Read The Trouble with Emily Dickinson Online

Authors: Ken McKowen

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

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BOOK: The Trouble with Emily Dickinson
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Kendal had done a good job of avoiding the
weekend soccer party scene. She had feigned sickness on Saturday
evening and spent the night watching reruns and MTV’s The Real
World. Christine got home late. She had stumbled into the room and
fallen onto the floor, simultaneously knocking over a stack of
books. Kendal had to help her into bed.

As a result, Christine spent the entire
morning and part of the afternoon wearing a blue-colored cold pack
with eye-holes cut out over her face. She looked like a female
version of a modern day Zorro.

In times past Kendal would have been right
there with Christine, both of them lying in agony, drinking
refillable bottles of water, popping Tylenol,and watching endless
hours of Lifetime television. But today, Kendal had gotten up early
and gone for a walk. Sometimes it amazed her how beautiful Sampson
Academy was, especially in fall when the leaves had begun to change
colors. Vibrant shades of red, orange and yellow were scattered
amongst the branches reaching high into the sky.

Built back in the 1800s, the campus consisted
of colonial buildings made of brick and grand white pillars. Bay
windows sat atop four-story buildings fronted by circular porches.
All of the buildings were named after local heroes and students who
had gone on to become “somebodies.” That was the school
motto—Sampson Academy, Be Somebody. Kendal always thought the
school motto should be—Sampson Academy, where everyone knows your
name and your business.

This was because of the small student
population and ensuring that all of the classes had at most fifteen
students to one teacher. It was hands-on learning, where every
student could get to know his or her teachers on a personal basis.
That, plus the beauty of the campus, was why Kendal had been
attracted to the school in the first place. Other factors included
Sampson’s unblemished academic reputation and its ability to
prepare students for college. Kendal’s parents, her father
especially, insisted that she go to Sampson so that she could get
into a good college. They were afraid that if she attended a public
high school she would be on the fast track to community college. It
didn’t matter to her parents that the tuition bill left them
financially strapped. Education was far more important. For that
reason, Kendal felt pressured to get good grades. She hated to
disappoint her parents.

At first she hated Sampson because she felt
so out of place. She hadn’t planned on getting involved in any
school activities. But the appeal of friendships and social
interaction sort of swept her up and spit her out, and the next
thing she knew, she was a part of the cheerleading team. The other
cheerleaders had taken a liking to her right from the start. They
invited her to sit with them at their table in the cafeteria and to
social gatherings and soccer parties. She finally felt like she
belonged.

Kendal’s walk had led her into town to buy
some essentials, including tampons and a few snack items such as
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and her one major food addiction, Chex
Mix. She passed by The Spot and peered into the window. The room to
the left of the main counter was filled with artsy types of
paintings on the wall and soft plushy couches scattered haphazardly
across a gleaming maple floor. One foamy apple-red chair off in the
corner was built in the shape of a giant hand, so you could sit in
the palm.

To the right of the counter stood a stage, a
very small stage that featured a solid black backdrop with a single
brown bar stool in the center. Across the backdrop Kendal read the
words, “fantasize reality,” spelled out in big bold white
letters.

There were a few round tables in front of the
stage and set off to the back of the room, big enough to
accommodate just two to three people at a time. Votive candles
floated in bowls of water at the center of each table.

So this is where JJ likes to hang out, Kendal
thought. She pictured the place filled with random vagabonds and
folk singers on the center stage, humming original songs about the
meaning of life. This wasn’t the type of place she would have
initially guessed that JJ would go to on a Friday night. Rather,
she could see her at some sporting event, like a hockey game with a
bunch of her basketball teammates, or maybe a local sports bar
where ESPN played on ten different television sets, and overbearing
drunkards challenged one another to games of pool and darts.

But here was her hangout—a sweet and inviting
coffee shop, something of a hidden treasure where she probably
spent her time having intellectual conversations with eccentric
people. Who knew such things existed in a town built around a
soccer rivalry and the annual homecoming weekend packed with games
and a lavish parade?

