PARABLE FOUR: BETRAYED BY LOVE
I don’t think Christy Strahan was a slut. I think, on the contrary, she was a good girl and loyal friend. She noticed Eduard Nevermore as soon as he returned to town, but stepped aside when he displayed an obvious preference for Lena Lenore to any other girl in the senior class.
Christy made no move to interfere in Eduard and Lena’s relationship while it was working and did not reveal her true feelings for Eduard until he indicated his readiness to date other girls. He did this by asking me out, but that is irrelevant.
(Bridget Etheridge’s journal)
The Strahan family had lived in Mystic Evermore for years and although their house was in the centre of town, they had somehow escaped being marked by the peculiarities of the area. Despite having been in town since the beginning of settlement, the closest the Strahan family had come to the pioneer families was when Grandma Strahan went out with Edward Nevermore for a brief period in the late nineteen-seventies.
“A sweet young man and so very like young Eduard Nevermore,” as Grandma remarked when Eduard and Damien came to stay with their Uncle Sebastian in town. Her romance with Edward Nevermore was before she met Grandpa Strahan of course.
Grandma Strahan ran the general store combined pharmacy in the shopping mall. She knew all the gossip about who was related and who was courting whom in Mystic Evermore. What Grandma did not know for sure, she probably made up and Grandma had an acceptable explanation for everything.
Robbie Strahan was a plumber and had seen everything there was to see in the underside of people’s houses. He was a simple man, who dressed as a tradesman in navy overalls and tied a red bandana around his neck. When he entered a smelly zone, the bandana doubled as a makeshift facemask. His wife Barb Strahan was the perfect mother, who wore skirts, stayed home to look after the children and served on parent’s committees. When business was busy, she helped Grandma out in the Strahan General Store combined pharmacy, and now the children were grown, was often to be found working in the store.
Christy Strahan was the oldest daughter. She tied her hair into a casual knot on the back of her head and decorated it with bright ribbons. Christy strived to look slightly exotic as all the Strahan’s were blessed with dark good looks. She was also very sporty and popular with the boys, but she generally did not date and appeared to be waiting for someone special. That is, until Eduard Nevermore came into town. After Eduard and Lena embarked on a break, Christy began going out with Eduard and they had been an item for almost eight weeks now.
Zarah Strahan was the second daughter. She also tied her hair back into a knot on her head, but Zarah’s style was neat and tidy whereas Christy’s was casual. The two sisters were very much alike, although Zarah was generally lighter and finer boned. Zarah was also one year below Christy in school, sharing her classes with Jamie Lenore, the younger cousin of Lena Lenore, and Jeroma Tilton, younger sister of Javier Tilton who had recently moved to town.
Benji Strahan was the Strahan sisters’ younger brother. He had straight hair he kept cropped very short, and he was good at math and science. So good in fact, that he joined Zarah’s class for some lessons. He wasn’t a genius at English however, so he was still officially a year below Zarah and two years below Christy at Mystic Evermore High.
Zarah hurried home from school that Friday afternoon because she had promised to help Grandma in the store. It was really Christy's job, but her older sister was always out with Eduard Nevermore nowadays. Zarah didn't really mind, she adored helping Grandma in the store, and at least Christy had done her bit in covering shifts while Zarah was performing in the Mystic Evermore High Musical extravaganza earlier in the term.
Zarah reached their house and unlocked the door, then she padded to her bedroom and took off her school uniform, throwing it down on her bed. A few minutes later she was neatly attired in the shirt and slacks grandma insisted she wear for work in the store. The shirt had "Strahan's" embroidered over the breast pocket and the slacks were modest for bending down to stock the shelves. The Strahan house and store were located close together, so Zarah walked across to the store. The bell tinkled merrily as she opened the glass door and entered.
"Hello, Grandma," Zarah cried, approaching the checkout.
"There's my girl, Zarah," Grandma Strahan replied. "Now you are here, I would just like to take my coffee and rest my feet for five minutes. Can you take over the till?"
