Mister Potter looked over Jake's shoulder. "Think you've got it figured out, Jake?"
Jake looked up at his boss from the instruction book he'd been poring over for the last hour. "Sure - it's pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it. It's like any other vehicle, whether it's a plane or a car; the idea's to get as much power and as little weight as possible. I think there are going to be two main sorts of customer - people who'll be buying basic starter kits - they'll mainly be parents buying them as birthday presents and things I guess, and the enthusiasts. The enthusiasts'll be older kids who are really getting into it, and they're going to want track components and car parts so they can build their own cars for competitions. And they'll pay for them."
Mister Potter took off his glasses and looked intently at Jake. "That's a pretty impressive analysis young feller. I really never thought of it like that. I just thought of them as models - kits to sell."
"You could think of them like that, but you'd be missing out on the best customers. Look..." He fished out a trade magazine from under a pile and thumbed through it for a particular article. "See - there are specialist parts makers springing up selling special tires, motor winding kits, all sorts of stuff. That wouldn't be happening if there wasn't already a market, and if we - if you - stocked some of them or got into an agency deal with them, you could, you know, get people around here more interested in it - make a market for it."
The older man was grinning. "Jake, you're talking like I was trying to build up a retail empire here! I'm just sell toys and models."
"Sure! But everyone had to start somewhere, didn't they?"
"I guess so," he laughed, his eyes twinkling with pleasure at his young protégé's enthusiasm. "So what do suggest I - we - do, Jake."
"I could get on the phone and talk to some of those places - see what I could set up. We'd have to order some stuff at first I guess. The next thing I'd do would be to make up a new window display showing some of the cars and the accessories."
Jake's boss put his glasses back on and scratched his head. "Change the display, eh? You know it's been pretty much the same for a long time, Jake."
"Times change, Mister Potter. New trends. Once it was model trains, then planes, now it's slot cars. Who knows what it might be tomorrow? With all the stuff that's going on about the moon landing it'll probably be rockets. Who knows - maybe roller skates'll come back one day. But right now, it's slot cars."
"Okay, Jake - I'll tell you what. Get on the phone - do what you think's best, but don't spend any more than fifty dollars at first. Other than that, it's your project. Show me what you can do."
Jake's eyes lit up. "Fifty bucks - that'll be plenty to get some samples in and to give me an 'in' with them. Thanks Mister Potter!"
He gathered up the magazines and manuals and hurried out to the back room where there was a desk and a telephone. Mister Potter stared after his young assistant, shaking his head and feeling old. An hour later Jake came out clutching a sheet of paper dense with notes and figures.
"Okay - here's what I've done. I called West Coast Specialty Slots and ordered two sets of..."
Jake went over the details of the orders. None of it made much sense to Mister Potter, but the meticulous way that Jake had detailed the orders, and the total - $49.97 including shipping, was enough to convince him that at least he had no cause to worry about Jake's business acumen. If it didn't work, he'd only lost $49.97 - not inconsiderable, but it'd be worth it to see what happened.
"...and I'll stay back on Saturday after we close to change the window display. All the stuff should be here by then."
Amanda lay on her back, her eyes wide open. Inside the tent it was pitch black but outside, through the half-open flap, stars glimmered. She turned around to lie with her head outside tent, staring up at the sky. She'd never slept in a tent, outside in the open air. She smiled, thinking of the stories some of the kids at school had come back with from their camping holidays - rain, wind, how yucky it was. She took a deep breath, letting the delicious mix of earthy smells, linden and pine, flow through her and closed her eyes for a minute, concentrating, sensing the almost impalpable touch of the still night air on her face, then opened them again just in time to stifle a gasp as a tiny speck of cosmic dust carved a brilliant arc above her, leaving a fading epitaph of light across a group of stars. She traced its shape with her eyes. It made a picture.
"See those stars over there, honey?"
"Yes, Daddy. Look - that one's bright red!"
