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

I was shocked at how bad my father looked. He seemed beaten down, as if he'd taken on someone bigger and stronger in a fight and lost badly. Once my mother had made her way upstairs he motioned me into the living room and collapsed in his favorite armchair. He looked at me appraisingly for a few moments. There was no sign of reproach in his expression. Then he sighed and smiled slightly.
"Well, Lisa, what are we going to do about Donald?" he asked softly.
He was speaking to me as if I were his equal, and I was sorry I didn't have an easy answer. I shook my head, and he sighed again. After a few moments of silence I said, "You could talk with Miss Carswell. That's what I've been doing."
My father perked up slightly.
"Ah yes, Anita Carswell. Why didn't I think of that?"
He smiled at me. "It's too late to call her now," he announced, "but I'll sleep better knowing that I can phone her tomorrow morning."
"But," I interjected, sorry to puncture his balloon, "when I spoke to her, her only advice was to tell you what was going on."
His smile broadened, and for a moment I thought how silly he looked, all puffed up because Miss Carswell had told me to trust him. But then I realized that wasn't all that was going on.
"That was her advice to you, Lisa," he said gently, "and it was good advice." He eyed me shrewdly. "Yes, I am pleased that she had confidence in me," he added, as if he were reading my mind. "Heaven knows she has had plenty of reason not to trust me. But that was in the past, and one thing I have to say about Anita Carswell is that she doesn't hang on to outworn judgments or hold grudges."
I waited because there was obviously more he wanted to tell me.
"Her advice to you was suited to you. I'm sure she'll have advice to me that is quite different and just as suited to me. Good night, Lisa."
I smiled back at him. "Good night, dad. Sleep well. Or as well as you can anyway."

