The morning's headlines shocked me:
Ford Wins big in California
There was an article, giving the tally. Every state but Washington had reported. Spock had 155 official electoral votes. Ford was behind, but only by six votes. We'd taken Oregon but Ford got the big prize. It was so close now. And Washington had seven electoral votes.
I only had a half-day at school that day. With my school work finished in anticipation of a busy court schedule, I was able to take it off and attend to some personal business.
I'd gotten a call back from the Peace Corps recruiter in St. Louis and he sounded delighted to meet me that afternoon.
His office was a small storefront in a strip mall off the highway. I bet it didn't get much foot traffic. I only found it because of the flag.
"Are you Dani," he asked, meeting me at the door. He shook my hand.
"Glad to meet you. You sounded older than you look. You are eighteen, right?"
"No," I told him but pulled out notarized letters of permission from both of my parents. "But Tipper said I could join at sixteen with my parents' permission. I have that, and my birth certificate. What else do you need?"
"That should be sufficient, though your parents will still have to sign the application."
"Application? I thought you took anybody."
"It takes a lot," he told me seriously, "for us to refuse the application of a volunteer. I've not heard of it without a court order and a police record."
"So why application?"
"Because that's what it is. You volunteer, and we accept you. It's not an enlistment."
"It's not? I wasn't sure."
"The Peace Corps has no enlistment; you are volunteers, not soldiers. Consequently, you have no oath and are free to leave, just like a civilian job."
"Civilian. Most people misuse that word. Police officers especially seem to think they are not civilians, or government officials. But they are by definitions civil authorities. That pretty much requires civilian status."
"Smart one, aren't you. Well, that's all true, but the Peace Corps is sort of a gray area. Neither fish, nor foul, nor good red meat, as it were. The officers are definitely not civilians. They hold commissions with the US Government.
"But volunteers are non-civilians in the service of the government. In fact, they have almost no legal status at all."
"Then why would I want to be one?
"In a word, 'money for college'."
"That's three words."
"You're right, it is, but the money is there. You've seen our brochures, and you know that women make the same pay men do."
"But it's not a paid position. What to you mean by 'pay'?"
"You will have almost everything you need issued to you; room, board, food, uniforms. Everything but socks and underwear."
"Why not those?"
"Costs too much. Everybody likes something different, and it's cheaper just to give you a stipend. There are other allowances, but mostly, you'll earn a small stipend. It really ain't much."
"Yes, I've seen, but the money for college is good."
"Yes, and the longer you serve, the more you'll get. It's progressive based on rank and time."
"Sounds excellent. I'm ready to join."
"Let me get you the application, and a skill map."
"I have the application here; I've already filled it out. But what is the skill map?"
"It's a tool we have to help place you, and see what training you'll need."
He took my papers and left. When he came back, they were on a clipboard with the skill map.
I looked the form over.
"You don't have near enough space for languages," I told him.
I was helping Mother with dinner in the kitchen that evening when the doorbell rang.
Two minutes later, Gina came in to tell me I had a visitor.
"Who is it," I asked her, drying my hands.
It's Topher," she said with wide eyes. "And he's got flowers."
"Tell hit I'll be right there," I told her and turned to Mother to beg off for a minute.
She turned off the stove.
"This ought to be good," she observed, and followed me to the front hall.
"Topher," I said, pulling open the door, "come in. I really wasn't expecting you."
He hadn't really called on me at the house before.
"I know, I'm sorry I didn't call first," he apologized, "however, I'm not here to see you, Dani."
"Really," I asked him. Then why the flowers?
"Really," Mother echoed behind me, "then why the flowers?"
Get out of my head!
They were mixed, about half a dozen pink carnations and white roses. They were in a vase obviously of his making. It was slim, with two handles, like a flat-bottomed amphora. The glaze was a dark iridescent green craquelure, dyed neon green in the cracks.
"They are for you, Mrs. Heywood."
"Why thank you, dear," she exclaimed and moved in quickly to claim them. She took them into the front room.
I felt left out.
"They are lovely," she said, putting the vase on the living room table. "Now, why are you here?"
Topher gave me a questioning look. I raised my eyebrows; I had warned him about Mother.
"So you are Topher." It was a statement, not a question. "It's nice to finally meet you."
Daddy appeared in the hall, as if by magic, and I wondered how Mother had summoned him.
"Nice to meet you young man," Daddy said, shaking hits hand. "I mean, well, I don't know what I mean. It's nice to meet you, Topher."
"Likewise," Topher answered.
"So what brings you here this evening," Daddy asked, showing every bit as much tact as his wife.
"I came to see you two. I realized I got off on the wrong foot with you two. Today, I realized why..."
"And why is that," Mother asked, smooth as silk and innocent as a cobra.
"Because I've never called on you before. I've been effectively sneaking around with Dani, and you two have no idea who I am, or what I stand for. It's proper to introduce oneself to the relatives of one's close friends."
"That's a good start," Mother observed.
"I'm Topher Grant," he announced, handing Daddy a bottle of wine, "and I am Dani's friend."
"Please," Mother stepped up to him, taking by the arm, "do come in."
They led him to the office—the closest thing we had to a parlor—and Mother came back to get me.
"That's a smart boy," she told me. "I mean person. Sucking up to us like that. It took some chutzpah. I hope he makes it."
"What do you mean, Mother?"
"I mean, he's in the parlor with your father, who's no doubt asking him this very minute what his intentions are."
"Daddy's a pussy cat, Mom. Besides, Topher's motivations are innocent."
"Is that so? You just don't get it, do you child. This isn't about sex, as much as about age and boundaries. We need to make sure any beau of yours is suitable.
"And if you think your father is a pussy cat, then you don't know him as well as you think you do. He's more like a lion when someone messes with his cubs."
Topher stayed for dinner. It was very formal.
Robbie was either awed or intimidated by hit; I couldn't figure out which, but he didn't say a word during the meal.
Gina was as silent as a mouse.
But Mother and Daddy were certainly loquacious—or at least inquisitive.
They asked about Topher's job, his plans for the future, his family. There was a lot of stuff I didn't know.
I thought the jig was up when Daddy asked hit about Christy, but Topher explained that she was an out-of-town relative who, unfortunately had to leave for the West Coast again.
"I would like," Topher said, taking a sip of his wine, "your permission to see Dani socially. I'd like to take her out tomorrow night."
Daddy had poured four glasses of it and given one to me.
I took a drink. It was good, but I liked the beer better.
"I don't see that's a problem, Topher," Daddy said. He looked at me. "That is, if it's okay with Dani."
"Of course, Daddy. I'd like that."
"So where will you go," Mother sprung on him, ever the paranoid. "What will you do?"
"Dinner and a movie. I'd like to take hir to a movie." Hit turned to me.
"That would be lovely. Daddy, is that okay?"
"Of course it is, punkin'. We'll alter your curfew for the evening. Whatsay, dear? Would midnight be too late?"
Mother might have had other ideas; she didn't look exactly happy about it, but nor did she object.
"That would be fine."