"Beetle Juice? Hehe - Beetle Juice! What a funny name!"
"Look. If you imagine those three bright stars are a belt, with a sword hanging down from them, Betelgeuse is his shoulder...that's the constellation called Orion, the hunter. And over there - those are his two hunting dogs."
"I can't see them, but I can see Orion!"
"Some of the star pictures - they're called constellations - are easier to see than others. There are stories about most of them."
"Will you tell me the stories?"
"If you like! Maybe each time we go out to look at the stars I could tell you the story of one of the constellations."
"Is there a story about Orion?"
"Oh yes. Orion was a great hunter. He fell in love with a beautiful princess, but the princess's father, the king, didn't want his daughter to marry Orion. He told that if he wanted to marry her he'd have to do all sorts of difficult jobs, but every time Orion finished one of the jobs, the king would give him another harder one to do. Eventually Orion gave up and realised that the king would never let him marry the princess."
"The king was mean!"
"Maybe. Perhaps he just wanted the best for his daughter. Daddies do, you know."
"No. He was mean. What happened to Orion?"
"Orion had a magic lion skin that protected him from harm. The pictures of Orion usually show him with the lion skin draped over his shoulder. Look - if you use your imagination you can see!"
"The only part of Orion that wasn't covered by the lion skin was his feet. He died when a scorpion stung him on the foot."
"The king of the gods, Zeus, felt sorry for him so he put him in the sky with his faithful dogs so that everyone would know what a mighty hunter he'd been. Zeus put the scorpion in the sky too, but he put it as far away from Orion as he could so that it could never hurt him again."
"Where's the scorpion?"
"You can't see it tonight. We'd have to come out later to see
the scorpion - past your bedtime."
She guessed that it was around two o'clock. The moon hadn't risen, or it had set, but she could see the outline of the Willys by starlight. The back doors were open and a faint rustle came from inside as Vincent turned over in his sleep.
For the first time since she left home her mind was clear, not consumed with thoughts of tomorrow. Her hand traced the now obvious curve of her stomach, almost a reflex these days, like a tongue probing a broken tooth. It was impossible not to think about Jake, to wonder what he was doing, whether he was awake. Did he see that meteor? Does he ever think about her and wonder?
She pulled the blanket up tight under her neck, not because she was cold, but to feel its roughness.
Amanda knew the constellations. She knew their stories. Orion. Taurus. Pisces. Gemini. Scorpius.
She looked up. The meteor trail had faded, but she knew the constellation that marked its passing.
"Hey Ma - listen to what Jake says..."
So Mister Potter gave me a fifty dollar bonus. A whole week's pay! Can you imagine how good that was, Willy? After all of Mad Dog's years of telling me how useless I am, and all of Ellenbogen's bullying - to be told what a great job I've done and to be given a whole week's pay as a bonus?
Willy left out the next sentence. There's only one thing in my life that felt better than that. She'd ask him what Jake was talking about.
Willy's mother stopped peeling the potato she was holding and looked out through he kitchen window. "I'm glad Jake did so good at that store! That poor boy. He deserves somethin' nice. What's he going to do with all that money he's made?"
"He's gonna buy a locket for Amanda. He told me about it - it sounds real pretty."
"You know, I'm gonna bake him some cookies!" She turned, putting down the potato and wiping her hands on the floral print apron she was wearing. "You can take them to him next week"
"Uh, that's real nice of you, Ma, and he'd be happy to know you were thinkin' about him, but Jake's...uh...allergic to cookies."
"Oh - silly me! I forgot - you told me that. I wish you could bring Jake home sometime, Willy."
"Listen to this..."
Give your Ma my love, Willy. You're a lucky guy. Maybe I'll get to meet her some time. Maybe when we've left Buxton Ridge Hilda and Amanda and I could all come and visit.
Willy's mother wiped her eye on he corner of her apron. "I don't think there's anything I'd like more'n that. How can that terrible father of his be so cruel to him? How can any father treat a son like that?"
