Promise Me A Rainbow

Promise Me A Rainbow
Cheryl Reavis

May 2012 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-129-6

When love seemed lost forever, they found it . . . together

From the RITA award-winning author of A Crime of the Heart

Our PriceUS$14.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

" . . . a delicately crafted, eminently satisfying romantic fiction. Reavis works magic . . . ” – Publishers Weekly

Two lonely people, scarred by betrayal and tragedy, believe that love is lost to them forever…

Deserted by her husband because she couldn’t have children, Catherine Holben has thrown herself into her job counseling pregnant teens. Catherine is still recovering from the pain of her divorce, but her life is changed forever when she makes a purchase in a quaint curio shop. She meets handsome, hardworking Joe D’Amaro, a widower and father of three, and his daughter, Fritz. But Joe needs help with Fritz, a seven-year-old dynamo. She’s a precocious but headstrong little girl who’s impossible to resist., and he is too proud to admit it.

Joe and Catherine are cautious about making a commitment to each other. They both know the joy and heartache of falling in love, but are they willing to risk being together despite their misgivings? Neither can ignore the love that quickly blossoms between them. Maybe they can have a wonderful life together . . . if only Joe’s still-grieving older daughter, Della, will accept a new woman in her father’s life.

True love versus reality. Can Catherine handle his ready-made family? Or is there more in store for her than she thinks?

A four-time RITA winner and a three-time RITA finalist, Cheryl Reavis is the author of acclaimed romance novels including A Crime of the Heart, which wa scondensed in Good Housekeeping magazine. Visit her on Facebook, read her blog, Writing Life,, and follow her on Twitter @sCRibblercheryl.


"What a beautiful story... At times I cried and others laughed out absolute page turner that grips the reader right from the start and doesn't let go." -- Dora Rouquette, Netgalley

"What a wonderful, soft, sweet romance...a sweetness and tenderness I enjoyed experiencing...for the emotional truths and the solid, well written characters." -- Jayne Sims, Netgalley

"This is a sweet romance filled with issues that make the characters very realistic and believable." -- Janet Hovis, A Long the Way Blog

"...a lovely, well-written and emotion-laden story, full of warmth and heart" -- Julie Johnson, BookTrib Blog


Chapter One

Near Riverfront Park, Catherine Holben stopped to buy a gnome, telling herself that she merely wanted to get in out of the rain but knowing that it was the sculpture in the window that drew her inside. She passed the shop every weekday afternoon on her way to the bus stop and while she had often looked into the artfully cluttered window, until now she’d had no real inclination to buy.

According to the small hand-lettered sign that rested at its feet, the gnome was called Daisy, and it cradled a gnome-child named Eric against its breast. Gently smiling Daisy and almost sleeping Eric, amid the jumble of collectible Hummel figures and David Winter cottages and Emmett Kelly clowns. DAISY AND ERIC in carefully executed calligraphy on the sign. And below that, the word RETIRED.

She stepped up to the door, reading the embellished gold-leaf lettering on the glass: THE PURPLE BOX. And below that, CURIOS. The shop seemed to be empty, and she expected a bell over the door to jangle when she entered. Indeed there was a curling bracket for just such a bell above her head, but the bell itself was gone.

She took a moment to allow her eyes to grow accustomed to the dim light. She was wet with rain, and she was immediately enveloped by a wonderful texture of smells: bayberry candles and rose-petal potpourri; chocolate; and ancient, oiled wood flooring that squeaked when she walked on it. The place reminded her of something, and she frowned with the effort to remember. Something in her childhood perhaps, because the display cases appeared to be the original ones, made of heavy wood-framed glass. It was difficult to tell precisely what line of merchandise the owner sold here; there was such a conglomeration of things. She could see crocheted lace collars and rows of silver spoons and brightly colored silk scarves in the display case nearest to her. And purses. Black and gold and silver-sequined evening bags. And for the most part the entire store was subtly lit by what looked like Tiffany-style lamps, each with a small white price tag dangling from the shade. She looked upward. Two overhead lights hung from the high ceiling, but they were too far away to be of much use to a browsing customer.

But she wasn’t browsing; she knew exactly what she wanted and why she wanted it, for all her rationalization about inclement weather. She looked around her for a clerk, hesitant to call out for someone who might be standing nearby in this shadowed Victorian attic of a place.

"Hello?” she said after a moment.

An elderly woman promptly came in from the back of the shop. "There you are,” she said, as if she’d been expecting her. The woman wore rimless spectacles and a large amber brooch on her formidable but tailored bosom. She was neat and stout, exuding a confidence reminiscent of matronly first-grade schoolteachers who always have everything well in hand. "I’ve wondered if you’d come inside. I’ve seen you looking in the window. Is there something I can show you?”

"The sculpture. I think they’re gnomes—Daisy and Eric.” Catherine felt herself prattling. There was only the one gnome sculpture, and there was no reason why she shouldn’t look at it if she wanted. She waited while the woman went to the window to get it, feeling guilty and sly. If she were still married to Jonathan, he would see it as a morbid self-indulgence, as some kind of primitive throwback to fertility icons, a preoccupation with her inability to conceive. Jonathan was not given to preoccupations. He cut his losses and moved on.

She took a deep breath as the woman set the gnomes gently on the display case.

"Do you collect these?” the woman asked.

"No. This is the first one I’ve seen.” She reached out to touch the gnomes, noting again the pleasant feeling that looking at them gave her. There was a small foreign coin embedded among the daisies and leaves in the base.

"You’ll find it a bit expensive, then. This mold has been retired. I should warn you, there’s no such thing as owning one of these works. Once you’ve bought one, you’re hooked.”

She gave the woman a token smile and inspected the gnomes more closely, turning the sculpture around to see the back. She read the price tag, feeling the woman’s eyes on her. It was more than "a bit” expensive.

"The coin there is a British three-pence—so it’s one of the early castings,” the woman went on. "The ones cast later have a coin from Holland.”

"The coin... is it for good luck?”

"I’m not sure. Perhaps. As I understand it, one never knows with these creations. I seem to recall one of the gentlemen gnomes having a coin early on, and then he didn’t in later castings—because the rascal spent it!”

Catherine let herself smile genuinely this time, pleased that she hadn’t grown too bitter to appreciate a bit of whimsy. In the past three years she had seen herself as being nearly consumed by the obsession to have a child, an obsession that fed on each cyclic failure, month after month. Now she would have believed herself resigned to her childless state—if she weren’t standing here trying not to buy this particular sculpture.

"They’re modeled after real people, you know,” the woman said. "Most of the collection is. I think that’s why buyers are so drawn to them. Of course, you’d have to go to an authorized dealer to see the current pieces. I’m selling this one for a friend.”

"The price is firm?”

"Oh, yes, I’m afraid so. As I said, the mold has been retired. The value of the piece will appreciate. In the long run, it’ll be worth more than you pay now.”

Catherine looked at the sculpture again. The woman was right. One did feel drawn to it, or at least she felt drawn to this one. It had been a long time since she’d simply wanted something, something that was within her grasp, something with but one redeeming quality—that it gave her pleasure.

