|Angels Among Us: Jerry Connelly
Author: Helena Maria Mira PM
Can an illegal alien really be an "angel of mercy" for a lost flower child? Willa's friend Jerry proves that he is more that he seems to be as her life swirls out of control. But now her family doesn't only not understand her, but Trelawney Rose as well. Even Selena is troubled by the dynamic. Story is the sixth in a series.Rated: Fiction T - English - Spiritual/Hurt/Comfort - Chapters: 2 - Words: 24,842 - Published: 02-18-13 - Status: Complete - id: 3102129
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Part 2. Realities and Revisions
Now that Trelawney Rose had "bonded" with Georgina, she was finally able to experience that phenomenon known to young girls in books as a "kindred spirit." Every little girl dreams of having not just a friend, but also a best friend. Trelawney Rose thought that it was most fortunate that when she came along, Georgina did not already have a best friend. She was smart, pretty, and talented. And most important of all, she was nice.
And it was not as if Georgina had no friends. She had lots of friends. Other than Jay, Trelawney Rose did not know of another person who disliked her. She thought that maybe it had something to do with the fact that Willa had called her "a little weirdo too" because she liked Shakespeare. A friend is willing to accept your idiosyncrasies and smile when you go on about them. But a best friend shares your idiosyncrasies.
Trelawney Rose liked the afternoons when she was allowed to go next-door and play with Georgina. Sometimes it was just nice to escape from the house that was not her own home. She knew that Georgina would have liked to come to the Harringtons more often because Jay was there, but there were many more things to do than at her own house. And there at least they had some privacy. Georgina had her own bedroom, which was quite large and was filled with lots of toys.
Their favorite plaything was a trunk filled with all sorts of old dresses and costumes that Mrs. Jennings had picked up at rummage sales with the idea that Georgina could use them for playacting. They liked to act out scenes from Shakespeare's plays together, and it was fun to just play dress up. Because Mrs. Jennings bought anything and everything that Georgina had ever wanted, she had a whole set of paperback books of Shakespeare's plays.
And so, they could go to Georgina's, dress up, and act out any scene they wanted without Jennie hanging around and making "suggestions," Max coming in and making fun of them, or Jay rolling his eyes and telling them that they were wasting their time. Willa had never bothered them other than the one time that she had called them weirdoes. But Georgina had a clever answer for that.
"Why don't you take a look in the mirror and tell me who the real weirdo is?" she had asked pertly.
"Georgina that's not nice," she had admonished her because she didn't want her to hurt Willa's feelings.
But Willa had laughed.
"That's a pretty good one for a kid," she said. "Got any more?"
Georgina tossed her strawberry blonde curls over her shoulder.
"Takes one to know one," she answered smartly.
"For a weirdo," she said. "You're not so bad."
She walked out and Georgina turned to Trelawney Rose.
"I think that that was supposed to be a compliment," she said smiling.
Trelawney Rose thought about it for a minute.
"I do believe that you're right," she agreed.
At first Selena didn't like the fact that Trelawney Rose was spending so much time at Georgina's house but when she explained why, she agreed. In addition to the fact that there were so many things to play with, they could at least play there unbothered. At the Harrington's house, in addition to not having any toys of her own, other than her doll, Trelawney Rose had no play space to call her own. And Selena did not want her in the apartment alone. She wasn't taking any chances with her safety.
But Mrs. Jennings had no interest in what they were doing anyway. One of Selena's worries was that she would try to pump Trelawney Rose for information about the family. And Georgina had not been kidding when she had said that her mother spent all her time on the phone gossiping about whatever was going on. Trelawney Rose did her best to steer clear of her for this reason. It seemed to her that she just had too much time on her hands. She wondered why she didn't get a job.
The person who was most bothered by Trelawney Rose's friendship with Georgina was Jennie. She had liked having Trelawney Rose "all to herself," but quickly forgot that there were times when she had her own things to do and that that left Trelawney Rose alone. Selena tried to explain that Trelawney Rose needed a friend of her own who was close to her own age and shared some of her interests.
However, Jennie was most disgruntled by the fact that Georgina never invited her to play at her house. This was partly Jennie's own fault. It wasn't just Jay, but all of the Harrington children who had teased Georgina and made smart remarks to her from the time she had moved in. From their perspective, she was spoiled and coddled and used to getting her own way.
Jay called her a little airhead to her face. Max couldn't abide her ultra-feminine dress and manners. And because he always looked as though he had been rolling in the mud, Georgina didn't want to go anywhere near him. Jennie was just plain jealous because of the fact that she was the center of her mother's world. She followed her brothers' leads when it came to the teasing.
They had always viewed her as a pest and, even though she was very nice to Trelawney Rose, to a certain extent still did. When Georgina came over, Jennie was still not especially nice to her. Max rolled his eyes at her curls and ruffles. And Jay was just plain rude. But she overlooked that because she had a crush on him. Of course Jay had never really objected too much when she had followed him around and told him how smart and wonderful he was. And it wasn't like she had never noticed. It was no surprise that the only one that she wanted to play with was Trelawney Rose.
When Georgina and Trelawney Rose played together, they did more than talk about books and act out Shakespeare plays. Georgina very quickly realized that her new friend's ignorance of popular culture was sooner or later going to count against her socially. She had both a radio and a record player in her bedroom and introduced her to "teeny-bopper" music groups like The Jackson 5, The Osmonds, Bobby Sherman, and the Monkees. She also had a couple of Beatles albums that she played for her.
Trelawney Rose was not very impressed with the quality of the music (other than The Beatles), but understood why she needed to know some of these things. She thought that the most of the songs were trite. Georgina had piles of Tiger Beat magazines that she and Trelawney Rose read through.
It was in these that she discovered who the most popular teen idols were. The one thing that Georgina could not break down her opposition to however was television. One Friday night, they sat and watched The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, so that she could actually see David Cassidy and some of the others from Tiger Beat.
Trelawney Rose thought that it was the most boring hour of her life. She thought that she had never seen anything quite so dumb as an American situation comedy. She was also embarrassed by the really bad lip-synching on The Partridge Family. She found it difficult to believe that anyone was fooled by the idea that those children could be singing like adults.
She could not really believe that Mrs. Brady, who seemed to have nothing else to do with her time, actually needed a housekeeper to manage six children. Mums in the village easily handled more than that on their own. And she could not figure out why Alice, who was not even in service, bothered to wear a uniform.
But most of all, she got a bird's eye view of why American children all had such smart mouths. The children on these television shows were all very fresh and disrespectful. But no one ever corrected them. They all thought that it was funny to insult each other and make fun of their parents, to their faces no less. And it always seemed as if the children were smarter than the parents. It was all rather silly really.
