Authors: Donna Freitas
Also by Donna Freitas
THE POSSIBILITIES OF SAINTHOOD
T H I S
G O R G E O U S
G A M E
D O N N A
F R E I T A S
FRANCES FOSTER BOOKS
FARRAR STRAUS GIROUX
Excerpt from “For M. in October” by Thomas Merton,
, copyright © 1985 by
The Trustees of the Merton Legacy Trust. Reprinted by
permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
All other Thomas Merton quotes excerpted from
Learning to Love:
The Journals of
Thomas Merton, Volume Six 1966–1967
by Thomas Merton,
edited by Christine Bochen. Copyright © 1997 by The Merton
Legacy Trust. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
First four lines of Sonnet XVII from
One Hundred Love Sonnets:
Cien Sonetos de Amor
by Pablo Neruda, translated by Stephen Tapscott, copyright © Pablo Neruda 1959 and Fundación Pablo Neruda,
copyright © 1986 by the University of Texas Press.
Reprinted by permission of the University of Texas Press.
Copyright © 2010 by Donna Freitas
All rights reserved
Distributed in Canada by D&M Publishers, Inc.
Printed in April 2010 in the United States of America
by RR Donnelley & Sons Company, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Designed by Natalie Zanecchia
First edition, 2010
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data
This gorgeous game / Donna Freitas.—1st ed.
Summary: Seventeen-year-old Olivia Peters, who dreams of becoming a writer, is thrilled to be selected to take a college fiction seminar taught by
her idol, Father Mark, but when the priest’s enthusiasm for her writing develops into something more, Olivia shifts from wonder to confusion
[1. Teacher-student relationships—Fiction. 2. Authorship—Fiction.
3. Priests—Fiction. 4. Universities and colleges—Fiction.] I. Title.
Words aren’t enough
I simply have no business being [in] love and playing around with a girl, however innocently&After all I am supposed to be a monk with a vow of chastity and though I have kept my vow—I wonder if I can keep it indefinitely and still play this gorgeous game!
I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW I SHOULD BE GRATEFUL. I SHOULD
be grateful to have his attention. To have him take such an interest in me.
I should. I
grateful, Olivia, I tell myself as if I am my self’s imaginary friend, sitting across the table, giving advice.
Start acting grateful then,
I have a gift. I have a gift from God, he says. So rare he hasn’t seen it in all his many years. I’m the real thing, he says. I’m a once in a lifetime, he says. I’m special and it’s his responsibility to take me under his wing, to make sure I don’t waste my talent. It would be a sin
to help me, he says. It would be a sin for me
to take his offer of help.
But I swear to God…
…scratch that…I’ll not be swearing to God…I swear to Who Knows What that his latest demand, this pile of typewritten pages he hands me with a face that says,
Please, Olivia, oh please don’t be difficult and just do this for me
, is staring, no, it’s glaring at me from the coffee table like a monster that might eat me. I feel like if I touch it I will go up in flames or the pages might bite.
Am I making too much of this? Isn’t it just a matter of grabbing hold of the stack and moving it in front of my eyes so my eyes will begin to scan those black marks on the page which will magically arrange themselves into words that my brain will recognize and understand and
, I’m finished before I know it?
Then, when he asks, because he
ask, I’ll be able to answer truthfully, “Yes, I read it. I
,” and he will smile and I’ll be
I wish I’d never won that stupid prize which is what got me noticed by him…no…what got my
noticed by him which is what led to the initial introduction which somehow turned into communications and invitations and coffees and attending office hours and going to High Profile Events together—his words—even before the summer started.
He means well. He does. After all, what else could he mean?
“Olivia,” my mother calls from downstairs. “Time for dinner. I made your favorite. Come on, sweetie.”
“Be there in a minute,” I yell back to her. The thought
Saved by dinner
passes through my mind. If it’s not dinner that saves me lately, it’s sleep, and if it’s not sleep it’s, oh, I don’t know, cleaning my room, scrubbing the toilet. Just about anything sounds more appealing than dealing with some God Damn demand from
There. I did it. I took the Lord’s name in vain and it doesn’t feel half bad.
My cell phone rings. I don’t pick up. I don’t even look to see who is calling. I don’t need to. I already know who it is and I already know I don’t want to talk. The phone stops ringing and I remember to breathe. It rings again and I want to throw it. I don’t. I look away. I shove the phone down between the couch cushions to muffle it. Suffocate it. Now a
tells me I have a text.
I start to get up but still staring at me from the coffee table is this story I’ve got to read. I give the stack a good glare back—two can play at that game. But as soon as my eyes hit the title page I feel regret because seeing it makes something in my stomach go queasy. Ruins my appetite.
Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. I will myself to feel gratitude with all of my being but my being revolts. I grab the stack and slam it facedown as if I can make it all go away.
There is in her a wonderful sweet little-girl quality of simplicity and openness.
I FEEL DISBELIEF.
That’s how it starts: with a pervasive sense of
this cannot be happening
and thinking that
no one is going to believe me when I tell them
because I don’t even believe it myself. The thought
Mom is going to freak when she finds out
races through me in a wave of giddiness.
There I am in seventh period AP calc and Ms. Lewis is drawing tangent lines on the board and her arm and the chalk slope
up, up, up
and there is a knock and the door opens and Sister June our principal is standing there and I see the expression on her face and I know.
I know it right then. Sister June’s eyes are on me and suddenly I can’t remember anything about the slope of the tangent.
“I need Olivia Peters in the office right away,” Sister June says with unmistakable joy and I am already shutting my notebook and textbook and shoving them into my bag because a girl can hope—sometimes a girl can’t help but hope, you know? I try not to look at any of my classmates, who are staring, especially Ashley and Jada because they know I’ve been waiting, counting the days until May, but as usual my two best friends get the best of me so I glance in their direction.
They take turns holding up a series of notebook pages. Like flashcards. Back and forth. Quick. Practiced. As if they already know, too.
…says the first, flipped up by Jada…
You are poised
…says the second, courtesy of Ash…
I mouth, feeling touched they’ve put on such a show but still trying not to allow my mind to go
, when Sister June inquires, “Olivia?” and Ms. Lewis wonders, “Miss Williams and Miss Ling, is there something you’d like to share with the rest of us? Hmmm?” and I follow Sister June out the door. I am too nervous to smile so instead I stare at the dark blue folds of Sister June’s habit and try to squelch the feeling of hope bubbling up in me because surely it will be dashed to bits when I get to her office and she tells me something anticlimactic like—“We are so pleased you’ve never missed a day of school in all your years at Sacred Heart!”—which is true, or—“You passed the AP English exam and will be getting college credit!”—not that I wouldn’t be happy with this information, but let’s face it, it’s not
news I want to hear.
Sister June and I walk down the hall with its long line of lockers on either side, their red paint so chipped that if I use only my peripheral vision they look like giant abstract paintings. Sister June’s skirt rustles with every step, making the only sound besides the soft
pat, pat, pat
of my black ballet flats and the purposeful tread of her thick, rubber-soled nun shoes against the carpet, so worn it’s impossible to tell what color it used to be when it was new. Every few feet Sister June glances my way and I detect the trace of a smile on her pursed lips and my heart quickens until it is beating so fast I imagine it is racing the fifty-yard dash and has left my body at the starting line.
Please, God, let it be what I think it is.
Sister June stops short because we are at the office entrance and I am so startled I almost knock her over. She looks up at me and her cheeks are flushed with pride and not makeup because nuns don’t wear makeup, and she clasps my hands between her soft, wrinkled ones and whispers, “Oh, Olivia, your life is about to change,” and that’s when I notice her eyes are shiny and that’s also when I know
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt
what is waiting on the other side of the door.
Sister June grasps the knob, twisting it. With one hand on my back she guides me or maybe encourages me or even ensures that I don’t run away because this is my big moment, and we enter the reception area as a united front and
just like that
it happens, the same way I’ve been imagining and daydreaming all these months ever since the contest was announced in October and Ms. Gonzalez, my English lit teacher, encouraged me to enter it.
There he is. In the flesh. In person.
Looking at me.
I’ve never been this close to him before and I am struck by the tiny lines that web from his smiling eyes, the gleam from his perfect white teeth, his thick salt-and-pepper hair, the size of his hands, so large, the hands of a strong man. Everything about him seems to glow from within and soon I am aware that I am not the only person in the room who finds this visitor striking.
The reception staff surrounds him like he is a movie star or some other kind of celebrity or maybe even God come down from heaven to ask,
Hello how is everybody doing?
He is speaking but I can’t focus on the words, I am only aware that Ms. Jones who does the school attendance is nodding her head, “Yes, yes. Yes, yes, of course,” as he talks, and Ms. Aronson who does class registration is murmuring, “Hmm-hmmm,” softly over and over, and Ms. Gonzalez is saying, “Oh my. This is wonderful. Wonderful!
I knew she had it in her!” and beaming like she has just won teacher of the year or maybe even a Pulitzer Prize. Him, well, he looks younger in person than in the photos on his book jackets and when you see him on television, and maybe this is why all the women look at him with such admiration. Or is it adoration?