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The Grooming of Alice


Page 7 of 15

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“Good! He’s worried! I hope he’s up all night,” Pamela said.

“You really should go home, Pamela. This won’t solve anything,” I told her.

“Well, we weren’t solving anything before, so what have I got to lose?” she asked.

“His trust?”

But Pamela only stretched out with her arms behind her head and stared up at the ceiling.

7

BLOWUP

WE HAD TO HAVE A PLAN.

“Dad comes in the room, you’ve got to roll under the bed,” I told her. “I mean it, Pamela. If he knew you were here—”

“It’s only for this one night,” she promised.

I kept my door half open so I could hear Dad if he came upstairs. Then I lay on my side on the bed, looking down at Pamela.

“Do you suppose life is always going to be like this?” she asked after a while.

“I don’t know. Dad says that life is what happens to you when you’re planning something else,” I said. “Like with Mom. They had all kinds of plans, and then, she died.”

“Great! Just great!” said Pamela.

The phone rang again, and Dad answered from downstairs.

“Al,” he called. “It’s Pamela’s father. He wants to speak with you.”

“Don’t tell him anything!” Pamela whispered.

I went out in the hall and picked up the upstairs phone. “Hello?”

“Alice, this is Mr. Jones. I wondered if Pamela might be over there.”

“Over here?” I asked. And when he didn’t answer, I said, “Was she coming here? What time did she leave?” I was trying hard not to out-and-out lie.

“Well, she left the house some time ago, but she didn’t say where she was going. I thought you might have seen her.” I could tell he was worried.

“Have you checked with Elizabeth?” I said. “Maybe she went there.”

“Elizabeth hasn’t seen her, either.”

“Gee, I’m sorry, Mr. Jones. Have you tried Jill or Karen?”

“I don’t have their numbers. If you could give them to me …”

I felt like pig slop, the way I was leading him on, reciting those phone numbers knowing very well that it wouldn’t help.

“Thanks, Alice. If she turns up there, will you tell her I’m worried about her and ask her to call home?”

“I sure will,” I promised.

I went back in the bedroom. “Your dad’s really worried, Pamela. He said if you come here, I should ask you to call home,” I whispered.

“In a pig’s eye!” she said.

I heard Dad coming upstairs, so I shook Pamela’s knee. She rolled over on her stomach and wiggled under my bed, pulling the spread with her.

Dad tapped on the door and stuck his head inside. “Any news about Pamela?” he asked.

“Only that she hasn’t come back yet. I gave him Karen’s and Jill’s numbers.”

“He must be worried sick,” said Dad.

“Elizabeth and I figure the best thing we can do is stay put in case she comes here. I can’t think of anyplace else she’d go.”

“Well, I’m going to bed,” said Dad. “I’m sure her dad won’t get much sleep tonight. See you in the morning.”

He went back to his room and shut the door. Pamela and I lay there whispering for a while. We could hear Dad moving around, opening a drawer, scooting a chair.

“I have to pee,” Pamela said.

“Well, you can’t do it now,” I told her. “Dad always puts his pajamas on first, then goes in the bathroom to wash up and brush his teeth.”

“I have to go really bad, Alice! You might have to get me a bedpan or something.”

“A bedpan?”

“A chamber pot, then.”

“What?”

“A bucket. Whatever.”

I was beginning to think this might be the best solution, when I heard the doorbell ring.

“Al, was that the doorbell?” called Dad.

“I think so.”

“Wait. I’ll get it,” he said. “I don’t want you opening the door yourself at this time of night, though it could be Pamela, of course… .”

The doorbell rang again, followed by several light knocks. Dad came by my door in his bathrobe and turned on the hall light, then went down.

