Chapter Nine: Schroeder's Folly

Schroeder finished his set and came to the table he'd reserved for Lucy and himself. She sat alone, calm and aloof, radiating an indifferent, intimidating aura that kept the lounge lizards at bay. When he sat beside her Lucy perked up, smiling slightly and resisting the evident urge to sidle closer.

"I knew this was the sort of place you'd appreciate!" he said, taunting her. Lucy seemed not to notice his dart.

"I liked that last piece," she said, sipping her white wine coolly. "It reminded me of some of Billy Taylor's later work."

Schroeder's eyes brightened, impressed.

"You know of Billy Taylor?"

Lucy couldn't resist that annoying smile.

"Schroeder," she said, tolerantly, "I sat on the floor at your house, leaned on your piano and listened to you play for twelve years; I was bound to pick up something, besides carpet-burns."

"So it wasn't a total waste, then?" He smiled, he hoped not too charmingly.

"No, not totally." Her smile was less careful.

Schroeder sipped his drink.

They talked during his break, Lucy asking careful questions about Schroeder's career and plans. He surprised himself by asking her about her own pursuit of a law degree, and still more by being interested in her answers.

Lucy had grown quite a lot since he'd seen her last in high school; not only older, but more self-assured, if that was possible. Her recent life experiences had matured her greatly. Hardships either broke or toughened a person, and it was easy to see how they had worked on Lucy. Despite, or because of her compassion, Violet had mistaken Lucy's determination for desperation. True, Lucy was lonely and unhappy, but she knew what she wanted, and she had few scruples about getting it.

Lucy revealed to Schroeder that yes, she had finally confessed to Linus the lie about her abortion, and he had forgiven her. After that emotional scene, Linus and Lucy actually grew closer, a feat neither thought possible. Lucy further admitted that she had managed to patch things up with Linus in spite of what relentless ugliness had gone on between them for years.

Schroeder caught himself wondering if it was worth hoping that she could do the same with Charlie Brown. It would make things much simpler. Even though a relationship with her was the last thing he wanted at the moment, if he and Lucy did become closer, Schroeder couldn't possibly take her with him to visit friends unless she and Charlie made peace. His friends all sided with Charlie, and at the moment, so did he.

One thing seemed certain; Lucy was unmistakably trying to make herself more appealing, or at least tolerable, to Schroeder. Her personality was opening, although it remained largely a sealed vault, guarded by her hostile armor and her prickly personality. But she was clearly trying. The night at the Loaf of Rye led to agreements to meet again, and again after that.

The courtship of Lucy and Schroeder, for so it ultimately became, proceeded with caution. They were both mindful of the treacherous road ahead, and the bitterness of their pasts. Schroeder seemed willing to be friendly, despite his first objections. His conduct threatened to break promises he'd made to himself for his own protection, but only to a point, and he constantly had to rein himself in from more involvement. One thing he didn't want was a replay of that unbearable year and a half, especially the spectacular, emotional and dramatic finish. Although he could now concede his own part in it, Lucy's irrational jealousy, her frustrating insecurity and bossiness remained vivid in his memory, acting as a brake to closer attachment.

As the time went by, their meetings occurred with more frequency, by mutual consent.

Lucy plainly preferred attending Schroeder's performances with the Orchestra rather than at the Loaf of Rye, but she learned to appreciate the latter, and to keep her dismissive comments to herself. Although she kept her own promise and didn't try to involve him any deeper, Lucy slowly began to perceive a shift in her favor taking place in Schroeder's affections.

Schroeder noticed it too, and it troubled him. Something else caused him consternation and sleepless nights however, and he hadn't the courage to put words to it.

But it wasn't Lucy.

