Kathie’s week started out well. She’d aced the English exam she’d taken on Friday, a good thing for someone on academic probation. The best part, though, was being invited to go down to The Tap, the local after-school hangout, by a group of kids from her sixth period study hall. She could only stay long enough to eat some fries and drink a shake because she’d promised Marie she’d watch the kids while she did some Christmas shopping, but it was long enough to tell that she liked them and that they liked her.
The phone was ringing when Kathie sailed into the house, still chuckling to herself over a story one of the boys had told about the varsity football coach.
“Is that you, Kathie?” Marie’s voice came up the basement stairs. “Will you get that? I’m wrestling with this stupid washer.”
“Got it!” Kathie shouted down the stairs. “Hunter residence,” she said into the phone.
“Hello?” Kathie thought she could hear someone breathing, but couldn’t be sure. “Anyone there?” she said loudly. Kathie shrugged and hung up; probably a wrong number.
“Who was that?” Marie said, coming up the stairs carrying a load of clean clothes.
“Don’t know. No one was there.”
“Oh, okay.” Marie set the basket down on the couch and started folding. “Well?” she said. “What do you think?”
“What do I think about what?”
“Sometimes you’re so dense,” Marie said. “You didn’t notice what was on the dining room table?”
“Yeah, so, Jim got you some flowers. Very nice. It’s not your birthday.”
Marie groaned. She dropped what she was folding, grabbed her sister’s hand and marched her over to the table. “What do you see?” she asked.
“Okay, I’ll play. I see three red roses in one of those all-purpose florist vases with a pink ribbon wrapped around it. Oh, and a card. Geez, Marie, what’s up with you?”
“Look closer, girl. Whose name is on the card?”
Kathie looked. “Crap,” she said. “Must be something his mother made him do to thank me for the ‘nice time’.” She unpinned the card from the ribbon and opened it up. “What the hell?” she said, “What has that boy been smoking?” She dropped the card on the table in disgust. Marie picked it up.
“Wow, that must have been some date,” she said. “I thought you said you barely talked. ‘All my love, Peter Johnson,’” she read. “I love how he put his last name, you know, in case you have other Peters in your stable!”
“Shut up,” Kathie said. “The boy is obviously disturbed. Crap, I’ll bet that was him on the phone before.”
“Don’t be silly. He would have said something.”
Kathie shivered. “I don’t know, Marie. This really creeps me out.”
“Oh, pooh,” Marie said, going back to folding the clothes. “He’s just shy and sweet and obviously infatuated.
The phone rang, startling them both. Marie went to answer it.
“No, let me,” Kathie said, getting to it first. “If it’s him, this needs to be nipped in the bud now.” She snatched up the receiver. “Hunter residence.” It was practically a snarl.
“Peter Johnson, is that you?” Kathie gave her sister an I-told-you-so look.
“Peter, if you have something to say, please say it.”
“Fine, if you won’t say anything, I will.” Kathie took a deep breath; she didn’t want to seem unkind. “First off, thank you for the flowers, but they were uncalled for. Especially the note. I had a nice time the other day, but that’s it.” How should she put this? “There is no ‘love’ here, okay? We had a blind date, the date is over and that is that.” She took another deep breath, hoping he’d break in. Hoping, actually, that it was him at the other end of the line.
“Okay, fine,” Kathie finally said into the silence. “Have a nice life.”
She hung up, exhausted.
“That went well,” Marie said, trying to get her sister to smile. “Seriously, you laid it on the line in a nice way and what happens after this is all on his shoulders.”
“I’m still trying to figure out why I was nice at all,” Kathie said. She picked up the vase of flowers, walked over to the trash can and threw the whole thing in. “There, that feels better,” she said.
“Oka-a-a-y,” Marie said. “I have to run. The kids are at the Pattons’. I told them to be home by 5; dinner’s in the oven and Jim’s bowling. I won’t be too late.”
“Go, go,” Kathie said, “we’ll be fine.”
And they were fine until she’d sent the boys up for their baths and Kathie went around the house closing the curtains and pulling down the shades.
“No way,” she said, ducking down below the living room window. She was pretty sure she’d seen the tail end of a big brown car going around the corner. She watched and waited until the kids clamored down the stairs, but only saw old Mr. Parker walking his dog as they passed under a streetlamp. She must have been imagining things.
