Read Quite an Undertaking - Devon's Story Online

Authors: Barbara Clanton

Tags: #Coming of Age, #Fiction, #Lesbian, #General

Quite an Undertaking - Devon's Story (3 page)

BOOK: Quite an Undertaking - Devon's Story
8.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

As Missy and I walked back to the car, I tried to find Rebecca without making it look obvious. I stopped and mumbled something to Missy about having to tie my shoe. Missy kept walking toward the car when I knelt down. I picked my head up and gulped when I saw Rebecca heading right for me with a bouquet of carnations in her arms. I jumped up leaving my shoelace undone. I smoothed my hair back and then felt like an idiot.

Rebecca handed the flower arrangement to me. “These are the last of them.”

I took the colorful flowers. “Carnations were my grandma’s favorite.”


I nodded.

She smiled at me in that sympathetic way that made my stomach clench. I knew I should say something, but I couldn’t get my brain in gear, so I looked at my shoes while the silence between us grew to awkward proportions.

Rebecca spoke first. “Well, I guess I’ll see you at school.” She turned to go.

“Okay.” I choked out, but then my brain finally engaged, and I called after her, “Rebecca?”

She turned. “Yeah?”

“Can I get the French notes from you tomorrow?”

Oui, naturellement

Merci beaucoup
. Oh, and thanks for the breathing lessons, too.”

Her eyes lit up like the fourth of July. “No problem, Devon. I’ve had a little experience.” She gestured toward the hearse.

“Yeah, I guess you have.”

“I have to finish up here, but I’ll see you in French tomorrow, okay?”

The rest of the world disappeared at that moment and through my grief, I allowed myself a moment of selfishness to drink in her soft brown eyes. They were smiling at me—okay, maybe from sympathy, but still—her eyes were smiling at

I swallowed hard. “
Oui, oui, mademoiselle. À demain
.” See you tomorrow, for sure. French had just become my favorite class. There was no way I was going to ask my mom if I could stay home because out of the shadow of my Grandma’s death a tiny flame had ignited in my heart.



Chapter Two



Back At School



THE WORDS ON the computer screen swam in front of my eyes. Even though I had gone to bed right after the funeral, I didn’t sleep much, and now I could hardly keep my eyes open. I looked out the classroom window over the top of my computer onto the drizzly cold October Friday.

In the reflection of the window, I watched Mrs. Gibson, my journalism teacher, lean over Mike Reynolds’ shoulder and point at something on his computer screen. Apparently, Mike didn’t know how to structure a newspaper article. The long chain from Mrs. Gibson’s bifocals rested on his shoulder as she reminded him patiently, in her impatient way, about putting the attention grabbing details right in the first paragraph. She told him not to give away the whole farm in the first paragraph, but just enough to hook the reader. Evidently, Mrs. Gibson was in another one of her moods where her students couldn’t do anything right.

Both Mike and I had taken Journalism I the year before as sophomores, and we knew how to structure an article. As boys’ sports editor how could Mike not know how to put a story together? I smiled to myself because with his short blonde crew cut, he looked like a little boy getting scolded.

He nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

I liked Mike, but not in that way. I think he liked me, too, but in that way. A lot of girls would probably go for his lean runner’s body, but not me. After all, I hadn’t been straight since eighth grade, and I probably wasn’t even straight then, I just hadn’t figured it out yet.

All the journalism courses were geared toward producing the bimonthly student newspaper—the Grasse River High School Gazette. The September/October issue had just come out, and we were currently working on the November/ December issue. Of course, my article on the environment was late since it had been due two days ago, the day of Grandma’s wake.

I tried, once again, to focus on the words on my computer screen. My dad’s company, Alum Castings, was one of the biggest employers in this part of northern New York, and they had begun a series of environmental projects. One of the projects—the one I was trying to write about—proposed to replant thousands of black ash trees in the wetlands. This was the same article I’d been working on the Sunday Grandma died. No wonder I couldn’t finish it. I closed my eyes and gave up with a sigh.

I opened my eyes when I heard Mrs. Gibson approaching. My fingers hit the keyboard, and I started typing about the benefits of the Black Ash tree on the Northern New York environment. I’d go back and fix it later, but I had to look busy. Mrs. Gibson stood right behind me as my fingers typed away furiously.