Since Charlie's return home, the old neglected friendships began to be revisited. The friends, having drifted apart, began to socialize more, usually at Shermy and Patty's roomy home. As he had since his friends' marriage, Schroeder enjoyed those get-togethers at the Brookses'. Recently however, a gnawing, guilty sensation had begun to trouble him. Maybe it was the discomfort he felt from the gated, bourgeois suburban setting of their home, the easy targets for his insolent mockery in the middle-class cliché of the kids, the spouse, the ring, and the mortgage, those things he'd always considered unimportant. Possibly, his disquiet arose from some unexpressed misgivings about his growing feelings for Lucy, feelings he'd thought long dead, or "killed," as he relished saying. What troubled Schroeder the most was the final possibility:

Maybe it was Patty.

Schroeder and Patty had been friends since childhood, and he'd known her well throughout the years, before his career and its amusements lured him away. She was a few years older than he, but that difference seemed to diminish as the years went by and Schroeder acquired his worldly veneer. In the last few months he found himself drawn to her, his friend's wife, a realization that both shamed and troubled him.

Even though their paths had diverged, hers to marriage, family and career, and his to the piano and the pursuit of irresponsible pleasure, they saw a good deal of each other since high school. He'd especially seen much of Patty in recent years when the babies came, and she'd proudly draw up her blouse at parties to show off her family "under construction."

Concealing both his discomfort and his happiness for her at those times, Schroeder invariably made some double-edged belittling comment meant to needle, but she always took it as complimentary. Schroeder couldn't decide whether Patty was too obtuse to get his barbs, or too gentle to take offense to them. Either way, there lay danger. Unchecked by Patty's disapproval, Schroeder might be tempted to be even more offending, or worse, and reveal his true feelings. Better to keep his distance, even in a crowded party.

The place Charlie Brown and Violet chose to announce their engagement was fittingly the home of the only friends they knew with a happy marriage, Patty and Shermy Brooks. October loomed, and Charlie took the opportunity of Sally's break from college and "Pig-Pen's" graduation from law school to invite everyone.

Everyone that is, except Lucy.

No matter that he had grown so much, no matter that he had become the man he always wanted to be, and would marry the woman he'd loved all of his life. Charlie couldn't bear the thought of being in the same room with Lucy Van Pelt, the girl who had tormented him so relentlessly, and whose vile tricks had cost him so dearly. He communicated this to Schroeder without divulging whether or not he knew of his friend's relationship with her. Charlie knew from Violet that his friend had met with Lucy once, but he didn't know the rest.

Schroeder, taking the hint, decided that he wouldn't take Lucy's part this early in their reconciliation. He reasoned that their relationship, whatever it was becoming, hadn't progressed far enough to obligate him to escort her everywhere he went, so he didn't tell her of the Brookses' party. It was not the right hill to die on.

The evening at the Brookses' home was going to be significant, but few of the people attending knew it. Patty and her devoted husband Shermy hosted the party that they didn't realize would be remembered for many years by all those present.

Linus came with one of his attractive friends from the college, a woman named Linda Avery. Tall, slim and blond, she was a writer like himself, slightly older and completely captivated by his youthful charm. With little more than his smile and approval as her reward, Linda gladly proofread and edited Linus' essays, and the galleys of his upcoming book. Grateful for her attention, Linus encouraged her interest and strove to be his wittiest and most charming.

"Pig-Pen", his childhood nickname all that was left of his grubby past, made a surprise appearance. Violet had alerted "Peter," as he now chose to be known, to the latest developments, and she tipped him off that his attendance at this party was strongly urged. Frieda Rich, Linus' former classmate with "naturally curly hair," came with "Pig-Pen." Recently separated from her husband, Frieda had been invited by her friend as a kindness, and she welcomed the diversion.

Several additional friends, many of whom had been about their own business since graduation, also came. Others arrived, some unexpectedly. Linus' brother, "Rerun," whose real name was Robert came, as did Peppermint Patty with Marcie Johnson. A lifetime ago, they'd both been infatuated with Charlie before finding each other. Sally, Charlie's sister, made time to slip away from her studies at Minnesota to be there.

The music of Stephen Foster, Violet's favorite composer, flowed through the delightful air, and the hum of conversation and laughter filled the rooms of the hospitable Brookses' home.