She knew better the next day when she walked outside and saw Peter sitting in his car at the curb. She did an about-face and went back inside.
“Forget something?” Marie said.
“Come here.” Kathie dragged Marie away from the stove and brought her to the living room window. “What do you see?” she asked.
“Is that … what the heck is he doing out there?”
“I assume waiting for me. This is insane. I think we should call the cops.”
“The cops?” Marie looked nervously at the kids who were finishing breakfast. “That seems a bit … extreme, don’t you think? He’s not breaking the law, exactly.”
Kathie glared at her sister.
“Maybe if you just talk to him?”
“I did that already, remember?
“Well, maybe if Jim talked to him …?”
Kathie pictured five-foot-nine, 150-pound Jim menacing six-foot-four, 250-pound Peter Johnson.
Apparently Marie had as well. “No, I don’t suppose that would work,” she said. “But the cops, Kathie? It’s a small town and the neighbors ...”
Kathie groaned. She was going to be late for school and if there was one thing she couldn’t do it was miss school; the school superintendent had made that very clear.
“Fine,” she said, peeking out the blinds. “Thanks for all the support. “
“Oh, Kathie, come on ...”
“I’ll just ignore him,” Kathie said. She pulled her backpack on and yanked open the door. She didn’t look at Peter or his car. She thought she heard a car driving slowly behind her, but she kept her head down and she didn’t stop until she was safely inside the school, which was only a few blocks away.
The day dragged. Kathie couldn’t focus and got yelled at twice for not paying attention. All she could think about was the end of the day and whether there would be a car waiting for her.
“That’s crazy, Kathie,” Brad, one of the boys in the study hall group said. Kathie had her head down on her desk, crumpling and uncrumpling a tissue in her hand. Just what I need, she thought, someone to tell me I’m crazy.
“I don’t mean you’re crazy,” Brad continued. “I mean that guy has some serious shit wrong with his head. I say call the cops.”
“Me too,” Lori, one of the girls chimed in. She eyed the study hall monitor who pretty much let them get away with anything anyway, and got up to kneel by Kathie’s desk. She rubbed her back. “My old lady?” she said. “She was going out with a real loser and he kept coming around even though she told him to fuck off, you know? Anyway, she had to get this restraining order to keep him away.”
Kathie looked up. “Did it work?”
“Well … not right away. The guy was really dense. I was, like, 10, and it wasn’t until the jerk started giving me shit that the cops finally put him away. But we had to move and everything.”
“Shit.” Kathie put her head back down on the desk.
“Guys like that are cowards,” Mark, the one Kathie thought was super cute, said. “He just needs the shit kicked out of him once.”
“And you’re going to do it?” Brad said. He looked at the whole group. “I mean, we’re all pacifists. It’s not like any of us are shitkickers.” Everyone nodded.
“Yeah,” Mark said, “but I have redneck brothers.”
“Me too,” Lori said.
“Maybe you should talk to Dr. Schneider,” Brad said, referring to the school psychologist. “Maybe she knows how to handle it.”
“I’m not real fond of shrinks,” Kathie said, “but I’ve never talked to a female one.”
“It couldn’t hurt,” Brad said. “I think she has office hours now, why don’t you go see?
“And Kathie,” Mark said, “don’t worry about after school; all of us will meet you at the door.”
Kathie felt a rush of gratitude toward these kids she’d only just met. Why couldn’t her sister be as understanding? She pulled her backpack off the back of the desk chair and went to see the monitor about a hall pass.
“Do you feel threatened?” Dr. Schneider asked. The woman had pulled out a large file and was looking it over after Kathie had told her story.
“Well, yeah, I do,” Kathie said, wondering why she would ask such a question.
“I see,” Schneider said, leafing through the file. She closed it abruptly and leaned on her elbows, her hands cupped under her chin. “Is there anything else?” she asked.
Kathie was confused. Was she being dismissed? “Anything else?” she asked.
The woman leaned back in her big leather chair. “Yes,” she said. “Is there something you’re leaving out? Anything you might have done or said that would have led the young man on?” She looked smug, certain. Kathie had seen that look before.
