by Steve Joos
The troubles of two roommates after an outing with the troubled cousin of one.
|Clock-watching is not the sign of a good worker, usually.
However, some people can fool you. Take Sandy Clark for example. She spends about six hours a day putting together a radio program and she peeks at her watch whenever things start to drag. Of course, timing is also part of her job. She has to be ready to go on the air in the late afternoon and for four hours, keeping people up on the time is another part of her job.
Nancy Gallagher also glances at her watch whenever it gets close to the end of one of her class periods. All this held against these two, Sandy has been on the radio since high school and Nancy a pretty decent high school history teacher, even if she's not that far removed from her own school days.
Sandy's on until 6 p.m. which means that it's getting dark this time of year. When she gets home from work, Tim Fenton is waiting.
"Hi Tim," she says to the boy across the hall, sometimes peppering him with a sports trivia question.
Tim just grins, waives, answers the question and goes into his mother's apartment.
"That's something I'll never be able to figure out," Sandy said to herself. "How that kid has so little to say."
On this particular Monday night, Tim was actually doing some work for his mother, changing a burned-out light in the hallway.
"You'd make a good electrician Tim," she said with a smile. "Isn't that the landlord's job?"
"I don't mind," Tim said. "Besides, he's paying me and my mom is the building manager."
“So, how’d you like the Auto Show Saturday?” Sandy went on to ask.
“Great,” Tim replied with a bit of uncertainty in his voice. “Thanks for the tickets.”
“So, what did you do after we split up?”
“Mom and I stopped at a discount store in Niles,” Tim stammered. “I really did like the Auto Show Sandy, there was just something else.”
A faint FM radio from the upstairs apartment was the only noise penetrating the room as Sandy walked in, finding a note from her roommate.
"Gone to a meeting," it read. "Be back at 8:00. Your supper is in the oven and the fridge."
It was a little later than that when Nancy arrived.
"Where were you?" Sandy asked.
"At a meeting," Nancy perked. "You don't know how long-winded parents can be. It's cold out there tonight."
Outside, a quiet figure stared into Sandy's picture window. Whoever it was, they first glanced into the Clark-Gallagher picture window and then glanced into the Fenton's before turning and walking past the parking lot, giving the area complete surveillance.
"How'd you like the Auto Show Saturday?" Sandy asked Nancy as the young teacher got ready for bed.
"I thought it was okay," Nancy replied. "Thanks for the tickets."
"You're welcome. Hey Nance."
"What was with Tim?"
"When we were coming back Saturday night, he was acting really nervous."
"Well Sandy, how'd you feel if you rode home from the Chicago Auto Show with your history teacher?"
"I'd be embarassed," Sandy laughed.
March in Northern Illinois can be cold at times and on this day, Nancy was kicking around the kitchen trying to stay warm and cook breakfast at the same time. It was 7:30 a.m. when she stumbled across the hall to the Fentons' door.
"Hi Aunt Alice," Nancy said when Mrs. Fenton answered the door. "Is Tim ready for school?"
"Just a minute," Mrs. Fenton said. "Tim! Your ride's here!"
"Wha-a-t?" Tim said sheepishly. On seeing his first cousin and history teacher standing in the doorway, Tim shrugged, rolled his eyes and got his coat and books.
"We'll see you tonight," Mrs. Fenton chimed.
The commotion across the hall did little to disturb Sandy's sleep until the clock radio hit 8 a.m.
"Buzzz! This is WFXD News!"
"Okay Chandler, I'm coming," Sandy mumbled to the voice on the radio, recognizing it as one of her co-workers at the 5,000-watt local radio station.
She could also hear Tim complain about the weather outside and thinking that Nancy was asking for trouble by ferrying Tim to school every morning. After Tim got away from Nancy upon their arrival at Foxwood High School, two of Tim's, ahem, classmates were waiting for him.
"Know where Fenton lives?" the dark-haired one asked.
"Those apartments over off Mulberry." "
Figures" the light-haired one said. "I saw him at the Auto Show Saturday, with Gallagher and some other chick."
They were waiting when Tim got to his locker.
"Hey Fenton! Where were you Saturday night?" the dark-haired one asked sneeringly.
"None of your business, Baker."
"How'd everything go Friday night?" the light-haired one asked with a smirk in his voice.
"Fine until your bunch showed up."
"Hey Tim," Baker aid. "We just wanted you to have a little fun."
