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Lofty Dreams. Ch. 20-21

April 16, 2015 05:45AM
Chapter 20

Summer began, and for the first time all three Bennet girls were working. Janelle had started a job working at Target, in addition to taking the two make-up classes she needed. Dee got a city-funded summer job assisting in a Head Start program. I was working in the headquarters of Community Change of Meryton, a large nonprofit that offered a variety of different social services, such as day care, senior services, and food pantries, at satellite sites around the city.

I had a half hour lunch break and because the weather was so nice most days, I usually found a spot in a nearby park to eat my lunch. On Wednesday during my second week of work, Aunt Haley joined me.

We had just started to eat when I heard my name. I looked up to see Will waving at me. He was in line at a pushcart that sold wraps and fruit smoothies, the same one where Aunt Haley had purchased her meal. I was surprised to see him because we were nowhere near the downtown courthouse where he was working. He was wearing tan slacks, a loosened tie and a white collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He looked very nice.

I stood up and walked over to him. "Hey, what are you doing around here?"

"I have to do some research for my supervisor at the law library across the street. Are you eating lunch?"

I nodded. "I like to eat here in the park."

"May I join you?"

I smiled. "I'm eating with my aunt, but sure."

Will paid for his food and we walked over to join Haley on the bench. I introduced them, and wondered briefly what he would think of her with her waist-long dreadlocks and colorful African clothing. Aunt Haley stood up and ignored Will's proffered hand, embracing him instead. "Sorry, I'm a hugger," she said. He smiled, looking a bit bashful but pleased.

"So how do you know each other?" she asked when we were all seated.

"The LOFTY Dreams program," Will said. "I'm doing my internship at the DA's office, and I was just telling Liz that I've been sent to do research at the law library."

"Nice." Haley paused to take a bite of her veggie wrap. "Are you enjoying your job?"

"It's really cool," he replied as he pulled paper off a straw and stuck it into his smoothie. "I do a lot of grunt work, obviously, filing and photocopying. But I also get to sit in on some trials, which is incredible. It can go from boring to scary to sad to thrilling in an instant."

Haley nodded. "I'll bet. My father—Liz's granddad—runs a program with ex-offenders and he would describe his work the same way. But his reward is helping people find that spark of hope that helps them change. And some of these folks, if you knew what they had done in the past, would terrify you."

Will looked fascinated and asked Haley several more questions about Grandpa Larry's program and Haley's own work as an artist.

I was munching on the sandwich I had brought from home when he turned to ask me about my internship. I frowned a little, thinking how boring my work sounded compared to Will's, Grandpa's and Haley's. "I'm assisting the Director of Development at Community Change of Meryton. I do things such as write thank-you letters to people who give donations and enter the information about donations we receive in a database."

I paused for a moment, before remembering that there was a part of my job I really liked. "The best part is that I get to visit some of our programs around the city to take photos and interview people, and then I write stories for the newsletter about it. I like making connections with people who are being helped."

"That's great, Liz," Will said. "I'll bet you feel the same reward your grandfather feels."

I smiled at him, realizing he was right and feeling very grateful to Will in that moment. "Yeah, I do."

Haley had finished eating and started gathering the paper goods that had held her food and drink. "Here, let me get that," Will offered, and he stood to carry both their trash to a receptacle near the edge of the park.

As soon as he walked away, Haley leaned toward me and whispered, "He's a keeper, Liz. He's polite, intelligent, caring, and good-looking, too! Girl, if I was twenty-five years younger…"

"Aunt Haley!"

She grinned cheekily. "But he's yours, so of course I would never take him from you!"

I frowned. "He's not mine, exactly."

"What are you waiting for?"

"I think I blew it with him," I sighed. He was willing to be my friend now, but…

Haley lifted her eyebrows above her sunglasses. "He wouldn't by chance be the one you told me you didn't like back in December?"

I nodded reluctantly.

She said, "My my, how things change!" with such a silly smirk on her face that we both laughed.

"What's changed?"

My face grew hot as Will appeared before us. Fortunately, Haley saved me from having to speak. "Private joke, sorry." She stood and gave him another hug. "It was really wonderful to meet you, Will. I have some errands to run, but you two enjoy the rest of this beautiful day."

