When the phone rang, Rebecca sat up instantly, dropping the paperback she’d been reading to the floor. The phone rang? The house phone hadn’t rung since January: lines had been down across the state, and if her father hadn’t bought one of those expensive satellite phones they’d have been completely cut off from the world.
She jumped to her feet, then ran across her room and grabbed the telephone.
“Zoe? It’s Joe.”
“Uh, it’s not my Mom, this is Rebecca.”
“Well, I’ll be damned. Little Rebecca. You don’t sound so little anymore.”
Rebecca smiled. “Uncle Joe, you know I turned eighteen in January.”
“Well, darling, knowing and believing is two different things. How are you? School going okay?”
Rebecca laughed. “Uncle Joe, where have you been hiding? School’s been closed for months! They’re saying we might be going back in a couple more weeks, but I don’t know. I’m afraid I’m never going to graduate, now.”
“Don’t worry, kid, you’ll be fine. Where’s your Dad?”
“Dad? I don’t know. He had to meet some guys from the Army a while ago.”
Suddenly inspiration hit her. If she took a message to her father while her was meeting with the Army, maybe that guy, Corporal Turville, would be there. Before the thought was really complete, she’d already spoken.
“If you want, I can walk a message to him. They’re staying right across the drug store, in that abandoned house.”
“Right,” Joe said. “Mrs. Wilson’s old place: she was our high school English teacher. Evil bitch. Oops—don’t tell your Dad I said that. Why is your dad meeting with the Army?”
She giggled. Uncle Joe was always a little funny, though the last year, since his wife died, he’d been pretty grim all the time. It was nice to hear him sounding like himself.
“I don’t know, Uncle Joe. Mayor stuff, I guess. Anyway, they brought in a whole bunch of guys, they got a roadblock, and guys downtown, and up at the dam. I guess Dad’s got to work out some stuff with them.”
“That’s weird,” Joe said, his voice sounding odd. “Why is the Army in Whitesville?”
“Didn’t you know? They’re all over: in Madison, too, all over the county. They’re supposed to be helping us get things back up and running. Couldn’t be quick enough for me.”
Joe was silent at the other end for a long time. She could hear him breathing, and wondered what he was about.
“Rebecca, do me a favor?”
“Don’t worry about running any message to your Dad, I can call him later. Just… stay away from those Army guys, okay?”
Oh, for God’s sake, she thought. She scrunched her forehead and said, “How come?”
“Look, I just got a bad feeling okay. Lot a people have been hurt in the last year around here, and having the Army around may not be such a good thing, okay? Beside, you know I used to be in the Army. I can tell you from experience, kiddo, they only think about one thing: and it sure as hell ain’t polishin’ their boots.”
She blushed and giggled again. “Uncle Joe… last time I saw you, you told me that’s all any guy thinks about.”
“Well, yeah, that’s true. But with the Army it’s worse. Anyway, that don’t matter. You just stay away from them, you hear?”
She rolled her eyes. “Uncle Joe, you may know a lot, but you don’t know everything. Besides, I have to at least be nice: one of those guys saved my life last week.”
“What are you talking about?”
His tone was urgent, unusually so.
She answered in a half-whine, feeling defensive. “Some lunatics were shooting into downtown. Didn’t you hear about the helicopters that got shot down? You have been living under a rock. I got stuck in the middle of all that.”
Uncle Joe didn’t answer right away, but she could hear him breathing over the phone. Then, abruptly, he said, “All right. I’ll talk to your dad about it. But you be careful, young lady.”
Then he hung up, without even a goodbye.
Well, that was just weird.
Should she go down there anyway? If her dad was talking with the lieutenant, he might not thank her for interrupting.
But Corporal Turville might be there, and she really wanted to talk to him. Oh God, she didn’t even know anything about him at all. He’d probably hate her. What was she thinking anyway? If Dana were here she’d tell Rebecca she was nuts.
She looked in the mirror, and her eyes focused in on the hideous mole below her left eye, and her flat as a board chest, and felt tears come to her eyes. Who was she kidding anyway? He didn’t want to have anything to do with her. She was ugly and out of shape and with the schools closed, she wasn’t even going to graduate high school.
She lay back down on her bed and tried not to cry. Oh, damn it. She squeezed her hands into fists, remembering how much she had struggled with her ballet, how hard she had worked to learn the difficult—and sometimes dangerous—routines in cheerleading.
She wasn’t ugly, and she wasn’t stupid, and God damn if she was going to let her crazy Uncle tell her what to do. She stood up, appraised herself in a new light, and headed for the front door.