ABBY IN DANGER
Phoebe stood up and scanned the yard full of people under the full moon. “Maybe I’d better walk around,” she told her father. “Try to say hello to people.”
“Good idea. But be careful.”
“I will.” The silver light was glimmering over the yard away from the spotlight. The beautiful scene was a rare treat. Young people were dancing, and children were running through the shadows, playing their urgent games on this glorious summer evening. Phoebe realized that she was playing her own urgent game, one that was just as vibrant and engrossing as ever before. But there’s a lot to learn, she thought. Everything is changing.
She wanted to relax with Jeremy and George and Glenda and Jim, but felt on edge. She had her eye out for Peabody and Scutter and their strange friend, hoping that Abby would have the sense not to show up. On the way back from walking Rose and Rob out to their car, Phoebe suddenly heard a raised voice coming from the other side of a minivan parked on the lawn:
“I tell you some of it is the same as Abby’s! Exactly the same! The corn, the tomatoes, the blackberries. Have you ever seen beans like those before? And what are those cucumber things the kids are drinking. Have you noticed? They’re drinking them!”
“You heard Fred Peterson. Check his farm.”
The voices were moving toward Dr. Bear’s driveway. Phoebe stood back in the shadows. The men walked into the glare of the driveway lights, and she saw Scutter and his friend in the baseball cap.
“The stuff is not his!” said Scutter with his voice pitched high, full of frustration. “You’re just too interested in the beer to notice. We’ve got to find Abby!”
“Stop yelling at me,” came the loud voice of his friend. “I’m not your little kid. Just what’ve you done for me to take that attitude?”
“Sorry,” replied Scutter. “You’re right, I get carried away…” His voice trailed off.
Phoebe saw them drift off up the driveway and into the crowd. She stepped out of the shadow of the minivan and saw Chester Peterson stand up from behind a pickup truck. They stared at each other for a second and then began to laugh. Chester came forward and said in a very low voice, “Well, this looks like the beginning of something. I see we’re on the same team. You’ve grown up, but you’re still the same. I like that. We need you in this town.”
When Phoebe maintained her silence, Chester added, “You underestimated me, didn’t you? Thought I was just a lazy guy who likes to hang around my brother’s farm?”
“Not any more,” she said quietly, almost too surprised to speak. “But this new world takes some getting used to.”
Chester nodded. He patted her on the shoulder and then turned silently and headed back toward the market wagon.
Phoebe slipped off into the shadows. Her mind was in a whirl. For a moment she felt as if she might faint. I haven’t eaten all day, she thought. I’ve got to sit down. Desperately she surveyed the crowd for Glenda, Jeremy, and Jim. She noticed that Jim had taken the seat she had vacated at the main table. As she scouted the edge of the yard she spotted Glenda, Jeremy, and George sitting together on pieces of a fallen tree behind Dr. Bear’s garage.
“So this is where you’re hiding!” cried Phoebe. “I hope I haven’t missed all the interesting conversation.”
“We’re just getting started,” came Jeremy’s soft voice.
“Come and sit here,” said Glenda, patting an open space on the log next to her. But Phoebe sat down suddenly on the grass, feeling dizzy with exhaustion. She leaned over and put her face in her hands.
“Are you okay?” asked Glenda.
“I just haven’t eaten. I’ve been too keyed up.”
“To think of the food we brought to your table…” said Jeremy. “George and Jim and I brought the best of everything.”
It really pains him that I didn’t get any, Phoebe thought. “I was just too nervous to eat,” she said. “But I’ll get something now.”
“No you don’t,” Glenda told her. “You look all done in. Let me go for you. Geraldine is watching Tiny.”
“I’ll go,” offered George, and Jeremy rose with him. “Jeremy and I are experts at finding the best food.” They started toward the food tables.
“Get me something too,” came another voice. “I’m avoiding the crowd.”
“Abby!” shrieked Glenda in shock.
“Shhh… don’t yell like that. I don’t want anyone else to know I’m here.”
“We’ll bring food for everyone,” said Jeremy. George was standing and staring, but Jeremy motioned him away.
In her usual black jeans and black tee shirt, Abby sat on the grass only a few feet from Phoebe. How did she do that? No one saw her coming.
