"I can't believe you didn't tell me!"
"I can't believe you didn't know," Vincent said as he turned onto Route 95.
"No-one'll believe us you know."
"We've got the certificate."
"I was so embarrassed. When Dino came down off the stage and came over to sing That's Amore..."
Vincent laughed. "You know what I liked best?"
"When...when..." Vincent's eyes were watering from the strain of stopping himself from laughing, "when you gave them ten dollars each!"
"You BASTARD," she yelled, punching him on the shoulder before they both started laughing uncontrollably and Vincent had to pull over by the side of the road.
"You ...you gave Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior ten...ten...dollars for being w...witnesses! After Dean Martin had paid sixteen hundred dollars for the VIP suite...for TWO NIGHTS!"
After the hysterics were over she gazed at him. "You don't think they were insulted do you?"
"Insulted? No. I think they enjoyed it as much as we did. Maybe more. If they'd been insulted do you think they'd have said those nice things about you at the show?"
She smiled. "I still can't believe it."
Helen quietly slid the key into the lock, turned it gently, and eased the door open. The living room was empty and though it was only ten-thirty the house was quiet and she hoped, against experience, that everyone had gone to bed early. She turned and closed the door, turning the lock quietly so as not to...
"Well I've heard about rolling in the hay, but rolling in the mud? Is this some strange new hippie thing that hasn't gone mainstream yet?"
Helen turned to see Amy standing in the kitchen, a glass of milk in her hand, smirking. Suppressing a strong desire to yell at her youngest sister, Helen shushed her and whispered "We had an accident."
Amy's eyes opened wide. "You're pregnant? Already?"
As Helen's hands closed around Amy's throat she heard her father say "Amy - I don't think this is either the time or the place. Okay, Helen - what happened?"
Helen blushed. "I just want to get out of..." she looked down at her dress, "...this and take a shower then go to bed. Everything's alright - the car's not damaged and neither are we, but it's dirty. I dropped Jake back at Buxton Ridge. I'll pick him up in the morning and we'll wash the car."
"But did you...?"
"We never made it to the prom. Look, Daddy, I'll tell you about it over breakfast, okay?" Without waiting for an answer she turned and trudged up the stairs.
"Just wait a moment please, Honey," Arthur said gently. "Amy, go to bed please."
"But I want to..."
"I said bed, Amy I want to talk to your sister."
"Do I have to? Just when things were getting interesting?"
Arthur glared at Amy. Knowing that resistance was futile when that look was on his face she turned and climbed reluctantly upstairs to bed, watched every step of the way by Arthur. When her door closed he turned and took Helen's hand, holding it gently.
"Honey, nothing 'happened' tonight, did it? I mean aside from the accident?"
Helen looked into his eyes and, realising what he was asking, blushed, and squeezed his hand. "No, Daddy. Nothing like that. I just...I don't know where we stand. I mean I like him, a lot actually, but we're going our separate ways soon and I just don't know, you know?"
Arthur smiled, reached up, and kissed her on the forehead. "I think so, Honey. I'm sure that things will work themselves out. You're sure you're okay?"
Helen nodded and forced out a little smile.<>"Goodnight then," he said, squeezing her hand once again and watching her as she climbed the stairs to bed.
"So how did you get the car out of the ditch?" Helen's father asked as he poured a glass of grapefruit juice.
Helen spread a slice of peanut-buttered toast with grape jelly. "Jake hitched into town and got a tow truck to pull the car back onto the road."
"Well," Arthur sighed, looking up from his paper, "I suppose I should scold you for not being more careful. You know that there are deer along that road at night."
"I was being careful. We weren't going fast..." she turned and glared at Amy. "...and I wasn't distracted. It just jumped out in front of me."
"I didn't say anything," Amy said, a picture of innocence.
"I'm glad that neither of you was hurt," said Maureen. "But I'm so sorry that you missed the prom. And that beautiful dress..."
"I'm not," Helen said, stirring a cup of coffee. "The dress'll be fine." She glanced up at Rita who was eating a bowl of Corn Flakes. "Maybe you can wear it next year. It's not as if anyone's seen it."
Rita rolled her eyes. "Oh yeah. Right. I'll wear the dress that you..." she stopped, seeing Amy glance at her. "I'll get a new one, thank you."
"How much did the tow cost?" Arthur asked, more to defuse a potential explosion than because he cared about the price.
"I don't know." Helen took a large bite out of her toast and chewed thoughtfully. "Jake paid for it. I tried to stop him," she added quickly before her parents could object. "I don't know...I think he felt guilty - as if it was his fault. I just seemed easier to let him pay for it and argue about it later."
She gulped down her coffee and stood up. "Okay - I'm going to pick Jake up from Buxton Ridge. See you in half an hour."
Helen walked out, grateful for the excuse to stop the story there. The last thing she wanted to do was to tell her mother about where their talk last night had ended. Not that Helen really understood it herself. She'd meant it to be the "let's be friends" talk, but it hadn't ended up that way...at least she didn't think it had. They'd never really gone beyond a friendly kiss and holding hands - neither of them had seemed willing to take it any further. Maybe it was just common sense. After all, Jake would be leaving for home or college after graduation and that was only a week away. Neither of them had imagined...well...done anything...talked about what might happen after that, so they'd probably just both assumed that they'd go their separate ways. She hadn't been particularly surprised that he'd seemed hurt when she told him about her plans to go and spend a year with Willow and Coyote, but it was just bringing the inevitable on a little sooner. That was all. But...when he'd asked her to go with him to Willy's and Hilda's wedding she'd agreed so quickly. It was a crazy idea. It'd only make things harder. She should have refused.So why hadn't she?
