FICTION

But a Girl Can Change

In which Ollie gets stuck, Joe rediscovers his girl and Laura has a date with the most important night of her life

LENORA MATTINGLY WEBER April 1 1944
FICTION

But a Girl Can Change

In which Ollie gets stuck, Joe rediscovers his girl and Laura has a date with the most important night of her life

LENORA MATTINGLY WEBER April 1 1944

But a Girl Can Change

FICTION

In which Ollie gets stuck, Joe rediscovers his girl and Laura has a date with the most important night of her life

LENORA MATTINGLY WEBER

THERE was poor Joe Muth fighting off sleep again. Miss Eyerson, teacher of Second Form Lit., saw his fingers slacken on the small grey book of Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King.” For the three weeks that she had guided the class through Gareth and Lynette, with Gareth riding forth to fight the four dark knights and answering Lynette’s revilings with a “Lead, and I follow,” Joe Muth had followed, floundering and heavy-eyed because of his night job at the Pick-a-rib on Broadway street.

Joe’s head began to nod. Sometimes Miss Eyerson slammed shut a drawer to bring him back to the present and his cramped discomfort in a seat that wasn’t intended for almost six feet. But today she walked toward him and cleared her throat lustily just as Laura Bridwell read the closing lines;

“And he that told the tale in older times Said that Sir Gareth wedded Lyonors,

But he that told it later says Lynette.”

Laura Bridwell added an impetuous, heartfelt, “Oh, J hope he wedded Lynette.” Her brown eyes were tense, beseeching. “Miss Eyerson, don’t you think he wedded Lynette?”

Laura, the unlukewarm ! Miss Eyerson remembered Laura’s first day at Park Collegiate. School had already opened when Laura came in from the prairie country out west. Her nice sturdiness came from the solid fare of hardships and homemade bread and affection. And the winning cocksureness, the 1-knowyou’ll-like-me friendliness of being somebody where she came from. Yes, Laura confided to Miss Eyerson, she had been the only first former on the debating team, and besides she wrote up school items for the Gazette. Something in Miss Eyerson’s heart begged silently, “Stay as you are, child!”

For she was afraid of what the sudden plunge into nonenity would do to a girl from a small, friendly school. Park Collegiate was so big, so cruelly casual, with ils cliques, its ow n Who’s Who. Miss Eyerson had used all her pull to get Laura on the school paper, News and Views; that might ease the plunge a little.

At. first Laura and Joe Muth used to walk into class together. And Miss Eyerson’s smile was a blessing on 1 hern. She wished they had kept on coming in together.

Laura repeated urgently, “Don’t you think Gareth did wed Lynette?”

Miss Eyerson put it to the class. “How do you feel about the ending? Would you like Gareth to choose Lynette, who was so insolent to him at the beginning?” She passed over Joe Muth, giving him time to repossess his limbs and thoughts, and asked the boy behind him. “What is your opinion, Charles?” Miss Eyerson refused to call this 200 pounds of football hero. Tiny.

Behind Tiny Nordlow sprawled Shag Wilson. They wore football sweaters with letters emblazoned as boldly as numbers on fighter planes. They were the football royalty of Park Collegiate and why shouldn’t every knee how to them — even the tired, stiff knees of a Lit. teacher? And why should they he bored by this fellow Tennyson and his maunderings about jousts and Holy Grails?

Tiny looked at her with logy disinterest. “Which one did he wed?—Oh, I t hought she died.” Wonderful Tiny, thought Miss Eyerson, somewhere in your befogged mind lingers a faint hang-over of Elaine, the Lily iMaid of Astolat. She passed on to Shag Wilson quickly before the class had time to fully relish Tiny’s remark. “And what is your opinion?”

She shouldn’t have asked Shag. Ask for a thought and you got a wisecrack. He had to play to the grandstand. He shrugged, “Lyonors—Lynette? Let’s call t he w’hole thing off.”

