tuesday afternoon

TEUSDAY AFTERNOON< ?xml:namespace prefix = o />

Collen and Ruthie climbed on the no. 24 bus as usual. They were separated by

five rowsof squeaky seats without shocks. When they passed the convenience store 1 mile away from her house he turned toward the back and yelled, "Hey I’m getting off at your stop." Ruthie didn’t answer. She was tuned into her ipod.
They both got off and headed into her house.

Ruthie tossed her book bag into her plush pink office chair. It stood in front of a square table ten feet away from the kitchen table. Collen patted the black leather chair sitting in front of Mrs. Hilton’s desk. He moved it next to Ruthie’s office chair. "Jeremy really likes this chair. Now it is all ready for him."

He grasped on to the remaining wooden straight back chair in front of Mrs. Hilton’s desk. "I’ll use this gray hard chair." He rubbed his back firmly to exaggerate how uncomfortable the seat felt. He waited in hopes another comfy chair would magically appear.
After several minutes scrape, scrape went the chair to the kitchen table. He gently placed his book bag on the chair seat.

Collen’s stomach startled him with a loud growl as he began unpacking his materials to complete tomorrow’s history presentation. Ruthie, meantime, gathered sandwich fixings for Jeremy and herself. She almost dropped the Honey Mustard open side down on the floor when he startled her. "I’ll make both your sandwiches!" he said as he moved the sandwich fixings to the kitchen table.
She started protesting but was drowned out by Jeremy’s truck coming up the road. Both of them raced out the door.
"I have food fixed for you." Collen brightly told Jeremy. "
I was fixing it before you interrupted so rudely." Ruthie thought to herself while her temper boiled under the surface. As Jeremy closed the door to his truck he gave a scowl and his mouth was formed into a growl to Collen’s back.

He and Ruthie exchanged an annoyed look.

Collen was already entering the front door.
"Come on, come on." Collen hollered while placing their sandwiches and fresh fruit on three separate plates.
They heard him yelling as they held hands and walked in the samedoor. "Quit poking along, and get in here and eat!"
They ate while watching the same-old-videos on YouTube.

"Ruthie you have chores you want me to do for you?" he asked hopefully. "No, not today, Cinderella."
Collen felt sad that he couldn’t wait on her.

They started working on their history individual project presentations for tomorrow.
Collen finished his work first.
After ten minutes of sighing loudly and pacing Collen poked Ruthie in the ribs. "Hey, Can I do any chores for you?"
Ruthie didn’t appreciate her concentration messed with so she scowled. "Not today, you already asked me that Cinderella." Her tone was thick with sarcasm.
Collen shrugged off the attitude, Cinderella didn’t bother him. He lived with his Dad and at home his name was "Shit Head or Faggit." He was used to doing "girly" chores since he cleaned the house, did the laundry, and other jobs without any thanks. He liked coming to her house since Mr. and Mrs. Hilton had an open fridge policy. There was always fruit, sandwich fixings, and usually dessert. Ruthie paid him for doing chores by taking him for ice cream or a burger now and then something which his father never did.

Collen then picked up Jeremy’s ipod off the desk. Tap tap tap his fingers lightly drummed on his shoulders to get his attention. Jeremy turned quickly hitting him with his elbow. "Puppy dog what is it? Can’t you see I’m busy!" He huffed loudly rolling the chair forcing Collen to back away from the desk.
"The Moon Gizzards have this really cool song. I’ll put it on your ipod for you." he grabbed it off the desk at the same time.

After 30 more minutes of waiting Collen prepared himself a peanut butter jelly sandwich.
"This is really good." he told them with his mouth full.
"Those were huge turkey sandwiches you made earlier. Go away we’re busy and not hungry." Jeremy replied through clenched teeth.

"Ruthie, is this the blouse you been bragging about all day to Dianne?" He expanded the picture on her Iphone. The phone wagged under her nose as he stated, "This must be from yes-boutique.com." Jeremy yanked the phone out of his hand. "Go watch a video!"

Collen ignored the glares from both of them.
"I’m going to look at your new purchase in your room." he called over his shoulder as he bounced down the hall. His statement floated into the ether swallowed up by the rock music blaring from the stereo.

"Peace at last." Jeremy and Ruthie exchanged a kiss.


He walked into Ruth’s room, spotted it on a hook near her bed. "Wow!

