You’re crazy.“ That was Reinette again, her usual helpless cry when all other arguments had been exhausted. Not that it took long to exhaust her-lipsticks and film stars apart, her capacity for argument was always limited.
“It’s as good a time as any,” I told her straightly. “She‘ll sleep late in the morning. As long as we get the chores done, we’ll be able to go wherever we like afterward.” I looked at her, hard. There was still that business of the lipstick between us, my eyes reminded her. Two weeks earlier. I hadn’t forgotten. Cassis looked at us with curiosity; I was sure she hadn’t told him.
“She’ll be furious if she finds out,” he said slowly.
I shrugged. “Why should she find out? We’ll say we went into the woods looking for mushrooms. Chances are she might not even be out of bed by the time we get back.”
Cassis paused to consider the idea. Reinette shot him a look that was pleading and anxious at the same time.
“Go on, Cassis,” she said. Then, in a lower voice. “She knows. She found out about…” Her voice trailed off. “I had to tell her some of it,” she finished miserably.
“Oh.” He looked at me for a moment, and I felt something pass between us, something change-his look was almost admiration. He shrugged-who cares anyway?-but his eyes remained more watchful now, cautious.
“It wasn’t my fault,” said Reinette.
“No. She’s smart, aren’t you?” said Cassis lightly. “She would have found out sooner or later.” This was high praise and a few months earlier it might have made me weak with pride, but now I just stared at him. “Besides,” said Cassis in the same light tone, “if she’s in on it, she won’t be able to run blabbing to Mother.” I had just turned nine old for my age but still childish enough to be stung by the casual contempt of the words.
“I don’t blab!”
He shrugged. “Fine with me if you come, as long as you pay your own way,” he continued levelly. “Don’t see why either of us should pay for you. I’ll take you on my bike. That’s all. You work the rest out for yourself. All right?”
It was a test. I could see the challenge in his eyes. His smile was mocking, the not-quite-kind smile of the older brother who sometimes shared his last square of chocolate with me, and sometimes Indian-burned my arm so hard that the blood gathered in dark flecks under the skin.
“But she doesn’t get any pocket money,” said Reinette plaintively. “What’s the point of taking-”
Cassis shrugged. It was a typically final gesture, a man’s gesture. I have spoken. He waited for my reaction, arms crossed, that little smile on his lips.
“That’s fine,” I said, trying to sound calm. “That’s fine by me.”
“All right, then,” he decided. “We’ll go tomorrow.”