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.She shifted gears abruptly, dropping her voice to a reverent whisper as she segued into the “Your mama will probably be dead by next year” theme, asking sorrowfully how I would feel if I missed this last chance to see her.I pointed out that she’d used that argument for nine years running and Mama hadn’t died yet.Burr set his book down and reached across me to grab the pad and pencil I kept on the crate by the phone.He scrawled something down on the top page and then tore it off and passed it to me.The note said “Say yes to the trip and let’s go eat.”I crumpled it up and bounced it off his chest, sticking my tongue out at him.“You don’t know how bad off she is, Arlene,” Florence said.“She’s failing bad.She looks like the walking dead.She’s been to the hospital to stay twice this year.”“The real hospital?” I said.“Or the place in Deer Park?”“It’s a real hospital,” said Florence defensively.“Real hospitals don’t have padded walls in the card room,” I countered.Burr uncrumpled the piece of paper and held it up like a sign, pointing to the words one at a time, in order.I shook my head at him and then dropped my head forward to hide behind my long dark hair.“It isn’t just that I am not coming.I can’t come.I don’t have the money to make the trip down right this second.”I peeked up at Burr.He narrowed his eyes at me and touched two fingers to his chin.This was code, lifted from his mock-trial days back in law school.It meant “I am in possession of two contradictory facts.” I knew what he was referencing.Fact one: Burr knew that as of last week I had almost three thousand in savings.Fact two: Burr knew I didn’t tell lies.Ever.I pointed at him, then touched my chin with one finger, signaling that there was no paradox; one of his facts was off.Aunt Florence talked about wire transfers and loans and me getting off my butt and taking a part-time job while Burr thought it through.After a moment a light dawned, and he got up and walked towards my front door, looking at me with his eyebrows raised.I braced the phone against my shoulder and clutched my arms around my middle, pantomiming that I was freezing.I realized there was silence on the other end of the line, and I hurried to fill it.“Aunt Florence, you know I won’t take your money—”“Oh no, just the food off my table and a bed in my house your whole childhood.”Burr reversed direction and went to my kitchenette.I pretended I was even colder, wrapping an imaginary blanket around myself.“The school pays me a stipend and a housing allowance, plus my tuition,” I said into the phone.“It’s not like I’m on welfare.”Burr walked the four steps past my kitchenette, back to the doorway into the walk-in closet my Yankee landlord called a bedroom.I mopped imaginary sweat from my brow and threw the invisible blanket off, then fanned myself.He disappeared through the doorway, and I could hear him rummaging around, feet padding on the scuffed hardwood as he searched.“No,” I said into the phone, “I don’t think this rates a special collection at church.”But maybe it did.Florence was getting to me a little.She always could.I thought of my uncle Bruster, with his wispy blond tufts combed over his bald spot, his big belly, his broad sloping shoulders.Bruster looked like what would happen if the bear got over on the mountain and they had a baby.He had the Lukey blue eyes, large and powder blue and a little moist-looking, and when I was eleven, he had been my date to the Possett First Baptist Father-Daughter Pancake Brunch.Clarice had been on his other arm, but he had pulled out my chair for me and called me Little Lady all morning.I heard my closet door squeak open, and then a pause that Florence filled with alternating sentiment and invective.The closet door shut, and Burr came back in the room toting the Computer City bag with my new laptop in it.He pantomimed a whistle, looking impressed, but I didn’t believe it.Something else was going on in his head as he stared down at the laptop in its bag.I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.Burr was a good lawyer and an even better poker player.He and I used to play a card game we made up called Five-Card Minor Sexual Favor Stud, but I quit for two reasons.One, it led us too far down a path that could only end in frustration and a whomping great fight.And two, he almost always won.Burr sat back down and put the bag on the coffee table.He picked up his book again, but he wasn’t reading, and he wouldn’t meet my eyes.Eventually, against all odds, Aunt Florence got to the part where she told me she would be praying to God, asking Him to help me not be such a selfish little turd.Then she let me get off the phone.I gave her a vague promise about taking a hard look at my summer course schedule and seeing if I could squeeze in a trip home sometime before fall.Aunt Florence’s final skeptical snort was still ringing in my ears as I hung up.“That’s a speedy machine,” Burr said casually, indicating the bag.“You really are broke.”“Yup,” I said.I had cleaned myself out to buy it.In fact, I bought it to clean myself out.“Lucky I’m not,” said Burr.“Very lucky, since you’re taking me to dinner,” I said.I got up, but Burr stayed wedged down in the sofa.“That’s not what I meant,” he said.“Lena, remember I said I wanted to talk to you about something at dinner?”“Yes?” I said, and all at once the flutter was back.I was standing up, already looking down at him.I was wondering if there was room between the sofa and the coffee table for him to slide down onto one knee, or if I should move out from behind the coffee table to give him space.“I think I better ask you now,” he said, and his dark eyes were very serious.Burr had nice eyes, but they were small and square.I never noticed how sweet they were until I got close enough to kiss him.His face wasn’t about his eyes.It was about his cheekbones and his sharply narrow jaw, severe enough to contrast with his wide, soft mouth, with the gorgeous teeth his mama paid eight thousand dollars to straighten.“I’m a little nervous.”“You don’t have to be nervous,” I said, but I was nervous as all hell.“Take your aunt Florence out of the equation, and your mama.Take everything out of the equation but you and me [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]