We had the cocoa, and Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer had drinks, but even though for a minute or two it looked as if we’d be able to talk, that didn’t last long.
Ms. Widmer was the first to realize that we never had gotten around to the introduction Ms. Stevenson had requested; when we went down to the kitchen, she put her hand out to Annie and said, “I’m Katherine Widmer, as Liza’s probably told you, and that’s Isabelle Stevenson.”
“H—hi,” Annie stammered. “My name is Annie Kenyon. I—I’m a friend of Liza’s.”
Ms. Widmer smiled wryly and said, “You don’t say,” and we all laughed.
We laughed again when Annie and I explained, a bit self-consciously, about the saucepan helmets. But after that we all got very stiff, Annie and me hiding behind our cups and Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer hiding behind their glasses. Ms. Widmer and Annie both tried to talk, but Ms. Stevenson just sat there, not exactly glowering but not very friendly either, and I couldn’t say a word. Finally after about ten minutes Ms. Widmer said, “Look, I guess we’re all too upset to sort this out tonight. Why don’t you two go home for now and come back tomorrow, for lunch, maybe, or …”
Ms. Stevenson glared at Ms. Widmer, and she went on quickly: “Or after lunch—that would be better. Say around two?”
Annie looked at me and I nodded, and then Ms. Widmer walked us upstairs to the front door.
“We stripped the bed,” Annie said shyly, putting on her lumber jacket again. “We could take the sheets to the laundry for you.”
“That’s all right,” said Ms. Widmer, although she looked a little startled. “But thank you.”
She smiled, as if she were trying to convey to us that everything would be all right, but I saw that her hand shook as she opened the door, and I hurried Annie out ahead of me.
I walked Annie to the subway, but we were both too upset to talk. Annie gave me a quick hug right before she went through the turnstile. “I love you,” she whispered, “Can you hold on to that?”
“I’m trying,” I said. I’m not even sure I said I love you back to Annie, although I know I was thinking it, and I know I thought it all that night when I couldn’t sleep.
Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer seemed a little calmer the next day, outwardly anyway, but Annie and I were both very nervous.
Ms. Stevenson came to the door in jeans and a paint-spattered shirt over a turtleneck; her hair was tied back, and there was, I was glad to see, a brush in her hand.
“Hi,” she said, a little brusquely but smiling, and seeming more relaxed and like herself, at least the self that I knew. She put down the brush. “Come on in. Kah!” she called up the stairs. “It’s Liza and Annie.”
“Be right there,” Ms. Widmer called back, and Ms. Stevenson led us into the living room. The orange cat, who was lying on a neat pile of Sunday papers, jumped into Annie’s lap as soon as she sat down; he curled up there, purring.
“He likes you,” observed Ms. Stevenson awkwardly, taking off her painty shirt and throwing it into the front room.
“I like him, too,” said Annie, stroking the cat.
Then Ms. Widmer came downstairs, in jeans also, and I thought again about their being two comfortable old shoes and wondered if Annie and I would ever be like that.
“Well,” said Ms. Widmer, sitting down on the sofa. “I don’t suppose any of us really knows how to begin.” She smiled. “It’s funny, but the first thing that comes into my head to say is how did you sleep last night?”
“Horribly,” said Annie, smiling also. “You, too, Liza, right?”
“Well,” said Ms. Widmer again, “at least we’re all starting out equally exhausted. How about some coffee or tea or something to sustain us?”
Annie and I both said yes, and then, while Ms. Widmer went down to the kitchen, Ms. Stevenson sat there with us for a few painfully silent seconds, and then she went downstairs too.
“Oh, God,” Annie said when she’d gone. “This is going to be awful.”
The black cat came into the room, tail waving gently, and tried to nudge his brother off Annie’s lap. I found a catnip mouse under the coffee table and was just getting it for him when Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer came back upstairs with tea things on a tray and a big plate of cookies that none of us ate.
“What,” asked Ms. Stevenson abruptly when we’d each taken a cup of tea, “have you said to your parents?”
“Nothing,” we both said at the same time.
