I stand before I say anything else, my school skirt itchy against my thighs. Trinity, still sitting on the floor, looks up at me. She’s got that look: her tell-tale I’m worried face that I see so often. Two little lines always form between her eyebrows, like little quotation marks.
It makes my insides tumble.
I tell her that I’m sick of wearing this uniform, careful not to say goddamn uniform, which is a phrase that I’ve exchanged with Amber a number of times. She nods and stares back at my pride flag as I change into a pair of shorts. I wonder what she really thinks about it.
I sit down again, cross-legged on the floor.
“How did you meet her?” Trinity asks, her eyes trained on her ankle-high school-issued socks. She’s, like, the only person that actually wears the ones from the uniform store. Of course, my mom keeps buying those ones for me, too, but I bought some different ones at the mall. They look the same, almost. But I prefer them anyway.
“At YRJ--the church retreats. It’s actually called Youth’s Road to Jesus, but everyone calls it YRJ,” I say. We both know that’s not really her question, but how do I explain it all?
I raised my head when I heard my name. I was sitting in the ministry building reception room, which honestly I hadn’t known about until then. I’d thought the only room in this place was the one where they set out the donuts after services sometimes.
My mom was sitting next to me, silently clutching her purse, which she does when she’s nervous. Or upset. Or disappointed. It’s hard to tell.
I was sitting clutching an overnight back in my lap and trying not to cry, because I thought that would be embarrassing.
My mom didn’t say anything when I stood and let the ministry person lead me into another room.
They let me get acquainted with my lodgings first, which was actually just an old bed in a room of other beds. Clearly everyone here slept together, and privacy was nonexistent. Though the boys and girls were separated--obviously. God forbid I accidentally saw an inch of a boy’s skin, but a girl’s was alright.
Explain the logic there.
It wasn’t long before Mark and Abby arrived. They were adopting me into their group, they told me, and they were very glad I’m here.
Their warm smiles and gentle voices didn’t do anything to stop the trickle of tears that had already started down my face. Luckily both of them were either too oblivious or too polite to comment.
The first thing they did was sit me down in a dimly lit room with a lot of pillows and a bowl of tiny candies and a woman named Jessica, who was young and hip. I can tell she thought she was hip because she wore an open plaid button-up over her ‘God is Love’ t-shirt. Casual dress for a casual meeting.
My mom had made me put on my business pants and blouse, an outfit that she’d bought for ‘when I interview for a job’. Which is funny because she doesn’t want me to get a job yet because it might distract me from my schoolwork.
Jessica let me settle into my chair--which was plush and so close to the ground that my knees were nearly at eye-level--and asked me about school. I kept my answers short, but not too short that she needed to pry with more questions.
I tried to say as little as I could that first day.
On the second day--Sunday--they took us all to the morning service, and I tried to make eye contact with my parents the whole time. Dad smiled or waved William’s baby hands in my direction or made faces to make me laugh. Mom never looked over at me once.
That day I mostly cried.
By Sunday evening, I was ready to tell them anything they wanted to know. I just wanted to go home. I knew going into this that the retreat went through Monday, so I’d miss school, too. I wouldn’t be back home until late afternoon Monday at best.
So when Jessica sat me down again to talk, I did. I let myself tell her the truth, which felt good, because no one else I knew wanted to know the truth. No one but Henry, anyway. But Henry was so sure of himself, and I sometimes found it hard to be.
“And does calling yourself bisexual make you feel happier?” Jessica asked. She never batted an eye at anything, and never frowned. She just seemed content to let me speak.
So I said, “Yes. Sometimes.” She didn’t respond, which gave me time to think, which made me say more. “I like that I have something to call myself. I just don’t know if it’s the right thing sometimes.”
“What makes it feel not right?”
I fumbled for an answer, because I wasn’t sure. “It… it is right. But I… I don’t know.”
Jessica regarded me calmly and asked more questions. About my family. About who I’ve liked. About who I’ve told. About how they reacted. About who I hadn’t told. About how I feel. About why.
