Me And Sam -- Chapters 8 and 9

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Two young teens, life-long friends, discover each other though not in the usual way. A gentle "coming-of-age" tale.


Chapter 8


For once I awoke before the alarm went off. It had been a very good night’s sleep. Well, after the brief nightmare, that is. I wasn’t sure what would happen if Darla and Sam ever had a conversation. I was beginning to think that perhaps Sam wouldn’t care at all. What had she been doing to occupy her time, I wondered? Angry with myself for wallowing, I thought perhaps a nice long shower would help. Although I didn’t have a private bath as Darla did, I did have sole access to the one in the hall as Mom and Dad had their own bathroom. I was still half-asleep and sat down on the commode not caring about gender issues and relieved myself.

I pulled the shower curtain closed, reached in and adjusted the water temperature before stepping into the fine mist. As I shampooed my hair, I wondered if I should be thinking about conditioners. I’d never used them before, my hair looked all right, and at length I decided if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Having scrubbed my entire body, I had no excuse for staying in the shower, though I didn’t want to turn the water off. Somehow, the fine spray of hot water always made me feel better. Knowing I couldn’t stay there all day I finally turned the water off, toweled dry, and thought about what to wear. Life was a lot easier just a week ago. I hadn’t cared anything about my appearance. Now I was worrying whether my top matched my bottom! As most of the student body were now wearing jeans, I decided to go with the flow and selected a clean pair from my drawer. I found a red sport shirt in the back of the closet and put it on. I’d never worn it before having thought in the past that it just wasn’t me. I put on my sneakers, put my books back in my bag and checked my appearance in the mirror one last time before heading downstairs.

It was only 7:00 AM. I decided to make my lunch first and checked the refrigerator for lunch meat. Thankfully, Mom had stopped at the store and I made myself a turkey sandwich. All the while I was thinking about Sally and how this would show her I wasn’t a vegetarian. As I finished packing my lunch, Mom walked into the kitchen.

"Good morning Mom." I greeted her.

"Morning sweetheart," she replied. "How did your study date go with Darla?"

"I wouldn’t exactly call it a date Mom. It went fine and while we’re on the subject I was wondering if we could do it again this evening? The last exam of the year is on Friday and I really want to do my best. Besides, Darla has been a big help. She’s really good at this stuff."

Mom sighed audibly. "I suppose it’ll be all right John. I take it you won’t be home for dinner again?"

"Well Mom, there really wouldn’t be any time to study if I waited to have dinner with you and Dad."

"OK sweetheart. I hope you know what you’re doing though," she said somewhat mysteriously.

As I had the time, I took the long way round to Darla’s that morning. It was a perfect spring day and I almost found myself looking forward to it. Apparently Darla had been keeping an eye out for me because she came out the door just as I arrived. "Good morning John! That’s a very pretty shirt you’re wearing. Is it silk?" Was my shirt what? It did have a bit of a slippery feel to it. I thought it was nice. Still, her enthusiastic greeting made me break out in a wide grin. "Someone seems happy today." She said. I smiled even wider, if that’s possible. "Are you having problems with your tongue?" I don’t know why, but sometimes Darla had that effect on me. I simply found myself unable to speak in her presence. It didn’t happen always, but often enough.

I finally managed to get my mouth in gear and greeted her properly. "Good morning Darla! It’s a gorgeous day, isn’t it? It’s a shame we have to waste it at school." Though I’d never done it before, all at once the thought of skipping school with Darla seemed extremely appealing.

She smiled at me and said, "Let’s go."

She started talking about the upcoming science exam tomorrow and wanted my opinion as to what we should focus on that evening during our study date. I informed her that it was way too early in the morning for me to be thinking about science, but the fact of the matter was I hadn’t a clue. Seeing that I wasn’t in the mood to discus anything serious, she switched gears and asked me if I’d given any thought to attending the dance tomorrow night. In truth, I had forgotten all about it and told her so. What if I showed up with Darla and Sam was there? I started laughing as I couldn’t imagine Sam at a dance. Still, with all the strange things going on of late, anything was possible.

"Are they going to have a band?" I asked her.

"No silly, they are having a DJ. Some of the kids from the high school take care of the entertainment. They do it as part of a class project."

"Well Darla, the thing is, I really don’t know how to dance."

She laughed at that. "Do you think anyone else does?" I laughed at that and honestly replied that I had no idea what they knew or didn’t know. We continued on in this fashion as we made our way to school. Talking to her was becoming easier all the time and I found myself enjoying her vivaciousness. Moments later we arrived at school and as she’d done yesterday she told me she’d see me later. "Oh, I almost forgot, are you coming over this evening?

"Yes," I replied, "I’ll be there." She smiled at me and made her way inside. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Darla’s behavior. Was she just being a friend or was it something more? The bell rang and I put away such thoughts for the time being.

As I made my way to my locker I caught a glimpse of Sam. She and Billy were walking down the hall together apparently lost in conversation. Seeing her with him made me both angry and sad. I got the books that I’d need from my locker for the morning classes and slammed the locker door shut a lot harder than was required. I entered homeroom and took my seat. I noticed that Mrs. Pembroke once again taking silent attendance. I laughed aloud as I thought that perhaps with the end of the school year less than three weeks away, she had finally learned our names. I garnered a few strange looks with my behavior but simply ignored them. Fortunately, there was a freight train off on the horizon and I busied myself counting the cars. I lost count a few times as my mind wandered off to more serious matters and in the end, I gave up.

The morning classes just sped by and before I knew what was happening the lunch bell was ringing. I was detained slightly before entering the cafeteria and when I arrived most of the students had already been seated. Once again Duncan occupied my former seat. I’m not sure what I’d have done if it had been empty, but I don’t think I’d have sat down. As I passed my former table I heard Billy say loud enough for anyone to hear. "Ah look, there goes Joan off to sit with "her" new girlfriends." At that my former friends broke into laughter, including Sam. I felt my face turn crimson, but I had the presence of mind to offer a response.

"They’re a helluva lot nicer than the girls I used to eat lunch with." The four of them went dumb. Just a few tables away however, Darla and Sally broke into laughter. I guess they had been watching the entire affair. Sarah however remained silent. Ah well, two out of three ain’t bad.

I sat in what was my new seat and began unpacking my lunch. I was almost finished doing so when Sarah broke out. "I thought I told you that you weren’t welcome here?" I looked first to Darla and then to Sally but they both just sat there staring at their food as if it was the most fascinating thing in the universe.

At length I replied "But I thought?" to which Sarah responded, "You thought wrong. Now go find yourself someplace else to sit." I waited a moment to see if Darla would at last rescue me, but she just sat there silently. Finally I replied "I never go where I’m not wanted" and began re-packing my lunch. I gave one last look to Darla and quickly got up and left. At that point, I couldn’t see myself sitting with anyone for lunch. Students were not permitted out of the building during lunch time, but I didn’t care. I simply couldn’t stay there. I quickly made my way out of the cafeteria without gathering any looks from the monitors. I made my way out the back door and found myself sitting on the steps. I was crushed. I folded my arms across my knees and put my head down as the tears flowed steadily. What the hell had I done to deserve this, I wondered?

The bell rang signaling the end of lunch and I decided to make my way back inside. I was not in the mood for any adult intervention and the only way to avoid that was by being invisible. The best way to remain invisible was to be where you were supposed to be, when you were supposed to be there. With my physical presence known, everyone just left me alone. The afternoon whizzed by in a fog. The final bell of the day rang and as I headed for the exit Darla said to me "John, you’re still coming over this evening, aren’t you?" I looked at her like she was out of her mind and kept walking.