“Do your parents know—er—about you?”
We looked at each other. “Not really,” I said. “I mean, we haven’t told them or anything.”
“Once in a while we’ve gotten yelled at for coming home late or not calling,” said Annie, “and Liza’s father has said a couple of things about ‘exclusive friendships’ and things like that, but that’s about all.”
“They’re going to have to know,” Ms. Widmer said gently. “At least yours are, Liza. Mrs. Poindexter isn’t going to keep quiet about this.”
“It was wrong of you to use our house like that,” Ms. Stevenson said, putting her cup down. “You know that, I think. But—well, I guess one of the things I remembered last night, with Kah’s help”—she looked at Ms. Widmer—“is just how hard it is to be seventeen and in love, especially when you’re gay. I was too angry last night to think very clearly, but—well, I think I should tell you that despite all the things I said about trust, Ms. Widmer and I might very well have done the same thing when we were seventeen.”
“Especially,” said Ms. Widmer, “if we’d had a house at our disposal, which we didn’t.”
Annie’s eyes met mine, and then she looked at Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer and said, “You—you mean you’ve known each other that long?”
“Yes,” said Ms. Stevenson, “but that’s another story. I’m afraid that right now we have to deal with what’s going to happen next.” She patted her pockets as if looking for something. Ms. Widmer pointed to a pack of cigarettes lying on the coffee table; Ms. Stevenson reached for them and lit one. “As I see it,” she said, “we have two sets of problems. One is the accusation that’s going to be made against you two, which really just means you, Liza, since Annie’s not at Foster. That’s why you’d better decide pretty quickly what to say to your parents. And we also have the accusation that’s going to be made against us—against Kah and me.”
We went on for another hour or so, talking about it and trying to anticipate what was going to happen and trying also to figure out how best to handle it. I guess it helped; it made us feel a little better, anyway. But it didn’t do any actual good.
After we left Cobble Hill, Annie and I went to the Promenade and walked until it was time for Annie to go home.
“I think you should tell your parents, Liza,” she said.
“I know,” I said uncomfortably. “But how? I mean, what am I going to say? Sally Jarrell and Ms. Baxter caught me and Annie making love at Ms. Widmer’s and Ms. Stevenson’s house when we were supposed to be taking care of the cats?”
“If you jam your hands any deeper into your pockets,” said Annie quietly, stepping in front of me and pulling them out, “you won’t have any pockets. Look,” she said, facing me, “I don’t have any right to say anything, because there’s no real reason so far for me to tell my parents, and I don’t think I’m going to, in spite of what I said before. But …”
“Why not?” I interrupted. “Just why not?”
“Because I think it would hurt them,” Annie said. “I’ve thought about it now and I think it would hurt them.”
“It’ll hurt them to know you love me,” I said bitterly, turning my own pain onto her.
“No,” Annie said, “it might hurt them to know I’m gay. They like you, Liza, you know that; Nana loves you. And they understand about loving friends. But they wouldn’t understand about being gay; it’s just not part of their world.”
“So you’re going to spend your whole life hiding after all, right? Even after saying all that back at the house when we found the books?” I knew I was being rotten, but I couldn’t stop myself.
“I don’t know about my whole life,” said Annie angrily. “I just know about right now. Right now I’m not going to tell them. I don’t see why you can’t understand that, because you don’t seem to be going to tell your parents either.”
“But you want me to,” I said, trying to keep from shouting—there were other people on the Promenade as usual; an old man glanced at us curiously as he shuffled by. And then I said, the words surprising me and then almost as quickly not surprising me, “Look, maybe I don’t want to tell them till I’m really sure. That I’m gay, I mean.”
For a moment Annie stared at me. “Maybe that’s my reason too,” she said. “Maybe I’m not sure either.”
We stood there, not moving.
“Liza,” said Annie, “the only reason I said I thought you should tell your parents is because all hell’s going to break loose at Foster, and someone’s going to tell them anyway, so it might as well be you. But it’s really none of my business. Especially,” she added, “since all of a sudden neither of us is sure.” She turned and walked away, fast, toward Clark Street, as if she were heading for the subway.
