9: A Wonderful Blizzard

Dori met Mr. Barrett for lunch the following day.  He had invited her to Haab’s, which was a severely old-school steakhouse in downtown Ypsilanti.  It was kind of expensive, and really not her speed, but she figured since he had offered to treat it wasn’t worth griping over.  Besides, she figured it was sort of an old-person place (not in a bad way really, just in a way that usually made her feel like she was nine again) and kind of a Ypsi tourist attraction and Mr. Barrett ought to go.

It didn’t matter, in the end.  Some time between Smile’s taking her home from work that night and the next morning, about four feet of snow had fallen.  The city was a mound of white, with roofs sticking out of it here and there, as far as she could see.  When Dori woke up, she couldn’t even see the houses on the other side of the street.  Better yet, Aunt Andrea had put an apartment hunter’s guide in her room, and stood it cheerfully next to the lamp.  Moving was the last thing she wanted to think about, especially first thing in the morning.  If she hadn’t wanted to talk about her grandfather so badly, she would have blown it off, and probably been pretty much justified.

Luckily, Aunt Andrea let her borrow the Explorer, which had four-wheel drive.  Dori normally hated to drive it because it always felt like it was tipping over, but her car was sitting at Goodyear and her old car was still parked at Brian’s house.  Of course, driving a truck was okay too, because southeastern Michigan was pretty much in a shambles.

Dori wound up meeting Mr. Barrett at the Holiday Inn he was staying at because his rented car was buried under a mountain of snow, just like all the other cars in the parking lot were.

So, instead of a ritzy-ish steak dinner, they got Denny’s.  At least he wasn’t looking at her like she was some kind of goddess, this time.  “I really just wanted to get to know you a little,” he said.  “Your grandfather is a man I feel that I owe a huge debt to, and if there’s any way I can repay it through you, it would do my heart good,” he added, which seemed to be getting right to the point.  It was on the tip of Dori’s tongue to ask if he wanted to buy her some new tires, but that was sort of crass.  “I’m sure you’ve got some questions about Peter, too.  I’ll answer them if I can.”

“Actually, I kind of do,” she said.  “But give me a minute, it was a late night, and I’m still sort of waking up.”

“I really enjoy talking to younger people.  I taught high school for thirty years,” he added with a smile.  “Saw a lot of kids come and go.”

“What did you teach?” Dori asked.

“History, believe it or not,” he said with a smile.  “Although not a lot of the kids knew I actually played a role in it.  My favorite period is the early twentieth century, so that’s what I usually taught.”

“Like the 1920s?”

“From 1900 all the way to World War II,” he said proudly.  Dori figured she could probably have gotten him talking about history for hours, he seemed to enjoy it so much.  That might have been nice, too; she liked his voice.  He had an agenda of his own though, of course.  “So, tell me about your life, if it’s not prying too much to ask.”

“It’s not very impressive,” she said.  “I work at a pizza parlor.  I’m a waitress.  But you knew that already.”

“Are you going to school?”

She shrugged, feeling just a little bit lame for telling an ex-teacher that she wasn’t going to college.  “I went for a couple of years, but I wasn’t really into it.  I really like what I’m doing.  I like being a waitress.  I figure that it doesn’t have to be the job that everyone does on the way to doing something else.  I mean, it bugs my aunt and uncle and my boyfriend that I don’t want to do anything else, but I really like doing this, you know?”  Okay, so she had ended up sounding a lot more defensive than she intended, that was fine too.

Mr. Barrett kept his hands clasped in front of him, his pale blue eyes watching her like she was a particularly good segment on 20/20.  “What does your boyfriend do?”

Dori took a sugar packet out of the dispenser and held it like a tiny sheet she was about to fold.  She shook it, making the sugar rustle.  “Right now he works at Pandora’s, too.  You met him, after the robbery, he was the guy with the blood all over his head.  Anyway, he’s all smarter than me.  He’s got plans.  He wants to be an EMT, and drive an ambulance.  He did the whole college thing, graduated a year and a half ago.”

“But it wasn’t for you, eh?”

“Naah.  I mean, Smile’s got all of these people pushing him to go, and all this family pressure.  He’s got two older brothers, and they’re both doctors, but Smile couldn’t get into med school.  And he’s always been so wound up about that, so bent on finding a way to, I don’t know, redeem himself in the eyes of his father or something, that I think maybe he doesn’t really know exactly what he wants to do.  He wants to make his dad happy, but that’s never going to happen.”  She shook the sugar packet some more, absently making it hop from corner to corner as if it was dancing.  “He’s just got one of those kinds of dads.  I dunno, he might be happy driving an ambulance, but I think he ought to take some time off and decide for sure what he really wants to do, without trying to please daddy.”  Dori shrugged; she’d lost sight of her point somewhere in there.  “Anyway, even if he’s not exactly always true to himself, Smile’s got it more together than me.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Mr. Barrett said with a smile.

“Well, Smile’s probably going to have a future.  I’ll be that old lady who’s got no heat in her apartment and is eating cat food to survive.”  She thought about it.  “Unless he takes me in, or something.”

“You thinking about marrying this guy?”

Dori shrugged again.  “I dunno.”  She didn’t feel like opening that can of worms with Mr. Barrett, history teacher or not.

“I think Pete would have been very proud of you.”

“He wouldn’t have had much of a choice,” Dori said.  “I’m an only child.  So, um, what exactly happened in the war, anyway?  What did my grandfather do that was so great?”