The one whose laugh led all the rest was Beverly Smith —Rev, to all but her teaehers. But then every sound, every move Beverly made was in italics. She didn't turn in her seat; she flounced. When she said, “Oh,” her lips, her eyes, her whole body said “Oh.” She was wire-taut, bright-eyed, tricky and evasive as a squirrel.

So it troubled the teacher to see Laura, bewildered, hurt at being left out, turn beglamoured eyes to Beverly. Miss Everson longed to warn her, “You won’t get in things any sooner by copying Beverly. Bev just thinks she knows the shortcuts to popularity.” But would a lo-vear-old heed; wouldn’t it seem as archaic as Tennyson insisting, “And God fulfills Himself in many ways”?

The class was still laughing at Shag's witticism. Joe Muth took over. His innate courtesy resented their ridiculing Miss Eyerson and Tennyson. He said matter-of-factly, “I hope Gareth didn’t wed Lynette. I hope he gave her the go-by. She was nasty and stuck-up ...”

“Oh, no. Just at first she was,” Laura cried out. “But people change so. I mean when people are awful sorry they change—”

1AURA knew. Because she was a different Laura À Bridwell from the one who sat in this seat last Friday. That Laura would have laughed at Shag Wilson as loud as Beverly. Yes, it was just about this time last week that she couldn’t even follow Gareth and Lynette for queasy, slithering excitement inside her. Bev had slipped her a note, “We’re going to stop at the football field—so you let on you’re getting a story for News and Views, because you know how that old coach is—and watch me get dates with Tiny and Shag.”

Wonderful, wonderful Bev! She knew how to do the spade work for getting out of the Deckswabber class and into the Babes. At Park you were one or the other. The Deckswabbers trimmed the floats for the All-School parade and got pricked fingers and the Babes rode on them and got their pictures taken. The Deckswabbers hunted around for cornstalks and pumpkins to trim the gym for the Hallowe’en dance -and then the Babes got all the dances. It was all in the way you got started, Bev said. But once a girl got a date with a Who’s Who at school—preferably a football warrior—why she was a Babe.

Smart Bev! If it hadn’t been for Bev, Laura would have kept on thinking she was lucky to have that grubby Deckswabbing job on News and Views. “Why should you sweat out adjectives to describe the wonderful time the Babes have at parties?” Bev said.

But now—dates with Shag and Tiny. Salvation! From Deckswabbers to Babes!

That was at three. Jt was after five when Laura and Rev went hurrying home through the November dusk. They had failed. The slushy snow pushed over Laura’s brogues; the sharp wind edged under her reversible with its two buttons off. But that was nothing to the roily chill inside her. They had come so close. Bev said that in another minute she’d have been saying, “Okay, we’ll meet you at Stadium Inn tonight. Or maybe the Slimy Spoon.” But just then the coach ordered, “On your way, girls.”

Along with the heaviness of failure was the cheekburning shame of being ordered on. It helped to have Bev say, “That old Himmler of a coach—Pouff!” and make a face as though castor oil were trickling down her throat.

And Bev was such a conniver! She could rise above the slapped feeling of failure. She was saying, “If we just had some inducement for them. I mean like a party. But I can’t count on my father to help. He practically dedicates his life to keeping me from having fun.”

And as they hurried home Bev had to work out an airtight alibi as to her lateness. Her life was a constant game of wits between her and her father. If he knew she had stopped at the football lot!

Laura thought, I could tell Mother anything and she’d believe me. In Tennyson when they read about the knight called the Pure in Heart she had thought of Mother. But it wasn’t fun slipping something over on a parent like that. Her mother would be off her job at the defense plant at four. But she wouldn’t reproach Laura if she wasn’t there. She’d go ahead and star!, supper herself.

It was dusk when Laura left Bev and walked around their side of the two-family house to the light in the kitchen. Joe Muth’s family lived in the other side.

Her little brother, Ollie, with the agility of eight and a half, bounced off the kitchen table as though he had springs in his seat and hurled himself and the news of the day at her. “Lookit,” he was holding a coin. “I got the money to go to the Jupiter tonight—it’s Friday night—it’s ‘Lucky Jordon’—and if you go with me Mom can go up to see Newell in the Army. She’s making him cream puffsMrs. Jones sent in some cream and a turkey all smoked and cooked and everything for Mom to take in her lunch box.”