Kendal took a step back from the window and
glanced at the hours posted below. Next to the open sign was a
poster that read, “Poetry Slam Every Friday Night.” The first prize
winner won fifty dollars and publication in a local writing
magazine called
Scattered Thoughts
. She wondered if JJ knew
about the contest.

JJ.

Kendal hadn’t thought about her conversation
with JJ since Friday night, until that moment. A nervous sensation
erupted inside of her when she thought about the fact that she’d be
seeing JJ at the library in a couple of hours.

She felt slightly ashamed for being so blunt
and asking JJ about her sexual orientation. It really was none of
her business, but Christine had planted all of those thoughts in
her head in the first place. And Kendal’s curiosity was something
that she always had a hard time controlling.

Once, when she was about five, she’d found a
book of matches in her mother’s purse. Although she knew they were
dangerous, she desperately wanted to see what would happen if she
struck one really fast. Well, something happened all right. The
entire matchbook caught on fire and in a panic she’d dropped it
into the bottom of the purse. Her mom’s favorite bag had gone up in
flames, and was reduced to a gooey, ashy, black mess in the middle
of the living room floor.

Though the incident had left her unharmed,
she would be scarred for the rest of her young life with the
nickname Curious Kendal, given to her by her older brother. There
were other occasions where Curious Kendal struck with reckless
abandon, many of which could be forgotten, but each satisfying an
overwhelming urge to see just what would happen or to simply find
out the truth. That’s exactly why she’d asked JJ about her sexual
orientation. Kendal grabbed her cell phone out of her purse and
checked the time. In just a few more hours they would be meeting at
the library. She tingled in anticipation.

 

* * *

 

Once back at the dorm, Kendal slowly opened
the door to her room, afraid to disturb Christine, who she
sometimes alluded to as Sleeping Beauty. But as soon as she spied
Christine’s body, it became obvious that her roommate was
awake.

“Ughhhh,” Christine moaned, curled up in a
fetal position and clutching her iPhone. “I think this is the worst
possible hangover I’ve ever had. You know what I need?”

“Alcoholics Anonymous?” asked Kendal,
smartly.

“Funny. No. I need some grease, you know?”
Christine pressed the back of her hand to her forehead. “What do
you think about pizza?”

Kendal paused. “I like pizza, but I think I
like it best when it’s just cheese. You know, the perfect
combination of cheese and sauce. And thick crust, I like thick
crust.”

Christine dropped her hand to her side
heavily, as if were weighted down. “Is there a particular reason
why you’re being such a sarcastic snot right now?”

Her eyes bore into Kendal, who busied herself
sifting through the pile of books on her desk.

“I’m sorry,” Kendal returned, thoughtfully.
Normally sarcasm wasn’t something she played at, but she was
irritated at watching Christine wasting the day in bed, dramatizing
herself. Although she recognized her passive-aggressive manner, it
still provided a way to release her irritation. Nevertheless, she
dropped the attitude. “You were saying—”

“Pizza, I was saying. Let’s get some pizza
for dinner.” Christine sat up now, the prospect of food taking
hold. She fiddled with her iPhone and started looking up the number
for a local pizza place. “And then we could rent a movie, some
sappy romantic comedy or something.”

“Can’t,” said Kendal, without the least bit
of regret. “I’ve got a tutoring session in the library. I’m going
to eat at the dining hall, and then head straight over. Maybe
Laurie will want to do pizza.”

Laurie, another cheerleader who lived in
their dorm, though slightly overweight, was quite proud of her junk
food addiction. In fact, Laurie let it be known that pizza was one
of the five important food groups, at least in her world.

Kendal often wondered if Laurie laundered
money from the cheerleading fund and dues collection to buy the
enormous amount of junk food and goodies that she kept stashed in
her dorm room closet. Every time they hung out in Laurie’s room,
Kendal half expected to find cardboard boxes full of Oreo cookies,
potato chips, candy bars and the like sitting somewhere amidst the
clutter.

“More tutoring with the lesbian?” Christine
asked. Her tone brushed hard against Kendal’s ears.