Schroeder came to the door, smiling his self-satisfied best as he entered, his insolent eyes sweeping the room for his friends.

"Patty! Schroeder's here!" Shermy called, pulling his wife away from a conversation among Charlie, Violet and Linus. They all came with her to greet their friend.

Patty was dressed in a turquoise skirt, matching jacket, and a white blouse. The jacket's color made her bright blonde hair glow.

"Oh, Schroeder, it's so good to see you!" Patty said, hugging him around the waist. He draped his arm over her soft shoulders. After a minute of Patty's unsolicited, though not entirely unwelcome affection, he disentangled himself from her embrace, allowing her unwillingly to continue holding his hand.

"Thanks for having me, Patty." He shook hands with the men, slapping Charlie on the shoulder. He knew what was coming.

"I believe you know everyone," Patty said. He nodded and wandered away to mingle.

Schroeder roamed around the living room, eyeing the women and sampling the appetizers and the wine. His attention was drawn to a fine upright piano in an alcove to one side. He approached it, giving the polished upright a cursory inspection.

"Patty," he called over the conversations as she waited nearby, "is this new? I don't remember seeing it before."

"Oh, yes," she said, coming up and smiling proudly. "Do you like it? I bought it a few weeks ago, since you were here last."

"Do you play?" he asked, examining it closely and stroking the keys.

"No," she said as she looked with longing down at the grinning keys, "not yet, Schroeder. But I've always wanted to learn. Now that I have a little more free time, I've been meaning to start taking lessons. Not to be serious, you understand," she said, as he glanced at her, "just for my own pleasure."

A merry twinkle glittered in Schroeder's eye as the guests began to draw closer.

"Would you like to take your first lesson now?"

Patty's eyes widened.

"Oh no, Schroeder, this is a party!" she protested, eagerly. "I couldn't ask you to do that now!"

"It would be my pleasure," he said, gesturing with exaggerated, impudent grace for Patty to sit on the bench. He drew it out for her, grinning to Shermy as he sat her, and he slid in beside her. The guests began milling around the piano, some amused, and others curious. With Schroeder at the piano, anything could happen, and usually did; it was going to be a show.

The urge to have Patty near to him proved irresistible. Sitting very close, he gazed uneasily at her profile while she focused her own attention on the keyboard before her. There was a good deal of physical tension, as Schroeder's canine, sensual masculinity came in dangerously close proximity to Patty's womanly allure. Her perfume, a fragrance Schroeder found disturbingly natural, filled the air.

"All right, Patty, let's find middle C." He took her hand and guided it to the key, and she plucked it, smiling to Schroeder at the sound her finger made.

"Now, I'll show you how your part goes; this is the harmony." He stroked the keys with the hand closest to her, the one she would use, producing a simple chord. "These four notes, and then these four, then back and forth. Now, you try it."

Patty did the same, though her attempt was clumsy and nervous.

"Good," he said patiently, "now try it again, and relax." She did, and it sounded a little better.

"Now, one note at a time, just keep repeating them," he said, showing her the tempo.

She followed his example, and a pleasing, though labored effort was the result.

"Was that all right?"

"Fine!" he said, as she smiled, "you're a natural!" Schroeder noticed with irritation that his voice trembled a little. He hoped no one else had noticed.

"All right, I'll play the melody part, and you keep doing the harmony. You start."

She repeated her exercise, and he came in with his part, the result being a ragged drawing-room version of "Heart and Soul."

Schroeder unconsciously held her non-playing hand.

Patty looked over her shoulder, meeting the adoring eyes of her husband.

"Look at me, Shermy!" she said, turning her head, "I'm playing!"

They played together for several minutes, until Schroeder reached his hand to her side, taking over the harmony. He began to play in earnest, racing through scales and creating jazz improvisations that entertained and electrified the guests. Schroeder finished with a flourish, to general applause. He raised Patty's hand up and she beamed, prompting another burst of ovations.