Glenda jumped next to Abby and gave her a hug. “I’ve been worried about you.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“Abby,” Phoebe said in a low voice, “Scutter and his friend are here looking for…”
“I know. I’ve seen them, they don’t know I’m here.”
“And yesterday,” continued Phoebe, “I hid by the road near your house…”
“I was hiding too. I saw them. I probably shouldn’t even be here, but I can’t hide all the time. I just hope I don’t make a problem for you.” Abby was sitting in a position that gave her a view of a slice of the crowd, and her eyes kept roving nervously.
“I just don’t know what to do,” she went on in a hard-to-hear whisper. "I need a job. A decent, normal job. I need to get away from what I’ve been doing. Things keep getting worse. I don’t know how to stop it.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Phoebe said, trying to sound confident. “Gilligan gave me a job yesterday. In just a couple of weeks, I’m sure I’ll be able to bring in enough customers to make a job for you.”
“That’s a place I could work – if no one bothers me.” Phoebe could barely hear her. “I would like that. I’ve just got to stay out of the way for a while.”
Glenda looked desperate to chime in, but remained silent. Phoebe knew she must be wrestling between her desire to protect Abby and her desire to protect Tiny. She also knew that Tiny would win that battle. It’s up to me to join with Abby, just as I thought.
“Maybe Alison can give you something right away at the garden center,” suggested Phoebe.
“No, I’ve messed things up there too.”
“Okay, we’ll work with the toy store plan. In the meantime, do you have a place to stay?”
“Yeah, don’t worry about that, they won’t find me. I can’t hide out forever though.” She looked at Phoebe apologetically. “Thanks, but watch out, I bring trouble wherever I go.”
As Abby spoke George and Jeremy returned with trays of food and drinks, and spread everything out on the lawn. “This crowd is like a swarm of locusts,” complained George. “But we still managed to collect some good stuff.”
“So we’ve got a plan then?” asked Phoebe.
“Okay,” whispered Abby.
“Then let’s eat.”
The two starving girls dug in to roast chicken, potato salad, green salad, and several slices of Penny’s bread with apple butter. The food from Chi Chi was long gone.
“I’m so glad to see you two eat!” cried Glenda. And indeed, they worked their way through the trays of food, with help from the others.
Phoebe lay back, looking at the moon and swatting at mosquitoes. The group was quiet for a few minutes, taking in the party from a distance.
“So what’s the plan?” asked George. He was still standing awkwardly, his hands in his pockets.
“What plan?” returned Glenda.
“Phoebe’s plan. A few minutes ago she said, ‘It’s a plan’.”
“You’re nosey,” said Glenda.
George flinched as if someone had slapped him.
“Oh, sorry,” said Glenda, “I didn’t mean…”
“It’s the story of my life,” George told them quietly. “I’m always outside of everything.”
“It’s no secret,” said Abby, looking at George with sympathy. “I’m kind of an outsider too. And I want to work in Middletown.”
“I’ll try to help you,” offered George. “I’m always looking. I don’t want the job I have, but I’m sure you wouldn’t either.”
“I’ll never set foot in there again,” said Abby with surprising force.
George sat on the grass near Abby and spoke directly to her as if the others were not there. “I wish we could do something good,” he said quietly, “something that matters.”
“I know what you mean,” returned Abby, falling into George’s mood. “I think about that all the time… but it’s not easy.” Suddenly her eyes focused and her body tensed. “Actually, I’m getting worried right now.” She was staring out past the edge of the garage at the crowd still milling around. “I need to go somewhere. I don’t mean to… mess up your evening…” She rose into a crouching position and looked around.
“Come,” urged Glenda, getting on her feet. “I think I understand. We’ll go to my house. Tiny is over by the pool with Geraldine. We’ll get you out of here and then I’ll come back for her.”
“We’ll walk with you,” said Phoebe.
The whole group rose and walked around the corner of the garage, and along the edge of Dr. Bear’s driveway. Then they headed down the lawn in the shadow of the side of the house. The full moon overhead illuminated the scene.
Suddenly the man in the baseball cap lurched in front of Abby and peered into her face. “I thought it was you,” came his jarringly loud voice. “Where’ve you been?”
“I don’t have to talk to you,” said Abby coldly.
“I hooked you up with that deal and this’s the thanks I get?”