"Sure, Grandma," Zarah said, and took her place behind the till. Grandmother was looking a little tired this afternoon. She worked long hours, and although a small town like Mystic Evermore did not really require late night shopping, Grandma Strahan insisted they provide extended hours on Thursday and Friday evenings.
Barbara Strahan nodded to her daughter from behind the pharmacists’ counter. The pharmacy counter was Zarah's favourite part of the store, because it was full of soaps and perfumes as well as medicines. However, she needed to complete her pharmacist’s certificate to serve behind there. Both her Mother and Grandmother had their pharmacist’s certificates and if neither of them was in the store the counter had to close. It was allowable for Zarah to sell the occasional soap or perfume, but she certainly could not dispense medicine.
The shop bell rang and some of her high school classmates passed through, shopping with their parents on the way home from school. Jeroma Tilton, who was in her class at school bought a lipstick, while her mother Lilibet Tilton collected a basket of groceries. Jeroma's brother Javier, ever a distinctive figure in his long black coat, fiddled with the controls of the electronic gaming machine Grandma had installed several years ago so that the youth of the town ‘had something to do’ other than hanging around on street corners and getting into trouble. Not surprisingly, many of the young folk still hung around on street corners, talking and laughing, but there was no getting into trouble allowed under Grandmother's eagle eye.
Lena Lenore passed through the store with her cousin Jamie. Jamie was also in Zarah's class at school. His attendance was sporadic at the best and he appeared very rebellious. Still, Zarah couldn't help liking him and was very sorry that the Lena had lost her parents in a car accident several years ago.
Zarah was busy serving a customer, but out of the corner of her eye, she saw Lena and Javier exchanged looks. Then Lena crossed the floor to check Javier's score on the gaming machine. Everyone knew that Lena and Javier were 'just good friends'. At one stage, it had looked as though Javier was planning to ask Lena out, but he appeared to have had second thoughts, probably because Lena was rumoured to still be hung up on Eduard Nevermore.
Fenton Etheridge passed by with Carlice Favor. They were 'very good friends' and still hung out together constantly although their romance appeared to have cooled ever since Carlice had been kidnapped by her mother's awful defacto who had difficulty accepting his break-up with the Sheriff. Fenton's Mother had been killed by the same perpetrator and grief was a great romance dampener.
"Thank you Zarah," Grandma Strahan said, appearing out of the back room. "I can take the till again if you like. There is a lot of unpacking to do in the store room."
"Alright Grandma," Zarah said. She finished serving her current customer and slid out from behind the till. Grandmother cleverly slid into place and faced the next customer. It was a routine perfected from years of practise. Grandmother loved serving on the till and gossiping with the customers. That was how she got all the town news.
Zarah walked to the rear of the store and through the door marked ‘Staff Only’. Unpacking the crates was hard work, but it was a chore she loved. Every day was like Christmas, with so many deliveries. There was fresh food to ticket and place on the shelves, magazines to unwrap out of their plastic coverings and place on the magazine rack; boxes of newly printed books for the small book-stand, and all other kinds of fascinating products that the Strahan General Store sold.
Around five-thirty pm Mother clocked off at the store and returned to their home to prepare the family meal. Zarah remained in the back room unpacking. As customer number slowed in the store around six, she began to re-stock the shelves with new items she had loaded onto the push trolley. This allowed her to keep Grandmother company in the store and the two chatted as they worked.
"How is your sister?" Grandmother asked, as they worked side-by-side to fill the shelves. "I hardly ever see her anymore."
"She is always with Eduard Nevermore," Zarah said. "He appears very protective of her and they seem very happy."
"His grandfather was a nice young man," Grandma Strahan, remarked. "Very pleasant, very well mannered. He knew how to show a girl a nice time on a date."
"Why did you break up?" Zarah asked curiously.
"I wanted to settle down get married," Grandma Strahan said. "And I could tell Edward Nevermore wanted to travel and see the world. So I didn't let things get too serious... if you know what I mean... and when I saw your grandfather looking at me... I thought that's the boy for me... so I told Edward we should take a little break. That spring, Edward and his brother left Mystic Evermore and I only heard from them once or twice. After a few months had passed, I thought it was alright to give your grandfather a nice smile or two."
