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

The next morning wasn't very busy at the bank, so I had a lot of time to worry. I worried until almost eleven and then decided I would ask my supervisor if I could have an extra fifteen minutes for lunch and take a shorter lunch the next day to make up the time. I was closing my station when I looked up to see Amanda enter the bank and bear down on me.
For a moment I was tempted to pretend I hadn't seen her, but I collected my wits and re-opened my window. There was no line, so she came right up and greeted me.
"Hi, Lisa." Her voice was as friendly as usual. "I just have a check to deposit." She pushed the check through to me. "Are you free for lunch?"
"No," I replied, trying to sound neutral.
She looked at me intently. "Is something wrong?"
I didn't make eye contact. "I have to get across town and out to the hospital to meet Miss Carswell. I need to get her advice on a family matter."
Amanda was silent until I handed her receipt to her.
"I could give you ride," she offered. "I have to take the car in for an oil change anyway."
I sighed. "Thanks, but I don't get off for another hour."
She shrugged and grinned at me. "I'll pick you up in front of the bank in an hour then."
After she left, I wondered why I felt so torn. I'd been trying to get in touch with her, but now that the opportunity to talk with her had fallen into my lap, I felt anxious, almost sick to my stomach. I worked the rest of my morning shift in a fog, worrying about what I would say and halfway hoping she'd forget her offer to drive me to the hospital.
When I walked out onto the sidewalk, Amanda's car was waiting. I walked over to it and got into the passenger seat. She smiled at me and turned the key. "Hi," she said. "I didn't get a chance to ask why you were meeting Miss Carswell at the hospital. Is she okay?"
"She's fine," I replied. "She's there with a friend."
"Oh," was Amanda's reply. "Anyone I know?"
I shook my head. "I doubt it. Someone from out of town."
I really didn't want to start explaining. I just wanted to feel less tense.
She looked over at me when we hit the one stoplight in town and it was red, as usual.
"So what's going on? You seem really stressed."
I looked over at her and blurted out, "Why didn't you tell me Jason had a new girlfriend and was bringing her home for Christmas?" Then I took a deep breath, wondering if that would help my heart stop pounding.
Amanda sighed. "Jason asked me not to. He said he would tell you himself."
I didn't reply.
"He did tell you, didn't he?"
"Miss Carswell told me."
"Well," Amanda said sharply. "It wasn't her place to do that."
"I'm glad she did," I answered just as sharply. "Otherwise I'd have heard it from Mike McLaren."
The light turned green, but Amanda didn't take her foot off the brake. "Mike McLaren?" she squawked.
The driver behind us leaned on his horn, and Amanda pulled across the intersection, then over to the curb. "Mike McLaren? How the hell did he find out?"
"He heard it from Arnold Steiner. Arnold's sister has been listening to your mother."
Amanda's mouth fell open. "My mother? That's ridiculous. My mother doesn't even know which courses Jason is taking, let alone anything about his love life."
I shrugged. "Well, Mike knew, and he told me he got it from Arnold who heard it from his sister who heard it from your mother. Make of it what you will, but I really need to get to the hospital."
"My mother? MY MOTHER!" Amanda shook her head. "I just don't get it."
She pulled away from the curb and drove me to the hospital.

Before I got out of the car, Amanda apologized for not telling me about Jason and Diana. At least I think it was an apology.
"If I'd known you'd hear about it from someone other than Jason, I'd have told you myself," she said. "I'm sorry I didn't. I can't imagine how awful you must have felt hearing it from that old…" She caught herself. "Oh well, I guess hearing it from Mike was probably worse."
She looked over at me. "I heard that you and he were getting serious."
I knew where she was heading, and I wasn't quite ready to let her or Jason off the hook. "No," I replied. "We're not."
"My mother really likes him, but I have my father's support, and he's the one who counts. Mike is having a hard time taking no for an answer, but he'll have to accept it."
"I see," she murmured. "Not because you're still… Not because of Jason, I hope."
I shook my head. "No," I replied. "Not because of Jason."
She nodded. "Listen, I know you have to get back to the bank after your lunch break, and I'll be heading that way after I finish at the garage. I could give you a lift."
"You don't have to do that," I said, opening the door.
"It's no bother, Lisa," she said, "and I'd like to."
I smiled thinly. "Okay," I agreed. "If you don't see me out here, I'll be at obstetrics."
"Obstetrics?" Her eyes got very wide.
I grinned at her. "No, Miss Carswell isn't pregnant and neither am I. I'll tell you about it on the way back to the bank."
She grinned back at me and drove off.