I crawled across the bedroom floor on my hands and knees so I could see into the hall below where Dad had opened the door. I could see his feet, and the feet and pants of another man. Then I heard a stranger’s voice saying, “Sorry to bother you, Mr. McKinley, but we’ve got a missing person’s report from Mr. Jones, who says your two daughters are friends. We don’t usually investigate until a kid’s been missing a lot longer than this, but he’s pretty worried, and we thought we’d ask around. Wonder if I could come in for a minute and talk to Alice.”

“Pamela!” I croaked, tumbling back into the bedroom. “It’s the police!”

“Good!” she said.

“Are you nuts? He wants to talk to me!” I whispered. “What if he wants to search the house?”

“He has to have a search warrant,” said Pamela.

“Al?” came Dad’s voice. “Are you dressed? Could you come down for a minute?”

“What am I going to say?” I squeaked to Pamela.

“You haven’t seen me! You don’t know a thing!” she insisted.

“Coming!” I called.

I went downstairs in my cutoffs and tank top. The officer was standing in our living room. He came over and put out his hand. “Hello, Alice,” he said. “Mr. Jones tells me you’re a friend of his daughter’s. I think he told you that she left the house after dinner and hasn’t come back, and there’s one worried dad over there. He seems to think she might have gone off with some boys who came by earlier, but he doesn’t know any of their names. We wondered if you could give me names and addresses—just to make sure Pamela’s okay.”

I concentrated on looking concerned without looking nervous.

“The bikers? Uh …”

“Excuse me?”

“They were probably the bikers. That’s what we call them at school, the guys who ride mountain bikes to school and ride around the parking lot during lunch period. But I don’t know any of their names.”

“Would any of your friends know these boys?”

“Uh … some of the guys might, I’m not sure.”

This was horrible! I could imagine the policeman going around to all my friends and waking their parents and …

“When was the last time you spoke with Pamela yourself?” the officer asked.

I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to come right out and lie. So far I’d just sort of skirted the truth, but now I’d been asked a direct question.

“Uh … today?” I said. “I’m not sure. I knew she and her dad had quarreled.”

“She called you then?”

“Yes, she told me they’d quarreled.”

“And about what time would that be?”

Suddenly I saw Dad stiffen.

“Excuse me,” he said, and headed rapidly for the stairs.

What? What had he heard? I wondered. And then I realized that the toilet had flushed.

The next thing I knew, there was a small shriek from upstairs, a murmur of voices, and then I could see Dad’s feet descending the stairs along with Pamela’s.

“Officer,” said Dad, “I think this is the young lady you’re looking for.” He had a death grip on Pamela’s arm, but the look he gave me was one I would never forget. I couldn’t tell if it was more anger or disappointment.

Pamela stared helplessly at the policeman, then at me.

“You flushed!” I told her.

“I know! I realized too late!” she wailed.

The officer put his notebook away. “You’re Pamela?”

She nodded.

“Your dad is awfully worried about you,” he said. For the first time that evening, Pamela didn’t say good. “Let me say something,” the policeman went on. “I know that parent

s and kids quarrel from time to time; I sure had enough quarrels with my own dad. But I also know what can happen to girls out on the street when they run away, even for one night. I’m glad you stayed with a friend, but you’d have to be a parent yourself, I guess, to understand how concerned your father is about you.”

Pamela didn’t say anything.

“I don’t know what you quarreled about, but I’m sure you and your dad can work it out.” And when Pamela went on staring at her feet, he added, “I’d like to drive you home.”

Pamela shrugged. “I’ll get my stuff in the morning, Alice,” she murmured.

“Okay,” I told her, my chest cold.

“Thanks, folks,” the policeman said, and shut the door behind them.

I was almost afraid to look at Dad, but suddenly I found myself being jerked around, facing him, and I’d never seen his face that angry. “You lied to me!” he shouted.

“I … I … no, I didn’t.”

“You lied to me in everything you did tonight, making me believe you didn’t know where she was.”

I thought he was going to slap me, that we would end up just like Pamela and her dad, but he didn’t. I was trying to back away from him, but he had hold of both my arms and shook me.