"Do you need to think about it for a while? I could hold it for...” The woman shrugged. "Twenty-four hours?”

"No,” Catherine said. She had never been someone not able to make up her mind, and she wasn’t married to Jonathan anymore. Self-indulgent or not, she wanted the piece. "That is, if you’ll take a charge card.”

The woman beamed. "My dear, we aren’t as old-fashioned as we look. We’ll take anything you’ve got, as long as it isn’t revoked or expired. But there’s one thing I’d like to do. I’d like to keep your name and address on file here if that’s all right—in case the owner should want to buy it back from you. I believe he’s only parting with it because he needs the money. Would that be all right?”

Catherine didn’t answer. She followed the woman along to the cash register, her mind filled with the sudden image of some sad, elderly man mourning the loss of his gnomes.

"He hasn’t asked me to,” the woman added quickly. "It’s just something I thought I’d do for him—just in case. One has to be so careful with men. I could have bought it myself, but it would have made things awkward for him. He’s very proud. Would it be all right to keep your name and address here? I wouldn’t give it out to anyone else.”

"Yes, all right,” Catherine said.

"Oh, good. Thank you, my dear. He’s such a nice man when you get to know him. He’s a widower. He did all the glass lampshades here in the shop. That’s where I met him—in a stained glass workshop. He was wonderful at it—such patience for a man his age. I was terrible. I broke everything I touched. He called me Crash. I don’t suppose you’d be interested in one of the lamps?”

"Not for some time,” Catherine answered, and the woman laughed.

"But you must come in again, anyway—just to browse. I’m close to the bus stop, so I get a lot of browsers. Now, if you’d just sign your name here—and put your address and telephone number along the bottom.”

Catherine wrote quickly. She’d indulged her whim; now she was anxious to get away. She watched while the woman wrapped the gnomes in newspaper and placed them in a purple box—very subtle advertising on her part, Catherine thought.

She ran her fingers restlessly along the smooth wooden edge of the display case while she waited, and she suddenly remembered a place from her childhood. A "smart” children’s shop with display cases like these. A small family business that sold blue velvet dresses and black patent-leather shoes and white rabbit-fur coats. A place where her mother had never been able to buy her anything but where they had always gone inside to look.

Catherine felt a twinge of guilt. By her mother’s example, she had been well taught to postpone her own personal gratification, and subsequently she had never gotten blue velvet, patent leather, or white fur. But then, her mother never had had to deal with the temptation created by a plastic charge card.

She had to run to catch her bus, and it was still raining. She sat by the window near the back, holding the conspicuous purple box and staring out wet glass at the familiar streets. She had always liked the downtown section of Wilmington. It was old but rapidly becoming refurbished, a fact that she’d somehow missed until just recently. It was as if she had been seriously ill, too ill to note the changes in her environment, and yet she’d supposedly participated in the business of everyday living. She’d functioned. She’d gone to work, done her job, come home again. But her thoughts had all been turned inward.

She was barren. How appropriate the word was. Barren. It called to mind everything she felt about her own body, that it was dried up, hostile, useless. She was thirty-two years old and no longer married to the man she had loved. It would have been easier if she hadn’t believed that he’d once loved her in return, perhaps still did. But he wanted children—not adopted children and not borrowed children. His children. He had loved her, and he had left her in spite of it.

At first she had thought she would die from the overwhelming sense of betrayal. Her body had betrayed her and, subsequently, her husband. For a time she deliberately let herself suffer for something for which she was not to blame. According to the infertility specialist, neither of them had been at fault; it was just one of those things. There was no physical or hormonal defect in either of them, and she believed that Jonathan had tried very hard to accept that fact—intellectually. But what he had communicated to her on an emotional level was something else again. She had sensed, rightly or wrongly, that it wasn’t merely that he felt she’d failed him, but more that he felt she had somehow done it deliberately, as if her ability to conceive was something she’d withheld from him for reasons of her own. They’d been told to get on with their lives, to relax, to stop thinking about it. But Jonathan couldn’t accept any alternative way for her to experience rearing a child. What he’d wanted was for her to be realistic.

She had tried to understand, did understand, as well as a woman who needed to nurture something could. For Jonathan the child had to be his own. She had kept thinking about Charlotte Duffy, a woman she’d met in the gynecologist’s office. They had been admitted to the hospital at the same time—Charlotte for what their mothers would have euphemistically described as "female trouble,” and she for another round of infertility testing. Charlotte had three children of her own, and she and her husband had just adopted a child from some impoverished Central American country. Charlotte had shown her picture after picture of her newest, a dark-skinned little girl and, later, as they lay in the restless, artificial darkness of their hospital room waiting for some semblance of sleep, Charlotte had confessed what she believed to be a shameful, yet wonderful sin. She, Charlotte Duffy, loved her adopted child best.

Jonathan had listened politely to the story of Charlotte and her adoption, but Catherine believed that he had seen her willingness to adopt a child like Charlotte’s as some sort of mental aberration, brought on by the desperation of her infertility.

In the end he had been realistic enough for the both of them. Time was running out. He had wanted his own child, and he hadn’t waited to see if his marriage to her would bring that about. He had already wasted three years and, regardless of Charlotte Duffy’s confusion or the success stories they’d heard about other childless couples who’d adopted, then had children of their own, he’d wanted out.

Their uncoupling had been agony for them both, her incredulity compounding his guilt. He had been her best friend, and it had taken her a long time to believe that he had done to her what she never would have done to him, no matter how badly she’d wanted a child. He had left the marriage.

She still saw him from time to time—at his instigation and out of his sense of responsibility toward her. They had been friends first, then lovers, then marriage partners, and she thought he missed her. She thought, too, that he wanted—needed—to salvage some working part of their relationship, something among the ashes of what once was a marriage, so he could say, "See? I haven’t destroyed everything.”

But he had destroyed everything. She had failed at the most basic validation of her womanhood, and his abandonment had made the failure a thousand times worse. But abandoned or not, passive in her failure or not, she did not want to live on the fringes of his life now. She was clearly a survivor, though she took no credit for it and she hadn’t pulled herself up by her own bootstraps. Her survival was simply something that was, like her inability to conceive.

She took it as a sign of her recovery when, eighteen months after the divorce, she suddenly noticed that some of the 1950s aluminum facades had been taken off the downtown storefronts to reveal the old two-over-two windows, and that the layers of paint and neglect had been sandblasted down to the original brick. More and more businesses were moving into the old-fashioned stores—small, non-descript places like The Purple Box. Concrete sections of the sidewalks were torn up and replaced with brick, and there were benches and flowers and newly planted trees. Through traffic was kept to a minimum, and the old downtown had suddenly become a place for pedestrians. She began to enjoy that, the freedom to crisscross the street from store to store, and she began to realize that she wanted to be in the company of people again. Not necessarily to talk to them, though she did sometimes indulge in conversations with strangers, but just to watch and to wonder about them. She had lost her insatiable curiosity about the people and the things around her for a time, but somehow she suddenly had rediscovered it. She had always known that about herself—that she was innately curious—and perhaps that had been the key to her survival. Whatever the cause, every day was getting better.