Luckily, Georgina found her observations to be funny. It gave them something else to giggle about when they read the magazines and talked about the stars. And her newfound knowledge of pop culture helped Trelawney Rose to fit in with the other girls. Her greatest fear was that she was becoming a burden on her new friend, but Georgina assured her that she could never be that.
Secretly, Georgina had never really felt like she had fit in either, which was why she didn't have a best friend. When she was with the other girls, she pretended to be more interested in some things so that she wouldn't stand out. And she had to hide things like her love of Shakespeare. To a large extent, she admired Trelawney Rose because she was not afraid to be different.
One of the reasons for Georgina's popularity, in addition to the fact that she was so nice, was that when she had birthday parties she always invited every girl in the class. And her mother spared no expense in making sure that her parties were always the biggest and the best.
In a couple of weeks when she turned twelve, Mrs. Jennings had arranged to have the party at a local pottery studio. There, each girl would get to paint her own object, a plate or vase or something, and then leave it to be fired. Mrs. Jennings would then pick them up and bring them to school for the girls to take home. And because of the school policy of switching the students around classes each year, every girl in the sixth grade was invited. Georgina told her that she would be her special guest.
And as their relationship deepened, they discovered that they truly were "bosom friends." They did not have to hide anything from one another. Even if they didn't agree about something, like watching television, it was okay. After all, if they had completely agreed about everything, their friendship would have been very boring indeed.
Jay Harrington knew that he was viewed as a science prodigy by his teachers. It was something that made him very proud. There was no one in the seventh grade, who knew so much and had such varied interests. Jay's Dad had also helped him to build a small chemistry lab in the basement. It had a Bunsen burner and everything. He even had a small allowance for chemicals and other supplies.
Of all the children, Dr. Harrington was the most interested in Jay. Even when he was busy, he would drop what he was doing to answer a question or discuss a new idea. He was also very proud of Jay. He was pinning his hopes on the fact that it looked like his older son was going to follow in his footsteps. Jay wasn't sure if he wanted to be a mathematician, but he knew that he wanted to do something with science.
Dr. Harrington was also very interested in computers. Because he could see them as the future of math and science, he occasionally brought Jay to the university where he could see the latest mainframes and understand what they were about. Like everything else, Jay was fascinated by them, but since they really didn't exist outside the labs right now, they were more of a curiosity than an interest,
Dr. Harrington dreamed of the day when there was a computer, just like there was a television, in every home in America. Many of his colleagues laughed at him and told him that he had been watching too much Star Trek. However, he had a feeling that he was right and secretly hoped that if he could inspire his son, that one day he might be one of the brilliant minds that made it happen.
Jay found his father's talks about computers interesting, but he preferred to get his hands dirty. He liked mixing different chemicals together to see what happened. He also had the same kind of entrepreneurial spirit as his older sister. He became very adept at making stink bombs and was not above selling them on occasion to finance his future experiments. Of course he also created some rather malodorous concoctions that would even send him running upstairs for protection after they exploded.
Afterwards, he would air out the basement, and then he would swear never to do it again. But then he would read about something that he just had to try on his own and the temptation was too great. About the only thing good about it was that he had no problem with privacy. Curious as Max was about his experiments, he also had very sensitive olfactory glands and couldn't stand being down there with the more acrid odors. They irritated his sinuses.
Although he had not exactly been thrilled by the blossoming friendship between Trelawney Rose and Georgina, he discovered that even when Georgina was in the house she bothered him a lot less than she used to. In some ways, he kind of missed the fact that she always asked him lots of questions about his work. And even though she proclaimed that she had no idea of what he was talking about, she had always given him her full attention for as long as he wanted to talk and told him that he was a genius.
Now when she came over, sometimes she would insist on visiting his lab and flattering him, but more and more often, she would prefer to stay upstairs with Trelawney Rose. And if she stayed for lunch or dinner, she didn't care whether or not she sat next to him, but she always sat beside her new friend. That caused problems with Jennie.
Jennie had always insisted on sitting between Miss Selena and Trelawney Rose (probably to keep them from sitting next to each other). Now Georgina sat on her other side and Jennie didn't like it when she turned to talk to her. She also didn't like it when the girls talked about something in school that she didn't have anything to say about. Jay usually did, because he had had Mrs. Griegan too. She was tough, but he had liked that. She didn't let the other kids waste time valuable learning time in class like some of his other teachers did.
But Jennie would tug impatiently on Trelawney Rose's sleeve and try to change the subject to something that she wanted to talk about. More and more frequently however, the older girls ignored her and then she was insulted. Jay would have felt more sorry for her if she wasn't so spoiled already. And it's not like she didn't have any friends of her own who came over to play. She had just become very possessive of Trelawney Rose since she had come.
Jay thought that she would be more welcomed by the other girls if she didn't insist on always having her own way about things. If she tagged along, she always tried to get them them to do the things that she wanted. Trelawney Rose was very nice about it, but even Jay could see that her patience was wearing thin. Miss Selena tried to talk to Jennie about it, but once again, she was stuck in the middle. Jay felt kind of bad for her.
After all, Trelawney Rose was her sister and without any parents she had become kind of like her mother. But Miss Selena was also paid to take care of Jennie and before Trelawney Rose had come, Jennie had always gotten most of her attention. Jay realized that that wasn't a bad thing, since Jennie had never really known Mom. And he and Max weren't too interested in getting lots of Miss Selena's attention anyway. And of course Willa didn't want any at all.
For a while after Jennie heard about how Miss Selena had promised to always take care of Trelawney Rose, she had shaped up. Especially when she finally figured out that if Trelawney Rose didn't stay here that Miss Selena would go back to England with her. But Jennie had a very short memory and before they knew it, she was being possessive of Miss Selena all over again.
One of the things that had always bugged Jay about his Dad was that he never really stepped up to manage his own kids. Willa was basically allowed to do anything that she wanted as long as she didn't get arrested. Max had calmed down since Miss Selena came, but he could still get pretty wild and was always in trouble at school. And Jennie was pretty much spoiled rotten.
Once in a while something would happen to make Dad mad and then he would yell at them and threaten them with all kinds of punishments that he would never carry out. Even Jennie knew that he would never follow through. After a while, they learned to just listen quietly and say, "Yes Dad," and then go back to whatever it was they were doing. It made Jay uncomfortable to think that Trelawney Rose was right when she had told them that they were all spoiled.
But so far for him the school year was going great. Middle school was lots better than elementary school because they had honors classes and a real science lab. As usual he had straight A's and the other day his science teacher had come up to him to invite him to apply for a special summer program that the school district was having.
"The school district applied for a special grant from the National Science Foundation and got it" he explained. "One of the things that they will do is offer this special program for eighth to twelfth graders this summer over at the high school."
"But I'm only in the seventh grade," said Jay.
"By the summer you will have finished seventh grade and be in the eighth grade," he replied. "Now it's a long shot because you are so young, but if anyone in your grade can do it, it's you."