There were indeed 144 cracks on the route home. Every time I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did. That reminded me of a joke I’d heard, though I didn’t understand it at the time. Pessimist: "Oh no, things couldn’t possibly get any worse!" Optimist: "Oh yes they can!" I really didn’t want to go home and I didn’t think Mom was expecting me. After my experience at the beach the other day, I decided to take a walk to the park. That was a mistake. I was sitting on the swings going as high as I could when they appeared. The new "fantastic four" appeared with gloves and bats and balls and began playing ball. Thankfully, they hadn’t seen me. Wanting to get out of the area as quickly as possible, I jumped from the swing as it was arcing towards the top. I was flying and came down in a heap about fifteen feet from my starting point.

I didn’t even think about moving, though I was pretty sure I was all right. I must have lost about a pint of water in tears before I decided that I couldn’t lay there forever. The four of them were lost in their game as I lifted myself up. I made my way out the long way behind the swings and through the woods. This was getting ridiculous, I thought. I searched my mind thoroughly for ONE good thing going on in my life and I came up empty. Deciding that decrying boys or girls wasn’t getting me anywhere, I simply muttered "people." All the way home I found myself singing that old quasi nursery rhyme: "Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll eat a worm." I arrived home and made my way inside.

"Mom, I’m home!"

"Did you have a good day dear?" She asked with some concern in her voice.

"Yes Mom, I did! I’m going up to my room for a bit to take a nap, all right?" There were some pains that Moms just couldn’t cure.

"OK sweetheart, I’ll wake you up at 5 o’clock You don’t want to nap too long or you won’t be able to sleep tonight."

"Thanks Mom," I replied and made my way for my room. Not ten minutes later she shouted up to me.

"John, it’s your friend Darla on the phone!"

I felt like saying "OK Mom, tell her to go to hell!." In the end I said, "OK Mom, thanks! I got it!" I picked up the extension and waited till I heard Mom’s click. Darla began to say something and I placed the phone back on the receiver.

Five minutes later, my mother was screaming at me again. "John, it’s Darla! Pick up the phone."

I picked up the phone and said my voice trembling "What do you want?"

"John, I’m so sorry" she began.

"So am I," I interrupted and hung up on her yet again. It only took her two minutes to call back this time. I picked up the phone myself and waited for her to speak.

"Please John, just come over at seven as we planned and I’ll explain everything.

"If I agree will you promise to stop ringing my phone every two minutes?"

"YES!" she said enthusiastically.

"I’ll see you later Darla and please don’t call again." I hung up the phone. I looked at the clock and noticed that I still had time for a power nap. As upset as I was with Darla I was glad that she’d called. I then found myself wondering whether this was going to turn out the same way it had with Sam a few days earlier. One way to test my theory about romance screwing things up. Darla and I had not been romantic though…

Five PM arrived and my mother, more reliable than an alarm clock awakened me. "Time to get up," her voice echoed through the hallways. I got up and made my way to the bathroom. I’d cried more in these last few days than I had in my entire life. I thought crying was something only little kids did? I took care of business and washed my face. I had no desire to make myself "pretty" for anyone that afternoon. I just checked my face to make sure a human being was staring back at me. I sighed audibly as I remembered to twist those damned earrings. I was beginning to associate all of my troubles starting with the holes placed in my ears. I considered this for a moment and realized that wasn’t the case. One last look in the mirror, I gave myself my best fake smile.

I made my way downstairs and felt a serious rumbling in my tummy. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. I entered the kitchen and checked out the refrigerator. Not being wasteful, I retrieved my uneaten sandwich from lunch time and filled a bowl with potato salad. Mom did make the best potato salad I’d ever tasted. I poured myself a glass of milk and sat down to eat.

"What’s that you’re eating John?" Mom asked.

"Ah just some of your delicious potato salad," I replied.

"No, I meant the sandwich. If you’re eating that now, you’ll have nothing to take for lunch tomorrow."

"That’s all right, Mom," I said hoping that she wouldn’t open the refrigerator, see the substantial amount of turkey remaining and put the entire story together.

"All right dear, it’s your call. I guess we can save that frozen dinner for another time?" she mused. As she said that I found myself thinking of the possibility of attending tomorrow night’s dance.

"So, how are your ears holding up?" She asked me. I told her good so far and asked for how much longer I’d have to keep twisting them. Mom said that about three more weeks should do it. That seemed like an eternity to me and I said so. She laughed at my reply and told me I should be thankful she hadn’t had two holes placed in each ear as she’d originally planned. I was seriously beginning to wonder whether my mother had some serious mental illness that I hadn’t been told about.

"Yes Mom, well next time we go there I want to find out about getting my nipples pierced." That woke her up and shut her up. I laughed silently at my creative abilities. In an attempt to change the subject I asked her "Is everything all right with Dad?"

"What do you mean?"

I told her "Well, when I came home last night you two practically ignored me." Mom went silent for a moment before replying

"Yes John, everything’s fine." Just the way she said it, I found myself thinking that grown-ups had their secrets too.

I finished eating, cleaned off my plates and placed them in the dishwasher. I asked Mom if she was going to be ok before taking my leave. She assured me again that everything was fine and told me I’d better get a move on or I’d be late for my study date. I cringed visibly at that. Mom noticed, but didn’t say anything. I figured she knew something was up. I made my way back to my room and once again emptied my bag of everything but my science books. I seriously doubted that I’d be at Darla’s long enough to do any studying, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. I found myself in the bathroom yet again, staring at my reflection. Was I turning into some kind of narcissist? As that thought entered my head, I turned away from the mirror.

"Mom, I’m going!"

"Just make sure you’re home by 9:30, Joan." For awhile there I thought we were done with the "Joan" business, but I guess it wasn’t going to disappear that easily. That was one thing I didn’t miss about Sam. Her new insistence on calling me "Joan" and "girl" all the time. All right, perhaps I wasn’t being honest with myself, but at that very moment that’s how I felt. I made my way to Darla’s trying to imagine just what type of excuses she might have concocted for her behavior at lunch time. I couldn’t come up with anything that made sense and decided to just go and "let the chips fall where they may." Another old expression I’d heard my Dad use many times, but I still have no idea what it means… potato chips?

Looking at my watch, I noticed that it was almost seven. Not wanting to appear too eager, I made myself walk around the block. I arrived back at 7:05 PM. Darla answered the door before I could ring the bell. "Well, you would have been on time if you hadn’t walked round the block before returning," she commented. How did she know I walked around the block? Her comment made me a wee bit uneasy. "Please come inside." I entered hesitantly and wondered where her parents were. "Dad is still at the hospital," she informed me " and Mom had some kind of meeting tonight that she couldn’t miss." This should have been every fourteen year old boy’s dream but I found that it simply made me nervous.

"Are you sure my being here is all right?" . She looked at me like I had a screw loose and replied

"Yes John, it’s fine. Let’s go upstairs."

There was no place on this earth I’d rather have gone at that moment, but I found myself saying; "Wait, we can talk here first. I believe you have some explaining to do?"

She begged me to join her upstairs and told me that she’d explain it all in a minute. I had no idea what I was doing. I did like Darla and did hope that we could be closer "friends." I decided to put my hesitancy issues away and just speak from the heart. "OK Darla, let’s go." She smiled at that and reached for my hand as we ascended the stairs. Not sure why, but I did let her hold my hand as we made our way upstairs. We entered her room and she went to close the door. "Darla, please leave the door open."

She looked at me like I was nuts but replied, "all right John."

"So, what is it you want to say to me," I asked, tired of beating about the bush.

"Well John, it’s like this. Sarah and I have been best friends since third grade when her family first moved to our town. As we grew older our relationship evolved into something more than just friendship." Sarah’s comment to me that I was ruining everything was beginning to make sense. "John, the fact of the matter is: Sarah thinks she’s in love with me." I was more confused than I’d been just moments ago. How does one merely "think" they’re in love with someone and, more importantly, how does one tell the difference?