The rain had lessened by the time she reached her stop, ten blocks away. She lived alone in a yellow-brick, three story apartment house called the Mayfair, which had a green terracotta roof. The bricks were dingy with soot and time, and there was no central air-conditioning, but it had two huge oak trees in its miniscule yard, and the rent was relatively cheap. The front and side entrances were all French doors, three panes of beveled glass across and five down, so that security was probably nonexistent. Most all of the tenants were longtime residents who considered the building "theirs,” a good thing if one wanted one’s comings and goings to be under constant surveillance, not such a good thing if one put a high price on privacy. Thus far she hadn’t minded their scrutiny. She had no illicit lovers she needed to hide; she had no lovers at all.

She entered, expecting Mrs. Donovan to give her a report on the mail delivery and the daily comings and goings. Mrs. Donovan had a bird’s eye view of the front door, the mailboxes, and the foot of the stairs. She was the sister of the woman who owned the apartment house, and she had the remarkable luxury of having both a wooden and a screen door to her apartment. The screen was ostensibly because Mrs. Donovan preferred a draft to a window-unit air conditioner. In actuality it was because, in the summer at least, Mrs. Donovan was the unofficial keeper of the Mayfair gates. Sometimes, when the draft was strong, one could smell the cigarette smoke wafting in from Mrs. Donovan’s apartment, not because she was a smoker but because she sometimes lit Lucky Strikes and blew the smoke around her living room to remind herself of her dead husband. Mr. Donovan had been gone for more than thirty years, but for Mrs. Donovan, with the help of a Lucky Strike and a nostalgic mind-set, he had only just left the room.

The wooden door was closed today.

Catherine checked her mail in the quiet downstairs foyer, tossing everything but the bills into a flowered trashcan that was kept close by. The stairs to the upper floors were wooden, layered in coat after coat of brown enamel paint and impossible to climb without making a racket. It occurred to her that unless a burglar confined himself to the ground floor, there was no need for the Mayfair to have any security. She climbed the stairs quickly, appreciating the stamina she’d acquired from living three flights up. When she’d first moved here, she’d had to rest at every landing. If one could believe clichés, she supposed that every cloud did have its silver lining and that her now strong legs and lungs were the direct benefit of having been forced to move to a cheaper place—that and the serenity she had gained from living at treetop level. She liked that about her apartment: that it was in the front and that the windows looked out onto the tops of the oak trees.

"Catherine,” someone said as she climbed the last flight, the sound a bit distorted by the echo off the bare wood of the stairs.

She looked upward; Jonathan sat on the top step. He never wore a raincoat or carried an umbrella, and he’d left a trail of wet footprints and rain droplets on the stairs.

"You’re late,” he said, getting up. "I thought you got home a little after five.”

"I don’t keep a schedule, Jonathan.” She shifted the purple box to her other arm so she could unlock the door, resisting for a moment when he took it from her.

"No, I didn’t mean to imply that you did,” he said carefully. "What’s in the box?”

"None of your business,” she said, because it was the only answer that might keep him from looking.

He smiled, the smile boyish and winsome. She had always liked his smile, and a memory immediately surfaced, one of her lying in his arms on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

She pushed the memory aside. "What do you want, Jonathan?”

"I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”

"I’m fine.” She opened the door and he followed her inside.

"Are you?” he asked, and she glanced at him, suspecting that he came to see about her so often now because she really was fine and that he was willing to offer her the comfort of his presence now that he knew she was strong enough not to need it.

She took the box out of his hands and set it on the table by the front door before she turned to meet his gaze. "Yes,” she said evenly.

"I’m glad,” he answered, but he looked away. There was no mistaking his relief, his anxiousness to accept what she said as the truth. He gave a soft sigh, as if he were bracing himself for something.


"Jonathan, what is it?” she said sharply. She had known him long enough to know when he was filled with purpose, and she was still too emotionally battered to play guessing games.

He smiled again. "I’m not keeping you from anything, am I? Are you going out with someone or something?”

She felt her irritation rise, suspecting, too, that Jonathan, regardless of his need for her to be independent, still wanted her to be alone and unattached.

She picked up the box and took it into the living room for no other reason than to have something to do. She knew divorced women who found new men almost immediately, but she was still coping with her internal shortcomings. Intellectually, she believed that she was attractive enough, trim enough, educated enough to be sought after again, but somehow it hadn’t helped.

"Sorry,” Jonathan said as she set the box down on yet another table. "I shouldn’t ask that, should I? So tell me. How’s the new job?”

"How did you know I had a new job?”

"Word travels.”

"Whose word?”

"Mrs. Donovan downstairs.”

"Oh, fine,” she said. "Then suppose youtell me. How am I doing? Do I like it or not?”

"She’s not sure. She’s not even sure what it is you do exactly—or if she is, I don’t think she considers it a fit subject for mixed company.”

Catherine smiled. "No, actually I don’t think she does. I believe she finds it a bit... inappropriate.”

"Well, now you’ve really piqued my interest. We can still talk, can’t we? You could even give me some coffee. I’d really like to hear, Catherine.”

She almost believed him—even if she had become the formal-sounding stranger, Catherine, the one with whom he couldn’t live any longer but with whom he wanted to talk about her job—even when he was standing here in a jacket much too wet to have left on. Clearly, he wasn’t planning on having this take long.

It was raining again, the wind driving it against the front windows.

"How about it? Some coffee and conversation before I brave the storm?” he said, cajoling her.

She gave a little gesture of acquiescence and walked toward the kitchen. "Well, come on,” she said when he didn’t follow. "This isn’t a restaurant.”

He smiled that smile again, the winsome, charming one, as he followed behind her.

"Do you like this place?” he asked, looking up at the high ceilings in the kitchen. Her apartment was a far cry from the restored Victorian town house they’d shared in a quaint, shady neighborhood of two-car young professionals. Now she didn’t own a car at all, and the Mayfair was like a once beautiful aging woman, whose beauty existed only for those who remembered it.

"I like it. It’s quiet. It’s got a lot of character—French doors, wrought iron flower boxes on the front windows.”

"That bad, huh? I can’t get over you living here with all these old people.”

"They’re nice, and I can afford it,” she said as she set the kettle on the burner to heat. She looked up at him, and his eyes shifted away. He didn’t want to talk about the decline in her standard of living. He sat down at the kitchen table.

"So tell me about the job.”

She leaned against the sink her arms folded protectively over her breasts because he was looking at her so intently. She still found him attractive, much to her dismay, and probably always would. "It’s with the city school system. Technically I’m working as a medical careers instructor, but actually I’m more of a special-needs teacher.”

"For handicapped children, you mean?”

"Not handicapped. Pregnant.” She moved to the cupboard to get down the cups and a jar of instant coffee. "I’ve got five at the moment. One is barely thirteen years old. They didn’t want to put a child that young into a regular classroom, and they wanted something more cost effective than homebound tutoring. So as long as they were setting up a project to handle her, they decided to throw in the rest of them. They expect thirty or more by the end of the school year.”