Jay thought about it and decided to apply. He had to write an essay about why he wanted to study more science than what he learned in school. Remembering the night that Trelawney Rose told him about the music of the spheres and what his Dad said, he wrote about wanting to do research that would make them rewrite the textbooks in thirty years.
He even talked about Galileo and a little bit about the music of the spheres, but mostly about how it related to string theory. He explained that he wanted to learn new stuff that wasn't even in the books yet. He didn't want his Dad to know that he was applying, in case he didn't get in, so he showed the essay to Miss Selena. She corrected some of his grammar and spelling and typed it for him so that it would look more professional. And she promised to keep his secret.
He thought about how proud his Dad would be if he got in. He wanted to make his Dad proud. That way he could make up for the fact that Willa was barely making it through high school. The sad thing was, that he didn't think that his father really cared about Willa. Even though he wasn't crazy about her, she was still his sister. Nobody liked Willa or seemed to care about her at all except for Miss Selena and Trelawney Rose. He was starting to feel kind of bad for her.
Jerry Connelly had met many hard cases in his life, but Willa Harrington was one of the hardest. She trusted no one and loved no one, not even her family. But from everything that she had told him, it sounded as if they really didn't love her much either. He thought about her Miss Selena and the little lass, Trelawney Rose. After she told him about the angel story, he realized that they were ones such as himself.
Jerry, like Selena, was a traveler. Her little village might be in England, he suspected in Cornwall, and his in Ireland, but it didn't matter. They were of a kind. He couldn't be sure based on the bits and pieces that Willa had told him, but he suspected that she used her housekeeping jobs to mend families. It would explain why she was working so hard to help Willa.
The little sister made no sense to him at all being out here in the larger world, even if she was an orphan. From what Willa had told him, it sounded as if she was a little fey. It also sounded as though she was very close to the universal consciousness based on her ability to see angels in heaven.
And the fact that she was so good and kind indicated that she might even be a child of light. But what the bloody hell was a young child of light, especially such a fragile one, doing in a place like this? All he could figure was that someone was trying very hard to hide her.
He, like Selena Tressidor, was also a child of light. Jerry's personal mission was to reach out to lost souls, usually teenagers, and to try to bring them back to health of body, mind, and spirit. Because he existed on the fringes of society, it was easy for him to find them. They were sometimes illegals like himself, or runaways who had made their way into the underground economy where he existed. Usually they were homeless or close to it. And if they were not in big trouble already, they were very close to it, like Willa.
The day that he had walked into the diner and seen Willa sitting there alone, he knew that she was his next lost soul. She had the look of her that indicated that she was sad and lonely. And when he had even heard a bit of her story, he realized that she was on outside of her family. That was really not so unusual for teenagers, but it seemed to be worse for her than most. In fact, it seemed to him that she had had a bit of help in putting herself out there.
He learned as much from her thoughts as he did from her conversation. Like all those of his race, he was highly intuitive and prescient. It had not taken him long to ascertain that she was close to leaving home, which was why he gave her the phone number after only knowing her for a few minutes. Of course that had nearly blown it for him.
In his concern to save her, he had forgotten how suspicious these kids could be. He didn't blame her for worrying about his motives or intentions and knew that after this he would need to work with a lighter touch. He could see that she was now very close to the edge. It would not take very much at all to push her off. His greatest fear was that she would hit a low point and do something really stupid.
Her aura betrayed more than an inner sadness and a bitter heart. She was sickly as well. The smoking, alcohol, and marijuana were contributing to her very natural feelings of depression. He was glad that she had the two sisters to care for her at home. If they were who he thought that they were, then they would be able to read the aura too. But if she left home, chances were slim that she would run into any others like them.
Therefore, he had to hope that she would stay in school long enough and, ironically, ditch school often enough that he could build a real trusting relationship with her. As always, despite the fact that she was a very pretty girl he felt no attraction towards her. Such feelings would interfere with his work. But she wasn't his type anyway.
His larger concern was to keep her away from some other man who would prey on her vulnerability and take advantage of her. She attempted to project an air of sophistication, but she was really quite ignorant of the ways of the world. And with her complete lack of relationship with her father, any older man who played his cards right could probably probably get her into his bed by offering her all the "love" that was absent in her life.
There were certainly many of those out there in the world. If she ran away to San Francisco and found her way into the flower child culture, she would undoubtedly run into those who would encourage her to try heavier drugs and to experiment with "free love," which would be better named "free sex" for those who took advantage of the innocent.
And young Willa was an innocent. She had never been in love before. And despite her lapses into drunkenness and worse, she had somehow managed to keep herself "intact." Her "crew" might be jerks, but at least they weren't users. Like her, they were lost, middle class high school kids, playing at rebellion by aping the hippies. But for the most part they weren't serious. He suspected that they would all eventually move into the hazy, drink and dope culture of American colleges. But that would not be Willa.
Willa was a rare bird indeed. She was authentic. She saw through the hypocrisy of others and refused to play that game herself. It was probably what got her into trouble with her father's own middle class mores. If they were not so obviously WASPs, he would have thought that they were Catholic "lace curtain Irish." They appeared to be the sort that put up a front for the rest of the world while hiding the pain within. About a month or so after the little girl was lost and found, he sensed that Willa was headed for another day at the diner.
This time, instead of coming upon her (because he was afraid that she would think that he was following her if he "ran into her" accidentally one more time) he decided to let her find him. So he went there for a couple of mornings for his coffee and newspaper. On the third day he was rewarded when a familiar voice interrupted his enjoyment of the comics.
"Fancy meeting you here," she said.
"Hello to you too," he replied. "Are you here to interrupt my morning look at the world of Snoopy?"
She rolled her eyes and sat down across from him.
"What's he up to today?'
"Oh, he's taking up with the Red Baron again," he replied easily. "Lot of imagination that dog has. A doghouse for a Sopwith Camel and all that."
"Yeah, I guess so," she said lighting up a cigarette.
The waitress brought her a cup of black coffee. She neither thanked her nor even acknowledged the gesture. But Jerry nodded. He wanted to make sure that she'd be back with refills. He had a feeling that it could be a long morning.
"So what's up with St. Selena and the little weirdo?" he asked.
"Not much," she said. "The little weirdo has made friends with the other little weirdo next-door. And St. Selena is on a mission to help me find an alternative to college next year."
"Given up on you, then?"
"No," she said slowly. "She thinks that it would be good for me to take off for a year and work or travel. She thinks that Americans place too much emphasis on college after high school."
He was thoughtful.
"Well, it does make sense for the lads to go to university straight off," he said. "Education deferral from the draft and all that. But that's not necessary for the girls."
"Not a believer in women's lib?" she asked.
"That's not what I said," he answered patiently. "I said that girls don't have to go to college just to avoid the draft."