Tim glared at the two, slammed his locker shut and stormed down the hall. Like some other members of the cool crowd at Foxwood, Baker and Vernon liked to give Tim a hard time, something which had been going on for most of Tim's school days.
"This pool is stuffed!" the young announcer exclaimed, slapping his forehead.
"What's that?" Sandy asked.
"Oh this state tournament pool," Randy Ferguson snorted. "Everybody's picked Chicago Christian."
"Well, it's a long time between now and the state finals," Sandy grinned and went to her desk. Moments later, she burst away from her desk crying while casting an anonymous letter aside.
"What's your problem?" Randy asked as she blew by him. "Now what did I do?"
Nancy moved quickly down the hallway, grinning when she caught Tim talking to the girl he had gone out with Friday night.
"Maybe it wasn't such a fiasco after all," she thought to herself, only to see the situation deteriorate, thanks to Baker and Vernon.
"What's going on here?" she asked firmly.
"Nothing Miss Gallagher," Baker innocently said.
"I was just trying to apologize to Abby when these guys started hassling me," Tim said.
"Aw, Miss Gallagher, he's nuts," Vernon said. "We just wanted to know what he does on Saturday nights."
"And why is that your business Scott?" "Just curious."
Baker and Vernon started to back away as Nancy gave both a dirty look.
She then turned sadly to Tim.
"I'm sorry." "There's nothing to be sorry about," Nancy said. "In a way, those guys deserve it. Now hurry up, you'll be late for home room."
Tim was waiting as Nancy came back from her graduate class that evening.
"Hi," she said quietly.
"Now do you see why I feel the way I do towards that place?"
"I've seen it all year Tim," Nancy replied with a sigh as she unlocked her apartment door.
"You want to talk about it? Come on in, I won't bite."
Tim faked a look at his watch and looked out the picture window.
"That's okay," he stuttered. "Terry Vernon saw me with you and Sandy Saturday at the Auto Show!"
Tim bolted out of the apartment across the hall.
"So?" Nancy said, stopping Tim before he entered his own apartment. A car pulled into the driveway, making Tim jumpy.
"Thanks for taking me to the Auto Show. I gotta do my homework!"
Nancy looked out the window. Tim had been frightened by a Meals on Wheels driver. Nancy walked back into her apartment and found a distraught Sandy sitting at the kitchen table.
"Have you been crying?" she asked.
"This," Sandy thrust the letter at Nancy.
"I left Randy Ferguson wondering what was going on this afternoon."
"Oooh," Nancy said. "That's nothing. At lunch this afternoon, Tim was trying to patch things up with his blind date from Friday night when..."
Nancy was cut off by the ringing of the phone. "Hello?"
"Clark and Gallagher's?"
The caller quickly hung up.
"Who was it?" Nancy asked.
"Some kids from school trying to show how cute they aren't," Nancy said with more than a little exasperation.
Nancy slumped down in a chair and tugged on her pants, pulling her socks closer to her knees.
"You know some of the kids razz Tim about you," she told Sandy.
"You or his English teacher."
"Why? Tim's more like a kid brother to me."
"Well, we all know that, but that's just how teenagers are. He hangs around here all the time and we seem to be the only ones he thinks he can pour his heart out to." Sandy dried her tears.
"I wrote in my diary once about how Tim gets so depressed and when he does that, he becomes so bitter," she said. "He knows that's wrong and I hope it all works out for him. We all just have to keep praying that it does."
The two roommates sat up that evening a little longer, not wanting to fall asleep although both knew they had to.
"Hey Sandy," Nancy asked about midnight.
"Would you put that instrumental album on?"
"Yeah, the one with all the musak on it."
Nancy filled the request and started off to her room. She heard a voice quietly singing along with the J.C. Penney elevator version of "Leaving on a Jet Plane" It was Nancy's. If they only knew that things had worsened outside and that someone had planted a note addressed to "Miss Gallagher" in their mailbox.
Foxwood, like many other good-sized towns, has its early-to-bed people, its night people and everyone in between. Sometimes, all kinds of people can't get to sleep, no matter how hard they try. This was one of those nights for Tim. He stumbled into his room for about the third time, trying to sleep. He looked at his clock radio for the time.
"One a.m. Wonder what I can pick up now?" He thought to himself. On went the radio, going down low enough so only Tim could hear it. He rolled around for a while, trying to get to sleep.
"Tim?" his mother called from another room.
"Are you all right?"
There were times when Tim could get along with his mother. This time, he didn’t even want to try.t was a long night that showed up the next morning. Wednesday morning.