Laura tried to shut the door behind her but Joe Muth was holding it partly open. He was hunkered

down on the floor, measuring the doorframe. Ollie explained this, too, “He’s going to weather-strip it— they hud some left from putting it on their door—if it’s enough he’s going to, huh, Joe?”

Imagine people being excited about going (o the Jupiter, or filling cream puffs for your son in the Army, or ureather-stripping a door!

Joe said, “I think we can stretch it. Don’t step on these tacks till I come back.”

When Laura and Mother and Ollie had first come ..into the city it was Joe who took them to the grocery in his rackety car. Joe planted the tulip bulbs Mother brought in. It had been fun at first, having Joe playing “I Got It” with them on Sunday evening when he didn’t work or taking them all to the Jupe. But when Laura said to Bev, “Don’t you think Joe’s nice?” Bev had held her nose. “Oh, heavens, that gruesome son of nature!”

Mother looked up from the cream puffs she was filling. “Oh, Laura sweet, I’m glad you’ve come. I wanted to ask you about my going up to see Newell.” »Some friends of Mother’s were driving to Shilo and had offered to take her to see her second son. Her oldest boy, Martie, was already across. Mother said, “Tomorrow is my day off and then I’ll get back the next day in time for me to go to work at midnight. I could have all tomorrow with Newell.” Yet she put it all as a worried, wistful question. “But it’s Ollie—I don’t know whether I ought to go off and leave Ollie ...”

The kitchen suddenly took on a fourth presence. Ollie started his nervous coughing. They felt Uncle Oliver, for whom Ollie was named, and who wanted to take Ollie, standing there grimly insistent. He was saying to Mother, “1 don’t know why you stand in the boy’s light. No woman working the hours you do can look after a child properly. I can give him all the ad vantages he’s entitled to.”

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Uncle Oliver was active in a chapter of the Children’s Aid Society which worked hand and glove with the police in investigating cases of neglected children. Their slogan was of Uncle Oliver’s coinage, “A neglected child is a delinquent child.”

Mother had answered whitely, “They’ve promised me daytime hours later on. And Laura is here ...” But she knew that was her weakest argument with Uncle Oliver. Because Laura had failed her twice.

There was the day Laura had taken Ollie down to buy him shoes the day of the All-School parade and she wanted to see the chrysanthemum float she had worked on. If only Ollie had waited for her where she told him to! But, being strange in the city, he’d gotten panicky and hysterical. Someone called a policeman. It didn’t take long for Uncle Oliver to get down to the police station on the run.

And, as though that wasn’t enough, there was that Saturday when Bev and Laura washed their hair and they had to go to every store in their part of town to find some bobby pins. Uncle Oliver and his wife would take that very time to come out! Just when Ollie, frying some sausage for himself, burned his hand and caught the cupboard curtains on fire.

Uncle Oliver would hardly take Mother’s no for an answer. He wouldn’t listen to Mother saying that Ollie wouldn’t be happy with him. And at the door he made his threat about taking it to court if there was one more instance of neglect. Mother said

staunchly, “There won’t be.” Laura wished she had turned on her in lashing reproach. But she only pulled them both close to her and laughed shakily. “Imagine Martie and Newell coming home and no Ollie to spill things on their uniforms.”

So now Laura’s own guilt made her say with loud confidence, “Of course Ollie will be all right. You go to see Newell. You know what he said in his last letter about being shipped out.” That turned the scales. Mother’s face took on a bright frosting of eagerness. It was only her eyes that were honest about her tiredness and her troubles— her smile never was.

She pulled off her apron with the jerkiness of excitement. She had on the black pin-striped suit she got when Father died. Though Mother wasn’t the suit type. The kick pleat in the skirt that should be in the front was always around at the side and Ollie was constantly reminding her about her shirttail, “It’s out in back, Mom.” Mother said, “Then you won’t mind taking Ollie to the Jupiter tonight? 1 was afraid maybe you’d have a date.” “Date!” Laura flung out bitterly. “Not at Park Collegiate. I’m just one of the forgotten girls.”