Look atthe flower bouquet. It’s exquisite." His hands reached out to touch the silk fabric. Several of his fingers slid down the stems of the arrangement. As his left thumb hovered over the stems his right index finger traced the petals of the carnations.
"This design must have taken hours for someone to hand paint. Hmmm, where’as the receipt it must have cost a mint!"
He started to reach for the hanger, in hopes of holding it closer for a better view. His hands remained in mid-air when he noticed the brown from the peanut butter and red from grape jelly specks exactly where he touched.
"Oh no, Ruth’s gonna kill me!" With a quickening breath and queasy stomach, beads of sweat trickled down his face. The room door slowly was shut, inch by inch to avoid any squeak he hoped.
"Success!" Collen said in a a drawn out breath only to himself. As he looked around the room considering what to do tears fell.
"I know! I’ll wash some of these colored clothes laying on her floor." He dumped the blouse in the middle of the pile without reading the washing instructions. This seemed like a perfect solution to the situation. He took off his shoes and flew past Jeromy and Ruthie into the laundry room. After filling the correct compartments with soap and fabric softener he placed the small load of garments on delicate and started the washer. The new blouse would be nice and clean and Ruthie didn’t need to have a fit. because it would smell fresh and look brand new later.
Collen quickly shut the sliding door separating the laundry room and Ruthie’s Dad’s office from the main part of the house.

Mrs. Hilton came out of Mr. Hilton’s home office. She took stock of household activity while closing his door quietly. The smell of fabric softener assailed her nose. Ruthie’s doing her laundry she thought. The music and video going in the living-room was usual racket. She tuned out all the noise and youthful conversation as she considered what to prepare for supper. She was intent on preparing something quick before attending a conference call on her computer.

After another hour Ruthie took a stretch break. She looked at Collen engrossed in You-tube.
"About time you found something to do pest!" "

***Ruthie skipped to her room. She smiled to herself feeling smug thinking about her new blouse.I love to wear clothes no one else has they make me feel “SPECIAL.” Her heart soared as she imagined the look of longing in Collen’s eyes when he saw it.

An empty hanger hung on the side of her bed. "I thought I hung my blouse on this hanger." she considered where else it might be hung. She inspected her room hawk like for anything out of place.
Her books and last night’s supper dishes remained where they had been placed. An uneasy feeling crept in the air."
She walked toward her closet.
Her eyes darted across the floor searching through the piles of sorted laundry.

"Jeremy, I need you come quick!" both boys came on the double. "What is it?" Jeremy asked.
"Can I help you?" Collen panted.
"Puppy dog did I call you?" Collen instinctively recoiled at her reproach. She looked directly at Jeremy. She stomped on his foot to get his attention when she noticed him intently amused by Collen’s hurt feelings to her last statement.
"Didn’t I have my blouse here on this?"
She stopped speaking abruptly.
"What happen to all my new spring blouses." hissed Ruthie.
Collen stammered barely whispering, "I I washed them for you."

"You stupid idiot!" The dryer buzzed on cue. Ruthie sailed toward the laundry room with Collen and Jeremy hot on her trail.

All three teens jostled for a position to look inside.
One blouse was a dingy reddish pink instead of bright pink.
Jeremy untangled the "New blouse" for all to see.
"Well, well, puppy dog what have we here." he smirked.

"Look what you’ve done! These blouses if I was four again would fit fan tast ic!"
Collen looked away.
Jeremy whistled. "The designs are bearly images. Oh my only stems and parts of leaves–"
He moved quickly to attempt to stop Ruthie from landing a lethal kick to Collen’s shin. Collen moaned, his body shook uncontrolably. His voice was a wisp when he confessed. "I got some peanut butter and jelly on it. I washed the clothes." He stepped back quickly when The synthetic material made a hollow stinging thud against his right cheek.
Ruthie gasped
"You owe me three hundred dollars for these clothes!"

"I’m sorry." He whispered to himself.

Collen flew out the door. Mrs. Hilton heard the commotion as the door slammed shut. "Nothing to get excited about. Just another usual spat." shereminded herself removed Teriyaki Chicken from the oven.

The next morning Ruthie dialed
Collen‘s number over and over.

“Cinderella owes me big time!" she announce between shoveled bites of oatmeal. “He purposely ruined my stuff!”Ruthie’s face turned bright red. "What stuff. What are you talking about?" Mrs. Hilton tentatively asked her daughter.