"You didn't tell me…" I started to say, but Haley's wink when she reached out her arms to me shut me up.

I laughed again as she walked away. Haley was the best judge of character I knew. And if she would have gone for Will when she was my age… well, that said something huge about Will.

"Are you laughing at me again?"

His voice startled me. "No, I…"

"Good, because I'll admit it: I get a little insecure when you laugh at me."

I pursed my lips. "That might be a problem if you're around me a lot, because I love to laugh."

He leaned toward me, his face suddenly close to mine. "Am I going to be around you a lot?"

I was having trouble breathing. "Maybe," I was finally able to squeak.

Will sat back and smiled. "Then I can get used to it."

Okay, now I was feeling like an idiot. In an effort to gain control of myself, I changed the subject. "It must have taken you a while to get over here from downtown."

"Not really. I drove." Will grinned. "I got a car for graduation, so I use any excuse I can to drive it."

I smiled, enjoying his obvious pleasure in sharing this. I thought about how excited I had been to get a cell phone as a graduation present from my parents, which Daddy only agreed to provided I pay the bills for it myself. I couldn't imagine getting a car as a present.

"Hey, you told me once that you can't drive. How come?" he asked.

"Because I can't afford to take driver's ed."

"You can't?"

"No, it's too expensive. My father has taken me out a few times to practice in a parking lot. But…" I started laughing. "You'd have to see my parents' car. I wouldn't trust myself in it on the road. And Aunt Haley would teach me, but she drives a truck. Thank you, but I think I'll start with a car. I'm saving up some money for lessons one of these days. Maybe even by the end of the summer."

"I could teach you."

I looked at him skeptically. "In your new car?"

He grinned. "Yeah, why not?"

I raised my eyebrows. "Okay, then. If you trust me that much…"

Will laughed. "The real question is, do you trust me?"

I didn't even have to think about it. "Yeah, I do." He looked at me in that instant with an expression that sent a shiver of warmth down my spine.

Will broke the silence that followed. "You know, your aunt's an amazing woman."

I knew I was beaming by this point. Was he going to keep making me feel this good? "She really is. And she's the adult in my life that I can really talk to when I can't go to my parents."

Will nodded. "I have that with my godfather Marcus. And it's a good thing, too, because I love Chuck, but he's six months older than me. What does he know?"

Mentioning Chuck made me think of Janelle, and I became very quiet.

"What are you thinking?" Will asked.

"About my sister. In your email, you told me why you stepped in between her and Chuck. Can I tell you what was happening on Janelle's end?"

"Why didn't she tell him the truth?" he asked when I finished my story.

I sighed. "I know she should have. It's just that Chuck had said some things about students from places like Longbourn City who were screwing up in class. She thought he'd look down on her, too."

Will was quiet for a moment after I said this, so I went on. "Anyway, I was wondering if maybe you'd tell this to Chuck?"

"I thought I messed up the first time by interfering."

"This wouldn't be interfering. You'd just be giving Chuck information. He can decide what to do with it."

Will thought about that for a moment, and then said, "All right, I'll tell him."

My cell phone beeped. "That's my alarm," I said. "I do that so I'm not late getting back from lunch."

We both stood up. "Liz, if I get a chance to come back here to do research, would you like to have lunch again?" Will asked.

I nodded. "I would like that a lot."

Will pulled out his own phone. "Let me get your phone number." He entered my number in his phone and dialed it so I'd have his, and then we said goodbye.

As I started to walk away, he called my name. "What would you think about having a driving lesson this Saturday?" he asked when I turned.

I smiled. "That would be great."

"Okay, I'll call you to set it up."

I practically skipped back to work. I had a date with Will! No—calm down. Not a date, just a driving lesson. I doubted Will would ask out a girl who had told him he was the last guy in the world she would ever go out with. Still, I was looking forward to it.

Janelle was at home when I arrived that evening, so I pulled my head out of the clouds. "Hey, can I talk to you about something?"

She glanced up from the textbook she was reading and nodded.

"You never told Chuck about being on academic probation, did you?"

