Seventeen Against the Dealer (19 page)

BOOK: Seventeen Against the Dealer
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“Yeah, well, it shows,” Dicey grumbled.

“Because they have it and I don't.” Cisco grinned. “You should have kept the five hundred dollars.”

Dicey wasn't surprised to hear him say that, but it still made her angry. “That would be like making somebody give you something. Like taking something for nothing.”

“That's what they call good business, Miss Tillerman,” Cisco told her, grinning away.

Dicey turned her back to him.

“I saw how little you've got left in the bank. I've got exceptional distance vision. You can't even pay your rent now, I'm willing to bet.”

“Claude's taking that out of what he owes me. I've sent out bills, for storage, and the maintenance is on them this month,” she said stubbornly.

“I guess about everybody owes you money. I guess you better hope they pay.”

Dicey just got back to work. She didn't want to talk about it, and she didn't want to think about it. She didn't know who Cisco thought he was, anyway, telling her how to run her business.

But she was beginning to think she wasn't doing a very good job of running it herself. Even she had to admit that.

Well, she'd just have to work harder. Although now she wasn't awfully sure what she was working so hard for.

They worked late, finishing up the final coat of paint. Gram's light was out when Dicey finally stood in the kitchen, eating a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich in huge, hungry bites. Upstairs, only Maybeth's bedroom had a line of light at the bottom of the door. Dicey knocked and went in.

Maybeth, in a faded flannel nightgown with pale blue flowers printed all over it, her hair wound loosely into one thick braid to keep it out of her face, sat up in bed with a math textbook and pieces of paper spread around. The air smelled of growing things, brown earth and green herbs in pots along a window shelf.

“You were waiting up for me, weren't you?” Dicey said. “I should have been home earlier.”

“You're working hard. You have a lot of work to do,” Maybeth explained. “But I need to talk to you because Sammy's getting worried about Gram.”

“Yeah,” Dicey agreed. She would have liked to sit down but she had paint all over her. “She's been in bed now for, what? Almost a week?”

“Only two days and a half, but she's had that cough for weeks.”

“She told me she's getting better.”

“She doesn't eat as if she is.” Maybeth looked at Dicey, her eyes round and gold-flecked in her serious face. Dicey thought, looking at her sister, how lovely Maybeth was, and gentle and patient, what good care she took of people—how Maybeth was about the exact opposite of Dicey.

“What about you? Are
worried?” Dicey asked. Since it was Gram, Sammy might get himself worried even if he didn't have to, but Maybeth would know.

Maybeth nodded her head, her eyes large.

“I thought,” Dicey told her little sister, “if she doesn't do something this weekend, at least start reading while she's in bed, but unless she eats more, and wants to get out of bed—this weekend—then we should call Dr. Landros, no matter what Gram says.”

Maybeth was satisfied. “I knew you'd know what to do.”

Dicey didn't know that she was doing anything. “I'll need the truck, first thing tomorrow, but as soon as that job's done I'll come home. I should be home by lunchtime, at the latest. I'll stay here after that.”

“Good,” Maybeth said. “That's good. What would you like for dinner?”

Dicey didn't need to be asked twice. “Spaghetti.” Maybeth's spaghetti sauce, with three kinds of ground meat in it and the tomatoes they'd put up in August, with the fresh herbs she put into it: Dicey's mouth got hungry for the taste of Maybeth's spaghetti, just thinking about it. “But Gram can't eat that.”

“She doesn't eat anything, except I give her soup sometimes.”

Seeing how worried Maybeth really was, Dicey started to get seriously worried herself. “I'll be home at lunchtime, or just after,” she promised.

She kept her word, rousing a grumpy Cisco on the phone before she started over, hurrying through the hours it took to haul the boats back and forth. She was just going to have to leave Cisco to get the sanding done on his own that afternoon. “I can't stay,” she said, when the four unpainted rowboats had been set out on the floor of the shop.

“You've finally got a date,” he said.

Dicey shook her head impatiently. “My grandmother's sick.”

He didn't seem troubled by that. “Well, maybe this elusive suitor will find time to see you next weekend. Although—unless
you've been getting up to things you haven't told me about, and when you'd have time to, I can't imagine—if I were you I'd wonder how serious this boyfriend is. Don't you? Don't you wonder what he's up to when he's so obviously not here? What he's up to and with whom?”