"Wish I knew, Ma."
"He must be looking forward to seein' that girl of his. Has she written to him yet?"
"No. Ain't been nothin' at all."
"I surely hope everything's alright. I just bet it'd bust Jake up real bad if it was more than, you know, like you said, her folks bein' Cath'lic and all."
"Yeah. I hope so too, Ma."
And Willy did hope, but deep down he didn't believe it. There were so many ways she could get round it if she'd wanted to. No, it was something much more complicated than that. Question was, what was gonna happen in two weeks when they met up at Gilberts. Or, more likely, didn't meet up at Gilbert's.
Vincent was standing at the back of the Willys loading the camera equipment back into the metal locker. He turned, puzzled by her question. She didn't know?
"Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy - you didn't know?"
"No. I...didn't pay much attention to that stuff. How did..."
"Assassination. You heard about Doctor King?"
He took another lens from her and turned back to the business of packing everything away properly.
"Oh - yeah."
"Uh, no." Amanda blushed.
"Eldridge Cleaver? The DEA? HAIR? The Spring Mobilisation?"
He turned again, just catching the way her hair moved, and he realised that she'd been shaking her head.
"You never were a hippy, were you?"
There was that sad look again. It might have been the shape of her face, but it wasn't always that. There was real sadness underneath it, and it was heartbreaking. He wanted so badly to hug her, but he knew that would be the end of it. Her message was clear. She wasn't interested. It didn't change the way he felt though.
"Are you okay, Amanda?"
She looked at that ground and gently shook her head.
"You did well," he said said gently.
She looked up. "Did I? Really?"
"Yeah," he smiled. "You stayed cool. You did a perfect job on the cameras. You had exactly what I needed ready just when I needed it. Those are some of the best shots I've ever taken. I couldn't have done it without you."
"I was so scared." Looking back at the ground again.
The Chicago Democratic Convention had been a riot. Ten thousand demonstrators, eleven thousand police, thousands of US Army troops, thousands more National Guardsmen. Vincent turned back to the Willys, carefully putting the equipment back in the padded storage bins.
"Someone's going to die soon. I want to be there when it happens."
Sensing her shock he stood quickly, hitting his head on the door surround. "Shit! That's not what I meant! Look, all those people - they knew what they were facing - they knew the danger. How many of them do you suppose were willing to face that for what they believed in?"
"I don't know. I...a lot of them I guess."
"Yeah. Thousands of people, willing to face more than one armed person each, standing up for what the believe in. We documented that today. But someone's going to die - maybe more than one. Soon. That has to be documented too. Right?"
It had started to make sense.
By the end of the next week she'd taken to wearing a peace sign - just a cheap hand-made copper one on a plain black leather thong that she'd bought from a hippie stall, at a market where she'd bought some loose cotton dresses that felt comfortable over her growing figure. She was wearing her hair out. He'd bought her a pair of hand made leather sandals. She was still wearing a bra and her breasts were just starting to feel heavier, responding to her changing body chemistry.
She'd worried a little about the sandals, probably would have preferred if he hadn't bought them for her. She was being silly, she knew, but it was just a little...uncomfortable. She'd thought of refusing, but he was so nice, and he never gave any sign that there was anything behind it but friendship, and the fact that he was just a nice guy.
"Oh man! That's beautiful, Jake!"
"Thanks Willy." Jake closed the little case with a snap.
"But you said you were gonna get her a locket. A silver one with gold filigree. I remember you sayin'..."
"Can I help you...sir?"
Jake ignored the disdain in the store clerk's voice. "That locket in the window. I'd like to look at it please."
The clerk raised her eyes heavenward, knowing that as soon as she told him how much it was he was going to be embarrassed and she was going to have wasted her time. She sidled out from behind the counter and went to the window, unlocking the sliding glass panel that protected the display from "customers".
While he waited, Jake looked down through the glass top of the counter...