She looked down again and didn't answer.

"Janelle, why not?" I respected my sister so much, but since talking to Will, I realized that I hadn't really considered what Chuck must have felt when she pulled away from him.

"You know why," she said softly.

"I know what you said. I know you were scared he might look down on you. But he wouldn't have known what was going on, and that couldn't have been easy for him." I sighed in frustration. "Do you still love him? I mean, would you take him back if you could?"

Janelle looked as if she might cry. "Of course, but why would he want me?"

The anger I was starting to feel dissipated. My sister was beautiful, sweet, smart—and utterly lacking in self-esteem. I guess I had known this for a long time, but now that fact was staring me in the face. I could tell her how amazing she was, but would she believe me?

I tried something different. "You know how I screwed everything up with Will at the retreat?"

Now she smiled. "I thought you said you didn't like him."

I grinned back. "Okay, so I was lying."

She bounced a little on her bed. "I knew it! I knew it!"

"Let me finish," I spoke over her, tamping down on my laughter. "My point is, I made some assumptions about Will, and I was completely wrong. And now I have all these regrets. I think maybe you and Chuck did the same thing."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Chuck assumed that students from Longbourn City who were struggling or who missed class did it because they didn't care or couldn't hack it. But you know how you told me how hard it's been to be work full time this summer with a schedule that keeps changing, and still try to do well?"

Janelle nodded.

"How many kids from our high school probably have to work like that during the school year just to pay for college? That's on top of the fact that our high school wasn't that good, so they have more catching up to do."

Janelle sat up. "You're right, I didn't think about that." I could see her mentally ticking off friends of hers who were in just that situation.

"So if you didn't think of it, why would Chuck? Especially since his parents can totally afford to pay for school for him."

"Okay, I can see that. So he made an assumption, and you know what they say about assuming."

"Yup," I grinned, thinking about what to 'assume' makes of 'u' and 'me.' I paused before speaking again. "But you made some assumptions, too."

"About me not being cut out for college? Yeah, you're right. I'm doing so much better now that I'm used to the workload and studying more."

"I was actually talking about you making assumptions about Chuck," I said quietly.

Janelle looked at me sharply, so I had to inhale to finish my thought. "You assumed he wouldn't understand, so you weren't honest with him. And Janelle, you have to be honest with each other if you're going to make a relationship work."

She sighed and didn't answer. At that moment, Ma knocked on our bedroom door. "Janelle, phone for you," she said.

Janelle looked surprised, but whispered, "Let's finish this conversation later," before she rose from her bed to take the call.

I followed her out into the living room in time to hear the surprise in her voice as she started speaking. A few seconds later, she entered the bathroom—the only place in our apartment where no one could walk in on you—and shut the door. Oh wow, it has to be Chuck, I thought, biting my lip to keep from laughing. Will must have talked to him already.

About a half an hour later, Dee started griping. "Who is Janelle still talking to? I need to use the phone." She headed to the bathroom, probably to bang on the door.

I stepped in her way. "Leave her alone, Dee. You're the one who usually hogs the phone. Let her have a chance for once."

Dee glared at me. "Okay, then, let me use your phone."

"I'm not letting you use up all my minutes, not when I'm paying for it!"

Dee threw up her hands in exasperation.

An hour later, Janelle was still on the phone and my younger sister was still complaining, so I finally gave in and tossed her my phone. Dee ran into our bedroom with it. About ten minutes later, Daddy banged on the bathroom door because he needed to use it.

Janelle emerged soon thereafter, trying hard to keep a straight face. She gave me a knowing look, and I told my mother we were going downstairs to sit on the stoop.

We both started laughing as soon as we got downstairs. "Tell me, chica," I said. "That was Chuck, wasn't it?"

"Yes!" she squealed. "He still loves me, Liz! He said he never stopped loving me." She sighed. "You were right. I should have been honest with him. I apologized and told him I should have trusted him more. And then he apologized to me. He thought I was cheating on him and he was so hurt, but he says that now he knows he should have trusted me, too."

When I just nodded, she grinned and said, "Go ahead. You can say I told you so!"