"Have you got the credentials to teach them the three R’s?”

"They don’t want me to teach them the three R’s. Pat Bauer is going to do that. Believe it or not, they want me to teach them what they really need to know—how to take care of themselves while they’re pregnant and how to take care of their babies.” She could do that whether she’d had one of her own or not.

She turned away as the kettle whistled sharply, lifting it off the burner and handing him the jar of coffee and a cup and spoon. There was a time when she would have fixed the coffee for him herself.

"Pat’s going to come in half days for the academics. The rest of the time I’m going to do prenatal nutrition, early childhood development, how to buy baby food, and anything else I think might help—” She stopped because he was again staring at her. "I like it and I’m good at it, Jonathan.” She didn’t tell him that she’d taken a major pay cut to get the job, or that she’d worked as a volunteer for nearly a month with no pay at all until the program for pregnant students had been funded.

"I know you are. I know how involved you get. It’s one of the things I always liked about you. Pour the hot water, will you? Who held your hand every time you were burned out?”

You did, she thought, but she didn’t say it; she poured. It was true. He had held her hand all the times when she couldn’t deal firsthand with death and dying and disease anymore. It was only when she hadn’t been able to give him a child that he wasn’t there for her.

"I thought Pat was too sick to work,” he said.

"She’s managing the half days all right.”

"Are you... sure this is the right thing for you to be doing?” he asked when she sat down at the table.

"The right thing? Because I couldn’t have a child of my own?”

He seemed not to mind her candor. "It’s bound to remind you.”

"Jonathan, everything reminds me.”

Especially you, she thought, but she didn’t say that, either. "Or it did,” she qualified, because she didn’t want to go through the guilt and the remorse again, not when she had no inkling who should forgive whom and for what. She got up from the table. She was tired of being civil and, whatever this visit was about, she had had enough of it. She wanted him to go.

"Catherine, you know I’ll always care about you, don’t you? You know that if you ever need anything, you can ask me.” He reached toward her and would have touched her if she hadn’t stepped away.

She looked into his eyes, thinking only of Pat Bauer, who was seriously ill and forced to depend upon an estranged husband for help, a husband who had made it clear that he was in love with another woman. She had no intention of becoming another Pat Bauer.

"What’s wrong?” she said.

"Nothing’s wrong. I just wanted to make sure you know that you can count on me if you ever needed... things.”

"Why would you want me to know that? What sort of things?”

"Catherine, you really know how to take a man’s goodwill and shove it down his throat, don’t you? I just want things settled between us. I just want—I have to go,” he said abruptly. He got up from the table, leaving the coffee he’d wanted steaming and undrunk.

"Are you going to tell me what this visit is all about or not?” she said, following him into the living room.

"It’s not about anything. I just wanted to see how you were.”

"Bullcrap,” she said mildly. She was barren, not stupid. "You’ve been leaving since you got here. And since I didn’t initiate this visit, it’s got to be something with you. So what is it?”

"Catherine, it’s... nothing.”

"You don’t come out into the rain for ‘nothing,’ Jonathan. You stay at home by the fire with your feet up and a copy of The Wall Street Journal.”

"You think you’ve got my number, don’t you?”

"I think you’re changing the subject. If you need a loan, you’ve come to the wrong place.”

"I don’t need a loan.”

"But you need something.”

"No, Catherine... yes.”

But, whatever it was, he wasn’t going to stay long enough to tell her.

"I have to go.”

"So you said.”

He bumped the table lamp in passing, knocking the lampshade askew and sending the box with the gnomes onto the floor. They both stooped to retrieve it, the newspaper-wrapped gnomes tumbling out on the rug.

"Let me have it,” she said, trying to take the sculpture out of his hands.

"What are you up to, Catherine? Buying erotic art?”

The joke was feeble, and she made another grab for the gnomes. He held it away, pulling the newspaper aside so he could see. His face fell at the sight of the gnome mother and child, as if he’d uncovered some terrible secret she had, one he’d rather not know.

"Catherine, I’m sorry.”

"Fine. Now, if you’re not going to tell me what you’re doing here, I’d like you to just go.”

"Catherine...” He put his hand on her arm and she jerked it away. She was flagrantly working with young women who didn’t want to be pregnant; she had even bought a mother and child sculpture, but she did not deserve his pity.

He helped her to stand up anyway. "I... just don’t know what to do.”

"About what?”

He tried to put his hand on her shoulders, but she backed away from him, still clutching the gnomes tightly.

"About you!”

"You don’t have to do anything about me. I’m fine.”

His gaze went to the sculpture. "Sure you are. God!”

He crossed the room and opened the front door, turning back to her before he went out. "It’s not my fault, Catherine. I can’t help the way I am. There are certain things that are important to me. I’m sorry I hurt you, but I can’t help the way I am! I’m... getting married again, Catherine.”

"Pregnant, is she?” she shot back, because she needed to think him cruel, needed to think he wouldn’t let himself be burdened with another woman who couldn’t reproduce.

"I don’t deserve that!” he said, his face flushed. "You know how it was with us, even before…”

"Before what, Jonathan? Before you made my having a baby a condition of the marriage? You’re not going to get out of it that easily, because you and I both know better. You know what I remember, Jonathan? Nothing bad—until I couldn’t do what you wanted.” Tears welled in her eyes. She had thought she was through with recriminations, but she couldn’t resist one last one. "I really thought you were my friend.”

"The friendship’s still there, Catherine. We can keep that.”

"No, we can’t!”

"Catherine, I just want you to know that I’m... happy. I do love her. I wouldn’t marry her if I didn’t.”

"Congratulations. Does she know what a hard job it is being somebody you love?”

He chose to ignore her sarcasm. "Her name is Ellen. Ellen Jessup. She’s a widow. I think you’ll like her. We’ve talked about it, and we want you to come to the wedding. It would help us both if—”

"No, I don’t think so, Jonathan.”

Old friendships ran deep, if not old marriages, and she realized that he wanted desperately to believe that she would like his new wife, just as he wanted to believe that Ellen Jessup really wanted her at the wedding.

"No, really. We want you there. It’s the fifteenth of next month. At her house in the Heights.”

She forced a smile, then lost it. "You are such a fool sometimes, Jon,” she said, pushing him the rest of the way into the hall.


"I’m not coming to your wedding.”


"Don’t call me Katie!”

She shut the door hard, catching sight of a man on the landing, then a little girl in a yellow poncho standing a few steps above him, both of whom must have heard everything.



Chapter Two

"Now what, Joe?”

Joseph D’Amaro looked down at his daughter’s upturned face, at this determined, youngest child of his who never called him anything but Joe and who had pressed him into coming to the Holben woman’s apartment in the first place.

He knew that Mrs. Webber at the curio shop had meant well, but he hadn’t cared that the gnomes had been sold to a woman who understood that he might want to buy them back one day. That was the operative phrase here—one day. He had no money to do it now; it was his lack of funds that had precipitated selling the sculpture in the first place. He hadn’t wanted to track the Holben woman down, regardless of Mrs. Webber’s kindness or his daughter’s enthusiasm, not when he couldn’t possibly make her any kind of viable offer or even the promise of one.