"That still doesn’t explain your behavior at the lunch table this afternoon:" I replied. Darla stood there staring at me with tears beginning to find an escape route from her eyes. I stood my ground and decided that I wasn’t going to be manipulated by such gestures ever again.

At last she said, "You’re right John, it doesn’t. There is no excuse for my behavior this afternoon. I can only promise you it will never happen again and hope that you can forgive me."

I considered her statement for the longest time. I did understand her, I could forgive her, but found myself wondering if she’d do the same for me and my relationship with Sam? And,. If the situation was reversed, would I abandon Sam for her? I honestly answered myself no, though I felt no need to inform Darla to my thought processes. Yes, we were kids and yes, kids weren’t supposed to know anything. But, I knew that all Sam had to do was say the word and I’d drop Darla like a hot potato. At last, back to the topic at hand I asked her "And what happens tomorrow at lunch time?"

Her whole body began to shake and she burst into tears. "I don’t know John," she cried. I felt so bad for her at that moment. I found myself with my arms around her, hugging her close, telling her we’d work it all out somehow. She melted in my arms. I knew that experience having done the same in Sam’s embrace.

"It’s going to be all right Darla, I promise." She had more faith in my words than I did as I felt all of the tension easing out of her body.

I held her close like that for more than awhile. At first she’d buried her head in my shoulders, but finally she reached up with her face and kissed me full on the lips. Her lips were soft and tender. Their caress soft and delicate. I found myself wanting to hold her and protect her from everything and anything. She looked deep into my eyes and whispered "Oh John!" I smiled at that. This was very different from holding and kissing Sam. In Darla’s eyes I was all boy and I had to admit that felt good. I found myself more confused than I’d ever been about the role of gender in relationships. I was beginning to come to the conclusion that gender as such didn’t matter, what mattered was how two people felt about each other. Sam wanted me to be her "girl" and that was good and Darla wanted me to be her "man" and that was good too. Somehow, I didn’t think life was meant to be this confusing.

"Darla," I whispered.

"Yes John?" she inquired.

"I think we really need to devote some time to studying. She smiled at that and considered me the practical one. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I felt in that role, but knew that I cared for this person very much and didn’t want to hurt her. We made our way to the study table and spent the next hour and a half going over the material. "Well, do you think we’re going to survive this ordeal?"

"If we don’t, you have to promise to walk me to summer school every day," she said and burst out laughing. As I was packing up my books I found my eyes once again lost on her makeup table.

"You really are fond of that table, aren’t you? Is there something you’re not telling me?" I blushed and smiled simultaneously and told her we could talk about it another time. She accepted that and asked me if I’d walk her to school tomorrow. I replied that I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do as I said my goodbyes.

The walk home was uneventful. I entered the front door and made my presence known. "Mom, Dad, I’m home!" A soft "woof" greeted me. "Hello? Anybody home?"

"In here John" came my mother’s voice from the kitchen. I walked in and there was Mom sitting at the table alone. She looked as though she’d been crying.

"Is everything all right Mom?" I asked with serious concern in my voice. "Where’s Dad?" She sat there staring at the table and told me that Dad had a very important court case in the morning and would be spending the night in a motel near the courthouse. That sounded reasonable enough, I supposed, but Dad had never done anything like that before. I walked over to her and gave her the biggest hug I could muster. She smiled at that and asked me how things had gone at Darla’s.

"I feel confident about tomorrow’s test," I lied, hoping that would be answer enough for her. She smiled again and told me I’d better get up to bed so that I’d be well rested for tomorrow’s exam. I wanted to ask her if it’d be all right if I went to the dance tomorrow, but seeing that sad look in her eyes, I decided that it could wait. I hugged her again, kissed her on the cheek, and whispered in her ear. "I love you Mom. You’re the best!" "Goodnight" we both said simultaneously and I made my way to my room.

I lay in bed wondering just what was going to happen at lunch tomorrow. Would Sam ever speak to me again? Then there was that damned science test to worry about too. It just seemed like more stress than someone of my tender age should have to deal with. That last thought made me smile and I got up and prepared myself for bed. I checked my alarm clock to make sure it was turned on. No need to adjust the time as I’d be heading to Darla’s for the third day in a row. I turned out the light and waited for sleep to embrace me. It didn’t take long…………….

Chapter 9

Friday on my Mind

The next morning the alarm sounded and I found myself reaching for the snooze button to grab an extra ten minutes of sleep. It seemed like I’d just hit it when it began sounding again. Was the damned thing broken? I opened my eyes, looked at the clock and saw that time had indeed passed. I dragged my body out of bed and got ready to greet the day. No time to dally in the shower, I washed up in record time. I felt free in a way that I can’t describe that morning. I selected clothing at random. It almost looked as if I’d put together a mismatched outfit on purpose. I smiled at the thought. I gave a quick glance to my reflection and combed my hair with my fingers. Good enough, I thought after a few seconds. I re-packed my book bag and made my way down to the kitchen.

Upon entering, Mom looked at me in surprise. "What’s this?" she inquired. "Mismatched clothes and it looks like you combed your hair with a lawn rake." She didn’t know how close to being right she was.

"It’s just me being me" I replied with a smile on my face. I really was in a good mood and had no idea why. I took my time eating my cheerios and got up to make my lunch. Fortunately, there was still plenty of turkey left for another sandwich.

"I thought you finished the turkey last night?" Mom asked.

"I guess there was more than you realized," I said. She let the matter drop for which I was thankful. I didn’t want a rehash of yesterday’s events leading to an explanation as to why I hadn’t eaten my lunch at lunch time.

The clock was closing in on seven thirty as I made my way to the door. "Good luck on your exam, sweetheart" Mom intoned.

"Luck? Who needs luck?" I laughed as I made my way out the door. I took the long way around. If I was two minutes late, then I was two minutes late. I almost had forgotten what it was like to feel "good" in the morning. I think it had something to do with the fact that it was totally about "me" and no one else. I wasn’t hanging my happiness on someone else’s coattails.

Surprisingly, I made it to Darla’s on time. As she had the two days previously, she came out to greet me. "John?" she asked looking me over carefully. "Is the circus in town?" I laughed out loud and took her statement as something of a compliment.

"Not to my knowledge," I said. "Do you know something I don’t know?"

"But you’ve been dressing so nicely all week," she whined.

"Let’s just chalk it up to a "casual Friday" then. Come on, we’re going to be late if we don’t get a move on." I found myself doing something I’d not done before. I reached for Darla’s hand and held it tightly as we began walking. She smiled at that and the day got a little better.

"Are you ready to hear how you did on the history exam?" She asked me.

I smiled again and not sure why, but I replied; "Darla, I’m ready for anything." For some reason my statement as to my own well being seemed to have lifted her spirits as well. We continued our journey silently, each lost in our own thoughts. We were a few minutes early in arriving and Sally who had just exited the bus came over to say hello.

"Are you guys ready for the science exam?" she asked. I simply laughed and Darla replied "Yes." I’m not sure why but I felt no ill will towards Sally and the lunch room incident yesterday.

The bell rang and we made our way inside. I found myself focused and totally determined to have a GREAT day! I sat in homeroom and thought about doing a last minute panic review of the science material. I then thought, it wasn’t necessary. I was going to do great on today’s exam. I wish I knew why I felt so fantastic that morning. If I could bottle those feelings and sell them, I’d be rich in no time at all. "Have a wonderful weekend, class" Mrs. Pembroke said as we made our way to first period. I wasn’t even worried about getting my history test back. This was totally amazing!