Abby tried to walk around him, but the man moved to block her. Phoebe, walking next to Abby, stepped in between them, and the man shoved her out of the way.
“You can’t be serious!” he shouted. People were turning and staring.
Phoebe somehow snapped back into place and held her ground. “Go, Abby,” she said.
George and Jeremy suddenly moved in right in front of the man, who was forced to back up. He raised a fist to strike.
“Mitch! That’s enough!” yelled Scutter, and jumped in to grab his arm.
The man turned on Scutter and pushed him back hard, yelling, “Get your hands off me!”
In no time a ring of people surrounded the scene. Scutter staggered but regained his balance. “Mitch, that’s enough. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
Mitch looked hard at skinny Jeremy and George as if tempted to demolish them with a blow or two. The crowd wavered, unsure what to do. Then everyone stepped back as if by some telepathy, and Chief Santiago walked slowly into the circle.
“I hope no one is disturbing the peace around here, gentlemen,” he said evenly, looking closely at the faces in the group. “Hmm! Well, well, I think I’m just in time. Mitch Connelly, you look a bit hot under the collar. Thinking of mixing it up with these boys? They aren’t your style. What’s this all about?”
“No problem here, Chief,” cut in Scutter. “Just too much to drink. Nothing we can’t handle.”
Abby and Glenda were slowly backing down the driveway. Phoebe, George, and Jeremy began to follow them. Chief Santiago carefully watched every movement as if reading a script.
“You’re not bothering these girls, are you Mitch? I wouldn’t like that. This isn’t your town. What are you doing here, anyway? Were you invited?”
“None of your business. I don’t have to take this,” said Mitch with a sullen stare, moving off a couple of steps.
“He’s a friend of mine,” offered Scutter. “I brought him. He’s just had one too many. It’s my fault. I apologize.”
“Better get him home,” said the Chief slowly, with a hint of menace in his voice. “And Scutter… “ The Chief paused, looking straight into Scutter’s eyes, forcing him to look away. “Be careful of your friends.”
Meanwhile Abby turned and ran across the street and over the corner of the field into the shadows of Oak Knoll Lane. Glenda, Phoebe, George, and Jeremy all followed. Running in the darkness, Glenda yelled, “Wait! Abbyyy! Wait for us!”
They came together on the narrow street under the silver moonlight. “Let’s stay together,” gasped Glenda, breathing hard.
“It’s no good,” whispered Abby. “I have to go. They’ll come looking for me.”
“We’ll stay with you,” said George. “We’re coming too. We’ll stick together.”
“I bring trouble to everyone. I’m no good for you. I can’t put Glenda and Tiny through it.” She stared at George in the wavering light. “But I’m glad you said that. I really am. I’ll remember.”
Glenda was shaking. “You’re not going! Stay with us.”
The group began to move again, gliding forward in the broken moonlight under the high oaks. Their dark bodies swayed like shadows, faster and slower, finally stopping under the light over Glenda’s door. The leaves shivered in a wind high above them.
“Where is she?” screamed Glenda. “Abbyyy! Come back!”
Phoebe took Glenda’s key and unlocked the door. The boys half-carried Glenda into the house. “I’ll get Tiny and bring her home,” Phoebe said, holding Glenda’s hand. “Just stay inside. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Bright lights on the lane caught Phoebe’s eye as she started back towards the party. A police car slowly moved into view, and Phoebe walked out to meet it. Through the open window Chief Santiago asked, “You folks okay?”
“I guess so. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure. Abby, the tall girl, disappeared into the woods. I hope she can take care of herself.”
“So it’s like that. Well, it won’t help to look for her. We won’t find her ‘till she wants to be found.” Phoebe drew near the car and the Chief gave her a serious expression. “As you can see, there’s more to this than meets the eye.” He nodded at her. “We could use some help around here. I hope you’re up to it. Let me know any time you need me.”
Phoebe’s eyes widened in surprise. She couldn’t think of anything to say. I’m supposed to help? Me? I have no idea what to do. Finally she nodded, and the Chief slowly took a u-turn and disappeared down the road. The leaves whispered in the wind as she walked back toward the crowd at 12 Main Street.
PHOEBE COMES HOME (Book I)
by John KixMiller