"Do you mean Collen?"
Mrs. Hilton sighed sadly. "He tries really hard to well … serve you." She hoped she said this with a straight face after all it was cute how Collen dotted on her daughter.

Mother heard her talking clock program on the laptop in the kitchen announce eight A.M. "Hurry, you’re going to miss your bus." Ruthie grabbed her lunch. "don’t do anything rash and –" the door crashed shut as she cautioned to pounding feet scrambling for the bus.

Wednesday bad day!

Mrs. Hilton suffered a severe case of heart burn all morning. Her thoughts wandered back to Ruthie’s distress during breakfast. "I wonder what happened yesterday. It’s not unusual for her to get upset at Collen over trivial matters." she mused to herself while she did dishes and other chores . She sighed deeply as she remembered last week how angry her daughter became when Collen placed her favorite tea cup with the Dolphins in the wrong position in the dish cabinet.

Mr. Hilton Wednesday morning watched the clock slowly spin hours away in his home office. He couldn’t concentrate on the grant he tried to complete for the Park’s Department.
The house was too quiet. She always sang while caring for their home. It seemed odd not to hear his wife’s soprano voice singing a 70s song.

His day didn’t start right. Ruthie usually gave him a goodbye e hug before she left for school. His wife and daughter were both closed mouth about their disagreement this morning. He hoped she would talk to him about it over lunch or before Ruthie returned.

Mr. Hilton picked up his magnifying glass.He attached it to his coke bottle glasses allowing him to be able to enjoy some color discrimination in spite of his limited vision. He looked at the pictures of his daughter wearing her new outfits framed on his desk. She grinned and jumped for joy in these pictures. He couldn’t stop wondering what she had been shouting at her mother about over breakfast and why she slammed the door when she left. He wondered if it had to do with the fancy, expensive clothes.


Ruthie caught up with Collen as he left fourth period.
“Pest you figured out how you’re going to pay for my clothes you ruined yesterday?” She asked taunting him.
“No. I haven’t yet.” He tried to back away as he spoke. She instinctively reached for his shirt neckline and missed. He attempted to turn and slip down another hall. Her nails sunk into soft fleshy skin at the back of his neck.
Collen bit back a scream.
“Take that.” She fumed.
“How could you!” Collen grimaced fighting back hot tears. Her red freckles flamed whenever she was angry. He previously considered them cute and sexy but not today. He felt torn.He wanted her friendship but the emotional roller-coaster hurt most of the time.

They entered the cafeteria. Ruthie satisfied with her effort pushed her way to the front of the food line to purchase a carton of milk. Collen left the lunch room he hoped unnoticed. In the bathroom he noticed the blood still tricklingthe back of his neck and the scratch marks on either side. His stomach churned. He made it to the urinal to puke just in time.

After wiping away tears of frustration he looked at his watch. He needed to catch the busto Cooking Class in two minutes.

His thoughts went back to his interview for this class. He had no problems and was able to impress Mr. Jordan immediately. It was the best elective school offfered and it got him off campus everyday. “I think this is my life’s passion. I really want to do this but Ruthie –.”

He moved his neck slightly and the pain startled him. “I don’t know if I want to see her at this moment. She’s in a really rotten mood.” He told the air as he stood at the door going to the parking lot.

He drew in a few deep breaths and dashed for the bus to Cole High.His feet landed on the top

stepseconds before the door closed.
When they entered the commercial kitchen everyone took their seats. Mr. Jordan passed out the recipes to be completed during class. “Ruthie and Collen your job is to make Rice and Turkey Casserole.” Collen forced his teeth to stop nervously chattering. Ruthie came up beside Collen and whispered “We can continue our conversation.”

Mr. Jordan closed the door to his office. Ruthie splashed water on Collen as they washed their hands before touching fresh food.


Mr. Reese the assistant vice-principle at Clayton High loudly knocked on the classroom door several times within five minutes. All the students kept working waiting for Mr. Jordan to come answer the door.He burst through the unlock door when no one answered. The center of her stomach dropped at his unexpected arrival, while a stream of water ran down Collen’s front. Everyone in the class put down their cooking utensils and watched in amazement.

