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

"Your father and I have decided that you need to keep your job at Hightower's for a bit longer," my mother informed me as soon as I walked through the front door. She was home from work again, and though I knew it was because of Donald, it didn't make sense to me.
"Why aren't you at work, mom?" I asked.
She ignored my question. "Did you hear me, Lisa? We'll need the extra money to pay for Donald's defense."
"It's too late," I said. "I already quit."
"Well, you'd better unquit," she said, as if it were that easy.
I shook my head. "No, I can't do that. I've already been replaced."
She looked disgusted. "Your father will not be pleased."
I shrugged.
"Don't you care about us at all?" she demanded.
I didn't dignify that with an answer. "Have you started dinner?" I asked.
"Who can eat at a time like this?"
I had started towards the kitchen but stopped and faced her. "Okay, I'll bite. What happened in court today? And where is dad?"
"They set bail for Donald, but we don't have the money. And they're not just charging him with possessing a stolen vehicle. They're charging him with some kind of forgery as well." She sniffed. "I thought forgery was only when you signed someone else's name to profit from it."
"Well, they're just using the forgery charge to pressure him," I informed her. I was surprised that Donald hadn't turned in Brenda. It made me wonder if my brother had some loyalty after all."
"No, that's not it," she retorted. "He told them that Lewis girl was the one who copied your name, but they still charged him."
So much for Donald's loyalty. I wondered briefly what the police and the district attorney were really after. I was still wondering when I started towards the kitchen again, wondering if my mother would follow me. She didn't, so I started preparing dinner without her.
I was cutting up vegetables when my father walked into the kitchen. I expected him to say something about my having quit my job at Hightower's, but he didn't. He just stood by the sink and watched my work at the stove. Eventually he sat down and cleared his throat.
"Lisa," he began, "I think we have a problem."
Here it comes, I thought to myself, but what he said was not what I expected. "I think your mother is going off the deep end about Donald's arrest," he said. "She's stopped going to work. All she does is run around like a chicken without a head, demanding that I figure out how to get him out of jail."
"She told me you wanted me to keep working at Hightower's," I said calmly, "but it's too late. I quit. And I've been replaced."
He shrugged. "It doesn't matter," he replied shortly. "The extra money wouldn't have been enough to make a difference right away."
I refrained from comment about my mother. I'd learned long ago not to butt in when they were having a disagreement. I added some chicken meat and broth to the pan of vegetables. "Did you talk with Miss Carswell?" I asked.
He nodded but didn't elaborate, forcing me to ask, "Well, what did she say?"
He sighed. "That Donald is acting out because he's been spoiled."
"And?"
"And he wants to leave."
"How does she know that?" I demanded.
"He told her. She went and talked to him and he told her he hates his life here and hates us." He sighed again, more explosively. "He doesn't want to spend his life stuck on a farm. Or so she said."
"Well, he's not inheriting the farm anyway. Mark is."
My father shook his head. "Mark doesn't want to come back here to live either. When I'm gone, he'll sell the land to a developer, I think."
"Well, that's a long way off," I replied, wanting to switch the subject back to Miss Carswell's observations and suggestions. "Did Miss Carswell have any advice?"
My dad cleared his throat and rolled his eyes. "She said we would benefit from some family counseling." He shook his head. "You know how I feel about that stuff."
I knew it very well, but before I had a chance to say anything, he continued, "If you're not crazy when you start seeing a shrink, you soon will be." He snorted. "Crazy and broke too. I don't know what she was thinking of to suggest that to me."
It never occurred to dad that I was studying psychology when he launched into one of his tirades about shrinks, and I didn't want to remind him. So I just asked, "Can't Miss Carswell do anything to help Donald?"
He shook his head. "She said that since it's a felony charge and already in the hands of the court, she can't do a thing unless they ask for her help. And she reminded me that she had information that wouldn't serve Donald's case since he isn't being charged with trafficking."
I felt momentarily guilty for having told Miss Carswell, but he didn't make a point of it.
"No, she wasn't much help," he said, sounding disappointed.
"Uh," I hesitated, "how would you feel if instead of going to a shrink, we asked Miss Carswell to do a family intervention or mediation or whatever she thinks would help."
A short bark of grim laughter greeted that suggestion. "If she thought it would do any good I'm sure she would have intervened in our family affairs already. Remember, she already did that once when you were young."
I knew from the laugh that dad was wondering if things would be different had he continued to use force and physical intimidation in raising us instead of doing what Miss Carswell suggested.
"I do remember," I replied. "And if you hadn't followed her advice then, you'd probably have lost us."
He nodded. "You've got a point. But maybe I wouldn't have lost all that much. I mean," he hastily added, "you're a good girl even if you do talk too much to that old woman, but Mark has deserted us and the farm, and Donald has turned out a rotten apple."
I shook my head. "Dad, just because Mark doesn't want to be a farmer doesn't mean he's deserted us."
"Could have fooled me," he answered. "I put everything I had into this farm, and no one wants it. Maybe I should sell and spend my old age doing something easier."
I thought that wasn't such a bad idea but knew better than to say so. "I think you have to do what's right for you, dad. What happens after you're gone, well, that won't affect you one way or the other."
He sighed. "You're a smart girl, Lisa, and a good one. But how will you feel if the farm gets sold after so much of your hard-won earnings went into keeping it afloat?"
"I never worked to keep the farm, dad," I replied honestly. "I worked to keep you and mom from feeling bad."
He looked at me hard for a second. Then my dad stood up, came over to me, and put his arms around me. He gave me a brief but heartfelt hug and said quite loudly, "Well, at least one of my kids turned out all right." Then he walked into the living room to argue with my mother.

I tried to study after dinner, but mom walked into my room, sat down on my bed, and said, "Lisa, I need to talk to you. I think it's time you and Mike set a date."
I was sitting at an old desk I'd made out of a door and some wooden crates, and for a moment I just stayed still staring down at my book, pen in hand, with my back to her. I counted to ten and then turned to face her.
"Mike and I aren't getting married," I replied. "I've told him and I've told you."
She glared at me. "You're completely unreasonable, Lisa," she replied. "He's a good man, he wants to marry you, and you need to get out of here. This family is going to hell in a hand-basket."
I stared back at her, astonished at what I was hearing. "I don't have to marry Mike McLaren to get out of here. If that's what I wanted, I'd just apply to college. I wouldn't even have to go out of state, just to a different town.."
"And use what to pay your tuition?" she challenged. "Your grades were all right, but not that good. This damned farm has eaten up all your earnings." She sniffed disdainfully. "Besides, marriage to a man with a bit of money and a bit of property is much easier than going to school."
I shook my head. "I'd never marry someone for his money."
She snorted. "That's what I said, and look where it got me."
It certainly was my evening for receiving unwanted revelations, but I decided to see if my mother was any more open to the idea of family counseling than my father had been
"You know, Miss Carswell suggested we get counseling as a family," I began.
She nodded. "So your father said."
"And?"
"And nothing," she replied. "How are we supposed to pay a shrink when we can't even raise enough to get our son bailed out of jail?"
"But if we could?" I persisted, hoping that the old saying about there being a way when there was a will had a kernel of truth to it.
"Do you really think we need counseling to let us see that we're in trouble? Don't we know that already?"
She stood up and walked to the door. "Think about a date for the wedding, Lisa. You could do worse."
"I'm not getting married to Mike McLaren," I said firmly to her retreating back. "Close the door behind you. I'm trying to study."
But I couldn't study anymore. Instead I picked up the phone and dialed Miss. Carswell's number.

 


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