Fiction

The Soda Set

Girls are so easy to raise! Their parents just feed them and dress them and love them. But natch!

EVE BURKHARDT December 15 1946
Fiction

The Soda Set

Girls are so easy to raise! Their parents just feed them and dress them and love them. But natch!

EVE BURKHARDT December 15 1946

The Soda Set

Fiction

EVE BURKHARDT

MARGARET was sti1l standing by the phone, a peculiar look on her face. "Who was it?" Richard asked.

“School, wanting to know if Cam is sick. She must have ditched again. Four times in two weeks!” Richard took off his hat and slammed down the brief case he had forgotten earlier and returned home to get.

“This is the end.” He didn’t look like Camilla Drake’s reasonable, easy-going father, he looked like any outraged male whom a daughter hiis humiliated for the last time.

“Yes,” Margaret agreed grimly, “this is the end.” “I’m fed up with the privileges teen-agers are taking for granted. Give them an inch and they’ll take 10 miles—and fast. They think the world spins just for them, they think they’re above laws, something special.” Richard’s voice was harsh. “That comes of giving adolescents an overdose of spotlight.”

He turned abruptly, walked through the hall and up the stairs three at a time. Margaret followed him two at a time because her legs were shorter.

“Richard ! What are you going to do?” For it was certain he was going to do something. She had never seen him so angry.

She was frightened and relieved, too, because any action was better than none at all, the simple inertia of sitting back and hoping that everything would come out all right when both of them had known for a long time that nothing was right and yet had been afraid to say so.

She didn’t ask again what he was going to do, she stood in the doorway of Cam’s room and watched him open the closet, jerk down a blue bathrobe and a raincoat. She saw him open the drawers of the mahogany highboy and finally, from the last one, whip out a pair of pyjamas. The next moment he was striding across the big room.

Margaret moved silently into the hall and he shut the door and locked it. There was a click as he dropped the key into his pocket. The bundle of Cam’s clothes he took into the little sewing room and dumped on the couch.

Downstairs in the library he had the cover off his typewriter and was inserting a sheet of paper when Margaret caught up with him. She looked over his shoulder as he pecked away with two fingers:

“RICHARD AND MARGARET DRAKE vs. CAMILLA DRAKE:

“WHEREAS, Camilla Drake has shown herself to be irresponsible in her conduct and manners toward Richard and Margaret Drake, said Camilla will now and until further notice be forbidden access to her room and her clothes.

“Said Camilla will hereafter occupy the sewing room. Furthermore, she will have no visitors, no allowance, no Christmas presents, and she will be permitted no dates, no telephone calls, incoming or outgoing, no stopping overnight with friends and no attendance at school athletic events.

“As said Camilla’s conduct and manners improve, she will be able to earn back one by one the privileges she has forfeited.”

Richard jerked the paper from the machine. From bis desk he took a pen and signed his name beneath the last paragraph. Then he handed the pen to Margaret.

“You haven’t mentioned Johnny Teague,” she said as she wrote her name under his.

“Johnny is covered fully in Paragraph Two.”

“What fools we’ve been about him, Richard— standing by and letting her go out with him—a boy on suspended sentence.”

“Well, this will be the end of him and the end of us as charming, indulgent parents.”

He fumbled in the top desk drawer for thumbtacks. “We’re going to be just parents from now on. The house is ours, we make the rules, not a smartalecky 15-year-old girl.”

“It’s a declaration of war, dear,” Margaret said softly. “This will make her a heroine with her gang. It won’t be war only against her, it will be against all her crowd. It’ll throw the spotlight on her full blast—”

“For a while,” he interrupted, “until she gets it firmly into her head that she has two bosses, you and me, and we mean what we say.”

“I wish there was another way—”

“Can you think of anything else?”

Margaret shook her head, and he went upstairs and tacked the ultimatum on the locked door of his daughter’s room.

When he had gone to his office Margaret put the cover on the typewriter and sat down wearily. She was pretty and young, only 36, but she felt 90 as

Girls are so easy to raise! Their parents just feed them and dress them and love them. But natch!

she looked at the picture of Cam on Richard’s desk.

She remembered what she had said to him after Cam was born and she thought he was disappointed because he had no son.

“It’ll be easier with a girl, anyway, dear. We won’t have any of the big problems parents have with boys. Girls are so easy to raise. You just feed them and love them and dress them up for parties.”

Yes, so simple that along the way somehow she and Richard had failed. “Be a child with your child, be a girl with her, get into her heart,” the books said. “Live in the same young world with her.”

