Chapter Seven: Something Linus Should Know.
Linus came to Violet's apartment where she and Charlie had made arrangements to entertain their friends. Patty and Shermy, along with Schroeder and Linus had been invited to come. Others, including parents, had also been asked to the last-minute party. Many of those who would be informed of the big announcement to come later had to wait for that other occasion. While Charlie fretted over a potential confrontation between Linus and Schroeder, he hoped it could be put off by the presence of the other guests.
"I think we'll announce the engagement at Thanksgiving," Charlie said, while Violet, clinging to his arm, nodded happily. "We'll have a bigger crowd then."
"Good idea!" Shermy said. "Some of them, like 'Pig-Pen,' for instance, or your sister Sally, might be able to get away at Thanksgiving."
"My thinking, exactly," Charlie said. "I'd really like Sally to be here when we tell everyone."
Violet put on music and the appetizers began slowly to disappear, along with shots and mugs of "adult beverages." The friends mingled, breaking into groups, each waiting their turn to wish the blissful couple well. Music played at a subdued level, allowing conversation.
Schroeder took Charlie aside after a few hours, his eyes grim and baffled.
"Charlie, what's eating Linus?" indicating him with a glance. "He's been glaring at me the whole evening. He reminds me of my last girlfriend's father."
Charlie gave his friend a serious look.
"Schroeder, I think he still holds it against you what happened between Lucy and you."
"Lucy and me?" he asked, shrugging. "I don't understand. That's ancient history!"
"Well, Linus brought it up when I went to see him," Charlie explained, "and we got into it. I'll be honest, Schroeder. He told me some pretty harsh things, and I couldn't refute them."
"Things, Charlie? What things?" Schroeder sniffed, disdain rising to cover his irritation.
"Our breakup was less excruciating than our courtship, Charlie. Besides, like the sex, Lucy's and my breakup was consensual."
"That's not what Linus said. He seems to think Lucy was pregnant when you broke up with her."
Schroeder's face showed genuine surprise.
"Pregnant? That's bullshit!" Schroeder whispered, fiercely. "Where did he get an idea like that, Charlie? That's absolute bullshit!"
"Linus said that Lucy told him all this."
Schroeder became increasingly agitated. He shook his head, vigorously.
"I give you my word Charlie, I never knocked her up. What did you say when he told you that?"
Charlie's expression was deliberately non-committal.
"I told him I didn't believe it, Schroeder; I couldn't tell him that it wasn't true."
His friend sighed.
"That's for you to tell him." Charlie studied his friend's reaction.
"I'm gonna do just that!" Schroeder's eyes darted across the room until they caught Linus going into the study to retrieve a book. Handing Charlie his empty glass, he marched deliberately across the room. With a grim intention, Schroeder followed Linus into the room, intending to settle their dispute in private.
"Linus, I have to talk to you."
Linus looked up from the book he'd just taken down from the shelf. A stare of indifferent loathing came upon his cherubic face.
"Unless you're here to help me find another book, we have nothing to talk about." Linus coldly turned his back on Schroeder.
"Oh, we have something to talk about all right-your lying sister!"
Linus wheeled to face him, but he was stopped by a gesture. Schroeder's face had an expression at once earnest and intense. He spread his hands.
"It's not true, Linus. Charlie told me what she said to you, and it's not true!"
"Who am I to believe?" Linus said, passively hostile. "Why should she lie?"
"Why do you think, Linus?" Schroeder asked, frustrated. Thrusting his hands into his pockets, he turned away.
"You have an interest in misrepresenting the truth-she doesn't," Linus said with venom.
Schroeder turned unwillingly to face Linus. Linus had more to say, and Schroeder listened, uncomfortably.
"I know you went with her for a year and a half, and that she gave herself to you. She told me, and I saw what it did to her when you dumped her! Do you deny it?"
Schroeder dropped his head and shook it.
"No, Linus. I don't deny it." He looked up, his impatience rising. "She chased me for years. When we finally went out together, we were teenagers. What did you expect?"
It was the wrong thing to say to Linus in his present dark mood.
He lunged at Schroeder, seized him by his lapels and drove him against a bookshelf.
