Fiction

UNWANTED GUEST

PAUL ERNST September 1 1950
Fiction

UNWANTED GUEST

PAUL ERNST September 1 1950

UNWANTED GUEST

Laughter can hurt a woman of almost 17. Why should she suffer the taunts of friends because her house guest was the original white woman’s burden with Adam’s apple and protruding ears?

Fiction

PAUL ERNST

THE greeting was about what Anne had expected. The car drove up and whirled around the circular drive with a great squealing of gravel and tires and with the horn blowing like crazy in the August heat; and dad and mother came out of the house with big smiles and open arms, and Harvey and Glory swooped out of the car and were swooped upon. They looked the way a regulation bride and groom ought to look, though strictly speaking they weren’t bride and groom any more since they’d had their honeymoon and had been two weeks now in their new apartment. “Harvey!” said Anne’s mother, kissing her son-in-law’s bony cheek just under his prominent ear. “Glory!” said Anne’s father, kissing his daughter. There were more back pattings and hand shakings, and then Glory lifted her eyebrows at the girl she was pleased to call her kid sister and she said, “What’s up, Anne? Don’t you love us any more?” With all the commotion died down so a person could be reasonably dignified, Anne kissed her sister and held out her hand to her new brother-in-law. But though she hoped for the best, she feared the worst. It came. Harvey laughed and put his arms around her and lifted her up and kissed her. “Don’t ice me, youngling,” he said, spanking her gently as he set her down again. And then everybody went into the house, with dad and Harvey carrying the bags, and Anne went, seething, to the summerhouse. Continued on page 41

Continued on page 41

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She could not understand her supposedly intelligent sister, Glory. She could not understand her parents. She could not understand the way everyone made a fuss over this Harvey person. For goodness sake, all you had to do was look at Harvey and wonder why Glory had married him. A droop with freckles on his neck, and the neck sort of reddish the way it is with men who have freckles and sandy-reddish hair, and sandy hair on the backs of his hands, and ears that stuck out, and a cowlick all the time. What had ailed Glory?

Alone in the summerhouse, Anne pensively constructed again the kind of man she’d fall for when she was ready to marry—though she was practically ready right now, since she was practically 17. It certainly would not be anyone like Harvey Miller. Not that she thought all there was to a man was looks, but you didn’t have to pick a boy with an Adam’s apple out to here and bones like the pipe racks they hang sales suits on.

No, her man would be tall and smooth and dark . . .

“Anne!” her mother called.

For a moment Anne considered rebelling and just lurking on here out of sight in the summerhouse. After all, she was 17, about. People got married at 17. Even 16. Even 15 . . .

She got up. Her father was a managerial-looking person but underneath his iron glove was mush and she could do about as she pleased with him. But mother, small and mild appearing, was someone you found yourself obeying.

AS SHE went slowly to answer her mother’s call, she was still seething. Honestly, that Harvey would make anybody seethe. What would people think of anyone that gawky? What would Miggs think? And what had possessed Glory to . . .

“Darling,” Mrs. Kittner said, “you can’t go off like this with Harvey and Glory just in for the week end.”

“Looked like there was enough attention for ’em without mine,” said

“You aren’t jealous of your sister or something psychiatric like that? A big grown girl like you?”

If her mother knew! thought Anne darkly. Jealous? Of anyone owning that red-headed bone-pile?

“Go on upstairs, now. Glory’s asking for you. She is surprised, naturally, at the way you’re acting.”

Anne went slowly to the stairs, past the living room door from which came Harvey’s somewhat nasal voice and her father’s friendly one. Everybody seemed to get very friendly vith Harvey

in a very short time, perhaps because they were sorry he was so unglamorouslooking. Though Anne really wouldn’t have minded this if he’d been somebody else’s sister’s man. Glory, with her violet-grey eyes and chestnut waves and eye-stopping figure deserved something better.

She went into Gloria’s old room, and there was Glory in pants and bra with her swim suit hanging nearby. Glory smiled at her like lights through mist, and Anne went to her and kissed her in compassion because she was so blind, and Glory said, “What’s up, infant? Why the brushofif?”