"Oh, yeah, right," she said. "I forgot about that. But I'm not sure that the guys in my crew are thinking about that either. They want to go to college for the four-year party."
"Sounds like a bloody waste of their parents' money," he commented.
"I'm sure that it is," she agreed. "The girls are going for the same reason too."
"But you don't want to waste your Dad's money as well?" he asked. "It could be a bit of revenge and all that."
"I couldn't care less about his money," she said. "And that's not the issue anyway. The issue is how it looks to the neighbors and his colleagues. I would rather embarrass him by turning into a bum."
Definitely a "lace curtain" mentality, he thought. The girl's bitterness sure runs deep. But I think I can keep her safe if I aid and abet her determination to break free and rebel. It's going to be a delicate balancing act and I had better stay clear of Selena and the child, especially the child. The last thing I need is for her to blow my cover inadvertently with her honesty.
"What does your Dad say to the idea?" he asked.
"Nothing as far as I know," she said with a shrug. "Miss Selena has offered to help me talk to him. You know, she's acting like she wants to be in my corner or something."
"You think that she's only acting?" he asked.
Willa stared into the distance for a minute.
"Well, I think that in her own warped way, she's trying to help me," she replied. "But she can't fool me."
"What is it that she's trying to fool you about?" he asked.
"She wants me to think that she's trying to make my life better," she answered. "But I think that it's really about my Dad and making him happier."
"You've lost me, girl," he replied. "You'll need to explain."
"I think that she likes my Dad for more of his qualities than just employer of the year," she said. "And I know that the younger kids all want him to pull a Captain Von Trapp or something and marry her. Neither one of them is biting, but neither one of them has shot down the idea either. Sometimes the kids are not too subtle."
"So does that make you Liesl then?" he asked in amusement. "'I'm sixteen years old and I don't need a governess'?"
She grimaced at his poor imitation of the girl's voice from the movie.
"Yeah, right," she said. "Of course he has been offering her all kinds of comfort since she got the news about her folks."
"All right, now I know that I'm probably sounding like a broken phonograph record, but explain," he replied.
"It's too much," she said. "Every afternoon after she finishes her job at the campus ministry office, he meets her and they go for a little stroll around campus."
"Sounds pretty innocent to me," he commented.
"Oh, I'm sure that it is," she nodded. "Despite all of his efforts to the contrary, she seems to be holding out on him. But he's pretty persistent when he makes up his mind about something."
"Then maybe the joke's on him," he suggested.
"Well, maybe it's like this," he said. "Your Miss Selena has lost her own Dad at a very young age. And it sounds like there's a big age gap between her and your own Dad. Maybe he's more like a father-figure to her."
Willa looked thoughtful for a minute and then laughed.
"That would be too much," she said. "Wouldn't it?"
Jerry was glad to see that he had finally lightened her up. He wanted to keep in her high school long enough to get her diploma. She might not need a college degree to get by, but a high school diploma was a whole other story. There was a big difference in terms of employment prospects and girls didn't have the physical strength for some of the highly paid menial work that he got by on.
Of course that was a bit of a joke all by itself. He had earned his own degree at Trinity College, Dublin in European History in less. It was there that he had first met up with the kinds of lads who needed his help. Not content to live in the sheltered universe of the college, he had gone out on the streets to mingle with the rabble and discovered that they were more interesting to talk to than his esteemed classmates, who were not much better than Willa's crew in their association of drinking with school life.
After he took his degree, it was up to Belfast for a first hand look at the Troubles. There he met lots of lost youth who were getting themselves into troubles of their own fighting for a cause that they barely understood. He had helped a few of them find their way home or to a safer life, when an old friend from the village invited him to join him in America.
With that inborn knowledge of where he belonged that was common to his race, he flew over and quickly lost himself in the melting pot. There were pockets of Irish illegals all over the New York and Boston areas, but something was calling him west. He hitchhiked all along Interstate 80 from the George Washington Bridge to San Francisco. It was there that he finally stopped and discovered his spot.
Mixed up with the real hippies and rockers in Haight-Ashbury and the like were lots of lost middle class kids like Willa. He discovered that if he could get to them before they fell too far off the cliff, he could get them to go home if they were too young or into gainful employment and out of the drug scene if they were old enough. A couple of months ago, the spirit had led him to this small city where he was able to find a large variety of "off the books" employment and an even larger variety of mixed up kids.
They were an interesting group. Nobody worried about them too much because they weren't poor and they had access to a good education. But what they had in financial affluence and opportunity, they lacked in parental attention and family support. In the end, a lot of the kids just fell into line with their parents' wishes and planned to be like them some day. But there was another group of alienated teens that were admired for their rebellion by many of their peers and vilified by their parents.
These were Jerry's lost sheep. When he had first met Willa, he had thought that he was there to do some mop up work after the housekeeper took her little sister home. But now he realized that even that situation was not what it had seemed to be. He was there to mop up all right. But what was eventually going to happen to Willa was quite unclear. At any rate, right now it was time for him to move along or he would miss his ride out to a local building site. And he never liked to miss a day's work.
About a week or so later, one of his many employers was looking for a few men to help with landscaping work up at the university. It was part of the irony of the business. A ritzy school like this one had more than enough money to pay for their own staff of professional landscapers. But they would rather hire local contractors on the cheap who could charge low rates because of the day labor they used. It was more proof to him that there was no cheaper man in the world than a rich one.
In his day he had also worked at a couple of country clubs. Now they had these gorgeous golf courses to maintain and being from Ireland he knew a bit about that. Most of the men they hired were illegals from south of the border. They provided them with free room in the maintenance buildings and free food from the leftovers in the dining room. They worked them for upwards of sixty hours a week for a bit less than minimum wage. There was no time and a half, but they were paid in cash.
Most of those they took on were family men who knew they were being taken advantage of. But they put up with it because it meant that they could send all their earnings back home. What was poverty level in the US provided comfortable living over the border.
It was a scam all the way around, except when immigration showed up with their guns and chased them down on the golf courses. That bothered no one but the golfers when they interrupted their play. The illegals gave them phony names and they gave them a ticket on Air Mexico and a stern warning. They all knew that they'd be back once again as "tourists" in a month or so.
Normally, Jerry wouldn't have taken the university job on principle, but he was hoping that he might gain some insight into Willa up there. Now of course it was a very large campus, but if luck was with him, and it usually was in these cases, he might learn something useful. And this fellow hadn't called him in a while.
And of course luck was with him. After lunch, he was clipping some hedges when a young woman and older man walked by and sat on a bench nearby. He knew instinctively that they were Miss Selena and Dr. Harrington.
She was dressed in a modest pale green dress with a white cardigan thrown over her shoulders. Despite the fact that she was wearing a large sunhat to protect her fair skin, he could see that she was a very pretty blonde with the bright blue eyes of the Celts. He was a distinguished older man, tall, tanned, and with a touch of silver in his hair. They did make a handsome couple.