"Grandma, you were a naughty girl," Zarah exclaimed.
"I like to think of it as smart," Grandmother Strahan said. "And I would like to think both my granddaughters were as smart as I am."
"Probably not," Zarah said with a sigh. She liked to talk to her father's apprentice Wilson Booth after he had knocked off work for her father, and although Wilson appeared to enjoy talking to her as well, he gave no sign of looking at her the same way she looked at him. "You know how I feel about Wilson."
"He is a nice young man," Grandmother said. "I am glad your father gave him a chance."
Wilson Booth's Father was a very distant cousin of Grandma Booth, and maybe because they were black or perhaps because of the rumours that had always surrounded the Booth family, Wilson had been harassed at school. Harassed to then point of dropping out. Wilson was on the verge of turning bad, when Robbie Strahan offered to take him on as an apprentice.
Robbie Strahan was a tradesperson, who did not have a snobby or racist bone in his body. Moreover, his business piped other people's excrement away from their houses and taught him that all people were alike under the skin. The pioneer families could pretend to be better than the rest of the town, but Robbie knew that they flushed their toilets the same as everybody else.
Under Robbie's watchful eye, Wilson was becoming a skilled plumber who was able to contribute positively to the plumbing business. He would one day either take over Robbie's business or open one of his own. His younger brother Paul was around Zarah's age and also struggling to stay in school. Robbie was considering taking Paul on as a second apprentice after his sixteenth birthday.
"Like I said," Zarah continued. "Christy seems very happy with Eduard Nevermore. Except when she gets to worrying that Eduard wants to be back with his former girlfriend, Lena."
"I'm sure she has nothing to worry about," Grandma Strahan said wisely. "I heard a little rumour about Lena Lenore."
"What was that?" Zarah asked curiously. Grandmother did have a knack for getting all the gossip out of people.
"Miss Lenore may have had a little fling with Damien Nevermore," Grandma Strahan suggested. "I don't think that is something a nice boy like Eduard would get over quickly."
Zarah laughed. "You are wicked, Grandmother," she said. "Wasn’t Damien Nevermore going out with Didge Etheridge?'
"This was before Bridget Etheridge came to town," Grandmother Strahan remarked.
"If it is true, Eduard appears to have forgiven Lena," Zarah remarked. "They all seem to be good friends."
"Eduard may well have forgiven Lena, but a young man would never feel the same about a girl again after that, let me tell you," Grandma Strahan declared. "Eduard will have decided that your sister Christy, who is sweet and faithful to him is the better choice as girlfriend."
"Yes," Zarah said. "I agree, Christy has nothing to worry about. But you know Christy, she does worry."
"A young lady has to have confidence in herself," Grandmother observed. "Or else, you never know what could go wrong."
"Oh yes," Zarah said. "I try to have confidence too. It's just, I don't think Wilson sees me as a girlfriend."
"Very clever of you to recognise it," Grandmother Strahan said. "There will be boys who do want you as a girlfriend."
"I expect so," Zarah said. Sometimes it was just easier to agree with her Grandmother. She turned the empty trolley towards the store room door. "I will put this away."
"You do that dear, and then it will be time for us to go home," Grandma Strahan said. The older woman walked to the glass doors at the front of the store and locked them securely. Then she turned to tidying some of the displays.
Zarah pushed the trolley towards the back of the shop and out the door into the store room. It was dark in there, so she stopped to turn on the light. As she did so, she seemed to hear a slight sound. It was a scuffling or a shuffling. She opened the cupboard door and a large rat crawled out. It seemed bigger than a normal rat and it had two long teeth projecting to each side of its mouth. Zarah screamed.
"What is it dear?" her Grandmother exclaimed, bustling through the door. Seeing the rat, Grandmother Strahan grabbed a broom handle. She efficiently stunned the creature and dropped it into the metal trash can. "Just a rat dear."
"It had big teeth," Zarah gasped.