"Well, I can't say as I've been to a lot o' proms in my time, Jakey, but I always kinda imagined that they'd involve dancin' and, well, you know, that sort o' thing. But hey - I'm a farm boy - ain't never been afraid of a little mud," Willy said. "So I guess we oughta think seriously about rubber boots next week."
"Ho ho. Very funny," Jake muttered as he shed his mud-caked clothes. "I'm gonna hit the showers."
Ten minutes later, clean and pyjamad, Jake lay in his bunk, his head draped over the edge as he quietly told Willy the story.
"So why did you pay for the tow truck, Jakey?"
Jake paused the shrugged. "I dunno. I guess I just...you should have seen her, Willy. She was so beautiful...and ten minutes later she was covered in mud. I felt so bad."
"Yeah, I guess I understand, Jakey. But she's gonna come to the wedding - that's great, man!"
"Yeah. Great." Jake said, his tone and expression contradicting him.
Willy got up and leaned against the top bunk. "Spill it, Jakey. Something's eating you, man."
Jake stared at the ceiling. "I dunno, Willy...it's just...it's all happened too late."
Willy waited for Jake to explain.
"I don't know what I mean. I wish...I wish there'd been time to work out...I mean I knew how I felt about Amanda, but...I don't know what Helen thinks...or what she feels, I don't know what I'm going to do. Everything's just up in the air. The timing's all wrong."
"But she said she'd come to the wedding, man - that's gotta be good."
Jake turned towards him. "You'd think so, but I dunno, Willy. I really want her to come, but it's just delaying things. She's gonna go away afterwards, but...damn, man - we're gonna be together - alone - for a few days at least. What happens if we get...you know...if we get..."
"I understand, man."
"...yeah. And then she has to go - and I have to go, and - man, it's so complicated! I tell you, Willy, I swear that if...you know...it happens, I'm not gonna let her down. Ever."
Willy paused and looked up at him. "None of us knows what's around the corner, man. You can plan ahead, you can avoid doin' dumb things like gettin' involved with someone 'cause you know it can't work out...but you just never know." He had a kind of faraway look. "Pa always said to me that ya gotta take life as it comes at ya. And you hippies - what do you say? Go with the flow? Means the same thing, man. And the same thing as that Cath'lic guy said - 'carpay deeum - seize the day'. I remember that."
Jake smiled, as much at hearing Willy call him a hippie as at his advice. "Yeah. I guess you're right, Willy. Thanks, man."
Willy laughed. "I don't remember much o' what I learnt here, Jakey, but I remember when they told us about that and I thought 'yeah - that's just what Pa used say'. Anyway, I'm goin' t' sleep. You sleep well, man."
"You too, Willy."
"So did you tell your parents about...you know...?" Jake asked as they pulled into the Barksdales' drive.
"The wedding? No. I thought I'd tell them today."
"Uh, it might be better if you..."
"Waited until you weren't here? Why Jake - you're a coward!"
Jake blushed, missing the small smirk on Helen's face. "I never said I wasn't."
Helen leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "I hadn't meant to subject you to it. But you do know the 'duck and cover' routine - right?"
Half an hour later Helen was hosing the soap off the hood and Jake had his head buried in the trunk with the vacuum cleaner roaring behind him. Neither of them heard Arthur Barksdale walk up.
"You're doing a good job, kids. I want you to get it nice and clean for its new owner."
Helen spun round to look at him while Jake, oblivious over the noise of the vacuum cleaner, kept cleaning out the trunk. "New owner? But what...?" She followed his gaze over to the brand new gold '69 Dodge Dart parked at the kerb.
She looked up at him. "You bought a new car? Wow! Hold this!" Handing him the hose she went round to tap Jake on the shoulder. Startled, he stood up, bumping his head on the trunk lid.
"Ow! What the...?"
"Look!" Helen said, pointing.
"Oh, cool! That's a Stinger. Does it belong to someone you know?"
"It's Daddy's," Helen laughed. "He just bought it!"
They walked over the new car and looked it over admiringly as Arthur turned off the faucet and walked back to them. "Take a quick look, kids, but I want you to hurry up and get the old one sparkling, then I want you to fill it up at the Texaco downtown. I expect the new owner to take delivery..." he looked at his watch, "...within the hour."
"I'll miss the old car," Helen said. "It's been good."
"Well, if the new owner looks after it well it'll be a good car for a long time yet. Now come on, back to work you two." He reached into his pocket. "Oh - Helen, would you go in and get the ten dollar bill off the hall stand, Honey? When you've finished I want you to fill it with gas and check the tires and the oil."
"Okay, Daddy," Helen said, heading for the door as Arthur turned to Jake.
"Jake," Arthur said quietly as he watched Helen go inside, "when Helen goes to fill up the car I wonder if you'd stay behind. I'd like a little chat."
"Uh, sure Mr Barksdale," Jake said nervously.
"Please don't say anything Helen. I'll ask you to give me a hand with something just before she goes."
"Okay," Jake replied, wondering what was in store.
Fifteen minutes later the red 1963 Dart shone.
"Okay, let's go and fill it up," Helen said.
"Uh, sure," Jake replied, turning to see Arthur walking towards them.
"Oh. Jake, I wonder if you'd mind giving me a hand with the mower - I need someone to hold the spleen widget while I tighten the grommet."