I answered as best as I can, and the more she talked, the more confused I became. If I hadn’t properly dated anyone yet, then how could I know? If telling my parents was supposed to make my feel better, then why did it make me feel worse? If this part of my identity was making me feel sad and guilty and shameful, then why cling to the label?
I wanted to go home, and I wanted her to stop, but I was too tired to object. She spoke calmly and confidently and repeated all the questions from in my head, but out loud. She nodded at my responses and never objected and pushed a box of tissues across the coffee table between us when I got too choked up to speak.
“I’m glad you shared all of that, Pearl. I think that’s enough talk for now. Why don’t you get some sleep? If you want to talk more before you leave, you can find me tomorrow morning.” Jessica patted my hand and gave me a little consoling smile.
I wished it felt comforting, but it didn’t.
And that night I’d woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of a clattering window frame. I’d recognized the long-legged figure standing over said window-frame as Amber, from my small group. She never talked, other than to whisper complaints and profanities when Mark and Abby weren’t listening.
She was beautiful and witty and wore clothes with holes in them. It looked like she did them herself. So, of course, I sat up in bed. And when she started talking to me, I felt seen. I felt purely fuzzy-happy, and I knew girls were not supposed to feel that way around girls, but Amber didn’t care. She understood.
I whispered with her until the sky turned pink and she got so tired that she rolled up and fell asleep on my bed. I took my things across the room to her bed, and left her on mine, knowing that Abby wouldn’t be happy to find us together--though the thought of cuddling up to her was quite appealing. I slept in as late as they would let me. I didn’t go and find Jessica.
Trinity plucks a stray piece of fuzz off of her uniform blouse.
I shrug. “I met Amber on that first retreat. She’d been trying to sneak out a window at the time. She’s the first person that I felt understood me, other than Henry. But it’s different with Henry. He’s great, but he does remind me of you sometimes.”
I crack a smile when I see Trinity make a face. She clearly objects. “But he’s just, like, one of the football guys. And he’s usually walking around like he hasn’t got a care in the world, like everything’s so chill. Does that sound like me?”
I bark out a laugh, which makes her laugh quietly back, which makes me grin. “You’re right,” I say through giggles. “Those things aren’t like you. But, seriously, he worries about things. He just pretends not to, because that’s how he fits in.”
Trinity doesn’t look convinced, so I roll my eyes. “That’s not the point. The point is that Amber doesn’t worry. About anything.”
“I can tell,” mutters Trinity.
I suck my bottom lip, thinking. “But it was wonderful that she talked to me. At the time. She made me feel less alone, especially in a place like YRJ. I think I would have gone insane without her.”
Trinity looks strangely sad. “You’re not alone,” she tells me quietly. Her tone becomes more forceful. “You never were. The two of us--there doesn’t have to be anyone else--we’ll always be together. Best friends. No matter what.”
I want to give her a hug, so I sit on my hands and grin at her, hoping she can’t tell that my eyes are glassy.
Sometimes I wish I was more like her--that I could be so kind and effortlessly myself and easily likable. I swear there’s not a single person at Saint Paul’s that would say a bad word about her--what would there be to say? It feels like everyone has been her friend since childhood, and I still feel like the new kid. She’s going to Maggie’s birthday party and flirting with Nicholas Kelly and being saved from forgetting her part in presentations by John Richardson.
I hate it when I’m jealous of her. But that doesn’t matter now, because it’s so perfect to hear her say those words. Best friends. No matter what. As cheesy as they are, I repeat them back to her.
She smiles, then nudges me with a finger. “So, why are you upset at Amber?”
I don’t want to say, but I also do. I haven’t actually even told Henry yet, because he has his own drama with Jackson and his family and his football friends and apparently his ex, Katherine.
I stare into my carpet and admit, “I kissed her.”
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/443889/trinity-19)
Kelly approaches Pearl and I wearily, his eyes taking us in under lowered brows, his finger lodged in the middle of his book to mark the page.
"Yes?" he asks. His intonation teeters on the edge of annoyance, or maybe nervousness. I'm not sure which. Maybe it's both.
