"Ruthie, wait up!"
Ruthie Kettner turned around to see who could possibly be calling her. If she hadn't been so surprised to hear her name, she would have just ignored the person and kept on walking. Instead, Di Lynch caught up with her.
"Ruthie," Di said, slightly out of breath. "I was wondering if you were doing anything this weekend."
"Um, no, why?" Ruthie was puzzled. True, she'd been to Di's house a few times, usually right before a dance. It made it easier for Mart and Dan to pick them up together, and truthfully, Ruthie didn't want Mart or Di, much less Dan, to see where she lived anyway. There was no dance this weekend, though.
"Would you like to come over and hang out?" Di noticed Ruthie's hesitation and remembered how overwhelmed Ruthie always seemed by the huge mansion. Di had just started getting comfortable in her own home herself. "Or I could come over to your place instead?" Again Ruthie just stared at her. "Um, if that's okay with you?"
"No!" Realization finally dawned on Ruthie. Di Lynch absolutely could not come over to her house. Maybe before. Before Di became rich. Before Ruthie's mom became a total lush. Before. Not now. "I mean I'd rather come over to your place. There's nothing to do at my house."
"Is there anything to do at mine?" Di asked lightly, trying to make both of them feel more at ease.
"Sure. I love looking through all those magazines you have. Maybe we could do the typical girly thing. You know, hair, make-up?" I used to do that with Leslie, but it's been a while since we did anything so sisterly.
"Oh, that would be fun! Trixie and Honey never seem to like doing that kind of stuff. Well, Honey does sometimes. Anyway, we could go for a swim, too," Di answered. "And maybe some horse riding lessons for you?"
"Swim?" Ruthie asked worriedly. Oh yeah, she has that heated indoor pool. I would love to go swimming, but then she'd see my arms. "Even if your pool is indoors, I don't think I'd feel like going swimming in this cold weather," Ruthie lied. "What about Trixie and Honey? Will they come over, too?"
"Oh, um, actually no. They're spending the weekend in the city." Di answered. She suddenly felt guilty, knowing it would sound like she only wanted Ruthie over because she was alone. And while that was partly true, Di also liked Ruthie and wanted to get to know her better.
Ruthie almost smiled, but not quite. "Okay," she said simply.
Ruthie and Di stood awkwardly for a couple of seconds, before Di finally said, "Okay, well, do you want to come home with me after school tomorrow then? You could spend both tomorrow and Saturday night if you like."
"Okay. I'll make sure it's okay with my mom and let you know tomorrow." Ruthie smiled at Di.
"See you tomorrow then. I better get going or I'll miss my bus. Bye!"
Dinner at the Lynch house, if you could refer to such a huge sprawling mansion as just a house, was hectic as usual. Four small children, two teenagers, and a father who enjoyed joking at the table made for a noisy meal. Ruthie found herself feeling envious yet again. Sometimes, she thought she could kill for a meal where the tension in the room wasn't so thick and the conversation so stifled. At home, she often felt like she was drowning in those bland mashed potatoes she was used to eating every other night. Here, in spite of her jealousy, she found that she was enjoying herself and laughing with the rest of the crowd.
After the maid cleared the table, Di took Ruthie up to her bedroom. She was really glad she'd invited Ruthie over. So often, especially on weekends like this, Di felt like the odd wheel out around the Bob-Whites. Honey and Trixie had gone to the city with Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler. They had invited Di along, but Di's mother still hadn't gotten over all the mysteries Trixie seemed to drag them into, and that incident in the city over the summer had been one of the worst. Dan and Mart were also busy this weekend. They had promised to help Mr. Maypenny repair the roof of the old schoolhouse in the preserve. They wanted to be sure it would last through the next few storms, as one never knew when someone might seek shelter there. It wasn't the first time Di had wished there was an eighth Bob-White.
"Do you want to see the new nail polish Hallie sent me?" Di asked Ruthie, her thoughts having led her to Trixie's cousin. "It's the coolest shade of blue."
"Blue?" Ruthie giggled as she looked over at Di. Di opened the drawer that contained her stash of make-up and held the bottle out. "Electrifying," Ruthie commented dryly. "Hand me that hot-pink one there, too, please?"
Di did so, and Ruthie took her socks off and started to paint her toenails in the shockingly bright blue. Di chose a much more subdued shade of violet and joined her. "So what's the hot pink for?" she asked curiously.