"Sure Mister Barksdale," he said. "You go ahead, Helen, I'll stay here and help your Dad."
"Okay - watch out for that spleen widget," she said. "They can be dangerous you know, particularly if you catch a hangnail in them."
Twenty minutes later Helen walked in and tossed the keys on the hallstand. "Daddy, I'm back," she called. "Did you get that grommet tightened?"
Arthur and Jake walked out of the office. "Yes, thank you Honey. Is the car all done?"
"Gas tank filled, tires at recommended pressure, oil checked, radiator topped up, battery acid checked." She said.
"Good girl. Now why don't you two get a cool drink, you've been working hard. I think there's some ice cream in the freezer."
"Great! I love ice cream," Jake said with a little too much enthusiasm as they walked into the kitchen leaving Arthur to take the keys into the office. He sat down at the table while Helen poured a couple of lemonades and took the ice cream out of the freezer.
"So what was all that about?" Helen asked.
"Oh, he, uh, just wanted to fix the mower." He took a long drink of the cold lemonade. "Mmm - great lemonade."
"The spleen widget?" Helen said, her voice slippery with sarcasm.
"Yeah! The spleen widget. Can't be too careful about those."
"Oh yes. And the grommet no doubt."
"Uh...yeah...the, uh, grommet," Jake replied, a little uncertainty creeping into his voice.
At that moment, Arthur walked in.
"Hello, Daddy," Helen sighed. "Is the new owner here?"
"Uh huh," he replied.
"I'd like to take a last look. I'll miss it."
"Before you do, though, I'd like you to take a look at this." He handed her a plain envelope and a small box, three inches square, wrapped in gold paper. Helen took them and looked at him quizzically.
Helen unwrapped the paper and opened the box. Inside were the keys to the red Dart.
"What the...?" she exclaimed, turning to him.
"Now the envelope."
She opened the envelope and took out a plain pale green card with a simple white orchid design on the cover. She opened it and, with Jake leaning over her shoulder, read
Congratulations on your high school graduation, Honey. Look after the car well and it'll look after you.
All my love,
She turned, looked at him in stunned silence,
then pounced on him and threw her arms around his neck.
"I'm not happy about it, Helen and I'm not going to let you go God knows where alone for a year."
"Daddy, we've been through this a hundred times."
"I know, but that doesn't make me feel any more comfortable about it."
"I'll be fine."
"Mmm. I suppose that's exactly what that young woman who was murdered in Wyoming said."
Helen sighed. "I wondered when you were going to bring that up."
"Your mother's refused point blank you know."
"And you're going to too. I knew this was going to happen."
"Helen, listen to me, please..."
"No Daddy - you listen to me. I didn't want to resort to this but it seems I have no option. I'm eighteen years old and the simple fact of the matter is that you can't stop me. I know you don't trust me and you don't trust Anne and Kyle though God knows you've know Anne long enough..."
"So if it all comes down to it there's nothing you can say that's going to make any difference. I was hoping that you of all people would stick up for me through this. I have no intention of dropping out - it's not as if I'm taking after Rita for God's sake..."
"...but I am going to take this year off first. I'm not going to go straight into at least foud more years of study without getting out and seeing something of the world - dammit Daddy I've earned it and there would have been a time when you would have supported me..."
"Helen, will you shut up and listen to me? I am supporting you, damn you, though I'm beginning to wonder if I've made a mistake. What I said was that I wasn't going to let you go alone and I've arranged it so you don't have to! I've asked Jake if he'd go with you and he's agreed!"
Helen stared at her father, her eyes wide. "You've what?"
"I said I've asked Jake to go with you."
"You've asked...Jake...to go with me...?"
"That's what I said."
Helen paused. "What the hell gives you the right to ask Jake Morgendorffer..." she asked, exasperated, "...what makes you think that I want him to go with me? How dare you presume to talk to him about that without asking me?"
"But...I thought you liked Jake - you're going to that wedding with him...I thought you'd be pleased."
"I do like him - that's not the point! I'm not a little girl any more, Daddy, you have no right to go behind my back like that! And what the hell was Jake thinking - imagining that he could tell you that he could go and that...that that'd be IT? That I'd just roll over and accept whatever decision you MEN have made on my behalf! It's 1969 Daddy! You might think we're still living in some kind of Regency novel...but do I have to...." Helen reached up under the back of her tie-died t-shirt and fiddled, then under the front, tore her bra off and waved it in his face, the broken shoulder straps dangling, "...burn this in the front yard to show you that times have changed?"
Arthur Barksdale blushed furiously, but controlled himself. "It wasn't like that, Helen. Jake said that he'd be happy...that he'd love to go if you wanted him to, but only on that condition. Besides I..."
"Besides nothing! It's MY decision - not yours, not Mom's, and definitely not Jake's."
Helen threw the ruined bra down on the floor, turned and stormed off, stomping up the stairs and slamming the door to her room behind her. She sat on the bed fuming in anger, furious at the liberty her father had taken, thinking about the nerve of Jake, thinking about...how nice it would be to have Jake along. Not that she was going to let either of them get away with it that easily.
* * *
"Have you spoken with your daughter about her harebrained plans?"
Maureen Barksdale stood in front of her husband as he sat sipping a glass of Chivas over ice. "I just saw her packing for heaven's sake!"
Arthur glanced up. "I've spoken to her."
"Well it obviously didn't do any good," Maureen returned, her voice dripping with disdain. "I told you - I'm not having her gallivanting all over heaven knows where by herself."