Her aura projected a delicate blue with a touch of lavender. There was hint of sadness about her and she was clearly a shy thing. His aura shone turquoise and his posture was protective. But the look in his light grey eyes indicated very clearly that he was not her father. On the other hand, looking at her, he wouldn't have taken the woman for his sweetheart at all.
He could see that she had a sweet and gentle nature, pretty much as Willa had described. But she was also exceptionally reserved. He suddenly realized that in all probability, Miss Selena was previously committed to some man back in the village. Within their culture, young women such as her, especially if they were oldest daughters, were betrothed as children to make up family alliances.
This would explain the reluctance that Willa had sensed in her response to her father. Dr. Harrington was a powerful man in his own way. He guessed that he was a highly successful researcher and scholar or he wouldn't be here. Jerry doubted that he knew of Miss Selena's betrothal. Certainly Willa didn't or she would have been gloating over it.
Luckily, he reached a point on the hedge where he was close enough to hear them as they spoke. It was fortunate that his cheapskate boss had only provided him with manual clippers. Even with work gloves, his hands would hurt like hell tonight, but he wouldn't miss a word.
"Well, I'm very happy that your sister has adjusted so well to life in America," he was saying in a somewhat formal tone. "It is good that her friendship with Georgina has worked out."
"Oh, yes," she replied with a rather genteel accent for one from a village. "The little one was telling me of how happy she was to finally have a 'bosom friend.'"
"A bosom friend?"
"Yes, or a best friend," she said. "She simply adores the Anne of Green Gables books although I do worry about that."
"Why is that?"
"Well, like Trelawney Rose, Anne was an orphan girl with an overactive imagination," she answered. "She goes to live in a farm community where she originally has trouble fitting in, but eventually she charms everyone. And she does get into a few scrapes along the way."
Dr. Harrington laughed.
"Yes, that does sound like our girl," he said warmly. "But why is that a worry?"
"I always worry that her imagination will get away with her and she will lose sight of reality," she explained. "I am afraid that one day she will no longer be able to distinguish between her fantasy life and her real life."
"Oh, I don't think that that will happen," he dismissed her concern. "If you consider everything that has happened to her in the past couple of months, it's not surprising that she would need to escape reality. I think that we all need to do that from time to time."
Miss Selena looked up at him shyly.
"You know that you have another girl who also needs your concern," she suggested.
He sighed impatiently.
"Must you always spoil things by bringing up Willa?" he replied. "We have been over this again and again. Once she graduates from high school, she will take off on her own. She has no interest in college."
"Yes, but doesn't it worry you?" she asked. "I know that she just turned eighteen but she is still so young."
"She may be young," he said. "But she's also pretty self-sufficient. I think that that she would be much happier if we just let her do her own thing."
"You would be happier anyway," she replied with a touch of irony.
Jerry was surprised by how willing the gentle Miss Selena was to stand up to her employer for a girl that he knew had almost no respect for her. Looking at her closely he could see by the warmth in her aura that she was quite definitely a child of light. It confirmed his earlier views of her. But he could also see why he had been called in.
Whether Miss Selena stayed or went home, it was highly unlikely that Dr. Harrington was going to reconcile with his daughter. He was there to take care of the girl when she left Miss Selena's care. He was glad that he could help her. He barely knew her, but Miss Selena obviously knew her well and she clearly did not see her as being beyond redemption.
Of course those such as Miss Selena never saw anyone as being past redemption. It was a part of their nature, his and hers, to save, not judge. Ironically, he suspected that she may finally have realized that the one most in need of redemption was the illustrious Dr. Justin Harrington. Any man who would treat his oldest daughter as he did had troubles of his own.
In his line of work, Jerry had known many parents like him. They wanted the perfect family and didn't know what to do when one of the brood didn't turn out as planned. Because Willa didn't fit neatly into the mold, he preferred to dismiss her as an outlier in his statistical model, rather than try to understand her. Simply put, she made him uncomfortable. She saw through his pretense as the perfect family man with the perfect family and resented his refusal to accept her as she was.
But he didn't plan to waste any time worrying about the father. He was Miss Selena's problem. His primary concern was keeping tabs on the daughter so that he would be ready to catch her when she fell off the cliff. And sooner or later, fall she would. It was such a pity. It was no wonder that her Mum was sorrowing for her in heaven.
Plans and Projects
Jay knew that Miss Selena was still feeling very sad about her parents. He knew that her birthday was coming up soon and decided that the thing to cheer her up was a birthday party. But when he mentioned it to Trelawney Rose, she immediately shot him down.
"That is probably the worst thing that you could do," she said emphatically.
That immediately set his hackles up.
"Why is that?"
"Because Selena shares a birth date with Papa," she replied. "She will no doubt be very sad. So will I. It would be best for you all to just leave us alone to our grieving."
She then turned on her heel and walked away. Jay was very annoyed. If Miss Selena would be remembering her father on her birthday then she would need cheering up more than ever. Trelawney Rose was just being crazy as usual. How did she know how her sister would feel?
However, he did have a suspicion as to how his father would feel. Time had passed since Trelawney Rose had run away and he had taken such good care of Miss Selena. The funny thing was that Trelawney Rose had not mentioned anything about trying to get them together. Of course she was too busy with her new "bosom friend," Georgina,
That night, she learned the hard way that in America, it was much better to just call her a best friend. The minute that she had said "bosom" in front of Max and Jennie they had both started laughing.
"How can you be bosom friends if you don't even have bosoms?" asked Max gleefully. "The two of you are flatter than pancakes."
"What are you talking about?" she asked, not understanding as usual.
Fortunately, or maybe not so, Miss Selena was nearby and intervened before he could answer.
"Trelawney Rose," she said. "I think that it's time for you to do your homework."
"But Selena . . . " she started.
"Just go do it," she said sharply.
Trelawney Rose left and the rest of them burst out laughing.
"What's your problem?" she asked them just as sharply.
"It's Friday night," giggled Jennie.
With that, Miss Selena called for her sister and they went back to the apartment. Then Max felt bad because they had been supposed to spend the evening with them watching a special movie on television. Trelawney Rose had never seen The Wizard of Oz before.
A few minutes later, Dad came out looking for them. When Jay explained what had happened, Dad sent Max and Jennie upstairs to their rooms for the rest of the night. Jay couldn't figure out why he was so steamed, except that maybe . . .
"Hey Dad," he said tentatively. "Do you know what day is coming up?"
"No," he growled. "But I suppose that you're going to tell me."
Jay ignored him because he knew that he would be glad that he reminded him.
"It's Miss Selena's birthday next Sunday," he said. "I was thinking that maybe we could have a little party for her or something. Because she's been so sad and all."
