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Locked in time, p.6
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       Locked in Time, p.6

           Lois Duncan
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  “Why?” Josie asked her. “Just tell me, why is Nore such a threat? Because Gabe likes her? Gabe’s liked lots of girls! You’ve never objected before when he got hung up on somebody. We all know how those romances have to end.”

  “This is different,” Lisette said, “because Nore is Chuck’s daughter. She is part of the package that Gabe will soon have to deal with. But there may be even more of a problem than that, Jo. Maybe it’s something to worry about, or maybe it isn’t; there’s no way yet to be certain what effect this may have on things. The fact is, though, that with Nore Robbins, for the first time since all this started, we are involved with someone who has an uncanny awareness of time.”

  I felt too ashamed of eavesdropping on that conversation to even consider repeating it to my father. I’ve since wondered what his reaction might’ve been if I had. It was still so early. The friction between us hadn’t developed yet. Would he have believed me then, if I’d told him the things I’d overheard, and would it have made any sense to him?

  I doubt it, since it certainly didn’t make sense to me. Safely back in my room, with the door closed behind me, I sat down on the bed and let the strange dialogue play back through my mind. “You made the deal!” What deal could Josie have been talking about? “Nore Robbins is a danger.” That was ridiculous. How could I be a danger to anybody? The “awareness of time” that Lisette had referred to wasn’t important to anybody except me, and it just meant I didn’t have to wear a watch.

  Maybe I didn’t hear them right, I told myself. It was possible—no, it was probable—that the drinking glass had distorted the voices behind Josie’s door. What Lisette had said, quite likely, had been, “Nore Robbins is a stranger”; a stranger whose presence might threaten her control over her son.

  In retrospect, I realize that the more I sifted through the sands of that strange conversation, the more the tiny grains of meaning slid away from me. At last, exhausted from the effort, I stretched out on the bed, determined to take Lisette’s suggestion to take a “siesta.” The activity on the roof had now ceased, and before long I heard the engine of the Parlange truck come to life in the driveway. That sound receded with increasing distance and was replaced at last by silence, broken only by the drone of cicadas singing their naptime songs in the trees beyond the open doors to the balcony. I did manage to sleep a bit, though my mind must have kept on rationalizing while I was dozing, because when I opened my eyes again, the exchange between Lisette and Josie had taken on the semblance of a half-remembered dream. The one fact that did remain sharp in my mind was the one that I wanted to hold there—that Gabe’s mother felt that he was attracted to me.

  At dinner that night I was so aware of Gabe’s presence that I could scarcely bring myself to look across at him. I had found him attractive at that first meeting, and the possibility that this feeling might be mutual was enough to make me both exhilarated and nervous. The high, arched cheekbones that stood out like wings beneath the taut, tanned skin; the sensitive mouth; the deep-set eyes, sometimes shadowed and thoughtful, sometimes twinkling with laughter, all suddenly seemed incredibly exciting.

  As often happened when he was enthused about a new writing project, Dad was monopolizing the conversation. Lisette sat, listening in fascination, as he went over every detail of the scene he’d worked on that afternoon.

  Under the assumption that everyone’s attention was directed toward my father, I permitted myself a quick glance in Gabe’s direction. I was startled to find that his eyes were waiting for mine.

  Our gaze locked into place, and I felt my cheeks growing hot. To cover my embarrassment, I groped blindly for my water glass. My hand slid past it and almost knocked it over.

  Keeping a deadpan expression, Gabe let one eyelid drop in an exaggerated wink. Josie, who was seated next to him, raised her napkin to her mouth in an attempt to muffle a giggle. As I glanced back and forth between brother and sister, I saw that both sets of eyes were dancing with light that was more than a simple reflection of flames from the dinner candles. It suddenly seemed to me that the two of them were enjoying an amusing secret that I was being silently invited to share.

  “Did you take a nap today?” Gabe asked me softly.

  “A nap?”

  “I know Maman sent you upstairs to take one. She loves that sort of thing.” His voice dropped even lower, now almost a whisper. “The problem is, though, that I don’t think she took a nap herself. I have this weird feeling that she and your father may get sleepy quite early tonight. What do you think, Josie?”

