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With you and without you, p.1
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       With You and Without You, p.1

           Ann M. Martin
 
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With You and Without You


  With You and Without You

  Ann M. Martin

  This book is for

  CLAUDIA WERNER,

  for all the years.

  Contents

  BOOK I Autumn

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  BOOK II Spring

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  BOOK III Autumn Again

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  EPILOGUE

  A Personal History by Ann M. Martin

  BOOK I

  Autumn

  Chapter One

  NOVEMBER 12 WAS NOT the greatest day in my life. I plodded home from school that afternoon thinking about a piece of bad news I’d received: my English teacher had announced that our class was going to participate in a winter pageant before Christmas vacation. I wasn’t sure what a winter pageant would involve, but I didn’t like the sound of it. I would probably have to do something on a stage before an audience, and that was worrying me.

  I was also worried about my father. He’d been very tired lately, and ever since last summer he’d been getting short of breath. Sometimes his legs would swell up. So he was going to visit our family doctor that afternoon. It was his second visit in a week. But since Dad was usually as healthy as a horse, the idea of having to be a snowflake or a surgarplum was more on my mind.

  The day was bitterly cold. We were in for a hard winter according to The Farmer’s Almanac, and also according to my four-year-old sister, Hope, who had spent a lot of time studying the stripes on the woolly bears. The stripes were very wide, and Hope’s daycare center teachers said the wider the stripe, the harder the winter.

  I pulled my scarf tighter, lowered my head against the wind, and quickened my pace. The sky was steely gray, that harsh, sharp sort of gray you find sometimes in the eyes of German shepherds. It was a color I disliked.

  I turned the corner onto Bayberry and hurried by the Hansons’ house on the corner with its untidy yard and the dogs whining in their pen. Then I hurried by the Whites’ immaculate house and waved to Susie and Mandy, Hope’s friends, who were trying to jump rope, but who were so bundled up they could hardly move. The Petersens’ home was next (my best friend, Denise, lived there), then came the Washburns’, and across from their house was 25 Bayberry Street. I always approached our house from the other side of the road so I could get the fullest view of it. I stood in front of the Washburns’ for a few seconds, just looking.

  Our house was very special to me. It was the biggest and oldest house on Bayberry Street, and generations of us O’Haras had lived in it. It had been in our family ever since it was built, almost two hundred years ago. The house grinned a welcome to me. I noticed that someone, probably Mom, had hung a bunch of dried corn on the front door that morning—a sure sign of Thanksgiving and the holiday season. The corn would stay up until it was time for the Christmas wreath. I smiled, feeling momentarily satisfied and excited, and took off across the street in a run.

  I ran all the way up the lawn to the porch and leaped up the four steps in two bounds. Then I slipped the house key from around my neck and let myself in.

  “Hello?” I called, slamming the door behind me.

  No answer. I was the first one home. Some days I liked the peace and quiet, some days I didn’t. That day, feeling uneasy about the pageant, I longed for a little company, my sister Carrie’s in particular.

  I was what my mother and father called a latchkey kid. Brent, my brother, and Carrie were latchkey kids, too. Our parents both worked, and we three older kids were on our own from three o’clock, when school let out, until six or so when our parents came home. Hope was not a latchkey kid. She was too little, and Mom and Dad didn’t want her to be a burden on her sisters or brother. That was how she wound up in day care.

  Every weekday morning at seven forty-five sharp, Mom or Dad or sometimes Brent, now that he could drive, would drop Hopie off at the Harper Early Childhood Center, a fancy day-care operation where Hope remained under the watchful eyes of Mrs. Annette Harper and three capable teachers until someone picked her up in the evening.

  All us O’Haras called the HECC “Hope’s school,” and Hopie felt very proud that she went to school all day just like Brent and Carrie and I did. None of the other little kids on Bayberry Street could claim that.