I shook my head. I had made plenty of my own mistakes, and couldn't judge my sister's.

"Anyway, I told him what was really going on, and he said he understood. His parents weren't all that happy with his 3.0 either, because they thought he could do better. I think this time around, we'll probably both be more focused."

"I'm so happy for you! When are you going to see him?"

"Tomorrow. I'm glad it's the one day that I don't work. He's going to pick me up about 6:30 and take me out."

Her radiant smile suddenly turned into a sly grin. "So how is it that you suddenly want to talk to me about Chuck the same day he decides to call?"

"Uh, I kind of ran into Will today, and we talked about you guys," I admitted sheepishly.

Janelle's jaw dropped. "Liz! Girl, you have been holding back on me! You have all this advice about being honest in a relationship, but what about with your sister! I don't believe you!"

I fell out laughing as she grabbed me and squeezed me. "Tell me everything," she demanded. "I'm not letting you go until you do!"



Chapter 21

The next day, Thursday, I got home as usual at about 6 PM. I was almost as excited as Janelle about her getting back together with Chuck. I'd have to call or email Will to let him know how much I appreciated it.

When I came home, however, my mother was sitting on the sofa crying, Janelle was trying to comfort her, and my father, looking upset, was on the phone.

"What's going on?" I asked Janelle.

"Dee got arrested," she said.

"She what!?"

"She was with that punk Geo!" my mother shouted through her tears.

I knelt beside my mother. "What happened?"

Janelle answered. "She was in a car with Geo, and they had both been drinking. The police pulled them over and searched the car, and found a couple of bags of crack. They got arrested for DUI and possession."

"Oh, my God," I said. I thought of Dee's desperation to use the phone the night before. Was it Geo she had been so eager to talk to? I was suddenly stricken with guilt, because I had let her use my phone last night, and because it was through me that she knew Geo in the first place.

I inhaled, trying to ignore my own feelings and figure out what was happening. "What's Daddy trying to do?"

"He's calling people to see if he can borrow money to hire a lawyer. Dee has a hearing in the morning."

"Where is she now?"

"She's at a juvenile lock-up someplace."

Daddy got off the phone and sat down in his chair beside us. He looked really tired and defeated.

"How'd it go, Daddy?" I asked.

"Not that well. Your uncle Mitch said he'd give me $100, Haley's giving me $500, and my friend Dwayne said he could loan me another $300. That's not nearly enough."

"What about my tuition money?" Janelle said.

"No, Janelle! Don't even bring that up! That's for your education and we're not touching it."

"But if you have to have a public defender, do you think it will work out okay?" Janelle asked.

My father rubbed his forehead. "I don't know. Everyone I talk to says you want to avoid that if at all possible."

The doorbell rang. I got up and went to the door. Our intercom hadn't worked in years, but the buzzer did. "What should I do, Janelle?" I asked.

"Daddy, Chuck is coming to see me," Janelle said. "Can Liz let him in?"

Daddy made a "whatever" gesture with his hand. I pressed the buzzer.

When the knock came a minute later, I opened the door. I was really surprised to see Will standing beside Chuck.

After watching me stand there for a few seconds, Chuck said, "Can we come in?"

"Oh, yeah, come on," I said foggily. I opened the door wider to let them in.

They both entered and I watched Will look around. I suddenly felt embarrassed by our second-hand furniture and the junkiness of our apartment.

Chuck hurried to Janelle's side. "What's the matter?" he asked when he saw her face.

"My sister Dee got arrested," she answered.

"With that punk Geo!" my mother cried. "I can't believe she was with him?"

"Is your mother talking about George?" Will asked me.

I nodded. "They were drinking and driving and had drugs in the car. My father's trying to figure out how to hire a lawyer."

Will turned away from me. "Chuck, we probably should go."

"This wouldn't be a good time for us to go out, would it?" Chuck asked Janelle. She shook her head.

"Let's go, Chuck," Will said again. He sounded agitated.

Chuck kissed Janelle's cheek. "I'll call you later." He looked at my parents. "Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, I'm sorry we came at a bad time like this."

My father nodded and they left. As he was leaving, Will neither looked at me nor said goodbye.

