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Locked in time, p.7
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       Locked in Time, p.7

           Lois Duncan
 
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  Gabe danced with the grace of a jungle cat, his lithe body surprisingly strong and under perfect control. We were so close in height that our faces were on the same level, and as he spun me away and then brought me whipping back to him, I could see my reflection in the dark twin mirrors of his eyes.

  When the music came to an end, he pulled me to him. For a moment, I was held so tightly against his chest that I could feel the thud of his heartbeat as though it were my own.

  Then, just as abruptly, he released me.

  “You can dance!” he said approvingly. “I mean, really dance!”

  “So—can—you!” I gasped, breathless as much from his nearness as from physical exertion. “Do you see Josie anywhere? We probably shouldn’t have left her so long by herself.”

  “She wasn’t by herself. She was out on the dance floor when we were.” He scanned the milling crowd. “Oh—there she is, over there. She’s latched on to the Incredible Hulk from the roofing company.”

  Following his gaze, I saw a radiant Josie headed toward us, her hand clamped firmly on to the arm of Dave Parlange.

  “Look who I found!” she announced triumphantly as they came up beside us. “We were out there dancing! Did you see us?”

  “Gabe did, but I missed it.” I couldn’t help smiling at the mental picture of such an unlikely combination of dance partners. Dave had to be over six feet tall, and tiny Josie, in her provocative outfit and exotic makeup, looked like nothing so much as a small girl dressed for a costume party.

  “Hi, Dave!” I said. “Have you met Gabe Berge, Josie’s brother?”

  “I don’t think so,” Dave said, extending his hand. “Good to meet you, Gabe.”

  “Same here,” Gabe said with a minimum of enthusiasm. He gave Dave’s hand a perfunctory shake. “I hear that you guys finished up with the roof today.”

  “Finally,” Dave said good-naturedly. “That was one huge job! I’m sure you’re not going to miss all that banging over your heads.” He turned to Josie. “What do you say? Ready for another round?”

  “Oh, yeah!” Josie’s eyes were shining. “See, Nore, wasn’t I right? I told you we’d have a blast here, and Maman won’t ever have to know.”

  “Gabe,” I said, as Josie and Dave moved out of earshot, “I want to know about this ‘lullaby-time’ anisette you gave our parents. It scares me to think of drugging people like that. Are you sure that stuff isn’t going to hurt them?”

  “Of course I’m sure,” Gabe said. “We’ve been doing this for years, Nore. It’s not a prescription drug, it’s just some herbs.”

  “Herbs?” I repeated. “You mean like mint or oregano?”

  “There are plenty of herbs that you’ve probably never heard of,” Gabe said. “Pasote, tartago, xanthan and anamu, for starters. The right combinations can accomplish all sorts of things. The secret is, you have to know how to use them.”

  “Where did you get the herbs for the anisette?” I asked skeptically.

  “From one of the Creole witch girls,” Gabe said with a grin. “A pretty girl, too, but not quite as pretty as you are.”

  “Was she your girlfriend?” I asked, trying to make the question sound casual.

  “I guess you could say that,” Gabe said. “That was a long time ago, though. I don’t remember too much about Felicite, except that she was pretty and lived in a cottage over by the river. She had this herb garden out behind it, and she gave me some cuttings. I planted them at Shadow Grove.”

  “It couldn’t have been that long ago,” I objected. “You’re only seventeen. What did you do, start dating when you were in nursery school?”

  “I was a very precocious child,” Gabe told me blandly. “And—talk about precocious—here comes my baby sister with her muscle-headed roofer friend. The guy looks totally beat, and the song isn’t even over yet. I think Jo’s danced him straight through the floor.”

  “Dave may be big,” I said, “but he’s certainly no muscle-head. He got a scholarship to Harvard.”

  “No kidding!” Gabe said. “Well, I’ve heard that those Ivy League schools like to flaunt their token scholarship students. Maybe they’ve accepted Parlange as their token roofer. If you ask me—”

  He broke off the sentence as Josie came rushing up to us with Dave trailing wearily behind her.