“Devon,” she said in her shrill voice, “I see you’re busy, but let me interrupt you for a second.”

“Okay.” I kept my eyes on the screen for a moment more and finished my made up sentence. I hit the period on the keyboard hard as if to finish an important thought and then swiveled in my chair to give her my full attention.

“I know you’ve been out for a few days—sorry for your loss—and I’ll let you settle in today, but on Monday we need to talk about your future with the newspaper. Okay?”

My future? What did she mean by that?
I simply said, “Okay.”

“Okay,” she repeated and headed to her next victim.

I had never been late with an article before. In fact, I usually turned them in early. How could she question my future with the newspaper? Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mike watching me. His closed-lipped smile and sympathetic puppy dog eyes were more than I could take at that moment, so I turned away and rubbed the bridge of my nose. I wanted to go home, but knew I couldn’t because I had to survive long enough to make it to my eighth period French class. That’s where Rebecca would be.



THE DRIZZLING RAIN had pretty much stopped by lunchtime, so Gail and I commandeered one of the six round lunch tables under the overhang outside. Seniors were allowed to leave campus for lunch, so by default the cafeteria courtyard became the juniors’ unofficial domain. The fenced in area constantly reminded us of our lower status, but I didn’t care. Hanging out there made us feel like the top dogs of the school for a while.

I had already tackled the semi-long line and gotten my usual turkey sandwich and fruit cup. Most of the other kids got french fries or chips, but greasy food never sat well on my stomach, so I always tried for something healthier. Missy would have approved because ditching the greasy stuff helped keep my acne under control.

Gail sat down next to me and opened her brown bag lunch. Gail Marsters had been my best friend ever since the fourth grade when we were in Mrs. Johnson’s class together. Old Mrs. Johnson assigned us as reading partners and ever since then we’d been as thick as thieves. At least that’s how my mom referred to us. In middle school, Gail weighed all of ninety pounds, so I used to think I was fat at a hundred and ten. Missy helped me understand that Gail and I had different body types, but I took up jogging just to be sure. Running always made me feel good. Gail and I practically shared the same kind of hair, too. Plain old brown and shoulder length, but Gail managed to make her hair look good with barrettes and clips and bands and curling irons. I couldn’t be bothered with that stuff, except when I went running. That’s when I’d throw a rubber band around my hair or put on my Plattsburgh Cardinals baseball hat.

Gail pulled out a sandwich from her paper bag and sighed.

I looked over. Peanut butter and jelly. “Did your brother make the lunches again?”

“Pfft,” she spat. “I can’t wait until it’s my turn. Oh well. Trade?”

“No way. Maybe when you have tuna fish or roast beef.” I smiled at her, and she smiled back in that best friend sort of way. The smile that said we were in this together, through thick and thin.

Gail held my gaze a bit longer than usual. Uh oh, something was up. Before I could ask where her boyfriend Travis was, she asked me softly, “So how’d it go yesterday?”

Yesterday. The funeral. It came flooding back so fast that my heart broke all over again before I could stop it. I closed my eyes and looked away. Before I let myself get too choked up, I muttered, “It went okay, as far as those things go.”

“Yeah, I know.” She rubbed my back over my jean jacket. “I’m sorry I couldn’t go. I wanted to be there, you know that, right? My mom wanted me in school.” She continued to rub my jean jacket.

“I know.” I did know. I pushed my lunch toward her. Food was kind of turning my stomach at that point, anyway. She put her PB & J in front of me without a word. We’d been trading lunches since fourth grade, so words weren’t necessary.

Travis, Gail’s boyfriend of about three months, came bounding up to the table out of breath. He was a definite hottie. He kept his short black hair neat and trimmed, unlike most of the other guys around school that had never seen a comb.

Gail’s face lit up when she saw him. He threw his backpack on the gravel and sat down. It wasn’t hard to tell that they really liked each other. He leaned over for a kiss that she gave freely. I felt a little nosy watching them, so I looked away.

I looked out past the maple trees in the courtyard, past the cars in the senior parking lot, and past the tall pine trees separating the school’s property from the neighborhood behind. Storm clouds hurried past us in the dark sky on their way toward Canada.

An elbow jammed into my side and jolted me out of my cloud gazing. “Hey.” I scowled at Gail. She pointed to Travis.

Travis said, “Hey, Devon, sorry about your grandma. Funerals suck, don’t they?”