All I could think of then was that Annie was walking away from me, angry, and that I couldn’t bear that. It hit me that I could probably bear anything in the world except her leaving, and I ran after her and put my hand on her shoulder to stop her. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Annie—please. I’m sorry. You’re my lover, for God’s sake; of course it’s your business. Everything about me is your business. Annie, I—I love you; it’s crazy, but that’s the one thing I am sure of. Maybe—well, maybe the other, being gay, having that—that label, just takes getting used to, but, Annie, I do love you.”
Annie gave me a kind of watery smile and we hugged each other right there on the Promenade. “I’m not used to having a lover yet,” I whispered into her hair. “I’m not used to someone else being part of me like this.”
“I know,” said Annie. “Neither am I.” She smiled and pushed me away a little, touching my nose with the end of her finger. “That’s the second time in about two seconds you’ve called me your lover. And the third time in two days. I like it.”
“Me, too,” I said.
“That must prove something,” Annie said.
And then we walked some more, wanting to hold hands but not daring to, in spite of the fact that we’d just hugged each other in full view of what seemed like half of Brooklyn.
We never did decide about my parents, and I realized when I got home that I couldn’t tell them with Chad around anyway, or didn’t want to, and he was around all evening. By the time we were all going to bed and I could have told them, I’d convinced myself that I might as well wait till the next day, to see what Mrs. Poindexter was actually going to do.
I didn’t have very long to wait. As soon as I walked in the front door, Ms. Baxter beckoned to me from her desk in the office.
I tried to face her as if I had nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about—but I needn’t have bothered, for she didn’t even look at me. “Mrs. Poindexter wants to see you,” she said grimly into the papers on her desk.
“Thank you,” I said.
She didn’t say “You’re welcome.”
I certainly wasn’t surprised that Mrs. Poindexter wanted to see me, although I hadn’t expected she’d get around to it quite so quickly. I had also expected anger from her, not what I found when I walked into her ugly brown office.
She was wearing black again, but this time without the lace. And she was slumped down in her chair—she usually carried herself so rigidly, sitting or standing, that Chad and I often joked about how she must have swallowed a yardstick as soon as she’d grown three feet tall. But that day her shoulders were hunched and her head was buried in her hands, and she didn’t look up when I came in.
I stood there for a minute, not knowing what to do. The only thing that moved in the whole room was the minute hand of the clock on the wall, and that moved so slowly it might just as well have been still.
Finally I said, “Mrs. Poindexter? You wanted to see me?”
Her shoulders gave a little quiver, as if she were sighing from someplace deep inside herself, and at last she looked up.
I was so shocked I sat down without waiting for her to invite me to. Her eyes were red around the edges, as if she’d been crying or not sleeping, and every wrinkle in her wrinkled face was deeper than before, as if someone had gone over each one with a pencil.
“Eliza,” she said, very softly, “Eliza, how could you? Your parents—the school! Oh,” she moaned, “how could you?”
“Mrs.—Poindexter,” I stammered stupidly, “I—I didn’t mean …”
She sighed again, audibly this time, shook her head, and reached for the Kleenex box on her desk so she could blow her nose.
“I don’t know where to begin,” she said. “I simply do not know where to begin. This school has nurtured you since you were a tiny child—a tiny child—how you can have gone so wrong, how you can be so—so ungrateful—it’s beyond me, Eliza, simply beyond me!”
“Ungrateful?” I said, bewildered. “Mrs. Poindexter—I—I’m not ungrateful. Foster’s done a lot for me and I—I’ve always loved it. I’m not ungrateful. I don’t understand what that’s got to do with—with anything.”
Mrs. Poindexter dropped her head into her hands again and her shoulders shook.
“Mrs. Poindexter, are you all right?”
“No,” she said, her head snapping up, “no, of course I’m not all right! How could I be, when Foster is not all right? You—those teachers—just when …” She put her hands flat on her desk as if to steady herself, and brought her voice down to its normal register again. “Eliza,” she said, “you are seventeen, aren’t you?”