"Some of them do dear," Grandmother Strahan observed equitably. "Next thing you will be telling me you think it is a vampire rat."
"A vampire rat?" Zarah exclaimed. "I have never heard of such a thing."
"There are a few funny things around Mystic Evermore dear," Grandma said. "Your father could tell some tales as to what he's found in the sewers. I take as little notice as possible and that's how I stay safe around here. I taught your mother the same thing."
"Funny I had never seen one before," Zarah said, "in all my years as a child here!"
"Something must have stirred it up,” Grandma Strahan said. "Now you get on your mobile phone, and you get your father to pick us up from here and take us home even though it's so close, will you?"
"Sure," Zarah said and pulled out her mobile phone. She quickly placed a call to her father, who would be finished his plumbing jobs by now even if he had worked slightly late. "Dad can you drop by the store and pick me and Gran up? Yeah thanks. We saw a giant rat with pointy teeth. Tell you about it later."
On the edge of her peripheral vision, Zarah saw her Grandmother do a strange thing. The old lady removed a wooden garden stake from a plant that was for sale and approached the metal garbage can. Lifting the lid, she stabbed into the can viciously several times. Zarah closed her phone and walked up softly behind her grandmother. There was no longer a rat in the bin, just a pile of dust and some slimy sludge.
"Whatever did you do Grandmother?" Zarah exclaimed.
"Just a little trick Edward Nevermore taught me to keep myself safe," Grandma Strahan said. "I passed it on to your mother and father too. I guess it's your time to learn dear. It works on anything with those pointy teeth. Or else they keep getting up again."
"It works on Vampire rats?" Zarah exclaimed.
"There you go again," Grandma Strahan said. "There are no such things as vampires. Just a few funny animals with pointy teeth. Whoever told you about vampires?"
"You did!" Zarah exclaimed, but Grandmother looked blank and maintained her innocence. Zarah reflected that grandmother must be getting vague in her old age.
Robbie arrived just then and bundled Zarah and Grandmother into his van. He did not look surprised at Zarah's description of the rat. He reported that he had seen one or two in the town sewers of late and expected they must be getting out into the town buildings. When Zarah asked her father what he did when he saw a giant rat, her father described stabbing it with a piece of sharpened wood, just as Grandmother had done. Indeed, he kept some sharpened wood pieces amongst his tools on purpose. It wasn't something you would really notice as a plumber has a lot of tools.
At home, the Strahan family enjoyed a delicious tea. Barb Strahan had prepared a chicken dish with just a hint of curry and butter. It was one of Zarah's favourites. Then Zarah sat down to do her homework to get it out of the way before the weekend really commenced. She envied her brother Benji who finished his mathematics within a few minutes and completed his science just as easily. His English took a bit longer, but he was working at an easier level in his humanity subjects anyway. It would be nice to be half a genius!
Christy was still out with Eduard. On date nights, she usually had dinner at a restaurant with her beau or at the Nevermore house. The Strahan parents didn't appear to worry too much about their daughter as she was always able to describe the meal she had eaten or the movie she had seen while out with Eduard. Sometimes Christy reported being on a double date with Damien and Bridget or other members of the senior class. Her parents found these accounts very assuring and accepted them as evidence that Christy and Eduard were being careful. As Grandmother said, Eduard Nevermore seemed like a very nice young man, and much like his Grandfather.
Zarah was sleeping comfortably in her bed when she was awoken by a tapping at her window. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she discovered her sister was reaching upwards using a light tree branch and calling softly to her from the ground below.
"Please let me in, Zarah," Christy whispered. "I'm a little too late tonight and Mother has locked the door. She probably assumed I had come in quietly around curfew, like I promised."
"You better hope that is what Mother assumed," Zarah hissed. Their parents had been amazingly generous and given Christy a curfew of eleven thirty, whereas Zarah's own curfew was more like ten on the rare nights she went out. It had something to do with Eduard Nevermore's earnest expression, soldier-like posture and solemn promise to always drive their sister home safely. Zarah padded down to the kitchen and let her sister in through the laundry door, where they were well away from any of the bedrooms.