I laughed. “Yeah, they do.” Bless Travis for knowing the right thing to say. “Thanks,” I added.

I looked back to the changing sky and inhaled the scent of the damp maple leaves carpeting the courtyard. The faint whiff of pine made me wonder if my grandma was up there in that tumultuous sky. Was she with Grandpa and Great Aunt Bertie? I felt the now-familiar sting of tears in my eyes and was amazed that I had any more to give. My chest tightened, and I knew this could go one of two ways. I might be able to sit here crying quietly, or I might have another complete meltdown like the one I’d had at the funeral home.

I used the clean napkin from Gail’s lunch to wipe at my nose when all of a sudden loud voices interrupted my misery. To my amazement, Rebecca burst into the courtyard with her friends. One of her friends, Jessie something-or-other, had hundreds of tiny braids in her hair. I would have to ask Missy, but I think they were called cornrows or something. The braids hung down almost to her shoulders and looked nice against her white shirt and dark skin. I didn’t know a lot about Jessie, but I did know two things. She played on the girls’ basketball team, and I’d never seen her smile. I was pretty sure that Rebecca’s other friend, whose name I couldn’t remember, played on the basketball team, too.

Watching Rebecca with her friends lifted me out of my funk a little. As I thought about it, I realized that those three hung out together all the time at lunch like me and Gail and Travis. I never realized it, but all the black kids seemed to hang out in one big group. Jessie’s story must have been mesmerizing because Rebecca didn’t see me at all, so I took that opportunity to watch her. I tried not to make it obvious, like I was a stalker-chick or something. Her skin was silky smooth and her eyes were bright and playful. She wore her hair pulled back in that cool-looking bun that her mother had worn at the wake, but Rebecca had a pencil in it in instead of a chopstick. The exposed curve of her neck definitely had my attention. Yeah, maybe I was a stalker. She had on black capri pants and tiny shoes that looked like dancer’s shoes or something. I didn’t think Rebecca played on the basketball team, but the purple and white Grasse River girls’ basketball sweatshirt she wore made me wonder.

I took a deep breath when reality came waltzing in again uninvited. We buried Grandma yesterday. I looked down at the uneaten PB & J sandwich in front of me and tried to swallow the enormous lump growing in my throat. I wished the stupid bell would ring, so I could go to class and have something else to think about. I looked up hoping to catch another glimpse of Rebecca, and to my surprise, she was staring right at me. I gulped. Her smile brightened my heart while a tremor traveled down to my toes and back up again. I smiled back. I couldn’t help it.

Rebecca mouthed to me, “Are you okay?”

I shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes.

She nodded in sympathy and mouthed the word, “Breathe.”

I nodded and couldn’t help grinning. I mouthed, “Thank you” to her across the courtyard and this time her smile got bigger.

I wanted to get up and talk to her, but Rebecca looked away just as Jessie turned back toward her. I got the distinct feeling that she didn’t want Jessie to see her talking to me. As their conversation continued, I realized I must have been staring at them because Jessie challenged me with her eyes as if warning me to mind my own business. I looked away quickly, sure she had been able to read my thoughts.

Gail nudged me in the side again. We were going to have to talk about all this side-nudging soon.

“Who’s that?” She nodded her head toward Rebecca.

“Oh, she’s—her family owns the funeral home, and she helped me get through it yesterday.”

“That was nice of her.”

Gail and I were as close as you could get, except when it came to certain things. Certain things like the fact that Gail would rather go out with somebody named Travis or Joe or Bob while I would rather go out with somebody named Rebecca or Marcy or Susan, but Gail did not know this, and I wasn’t sure I was ever going to tell her.



I LAY ON my bed throwing Seymour, my stuffed teddy bear, into the air and catching him. I’m sure he didn’t appreciate it, but throwing him around helped me chill out after the longest day of school ever. It had taken forever for eighth period French to arrive, but the wait was worth it the second Rebecca made her way to my desk in the back of the room and handed me the notes from the two days I’d missed. The class started, so I couldn’t talk to her, but I practically held my breath until the class ended. When the bell rang to end the period, I jammed my books into my backpack and looked up. My heart froze when I saw that she was already on her way out the door. At least she turned around when she got to the door and said, “See ya later, Devon.”

BOOK: Quite an Undertaking - Devon's Story
8.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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