She and Richard had tried that. Lord knows they had tried, but neither of them fitted into Cam’s young world. It was too young, this bridge from childhood. They didn’t belong there any more than Cam belonged beyond the bridge in their world. They were separate, they could never be one and the same. They weren’t meant to be.

There were deep violet shadows under her brown e3res, and in the last few months she had found some white hairs in her soft brown hair. They matched those that had suddenly appeared on Richard’s temples.

What was it Richard had said about being too charming, too indulgent as parents? Well, he was right. They had been. Trying to reason with Cam when they should have been firm. Yes or no. You can or you can’t. Trying to make themselves believe she had the judgment of an adult when she

was still a child. Doing nothing more than other teen-age parents they knew, which was to look the other way and say, reassuringly: “It’s just a phase the children are going through, like nail biting. It’ll pass—just give them plenty of rope so their egos won’t be stifled.”

Well, Cam’s ego was going to be stifled now. She had run out of rope.

THERE were steps in the hall and Anna stood in the doorway. She was tall and lank and not hesitant about speaking her mind. She had been the Drakes’ housekeeper for a year.

“I read that notice on Cam’s door,” she said. “Mightly legal, but that comes of Mr. Drake bein’ a lawyer and knowin’ how to be legal. And if you ask me, I’d say it’s about time somethin’ was done about Cam.

“If I had the say of her, she’d get a wallopin’ every day, two some days. No girl of mine with as pretty hair as she’s got would put a henna pack on it just to see how it felt to her soul to be a redhead.” Margaret winced. She always did when she thought of Cam’s hair. Until last month it had been natural golden blond. She had made the change without consulting anyone.

“It’s going to be different now,” Margaret murmured.

“I hope so, but you and Mr. Drake are so soft I got my doubts. You’re liable to take that notice down tomorrow.”

“We’re going to see this through, Anna.”

“It ain’t that I don’t like Cam, Mrs. Drake. I can’t help but like her. She’s got a way of gettin’ around you, but she don’t pay no attention to nobody but herself.”

The day was hard for Margaret. She kept listening for Cam, although she knew she wouldn’t be home until late. Three o’clock came, and four. There were a dozen things that needed doing, but she couldn’t do any of them. She would start and then stop because it was impossible to go on.

At five she heard Bud Ewing’s car come down the street. She knew the sound of it too well. The peculiar gasps it made when it turned the corner, the squeak of the tires and a few misses in the motor as it stopped in front of the house.

A jalopy painted bright blue, topless, with Secord High School stickers on the windshield. Piled usually with the gang.

It called for Cam every morning, it brought her home from school or wherever else she had been. A good deal of the time it was parked in the driveway.

She went to the window. Cam and Susie Leighton, Cam’s best friend, were getting out, their skates draped over their books. Bud, Hokie, Jewel and Roggie stayed in the car. v

It lurched away and the two girls came up the walk and onto the porch. Cam’s newly acquired red hair was like a bright flag. Tied around it was a yellow ribbon. She wore a yellow long-sleeved sweater, the sleeves pushed up beyond her elbows, a blue-and-grey plaid wool skirt, a pair of yellow socks and soiled brown-and-white saddle oxfords. The lipstick she had on her mouth jarred with her hair, her blue eyes jarred with it too. Her features were delicate, her face was pretty.

Susie was pretty too. She was dressed the same as Cam except that her sweater was red and her skirt navy blue and white plaid, the ribbon around her brown hair red.

They went into the house and up the stairs, and then the laughter began, peals of it. The house rang with it.

Margaret sat in the library, her nails biting the palms of her hands, waiting for it to stop, but it didn’t. It went on and on until she put her hands over her ears.

She didn’t have to go upstairs to know what they were doing, they were standing in front of the ultimatum on Cam’s door, howling, and they thought it was the funniest thing they had ever seen.

Later the girls came downstairs and Cam went out on the porch with Susie. There was more hilarity, more exciting high merriment.

Margaret was in the hall when Cam came back;

“Oh, Mother!” the girl cried. “How medieval you and Daddy are! But you’re going to get awfully tired of me in this rig, day after day after day. Susie thinks it’s wonderful, we’re going to fix up a communications system like the codes on battleships.”

This is it, Margaret thought. Cam, the big heroine now. The leading lady to her audience. What the next act would be Margaret wasn’t sure, but she thought it might be open rebellion, and dreaded that.

“What about meals?” Cam danced up the stairs. “Do I get them in my cell?”

“There will be a place for you at the table.”

“I prefer the cell, you and Daddy will be so grim. I’ll make it solitary when I’m here.”

