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Locked in time, p.5
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       Locked in Time, p.5

           Lois Duncan
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  “Nore?” Josie said. “We’ve been here for hours. Haven’t you found the stuff your dad wants yet?”

  “We haven’t been here for hours at all,” I responded. “It’s only been fifty minutes. I wish that we could stay for hours. These books are so fascinating.”

  “Some of the accounts are pretty exaggerated,” Josie said.

  “I’m sure these writers spent years doing research,” I told her. I gathered up the half-dozen volumes that I had chosen as being most interesting. “Let’s go check these out.”

  When I gave her the name Charles Robbins, the woman at the desk nodded quickly.

  “Oh, yes, of course.” She glanced up with a smile. “Did you know that there’s a well-known writer by that same name?”

  “Yes, I do,” I said, both proud and embarrassed. “This is that very same person. He’s my father.”

  “Your father wrote Life in the Fast Lane?” she gasped incredulously. “I can’t believe it! A celebrity, right here in Merveille!”

  “Well, not quite in Merveille,” I said. “We live out in the country.” And for the next fourteen minutes, I expounded on Dad’s writing career for the benefit of the excited librarian and her two assistants, who were summoned up from the dark recesses of the archives to be introduced to “close relatives of the famous Charles Robbins.”

  It was, therefore, almost a quarter past eleven before Josie and I, having stopped at the parking lot to deposit our books in the car, entered the Safeway store in search of Lisette. We found her with a loaded shopping cart, already standing in line at the checkout.

  “What kind of ice cream did you get?” Josie demanded immediately, peering down at the groceries in the cart with sharp-eyed interest. “Oh, great—triple chocolate! I can’t believe you really got that. Yuck, fish again—we just had that last night. Why did you get Doritos? You know I like potato chips better.”

  “I also know that potato chips make your face break out.” Lisette turned her attention to me. “How did the book search go? Were you able to find all the books your father wanted?”

  “Yes,” I said. “There was lots of material that should be helpful to him. And do you know what happened when I went to check them out with his library card?”

  I was just getting ready to tell her about the reaction of the librarian when a voice from the next line over exclaimed, “Lisette? Lisette Berge, can that possibly be you?” Lisette seemed to freeze for an instant. Then she turned slowly to face the gray-haired woman who was paying for her groceries at the adjoining register.

  “Excuse me?” Lisette asked her coolly. “I don’t believe we know each other, do we?”

  “Yes, I think—that is—I did think—” The woman’s smile wavered, and she paused uncertainly. “No, I’m sorry; you’re much too young to be the person I thought you were. I bet, though, that you’re related. You must be to look so much alike.”

  “You’re probably thinking about my mother,” Lisette said. “Her name was Lisette Berge, and I was named after her.”

  “Oh, that explains it, then.” The woman seemed grateful to have found the solution to the mystery. “I’m Elaine Shannon. I knew your mother way back—oh, it must have been twenty years ago—and if you’re her daughter, then I remember you, too. I used to manage a custom dress shop over on River Street. When your mother came in for a fitting, she would bring you with her. You must have been twelve or so at the time—just about the age of this little girl here.” She gestured to indicate Josie. “You looked like her, too—the same eyes—the exact same coloring.”

  “This is my daughter, Josephine,” Lisette said stiffly. “She does look a lot like I did at her age.”

  “How time flies!” Elaine Shannon said with a sigh. “It’s hard to imagine your pretty, young mother a grandmother. How is she, dear? I’d heard that she had moved up north somewhere.”

  “She passed away several years ago,” Lisette said. Then—“Oh, my goodness!” Turning abruptly, she glanced into her shopping cart with an expression of chagrin. “As usual, I seem to have forgotten something important. It was nice to have met you again, Mrs. Shannon, after so many years. You are sweet to remember my mother with so much affection. Nore, please ask the cashier to go ahead and start ringing things up. I’ll be back in one tiny minute.”

  But she wasn’t.

