my mom out for dinner. I figured it was the least I could
do. We went into the restaurant and sat down at a table in
the back. I'd already had a hamburger there earlier in the
day, which was what I usually ordered, so I was at a little
bit of a loss as to what I'd order. I looked up at the wall,
where the evening specials were posted. Meat loaf, spaghetti
with meat sauce, Swedish meatballs, all variations on hamburger.
I scanned the room, as if to pull some inspiration out of
the air, only to notice Mr. Willard seated at the counter.
I looked over at Mom, who didn't seem to have noticed him.
She was staring at the list of specials, looking exactly the
way I'd felt when I read them.
"Do you really want to have dinner here, Jason?"
I smiled. "No, especially not since Willard is at the
counter, but what choice do we have? There's not enough time
to go home.."
She wrinkled her nose. "Talk about having your appetite
At that moment, Mr. Willard stood up, picked up his cup of
coffee and came over to our table. He looked down at us, at
my mom actually, with a very unhappy expression.
"What do you want, Tom?" Mom asked sharply.
"Can I sit down?" he mumbled.
She shook her head. "Not at our table."
His unhappy expression hardened. "I'm just trying to
say I'm sorry, Amanda. I was having a bad day, that's all."
"You're sorry all right," Mom snapped at him, looking
disgusted. "You're the sorriest excuse for a human being
I've ever met."
She stood up. "Come on, Jason," she said loudly.
"The air smells bad."
I followed her out of the restaurant. "Let's go over
to Mason's and get a couple of candy bars," she ordered
me. "That should get us through the rest of the evening."
Mason's general store, located right across the street from
the restaurant, was closed, as Mom knew it would be, but when
she knocked on the door, Sam Mason opened and let us in.
"What can I do for you, beautiful?" he asked Mon
with a wink. "And why did you bring your chaperone?"
He grinned at me.
Sam Mason was in his late seventies and always flirted with
my mom. Everyone thought it was cute, even Louise, Mrs. Mason.
I thought it was ridiculous, and Mom wasn't too crazy about
it, but she put up with it because sometimes we needed to
have our credit from the store extended, and it was a good
idea to be on Sam's good side. So she smiled at him and told
him we just wanted to pick up a quick snack.
"A quick snack?" he repeated, with such a big grin
this time that his gums showed. "What did you have in
I heard footsteps and saw Mrs. Mason enter the store.
"Now you stop tormenting, Amanda, you Don Juan, you,"
she ordered her husband as she came up and put her arm around
him. "They're hungry, poor things. I saw Tom Willard
walk into the restaurant a couple of minutes before them.
You know they don't want to be eating with him in there. Get
them some Twinkies and a carton of milk."
She looked up at Mom. "Or would you rather have fixings
for some sandwiches. We have ham and smoked turkey and a couple
of rolls left that aren't stale."
We ended up with turkey sandwiches and Twinkies and a quart
of milk, all of which we ate downstairs at the town hall.
Mom was still fuming about Mr. Willard. I wasn't quite sure
why she was so mad when I wasn't really. I mean, I was still
really mad about my fountain pen, but I thought he was pathetic,
and it's hard to be really mad at someone you think is pathetic.
I wasn't sure, but I thought I was starting to feel sorry
"Mom?" I asked, after swallowing the last of my
milk. "Why wasn't Mr. Willard's wife with him at the
"What?" she asked me, looking blank.
"You were here with me, so why wasn't she with him?"
Mom shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe Kathy has better things
to do with her time."
"But he's her husband."
"He's not on trial, Jason," she said, looking a
little impatient. "Anyway, who cares?"
I cared, but I didn't say so, since her question wasn't really
a question. The way Mr. Willard had come over to our table
made me feel funny, as if there was something going on that
I didn't understand. He had looked so miserable that I half
wished Mom had let him sit down. Besides, maybe then I'd have
found out what happened to my pen.
got back to the hearing room, it was empty except for Mr.
DeContreni and Miss Carswell who seemed to be waiting for
"Come in, Amanda! Come in, Jason!" Mr. DeContreni
said as we stuck our heads into the doorway. "I think
you may want to hear what Miss Carswell has suggested.