Mother’s very look reached out and stroked her tenderly. “Oh, Lambie, Lambie! . . . but you’re on the staff of —what’s the name of it now?”

“News and Views,” Laura said flatly. “But what fun is there in being a Deckswabber? And digging up news about parties where the Babes have all the aura?”

Mother looked mystified. But she came close and said, “Don’t worry about making friends, honey. Just

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like out at at the plant; at first everyone seemed so strange, but already I’ve made a few friends. We’ll soon have as many as we did at home.”

Laura looked at her mother and thought, “I suppose you’ve known a certain sorrow what with Dad dying from a tractor turning over with him, and the two boys going off to war, and losing our farm because of Father being a year in the hospital, and now having to work those goofy hours at the plant, and Uncle Oliver nagging at your heels to take Ollie, but you’ve never known that awful mashed-eggshell feeling inside and having to pretend you like serving punch at a party to the Babes coming up with partners. It’s a living death.

No, Mother was just naive. Like her always referring to Bev as “poor little Beverly.” And Bev with a closet full of clothes, bigger than the bathroom here at home. Bev got along.

Joe Muth came in the back door. His pockets bulged with hammer and scissors and rolls of felt stripping. “Plug up your ears,” he warned. “I’m starting to pound.”

Mother looked at Joe and her face lighted. “Joe, why couldn’t you eat supper over here with the kids tonight? There’s that smoked turkey our old neighbor at home sent up, and I’ll leave out a cream puff apiece for you. I’ve already put some scalloped potatoes in the oven. Then you could all go down to the show together—on your way to work, Joe.”

Laura could only look at her mother. Oh, Mother, you poor, blundering soul, thinking that you can cure this canker of bitterness inside me by having old Joe Muth eating supper with us after he finishes the weather stripping!

Sure, Joe grinned, he’d accept with pleasure.

To make it worse Bev came bolting in the side door and Mother went right on in her happy, all-out-way, “Beverly, why couldn’t you come, too—and you can all have sort of a party — and all go down to the show?”

Behind Mother, Bev made her castor-oil face hut she said sweetly, “Oh — but wonderful,” and asked Mother if she would telephone her father. Mother hurried right in to do it while Laura put the cream puffs in a box for Newell. Mother reported that Bev’s father, evidently relieved at one evening without worry, said Beverly could have his car to take them all to the show.

Then there was the final flurry of the folks honking outside, and Mother hunting the snapshots to show Newell, and Joe stopping his pounding to see that she got into her heavy coat, and mother kissing them good-by and telling Laura about the new cough medicine for Ollie, and Ollie saying, “Poke it in at the sides, Mom.” Mother turned back at the door to say, “Lambie, you will look after Ollie?” She laughed apologetically, “I feel like the mama pig going off to town and warning them all not to let the old wolf in.”

THE car had barely started when Bev banged the front door shut and gurgled joyfully, “She forgot the cream puffs! Laura, this is our chance—just heaven-sent!” She was already dialing a number on the telephone. “I’ll lure Shag and Tiny over. I’ll tell them about the smoked turkey all roasted and ready to tear into—and all the cream puffs they can eat.”

Laura’s heart that was high and slithery gave a sober second to thinking of Mother’s disappointment — and Newell’s—over the forgotten cream puffs.

Tiny and Shag said they’d come

running, just as soon as Tiny did something to his football knee. Laura could have Shag, Bev said, when they went dancing.

Laura’s thoughts were a delirious jumble: It’s really true—we’re going

out with two of the Football Fevers, two of Park’s Dream boats. If only

our dining table wasn’t so big and farmerish—maybe I can find our blue candles. Oh, 1 wish my yellow sweater was clean !

It was Joe’s pounding that reminded Laura that Joe must be eased out of the picture. He said as she came into the kitchen, “Now see if the door will shut easy. Say, I don’t think we ought to eat your mother’s turkey!”