I took my seat and Mrs. Stratford announced "Class I have your exams graded, recorded, and ready to distribute." A nervous gasp was emitted from the crowd. "I’m going to call your names one-by-one. When I do, you will come up to my desk and retrieve your papers. Please place them face down on your desk upon returning. Your test contains both a numerical grade and an alphabetical one. One represents your efforts on this exam and the other your grade for the marking period. I hope I don’t have to explain which is which?" A bit of nervous laughter emerged this time and Mrs. Stratford began calling names. I watched the faces of those who returned to their seats upon obtaining their exams. Some were all smiles and some looked like they’d lost their best friend. I was too familiar with the latter look.

"Mr. Johnson" she called. I got up from my seat and walked to the front of the room thinking positive thoughts. I knew I had aced that exam. I took my papers and without looking at them returned to my seat and placed them face down as instructed. Anyone looking at my face for an indication as to how I’d done would have been at a loss. She continued calling names and finally I heard the name "Raspberry" and watched as Darla went to retrieve her own paper. I watched her face intently. She seemed slightly distressed. I sat there and looked out the window as the last few names were called. At last all of the papers had been distributed and it was time to review the test. I could delay it no longer. I turned my papers over and stared calmly at my grades. Test score: 100% semester grade "A." I heaved a sigh of relief. I did not however make any show regarding my performance. There were some shouts of "Yes!" and some groans too as Mrs. Stratford continued.

Those of you scoring less than 70% have an opportunity on Monday afternoon to redeem yourselves. Some of the material from this exam may appear on the makeup test. The range of scores was as follows and she proceeded to draw a bell curve on the blackboard. It seems that mine was the only perfect paper. No wonder Darla was upset. Anything less than perfect was unacceptable to her. I wondered why she put herself under such stress. Six out of twenty five had actually failed. I was surprised as it really hadn’t been all that difficult. I began worrying about lunch. I could see Darla asking me how I’d done and me saying that mine was the only perfect paper. Yeah, she’d back me up then, I laughed cynically to myself. Well, my goal initially had been to beat Sam. The best she could have done was "tie" me. It seemed a hollow victory though, inasmuch as I’d never get the chance to share that bit of information with her. Was I ever going to stop missing her?

Class ended and the rest of the morning progressed uneventfully. Lunch time arrived and I felt a knot growing in the pit of my stomach. I was determined to be "first" sitting down at the table. It’s kind of hard to tell someone they’re not welcome at "your" table when you’re sitting there first. I practically ran to the cafeteria without stopping at my locker before going in. I was indeed one of the first inside. I made my way over to the table against the wall and sat in the seat that I’d occupied for the last three days. Darla and Sally were the next to arrive. Darla smiled at me and Sally, sensing a brawl, did her best to ignore the situation. Finally Sarah arrived.

"I thought I told you yesterday that you’re not welcome here? Are you stupid or something?" I remained silent waiting for Darla to say something. I looked at her pleadingly for support. It seemed none was forthcoming. Sarah was about to begin her attack again when Darla interrupted her.

"Sarah, John is here as my guest. If you don’t like it, perhaps you can look for someplace else to sit?" Sarah made no effort to move. I found myself bringing up the topic of the dance that evening, asking them who was going and who wasn’t. Sarah didn’t seem placated. In a strange way I understood exactly what she was going through. I almost felt that if I had the "balls" I’d have broken the unwritten rules and been the "fifth" person sitting at my former table. The middle seat between Duncan, who now occupied my own and Jim who had sat next to me. I honestly felt bad for Sarah and did my best to acquiesce to her opinions. She did not seem mollified by my behavior though. I caught Darla’s glance and my own eyes conveyed a huge silent "thank you!" I could tell she understood as she smiled back at me. I wondered how Darla was at "hand language?"

Sally informed me that she, Sarah, and Darla were going to the dance this evening together (as if I didn’t already know that.) "Really?" I replied. "Do you think it would be all right if I joined you?" Darla looked at me, a very strange look: one that conveyed awe and delight.

Sally, without looking in Sarah’s direction said "Oh John, would you like to? That would be wonderful!" she exclaimed. I sat there thinking to myself "what a difference a day makes."

"So, we’ll all meet outside in front of the building at 7:30 right?" Darla inquired of the three of us. Sarah grunted non-comitally, while Sally and I gave her an enthusiastic "yes!" For a brief moment I wondered what I’d do if Sam did indeed show up this evening. At length I decided that Sam was making her own choices and they were her problem. I only wished that I could buy into my own rationalizations. I missed Sam more than I missed my next breath. The period bell sounded and we all made our way out of the lunch room.

Before I knew it I was sitting at my desk waiting for Mr. Benson to distribute the science exams. I channeled the positive spirits that seemed to be with me that day. No, I’m not into any kind of religion. I was just trying to maintain a positive outlook on the day overall. I received my copy of the exam and looked it over quickly. Fifty multiple guess (choice) questions worth two points apiece! "Yes!" I said aloud startling a few sitting within hearing distance. I’d never studied so diligently for a science test and thus felt a confidence I’d never known before. Mr. Benson went through the usual rigmarole, looked at the clock, calculated the time remaining in the class and told us we had 52 minutes remaining and to begin!

Unlike the history exam I’d taken on Tuesday, the answers jumped off the page at me as I progressed. I began thinking that if I performed well enough on this exam that I’d earn an "A" in science as well. I forced my mind back to the subject matter at hand. That was indeed the fastest and most satisfying hour I’d spent in science class all year. This time I finished fifteen minutes ahead of the bell and again felt no need to review my work. I looked over at Darla who seemed lost in thought as she reviewed the questions intently. No one had turned in their papers yet and I thought it might freak a few out if I turned my papers in that early. Ok, so I had evil thoughts sometimes, I laughed deviously. I handed my exam to Mr. Benson and thanked him for a year well spent.

"Well, technically, the year’s not over yet," he replied, his bow tie smiling at me. I smiled in return at his statement thinking to myself: "what a pompous ass" and returned to my seat.

The next ten minutes passed quickly and Mr. Benson announced to the distress of many. "Put your pens down and pass your papers forward." The bell rang and we made our way for the exit. There was a buzz about the room concerning the dance. Had I been that far off the radar, I wondered? A week ago I wouldn’t have even considered the end of the year dance. Now, I’d committed myself to attending without even having gained permission. Life was indeed strange. I made my way out into the hall and Darla collared me. "I want you over at my house at 6:30" she commanded.

"Why so early?" I whined.

"Seeing the way you dressed yourself this morning, I want to be sure you’re properly attired," was all she said.

"I’ll do my best," I informed her.

"Make sure that you bring two pair of pants and two tops besides what you’ve chosen for yourself."

"Why?" I asked her.

"Because, I’m choosing your outfit for the evening." I could sense shades of Sam all over again, but having aced the history exam and as far as I could tell the science exam as well, I simply said "OK."

"If I can’t be there at 6:30, I’ll call you all right?" She smiled but only for a second and told me that I’d just better be there by 6:30.

I was almost floating on air as I made my way home that afternoon. Cracks in the sidewalk, who cares?" I laughed to myself. Before I knew it I was at my front door and let myself in. "Mom, I’m home!" If I only had a nickel for every time I’d made that pronouncement.

"Joan darling!" came her reply. "How did your science exam go?"

"I think I did well Mom, but here look at this," I told her as I pulled out my history exam.

"A perfect score! Oh My!" She seemed lost in my success for a moment. "Sweetheart, what can I say? I’m so proud of you!" I wasn’t sure how or why but I sensed a look of victory in her eyes.

"Is everything all right Mom?" I asked her. I almost added; have you heard from Dad? I hate to admit to myself, even now, but my main concern that afternoon was being able to attend the dance that evening.