“No brushofif,” Anne said. “I was just going down to the beach. Thought maybe Miggs Blanchard would be

“So it’s no brushofif,” Glory said, forgiving her with a hug. She looked so happy she was all rosy with it, and Anne tried hard to give Harvey his due, she really did. After all, he shouldn’t be held responsible for what his parents had done to him, and he must have something because Glory had met him and been swept off her feet by him in about six weeks. “What’s new? Seems as if we’ve been away a year.”

“Ten days at Niagara Falls,” said Anne, wincing. The comical things Miggs had found to say about that! “Two weeks in town. That’s no year.” “Time doesn’t go by minutes,” said Glory, stepping into her swim suit. Golly, she was pretty. Even a sister could recognize that. While Harvey . . .

With the scrap of suit on, Glory sighed and stretched. “I hope,” she said, in a dizzy way, “that some time you’ll be as happy as I am.”

Anne humored her. What else is there to do when a formerly sane older sister goes queer in the head? “You like, huh?”

“What do you think? But then he’s so nice. And so nice-looking.”

“Nice-looking! Harvey?” Anne couldn’t help it. It came from her incredulous lips in a sort of small explosion. Then she was sorry, but Glory didn’t seem put out.

“He isn’t quite Apollo, but he’s the . . . he’s . . . Oh, run along, you baby. And tell Harvey to hurry. I’ve been loc 'ing forward to this swim.” Harvey was coming up the stairs when Anne started down them. “Hi, half-pint,” he said cheerily, not knowing that this was the very worst thing he could have called her. It was not Anne’s fault that she was small compared with Glory’s five-feet-six. “Glory about ready?”

“Yes. Waiting for you.” Anne started on.

Harvey caught her arm. “Whatever it is, don’t be mad. You’re still my most favorite sister-in-law. And by the way, Bub’s coming up after all. Be nice to him, will you?”

“Bub?” said Anne.

“Quinn. My kid brother. We asked him to come up for the week end too. Didn’t Glory tell you?”

Anne stared bitterly at Harvey’s Adam’s apple. She’d hardly even known that Harvey had a kid brother, let alone one that might come barging up here at a second’s notice. And of course Glory had been too dopey with sentiment and stuff to tell her anything.

“He’s a pest, but not too bad,” said Harvey, and then from the dining room Mrs. Mittner called, “Anne,” And Anne, now seething indescribably, went on down the stairs.

Harvey’s brother was due on the 4.10, it seemed, and wasn’t it nice that he could come and the two families could start getting better acquainted, and would Anne please take the boat—she wasn’t allowed to drive the car alone yet—and pick him up? She’d know him—he looked quite a lot like Harvey.

“Oh, no!” wailed Anne. Then, unable to explain her outburst: “Creepers, mother! The week end! There’s always a thousand things to do.”

“You haven’t mentioned being involved in anything. And you had a spat with Norman Bissell last week, you said, so you won’t be dating him.” Anne made a note to be less candid in the future. The trouble with confiding in your parents was that they later took advantage of your confidences. “Can’t dad drive in for Harvey’s brother?”

“What’s wrong with you, dear?” said her mother, staring. “You know you always like to take the boat out.”

AT 3.30 Anne went to the boathouse, J\_ moving like an innocent condemned man toward the fatal door, but more outraged than any innocent condemned man. A, she had not only not been consulted about whether she wanted a strange boy thrust upon her —she hadn’t even been told he was coming. B, she had to go and meet him, which would make it look as if she couldn’t wait till he got to the house before throwing herself at him. C, he ... he looked “quite a lot like Harvey.” Chugging along the shore she indulged in wistful dreams. Maybe Quinn could not come after all. Maybe he’d been taken sick at the last minute — he might not have the horselike constitution owned by brother Harvey. Perhaps he’d stepped in front of a taxi in the city and broken his leg. Both legs. She saw him lying in the street with the sympathetic crowd around, and she sympathized herself; she felt terrible about his broken legs, or leg; but if it had had to happen anyhow . . .

She sighed and conceded the improbability of her hopes. Well, then, maybe he wouldn’t really look like Harvey.

But at the station Anne, with a sinking heart, recognized Harvey’s brother a full four car-lengths off. He surely did resemble Harvey. He was almost as big, though skinnier, and he had the same reddish look, and she’d bet he had even more freckles on his neck. He didn’t have a hat on, and in one bigknuckled reddish hand was a black suitcase, and his ears stuck out like the handle on the suitcase.