Helen, who'd come downstairs to pour herself a glass of milk, gently closed the refrigerator door and stood silently, eavesdropping on her parents' conversation.
"She won't be by herself, Maureen."
"Oh of course she won't. She'll be with those...those two dirty hippies! Well thats just as good as alone, Arthur, and I wont have it! You just march yourself up there this very instant and tell her she's not going!"
Helen sighed inwardly and shook her head. Her mother had known Anne since she and Helen used to play together when Helen was four and Anne was six. They'd been inseparable friends, treated as sisters by both their families. Now she was a "dirty hippie".
"I told you," Arthur replied calmly, taking another sip of Chivas. "She's not going to be alone. I made sure of that."
"I told you those two... things are not suitable travelling companions for our little girl. My God, Arthur, what about that girl in Wyoming? She was just a little older than Helen!"
"I know. That frightened me too. So I made sure she'd be safe. The car's in great shape and, that little deer episode notwithstanding, she's a good driver."
Thank you, Daddy, Helen thought.
"Oh, that's really going to keep her safe when she stops for gas or to eat! Some maniac could just grab her, and her company will probably be too busy hugging flowers or whatever it is they do...or on some kind of...drugs..."
"For goodness sakes, Maureen, I hardly think Anne would let anything happen to Helen. And that friend of hers, Wolf? Hyena? He seemed like a very polite young man. Besides, Helen won't be alone. I found someone to go with her."
There was a pregnant pause.
"I had a talk with Jake this afternoon, and told him about our worries for Helen's safety. He agreed to travel with her. to keep an eye on her."
Helen railed again. Her father was so...so...paternalistic!
There was another pause.
"Oh. He did, did he? And just what is he expecting out of the deal hmm?"
Arthur opened his mouth to reply but didn't get the chance. "No - don't tell me! He thinks he can get Helen off by herself and...no! I won't have it!"
Helen stifled a giggle. Jake? If...no, she admitted, it was probably when, it happened, it'd be Helen doing the instigating. Poor Jake.
Arthur calmly put the whiskey down on the smoker's stand beside him, and looked up into his wife's eyes.
"Maureen - do you remember what you used to call Helen when she was tiny?"
A little of the anger drained from Maureen's face and her mouth turned up just a little at the ends. "Yes."
"What was it?"
"I used to call her 'my little mule'."
"Do you remember why?"
"Because she was..."
"That's right. And you think she's changed?"
"I..." All the fight drained out of Maureen and she sat down next to Arthur, who put his arm around her.
"Don't you know your own daughter?" he asked gently. "She's
going. Nothing you or I can say is going to stop her. Look - I don't like it any more than you do - but I know her. If we stopped her - if we could
stop her - she'd hate us and all we'd end up doing is driving her away.
The best we can do
is to have someone who's already shown that he can look after her go
her." He paused, then continued quietly, speaking to himself as much as
to her. "There are worse people in this world than Jake Morgendorffer."
Helen felt a little twinge of guilt about what she was planning, but
not a big enough to change her mind.
Helen pulled the car up to where Willy and Jake waited outside the Buxton Ridge gates. Willy walked around to the driver's side and leaned in the window as Jake got in on the passenger side.
"Hey, Helen," said Willy, leaning in the window.
Hi, Willy. Congratulations." She said, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek.
"Whoa - I'll have t' get married more regular!"
Helen laughed. "Willy, you charmer. No wonder Hilda fell for you."
"Jake tells me you're comin' to the wedding."
"I'm looking forward to it. But I admit it was all a bit sudden," Helen replied, sighing.
"Well it's gonna be great to have you there, Helen. Ma's really lookin' forward to meetin' you at the graduation. You gonna come back on the train with us?"
"We haven't really worked it out yet - I guess so. We really didn't have a chance to talk about details." She looked across at Jake, the expression on her face indecipherable.
"We'll work it out today I guess," Jake said.
"I'm real sorry about the prom, Helen."
"I don't mind. The more I think about it the more think I would have been miserable anyway - making small talk with people I don't care about, listening to speeches from those damn reactionaries. I'm glad we didn't make it."
"Come on, we better go," Jake said. "Say hi to Hilda, Willy,"
"Yeah man, I will. Thanks."
Helen started the car and drove off as Willy held up a hand to wave and watched them drive away. Poor Jake, nothing was ever easy. It was as if someone had stuck a prickly burr up his tailpipe when he was a kid. Well, yeah - I guess that's what ol' Mad Dog did to him alright, he thought, turning uncomfortably towards town and hoping that neither Helen nor Jake had noticed. Damn I wish she'd wear a bra.
* * *
It begins, thought Helen as they drove off.
"So," said Jake, "how do you think we ought to...you know...approach it?"
"I've been thinking about it," Helen replied as the countryside slipped past them. The sensation of driving her own car was exhilarating. It was the same care she'd been driving for a year, but the simple fact of knowing it was hers was incredibly liberating. It was almost a shame that she had to do what she had to do, but if she didn't do it now neither Jake nor her father would learn. And they were going to learn alright.
"You know, I think the best thing would be for you to tell them."
"Me?" Jake asked, in a tone that spoke of shock and fear. "Me?"
"Well, yes - you're not afraid are you?"
Jake swallowed the lump in his throat. "No." Funny, he thought, being reminded of how his voice had sounded when it broke.
The rest of the trip passed in silence.