  There were two reasons why both of my parents worked. One, they enjoyed it, and two, we needed the money. Not that we were struggling or anything. In fact, we had plenty of money. But believe me, we needed plenty of money for the upkeep of our big, old house and its three and a half acres. In a house as old as ours, something was always breaking or on the verge of breaking, usually in one of three areas—the basement, the kitchen, or a bathroom. Then, too, Mom and Dad were facing four college educations, and Brent’s would start in less than two years.

  So Mom and Dad worked. My mother was the head of the English department at the Covington Public School System. We lived in Neuport, Connecticut, and Covington was the next town over. Mom had decided years ago that she would be wise to head up the English department of a school system her children were not a part of.

  My father was an account executive at a hotshot advertising firm in New York City. He commuted there on the train every day. Dad handled accounts like Calvin Klein jeans and Chanel perfume. When I was little, before I developed stage fright, I used to beg him to put me in the commercials for his products. Now I understand that he didn’t have any control over that sort of thing.

  I hung up my ski jacket, put away my scarf and mittens, set my school books on the dining room table, and got two brownies out of the cake tin.

  I opened the refrigerator and stood in front of it, looking at all the pots and plastic containers and mysterious foil-wrapped packages, and tried to figure out what to fix for dinner. Brent and Carrie and I were in charge of dinner on weekdays since we got home earlier than Mom or Dad. I decided on broccoli, potatoes in their jackets (a favorite of Hopie’s), and baked chicken legs. I closed the refrigerator. Everything could be started later.

  I was about to crack my math book when I heard a scratching at the back door. It was Fifi, begging to come in. I could hear her whining as I unlatched the door.

  “Feef!” I cried as she bounded in, bringing a gust of frosty air with her. “You must be freezing.”

  “Woof!” she agreed happily, standing on her hind legs to kiss my face.

  Despite her name, Fifi is not little and is not a poodle. She’s a gorgeous golden retriever. Brent got her for his birthday six years ago. At the time, he thought naming her Fifi was hysterical. Now it’s just embarrassing, but there’s no changing a dog’s name. Fifi would never answer to anything but Fifi.

  Fifi trotted after me as I headed for the cabinet where her kibbles and chow and the cat food were stored. She looked happy and smug, probably thinking, I knew she’d give in.

  I gave her a biscuit shaped like a mailman, and she took it delicately between her teeth and, without being told, settled down in the kitchen to eat it. An O’Hara rule is that all pets must be fed on linoleum. It’s awfully hard to get crunchies out of a shag rug.

  I whistled for Charlie and Mouse, our cats, but my sister Carrie came into the kitchen instead.

  “Hi!” I greeted her. “You’re home late today.”

  “I know,” she replied. She
began rummaging through the refrigerator before she even took off her coat. “The bus had a flat tire. It took forever to get it fixed.” Carrie carefully set an apple on the kitchen counter, then hung her coat in the closet and put her books on the bench in the back hall.

  Carrie sat at the kitchen table taking tiny, neat bites out of her apple. She was ten, two years younger than I, and in her last year at Neuport Elementary School. Although Carrie and I are the closest in age of us four kids, we couldn’t look more different. I have olive skin and brown hair with hazel eyes (the same as Mom and Hopie), and Carrie has fair skin with hair so dark it’s almost black, and deep brown eyes (the same as Dad and Brent). Carrie has a heart-shaped face, while mine is long and thin. Also, Carrie is petite, while I am tall for my age, so that she looks much younger than her age, and I look older than mine.

  I poured another glass of juice and sat down across from her. “So?” I said.

  “So?” she countered.

  “Anything exciting happen today?”

  “Tricia Kennedy barfed in gym class.”

  “That’s not exciting, that’s gross.”

  “It was exciting for the nurse. Tricia barfed all the way down the hall and into the nurse’s office and all over the—”

  “Carrie! That’s disgusting.”

  “Okay, okay. Did anything exciting happen to you?”

  I sighed.

  “What?” Carrie crunched loudly on her apple.

  “Mr. Landi announced that we’re going to be in a pageant this Christmas.”

  “Ohhhh,” said Carrie knowingly, probably remembering last spring when I fainted the morning I had to give an oral report for my social studies class. “Do you have to be in it?”