  “I think it’ll be lullaby time along about nine thirty.” This time Josie’s giggle couldn’t be stifled, but came bubbling out in a kind of hiccup.

  Her mother turned to frown at her.

  “What in the world are you whispering about, Jo? If it’s all that funny, why don’t you share it with the rest of us?”

  “We’re telling dirty jokes,” Josie said blandly. “We didn’t think that you’d be interested in hearing them.”

  “Well, you were right about that,” Lisette said. “I don’t want to hear them, and you don’t need to tell them, especially not at the dinner table. If you ever tried listening, for a change, instead of talking, you might learn something interesting. How many people have the chance to know the plot of a book before it has even been written?”

  For the remainder of the meal, we listened to Dad’s discourse on his new novel, and it wasn’t until dinner was over that he’d finally managed to talk himself out. Then, while Gabe took after-dinner drinks out to our parents in the courtyard, Josie and I cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher. By the time we were finished in the kitchen and had joined the family outside, their conversation had become focused on other subjects.

  “—to bring a crew out here to put in the telephone,” Lisette was saying as Josie and I came out onto the patio.

  “We’re out so far from town, they’ll have to put in a special line. It may take them a while to get this sort of project going.”

  “What I don’t understand is why you didn’t have it done a long time ago,” Dad said. “In this day and age, how can anybody live without a phone?”

  “I’ve never missed it,” said Lisette. “A telephone’s a luxury that simply never struck me as particularly important. I’m not a person who gets involved in many social activities. Not putting in a phone meant one less intrusion on our privacy.”

  “You and your precious privacy!” The exasperation in Dad’s voice was tempered by affection. “Well, I can’t afford that luxury. My agent and editors need to be able to reach me regularly. Besides, I don’t think it’s safe to be so out of touch with people. What if we had an emergency out here, I’d forgotten to charge my cell, and we needed to get help? What if one of the kids got hurt and we had to call an ambulance?”

  “Please, Chuck, don’t lecture me. You’re right, I know. I told you, I’ve got our name on the mile-long waiting list. The telephone company will get to us as soon as they can.” Lisette shielded her mouth to cover a yawn. “I don’t know why I’m suddenly so sleepy. I’m embarrassed to say, I can hardly keep my eyes open.”

  “I’m not so bright-eyed myself,” Dad admitted a bit sheepishly. “It’s been so long since I’ve spent a full day writing that I’d almost forgotten how draining it could be. Why don’t we make an early night of it?”

  “I won’t give you any argument about that.” Lisette glanced across at me. “Nore, you must be exhausted, you were up so early. Aren’t you about ready to turn in, too?”

  “Not really—” I started to say, but Gabe interrupted me.

  “Why don’t we all call it a night? I’ve got some reading to do. Now that I’ve got a famous author for a stepfather, I need to start reading novels.”

  “I’m going to go up to my room and listen to music,” Josie announced.

  So although I wasn’t feeling the slightest bit sleepy, I found myself leaving the moonlit courtyard with the others. As I mounted the stairs with the rest of the
m, I couldn’t help thinking how strange it was that Gabe and Josie had predicted this early retirement hour.

  We bid one another good night in the upstairs hallway. Dad gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, but his eyes were on Lisette. Then we split forces to head for our respective bedrooms.

  “Don’t go to bed yet,” Josie whispered to me as we walked together down the hall. “I know you’re not any sleepier than I am.”

  “What do you mean?” I asked her. “What else is there to do?”

  “We can go to the club.”

  “Go where?” I regarded her incredulously. “But your mother told us—”

  “Give our parents fifteen minutes, and they’ll be down for the count. Neither will know another thing until morning.” Josie flashed me a mischievous grin. “Go on into your room and wait. I’ll check things out with Gabe and come get you.”

  Too surprised to question her further, I did as directed. Once I was in my room, however, I felt both foolish and bewildered. Was this some sort of joke, or was Josie serious? Did she actually expect to be able to pull off a stunt like this? I sat down on the edge of the bed to await further developments.