Helen drove into the driveway and parked behind her father's new car. The garage door was open and she could see Arthur and Amy moving about inside. She glanced across at Jake and said cheerily "No time like the present I guess." Flinging the door open without giving him time to react, she leaped out and trotted over to speak to Arthur while Jake climbed out warily.
"Come on," she said, taking the nervous Jake by the elbow and leading him inside. "Daddy's coming. Let's find Mom and get this over with."
Jake glanced back over his shoulder as Helen fought with herself, almost ashamed of what she was doing. But it had to be done. She hadn't yet told Jake about her mother's explosive opposition to the twelve-month trip with Willow and Coyote; Jake didn't know that Helen knew about her father's scheme to have him go with her; and her mother didn't know yet that they were planning to leave for Willy and Hilda's wedding the day after Jake's graduation. Throwing Jake into the mix was simply lighting the fuse. Now all she had to do was to stand back and enjoy the fireworks.
She led Jake into the living room and pushed him down onto the sofa. "Wait there," she said. "I'll go and find Mom," and she hurried out of the room as Arthur came in wiping his hands on a cloth. Jake leaped up off the seat.
"Jake? What's all this about?"
"About?" Jake squeaked? "I guess, um, that is..."
At that moment Helen led her mother in. "Mom, Dad, Jake has something to tell you," she said, letting all the possibilities of the statement hang in the air like anvils. Helen sat down and looked from face to face, revelling in the range of emotions on display, trying to identify them all as they flashed across three sets of countenances, and trying to look innocent.
Jake turned cherry red as the pause's pregnancy passed its term. "I...well...that is...my friend, Willy, has this girlfriend...well, I mean she isn't his girlfriend, she's his fiancée, and they're getting married, see, and I was thinking...that is we were thinking...I mean Helen and I..."
"Most assuredly not!" interjected Maureen, horrified at the thought that Helen would even consider getting married at her age.
"Now wait a minute, Maureen," interjected Arthur, heading off another salvo from Maureen about Helen's year off.
"I will not wait a minute," Maureen said angrily. "Of all the cockamamie ideas..."
"It's actually a very good idea..." Arthur said, "particularly since Jake's accepted..."
"Jake's accepted?" Maureen said.
Jake's eyes flicked back and fort between them, trying in vain to follow the thread of the conversation and waiting for a chance to get a word in without being rude, while Helen sat back with a faint smile on her face.
"Well, yes, although I admit that I did rather hold a shotgun to his head, but I'm sure that he would have done the right thing anyway..."
"I KNEW it!" came Amy's voice from her hiding place behind the curtain. Everyone turned to her as she threw the curtain aside and glared at Jake. "You IDIOTS!" She stared at Helen. "I really expected more from you! Now who have I got to look up to?" She spun round to point at Rita who was leaning against the kitchen door, a self-satisfied smirk on her face. "Her? For God's sake!" And, saying that, she stormed out of the room.
"Well well," sneered Rita from the kitchen doorway.
Jake, beginning to get some idea of where this was going, felt a rising sense of panic as Maureen turned to him with venom in her eyes.
"What the HELL is everyone talking about?" roared Arthur.
Maureen turned to him and unleashed her fury. "TALKING about? I'll tell you what everyone's TALKING about, Arthur Barksdale! Everyone's talking about the fact that this..." she threw an eyeful of daggers at Jake "...young STUD has managed to get our daughter pregnant and YOU'VE convinced them that they should get married - at EIGHTEEN for God's sake - AND YOU THINK IT'S A GOOD IDEA!!!!"
Arthur's jaw dropped. Jake's knees collapsed and he fell backwards onto the couch, gripped with an overpowering sense of deja vu and impending loss of bodily control. Amy reappeared next to Rita at the kitchen door.
"Pregnant?" Arthur said, incredulous. "Who said she was pregnant? I was talking about Jake going with her on her sabbatical."
"I...I was talking about Helen coming with me to Willy and Hilda's wedding next week," squeaked Jake.
All eyes turned to Helen, who sat back in the
chair with her legs crossed and her arms spread wide, the picture of relaxation.
She stood up with theatrical slowness and looked around at the five sets of eyes that were glued on her.
"You're all so ready to judge," she said, looking at Amy and Rita. "...to jump to conclusions," looking at her mother, "...to make decisions on my behalf," her eyes brushing her father and Jake. "And not one of you was ready to give me the benefit of the doubt, to wait until you heard my side of the story, or to ask me what I thought. And this is what happens."
Only Maureen had the grace to blush.
"Well now it's my turn, and you'd better damn well listen, because I'm only going to say this once. I'm eighteen. I'm not pregnant. I've graduated from high school and I'm going to spend a year travelling around the country with my friends before I go to college." She walked over to Jake and sat down next to him, everyone's eyes following her. "I wasn't going alone, but Daddy decided that I needed someone to look after me and for some unknown reason he decided that Jake Morgendorffer was the person to do it. No 'by your leave', no 'what do you think, Helen?'"
Arthur and Jake added their blushes to Maureen's.
"If anyone's blameless in this it's Jake. He's been a pawn."
"Pawn?" squeaked Jake.
"But he STILL should have told me!" she said, staring at Jake with a look that made him sink several inches lower into the couch. "I know you only did out of concern for me. Daddy," Helen continued "but if you EVER decide what I'm going to do or who I'm going to do it with, without consulting me, then all I can say is look out."
"And you," she said, turning to Jake. "it's a good thing for you that I like you."
"It is?" he choked.
"Yes. Because if I didn't I'd have reached down your throat and torn your lungs out."