Schroeder whispered to Patty, who nodded and whispered back to him. He grinned, and began to play the slow, romantic introduction to "The Way You Look Tonight," and Patty sang to his accompaniment. Her eyes lingered on Schroeder the whole time as she sat beside him. He glanced at her often, with a smoldering expression that encouraged her.

Everyone, including Shermy, was surprised, amazed and delighted.

Patty finished singing:

Lovely, never, never change,

Keep that breathless charm,

Won't you please arrange it?

'Cause I love you,

Just the way you look tonight.

While the guests applauded Schroeder's hammy finale, Patty slipped her arm around his waist and, moved by sentiment, leaned her head on his shoulder. The applause subsided and Patty turned to her guests, looked at her loving husband, and then turned to Schroeder.

"Thank you, Schroeder," she said warmly, her face full of gratitude.

"Don't mention it," he said, shrugging. "We blondes have to stick together." He kissed her cheek, and withdrew quickly and self-consciously.

"You should keep practicing," he said, suddenly serious, "Music is a great comfort."

Shermy helped Patty to her feet, taking her hands and lifting her up from the bench. Schroeder stood up, coming closer to Shermy. As Patty resumed, mingling with her friends, Schroeder stayed behind to talk with Shermy.

Schroeder's eyes followed Patty out of the room.

"You're a lucky man Shermy," he told him. "Don't ever take a woman like Patty for granted."

"I thank God every day for her," Shermy admitted.

The party progressed and Schroeder didn't see Patty for some time. The struggle between avoiding her and being drawn to her, ended in victory for the latter. Schroeder had a question to ask; he needed her advice on a thorny problem. Presently, he located her in an obscure corner of the room.

"Patty, I wonder if I could have a word with you."

Schroeder had just come from the kitchen, drink in hand. He took Patty gently by her arm, drawing her away from a conversation in which she showed no interest.

"Will you excuse us?" he asked her guests.

"Thanks for rescuing me back there," she said, relieved. "It was brutal. If I had heard the word 'fiduciary' one more time, I was gonna scream." Her blue eyes studied his face.

"What's the matter, Schroeder?"

"Why would you think something's wrong?" he asked, guiltily. He sipped his cocktail.

"Oh, darling, your face is flushed," she said, dabbing his forehead with a napkin. She touched his arm. "And you're trembling. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he said, shortly. "I want to talk to you about Lucy."

"Lucy?"

"I should be talking to Violet about this," he muttered, annoyed. "I'm in a fix and it's her doing, but she's glued to Charlie just now."

"I know," Patty said, drawing her arm around Schroeder's waist. "Isn't it wonderful?"

"Speaking of wonderful," he said, growing impatient, "let's change the subject to its opposite, and talk about Lucy, can we?"

Patty withdrew her slim arm and stepped back. There was enough impatience to go around.

"Oh, all right, Schroeder," she said, curtly. "What's the matter?"

"Lucy is the matter," he grumbled. "This is unbearable!"

"Why? Has she been bossy, jealous, unreasonable; you know-Lucy?"

He shook his head, sheepishly.

"No, she's been great. Too great, in fact. I know Lucy's trying to be on good behavior, and that's okay, but damn her!" He paced around in a small circle, frustrated, clenching his fists in his pockets and his irritation high.

People nearby turned in the direction of his sudden outburst.

"Schroeder, calm down."

Patty's soft voice seemed only to agitate him more.

"She's becoming easier to be with!" he growled. "What am I supposed to do about that?"

"You're gonna have to help me on this one, Schroeder," Patty said in a maternal tone. "I don't see a problem."

Patty reached for him but he freed his hands and slipped away, unwilling to let her hear his pounding heart. His restless expression went from anxious to calm, and back to anxious.

"I only agreed to meet Lucy to get Violet off my case, Patty," he said, worry and unease plain in his face.

"I didn't expect to like it this way, but I am. I'm enjoying being with her too much. She's gonna want to get serious, Patty, and I can't handle that!"

"Then why don't you just break up with her?"

The look on Schroeder's face showed plainly that he didn't want to do that.