I look at him, a proper once-over, but mostly he’s just a boy in a school uniform. The knees of his pants are worn down, and the sleeve of his shirt has a small ink stain on it. His black hair is caught somewhere between romantically windswept and just being in his eyes too much, but it doesn't cover the freckles on his nose. He’s almost scowling, which is a normal expression on him, so I find it kind of endearing.
He's… the same as always. As he's been. As he was at Maggie's party and the Spring Fling. I look down at my school flats, then up again.
"Whatcha reading?" Pearl asks, burrowing into her pink cardigan as a gust of cold wind blows by. It ruffles Kelly's hair, pushes it out of his eyes.
He huffs. "Um. The Terrapin Case. Why?" His words are clipped, but his eyes are alert, darting away and back and occasionally to me and always back to Pearl. A blush is coloring his neck, seeping up towards his ears.
"We're looking for book suggestions," I cut in, and his gaze shifts more permanently to me.
His mouth slants up. "Well, this one's good," he says matter-of-factly. "It's about a gravedigger that forms a crew of ragtag criminals--classic--to solve the murder of his son." Kelly's eyes jump to Pearl, and his jaw shifts. "But I'm not sure what your taste is in books exactly."
"Interesting," Pearl replies sweetly. I'm not really sure if she does find it interesting, but she seems to convince him, because Kelly's mouth slides into a lopsided smile.
"Yes. Well, my dad's here. Bye," he says. He trips a little as he walks toward a car idling behind us, but not enough for it to be super embarrassing. Just a little. I laugh.
He turns and meets my eye, ducks his head. I think I saw him smile.
He gets into the car, a beat-up, low-to-the-ground, crackling-stereo kind of vehicle. A man who I assume is his father is at the wheel, wearing a tank top and smoking a cigarette. Is that really his dad?
"Aw, see? Wouldn’t you be cute with him?" Pearl says as we watch the Kelly's car peel away.
"Ugh. Stop it," I groan, suddenly feeling that little squiggly feeling in my gut again.
She has no intention of stopping it. “Admit it. You think he’s attractive, don’t you?” She dances around me, trying to meet my gaze as I try to avoid looking at her. Her grin is so wide that it makes my own mouth curl into a smile.
My laughter is stiff. Attractive? Yeah, I do. Right?
She knocks her shoulder against mine. “I knew it. I knew it. God, wouldn’t you two be adorable, right? You should ride home with me every day. Or with him, maybe? What do you think his house is like?”
I squint at a beetle crawling on the sidewalk near my feet. She sounds way too chipper.
Moments later a car drives up, and our ride is here. Mr. Fellows greets Pearl and I warmly, adjusts the volume of the Christian rock on the radio, and pulls out of the Robinson High School parking lot.
. . .
Pearl’s house smells like a bakery. If ever I needed a movie set that looked like the perfect little country house, I’d choose this place.
The entryway is lined with Pearl’s school pictures, one per year, and in each one her blonde hair is immaculate and she’s grinning a toothy grin and her head is tipped at a mysterious angle, as if she’s regarding you through the photo. The kitchen is just around the corner, and I can already tell there’s at least one pie being baked, if not more. Pans clatter and a mixer winds down. The closest window overlooks the backyard, which goes on for ages, with plenty of room for tomato and squash plants.
Everything looks perfect.
“Dan?” Mrs. Fellows calls from the kitchen, and Mr. Fellows nods to Pearl and I.
“I’ve got baby duty. Let me know if you girls need anything,” he says, showing dimples. He heads into the kitchen, and I can hear Mrs. Fellow’s soft voice and the cooing of a child.
That would be William, Pearl’s little brother. He must be one and a half or something by now. And when he’s old enough, I suspect he’ll have his school pictures line the entry as well.
Pearl skips up to her room, and I follow.
It’s different than I remember it. She’s rearranged her furniture so there’s less floor space, covering the teal blue rug that we used to sit and color on. Now her bed is in the center of the room, with fairy lights dangling off the bed posts and a new hanging plant in the corner. A giant rainbow flag hangs on the wall.