  The cashier did ring up the groceries, and then stood fidgeting impatiently while long moments passed and the line behind us kept getting longer.

  It wasn’t until Elaine Shannon’s groceries had all been bagged and the elderly woman had left the store with them that Lisette came rushing back with a cellophane sack in her hand.

  “I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting,” she told the woman at the register. “I just couldn’t seem to find what I was looking for.”

  Dumbfounded, I stared at the item that she had brought back with her.

  It was a bag of potato chips.

  We got back to Shadow Grove at slightly past noon. The sun was centered overhead, and its rays slashed down through the canopy of leaves to strike the driveway with sharp bullets of searing light. The warmth of the day had increased to a point that I considered uncomfortable, although it was nothing compared with the heat that I would grow accustomed to later in the summer.

  The truck labeled PARLANGE ROOFING COMPANY was parked in front of the house. Two men—one quite young and the other probably in his forties—were seated in a block of shade under one of the oak trees, munching on sandwiches and washing them down with soda. I guessed immediately that the younger man—tall, dark and shirtless—was the hot guy that Josie had reacted to in the car that morning.

  Lisette gave the horn a sharp beep, and Gabe came grudgingly out to help carry in the groceries. He was friendly enough to me, but cool toward his mother. It was obvious that he was still fuming about not being allowed to go with us to Merveille.

  While Lisette and I put the food away and started lunch preparations, Josie managed to drift surreptitiously back outside again. When Lisette sent me out to get her, I wasn’t particularly surprised to find her crouched in the grass next to the workmen, chattering away like a triple-tongued parakeet. Her expression when she saw me approaching was almost enough to send me straight back into the house.

  “Lunch is ready,” I said, trying to ignore her hostility. “Your mother wants you to come in now.”

  “I’m busy,” Josie said defiantly. “Besides, I’m not hungry.”

  “I don’t think that’s going to go over too well,” I told her. “Your mom’s got the sandwiches made, and everybody’s waiting.”

  Having had no previous experience in coercing newly turned teenagers, I didn’t know how to force the issue. I couldn’t quite picture myself dragging a kicking, screaming Josie across the lawn to the house.

  “You’d better go eat, kid,” the older man said in a fatherly tone. “Dave and I have to get back to work soon anyway.”

  “I’m not hungry,” Josie repeated. After a moment’s consideration, however, she got to her feet.

  “Before you go,” the younger guy said teasingly, “why don’t you introduce us to your pretty friend?”

  “Nore isn’t my friend,” Josie retorted. “She’s just my stepsister. I’ve barely met her myself.”

  “How do you do, Stepsister Nore?” The young man grinned up at me and extended his hand. “I’m Dave Parlange, and this is my uncle, Phil. He’s the Parlange Roofing Company, and I’m the Parlange Roofing Company’s assistant for the summer.”

  “Hi, Dave,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it. “I’m Nore Robbins, and I just got to Shadow Grove yesterday.”

  “You’re from up north,” Dave said immediately.

  “Is it really that obvious?” I asked, surprised. “How can you tell? I only said a couple of words!”

  “One of them had an r in it. That’s a giveaway.” He regarded me speculatively. “New York? New Jersey? Maybe Maryland?”

  “You were right on the first try,
I told him. “I’m from Guilderland, New York. Now, let me make a guess. You were born here in Louisiana.”

  “You got it,” Dave said. “I’ve never lived anywhere else. That’s going to change in the fall, though—I’ve got a scholarship to Harvard.”

  “You do?!” I exclaimed. “That’s awesome! You’re going to love New England. I go to school in Boston, and it’s beautiful there.”

  “Nore, come on,” Josie said impatiently. “You’re the one who was making such a big deal out of everybody’s waiting for us.”

  “You’re right,” I said. “We’d better go in. It was nice meeting you, Dave. You, too, Mr. Parlange.”