"Oh Joan!" she came over and hugged me. She literally lifted me off of my feet and spun me around. It felt glorious!

"Mom, can I ask you something?"

"Of course darling" she replied. "Well, there’s this end of the year dance tonight. Seventh graders are invited and Darla has asked me to go with her. Would that be all right?" The seconds passed. I watched the third hand on the kitchen clock as it slowly revolved around the base.

"I love you Joan!" Mom said at last. I knew that already, but that wasn’t the question, was it? I took her response as a "yes" and hugged her tightly.

"Oh Mommy, thank you!" I exhalted sincerely. " I have to be over at Darla’s by 6:30," I told her.

"And why is that?"

"Well, she saw how I was dressed this morning and she wasn’t too impressed," I said trying to make light of it.

"I suppose it doesn’t matter," Mom replied at last. "Besides, you’ve still got that spare frozen dinner in the freezer," she said and smiled sadly.

I knew I’d have to figure out just what was bothering Mom. I also knew that now was not the time. "Mom, I really think that nap yesterday helped in ways I can’t explain!" I exhorted.

"Are you telling me that you want to go and take a nap?" She laughed.

I found myself blushing as I replied "Am I that easy to read? You will make sure I’m awake by 5:30?" I asked her.

"Oh my! You’re going to sleep for that long?" It was not quite 3:00 PM and I found myself embarrassed by my request.

"Well, no Mom,. not that long" I tried.

"Just shut up and go take your nap. I will wake you at 5:00 PM" she said at last. I thanked her, hugged her, and told her I loved her as I made my way upstairs. I thought that five did indeed make more sense as I’d been ordered to bring along two different outfits other than what I’d chosen to wear. I just knew this was going to be a perfect day when I awoke this morning.

I found myself in bed at 3:05. Inasmuch as it wasn’t official bedtime, I decided to sleep in the buff. I couldn’t believe how free I felt lying there under the covers in the all-together. The feeling was so good that I began to wonder why I ever wore pajamas at all. That was the last thought I had as I drifted off to sleep. It was a blissful sleep and though it lasted for a short time, I felt as though I’d had a good "night’s" sleep.

"John, time to get up" my mother intoned. "Come here and tell me about your evening." I heard her request as I groggily regained consciousness and slowly made my way downstairs to discover just what was on her mind. My top was half unbuttoned, my jeans were a bit askew as I made my way to my usual chair at the kitchen table. Mom smiled at me as I sat down and brought me a cup of coffee. Was she trying to addict me to caffeine, I thought idly? I thanked her profusely and wrapped both my hands around the mug. It was black, just the way I liked it. I figured if you were going to drink something as foul tasting as coffee, there was no reason to try and mask the taste.

Mom sat down opposite me and asked me about my evening. "Well Mom, I have to be at Darla’s by 6:30" I responded.

"I thought the dance wasn’t till much later?" she said. Hmmm? How to handle this?

"The dance does begin at 7:30 Mom" I replied "but, Darla wants me there early to make sure I’m appropriately attired." I knew I’d explained this to her earlier. It wasn’t like Mom to forget a conversation we had.

It was still early but Mom told me, "you’d better go and get yourself ready then."

"I hope I have your permission to stay out till 10:30 this evening?" I begged.

"No Joan, you don’t." My hear sank. "However, if you’re not home by 11:00 PM I’m going to send the state police after you." I was soaring high above the clouds as I embraced her in my arms yet again and told her she was the "best" Mom in the universe!

At that point I reasoned that I was again in need of cleaning. I bade my mother farewell as I made my way upstairs to prepare myself for the evening ahead. Next thing I knew, I was in the shower with water cascadinng down all around me I felt so refreshed, I worried for a moment that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at evening’s end. It’s amazing the things you worry about when you haven’t got anything "real" to worry about. Speaking of real things to worry about, I wondered again if Sam might show up this evening. There just had to be a way that she and I could work things out. Remembering my dream from the other evening, I decided that the time to set things right with Sam would best be done in Darla’s absence. I turned off the shower and stepped carefully out of the tub.

I’d taken a very hot shower and the room was filled with steam. I opened the door slightly to let the steam escape and began drying myself off. As I did so I began contemplating what I was going to wear for the evening. Darla hadn’t really been serious about the clothes thing, had she? I decided to select the nicest clothes I could find and tell her that was all I had. Somehow, I thought that would disappoint her and in the end decided that one additional outfit would have to suffice. I really didn’t have three outfits that were suitable for such an occasion. I settled on a pair of navy blue slacks, a crisp white cotton dress shirt, and thought for a moment about wearing a tie. No one would be wearing a tie, would they? Just to be on the safe side I packed two in my bag. Along with what I was wearing, I also selected a pair of khaki pants and paired them with a light green colored polo shirt. I began to think that I should go with the khakis and in the end, I did so.

I carefully checked my image in the bedroom mirror. I picked up my hair brush and began fixing my hair. I twisted my earrings and at length I decided that all I needed was a bit of lipstick and perhaps some eye makeup. Why was I having such thoughts? I shook my head violently and went back to my self-inspection. I couldn’t resist the temptation and removed the tube from my bag. I just had to see how it would all look. I stood in front of the mirror and consciously applied the lipstick. It really did make me look pretty and I smiled. All of a sudden I heard footsteps on the stairs. In a panic, I grabbed the box of tissues and began ripping at my lips furiously in an attempt to remove the color.

"Are you almost ready John?"

"Give me a few minutes" I said "and don’t come in, I’m not dressed!" Mom laughed at that and reminded me that she’d seen me naked often enough. I wished I’d had some cream or something so I could remove the traces of color from my lips. I sat there using my saliva and wiping them until I couldn’t see the color any longer. I almost threw the tissues in my wastebasket and shuddered slightly at the thought of Mom finding them there.

Satisfied at last, I made my way out into the hall way. Mom stood there just beyond my door waiting for me. "Well, what do you think?" I asked her. She eyed me carefully and told me that I looked almost perfect.

"The only thing you need darling is a bit of lipstick." WHAT??? My mind screamed.

"What did you say Mom?" I asked her.

"You heard me," was all she said. We stood there staring at each other and I began to wonder about my "secret compartment" in my backpack. "You do look quite nice John, but I don’t think you should wear sneakers, do you?" We stood there face to face and then she licked her thumb. Had Mom gone totally round the bend? Seeing the inquisitive look in my eyes she smiled and placed her thumb on my lower lip and began wiping it. OH MY GOD! She knew! "Don’t worry sweetheart. It’s ok for girls to want to look their best." I felt like I was going into shock. I stood there frozen, unable to move. "Come on Joan. Let’s go get you something to eat." What else could I do? I grabbed my backpack and followed her down the stairs. We reached the kitchen. Mom opened the fridge and removed two pre-made salads.

I sat down opposite her and just had to ask. "How did you know?"

She eyed me for awhile as if trying to decide whether or not to clue me in. Finally, she said "remember when you came in here carrying that teddy bear? You had traces of lipstick on your lips. At first, I thought that Sam had been wearing it and that some had simply rubbed off on you. Then I realized that Sam wouldn’t wear lipstick. I’ve also noticed traces of it on your lips since then. Just let me know when you’re ready to talk about it."

I felt such deep gratitude for her and said "Thanks Mom."

"No problem, Joan sweetheart."

I wanted to ask her just why she was eating now and not waiting for Dad, but somehow I thought that topic would upset her and wisely, I didn’t say anything. It felt a bit strange eating a salad as my main course, but it also felt like the right thing to do. As we finished I took the plates, rinsed them off and put them in the dishwasher. "You’d better go and change your shoes" she told me. I’d forgotten all about them and ran up to my room and grabbed a pair of penny loafers from the closet. "That looks much better dear" she said as I came back down.