  “Come dance with me, Gabe?” she pleaded, grabbing her brother’s hand. “Dave’s tired, and I’m not, and it’s almost twelve already. This place is going to close in just a few minutes.”

  “And you want to make good use of every one of them, is that it?” Gabe asked teasingly.

  “Yes, of course! It’s a special evening, and Nore’s had her turn!”

  “Go ahead, Gabe,” I said, laughing. “I’m all danced out. I want to see which of the two of you is going to drop first.”

  “It won’t be Josie; you can bet on that,” Dave commented wryly, as we watched her drag Gabe out onto the dance floor. “That little girl’s got more energy than a steam engine. What do you guys feed her—speed à la mode?”

  “Sugar cereal,” I told him, “and gumbo and potato chips. Actually, she’s not always this hyper. She’s just all excited about being here.”

  “She’s a funny kid,” Dave said. “There’s something about her—” The end of his sentence was drowned out by the blare of the music.

  “What do you mean?” I asked him, leaning closer. “Funny how?”

  “I don’t know, exactly,” he said. “I’ve been trying to figure it out. The first day my uncle Phil and I started working at Shadow Grove, she came out to talk to us. She seemed like a nice kid—kind of lonely and at loose ends—I didn’t mind visiting during our lunch break. My sister Marcy’s an eighth grader, so I’m used to girls that age. But Josie would say things—really weird things—”

  “Like what?” I asked.

  “Well, like for instance, she asked me how tall I was. When I told her, she said, ‘My brother would give anything to be six foot one.’ I said, ‘Who knows? Maybe he will be. I grew a full three inches my senior year in high school.’ And Josie said, ‘That won’t happen to poor Gabe. He’s stuck where he is.’ ”

  “She was just being silly,” I said. “I think she says dumb things sometimes just to get attention.”

  “All kids do that,” Dave acknowledged. “Even Marcy does sometimes. But this thing with Josie was different. It was like the statement just sort of popped out without her knowing it was going to. Then, when she realized what she’d said, she got all flustered and tried to make a joke of it.”

  “That is odd,” I admitted.

  “Well, maybe I’m making too much out of it.” He paused, then smiled. “Hey, not to change the subject, but how long are you here for? In the state, I mean, not here at the Danceteria. Is it just for a short visit or for the whole summer?”

  “For the summer,” I said. “It’s a ‘get-acquainted’ visit with my stepfamily.”

  “Then would it be all right if I stopped by sometime when I happen to be in your area? Just to say hi?”

  “That would be nice,” I said. “But when will you ever be ‘out in our area’? According to Josie, Shadow Grove’s a million miles from nowhere.”

  “Maybe I can come up with an errand of some kind to bring me out there,” Dave said. “Josie tells me that you’re having a pool put in. Don’t you think it would be useful to have it roofed over?”

  “It certainly would,” I responded, matching his solemn tone. “I don’t swim, so it wouldn’t help me out very much, but it would keep the others dry if they wanted to swim when it was raining.” Unable to keep up the game, I started to laugh. “Come out if you can. We’d all be glad to see you.”

  Especially Josie, I added silently, picturing her ecstasy if Dave Parlange suddenly appeared on the doorstep. For my own part, I wasn’t too sure. Before I started going out with other people, I wanted to see if what I felt happening between Gabe and me was going to escalate into a full-fledged romance.

  As we had
been warned by the manager, the club closed down exactly at midnight and there was a noisy mass exodus out to the crowded parking lot.

  “See you soon, guys,” Dave said casually as we headed off in opposite directions to locate our cars. The Honda was parked safely where we had left it—it had not, in Cinderella style, turned into a pumpkin—and Gabe, Josie and I piled into it, all three of us suddenly gone quiet, drained and exhausted by the high tempo of the evening.

  It wasn’t until we had left the town of Merveille behind us and were out on the highway that Gabe abruptly zeroed in on Dave’s parting remark. When he did, his reaction was unexpected.

  “What did Parlange mean by ‘see you soon’?” The tone of his voice made the question more of an accusation than a query. “The roof is done. There’s no reason why we should ever have to see that guy again.”