“Quite old enough to know right from wrong—indeed, until now, you’ve shown a reasonable sense of morality, that stupid incident last fall notwithstanding. This may surprise you, but”—here she smiled ruefully—“I have even always felt a begrudging admiration for your stand on the reporting rule. Naturally, in my position, I have not been able to support you in that—and of course I have never been able to agree with your stand, because experience has taught me that most young people are not to be trusted. I have admired your idealism, however. But now you—you …”
Oh, God, I thought, why can’t she just yell at me?
“Eliza,” she said, looking out the window, “I met Henry Poindexter, my dear late husband, when I was seventeen. If it had not been for my strong religious upbringing and his, we would have—been weak enough to make a serious mistake within a few months of our meeting. Do you understand what I am talking about?”
I nodded again, surprised, trying not to smile nervously at the idea of there ever having been anything approaching passion in Mrs. Poindexter—even at the idea of her having been seventeen. Then I realized she couldn’t see me, so I said, “Yes.”
“So I understand the pull that—sex—can have on young and inexperienced—persons. I do not understand the—the pull of”—she finally turned and looked full at me—“abnormal sex, but I am of course aware of adolescent crushes and of adolescent experimentation as a prelude to normalcy. In your case, had I only known about your unwise and intense out-of-school friendship in time …”
I felt my whole body tightening. “Mrs. Poindexter,” I said, “it’s not …”
She cut me off. “Eliza,” she said almost gently, “I am going to have to suspend you, pending an expulsion hearing, of course. You know I have the authority to act without student council under extraordinary circumstances, which when you are calmer you will agree these are. I think you will understand that if it weren’t for the fund-raising campaign we might have been able to handle this more delicately—but if one whisper—one whisper—of this scandal goes outside these walls …” Her voice broke and she closed her eyes for a moment; then she pulled herself up and went on. “A public scandal,” she said, “would not only mean the end of Foster’s campaign, but the end of Foster as well.”
She looked at me severely, but I didn’t know what to say.
“And of course,” she went on, “you must be punished for using someone else’s home as a—for using someone else’s home in that way, no matter how much—encouragement you may have received from the owners …”
“But,” I said, horrified, “but Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer didn’t …”
She ignored me. She closed her eyes again and spoke quickly, as if she were reciting—as if she’d written out the words and memorized them the night before. “You understand,” she said mechanically, without even anger showing any more, “that it is impossible for you to continue as president of student council, and that it would be unwise and unhealthy for both you and the other students for you to come back to school until this matter has been resolved. Sally and Walt have requested that you be removed from all participation in the student fund drive …”
Words stuck in my throat; anger, tears.
She held up her hand; her eyes were open now. “Therefore, I am asking you to go immediately to your locker and pack up your books and other belongings; you will give the text of your speech to Sally, who will revise it if necessary and deliver it Friday at the rally, which you will under no circumstances attend. There will be a trustees’ hearing about your expulsion and about what notations will appear on your record—for, in fairness to the students and teachers at MIT, your—proclivities, if firmly established, which I cannot believe they are in one so young, should be known. In fairness to yourself, too, I daresay, to ensure that you will be encouraged to get professional help. You will be notified of the trustees’ hearing; you may attend and speak on your own behalf, and because this is so serious a matter, you may bring an attorney as well as, of course, your parents. The Board of Trustees will at that time make a decision specifically about notifying MIT. Eliza,” she said, “this is very much for your own good as well as for Foster’s. I do not expect you to see that now, or to see that it is difficult for me to act so firmly. But I have no choice, and someday you may even thank me. I sincerely hope so, not because I want thanks, but because I want to think that you will be—be healed, regain your moral sense, whatever is necessary to set you right again.” She reached for her telephone; oh, God, I thought, panicking, I should have told Mom and Dad last night! “I am now calling your parents, though it pains me to do so. I know it is my duty, and I pray that they can help you. And that you will see it is my intention to be absolutely fair.” She began dialing, and said, “You may go,” again not looking at me.
