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“I can’t go, Sarah. I hab a serious head code. I tode you ted tibes already.” Peter Attwater wheezed as he coughed yet again and reached for his thermometer. “Mudder said I should stay hobe.”
Sarah Ferndale stared at the thin, frail man, or facsimile thereof, standing in the front room of his apartment. She could barely understand him, and didn’t really want to be around her current beau in his sickly condition. But there was nothing for it. She’d paid two thousand dollars for the tickets and wasn’t about to give up on trying to change his mind. “Look, why don’t you just take some damned medicine? Swallow some aspirin like everybody else and tough it out.”
“Hab a heart, will you? Do you think I—” A huge sneeze ended what he wanted to say.
Sarah backed away from the expectoration and sighed. “I’ll go down to the corner drugstore and get you anything you need. If you take it, maybe you’ll feel better by Friday. What’s the harm in trying?”
“Here I ab, dearly on by death bed, and you want be to go to sub stupid Halloweed Ball,” he splattered out. “Mudder thinks I could be ond the berge ob a berry serious illdess.”
Sarah crossed her arms over her chest, still trying to pick out what he was saying. “If we don’t get to that party, you’ll be on the verge of needing another girlfriend, Peter. I know you don’t feel well right this minute. But twenty-four hours could make a world of difference. Why won’t you just think about going? Just try to get better.”
“Mudder said you were a cold, cold woban. I’m begidding to beliebe her.”
“Your mother again,” she muttered. “You know, it’d be easier to accept you coming down with a cold, but you do this every single time we’re going to spend a weekend together.”
“Dat’s dot true.”
“It is. Your mother had you believing you were infected with something called Madagascar Toxic Syndrome last New Year’s Eve. I looked it up, and can’t even find it in any medical encyclopaedia. But you stayed home, just in case. Then, when we wanted to go off to the coast last spring for a long weekend, she saw a minor rash on your arm and insisted you might be coming down with an allergy. And what about my birthday? What about that, huh?”
“That was a precaution. You doe I bruise easily.”
She rolled her eyes. “Peter, it was a swimming party. How the hell do you get bruised swimming?”
She held up both hands in a gesture of frustrated refusal. “No. That’s it. I’ve had it! I can’t take any more of you or your mother. It’s always been a fight over who gets to have you. I’ve put up with it for this entire year, but no more. When your mother finds someone good enough for you, call me. I want to meet this paragon, whoever she is, and wish her the very best of luck. She’ll need it.”
Sarah picked up her coat, tried not to feel guilty over her actions and walked out of his apartment. She had the sneaky suspicion that if Peter’s mother hadn’t found out about her tickets to the big Halloween party, Peter wouldn’t be feeling so bad. She’d begged him not to say anything, but he’d blabbed to Mrs. Attwater anyhow. Then he’d called her this morning to tell her he was feeling feverish, and that Mommy told him he should stay home for the weekend.
His mother would be the death of him.
Sarah walked into the bright autumn sunshine, racking her brain for anyone who might go with her for the weekend. All year long she’d scrimped and saved for those tickets. She’d stood in a line for almost fifteen hours to get them; camping out on the sidewalk to be sure she was one of the first at the box office. That was two weeks ago. So sure of her luck in being one of those to get limited public access to the Halloween bash of the century, Sarah had even signed the waiver stipulating she must appear at the function with a male escort.
For some odd reason, the rules for the ball this year were changed so that only men and women couples could attend. Rumour had it that those rules were made because there were going to be some unusual contests held which would allow almost everyone present to win a terrific prize of some kind. If Sarah had a brother or male cousin handy, she could have taken him instead. But having no other siblings or relatives, Peter was to be her escort. Everything would have worked out just fine if he hadn’t opened his big mouth and told Momma the Hun.