"Thanks, Zarah," Christy said. The teenager was teetering on her feet, barely able to stand.
Zarah took a sniff. She wasn't quite sure because she didn't drink alcohol yet herself, but: "Have you been drinking?" she asked.
"Yes," Christy said. Damien wasn't home to stop us for once, and Eduard got the scotch out.
"Eduard isn't old enough to drink," Zarah remarked disapprovingly.
"Eduard says he is," Christy said. "He says he's repeating senior year because it's so different here than where he did his senior year last time. Don't tell anyone, it’s a great secret."
"Well even if he is a year older than you, and repeating senior year for some reason, he should know better than to give alcohol to you," Zarah said sharply.
"Don't be such a priss," Christy retorted. "He just gave me some to try. Everyone tries alcohol before their proper birthday you know."
"No I don't," Zarah said. "No one in my class has tried it yet, that I know of...only Paul Booth, sipped a little of Wilson's when Wilson was running wild. He said it was foul. And Wilson doesn't drink anymore, now he works for Dad."
"That's cheap stuff like beer," Christy said. "Quality scotch is different."
"I dare say," Zarah remarked. "Stronger and more expensive. How much have you had?"
"Just a little Eduard gave me to try, and a glass I sneaked when he wasn't looking," Christy said. "It was so warming. And it put me in the mood for things I can't talk about to a little girl like you."
"I do know the facts of life," Zarah replied.
"In theory, not practice," Christy said. "Love is so wonderful, little sister."
"I hope you aren't doing anything that could get you pregnant," Zarah cautioned.
"Eduard says I won't get pregnant," Christy said.
"I think that's something all boys say," Zarah observed wryly.
"Like you would know anything about what boys say," Christy sneered scornfully.
"No need to be rude," Zarah said. "I did come down and let you inside without waking Mum and Dad."
"I'm sorry," Christy said. "I do owe you one. Truth is, I don't care if I get pregnant. I wish I would. Then Eduard would have to forget all about Lena and marry me."
"You are insecure and you are allowing it to make you run wild," Zarah observed. "From what I have heard, Eduard really cares about you."
"Then why does he go running to comfort Lena whenever she is depressed?" Christy said. "Any time she is feeling down, they have these deep and meaningfuls."
"That's sympathy," Zarah said. "What Eduard feels for you is so much better than sympathy. You ask him."
"I'm not brave enough," Christy said.
"It's no good going out with the guy if you are afraid to talk to him," Zarah observed. "And Grandmother did say Lena might have done something Eduard will not forgive."
"Hmm, what might that be?" Christy asked curiously.
"According to Grandmother, Lena may have had a slight romance with Damien Nevermore," Zarah replied.
"Nah, surely not," Christy remarked. "There's Bridget. Although, I'm not sure Didge and Damien are still together. Damien seems to hang out more with Captain Etheridge than his daughter."
"You can't mess with two brothers," Zarah observed. "It's one of those truths that uphold the universe."
"Look who's talking!" Christy sneered. "You do know Paul Booth likes you don't you? He just won't ask you out because you are too busy crushing on Wilson. Wilson is too old for you anyway, and he's seen too much of the dark side of life."
"Paul Booth?" Zarah cried. "He's in my class and we are just good friends."
"Think about it," Christy said. She yawned. "Anyway, I need to get some sleep. Thanks again for letting me in."
Christy padded upstairs to her bedroom and Zarah followed slowly on soft slippered feet. Neither girl woke their parents or brother. In the morning, Christy stayed in bed sick. Zarah was going to give her older sister a hard time about being hung over, but Christy was also sneezing and clearly had caught a cold.
Zarah had promised Grandmother Strahan that she would help out in the store in the morning. Saturday morning was a popular shopping time for people who worked during the week and the little coffee and cake unit in the center of the store was also popular with those who liked a sweet treat while out. Zarah was almost run off her feet serving coffees and slices of cake, while Grandmother ran the till. Barbara Strahan ran the pharmacy counter dispensing medicines between ten and twelve am, before knocking off and going back to their house.