Schroeder raised his hands, inertly refusing to struggle. Books jarred from their places fell and thumped on the floor. The noise of their scuffling caused the talk in the other room to die away. It also prompted Linus to remember where he was. His rage began to wane.
Schroeder gently but firmly removed Linus' relaxing hands from his jacket.
"Linus listen to me," Schroeder began, pacing. "When Lucy and I were together we thought we were in love. I guess it may have looked as though I was just using her selfishly, but I wasn't. All right, maybe I did want to have sex, and she was handy, but I didn't have sex with Lucy just for my own pleasure. I thought I loved her, Linus. I honestly did."
Schroeder came closer to Linus, his face sad and serious.
His voice trembled with the desire for Linus to believe him.
"Linus, I give you my word that I would never have abandoned her if I thought she was pregnant," he said. "I may have been wrong to say she lied. Maybe she found out about it afterwards, but she never told me."
"No?" Linus said with renewed hostility. "Then why did you make her get an abortion?"
"An abortion!" he cried. Schroeder was appalled, and his raised voice showed it. "That's absurd!" he whispered savagely, "I'd never do such a thing! How could you think that I would?"
Schroeder looked at Linus, and despite his friend's hatred for him, he was moved to sympathy. Linus after all was only reacting to what he'd been told.
"Why would she tell me such a thing if it weren't true?" Linus demanded, brokenly.
"I don't know, Linus," Schroeder said, calming. "I don't know." He shook his head. Now, Schroeder knew, was the time to be kind to his friend.
"Of course Lucy was upset when we broke up. She felt hurt, and she hated me then. Maybe she was just lashing out at me."
Schroeder put his comforting hands on his friend's shoulders. Linus, his head down, seemed trapped between rage and shame.
"Linus, look at me." Schroeder's voice, gentle and compassionate, dampened Linus' flagging anger.
His trembling head rose to eye level.
"Linus, I'm your friend. I've known you all my life. Listen to me, would you? It's not true. I don't know why she told you all of that, but it isn't true.
"I loved Lucy but stupidly, like the kid I was. I'm sure she could cite examples for you of all my shortcomings. I know I didn't treat her well. I was inattentive and selfish, and ultimately, I wanted to see other girls. That's why we finally broke up, I suppose.
"But you've got to believe me, Linus; I swear to God I'd never have left her alone if I'd known she was pregnant. And I surely wouldn't force her to get an abortion, to destroy an innocent baby, the result of what passed for love between us. I would never do that."
Schroeder's gentle, insistent denials seemed to crumble Linus' defenses.
"I've always told you the truth, Linus. Look in my eyes, and you'll see that I'm telling you the truth now. I never got her pregnant, at least, as far as I knew. She never told me that I had. And I swear to you, Linus, I swear I never forced her to have any abortion."
Schroeder's earnest repetition seemed finally to sway Linus.
"I don't know whom to believe," he said, mournfully.
"I can't give you the answer to that, Linus," Schroeder said, with compassion. "I can only tell you what I know. You'll have to work it out on your own, because nothing else I could say now would convince you." Schroeder looked at Linus with profound sympathy.
"I'm sorry about all this, Linus. I really am. I honestly wish it had never happened."
"As do I," Linus said, retreating into lyric to hide his heartbreak.
"What's going on here?" Shermy said, suddenly entering. He looked from one to the other. "What's the commotion? We could hear you all over the house! Everything all right?"
The two men muttered something about a personal dispute, and except for themselves, only Charlie and Violet, from whom he would have no secrets, would know the truth.
Violet got a strange, coincidental phone call days later.
It was Lucy.
They had remained in irregular, icy contact since high school but their friendship, never warm, had cooled over time.
"Violet? It's Lucy. I need to talk with you."
The abrupt directness of her greeting made Violet smile. Some things never change.
"I need your help," she said grimly. "I hate to ask you for a favor, but I can't do this myself. Will you meet me? I'll explain when I see you."
Violet agreed, and they made plans to have lunch at a small restaurant near the courthouse where Lucy had secured an appointment as an intern to Judge Baldwin, a friend of her father's. She clerked in his office around classes during her final year in law school.
