Chapter Four

Note: (I've made a slight adjustment in the time line. I now have it starting in 1995, chapter two in 1998, and graduating college in 2004.)

2005

Renee Carmichael carried the garment bag into her daughter's room. "Here you are, hon. I got all your best clothes in here without having to crush or crowd them."

"Thanks, Mom." Verity took the bag and laid it across the foot of her bed, then turned back to her almost full suitcase.

"Of course that wasn't hard to do, considering how few there was."

"We've been over this before, Mom. My dates are never anywhere fancy, and why should I have worn anything 'nice' to work my shift at WalMart? A couple of things for church and in case I ever have to go to a wedding or funeral are all I need."

"I wish you'd let me..."

"No." Verity's voice was firm. "You managed to give me almost a complete wardrobe for my last birthday and Christmas."

"Well, it was the only way I could get you to let me buy you any clothes."

Verity turned to her mother with a wry, amused look. "That's because you buy what YOU think I'd look good in. How many times do I have to tell you, Mom? I'm just not a pastel person."

Her mother sighed. "At least you accepted the check from your father. I was afraid you weren't going to."

"I almost didn't, but I thought about it, and decided I couldn't hurt his feelings like that."

"Good," Renee said firmly.

"I had to be practical at least once in my life. Setting up your own household is expensive. I mean, even if I get a furnished place with appliances, there's the security deposit, first and last month's rent, then I'll need to buy cookware, plates and glasses, toilet tissue, paper towels, cleaning stuff, broom, mop..."

"You can bring your bed linen."

"No thanks. I'm going to have to haul it all around myself once I get where I'm going. With what Dad gave me, I may even be able to put a few bucks in the bank, once I get what I need."

"He's still feeling guilty about not helping you with your college."

"I wouldn't have taken it, Mom."

"I know that, hon, but he's ashamed that he didn't try harder."

Verity sat on the edge of the bed. "I wish he'd let it go. He's done everything a father SHOULD do for his kid. I mean, he even suggested that I live here at home when Maria got married over that weekend in Vegas." She shook her head. "A Neil Diamond impersonator. I don't know how many drinks she had before she got that bright idea. I think he did it for a green card."

"Yes, he's from somewhere in the Middle East, isn't he?"

"I think he's Pakistani. He seems like a nice enough guy, but there isn't much call for celebrity impersonators around here." She shrugged again. "But I think that once he gets his citizenship, he can practise his real profession."

"What's that?"

"He's a chiropractor."

"I'm not sure I could handle someone who looked like Neil Diamond adjusting my spine."

"It'll probably be a selling point. Could you hand me what's in the top drawer over there? That's all that's left to pack."

Renee Carmichael opened her daughter's top drawer and began pulling out stacks of panties and bras. "I've never seen so much white cotton underwear outside a convent."

Verity took the underwear and began packing it neatly. "And since when have you been peeking under nuns' habits?"

"I'm just being a smart ass, dear. I think I inherited it from you."

Verity latched her case closed, and went over to her mother, hugging her. "I raised you well."

Renee hugged her back. "Quit stealing my lines. Is that everything?"

"Yes. I just wish I could bring my books and stuff with me."

"I know it's going to be hard to feel at home without your stuff around you, but we'll send it on, once you get settled."

"That could be expensive."

Renee smiled. "It'll be worth it to clean out your room. We're either going to rent it, or turn it into a combination guest/storage room."

"Rent it. I'll sleep on the couch when I come home to visit, and you two old paupers could use some extra income when you finally talk Dad into retiring. Speaking of the old devil--where is he?"

Renee's voice was gentle. "He said his good-byes last night, hon. He couldn't handle seeing you off at the bus station. Though I have a sneaking suspicion that if you look around closely enough, you might spot him standing behind a pillar, or sitting on a bench, holding a newspaper in front of his face. If you do, dear, don't call him on it. He'd be so embarrassed if he cried."

They carried Verity's meager luggage out to her Mother's car. As Renee had indicated, her father's car was gone. At the bus station they got the luggage loaded on the bus, and Verity handed over her ticket. She gave her mother a final hug and kiss. While she was embracing her, she whispered in her mother's ear, "Two o'clock. Man sitting on bench with shaking newspaper in front of face." She kissed her mother's cheek. "That's for him. Give it to him for me, Mom, even if he tries to dodge. I'll write, I'll call. I'd email, if you..."

"You're taking your electronic notebook, and neither your father nor I will be getting any more familiar with those demonically possessed boxes. Not after the swearing I've heard you doing at them. Good-bye, dear. I'd say give 'em hell, but I know I don't have to tell you that." She pushed her daughter toward the bus' door. She was smiling, but her eyes were moist, and bright. "I know you'll do it anyway."