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Chapter Twenty-seven
True Friends

"Herein do I [every Christian] exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men."
~ Acts 24:16 ~

December brought Thomas Garner home from promoting his do-it-yourself books at fairs and conventions, to spend the Christmas holiday with his family. He had been away since September, having only been in contact with his family by telephone. To celebrate his homecoming, Shirley was going to throw a party and invite all their friends and neighbors.

It was soon after Shirley had sent out the invitations, that Adam learned from Chad that though Chuck and Vera had been invited, Charlie had not.

"She's always around your house," later explained Shirley, to her bewildered brother.

"There's nothing inappropriate about her behavior," replied Adam. "You're overreacting to absolutely nothing."

"Mike visits your house a lot," prodded Shirley.

"So?" replied Adam.

"Oh, men!" exclaimed Shirley.

"I don't get whatever you're driving at, Sis."

"You know I'm not one to listen to gossip," began Shirley, "but there's some ugly rumors going around that Mike and some mystery girl are having an affair. I know it's not true-- Mike doesn't even have a steady girlfriend, but I don't want to give everyone more reasons to gossip. If you'll only discourage Charlie Overholt from visiting as frequently, I'm sure everything would just go away!"

Adam sighed. Apparently, Mike had not yet told his mother of Sandra Weston, nor of the fact that things between he and Sandra were becoming serious. Adam knew Mike would not sleep with anyone outside of marriage, so that part of the rumor didn't bother him. What did, was the fact that Mike was still keeping their relationship a secret. The plumber remembered warning Mike that nothing excites gossip like a secret. Now Shirley had wrongly concluded that the "mystery girl" was Charlie.

"Not that such a thing could happen," continued Shirley. "Charlie's so young-- Mike would never even consider her, but when Mrs. Jacobs informed me what everyone else was saying, I had to take action, action that would show conclusively that we had nothing to hide."

"By not inviting Charlie, aren't you only confirming their gossip?" asked Adam, sighing. "Sister, you care too much for what people say."

"You don't care enough!" retorted Shirley. "Do you know what they call you?" she asked. "The Bat! My own brother! And do you know why? Because you keep all hours of the night in that garden, or else the lights in your windows are on, so that the neighbors can see that you're not asleep like any normal person. If you would only give a little thought as to what others will think, you wouldn't make yourself susceptible to such rude name-calling."

"Now, Sis," replied Adam, resisting the impulse to throw up his hands and walk away, "I'm willing to do reasonable things to not excite gossip, but when it interferes with who I am-- things I can't help..."

"You mean things you won't help!" interrupted Shirley, getting out a handkerchief and wiping a tear from her eye. "If you won't think of me, and what I have to go through when people like Mrs. Jacobs confront me with such slander, then think of Mom and what she has to endure!"

"She wouldn't have to endure so much if you'd only take her back home where she belongs!" interjected Adam. As soon as he had said it, he was sorry. Shirley broke out into unrestrained tears. "Please forgive me, I shouldn't have said that," apologized Adam, his temper cooling. Shirley nodded.

This had been a sore subject for both brother and sister ever since Shirley had first placed their mother in Mullen-Overholt.

"Mom said you're doing your best, so we'll just leave it at that," said Adam.

"What are you going to do about Charlie?" asked Shirley, returning to their first discussion.

"Invite her," replied Adam, resolvedly.

continued on next page...
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