Meredith smiled wanly. "I guess I do."
"What about your rich friends?"
"I don't really have any. I mean, I know other people my age, and I see them now and then, but they all go to the same schools, and they've been friends for years. I'm an outsider to them—an oddity."
"Why does your father send you to St. Stephen's?"
"He thinks it's, well, character building. My grandmother and her sister went there."
"Your father sounds weird."
"I guess he does, but his intentions are good."
Lisa shrugged, her voice deliberately offhand. "In that case, he sounds pretty much like most fathers. It was a tiny concession, a tentative suggestion of commonality, and silence fell in the room. Separated by a canopied Louis XIV bed and a gigantic social chasm, two extraordinarily bright teenagers recognized all the differences between them and regarded each other with a mixture of dying hope and wariness. "I guess I'd better be going," Lisa said.
Meredith looked bleakly at the nylon duffel Lisa had brought, obviously intending to spend the night if it was all right. She lifted her hand in a tiny gesture of mute appeal, then dropped it, knowing it was useless. "I have to leave pretty soon too," she said instead.
"Have a—a good time."
"Fenwick can take you home after he drops me off at the hotel."
"I can ride the bus," Lisa began, but for the first time she actually noticed Meredith's dress, and she broke off in horror. "Who picks out your clothes—Helen Keller? That's not what you're really wearing tonight, is it?"
"Yes. Do you hate it?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"I don't think so."
"Well, how would you describe that dress?"
Meredith shrugged, her expression chagrined. "Does the word frumpy mean anything to you?"
Biting her lip to hide her laughter, Lisa raised her brows. "If you knew it was ugly, why did you buy it?"
"My father liked it"
"Your father has lousy taste."
"You shouldn't say words like lousy," Meredith said quietly, knowing Lisa was right about the ugliness of the dress. "Words like that make you sound tough and hard, and you aren't—not really. I don't know how to dress or wear my hair, but I know I'm right about how to talk."
Lisa stared at her open-mouthed, and then something began to happen—the gentle bonding of two entirely dissimilar spirits who suddenly realize that they each have something very special to offer the other. A slow smile lit Lisa's hazel eyes, and she tipped her head to the side, thoughtfully scrutinizing Meredith's dress. "Pull the shoulders down a little onto your arms, let's see if that helps," she instructed suddenly.
Meredith grinned back and dutifully tugged them down.
"Your hair looks like hell—lous—awful," Lisa amended, then she glanced around, her gaze lighting on a bouquet of silk flowers on the dresser. "A flower in your hair or tucked into that sash might help."
With the true instincts of her Bancroft forebears, Meredith sensed that victory was within her grasp and that it was time to press her advantage. "Will you spend the night? I'll be back by midnight, and no one will care how late we stay up."
Lisa hesitated and then she grinned. "Okay." Redirecting her attention to the problem of Meredith's appearance, she said, "Why did you pick shoes with such stubby little heels?"
"They don't make me look as tall."
"Tall is in, dopey. Do you have to wear those pearls?"
"My father wanted me to."
"You could take them off in the car, couldn't you?"
"He'd feel awful if he knew it."
"Well, I won't tell him. I'll lend you my lipstick," she added, already rummaging in her purse for her makeup. "What about your glasses? Do you absolutely have to wear them?"
Meredith stifled a giggle. "Only if I need to see."
Forty-five minutes later, Meredith left. Lisa had said she had a talent for decorating everything—from people to rooms—and Meredith believed her now. The silk flower pinned into her hair behind her ear made Meredith feel more elegant and less dowdy. The slight touch of blusher on her cheeks made her look more lively, and the lipstick, though Lisa said it was a little too bright for her pale coloring, made Meredith feel older and more sophisticated. Her confidence at an all-time high, Meredith turned in the doorway to her room and waved good-bye to Lisa and Mrs. Ellis, then she smiled at Lisa. "Feel free to redecorate my room while I'm gone, if you want."
Lisa gave her a jaunty thumbs-up sign. "Don't keep Parker waiting."
The bells ringing in Matt Farrel's brain were overwhelmed by the increasing thunder of his heart as he buried himself full-length into Laura's eager, demanding body, driving into her as she rode him hard, her hips forcing him deeper. She was wild ... close to the edge. ... Bells began to clang rhythmically. Not the melodious bells from church steeples in the center of town, or the echoing bells of the fire station across the street.
"Hey, Farrell, you in there?" Bells.
He was definitely "in there." In her, close to exploding. Bells.
"Dammit, Farrell..." Bells. "Where the hell"—bells —"are you?" It seeped through his mind then: Outside by the gas pumps, someone was jumping on the hose that rang inside the service station and shouting his name.
Laura froze, a low scream in her throat. "Oh my God, there's someone out there." Too late. He couldn't stop, wouldn't stop. He hadn't wanted to start this here, but she'd insisted and enticed, and now his body wouldn't heed the threat of intrusion. Clasping her rounded buttocks, he yanked her down, drove up into her, and finished. A pulse beat of rest, and then he rolled to a sitting position, gently but hurriedly pushing her off. Laura was already tugging her skirt down and adjusting her sweater. He shoved her behind a stack of retreads and stood up just as the door opened and Owen Keenan strode into the gas station service bay, scowling and suspicious. "What the hell is goin' on in here, Matt? I been hollerin' the place down."
"I was taking a break," Matt replied, combing his hands through his dark hair which was ruffled from Laura's eager caresses. "What do you want?"
"Yer pa's drunk down at Maxine's. Sheriff's on his way. If you don't want him spending the night in the drunk tank, you better get to him first."
When Owen left, Matt picked up Laura's coat from the floor, where they'd lain on it, then dusted it off and held it while she put her arms into the sleeves. She'd had a friend drop her off there, he knew, which meant she'd need a ride. "Where did you leave your car?" he asked.