Here’s another set of vignettes in the saga of Cal Jordan’s life, this time entirely as seen through Deborah’s eyes.
- * -
The drive back from New York to the exclusive prep school in Connecticut was only marginally less uncomfortable than that late-night drive to the penthouse condo in New York City. Cal sat sullenly in the back seat with Deborah. Most of the way he was looking out the window with a melancholy expression.
Mom and Dad talked to each other in low voices, but didn’t bring Deborah or Cal into the conversation. For her part, Deborah wished she could get Cal alone and make sure he was okay. She chewed her thumbnail, kicking herself for not trying to tell Cal beforehand what she was going to do. It wasn’t fair to him and she had to make it right.
She checked her watch and looked out the window again. Was that the spire of the school’s church in the distance? She squinted. Yes, it was! That meant only ten more minutes of this agonizing drive.
After they all piled out of the car, Deborah hugged Mom and then lightly hugged Dad, finishing with a firm handshake, provoking a small grin from him.
Cal reluctantly hugged Mom, and then exchanged the briefest of glances and handshakes with Dad.
“Now, remember, son. We’re counting on you.” With those parting words, Dad escorted Mom back to the car.
Cal snorted and dragged his suitcase back to the residence hall, Deborah bringing up the rear. Outside the boy’s hall, Cal swallowed and locked eyes with Deborah. He half-heartedly smiled; her heart went out to him and she reached out, touching his arm briefly. “I’ll see you at the Quad tomorrow after classes. Promise.”
Cal nodded jerkily and rushed inside the boy’s hall. Deborah made her way back to the girl’s hall and breathed a sigh of relief when she finally let her bag fall to the floor in her room. Tricia, her roommate, looked up from her homework at her desk and said, “Rough weekend?”
Deborah laughed bitterly. “Does it show that much?”
“Debbie, you look like you had to go to a funeral.” Tricia’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, God. That was so rude of me. Did you really—?”
“No, no funeral,” said Deborah reassuringly. “Just… a family emergency.”
“But things are okay now, right?”
Deborah collapsed onto her bed and sprawled out, looking up at the ceiling. “I guess. Anyway, we’ve got classes tomorrow. I’m wiped out.”
Sleep came uneasily, and Deborah woke up the next morning wondering if the gnawing feeling at her insides was anything close to how Cal probably felt.
- * -
As promised, Deborah met Cal at the tree-lined Quadrangle. They sat on a bench, shaded by a tree, their backs to the afternoon sun. Cal clasped his hands and looked at the ground. She said, “Hey. Your day go okay?”
Deborah leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. She said, “Oh, any trouble with whatshisname? Big sis’ll give him a piece of her mind.”
Cal’s face twitched. He mumbled, “Nah. Forget it, okay?”
“Your call. Algebra was a pain. Graphing polynomials and all that. How about your classes?”
Cal shrugged. “Fine, I guess. Look, I just want to get through it day by day right now.”
Gently, Deborah replied, “We don’t have to talk… not if you don’t want to. Is it okay if we just sit here for a while, then?”
Cal wordlessly pulled his English book out of his backpack and began reading it. Deborah rubbed her forehead, feeling suddenly tired. She desultorily began reading through her Chemistry book and making notes on the problem sets.
- * -
The early autumn days went by like this: sporadic conversation, followed by an hour or so of academic studies. Any questions Cal asked of her were strictly academically-related.
One day, though, the ice finally broke.
Normally Cal and Deborah sat a few feet away from each other on the bench, but today they had to both do review out of his science textbook because Deb’s biology teacher had warned students to bone up on the tenth-grade material for the upcoming quiz. So they were seated side by side, occasionally conferring over diagrams in the book. Deborah happened to look up and unbidden, her jaw dropped a fraction as Brad Rustiger, the school’s top basketball player, walked across the Quad in his uniform, obviously on his way to practice. Before she realized what she had done, she nudged Cal as though he were Tricia, and she pointed discreetly, saying, “Get a load of Brad, would you?!”
