Late that afternoon when I got home from the meeting—trying to tell myself I shouldn’t call Annie, because she should rest without interruption for her performance—Chad met me at the door, waving a long envelope that said Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the corner, and sure enough, it was an acceptance! It’s amazing what hearing that someone wants you to go to their college can do for your ego, but when it’s also the only college you really want to go to, and the only one you think can teach you what you have to know in order to be the only thing you want to be—well, it’s like being handed a ticket to the rest of your life, or to a big part of it, anyway. I couldn’t hold all that in, so I did call Annie after all, and she’d gotten into Berkeley. We decided to go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden the next day no matter what, to celebrate spring and acceptances and the coming of vacation next week—hers started the same day mine did and lasted as long, because there were going to be special teachers’ meetings at her school after the official public-school vacation week. Then, when I got off the phone and went to the dinner table, Dad produced a bottle of champagne, and so it was a very merry Winthrop family who went uptown that night to hear Annie sing.
I don’t think it was the champagne I’d drunk that made Annie look so beautiful that night, because I noticed that most people in the audience had dreamy, faraway looks on their faces when she was singing. For me it was as if the concert were hers alone, although three other kids sang and someone played the piano—very well, Mom said. Annie had on a long light blue corduroy skirt that looked like velvet and a creamy long-sleeved blouse, and her hair was down over one shoulder, gleaming so softly under the lights that I found myself clenching my hands at one point because I wanted so much to touch it.
Annie had said that she’d be singing more for me than for anyone else that night, and that there was one song in particular she wanted me to hear. When she began the only Schubert song on the program, she raised her eyes way over the heads of the audience and her special look came over her face, and it was as if she poured everything she was into her voice. Listening to her brought tears to my eyes, though the song was in German and I couldn’t understand the words; it made me want to give Annie all of myself, forever.
“Of course that was the one that was for you!” she said the next day in the Botanic Garden when I asked her about the Schubert.
There were hills of daffodils behind us, and clouds of pink blossoms, and the smell of flowers everywhere. Annie sang the Schubert again, in English this time:
“Softly goes my song’s entreaty
Through the night to thee.
In the silent woods I wait thee,
Come, my love, to me …”
“It’s called Ständchen,” she said when she’d sung it all. “Serenade.” And then: “I’ve missed you so much, Liza, having to spend all that time rehearsing.”
Two elderly people came toward us, a woman carrying a canvas tote bag and a man carrying a small camera tripod. Their free hands were linked, and when they’d gone by, so were Annie’s and mine.
We walked a lot, hand in hand when there was no one around and once or twice even when there was, because no one seemed to care and the chance of our meeting anyone who would—family, people from our schools—seemed remote. Sometimes Annie told me the names of the flowers we passed and sometimes I made purposely wrong guesses. “Tulip,” I said once for daffodil. Annie laughed her wonderful laugh, so I said “Oak?” when we passed a whole bank of little white flowers, and she laughed again, harder.
We ended up in the Japanese Garden, which is just about the prettiest part of the whole place, especially in spring when nearly every tree is blossoming. We sat under a tree on the other side of the lake from the entrance and talked, and caught and gave each other the blossoms that floated down and brushed against us.
We talked a little about Sally, I remember, and how pious she’d gotten, and I told Annie about the special council meeting and how Ms. Baxter and Mrs. Poindexter had sung the school song. And we talked about the recital and how it was the last one Annie would ever be in at her high school. That brought us to a subject we’d been avoiding: graduation and the summer. Annie was going to be a counselor at a music camp in California—I’d known that for a while, but I don’t think it really hit either of us till that day that we’d be away from each other from June 24, which was when Annie had to be at the camp, till maybe Christmas, assuming we both came home from college then. Until college acceptances had actually come, college had seemed so far in the future it couldn’t touch us, like old age, maybe. But now it was as if, faced with it, we wanted to go back and think it over again—we were being swept along on decisions we’d made before we’d even met each other, and suddenly we didn’t feel as triumphant about getting in as we had yesterday when we’d first heard.
We’d been sitting very close together, talking about that, and then we got very silent. After a few minutes, though, we turned toward each other and—I don’t know how to explain this, really, but as soon as our eyes met, I knew that I didn’t want to be sitting outdoors in public with Annie, having to pretend we were just friends, and I could tell she didn’t either, and we both knew that there was no problem now about our not wanting the same thing at the same time, and not much problem about being scared.
“There’s no place, is there?” Annie said—at least I think she did. If Annie did speak, I probably answered, “No,” but I’m not sure if we actually said the words.
We sat there for quite a while longer, Annie’s head on my shoulder, until some people came around to our side of the lake. Then we just sat there, not being able to touch each other.
That night, after Annie and I had spent the rest of the day walking because there was nothing else we could do, I was lying in bed not able to sleep, thinking about her, and—this is embarrassing, but it’s important, I think—it was as if something suddenly exploded inside me, as if she were really right there with me. I didn’t know then that a person could feel that kind of sexual explosion from just thinking, and it scared me. I got up and walked around my room for a while, trying to calm myself down. I kept wondering if that kind of thing had ever happened to anyone else, and whether it could happen to anyone or just gay people—and then I stopped walking, the thought crashing in on me more than I’d ever let it before: You’re in love with another girl, Liza Winthrop, and you know that means you’re probably gay. But you don’t know a thing about what that means.
I went downstairs to Dad’s encyclopedia and looked up HOMOSEXUALITY, but that didn’t tell me much about any of the things I felt. What struck me most, though, was that, in that whole long article, the word “love” wasn’t used even once. That made me mad; it was as if whoever wrote the article didn’t know that gay people actually love each other. The encyclopedia writers ought to talk to me, I thought as I went back to bed; I could tell them something about love.
Annie put her arms around me and kissed me when I told her. We were in her room; I’d come for Sunday dinner.
“Encyclopedias are no good,” she said, going to her closet and pulling out a battered, obviously secondhand book. Patience and Sarah, it said on the cover, by Isabel Miller.
“I’ve had it for a couple of weeks,” said Annie apologetically. “I wanted to give it to you, but—well, I guess I wasn’t sure how you’d take it.”
“How I’d take it!” I said, hurt. “How’d you think I’d take it? I’m not some kind of ogre, am I?”
“It’s just that you still didn’t seem sure,” said Annie quietly, turning away. “I was going to show it to you sometime—really. Oh, Liza, don’t be mad. Please. It’s a lovely book. Just read it, okay?”
I did read the book, and Annie reread it, and it helped us discuss the one part of ourselves we’d only talked around so far. We read other books, too, in the next week, trying to pretend we weren’t there when we checked them out of the library, and we bought—terrified—a couple of gay magazines and newspapers. I felt as if I were meeting parts of myself in the gay people I read about. Gradually, I began to feel calmer inside, more complete and sure of myself, and I knew from the way Annie looked as we talked, and from what she said, that she did also.
And when on the first day of spring vacation Annie came with me to feed Ms. Stevenson’s and Ms. Widmer’s cats, we suddenly realized we did have a place to go after all.