Read The Trouble with Emily Dickinson Online

Authors: Ken McKowen

Tags: #love, #gay, #lesbian, #teen, #high school

The Trouble with Emily Dickinson (10 page)

BOOK: The Trouble with Emily Dickinson
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JJ closed her eyes, remembering the harsh
sound of the contemptuous laughter that circled through the
auditorium around her. “I ran off stage so fast, I almost ran into
the wall in the hallway. I’ve never been on another stage

“That is so sad,” Kendal said.

“It basically scarred me for life.” JJ forced
a laugh as she opened her eyes again. “Good thing I don’t plan on
having a career in acting or anything.”

Kendal hesitated then asked, “Don’t you think
it’s time to confront that fear?”

“I’m trying,” JJ said quietly. “But it’s
different with this. Writing is my life. I never played the
saxophone ever again after that day. And if something happened, if
I got upset on stage, I might freak out and give up writing

“That would never happen.”

“But it might. I can’t take that risk.
Writing is my life.”

“That’s the second time you’ve said

“Said what?”

“That writing is your life.”


“So, that alone should tell you how important
it is to you, and that no matter what happens while you are up on
stage, you’d never be able to give it up.” Kendal put her hand on
JJ’s shoulder. “You have a gift and you should be able to share it
with other people.”

“Come on,” JJ rolled her eyes. “You sound
like my mother.”


“Well, what? I’m not going up on stage. I’m
not ready.”

“Okay,” Kendal said, releasing her hand from
JJ’s shoulder. “I’m just saying that maybe we could work on it, you
know. I mean, I’m interested in your poetry and you need to
practice sharing it. So maybe you can practice with me.”

“Maybe,” JJ said, desperately wanting to
change the subject. She never thought she could have revealed
something so personal to Kendal so easily. “It’s getting late. Are
you going back to your dorm?”

Kendal debated the question. “I suppose I
should,” she said, without enthusiasm. She glanced at her cell
phone and saw that Christine had sent her nearly a dozen texts
since she’d arrived at the library. Kendal had a hunch they were
about Kyan.

Kendal shoved her phone into her purse and
watched as JJ slid her poetry book into her backpack. She felt a
pang of guilt erupt in her chest. “Hey—”

JJ looked up.

“Thanks for not getting mad at me for reading
your poem. I want you to know that I really did like it and I meant
everything I said.”

“I’m glad.” JJ smiled. “You are the only
person who’s ever read it besides me.”

Their eyes locked for a moment and Kendal
felt an electric sensation travel the length of her arms. She
instantly looked away.

They left the library and JJ offered to walk
Kendal back to her dorm. As they reached the front of the building,
JJ turned and asked one of the questions she’d been pondering along
the way.

“Were you serious about next Friday

“Serious about what?” Kendal asked, though
she knew exactly what JJ meant. “You participating in the poetry

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.” JJ paused
and then plunged forward. “Would you still like to go, though? I
mean, go with me? There are some great poets around here, and some
of the writing is amazing. It might help you with class and—”

“I’d like that,” said Kendal. “I’d like that
a lot.”

JJ took a deep breath. “Cool,” she said, then
instantly winced. “That sounded really dumb, didn’t it?”

“Totally,” Kendal teased.

JJ shifted her backpack from her left to her
right shoulder. “So, I’ll meet you out here after I get out of

“How about I meet you in the school lounge
instead? We could walk over from there.”

“Sure, that’ll work.”

“Catch you later,” Kendal said casually, and
clicked the roof of her mouth with her tongue.

“Yeah, later,” JJ managed as she watched
Kendal walk down the cement path and through the front door of her
dorm. She raised her hands and rubbed them against her eyes before
she silently cursed into the crisp, fall air.

What in the world was she getting herself


* * *


Once in the confines of the dorm, Kendal
closed the door behind her without looking back. She was fearful
that if JJ even glimpsed over her shoulder, she would know. She
would instantly sense what Kendal was feeling.