Miss Carswell was not in the hospital waiting room when I got there, but I was early. So after thinking about the likelihood of our missing each other if I headed towards obstetrics while she came here to get me, I sat down on one of the red, plastic chairs and looked around. The place was pretty empty. There was an old man sitting in a wheelchair near the admissions counter, a handful of young folks in green scrubs, and a middle-aged woman standing at the door, looking out. The only other person I got a glimpse of was a guy I took for a mental case until I noticed that he was writing with a fountain pen, not that writing with a fountain pen necessarily precludes being a mental case. He was hunched over, mumbling to himself and gesturing as if he were talking to another person. I couldn't hear him and I couldn't tell from across the room exactly what sort of pen he was using. So I got up and moved closer.
The pen was a green Vac in very good shape. The guy didn't seem to be in such good shape himself though. His thin hair was standing on end, and his glasses were attached to their ear pieces with masking tape. He was mumbling to himself so intently that he wasn't at all aware of my staring at him. I couldn't make out what he was saying even from only a few feet away.
Suddenly his glasses fell off onto the chair next to him. He fumbled for them without looking up from his paper or interrupting his mumble. I shook my head and started to laugh out loud. I couldn't help it. He just looked so funny.
At that moment Miss Carswell entered the room and headed straight towards me. At least I thought she was coming over to me until she stopped short and put one hand on the shoulder of the mumbling madman. With the other she retrieved his glasses and handed them to him.
"Stew," she said in a ringing voice, giving his shoulder a little shake, "Lisa is here and we need to talk. Would you please go stay with Cathy now? We'll be in to relieve you in about a half-hour."
I gawked, I admit it. That lunatic was Stew? The man with the gorgeous voice?
Before I had a chance to react, he put his glasses back on and looked up at Miss Carswell with a radiant smile that transformed his face. "Thank you, Anita," he said in the voice that had enchanted me over the phone. "I'll gladly stay with Cathy."
He got up, unfolding a very tall, skinny frame, tripped over the leg of his chair, and sat down again. I laughed out loud and went over to him.
"Here," I said, extending my hand. When he grasped it, I gave his a slight pull and he was up on his feet. He grinned at me, not letting go of my hand.
"You must be Lisa," he said. "I'm Stew."
He was funny-looking, there was no two ways about it, but I liked him right off. He was not only tall and skeletally thin, but also clumsy and obviously cross-eyed, even with his glasses on. His eyes were nice though, dark green and very large. He had thin, light brown hair with a little gray at the temples, very large ears and a large nose. He didn't look like someone who got a lot of exercise, but he had a good strong handshake.
"Lisa, I'd like you to meet Professor Stewart Klein," Miss Carswell announced. I must have smirked a little because she gave me a stern glance before continuing. "Stew teaches mathematics at Purdue University and collects Parker fountain pens."
Stew piped up, "And I was Bob Harmon's college roommate. Now you have all the relevant facts, so you can go talk with Anita in peace, while I sit with Cathy. The coffee in the cafeteria is dreadful, but they have good chocolate chip cookies. I think they bring them in from an outside bakery."
He finally let go of my hand, waved at us, and headed through the double doors that led from the waiting room into the rest of the hospital."
"Stew is the stereotypical absent-minded professor," Miss Carswell told me as we walked into the cafeteria. "He is brilliant, has a heart of gold, and is as worldly wise as a toddler. And he is right about the coffee in here and the chocolate chip cookies."



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