One of Mary's classmates came today and gave both of us massages, so I'm good and relaxed. We went out to Borders afterwards, and I did a little window shopping but didn't buy anything. They had the Harry Potter book on sale at 40 percent off; Barnes and Noble had it at 30 percent off. They seemed to have plenty of copies. Hmm...Personally, I'm waiting for Janet Evanovich's new book, To The Nines; it hits the shelves on the 15th, while I'm at guitar camp. Same day as the All-Star Game, too. Guess I'll have to set up the VCR before I leave for Murfreesboro.
Nothing That A Few Beers Won't Cure
"Is everything all right, dear?" Mom said when I came down for dinner.
"Yeah, everything's fine. I'm just a little wiped out from everything that's been going on. What's for dinner?" I knew the answer, since I could smell everything cooking from upstairs, but I always liked to ask.
"Oven fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, and neapolitan ice cream for dessert."
All my favorites. Mom was great at making you feel good when you were feeling crappy. And I didn't even have to peel the potatoes. "Wow, thanks, Mom."
"You're welcome, dear. Now, I want you to take it easy this evening, and tomorrow, if you don't feel up to getting up at the crack of dawn and voting, you can always hold off and do it later. The mornings are usually pretty busy, but after that, it's generally quiet. What time is your class tomorrow?"
"Ten. Maybe I'll sleep in a little bit. I don't want to miss much more class, and I've got to make up an exam that I missed today, so I'm going to try and catch Dr. Wilcox in his office. I think he has hours tomorrow."
Claire and Vera begged off on dinner, and said goodbye just as we were sitting down. Mom wasn't happy about it, but walked them out to their car, leaving Francis and I to start eating. I hadn't had anything since early that morning, and it hadn't stayed with me all that well. It was a struggle for us to leave anything for Mom, even though, as usual, she had cooked enough to feed a small army and didn't want any leftovers.
She came back in and sat down at the head of the table, muttering to herself. "What's up, Mom?" I asked.
"Nothing, it's just that, I mean, your sister knew that we were going to have dinner. I don't know why she had to wait until it was almost on the table before she and her...whatever Vera is decided to leave." I really didn't want to get into it with Mom, because I knew where it was going. Mom complained regularly about Claire's choice of lifestyle, choice of partner, and choice of where to live. But, with Mom, you pretend to listen until she runs out of gas, which didn't take very long most of the time. "I mean, really, it wouldn't have been that difficult for the two of them to sit here at the table with us..."
"They had a long way to go home, Mom. They live further north than I do, and besides, they're in a rental car."
"Yes, but still, it wouldn't take them any longer after dinner than before. They'd miss the rush hour traffic."
"Maybe they don't like chicken," Francis offered.
"Right!" I said. "Maybe they don't like chicken."
"Your sister loves chicken. How many years did she sit at this table with all of us and eat chicken with us?"
"Not as many for me as for Tony," Francis said. Mom gave him a look, and he went back to eating.
"Well, it's their choice," Mom said, signalling the end of this part of the discussion. "If they're happy, there's nothing that I can say or do to change their minds." She patted me on the wrist. "So, you're voting tomorrow for the first time! Are you excited?"
"Mm, not really." I might have been more excited about it, but I really didn't have any feelings one way or the other about any of the people running. I had seen the sample ballot in the newspaper while I was on the train, and had no idea who any of the people were, let alone who was better at representing my views.
"Now, that's surprising," she said. "Well, maybe not. I don't think that I was all that interested or excited the first time I could cast a ballot. But those were different times. Nowadays all you hear about is how important the youth vote is going to be in this election."
I hadn't heard anything about it, but then, I didn't watch a whole lot of TV. I just nodded and stuffed more chicken into my mouth.
"Who you gonna vote for, Tony?" Francis asked.
"Now, Francis, that's your brother's business," Mom scolded.
"I was just asking. Geez." Francis was genuinely hurt. He was my baby brother, and not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, but sometimes Mom treated him like he was still in grammar school. Of course, sometimes he acted like he was still in grammar school, but that was beside the point.
"I haven't decided yet," I told him.
"The election's tomorrow and you haven't decided who you're going to vote for?" he exclaimed.
"Francis, dear, would you go get some more green beans from the kitchen?" Mom knew how to defuse the situation. He slid back his chair and took the bowl into the kitchen. When he had left, Mom turned to me. "Who called you earlier, Tony?"
"The detective who was working on my case. He had heard that I had been in another accident, and wanted to make sure that I was OK."
"That's nice of him," she said. "Tony, are you sure that you're doing all right? You've been acting strangely. Last Sunday, it was as though you were scared about something. Is everything all right at school?"
"Yeah, Mom, everything's all right at school, everything's...about as well as can be expected at work..."
"Has your manager taken a bath yet?" She made a face. "The time I was there, the smell from him was overpowering. Hasn't someone said something to him?" I shrugged. "I mean, how can someone be in a business where you're in contact with the public, and..."
"Let's not talk about Mr. Schwartz, OK?" It was bad enough that I had to deal with him on the weekends. I wasn't going to spend my time away from the job talking about him.