The spaces between the tables and work stations were wide enough for an average person to fit between. Mr. Reese however weighed about 350 pounds which forced him to wriggle through like a duck.
“Young lady.” He began his dark brown eyes slicing through Ruthie like butter. “Are you Ruthie Hilton?”
She stared down at the floor. Her throat locked tighter than a drum. “I didn’t hear you.” His voice boomed as Mr. Jordan came strolling casually out of his office.
“She’s Ruthie Hilton.” Collen answered. “See what she has done to me?”” Collen twirled around dramatically showing off the scratches around his neck. The fingernail marks were gone. The traces of blood remained on his neck in hard blotches.

“Collen you need to call your parents. They might want to press charges for harassment.”
He scowled at Ruthie. “You two come with me!” Mr. Reese told them ennunciating each word.He gave Collen a hint of a warm smile.

She looked at the ingredients in the recipe lingeringly for a long few minutes.

Mr. Jordan didn’t like confrontation. His fingers figited with the coins in his pcoket. He stood beside Ruthie as she stared at the recipe.He wished he knew something to say that would comfort her but, on the other hand, he couldn’t take sides. He liked her.She was friendly, and turned out well for being a dark horse choice. She truly loved being in this class. Collen ug, none of the students liked him. It was too bad he hadn’t done it instead.

“You better go now.” Mr. Jordan quietly pointed to Collen’s back facing the door.

Ruthie felt five again as she asked with her eyes am I going to come back to your class?

“I’ll miss you in this class.” It was a lame answer but the final decision was not his to enforce. Mr. Jordan knew with a heavy heart they weren’t going to be easy on Ruthie.


Ruthie and Collen followed Mr. Reese out of class. She looked back all the other students eyes were glued on their departure. She felt numb. They walked out of the front door of Cole High.He ushered them to the unmarked police vehicle.Collen readily climbed into the back. Ruthie glanced into the window of the professional kitchen and sawThe other students and Mr. Jordan intently watching them sitting behind the police car petition.

Mr. Jordan noticed Collen trying to get his attention. He chose not to accknowledge it.

Her thoughts went back to the day Mr. Jordan interviewed students at their high school wanting to attend Chef Beginnings.Collen got in immediately. She wanted to puke as she remembered how he bragged about his ability to cook and his noble Italian heritage. Mr. Jordan bought it hook line and sinker. She knew better.

Mrs. Camero last year’s Home Economics teacher wrote a special letter on her

behalf.Mr. Jordan told her that she had been accepted into the

classbecause of it. Ruthie recalled how proud her parentswere that she got into the class. They were happy she finally found something she could stick with. Ruthie was pleased with herself because two years of Chef Beginnings would yield a scholarship to Chef School in Ridge Port, Wyoming.


At 2:30 the phone rang.
Mrs. Hilton was startled back to reality and it took a few seconds to focus on the source of the sound.

“Is this Mrs. Hilton? This is Mr. Joe Reese the assistant Vice-principle at Clayton High.” Mr. Reese introduced himself briskly. . Her chest tightened into a knot before she answered and buzzed her husband to pick up the extension.

“I work both for the Wallahawk County Sheriff’s department and the high school. My main job is to enforce discipline when students have fights.” He took a labored breath before continuing.
"Your daughter is Ruthie Hilton? She tells me you are both blind and it is not possible for you to come to school on short notice for a meeting."

"Yes, we are both blind and don’t have anyone to drive us on short notice." Mrs. Hilton explained. Pleasantries were exchanged.

"I have agreed under the circumstances to conduct this meeting on the phone."

"Thank you very much." Mr. Hilton humbly said.

Mr. River’s Collen’s parent was included on the conference call.Collen in a trembling voice explained what happened.

“Shit Head you really proved that’s what you are. She never treats you right but you keep running back for another beating.”

“Some support you are.” Collen retorted silently. He wished he could crawl in a hole.

His dad grabbed his keys off the hook.His anger stormed as he told himself.

“I’m headed for the police station to put a restraining order against that bitch.” His dad continued to himself. “I might even go to their house and tan her hide! I’m tired of hearing about this slut!” He recollected some of the pictures his brat showed him of her clothing.

Mr. River’s grabbed his English books off the end table near the door. He calmly stated outloud.

“You’re waisting my time again.I’m late for my English class because of you.”

This made Collen form another notch of stone in his heart toward his father.

Mr. Rivers did not pay attention to Mr. Reese’s announcement when he was added to the conference call, yet his words would not have been any different.

Mr. Hilton quietly sat down in the straight back chair at his wife’s desk holding the cordless phone to his ear. Mr. and Mrs. Hilton squeezed hands for support.