The Strahan General Store closed its glass doors around twelve thirty. Grandmother was busy counting the money when Wilson Booth arrived to look at the back sink and pick up a few supplies for Zarah's father. Grandmother suggested that Zarah help Wilson out the back, so she led the way through to the sink in the staff area behind the dispensary.
"I think it's just blocked," Wilson observed and got some tools out. He set to work, unscrewing the joined piece, washing the pipe out and screwing it back on again. "Simple really."
"Father tells me you have seen some giant rats down in the sewers," Zarah remarked. "We had one up here yesterday."
"Yes," Wilson agreed. "Your father showed me what to do to them."
"Spike them with a stick?" Zarah inquired.
"Yeah," Wilson confirmed.
"Are there a lot of them down in the pipes?" Zarah asked.
"A few," Wilson said. "But not more than your father and I can handle. We would be poor plumbers if we were afraid of a few rats."
"They are not natural are they?" Zarah observed.
"No, I would say not. One we did not stake kept coming back to life, even though it had been beaten up quite thoroughly," Wilson concurred. "Everyday rats are smaller, and they die easier. In traps, with a sharp blow, using baits, or even cats."
"Do you think we should tell Sherriff Favor?" Zarah asked.
Wilson appeared to think for a moment or two. Then he shook his head. "No," he said. "In this town, there's them and us. It's worse than some towns for that. Your Dad and your Nan know how to make money and your Dad has shown me how to make money, but we will never be ‘them’. Them’s are born with the money, and they do not have to demean themselves to get it."
"Gran enjoys running the shop," Zarah objected.
"I also enjoy working for your father," Wilson said. "But I crawl under people's houses to make money. It doesn't bother me and it doesn't bother your Dad, but it keeps us from being ‘them’. No matter how much money we make. Now these rats, they are coming out from under the houses, I would say they are us business, not them business, if you know what I mean. If it got to be more than rats, say cats and dogs that might be Sheriff business."
"Wilson, can I ask you something personal?" Zarah murmured. She had been thinking about the advice she gave Christy the previous night. It was no good liking someone if you were afraid to be honest with them.
"Sure," Wilson said.
"We are good friends, aren't we?" Zarah inquired.
Wilson sighed. He looked like he suspected what was coming, and no young man really enjoys a 'deep and meaningful' relationship conversation with a young lady. "We are good friends, ain't nothing gunna change that," the Apprentice declared.
"Have you ever thought about me in a girlfriend sort-of way?" Zarah asked.
"I owe your father too much to lay hands on his daughters in a disrespectful way," Wilson replied. "Your Dad really saved me and he set me up. One time, before Christy started going out with Eduard, I did fancy her a little. That's the truth Zarah, but I never thought of you that way, no."
"I see," Zarah said. She had suspected as much. Christy always appealed to the boys.
"It’s not my place to say," Wilson continued. "You're at school with my brother Paul and I think he might look at you more that way. He's smarter than me too and he's never been in any serious trouble. Not like me. Don't tell him I said so though. You gotta work these things out for yourselves."
"Thanks Wilson," Zarah said. She was hurting a little, but it was better to know for sure and prepare herself to move on. "I'm curious about something, whereabouts in your ‘them’ and us scenario do you place the Nevermores?"
"The Nevermores are neither to be honest," Wilson deduced. "They got money, and they helped set the town up, but Nevermore, it's a sort of odd name. They been booted off the Agrarian Council too. They stand out, but they don't really fit in around here. I think your sister might have been better off with me, even though I'm saying it myself."
"I think so too," Zarah said sincerely. From what she had seen last night, Christy's relationship with Eduard wasn't doing her a lot of good.
"The sink's all done," Wilson announced. "Where are these boxes for your father?"
"Over here," Zarah showed Wilson the plumbing supplies her father had ordered through the general store.
As he packed the boxes into the work van, the young man appeared to have an idea: "Say, Zarah, do you have any plans for this afternoon?"
