In a bored and rather sulky stupor, Kathie Ferrars barely registered the ringing of the doorbell and the sound of voices in the hallway. She was in a thoroughly bad mood. She'd been confined to her bedroom for several days after her return from Switzerland, and now, though she was allowed downstairs, under her aunt's watchful eye she'd been restricted to the house and gardens. She was unused to such inactivity and the novelty of being back home had soon worn off.
The sitting room door opened, and her aunt's voice broke in on Kathie's misery.
"She's in here, my dear," Mrs Grayson was saying. "Kathie, love, you've got a visitor."
"Hello Kathie!" came a rather distinctive voice.
Rousing herself from the sofa on which she was reclined to see who this newcomer was, Kathie suddenly broke into a grin. In a moment she was on her feet, the novel she'd been halfheartedly reading knocked to the floor.
"Well, hello! What are you doing here?"
Having begged leave from Mrs Grayson, half an hour later Kathie and her visitor were strolling arm in arm along the pretty autumnal streets of the little village in which the Graysons lived.
"It was a bit of a shock, of course, but now, there's nothing wrong with me!" Kathie was explaining with some vim. "I'm fighting fit! Only my aunt's being so careful, and insists I've got to stay here another two weeks. Honestly, I'm going up the wall with boredom. I've half a mind to do a runner."
Her friend grinned sympathetically, as Kathie continued.
"It's just...well...I miss school. And everything."
"And everything? Or something in particular? Or should that be someone in particular?" Mary-Lou - for it was she who was paying this visit to our invalid - twinkled back at her.
Kathie stopped dead, flushing considerably as she did so. "I...er...I'm...I've no idea what you're talking about," she said faintly.
"What, have you forgotten about Nancy already? You've only been away from her about three weeks! I'm sure she won't thank you for that!"
Kathie sighed, looked worried for a moment or two, and then grinned. "Oh, alright then, I'm missing Nancy. Desperately. How long have you known?"
"About you two?" Mary-Lou shrugged. "Not sure...but you're never apart. It doesn't take a genius to work it out you know..."
"Are you sure you're alright, Mary-Lou?" Kathie asked later, as they were sitting on a bench overlooking the village common. Though it was late November, the sun was warm, and it was pleasant enough to sit out. Mary-Lou had been chattering away but she seemed pale and oddly subdued, and Kathie couldn't help noticing that unconsciously she kept rubbing her stomach.
"Oh, you know, it's this beastly cold I've had. It's taken me a while to get over it, really." Mary-Lou smiled sheepishly, but somehow couldn't meet Kathie's eye.
"You're a terrible liar," Kathie said, gently reaching for one of Mary-Lou's hands. "They don't send people away from college for colds. What's going on?"
Mary-Lou exhaled deeply, and once more her free hand went to her stomach. "Oh, Kathie, I've been in such trouble. It's alright now - well, as alright as these things can be," she modified, as a guilt-ridden look drifted across her face. "But oh, I've been so stupid."
"Oh. Oh, Mary-Lou, you poor girl."
"And so - I've been sent down from college for the term to 'sort it out'. And now - well, I'm off to Joey's for a few days to try to get my head straight."
"Does Joey know?" Kathie wasn't sure that the baby-obsessed Gornetz Platz was necessarily the best place for someone in Mary-Lou's position.
Mary-Lou nodded. "She does. She's been a brick through this, actually. And I just want to be somewhere where I - oh, I don't know, where I feel normal, I suppose. I've just been thrown sideways by this whole thing, and I need to try to pull myself back together."
"Thank you for a lovely tea, Mrs Grayson," Mary-Lou said warmly, as she was putting on her coat and hat and getting ready to leave.
"Thank you for coming, my dear, and putting some colour back into the face of that one," Mrs Grayson looked askance at her niece as she spoke.
"Well, if you were to let me go back to school, you wouldn't have to put up with my pale and wan features, auntie," Kathie replied, with a glint in her eye. "Take care, Mary-Lou," she said, hugging her friend keenly, as Mrs Grayson left them to it. "Oh, I do wish I was coming with you! But you'll make sure you pass on that letter...?"
"Yes, I'll make sure she gets it, and I'll tell her you're missing her," Mary-Lou said with a grin and a wink, as she stepped out of the door.
"Take care, Mary-Lou!"
"Take care, yourself!"
And it was with a warm feeling borne of true friendship that the two women parted that afternoon.