"Well, that's very thoughtful of you, Jay," said Dad, changing his mood right away. "I think that a little party might be just the ticket to cheer her up."
Well the idea certainly cheered you up, thought Jay. Now I know I'm right. He's definitely still interested in her. However, Jay could see that as usual, he didn't know what to do.
"Do you want to make it a surprise party?" asked Jay, thinking of how Trelawney Rose would react if she knew about the plans. "We could even keep it a secret from Trelawney Rose, that way they could both be surprised."
"That's a great idea, Jay," answered Dad. "What do you think that we should do?"
"Oh, nothing too big," he said. "You know how she doesn't like a fuss. We could bake her a cake again."
"Like last year?" he asked. "I don't think so, son. There are some flavors that should not be mixed and some colors that do not belong in foods, even if individually they are someone's favorites."
Jay felt a little downcast. He and Max had worked hard to bake that cake. Okay, maybe bright blue cake with purple icing wasn't the best idea. And okay, coconut cake and licorice frosting weren't the best combination. But he had worked extra hard to invent the frosting since you couldn't just buy it in the store. And Miss Selena had been very kind and said that it was the thought that counted. But the cake had been so bad that even Chester wouldn't eat it.
"Look, Jay," he said. "I'll order up something from the bakery. You kids can take care of the decorations."
"What about dinner?" asked Jay hopefully.
"I'll grill something," his Dad said quickly. Then when he saw how disappointed he was, he added, "Why don't you think of a nice gift that we can get for her. You can ask Jennie and Max to help you. I guess that you might even ask Trelawney Rose."
"I don't want to make her suspicious," he said. "And I'm not so sure that we should say anything to Jennie or Max. You know what big mouths they have."
Dr. Harrington looked thoughtful.
"Jennie is the world's greatest tattletale," he said. "Isn't she?"
"You bet," said Willa coming in. "What happened to movie night? I expected to find you all in "Munchkin Land" by now."
"Um," said Jay. "There was a little problem."
"I won't even ask," she said rolling her eyes. "But I'm not here to stay. I just need to pick up some of my gear. I'm spending the night at Pam's."
"Are her parents home?" he asked.
"Ooh!" replied Willa. "She's got you well-trained now!"
"Just answer the question," he said impatiently.
"Hmm, let me see, I believe that the right answer is yes," she said sarcastically.
"Is that the right answer or the true answer?"
"Don't you trust me?" she asked with feigned innocence.
"Willa . . . " he started in a threatening tone.
Willa rolled her eyes.
"Yes, her parents are home. Go ahead and call if you don't believe me," she said with a sigh. "May I go now, please?"
"Go ahead," he replied, brushing her off with his hand in disgust.
Not the least bit bothered, she left the room. Jay, who had been standing off to the side quietly throughout the whole exchange, saw his father watch her leave in disgust.
"Dad?" he asked tentatively. "Why do you hate her so much?"
Dad gave him a look that said, "oh, you're still here" and sighed.
"I don't hate her," he said. "It's just these days I don't particularly like her. Every time I see her, she seems to have devised a new way of getting under my skin."
"I think that Miss Selena is worried about her," said Jay, afraid that he was overstepping his boundaries.
But Dad didn't mind.
"I know that she's worried about her," he answered. "But she has to accept the fact that there is nothing that we can do about her. She's eighteen and free to leave anytime she wants. As long as she graduates from high school, I'll be happy."
"What if she doesn't graduate from high school?" asked Jay, feeling a little braver.
"Do you know something that I don't know?"
"No," said Jay slowly. "I'm just saying. What happens if she doesn't graduate?"
Dad stared off into space. In some ways, Jay felt bad for him. First he was in a bad mood because Max and Jennie wrecked movie night. Then he had been in a good mood thinking about the surprise birthday party that they were going to have for Miss Selena. But now he was in a bad mood because Willa had to go and push his buttons again. But on the other hand, Max, Jennie, and Willa all acted out because he never gave them any real discipline.
Not knowing what else to do, Jay went upstairs to his room to read. Max and Jennie were there, waiting for him.
"Is Willa in trouble again?" asked Jennie.
"No," said Jay puzzled. "She's going to spend the night at her friend's house. Why do you think that she's in trouble?"
"When she came up, she yelled at us because we were arguing over whose fault it was that movie night got cancelled," said Max. "Usually she just ignores us, but it seemed like she was in a bad mood."
"Willa's always in a bad mood," said Jennie. "But tonight, she seemed to be in more of a bad mood. She said that Dad was a total moron."
"Well," said Jay. "I don't know. But she didn't get yelled at even though she was real fresh again."
"Maybe Dad got tired of yelling at her," said Max. "Maybe he just doesn't care."
Jay had a feeling that Max was right.
Out of Sight
Willa had lost almost all interest in school. She didn't even really care enough to spend any time with her crew. She went to her classes in the morning and then ditched the afternoon ones. There were only two, art and gym. And because she was ditching classes rather than the whole day, nobody called home. She would go over to the diner, but Jerry never showed up. Then she realized that she had only ever seen him there in the mornings.
Biting the bullet on Thursday morning, she checked in at homeroom and then checked out. She figured that she could get away with it one time. Walking into the diner, she saw Jerry sitting in a booth with a couple of other guys dressed like him. She hesitated, but before she could leave, he saw her and waved her over. Not knowing what else to do, she approached them.
"Willa," he said cheerfully. "Meet my two friends Malachy and Eamonn. They just flew in from . . . County Kerry was it?"
"Are those your real names?" she asked, but her sarcasm fell flat.
Jerry looked at her closely and turned to his friends.
"Hey, lads," he said. "Why don't you be off? I'll pick up the check and catch up with you later."
"Sure, Jerr," said one of them with a thick accent, and nodding to Willa they took off.
"Okay," said Jerry once they were out of earshot and Willa had sat down. "Talk to me."
She felt herself slump in the seat. Jerry nodded to the waitress who brought her coffee and emptied the ashtray. As if on autopilot, Willa took out her cigarettes. He held out the lighter for her and she took a deep drag. Jerry sat back and looked at her with brown eyes filled with concern.
"I'm just about done with it all," she finally said. "I just want to escape from everyone, anyway that I can."
Jerry looked at her aura, which was now a milky white. She was at the edge and he had to figure out a way to pull her back. But she wasn't ready to leave home. He didn't know how he knew it. He just knew it.
"Tell me what happened, lass," he said gently. "And don't leave anything out. It's Jerry here. You can trust me."
She nodded and took a sip of her coffee. It steadied her so that she could talk.
"On Friday night, I stopped by at home before I went to Pam's house for a party," she said. "One of the guys had gotten his hands on some hash and we decided to make a party of it and smoke it. You know, like George Harrison and Ravi Shankar or something. Pam's parents weren't going to be home and the word was out. But it all went wrong."
"At home or at the party?"