Dicey didn't think Cisco had any business commenting on her private life, and she wasn't about to answer him in any way. Jeff wouldn't do that anyway.

“Men are weak,” Cisco said to her. “And women play on that, women know that. If he's as good-looking as you think, and rich . . .”

“I never said he was rich.”

“In that case, you're right to hold out for better.”

“I thought you didn't like rich people anyway.”

“I don't. That doesn't mean I wouldn't marry one. I could probably love one, too, if one loved me. That would be pretty easy, now I think of it. This guy doesn't have a sister, does he? Or a mother? What's wrong with your grandmother?”

“We don't know. Maybe just a bad flu. We don't often get sick, so we don't know what a bad flu is supposed to be like.”

“You must have good genes, or you must be living right,” Cisco remarked. “Well, I hope your grandmother gets better. I hope it's not something serious, like cancer.”

Dicey had never thought of that, and she wished he hadn't mentioned it. He didn't look troubled at all by the idea; he looked as pleased with himself as a chipmunk. Maybe he just liked scaring people. “I gotta go,” Dicey said.


hen Dicey got home, Sammy had gone to work and Maybeth was cleaning up after grilled cheese sandwiches. Dicey sent Maybeth out to do the shopping and finished the lunch cleanup herself. Every now and then she opened the door into Gram's bedroom. Gram slept on.

After a while, Dicey took a look at the books and papers she kept spread out on the dining room table—but she couldn't concentrate. Besides, she didn't have any reason to concentrate now.

She went back into the kitchen and piled all the chairs on top of the table. Then she washed the floor with a mop. Gram usually did that a couple of times a week, mopping clean the red-and-white linoleum. While the floor dried, Dicey took an empty bucket into the living room. The bed of ashes in the fireplace had gotten too high; she shoveled about half of them into the bucket and spread the rest around more evenly under the grate. If they could get Gram moved onto the sofa they'd all feel better. Taking to the sofa was what Gram did, the couple of times she'd had a cold bad enough to put her out of commission. At those times, Gram lay on the sofa, with a fire going, blankets spread over her, and a sweater on over her nightgown. She groused and gave orders, read books, and played cribbage. When she was sick, Gram made sure things still went along right.

Gram was really sick now, seriously sick. Dicey knew it in her
bones. She had wanted it not to be true, so she'd let herself turn her back on the worry.

But Gram said she was getting better, and Gram didn't tell lies. So maybe Dicey was just letting her imagination get out of hand.

Dicey sat down again at the dining room table to think about boats, again, but she couldn't. She guessed she knew when to stop trying. She guessed she could tell when she'd fallen on her face for once and all. She piled the books in one of the cupboards of the sideboard and put her papers away in folders beside them. Closing the cupboard door, she twisted the knob to be sure the latch inside would catch, and hold. Doing that reminded her: They'd found a piece of lace, half-sewn onto a cambric bodice, for a night-gown, Gram had guessed, at the back of one of these deep cupboards, years ago; the materials had been folded and put away, years ago, had been left there in the dark, behind the closed door, like somebody's old forgotten dreams. Maybeth, Dicey remembered, had tried to save the lace, but it was so old that it had feathered apart even in her gentle fingers. Like old abandoned dreams somebody had put away, closed the door on.

Dicey wandered back into the kitchen. She lifted the chairs down, placing them around the table. Quietly, she opened the door into Gram's bedroom.

Gram's eyes were open. She was lying flat in bed, her head on a pillow.

Dicey went into the room, approaching the side of the bed. “How are you feeling?” she asked.

Gram's hands lay motionless on top of the white bedspread. When she spoke, her voice was as pale as her face. “Stupid question.”

Dicey knew that, but she didn't know what else to say. You
couldn't say “You look terrible, what's wrong with you?” Could you? Gram had a glass of water on the table beside her bed, her light was turned on, she never wanted anything to eat—and she was just lying there, watching Dicey.

“Can I get you something?” Dicey asked.

Gram shook her head.

Dicey stood there, waiting for Gram to say something. Gram lay there, just waiting, Dicey didn't know for what.

“Maybeth says you're not eating much,” Dicey said.

