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

Telling Miss Carswell about Donald and his drugs was surprisingly easy. What was hard was listening to her advice.
"You need to tell your parents, Lisa," she said firmly. "This is too big for you to handle. And besides, it's not your responsibility."
"But I'm afraid of how my dad will react," I interrupted. "You remember…"
She didn't let me finish. "I remember how Ralph used to behave," she completed my objection for me. "But he has changed. And that's not the point anyway, Lisa. You are, what? Nineteen years old? Donald has a serious problem and needs help. He is your parents' responsibility. You can't fix things for him or for them. And you need to be living your own life."
I sighed. "But they're my family."
She nodded. "I know. And I know you love them. But I wonder how long you can go on subordinating your own needs to theirs."
I shook my head. "You don't know," I began…
"Tell me then, Lisa. I am certainly willing to listen."
"I told dad that I want to go to college and that I'm not going to marry Mike McLaren. He was glad about Mike and only a little dubious about college, but I think he's coming around. I believe I can count on him."
Miss Carswell nodded at me with a smile. "Yes, you can. And I think you can count on him to deal with Donald as well. If he doesn't know what to do, he'll consult someone who does."
"I'm still worried," I persisted. "I don't want him to feel like he's failed, and I especially don't want him to regret, uh, giving up his old way of dealing with us."
She looked at me through narrowed eyes. "I see what you're getting at, Lisa. But you can't manage Ralph's feelings for him. He may well believe that Donald's straying from the straight and narrow is a result of his choice of a less punitive and violent approach to child-rearing. If that is so, he'll have to deal with it." She chuckled. "He can always blame it on me."
I stared at her, astonished and appalled. "But…if not for you, he'd have lost all of us."
She patted my arm. "He knows that, Lisa. Believe me, he's not as dense or as fragile as you seem to believe."
"I don't want to hurt him," I admitted, realizing that I was near tears.
She shook her head. "It's easy to deceive oneself about why one chooses to spare another's feelings. Is it really for his sake or your own that you've been keeping the truth from your father?"
I looked at her, uncomprehending.
Her smile was very kind. "It's a human instinct to protect those we care for, Lisa. But sometimes that's also a way of protecting ourselves from being the bearer of bad tidings."
I nodded. That was exactly what I thought Amanda had done.
"You're right, I know," I admitted. "It's just hard."
"Yes," she agreed. "Doing the right thing isn't always easy. But at least it's right."
"Do you think that you could be there when I tell him?" I asked her, feeling very small and more than a little foolish. "It's just that if he starts to lose it, well, he'll listen to you."
She sighed. "If I'm not babysitting Cathy," she replied, "and you need my presence, Lisa, I will do my best to be there. But I really think you are underestimating your parents."

