miss Carswell took me home and stopped in to say hello to my folks. My dad had taken algebra with her when he was in high school. He claimed she was the hardest teacher he ever had, but it was clear he had an enormous soft spot for her along with a healthy dose of respect.. He always teased her though by bringing out a bottle of his home brewed beer and trying to get her to drink with him. Miss Carswell always turned up her nose at his home brew and told him that she'd seen better looking weasel piss, which always made him laugh and my mother shudder and sometimes cover her ears.
This time Miss Carswell didn't stay long enough for dad to bring out his brew. "I just wanted to see how you are holding up," she said to my dad when he opened the door before I had a chance to do it myself.
He shook his head. "That boy is out of control," he told her. "No sooner do I bail him out than he tells me he wants the truck to go bowling. No way I'm going to let him anywhere near that bowling alley again. Absolutely no way!"
Miss Carswell fixed him with an amused stare. "Well, it's not the bowling alley's fault if he chooses to break the law behind it."
"It's the kids he hangs out with there," my dad insisted, still trying to exonerate Donald. "They're a bad influence. Donald is really a good boy."
"Well," Miss Carswell temporized, "that may be. But he needs to have enough backbone to make his own choices and not be led astray by them, don't you think?"
"It's hard for a boy," my father said. "You don't know."
"I'm sure it is," Miss Carswell answered. "And it's hard for girls as well."
"I don't know," my father replied. "There are so many ways for boys to go wrong. All a girl can do is get knocked up."
She shook her head. "Or addicted to drugs or alcohol. Or involved with a gang. You're lucky your daughter turned out so well."
He grunted. "Mark is good too. Getting married in a couple of months, you know. Nice girl with a good job. Good head on her shoulders."
"Lisa has a good head on her shoulders too, Ralph," Miss Carswell said. I felt that I should leave the room, but I stayed and watched my father's face grow suspicious.
"Never said she didn't. She's a good girl, hardworking."
"And bright and talented," Miss Carswell persisted.
He shrugged. "Well, she'll make a good marriage one of these days. Maybe to that McLaren boy that Ruthie is so set on."
"Maybe not," Miss Carswell responded.
My dad actually grinned at her. "Then again, maybe not," he agreed. "So when are you going to come back to our church?" he asked her.
She smiled at him. "When cows fly, Ralph."
He chortled and she bade my mother a good night and left. I had no idea what any of that was about. I didn't want to talk to my parents, so I pleaded tiredness and the need to get a good night's rest for work the next day.
"It's only seven o'clock, Lisa," my mother protested. "Don't you want to eat some supper?"
"I'm not hungry, just tired."
"Mike called and wants you to phone him back first chance you get," she added.
"Good night, mother," I replied and climbed the stairs to my room.

 


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