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Authors: Ken McKowen

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

The Trouble with Emily Dickinson (19 page)

BOOK: The Trouble with Emily Dickinson
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JJ shook her head in disappointment. Maybe
she needed to be more like Queenie. Maybe she needed to not care,
to not let herself get attached. But JJ knew that was impossible.
She did care. And her emotions ran so deep there was no way she
could be with someone without getting attached. Keeping people at
arm’s length was a skill that Queenie had mastered, for whatever
reason. JJ had never asked her why. She assumed Queenie had gotten
burned somewhere along the way, possibly by a former girlfriend. Or
maybe she was just cynical because it was part of her personality.
Either way, it was quite obvious that she was bitter when it came
to relationships.

But as many times as JJ got her heart stepped
on, she refused to be like Queenie. She was a hopeless romantic; so
what? It was better than being a cynic.

“Whenever something like this happens, you go
off to find yourself.” The voice rose from behind.

JJ turned around to see Queenie standing
there, hands in her pockets, a wide grin on her face.

“It’s pathetic, isn’t it?” JJ asked, turning
back to face the fountain. She wondered what Queenie would think
about her little fountain metaphor.

“No, it’s not pathetic,” Queenie returned.
She walked over and sat down on the bench. “It’s just the way you
deal with things. And it’s probably a lot healthier than the way I
deal with things.”

“You mean by ignoring the feelings?”

“Exactly.”

“Sometimes I think that’s just what I need to
do.”

“Say no more, my friend!” Queenie slapped JJ
on the knee and stood up. “Let’s go.”

“Where?”

“I called a few people. We’re going to go
dancing downtown.”

“Tonight?”

“Tonight.”

JJ frowned. She wasn’t sure she was up for
one of Queenie’s crazy adventures.

“What? You’ve got something better to do?”
Queenie asked in a tone that told JJ she shouldn’t attempt to
argue. It was clear that Queenie had every intention of dragging
her downtown whether she wanted to go or not.

“No, I guess not.”

“And no tutoring?”

“No tutoring.”

“And you got that extension for your writing
class, right? You don’t have to read that poem anytime soon?”

JJ nodded. She had gotten an extension. It
had been her last hope because she hadn’t even been close to being
prepared last Monday morning when she was supposed to read her poem
out loud. And in a state of panic, she’d asked to speak to Mrs.
Clark out in the hall. She desperately tried to explain her stage
fright and that she was doing her best to overcome it. Somehow it
had worked because Mrs. Clark took pity on her and granted JJ an
extension.

At the end of the semester, during exams, the
writing class held an open reading at The Spot. Every person in the
class had to select the best piece from their own body of work that
they had accumulated over the semester. They were to read their
pieces aloud in front of the entire class and whoever else was in
the audience. Each student would be graded on both the writing and
their stage delivery.

Mrs. Clark’s one stipulation had been that JJ
read the poem that she had already selected.

JJ had agreed on the spot. She didn’t have a
choice. But it really didn’t matter which poem she read, just as
long as she didn’t have to read it out loud anytime soon. She
figured that she’d be able to conquer her stage fright by the time
the end of the semester came around. At least, she hoped she would
be able to.

“So it’s settled then,” said Queenie. “We’re
going out.” She yanked JJ off the bench. “We’ve got to do something
about your outfit, though. There’s no way I’m going to a club with
you looking like that.”

JJ regarded her clothes. She was wearing her
basketball jersey pants, a dark-blue hooded sweatshirt and
flip-flops with white socks.

“I swear,” Queenie shook her head. “Sometimes
you just scream ‘I need a makeover’.”

 

* * *

 

With Queenie’s help, JJ emerged from her dorm
room looking quite hip in faded jeans, a form-fitting vintage
long-sleeved T-shirt, and her favorite pair of Adidas sneakers. She
even had taken time to do her hair. Before they left the dorm,
Queenie sprayed JJ with her own cologne because she swore up and
down that it made the ladies wild.

They squeezed into Queenie’s BMW with a few
other members of the basketball team, and proceeded to pick up
three more people along the way into downtown Richmond. By the time
they arrived at the club, JJ couldn’t wait to exit the sardine can
that Queenie’s luxury car had become. Her ears were ringing from
the stereo, since the bass had been turned up so loud.