I found myself asking her, "Are you going to be all right this evening?"

She smiled at me and said, "Why, are you worried about your poor decrepit old Mom?" We both laughed at that. I gave her a big hug, told her I loved her and promised to be home by 11:00.

I’d never been allowed out alone till 11:00 before. I carried my backpack commando style not wanting to wrinkle my shirt. I arrived at Darla’s on time and her mother answered the door. "Good evening Mrs. Raspberry," I said. "I believe Darla is expecting me?"

"Darla, you’re friend John is here," she screamed up the stairs.

"Tell him to come on up" she yelled back. Her mother looked at me seriously and finally decided it would be all right

"Well, you heard her. I believe you know which room is hers?" Not needing any further prompting, I made my way upstairs.

"Oh John, you look lovely!" she exclaimed looking me over.

"Thanks. You don’t look so bad yourself."

"Did you bring the extra clothes?" She asked. I hemmed and hawed for a moment trying to decide whether or not to explain that I only had one other outfit worthy of consideration. At last I handed her my bag. She accepted it like a kid on Christmas morning and opened it up and removed the contents. "Only one other outfit John?" she asked sternly. "And what’s this?" she said as she went to open my "secret" compartment. I reached to grab it out of her hands but she pulled it away before I could accomplish my task. "Sit down John" she said and I made my way to the study table. "Not there," she said. "Over there," and pointed to her makeup table. Did the entire universe know about my "secret?" "I suspected something like this" she said removing the tube from my bag. "The way your eyes refused to move away from my cosmetics the other evening. How long have you been wearing lipstick?"

I looked at her and didn’t know what to say. "Just for a week," I said at last.

"Uh huh" she replied suggesting with her tone that I’d been at it a lot longer than that. "Well, don’t just sit there. Put it on" she said handing me the tube. Could I actually do this in front of her? My eyes began to water. "Stop that right now Missy. Now put on your lipstick like a good girl." I so wanted to do it but I just couldn’t. Finally she said, "here give it to me." I didn’t think for a moment that she intended on using it on herself, still, I gave her the tube. "Now pucker up." I sat there facing her and at last, did as she ordered. She gently coated my lips and looked at me in surprise. "Oh John, I had no idea!"

"No idea about what?" I asked her in as deep a voice as I could muster.

"That you’d look so pretty wearing lipstick." I blushed and soon the rest of my face was as red as my lips.

"Thank you Darla," was all I could think of to say.

"You like the way it looks, don’t you John?"

I couldn’t deny it and simply said "Yes."

"I don’t suppose I can continue calling you John while you’re wearing that," she said and seemed lost in thought for a moment. "I know! And it’s so obvious, I’d almost bet you’ve heard it before, haven’t you Joan?"

There was no escaping "Joan" I thought as she continued on. "I still can’t get over how such a simple thing could make such a huge difference" she droned on. She told me to stand. I started to protest. "Just shut up and kiss me!" I stood, drew her close and we kissed. It wasn’t like kissing Sam. There weren’t any thunderbolts about, but it was very, very nice. Finally she said "You’d better remove that before we go out. Somehow, I don’t think my parents would approve." She laughed and handed me the jar of cold cream. I looked at the jar not knowing what to do with it. "You’re kidding right?" she asked. " "How do you remove it," she asked me? I told her of my tissue removal method and she burst out laughing. She removed the cap from the jar and applied a thin layer of the goop to my lips. "Just let it sit there a moment" she advised. "Now, take a tissue and wipe it off." It all came off so easily I couldn’t believe it. I began to stand up when she said "sit" as she would giving instruction to a dog. She began studying the many color choices available on her table.

"What are you looking for?"

"Just sit there and remain quiet" she said.

She selected a color at last and told me pucker up again. "Darla," I reminded her, "we’re almost out of time."

"Just shut up and do as you’re told," she demanded. I sat there as she repeated the procedure. "Perfect!" she said at last. "Take a look at yourself." I looked up in the mirror and couldn’t believe what I saw. The color of my lips hadn’t changed, but they contained a bit of gloss almost as if I were simply wearing chap stick.

"Darla, I can’t wear this outside."

"You can, and you will," she said authoritatively. I began reaching for the tissue to wipe my lips clean. "If you do that Joan, you can just go home now." There was no sign of sympathy in her eyes.

I sighed audibly and said in a pouty voice, "all right Darla, I won’t." She turned her back on me and walked over to my bag. As she was doing so I seriously considered wiping my lips clean. Not because I didn’t like the look, I did. I just didn’t want to hear about it from anybody else.

As if reading my mind, her voice assaulted me. "Joan, trust me, no one is going to notice your lipstick." I looked at myself in the mirror again and I wasn’t too sure about that. She gave me the tube and told me to put it in my pocket. "Too bad you don’t have a purse," she laughed. "Oh and you’d better bring your compact too," she said handing it to me. I took it and put it in my pocket not wondering just what I’d need it for.

It seemed I was slowly accumulating a lipstick collection. She told me to get up as she needed to complete her own makeup. As she began applying her mascara she smiled, stood up and told me to take the seat again just for a moment. Now what, I wondered?

"Just open your eyes wide Joan."

"No!" I replied in an attempt to put my foot down.

"You do want to go to the dance with me, don’t you Joan?"

Somehow I knew this technique had been used on me before by Sam. "Good, now open your eyes wide and keep your head steady." She took this brush full of black gunk and rolled it around on my upper eyelids. She stared into my eyes and smiled. For a moment I thought she was going to do the lower lids as well but thankfully she decided that that would be just a bit too obvious. "Now look at yourself in the mirror," she requested. I couldn’t believe the difference. My eyes seemed to look bigger somehow. "You’re going to be the prettiest girl at the dance," she said then added, "well, after me of course." She pulled me out of her chair, sat down, and finished her face.

"You look stunning," I whispered.

"Come on Joan, we’d better get going or we’re going to be late.

"Darla, about this "Joan" business," I said.

"Yes Joan?" she asked.

"Please don’t call me that in front of anyone else, ok?"

She considered this for a moment and at last replied, "OK."

"I’m not kidding Darla," I warned her.

"Message received," she said and then added, "Let’s go!" We made our way downstairs and Darla hollered out to her mother "Mom, we’re leaving now."

"Are you sure you don’t want a ride," she asked? Darla laughed and informed her mother that it wouldn’t look too cool to be driven to the dance by her Mommy.

"All right then, I’ll be there at 9:30 to pick you two up." A ride home was news to me, but I guess it made sense.

"OK Mom, we’ll see you later!" She said and we left. We held hands as we walked. Each reached for the other and our fingers intertwined. "Did you ever work things out with Sam," she asked as we continued to walk?

"Huh?" I replied.

"All right, I guess you still don’t want to talk about it." I remained silent and we continued on our way. "You got that red lipstick from her, didn’t you Joan?"

"Yes, I did," I replied. "Now can we please change the subject?"

The rest of the walk passed quickly. Darla dragged me to a halt about a block away from school. "Joan, you have to promise me something."

"What?" I asked.

"That we’ll dance the last dance together," she replied.

As I replied "Of course" she kissed me gently on the lips. We arrived at school and there were a ton of kids gathered outside. I was secretly hoping that we’d be unable to locate Sally and Sarah, but of course that was not to be.

"Darla," Sally said, "you look beautiful. So do you John," she added as an afterthought. I didn’t take any offense at having been called "beautiful." I knew Sally didn’t have a malicious bone in her body.

I looked them all over and replied "I’m the luckiest guy here."

"Why," Sally asked?

