When you’re starting out on the tortuous path to emotional maturity, it can be a challenge to sort your personal feelings from social expectations.
Seventeen-year old Faye Bennett has hit that challenge head-and-heart on in her relationship with her boyfriend Dave Muzzy.
They’ve known one other since third grade so Faye thought she knew him. But something’s not adding up in Faye’s heart, and it’s been difficult for her to admit that the Dave she’s always known may not be the Dave she wants to know.
Welcome to the conclusion of this Carding Chronicle. I’m glad you stopped by.
“So Gram, I understand you’re taking classes via Zoom,” Faye said as they ate breakfast together. Faye loved her grandmother’s “stuffed” oatmeal with its raisins, apples, walnuts, and cranberries. “What do you think about the world of online education?”
“Oh, in some respects, it’s better than in person. I don’t have to drive in bad weather,” Edie said.
“How’s the teacher?” Faye asked as she poured a bit of maple syrup over her breakfast.
Edie’s face puckered a little. “Malcolm’s doing all right. I took a class with him before but in person, and he really knows his stuff.”
“But………?” Faye prompted.
Her grandmother’s cheeks rosied-up a little. “Faye, do you suppose that people my age don’t realize that when you’re on something like Zoom, everyone can see everyone else?”
Faye laughed. “Gram, I’ve seen people my age forget they are on-screen and that the world can see them do stuff they aren’t going to live down for quite a while. What have you been seeing?”
“Well, there’s this woman called Margaret who’s lounging around on her bed in this very provocative negligee.”
“Anything important hanging out?”
Now it was Edie’s turn to laugh. “Not yet but Ruth and Agnes and I have a bet on how soon that’s going to happen. And then there’s this other woman who takes her phone with her—I’m assuming it’s a phone—while she does other things around her house. She’s taken it into her bathroom, out on her deck, and yesterday, into her kitchen where she propped it up next to her toaster and then smeared peanut butter all over the screen and we got to watch her wipe it off.”
Faye’s giggles were now out of control. “Doesn’t your teacher notice?”
“Well, Malcolm’s too well-mannered to embarrass anyone but he did stop talking while she was wiping so she may have gotten the message.” She stopped for a moment. “But there’s one that really bothers me, Frank Dixon.”
“Mr. Dixon, the man who was the postmaster?”
“What’s so strange about the way he looks on Zoom?”
“Well, it’s what’s going on behind him, in the background.” Edie sighed. As you get older, the right to drive becomes more sacred with every passing birthday so she was reluctant to share her suspicions with her granddaughter. “He’s driving while he’s on the phone taking the class.”
Edie nodded. “I’m sure of it. I had to stare at his image for a long time before I figured it out but you can see trees sliding by behind him, and then all of sudden everything stops and he disappears but then he comes back and the background moves again.”
She sighed. “And sometimes there’s this awful banging noise.”
The two women stared at one another, one older, the other younger, each of them puzzled.
“What time does your class start?” Faye asked.
“It’s early, 7:00 a.m. But Malcolm records it so you can watch later in the day if you like. Why?”
“And where does Mr. Dixon live?”
“He and his wife built the first house on Jefferson Road. It’s grown up so much around there, it’s hard to believe it was just sheep fields once upon a time.”
Now it was Faye’s face that puckered. Frank Dixon lived two doors down from Dave Muzzy. Just before the air leaked out of their relationship, Dave had taken on two newspaper routes to make more money. Faye knew that doing both in the time allowed was an impossible task. Heck, given the rural nature of Vermont, finishing one of them in the allotted time was a strain.
But when she questioned him about how he was going to do it, Dave had brushed her off.
Faye stood up so suddenly, her chair crashed to the floor.
“What’s wrong Faye?”
“I could be totally wrong about this, Gram, but could you drive out to Mr. Dixon’s with me?”
Faye glanced at the clock. It was almost nine. “Yeah, I think now would be a good time.”
All the way across town, Faye kept hoping she was wrong. But she knew. Of course she knew. The doubts that she’d been tamping down were now impossible to ignore.
They pulled into Frank Dixon’s driveway just as he was struggling to get out of his truck. When the two women rushed to help him, Edie noticed deep scratches and dents etched into the passenger side of his pickup.
“Mr. Dixon, are you all right?” Faye asked.
“Hit something,” the former postmaster muttered. “Don’t know…”
“Hey, what’s going on?” Dave Muzzy loped across the street and started to push his way closer to Frank. But he stopped when he saw Faye. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s him, right? You got Mr. Dixon to deliver your newspapers, didn’t you?” Faye demanded.
“Yeah. So? I’m paying him.”
Edie’s hand trailed across the damaged side of Frank’s truck, noting the dark green paint left on its gray door. “This green is the same color as the metal poles that the newspaper company uses for its delivery boxes. Is it you, Frank? Are you the one who’s knocked down newspaper boxes all over town?”
The former postmaster looked at the ground. “I planned to drive slow, Edie, so I thought it would be all right to watch Malcolm’s class live with the rest of you. But the route—it got so long.”
Faye crossed her arms over her chest. “How many houses did you expect to deliver newspapers to, Mr. Dixon?”
Frank looked over at Dave. “Twenty. You know, the homes of friends, folks I could wave to.” He gave Edie a sorrowful look. “I was supposed to be done by eight o’clock so I had to speed things up a bit. That was probably not a good idea.”
Faye’s eyes blazed at her now-definitely-former boyfriend. “And how many houses are really on Mr. Dixon’s route?” she asked him.
“That’s none of your…”
Edie now had Frank’s arm firmly in her own, and the two of them rose to their feet as one. “Shame on you, Dave Muzzy,” Edie growled as she helped her friend into his house. “Shame.”
Faye shut the door of Frank’s truck, and started to follow her grandmother. What a fool I was, she said to herself. What a fool.
“Faye, wait. I…uh…” Dave’s mouth floundered to a close.
She stopped, keeping her eyes turned away from him because she was too angry to trust herself. “Put them all back, all of the newspaper boxes that Mr. Dixon knocked down. And do it yourself so everyone can see who’s responsible for the damage. And then fix his truck.”
“Fix his truck? No way.”
Faye finally turned, and in that moment, she saw the path she’d almost taken with the young man. Dave was fun. He was friendly and polite and smart. And that had been enough for her to ignore the rest, his glib answers, the sometimes-belittling tone of his wit, his willingness to take advantage of other people.
I let myself be taken in, she realized. I went along to get along. Shame on me.
“You will fix what you have broken and I’m going to check to make sure you do,” she said quietly.
Then she opened Frank Dixon’s front door with a lighter heart than she had had when she woke up that morning.
Strange how sometimes a problem and its solution can show up at the same time, isn’t it?
Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and an upcoming mystery, The Burnt Fool.
The Carding, Vermont novels, in order of appearance:
The Road Unsalted
Thieves of Fire
The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life
Light in Water, Dancing