  I was sitting with my eyes closed, relaxed and almost dozing, enjoying the pleasant ache of tired muscles and the soothing rush of soft air as it washed in against my face through the open window.

  “Dave asked me if he could come visit us out at Shadow Grove,” I said drowsily. “I told him that, of course, we’d be happy to see him.”

  “You told him that, without asking the rest of us first?” Gabe’s formerly jubilant mood seemed to have vanished completely. “Don’t you think that was pretty presumptuous of you?”

  “No, I don’t,” I said, surprised and hurt by the question. “I didn’t think I needed permission to ask someone over. Your mother told me herself that I was to consider Shadow Grove my home. In my own home, I should be free to invite the guests I want.”

  “Don’t be silly about this, Gabe,” Josie said, leaning forward in the backseat to add her two cents’ worth. “You know how much I want to see Dave again. If Nore had asked us, I would have said, ‘Yeah! Awesome!’ ”

  “I’m sure you would have,” her brother said. “You’ve got another one of your king-sized crushes, and you’re just not thinking straight. This guy is college-age. You don’t really believe that he’d be coming to see you, do you?”

  “Well, sure,” Josie said. “I’m the one who’s his friend. He barely knows the rest of you.”

  “You’re living in a dream world, Jo,” Gabe said, with what seemed to me an inappropriate show of bitterness. “You should know by this time that this sort of thing can’t work. It hasn’t before, and it won’t now. It won’t in the future either, not in a million years.”

  In a sudden, startling display of unprovoked anger, he slammed his foot down on the accelerator, and the car leapt forward with a jolting burst of speed. With his right foot pressing the gas pedal flat against the floorboard, Gabe gripped the steering wheel tightly with both hands and glared out through the front windshield at the long strip of empty road unwinding ahead of us.

  Sliding low in my seat, I watched nervously as the needle crept higher and higher on the speedometer. Beyond the side windows, the moonlit shapes of trees shot past us at increasing speed until they melded into an indistinguishable blur.

  “Gabe—” I began shakily, unable to believe that this could really be happening. My voice was lost in the rush of wind past the windows.

  “Gabe, slow down!” Josie yelled at the top of her lungs. “You’re scaring me! What are you trying to do, get us all killed?”

  “Why not?” Gabe shouted back at her. “We’ve never died before! It would be an exciting experience, even better than the club!”

  “Don’t joke about things like that!” Josie commanded. “You’re not being funny. Please, slow down! You can’t do this to us!”

  “Oh, can’t I?” Gabe asked matter-of-factly. “You’ve had your night out. That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it? Now, here you are, complaining because I want to have a good time, too. I like to drive fast. It gets the adrenaline flowing. What’s the use of living if you can’t do things you enjoy?”

  “You sound just like Louis!” Josie cried miserably.

  “So maybe I am like Louis, or maybe I’d like to be! Lou had guts! He did things his way and accepted the consequences!”

  “Gabe, stop it! Are you crazy?” I tried to shriek out the words, but my voice had shrunken with terror and the plea that emerged was no more than a strangled whimper. “I don’t know what this is all about—but, please, Gabe—please—”

  At that point, something happened that, I now feel certain, saved our lives that night. The whine of the wind was joined by another, shriller sound—the familiar wail of a siren, growing steadily louder.

  “It’s a police car!” Josie twisted in her seat to look back through the rear window. “Gabe, you’re going to have to pull over! He’s right behind us!”

  “A cop?” Gabe said blankly. “Where did a cop come from? I didn’t think anybody ever patrolled out here by the river.”

  “Thank god you were wrong!” I said, regaining control of my voice as relief surged through me. When I felt the speed of the car beginning to lessen, my terror was replaced by anger. “I hope he fines you a fortune! I hope he—”

  “Do you have your driver’s license with you?” Gabe asked me.

  His voice was calm and pleasant. I turned to stare at him. This was the old Gabe speaking—the Gabe who had walked with me by the pond that morning, who had given me a tour of the slave quarters, who had laughed and joked with me at dinner. The wild-eyed young man of a moment ago had vanished. I couldn’t believe the suddenness of the transformation.