"Polka-dots." Ruthie smiled. "Or maybe stripes. I don't know yet."
The girls giggled and gabbed, and compared Mart and Dan in every way, shape, or form possible. They did the typical teenage girl activities of overindulging in popcorn, chips, chocolate, and soda, as they watched Jewel of the Nile and Peggy Sue Got Married on Di's T.V. Di had decided she rather liked Kathleen Turner, and Nicolas Cage wasn't half bad either. Ruthie agreed wholeheartedly, though she thought saying Nicolas Cage was "not half-bad" was quite the understatement. Eventually, they settled down to sleep under the cozy plum-colored down comforters.
"So, Ruthie, any chance I can talk you into trying riding lessons?" Di asked at the breakfast table the next morning.
"I guess." Ruthie shrugged. "I've never been on a horse before, but it sounds like fun."
"It is. I talked to Regan about it a while ago, and he said to come by anytime, but I ought to check with him before we just pop on over there. Let me call Manor House and see if he has time today." Di finished up her toast and stood up to reach for the phone. The rest of the family had gotten up earlier, so it was just Di and Ruthie in the kitchen. She quickly confirmed with Regan that he was free to give riding lessons and hung up.
"Miss Diana," Harrison said quietly from the door. Ruthie jumped; he'd startled her so.
"Yes, Harrison?" Di asked.
"Mr. Martin Belden and Mr. Daniel Mangan are outside," he announced formally.
Ruthie left the table and ran upstairs, her borrowed lilac robe flowing behind her like a cape. Di giggled. "Tell them we'll be right there, please," she asked Harrison, and then hurried after her friend. She barely heard Harrison's mumbled, "Very good."
Once the two were dressed, they ran back down the stairs and opened the large front door.
Mart and Dan had just finished tying the horses' reins to the fence near the Lynches' paddock.
"What brings you two out here so early this morning?" Di asked pleasantly as the two boys got closer.
"Early? M'dear, methinks you have not discerned Sol's bearing in the empyrean indicating that the apex is imminent. Ouch." Dan hit Mart lightly on the arm, thus the "ouch" on the end.
Di let out a very unladylike snort. "Morning, noon, whatever. It's Saturday."
"Still, we've been efficacious since the incipient rays of light illuminated our -- ouch!"
"We've been up since the crack of dawn." Dan grinned as Ruthie giggled. Mart had taken hold of Di's hand, and Dan reached over for Ruthie's. The four of them walked back towards the horses as they talked.
"So we gathered," Di commented dryly. "We were on our way to Manor House. Regan is going to give Ruthie some riding lessons."
"Great! We need more bodies to exercise the horses. Did you hear that Regan's been threatening to talk Mr. Wheeler into selling two of the horses since Brian and Jim aren't here anymore?" Mart asked.
"I've heard, but I don't believe," Dan replied lightly. "It's just my uncle's way of scaring us. Has he ever gone through on that kind of a threat?"
"Well, no, but we don't want to push it either," Mart said. "With that red-headed temper of his, we can't be too careful."
"Oh, great," Ruthie complained. "He has a temper? Maybe I don't want those riding lessons after all."
Dan shook his head. "Don't let us scare you. Uncle Bill's as nice as they come. He's a good friend to all of us. I can't wait for him to meet you, anyway."
"Hey, Dan, where's Spartan?" Diana looked over at the horses, just noticing that Dan's horse was not one of them.
"As Mart said, Regan's been on us to exercise the horses. Hence, I'm riding Strawberry. Mart has Susie. And we better get them back to the stables soon. We really just stopped by to say hello since we found ourselves riding in this direction." Dan turned to look at Ruthie. "And I will admit that I'm glad Mart led us this way. I didn't expect to see you here."
"I thought you were supposed to be helping Mr. Maypenny," Di commented.
"True. True. Alas, he sent us off to the Manor House stables when he heard Regan needed our help as well. But we are going back to help him once we're done with the horses." Mart rubbed his stomach with his free hand. "He was whipping up a batch of donuts when we left there, so hopefully he'll have saved us some with which to pay us for our labors later."
"Ugh," Dan grimaced. "I don't know how he, or you, can eat so many donuts all the time. Once in a while, sure. But he makes them practically every weekend." Dan rubbed his fingers gently against the back of Ruthie's hand. "What do you think?" he asked. He noticed she hadn't been joining in the conversation much and was trying to help her overcome her shyness.