When I woke up the next morning, the household was quiet. I did my morning chores and made breakfast without seeing a soul. When I left for work, the sun was shining and the air was cold and crisp. It was mid-December, just ten days until Christmas and on a few short days until the exam that would mark the end of my school term. I hoped I'd get a chance to study before then, but I was confident that my hard work all term would see me through, no matter what.
At work my supervisor reminded me that the manager wanted to see me. As I expected, he offered me a promotion. I was to become the assistant loan officer. The hours would be shorter, the pay better, and I'd even have more time for lunch. I accepted right off and thanked him. He told me that I'd get a week of training at full pay. Training was helping the loan officer and trying to learn as much of her job as possible. I knew that Mr. Millard, the loan officer's husband, was supposed to get a new job out in California in the spring, and I wondered for a moment if I was being pegged to take over her job when she left to go with him. When I thought about my age though, that seemed unlikely. Mrs. Millard had been at the bank for twenty years and really knew the ins and outs of the business. Still the possibility persisted in my mind. Mrs. Millard had never had an assistant before, and the volume of business during the year had not enough to justify the new position. Of course, it could be that I was supposed to smooth the transition from Mrs. Millard to the new loan officer, whoever that was. I shook my head to clear it of idle speculation and went back to my window. My promotion was to go into effect the next day.
I knew that Donald would go before a judge today. My dad had told me that he'd have a bail hearing. We didn't have the money make bail for him, unless it was really, really low, or to pay for a good lawyer either, for that matter. One of the town's three law firms would be assigned the case pro bono. The best we could do for Donald was get Miss Carswell's help, and I hoped that my dad had already called her. If only Donald hadn't been arrested for a felony, the case would have gone to her as the town mediator instead of to a judge and I would have felt better about our prospects for a sensible resolution.
The morning was both slow and disorderly, and I wished I were already at my new post. Three customers had complaints about their statements, two had miscalculated on their deposit slips and got angry at having to redo them, so I redid them instead, and Mrs. Atlas got into an argument with the security guard about whether or not it was his job to hold her dog's leash while she cashed a check. They had that argument every time she came into the bank. She never got him to hold the dog, but she kept trying.
As soon as my lunch break came, I phoned home and reached mom. She told me dad had gone into town to be with Donald at the bail hearing and that he was meeting Miss Carswell after that. I was relieved but wished he'd come by and gotten me to join them. For all that the situation was bad, I felt good about the way dad and I had talked to me the night before, and I wanted to be involved in whatever discussion he and Miss Carswell were having.
Dad didn't come to get me, but about forty-five minutes before the end of my shift Officer Searle walked into the bank and came right over to my window. He was a tall, young man with sandy hair and a rather silly mustache that he was obviously very proud of. It was hard not to laugh at him, but I didn't because he'd been pretty nice to me on the phone, all things considered.
"Hi, Miss Dunn," he said with a shy smile. "I've got a check to deposit."
He handed me the check and the neatly filled out deposit slip. As I processed his transaction, he said conversationally, "I thought you might want to know that the judge set bail at twenty-five hundred dollars for your brother. I just came from court."
I nodded, wondering why he called me Miss Dunn in person when he'd called me Lisa on the phone. I handed him his receipt. "We don't have twenty-five hundred dollars," I said softly, not at all sure why I was sharing that information with him.
"You don't need all of it, just ten percent."
I shook my head. "We don't have that either. We're poor farmers. All we have is a lot of debt."
He sighed. "Yes, I know how that is. My dad farmed until he couldn't anymore. It was hard for him to adjust to working in a factory instead of being his own boss."
I nodded. "Well, thanks for telling me anyway."
"Yeah, you're welcome," he replied, turning to leave. "If there's anything I can do to help out, let me know," he added and then walked swiftly towards the door.
I had no idea what that was about, but I was glad he'd talked to me. He seemed like a nice guy. I shook my head. Only a little while to go and I'd be able to get over to Hightower's and give notice. After that my evenings would be my own.
I found myself watching the clock and as soon as my shift ended I was out the door and nearly galloping over to the drugstore. About half a block from there I heard a familiar voice call my name and looked up to see Amanda waving at me from the doorway of the only convenience store in town. I slowed my pace and waited as she caught up with me.
"Hi, Lisa," she said breathlessly. "You're in some hurry today!"
I grinned at her. "I'm giving notice at Hightower's. I got promoted at the bank."
She smiled and grabbed my arm. "That's wonderful, dear. Now you'll be able to take more classes and have some time for yourself."
"And some time to work on my drawing," I added, wondering if she knew about Diana's offer to me.
I didn't need to wonder long. "Diana told me she'd talked to you about illustrating her book," she said, looking at me out of the corner of her eye.
I nodded. "Yes, she did."
"She's really amazingly talented for such a young person," Amanda said carefully, trying to gauge my reaction.
I grinned. "I like her," I said firmly. "And I think it would be fun to work with her. But how likely is her book to get published? I mean, is it already written? Is a publisher interested? Or will I be taking a risk if I spend time doing illustrations for her?"
Amanda's smile broadened into t a grin. "Oh, the book is written and two publishers have expressed interest, pending her finding an illustrator. She know which one she'll choose, though she's not saying." She snorted. "I'm surprised they're not trying to force her to work with an illustrator of their choice. But then Diana isn't the kind of person who can be easily coerced." She shook her head. "Jason will have his hands full with that one if their relationship lasts."
I simply raised my eyebrows and she blushed. "I'm sorry, dear. I forgot…"
I waved aside her apology. "No need to be sorry. It's all for the best anyway."
She looked shocked. "So you're over Jason that quickly?"
I laughed at her. "You can't have it both ways, Amanda. If I'm over him, then you and I can be friends again. If not, well…"
She nodded. "I know. I know," she replied quickly, holding up her hand to stop me. "I screwed up. But I just didn't know what to do."
"Miss Carswell did," I said firmly.
She just snorted. "She's not his mother. Anyway, you two weren't really serious."
"No, we weren't," I admitted. "Not if you mean serious as in planning to marry. But we did care about each other. At least I cared."
"Oh, Jason cared, all right. But you two seemed to be on different paths in life."
"And Diana and he are on the same path?" I asked.
She shrugged. "He's serious about her, if that's what you're asking. I wish I could say she was as serious about him."
I resisted the temptation to say, "Tough luck for him!"
"Well," she said after a moment, "if you're not upset with Jason anymore, perhaps you'd be willing to come to a small party we're having Saturday evening."
I shook my head. "I have to study. And besides, the fact that I'm over Jason, as you put it, doesn't mean I want to socialize with him. Frankly, I still think he owes me an apology."
Amanda sighed. "So does Diana apparently," she said. "She has some kind of obsession with solidarity among women." She shook her head. "Ah well, when she gets a little older, she'll find out the world just isn't like that."
I said nothing, but Diana went up another hundred points in my estimation. "Does Jason know you're inviting me?" I asked after a short, uncomfortable pause in the conversation.
She nodded. "Oh yes, he asked me to. I think that if you chose to come, you'd get your apology."
I giggled. "Yes, but it would be an apology from Diana, not from Jason." I shook my head again. "That might be amusing, but I really do have to study. My exam is Monday night."
"Well, we're all disappointed," Amanda said.
"Your mother most of all, I'm sure," I said, a bit snidely I admit.
For a second I thought Amanda was offended. Then she laughed. "Oh, you wouldn't believe how much better you look to my mother now."
"Because I'm not Chinese?' I asked, though it wasn't really a question.
Amanda grew serious. "I'm sure that's part of it, but my mother is used to getting her way. At the very least, everyone gives her a wide berth. But not Diana." She shook her head. "I'd admire Diana's spirit more if it didn't make things harder for Jason and me. She's not an easy guest."
It was only then that I realized Amanda didn't really like Diana. I considered that as she went on, "But I shouldn't keep you from your work."
I grinned at her. "And from giving my notice!" I added, then reached out and patted her shoulder. "I'll see Jason at the pen club party if I can make it, and I'm sure we'll get to talk then," I said. "Everything will work out. You'll see." Even as I spoke I wondered why I was saying what I did.
Amanda smiled at me. "I've missed you, Lisa," she replied. "I've really missed our time together. There are not that many people here in town I can share my work with. I hope we can continue to be friends."
I wondered if my wanting to hear that from her was why I'd spoken as I did. I smiled back at her and went into the drugstore.

 

 

 


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