-Mr. Hilton tried to talk to Mr. River’s.He was shocked into silence by the volley of fowl -language from James River.

Mrs. Hilton handed him a note in Braille.

It said: leave it be.He’s just angry right now.

Everyone fell silent for a few minutes.

Mr. River silently disconnected himself from the call.The automated voice in a nasal tone announced: 512-396-4332 has left the call.”

“Ruthie he washed your clothes and so you beat him up?” Her father asked incredulously.

Ruthie could hear her mother’[s sniffles. “Honey, I told you not to do anything rash. We could have talked about this when you got home from school.

”Can you pick up your daughter?” Mr. Reese went on.

“We’re having a phone meeting because –“ Mr. Hilton answered.

Mr. Reese took a drag on his cigarette which was audible over the phone.

He watched Ruthie out of the corner of his left eye.

“This is all your fault!” Ruthie mouthed at Collen.

Mr. Reese pounced on her.

“Who’s fault is this?” his southern accent was full of disgust.”

“Um, his he’s the one who messed up my.

clothes.” Ruthie cried.

“Did he put his hands on you?”

“No.” she meekly answered.

Mr. Reese cleared his throat.

“Sorry for that interruption. Your daughter could be sent to jail for assaulting Mr. River here at school.” He paused a few moments. After he heard the usual gasp and could picture to look of horror on the Hiltons’ faces he gloated. “I chose not to have this happen.She will be on deferred probation. This means that since she is a minor at eighteen any record of this incident will be expunged from the system. She will have to meet with a Juvenile court officer each month up to perhaps a year. She will also have a curfew. Not but least she will for two months attend Back to Learning Institute.”

Ruthie’s head was bent as she stared at the floor. Her mother’s sobs were getting louder.She felt like a failure and slo wished she could dig a grave because her mom was totally embarrassing.

“Are you going to contact the Juvenile people or do I?” Mr. Hilton asked in a matter of fact tone.

“Could I have a Library pass for the last hour of today?” Collen asked in his sweetest voice.

Mr. Reese chicken scratched the date and signature on a white slip of paper.Collen happily skipped out of the office and ran to the library.

“This is the first time either of them has gotten in trouble at school.” Mrs. Hilton gently queeried.

“Isn’t this a rather harsh sentence!” her parents inquired in unasin.

“The school ruling is two students that have had an altercation at school

Cannot be in the same class.

“this is a special situation. You don’t have a different Chef Beginnings class.”

“She should have thought about that before she took action don’t you think?” bellowedMr. Reese.

They knew they couldn’t argue with his statement.

“I only enforce the rules I don’t make them.” ”

“She will meet with Mrs. Randall some time next week. When she is finished at Back to Learning she will be returning here to Clayton High.”

He leaned back in his chair. He looked directly at Ruthie. “Until you meet with Mrs. Randall you will be in Detention. You know how it works.”

He firmly stated.

“This meeting is over!” the connection dropped abruptly.

Ruthie stepped out of the AP office.Jeremy was waiting for her around the ccorner.

She suddenly realized when she saw him that the story already traveled through the grapevine. They walked side by side to the front office.

He looked up at the ceiling counting the cameras between the AP office and the front office. He had heard from Tina one of the preppy girls all about it. They were now walking down some of the same path taken by Collen and Ruthie during the school day earlier.

He beamed a hug to Ruthie. It was against school rules for couples to hug or kiss on campus although he could feel how much she needed one.

He kept his hand low and barely gave her left thumb a squeeze. “I’ll give you a ride home. You won’t have to see Collen the rest of the day”

Ruthie’s finger quivered as she returned her gratitude.

Mrs. Hilton called her best friend Judy. She nervously relayed the days events.

Judy burst into a fit of laughter.

“It’s not funny!”

“I’m not laughing at you.” She softly reassured.

“You know my Candus. Well this same thing happened to her.She got in trouble because she was cutting too much school.That’s why she is being home schooled.”

Mrs. Hilton didn’t realize she had been holding her breath throughout the story. “Oh my! You didn’t tell me.”

“Candus blows off her homework. We spend a lot of time going to the local campus to meet with staff so she can catch up.It’s very aggrevating.”

“You don’t have this option for Ruthie because you can’t take her to the campus on a moment’s notice.I can ride the bus.”

“They say she has to where some kind of uniform? What can you tell me about that?” Mrs. Hilton gathered every ounce of courage to utter those words.It forced her to understand this wasn’t a dream.