She collapsed backward against the closed
door, her backpack pressed tightly against her chest. The poem she
read in JJ’s journal was still fresh in her mind, and it was the
only thing she had thought about during the entire walk home.

She breathed hard and her hands shook. She
hadn’t felt like this since the time she kissed Bobby Jenkins in
sixth grade behind the jungle gym at the school playground.

Yet, this was no boy she was getting all
worked up over. Her entire body trembled and shivered with
confusion. Was this it? Was this the feeling of a “wild night?”

She sighed. Somehow, she managed to peel
herself away from the door and headed down the hallway to her room,
still lost in a dizzy haze, counting down the days in her head
until she’d see JJ again.





“What on earth are you smiling about?”
Christine asked as Kendal entered their room.

“Nothing,” Kendal replied quickly. She tried
desperately to wipe the smile from her face, but it seemed to be
permanently cemented there.

Christine returned her attention to her
iPhone, apparently not amused. “I’ve been texting you all night.
How come you didn’t respond?”

“I was studying, remember? I couldn’t exactly
play with my cell phone the entire time.”

“I guess. How was the library?”

“Oh, very interesting,” Kendal answered. The
thought of Kyan the couch monster hulking over her made her cringe.
“I had an uninvited visitor.”

“Really? Who?”

“Don’t play innocent, Christine. Kyan came
bustling in and asked me to the exclusive soccer party next
weekend, as if I’d somehow be privileged to be his date.”

Christine’s head shot up. “Tell me you said

“I said ‘no’, I’m afraid,” Kendal replied,
with satisfaction.

“You didn’t!”

“I did.”

“Are you nuts? It’s invite-only, Kendal!”

“I couldn’t care less. Besides, I already
have plans.”

“Let me guess, more tutoring?”

“Not exactly,” Kendal said, smiling again.
“Just something different.”

Christine gasped. “You’re going to a gay
club, aren’t you?”

“What? No, I’m not going to a gay club.”

“She’s turning you into a lesbian, isn’t
she?” Christine was up off her bed, pacing frantically around the

Kendal watched her in amusement. “Will you
relax?” she said. “I’m not turning into a lesbian, so quit freaking

Christine grabbed hold of Kendal’s shoulders
and held on to them tightly. “You just passed on an invitation to
one of the hottest parties of the year. Your senior year, Kendal?
Please tell me you’re delirious, or that you’ve suddenly caught

Kendal shook free of Christine’s grip and
flopped down on her bed. “I don’t have amnesia and I’m not
delirious. I’m just—don’t you ever get sick of it?”

“Sick of what?”

“Sick of the soccer parties, the superficial
status, the empty conversations, the whole thing?”

“Why on earth would I be sick of it?”
Christine asked in disbelief. “This is what going to a private
school like Sampson is all about. I’m getting my fill because next
year I’ll be working my butt off at college, paying rent for some
crappy apartment, and figuring out what in the world I want to do
with the rest my life.”

“I get it,” Kendal said and flopped down on
her back. “I understand all about the high school experience. I
just think I’ve gotten my fill already. I’m ready to start figuring
out who I am. I’m ready to grow up a little bit. Is that so hard to

Christine folded her arms across her chest,
“Are you taking some philosophy course this semester that I don’t
know about?”

Kendal plucked a stuffed teddy bear off the
side of her bed that she’d owned since she was five, and shoved its
tiny head into her mouth. Then she screamed in muffled

“Something is seriously going on with you,”
Christine observed. She sat down on the bed next to Kendal and
gently removed the bear from her mouth. “He genuinely likes you,
you know?”


“Kyan. He came here before I sent him to the
library telling me how much he really likes you and how he wanted
to ask you to the party so that he could get to know you better.
That’s the only reason I told him where you were.”

“All he wants to know is how my body looks
without any clothes on,” Kendal said bitterly. “And then show me
off like a trophy around school.”

“Okay, I admit that Kyan doesn’t have the
greatest history when it comes to dating girls at school. But, that
being said, he seemed really interested in you as a person. Doesn’t
that intrigue you in the least?”

