There was something wrong with her mother Dolores that she wasn't telling. Stephanie knew it as she stared out of the dusk-smudged window of the train as it hurried to North Rapids on schedule, on time, on account of Mom. Why had she suddenly needed her to move back into their house on Lakeside Drive, "the house of seven fables", as her English professor father called it. Dad died in that house, fit as a brass whistle, never a day off from university, never an aspirin tablet taken. Dropped dead in his beloved library right in front of Mom, who had to call her school and get her out of class. For Stephanie, there were other true fables, none as devastating, some downright charming. Like the fall she fell in love at a good safe distance with mellifluent young Randolph Hadenshaw who took over her late father's Medieval Literature course at the university and had rented the upstairs flat; or having their longtime family dentist Dr. Einstein (he looked like Albert, too) decide while over for tea with mother one evening that it was time to get her daughter's braces off then and there. Was that while Mr. Hadenshaw was still there, suffering the attentions of this gawky, moon-struck teenager? Of course, it was after he accepted the post of Mediaeval Poet-in-Residence post at Cardine. But there were other memorable moments like prom night-- so sad that Dad could not be there for that or her graduation from Lakeside High. Or the big Christmas package Aunt Leslie sent that contained, of all things, a dog house. The dog came exactly a week later, a small, friendly shepherd they named Ashabel. Another memory maker: Ashabel was struck by a delivery truck-- the driver Mr. Currick was crushed, bawled he had never seen her-- two days short of the following Christmas. And now what? Mom desperately wanted her home to stay with her. Well, okay. The job in Reston, clerking in the records department of that small junior college, was going nowhere, marking time, but it paid okay, enough to meet the rent at her small apartment and go Dutch treat every few months with the internet pen pal that had brought her to Reston in the first place and, as it turned out, wanted only that: a pen pal. Now Mom was sick. Sicker than she would tell her until she moved back. So uncharacteristic of her selfless mother. Or was it that she feared for her life having just rented the upstairs flat out again. North Rapids, from her letters before this, had seemed not to change, but had fear crept within its borders in the three and a half years since she had moved out? She paid the taxi. He waited until she was safely up the porch and the light had gone on and her mother had opened the door. Now her Mom was taking her luggage, helping her with her winter coat and looking-- looking healthier than she had since Dad's last summer! Into the dining room her mother led her to the table set for three-- what was this?-- with sliced turkey and stuffing and beside itself with aromas from the good old days at the house of seven fables! And now Mom was escorting her out to get the Caesar's salad, pushing her up the stairway, watching her knock on the door of the new tenant. The door opened. "Stephanie." Standing there, looking as ever the part of the young and dashing poetic academic with large romaine salad in hand, smiling-- "Mr. Hadenshaw." "Randolph." He was staring. "With your braces you were beautiful, milady fair, but I had to find out about them, to wit, I had to come back to see how you looked without them." "I don't miss them, Mr. Hadenshaw-- Randolph-- but I sure have missed you." Now Mom was calling from downstairs: "Are you two going to come down or are you just going to stand up there renewing old acquaintances like a couple of gawky school kids? Don't you know dinner's ready!"
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