Read Franny Parker Online

Authors: Hannah Roberts McKinnon

Franny Parker (6 page)

BOOK: Franny Parker
10.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“No scaredy-cat I know would run a hospital for wild animals!” he said, motioning to the cages and stalls.

I smiled proudly and withdrew my hand reluctantly from his. “What about yours?” I asked, feeling brave.

He hesitated, but let me take his hand. “So?” He raised his eyebrows playfully.

“Hmm, it says you also like animals. And the outdoors. That you come from lots of places. And a nice family.”

At this he pulled his hand back.

“What?” I'd said something wrong.

“Nothing,” he muttered, his hand twisting in his lap. He turned to me. His face was so close to mine that our noses almost touched. “You're wrong about something.”

“What part?”

“The family part. My family, well, it's different from yours.”

“But your mom is great,” I said.

He nodded. “Yeah, I know. It's just that my seasons haven't been so plentiful.”

“You mean your dad?”

He looked away. “I don't have a dad,” he said firmly. “He's dead.”

Neither of us said anything for a long time. We just sat in the doorway of the barn, letting the heat press lazily against us. The barn felt both peaceful and sad, the animals in their stalls with no mothers, Lucas sitting on the hay with no father. He sighed before covering my hand with his.

“I'm just glad to know you, Franny.” He looked at me hard, his eyes like the river outside the barn, watery and hopeful.

“Dinner!” Mama yelled from the porch. I jumped then, reclaiming my hand, stuffing it nervously in my pocket. Lucas hopped up, dusting himself off, and we hurried out of the barn. We walked together partway up the yard, to where the path split just beyond the garden, returning us both home. Him to his quiet little cabin, me to the busy farmhouse, the coiled rings of my plentiful seasons turning noisily inside me.


he kitchen table was a mess of purple tissue paper and sparkly stationery when I headed in for dinner. I'd brought in the box of baby mice to show Mama, but from the looks of Sidda's project there wasn't a sparkle-free space to put them.

“Marilee turns fourteen next Saturday,” Sidda announced. “And I've been elected her official party planner.” She licked an envelope dramatically and sealed it with a kiss.

“Birthday cake!” Ben whooped, punching the air with his fist.

“You,” Sidda told him, pausing to lick another envelope, “are not invited.”

“Aww, Mom,” Ben wailed.

I picked up a purple invitation.

“No rodent fingers on the cards, please,” Sidda said, snapping the card out of my hand.

I stuck out my tongue.

“Sidda, perhaps you can move your work off the table so Franny and Ben can set it,” Mama suggested, putting salad fixings
on the counter. “How're the patients?” she asked me, pointing at the mouse box.

I set it on the counter and opened the lid so she could peek. The five babies stirred in their sleep, their little pink paws stretching. The littlest guy in the bunch yawned.

Mama beamed at me. “Wow, their fur coats have come in, Franny. Well done!” She was right, the mice looked great. But one was smaller than the rest. Ben called him Runty.

“I'm worried about Runty,” I told her.

Mama nodded. “I know, honey. Mice are hard. He just needs a little extra attention.”

Runty may have been the smallest, but he had become my favorite. I picked him up and settled him in the front pocket of my shirt. I could feel his tiny mouse warmth as he curled up to sleep.

“Hey, Mom,” Sidda interrupted. “What's the Dunns' address?”

“Number four, I think.”

“Why do you want it?” I asked, turning to look at her.

“Because we're inviting him to the party,” Sidda said, inspecting her list and checking off Lucas's name with a flourish.

“But you barely know him!” I said.

Sidda dismissed this. “We'll be in the same class at school.”

“Oh, I think it's a nice idea,” Mama said. “Introduce him to some new people.”

“Besides,” Sidda said, “just because he likes your animals doesn't mean he's your friend. He's only being polite.”

“Now, Sidda,” Mama scolded, pointing a cucumber at her.

I was not prepared for the lump in my throat that came with Sidda's words. Suddenly I wanted to grab her invitations and tear them up. Instead, I turned away, pretending to busy myself with the mice. Sidda was wrong. Lucas was my friend.

After dinner, Mama found me at the kitchen stove. The mouse formula was just warming, and I stirred it lazily around the pan as Runty slept on in my pocket.