"Don't get me wrong, Patty," he said, shaking his head, "I like Lucy. I like her a lot. I think I've found that quiet spot in my heart that cares for her."

"But…?"

His expression turned fearful.

"But I feel like I'm walking into a noose! I can feel myself getting drawn in, sliding deeper into a relationship I didn't want, but I can't quit! I'm doomed, Patty! I'm doomed!"

"What are you afraid of?" Patty took his empty glass and set it on a nearby table.

"What if I screw it up?" he said, panicking. His eyes widened, and he stepped away.

"What if she's hoping I'll be there for her this time, Patty, and I let her down again? I couldn't take the…guilt." Something close to guilt of a different kind nearly prevented him from saying the word.

Patty's expression and voice tried to console him.

"Oh, you poor guy, you're a wreck!"

She reached for him again, and this time he let her comfort him. He needed it. She gently stroked his blond hair. Patty's fragrance filled his breathing, and it was her heartbeat that was his undoing.

"Schroeder, darling, do you want my advice?"

"No," he quipped lamely, trying to cover his rising apprehension, "I just want to cuddle."

"You must be feeling better, then," she laughed, pushing him playfully away.

They faced each other, and Patty's voice grew serious, but supportive.

"It's very simple, Schroeder. Lucy's been through a lot of pain-"

"Mostly of her own making."

"Yes, okay," she conceded, nodding, "but it's still painful, it still hurts. The best advice I can give you is simple: Love her, Schroeder."

"Love her?" he looked miserable. "Whose side are you on?"

"Yours, of course," she said, smiling fondly. "Whose did you think? Just love her. I don't mean you have to fall in love with Lucy. You can't control that. Just be kind to her Schroeder. Treat her tenderly. You can do that, can't you?"

"What if I can't?" he asked, anxiously. "What if it doesn't work?"

Patty shrugged.

"Well, then it doesn't work. You tried. Just be careful with Lucy, take it slowly, and don't say things you don't mean. Treat her gently. Give your feelings and hers time to grow. But love her, Schroeder. You loved her once, when you were a teenager, didn't you? Now maybe, see if you can love her as a man. Don't be afraid of your feelings. If it's there, you'll know it. And, if it isn't, well, you'll know that too, soon enough. Whatever happens, it'll happen because you made her feel safe with you. You made her feel secure. That's worth a lot."

Schroeder's sigh of relief was heartfelt.

"Why do you bother with a blockhead like me, Patty?" he asked, shaking his head.

She looked at him with those magnet blue eyes.

"Because I love you, Schroeder," she said, without a trace of jest.

Patty's assertion stunned Schroeder for a moment, and he struggled to resist the urge to misinterpret it.

"I'm sorry? You…you what?" he babbled, flustered. He felt, rather than saw Patty take his cold, fearful hand.

"I love you, and I want someone good to come into your life. I want you to be happy, Schroeder, and if Lucy can make you happy, well then, I'm all for it!"

Something like relief calmed him for the moment.

"I guess maybe I'd better get a grip," he said, looking away, and Patty nodded, comically.

"Well, duh!"

He took her arm, and they strolled across the room where Shermy waited with Patty's drink.

"You know, you're pretty good at this relationship business," Schroeder said risibly grateful. "You should get married yourself!" he kidded, "I could fix you up."

"Nah," she cracked, as her eyes found Shermy, "I already got a guy!"

Patty left Schroeder's arm and took her place beside her husband. Shermy slipped his arm around Patty's slim waist. She whispered into Shermy's ear and, looking at Schroeder, he nodded.

The room quieted as Charlie Brown walked into the center of it. He looked around at his friends as they made room, and the guests waited for him to speak.

"I want to thank everyone for coming tonight," he began, his clear blue eyes moist with his message, "and I especially want to thank Patty and Shermy Brooks for making this a special night, and for sharing their hospitality with us."

He raised his glass, followed by everyone present.

