“I used it to buy bubble gum,” I said, turned, and walked back up the stairs.
“You won’t have any friends, Teal,” he called after me. “When people can’t trust you, they won’t want you for a friend.”
I didn’t reply. I went into my room and shut the door. Maybe he was right. Maybe I would never have a real friend. Despite the brave front I put up and my toughness at times, I did fear that I had grown like a weed in a neglected garden. Even though I could claim it wasn’t my fault, perhaps, I was still not a nice person, not someone anyone would want for a friend. When I was younger, I imagined my dolls weren’t happy being with me. I didn’t take especially good care of them, maybe because they were tossed my way like so much pablum designed to keep me quiet in my cage.
I would show all of them finally, especially Carson, I thought, sulking in my room. Del and I would do it. We would run off and leave them standing with their mouths wide open. I counted the additional money I had stolen. It was nearly fifteen hundred dollars. I knew it wasn’t nearly enough, and that made me feel sick. How long could I keep up this goody-goody girl behavior? What a fool I had been to give Shirley the diamond bracelet, I thought. I had done it to impress Del, but now it would have come in handy. Maybe I could get her to give it back to me.
I went back downstairs and waited for an opportunity to use the phone. As soon as Daddy left the house, I went into his office and closed the door softly. The phone rang and rang, but no one picked up at Shirley’s house. Frustrated, I left and found Mother getting herself ready to meet someone at the golf club. I asked her to drop me off at the mall, claiming I had to buy a new pair of running shoes for physical education class. I even got her to give me two hundred dollars.
“Don’t spend it all at the mall,” she told me. “Keep something for a taxi home and come right home, Teal, as soon as you buy the shoes. I don’t need your father chastising me for letting you run loose.”
“I’m not running loose, Mother. I’m doing some important errands.”
“I know that, but your father keeps talking about waiting for the second shoe to drop, whatever that means. He makes me very nervous. Just keep being good, please. What I don’t need now, with all these plans to work out for the wedding, are any complications.”
“I thought everything had been decided about the wedding, Mother,” I said.
She smiled gleefully.
“Waverly Taylor is really not equipped to handle such an important social event. I’ve had to make a number of changes already,” she said proudly. “She simply doesn’t understand what goes with what, what is the proper etiquette, and what people of quality expect at such an event. She has money but no class,” Mother added.
“She’s lucky to have you, then,” I said.
She looked at me, deciding whether to believe me or not. I tried to appear as innocent and as sincere as I could, and she nodded.
“Yes, she is lucky,” she concluded.
As soon as I arrived at the mall, I rushed to the pizza parlor to see Del. Luckily, he was on a break. His face brightened the moment he saw me.
“I was hoping you’d find a way here today,” he said. “I’ve got some good news.”
I sat beside him quickly. Had he come up with some money, too? Had he found a way for us to leave sooner? We had spent so much time talking about it since I first introduced the possibility. We would lie side by side in his bed after making love and talk until it was late and I had to get home. Someone else might think we were romanticizing, but he or she wouldn’t know how serious we were and how desperate we were. Desperate people do desperate things, Del told me, and I could see he had come to believe in us. It had given him new hope, and when he had hope, I had hope.
“My mother got a good job,” he said, and I felt my body sink as if all my bones had turned to soft clay. That was what made him so happy?
“What do you mean? What job?”
“Hairdresser, and in a very good and busy salon, too. She’s going to make some decent money. She’s been clean for nearly a week now, no drugs, no booze. She’s even given up smoking, realizing it’s damaging her complexion.”
” I said, not hiding my disappointment that well.
“And it all hasn’t come a moment too soon, either. We had another visit from the social services department. When she was able to show she had gainful employment, they backed off. Maybe they’ll leave us be now. Isn’t that great?”
“Yes,” I said, but not with as much enthusiasm as he would have liked, I know. “But hasn’t she done this before, Del?”
“She has, but not with as much enthusiasm. Something woke her up. Maybe she saw something, someone go bad or something. I don’t know. LaShay hasn’t been around either, so that’s a good sign. My constant nagging finally paid off. The kids are happier, too.”
I nodded. In my closed fist, I had the money Mother had given me. Del looked at it.
“What? Oh. Something more to add to our fund,” I told him, and unfolded my hand to show him the four fifty-dollar bills. He stared at it.
“You have to quit doing this, Teal. It’s going to become very serious and you’ll get into big trouble. I can’t take any more of your money,” he said. “Absolutely cannot.”