"See, honey, that's what I mean. You seem jumpy, irritable...I know that you're not feeling well after your accident, but this has been going on for a while. Did something happen between you and Kathleen?" It took a minute for the name to register. "Your girlfriend."
"Yes, the girl that you took out on Saturday night. Her mother called her Kathleen."
"No. I saw her this morning and she was doing a lot better. Her father is upset about what happened..."
"He's a drunk."
"Tony, the man reeked of rotgut booze, and was threatening the doctors. Kate's poor mother. She really has her hands full with him." She shifted gears again. "Well, if something's wrong, you can come to me. I hope you know that by now."
"I do, Mom. I love you."
"Oh, honey, I love you too." Francis came into the room with the green beans. "And Francis, I love you."
He set the bowl on the table and hugged my mother for several minutes. I think he was grateful to know that Mom loved him. I was, too. Everything was right with the world, at least for a few minutes.
We finished dinner, and had our ice cream in the living room while we watched TV. I fell sound asleep sometime during the first quarter of "Monday Night Football". When I woke up, I saw that Mom had put a blanket over me and turned the lights off. I knew that I should go upstairs to bed, but I was just too tired, so I took off my shoes and lay on the couch.
"Tony dear, time to get up," Mom said early the next morning.
"What time is it?" I asked.
"Quarter to seven."
"Oh, geez, it's late."
"You said you didn't need to be at school until ten."
"Yeah, but I wanted to be up a little earlier than this." I had planned on voting early, then riding up to the dorm and picking up my books before going to class. I wasn't going to have time now.
"I'm sorry, dear, but you do need your rest."
"That's true. It's OK, Mom. I'll live."
I had bacon and eggs for breakfast. Francis, as usual, went with Lucky Charms. Mom just had coffee and read the paper. I finished my breakfast and stood up. "OK, I'm off to vote."
"You're not going to go dressed in those clothes, are you?" Mom protested.
"Sure! Why not?"
"Tony, you slept in those clothes. People will look at you and know that. Go upstairs and change."
"Go upstairs and change. I washed your clothes from yesterday."
There was no point in arguing with her. There never was. "OK, I'll be down in a few minutes."
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I voted, then I rode the bus down to school, went to class and went back to the dorm. Eddie was sitting in the suite with some of the other guys arguing politics when I got in.
"Hey, he's back!" Eddie shouted when I returned. He stood up and put one of his big arms around my shoulders. "Lazarus has risen from the grave!" All the guys gave me some grief about not looking both ways when I crossed the street, and more than a couple of them wanted to know how I managed to land a date with Kate Molloy in the first place. I put off all of their inquiries until later (in the case of the questions about Kate, until much later), and went into my room.
Eddie had picked up my mail and tossed it on my bed. Along with the usual junk mail that I got, there was a heavy white envelope addressed to me, but with no stamp on it. It was written in peacock blue ink in the kind of writing that the nuns always tried to get you to copy from the penmanship book, but you never could match. Eddie came in just as I was looking at it. "That was under the door when I got in this afternoon."
"Who's it from?"
"Hey, I don't know. I didn't read it. How'm I supposed to know?" He started back out of the room. "We're going to dinner in a few minutes. Want to come with?"
"Yeah, wait up for me." He left, and I opened the envelope, pulled out the letter, and read it.
"I wanted to let you know that I won't be around for a while. I can't tell you where I'm going, or when or if I'll be back, and it's probably best that you didn't know, considering everything that's gone on lately for you. All I can say is that I want to come back, and that I'll want to see you when I do, and that I hope that you will want to see me, too.
"I want to apologize for what has been happening to you. I can't explain why it's happening, although I have my suspicions. Part of the reason that I'm going away is to see whether my suspicions are true. You should be safe while I'm gone. I know that you've spoken to the police, and that they're working to find out what's been happening as well. My investigation has nothing to do with theirs, and the less said to them about it, the better. In fact, please try not to talk about me to them.
"Enjoy your life, Tony, and please, don't worry about me. Work hard, treat that pretty girlfriend of yours well, stay out of trouble, and don't change a hair. You are a gentleman, a scholar, and one of the sweetest guys I've ever met.
"I'll see you when I see you, and we'll go from there to wherever it goes.
"All my love,
I sat down on my bed and read the letter again. My eyes were burning, and when I blinked, tears ran down my cheeks. In spite of everything that had happened since I had met her, and in spite of the fact that Kate and I were now dating, sort of, and in spite of the fact that she had lied to me repeatedly since we met, I liked her. A lot. I had slept with her and everything. It was like she had taken a piece of me and disappeared. I hurt inside. I opened the drawer to my desk and tossed the note inside, pulled out a fresh pack of cigarettes, and sat there, thinking.
"You ready to go?" Eddie said from the doorway.
"Y...yeah," I said, and stood.
He came into the room. "Everything OK, man?"
"Nothing that a few beers won't cure."
"The bars are closed today, man. Election day."
"They'll be open tonight."
"Oh, yeah. Well, let's eat. Can't drink on an empty stomach." He stopped. "Well, you can, but you end up with a nasty hangover the next day."