The ward of castoria, p.12
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       The Ward of Castoria, p.12

           Robin Silverglate

  Chapter 5

  The Strange Walk Home

  Nicole was already behind the counter making a cup of coffee by the time Bryn arrived at work. She checked in with Joan and put on her apron. When she came back into the main room, she asked Nicole how her brother was doing.

  Nicole smiled and said, “He’s had three good days in a row.”

  “That’s great,” exclaimed Bryn. “I’m so glad.”

  “He’s doing so well, that Mom was almost tempted to cancel the tests at the hospital today, but she took him anyway. They just got back right as I was leaving for work.

  “How did it go?”

  “Well, we won’t find out the results for several days. Ryan was pretty upset about all the blood samples that they took. Even though he was mad, I was glad to see him with so much energy. It was like he was his old annoying self again.”

  Bryn smiled and said, “It’s a good sign that his energy is returning. Will you let me know as soon as the test results come in?”

  “Of course,” she said just before she walked over to the register in order to help another customer.

  Bryn worried about her friend’s brother. He used to be a typical, active boy who played basketball in the driveway and was goalie of his soccer team. However, over the past month, whenever she went over to Nicole’s house, it was like she was seeing a different child. His face grew paler with each successive visit and he usually sat on the couch playing video games. Ryan’s illness had been a mystery from the start. Bryn hoped with all her heart that the test results turned out well. She knew from first-hand experience how hard it was to wait for the results to come in. Bryn saw Nicole was trying to act like her usual perky self, but she was not fooled. The tense lines around her friend’s eyes and mouth were a dead giveaway to how she truly felt.

  It was a busy night due to the cold snap that had come through earlier in the day. Everyone leaving the Metro seemed to want to walk home with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. During the short lulls in customer traffic that night, the girls spent their time chatting over inconsequential things because that was what Nicole seemed to want. They discussed movies they both had a desire to see and books they had read. At one point, Nicole asked how it was going with the Evil Stepsisters, but Bryn just blew it off and said, “Don’t worry about it.” Nicole didn’t seem to want to talk about depressing subjects anyway, so Bryn wasn’t surprised when she let it go.

  They began closing up the coffeehouse a little before seven. Nicole left soon after they officially locked the door because she wanted to get home quickly and see if her mom needed any help. Bryn didn’t mind finishing up the rest by herself.

  At precisely seven-thirty, there was a knock at the door. Bryn walked to the door in order to let her father in. Dane and Beck were with him and each carried a shopping bag filled with large textbooks.

  Her father smiled and said, “Beck and I worked late in my office looking over these and he has graciously agreed to help me bring them home so I can do some more work on them tonight. We found Dane nearby and enlisted his help, as well.”

  Bryn pulled the mop out from behind the counter and said, “I’m sorry, but I still have about twenty minutes left. Nicole went home early, so it’s taking longer than usual.”

  “That’s a pity,” said her father. “I really wanted to spend some more time on these books.” Bryn thought that was strange. Her father never complained about waiting for her to finish up at work. He was one of the most patient men she knew. Her father’s eyes widened as he said, “I just had an idea. How about Beck and I take these books home so I can continue my work and Dane can walk you home?”

  “That’s fine with me,” said Bryn who glanced over at Dane. He was staring at his brother with a chastising look on his face. “That is, if Dane isn’t too busy.”

  Dane said, “I can take you home.”

  “Perfect,” said her father. “I’ll see you soon then.” He left the coffeehouse and Beck was close behind him.

  Bryn found herself alone with Dane. An awkward silence permeated the room and she did not know what to do. Finally, she said, “I’m sorry my Dad gets a little overprotective. He doesn’t like me walking home alone in the dark.”

  Dane shrugged and said, “It’s okay.” Then he turned to walk out the door and said, “I’ll just wait outside.”

  “You don’t have to wait outside.” She pulled out a chair for him to sit down. “You can stay in here if you like.”

  “It’s fine,” he said with his hand resting on the door handle. “I don’t want to get in the way.”

  “But it’s cold out there,” she replied. “My dad usually stays in here while I clean up, so you won’t be in the way.”

  He seemed a little conflicted, but eventually said, “I’d prefer to wait outside, thank you.”

  She watched him position himself in front of the door while facing out to the street. It seemed like he was guarding the place. Bryn tried not to overthink the strange behaviors of Dane too much, so she forced herself to go back to cleaning up. When she was done mopping the floor and wiping down the tables, she moved behind the counter to clean the coffee makers. Bryn peeked outside the window to see what Dane was doing and saw that he was blowing warm air into his cupped hands. She rolled her eyes and muttered something to the effect of boys being stubborn. Then she grabbed a disposable cup and got back to work.

  A few minutes later, she braved the chill and opened the door to the outside. Dane turned around to look at her. “All done?”

  “Not yet,” she said through chattering teeth. “I just thought you might like something warm while you are waiting.”

  He thanked her and took the cup. She waited for him to take a sip out of it, but he just turned and continued to stare out into the street.

  “It’s not coffee,” she blurted out. “I know you don’t like coffee so I made you a hot chocolate instead.”

  He turned back to face her with a surprised look on his face. “How did you know I didn’t like the coffee?”

  “It wasn’t that hard to figure out,” Bryn replied. “You barely touched it the other night.” She decided to leave out the part about how he was completely inept with the sugar packets. “I figured I couldn’t go wrong with hot chocolate.”

  He looked dubiously at the cup. “Thanks, I appreciate it.”

