Authors: Julie Anne Peters
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Issues, #Adolescence, #Dating & Sex, #Homosexuality
There was a change in the air between us, a drop in temperatrue.
“Come on, Leah.” Kirsten shoved the notebook back into her purse and grabbed Leah’s sweater sleeve. "We were right the first time.”
As Kirsten maneuvered her through the crowd, Leah glanced back over her shoulder and found my eyes. Call me, she mimed, an invisible phone to her ear.
I pretended I didn’t see.
Cece was waiting, as usual, in the back doorway at Hott ‘N Tott. I drove up and idled, but she motioned me to come inside. Not our usual routine. I parked in the alley next to her Neon and locked the Jeep. Then remembered my duffel and retrieved it from the back.
She embraced me under the security light. Reaching back, she opened the door and pulled me inside. “We have until four thirty,” she said. “That’s when the morning crew comes in to start frying. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner.”
She'd been busy. Near the proofing racks Cece had set up a small table with a collection of candles. A portable CD player was on and this dreamy, instrumental music drifted around the room. It smelled like cinnamon and nutmeg and vanilla. Like her. Near the table Cece had zipped together two sleeping bags and added a pillow.
I looked at her and smiled. She took my hand and led me down. "I have a present for you,” she said, kneeling on the sleeping bags.
“Another one?” I knelt in front of her. “You already gave me the flowers. It’s my turn.”
“Here.” She held out a rectangular object. My eyes had to adjust to the flickering candlelight. “What is it?” I turned it over. No label.
“It’s a demo tape of Pus. Since you like them so much.”
"I love to make you laugh.” Her lip cricked. "Here’s the real present." She reached behind her under the pillow and pulled out a tiny box. It was wrapped in red foil with a mini silver bow at tacked.
“Open it,” she demanded.
As I removed the paper, she added, “I know you don't wear jewelry, but I thought…” She stopped and bit her lip. I lifted the top of the box to find a thin, gold chain. A charm hung from it. “It’s an ankle chain," Cece said, taking it from me. “This is the Venus symbol, two females linked together for all eternity.”
I examined it up close. "It’s gorgeous.”
“You don't have to wear it.”
“Of course I’m going to wear it. Here, put it on me.”
She motioned for me to give her my ankle, so I sat back and extended my legs. She removed my shoes and socks. Around the left ankle, she clasped the chain. I'd never take it off. Never. I pushed up to my knees. “I have a present for you too.”
Her eyes lit up. I fumbled for my bag, opened it, and withdrew the page. "I had to do it from memory, since I don’t have a picture. It’s not exactly right." I handed it to her.
Her mouth fell open. She blinked and said, “Is this me?”
"No, it’s this strange girl who keeps showing up in my dreams." I widened my eyes at her.
Her expression didn’t change as she examined the drawing. “Is this how you see me? I mean, I’m beautiful."
I reached forward and held her face gently between my hands. “Yes, you are.”
She flung her arms around me, clutching the portrait behind my back. “Oh, Holland. I love you so much," she said.
“I love you too,” I told her. "With all my heart.”
To look at me in the mirror, you think I was the same Holland Jadger I’d always been. But I wasn’t the same. I’d discovered this part of myself at the center of my being that made me feel real alive. More aware of where I stood in relationship to others. To Cece, of course, but also to the rest of the world. Aware of what the world thought of me, what they could do to me.
Cece was right – it suddenly hit me how vulnerable I was. Because it mattered what people thought.
At my carrel in the back of the media center, I watched through the window a car packed with people careen around the corner and speed off. Probably to McDonald's or Taco Bell. I closed my eyes and sighed. My self-imposed isolation was beginning to wear.
I missed my friends. Leah, Kirsten, even Seth. I longed for the chatter, the laughter. I missed going out to lunch, going skating, going anywhere in a group. Not that Cece didn't fulfill my needs. She did. I'd just always had more people in my life.
“Are you saving this?”
I whipped my head around. “Leah, hi.” I brightened. “No. Sit." I scooted around and motioned to the chair beside me at the adjoining Carrel.
She eased into it. “What’s going on with you?” she asked.
Blood rushed to my face. "What do you mean?” I ducked my head, faking an attempt to find my place in
The Canterbury Bless
“I’ve called you four times this week and you’ve never called back. What did I do? Why are you mad at me?"
She held my eyes. There was pain in hers.
"Leah, you didn’t do anything. I’m not mad at you. I swear.” I crossed my heart twice, the way we used to when we were kids.