Attached Files:

Games we’d like to play
by Phil Vlasak

Groom Hunter: Mysteries of the royal wedding, version 2.

In this fast action game, you Are Kate Middleton, a daring groom hunter,
willing to risk everything to find and merry the long time bachelor, Prince William of Wales.

Her mission will not be an easy one as she must start at the University of Saint Andrews,
first encountering the Prince.

In later levels she must continue to be friends, rekindling their relationship.

Once she gets to the marriage announcement level,
she must design her coat of arms, pick from several Seating plans,
and decide where to put the Azalea, lilac and rhododendron flowers.

Along the way she will collect a huge oval sapphire engagement ring, try on dozens of regal Alexander McQueen wedding gowns,
Carrickmacross lace vale in a pattern of an organic meld of England’s Tudor’s rose, Scotland’s thistle, Ireland’s shamrock and the daffodil of Wales,
pair of diamond earrings by London-based Robinson Pelham in oak leaves and acorn patterns,
1936 Cartier Halo tiara, lent by her grandmother-in-law Queen Elizabeth II.

Alexander McQueen shoes,
and plan the decorations for the Abbey.

On the day of the wedding, she must avoid such traps as the rainy Weather forecast, a bumpy Rolls-Royce Phantom procession,
to finally make her way through the 20-foot trees adorning the aisle.

She will also encounter thousands of media representatives,
two choirs, the London Chamber Orchestra, and a fanfare team from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force performing the music.

If Catherine finally makes it to Westminster Abbey, she must face her greatest
challenge, coming face to face with the ultimate Boss, The Queen.

I sat in the cab and fidgeted with the tule under my gown and thought I’d rather be at home in my flanal pajamas then going to Meg’s wedding. Okay, so she was my best friend, but frankly, I was surprised I was still invited. I’d unwisely spoken out about her intended and things had rapidly deteriorated from there. She’d sent me a nasty email telling me that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and calling me all sorts of names. Part of me wondered why I was even going. I guess I thought in some dim corner of my mind that I still had to be there for her. I wanted to make piece with her on this most important of days. I’d had reservations about speaking my mind about Dan. I knew what kind of reaction I’d get, but I took a chance that Beth might see reason and sense in what I said, and not throw her life away on a man who was too good to be true. She’d never had any sense when it came to men, wanting so badly to be rescued that she became desperate and chose the first man to come her way. Dan was just too perfect to be for real. There had to be a crack somewhere in his silver lining. I just hadn’t discovered it in time to prevent this disaster from taking place. And so, now here I sat, alone and filled with dread, regreting my words spoken from love and returned with venum.

The Cigarettes

THE CIGARETTES< ?xml:namespace prefix = o />

Michelle stood in the open doorway and stared at the delivery woman who struggled under the weight of three cartons of cigarettes which she claimed were for Al Johnson. “That’s my dad,” Michelle said. “He doesn’t live here, but he often comes here on his lunch break because it’s so close to his office.”

“I vaguely remember delivering cigarettes to this address a few months ago.”

“Dad thought I wouldn’t be here today, but there was a mix-up in my work schedule so I thought I would surprise him when he comes.”

The woman placed the cigarettes on the living room couch while Michelle found her check book. After she left, Michelle stood staring at the cigarettes. A few months ago, her father promised her stepmother Ruth he would quit smoking. He asked Michelle for a key to her apartment. She agreed to have an extra one made and kept her refrigerator stocked with sandwich fixings so he could make his own lunch. She realized that her father was coming to her apartment to smoke and he was having his cigarettes delivered in order to save time.

Her thoughts were interrupted by another knock at the door. What now, she wondered in annoyance, as she glanced at her watch. Her father would be here any minute, and she had yet to make lunch. When she opened the door, she was surprised to see Ruth. She smiled at her stepmother and hoped she didn’t notice the cartons of cigarettes that lay on the nearby couch.

“Hello, dear,” said Ruth with a smile. “I know it’s sudden, but I drove by and saw your car so I thought I’d ask you to lunch.”

Her fatherappeared, breathless and looking strained. When he saw his wifeand daughter, his mouth gaped in astonishment.

“Surprise!” said Michelle.

“Surprise?” asked Ruth.

“Yes,” answered Michelle. “I was planning to surprise Dad today,and now we can all go out to lunch together.”

Al glanced at his watch. “Honey, I can’t. I’m supposed to be in court in half an hour.”