"About donuts?" When Dan nodded, Ruthie smiled. "I think I could get used to eating donuts every weekend."
"See?" Mart grinned widely. "Everyone else loves donuts. What's with you, Mangan?"
But Dan didn't hear him. He had run his hand up Ruthie's arm and noticed it didn't feel right. He pushed the sleeve of her sweater up, then let it drop. Ruthie had a deer-in-headlights look. She was ready to bolt, but something held her frozen to the spot. Dan stared at her questioningly. Neither made a sound. Time seemed to stand still for the two of them. Then, rather abruptly, Dan scowled. "Let's go, Mart." He mounted Strawberry quickly. Without turning to look at the girls, or to see if Mart was following him, he rode off.
It took only another second for Ruthie's tears to start falling. Di quickly walked up beside her and put her arms around her. "Mart?" she asked her boyfriend.
"I'll try to find out what that was all about," he stated calmly, but his eyes showed how concerned he really was. He untied Susie and soon was riding after his troubled friend.
"Come on, Ruthie," Di whispered. "Let's go back inside."
Ruthie wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I -- just, I want -- can you call me a cab? I need to go home."
"Nope," Di said firmly but gently, as she led Ruthie back inside the house.
Once they were inside the house, though, Diana was at a loss. She and Ruthie went back to her room, and Di just sat with her. After the silence no longer seemed comfortable, she asked, "What happened out there?" Ruthie just shook her head. Di wished she had some of Honey's legendary tact. She didn't though, so she just asked more questions. "Why was Dan so upset? Did you say something I didn't hear?"
"I'm sorry, Di. I just don't want to talk about it. It's bad enough that Dan knows."
"Knows what?" Diana said quietly. They continued to sit in silence for a few more minutes. Di finally got up. "Come with me, Ruthie. There's something I want to show you."
Ruthie stood up and obediently followed Di to her father's study. After knocking on the door, she opened it slowly, and motioned for Ruthie to follow her. Along one wall of the study was a huge glass aquarium. "Whenever I don't feel good, I like to come in here and just watch the fish. I find it very relaxing."
Ruthie stood next to the tank and smiled her thanks at Di. "They're beautiful." She pointed to a fish with a long black and green striped tail. "What kind of fish is that?"
Di grinned. "That is a Montezuma swordtail, and his name is Monty. Hi, Monty," she cooed to the glass.
Mart managed to catch up with Dan, and they rode to the stables in silence. Mart knew Dan needed to cool off. They started to groom the horses, and Regan came out to inspect their work. Mart told him Di and Ruthie wouldn't be coming for the riding lesson after all. Regan wondered how Mart knew about the lessons, but just thanked him for the information. Then, he suggested they'd better get over to Maypenny's to help with the schoolhouse.
Dan still hadn't said anything. Mart was curious, but knew his friend well enough to be cautious. If Dan wanted to talk, he knew Mart was there. Just before they got to the cabin, Dan finally looked at Mart, acknowledging his presence for the first time since they left the Lynches'. His eyes sent a silent "thank you" to him, even though his mouth stayed shut.
Mr. Maypenny caught up with the boys. "'Bout time you showed up here. Thought I'd have to eat all those donuts myself."
"No worries about that," Mart grinned.
"Well, before you eat, you need to work. Come on, let's go."
Dan and Mart followed Maypenny to the old school house. Soon, the three of them were hard at work on the roof.
"Why do you fix this old building up anyway?" Mart finally asked. "No one uses it. Why not just tear it down?"
"I've been keeping this old school in shape for many years, and I intend to keep on doing so. Never you mind why. That's a personal matter. Just keep working," Maypenny answered amiably.
"Damn!" Dan suddenly shouted, holding his thumb against his chest. Mr. Maypenny and Mart looked over at him. "Hit my thumb," Dan admitted sheepishly. "I'll be okay."
They all got back to work. Mart maneuvered himself closer to Dan, out of Maypenny's hearing. "So, what's going on?" he asked quietly.
Dan just glared at him and motioned for him to keep working.
"I'm not going to drop it," Mart said lightly, "so you may as well tell me."
Dan took a deep breath. "It's personal," he finally said.