The phone rang and Margaret answered. It was Johnny Teague for Continued on page 56

Continued on page 56

Continued from page 21

Cam. She said sharply that Cam couldn’t come to the phone any more when he called, and hung up with a bang.

That should finish Johnny and there would be no more of him or anyone like him again in Cam’s life. A boy she had met in a Westside bowling alley on one of her excursions of her gang around town in the blue jalopy! A boy on suspended sentence from juvenile court for stealing a car!

Susie’s mother dropped in after dinner. She had always gone in heavily for child psychology and was now a member of several teen-age study groups.

“I ran over instead of phoning,” she said, getting right to the point of her visit, “to tell you that you’re making a frightful mistake with Cam. This sudden turnabout will do the child untold harm. A 15-year-old girl is so delicately balanced—”

Margaret quickly interrupted her. “I don’t remember being so delicately balanced when I was 15 that I couldn’t obey my parents, Mrs. Leighton.”

“But these children of ours are different, this is a new age. We want them to express themselves, we want them to be able to take care of themselves later. We train them to be individuals, we want them to have initiative, we can’t kill that.”

“I don’t think the children are any different, Mrs. Leighton,” Richard said, dryly, “but the parents are. They’re too lax, and Mrs. Drake and I don’t propose to be lax any longer. What other parents do doesn’t concern us, we’re working this out our own way.”

Mrs. Leighton wasn’t defeated easily. “Well, I think you’re wrong, and so does Dr. Xavier, adviser of our Fairmont Teen Development Group. You’ve heard of him. I called him about this before I came over. He can handle this problem for you if you let him.”

“I think we’ll be able to manage without a psychiatrist’s help,” Richard said. “All we want Cam to realize is that she lives in a world where adults make the rules, not children.”

Mrs. Leighton rose reluctantly. She looked very unhappy.

“Susie’s going through the same phase as Cam, and I’m not worried. I know it will pass and something else will come up, and I can handle that when it comes if I meet it with my mind, not my emotions.”

Margaret opened the front door, and still Mrs. Leighton hesitated.

“The children are hatching up something—they’re over in our rumpus room now. The whole gang. I don’t know what they’re up to. They resent what you’re doing to Cam.”

“Naturally,” Margaret said. “They don’t want their parents to interfere as we have. They’re afraid.”

“I wouldn’t want to have that gang on my neck,” Mrs. Leighton said as she went out.

THE recriminations came the following afternoon after school. The blue jalopy deposited Cam, who came into the house, but Bud Ewing didn’t drive away. Other jalopies and some very respectable cars parked one after the other up and down the street. Signs appeared from the cars and were shouldered by the boys and girls. The picket line started with 50 in it at first, orderly except for the singing of school songs and the byplay of the long-legged boys.

The pickets marched on the sidewalk from the west property line of the

Drake lawn to the east line where the driveway was. The placards were crudely hand-lettered:

MR. AND MRS. DRAKE UNFAIR TO CAM . . . MR. AND MRS. DRAKE UNFAIR PARENTS . . . GET A NEW MOTHER AND FATHER, CAM.

One boy had a large whip nailed to a sign which read WHY DON’T YOU USE THIS AND BE DONE WITH IT, MR. DRAKE?

When Richard came home at six they were still there. They jeered him as he drove in.

“The little devils!” Margaret cried.

“At least we won’t have to put up with this tomorrow,” he said. “They’ll all be at the hockey game—Secord versus Hamilton.”

Their eyes met. They were thinking the same thoughts, although neither uttered them aloud. Tomorrow was the test. The ultimatum on Cam’s door said no school games. Also Johnny Teague attended Hamilton and the game was on its rink.

Cam didn’t come home from school the following day. At a quarter to six Margaret called Susie who, still hoarse from cheering, had only got in. Yes, Cam had been at the game, they had gone in Bud’s jalopy, but Cam hadn’t come home with them. Johnny Teague had promised her a motorcycle ride. Susie was at once defiant and patronizing.

“She’ll probably breeze in while we’re having dinner,” Margaret said. Her eyes didn’t meet her husband’s. “Shall we go ahead?”

That,was what they did, although neither of them had anything to say or ate very much. Anna tiptoed around the table as if there had been a death in the house.

“She’s no longer the heroine,” Margaret thought. “That is over. This is rebellion, now, straight rebellion. Worse than the other, deadlier.” And she remembered Mrs. Leighton, her disapproving smile, and for a moment, in a panic, she wished that Mrs. Leighton’s pride and joy, Dr. Xavier, was handling the case of Camilla Drake. Only for a moment, though, then she was sane and angry again.