“Not in the least,” Kendal returned. “Like I
said, I have plans.”

“To do what?”

“To do something else.”

“What is it, some top-secret mission that you
can’t share with me? Who are you, Bat Woman?” Christine threw
Kendal’s bear down on the bed. It bounced near the edge and rolled
over onto the floor. “I’m supposedly your best friend.”

“Why are you so interested in my plans

“Because, I want to know what could possibly
be better than an invite-only soccer party with a bevy of frosty
beverages and yours truly?”

To some degree Kendal understood why
Christine was getting so upset. But after three years of doing the
same thing over and over again, she downright craved something

“There’s this poetry contest at that little
coffee shop in town that I want to go to.”



Christine chewed on the tip of her tongue
before she flung her hands up and shrieked, “Seriously,

“What is the big deal? Is it really that
terrible that I want to culture myself just a little bit?”

Christine sucked in a short breath. “Fine. Do
your little poetry thingy. Culture yourself and all that mess. But
make room for a little fun and excitement, will you? I’m sure it
doesn’t last all night. You can just text me when it’s finished,
and come meet us after. Deal?”

“I don’t know.”

“Kendal, please? It’s our last year together.
It would mean a lot to me.”

“Okay.” Kendal gave up. She hated being put
on the spot, especially by Christine, whose giant sapphire eyes
reminded her of a child on the verge of a tantrum.

“Yes!” Christine flung herself forward and
wrapped her arms around Kendal. “You won’t regret it! It’s going to
be so much fun!”

Right, Kendal thought. She was already
regretting it because now she had to find Kyan the couch monster,
and tell him that she would like to be his invite at the party on
Friday after all.

Of course, she would have to lay down some
very strict ground rules. Unfortunately, Kendal didn’t think that
would keep Kyan from trying to make a move on her.


* * *


JJ was in the school lounge sitting on one of
the itchy cushioned chairs that was spacious enough to seat three
people happily. She was sprawled out with her legs hanging over the
sides, and her head resting comfortably on the opposite arm.
Sitting nearly upside down, she held her journal tight against her
legs while she scribbled intensely against the page. Her headphones
were plastered to her ears, blaring music so deafening that she
couldn’t possibly hear if anybody walked by.

She’d just written another poem. It had been
fresh on her mind when she’d left Kendal in front of the dorm, and
she’d wanted to write it down before she forgot it. The halfway
point to her dorm was the school lounge, which now was comfortably

Since it was Sunday night, everyone was
either watching television in their dorm rooms or in the library
doing homework. As for those few students who took to partying no
matter what day of the week it was, the last place they would care
to go was the school lounge.

JJ reread the words she’d just scrawled onto
the page.


Lately I find

My heart and my mind disagree

One so rational, the other so free

One that has been broken, but continues to heal

The other unspoken, thankful it can’t feel

Different entities, yet tied so tight

Both content to do what is right

But how can they both agree

On a concept that historically

Has caused them to clash?

Lashing out feelings and thoughts

One ought to be felt and not heard

The other mentally spews words

Both causing a tornado to spin me around

Do I follow the cloud?

Or keep my feet firmly planted on the ground

An everlasting debate for all of time

Do I follow my heart?

Or do I fol . . .”


Before JJ could finish the last line,
somebody tore the journal from her hands. She stared in awe as
Queenie began to dance around the chair with the notebook dangling
from her fingers. Her mouth was moving, but because JJ had her
headphones turned up so loud, she couldn’t hear what Queenie was

JJ struggled to untwist herself, finally
rolling over onto the floor. She tore her headphones from her ears
only to hear Queenie reciting the new poem in a very obnoxious,
fake Shakespearian voice. JJ glowered at her and climbed to her
feet. The chair was the only thing that separated them.

“Give it back,” she demanded.

“Do I follow the cloud?” Queenie read,
gesturing upward dramatically.

BOOK: The Trouble with Emily Dickinson
12.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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