Leah studied me for a prolonged moment. "We never see you anymore. I never see you. It’s like you dropped off the face of the earth. You stopped eating lunch with us and you never come over to my house or call me.”
“I just have so much to do," I told her. “Too much.” To prove it, I dumped my backpack out on the study carrel. “I’m so over extended this semester, it’s insane.”
Leah probed my face. I couldn't even hold her eyes. In a lowered voice, she asked, “Do you want to talk about it, Holland? Because, you know, I’m your friend no matter what. You can tell me anything.”
A spike of fear lodged in my spine. She wasn't referring to Seth. She knew. Did he tell her? Did Faith? Was it my imagination running wild? Why did it scare me so much that Leah might know?
More than anything I wanted to tell Leah. My heart was ready to explode with the love I felt for Cece. But I couldn’t. Wouldn’t. “There’s nothing to tell.” I faked a cheery grin and shrugged.
“Okay, fine." Leah stood to leave.
She slung her purse over her shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” I said at her back, removing my glasses and rubbing my eyes. “It’s not you. It’s me. I… just can’t."
She turned around. “We're best friends, Holland. You can tell me anything, anything at all, and I’ll still love you.”
Tears welled in my eyes. It wasn’t that. I twisted away to the window. It wasn't that I didn’t trust her.
I reined in my imminent meltdown. "lʼlI call you tonight. Okay?" I swiveled back and smiled. "I promise. As soon as I get home.”
Her eyes warmed to me. “Okay. I’ll be there. I’ll be waiting.”
As I watched her exit through the media center’s double doors, I acknowledged the lie. I wouldn't call Leah. I couldn’t. Because it we did start to talk, I didn’t trust myself to keep the promise I’d made to Cece.
The weather was unseasonably warm for the first week in March. Judy opened the playground at Children's Cottage, and when I arrived all the kids from Dinosaur Digs swarmed me. “Miss Holland, come watch me slide,” Courtney said, tugging on my hand. "No,” Kevin cried, yanking my other hand. “Sheʼs playing with me in the sand.”
“Whoa, chill. I’ll play with everyone." I crossed my eyes at Judy and she chuckled.
After making the rounds, I perched on the edge of the turtle sandbox, soaking up the sun, basking in the glow of life. A blood curdling scream at the slide shattered my reverie. Why do little kids always have to scream? I wondered, smiling to myself. Because they loved the sound of their own voices. I loved the sounds of their voices. A sudden surge of grief seized me. I might never have kids.
This pain ripped through my core. Kids. What about kids?
There were ways, I supposed. Weren’t there? Adoption. Could we adopt? I didn’t even know. Artificial insemination. Implant sperm in your body from some guy you don’t even know? Ick. It almost made me wish I’d gotten pregnant with Seth. He’d be a great father.
Maybe I could ask Seth to…
No. What was I thinking? I'd be using him. As soon as I got pregnant, Iʼd be back with Cece. Iʼd want us to raise our children together.
What if I never had children?
“Miss Holland, you're squishing me.”
I jarred to life, releasing my grip on Courtney. I wasn’t even aware I’d been holding her. Reluctantly, I let her go.
She didn’t manage it often, being nocturnal, but one morning Cece showed up at the pool. I was just finishing a lap of backstrokes when I sensed her presence. She sat at the edge, elbows on knees, clutching a coffee between both hands. “What I do for love.” she said when I touched in.
I splashed her. She set down her cup and dunked me under. The chase continued to the locker room, where I caught her and pinned her against the wall. Collected my winnings.
I snagged a towel and snapped her with it before heading to the showers. As I lathered my hair, I felt a chill prickle my skin. I opened my eyes.
Cece stood there, naked.
My breath caught. “What are you doing?”
“Washing your hair.” She took over.
We started giggling and soaping each other and not giggling as much, when I heard, “Holland, is that you?”
I clapped a hand over Cece’s mouth. "Uh, yeah," I called out.
"It’s Bonnie I Lucas,” she said, her voice echoing from the sink area.
"Oh, hi, Mrs. Lucas.” I grimaced at Cece. She peeled my fused fingers off her face.
“Your mom told me that Vassar and Brown turned you down. I’m really sorry.”
"No big deal,” I said. It was actually a relief, since it got Mom off my back for a while.
"They're hard schools to get into. Anyway, it’s their loss.”
"Right. Thanks." Leave, I prayed. Please leave.