We walked in a little tentatively. Mom was still vacillating
between being nervous about being too close to Miss Carswell
and being hopping mad at Mr. Willard. I just felt wary since
I wasn't sure what the school board representative was going
to say. He seemed too friendly.
"If Miss Carswell is correct," he began, and then
he nodded in her direction, saying, "and I've rarely
if ever known her to be in error, then we really owe you a
new fountain pen."
"You owe him an apology as well, "my mother interjected.
"Amanda, please!" Miss Carswell said sternly. "Let
the man finish."
"Miss Carswell recommends that we replace your grandfather's,
er, Esterbrook, I believe, with a pen of greater monetary
value. She believes that you ought to be allowed to select
the pen with the assistance of the local fountain pen club,
"Local fountain pen club?" I repeated. I'd never
heard of a local fountain pen club.
"Locally there are only two members," Miss Carswell
said quickly, "but we meet with fountain pen users from
the surrounding towns and countryside every month. All together
there are ten of us right now. What I actually said to Mr.
DeContreni," she went on, giving him an exasperated look,
"is that you ought to be given recompense not only for
the malicious destruction of your pen but also for some of
the suffering you've experienced. I advised him to set a limit
on how much of the school board's money you can spend on your
new fountain pen in consultation with the same two local fountain
pen club members." She narrowed her eyes. "That
means that you will have to meet with us as well in the next
week if this recommendation meets with your approval, Jason."
"Assuming, of course," Mr. DeContreni interjected,
"that your pen really was maliciously destroyed by a
Miss Carswell snorted again. "Oh, it was maliciously
destroyed all right. I made a call during our dinner break,
and I'm a hundred percent sure of that now. And ninety-nine
percent sure who did it."
Mr. DeContreni raised his eyebrows, but Miss Carswell had
nothing more to say at the moment. Soon the others filed into
"Hmmph," I heard Mr. Willard say in a stage whisper
to his lawyer. "I guess Ed Conley gave up on his clients.
Guess he knew it was all over. Or maybe they just couldn't
Mom blushed and then glowered at him, but he just glowered
back at her. His expression didn't change when Miss Carswell
"Mr. Willard," she began, "have you brought
"No, I haven't," he replied and added quickly. "Unfortunately
the pen has been stolen."
"Stolen?" Miss Carswell repeated. "Would you
"Jason broke in and stole it some time between the time
I locked it away in the faculty storage closet the day I confiscated
it from him and today."
"Oh? And did anyone see you lock it in the storage closet?"
she asked, her voice dripping sarcasm.
Mr. Willard's smile broadened. "Oh yes indeed. A student,
Ben Clausen, one of Jason's fellow track team members. Ben's
the one who told me Jason broke in and stole the pen too.
I couldn't believe my ears and looked over at my mom whose
eyes were bulging out of her head. I was too scared to make
eye contact with Miss Carswell, so I just stared down at my
"Well, that's very interesting, Mr. Willard," Miss
"Yes, it is," Mr. DeContreni interrupted angrily.
"And it certainly invalidates what you and I agreed on
before this evening's session, Miss Carswell."
I looked up to find Miss Carswell smiling condescendingly
at Mr. DeContreni. "Well," she said, "I think
we need to hear from Ben Clausen. Is he here?"
"In the corridor," Mr. Willard's lawyer replied
a little nervously. "I'll get him."
Ben came in and walked to the front of the room.
"Do I have to swear to tell the truth or anything?"
he asked the lawyer.
"No," the lawyer replied. "You still have to
answer Miss Carswell's questions truthfully though,"
"Yeah, right," Ben mumbled.
"Sit down, Ben," Miss Carswell said.
"I'd rather stand."
"Sit down!" she repeated emphatically.
Ben sat down and rolled his eyes.
"All right," she went on. "Before you say anything,
are your parents present?"
"Dad's outside in the hall," Ben mumbled.
"Speak up, Ben!" she ordered him.
"Dad is outside in the hall," Ben repeated more
"Have Mr. Clausen come in, please," Miss Carswell
ordered the lawyer, who shrugged and, opening the door, beckoned
Ben's father into the room.