  “Do you?” he prodded.

  “Yes, of course,” I said. “It’s in my wallet.”

  “Then change seats with me when we stop. There’s no time for arguing—” as my mouth popped open in automatic protest. “Don’t worry, I’ll pay for the fine, but you’ve got to help me. If I’m nailed as the driver tonight, there’s going to be hell to pay.”

  “What do you mean?” I asked in bewilderment. “Don’t you have a license?”

  “Not anymore,” Gabe said. “It expired, and there was a problem about renewing it. I’ll explain the whole thing later. Nore, you’ve got to come through for me! I know you’re mad right now, but this is important.”

  The most incredible part of this story is that I did what he commanded. As Gabe brought the car to a rolling stop on the shoulder of the road, I allowed him to haul me across his lap and place me in the driver’s seat. He, himself, slid across to the passenger’s side, so that by the time the officer came up to the car, I was the one who was sitting behind the wheel.

  The police officer was a grandfatherly man with a shock of thick, gray hair and a face well-grooved with smile lines. He wasn’t smiling now.

  “I clocked you at almost ninety,” he told me icily as he watched me fumble through my wallet to locate my license. “Do you see that big tree sticking out in the curve of the road up ahead? Back at the station, we call that Killer Oak. A half-dozen people have lost their lives plowing into that. What were you kids trying to do, commit triple suicide?”

  My mind echoed the question—what had Gabe been trying to do? What possible reason could there have been for his crazy behavior? He hadn’t been drinking; hadn’t taken any drugs; had not even, as far as I could see, had anything happen to him that night that might have made him angry. Obviously, he hadn’t been happy about my inviting Dave over, but that alone should not have evoked such a violent reaction.

  As the officer wrote out a ticket, I glanced surreptitiously at the young man next to me. His head was bent, and his face was lost in shadows.

  I’ll explain the whole thing later, he had assured me. Well, I certainly meant to make him keep his word.

  Although I didn’t know it then, my initial days at Shadow Grove were more important than the sum of the events that filled them. They were my initiation to the strangeness of my new situation and my introduction to the further strangeness that was soon to follow.

  As life settled into place and I became used to the regime there, what had, at first, seemed noteworthy began to seem commonplace to me. There was a re
gular routine to which I quickly became accustomed. I grew used to waking to the rosy light of a Southern dawn and to watching the sunrise fade from two sections of sky. I settled into the routine of taking an early stroll around the grounds, although Gabe was never again going to be a part of such occasions. I would see him, sometimes, engaged in his morning run, and he would smile and wave as he passed me, but he never stopped to talk.

  The truth of it is that during those particular weeks, Gabe didn’t talk to me much at all. It was as though the romantic attraction that had initially flared between us had been killed on that mad drive back from Merveille.

  It wasn’t that he totally stopped speaking to me. The morning after our traumatic evening, he apologized profusely for having been “so dumb and reckless” and for having terrified his sister and me. He paid me the money to cover the fine for speeding and even volunteered to carry the preaddressed envelope the police officer had given me down to the road to hand in person to the mail carrier. Beyond that point, he was polite and pleasant when we were together as a family, but on all other occasions he kept his distance, both physically and emotionally. When I pressed him on the subject of his driver’s license, he was, at once, both vague and seemingly candid.

  “I let it expire while we were living in Chicago,” he told me. “I’m sure that by now you’ve noticed how worried my mother is. She was so uptight about my driving in city traffic that I never got to use the car, so it didn’t seem important to get my license renewed.”

  “You could have had it done in the months since you got back,” I said. “It can’t be that hard.”

  “You wouldn’t think so,” Gabe agreed, “but it’s turned out to be a hassle. I’ve had to send to Baton Rouge for a certified copy of my birth certificate, and for some weird reason, I’m having a hell of a time getting it. The original is there someplace, of course, but there’s some sort of mess-up in the records department, and they can’t seem to find it. They’re doing a search, but, in the meantime, I’m not supposed to drive.”

 
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