“You know, you could always try to transfer next year.”
"That’s a good idea?” I closed my eyes. Cece was doing things to me with the bar of soap that was making it impossible to carry on a conversation.
Mrs. Lucas said, "Would you like me to pick you up for the governor’s dinner on Saturday?”
Was that Saturday? I’d decided to skip it, feign terminal illness if Mom asked. “No,” I said, my breathlessness betraying me. “I’ll just meet you there" My knees began to buckle.
“So, what other colleges did you apply to?”
God. l grabbed Cece’s wrist. “I don’t remember.” The water suddenly spurt icicle cold. I wrenched off the faucets, still heaving, and steadied myself against Cece. Whispered in her ear, "Stay here." I pulled down my towel and wrapped it around me. Stepped out.
As I passed behind her, Mrs. Lucas eyed me through the mirror. Blotting her lipstick, she said, “You’ll let me know as soon as you decide where you're going, won’t you?”
“Definitely.” I forced a smile and padded to the lockers.
Mrs. Lucas trailed after me. Her purse sat open on the bench and she dropped her lipstick tube inside. “I stopped by your house yesterday,” she said. "Hannah’s getting so big."
“I know." I smiled again.
We didn’t speak while Mrs. Lucas folded and packed her sweats into her carry-aIl. That was a mistake; I should’ve kept up the babble. Cece emerged from the showers, tucking in a towel sarong. She skidded to a stop on the tiles when she spotted Mrs. Lucas. Cece’s panicked eyes darted back and forth, trying to figure out what to do. What could she do? She scurried over and plucked her bra and jeans and T-shirt off the top of our combined stack of clothes, muttering, “Excuse me.” Her eyes avoided mine as she circled the bank of lockers to the other side.
Even without my glasses, I caught the full impact of Mrs. Lucas’s reaction. She didn’t say a word, just clasped her purse and left. Cece’s tiny voice echoed over the lockers, “Oops."
All day long I worried about it. Was Mrs. Lucas up in her office calling Mom? What would she tell her? What would Mom say?
I should’ve told Mom. She shouldn't have to hear it from Bonnie Lucas; shouldn’t have to hear it from anyone but me.
After school I bumped into Kirsten coming out of the restroom as I was going in. "Hey, Kirs," I said.
She scanned the immediate area. Her eyes stopped on me. "Oh. You talking to me?" She palmed her chest. "I thought I heard my name. But that wouldn't be
I huffed a little. “Iʼm sorry I havenʼt called.”
"I guess you've been busy. Having a gay old time, I hear.”
My heart stopped. Even it I could’ve found my voice, I’m not sure what I would’ve said. My eyes left her face and grazed the floor. No! It was an admission of guilt, and I wasn't guilty of any thing. I raised my head to speak, but Kirsten beat me to it. “I don't believe you," she said. “I guess we know now why you were so hyped about that club.”
I felt like crawling into a hole. Why? I hadn’t done anything wrong. “Drop it, Kirsten," I managed to rasp. “It’s none of your business.”
She exaggerated a smile. “Well, I just might have to make it my business." She turned and strutted off.
What did that mean? Was that a threat? What could she do? She scared me.
I stalled around at Children's Cottage as long as possible, neatening bookshelves and stacking chairs. What was waiting for me at home? I wondered. I imagined Mom’s we-need-to-have-a-serious-talk voice greeting me.
What greeted me was an empty house. There was a note on the fridge:
We're over at Neal's folks'. They wanted to get all the grandkids together for a family portrait.
Grandkids. Which, of course, didn't include me. She'd drawn a heart, and next to it:
P.S. I left you fried chicken in the over.
That didn’t sound ominous.
When she get home an hour later, she stopped in to ask how my day was. "Good," I told her. She kissed the top of my head and left.
Maybe Mrs. Lucas hadn't interpreted what she’d witnessed the way I’d feared. Maybe Kirsten was just venting. I worried about it for a couple of days, and when nothing happened, I figured I’d gotten a reprieve.
Then suddenly, at school, everyone knew. Nobody actually confronted me, or said anything. But when I walked down the halls, it felt as if people could see it on me — a brand, or a mark, or a flashing red "L” on my chest. Their eyes lingered a little too long, and I could sense them judging me. Casting me out. The worst part was, I couldn’t even defend myself. I wanted to scream, “Stop it! Stop looking at me. I’m still the same person. You know in, you voted for me. It’s me, Holland. I haven’t changed."