Violet entered the café and found her friend entrenched in a booth at the rear.
They greeted each other with indifferent affability, and Violet sat across from Lucy.
Lucy Van Pelt had been a formidable child, and she'd grown into an impressive young woman, graduating high in her class at college.
Aggressively pretty, Lucy was also bright, ambitious, impatient, and fiercely competitive. This combination made her excel in law school, and earned her a redoubtable and largely well-founded reputation as tenacious, vindictive, relentless and insensitive. Those qualities would serve Lucy well in the practice of law, but they made her difficult to deal with on a personal level. Consequently she had few friends besides those she'd made as a child, and the truth of that was, even they had grown wary of her.
Lucy's appearance amply displayed her fussbudget credentials. She wore a dark blue business jacket and skirt with a tie, and a blouse of light blue. Her raven hair was meticulously styled, and like her, tightly wound. Her briefcase, organized compulsively and tidy in the extreme, stood propped up beside her. Lucy's whole appearance gave the impression of a professional, no-nonsense young woman of fearsome intelligence.
Violet tried to look happy to see her.
"You look prosperous; how have you been?" She asked, pleasantly.
"Fine, thank you. I'm third in my class, and I'm moving up."
"That's not what I meant, Lucy."
"I know what you meant," she said, tersely. "There's nothing to report on that score."
Lucy, it seemed, hadn't changed her tactics. Even though she needed help, she still wanted to keep Violet at an emotional distance.
"I was surprised to hear from you Lucy," Violet said, trying again.
"I imagine you would be. You've been pretty busy lately." Lucy sneered. "You're engaged to that wishy-washy Charlie Brown, I heard," she said, her voice sullen.
Lucy frowned with surly disdain. Her evident contempt for her fiancé irritated Violet.
"It seems that you haven't learned anything about people, Lucy," she said, shaking her head sadly, "even those you know. So much has happened! So many things have changed, and you're still the same. Luck in school."
Violet rose to leave, but Lucy reached out her hand to stop her.
"Wait Violet, don't leave yet. I take it back, I take it back," Lucy said with difficulty. She shrugged. "Marry whomever you want."
Violet settled cautiously back into her seat.
"Thank you," she said with polite sarcasm.
"By the way, is it true?" Lucy asked, with a sour expression.
"Yes, it's true, look!" Violet displayed the ring on her finger to Lucy with pride, but Lucy glanced at it without interest.
"It's beautiful," she said apathetically. "I'm happy for you."
"Lucy," Violet said, with real sympathy, "I haven't seen you happy for a long time."
The shortness of Lucy's rebuke annoyed Violet, but Lucy seemed not to notice.
"Violet," she began uneasily, "I didn't tell you why I wanted to see you, because I thought you wouldn't come if I did. I need your help."
"You told me that much two days ago."
Lucy grimaced, tapping her long nails on the table, anxious about her task.
"I hate to even ask!" she said, twisting her hands, frustrated. "I've always been so self-sufficient. It really chaps my hide to need anyone else's help, but if you don't help me Violet, I don't know what I'll do."
Violet became mildly alarmed at Lucy's tone.
"Lucy, what is it? What's the matter?"
"Violet, I miss Schroeder."
"You what?" Violet asked, stunned. "You can't be serious, Lucy!"
The staggering simplicity of her statement astonished Violet, but the look on Lucy's face persuaded her of the truth of it.
"I am serious. I called you because I want you to talk to him for me. I want you to tell him something, to give him a message: I would like to see him again, just once," Lucy said, stirring her coffee with controlled anxiety.
Seeing the astonished look on Violet's face, Lucy began to explain.
"He was the first boy I ever loved, Violet. He only agreed to go out with me after I'd bothered him for years. When we were in high school, remember? I loved him so much, but he didn't pay any attention to me. I've been out with plenty of other men since then, but Schroeder was my first love. He was the only one I ever cared about, Violet. He was the only one I really miss."
Lucy sighed, sounding like her brother.
"We were oil and water, Violet," she said, shaking her head. "We never met at any point. I was crazy about him, but I know he only tolerated me. He always acted like he'd rather be someplace else, but when he was with me, I was happy."