"Eep!" Jake squeaked.
"As it is, I kind of like the idea of you coming with me. Besides, it solves a lot of problems."
With the tiny piece of rational mind remaining, Jake recognised the truth in what she said as she turned back to her parents.
"Mom, Jake's just told you that his best friend Willy is getting married on Saturday. Jake's going to be Willy's Best Man and he's asked me to be his partner. I've accepted. We leave on Thursday after Jake graduates."
"But..." Maureen started.
"But nothing!" Helen growled. She stood and walked over to where Amy stood beside Rita, and squatted down in front of her, Taking Amy's hands in hers.
"And you, Squirt," she said, looking Amy straight in the eye. "Don't look up to me. For God's sake don't look up to her!" she said, glancing at Rita, who scowled. "You want someone to look up to?"
"Well..." Amy started.
"Look up to yourself. Be the sort of person you think you should be. Be worthy of your own admiration."
Amy smiled, getting one back in return.
Helen stood up to face Rita. "And you?" she said, letting it hang for a minute while she looked Rita up and down. "Good luck."
She turned to Jake. "And now, Jake Morgendorffer, by way of apology you can take me out to lunch."
"I can?" Jake gulped.
"You can." Helen exclaimed, taking him by the hand pulling him up off the couch. They walked out the front door, four Barksdales staring silently after them.
"Jakey! It's so good to see you!"
"Hi Mom. How was the bus ride?"
"Oh, I'm sure I'll recover. And I only have to sleep in that motel for one night. But it was worth it! I'm so proud of you!"
"Thanks Mom. So how have you been?"
"As well as can be expected, Dear, but soon I'll be just fine again! Once my big strong son's home to look after me!"
Jake blushed. "Uh, I have to talk to you about that, Mom."
"Oh yes, Dear! I'm looking forward to talking about it too. I can't wait. It's going to be wonderful to have a man about the house again!"
"Yeah," Jake blushed. "Well come on then, let's get you to the motel and have some dinner."
* * *
"You're what?" Ruth asked, incredulous.
Jake cut another piece of steak. "I'm going with Helen. We're going to travel around for a year before college. You know - see America."
"But Jakey, I thought you were going to come home! With me!"
He looked up to see a distraught expression on his mother's face. "What? No - I mean you weren't expecting me to come home? I mean when Dad was alive he would have expected me to enlist, and up until this happened you knew I'd be away at college."
Jake put down his fork and looked straight at her. "I really don't know what to do with my life, Mom. But I'd like to go and see a little bit...maybe find out where I fit in."
"But Jakey," Ruth said, "you fit in with me."
"I don't think so, Mom. Dad always wanted me to be a perfect cookie cutter soldier, to go to 'Nam like Willy's doing. Well there's no way that was ever gonna happen. I mean I probably could. But I don't want to. It's wrong and I just don't want to!"
Ruth's mind raced. Whatever Jake was going to do it was better to be halfway around the country than halfway around the world being shot at by communists. "But Jakey - you don't..."
"And when Helen's Dad explained how dangerous it'd be for Helen, being by herself and all that, I mean she's got these friends that she'd going with but you heard about that girl in Wyoming? So it was obvious, wasn't it? She needs someone to look after her." He lazily cut another piece of steak while the waitress filled his water glass. "And it all falls into place. I get a year to work out where I want to go, I get to see some of the country, and I get to shake Mad Dog out of my head. I hope."
Ruth, deciding it was time to bring out the big guns, reached into her handbag, pulled out a handkerchief, and dabbed her eyes.
But Jake continued, oblivious, pushing a fry onto his fork. "Still, I want to get home for a while after the wedding. I really want to search through Mad Dog's stuff to see what I can find about how he intercepted those letters to Amanda. I mean you took them to the mailbox - he must have been really clever to make sure that he got them back without anyone seeing him - and he must have picked up the mail every day and gone through it. I still can't figure out..."
Ruth hastily blew her nose and stuffed the handkerchief back in her handbag. "So tell me, Dear, where are you going on these wonderful travels?"
Amanda stared straight ahead as images, formed in her mind years ago, played out in her imagination. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, rooftops with water tanks, crowds, yellow cabs, noise, Central Park. New York. She'd always wanted to go there. The Guggenheim, the Met - damn - the Met! She imagined actually seeing...actually SEEING Leonardo's "Head of the Virgin"...
"Honey...?" Vincent said, hearing her quiet sigh over the rumble of the tires..
She turned to him. "Why New York?"
"Lots of reasons really. I need to talk to some of the magazine and newspaper publishers, you know, line up some work. It always helps if the photographic editors can put a face to the name. And there's some heavy stuff going down that I want to record." He paused. "But the most important thing is...when I saw how you were looking at those paintings I thought you might like to, you know, check out the art museums." He turned and smiled at her, seeing her stare back at him. "We already let the apartment go, and besides Willow and Coyote expected to be travelling most of the summer."
Amanda cradled her growing stomach in her arms. "I guess I was kind of hoping that this one would be born at..." She paused.
"What?" Vincent asked, after a pause to let her continue.
"I was about to say 'at home'," Amanda said quietly, as if she she was speaking to herself.. "I hadn't realised that I'd been thinking of San Francisco as 'home'."
Vincent looked across and put his arm around her shoulder, and she leaned against his shoulder. "It's funny," he said. "I hadn't thought of it like that until we went home and - shit!"
She sat up and looked at him.