“Where’s your magazine cut-outs?” I ask, dropping my backpack and touching a fingertip to the flag.
Pearl sits backwards on her rolling desk chair and spins once. “I took them down. Do you like it?” Her face is still spotlessly joyous, as it was the whole ride home while she’d recounted most of the school day to her dad. (Not including the bit about the office, thank goodness.)
I stare at the rainbow stripes, then sit down on what little of the teal rug is still showing from under her bed. “Yeah.” I didn’t mind it.
Pearl beams, then her face falls. “Amber got it for me.” She stands and closes her bedroom door, then sits next to me on the floor, leaning against the bed.
I scoot over to give her more room, and we both sit silently for a moment, facing forward and contemplating the flag.
“Will you see her this weekend? At your…” I can’t remember what she called it, her meetings at Our Lady of Guidance.
“She’s there every week. She’s always in trouble,” Pearl says with a mirthless laugh. Then her tone shifts higher, lighter. “It’ll be fine though, because I’ll only be at the two-hour session, then I get to leave. I’ve told Dad that I’ll help him rip up the carpet in the basement, plus, my group leader doesn’t really think I need to be at the retreats anymore, anyway. I need time to do homework, also, especially with this essay coming up. And our science test next week, I should study for that.”
I let her finish before saying, “Is there something you want to talk about? You’re being Extra-Super-Happy Pearl.”
A short laugh escapes her. “Extra-super-happy?”
“You act like everything’s brilliant when there’s something wrong.”
Pearl sighs. She wraps her pink-cardigan arms around her chest. “It’s stupid.”
“Whatever it is, it’s not stupid. You can tell me anything.” I pause, Amber’s accusations floating into my head like a ghost whisper. She says she came out to you, and the best you can do is never talk about it? What a shitty thing to do. I'll be better this time. Whatever it is.
“We usually don’t talk about this kind of stuff.” I wait. When Pearl speaks again, her voice is quiet and cracked. “It’s about Amber.”
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/443218/trinity-18)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/444775/pearl-20)
I board the bus with Pearl just as my mom texts me back, letting me know that she’s ok with me going to Pearl’s house. I didn’t think she’d say otherwise; she’s always trying to convince me to leave the house. She thinks I don’t get out enough.
Pearl sits down at the back of the bus, but not the very back. I sit next to her, mimicking her as she tosses her backpack into the seat across from us. “No one ever sits there,” she tells me.
Pearl peers out the window as the bus rumbles out of the school lot and onto the road, and I glance around the bus. Little kids are clapping and singing up front, and it appears that the kids get older the further back they’re seated.
One head, though, stands out among the rest: a head of short, black hair, sandwiched between two rows of second or third graders in the front. One of the kids behind them throws a lollipop stick over the figure’s head, and they tip their head up and turn.
Nicholas Kelly is on the bus.
I feel like I ate worms. I don’t know why. They gnaw at my stomach, and I sink lower in my seat and look at Pearl. She hasn’t noticed, as she’s been busy slipping out of her school blouse. She tosses the blouse over me and into the seat with our backpacks. She looks almost the same: white tank top, pink cardigan. She’s left her skirt on for once.
“How long is the bus ride?” I ask. I’ve ridden home with her before, but it’s been ages.
“About twenty minutes, then fifteen-ish in the car,” she says. Since Pearl lives far away, this bus takes her to the public school in her area, and her parents have to drive her the rest of the way home. I’m suddenly glad that I live close to school; that’s a long ride home.
A long ride that I’m currently on.
“They called me into the office today,” Pearl says, chewing half-heartedly on a thumbnail.
My head swivels towards her. “And?”
She just shrugs and glances out the window, then back at me. “I told them that I brought Amber. The whole plan. And they didn’t even care.”
I had been about to chastise her for doing something so stupid, but my mouth hangs open, and no sound comes out. “Didn’t care?” I croak back eventually.