And now he’d blundered into some kind of embarrassing personal situation on the Mayfair stairs that left him no recourse but to get the hell out of there. He had seen the woman’s face as she closed the door. The last thing she needed was a strange man with a kid on her doorstep making some halfhearted speech about wanting to buy back a gnome.

"That’s it. We’re going,” he said.

"Joe, I don’t want to...”

"Fritz, you heard me!”

He started back down the stairs, feeling her disappointment and wishing that he hadn’t spoken so sharply. It wasn’t that Fritz expected him to indulge her whims. If anything, it was exactly the opposite. She never made demands. It was as if she thought her wants held no credence with him, and she tried to save herself any further heartbreak by not asking.

He had puzzled over Fritz for a long time, finally deciding in the middle of a particularly sleepless night that the reason for her behavior was because Lisa was dead and because Fritz was the child who reminded him of it—and she knew it. And yet, physically she didn’t remind him of Lisa at all. It was Della, his other daughter, who did. Della, who had Lisa’s same Irish prettiness and the same devilish smile and volatile personality. Fritz was unlike anyone in either his or Lisa’s family. She had no boisterous laugh, no noisy Italian or Irish temper. She was solemn and quiet and less than beautiful to any eye but his, so solemn and quiet that he hadn’t realized how much the gnomes had meant to her until they’d checked the shop window and found them gone.

They had had a family meeting about selling the sculpture—several, in fact. He’d never kept the realities of money or the lack of it from his children, and he had given them the full details of their current budget problems. There was only one solution he could suggest, and it had been unanimously decided that the gnomes would be sold. All three of his children had voted yes, but somehow he had neglected to look into Fritz’s eyes.

Now she reluctantly followed him down the stairs. She said nothing, but she looked at him once in that way she had, which made him defensive and angry. At seven she was far too wise for her years. He doubted that Fritz would have been so world-weary if Lisa hadn’t died when she was so young and she hadn’t been cared for by people who were immersed in their own private grief and guilt. Lisa’s mother. His mother. He, himself.

Fritz had been barely two when Lisa was killed, and it was not to his credit that days—weeks—passed before he could force himself to deal with the fact that he even had this child. He left her to the care of others because, emotionally, he had died himself, and he had nothing left to give anyone. Della had been twelve and Charlie eleven, both old enough to understand what he managed to tell them about their mother’s death. But Fritz had been too young, too dependent, too much in need of him in the wake of Lisa’s dying. Sometimes he felt that even now Fritz was patiently waiting for him to come up with the fatherly concern and caring she’d been shortchanged.

Still, he thought that Fritz had come through it all with remarkable good sense. She was much more stable than the dramatically emotional Della; more logical than her intellectual but absentminded brother, Charlie. Joe didn’t worry about her. For all her quietness, she wasn’t a pushover. His being in the Mayfair stairwell at the worst possible moment was proof of that.

"That lady’s got problems of her own,” he said as they went out the French doors. "She’s upset.”

He pulled the hood on Fritz’s poncho up over her head. Fritz hadn’t asked for explanations, but he felt the need to give her one. He wasn’t above the parental standard, Because I said so, but generally he tried to respect a child’s need to know.

"Because Jonathan’s getting married?” she asked, hurrying to keep up. "And Ellen Jessup’s pregnant?”

Joe glanced at her as they walked to where he’d left the truck. The truck was parked at the end of the street, and the man, Jonathan, was just ahead of them, getting into a small white Mercedes-Benz.

"Is it?” Fritz asked again, and he tried not to smile. He hadn’t sorted out the scene they’d just witnessed to that degree, but he wasn’t surprised that Fritz had. Fritz didn’t miss much. He had always tried to be truthful with his children, but it occurred to him suddenly that Fritz was the only one of the three who seemed to expect it.

"That would be my guess, yes,” he said.

"Couldn’t we just leave her your business card? I’ve got one in my pocket.”


Joe unlocked the door for Fritz to get in, giving her his hand as she climbed into the battered pickup truck, which Della was ashamed to be seen in, and which Charlie didn’t seem to notice at all. Fritz, on the other hand, wanted it painted candy-apple red. If he ever got the money, maybe he would paint the damn thing candy-apple red.

"Why?” Fritz said, looking into his eyes.

"Why what?”

"Why can’t I give her a business card?”

He didn’t answer her until he’d gotten in on the other side. "Because we can’t just hand her a card with ‘D’Amaro Brothers Construction’ on it and expect her to understand what it’s for. You’d have to give her some kind of explanation and, believe me, Fritz, that woman doesn’t want to hear any explanations now.”

Because she’s going to cry? Fritz almost said. She knew that grown-ups didn’t like children around when they cried. Joe didn’t. He didn’t cry much anymore, or at least it had been a long time since she’d caught him at it. She hated it when he cried, when he sat in the dark, smelling like beer, and held Lisa’s picture even if he couldn’t see it. She never knew what to do, only that somebody should do something. She only knew enough to stay away and pretend it wasn’t happening.

She leaned forward on the seat a bit to count the number of streets from the Mayfair to Second Street. She knew how to get from home to Market Street, and then from Market Street to Second Street, because Charlie had showed her when he took her with him to the library, and she was almost certain Joe wouldn’t go back to see the sad lady who had the gnomes again.

"Can we come back and see the lady tomorrow?” she asked as a test.

"Not tomorrow,” Joe said.

"Sometime soon?”


Maybe. She pressed her lips together and looked out the window, still counting streets, satisfied now that she’d have to handle this matter herself.

Joe pulled the truck in front of the house, but he didn’t come in with her because Charlie’s light was on and because Joe was running late.

"Tell Della I won’t be home until ten or so,” Joe said. "Tell her she doesn’t have to worry about keeping dinner warm for me. And tell her I’ll be working on the interiors at the Allen job if she needs me for anything. Fritz, are you listening to me?”

"I’m listening,” she said, because that was the truth. "Bye, Joe.”

He frowned for a moment, then grinned. "Go on. You’ll get all wet.”

She gave him a wave as she ran up the walk, taking great pains not to splash in the puddles. Sometimes she liked to do that—stomp the water out of the puddles—but she didn’t do it today. Joe was watching, and he was a builder. He and Uncle Michael were losing a lot of money because of the rain, and she didn’t want him to think she enjoyed it.

She stood on the front porch at the door, pulling back the screen and waiting until Joe thought she was about to go inside and drove away. Then she waited a moment longer until his truck had gone around the corner. She stuck her hand into the pocket of her poncho. She had three dollars in nickels, dimes and quarters—milk money she’d saved from school—and a package of dry-roasted peanuts; plenty of money for the bus fare to the Mayfair and plenty to eat until she got back for dinner.

She let the screen door close slowly. Charlie was probably doing something at his computer. There wasn’t much of a chance that he’d hear her even if she came in the front door with a marching band, but she didn’t want to risk it. She smiled a rare smile at the thought of leading a whole big band in red marching suits right into the living room—and Charlie not even looking up.