  As we headed back to the house, Josie stalked ahead of me with head thrust forward and shoulders set belligerently. I was more amused than upset by the exaggerated display of annoyance. In the short time I’d been at Shadow Grove, I had already begun to become accustomed to my stepsister’s fluctuating moods. The emotional thunderstorms seemed to come and go with little rhyme or reason, and I was willing to bet that this particular one would soon blow over.

  I was right. Within minutes of sitting at the table, Josie’s aura of gloom was replaced by her brighter side. It was just the four of us—Lisette had taken some lunch to Dad in his office so he wouldn’t have to tear himself away from the computer. As Josie gobbled her sandwich, her lack of appetite forgotten, she enthusiastically described the new dance club to Gabe.

  “It’s called the Danceteria,” she said. “They’ve got a big sign up that says they’re open every night but Sunday. Why don’t we go there tonight and see what it’s like?”

  “Suits me,” Gabe said. “How about you, Nore—want to go dancing?”

  “Sure,” I said. “It sounds like fun.”

  “I don’t think that would be a very good idea tonight,” Lisette said. “Nore has only just arrived, and her father has hardly had a chance to say hello to her. I’m sure Chuck would like to spend a little time with his daughter before you children go rushing off to some local nightspot.”

  “Dad won’t mind,” I said with certainty. “We have the whole summer.”

  “I want you to wait, Nore.” The tone of Lisette’s voice left no room for argument. “I’d like to get some information about that club before I give Gabe permission to take you girls there. You don’t know what sort of people might frequent an establishment like that. Some of those dance spots are totally inappropriate for teenagers.”

  “That’s crazy!” Josie exclaimed. “The sign said it was specifically for teens! They don’t even serve alcohol!”

  “We’ll discuss this later,” her mother said. “Let’s not argue over lunch, dear.”

  “You’re mean!” Josie exploded. “You’re just plain mean! You never want us to do anything!”

  “I said later, Jo,” Lisette repeated quietly.

  “It’s always later! I’m sick of later! What’s the sense of living if we can’t have some fun right now?”

  Shoving back her chair so hard that she almost tipped it over, Josie jumped up from the table and bolted from the room.

  Lisette sighed. “Once again, I apologize for my daughter, Nore. I hate for you to keep witnessing scenes like this one, but I can’t start giving in to Josie when she throws these tantrums. She’s right at that age when nothing is less than a crisis to her. After she’s calmed down a bit, I’ll go up and see if I can reason with her.”

  She paused, shifted mental gears and then asked brightly, “Who wants another sandwich? You’re ready for one, aren’t you, Gabe? You’ve always been a two-sandwich boy. Now, tell me, Nore, which books did you find for your father?”

  So I described the books I’d checked out of the library. Lisette seemed to be familiar with almost all of them and commented knowledgeably on both the contents and the authors. The remainder of the lunch hour passed pleasantly enough, and, although Gabe didn’t take much part in the conversation, he didn’t seem to be especially upset about the fact that our half-formed plan for the evening had been aborted.

  When the meal was over, Lisette suggested we all go upstairs and “take a midday lie-down.”

  “That’s a custom here in the South,” she explained to me. “We get up early to take advantage of the cool of the summer mornings and then take siestas in the middle of the day to avoid the heat.”

  When the idea was proposed it sounded reasonable enough. Once ensconced in my room, however, I found napping impossible. Although I’d been up since dawn, I wasn’t the least bit drowsy. The pounding of the workmen on the roof shattered the noonday quiet, and the moment I lay down on the bed, my mind started seething with questions about this family that my father’s marriage had made me an inadvertent part of.

  The exchange at the breakfast table still disturbed me. Something had happened there, something not obvious enough for me to be able to pinpoint, but meaningful nevertheless. And what about the scene that morning at the supermarket?

  Why had Lisette reacted so strangely to the encounter with her late mother’s dressmaker? It wasn’t surprising that she wouldn’t have recognized the woman. Twenty years was a long time to remember anyone. But I saw no reason for her response to have been so icy. And the potato chips! Lisette had told Josie that she wouldn’t buy them. It was obvious that the “important errand” that had taken her back into the aisles of the store so hastily had been manufactured to escape further conversation with Elaine Shannon.