Queenie happily pulled into valet parking.
She was also in with the bouncer, who called her by name once he
saw her. They exchanged a half hug and a heartfelt slap on each
other’s backs. He watched JJ suspiciously.

“It’s fine,” Queenie told him. “She’s with
me.”

They walked as a group through the doors of
the club under the bouncer’s watchful eye, and took the stairs to
the second level where the entrance was.

“Sometimes when I’m out with you, I feel like
I’m with someone famous,” JJ said.

“You are,” Queenie teased. “I’m the most
popular lesbian in all of Virginia. Didn’t I tell you?”

JJ laughed, though at that moment she
wondered if maybe she should have just stayed home. But then
Queenie wrapped her arm around her and yelled, “It’s going to be a
great night!” and JJ’s doubt disappeared in an instant.

They reached the second floor landing, walked
down a narrow corridor and out into an open space that was packed
wall to wall with every type of lesbian you could possibly imagine.
The music was deafening, and you could almost see the walls
shaking.

“Let’s go dance,” Queenie yelled, and pointed
in the direction of the dance floor. JJ nodded and followed the
group through the crowd. She gently pushed her way through the sea
of people and happily emerged at the spot where Queenie was
standing. Queenie began dancing at once to the techno music that
blared through the speakers while JJ tried desperately to find her
rhythm, which was quite hard to do, since she had none.

“You look ridiculous,” she told Queenie in
order to draw attention away from herself.

“Me? At least I move to the beat.”

JJ frowned. She stopped dancing and moved
through the crowd toward the wall where she’d do some
people-watching instead.

Queenie motioned for her to come and join in
more than a few times, but JJ just nodded or waved in her
direction. By the time Queenie found a suitable dancing partner who
proceeded to put her spaghetti arms all over her, she’d forgotten
that JJ was even there.

An hour later, JJ was still leaning against
the wall. A girl who looked about her age made her way over and
struck up a conversation. She offered to buy JJ a soda, but all JJ
could think about was the fact that the girl standing next to her
wasn’t Kendal. Sure, she was cute enough. Her smile was the one
bright spot in the entire evening. But she wasn’t captivating by
any means, and as soon as their conversation fizzled out the girl
moved on to someone else.

At that point, JJ was ready to leave the
club. She scanned the crowd for Queenie again, and spotted her off
in the corner kissing the same girl who had been all over her on
the dance floor. JJ once again made her way through the crowd.

“Queenie!” JJ shouted, though she was
standing right in front of her. “I’m leaving!”

Queenie lifted her head and glanced around as
if she’d forgotten where she was. “Why?” she asked, assuming JJ had
been having the time of her life.

“Because I’m ready to go!”

Queenie stepped away from her make-out
partner in crime, and pushed JJ to the side. “I’m not ready to go
yet. I’m kind of in the middle of something.” She raised an eyebrow
and motioned behind her where the girl was patiently waiting.

JJ glared at her. “Do whatever you want,” she
sputtered.

Before Queenie could stop her, JJ took off
through the crowd. She stomped down a narrow corridor, and pushed
through the first exit door she saw. But when she stepped out onto
the fire escape, she knew instantly that she’d made a wrong
turn.

JJ panicked and turned quickly to open the
exit door but it was too late. It had locked firmly behind her and
she was now stuck on the fire escape.

 

 

CHAPTER 27

 

“The fire escape?” Queenie stared in
amazement. “You got stuck on the fire escape? At the club?”

They both were still dressed in their
pajamas, eating Queenie’s Chinese food order that had just been
delivered. It was almost 3 p.m., and JJ still felt exhausted from
their late night out.

“And you had your cell phone on you the
entire time?” Queenie asked between mouthfuls of Kung Pao
chicken.

JJ nodded. The night had been a complete and
utter failure. After she finally got down from the fire escape,
she’d taken a cab back to school. Queenie still wasn’t home, so JJ
crawled into bed. She heard Queenie come in an hour later. The two
of them slept until after noon, when Queenie had finally rolled
over and asked, “What in the world happened to you last night?”