He said, “Hullo?” enquiringly as she came up. His hair was lighter red than Harvey’s but was the same wiry Miller hair, and his cowlick was even bigger than his big brother’».

“Bub?” she asked. “I mean Quinn?” “That’s right. How’d you catch on so fast? And you must be Anne, the kid sister.”

Anne stiffened. Not many could call her kid sister and make her like it, and she had already decided that Quinn Miller was not one of the few.

“And you’re baby brother,” she said coolly.

“Yeah. Tough being the younger generation, isn’t it?” Quinn said solemnly. On top of everything else he seemed to be an unusually solemn boy, which made his blue eyes seem even more chinalike and his face seem even younger. Seventeen, at most, she guessed, which made him much less adult than she. Boys always were, than girls.

“Where to?” he asked finally, when she had bleakly led him across the depot parking lot and kept on going.

“Boat,” said Anne. She had to chauffeur this unwanted guest, but nothing in her book of rules said she had to make scintillating conversation for him.

“Oh, swell! They said it was swell up here, with boats and everything. I didn’t want to come,” he added.

Anne seethed again. She hadn’t wanted him, but it was annoying to find out that he hadn’t wanted to come, either.

“How’d I know what my brother’s new wife’s kid sister would be like?” Quinn went on, ambling loosely beside her. “She might be a 10-carat drip. And even if she wasn’t—and you sure aren’t—she probably wouldn’t want a strange guy sprung on her for a week

Anne let herself accept the admiration in his comment and in his eyes, but jerked herself up swiftly. Flattery is nice, but you should never let yourself be influenced by the stuff. Was that, perhaps, what had happened to Glory?

“Here we are,” she said at the dock. It had been quite a walk, but by taking the back street paralleling the shopping one she had avoided having any of her crowd see her blind date. If she could just keep away from the gang! She could just hear Miggs: “Well, look

what Anne drew. She couldn’t get Clark Gable so she settled for the ears.”

Quinn got into the boat with all the grace of a badly dumped load of gravel, and reached up to help her. She jumped down unaided and pressed the starter. The motor responded with a cough and then a steady chew-a-hula, chew-a-hula.

“This is swell,” Quinn repeated. “What a swell boat!”

It wasn’t any speedboat and it did smell faintly of fish, but Anne had a grudging affection for it and liked to hear it praised. And out here, with nobody around to stare at her weekend cross, she could relax a bit.

Quinn said, solemn as a china cat, “Families just don’t understand. Girl like you—you’re popular, of course—I bet you had a dozen dates for the week end. Well, you just go ahead and keep ’em. I’ll play around with Harve and Glory.”

And then he grinned, for the first time, and Anne stared at the birth and growth of the thing with a curiosity turning at length into a kind of fascination. It started with one corner of his mouth and went slowly to the other, turning up both corners in the process; and he got a kind of solemn little twinkle in his eyes, and crinkles around them, and his forehead wrinkled down a little, too. It was the darnedest grin she hadeverseen.and it made him suddenly look sharp and knowing, in a nice friendly way, and made her feel soothed down inside.

He went solemn—and gawky—again. “You don’t talk much, do you? Rather I didn’t?”

“I don’t care,” said Anne. “It’s just that I . . . we don’t know each other.”

Quinn nodded soberly. “Harve and Glory took a lot for granted when they made the folks make me come. They might at least have waited till we met somewhere and you could see if you wanted me here.”

That was kind of nice, putting it all

on her side. He seemed considerate. But oh, gosh!

WHEN they arrived, the first thing Anne’s mother said to her was, “They’re waiting for you, dear. You brought swimming trunks, Quinn? Anne will show you to your room.” Anne couldn’t think of anything she’d rather not do than go to that beach with Harvey’s brother. Because Miggs and some—or all—of her gang might be there to snicker at them. Miggs, her special friend, who knew the most special boys, and whose good opinion meant more to her than almost anything else. Miggs, who could always find the funny thing to say about a person.

But there you were, she could think of no reason—save the real one—why she shouldn’t go, and how could she get out of it?

Quinn said upstairs, “You got anything you want to do here, Anne? I could find the beach alone.”