She frowns at her thumbnail. “Yeah. I said I wanted to bring her to the dance, and there’s no way for girls to bring girls themselves, from other schools, obviously, so I had to rope Henry into the plan. And they just told me that it’s nice I wanted to bring a friend, but the dance was supposed to be for Saint Paul’s kids only, and their dates, and I’m not in trouble but I should’ve let them know beforehand, anyway.”
“Let them know… ?” I start, but Pearl’s already continuing.
“They thought she was my friend. I mean, she is--was?--my friend, but, you know. They thought I was bringing her as a friend even when I said I was bringing her. Like it never even crossed their minds that she would be my...” Pearl’s mouth purses, and her eyebrows are drawn low. I’m not sure if she’s unwilling to say the next word, or doesn’t know what it is.
“Your what?” I prompt, then shift my eyes back and forth, suddenly aware that other people could theoretically be listening. Luckily, there’s a lot of other noise on the bus and no one seems to be paying us any attention.
“I don’t know!” Pearl’s eyes roll towards me, and I shrink back at her tone. Her face immediately softens. Some. Her mouth is a hard line. “It’s over, anyway. She’s crazy.”
I blink at Pearl. “Crazy? I thought you agreed with what she wrote. Or, some of it?”
Pearl stares at her hands, which are twisting in her lap. “Yeah. I do. But I don’t agree with writing on the school’s walls. Like, I don’t enjoy religious services, but I don’t disrupt them. I don’t like it for me, but I respect that it means something to other people. You know Henry is actually kinda religious? I had no idea, but he gets something out of it.”
I didn’t know that. I didn’t know any of that. And a dark part of me thought that Pearl secretly craved rebellious acts like Ambers’. That somehow, this whole ordeal would make Amber even more exciting and appealing. Maybe it’s wrong of me to feel a tiny bit relieved.
“Anyway, I told them where Amber goes to school, and I think they’re going to try to contact her parents. I don’t really know how much they can do, since she’s not their student.” Pearl flicks her ponytail over her shoulder.
“Hey, Pearl?” She turns her wide eyes to me. “Did Sister Bertha say anything to you?”
“While I was talking to Mr. Sumner? No, but she did stop me after second period. It was weird, actually.” Her mouth curves into a curious smile. “She told me what a model student I am, and that I shouldn’t say anything to jeopardize that when I get asked about ‘the incident’.” Pearl makes quotations with her fingers.
I frown, thinking. “She said something weird to me too, about you. I thought… I don’t know what I thought, but that sounds like she thinks you did it. Or, were involved.”
I’m trying to remember the exact words that the nun had said to me, but all I can remember is the gist of the conversation. I’d thought that she had known about Pearl and Amber somehow, but that must be paranoia speaking. She must just think Pearl and Amber both did it. But then, what about the security footage?
My head is starting to ache.
“I don’t know what she meant,” Pearl admits, sinking into the bus seat and pressing her shins high into the seat in front of us so that she’s almost horizontal. “I think she just wanted to put some pressure on me to tell the truth. Guilt me into it.”
I don’t think I agree, but I find myself saying, “Yeah. I guess.”
“Enough of that. Help me figure out what to write my English essay about,” Pearl says, flashing her teeth at me.
“Geez. I still don’t have a single good idea for mine.”
. . .
When we file off the bus, we’re left standing in front of a massive brick building, three stories tall and lined with yellow and black banners. They all read “Robinson High School” and feature what must be the school mascot, a yellow-billed duck.
About half of the kids’ parents aren’t here yet, including Pearl’s, so we stand on the curb and wait. A few lingering students from Robinson watch us as we invade their public school property with our green and blue plaid.
I turn idly, eyes settling on a figure slumped against the school’s brick wall. It's Kelly, nose in a book, his uniform looking neat other than his tie, which is pulled loose around his neck.
“Should we go talk to him?” I physically flinch as Pearl breathes the words down my neck. I’d almost forgotten she was standing next to me.
“What? No. Nope. No,” I say, crossing my arms. I give her a glare, but there’s not really any anger behind it. “You didn’t tell me Kelly rides your bus.”