“This is the second time you’ve shown me you can’t be trusted, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.” He gave my arms a final thrust as though he were too disgusted to even touch me, and I felt as though my whole body had been plunged in ice water. I couldn’t bear that he was so angry with me, but I knew he was right. I knew without asking that he was talking about the day he had forbidden me to go to school with green mousse on my head, and my hair in spikes, and I’d done it, anyway.

“Dad, she was really, really upset. Pamela called me from the bus station and said that—”

“I don’t care what she said!” Dad yelled. “I care that for five hours or so Mr. Jones has been worried sick about his daughter. You knew it, and yet you hid her right up there under my nose. What do you take me for, Alice, a fool?”

I was crying, but it didn’t bother Dad.

“He … he slapped her,” I whimpered, without telling Dad, of course, that she’d slapped him first.

“At this point I’d almost believe she deserved it,” Dad went on. “Here I am, getting ready to leave you and Lester by yourselves for two weeks in August, and if this is what happens when I’m here, what on earth can I expect when I’m gone? How can I believe a thing you tell me when I get back?”

“Dad …!” I was really crying then. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I knew she shouldn’t be here! I told her that! But she was so mad at him, and … and wanted to teach him a lesson … and … and … she said she’d only do it this one time, and—”

“Well, it taught me a lesson, all right. I can’t trust my own daughter. This disgusts me, Alice! Mr. Jones and the policeman both must think I’m an idiot, all this going on in my own house!”

He wasn’t listening to me, so there was no point in talking anymore. I just stood there in the hall crying.

“Go to bed,” he said finally. “I’m going to call your aunt Sally tomorrow and ask her to come stay here while I’m in England.”

Oh, no! Not Aunt Sally, who still lives in the Dark Ages! I sobbed in earnest as I went upstairs. There was no good night kiss from Dad. No hug. The two unchaperoned weeks I was planning to have with Patrick were down the tube. Aunt Sally was the World’s Original Chaperone, with more rules than the U.S. Navy. Worse than that, when Lester found out that Aunt Sally would be here to chaperone him, too, he’d hate me.

I was in and out of sleep all night. I kept hoping Dad might come in and sit on the edge of my bed and we’d quietly talk it out. But he didn’t. I didn’t have the nerve to go in and talk to him because I knew how angry he must be. Having Aunt Sally come to our house, however, was the ultimate punishment. She not only wouldn’t let me be alone with Patrick, she probably wouldn’t even allow him on the porch. To hear Aunt Sally talk, all you had to do was put a boy and a girl in a room alone together and there was an instant, magnetic mating pull. They simply couldn’t help themselves. There would be only one possible thing they could think of doing, and that was sexual intercourse.

Pamela didn’t come over to go running the next morning, of course. I heard the phone ring; I heard Dad answer out in the hallway, and I heard him say, “She’s still sleeping, Elizabeth. You’ll have to call later.”

I purposely stayed in bed until I felt sure he had left for work. Then I went downstairs in my pajamas thinking maybe he’d left a loving note for me on the table or something. Instead, I found Dad still there, reading the Post.

“Sit down,” he said.

I sat.

“You are going to be grounded for a week,” he said. “You can leave the house only the three times you volunteer at the hospital. You are to go directly there and home again. No stops on the way.”

I swallowed. “What … about my job at the Melody Inn?” I was thinking of the three hours I put in on Saturday mornings at Dad’s music store. “Should I … should I come in this morning?”

“All right, four times. You can go to work at the store. But other than those, you are not to leave the property. You cannot go to the Stedmeisters’ pool, you can’t go out for ice cream, and you are not to have friends here.”

I couldn’t believe the severity of my punishment. “Not even Elizabeth?”

“Not even her.”

I burst into tears. “You are so unfair! You don’t even listen to my explanations! You don’t even care what Pamela might be going through. You’re just mad because she was here and you didn’t know it. You only care how that made you look!”