So then Anne felt awful for thinking as she had, and felt a prickle of compassion. He wasn’t very pretty, but he was sort of nice, at that.

She said, “I haven’t anything to do. Be ready in a second,” and went along the hall to her own door.

At the beach she looked around with growing relief. Several boys and girls she knew were still there, but at least Miggs wasn’t there. Or Norm Bissell. She waved hastily to the few, and located Harve and Glory up at the end of the beach by the old pier, and went up there with Quinn.

“Hi, Bub,” Harvey said. “Pretty lucky in the matter of kid sisters, aren’t you?”

“Hullo, Harve,” said Quinn. “Hullo, Glory.” He looked at Glory solemnly and then at his brother. He shook his rusty-red head. “Yup. Must have been. I thought for awhile maybe you blackjacked her into it, but I’ve never seen any lumps on her head so it must have been chloroform you used to persuade her.”

“Okay, deadpan,” Harvey said. “Looks like you need a bottle of chloroform now. The big, special size.”

They sat down, and Anne stared despairingly at the brothers, one big, one almost as big, both with the ears, the freckles and the reddish look. She glared at her foolish older sister, but Glory wasn’t in the market for glares. She was mooning at Harve.

Anne tried to act as though she were having as much fun as they seemed to be having, clowning on the beach and in the water, with Quinn swimming like an awkward shark. Meanwhile, her luck held; Miggs didn’t appear, and while she would probably be told with gestures about Anne’s week-end visitation, at least she hadn’t seen him for herself.

So Anne’s luck held and she occupied herself with hopeful, busy plans for the future. Tonight they might just stay home with the old people, and tomorrow she could dither around till pretty late and then maybe she and Quinn could go off in the boat. Alone. Tomorrow night . . .

But underneath she knew that she could never get away with it—not for a whole darned week end, Friday night, Saturday, Saturday night, Sunday, maybe Sunday night—and all too quickly her forebodings were confirmed.

Her mother lightly gave it to her when they came back from the beach.

“You and Quinn might as well get into your best when you dress for dinner,” she said, smiling as if the most delightful thing had happened. “Miggs just called, and she and some of your friends are going to the yacht club Continued on page 44

Continued on page 44

Continued from page 42

dance, and I said you and Quinn would

love to go along.”

Anne stood rooted. Harve and Glory went on upstairs, and, after a second, Quinn. But Anne stood rooted. Already Miggs had heard about her plight and was making with the scalpel.

“Mother!”

“What dear?” asked Mrs. Kittner, eyebrows raised.

What did you say in tjie face of such a catastrophe? What did you do? How explain to one so blind? “Oh, mother!”

YY7ELL, she thought numbly in her TT shower, she could spend most of her time in the club rest room; she’d seen other girls driven in there by their blind dates. She could dance just once in awhile with Quinn . . . But then she got ashamed again and thought how nice Quinn really seemed to be, underneath.

“I’ll dance every dance with him if I want to,” she told herself defiantly, but adding: “I’ll probably have to if he is to dance at all.” And she got into her new greenish off-the-shoulder dress and carefully combed her hair, which was a bit darker than Glory’s chestnut; and her eyes, plain grey without Glory’s touch of violet, were resolute when she walked into the Kittner dining room. Chin up.

Quinn looked all right if you could have cut him off at the collar. He had nice shoulders even if they were bony, and his white coat looked fine on him, not showing as much wrist as the suit he’d got off the train in. But above this was his face, solemn as an owl’s in a mouse shortage. And the cowlick, waving its wiry rebellion at the back of his part.

“We’ll drop you kids at the dance,” said Harvey. “Glory and I have another date, but we’ll be back for a few dances and to bring you home.”

“Thanks,” said Anne.

“Wear your shin-guards,” Harve said. “Bub’s a nice kid and all that, but at a dance—wear your shinguards.”

Anne thought this was pretty thick, coming from Quinn’s own brother. She surprised herself. “I guess we’ll get along all right—and he will too,” she said defensively.

Quinn looked up soberly from his plate. “We’ll be okay as long as we stick to the two-step.”

Anne didn't hear. She was thinking in confusion of the first time Glory had brought Harve home. She had said then to her sister, “I guess he’s oke, Glory. But he . . . well, he . . .” And Glory had snapped, “I know what you mean, and if all I wanted was looks I’d hang around a male model agency.”

