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
"Bet you left the wheel off again," he grumbled.
"I found it with the wheel off, so I returned it that
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,"
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
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
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
home for Christmas and how
I'd feel about it. I got up and went into the bathroom to
look for an aspirin.
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
"Hey, we're not even married yet and she has a headache,"
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
"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
"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 know you don't. That's why you have to guess."
"Mike, I have a headache and don't want to play guessing
He shrugged and looked injured. "I was just trying to
"I don't need to be distracted," I said tiredly.
"I need to get some food in me and take myself over to
"Okay, okay!" he barked. "I'll drive you to
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
"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
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.