"At home," she said. "And then at the party. The family was supposed to have one of their cozy little movie nights, but Max and Jennie were teasing Trelawney Rose, so Miss Selena took her back to their apartment. My Dad was in a bad mood. I told him that I was spending the night at Pam's and he asked if het parents were home. I gave him a smart answer, basically daring him to call them."
"No, Miss Selena would have. But not him," she said bitterly, but not him. "She and Trelawney Rose weren't there and it was all because of those two little brats. I really didn't want to go. But I ended up going anyway."
"And what happened there?" he asked softly, because he already knew.
"I got stoned," she replied. "Man, that stuff is stronger than weed. And while I was stoned I did something really stupid."
"Do you want to tell me about it?" he asked.
She looked away and then down. He could see the tears forming in her eyes. But the only way for him to know if she really trusted him was if she would tell him. And she had to tell someone. It was a pity. She could so easily have turned to her Miss Selena, but she didn't even feel that she could trust her. She had let her down. When she had needed her to be there, she had been taking care of her sister. It was just another bitter reminder that the little orphan had everything that she wanted and needed.
"I finally did it," she said at last. "I gave it up to some guy and I don't even know his name. He was there with a few other people who weren't a part of the crew, crashers. If the word gets out that your parents aren't home when you're throwing a party, they crawl out of the woodwork. I barely even remember it."
Jerry sighed. She had lost something that she could never get back. If her Mum in heaven had ever been weeping, it was most surely now. The hurt and betrayal was written on her face. He couldn't believe that no one at home had noticed. But then again, she had become very good at hiding her true feelings from them.
"Instead of ditching school, you should ditch your crew," he said bluntly.
"Why?" she asked. "Then I'll have nobody."
"They're not worth your time," he said. "Whatever happened, they obviously didn't care enough about you to stop it. They let some stranger take advantage of you. And you're not alone. You have me and St. Selena and the little weirdo."
She gave him a hint of a smile at that.
"Do I really have you?" she asked.
"You have me in the sense that you have a friend that you can trust," he said carefully. "But you're not my girlfriend or nothing like that. No offense, girl, but you're just not my type. And you need to stay in school long enough to get the diploma. It'll matter a lot when you start looking for work."
"I don't think that I can last that long," she said. "It's over ten weeks until graduation."
"I think that you can," he disagreed. "If you're going to make it out here, you have to be strong. You'll see once you're out here."
She didn't answer. Jerry missed a day of working to sit with her and then watched her get on the school bus to go home. He could only pray that somehow he had gotten through to her.
When Willa arrived home, she could hear the sound of the piano through the open window. Then she remembered that the kids had a half-day for some teachers' meetings or something. She walked into the living room to stand and listen while the little girl played The Long and Winding Road, which had just hit the Top 40. After she finished the last bars, Trelawney Rose turned around and gave her a sad smile, as if she knew what she was planning. Willa returned her smile with a sad smile of her own.
Trelawney Rose watched as Willa slowly walked up the stairs. She didn't know what had happened to her the other night, but it had not been good. She had been more morose than usual. Selena was worried because she was hardly eating and said almost nothing, obnoxious or otherwise, to anyone. Quietly, Trelawney Rose followed her upstairs and knocked on her door.
"Get lost," said the voice from inside.
"It's me," she said softly and then the door opened.
Willa went back to lying on her bed and staring at the ceiling. Trelawney Rose closed the door behind her and looked at her.
"When I feel like that, I curl up in a little ball on my bed," she said. "So that I can be invisible. I don't have my own room so I have nowhere that I can hide. I don't dare run away again."
"How do you know that I want to be invisible?" asked Willa dully.
"Because you aren't eating and you usually have quite a hearty appetite," she said. "You are trying to make yourself fade away. And you hardly talk. You are hoping that no one will notice you."
"I'm sure that everyone else is very happy about that," she replied.
"Not everyone," corrected the little girl. "I'm not and Selena is not. We understand. Sometimes we wish that everyone would just leave us alone. But we have always been sorry that you are so sad. And we are sorry that you will not let us help you. We love you and we are worried about you."
Willa sat up and looked at her. At least I have your full attention, thought the girl. And now I can see that you are letting someone help you. She sighed.
"Why do you and Miss Selena care about me?" she asked. "I have never even been nice to either one of you."
"You have never been nice to anyone," commented Trelawney Rose. "Not for as long as I have known you. So I don't take it personally."
Willa shook her head and gave a bitter laugh.
"Where did you learn to be so honest?" she asked her.
"I did not learn how to be honest," Trelawney Rose replied. "I have just never learned how to lie. Although I must admit, I am rather good at withholding enough of the truth to deceive people. But deception is not the same as lying."
"I'm not going to disagree with you on that one," said Willa. "My head hurts too much."
"That's because you have drunk too much coffee and smoked too many cigarettes today," she said matter-of-factly. "I believe that the expression is that you smell like an ashcan."
"No," said Willa with a little laugh. "I smell like an ashtray."
"Yes," she said. "I guess that is what I meant. I will leave you to your brooding. I am glad that you are allowing someone to help you. I do not want to intrude."
Willa didn't answer and the child slipped quietly out the door. After she was gone Willa realized that she said that she knew that she was allowing someone to help her. Now how the hell did she know that?
On Sunday afternoon, Miss Selena and Trelawney Rose went out to spend the day together. Sunday was Miss Selena's day off and it was their special time together. As soon as they left, Jay and the other kids began to decorate the backyard. Dad went out and picked up the cake and got the supplies for the barbecue. They had a lot of fun putting balloons and streamers everywhere. Dad lit up the grill and had gotten the steaks for the occasion.
Each of them made her a birthday card after they finished decorating and Dad had gotten her a gift, but he wouldn't tell them what it was. He had even picked up fresh flowers on the way home from church. Jay was feeling real good about things when he heard the car pull up in the driveway. Miss Selena and Trelawney Rose walked into the yard with their arms around each other's waists and they all yelled, "Surprise!"
But they did not get the response they expected. Instead of smiling and thanking them, the two sisters looked sadly at each other. Miss Selena gave Trelawney Rose a little squeeze and seemed to be fighting back tears.
"How lovely and thoughtful," she said politely.
Trelawney Rose looked at him reproachfully, but didn't say anything. Dad looked confused, of course, and the kids were disappointed. It wasn't just that they had worked hard to make a special evening for her. They had wanted to cheer her up. But it seemed like they had done the opposite. But Miss Selena saw their disappointment and with a pained smile sat down at the gaily decorated picnic table.
"The flowers are beautiful," she said quietly. "Thank you, Dr. Harrington. And thank you, children, for the beautiful decorations."
"We just wanted to make you happy," said Jennie. "What did we do wrong?"
"If you wanted to make me happy," she replied. "Then you did nothing wrong."