We helped my father make more phone calls and came up with another $400, but it was still short of the $1,500 he needed to hire a lawyer on retainer.

As I got into bed that night, I felt a hollow pit in my stomach. I knew I was worried about Dee, but I realized it was more than that.

It was Will. It was the way he'd looked around our apartment, and the way he'd wanted to leave so fast. I thought about what Heather had said about me at Hunsford: that I was too ghetto for Will. Is that how he saw me? Why wouldn't he, when my sister had just become another ghetto statistic? And with Geo of all people, who had hurt his family so much.

I wanted to cry. Now that I realized how much Will meant to me, I had lost any chance I had with him.

On Friday, both my parents took the day off from work to attend Dee's hearing. I said some silent prayers for Dee while I was at my job.

I was unsure what to expect when I got home from work that evening. When I arrived, however, Dee was home, although much more subdued than I'd ever seen her. My father seemed to be in a much better mood, and Ma acted like she had just won the lottery.

"Can I assume it went well today?" I asked.

Daddy beamed. "Much better than we could have hoped."

"The public defender was that good?"

"We didn't have a public defender!" Ma cried. "Marcus Henderson himself is defending Dee!"

"You're kidding!" I said.

"Nope," Daddy said. "You know how he's always on TV because he's representing wealthy athletes? Well, I guess he also takes on a certain number of cases for free, what they call pro bono."

"And he's doing my baby's case for free!" Ma said. "Oh, and he is just as FINE in person as he is on TV, with his bald head and fancy suit."

I was trying to take all this in. "How did he even find out about Dee?"

"I don't know," Daddy answered. "But he went before the judge today to persuade him that Dee could come home with us, and to push up her court date as soon as possible. Her trial is next Friday."

"Does he think her chances are good?"

"He said they're very good. He said that the fact that she walked into the courtroom with two parents would already impress a judge, because they almost never see two parents. Plus, Dee's never been in trouble, her grades are okay, and she's been working a summer job, so that's in her favor. He said that the fact that she met Geo here in our home, rather than on the streets, means that she could assume he was a safe person. Her fingerprints weren't on the bags of crack, and Geo's were, so she probably didn't know about them. And then there's the fact that she's a juvenile and Geo's an adult. The only negative is that she was drinking. Otherwise, he feels like he has a good chance of convincing the judge to drop the charges against her."

"That's great news!" I said, relieved.

"And you know Marcus Henderson. He just makes you feel like—ooh!" Ma shivered a little. "The jury will definitely believe him."

"There is no jury, Ellie," Daddy said. "It's a juvenile case. There's just a judge."

"Then he'll make the judge feel that way!"

Even with my family's happiness, the butterflies in my stomach didn't go away. I remember Will telling me at the first LOFTY meeting that Marcus Henderson was his godfather—and he'd mentioned him again two days ago at the park. It couldn't be a coincidence that he'd shown up to take Dee's case, could it? Had Will arranged for that? And if he had, was it possible that he still liked me?

But he hadn't called to set up our driving lesson like he'd promised.

Janelle got home from work about ten and couldn't understand why I didn't seem happier about the day's developments. "It's Will," I told her. "I'm not sure if he likes me anymore. He acted like he couldn't wait to leave yesterday."

Janelle laughed. "Oh come on, Liz! He and Chuck both left because it wasn't a good time. Anyway, he certainly didn't come here last night to see me! If you're unsure how he feels, why don't you ask him?"

"But—"

"But nothing. Look at it this way. After the way that you dogged him at the retreat, do you think he's going to put himself out there like that again? No, this time, you need to make the first move."


SubjectAuthorPosted

Lofty Dreams. Ch. 20-21

Amy A-NWApril 16, 2015 05:45AM

Re: Lofty Dreams. Ch. 20-21

ShannaGApril 16, 2015 04:10PM

Re: Lofty Dreams. Ch. 20-21

Amy A-NWApril 19, 2015 04:25AM

Re: Lofty Dreams. Ch. 20-21

AdelaideApril 16, 2015 02:17PM

Re: Lofty Dreams. Ch. 20-21

Amy A-NWApril 19, 2015 04:26AM



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