"Not really," Zarah admitted. She always finished helping grandmother in the store before making her own plans. If Christy was well enough when she woke up again, her sister would probably go out with Eduard for a drive or something. The couple never invited Zarah to join, it was more evidence of Christy's jealous nature she could not have even her young sister around. That meant Zarah would read a book, watch TV, play some game with Benji or call up Ivy Pinkerton. Ivy was Christy's friend really, but with Christy so busy, the older girl had started to socialize with Zarah after she had finished her church stuff on the weekends.
"Well, I promised to take Paul fishing along the Old Mill Stream, and I wondered whether you and Benji would like to come along," Wilson suggested.
Zarah thought for a moment. "I reckon Benji would like that," she said. "I might feel a bit weird with all you being boys, but as one is my brother - I'll check with Benji and see."
"I'll come by about two o'clock to pick yous up if you decide to come along," Wilson said.
"Sounds good," Zarah said. "But hang on, isn't the Old Mill Farm tenanted now, so local kids can't go there and play ghost anymore?"
"It is," Wilson admitted. "I hooked up the plumbing for the lady that's got it now. Right fancy piece she is too, I don't reckon she is no farmer. Maybe an artist, I think I saw an easel propped against the wall. She talks sort of old fashioned too, or maybe she's from England. Anyway, she said I could fish along there, as long as I stuck to the stream."
"Okay," Zarah said, greatly cheered. It was bad news for her heart that Wilson wasn't interested in her as a girl, indeed had been carrying a torch for her sister Christy. However, now the shadow of expectation had been lifted, it seemed they could be completely natural with one another. He would never have suggested an outing before.
Wilson waved and drove off cheerily in the van, and Zarah helped grandmother lock up the shop. The local businesses closed Saturday afternoon, and even Grandmother took her leisure. The day was bright and sunny as they walked the few yards back to the Strahan residence, where Barb had a fresh salad and baked pasta ready for lunch.
"Benji," Zarah said to her brother as they sat down to the meal, "Wilson has invited us fishing this afternoon if you are interested."
Benji looked pleased. Taking half his classes with the lower class and half with Zarah's class left him in a social no-man's land amongst the boys. He got along well enough with Jamie Lenore and Paul Booth and a few others amongst the older boys, but he wasn't quite as sporty as those guys, and fitting in remained a challenge.
"That sounds great," he said. "Could we go Dad?"
Robbie Strahan considered. "If Wilson's in charge it should be okay, but keep an eye out for your sister," he said. "I don't want you boys forgetting she's along and dragging her over too much rough territory."
"Yes Dad," Benji promised.
"I believe we are fishing quite locally," Zarah assured her father, although she strategically omitted any mention of the Old Mill Farm. Many of the grown-ups had been relieved when the Farm had been tenanted and the local youth no longer congregated along there.
"Have a good afternoon," Barb said. "I'm going over to grandma's place with her for the afternoon." Grandmother Strahan often stayed over with her son and daughter-in-law, but she did have a small unit of her own with a vegetable patch and flower garden which she tended on weekends.
Christy as usual had plans with Eduard, who roared up in his red vintage car soon after lunch. The couple said they were going to visit the next town over for the afternoon and do some sightseeing. Zarah suspected they would end up parked somewhere making out, if not going straight back to the Nevermore Manor to spend the entire afternoon hot and heavy. She could see it in her sister's eyes. Although part of Zarah had always envied Christy her success with boys, it was also sad Christy could think of no other way of catching and holding a man.
Around two o'clock, Wilson drove up in his old car. Dad probably would not have minded him driving the van, but Wilson was scrupulous in sticking to using the van for plumbing work and his own old bomb for personal excursions. Paul was seated beside his brother in the front seat, and Zarah and Benji climbed in the back. They set off for the outskirts of town and soon reached the Old Mill Farm, where Wilson pulled the car off the road and out of sight amongst the trees. Wilson and Paul untied the fishing rods from the roof rack and pulled the bait bucket out of the luggage compartment. Zarah flinched to see some worms were still moving.