Mrs. Baxter glanced up as I came out of Mrs. Poindexter’s office and passed by the central office. When she looked down again, I noticed through my numbness that her lips were moving, as if in prayer.
Annie, what does being fair mean? I think they were trying to help me at school; I think even Mrs. Poindexter thought she was helping me, especially by talking about immorality. But what really is immorality? And what does helping someone really mean? Helping them to be like everyone else, or helping them to be themselves?
And doesn’t immorality mostly have to do with hurting people—if Sally had pierced people’s ears against their will, that would have been immoral, it seems to me, but doing it the way she did was just plain foolish. Using Ms. Stevenson’s and Ms. Widmer’s house without permission—that hurt them and was immoral as well as sneaky—but—
Liza stood; she crumpled what she’d written so far to Annie—but then smoothed it out again and hid it under the blotter on her desk.
But, she thought, looking out again at the wet snow, what we used the house for—was that immoral, too?
I’ve been saying yes, so far, because of the hurt it caused …
Before I went home that morning, I went down to the basement to clean out my locker. Luckily not too many kids were free first period. Still, there were a couple hanging around down there—including Walt. I tried to avoid him, but he gave me a kind of obscene grin, as if, even though he didn’t want me in the campaign, he now counted me as one of the guys; I could almost imagine him asking me how Annie was in bed. Then, when I thought a couple of other kids were looking at me funny too, I told myself I was just being paranoid, that Walt had probably grinned out of embarrassment only.
But then when I got to my locker and opened it a note fell out that had obviously been slipped in through the crack.
“LIZA LESIE,” it said.
I didn’t get home till halfway through the morning because I’d been walking on the Promenade to put off facing Mom.
As soon as I got in the door, I could see she had been crying. But she was really great to me, there’s no question. She tried quickly to put her face back together again, and she put her arms around me right at the door, without saying anything, and held me for a long time. Then she pulled me inside, sat us both down on the sofa, and said, “Honey, honey, it’ll be okay. Someday it’ll be okay, believe me.”
I put my head down in her lap and for a while she just smoothed my hair. But then she put her hand under my chin and gently lifted me up. “Liza,” she said, “I know what it’s like to have no close friends and then suddenly to have one—it happened to me, too, when I was a little younger than you. Her name was June, and she was so beautiful I had to remind myself not to stare at her sometimes. We loved each other very much, the way you and Annie do—maybe not quite so intensely or quite so—so exclusively, but very much. There was one night …” Mom looked away, blushing a little, then said shyly, “There was one night when June and I slept in the same bed. At her house, it was. And we—we kissed each other. And then for a while we pretended one of us was a boy—until it got so—so silly and we got so giggly we stopped. Honey, lots of girls do that kind of thing. Boys, too. Maybe boys more than girls. It doesn’t mean anything unless—well, I don’t suppose I have to draw any pictures, you’re nearly grown up. But—what I think I’m trying to say is that feelings—sexual feelings—can be all mixed up at your age. That’s normal. And it’s normal to experiment …”
I couldn’t help it; I knew I had to leave or blurt out angry words I’d be sorry for later. She was making it impossible, impossible for me to tell the truth. I wasn’t sure I wanted to anyway, but how could I even think of it now?
I wrenched myself away from her and ran into the bathroom, where I let the cold water flow till it was nearly ice, and splashed it on my face over and over again. I tried to think; I tried so hard to think—but there was only one word in my mind and that word was “Annie.”
When I went back into the living room, Mom was standing at the window looking out at the new leaves on the gingko tree outside the window. “Look,” she said, pointing to a small gray bird darting among the branches. “I think she’s building a nest.” She turned to face me, and put her hands on my shoulders. “Liza,” she said, looking into my eyes, “I want you to tell me the truth, not because I want to pry, but because I have to know. This could get very unpleasant—you know that. We can’t fight it with lies, honey. Now—have you and Annie—done any more than the usual—experimenting is, I know, a bad word, but I think you know what I mean. Has there been any more than that between you—more than what I told you was between me and June?”
Her eyes were somber; there was fear in them, such fear and such pain, and such love as well, that—I’m not proud of it, I make no excuses—I lied to her.