The clerk came back with the locket and walked back behind the counter. She held out her hand with the locket draped over it. "You know, Sir, this is really quite an expensive piece. It's sterling silver with eighteen carat gold chasing and..."
"I don't want it."
The clerk appealed to heaven again. Why did she bother. Little boys with grandiose ideas. She turned to put the locket back in the window when Jake stopped her.
"I want that."
He pointed at the display under that counter. The clerk smiled. Grandiose ideas were one thing, but this was positively funny. She was going to have some fun at this silly boy's expense.
"Certainly, Sir." She put the locket down and slowly flipped through the keys on the keyring that hung from her belt, making a show of unlocking the sliding door on the back of the cabinet. She reached in and brought out the tray containing the item he'd been pointing at.
"You should have seen her face, Willy!" Jake's eyes sparkled. "She was playing me, you know. She was thinking that I was going to faint when she told me how much it was. 'A fine choice, sir,' she says. You should have heard her, Willy. The honey was just dripping from her tongue. 'Half carat, South African stone, flawless.'"
Willy chuckled at Jake's imitation of the snooty clerk, but he realised that what he'd been looking at wasn't just pretty - it was more than that. "Uh, Jake, just how much did it cost?"
"I'll get to that. I had to have it, Willy - for once in my life I could afford the best. I had the whole roll in my pocket and there was only one reason why I took that job, but even so I didn't know whether I was going to be able to afford it. So I plucked up my courage and said 'I'll take it.' I could tell she was really looking forward to the look on my face. 'Certainly Sir,' she said. 'That will be $499.99.'"
Willy's eyes widened. That was more money than he'd ever seen in one place at one time, and it was all in that tiny little pebble.
Jake was having a hard time controlling himself and, like yawning, it was contagious. Willy was picturing the prissy clerk, her smarmy face just waiting for Jake's embarrassment. "You should have seen the look when I pulled out the roll and started counting off five hundred! I could almost hear her shitting herself!"
They both burst out laughing, and were still wiping the tears from their eyes when a familiar voice interrupted.
"Glad to see you're so happy to be back, boys."
They spun round and snapped to attention. Corporal Ellenbogen sneered at Jake.
"Decided not to shave this morning, Morgendorffer? Still in holiday mode are we?"
Jake's hand went to his face, feeling the stubble. "No, Sir. I shaved this morning."
"What with, son? A strand of limp spaghetti?"
Willy stifled a chuckle.
"No, Sir. A new razor blade, Corporal."
Ellenbogen looked puzzled. "Are you serious son? You really did shave this morning?"
"Sir, yes Sir."
"The why doesn't it look like it?"
"I don't know, Sir. It always looks like this."
Corporal Ellenbogen bent down, picked up a twig from the ground and handed it to Jake. "Show me how you shave, Morgendorffer."
Jake took the twig and glanced towards Willy, mentally shrugging his shoulders. He held the twig as he always held his razor, handle down, and mimicked dragging the blade down over his his cheeks and chin.
"Didn't your father ever teach you to shave, Morgendorffer?"
"No sir. No, he didn't."
Corporal Ellenbogen tutted quietly and held out his hand for the twig, taking it as Jake handed it back to him.
"Run your hand over your cheek, boy. Up and down. What do you feel?"
Jake did as he was bid. "Uh, stubble, Sir?"
"What about it, Morgendorffer?"
Jake continued rubbing his cheek, then stopped. "It's...pricklier...in one direction - down - I mean up."
"Exactly. The hair grows downwards, not straight out. So if you shave like this -" he dragged the 'razor' down over his cheek - "the blade just slides over the hair instead of cutting it. If you do this -" he turned the twig over and pulled it upwards across his cheek "it cuts the hair off clean, see."
Jake was genuinely interested. It made perfect sense once someone explained it. "Yes, Sir! I get it!"
"Good. Now get back to barracks and try again, Morgendorffer, then report to my office at 1100 hours. I expect to see a face as smooth as a baby's ass."