“Why do you have to even bring that up?”

“Because she is.”

“She has a name. It’s JJ. Maybe you should
try using it.”

“What is your deal? You’ve been acting
strange ever since you started hitting the books so hard.”

“I don’t have a deal. What I do have is a
tutoring session with a girl who’s kind of cool, and I think that
maybe you should stop judging people when you don’t even know a
thing about them.”

Christine climbed out of bed, and evened out
her pajama shorts. Her lips were moving, and Kendal sensed that she
was choosing her words carefully.

“I know all I need to know about her,” she
said coolly. “And don’t forget, I know you, too.” She casually
grabbed her robe off of the back of the door and pulled it on. As
she was tying the knot around her waist, she looked up at Kendal.
Her eyes were icy. “I don’t know who you are trying to be lately,
but it sure isn’t the Kendal McCarthy that I know.”

She pulled the knot tighter and tossed Kendal
one final cold look before she left the room.

Fuming, Kendal threw her books into her
backpack. What bothered her most was the fact that Christine
somehow managed to sneak in the last word.

“I know me,” she said aloud in the vacant
room, her voice overflowing with anger. “I know myself better than
anyone, and I also know that for the past few years I haven’t been
the real me.”

In the middle of her monologue, she stepped
on something squishy lying on the floor. She bent over, picked up
the ice mask that Christine had been wearing, and threw it at her
unmade bed.

“You don’t know me at all,” she spat. “So
take your little beauty mask and shove it.”

 

 

CHAPTER 13

 

JJ was at the library much earlier than she
needed to be. She’d skipped going to the dining hall with Queenie,
afraid that she might get distracted or delayed by needless
conversation. Instead, she enjoyed a healthy portion of ramen
noodles, the chicken-flavored kind, and some crackers. She also
took a long time to select an outfit. Normally she would go to the
library wearing nothing more than jogging pants and a sweatshirt,
but today she felt like raising the bar just a bit. She put on a
pair of jeans and a vintage T-shirt from the Gap. Instead of
wearing her usual baseball cap, she decided to slather some gel in
her hair and spike up the ends just so. She even sprayed on some
cologne for good measure.

Now she sat in the library at the same table
Kendal and she had been at last time, her knees shaking slightly.
Every so often, she caught a whiff of her own cologne and smiled.
At the very least, she certainly smelled good. Her cell phone
buzzed in her pocket. She took it out and read a text message from
Queenie, “Beware of the science experiment!” All JJ could do was
laugh.

She stuffed her cell phone back in her
pocket, and idly thumbed through a book of poetry she’d pulled off
one of the shelves. She kept a watchful eye on the door as she
reread each sentence. Somehow, she’d missed seeing Kendal storm her
way into the library, and looked up only when the girl reached the
table. Kendal’s bag of books landed on top of the table with a
resounding thud.

“Hi,” she said, her face expressionless.

“Um, are you okay?” JJ asked cautiously.

“Me? Yeah. I’m fine.” She reached into her
bag and pulled out the bag of Chex Mix she had bought earlier.
“Except for the fact that I’ve just now realized that I’ve wasted
all my time here at Sampson on a group of girls who are mostly
small-minded and lack any substance at all.”

“That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?”

Kendal slid down into the chair next to her.
“No. I think it’s dead on,” she snapped. Then she slid the bag of
Chex Mix over to JJ who politely declined. Kendal shrugged and
began snacking mindlessly. “I’ve known these girls for three years
now and they don’t even have one small clue about who I really am.”
She tucked her hair back behind her ears, which caused JJ to look
at her in amazement.

“Wow, you have tiny ears.”

“What?”

“Your ears. They’re tiny. And cute.”

“Yeah,” Kendal said. “They’re small. So
what?”

“Nothing. I—I just noticed. That’s all.” JJ
instantly wished that she could censor her thoughts before they
spilled out of her mouth without her consent. “Uh, about your
friends—is it possible that maybe you just haven’t let them in? You
know, let them in to get to know the real you?”

BOOK: The Trouble with Emily Dickinson
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