“No, Mom,” I said, trying to look back at her calmly. “No, there hasn’t.”
The relief on Mom’s face was almost physical. I hadn’t been aware that she’d looked older when I’d first come in, but now she looked herself again. She even seemed a little cheerful, at least in comparison with before, and she patted my shoulder, saying, “Well, then. Now let’s try to talk about what really did happen, and about why Ms. Baxter and Sally misinterpreted whatever it was that they saw …”
It was a good thing in a way that Dad came in soon after that, because I couldn’t concentrate on Mom’s questions. All I could do was say over and over in my mind: You lied to her. You lied to your own mother for the first time in your life. You lied …
When Dad came in—Mom had called him at the office, I found out later, and he’d come home in a cab, not even waiting for the subway—when Dad came in, his face was gray.
Mom got up from the sofa immediately—I couldn’t move—and said, “It’s all right, George. Liza isn’t sure why Ms. Baxter and Sally got so mixed up, but it was all a terrible mistake. I imagine that both Ms. Baxter and Mrs. Poindexter overreacted, especially Mrs. Poindexter—you know how old she’s getting, and the campaign is so …”
But I could see right away that Dad wasn’t paying any attention to that; he wasn’t even hearing it. Mom sat back down on the sofa next to me and Dad looked at me, right at me, with his honest brown eyes and said, “Liza?”—and, oh, God, I said, “Dad—can I get you a drink?”
“No thanks,” he said, and he went into the kitchen himself and made drinks for him and Mom.
“Look,” Dad said carefully, sitting down in his big chair, “this is hard to say. I don’t even know how to begin to approach this, but I—first of all, I want you to know that I’ll go along with whatever you decide to do; Liza, I’ll support you, whatever’s true. You’re my daughter—I kept saying that to myself over and over in the cab on the way home: She’s my daughter, my …”
“George …” Mom began, but he ignored her.
“You’re my daughter,” he said again. “I love you. That’s the main thing, Liza, always.” He smiled weakly. “Ear piercing and all.” His smile faded. “But I have to tell you, Liza—and I’ve said even less to your mother about this than I’ve said to you, except when you’ve been late—that as much as I like your friend Annie and admire her singing voice—fond of her as I am, I haven’t been blind to how intense you are about her, how intense you both are …”
My stomach felt as if icicles were forming in it.
“George,” Mom said again—she had taken only one small sip of her drink; she was holding it as if she’d forgotten it and any moment it would slip out of her hand, unnoticed. “George, adolescent friendships are like that—intense—beautiful.” She put her arm around me. “Don’t spoil it, don’t. This is awful for Liza, for all of us; it must be awful for poor Annie, too. And think of Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer.”
“Yes,” said my father a little grimly, “think of Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer.”
My mother looked surprised; the icicles in my stomach extended slowly to the rest of my body.
“I’ve always wondered about those two,” Dad said. Then he slammed his drink down. “Oh, look,” he said, “what difference does it make if a couple of teachers at Foster are lesbians? Those two are damn good teachers and good people, too, as far as I know. Ms. Widmer especially—look at the poems Chad’s written this year, look at how good Liza suddenly got in English. The hell with anything else. I don’t care about their private lives, about anyone’s, at least I …” He picked up his drink again and took a long swallow. “Liza, damn it, I always thought I was—well, okay about things like homosexuality. But now when I find out that my own daughter might be …”
“She’s not, she told me she and Annie are friends only,” Mom insisted.
I wanted to tell Dad then; I wanted to tell him so much I was already forming the words. And if I hadn’t already lied to Mom, if we’d been alone then, I think I would have.
