Part 5 – My mother

“So, Nikki, Why are you tutoring French?” Jo asked as we were eating dessert, a delicious apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

“Because of Young Miss Dale, mostly,” I said. “Peer aid. It’s a condition for participation.”

“You’re in the Young Miss Dale competition?” Jo asked, sounding rather displeased by it. “I don’t see why a sensible looking girl like you has to do with a competition like that.”

“I’d be flattered if you consider me sensible after only knowing me for an hour, but I get the impression you were referring to me not exactly being good looking, like most of the participants are these days,” I said, careful not to sound insulted, because I wasn’t. Jo cleared her throat.

“I mean nothing bad by it, but I don’t like that competition. Parading young girls about like that just isn’t right; it does none of them any good.”

“Young Miss Dale is not a beauty contest,” I said in a serious tone.

“Isn’t it? Then what is it? Every girl that has ever won that competition looks like a Barbie doll, and behaves like one too! No sense in them!”

“My mother didn’t,” I said quietly. Everybody looked rather shocked to hear that. Jo stared at me, not knowing what to say. I smiled to try to ease them down. “I told you, it’s not a beauty contest. It has been going in that direction for the last few years, I admit, but that’s still not what it originally was. My mother wasn’t good looking when she was 16, but she won. She won because of bravery, not looks.”

“Bravery … is your mother Isabella Chase?” Jo asked in disbelief. I nodded. An expression of understanding spread over her face. “Yes, I remember her; she was all over the papers and the news. She risked her own life to save twenty people when the mall caught fire, about twenty-five years ago, I think.

“It’s exactly twenty-five years ago,” I said. “And because of that, she became Young Miss Dale. The year before her, the girl who won had been fighting leukemia for ten years. She died two years later. The year after her, the winner had just got a gold meddle in the teenage Olympics for running; I don’t remember what kind of running, long distance, I think. Young Miss Dale is a character award, not a beauty contest. When my mother applied for med-school, the only reason she got in was because of that competition. Her grades were never very good, but she got in. She did pretty well in there, too. Guess her learning capabilities evolved, or something like that.”

“She went abroad, didn’t she? Doctors without borders or something like that?” Jo asked. I nodded again.

“She’s always liked helping people. That’s why she became a doctor. She’s been all over the world, volunteering where she’s needed, mostly in Africa, though. She wouldn’t have come home if she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant. She’s never resented me for it, though. She’s been doing plenty of good at our hospital here.”

They were all looking at me very interested, and kind of amazed. I took a deep breath and looked down.

“She’s my idol, that’s why I’m in the competition. I don’t desperately want to win, but I would like to change it back to what it was, when being Young Miss Dale meant something,” I said. I hesitated, but continued. “My mother’s at St. Bernard’s. She’s been there for a year.”

I didn’t have to look up to know everybody was staring at me with a mixture of compassion and fright. I was getting used to that look. St. Bernard’s was a hospital for the mentally ill. It wasn’t far away from where we were, near where Little Dale used to be, though not inside the forest. It was a place people didn’t usually talk about, but it was a rather well known thing that my mother was there, so I didn’t think it mattered if I told them or not. They would have found out, anyway.

I looked up, and to my surprise they were looking at me with compassion, but no sign of fright. David smiled at me kindly. I smiled back.

“Who’s your father? Your mother never married, I think?” Jo asked, like I had just told them a completely normal thing.

“I don’t know. Neither does mom. There were three possibilities, they were all doctors volunteering with her, and they were all killed in the same bombing before my mother even knew she was pregnant. She would have died too, if it hadn’t been for a boy with appendicitis in the next village. Whichever one of them it was, he was a good man and a good doctor. I can’t, and don’t really need to know more.”

Jo looked thoughtful.

“How old are you?” she asked. “Unless you’re a year behind, like David, you were only 15 when your mother went to St. Bernard’s.”

“I was 14; I turn 16 on June 10th. Same day as Young Miss Dale winner is pronounced, actually. Why?”

“Well, you can’t have lived alone for a year, it’s illegal, and I know your grandparents are dead, they died before you were born. The Chase family was rather well known when I was young.”

I nodded and frowned.

“My aunt moved into our hose when mom went away, she’s my legal guardian now, until I turn 16.”

“Katherin Chase?” Jo asked surprised. Her sons looked at her.

“Her, really?” Frank asked. “She’s in the town council, isn’t she? The one who’s been trying to close down David’s barn?”

“That sounds like my aunt,” I said in a tired voice. “I have to say, I can’t wait to kick her out of the house. I’m glad I had turned 14 when she became my guardian. Although I have no legal independence, I do have some control over my future house. She would have torn it down if she could have, but thankfully she needs my permission. If I had been a year younger, however, it would have been a disaster for us. I don’t think mom would have consented to going to St. Bernard’s if that had been the case.”

“She consented?” Wyatt asked surprised. “I thought everybody just got thrown in there.”

I smiled weakly.

“Technically, I threw her in there. I got her to commit herself. I know I did the right thing; she’s a lot better now. She’ll probably be out soon.”

“I bet your aunt isn’t on the same opinion,” David said, poking at the rest of his pie.

“Oh, no, she wants her to rot in there for the rest of her life. She has this ambition for cleaning herself of everything connected to my mother, ever since she got pregnant and didn’t find herself a husband to take care of herself. It’s shameful, you see. She’s trying to impress Mr. and Mrs. Dale. They run the counsel.”

“Oh, yeah, those two can have that effect on people,” David said with a sarcastic grin. He looked at me. “They’re my grandparents.”

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