  “Well, Mr. Landi hasn’t given us many details yet, but you know how he is. Mr. Participation.”

  Carrie nodded. After a few moments she asked, “Are you having auditions or what?”

  “I guess,” I said.

  “So be absent the day of the auditions. Tell Mom you think you’re getting the virus back again.”

  “Carrie, you’re a genius!” I cried. Last spring I’d gotten a virus that I couldn’t shake. It stayed with me for months, and I’d been hot and achy and irritable all summer, and in fact until just a month or so ago. Now we were wondering if possibly Dad had the same thing, or some form of it, and nobody wanted to put up with his moaning and complaining when they’d just gotten over mine. Anyway, if I told Mom I felt it coming on again, I could probably get away with at least two days in bed.

  Carrie smiled smugly at me.

  “But wait,” I said. “Maybe it would be worse if I stayed home. What if Mr. Landi cast me in some gigantic role? I wouldn’t be able to defend myself.”

  “Yeah.” Carrie looked thoughtful.

  The two of us sat and schemed so long and so intently that Brent scared us out of our wits when he banged through the back door, Charlie and Mouse frisking ahead of him.

  We jumped a mile.

  “Brent!” Carrie shrieked.

  “What’s wrong? You look like you saw a ghost. Your hair’s standing on end.”

  “It is not,” said Carrie, but she patted her hair, checking, when she thought Brent and I weren’t looking.

  “Geez, she’s gullible,” muttered Brent from within the refrigerator. He emerged with a carton of milk.

  “Well, you egg her on,” I complained. “And don’t drink that out of the container. Get a glass.”

  Brent got a glass and sat down at the kitchen table.

  Carrie sat across from him dejectedly. Sometimes she has a hard time being the middle sister. She’s mature enough so that Hope and I both look up to her, yet young enough to be pretty gullible at times. Brent has a real knack for getting under her skin.

  Mouse and Charlie twined themselves lovingly around my ankles, reminding me that it was almost their dinner time. I picked Charlie up and cradled him in my arms, listening to his rumbly purrs.

  Charlie was my special cat, a ginger-colored tiger. In fact, he was everybody’s favorite, except Hope’s, since Mouse wasn’t very loving. For some reason, Hope particularly liked Mouse. Anyway, I found Charlie two years ago. He was a tiny lost stray, mewing weakly inside a cardboard box. Someone had dumped him by the side of the road. So I brought him home and we kept him. It was as simple as that.

  I gave Charlie a kiss on his furry orange face and set him on the floor with Mouse. “Carrie,” I said, “why don’t you feed the animals? Brent and I will start dinner. Does anyone know what time Dad’s doctor’s appointment is? Maybe he’ll be home early.”

  “Don’t know,” said Brent vaguely. He swallowed the last of his milk.

  I checked my watch. Almost five. Everyone would be home in a little over an hour. I put the chicken in the oven and washed the broccoli, while Brent scrubbed the potatoes and stuck them in a pan on the rack below the chicken. Carrie fed Fifi, Charlie, and Mouse. Then we sat at the dining room table and started our homework. We made a warm, peaceful, late-autumn scene, and I began to relax and forget about the winter pageant.

  It was five forty-five when the phone rang in the kitchen.

  “I’ll get it!” yelled Carrie, but I beat her to it. I was hoping it was Denise Petersen, home from her piano lesson. She wasn’t in my class, and I wanted to tell her about Mr. Landi and the pageant.

  “Hi,” I said expectantly when I picked up the phone.

  “Liza?” asked the voice on the other end.

  “Oh, Mom,” I said, embarrassed. “Sorry. I thought you were going to be Denise. Do you have to work late tonight?” That was her usual reason for calling at this hour.

  “Nooo …” she replied slowly. “I’m … at Dr. Seitz’s office with Dad. He’s …” (another long pause) “… still looking at your father. Running a bit late. Would you ask Brent to pick up Hope now? Dad and I won’t be home for awhile.”