She blinked her eyes several times. She tilted her head and looked at the doctor’s stained acoustical tiled ceiling. She got up (causing Schneider to startle) and walked over to the woman’s framed credentials.
“Is this real?” Kathie asked, giving Schneider a wide-eyed stare. “I mean, it wasn’t mail-ordered from Mexico or anything, was it?” Kathie knew she was going to be in big trouble, but just really didn’t give a damn at that point.
“I don’t see ...”
“Well, it’s like this,” Kathie said. “I came to you for help. I, being the victim here. You, being the trained professional, should – one would think – have the professionalism to offer empathy, encouragement and perhaps even some solutions – not blame. But, hey, I’m just a kid, what do I know?” She gave Schneider her most winning smile.
“Miss Hudson, this is the sort of thing that goes in one’s permanent record,” Schneider warned.
“You’ve got to be kidding me, doctor,” Kathie replied. “I’m getting harassed – stalked – and you think I should be worried about my permanent record? Wow. Just wow.” With shaking hands Kathie snatched up her backpack and strode out of the room.
As promised, the other kids were waiting for her at the exit.
“How’d it go?” Brad asked.
“Let’s just say that I’m probably one step closer to being expelled,” Kathie said.
Kathie told them what happened as they walked to The Tap.
“Hey, Kath,” Lori said, “what color did you say the creep’s car was?”
“Plain old brown,” Kathie said.
“Well, don’t look now, but I think it’s a couple blocks behind us.”
Everyone except Kathie turned around. She already knew it was him.
“This is getting ridiculous,” she said. “It feels like he’s crawling right up my back.” She shivered and Mark put his arm around her shoulders.
“I hope he’s not the jealous type,” Brad joked. Lori slapped at him.
“Oh,” Mark said, taking his arm away, “maybe I shouldn’t have done that.”
“No, that’s okay,” Kathie said. His arm had felt good. “That’s the whole thing right there. Why should I have to change my behavior because of some jerk?” She was glad when Mark put his arm back around her.
When they got the The Tap, Lori looked back. “Looks like he’s gone,” she reported. “Maybe his mommy needs him at home.” Everyone chuckled. Kathie tried to relax and enjoy her new friends, but her eyes kept wandering to the little hangout’s greasy, fly-specked window.
As soon as Kathie walked into the house, the phone rang. No way was she going to answer it, but she didn’t have to; Marie was standing right next to it. She held up three fingers, signifying what, Kathie didn’t know.
“Hello? Hello? Listen creep, quit calling here.” Now Kathie got it: this was his third call today. “The police will be called!” Marie slammed down the receiver, her face red and her hands shaking.
Jonathan came up and hugged her knees. “Momma, who was that? Momma, what’s wrong?”
Marie shut her eyes for a second then hugged the boy to her. “It’s just someone playing a bad trick, that’s all,” she told him. She eyed Kathie over the top of his head. “Why don’t you and Frankie go play trains in the basement before we eat.”
Getting to play trains before dinner was a real treat. The boys scurried off, leaving the two women to talk alone.
“He was outside school today,” Kathie said.
“He’s called three times in the last half an hour and I thought I saw him drive by earlier,” Marie told her. “Maybe contacting the police isn’t such a bad idea. This is getting on my nerves.”
Kathie froze. She wasn’t very fond of the police, nor they of her, just by virtue of how she dressed.
Marie looked at the big kitchen clock. “Crap, I’ve got to get supper started.” She looked at her sister. “Could we stand just one more day?” she asked. “Come home right after school tomorrow and I’ll farm the kids out at a friend’s house so we can tackle it first thing. That work?”
Kathie shrugged. One more day probably wouldn’t matter. Maybe if it was Marie who called – it was her phone Johnson was calling, after all – no one would look too closely at her. She’d never been arrested, per se, but there was that little misunderstanding with the San Jo, New Mexico, sheriff and a couple of parties that had gotten out of control when her mother wasn’t home.
“Maybe you could wear that Little House on the Prairie outfit again,” Marie said, clanging around in the cupboard.
“Yeah, that worked so well last time,” Kathie shot back.
Marie gave her a look, glad to see that her sister was actually smiling. “Point taken,” she said. “Wear what you will!”