The corporal strode off. Jake and Willy walked off past the munitions hut towards their barracks. "I'll be damned!" Jake muttered.
Willy clapped Jake on the shoulder. "At last he didn't say he wanted you to come back with a face that looks like your ass! I mean why would he want you to look like him?"
"Or smell like him!"
They burst out laughing again.
* * *
The bustle of a new year, getting their new class assignments, the sense of accomplishment that Jake's cohort felt in being the seniors made the time slip by for everyone except Jake, and for him every day felt the weight of the months he'd gone without seeing Amanda - and the months he'd gone without hearing from her. Every possible reason, every possible situation played itself out in wide screen and Technicolor in Jake's mind, sometimes threatening to unleash all the demons of hell, sometimes planting him smack in Heaven itself, with choirs of angels singing - each one with her face.
The small and precious ring box never left him. Every day it nestled in the bottom of his pocket wrapped in a handkerchief, and every night it lay under his pillow gripped tightly in his hand, the last thing he felt before he finally drifted off. Sometimes during the long afternoon classes his hand would steal into his pocket, just to make sure it was still there and, if he was lucky, to trigger memories of those sweetest of dreams. A tiny chunk of carbon, essentially valueless, inedible, too small to be any use for throwing at things, cut and polished so that it could return light with fire, capture a young man's dreams in its bright prism.
But Saturday finally arrived in slow motion, dripping like honey from a comb. The only thing moving fast was Jake's heart, threatening to explode as the bus crept with infuriating slowness towards Ggiillbbeerrttss Mmaalltt Sshhoopp. Jake's concentration was focussed like a laser burning holes in the day, Willy's voice a low rumble, thunder on a distant horizon.
The bus stopped and disgorged its passengers.
Willy grabbed Jake's arm as they closed in on Gilberts. "Yyoouu wwaaiitt oouuttssiiddee, mmaann. Ii'll ggoo iinn aanndd ggeett uuss aa sseeaatt."
Slowly the world returned to normal, though Jake was too distracted to realise that what Willy had said didn't make any sense. He waited, following instructions, pacing nervously back and forth until it slowly dawned on him that Willy should have come out by now. He put his hand into his pocket and touched the box for luck, gathered all the courage he possessed, and walked into the coolness of the malt shop.
It was the smell of coffee that woke her.
Amanda had gone back to sleep looking up at the stars and she lay as she'd done early that morning, half in and half out of the tent. She opened her eyes slowly, so slowly that he didn't notice and she watched him watching her, sitting motionless, coffee cup cradled in his hands steaming in the cool morning air, staring.
She lay still, trying not to smile and wondering how long it would be before he noticed that she was looking back at him, hoping that he'd made enough coffee for two. Summer's heat had already started to give way to Autumn's "mists and mellow fruitfulness" and the still morning air held a hint of moisture, intensifying the scents of the surrounding forest. Not far to the east, the Pacific Ocean lent just a hint of salt to the air, and there was just a trace of smoke from the fire he'd made to make the coffee.
She remembered the first time she'd worried about whether he was getting the wrong idea. She'd been trying to show him how she'd been able to concentrate on the shapes in the photograph she'd taken. When it had been processed and printed it had come out exactly the way she'd wanted and he was eager to understand and to learn.
"See - if you scrunch your eyes up the details disappear and you just see the shapes."
He bent his head down over the camera, looking at what she could see in the ground glass screen. His face brushed against her and he put his arm around her waist to steady himself. He was concentrating too hard to see her blush, feeling worried. Please. Not that.
She was imagining it of course. There was nothing there. There couldn't be. She couldn't bear the thought of having to leave again.
When he finally noticed her looking at him he started.
"Sorry," she grinned. "I didn't mean to startle you."
He smiled back at her, and this time it was Vincent's turn to blush. "I, uh, didn't mean..."