Deborah flushed as she realized who she said that to, but before she could apologize Cal looked back at her, his eyes wide. He whispered, “Whoa.”
They both broke up laughing at the same time, the absurdity of checking out guys with her own brother suddenly overwhelming Deborah as she struggled to breathe. Just as Cal managed to get his laughter under control, Deb let out a fresh gale of laughter, clinging to Cal’s shoulder for support.
After Deborah subsided, Cal grinned and said, “Thanks, Deb. I needed that. But try not to do that too much, huh? Checking out guys with you is sorta… weird.”
“Same here. Anyway, now I’ve completely lost my train of thought. Look, can I borrow your biology book tonight to study from? I can give it back tomorrow.”
Cal nodded. “Sure. I want to grab a drink from the cafeteria anyway. Seeya.”
Deborah waved, then packed up her backpack and headed for her dorm room.
- * -
AFter that, conversation seemed to flow more easily. On the next day, which was Saturday, Deborah said, “Cal? You remember the time we went out on Hallowe’en back in Colorado?”
“Wasn’t that the time I cut the holes in the wrong spot on the sheet and looked like a ghost with one eye and a mouth?”
Deborah nudged Cal’s shoulder saying, “Yeah! That was! I remember now. And I was a princess or something stupid like that. Anyway, you remember the really spooky sounds you heard at the end of the block which made you run all the way home?”
Cal shivered. “God, that was so freaky! I mean, I know it was probably someone making those noises– waaaait a minute!”
Deborah blushed and traced the wooden grain on the bench. “That was me. I’m sorry, Cal. I saw my friends up the street and I wanted to join them, and I thought it’d be cool to scare you.”
Cal smirked. “Hey, it’s okay. Remember the time you couldn’t find your bedsheets?”
Deborah gasped. She pointed and said, “That was you? Mom and I were going nuts trying to figure out how on Earth bedsheets go missing, and now I find out you were grinning your stupid head off about it.” She smacked the bench. “Okay, that’s it; we’re even.”
Cal smacked the bench in response. “We are so even!”
Deborah squinted. “Why do I suddenly get the feeling we’re both trying to make like we have halos on our heads?”
Cal affected a mock indignant pose. “And how dare you suggest we are anything but the fine upstanding Jordan siblings?”
She rolled her eyes. “We probably have enough blackmail material on each other to make anyone blush. All I have to do is tell someone about the time you actually sang ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ in the shower when Mom and Dad weren’t home.”
“Oh my God.” Cal put his hand to his forehead in embarrassment. “You heard that? Ugh. I was terrible!”
“You belted it out loud enough to give Elvis a run for his money. You’re lucky I was laughing too hard to run over and bang on the door.”
Cal’s face suddenly became very devious. “Hmmm… and how about if I mention that big sister still occasionally goes to bed with the Barney the dinosaur plushie doll from ten years ago?”
Deb’s jaw dropped in shock. “You did not just say that! I thought nobody knew about that!”
It was Cal’s turn to blush and look at the bench. “Actually, it was by accident. Mom made me go get some stupid makeup kit thing you’d borrowed from her; you weren’t home. Well, I noticed the Barney the dinosaur thing sticking out from under your bed.”
Chuckling, Deborah held out her hand. “Okay. Truce?”
Cal laughed. “Truce.” He shook her hand mock-solemnly, but didn’t release it. His face lost all trace of his humorous expression as he clasped her hand with both of his and said, “Deborah? You know I’d never really do that to you, right? What we know about each other stays between us. That’s for sure.”
She nodded and put her other hand on top of his. “I understand, Cal. And anything you say to me – I’ll keep it a secret. Even if you’ve, like, stolen a million dollars or something.”
Cal released her hands, saying, “If I had that much I’d cut you in for a share. Anyway, seriously, thanks for putting up with me.”
Deborah said, “I made a promise, Cal. I’m keeping it.” She stood up, stretching. “Now c’mon, let’s go get something to eat. I’m starving!”
Cal jumped up off the bench and said, “Right with ya. Let’s go!”
Deborah thought to herself, my brother’s back. Thank God for big favors.