She looked at her watch, an old white plastic digital one that Della didn’t wear anymore because the painted flowers on the band had nearly worn off. Fritz didn’t care about the flowers; she cared about the time—six o’clock. The bus came to the corner at six-fifteen, only she couldn’t wait at this corner. One of the neighbors might see her and ask what she was doing and did Della or Charlie or Joe know she was out here in the rain? They were sure to ask if they saw her, because she was a motherless child and whatever she did seemed to be everyone else’s business. It was her opinion that people naturally assumed that children with mothers had permission and children without mothers didn’t—and were up to something.

She jumped off the porch into the wet grass, causing a splash of cold rainwater she felt on the backs of her legs and inside her running shoes. But she didn’t linger. She ran as fast as she could around the house and through the backyard, taking all the shortcuts she knew between the neighbors’ garbage cans and compost heaps to get to the next block ahead of the bus.

The bus was coming when she rounded the corner, and she had no time to reflect upon the advisability of this venture. She had never gone anyplace without Della or Charlie or Joe knowing, but she didn’t hesitate. She got on and carefully dropped the correct change into the slot, smiling slightly at the driver, who clearly thought she was about to make his life miserable with a dollar bill. She sat in the back, knowing that the bus would stop at Market Street without her having to pull the cord. She would get on another bus then, one going in the direction of Mayfair. She was a little worried about knowing when to signal the driver to stop. She had to ride for six streets. She’d count five, and in the middle of the fifth she’d pull the cord. Simple. She hoped.

The second bus was crowded with people, and she had a hard time getting to a window so she could count. She remained standing, letting a girl with a big stomach that meant she was going to get a baby sit down in her place. The girl was chewing bubble gum, and she blew a bubble, then popped it loudly. Fritz wished she had bubble gum instead of peanuts. She was hungry, and peanuts were a lot of trouble. She couldn’t count streets and eat them at the same time. She would have to pay attention to every mouthful to keep them from falling between her fingers, and it would be hard to do that and count, too.

She squirmed to get down the aisle, trying to move around a fat boy carrying a big old-fashioned radio. He was very wide, as wide as the whole aisle almost, and he had on a red beret with buttons pinned all over it. She read the ones she could read: U-2 and Sting and ZZ Top. He was wearing earphones, and Fritz was close enough to feel the bass notes from the music in the pit of her stomach. He didn’t move when she pushed him in the back.

"Where you going, baby?” a black woman asked kindly, in spite of Fritz’s squirming to get past. The woman smelled nice, like when Fritz took a bath and Della let her open a new bar of soap.

"The Mayfair,” Fritz told her, and the woman smiled.

"You all mashed in there where you can’t see nothing, baby. You want me to pull the buzzer cord for you?”

"Yes, please,” Fritz said politely, wondering if she should offer to pay the woman for doing it.

But the woman didn’t seem to want any money. She pulled the buzzer cord when it was time and made the fat boy move so Fritz could get off.

"Thank you very much,” Fritz said, and the woman patted her head.

It was still raining, and Fritz stood at the corner for a moment before she crossed the street to the Mayfair. She took a deep breath. There was no sense in worrying now. She was here, and she wanted to see the woman who had bought the gnomes. She wanted to see Daisy and Eric, too, and she had to get back before someone missed her. She hadn’t really thought about that part of the plan—how to get home before she was missed—and she didn’t waste time with it now. She waited until a line of cars went by, then darted across the street. The Mayfair faced the side street rather than Second, and she walked along the sidewalk under the big trees to the front door. The rain sounded louder under the tree, and she decided that she liked the Mayfair’s front doors. They had a sort of little porch over it that was held up with chains, so people coming out wouldn’t get wet before they got their umbrellas up. And she liked the panes of glass in the doors. She could see inside easily, to where a lamp sat on a little table in the foyer. Someone had turned the lamp on, making the dark foyer look warm and dry. She had always liked looking into places from the outside and wondering what kind of people were in there, and if it smelled like chocolate-chip cookies baking, and if there were children with a mother.

She had some trouble with the doors because they had swollen from the rain, but she managed. If Charlie had been with her, he wouldn’t have opened the doors for her. He’d have made her do it herself, to build her character. She was glad that Charlie did that, worried about her character. It made her feel better about things, knowing that even if she didn’t have a mother, with Charlie’s help her character would be all right.

The first door by the stairs was open, and she glanced through the screen at the old woman inside. She could hear the television playing—the man on Channel 6 talking about all the rain. She expected the woman to call out to her as she passed, but she didn’t. Fritz climbed the stairs quickly, the soles of her shoes making little squeaking noises on the wooden steps.

Three flights was a long way up, and she was panting by the time she reached the right door. She waited for a moment to catch her breath before she knocked. Her first knock was weak and timid, and no one answered. She tried again, knocking louder this time, and again she waited.

Nothing happened.

She looked around her, wondering if she should knock again. Maybe Ms. Holben had gone somewhere. No. No, she didn’t think Ms. Holben had gone. Ms. Holben was going to cry, and, when grown-ups cried, they sat in a dark room at home to do it. She took another deep breath. The door across the hall cracked open, and Fritz could see half a face wearing eyeglasses.

"Knock louder, honey. She’s at home,” the face said, and the door closed.

Fritz knocked again, hard this time. She tried to do it the way they did it on the television—really hard—and her knuckles hurt. She could hear muffled noises on the other side, but it was a long time before the door opened.

"Yes?” the woman, Ms. Holben, said. She still had on the same clothes—a denim skirt and a white blouse and red shoes. Her voice was whispery soft, and the room was dark behind her.

Fritz pushed the hood off her head. She should have done that sooner. She shouldn’t be standing inside with a dumb hood on her head. Ms. Holben didn’t seem to notice, and Fritz searched her pocket for Joe’s card. That was something else she should have done. She should have found the card before she knocked at the door.

It was in her jeans pocket, and it took her a moment to locate it. She kept glancing at Ms. Holben, expecting her to say something, but she didn’t. She just waited, and Fritz liked her for that, for waiting and not asking a lot of questions, as if Fritz didn’t know where she was or what she was doing there. She handed Ms. Holben the card, wishing she’d put it in another pocket so it wouldn’t be so bent now.

Ms. Holben stepped out into the hall to read it, holding it under the light in the ceiling. Fritz was relieved to see that while her face was still sad, she wasn’t crying.

"D’Amaro Brothers Construction,” Ms. Holben said, her voice puzzled. Joe had been right. Ms. Holben didn’t understand, and Fritz had forgotten all about giving an explanation.

"My name is Mary Frances D’Amaro. You bought the gnomes,” Fritz said in a rush. "We want to buy them back. Sometime when it stops raining and we get the money,” she added, because she felt she owed Ms. Holben the truth. She waited, and it seemed to Fritz that they were bothwaiting.

"You want to buy it back,” Ms. Holben said finally, looking again at the wrinkled card. "You and the D’Amaro Brothers.”

"Me and Joe,” Fritz said. That wasn’t exactly the truth. She wasn’t sure whether Joe really wanted to buy back the gnomes or not. She was sure about Della and Charlie, though. Della liked money better than gnomes, and Charlie didn’t care about either, only computers.