"Some of you already know why we're here, and you know why this evening will be remembered as a special occasion, but some of you don't. So, for the benefit of those who don't know yet, I want to make an announcement: it is with great happiness and pleasure that I tell you all…

"I am engaged to be married!"

The room exploded; even those in the know took part in the happy reaction.

"Who's the poor girl?" Linus asked, playing the straight man. As the room rumbled with laughter, a commotion in the back caused a space to open up toward the center.

Violet had set down her drink and glided beaming to the center as applause followed her. She ended up standing by Charlie's side.

"I believe you all know the former Miss Violet Gray?" Charlie said, as she leaned happily into him.

"Do you know what you're getting into?" "Pig-Pen" demanded, chuckling.

"I do," Violet said, unable to keep from smiling.

"Remember that phrase!" Linus said, to more titters.

"Speech, speech!" Schroeder called from his corner. Others followed, seconding his demand. The room quieted as Charlie commenced.

"My friends! My good friends, I can truly say that I can't recall a time when I didn't know Violet," Charlie began, flushed with joy. His soft blue eyes scanned over the guests often as he spoke, returning presently to the eyes of his beloved.

"I guess we must have been four or five, but I know my life really didn't begin until I did know her. I clearly remember the day when Shermy told me about that pretty little girl who'd just moved in down the street. I couldn't wait to meet her! We became friends and playmates, almost at once.

"We've been through some tough times since then. We weren't always close, but one thing I always knew; I was gonna marry Violet Gray. I didn't really have a plan, though. I never had any strategy to reach that lofty goal but I just knew it would happen, if I never gave up."

His eyes focused on hers above all else, and they were alone in the room. Violet's damp cheeks and gleaming eyes encouraged Charlie to go on speaking.

"And I never did give up, even in the darkest days," he said to her, his low, wavering voice growing serious.

"Sometimes we were close, and sometimes we weren't. She was the prettiest girl in school, and I was a nobody, but I knew that she cared for me. I knew that somewhere, someone was fighting for me, and that somehow it would happen. Well, I'm here tonight to tell you, it's gonna happen!"

Another generous ovation drowned his next words, so he started again.

"…let me repeat that; Violet and I are engaged to be married. I'm going to return to the Armory and receive my commission soon, and then I'll be given my orders. It may take six or eight months before I can get leave again to come back for the wedding, but that gives Violet, our parents and friends time to get everything in order. And I promise you'll all be invited to the wedding, as soon as it can be done." Charlie stopped talking and embraced Violet.

The guests burst into unprompted applause as soon as they realized Charlie was through.

"I'd like to make a toast, everyone!" Shermy said, stepping forward. "Everyone, get your glass and join me in a toast to our friend, Charlie Brown!"

A general clinking and clattering let Shermy know his invitation had been accepted. He stepped impulsively to the center of the room. His expression was more serious than Charlie had ever seen.

"Charlie," he said as the room quieted, "I count myself fortunate in knowing you. I guess I've known you longer than anybody here. Like me, most of the people in this room probably didn't think you were anything special when we were growing up. There wasn't much to set you apart, after all. We kids who played with you and went to school with you, didn't see in the boy you were then the man you would become. To us, you were just good ol' Charlie Brown! How wrong we were! There was so much more to you than that!"

Shermy's expression grew as solemn as his voice.

"Charlie, you were the first kid in the neighborhood who befriended me. You came to my house that morning after we moved in across the street from you, and you asked my mom if I wanted to come out and play with you. I never forgot that. I remember you calling out from the porch early every Saturday morning, coaxing me to come out and play first base on that lousy baseball team of ours. And I did it.

You were the manager, the cleanup hitter and the pitcher, but more than that, Charlie, you were a friend to everyone on that team. You worked harder than all of us put together to make that team work. I never would have played ball at all if not for you, and I know many other kids who would say the same.

"Like the rest of us here, I didn't see your worth then. And I seriously wondered about you Charlie, when Violet Gray, the prettiest girl in school, came walking by and you would tell me, 'I'm gonna marry her someday, Shermy! You'll see!'

