Laurie was surprised at how fast the fight had left Mr. Cavendish. He now seemed ashamed and frightened. She wondered if he was finally seeing all he had done wrong.
"She's… educated." Cavendish said with much difficulty.
Keith seemed to notice the change too, because his voice softened, "Then why doesn't she know how to read and write? Add and subtract? Why isn't Marianne in school?"
"Mari doesn't need to be in school."
Laurie couldn't believe what she was hearing, "Of course she does! Everybody needs an education!" Laurie liked school. It wasn't just about education, it was about friendships too. She wondered if Marianne had any friends.
"Laurie, let me handle this." The authoritative-older-brother tone came to Keith's voice as he rose from the couch and walked slowly over to Mr. Cavendish. "I think I'm finally beginning to make sense of this whole thing…" He stopped, when he reached the chair. "Mari embarrasses you, doesn't she Mr. Cavendish?"
The man's eyes were slowly clouding over with tears.
"That's why she's not in school, because you're afraid of what people think. That's why you've kept her here all the time and that's why you wouldn't report her disappearance to the police. If they found out Mari didn't have access to an education you could be in for a lot of trouble."
Laurie was amazed at her brother's conclusion. It all made sense. Marianne's shyness, her lack of arithmetic… it was all because a father was ashamed by his daughter. Ashamed that she was different.
"It's not true!"
"Of course it's true, Mr. Cavendish! Why can't you just admit it?"
Everyone in the room looked to the millionaire, waiting for him to speak. But he didn't say a word. After all, what could he say? Nothing. He couldn't say a thing when he knew he was wrong.
* * *
A week later, Laurie and her family were back on the stage performing again for a large audience of adoring fans. But one fan in particular, not one member of the family could take their eyes off of: Marianne Cavendish.
After the confrontation the week before, Mr. Cavendish had taken a turn for the better. He had gone to the police station and explained the situation, voiding the kidnapping report on Marianne. Her deprivation of an education angered some though, and Marianne, only sixteen, was going to be tutored and put in a foster home until a further investigation of her upbringing could occur.
According to Mr. Cavendish, he had kept her out of private school, fearing the teasing, but when asked why she wasn't home schooled or a tutor hired, he had become silent. Keith and Laurie couldn't get anything more out of him, but figured they both knew the answer. A less-then-average child embarrassed a man in Mr. Cavendish's position. He couldn't imagine people knowing about his born-mute daughter, especially after his wife's sudden death, not long after Marianne's first birthday. For years no one even knew Marianne existed and Laurie was surprised Mr. Cavendish had kept her a secret for so long. It had been pure carelessness that had led to the Partridges finding her on the beach. A maid had allowed Marianne to venture out alone and go swimming down at the beach.
Now, here was Marianne, waving to the family from her seat in the front row of the auditorium. Laurie was glad she had received the free ticket and she couldn't help but look forward to the end of the concert. Shirley had promised a surprise and Laurie could only imagine what it was.
After the last note was sang, the family bowed and the curtains closed. Tracy hastily began tugging at Laurie's arm wanting to get changed and out to see Marianne. She still called the Cavendish girl 'Sandy', but Marianne didn't seem to mind.
"Who would have known?" Rueben said, entering the dressing room later that evening. The entire Partridge family looked up at him as he entered. "She disappears at a concert and then reappears at a concert."
Shirley smiled shaking her head, "Quit teasing, Rueben. You know that isn't entirely true." Rueben had been filled in days earlier about the entire case, and he was still befuddled by the news.
The manager smiled and took an empty seat by a mirror. The Partridge children continued taking turns in the bathroom, changing into street clothes. Laurie was just tying Tracy's tennis shoes when a knock was heard on the door.
"I'll get it." Chris went over and opened the door. "Oh, come in!" He stepped aside to let the visitors inside. Marianne entered first, followed by someone the Partridge family knew all too well.
"Mrs. Applewood." Laurie said, greeting their neighbor. She was a bit surprised to see that the older woman had come to their concert. She had always thought that she was against popular music. Her presence was a shock.
"Here is the surprise I mentioned." Shirley said, grinning. "Mrs. Applewood was chosen to be Marianne's foster mother."
Laurie couldn't believe it, but it was a nice surprise anyway. Especially for Tracy. Now she could see Mari whenever she wanted.
"Hooray!" Cheered Tracy and she ran over to Marianne, flinging her arms around the girl's waist.
Marianne smiled and returned the hug.
The middle Partridge was less enthusiastic. "You're kidding?" Danny frowned. "You mean, we just got rid of her and now she's going to be out neighbor?"
Keith shoved him.
Mrs. Applewood smiled. "That's right, Danny. You'll never get rid of us." She laughed. Laurie couldn't remember the last time she had seen Mrs. Applewood in such a good mood. She guessed it had something to do with Mari. Mr. Applewood was constantly working and Laurie could imagine it could get lonely for his wife. Mari would be good company.
"Well, then. I guess we should get going." Said Shirley, rising form her chair.
"No, Danny. You can stay here all night and all day tomorrow." Rueben teased, getting to his feet.
"Ha ha. Very funny." Danny frowned at him and followed the rest out the door.
They all ended up at the Partridge home for cake and ice cream. Laurie couldn't imagine a happier ending for Marianne and everyone else involved. Marianne would now be getting schooled, and only lived about five minutes away from her new friends. Not to mention, Tracy wouldn't have to miss her. The only unresolved end was Mr. Cavendish. Laurie hoped the best for him, after all, he was Marianne's father and she knew he loved his daughter. He just needed some time to get his thinking straightened out and accept Marianne as she was.
Laurie looked up from her plate to see her mother standing in the kitchen with the receiver. She quickly excused herself from the table and took the phone from her mom. "Who is it?" She whispered, placing her palm over the mouthpiece. Shirley shrugged and returned to dishing out the dessert. Laurie pressed her ear to the phone. "Hello?"
"Hi Laurie, it's Bess." She sounded irritated again and Laurie wondered if she had again forgotten something.
"Um, hi, Bess. What's up?"
"Focus Laurie! Focus! What was important that happened today and you forgot?"
Laurie couldn't recall. "Um…"
Bess signed irritably, "The conference, Laurie. The conference! Why weren't you there? What is wrong with you? Where is your dedication to the whales?"
Laurie thought for a moment and looked back at the table where her family sat with friends all laughing and enjoying there time together.
"Sorry, Bess. I've got to go. We have company. I'll call you later okay?"
"But Laurie! Laurie---"
Laurie hung up the phone, sighing. Right now she didn't have time to feel guilty. Right now she was too relieved to be mad at herself. Right now, all she wanted was to enjoy time with her family, because until recently, she hadn't realized how important family really was.
I hope this was a satisfying ending for everyone. Thanks to all who read!