"That coffee smells great. Is there enough for another cup?" She asked as she turned over onto her stomach..
Vincent picked up the coffee pot and poured a steaming mug, adding a generous splash of milk and the two sugars he knew she liked, stirred it and brought it over to her, squatting on his haunches.
Two weeks ago things had taken an irrevocable turn, though she hadn't realised it at first. And back then, no-one had heard of the butterfly effect - the chaos theory that postulated that the flutter of a butterfly's wings in Africa could set off a train of events that caused a hurricane in Florida three weeks later.
Didn't I make you feel like you were the only man, yeah,
An' didn't I give you nearly everything that a woman possibly can ?
Honey, you know I did! And each time I tell myself that I, well I think I've had enough,
But I'm gonna show you, baby, that a woman can be tough.
"Stop - please!"
Vincent hit the brakes and pulled off to the side of the road.
"Ssshhhh!" She put her fingers to her lips.
I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take it,
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby,
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah. Hey!
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby, yeah.
You know you got it if it makes you feel good,
Oh yes indeed. All right!
She sat, hanging off every raw, rasping word until the song ended.
"That was Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, off their album Cheap Thrills. That album's on its way to selling a million copies in its first month, folks, and remember, Janis and the Company are playing at the Palace of Fine Arts Festival in San Francisco on August 30 and September 1! Now here's a word from Gramma Maybelle's..."
Amanda reached forward and turned the radio off. A tide of anger was rising in her, triggered by the song. A piece of her heart. Yeah. How many pieces?
Vincent was staring at her - the song had obviously hit a raw nerve or two, and he waited for a few minutes, respecting her need to be alone with whatever the song had done to her, then he started the car and pulled back onto the road.
"You a fan of Janis?" he asked.
"I am now," she responded quietly.
Forty minutes later he turned right at a major intersection. Amanda looked back at the sign as they passed it and turned to him. "You took the wrong turn - this isn't the way to..."
"I know," he said. "I changed my mind."
In three days they arrived in San Francisco.
She took the cup and closed her eyes as the coffee snaked its way to her stomach. "Oh, yeah! That's the best coffee I've ever had!"
"Mr Folger's best," he grinned. "Sleep well?"
"Mmmm. Like a log."
"It's not the coffee, it's...this." He looked up and swept his gaze across the mountain scenery. "It just makes things more...real. Stuff always tastes better out here."
The butterfly had flapped its wings the day that song came on the radio.
He'd told her to wait in the car. Ten minutes later he came back and sat in the driver's seat, a grin on his face. He started the car and drove out into the traffic, still grinning.
She smiled. "What are you grinning about?"
He just reached into one of the pockets in his vest and pulled out two pieces of cardboard and handed them to her.
Tickets to the concert.
It was the first rock concert she'd ever been to and the experience thrilled her. Janis Joplin had been beyond her imaginings, the raw energy, the harshness, the depth of emotion surpassed anything she could have believed possible and, watching her perform Piece of My Heart, the anger rose again. She'd been tearing pieces off her heart and throwing them at Jake - or Jake's memory - while their child had been growing inside her, while she left her school and her family; while she threw herself on the mercy of the road; while she took up with a photographer who'd rescued her, befriended her and treated her...as if...as if...
It was time to stop. Jake was gone.
Deep down in your heart I said you know that it ain't right,
Never never never never never never hear me when I cry at night.
Honey, I cry all the time!
No more. Time to take it back.
"Hungry?" he asked.
She stretched, closing her eyes, feeling good. "Mm hmm."
He stood up and walked over to the Willys and started rummaging around in the back.
Amanda slipped back inside the tent, closed the flap and dressed. She hadn't been able to to wear her favourite dress, the crushed velvet one that Willow had given her, for six weeks and she'd been reluctant to give it up. It would have been perfect for the cool morning. She pulled on a long skirt with a fringe and slipped on a deep maroon Indian cotton top, then the leather sandals that he'd bought her. By the time she crawled out of the small tent Vincent was busy at the fire and the delicious smell of bacon and eggs made her stomach growl in anticipation. The aversion to bacon that she'd had earlier on in the pregnancy had left her as quickly as it had come.