Laura said, “Look, Joe—about your staying to supper—well, Bev had already asked a couple of friends and so . . .”

Joe was down on his knees gathering up the short, sharp nails. He sat back on his haunches. Now Tiny and Shag had that slouchy, Bing Crosby way of dressing, but Joe Muth was just shabby. He said, “You mean the minute your mother shut the front door Bev and you ran down a couple of fellows? But what about Ollie? Your mother’s expecting you to take care of Ollie.”

“I don’t need your help to take care of Ollie.”

“You don’t need Bev’s either,” he said shortly. “I’ve known her since she was so-big and she takes care of Bev.” “Bev’s the best friend a girl ever had,” Laura defended hotly.

“That’s what you think. When you first came in you were almost as nice as your mother. And you made a good start at school till you took up with Bev. Honest, Laura, can’t you see that the fellows make a fool out of her?” Laura choked on her rage. She tried to bang the newly weatherstripped door shut on him. But Joe held it open long enough to say, “Let me tell you something! Your mother left Ollie with you to look after—and you look after him, d’you hear?” Then he closed it.

ALL THE furore of getting supper Jr\. ready for royalty. Laura lighting the blue candles with unsteady fingers. Then Shag and Tiny were so long coming she blew them out, and forgot to light them again. She used her mother’s best dishes and they didn’t seem good enough. Coffee, of course. The whole turkey on the table.

Then they were there in loud rollicking person. “Bring on the bird,” they shouted. It amazed Laura to see how the others ate ravenously when she was stuffed with high elation. They broke one of Mother’s wedding cups. And through it all that continuous grisly refrain from Ollie, “We oughta start to the Jupe.” He varied it now and then, “Why don’t you make them eat some potatoes instead of just turkey?”

When finally supper was over and the girls were putting on lipstick, Laura said, “Bev, couldn’t we all go to the show and take Ollie on account of all this hullabaloo about little kids being out alone?” She was feeling Uncle Oliver’s dark menace.

Bev whirled from the mirror. “I never heard of anything so nauseating! After all he isn’t your kid, is he? You didn’t have him, did you?”

Laura motioned Ollie into his bedroom. “Ollie,” she pleaded, “I’ll take you to the show tomorrow night.”

“ ‘Lucky Jordon’s’ on tonight.” “Ollie,” she begged, “this is the most important night in my life.”

“Mother said I could go see ‘Lucky Jordon.’ ”

“Then you can go alone. After all you’re almost, nine. It’s good for boys to rely on themselves.” She found his

sweater. The cold wind had risen but she couldn’t find his ear muffs. Finding Ollie’s ear muffs took a psychic concentration that she couldn’t manage— not with this lighter-than-air ecstasy inside her. Ollie set out for the show.

It was late when they reached Stadium Inn. That was the way it should be, Bev said, so the gang would be there. Nervously off kev, Laura hummed each dance tune. But her heart was imploring, “Think I’m cute, Shag—take me on.” For tonight, in this din and crowd, was the turning point in her life.

She didn’t know whether they had danced one hour or two, with intermissions where they flopped down panting to half-full glasses of warm root beer, when she was dancing with great big Tiny and suddenly the football coach loomed beside them. He laid a heavy hand on Tiny’s arm and said briefly, “I told you bed at nine with an alcohol pack on your knee. Come on with me.”

Tiny went meekly. He took time only to mutter to Laura, “Tell Bev and Shag my mind was made up for me.”

It was after that that Bev decided to go over to the Slimy Spoon. Pouff— this was a flop! There’d be a better gang over there.

They were on their way there when part of that cold, unhappy chunk inside Laura separated into worry over Ollie. But, of course, Ollie was back from the chow and home in bed. The rest of the chunk was a queer doubt about this thing called fun. She felt tired and — inadequate. She had never worked so hard trying to be on the beam. You had to think fast to come back with the right wisecrack. When Shag would start dancing, he’d say, “Give, gal— with the number sevens!” and she’d have to snap her fingers and say, “Seven—come 11!” You had to know just when to say, “Something new has been added,” and “It’ll lead to bloodshed.” Her head ached from widening her eyes and making noises in her throat like Bev. Her toes, that had been frostbitten last winter, burned in pumps that were too short.