“You’re darn right I care! Put yourself in my place, Alice! How would you feel if I smuggled Sylvia in the house and pretended she wasn’t here? Is this a family or not? Can we trust each other or not? Apparently we can’t.”

He got up and rinsed out his coffee cup. “I’m going to work,” he said, and left the house.

I curled up in my beanbag chair in the living room and bawled. I was angry at Dad, even angrier at myself, and positively furious at Pamela for getting me into this.

Elizabeth called. “What’s happening?” she said. “Dad said he saw a patrol car parked in front of your house last night around eleven thirty.”

“It’s awful!” I wept, and told her everything—the phone call from Pamela, the way I got her upstairs, how Mr. Jones had called here, the visit from the police, how angry Dad was with me, and that I was grounded for a week.

I’d thought that Elizabeth, of all people, would be sympathetic, but after a long pause, all she said was, “You lied? To your own father?”

“But … but Pamela was …”

“You broke two of the commandments right there.”

“What?”

“Lying, and dishonoring your father.”

“Elizabeth, I’m in no mood to be preached at!” I told her. “Pamela was mad at me when she left, I’m mad at myself, Dad is furious with me, Lester will disown me, and now you’ve got God mad at me, too.”

“I know how you feel, Alice, but I’m only quoting the Bible,” Elizabeth said.

I closed my eyes and slowly let my body slide down the wall there in the hallway until I was sitting flat on the floor. “Bring on the floods! Bring on the locusts!” I wailed, remembering what few Bible stories I knew. “Let the plagues begin!”

8

A HEATED DISCUSSION

IT WAS THE FIRST TIME I CAN REMEMBER that Dad and I stayed mad at each other for more than a day. Saturday was horrible because we avoided each other at the Melody Inn. Both Janice Sherman and Marilyn noticed, but didn’t say anything. Patrick was out of town with his folks for the weekend, so I couldn’t even talk with him. When Lester came home on Sunday, Dad and I still weren’t speaking much.

“Well,” I said, when Les came in the house with a week’s growth of beard on his face, sunburned but happy. �

�You didn’t fall off a peak.”

“Oh, man, it was great!” Lester told me. “I’m feeling muscles I didn’t even know I had. I need about twenty years to catch up on sleep, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

At dinner, he told us how they’d had to get up at three in the morning to reach the base of the trail so they could get to the summit and start back before two in the afternoon, when storms were most likely to move in. How they’d taken a couple tins of smoked oysters and caviar to eat at the top in celebration. How they’d fallen into bed at the end of each day’s climb without even bothering to bathe, they were so tired.

“Sounds like a very physical vacation,” Dad said, smiling at Lester. “Discovering new things about yourself. A stretch, they say.”

Knives clunked against plates, glasses clinked on the table, and we were all, I guess, a little too conscious of the hum of the refrigerator. At some point I saw Lester pause and steal a quick look at Dad, who was slowly, methodically, cutting up a piece of flank steak. Then Lester turned his head and stared quizzically at me. I went on stabbing my lima beans, putting them in my mouth one by one.

“Did somebody die?” Lester asked finally, looking from me to Dad and back again, like he was watching a tennis match.

“Not that I’m aware of,” said Dad, and continued eating.

Lester took another couple of bites. “Did I miss something?” he asked. “Someone moving out, maybe?”

“No, it just hasn’t been a very cheerful place the last few days, Les,” said Dad. He stood up and took his dishes to the sink. “Al can fill you in. I want to do some yard work before it gets dark.” He went out the back door, and we could hear him fumbling about the toolshed.

Lester looked over at me. “Now what?” he asked. “Why do I get the feeling it has something to do with you?”

“It’s so unfair, Lester!” I told him. And, for the third time, I spilled out the story.

Lester went right on shoveling food in his mouth as I talked—how Pamela had been hiding here, how Pamela had flushed—until I got to the part about how Dad was going to ask Aunt Sally to come and chaperone us while he was in England. Then Lester half rose from his chair.



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