“Yes, and I’ll repeat it again for those of
you who are hard of hearing. I got stuck on the fire escape at the
club.”

“So how were you able to get down?” Queenie
asked.

“I figured out how to release the latch on
the stairs, only they didn’t fall all the way to the ground. I
walked across them anyway, and they fell from underneath me. I
managed to land on my feet somehow, and then I realized I was in
the middle of a broken down lot with fire barrels, broken beer
bottles, and random individuals lurking about. I sprinted down the
first alley I spotted and jumped into the back of a cab, which cost
me twenty-five bucks, by the way.”

JJ had wanted Queenie to feel remorseful for
what happened. But when JJ told her story, Queenie showed no
remorse—only laughter and sarcasm. And, really, who could blame
Queenie? Getting stuck on a fire escape at a club was not an
average occurrence. And in hindsight, it was considerably amusing.
JJ had even laughed at herself when she described how she’d finally
gotten down.

“At least you have a really good story to
tell because of it,” Queenie said. “I mean, seriously, that’s the
kind of story you break out at boring parties and other humdrum
social functions.”

“It wouldn’t be as funny if I had fallen or
been robbed at gunpoint,” JJ replied as she nibbled on some white
rice. “I should have never gone out.”

“But, if you hadn’t gone out, you wouldn’t
have had any fun sitting here pouting, and you wouldn’t have gotten
stuck on the fire escape, either. That means you wouldn’t have
lived to tell what I now consider to be the greatest story ever
told.” Queenie pointed at JJ with her fork before she pierced a
piece of chicken and gobbled it up.

“Funny.” JJ sipped her soda. “So, now you
know what happened to me last night. I still don’t know how the
rest of your night was.”

“Trust me. My story isn’t half as good as
yours.”

“Do tell.”

“There’s nothing to tell.”

“What happened with you and that girl at the
club?”

“Not much,” Queenie shrugged, and fished
around in her carton for any remaining bits of chicken before
tossing it aside on the table. Then she turned on the television as
if she’d grown bored with the conversation.

“From my perspective, it looked like more
than ‘not much was going on,’” JJ pressed.

“We hung out for a bit more and that’s it,”
Queenie repeated, eyes fixed on the television.

“I tell you what you deem to be the greatest
story ever told, and you can’t even offer me a few simple words
about a girl you met at a club?”

“We were having fun, and then I lost
interest.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, after the club closed we went our
separate ways, and I felt—used.”

JJ shook her head from side to side, “Wait a
minute. You felt used? You? Queenie McBride?”

Queenie turned off the television, and threw
the remote control at the recliner in the corner of the room.

“Do you have to make me sound like that big
of a jerk?” she snapped.

JJ paused. “Okay. What’s going on with
you?”

“Nothing, I’m just—maybe I’m thinking too
much.”

“Queenie, seriously. What’s going on?” JJ set
the can of soda aside and sat up in her chair. “Something is
obviously bothering you. It’s me, you can talk to me.”

“I don’t know what it is,” Queenie said
finally. “I just felt sort of hollow when I woke up this morning,
like I suddenly grew a conscience.” She pretended to pick off
something repulsive from her forehead and flicked it to the ground.
“How do I get rid of it?”

“Your conscience? I don’t think you can,” JJ
told her. “You’re pretty much stuck with it.”

“It was so awkward when we left the club,”
Queenie said, and stood up. She circled the room, focusing her eyes
nowhere in particular. “We said this weird goodbye, and that’s it.
But for some reason I felt like I should get to know the girl, you
know? Like on a deeper level or something. So, I asked her for her
number to see if she wanted to go out again sometime.” She stopped
circling and glared at JJ. “And you know what she said to me? She
said, ‘I’m not into that.’ So I said, ‘not into what?’ And she
said, ‘relationships.’”

“And that bothered you because . . . ?”

“Are you kidding me?” Queenie exclaimed.
“That’s my line! Where does she get off using my line?”

“Wait a second,” JJ scratched her head. “Are
you mad about her stealing your line or the fact that you are the
one who got played in this little scenario?”

“Neither. Both. I don’t know.” Queenie
slumped down onto the recliner.

BOOK: The Trouble with Emily Dickinson
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