“I’ll make lunch for us here,” said Michelle. “I’ve got plenty. It won’t take long.” She hurried into the kitchen and Al and Ruth followed.

“Oh, Michelle, I hope you haven’t started smoking,” said Ruth.

“What?” asked Michelle. “Oh, those cigarettes are Rick’s. He ordered them from Bino’s, but he was called to work before the delivery person came so I told him I’d take the cigarettes when they came and he could pay me for them later.”

Michelle removed bread, lunch meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions from the refrigerator. “Here, honey, let me help,” said Al, taking plates out of the cupboard.

“Since this kitchen is barely big enough for the two of you, I’ll just use the bathroom while you get everything ready,” said Ruth.

Al whispered, “Those aren’t Rick’s cigarettes, are they?”

Michelle grinned and shook her head. “Your secret is safe with me, Dad.”

Al embraced his daughter. “Honey, I love you,” he said. As father and daughter worked together to prepare the sandwiches, Al said, “I tried to quit. I really did, but I just couldn’t do it, not cold turkey so I’m cutting down.”

“Dad, you don’t have to explain anything to me. I have some errands to do later so I could drop the cigarettes by the office. Do you think your secretary would say anything to Ruth?”

“That won’t be necessary. When I leave, I’ll just say I’m taking the cigarettes up and leaving them outside your neighbor’s door so he won’t have to come down here and get them when he comes home from work. Since we both met Rick when we helped you move in, Ruth shouldn’t suspect a thing.”

In the bathroom, the toilet flushed. A few minutes later, the three of them sat at thedining room table. As Al ate his sandwich, he chatted about the weather and other current events. He mentioned the court case he planned to argue that afternoon. From time to time, he glanced at the cigarettes. Michelle realized that he was probably accustomed to having a cigarette or two with lunch and her heart went out to him.

Fearing that Ruth might become suspicious of Al’s behavior, Michelle tried to divert her stepmother’s attention from her father by asking her about her work as a counselor at the women’s center. For the next few minutes, they discussed that and Michelle’s job as an activities assistant at a nursing home. Al finally looked at his watch and said, “I’ve got ten minutes to get to the courthouse. I’ll just drop those cigarettes outside Rick’s apartment on my way out.” He rose and hurried around to Michelle’s side of the table and kissed her. “Thanks for lunch, honey,”

Michelle jumped to her feet and dashed ahead of her father into the living room and in the direction of the front door. “I’ll get the door for you, Dad,” she said.

Al and Ruth were right behind her. Al picked up the cartons of cigarettes and headed out the door of Michelle’s apartment. Unaware that Ruth was following him, he hurried in the directionofthe outer door.

“Al, where are you going?” asked Ruth. “Rick lives upstairs, remember?” Startled, Al almost dropped the cigarettes. With a sigh, he turned toward the stairs that led to the second floor. “I’ll wait while you take those cigarettes up to Rick’s, and then I’ll walk you to your car,” said Ruth.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” said Al.

“But I want to!” said Ruth.

As Al staggered up the stairs, Michelle said, “Oh, Ruth, must you go? Why don’t I make us a pot of coffee and we can visit a while?”

“I’d love to, dear, but I just remembered I’ve got an appointment in fifteen minutes. I worry about your father. He’s under a lot of stress.”

“He’s always stressed out about one case or another,” Michelle said. “I guess that’s why he’s such a goodlawyer.”

Al returned, looking more strained than ever. Michelle gavehim a conspiratorial wink she hoped Ruth wouldn’t notice, as they walked out the door of the apartment house. She decided to retrieve the cigarettes and leave a message on her father’s voice mail saying they were safe and he could pick them up after work.

When she was sure both Al and Ruth were gone, she hurried up the stairs to Rick’s apartment, her heart pounding. She hoped Rick wasn’t home, or if he was, he didn’t see the cigarettes and take them, thinking they were a free gift. She didn’t know if he smoked. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the cartons still lying outside his apartment door. She listened for a moment but heard no sound from inside. She lifted the cartons of cigarettes and carried them back to her apartment.

As she reached the bottom of the stairs, the outer door flew open and Al rushed into the hall. Startled, Michelle almost dropped the cigarettes, but without a word, she handed them to her father. The door again opened and in came Ruth. For an eternity, the three of them stood frozen in time.


Abbie Johnson Taylor

Author of We Shall Overcome