“Tomorrow,” she announced to Richard as they left the table, “I’ll take all her sweaters from her room and send them to the Free Press Santa Claus Collection. And her new striped taffeta formal.”

Richard went to the library and started looking among the T’s in the phone book.

“The Teagues haven’t a phone,” Margaret said, “but I have their address. We could go out there.”

It was five miles across town to Branch Street, where the Teagues lived. A shabby neighborhood even in the darkness. Margaret had been there once, a month ago, when Johnny had first come into Cam’s life. She had passed the weathered little house, seen its crooked sloping front porch and its strip of lawn that was green only in spots.

A woman had been on the porch then, a heavy tired-looking woman with mousy-brown hair and a clean apron about her waist. She didn’t know whether it was Johnny’s mother or not and she didn’t linger to see. There had been some children playing on the sidewalk, two boys about 10 and a girl a little older. One of the boys looked like Johnny, dark with brown eyes and brown hair. It might have been his brother.

He wasn’t the only Teague child, there were four besides him, all boys, one older and the rest younger. That information Margaret hadn’t got from Cam—she had called Hamilton High for it.

The little house was brightly lighted when they stopped in front. Margaret thought perhaps Richard might want to go in alone, but he waited for her to get out of the car.

The little boy she had seen before, the one who looked so much like Johnny, answered the door.

“Is Johnny here?” Richard asked.

The boy looked scared.

“No, he isn’t, an’ my Pa is still out lookin’ for him. It’s terrible. Ma’s almost crazy. He borrowed Mr.

Reese’s motorcycle to take some girl ridin’, an’ he ain’t come back yet. An’ Mr. Reese told him to have the motorcycle back by six, and now he’s goin’ to call the police and report it stolen. An’ they’ll send Johnny to reform school.”

“Who’s that, Joe?” A voice came from the back of the house, a door opened and the heavy-set woman Margaret remembered came quickly into the light.

“Somebody for Johnny,” Joe said.

“Not the police already!” the woman’s face was contorted with fear.

“No, Mrs. Teague,” Richard said, quickly. “I’m Richard Drake and this is Mrs. Drake. We’re trying to locate our daughter. We understand from your boy here that she went riding with Johnny.”

Mrs. Teague’s face changed suddenly, from fear to wrath.

“She’s the cause of it all! It isn’t Johnny’s fault—he’s been so careful not to get into trouble again. T won’t do anything, Ma, any more that’s wrong.’ Time and again he’s said that to me. ‘You don’t have to worry about me any more, ever.’ And here this redhead shows up and he borrows Mr. Reese’s motorcycle and promises to have it back by six. And he means to keep his promise, I know he does. When he says six, he means six. On the dot. But Mr. Reese is impatient, he won’t wait, he knows the trouble Johnny got into last year. He’s going to report it to the police at eight. I can’t get him to wait any longer. I begged and begged him.

“I told him it was the girl had made Johnny forget. Now Johnny’s in trouble again—” Tears rolled down her cheeks and she wiped them away with her apron.

Richard looked at his watch. It was nearly eight o’clock.

“Where is Mr. Reese? I’ll go to see him.”

“Joe, you take Mr. Drake over to the Reeses’,” Mrs. Teague ordered.

Margaret sat down. Mrs. Teague sat down too. Her face was buried in her apron, she was rocking slowly back and forth.

“Maybe my husband will be able to persuade Mr. Reese to wait,” Margaret murmured.

“Mr. Reese hasn’t got any children, he doesn’t know what you have to put up with when you have children. My boys are good, all of them, Johnny the same as the others. It was only that Johnny got into trouble. He was in with a crowd of boys and they stole a car, he wasn’t the leader, and I’m not saying he wasn’t at fault, but he knows what he did was wrong and he’s trying to make up for it.”

“Maybe they had an accident,” Margaret said. The implications of her own words turned her cold.

Mrs. Teague shook her head. “Pa called all the emergency hospitals from the drugstore. Besides, Johnny knows how to drive that motorcycle, he’s a whiz at it.” She dropped her apron and looked at Margaret. “Smart, Johnny is. Gets good grades at Hamilton. He wants to go to college and be an engineer, and now he’ll go to reform school.”

Margaret couldn’t sit still any

longer. She got up and started pacing the floor. From the shabby couch to the radio, back to the couch, over to the door, then to the radio and couch. There wasn’t much room, but walking helped diffuse the hlack pictures that had taken possession of her mind.