  That wasn’t all that bothered me, either. Mrs. Shannon had called my stepmother Lisette Berge, a name that Lisette had explained was the same as her mother’s. Yet Berge hadn’t been Lisette’s maiden name—it was the name she’d taken from her previous marriage.

  The room was unbearably close, and my body was sticky with perspiration. When I’d first come upstairs, I’d pulled the French doors shut in an effort to block out the sunlight. Now, realizing my mistake, I got up from the bed and threw both the front and side doors open to the balcony.

  No stir of breeze rewarded this effort. Beyond the wooden railing, the great, green heads of the oak trees hung motionless in the still air. In the driveway below, the gleaming metallic roof of the Parlange truck threw off shimmering waves of heat, and in the garden to the east, the rosebushes seemed to sag wearily beneath their overload of drooping blossoms.

  The combination of the midday heat and the dry sandwich was making me terribly thirsty. Turning away from the balcony, I went back across the room and opened the door to the hall. As soon as I stepped out into the hallway, I became conscious of the low hum of voices in the adjoining room. True to her word, Lisette had apparently gone in to talk with Josie.

  I was halfway across the hall, en route to the bathroom, when my stepsister’s voice rose suddenly in high-pitched accusation.

  “—because of Nore!” she exclaimed. “It’s just not fair!”

  “Shush,” Lisette said. “Quiet, Jo. You know better than that.”

  Her voice dropped, and the rest of the words were lost to me.

  I continued on into the bathroom and ran a glass full of water. I felt oddly shaken, both by the jolt of hearing my name shouted out so unexpectedly and by the emotion with which it had been uttered. What I’d heard in Josie’s voice hadn’t been the resentful whine of a complaining teenager. It had been a cry of very real anguish.

  I drank the water slowly and then, with the empty glass still clutched in my hand, went back out into the hall. The murmur of voices continued in the room across from me, and though I couldn’t be certain, I thought I heard my name again.

  For a long time I stood immobile, staring at the closed door. Then I did something that it embarrasses me to admit. I lifted the bathroom water glass to the door of Josie’s bedroom and held its open end tight against the wooden panel. Then I pressed my ear to the bottom of the glass. The technique I’d once read about did actually work. The sound in the room beyond the door was tremendously magnified.

  It was Lisette who was speaking.

  “—keep them
apart as much as possible,” she was saying. “Your brother is obviously attracted to her.”

  “You can’t really expect that to work,” Josie objected. “Both of them live here. There’s no way to keep them from seeing each other.”

  “I also live here,” her mother reminded her. “At Shadow Grove, I am the one in control of things. Gabe knows that, and, while he may not like it, he has to accept it. They will see each other here, yes, but under my supervision. In a dating situation, the atmosphere would be different. Things could get out of hand very quickly.”

  “But how, at a club—”

  “You must trust me,” Lisette said. “I do know what’s best for us.”

  “How can you say that?!” Josie fired back angrily. “You got us into this! You made the deal! You never asked our advice or our permission! It was bad enough for the boys, but for me—”

  “I know,” Lisette said softly. “Josie, I do know, and, believe me, I’m sorry. This situation is, in a way, worse for me than for anyone. If I had it to do again, I would certainly do it differently. But I didn’t think. I was young—I was furious—my emotions were out of control. I did what I thought would be the right thing for the four of us.”

  “But it wasn’t!” Josie was crying now. “We can’t go on like this, Maman! We’ve got to get some fun out of life! Please, let us go dancing!”

  “No,” Lisette said regretfully. “Please, trust me, dear. I made one bad mistake, but I don’t intend to make another. If a romance should develop between Gabe and Chuck’s daughter, it could destroy everything. Gabe might even tell her—”

  “He wouldn’t do that!”

  “Nore Robbins is a danger.” Lisette’s voice was low, but the glass brought the words to my ear with the precision of a telephone receiver. “She is by far the worst threat we have ever had to face.”

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