“Liza,” my father said, “I told you I’d support you and I will. And right now I can see we’re all too upset to discuss this very much more, so in a minute or two I’m going to take you and your mother and me out to lunch. But, honey, I know it’s not fashionable to say this, but—well, maybe it’s just that I love your mother so much and you and Chad so much that I have to say to you I’ve never thought gay people can be very happy—no children, for one thing, no real family life. Honey, you are probably going to be a damn good architect—but I want you to be happy in other ways, too, as your mother is—to have a husband and children. I know you can do both …”
I am happy, I tried to tell him with my eyes. I’m happy with Annie; she and my work are all I’ll ever need; she’s happy, too—we both were till this happened …
We had a long, large lunch, trying to be cheerful and talking about everything except what had happened. Then my mother took me shopping, saying we might as well use the time to start buying me clothes for MIT. But really I think she took me so Dad would be the only one there when Chad came home from school.
On the way back to the apartment, Mom and I stopped at the fish store and she bought swordfish, which I love, and she cooked all my favorite things that night, as if it were my birthday. But it was a tense meal anyhow, with Chad speaking only when somebody else talked to him—he wouldn’t meet my eyes, even when he and I were talking, which wasn’t often.
After dinner I called Sally. I didn’t know quite what I was going to say—something like I’m sorry it got to you the way it did. But she hung up on me.
Later that night, when Annie called, I was so worked up that all I could do on the phone with her was cry. So she called back later and talked to Mom, who said yes, I’d be okay, and we’d all get through this and things like that. I imagine it wasn’t very reassuring.
The next morning when I woke up, the sun was shining in underneath my window shade, and for a second, just for a second, everything was all right. I’d been dreaming—a wonderful dream about living with Annie—and when I woke up, I think I really expected to see her beside me. But of course she wasn’t there. And then everything came crashing in again—Sally’s shocked face, Chad’s, Mom’s, Dad’s—and it was as if the air were heavy, pressing down on me and making it hard to breathe. I tried to imagine what it would be like if people always reacted to Annie and me that way—being hurt by us, or pitying us; worrying about us, or feeling threatened—even laughing at us. It didn’t make any sense and it was unfair, but it was also awful.
I could hear Mom moving around the apartment, and I didn’t want to see her, so I just lay in bed for a while, watching the sun flicker under the shade and trying not to think any more. But then I remembered I still had to give Sally my speech, so I got up and dressed, wanting to get it over with as soon as I could.
Before I even got to Sally—I decided to wait for her outside school—I passed two juniors in front of the main building, and one of them was saying something like, “I’d rather have Ms. Widmer any day than a dried-up old substitute.” The other one said, “Yeah. But that one they got to teach art—she’s not so bad. I mean, at least she’s young.”
I didn’t hear much more; either I turned it off or they stopped talking. Of course, I told myself, since I’m suspended, Ms. Widmer and Ms. Stevenson will have been suspended, too. If I’m having a hearing, so will they, probably.
Then there was Sally. It’s funny, I remember it in outline form, sort of, with Sally and me like shadow figures, facing each other on the steps. I said “Hi,” or something equally noncommittal, but Sally just stared at me, so I said, stiffly, “Here’s the speech. I’m sorry I forgot it yesterday. I’ll help you rewrite it if you want.”
It was as if she hadn’t heard me. She was still staring at me, shaking her head and ignoring the speech, which I was still holding out to her. “How could you?” she said very softly. “How could you—with a girl? I just can’t believe … I mean, think if someone else had found out, someone outside. Walt said it could kill the campaign. People should control themselves if they—if they feel that way. It’s—it’s so disgusting.”
I’d been wanting again to tell her that I was sorry she’d been so upset, but now I was too angry. “It doesn’t have anything to do with you, Sally,” I heard myself saying. “You don’t have to be disgusted.”
But she was still shaking her head. “Oh, yes, it does have to do with me,” she said. “Everything a person does has an effect on others. Everything. Look at the ear piercing.”
I tried to tell her that the two things were different, that piercing ears wasn’t the same as loving someone, and that she was making all the wrong connections.
But as I pushed my speech into her hands she said, “Loving! Lusting, you mean. Read your Bible, Liza. Ms. Baxter showed me it’s even mentioned there. Read Leviticus, read Romans 1:26.”
I don’t know what I said then. Maybe I didn’t say anything. I’m not sure I was able to think any more.
I do remember, though, that I went home and read Leviticus and Romans, and cried again.