"It makes sense, doesn't it?" he said. "Until we went there I'd been thinking of Mom and Dad's place as 'home', so I didn't see San Francisco like that." He glanced at her as a deep sadness descended on him. "You'd already left your home. You needed a new one. And I didn't understand..."
Amanda leaned back onto his shoulder. "It's okay."
Vincent put his arm back around her and squeezed.
She kissed him on the cheek then whispered in his ear softly, "I'd love to see New York."
"Where do we go, Dear?" Ruth asked as Jake opened the taxi door.
"Over here, Mom, they've set up seats around the parade ground. I want to see if we can find Willy and his Mom - I'd like you to met them."
"Oh yes, your friend from the country. Isn't it good of Buxton Ridge let people from all kinds of backgrounds...as long as they're the right type of course."
Jake bit his tongue and led the way to the bleachers, looking around until he spotted Willy waving to him. "There's Willy," he said, waving back. He led Ruth around the parade ground to where Willy and his mother were seated. "Willy, Mrs Johanssen, this is my Mom."
"Real pleased to meet ya, Mrs Morgendorffer," said Willy, "but we're gonna have to skedaddle, Jakey. Please don't think we're bein' rude, M'a'm, but the parade's about t' start."
"Oh - yeah! Sorry Mom, Mrs Johanssen, we'll see you after the parade," Jake said, and they two of them ran off.
"So," said Ruth, turning to Mrs Johanssen, "you're the one who can't cook."
"Uh, well, I guess not everyone can be good at things," Mrs Johanssen said, smiling pleasantly. "I'm very pleased to meet you Mrs Morgendorffer."
"Your son - Billy, is it?"
Yes. Well. Billy's a very lucky boy."
"Thank you - I think so too. But I didn't realise that you'd met Hil..."
"Yes - my Jakey's always been very particular about who he makes friends with. He has very refined tastes."
"I've only had the pleasure for a few minutes. I'm looking forward to getting to know him."
"Of course. I don't suppose that you have many opportunities for polite conversation, living so far away from civilised society. Still, I'm sure Jakey can put up with roughing it for a few days. He's a very adaptable boy."
"Well, we'll sure do everything we can t' make him feel at home. Ever since my husband died..."
"Of course Jake's father was a war hero." Ruth reached into her handbag and took out a handkerchief. "He would have been so proud to see Jake here today." She dabbed at her eyes. "He was selfless to the end - he left us a great deal of money so we'll never want for anything."
"He must have been a wonderful person," Mrs Johanssen said, sympathetically.
"Oh, he was. Jakey idolised him. Jakey wanted so much to join the Army after he graduated, but Michael wouldn't hear of it. We'd already lost one son, you know."
"I didn't know - I'm so sorry."
"'Now Jake,' he used to say, 'you know I'd be proud to see you follow in my footsteps, but you have to look after your Mother when I'm gone'. He was so selfless." She dabbed at her eyes again. "Of course Jakey is such a good boy. He'd never do anything to upset me. But I'm afraid he's fallen into the clutches of a - well - I can only say that she must be some kind of strumpet to have led him astray like this. She's taking him off on some kind of terrible expedition after he's done his duty to your Billy. Of course I wanted to stop him, but I'm far too sensible to do that."
"I can see that," said Mrs Johanssen.
"No, he has to learn the error of his ways by himself. I'm sure that he'll come back home in a few weeks, his tail between his legs, realising that his mother was right, as always."
A bugle sounded behind the stands and the sound of drums heralded the start of the graduation parade.
"I think it's starting. Why don't we sit down?" Mrs Johanssen said.
To the strains of John Philip Sousa's "Under the Double Eagle" the graduating class marched out onto the parade ground in tight formation, followed by the Juniors, the Sophomores and the Freshmen, all showing the results of weeks of practice and hours of spit and polish. Corporal Ellenbogen took the salute and the cadets formed ranks, the graduating class in front of the dais. As the last drumbeat sounded the cadets, in tight formation, came to a halt in their assigned positions standing at attention, eyes front.
Corporal Ellenbogen finished the salute and, ordering the cadets to stand at ease, spoke.
"Distinguished guests, parents, graduating class of 1969, cadets, it is with great pride that I..."
"You know my husband saved his life during the war!" Ruth said.
Mrs Johanssen nodded politely, straining to hear.
"If it hadn't been for my Michael, risking life and limb under enemy fire, Corporal Ellenbogen would never have lived to start Buxton Ridge! Of course he insisted that Jake attend. It was the least he could do of course"
"...enemies of freedom are poised on the teeming shores of South East Asia ready to take any chance we offer them to..."
"He was overcome at Michael's funeral. He delivered the eulogy you know - it was very moving. The look of pride on Jakey's face when Corporal Ellenbogen presented him with the flag that draped Michael's coffin brought tears to my eyes."
"...demands of its young people, as great nations always have, their sacrifice, their courage, and their blood..."
"I know that flag's going to be his most treasured possession."
Mrs Johanssen turned to stare at Ruth, a momentary flash of stunned suprise on her face, before she quickly turned back to the parade.
"...far more serious that the communist threat. Disrespect for our leaders, disrespect for our heroic efforts to rid the world of the scourge of communism, disrespect for our traditions, and disrespect for the flag of the United States of America..."
Mrs Johanssen tried as hard as she could to divide her attention between the speech and Ruth's continual chatter, catching snatches of both.