Trelawney Rose sat beside her and she began to idly stroke her hair.
"The difficulty is," she explained. "That you can only try to make someone happy. You can't really make them happy. You see, I share a birthday with my Papa. And if he was still with us then today he would have been sixty-six."
"We went to a craft fair today," added Trelawney Rose. "In one of the little towns up in the hills. There was lots of homemade furniture there. We had a lovely afternoon remembering him in our own way, and Mummy too. She made the most beautiful hand sewn clothing and other crafts."
"You see," explained Miss Selena. "For us it has been a day of quiet remembrance. Neither of us is really in the mood for a party. I had hoped that you would forget that today was my birthday."
Jay saw his Dad thinking hard.
"Well," he said. "I have some beautiful steaks here. You surely won't object to a good meal, especially if you don't have to cook it for once. And we can have the cake without candles or singing."
"That's very good idea," replied Miss Selena. "A good dinner would benefit both of us, wouldn't it, love?"
Trelawney Rose didn't speak, but she nodded and cuddled closer to her sister.
"But, Dad got you a present," said Max. "And it's a big surprise."
"Not anymore," said Jay.
"Why don't we wait until after dinner for that?" suggested Dad. "And the cards."
After Dad threw the steaks on the grill, he brought out a couple of bottles of soda and some salads that he had picked up. He had also gotten paper plates and cups and plastic utensils.
"I'm afraid that when a man plans a party, he thinks of expediency over elegance," he admitted sheepishly.
"Huh?" said Max.
"That means that he doesn't care how it looks as long as it's easy to clean up," explained Jay.
"Then why didn't he just say that?" asked Max.
Before the kids could think up any more smart remarks, Trelawney Rose interrupted.
"Is Willa home?"
"She's upstairs in her room," said Jennie. "She told me to get lost when I knocked on her door before."
"Well, she won't tell me to get lost," replied Trelawney Rose. "And if she can smell those steaks then I am sure that she must be hungry."
Max rolled his eyes.
"Who wants her around anyway?"
"I do," said Miss Selena. "And it's my birthday. Trelawney Rose, would you please invite her to come down?"
"Yes ma'am," said Trelawney Rose and went into the house.
Jay tried to catch his Dad's eye, but he was intently watching the steaks cook. Max and Jennie were making faces and gesturing to each other while Miss Selena tried to ignore them. Jay couldn't help but wonder if Trelawney Rose mentioning Willa wasn't some kind of revenge on him for not listening to her.
She returned shortly with Willa who looked very tired, even though she hadn't gone out the night before. Miss Selena gestured for her to sit next to her and Trelawney Rose sat on the other side. Jennie became incensed.
"That's my seat!" she objected. "I always sit between Miss Selena and Trelawney Rose."
Willa started to get up but Miss Selena put her hand firmly on her arm.
"We have never assigned seats to anyone," she said quietly. "Jennie, you may sit beside either Trelawney Rose or myself. Or you can sit across the table."
Jennie wrinkled her nose and petulantly sat beside Miss Selena, as close to her as she could get. Dad brought the steaks over.
"Okay, everyone," he said cheerfully. "Dig in!"
The conversation at dinner was muted out of respect for the sisters. Max and Jennie tried to bait Willa into making a sarcastic comment, but she just looked at them. Finally Dad told them to cut it out. It kind of bothered Jay, that even though they were trying to have a nice meal, the younger kids couldn't let up.
It made him feel uncomfortable though. Willa didn't say anything other than please and thank you and yet there was still a slightly nasty undertone to the conversation. He realized that it was always there, even when Willa wasn't at the table. But with Willa at the table and not saying anything at all, it became obvious that maybe it was their fault too. She didn't even roll her eyes.
After dinner and cake, they each presented Miss Selena with the card that they had each made. She thanked them all and then Jennie tried to spark more dissension.
"Where's your card, Willa?" she asked in a tone of voice that implied that she knew that she hasn't made one.
Willa looked down.
"That's okay," said Miss Selena. "I'm guessing that nobody told you about the party either."
She shook her head and didn't say anything. Jay had a feeling that Miss Selena was getting tired of Jennie and her attempts to draw Willa into an argument. Dad tried to smooth things over.
"This is a gift from all of us," he said pointedly.
Miss Selena carefully opened the wrapping paper. Inside was a decorative plate that said "Home is Where the Heart Is." There was a heart pictured inside of a house and all of their names, including Willa's were written around the border.
"I had it specially made," he said. "Mrs. Jennings gave me the name of the pottery studio where she is having Georgina's birthday next week and they made it up for me. There is a bracket so that it can be hung on the wall."
"Thank you very much," said Miss Selena warmly. "I can't imagine a better gift."
For the first time that evening, she actually looked happy. Jay was kind of surprised. His Dad wasn't usually very good with that kind of thing. But then, Jennie had to spoil the moment.
"I don't see why I wasn't invited to Georgina's birthday," she griped.
"Oh, knock it off, Jennie," said Dad sternly. "If you don't have anything nice to say then just keep your mouth shut."
Jennie's mouth dropped open. She wasn't used to being disciplined. Max opened his mouth to make a smart remark, but Dad beat him to the punch.
"You too, Max," he added sharply.
Jay helped his Dad clean up after they were finished. Miss Selena and Trelawney Rose went up to their apartment and the others went inside.
"That turned out better than I thought it would," said Dad. "It could have been a disaster."
"That was a great gift," said Jay mischievously. "I bet Miss Selena was real surprised."
"Well, the plate was inspired," he replied. "I do get these things right sometimes."
"No," he said. "I was talking about telling Max and Jennie to knock it off with the fresh mouths. I think that Miss Selena is pretty sick of the constant sniping."
"I guess so," shrugged Dad. "At least Willa was on her best behavior."
"Yeah," said Jay. "She hasn't been so bad for the past week. I wonder if something is wrong with her."
"Only your sister could make you think that there's something wrong with her, when she begins to act civilly," he replied.
But Jay didn't think that she was being civil. He thought that she was too sad or sick or something to be obnoxious. But then, Dad had spent the whole night looking at Miss Selena. Every once in a while he was able to catch her eye and get a smile out of her. But he was getting frustrated.
It was obvious that they liked each other, but so far they hadn't been romantically inclined at all. He thought that Dad might go for some kind of romantic gift, but instead he just went for some corny plate. But even he had to admit that it was a pretty good gift for someone like her.
So all he could do was wait and hope. He hoped that when Trelawney Rose stopped being sad about her Papa's birthday that she might have some ideas for trying to get them together. But ever since she started school, she had been in a funny mood. The only one that she wanted to play with anymore was Georgina and when she was home she stuck close to Miss Selena.
But still, she couldn't have given up on the idea of getting her and Dad together. He sighed. Girls. Between his two obnoxious sisters and crazy Trelawney Rose, he didn't understand them at all.