  Ten minutes passed—which became fifteen, then twenty, then twenty-two. Then, just as I was making the decision to go to bed and read myself to sleep, there was a light rap on my door. When I opened it, I found Josie standing in the hallway. She was dressed in skintight jeans and a V-neck shirt that hung open to a point halfway down her chest. Her cheeks were bright with blush, and her lashes so lathered with mascara that they adhered to each other to form one solid layer of sediment.

  “Are you ready?” she whispered. “Gabe’s getting the keys out of Maman’s purse. He’s going to meet us out front with the car in a minute.”

  “Oh, Josie, I really don’t know about this,” I said doubtfully. “Your mother did tell us—”

  “Nore, please?” Josie said beseechingly. “Gabe won’t take me out dancing unless you come, too. He doesn’t want to go anyplace like this with only his sister.”

  “You want to go so badly?”

  “It’ll be a blast, Nore!” Josie’s eyes were shining. “They’ve got this great huge video screen and all the latest music. There’s this DJ who’ll play anything you want him to. All the kids from Merveille go there. It’s where all the action is.”

  “How do you know all this?” I asked her. “It wasn’t on that sign we saw.”

  “Dave told me,” Josie said. “You know, Dave, that guy with the roofing company? He said it’s a really cool place. He goes there all the time.”

  “I see,” I said softly, gazing down into her small, hopeful face, so painfully vulnerable beneath its ridiculous clown mask of makeup. I did see—exactly. I had been thirteen once myself. “All right, Jo, I’ll go with you. But just this once. I’m not going to make a habit of sneaking out like this.”

  “Nore, thanks! You’re terrific!” Josie threw her arms around me in an impulsive hug. The embrace was so out of character and took me so by surprise that I was nearly toppled over. “It’ll be fun, you’ll see! We’re going to have a great time!”

  “I hope so,” I said, “because I don’t feel good about this, Josie. I really hope that tonight turns out to be worth it.”

  I’d like to be able to say that my decision was altruistic and I was agreeing to sneak out that night just because of Josie. That’s partially true, of course. I did feel sympathy for my young stepsister; I could remember all too well my own first crush on an inaccessible boy. I have to admit, though, that I had another motive as well. I wanted a date—a real, away-from-Shadow-Grove date—with Gabe Berge. I wanted… well, all right, I’ll come right out and say it—I wanted to spite Lisette. And I wanted to kiss her son.

  So, shivering slightly with nervous anticipation, I crept with Josie into the hall and down the stairs and out into the magic of the flower-scented night.

  Lisette’s Honda was in front of the house with the motor running, and the door on the passenger’s side was standing open. Josie shoved the front seat forward so she could scramble into the back, and Gabe raised a hand from the steering wheel in a gesture of greeting.

  “I knew you’d come!” he said triumphantly as I pushed the seat back into place and climbed in next to him. His face, illuminated by moonlight, seemed to throw off its own strange radiance as though it were lit from within as well as from above.

  “I’ve got to be crazy to be doing this,” I told him, pulling the door closed as carefully as I could in the hope that it would make a click rather than a slamming sound. “If your mother wakes up and checks on us—”

  “She won’t do that,” Josie said. “Maman never wakes up when she’s had the lullaby-time anisette.”

  “She drank anisette last night, too,” I reminded her. “That didn’t make her sleepy. She and my dad were up long past the time I went to bed.”

  “What they drank last night was from the bottle in the pantry,” Josie said. “Tonight Gabe poured their drinks from the bottle in his room.”

  “From his room?” I repeated skeptically. “There are two different bottles?”

  “Josie and I like to refer to them as the ‘regular’ and the ‘lullaby-time,’ ” Gabe said. “One’s for ordinary nights, and one’s for special nights like this one.” There was a note in his voice that made me think he might be smiling, but we were now moving down the shadowy driveway, and I could no longer see the expression on his face.

  When he pulled through the gate out onto the road, however, the moonlight came bursting over us like a silver spotlight.