"...great pleasure that I call upon Mayor Ruttheimer and his lovely wife to present Buxton Ridge's highest honour. This award is not granted to the most outstanding academic achiever, nor to the greatest athlete, but to the graduating cadet who most embodies the spirit of Buxton Ridge Military Academy - a spirit of fairness, of self-discipline, and, most importantly, a commitment to the United States of America."
"He must be talking about my Jakey!" Ruth said, demonstrating that she'd at least been aware that something had been going on and, for the first time since the ceremony had started, stopped chattering.
Mayor Ruttheimer took to the podium, his stately and smiling wife by his side.
"Thank you Corporal Ellenbogen, for the honour of presenting this prestigious award to one of these fine young men," he said, pausing to look over the faces of the graduating class. "As we look out at you today, my wife and I know that, as you grow up to become the leaders of our country we can rest assured that America's future is in capable hands. The education you have received here at Buxton Ridge has given now a solid grounding in the values that have made America what it is today. And I know that those traditions - self-reliance, freedom, faith, respect for the American way of life, respect for authority, and, above all, the respect of the community of nations, will only be enhanced under your future leadership. So without further ado, it is with great pleasure that I present this award to Cadet Willy Johanssen."
A cheer rose from the cadets. After a couple of seconds a bewildered-looking cadet broke from the ranks and made his way to the dais.
"Who?" muttered Ruth, turning to see a look of shock on the face of Mrs Johanssen.
* * *
The crowd rose and the cadets left the parade ground to mingle with their families as Willy and Jake came running over. Willy and his mother embraced wordlessly, the joy on their faces more eloquent than words. Jake stared, feeling happy for Whilly and his Mom and just a small twinge of envy at the depth of love feeling between them. A shrill burst of feedback came from the public address system followed by Corporal Ellenbogen's announcement that graduating cadets were to assemble for photographs in the Senior Mess.
"We'll be back in a minute, Mom," said Willy and the two of them ran off again.
"Well," said Ruth, turning to Mrs Johanssen. "Since Corporal Ellenbogen knew that Michael had made such good provision for Jakey I'm sure he felt that a little charity would be in order. You must be pleased."
Before Mrs Johannsen could respond, a voice behind them said "You must be Mrs Morgendorffer, and Mrs Johanssen."
They both turned to see a young woman, her shoulder-length brown hair tied high in a ponytail with a brown velvet tie, and wearing a light floral dress which blew out behind her in the gentle breeze. "I'm Helen Barksdale. I've been sitting over there..." she pointed at the seats across the other side of the parade ground. "I saw Jake and Willy run over to you before they left." She turned to Mrs Johanssen. "You must be very proud, Mrs Johanssen. Willy's a wonderful person - Jake never stops talking about him - I'm very happy for you." Without any hesitation Helen embraced Mrs Johanssen, who eagerly returned her affectionate hug.
Ruth watched, her scowl growing in ferocity and dimming only slightly as Helen turned to her.
"So, you're Helen," said Ruth coldly. "I must say that I expected someone much prettier from Jake's descriptions of you."
Helen and Mrs Johanssen both stifled a gasp. Helen, pausing, resisted the urge to say and I see you've left your broomstick back at the motel but instead settled for "And Jake's told me a lot about you, too, Mrs Morgendorffer."
"Oh, Helen, look!" said Mrs Johanssen, "There's my future daughter-in-law. I need to introduce you to her!" Turning to Ruth, she said "Why don't you wait here for the boys to come back and you can tell them where we are?" Without waiting for a reply she took Helen by the arm and led her quickly down the steps and out onto the parade ground where Hilda was chatting to some of her friends' leaving Ruth to stare after them with ill-concealed disapproval.
"Uh, Mrs Johanssen, I've met Hilda before. We were sitting together before I came over to you," Helen said when they were clear of the seats.
"I know, Dear," the older woman replied, squeezing her arm affectionately, "but I fear Jake's poor Ma's still a might overwrought at the death of her dear husband. I thought you might prefer to get away - I'm sure she didn't mean to be rude to you." She stopped and looked at Helen. "You're beautiful, sweetheart. Jake's a very lucky boy."
Helen blushed, instantly taking a liking to Willy's mother in direct
proportion the the dislike she'd taken to Jake's, and they walked across
to where Hilda was standing and waving at them.
Ruth wiped her eyes as Jake picked up her suitcase and carried it onto the train. "Look after yourself, Mom. I'll write every week," Jake said, hugging his mother.
"Now Jakey, don't you forget - if things go wrong your Mother's always at home waiting for you."
"I know, Mom. Thanks," he said and kissing her on the cheek he walked back onto the platform and stood beside the window, waving as the train left.
People who'd come to farewell friends and relations drifted away leaving Jake alone to watch the train grow smaller as the clack and rumble of steel on steel faded into the stillness of a summer's morning. Willy and his mother had left an hour earlier, Hilda and her parents would follow the next day. The nightmare of Buxton Ridge was over. Amanda was a constant dull ache that, for the rest of Jake's life, would flare unpredictably into self-inflicted punishment for crimes against love. But now, Jake Morgendorffer, eighteen, stood alone on a train station in the middle of 1969 feeling a terrible mix of uncertainty, fear, and elation. In front of him the silver rails stretched ahead into the shimmering distance. He turned and walked out to where the future waited in a red Dodge Dart, its engine running, eager to be on the road.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of All My Children.
Disclaimer: All characters are copyright MTV.
Special thanks: to all our beta
readers: Martin J Pollard, Steven Galloway, Kara Wild, Eric Hamme (aka
gearhead), Ahmygoddess1953. No thanks is enough, guys.
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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