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
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
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.
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
"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,"
"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
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."
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
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
"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
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
"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.