Mama sat down and studied me carefully. “You look tired,” she said, pulling me gently onto her lap. It was something she did often with Ben, something I was embarrassed to admit I still longed for myself. I folded into her arms and closed my eyes. “Why don't you let Daddy and me do the late shift tonight?”

“But you said it was my job.”

“I know, but everyone needs a rest now and then.”

I thought about that, about how tired Mama herself looked some mornings, rushing around the house, her hands always full with breakfast plates or backpacks or bills. When was the last time I'd offered to help her?

“You don't mind?” I asked, getting up to take the formula off the stove.

“I like those furry critters as much as you do,” she said.

“Maybe one night off would be good. I'll do it tomorrow,” I promised her.

“I know you will. Go tuck them in, then get yourself to bed.”

I grabbed the formula bottles and was halfway out the door when Sidda caught me.

“Pop these in the mailbox for me, will you?” she asked, her hands full of the party invitations.

I nodded and stuffed them under my arm.

“And don't spill any rodent food on them!”

At the mailbox I sorted through the stack of purple envelopes, holding each one up to the faded light from the porch so I could read the addresses. Lucas's was almost on the bottom. It looked like the others. I held it a long time before I lifted the red flag of the mailbox and stuffed the envelopes inside. All except one. I tucked Lucas's safely in my back pocket. I didn't plan to keep it. Not really. I needed more time to think about it. It wasn't just a party, after all. Once Lucas started hanging around with Sidda and the others, would he still be my friend?

After all, Lucas's mailbox was right there next to my own. I could just pop it in when I was ready. The other invitations would take at least a day or two to get to everyone. And I'd be saving the mailman a delivery.

With that decided, I slapped our mailbox shut. It was then that I noticed the Dunns'. Their box was black. Plain black. The letters of their name were washed clean away, Mama's red handiwork just a faint smear on its side.

The New Member

indy was a real hit with the Busy Bees that Friday, just like Mama and I knew she would be. She arrived with a loaf of
lemon bread tucked under her arm and planted herself smack in the middle of the old women, like she herself was one of the Bees. She surveyed the quilted scene before her.

“What a magnificent tree!” she said.

Grandma Rae offered her a tiny brown square, a beginner one like mine. Lindy stitched the shapeless cotton into a graceful tree branch, and the tree took life before our eyes.

“My,” said Grandma, sliding her glasses down her nose to admire the work. “Looks like you need another.”

I noticed she reached for a tricky leaf pattern this time.

“Thank you all for inviting me,” Lindy said. “We've only been here a couple weeks, and it's nice to feel a part of things already.” Lindy glanced at the ladies.

“Oh, be careful 'bout thanking us too soon. You don't exactly know what you got yourself into!” Izzy exclaimed with a hoot.

“Speak for yourself,” said Grandma Rae, patting the Bible that I knew was in her sewing bag. “This is an upstanding group,” she proudly informed Lindy.

“I believe it,” Lindy said, smiling.

“So how's our library?” Izzy asked. “There must be an awful lot of news down there!”

Lindy had started working part-time at the Aubree Library. After work she'd drag home an armload of books for Lucas.

“Oh, we have all kinds of news,” Lindy said.

The Bees jerked to attention. “Such as?” they asked at once.

“Well,” Lindy answered, “we get newspapers from three
counties, not to mention the Internet. You should stop by. I'd be happy to help you surf the Web if you haven't already.”

The ladies wagged their heads.

“No, no, these bodies are too old to surf anything,” Izzy said. “Besides, current events are not what I meant. I'm referring to the
news you must be exposed to there.”

The ladies nodded in unison.

Lindy looked confused.

“Izzy means gossip.” There, Mama said it.

“Oh, Celia, we do not gossip,” Grandma Rae corrected. “Gossip burns the ears. We

“Ah, yes.” Lindy nodded. She studied the group carefully and leaned forward. “Well, I may have heard a little something about the mayor's wife.”

No sooner had Lindy opened her mouth than did every head bow faithfully in her direction, the quilt set aside for a “breather.” Never mind what Grandma Rae said. Those ladies' ears were on fire! Mama winked at me from her easel.