"You were here earlier, weren’t you?”

Fritz didn’t want to say. If she said yes, Ms. Holben would be reminded that she’d heard all about Jonathan and Ellen Jessup, the very thing Joe said had made her upset.

"Yes,” she said anyway, because she was supposed to tell the truth, and she couldn’t see any way out of it.

"Are you by yourself?”

Fritz nodded. "Could I... see Daisy and Eric?” she said before Ms. Holben asked any more questions.

Ms. Holben stood back. "Come in. What did you say your name was again?” She turned on a lamp behind her.

Fritz looked around the room. It was a nice room, she decided. Just big enough, with not much furniture. She could dance in this room, turn a cartwheel and not break anything if she aimed herself just right. Her room at home was too small, too crowded because she had to share with Della. She couldn’t walk without bumping into things, and Della hated having her underfoot no matter how quiet and tiny she tried to be. She knew that Joe wanted a bigger place for them, but that was somewhere "down the road,” down the same road as buying back the gnomes.

"Mary Frances,” Fritz said. "But I like Fritz. Everybody calls me that. Except the sisters. They call me Mary Frances.”

"Fritz,” Ms. Holben repeated. "Is that because you couldn’t say Mary Frances when you were little?”

She looked at Ms. Holben in surprise, wondering how she had guessed that. "Yes. Joe says all I did was spit, and Fritz is what it sounded like.”

"I’m Catherine, but I guess the lady at The Purple Box already told you.”

"No,” she said. "But I heard Jonathan.”


"On the stairs. You don’t like him to call you Katie,” Fritz reminded her.

Ms. Holben smiled slightly. "Oh, yes. Jonathan.”

Fritz looked at her gravely. Joe had been right about the card and the explanation; he was probably right about not bothering Ms. Holben, too. She stood in the middle of the room, waiting for Ms. Holben to show her the gnomes and wondering if she really could call her by her first name. She’d never had the chance to call a grown-up woman by her first name before. Brenda, the girl from the construction office who went with Joe to the movies, had said to call her Brenda, but Joe had never brought her home with him again.

"Daisy and Eric are in that box,” Ms. Holben said. "Let me take your raincoat.”

Fritz gave up the poncho, but she was immediately cold without it. She couldn’t keep from shivering. "Why don’t you sit over there,” Ms. Holben said, pointing to the flowery couch.

Fritz hesitated, then went and sat down where Ms. Holben had pointed.

"Cover up with this until you get warm,” she said, helping Fritz pull an afghan off the back of the couch. The afghan was white with pink crocheted flowers on it. She handed Fritz the box and went into another room—the kitchen, Fritz could tell when she leaned forward. She expected Ms. Holben to come right back but she didn’t, and after a moment Fritz turned her attention to the box. She glanced again in the direction of the kitchen. It must be all right for her to look into the box. Ms. Holben wouldn’t have given it to her otherwise. She waited a moment longer, then reached in and parted the newspapers. Daisy and Eric were in there. She lifted them out and put the box aside, letting them sit on the afghan on her lap. Daisy was still smiling, and Eric was still falling asleep.

She looked up to find Ms. Holben watching.

"Do you like hot chocolate, Fritz?”

"I like it a lot.”

"I think I’ll make us some then. It’s nice on a rainy day.”

"I know how to help,” Fritz offered.

"Are you still cold?”

"Not that cold.”

"Good. Come on, if you’re warm enough. And bring Daisy and Eric. You can tell me about them.”

Fritz slid off the couch, taking the time to try to rearrange the afghan with one hand while she held on to the gnomes with the other. As she came into the kitchen, Ms. Holben was taking down two cups from a china cabinet filled with blue dishes.

"I always use the Blue Willow mugs when I make chocolate,” Ms. Holben said. She took down a Blue Willow plate as well. "Would you get the milk out of the refrigerator?”

Fritz carefully set Daisy and Eric in the middle of the kitchen table, then brought the milk. Together she and Ms. Holben worked to make the hot chocolate—Fritz handling the measuring and Ms. Holben heating the milk on the stove. Fritz watched her closely, comparing her, as she did all women, to the framed picture Joe had of Lisa in her wedding dress. Ms. Holben looked older than Lisa. Her hair was dark and short and curly, not long and blond like Lisa’s. And she didn’t have blue eyes. She wasn’t like Lisa at all, but she was still nice.

"I almost forgot,” Ms. Holben said as she poured the hot chocolate into the mugs. "We need one more thing.” She went to the refrigerator and got out a container of vanilla ice cream, then put a big spoonful into each cup. "Do you ever put ice cream in your hot chocolate?”

"Just marshmallows sometimes.”

"You’ll like this, I think. When I was a little girl and went shopping with my mother, we used to stop in this little drugstore by the bus stop. In the winter, we had hot chocolate with ice cream in it. In the summer we had fresh limeades. I don’t think you can get either one anymore, unless you make them at home. She sat down at the table. "Tell me about Daisy and Eric—I forgot the cookies,” she said, getting up again. She brought a tin of plain butter cookies and put some out on the Blue Willow plate. "Did you have Daisy and Eric long?”

"Joe got them when I was a little kid. He won them at the PTA. I like them because I like things with mothers.” Fritz let the ice cream bump her upper lip as she sipped the chocolate. Ms. Holben was right. She did like it, and she liked Ms. Holben telling her about when she was a little girl.

"I like things with mothers, too. Is Joe your brother?”

"No, he’s my father. I call him Joe because I don’t want him to die.” She slurped her chocolate loudly, but Ms. Holben didn’t seem to mind. "Lisa died,” she added. She looked down at the mug of chocolate, losing herself for a moment in the Blue Willow pattern on the sides, imagining herself with Koong-Shee and Chang escaping over the little bridge as she braced herself for the question she knew would follow.

"Lisa is your mother?”

She avoided Ms. Holben’s eyes. "I don’t have a mother... Do you know the story of the Blue Willow on the mug and the plate?”

"No. Tell me.”

Fritz glanced at her to see if she meant it. She shouldn’t have said why she had to call Joe by his name. It was a secret, the kind of secret that made grown-ups upset, and she had never told anybody. She just couldn’t be sure about grown-ups. Sometimes she sensed that they wanted her to talk because they felt sorry for her—because she was a motherless child, not because they wanted to listen. And sometimes they wanted to talk so that they could really find out something else. Like Aunt Margaret asking her about school and Della and Charlie when she really wanted to know about Joe and Brenda. She had seen Aunt Margaret kiss Joe one time in the kitchen, kiss him hard while she hung on to him as if she thought he’d run away. And Joe did want to run away. He kept turning his face and trying to pull Aunt Margaret’s arms from around his neck. And he kept saying, "For God’s sake, Maggie, don’t! Michael’s my brother!”

But Ms. Holbenwaslistening—as if she knew Fritz had just told her something she hadn’t meant to tell.

Fritz moved the cookies off the plate and pointed to the people on the bridge. "This is Koong-Shee here in front with a staff. This one in the middle is her true love, Chang,” she recited solemnly.