  “Well, I guess I’ll go back inside and finish up cleaning. I’ll be done in a few minutes.”

  Dane had already turned back to face the street. “Take your time,” he said over his shoulder.

  Bryn returned to the inherent warmth of the Coffee Grinder. She went straight to the back room in order to pack away a few items. She tried not to think about how weird Dane could be, but in the end, that was all she could think about. When she returned to the front counter, she saw Dane take a cautious sip of the hot chocolate. His eyes widened and he soon took another sip. By the time Bryn was finished cleaning the store, Dane had finished.

  Joan came out front to tell her everything was done and she could go for the evening. Bryn grabbed her jacket and then went outside where Dane was waiting for her. Now that they were beginning the walk home, Bryn did not know what to say to him. While she was grateful Dane had helped her with Kayla this afternoon, she was still embarrassed he had seen her in one of her weaker moments. She did not want to bring up the subject again, but what else could they talk about? Their conversation last night had ended in disagreement and she didn’t even want to think about the first time they met. Every discussion they ever had seemed to end in disaster. She searched for things to talk about and only came up with one relatively safe conversation starter. “Did you do your calculus homework yet?”

  “Yes,” he replied.



  Bryn was getting annoyed at his monosyllabic answers, but she was grasping for straws at this point. “English?”

  “We didn
’t have homework in English tonight.”

  “That’s right,” she said quietly. She decided to give up. If he wanted to talk to her, then he should come up with a subject. She was perfectly content walking home without saying another word. Bryn, however, was unprepared for what Dane finally decided to talk about.

  They had just reached the edge of Fletcher Park when Dane asked in a hushed voice, “Do you see that?”

  Bryn glanced toward the tree in the park where he seemed to be pointing. It was too dark for her to see anything of interest. “No,” said Bryn. “What is it?”

  He said, “It’s a group of bats that are flying around the tree.”

  Bryn looked again, but still did not see anything. “It’s too dark, but I’ll take your word for it. I’d rather not get near those things anyway.”

  “Why not?” He seemed genuinely interested in what her answer would be.

  Bryn thought about it and said, “They freak me out a little. I hate their wings and how you can see their bones through their rubbery skin. They’re just ugly.”

  “I find them kind of cute, actually,” he said with a smile. He pointed to a bat flying near a lamppost. “Do you see that one?”

  “Yes, but I’m not going to change my opinion of it just because I can see it now.” Bryn continued down the sidewalk.

  Dane fell in step beside to her. “I wonder if that bat thinks it’s ugly.”

  Outwardly, she told him she didn’t know, but inwardly, Bryn was wondering where he was going with this strange conversation about bats.

  “It’s like that poem you were talking about in Mrs. Frank’s class yesterday,” continued Dane. “It may look different, but that is nothing to be ashamed of. It just has a different kind of beauty.”

  Bryn was impressed he remembered what she said in class. In fact, those were almost the exact words she had used. “Perhaps you’re right about that. I do not deny the creature to have the right to think it is beautiful. It’s just that I, personally, don’t. From this point on, I’ll keep my opinion to myself when bats are within hearing distance,” Bryn said jokingly.

  But Dane did not find it funny. His face wore a look of frustration. “I don’t think the poem was just about encouraging Blacks to find themselves beautiful and for others to keep their opinions to themselves. I think the poet was also trying to convince everyone to see the beauty of his race. The little bat back there, may look strange to you, but don’t you think if you really looked at it, you might change your mind?”

  “Maybe,” said Bryn. She wondered why they were talking about bats so much, and she wasn’t even sure if they were still discussing bats or if they had moved onto a larger concept all together. One thing she knew for sure was when Dane felt strongly about something, he was very vocal in his defense of it.

  They continued in silence the rest of the way home. The lights were on in both the inside and outside of the house, so she knew her father was home. As Bryn rounded the corner onto her driveway, she saw her neighbor taking out the trash for the morning’s garbage collection.

  “Hi, Mrs. Crocker.” Bryn suspected her neighbor was already wearing her pajamas for the evening and had tried to cover them with her large coat. The pink fuzzy slippers were a dead giveaway.

  “Hello, Bryn,” said the middle-aged woman who looked surprised at being caught in her informal appearance. Curiosity seemed to get the better of her, however, when she asked, “Who’s this young man?”

  Bryn sighed and said, “He’s a friend from school.” Although, she wasn’t quite sure how to explain their relationship, she thought it would be just easier to call him a friend. Mrs. Crocker was such a nosy neighbor. She had to know everything about what they were doing. Her father always called her Mrs. Kravitz because he said she reminded him of the nosy neighbor in an old television show called Bewitched. She really didn’t feel like getting stuck in a conversation with her so she said, “Have a good night, Mrs. Kra…Crocker.” Close one.

  “Goodnight, Bryn,” she said in her nasally voice. She turned to walk back up the driveway toward her house.

  Bryn led Dane up the front porch steps and fished through her pockets for the house keys. It turned out she didn’t need them since Beck opened the front door. He appeared as if he was on the point of leaving. Beck’s ever-present smile greeted them as he said “Hello, Bryn. Your father and I just finished up. Are you ready to go, Dane?”

  Dane nodded and said, “Yes.” He made a small bow toward Bryn and said, “Goodnight. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.”

  Bryn thought the bow was a little on the unusual side. It is such an outdated form of saying goodbye. Looking back, however, she realized Dane bowed a lot. What a strange guy, she thought as she went into her house.

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