And now Anne found herself feeling a bit snappish in Quinn’s defense. Maternal, sort of. Protective, for heaven’s sakes. It was very odd.

The yacht club was an old square building perched on the water’s edge so that it looked like a boat itself. Spotlights played on the terrace and went bouncing off across the water, and the dining room where the dances were held was brightly lighted too. Anne had always felt that they could do with less illumination. Tonight, as Harve drove up, the place seemed blazing like an amusement park.

“Have fun,” said Glory callously. “See you later.” And the car drove off, and Anne and Quinn walked up a mile of front steps and through a mile of lounge filled with people, and they stepped into the dining room like a couple stepping onto a brilliantly lighted stage . . .

And there they were across the cleared centre of the floor, the whole darn gang, with Miggs in a flame-red

dress that set off her dark hair and amber skin more than any of the dresses the other girls were allowed to buy could do for them. But then one reason why Miggs was leader of their local set was that she was allowed to do lots of things the others weren’t.

There were five or six tables full of young people, huddled close, making what seemed to Anne a perfect sea of faces; and Miggs looked with suspicious lack of expression at Quinn and called to Anne: “Here. We’ve saved chairs for you.”

Anne crossed 10 acres of bare floor with Quinn ambling inelegantly beside her and everybody looking at them. They got to the tables, and Quinn grinned.

There it was again. Anne watched, this time trying to be analytical about it. Right hand corner of the mouth up. Slow travel to the left. Left corner up. Solemn small twinkle in the light blue eyes. Little crinkles around them. Forehead wrinkling down a bit. It made him look odder than ever, in a way but Anne tucked her hand beneat i !•> arm as they stood there, and fomd herself thinking fiercely: If any oe

says anything ... If anybody makes just one crack . . .

But the crowd were grinning back, with a few giggles mixed in, and it seemed that they accepted him at least to an extent—except for Miggs, who was looking slantwise at Quinn out of dark mirthful eyes and obviously thinking up the perfect thing to say.

Anne introduced Quinn around, and then the music started and she breathed, “Oh, gosh! Oh, criminy!”

“Break an ankle?” offered Quinn, solemn again.

“Love to,” Anne said clearly and in Miggs’ direction.

They took a dozen steps, and it seemed Quinn wasn’t bad. They took some more and Anne relaxed and felt as if mother’s little boy had gone through the whole multiplication table up to four without a mistake. Quinn was no Astaire; the others didn’t glance at them now and then as they did with Norman Bissell and Miggs Blanchard. But he was quite as good as any of the

inne had looked apprehensively around for Norm before and hadn’t seen him. She looked again. No Norman. With luck he might not come at all, which would be fine with Anne. Norm was the best-looking and most sought after boy in the crowd, and she did not like the thought of having him and Quinn stand side by side for all the gang to see.

THE music stopped and some of the crowd went out onto the terrace and some went back to the tables. The gang talked and laughed and Quinn sat solemn and yet not ill at ease, once in awhile putting in a word in a way that obviously had them wondering as Anne had earlier: Was he kidding with that straight face? Anyhow, they seemed to take to him, And Anne felt pleased and rather proud, though she continued to be awfully nervous about Miggs. Miggs wasn’t so easily pleased, and her opinions counted for an awful lot.

The orchestra started again and Anne got up with Quinn with no thought at all of rest rooms. The prospect of dancing with him wasn’t so hard to take now. But it seemed she wasn’t to dance with him too consistently.

It was Miggs who started it, Anne thought. The cut-in stuff. Anyway, it was Miggs’ partner, Eddie Wallace, who first came over and unsmilingly tapped Quinn’s shoulder and then whirled off with Anne. At the same time Anne saw Tom Gosnor go to Continued on page 46

Continued on page 46

Continued from page 44 Miggs so that Quinn, cut off from taking the girl whose partner had taken his, was left without a girl and deserted in the centre of a floor filled with strangers to him.

“Oh, no,” breathed Anne, watching a run-around that she had seen before. She tensed to move away from Eddie and back to Quinn; she wouldn’t have him made conspicuous like that. But then he turned to Ruth Hennessey and George Bye, and tapped George; and in a moment when he was tapped again he ambled unself-consciously across the floor and cut in on Miggs.