"You and Maypenny. Personal shmersonal. What freaked you out back there?"
"I said it's personal. Leave me alone."
Mart and Dan worked quietly for a few more minutes. "I can't," Mart finally said. "Something happened back there. It freaked you out, and I need to know why."
"You don't need to know anything," Dan snarled.
Mart reached over and grabbed Dan's arm. "Hey, man, we're friends. You're my best friend. If something's bugging you, I want to know what it is. I'm concerned, okay?"
Dan dropped his hammer. "You're right. Sorry." Mart gave him a pointed look, pushing him to say more. "I can't take it again, that's all. I just can't go through it again. Okay?"
"No, not okay. Go through what? Take what?" Mart was truly puzzled.
Fortunately for Dan, Maypenny noticed the boys had stopped working. "All right, slow pokes, get back to work. We'll be done here in no time."
"I'll tell you later, okay?" Dan whispered.
"Fine." Mart really had no choice but to accept that.
After a couple hours of hard work, all the leaks had been repaired. The rope for the bell had been replaced the previous winter. Mr. Maypenny had made sure of that after he found out how it helped Jim, Brian, and Trixie. The woodpile still needed to be restacked: another thing Maypenny made sure to do ever since that one stormy evening. After that task was quickly taken care of, they went inside and made sure the room was clean. Finally, Mr. Maypenny declared he was satisfied with the job, and the three hungry workers headed back to the cabin.
They quickly showered and ate the warm lunch Mr. Maypenny had prepared. Mr. Maypenny had noticed the tension between Mart and Dan when they were working. He hated seeing anything bother Dan, but knew the boy was more likely to talk to Mart than to him. He mumbled something about going to see Mr. Lytell, and hoped the boys would work out whatever was wrong.
Mart didn't give Dan much of a chance. As soon as the door closed, he leaned back in his chair and demanded again, "Tell me what's going on."
Dan lifted one corner of his mouth in a little smirk. "Curiosity killed the cat." He quickly got serious though. He played with his glass of milk, making circles on the table. Then he put the glass down. "I never told you about my mother, did I?"
"Well, no, you never talk much about your past at all," Mart answered.
Dan had been working out how to tell Mart what had been on his mind for the last hour. He decided he'd just spit the worst out first. "My mother killed herself." He paused as Mart took that piece of information in.
"I'm sorry," Mart said quietly.
"When Dad died, Mom really took it bad. So did I. But we never talked, especially about Dad or anything important. And we grew more and more distant. I don't know what was going through my mother's head, and I know, at least I should know, that it's not my fault, but --. One day I came home, and the kitchen was quiet, cold." Dan started playing with the glass again, and Mart just sat there quietly, not sure what to say. "I started looking around the apartment for her. I was hungry, and I expected her to have dinner ready for us. I found her in the bathroom." Dan stopped talking and hung his head down.
Mart was startled when he felt a drop of water on his hand. Then he realized it wasn't water, it was a tear. And more were sliding down his cheeks. "It wasn't your fault," he finally whispered.
"I know," Dan said, "but I don't believe it. If I'd only paid more attention to her." Mart started to protest but Dan stopped him. "I know. I was only a kid. She was the adult." Dan suddenly pounded the table. "She was supposed to take care of me! She had a responsibility to me!" Dan started literally shaking. All the anger he had felt towards his mother was still there, raw. "And I can't go through that again. I can't do it. I won't."
Mart was still puzzled. Was this about Ruthie? Or did something else happen earlier that just triggered these feelings in his friend? His confusion must have shown in his face.
Dan took a lot of deep breaths and calmed himself down. "I shouldn't have fallen for Ruthie. If she kills herself -- I don't know. I don't know ..."
"Why would Ruthie --?"
"She cut her wrists. I saw them. She cut her wrists."
Dan looked at the card in his hand again. For the last hour, he'd been trying to decide whether or not to call her. He let out one of those sarcastic sounding half-laughs. A year ago, there would have been no question -- there was no way he would have ever considered calling her. But he had changed, and he was a Bob-White now. What would Mart do? Brian? Jim?
Making up his mind, he picked up the phone and dialed the number on the card. "Macie Perkins? This is Dan Mangan. Remember when you said I could call you if I changed my mind? No, you probably don't. It was almost a year ago. Anyway, I'd like to make an appointment. Please call me back at 555-7845."