Lucy winced with self-reproach. She saw in Violet's dark eyes how pathetic she sounded. She threw down the spoon in her hand sadly, pushing her chair away from the table.
"No wonder he tired of me; I was looking straight at him, and all I could see was what I needed."
"Lucy, I don't understand," Violet said, puzzled. "That was years ago! You can't expect that he'd listen to me; that just on my advice he'd start seeing you again?"
Defiantly forlorn, Lucy seemed to resent Violet's pity.
"You're right Violet," she said, her voice impatient. "You don't understand." She shook her head, adamantly.
"I don't anticipate a re-kindling of anything. That's over. Neither of us has the strength to rehash all of the past. It's so painful! I just want to see him one more time, can't you understand? To talk to him, Violet, to have him spend time with me, that's all. I don't expect anything more to come of it. Will you help me?"
As she finished, Violet glowered, remembering Lucy's belligerence, her verbal abuse and her scorn, especially for Charlie. The memory of it caused her to become suddenly indignant.
"Boy, Lucy," Violet hissed, her blood boiling, "You've got some nerve!
"After what you did to poor Charlie! After what you made me do to him! It's taken me years to get over the guilt I felt for my part in it. And it took him years to get over what you did! Now, you have the gall to come to me and ask for a favor, to help you get in touch with Schroeder? Why should I do anything for you?"
"There's no reason, Violet," Lucy said, a defeated look on her face.
"You're right. I guess I've earned your abuse and your contempt. I'm not too proud to say I deserve it. And I'm genuinely glad that you've found someone for yourself, even if, well…"
Her voice trailed off.
"But, I've been so lonely, Violet! I've worked hard to earn high marks in college, and that hasn't left me much time for friends, even if I had them. It's made me look back to what I had with Schroeder. We had some good times, and I miss them. I know it sounds pitiable, but it's the truth. And I know it's too late, but I'm sorry about the Prom, too. I really am."
Violet's dark eyes narrowed.
"Is that your idea of a heartfelt apology, Lucy?"
"That's the best I can do, Violet."
The tragedy was that Violet believed her.
"Lucy, be honest with me," she said, trying to muster some compassion for this brittle, closed creature. "You really think if, by some chance I can talk Schroeder into meeting with you, that he'll fall in love with you again, don't you?"
"No, Violet, you're wrong. I don't," Lucy said, shaking her head. "I know enough not to expect such a happy ending. And I won't be disappointed if he won't see me. I'm preparing for that, already." Lucy's eyes glittered with pain and determination.
"But I have to try, don't you see? Schroeder cared about me once, Violet. Maybe he'll find some feeling he may still have deep inside himself for me. Not for love; I don't expect anything like that ever again. I blew that, I know. But we could be friends, Violet. I'd be satisfied with that. It isn't too much to ask, is it?"
"I suppose not," Violet said, already regretting it.
"All right, Lucy. What can I do?"
"Do you know how I can get in touch with him? Do you have his number?"
Despite pity for Lucy and her own reluctance to refuse her, Violet shook her head.
"No, Lucy, I'm not going to do that."
"Why not?" she asked, frustrated.
Violet leaned closer to explain.
"Because Lucy, Schroeder's my friend. If I gave you his number, and you just called him up out of nowhere, he probably wouldn't speak to you anyway, and I'd lose him as a friend. No, Lucy."
"I don't know," Violet said, casting about for an idea. She smiled as one came to her.
"How about this, Lucy? I'll go and see Schroeder myself. I'll tell him what you've told me; that you just want to meet with him once to talk. That you just want to be friends. If I can get him to agree to that, he'll call you, and you can have your chance. I'm sorry Lucy, but that's the best I can do. I'm not going to help you to ambush him."
"I understand," Lucy said her face impassive. "All right, if that's your offer, I'll take it. Just tell him that I miss talking to him, will you? Tell him that I just want to be friends." she said, her voice rising and catching.
"Tell him…" Lucy couldn't finish the sentence.
"I will, Lucy," Violet said, her heart melting in spite of herself. "I'll tell him."