  Gabe turned to grin across at me. “Well, we made it! Out of the cobwebs of Shadow Grove and into the now!”

  “And off to Danceteria!” crowed Josie.

  “Yes, off to Danceteria!” This was a whole different Gabe from the one I was used to. “Get over here, Nore!” he commanded with mock ferocity. “Tonight we’re going to forget all the ‘stepbrother’ stuff. If you’ve got a boyfriend, I don’t want to know about him.”

  Willingly, I slid across to sit close beside him.

  “I don’t have a boyfriend,” I said. “At least, not anyone serious. The boys I hung out with in Guilderland were just friends.”

  Gabe’s arm slipped down and tightened around my shoulders, and I felt electric currents run all the way through me.

  It was the beginning of a night that I would always remember. It was also, in certain ways, the beginning of the end.

  It was almost ten thirty by the time we got to Merveille. As we cruised through the center of town, the place seemed so empty that I began to wonder if we had made a mistake in coming. There was no one around, and the storefronts on the main street were either totally dark or lit dimly from the back. The only evidence of life were a few cars parked in front of the movie theater and some people munching hamburgers behind the windows of McDonald’s.

  As we approached the dance club, however, the atmosphere changed abruptly. We were still a full block away when the blare of music came rolling down the street to meet us, and when we pulled into the lot at the side of the building, there were so many cars assembled there that Gabe had difficulty finding a parking slot.

  “We close at twelve on weeknights,” the man at the register told us as he accepted our admission fees. “That doesn’t give you much time here.”

  “That’s okay,” Gabe told him. “We really just want to see what the place is like. Next time we’ll get here earlier.”

  “Suit yourself,” the man said with a shrug. “It’s your money.”

  He stamped the back of Gabe’s hand with the date and then did the same to mine. When Josie, in turn, extended her hand, he hesitated.

  “This is for ages fifteen and up, kid,” he said suspiciously. “You don’t look more than twelve to me.”

  “Are you crazy?!” Josie exclaimed indignantly. “I’m fifteen!”

  The man regarded her skeptically. “How about showing me your student ID?”

  “I don
t have one,” Josie said. “I don’t go to school here. I’ve been living in Chicago.”

  “The schools in Chicago don’t give out student ID cards?”

  “Not the school I go to,” Josie told him.

  “I’m her brother,” Gabe interjected. “I’ll vouch for her.”

  “Well, okay,” the man said reluctantly. “But she’s your responsibility. Keep an eye on her.”

  “Nobody has to take care of me,” Josie snapped. “I’ve been to clubs a whole lot wilder than this one.”

  I, myself, couldn’t say the same. Although I’d been to plenty of parties at people’s houses, the crowd I’d run with back in Guilderland had not been in the habit of frequenting clubs, and my year in a restrictive New England boarding school had certainly not provided any such experiences.

  To me, the Danceteria was a new adventure, and within seconds my senses were reeling with the impact of flashing lights and ear-shattering music. The ceiling of the cavernous room was hung with spinning mirrors that threw whirling rainbows down on the gyrating teenagers below it. At the room’s far end, on a huge, rectangular video screen, the images of rock stars writhed and twisted right along with the dancers to the crashing rhythm of recorded sound.

  “Dance with me, Gabe?” Josie pleaded eagerly.

  “Later, kid,” Gabe told her, not unkindly. “This first one’s with Nore.”

  Grabbing my hand, he pulled me out onto the dance floor. For one crazy moment, as people closed in on all sides of us, my mind flew back to Josie’s remark about the fire in the circus tent when she “almost got trampled to death” in a mad stampede. An instant later, however, that thought and all others were forgotten as Gabe’s arm came around me and I gave myself up to the pounding beat of the music.

  Time passed; I don’t know how much. My time sense was overpowered that night by my other senses. The flash of lights and the intensity of sound, combined with the immediacy of Gabe’s presence—the grip of his hands on mine, the heat of his body, the strange sense of intimacy, as though we formed our own private island in a churning human sea—were too overwhelming to allow me to register any further sensations.

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