"Cause I get to escort the three prettiest girls in the school to the dance," I said gallantly. Sally did indeed look pretty. I suppose I’m a bit biased, but Sarah looked as though she’d tried too hard. As it neared seven thirty we joined the line to enter the building.

"Do you have any money John?"

"Money? What for?"

"There is no charge for the dance, but they are collecting donations to aid the hurricane victims." I removed my bills from my wallet. I only had five dollars left all in singles. Darla grabbed them out of my hand before I could protest and said "Thanks John, you’re the best!" I stood there for a moment staring at my now empty wallet and put it back in my rear pants pocket. She made our donation and we walked inside. The dance was being held in the gym. I couldn’t believe the transformation, . Crepe paper streamers were strung everywhere. Helium filled balloons were scattered about suspended in mid air by string. It reminded me of a political convention I’d once seen on TV. The room was a cacophony of discordant sounds. The music hadn’t started yet.

A voice came over the PA system "All right everybody listen up Is everyone ready to party?" It was not a rhetorical question and a reply was required. "I can’t hear you!" it said at last.. The crowd offered a reluctant "YES!" in unison and the voice realized that that was as good as it was going to get. The music began playing.

I looked at my side where Darla stood just moments ago and realized I was alone. Where had she gone off to, I wondered? Finally I saw her and Sarah off in a corner engaged in heated conversation. I really didn’t want to come between the two of them and headed off in their direction to tell them exactly that.

As I began walking Sally spotted me. Sensing my intentions she came over and grabbed my arm. "John, just leave them alone. There’s nothing you can do to help." I stood there thinking she was wrong, but in the end I stayed out of the way. Sally said "dance with me." I tried to explain to her that I hadn’t a clue when it came to dancing but she just dragged me out on the floor. It seems the entire female population was dragging me about these days. The music droned on and Sally began moving to the beat. "Just watch me and do what I do" she suggested. I stood there beyond embarrassed and she shouted "Come on.!" I began awkwardly moving to the music. "Just relax John,. You’re doing fine." I smiled at that and found myself moving more fluidly in response to the beat. "I knew you could do it" she said. "You’re a natural."

As I’d found myself saying too often these days, I replied "you’re not so bad yourself."

We kept dancing as one song segued into the next. Before I knew it we’d danced to four songs in a row. "Sally, I really need a break." Standing there quite thirsty and without funds I asked her; "Sally, could you spare a few dollars?" She asked me if I hadn’t brought any money. I explained the situation with Darla as we came in. She laughed. "Well, that’s one reason I’m glad you’re here. If it hadn’t been you, it would have been me," she said with mock sincerity. She asked me how much I wanted and I told her that three dollars would see me through the evening. I also told her that I’d give it back to her first thing Monday morning or, if she really needed it I could drop it off at her house. Of course, I had no idea where she lived, but the girl was doing me a favor after all. "It’s all right John, you can give it to me Monday" she said handing the bills over.

"What would you like to drink?" I asked her. She laughed and told me a "Coke" would be perfect. I made my way to the machines, purchased two of them and returned to where I’d left Sally moments ago.

You want to tell me what’s going on between Sarah and Darla?"

"I think Darla had better tell you herself," she replied. I considered doing just that. The both of them were still over in the corner lost in conversation.

"I think I will," I said as I started to make my way towards them.

"Not now John. I thought I’d made that clear to you?"

"Then you’ve got to give me something" I told her. She sighed and led me over to a section of bleachers that had been left open so the students would have some place to sit.

"Follow me" she said as she made her way up into the rafters. "Before I tell you anything, you’ll have to promise to never reveal a word of our conversation to anyone." I looked her steadily in the eyes and promised. "Well John, you see it’s like this," she hesitated for a minute before continuing. "Darla and Sarah have been lovers." Lovers, I thought? I remembered that Darla had said she thought that Sarah "loved" her, but lovers? I’d never made the connection. Suddenly Sarah’s actions made perfect sense.

"Well, what happened?" I asked after a time.

"You did!" she informed me. "Here’s something that you may or may not have figured out," she said. "Darla has had a thing for you for a long time. When she noticed that you walked to and from school alone she thought it was time she made her move.

"But if she’s a lesbian (the word stuck on my tongue) what would she want with me?"

She looked at me and said "Have you seen yourself in the mirror lately?" and laughed just a bit. "Oh, by the way, you really need to touch up your lipstick." I sighed audibly and found my whole body shaking involuntarily. The vibrations literally shook the bleachers. I could tell that she really wanted to comfort me but was reluctant to hug me in front of the whole school. As I’d lost control of my body for the moment, she reached across and put her arms around me and pulled me close. "It’s all right Joan.".

OK, enough was enough. "Why did you call me that?"

"It’s your name, isn’t it?" She smiled at me. And here all the time I thought that my "middle name" had been a complete secret.

"How did you know that?"

"It’s not important Joan, what is important is how everyone’s going to handle this situation. If you want my opinion," she said at last.

"Yes please!" I begged.

"Well, I think you’re an experiment for Darla. She wants to find out if she could really be attracted to a, dare I say it "boy?"" I looked at her speechless. I absolutely had no idea how to respond. Did everyone think of me as a "girl" I wondered? This was all news to me. In a week’s time my entire world had been turned upside down. I wanted to cry but remembered the mascara. The last thing I needed in the world were raccoon eyes. "You really ought to fix your lipstick," she said. "Go ahead, I’ll cover you."

"How do you know I’m carrying lipstick?"

She smiled at me as if I was a babe in the woods. "Do you have it with you?"

"Yes," I replied at last.

"Well, go ahead and put it on then girl," she demanded. "Somehow I don’t think they’ll let you into the girl’s room, though I honestly can’t see why not." I began shaking again and Sally told me to just calm down. I did and at length I took the tube and the compact out of my pocket. She watched me as I put it on and said "You are indeed a natural." I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that. I sat there checking my face. It was perfect.

"Come on. We can’t sit here all evening. Someone will get suspicious. Besides, I don’t want Darla mad at me. Remember your promise Joan!" I was at the point where I was ready to give up insisting that people call me "John." It seemed everyone was intent on calling me "Joan" despite any protestations from me. I did like the name and smiled as I thought of my mother while doing so.

"OK Sally, you want to dance?" I asked her as we made our way down the bleachers.

"I thought you’d never ask," she replied as we climbed down. An awkward moment hit as we reached the dance floor. A slow song began playing.

"Errrr Sally," I said.

"Shut up and dance with me" she said as she wrapped her arms around my shoulders. It felt really nice having Sally’s arms wrapped around me. At some point during the dance she placed her head on my shoulder. I just smiled as we continued to sway to and fro. The dance ended and someone was tapping Sally on the shoulder. It was Darla.

"So, you’re attempting to steal my new girlfriend?"

"No Darla! Not at all. I was just watching her for you while you were otherwise engaged." Darla smiled at her and apologized.

"I was only kidding Sally," she added. Sally heaved a sigh of relief and announced that she needed some air.

That left me and Darla standing alone together on the dance floor. "Did you straighten things out with Sarah?" I asked.

"Don’t worry about Sarah" she said and then added "Oooh! You’ve freshened your makeup." I blushed but didn’t deny it. I asked her if she’d like something to drink. I was still thirsty. The soda earlier hadn’t done the trick. "I thought you gave all of your money to the less fortunate? Were you holding out on me? " I told her that indeed I wasn’t and explained that I’d borrowed a few dollars from Sally. "Oh, so now you are borrowing money from my friends?" Were all females this crazy, I almost wondered aloud.

"I am going to pay her back Darla," I said at last.

"Let’s not fight over something so silly. And yes, I would like a soda."

"Any particular flavor?" I inquired.