Anne, watching anxiously, for the first time felt a chill touch her regard for her admired and cherished friend. Because Miggs, with a perfectly straight face, was dancing with Quinn in a wooden, one-two-three-four way as she might have with a backward child from dancing school. And Quinn didn’t seem to know it: he steamed solemnly along till someone else cut in and, laughing, danced off with Miggs, at which time Quinn tapped Eddie and took Anne

“She sure can’t dance like you,” Quinn said, nodding at Miggs. “Even if she tried,” he added mildly. So he had known that she was making fun of

“Oh, Quinn, she’s a lot better dancer than I am,” said Anne. “And better at everything else,” she added with a sigh.

Quinn looked down at her in a puzzled way, then patted her back indulgently as if he were 25 or something and she much, much younger than 16. “Okay. She’s wonderful, if you say so.”

The music straightened out again and became for Anne the nicest music she had heard in a long time, and she and Quinn moved to it like Siamese twins, and then Anne looked across at Miggs and knew suddenly the exact meaning of the words: Her heart

turned over. Because hers did. Because now, appearing from somewhere like out of thin air, there was Norm Bissell dancing with Miggs.

With the music ragged to her ears again, Anne looked at the two, by all odds the sleekest and most expert couple on the floor. Miggs was laughing a little and talking a lot, and Norm was glancing at Anne and Quinn and grinning. And then he came over and tapped Quinn.

Anne introduced the two, and there they were, Quinn Miller and Norman Bissell side by side, with Norman’s smooth, dark good looks making Quinn look like something just sort of loosely basted together for the evening.

“New boy friend?” said Norman as he danced her smoothly away from Quinn—nobody could dance like Norm. “My rival? I can see now why you crossed me off your list.”

Anne looked up at him with more distaste than she had ever thought to feel within herself for Norman. More than when he tilted a flat bottle with furtive nonchalance over the imitation Tom Collinses of those who wished to seem more daring than the rest. More than when, lately, he had become too experimental in the back seat of a car. When they had had their row 10 days ago she had thought of it as only temporary. But now . . .

“I keep looking around for Edgar Bergen,” said Norman, grinning at Quinn’s sun-varnished features across the floor.

“Oh?” said Anne politely. “You mean I should call you Charlie?”

Norman blinked. He had expected laughter from Anne such as he had drawn from Miggs. “You don’t get it. I mean—”

“I know,” said Anne. “Ha ha.”

She looked around worriedly for Quinn. He was back at their table now, not bothering to cut in on anyone, watching her and Norman.

The music stopped and everybody clapped and the orchestra started turning sheets of music for the next dance. “Excuse me,” Anne said to Norman, and she left him without a backward glance and started for the table. She didn’t want to dance with Norman any more, she wanted to dance with Quinn. She didn’t want to dance with anybody else, just Quinn.

A hand caught her arm and stopped her. Miggs. Anne looked at her abstractedly and saw that her idol’s dark

eyes were gleeful. Miggs had thought of her funny thing to say.

“Tell your friend,” she giggled to Anne, “that we all unmask at midnight. It is a mask, isn’t it?”

Miggs was taller and huskier than Anne, but it looked for one surprising second as if she was going to be very thoroughly slapped. Her hand dropped in alarm from Anne’s tensed arm, but then the second passed and Anne just stared at her and wondered how it was that she had ever cared about the opinions of this pea-brain who didn’t know any better than to judge by outer appearances.

She cast around for a retort crushing enough, and couldn’t find one, and then remembered a thing she herself had heard which seemed appropriate here.

“Any time I want just looks I’ll go hang around a male model agency,” she said. “Quinn’s the nicest boy you’ll ever meet, Miggs Blanchard. And he’s nicelooking, too.”

She left Miggs gaping and went on to Quinn, and he watched her coming with the slow grin making over his nice, jugeared face.

“Dance?” he said, getting up.

“Love to,” Anne said dreamily.

She watched the slow withdrawal of the grin. She didn’t mind; it was still there, just beneath the surface; and this was only Friday evening and they would have Saturday, Saturday evening, Sunday, and maybe Sunday evening together, if