She said timidly to Bev who was driving her father’s car, “1 think I’d better stop just to see if Ollie is all right.”

They weren’t very nice about stopping, though Laura assured them she’d be only a split second running in and looking.

She knew when she opened the front door that Ollie wasn’t home. Maybe it was that lone cream puff, that somehow had been overlooked, on the table; Ollie would never have left it there. She knew even before the smooth neatness of his blanket spread mocked lier. Mother’s alarm clock said 12.30. She ran out the back and knocked at Muth’s back door. Mrs. Muth opened it while she worked with the zipper on her housecoat. “Why no, we haven’t seen Ollie.”

“Maybe he’s still at the show,” Laura chattered.

“Oh, no—no, not at the Jupe. It closes at 11.15.”

At Laura’s insistence Bev drove on to the theatre.

They found the Jupiter dark—the tailor shop next to it and the bakery next to that were also dark and closed for the night. The sidewalks were deserted. Empty popcorn sacks, torn and bedraggled, blew over trampled peanut hulls.

The Jupiter had heavy doors padlocked across the front of the lobby so that one couldn’t even get to the main entrance of the theatre. They went around by the alley. Laura remembered a side door that used to stand open on hot days, and they

stumbled over paint buckets and scaffolding to reach it.

Shag tried the door, rattling its knob, kicking at it and yelling, “Anybody home?” and laughing. But Laura put her lips close to the keyhole and her voice was shrill with panic, “Ollie Ollie—OI!u>, are you in there?” It seemed a long time before she heard him answer. She leaned limply against the doorframe. “He’s in there,” she choked.

Shag said, “That’s simple. All we have to do is notify the police and they’ll come up and let him out. They’ll even take him home.”

The police! No criminal ever cringed in more terror at the mention of police than did Laura. The police and Uncle Oliver! Uncle Oliver would come swooping down on them. “Oh, no,” she breathed out. “We can’t get the police because Uncle Oliver ...”

But they weren’t interested in Uncle Oliver. Shag was mumbling did she expect him to break down that two-ton door with his bare hands. Bev said, “Don’t be stupid, Laura. My gosh, once that little Auterback girl got shut up in there and she had hysterics. You’ve got to get the police and get him out. You don’t expect us all to just stand around and brood, do you?” “Time’s awastin’,” Shag said.

Bev added something about wanting to get to the Slimy Spoon before it closed. Fury, like a zigzag of white lightning, streaked through Laura. What did they care about Ollie being shut up in there, or that terror and remorse were making her sick? She turned on them in fury, “Go on and dance then! Goon—goon ...”

Fury that was self-lashing. She hated them but she hated herself more. For letting Bev sneer at Mother when she had openhandedly planned the party with the smoked turkey Mrs. Jones had sent for Mother’s lunches. Why hadn’t she told those gluttonous lugs to leave some for her? And Bev letting Mother forget Newell’s cream puffs! She hated herself for fawning and laughing at Shag when there wasn’t anything to laugh at that bullshouldered, pimple-chinned Dreamboat of Park Collegiate. She turned on them and shoved them, and thumped at their backs with her frantic fist. “Get out of here go on—you clods!”

RUT when they were gone her fury went with them, and she slumped against the door and sobbed. Ollie yelled through the keyhole, “Don’t cry, Lambie. I don’t mind it in here — not very much . . . ”

Her own sins had found her out. She couldn’t leave Ollie in that cold, pitch-black hole all night. She could hear him coughing. She’d have to call the police . . . Oh, Ollie and Mother, I’ve betrayed you both. I opened the door wide and let the wolf in.

She was stumbling around the corner of the Jupiter when she bumped into someone. It was Joe Muth and he said, “He’s in there, huh?” and when she nodded, sobbing, he said, “I figured he was when Mother telephoned me. The last time I took him I had to shake him awake when it was over.”

Laura said lumpily, “1 guess you know about Uncle Oliver and what it’d mean if we called the police?”