She walked over the the Willys and poured a cup of water from the jerry can, took her toothbrush and toothpaste from the bag she kept them in and walked over to the edge of the clearing to brush her teeth. When she'd finished and put things back in their proper place - Vincent had told her that it had taken a month of living out of the van before he realised that you just had to keep things tidy in such a limited space or chaos overtook you - she turned to look at him, crouching by the fire and thought about where she might be today if they hadn't met, if he hadn't been so good to her.
She walked quietly up and crouched next to him, looking at breakfast sizzling in the pan. He turned and smiled. "Nearly ready."
She put an arm around his waist and gently pulled herself toward him, holding her cheek against his.
Vincent turned, amazed.
"Maybe," she said.
"Maybe it's this..." she looked around at their surroundings, then back to him. "Maybe it's something else."
She reached out and grabbed his vest, pulling him sharply towards her so that he overbalanced and fell. She caught him as he landed, put her arms around his neck, and kissed him.
Jake's eyes slowly adjusted to the light. Gilbert's was crowded and it took a minute for him to recognise Willy's form leaning on the table at a booth towards the back. The heads of the people in the booth in front blocked his view, but just as he started moving Willy turned toward him, catching sight of Jake. Willy's stricken face was enough for Jake to know immediately that things would never be the same again. He wasn't sure why, but his legs kept moving forward even as his brain was screaming STOP. If he stopped right here, before he could see the booth clearly, she'd always be right there waiting for him.
But all too soon he could see the lone occupant of the booth: Hilda. Cold certainty crept into Jake's heart.
Hilda turned to him, her face a caricature of misery. When he finally managed to speak past the lump in his throat the words were ash in his mouth. "She's not coming, is she?"
Willy guided Jake into the seat opposite Hilda and he slid in beside her.
"She found someone else? Someone who really deserved her, didn't she?"
Willy slowly shook his head, trying to speak. Hilda reached out and gently took his hand in both of hers.
"Jake, Amanda never came back to school. No-one knows what happened or where she is."
Of all the nightmares that had haunted Jake's nights and days for the last few months, this hadn't been one of them.
"Not...there? She didn't...?"
"She just didn't come back from Summer vacation."
"I tried, honey." She squeezed Jake's hand, feeling it trembling. "I asked everyone. No-one heard anything. Not that she had any friends or anything..."
"Wait! She did have a friend!" Jake blurted out. "That nun...Sister..."
"Sister Assumpta. Yeah. They were friends." Hilda looked even more downcast, if that was possible. Seeing Jake's wild eyes, grasping at this final straw, she swallowed, forcing herself to go on. "She can't help, honey..."
"She must be able to help! Amanda told me! She said Sister Assumpta was her best friend! She must know what happened!"
"Maybe, but she ain't telling. She's gone too. She left the order. Mother Superior told us at assembly on the first day back. She read us a note that Sister Assumpta asked her to read to us. Said that she had new - I dunno - new...stuff to do or something. I can't remember. Anyway, she's gone and she ain't comin' back." She looked at the emptiness in Jake's eyes. "I'm real sorry, hon."
Jake was utterly defeated. Willy and Hilda turned to each other, both hoping that the other would say something.
Jake stood up. "I'd better go," he said quietly.
Willy stood up as if to stop him, but realised that there was nothing he could do and sat down again, watching Jake walk out.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of All My Children.
Disclaimer: All characters are copyright MTV.
Special thanks: to all our beta readers: Brandon League, Bootstrapper, and to Renfield for encouragement.
Quirks: Deref, who typed the words, is an Australian, so he's used Aussie English spellings and grammar conventions. He may also have inadvertently used some Aussie idioms though he's tried to keep in culture.
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