Miss Carswell was not one for small talk, so instead of sitting around in the cafeteria, we went back to obstetrics to see Cathy. When we got there, Stew was in her room, pen and paper out, mumbling to himself while the young woman looked at a back issue of "Newsweek." She seemed a mere child, and I was shocked to realize that she was younger than me by several years, probably no more than Donald's age.
"Cathy, this is Lisa Dunn. Lisa, meet Cathy Weld."
I wished I'd stopped and gotten her some flowers, though I thought a teddy bear might have been more appropriate.
"Hi, Lisa," she said. Her voice was high pitched and very soft. "The doctor says I can go back to Mr. and Mrs. Harmon's house tomorrow morning. I hate being in the hospital."
I looked over at Stew who was still scribbling. His mumble had abated though, thank heaven. He must have felt my eyes because he looked up and smiled. "The nurse said that since the contractions stopped early this morning, she and the baby are out of the woods. However, it seems her blood pressure is elevated. That's why they want to keep her another day."
I wondered who was paying for Cathy's hospitalization, but I didn't ask.
"I hope her parents reimburse you for the cost of Cathy's medical care," Miss Carswell said firmly to Stew.
Cathy's face got red, but Stew just shrugged.
"Not likely," he replied. "They washed their hands of her." He looked over at Cathy. "Sorry," he said.
"Don't be," she answered quickly. "You're just telling the truth. I'll pay you back though, I promise. It may take a while, but I will. Cross my heart."
She crossed her heart, and Miss Carswell caught my eye, looked at her watch, and winked. I wasn't sure why at first, then remembered that I had to get back to work. It was already five minutes past when I needed to leave if Amanda forgot or decided not to come get me.
"I need to be on my way," I announced. I looked over at Miss Carswell. "Thanks for the talk. I'll phone you as soon as I get my act together."
She nodded. "Do that!"
Stew and Cathy just looked at each other.
"Nice meeting both of you," I said and turned to leave.
"I need to go get more coffee," Stew announced, "so if you don't mind, I'll walk out with you."
I didn't mind, so we left the room together. We didn't get very far though before Amanda showed up.
"Hi," she said, looking from me to Stew and back again. "The car is done, so I'm ready to drive you back if you're ready to go."
I nodded. "Let me introduce you first though," I offered, knowing Amanda well enough to recognize intense curiosity when I encountered it.
"Amanda, this is Stew. He's a friend of Bob Harmon's."
Stew stuck out his hand. "Pleased to meet you Amanda," he said. I could see her curiosity turn into interest at the sound of his voice.
"Let me guess," she said. "You're an operatic bass, right?"
He blushed and shook his head. "No, I'm a math teacher."
She looked deflated. "A math teacher? With a voice like that?"
"Actually he's a math professor at Purdue," I interjected. "And he collects Parkers."
"He collects what?" Amanda looked confused. Then she remembered. "Oh right, Parker fountain pens."
He nodded.
"Well, I have to get back to work," I said, feeling as if something was happening that I wasn't sure I liked.
Amanda shook hands with him again. "How long will you be in town, Professor?" she asked.
"Call me Stew," he replied. "I'll be here for another week."
"Well, maybe we'll meet again," she said.
He smiled broadly. "I certainly hope so."
Stew seemed to have forgotten his need for coffee. He just drifted back into Cathy's room looking even more abstracted than before. Amanda and I headed out together. She seemed about to burst but said nothing as long as we were in the hospital.
No sooner had we gotten into her car though when she started to laugh. "Okay, Lisa. What's up?" she demanded. "What were you, that guy, and old Anita Carswell doing meeting in the obstetrics unit?"
"It's a long story," I replied.
"You talk. I'll drive," Amanda said and pulled out of the parking lot.

By the time she dropped me at the bank, Amanda had extracted every bit of information I had about Stew Klein. It was clear that she found him interesting. I thought she liked him, but she denied it and to allay my suspicions, she poked fun at his looks. Even though I agreed that Stew was not exactly handsome, her mockery made me uncomfortable. I remembered the line about the lady protesting too much and thought that was probably true of Amanda, but she denied it. "He looks like a ventriloquist's dummy," she said, laughing. "His only real redeeming feature is his voice. And my, what a voice it is! But a math teacher?" She shook her head.
"Not just a math teacher," I said. "A professor."
"Makes no difference to me. A nerd is a nerd."
It was true, Stew was nerdy. And Amanda hadn't even seen him babbling away to himself and falling over the leg of his chair. But she was wrong: his voice was not his only redeeming feature. He had a great smile, beautiful eyes, and a firm handshake. And he was kind, which certainly has to count for something. How many other guys in his position would have taken Cathy under in?
Amanda was suspicious about his relationship to Cathy.
"Take it from me, Lisa. There's more there than meets the eye."
I shook my head. "I think that what you see is what you get."
She shook hers in turn. "A single guy who takes in a pregnant young woman has intentions of some kind, and they're probably not good," she insisted. "Either that or he's completely unworldly."
I didn't know. It seemed like the label unworldly fit Stew pretty well, but I didn't argue with her.
"Jason and Diana will be getting in tomorrow," she said, as she pulled up to the bank. "I know he'll want to see you."
I shrugged. "He knows my number," I replied, and after thanking her for the ride, I went back to work.
When my shift at the bank was over, I ran into an classmate from high school who walked over to Hightower's with me.
"I heard that guy Jason, the track star, is coming back home soon," she said as soon as we'd finished catching each other up on our lives. "Someone told me he's bringing a new girlfriend with him."
I shrugged.
"You used to go out with him, didn't you?" she pressed me.
"I used to," I replied. "But then he went off to Michigan."
She nodded. "Well, I wish the guy I used to date had gone off somewhere instead of staying here to bug me."
"You used to go out with the football player. What's his name? Lawrence something or other. Ambler," I announced, surprised at my ability to pull the name out of my memory. "Lumbering Larry, the offensive tackle."
She sighed. "Offensive is right. I can't get rid of him."
"He's at State, isn't he?"
She nodded. "And that's too close for comfort. I really need some space to think about my future, but all he wants is a commitment from me." She laughed. "Isn't that funny? It's supposed to be the guys who are shy about commitment, isn't it?"
I shrugged and said good-bye. My shift at the drugstore was due to begin in three minutes.



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