“You certainly seem to have settled right in,” Dotty said after Lindy finished, fanning herself with a napkin. The ladies were slumped in their chairs, plumb wore out from all their

“Your pots are quite the talk in town,” Faye added. “Harland's can hardly keep them on the shelves.”

Lindy smiled.

“I don't suppose you've attended Sunday service yet?” Grandma Rae asked, raising one eyebrow. We held our breath.

“Not yet, but I met the pastor at the farmers' market last weekend. Helped me pick out some peaches.”

Grandma nodded in approval, casting a quick look at Mama. Like I said, Lindy was a real hit. Which is why we were so surprised by what Izzy said next.

“So where is your husband?” Izzy asked. Just like that. There we were having a grand time, and
, a deathly quiet hit the room like a comet.

“Izzy!” Mama chided. Lindy looked at her hands. I saw the edges of dried clay around her thumbnails.

“It's okay,” she said, sitting up straighter and facing the women. “I'm afraid I don't have one.”

My thoughts ran back to what Lucas had said in the barn about his father. But Lindy didn't share any more. The ladies busied themselves with their leaves and branches, all except Izzy, who fixed Lindy with a gentle look.

Mama, sensing the need for an intermission, set down her brushes and palette. “Lemonade, anyone?” she asked. I followed her to the kitchen, where we worked the lemons back and forth over the wooden counter, squeezing the juices up to the surface. Mama sliced each one expertly, her long fingers moving over the yellow fruit, pressing each one to the juicer.

“Take these to the chickens,” she said, passing me the peels.

Outside, I tossed the lemon over the chicken wire, watching as the hens squawked and scratched around the scraps. I headed up the hill and around to the back door by the kitchen. It was there I heard Izzy's voice join Mama's inside. They spoke quietly, so I knew they were having a private talk. I waited outside, trying to tell my ears not to listen, but I couldn't help it.

“Honestly, Iz, why'd you have to ask her that?” Mama scolded.

“Well, weren't you wondering the same thing?” Izzy asked.

“Of course, but it's not our place. Lindy's new.”

“She didn't seem to mind,” Izzy protested.

“She's just being a good sport,” Mama said.

“Well, she's used to it.”

“What do you mean?”

“A river of sadness, that one,” Izzy said with a sigh.

“Don't be silly,” Mama replied. “Lindy's the most cheerful woman I know.”

“I'm not kidding. I've seen sadness myself, and I can recognize a woman who's seen the same.” Izzy's voice was solemn.

I peered through the back window. Mama and Izzy were at the counter, the ladies chatting loudly at the dining room table behind them. I strained to hear Mama's words.

“Come on, Iz. She's got a great kid, she's settled in nicely. Her pottery is a hit.”

Izzy shook her head. “Details, details, details. Look in her eyes sometime. There's a story there she's not telling,” Izzy insisted.

Izzy took the lemonade to the ladies. I pressed myself against the house, breathing quietly against the wooden heat. The back door opened, and Mama walked right past me, a strange look on her face. She crossed her arms and stared hard at the little cabin next door.

Ice Cream

o what book are you on?” Pearl wheezed, her skinny legs pedaling fiercely.

“My fifth,” I shouted back, rounding the corner of the town green onto Main Street. I'd almost run out of formula for the patients over the weekend, so I was relieved to be on my way to the vet's office that Monday. For two miles Pearl had raced to keep up on her faded pink kiddie bike, its worn tires spinning twice as fast as those on my ten-speed. I glanced back sympathetically at the freckles glowing on her red cheeks.

“Mother says I can get a new bike if I win the library contest,” Pearl had confided earlier. I don't know which made me feel sorrier, the fact that her mother was forcing her to ride a kiddie bike until she won or her belief that she actually could win.

I pulled up outside Harland's. “Ice cream break?” I offered, gently patting my shirt pocket. I'd taken to carrying Runty around in my pocket, letting him snooze in its dark warmth. He seemed to like it, popping his head out for a peek every now and then. I'd almost forgotten he was in there that morning until we were halfway into town.

BOOK: Franny Parker
10.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Guardian Bears: Karl by Leslie Chase
Expect the Sunrise by Warren, Susan May
The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder
Chilled by Death by Dale Mayer
He's Just A Friend by Mary B. Morrison
Dreaming of You by Jennifer McNare