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

I pushed open the door to my room and found my little brother Donald sitting on my bed. Of course, I only call him my little brother because he's six years younger than I am. He towers over me when we stand, but right then he didn't look very big.
"That old bag drove you home," he said accusingly. "Where did you leave my bike?"
It was in the trunk of Miss Carswell's car," I replied quietly. "We stowed it under the overhang where it always is."
"Bet you left the wheel off again," he grumbled.
"I found it with the wheel off, so I returned it that way."
He grunted discontentedly, and I could tell he was in the mood to pick a fight. I didn't have the energy though, so I just waited until he stood up to leave the room.
"You owe me," he grumbled.
"Yeah," I replied with a grin. "And as soon as dad lets you out of the house, I'm sure you'll find a way to demand payment. But for now, I'll just have to owe you."
He snorted. "I'm going to the bowling alley the next time he isn't looking, and you're going to cover for me," he announced.
I shrugged. "I don't think he's going to listen to me. If you're out of the house, no matter what I say, you're sunk."
Donald snarled. "I'll take his hunting rifle and shoot him if he keeps me penned up much longer."
I shook my head. "When cows fly," I replied, not realizing right away I was echoing Miss Carswell.
He grunted again and walked out of my room, slamming the door behind him.
I knew Donald didn't realize how lucky he was. When I was about five, my big brother Mark, who was ten at the time, had gotten into trouble at school, and dad had been so upset that he'd hauled off and punched him, given Mark a black eye. Dad told him to tell his teacher that he'd walked into a door, but his teacher didn't believe him. She reported the black eye as suspected child abuse, so a social worker came to talk to all of us. Dad told the guy that Mark was too embarrassed to admit that I'd blackened his eye by hitting him with a toy. That was about as believable as Mark's saying he'd walked into a door. Besides, when Mark heard it, he nearly went ballistic and started yelling that it was bad enough that dad had hit him, but to blame it on me would make him look like a wimp. Dad kicked the social worker out, but a cop came the next day to tell dad that Mark might be removed from our home for his own protection and I might as well. I think that was when dad phoned Miss Carswell. He figured that since she was the town mediator, she could do something. She did something all right. She showed up and gave him holy hell and told him that not only would we lose Mark but she personally would see that he went to jail for assault if he ever did anything like that again. But then she must have spoken to someone important, or at least that's what dad thought, because nothing further happened.
When Miss Carswell yelled at him was the only time I'd ever seen my dad cower. I was amazed, but what amazed me more was that he continued to speak of her with respect and quite a lot of affection. And he never hit any of us again.
Donald could call Miss Carswell an old bag, but I truly believe it was because of her that our family was intact and he had all his teeth and no broken bones. My dad has quite a temper. Besides Miss Carswell, the only person he's ever been scared of was his mother, a tiny woman with a very sweet disposition unless she was drinking. She's gone now, but I remember her with great fondness. Of course, I never got to see her drunk.
I sat down on my bed and realized I had a headache. I rarely got headaches even though the work I did at the bank required me to spend nearly all my time staring at a computer screen. This headache didn't feel like eyestrain though. It felt like something inside my head wanted to get out.
I knew I didn't want to think about Jason and his new girlfriend. And I certainly didn't want to think about how people would react when he brought her home, what they'd think and say about me, and how hard it would be to act as if nothing were wrong. These thoughts were bad enough to give me a headache, but there was something else that troubled me even more. I wondered why Amanda hadn't said anything to me yesterday when she and I had gone sketching together. Surely she knew. I couldn't quite get my mind around her not saying anything to me. Had she acted any differently than usual? I couldn't come up with anything she'd said or done that gave any indication that she knew. Yet she must have known that Jason was bringing what's her name…Diana… home for Christmas and how I'd feel about it. I got up and went into the bathroom to look for an aspirin.

