Ms. O’Donnell is the meanest teacher in all of Berkshire County.
I wasn’t contagious anymore but that didn’t mean my symptoms had gone away. My throat was still sore and all I could eat was applesauce and stew. My fever was being controlled by Tylenol, but I was still above average. I’d vomited a couple times, and even though I hated it I resorted to sleeping with Momma and Mr. Steve. I snuggled as close to Momma as I could and tried to ignore Mr. Steve’s snores.
I hadn’t asked Momma about her going missing. I figured she tell me she couldn’t talk about it and encourage me to read on so I cut out the asking and feeling hurt part and kept reading. My dad was pretty skimp on journal entries which doesn’t surprise me but doesn’t tell me a lot about what was going on. It was almost Christmas time and Momma still hadn’t been found. The funny thing is Momma always skipped the Christmas of this year when she told me about her Christmases with Daddy.
Ms. O’Donnell had been livid when she heard I wasn’t contagious and still didn’t come to school. I don’t think she understands the difference between contagious and sick. I couldn’t get anybody else sick but that didn’t mean I wasn’t sick.
But here I was sick as a dog learning where to place comas. It had only been three days since I learned I had strep throat. Darcy looked at me. He smiled and I smiled back. Ugh, my stomach hurt. I wish I had a Tylenol but you couldn’t bring medicine to school and Momma didn’t want to take a chance with aspirin.
“Girls, listen up,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “I am pleased to announce that North Adams annual Father-Daughter Dance will take place May 31st. Tickets are five dollars apiece and as you know all the funds will go to A Father’s Presence. Class dismissed.”
I felt like laughing. Ms. O’Donnell was indorsing the dance at school? That didn’t seem like her. I waited as Darcy handed Ms. O’Donnell some money.
“You’re not going to the dance are you?” I asked. Darcy chuckled.
“No, but every year I do give Ms. O’Donnell some money for her cause,” Darcy said. “She started A Father’s Presence. She quit her teaching job when she started it but had to start teaching again when she couldn’t pay herself since A Father’s Presence is nonprofit. A couple years back she started pairing the boys without fathers with one of the temporary fathers. She chose Mr. Stewart for me since we’re related, but Mr. Matthews and Mr. Drew stepped in more than he did as a temporary dad.”
“You’re related to Mr. Stewart?” I asked surprised.
“My mom is anyway. She’s on the other side of Stewarts. She’s a Stewart-Chadwick hence my nickname,” Darcy said. He walked over to Nelson which gave me the feeling he didn’t want to say anymore.
Then a thought made me vomit (literally I vomited right in front of everybody). Momma was for sure going to make me go to that dance with Mr. Steve. I mean it would be weird if he took Abby, Jaci, and Megan but not me. I couldn’t go to that dance. I just couldn’t. Not with Mr. Steve. The thought of having to dance with him made me vomit again.
Darcy led me to the nurse’s office. God must have an interesting sense of humor because Mr. Steve came by to pick me up from school just as the nurse picked up the phone to call my mother.
“How could you do this to me?!”
That was Jaci’s voice and she wasn’t too happy. I crawled from under the covers and tiptoed down stairs.
“I’m sorry but Erin and Ned wanted to get married in July,” Abby said to Jaci.
“I still can’t believe you’re getting married in June! That’s less than a month away. There is absolutely no time to make dresses!” Jaci cried. She really did look upset.
“You can make my dresses, Jaci,” Ms. Erin said hugging Jaci.
“I’m sorry, Jaci, I didn’t know it was that important to you,” Abby said truly looking sorry.
“It’s my sister’s wedding! How could it not be important for me to make the dresses?!” Jaci asked clearly outraged.
“Honey,” Mr. Steve said. “It’s not normal no I shouldn’t use that word. Let’s just say most people don’t have handmade dresses for their weddings.”
“They don’t?” Jaci asked with her eyes filled with wonder. “They just buy them?”
Mr. Steve nodded.
“Where’s the fun in that?” Jaci asked. She wasn’t as anger but she was still angry.
“Natalie! Go back to bed!” Mr. Steve shouted spotting me.
“Oh, all I did was throw up,” I said.
“Go. Back. To. Bed,” Mr. Steve and Momma said in unison. I walked back up the steps. Parents, can’t live with them but wouldn’t survive or be here without them.
I stared at the purple bicycle that just moments ago had been hidden underneath a white sheet. Mr. Steve smiled at me and I looked at him totally clueless. I’d never ridden a bicycle before. When Dr. Walters heard that he said no wonder I had gotten Scurvy.
It had been two weeks since my strep throat diagnosis and the symptoms were almost all gone. I still had a lingering sore throat but I could eat more than apple sauce and stew. I hadn’t had a chance to read too much of my father’s journals. I still was where I was at two weeks ago. We had testing at school and Ms. O’Donnell doesn’t play around.
I wasn’t sleeping well. Just yesterday I woke up to discover myself in the shower.
Abby was getting married June 1st the day after the Father-Daughter Dance. Abby knew this of course and Mrs. Rivers and Sean had been upset when they learned there would be no bridal shower sleepover to plan. Abby told them they could have their shower a week before the dance and they agreed but not without kicking and screaming.
“Thank you,” I said remembering my manners. “but I can’t ride.”
“You can learn,” Mr. Steve smiled. By the way he looked you would think he was the one who was about to learn how to ride.
I wanted to say “Not from you.” But that would be rude. I just smiled and walked back into the house.
“Hi, Natalie,” Virginia said walking into the house. “Is that bike outside yours?”
“Yup, and I don’t have any clue how to ride it,” I said. Virginia opened her mouth.
“I guess you being a Farm Girl it’s really hard to believe that a twelve year old doesn’t know how to ride a bike,” I said.
Virginia just nodded.
“I just stopped by to say hi since I have a feeling Aunt Jane, Rachel, Caroline, and I won’t be by for supper,” Virginia said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Aunt Jane is taking Rachel and me shopping for dress for the Father-Daughter Dance,” Virginia said. She had a big grin on her face.
“Who’s taking you?” I asked.
“Mr. Hank. He came by last week and asked Aunt Jane if it was all right if he took us,” Virginia said. “If you ask me he’s a little sweet on Aunt Jane.”
“I hope you have a good time,” I said. “I can’t see to worm out of the dance.”
“Why would you want to?” Virginia asked. “You got a real dad.”
“Mr. Steve is not my real dad!” I shouted.
“Sorry,” Virginia said. “I just thought since he married your mom and all.”
“He may have married my mom but he’s not my dad,” I said. “My dad’s in heaven.”
“So is mine,” Virginia said. “And I plan on enjoying the Father-Daughter Dance with Mr. Hank. Did you know that Emily is going too? Zach’s taking her.”
“So what?” I asked.
“Virginia!” Aunt Jane called.
“Mr. Steve cares about you, Natalie,” Virginia said walking towards the door. “I’d go as far as to say he loves you. And I hope one day you’ll see that too. I just hope God doesn’t have to do something drastic to make you see that.”
I was pretty mad at Virginia after that but only for about the rest of the day. Virginia was my best friend, and I knew there was some truth to her words. I just didn’t want to believe them. I knew I was hurting Mr. Steve’s feelings, but if I could just pretend that he didn’t care about me I could just go ahead and hurt his feelings and not feel guilty about it. And I would have to learn the hard way just how much Mr. Steve really did love me.