"I thought you were out of your mind!"

The room laughed gently at Shermy's memory, some of those present nodding themselves in agreement. They'd heard it, too.

"But in the end, which is what matters, you came out on top," Shermy said, his eyes shining with admiration.

"You lettered in three sports, you got good grades, and you graduated from a good college. Now you're ready to serve your country, and soon you'll take the hand of the girl you never stopped loving. I'm proud of you, Charlie. I'm proud to call you my friend."

Shermy paused for a beat.

"And I want to kiss the bride after you!"

The room erupted in laughter as Violet blushed slightly.

"To our friend, Good Old Charlie Brown!" Shermy said, raising his glass. "Our friend; the best thing you could say about anyone!"

"Cheers!" the room shouted at once.

Shermy walked over to the front of the room where Charlie and Violet were taking good wishes and he hugged his friend warmly.

Violet, who'd recovered her composure and her sense of humor, hugged Shermy also.

"I'll be waiting for you, Shermy!" she said, smiling eagerly.

Shermy reddened.

"I hope you and Violet will be as happy as Patty and I have been," he said to Charlie.

"Thanks pal."

Patty, next to him, nodded with moist eyes and hugged them both.

"Congratulations, Charlie!"

"Shermy," Charlie said, taking him aside, "I hope you don't mind that Linus is my Best Man?"

Shermy shook his head, with a kind smile.

"Pal," he said, glancing at his wife, "when you get married, you have the right to have your wedding any way you want it. Enjoy that feeling, Charlie. It may be the last time you get to have things your way, and no complaints!" Shermy gave his friend a supportive smack on his shoulder.

Linus, "Pig-Pen," Schroeder and all the other friends filed up to give their regards. Charlie, shaking hands and exchanging greetings, tried to seek out his sister Sally with his eyes, but he couldn't find her.

"Hello, Big Brother."

That little voice, so like his own, could belong to none other than Sally, home from college.

"Sally! You came!" Charlie beamed with pleasure.

"Nothing gets by you, Big Brother!" The affection Sally had for Charlie belied the sarcastic bite of her words. As it had been with his friends, her respect for him deepened when he began to treat himself better. They embraced long and happily.

Sally was eighteen, a freshman at the University of Minnesota, blonde, pretty, perky and bright. She'd decided on a nursing career after watching two seasons of ER, changing her major to Political Science when she saw West Wing. Smart, ambitious but malleable, Sally was destined for a future career of someone else's designs.

"So you see Charlie, you can be happy!"

"I wasn't sure you could come," Charlie said, gratefully.

Sally beamed.

"Nothing would keep me from this. If I had to, I would have pushed the plane!"

Linus made his way warily to Sally's side. She had been infatuated with Linus when she was a child, and he wondered if, as with his friend Charlie Brown, all childhood crushes endured.

Sally noticed Linus as he stood beside her, his drink trembling in his hand.

If her feelings for him had changed, her expression didn't.

A moment of uneasiness followed, which Sally did nothing to dispel. In fact she seemed to enjoy his discomfort.

"Hello, Linus."

"Hi… Sally. Um, how've you been? It's been a long time."

"Yes, it has. Who's the chick?" she asked, indicating Linus' date with a glance. Miss Avery, who drifted around friendless, vainly tried to catch Linus' eye, but he kept looking away.

Linus, expecting neither Sally nor her gumption, became flustered.

"Well, I-I, uh..."

Sally, mature beyond Linus' expectation, rolled her eyes with disdain.

"Oh, it's okay, Linus. I'm so over you. I've got a boyfriend in college." She smirked, and nodded toward the tall blond.

"I think you left her motor running. You'd better check her oil!" In full possession of the field, Sally withdrew.

"Kids!" Linus joked, sighing as she left. "They grow up so fast!"

Charlie couldn't help but laugh, even though it was at his friend's expense. Linus joined in, good-naturedly. Privately, he was relieved; he had neither the time, nor the inclination to clutter up his life with leftover emotions.