She’s grinning and pushing the sleeves of her pink cardigan up over her elbows. “Yeah, ever since he moved last year.” Her eyes sparkle, then she shouts. “Kelly!”
His head shoots up, and his gaze slides from Pearl to me for an uncomfortably long minute before he pushes off the wall.
Pearl’s waving her arms like she’s stranded on a desert island, even though Kelly is literally standing ten feet away. And I’m watching the parking lot out of the corner of my eye, as if that will make Pearl’s parents appear sooner. But no, they're not here yet.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/442858/trinity-17)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/443889/trinity-19)
I don’t try to start the computer back up, and opt instead to eat with the computer’s error-screen blue light washing over my lunch. But I’m soon interrupted. Again.
I turn, hoping it’s just Mrs. Leonard entering the library. It’s not though, and I knew it wouldn’t be, because a cloud of smoke-scented air didn’t precede her.
Instead, Maggie has just wandered in from the hallway, and her eyes light up when she sees me. She comes closer, then stands in the threshold of the computer lab for a moment before speaking.
“I wasn’t really expecting to find you here.” She sits down next to me, setting a pencil case down on the keyboard in front of her. It’s blue with green flowers.
I stare at her, then at the pencil case.
“I couldn’t find you at lunch, and Mr. Dennis wouldn’t let me leave the cafeteria,” Maggie explains. Mr. Dennis loves to patrol the halls during the lunch periods. In fact, I don’t think I’ve never seen him let anyone through before the bell rings. “I had to tell him I needed a tampon.”
I nod at the pencil case. “So… you got one?”
“This way it’s not lying,” Maggie says matter-of-factly. Then she crosses one leg over the other and arranges her skirt, but I can tell she’s just trying not to seem too eager. Then, she says it. What she's been dying to say this whole time. “So. Who did it?”
I try to stall, but she raises an eyebrow and I stammer, “I don’t think I should say. I shouldn’t.”
“Is it someone we know, at least? Someone in our grade?” she presses.
“I… Well, no.”
“Huh. I’ve gotta tell Mary Kate. We thought it was Henry Foley. You know he got called to the office too? You two were kind of hanging out, right? Why were you called in?”
I stare at the carpet, which is speckled brown and blue and probably pretty dirty, honestly. “I don’t know. I didn’t know anything about it.”
Maggie lets out a thoughtful hum, then stands as she looks at her watch. “Well, lunch is about to end. You should sit with us, by the way. Me and Mary Kate and everyone. For lunch, you know.” She tugs the ends of her uniform sweater's sleeves over her hands and smiles at me.
“Oh. Yeah. Thanks.” I can feel my mouth tugging up into a smile. I’d never really thought about sitting with them.
. . .
My first thought after lunch is that I have to find Pearl. Instead, I run into Henry in the hallway. Henry and four of his football friends. I tuck my head down and start to walk around them.
“But did you do it? We barely saw you that night,” one of his friends was saying.
“He couldn’t have, he was too busy disappearing with girls,” laughs another, jostling Henry with his shoulder.
“Yeah, you keep hanging around Pearl like that, we’re gonna get suspicious.”
“Pearl? Did you see his date, dude? She was hot.”
Henry just laughs hollowly, his eyes drifting across the hallway. I look away just as his gaze meets mine. Not my business.
His friends keep going. “What about Pearl’s guy, though? Nose Ring. Who was he?”
“Uh, I don’t know,” I hear Henry say.
“Dude, I saw you two hanging out, you clearly know him.”
One of his friends lets out an accusatory chuckle. I pass the group of them, but slow down a bit to hear the rest of the conversation.
“Yeah, it almost looked like you two--”
“Alright, I know him!” laughs Henry, but I can sense an underlying note of irritation--or panic? “He hooked us up with some drinks. You know, before the dance. So yeah, I was a little off that night. But I didn't sharpie anything.”
His friend lowers his voice, but I'm hunched at a nearby locker--not mine--straining my hearing, so I don't miss anything. “Bro, you were with Pearl and Trin. I can’t imagine those two touching alcohol.”