“Sure. That’s why I came.” He lit some matches in the dark alley between the brick walls of the Jupiter and the tailor shop next to it. He lifted one small gleam of match and * revealed an oval-shaped window high over their heads. He put his mouth to the keyhole and yelled, “Hey, Ollie — Ollie—this is Joe. Now listen! You know that place marked ‘Gentlemen.’ You go in there and climb clear up on

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the tank and see if you can’t reach the window and push hard on it till it opens. It pushes out. There’s a pipe you can hang onto and shinny up the wall.” He added to Laura, “When we were kids if one had a pass he’d go in there and drop it out to the other one.”

Ollie answered faintly, “Okay, Joe.”

Joe found an ash can and put it under the window and stood on it, but the ash can and Joe’s almost six feet couldn’t reach the window. They waited what seemed a dark, listening eternity before they heard a scuffling on the other side. Then some thumping at the window and it was pushed out a little. Joe lit another match and its poor light showed Ollie’s fingers gripping the iron edge of the window. The oval-shaped glass was hinged in the middle and edged with metal.

The match lasted long enough for Laura to see the fingers lose their grip; she could even feel the scraping of arms and knees as she heard the thump inside. After a long wait, and more scuffling sounds and Laura’s own fingers gripping with his, again his fingers scrabbled at the window’s edge. This time his hair showed. Nothing had ever seemed so beautiful as Joe’s match light barely touching Ollie’s mop of straw-colored hair.

Joe was teetering on the ash can. “That’s the stuff, kid—come on now! Squirm out the window and drop and I’ll catch you. Laura, hold this cussed ash can steadier, can’t you?”

Ollie got his head out. She could see his sweater all scuffed and chalky from rubbing against the rough plaster wall. She was grunting hard with him and Joe was saying, “Thataboy!” when suddenly the window dropped back in place with a loud clonk on Ollie’s head. Ollie’s limp weight wavered in the window a few seconds as though it could drop inside as easily as outside. Joe lunged upward and grabbed at him. They both fell, with Joe holding onto Ollie.

Laura ran and took Ollie in her arms. “Ollie,” she sobbed, “Ollie—Ollie. .

But he didn’t answer. Joe lit another match and his fingers shook it out.

They felt the lump on Ollie’s head where the window had banged him. “Ollie.” she kept moaning, “Oh -Ollie, say something!” But he was a dead weight in her arms. Remorse, like a physical pain, shook and racked her.

Joe shook her gruffly, “Stop howling, so I can hear if he’s breathing.” And then Ollie mumbled out something and began squirming to get out of her arms and onto his feet. Joe said, “Here, I’ll take him. We got to get a move on. I’ll run you home, then I got to tear on back to the Pick-a-rib.”

At home, while Joe put salve on Ollie’s goose egg and on his bruised knees, and gave him that remaining cream puff, and laughed as he wiped some cream bff Ollie’s eyebrow, Laura was worshipping a new hero. She touched Joe’s arm as he started out the front door. “Joe, I’ll never forget your helping me.”

“All I was thinking about was Ollie and your mother. They’re pretty swell. 1 wasn’t going to have Uncle Oliver getting the best of them.”

She wasn’t in the picture. She’d rather he had said, “Uh-huh, it serves you right!” She closed the door on the ache of wanting Joe to think about her —as well as her mother and Ollie. The ache of wanting Joe to know she had changed.

IN MISS EYERSON’S Lit. class Laura went on with the vehement insistence of one pleading a case, “Lynette changed. I know she did. She came to the palace and she was blinded by her hero-worship of Sir Lancelot.” Miss Eyerson had the queer feeling that the whole restless class, even the Lit. teacher had faded out of the room. Only Laura and Joe were there. “And then she saw how—how wonderful Gareth was. She asked him to ride by her side. Because she loved him.” Miss Eyerson felt her heart contract with wanting Joe to make the right answer. He looked at Laura with his smile that was shy enough to be nice. “I guess you’re right. 1 guess maybe she did change. I never thought of that.”