"Are you going to bed or are you sleeping in here?" Tim's mother asked. "Huh?"
"Tim, it's a quarter to eight!"
"Okay, see you tonight mom!" Tim rushed out the door, nearly knocking Sandy down.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"School!" Tim replied. "I'm late for school."
"Well it's too cold to walk. I'll take you." Tim reluctantly took Sandy up on her offer and quietly walked to her sleek green Cougar.
"Are you nervous?"
"You're prettier than Nancy."
Sandy peppered Tim with questions throughout the brief ride to Foxwood High and let him out at the side door. Baker and Vernon were waiting as Tim stumbled half-asleep to his locker.
"Looks like you were out pretty late last night Fenton," Baker sneered. "I couldn't get to sleep last night."
"Sure Tim, sure Tim," Vernon chuckled. "What was her name?" Tim just slammed his locker shut and walked away.
"Come on Tim," Baker howled. "Who was the girl in the green Cougar?" Tim stopped in his tracks. He didn't turn around to look at Baker and Vernon, he just glared.
As the sleek green Cougar pulled up beside the radio station building, a slightly built young man with waivy hair stopped to check out Sandy's arrival.
"It's about time you got here," Randy Ferguson said to Sandy as she walked to the door.
"I had to drop my roommate's cousin off at school."
"Uh huh, a guy,"
"Randy, he's only 17!" Sandy chuckled.
"Yeah Sandy," Randy said slyly. "Oh, by the way, Les wants to see you."
"Okay," Sandy said.
Upon entering the building, Sandy walked with some hesitation to the program director's office.
"Uh, Les, you wanted to see me?" she asked.
"Good morning Sandy," Les Healy said. "How are you?"
"Better than yesterday afternoon?"
"Les, I don't want to even think about yesterday afternoon."
"Sandy, you were a real trouper yesterday."
"Thank you sir."
"Now, what's the problem?"
Sandy explained what had been going on at home and with Tim. She even asked if might have a little more leeway in choosing some of the music on her air shift and Les agreed, if it would help.
Sandy didn't know that Tim's problems at school were yet to stop.
"Hey Fenton!" Baker called out during junior lunch hour. "Come 'ere'!"
"We got a girl who wants to go out with you Saturday night!"
"Sorry, I'm not going."
Tim's curt reply didn't stop Baker.
"Well, now you've got a date."
"I don't care. I'm not going."
"Why not? We won't bug you?"
"You mean like you didn't bug me last Friday night?" Tim snorted. "Why don't you just leave me alone?"
Tim beat a hasty retreat as Baker continued to give him a hard time.
"What's the matter, Fenton? Afraid you'll hurt your girlfriend?"
Baker laughed and turned around to look straight at Nancy.
"Hey Scott," she said firmly.
"Oh, yes Miss Gallagher?"
"Who are you calling Tim's girlfriend?"
"Some older chick we saw him with Saturday."
"Older chick?" Nancy knowingly nodded. "I have something to say to you and Tony Vernon and all your other little buddies and that's this. Lay off that kid or else."
When Nancy came hone that afternoon, she took in the mail, including a letter with just "Miss Gallagher" on the envelope.
"I didn't think they delivered the mail without a zip code," Nancy though to herself.
She opened the letter, read a few lines and angrily threw it down as Tim entered the building.
"That's a note someone wrote," Nancy growled at him. "If you ever find out who it is, tell them they're not funny."
"Hey, hey, Nancy," Tim couldn't catch her. He turned to pick up the letter, took a look and grimaced.
The words in the letter bit at him as he went with his mother to run some errands that night. He also bought a record.
When the Fentons got home, Tim repaired a burned out light in the hallway. He was finishing up as Nancy walked into the building.
Nancy shrugged and invited Tim inside.
Tim fetched his coat and the record sack from the utility closet and went across the hall.
"Hi Tim," Sandy said with a grin, looking up at him while strumming on her guitar.
Tim fidgeted a bit before Nancy finally told him to sit down.
"How are you tonight?" Sandy asked in a whispering tone.
"What's in the sack?"
"What's the name of it?"
"Rock and Roll Lullabye," Tim stammered with a bit of embarassment.
"That's a nice song," Sandy said quietly. "I'll play it sometime when you can hear it."
"You don't have to."
"That's all right," Sandy said quietly. "I won't say it's for you. Is that what's troubling you?"
Tim nodded, partly choking back tears.