“Don't have much appetite, to speak of,” Gram said. She sounded tired, too tired to be asked to talk.

“You told me you were getting better,” Dicey reminded her grandmother.

Gram almost smiled, and she pushed herself up a little on the pillow. “I felt a lot worse two days ago. You're home early.”

Dicey nodded. She didn't plan to talk to Gram about the shop. She didn't think Gram needed to worry about how badly things were going. Dicey looked around her grandmother's bedroom, a plain room, with just the double bed, the bedside table, a tall bookcase full of books, and the dark wooden bureau. The door to Gram's bathroom stood partly open, to show the sink and some towels. “Do you want me to get you something to read?” Dicey asked.

Gram shook her head. “Too tired.”

“Are you warm enough? Do you want a sweater?”

“I'm fine,” Gram said.

At that, Dicey almost lost her temper. “You aren't fine, anyone can see that. You're nowhere near fine. What's wrong with you, Gram?”

“If I knew, I'd be a doctor, wouldn't I?” Gram asked. “I'm waiting it out, girl. I'd be pleased if you'd do the same.”

The shades were pulled down over the windows, making the
light in the room gentle, mellow, weak. There was one photograph on Gram's bureau. Dicey went over to look at it. The young man who had posed for the picture had dark hair and dark, serious eyes. His mouth was a straight line. Dicey turned around with the picture in her hand.

“Our grandfather,” Dicey said.

Gram nodded.

“He was a handsome man,” Dicey said, studying the broad, square jaw. You couldn't see anything from a picture except what someone looked like; and what someone looked like didn't necessarily have anything to do with what he acted like, and thought like. Stubborn, she thought, looking at the picture, and serious, and stern—he reminded her of herself, maybe, but not the self she liked best. The collar he wore looked bright white, stiff bright white, and uncomfortable, as if it were bound around his neck too tightly, like a thick collar for an unruly dog.

“Handsome is,” Gram started to say—until coughing prevented her from finishing the sentence. Dicey stood, looking at the picture, so as not to stare at her grandmother—Gram, sick in bed—while she was coughing like that. Gram finally caught her breath enough to finish the sentence in a choking voice, “as handsome does.”

Dicey didn't know about that. Handsome is as handsome is, that was what she thought. She knew that just because someone was handsome didn't mean he was good, or noble; but it did mean that he
exactly what it said, handsome. You couldn't say he wasn't just because you didn't like the way he acted, or lived.

She didn't think she ought to argue with Gram about that. She was just standing around in Gram's room, not doing anything. Standing around made her restless, uneasy. It left her free to think about the things she couldn't do anything about. Like
Gram being sick, or the boat she wasn't going to build for Mr. Hobart out of the wood she'd already paid for. She was relieved to hear the truck come up the driveway.

“That'll be Maybeth. She went shopping,” Dicey told Gram. “Sammy's at work.” Gram already knew that. “I better help Maybeth unload. Do you want your door open? Or closed?”

“Closed,” Gram said.

Maybeth came in with two bags of groceries, which she set down on the table. “It's cold. Isn't she awake yet?” She took off her jacket and hung it on a hook by the door. “You washed the floor, Dicey. It looks nice, doesn't it?”

Dicey could have hugged her sister, who noticed things and took the trouble to say so. “Gram's awake,” she reported, “but she doesn't want anything.” Maybeth looked at the closed door. “She asked me to close it.”

“She didn't mean it,” Maybeth said.

“It's what she said, Maybeth.”

“But when Gram's sick—could you unpack these, Dicey?” Maybeth didn't explain anything. She just knocked on the door of Gram's room, and went in.

Dicey put away the cans and dry foods, she washed fruit, set the week's supply of butter in the freezer and the eggs in the refrigerator. She heard Maybeth's voice, talking to Gram. Then Maybeth came back into the kitchen and filled the kettle with water. She picked up the cyclamen plant, with its windswept white flowers, and carried it into Gram's room. When she came out again, she had the water glass in her hand—she washed it out, rinsed it, filled it with fresh water, and then dropped two thick ice cubes to clink around in it, sounding as cool and fresh as a June evening. Dicey watched her sister.

BOOK: Seventeen Against the Dealer
2.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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