Joe came in. He went to his mother. “It’s goin’ to be all right, Ma. Mr. Drake got Mr. Reese to wait till nine. That’s an hour, all the time in the world. Pa and Mr. Drake are goin’ to wait over there.”

Mrs. Teague gave a deep grateful sigh and leaned back. Joe ducked out through the back door.

Margaret kept looking at her watch. The time went so fast! She would scarcely breathe and a few minutes would have gone by. Then at 20 past eight there was the whirr of a motorcycle engine on the street, shattering the silence of the frosty night.

“It’s Johnny!” Mrs. Teague cried, and she started weeping again and laughing too. “It’s my Johnny!”

Margaret sank down on the couch. There was no sound now, but the echo of that motor was still running in her veins. Blessed, blessed motor!

In a little while footsteps were on the porch. The two smaller Teague boys came first, then Johnny, and after him a big broad-shouldered man in a faded blue work shirt.

Johnny went to his mother. “I just forgot the time, Ma. I’ll never do it again.”

The man in the blue shirt looked at Margaret. “Mr. Drake took your daughter right to the car. He said for you to come out there. I’m Johnny’s father.”

Margaret’s knees were shaking when she got up. She didn’t say good-by to Mrs. Teague because the woman ; had only one world now, that of her j son. She slipped outside down the ! steps and to the car where Richard was ^ already in the driver’s seat, Cam beside him. When she got in she felt the girl’s body quivering. Her hands covered her face.

¡ “I didn’t mean to do it—” Cam’s

voice was so low they could hardly hear it. “If I’d thought, I never would have done it, because I wouldn’t get Johnny into trouble for the world. He didn’t want to let me drive the motorcycle myself, but I got on it and ran off with it, and then—”

“And then?” Richard prompted.

“I got so rattled I couldn’t stop it, and finally it stopped of itself and I couldn’t get it started again to get back to Johnny, so I walked and when I found him we went back to where I’d left it, but it was about three miles each way. There was no gas in the tank and neither of us had any money, so we left my watch at a gas station for some fuel. Then we came back here.”

MARGARET opened the car door and got out.

“Johnny told his mother he had forgotten the time. He didn’t tell her it was your fault, as he should have done. Now, Cam, you go in there and tell her what you’ve told us.”

Cam slid out of the seat. They both watched her go up the steps of the little house, ring the bell. In a moment she was swallowed within it.

Richard lighted a cigarette. Margaret got back on the seat and laid her head on his shoulder. His arm went around her and held her tight to him.

“That Reese was a hard customer,” he said. “He was all the juries I’ve ever faced put together.”

“Johnny’s a good boy, Richard. I was wrong about him.”

“We were both wrong about him.” Cam came back in a little while and they drove off in silence. In silence they went into their own house.

As the girl went up the stairs, Margaret noticed that the yellow sweater was streaked with oil and that the bare legs above her socks were smeared and dirty.

Halfway up the stairs, Cam turned. Her lips were trembling.

“I thought it cute yesterday when the gang picketed the house. Now I don’t, I think it was stinking of all of us. I could die when I think of it.”

She stopped suddenly and put her hands on the bannister as if to brace herself.

“I’d like to apologize, if I could,” she went on. “I mean if you’ll let me.” The blue eyes widened, they seemed afraid, and then the fear left and they brightened when her father replied.

“We’ll accept your surrender, but you understand that your belongings do not return to you immediately.”

“I understand. Maybe Christmas Eve I can sleep in my own bed—” She bounded down the stairs and kissed and hugged them both. They were healthy, childish caresses. Like a hungry child, too, she raced into the kitchen and got herself something to eat.

She was the Cam who belonged to them again, Margaret thought. She had lost out, so what? She was going to do what she had to do and she wasn’t going to cry over it.

Later she went upstairs, singing at every step. Margaret followed in a little while. The door of the sewing room was open. Cam was standing in the middle of the floor, looking at the windows.

“Mother?”

“Yes, dear.”

“You know my sweater and skirt are much too filthy to wear to school tomorrow, and even if I wash them now they won’t dry in time. But, Mother, if I could take down those curtains, I could whip myself up a dress—mind you, without cutting them at all. Just basting—”

She jumped up on the couch under the windows and took down the greenand-white checked gingham curtains. Another moment and she had them draped against her with the ruffles over her shoulders and a tape measure from the sewing basket around her waist for a belt.

“See? Could I, Mother?”

Margaret saw something else besides the crisp checks. She saw that for the first time in more than a year Cam had asked permission to do something.

“If you want to,” she said happily. “But it may not be necessary.”