“Yeah. Crazy. It’s true though. Hey, catch up with you later, I gotta pee.” Henry is talking much too fast, but his friends just walk away, chuckling and murmuring. I watch him as he rushes by me without seeing, a deep line between his brows.
My stomach feels all twisted up, and I’ve run out of time to find Pearl.
. . .
At the end of the day, it’s Pearl that finds me. She stops by the side of my locker, still pulling at the zipper on her backpack, trying to close it around a pile of books.
“What are you doing after school?” she asks me. She’s already thrown a pale pink cardigan over her uniform, somehow making her look more preppy. If that’s possible.
“After school? It’s Wednesday.” Which means I’m free, because it’s not Friday.
“Do you want to come over? Or, if my house is too far away, we can go to the park.” She threads her fingers together in front of her, and she looks the most like she’s praying as I’ve ever seen her.
“Uh. Yeah, your house is fine. If that’s cool with your parents. Um, why?” I shut my locker and eye her for a moment.
She smiles, not a hair out of place. “So we can chat. Friday’s too far away, don’t you think?”
I do think. I do think this is strange is what I do think. “Ok, I’ll just text my parents real quick.”
She grabs my forearm and pulls me down the hall. “Make it real quick, because the bus will leave soon.”
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/442423/trinity-16)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/443218/trinity-18)
grass, roots, remains
into those woods, where branches
will intertwine with teeth and
tongue and limb and fingers
where i will become the dirt,
the grass, the roots and remains
into those cavernous welcoming
arms - to be held and seen and
remembered until i'm forgotten
underneath it all, the earth,
flesh melting from bone to
create the ground for you
into those woods, where the
stone will whisper my name
until it sounds like wind
whipping against your ears
into those woods, and below,
where i will become the dirt,
the grass, the roots and remains
I don’t have a lot of time before first period starts, but I cross the hallway and stop beside Pearl’s locker. She’s pulling a textbook out of her backpack and attempting to cram it in her locker, which is already oversaturated with books.
She starts when she sees me. “Oh, hi!”
“Hey.” My eyes skip across the busy hallway before continuing. “Did Mr. Sumner talk to Henry yesterday? Do you know what he said?”
She takes some books out of her locker, juggling them as she tries to rearrange the notebooks on the top shelf. “I don’t know everything that he said, but yeah, Mr. Sumner talked to Henry.” She starts putting the books back into her locker. “And I’m sorry, by the way.”
Pearl pauses and looks at me with a tiny frown. “About what I said to you yesterday. And about Amber. I had no idea that she’d do… this.”
I shrug. “None of us knew. I mean, how could you?”
Pearl turns back to her locker and shoves the last book in place with unnecessary force. “I just thought I knew her better, I guess.” She pulls out a single folder then loudly slams her locker. “I was wrong.”
I wait a beat before asking, “So, what did Henry say?”
She turns to face me. “Nothing to worry about. He said he’d met her through me, and that he didn’t spend much time with her during the dance.”
I nod. “But now they’re going to have to talk to you. What are you going to say?”
The warning bell rings, and I jump. Pearl starts casually down the hallway. “I’ll just tell them what happened. The truth.”
I must’ve heard her wrong. “The tru--you can’t! I hope that’s a joke. Just say you’re friends, and she likes Henry. That’s fine, that makes sense.”
She turns her head sharply towards me. “The answers aren’t that simple. And I don’t think I’ll have much of a choice once they start asking questions.” At my surely incredulous stare, Pearl sighs and her mouth quirks upward. “It’ll be ok. I’m not ashamed to tell them, not anymore.”
I want--no need--to convince her not to tell Mr. Sumner everything for a variety of reasons. For her own good, her reputation, the possible consequences, my own peace of mind…the list goes on. What if what happened with her parents happens again? The teachers will hate her. They’ll throw her out of school, or sign her up for more counseling, or both. I need to stop this from happening.
But Pearl has reached her first period classroom, and she departs with a tight smile. And I can’t stop her because I have to duck into my classroom, my palms clammy and my mind racing with all the things that could go wrong.
. . .