"Surprise me," was all she said.

I made my way out into the hall, looked up and almost fainted dead away. Not twenty feet from me stood Sam walking slowly and holding hands with Billy. Sam came to a dance was my first thought. With Billy, was my second. I couldn’t think straight. The adrenaline surge almost had me foaming at the mouth. I attempted to calm myself and at last reminded myself that I was officially here with Darla. I found myself wanting to do a lot more to Billy than simply knocking him on his ass with a soccer ball. I stood in the queue and waited my turn to purchase some drinks. I know that Sam saw me, but she didn’t say anything and just kept on walking hand in hand with Billy. I found myself wishing that the earth would just swallow me up. That didn’t happen though and eventually it was my turn to make a purchase. I punched some buttons at random. Well, at random after discovering that the Coke had been sold out. I walked back into the gym and told Darla "you have two choices orange or mountain dew." She looked at me as if I’d read her mind, smiled and removed the mountain dew from my hand. I was glad of that as I couldn’t stand the stuff.

It was time to sit down and talk things over with Darla. "Are you having a good time?" she asked me. Having seen Sam just moments ago walking hand in hand with Billy, I knew the answer to that question.

"It’s all been very interesting," I replied cryptically. She took my answer as a "yes" and didn’t continue on in that vein.

"The dance is going to be over soon," she informed me.. I honestly had no idea what time it was.

"It is?" I replied.

"Yes Joan, it is," she said sadly.

"It’s all right Darla" I reassured her "There’s always tomorrow." She smiled at that, pulled me close and kissed me. "Darla" I began "Is there something between you and Sarah that I should know about?" The look on her face betrayed her thoughts.

"What do you mean, Joan?"

"It’s just that you and Sarah were lost in conversation for the longest time," I replied. Knowing the real story but unable to reveal the truth of that to her, I felt helpless. Damn, I hated secrets. "I just thought that Sarah might be happy for the both of us." I said in an attempt at clarification.

Darla, to her credit, explained just what was going on between her and Sarah. Perhaps she suspected I already knew? "If you are indeed a lesbian," I found myself saying "just what do you want from me?" I almost said that like I was begging for someone to recognize that I was indeed a boy.

"Joan" she replied "You’re beautiful and gentle. You’re nothing like a boy at all." I knew she intended that as a compliment, but I took umbrage.

"Darla," I informed her "I am indeed a boy."

"Really? With those lips and eyes and ears?" She seemed ready to continue on into infinity when I cut her short.

"Darla, when all is said and done, I am indeed a boy." I said matter of factly. She seemed unsure whether or not to grant me that..

At last she said,. "yes Joan, you are and I’m sorry." Why was it every time someone apologized to me I found myself in their debt?

The announcement came that the last song of the evening would be playing in a few minutes. " Please find your partners now. " a disembodied voice intoned. I looked at Darla, remembering my promise and she walked with me to the dance floor. I couldn’t believe it! The last song of the evening was to be Savage Garden’s "Santa Monica." I heard the first few notes of the song and pulled Darla close to me. I found myself cooing the lyrics in her ear as the song unfolded. She seemed to melt in my arms. I smiled, and for a moment felt myself on top of the world: "but on the telephone line I am anyone, I am anything, I want to be I could be a super model, a caped crusader and you wouldn’t know the difference, or would you?" She looked up at me with "hope" in her eyes. I smiled back and held her closer still. Darla, I thought, this is all so wrong, but I feel so happy at this moment. She floated in every and any direction I moved. The song ended and I kissed her tenderly on the lips. She whispered softly into my ear "I love you Joan." Her pronouncement made me happy and sad simultaneously. I did have very deep and protective feelings for her, but I knew deep down that I’d always love Sam.

As the song ended, we were thanked for attending the dance. Those that had made the arrangements wished us all a safe trip home. I saw the look of sadness in her eyes and kissed Darla again. We finished and she looked at me expectantly. "I guess we’d better go outside and wait for your Mom to arrive?"

"She’s probably already out there, " was her resigned reply.

"Darla, are you doing anything tomorrow?" I asked her not wanting this night to end.

"What are you asking me Joan?" she replied. I sighed and told her I just wanted to know if she’d like to get together this weekend.

"Well, I do have an appointment at the salon in the morning. Perhaps we could meet in the afternoon?" she stated hopefully.

"What time?" I said.

"Is One PM too late for you?"

I told her that would be fine as I had a fair amount of work to accomplish in the morning. She looked at me quizzically, but said nothing. We made our way outside and found ourselves searching for Mrs. Raspberry’s Mercedes.

It wasn’t long before we found it amid the vehicles waiting for their teen-aged children to arrive. "Did you kids have a good time?" Mrs. Raspberry asked.

I considered all of the things that had happened and responded for both of us "yes, Mrs. Raspberry, we had a great time." She seemed appeased at that and made her way home.

"Where do you live John?" she asked me. I gave her my address and she proceeded to it.

"Darla, I guess I can pick up my bag tomorrow?

"Of course Joan," she replied and said nothing else. The ride home was far too short and we reached my home in minutes.

"I’ll see you at one o’clock tomorrow then?" By way of reply she simply squeezed my hand three times rapidly. I was worried for both myself and her by her response. Was I leading her on? I gained control of my emotions and kissed Darla sweetly under the watchful eyes of her mother in the rearview mirror.

"Goodnight Darla!! Goodnight Mrs. Raspberry!" I said as I exited the vehicle.

"Joan!" She implored. " Just remember," and she squeezed my hand three times again. I was in a total daze as I made my way for the front door. Mrs. Raspberry, it seemed was not going to leave until I made my way safely inside. I fumbled with my keys and at last had the right one in the lock. I looked back and waved as I entered my humble abode.

"John, it’s not quite ten o’clock?" my mother’s voice greeted me.

"Should I go out and wander for a bit before returning?" I asked her.

"No!" she said. "Come here and tell me all about your evening." I walked slowly towards her wondering with each step where Dad was.

I couldn’t ignore the situation any longer and asked her "Mom, where’s Dad?" She smiled at me confidently and told me he’d already gone to bed.

"WHEW!" I felt happy for Mom and relieved for myself.

"Tell me about your evening?" she said again.

"Well Mom, it was like this…" I said and began explaining the evening’s events. She listened patiently and asked at length if I’d seen Sam. My eyes began watering and I was within seconds of a total meltdown when she informed me that she’d heard from Aunt Alice that Sam would be attending the dance.

"Are you all right, Joan?" she asked me. By way of follow up she told me that she loved my new lipstick. "Did Darla give that to you?" I looked at her slack-jawed, unsure how to reply. "It’s hardly noticeable at all" she said before I could say anything. "Oh, and let me see your eyes! Damn it, you should have been a girl" she said at last.

"So, you’d prefer a lesbian daughter to a healthy son then?" I said and we both broke into laughter. "Did you go shopping for your dress?" I asked. I was hoping that she had and that I wouldn’t have to accompany her on another shopping venture.

"No" she replied "I thought we could do that tomorrow night. We did have such fun last Saturday." Sensing her still somewhat delicate mood I told her that I’d love to go with her. Part of me wasn’t sure if I was being honest with myself.

We said our goodnights and I made my way up to bed. I decided that I was done hiding my makeup and put it in my top dresser drawer. I made my way to the bathroom and took care of business. Back in my room I opened my dresser drawer and began removing a fresh pair of pajamas and then remembered this afternoon. I smiled, put them back in the drawer and laughed as I thought: one less thing to wash. I made sure my alarm was in the off position. I didn’t need to be up early and crawled under the covers. It really did feel fantastic lying there in the buff. My last thoughts were of Darla squeezing my hand as I drifted off to sleep……….


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