"That's not the whole problem," Nancy intoned from the kitchen. "Foxwood High's getting to him. Baker and Vernon are getting to him."
The slight teacher appeared in the kitchen doorway.
Just then, a car shot through the apartment building's driveway.
"Hey Fenton!" the driver yelled.
"That's them!" Tim said angrily. "I'll see you around."
He rushed out of the apartment. Through the clouded glass on the doors of the building, Tim noticed the headlights of Baker's car. He was more than just mad.
"I feel sorry for that kid," Sandy said as she put on a record.
Nancy was more than sorry.
"I'd like to take some of those turkeys out in back of the school and give them what for," she snarled.
Nancy stopped for a moment and then went to the record rack. She got out one of her grandmother's hymn albums and placed it on the turntable. Nancy listened to those old records whenever she felt depressed or angry.
After turning on the stereo, Nancy turned to find Sandy smiling.
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"I just had an idea that made me feel so good."
The next morning, Nancy shared the idea with Tim as they drove to school.
"You've got a dinner date with my roomie the knockout lady deejay tonight at 6 p.m. in our apartment. I'm the chaperone," she said.
Tim nodded and shrugged.
"I'll be there."
"Well, don't be so excited about it."
Tim just looked at Nancy, as if to say "So what? It's you and your roommate. Now they beat up on you two just like everybody else. I'm sorry I got you into this."
Tim didn't feel much better after he got home from school, although the prospect of the weekend was appealing.
"I'll be glad to get out of there," Tim thought to himself. "That place is driving me nuts!"
The radio station clock read quarter to six. Sandy leaned back while her record played with her eyes closed, smiling. She was still brimming when she left the station.
"You seem quite happy tonight," an engineer commented as Sandy departed.
"I am," she said. "I'm having a friend of mine over for dinner."
Nancy let Tim in about 6 p.m. and then had to answer the phone.
"Clark and Gallagher's,"
"Hey, what you got cooking tonight?"
"Hamburgers, Baker!" Nancy snapped, slamming down the phone.
She looked up at Tim.
"Don't let those clowns get to you Tim," she said. "They're supposed to know better."
At dinner, Tim told a few jokes and his share of quizzing from Nancy and Sandy. Then his cousin turned sober.
"I know it's tough, but don't let those goons at school get to you Tim," she said. "I mean everybody around here thinks well of you the Good Lord loves you too."
"It sure doesn't seem that way at Foxwood," he said.
"Well Tim, I understand, but..."
Just then a car shot through the driveway.
"Hey Fenton!" Baker called out.
Tim bolted up from his chair and started for the door.
"That does it!" he said angrily.
Tim bolted out of the apartment with Nancy and Sandy behind him.
"Tim, don't do anything stupid," Nancy said.
Tim stormed out of the building and headed towards Baker's car.
He glared at the group of high school cool guys in the car jeering at him. Baker made a series of suggestive remarks about Sandy as Tim continued his approach.
"She's standing right behind me Baker," Tim growled.
"What are you going to do about it?"
"He's not doing anything," Nancy said. "You're going to pull that car over to the side and get out. Now!"
Baker parked the car and got out, but his smirk never dipped, even as Nancy marched towards him, the heels of her boots making a menacing clump.
"I'd like to hear you say some of those things to that lady on the doorstep," she demanded. "Why? That's my only question."
"We just want Tim to have some fun," Baker chuckled.
"Fun?" Nancy said. "You call this fun? All year, you have been making his life miserable, and you call this fun?
I know you're behind the phone calls Scott."
Vernon began to pull an envelope off the car's dashboard.
"What is that Terry?" Nancy demanded.
"May I see it please?"
Vernon hesitated and then finally handed the envelope to Nancy. She looked at the address and then glared back at Baker.
"You two are in a lot of trouble and so is anyone else involved with this," she said. "I'm going to check a few things out about this car and then I'm calling the police. I don't want to see either one of you within range of him for the rest of the year. Do you understand me?"
"You'd both better expect to be called to the principal's office in the morning. Now get out of here."
As Tim's tormentors left, he cautiously backed away from his cousin.
"Well what's your problem?" she asked.
"I don't want to get on your bad side."
Nancy shrugged and walked back into the building. Tim headed for the door of his apartment.
"And just where are you going?" Nancy demanded.
Tim turned and went back into Nancy and Sandy's apartment.
"You're not dismissed yet." Nancy said, tilting her head and smiling.