"Hey there, Lisa," Mike McLaren called out as he came over and stood in line at my station in the bank. "Want to have lunch with me?"
I shook my head, which still ached as badly as it had yesterday evening. I'd taken aspirin and even tried some self-massage that one of my classmates had showed me, all to no avail.
"Why not?" he demanded. "Got another date?"
"I have a headache," I replied and immediately regretted it.
"Hey, we're not even married yet and she has a headache," he chortled.
I sighed. "Go away, Mike. I don't want to have lunch with you," said softly enough so he could pretend not to hear me.
"We can have a picnic. The weather is warm enough," he continued. "Whoever heard of seventy degrees in mid-December?"
"I don't want to have a picnic," I replied.
"Good," he said. "Neither do I. Let's go to that new Chinese place that opened up over by the county line."
"It's not Chinese! It's Vietnamese," I snapped at him, my head pounding.
"Oh, what's the difference?" he said, waving his hand in the air. "They all eat the same stuff anyway."
"There's a lot of difference," I snapped again. "And I don't have time to drive out into the country. I have to be at Hightower's in an hour."
He twinkled at me. "You work too hard. Once we're married, you won't have to work so much. You'll be happier. You'll see."
"I'm not marrying you. Not now. Not ever," I shouted. "Now go away."
"Shh!" he said, holding a finger to his lips. "You're going to get in trouble if you yell at work. I'll wait right outside the door for you. Don't be long now!"
I tried to shake my head, but it hurt too much, so I just rolled my eyes.
"He certainly is persistent," I heard a voice say. "Of course, I'd hesitate to marry a man who had so much difficulty listening to what I was saying. Some people may consider such persistence a sign of true devotion, but it's just plain annoying in a marriage."
I looked up to see Mrs. Amos waiting at my window. She held out her meager social security check. "I'd like to cash this, please," she said, exactly as she did every month.
"Hello, Mrs. Amos," I said. "I'm sorry you had to hear all that."
"Oh, my dear," she replied with a smile, "don't be sorry. It's just that Michael reminds me so much of my husband Albert, God rest his soul. Albert never took anything I said at all seriously. That's why he caught the cold that turned into pneumonia. I'd warned him, but he just laughed at me. He was never right after that bout of pneumonia. Died six months later of heart failure. Heart failure indeed! He'd never had any kind of heart problems until that pneumonia."
I tried to smile back at her. She'd told me the story of Albert's last illness many times, and I really wasn't in the mood to listen.
"Will you go to lunch with him?" she asked, as I counted out her money.
"Probably," I replied. "I have a headache."
She nodded. "No energy to resist. I understand. Well, take aspirin or Tylenol," she advised. "And don't let him talk your ear off."
She took her money, counted it herself, and then grinned broadly at me. "You're the only teller who doesn't try to shortchange me, you know." She shook her head. "Either that or the others simply can't count. It's not as if counting requires great mathematical skill, is it?"
She walked off without waiting for my response, but her mention of mathematical skill reminded me of Miss Carswell, and I found myself wishing I could talk to her and find out exactly how much she knew about Jason's relationship with Diana. Instead of calling her, however, I finished up my half day's work at the bank and went outside to go to lunch with Mike.
He was waiting with a silly grin on his face. "Hey," he began as soon as I walked through the door, "guess who I saw just now?"
The throbbing in my head intensified. "I don't know," I replied.
"I know you don't. That's why you have to guess."
"Mike, I have a headache and don't want to play guessing games."
He shrugged and looked injured. "I was just trying to distract you."
"I don't need to be distracted," I said tiredly. "I need to get some food in me and take myself over to the drugstore."
"Okay, okay!" he barked. "I'll drive you to the Chinese…I mean Vietnamese restaurant and then over to Hightower's. How's that for service?"
Lunch with Mike at an ethnic restaurant is always an embarrassing experience, but this time it was agonizing. He decided to regale me with tales of what he considered weird Asian culinary habits. I was embarrassed for him, and that didn't make for an enjoyable meal.
"I heard they eat dogs," he said in a stage whisper. "Can you imagine that? Dogs!"
I sighed. "Where did you hear that?"
"Arnold Steiner," he replied. "He served in Nam in the sixties," he added, as if I didn't know and hadn't heard all of Arnold's stories more times than I cared to remember.
"You know what else Arnold told me?" he asked brightly.
I should have known better from the expression on his face, but I replied, "What?"
"He told me your college boy is coming home with a new girlfriend. His sister Francie heard it from old Lore Harnisch. Bet you didn't know that!" he crowed.
I looked at him and rolled my eyes. "Bet I did!" I replied, suppressing the urge to throw tea in his face. "Miss Carswell told me."
"Oh," he replied, a little deflated. "Well, at least you're not still going out with him."
I shook my head. "You are a real jerk, Mike McLaren, do you know that?"
He looked bewildered for a second. "You really are in a mood today," he said. "Are you going to eat the rest of those weird noodles or can I have them?"
After he ate my noodles, Mike drove me to Hightower's. "Hope you feel better soon," he called out as he drove away. I hoped so too, but I didn't expect much improvement. In addition to my headache, I had a funny feeling in my stomach. I knew its source was my wondering how Jason's grandmother could possibly know he was bringing his new girlfriend home unless Amanda knew as well and had told her. I couldn't imagine that Jason had phoned or written to his grandmother.
On my break I phoned Amanda, but there was no answer, which was just as well because I had no idea what I was going to say to her. However, the headache kept getting worse and the uncomfortably feeling in my stomach didn't go away.
When my shift was over, I felt truly sick and miserable. I tried Amanda one more time, again in vain. She was either not home or not picking up the phone. I started for home, but I hadn't walked ten feet from the store when I heard a familiar voice call my name. I looked up and Bob Harmon was waving at me. I waved back, wishing he'd just go away, but he came over. One look at me and he grabbed my arm.
"You look positively green, Lisa. Let me give you a ride home."
Although the idea of a ride home sounded good, I didn't know if I could stand his talking at me all the way. I just looked at him and started to shake my head and pull my arm loose..
"No argument, young lady," he said. So I stopped resisting and let him drive me home.



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