  “Is something wrong?”

  “Just a little delay,” said Mom.

  “Mo-om.”

  “Liza, what is it?” asked Brent. He was standing behind me and must have been listening to my end of the conversation.

  “Talk to Mom,” I said, thrusting the phone at him. I crossed my arms and leaned against the kitchen table.

  Brent’s end of the conversation went like this:

  “Mom? Hi. What’s up? … Several hours? … Sure. I’ll get Hopie. We started dinner. … You don’t? We could warm it up for you later. … Oh, okay. Everything all right? … Oh … Oh … Okay. See you. ’Bye.”

  I pounced on Brent as soon as the phone was back in its cradle. “What’d she say?”

  “For us not to worry and for me to pick up Hopie.” Brent grinned. He’s almost a year older than most of the juniors at Neuport High and gets a big kick out of being able to drive already. “And for us to go ahead and eat, and not to save dinner for them.”

  “Is that everything?” I pressed.

  “Liza.” Brent fixed his brown eyes sternly on me.

  “Okay, okay.” I know when to give in.

  “Anyone want to come with me to get Hopie?” asked Brent with forced cheerfulness.

  “Me!” cried Carrie, dashing into the kitchen.

  I was pretty sure she’d heard every word Brent and I had said during the last few minutes, but she didn’t ask one question, at least not before she and Brent left.

  It wasn’t until I was standing alone in the dark, empty front hall of 25 Bayberry, watching the headlights of our Toyota carefully inch their way backward down the long driveway, that I began to wonder why Mom was with Dad at Dr. Seitz’s. She never left her office before six o’clock, not unless there was an emergency or a matter of extreme importance. Besides, since when did Mom go with Dad to the doctor? She didn’t even go with Brent or me anymore.

  Something was wrong. I could feel it.

  Something was very wrong.

  Chapter Two

  WHEN HOPE ARRIVED HOME that evening, Brent and Carrie and I didn’t even tell her wher
e Mom and Dad were, just that they were out. Hope wasn’t suspicious. Her parents went out often, and her big brother and sisters baby-sat for her often. Besides, she was all wound up about school.

  While Brent parked the car in the garage, Hopie ran in the back door and found me in the kitchen. She grabbed me around my knees, and craned her neck back to look up at me.

  “Hi, Liza!” she cried joyously.

  “Hiya, Sissy,” I said, leaning over to kiss the top of her head.

  Hope has a variety of nicknames—Sissy, Tink (for Tinker Bell, Hope’s favorite Peter Pan character), and Emmy. (Emmy is short for Emily, which is actually Hope’s first name. Dad is the only one who calls her Emmy, though. It’s his special name for her, since Emily was the name of his favorite grandmother.)

  “Guess what,” said Hope, wriggling with excitement.

  “What?” I bent down to unzip her jacket.

  “We made snowmen today. Not real ones, cotton ball ones. I had to leave mine at school to dry. But I made a picture of a snowman, too. Carrie has it.”

  Carrie came into the kitchen carrying a big piece of paper which had been rolled up and fastened with a rubber band.

  “Let’s see,” I said.

  We opened it up and spread it on the kitchen table.

  It was hard to make out, since Hopie had used white paint on white paper, but sure enough, there was a wobbly snowman with stick arms and a great big red hat.

  “Wow, Sissy, that’s pretty,” said Carrie encouragingly.

  “It certainly is. I think we should put it up so everyone can see it.”

  “Oh, goody,” said Hopie. “I’ll get the tape.”

  We gave the snowman a place of honor on the refrigerator. Hopie chattered on and on about school. They’d taken a walk to the playground, they’d made their own play dough out of salt and water and flour, they’d learned a song about a teapot.

  By the time we sat down to dinner, Hope was running out of things to say. Brent and Carrie and I tried to keep a conversation going, but we were struggling. I’m not sure that Hope noticed anything was wrong. She was so delighted with her potato in its jacket, and had to concentrate so hard in order to eat her chicken leg, that she didn’t pay much attention to the rest of us.

 
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