"And who’s this?” Ms. Holben said, pointing to the third figure. Her fingers were long and her fingernails short and polished with clear polish. Fritz liked fingernails like hers, like a mother’s when she wanted to be special and not every day, like the mothers who came to the Parents’ Tea at the Catholic school. She didn’t like fingernails long and painted shiny red like Aunt Margaret’s. She liked shiny red just on cars and trucks.

"That’s Koong-Shee’s father. He’s carrying a whip because he’s mad.”

"Why is he mad?”

"Because Koong-Shee is running away with Chang. Chang is her father’s secretary. He’s very poor, and her father wants her to marry another man—a rich man.”

"Does she?”

"No, she escapes with Chang. They go and live in the little house there across the lake, and for a while they’re very happy.” Fritz hesitated, thinking of Lisa and Joe. They hadn’t been happy for very long, either.

"Then what happened?” Ms. Holben asked quietly, as if she knew something bad was coming.

"The rich man was very angry when he couldn’t marry Koong-Shee. He set fire to the little house across the lake. And they died.” She gave a soft sigh. "The end.” She looked at Ms. Holben. Ms. Holben was looking at the plate.

"No, I don’t think that’s the end,” she said. "See here? These two birds flying high over the lake? I think those are Koong-Shee’s and Chang’s souls. I think they’re changed now, but they’re still happy and they’re free.”

Fritz looked at the birds again. "That’s not what the lady in the China Room at the museum said.”

"Maybe she didn’t know that part of it.”

Fritz looked at the birds again. Maybe she didn’t. And it made sense. Why else were those two big birds there?

"I’ll have to think about it,” Fritz said, and Ms. Holben smiled. "While you’re thinking, maybe you’d better tell me how much trouble you’re in.”

She looked at Ms. Holben guiltily, but she didn’t answer.

"Does Joe know you’re here?”


"Don’t you think you ought to tell him?”

"He’s working on the interiors at the Allen site. I can’t bother him. It’s been raining. He’s got to do the inside work so he can get some money.”

"If he thinks you’re lost someplace, I doubt he’s getting very much work done.”

"I’m not lost.”

"He doesn’t know that, does he? Maybe all he knows is that you’re not where you’re supposed to be.”

Fritz thought about this. "I can call Della and Charlie,” she decided.

"Who are they?”

"My sister and my brother.”

"I think you should do that.”

Fritz looked at Ms. Holben closely. She wasn’t angry; she was just using the kind of voice that meant Fritz had better do it.

"I know you wanted to make sure Daisy and Eric were all right. But it’s not good to worry people who love you if you can help it.”

"I couldn’t help it,” Fritz said. "I wanted you to have a card with Joe’s name on it.”

"I know. Now finish your chocolate and go call them.”

Fritz dutifully took a last swallow of her chocolate and stood up.

"The telephone’s over there,” Ms. Holben said.

"Maybe I can’t reach it,” Fritz suggested in desperation.

"Maybe you can stand on the stool right in front of it.”

Fritz took a deep breath. She was going to have to call Della and Charlie. There was no way out of it. She climbed up on the stool and dialed the number. The line was busy.

"It’s busy,” she said, holding the receiver out in case Ms. Holben didn’t believe her and wanted to listen. "Della has a lot of boyfriends.”

"Try one more time,” she said, but she didn’t come to listen to the busy signal.

Fritz dialed again. "Still busy.” She climbed down from the stool. "I can go get on the bus. That’s how I got here.”

"I’d rather you didn’t do that. Let’s don’t give me nightmares about your riding on the bus by yourself at this time of night, all right?”

Fritz looked at the windows. It was dark, and it was still raining. "All right,” she said agreeably. She didn’t want to give Ms. Holben nightmares, and she liked it here.

Ms. Holben ran the sink full of hot water and squirted in some dish detergent so she could wash the mugs and the pan they’d used to make the hot chocolate. "Who looks after you when Joe’s working?”

Fritz brought the spoons to the sink. "Della.”

"Della,” Ms. Holben repeated. "How old is Della?”

"Sixteen. She can drive a car. Charlie’s fifteen. He likes computers.”

"And what does Della like?”

"Being a cheerleader, and dancing classes and boys and parties. And new clothes that cost too much. What do you like?”

"What do I like?” Ms. Holben stopped washing. "Oh, old ghost movies with Abbott and Costello or Topper or the Dead End Kids... and popcorn... and gnomes.”

"And hot chocolate,” Fritz supplied.

"And hot chocolate,” Ms. Holben agreed.

"And Blue Willow stuff.”

"That, too. Go call.”

"I was hoping you’d forget.”

"Not a chance. Go call.”

Fritz dialed the number again, and this time Della answered.

"This is Fritz,” was all she managed. She had known Della would be mad—if she’d missed her yet—so she was prepared. She waited until Della wound down.

"The Mayfair with Ms. Holben,” she said in answer to Della’s yelling. "Apartment 3-A.” She waited in case Della had more to say, then hung up the phone. I’m supposed to wait here,” she told Ms. Holben.

"I think that’s a good idea.”

"Ms. Holben?”

"What, Fritz?”

"Could I hold Daisy and Eric until she gets here?”

"Yes, Fritz. Take them into the living room.”

Fritz carried them back to the couch, making herself comfortable and covering her legs with the afghan again. She wasn’t cold now; she just liked the pink crocheted flowers. She held Daisy and Eric carefully, turning them around and around to see their faces from different angles, to touch the daisies and acorns and to find the coin. Ms. Holben stayed in the kitchen, coming out only when someone knocked on the door. Fritz sighed. From the sound of the knock Della must be really mad.

But it wasn’t Della. It was Joe. And from the look of him he hadn’t been working. Fritz wondered how grown-ups knew these things about each other, that Ms. Holben wouldn’t understand about the business card, and that Joe wouldn’t be working if he thought she was lost. He said a few words to Ms. Holben, then came into the living room. She put Daisy and Eric carefully into the newspaper and back into the box before she got up.

"Get your coat,” Joe said, his voice making her want to shiver worse than being out in the rain ever had. He was tired and dirty and he smelled like sweat. She wished he smelled better here in Ms. Holben’s apartment.

"I gave Catherine the card,” she told him, using Ms. Holben’s first name so he would know that her visit had gone well.

"I don’t care about the card! Get your coat!”

Ms. Holben was holding the yellow poncho. Fritz walked across the room, and she let Ms. Holben help her put it on.

"Good-bye, Fritz,” she said. "I enjoyed our visit.”

"Good-bye, Catherine.” Fritz knew she should say thank you for the hot chocolate, but she didn’t trust herself to do it. She tried never to have Joe mad at her, and his anger was a lot harder to bear than she remembered.

"I’m going to put the card on the bulletin board by the telephone. Come and see me again—when you have permission.”

"There’s not much chance of that,” Joe said.

"I really would like for her to visit again if she—”

"What you would like doesn’t count for shit,” Joe said, and Fritz cringed. He jerked open the door and she went out ahead of him, looking back at Ms. Holben once when she reached the bottom of the first flight of stairs.



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