I start to worry when I don’t see Pearl in Mr. Gleason’s classroom for fourth period. My fingers crinkle the fabric of my skirt as I watch the door for her.
But instead of Pearl, Maggie arrives and slides into the seat next to me.
“Uh. Hi. Maggie,” I stutter as I turn towards her.
She glances at the door and sweeps her dark bangs out of her eyes. “I’m not trying to take Pearl’s seat, I just wanted to talk for a second.” She smiles, so I do too.
“Oh. Yeah, ok.”
She leans forward and gives me a playful eyebrow-raise. “So. I heard you got called into the office. Was it about the vandalism?”
I make a face. “Vandalism is a strong word for it, right?” I say, my voice strangely pitched.
Maggie laughs. “Oh my gosh, Trinity! What did they ask you? Do they know who did it?”
“I’m not sure I’m supposed to say,” I tell her, sinking into my seat. Pearl still isn’t here.
“Come on, pleeease?” The bell rings, marking the start of class, and Maggie taps a finger against my arm. “Talk to you at lunch?”
I smile and nod as she stands and goes to her regular seat, leaving me staring at an empty chair.
Pearl does arrive, eventually. She’s nine minutes late and just gives me a nod as she hands Mr. Gleason a pass and sits down. It’s not until the end of class that I can say anything to her.
“What happened?” I whisper as I gather my books and stand up.
She straightens her ponytail. “When?”
“The office?” I remind her, shifting from foot to foot.
She just shakes her head. “They haven’t summoned me yet. I was just talking to Mrs. Vena.” I let out a sigh of relief, and Pearl’s eyebrows lower slightly. “You don’t have to be so worried about it. You aren’t even involved.”
“This is my choice, Trinity.”
I don’t say anything else, because she’s right.
. . .
I normally eat lunch in the computer lab. It’s the only room we’re allowed to eat in other than the cafeteria, not counting the courtyard because that’s only on Fridays in the spring when the teachers are feeling generous and the weather is nice.
I don’t have the same lunch period as Pearl, and instead of attempting conversation with other students, I prefer to sit in the abandoned computer lab. The only reason we’re allowed back here is because the school wants to provide internet access to students who don’t have computers at home. It’s a nice idea in theory, but all the computers are at least twenty years old and they’re painfully slow.
I never actually use the computers, but I like to boot one up just in case Mrs. Leonard comes in to check on me. I don’t want it to look like I’m hiding.
Speaking of which, I hope Maggie doesn’t find me. I’m afraid if she asks me another question I’ll spill everything.
I look around at the empty lab. Six chunky computers, six wooden chairs. Walls bare save for the peeling grey paint and a single cross hung up above my computer. One door, leading to the library, which is perpetually empty.
I stare back at the computer, and open the internet browser. My fingers hover over the keyboard, and, after confirming once more that I’m definitely alone, I type.
what is asexual
I skim the google results without clicking on any links, afraid to leave too much on the computer’s search history. ‘Someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction,’ it says. ‘Asexuality is a spectrum.’ I read some more, brow furrowed, before clicking on the search bar again.
My hands slam down on the keyboard when I hear footsteps in the hallway, and I frantically minimize the window and also slap at the power button on the computer, my chair clattering as I push away from the desk and whip my head around.
Sister Bertha has entered the library, and is coming towards me. I swear every inch of my body begins to sweat. “Miss Reeding, I thought I might find you here,” she says. She’s so tall her habit brushes the top of the doorframe.
I lick my lips, because all the moisture in my body is currently pooled under my armpits. I can’t believe that she knows I come here. And then I can’t believe I ever thought that it could be unknown to her. Somehow, she knows everything.
“Yes. I eat. Lunch. I sometimes eat here and do computer homework. On the… the computers.” Mentally, I’m smacking my forehead against a wall.
“Is your computer working?” she asks. Her face is neutral, her tone severe, as usual. I can’t tell how much she’d seen, or if this comment is meant to mock me.
I glance at the computer screen, which has gone blue. I raise my shoulders to my ears. “It’s… well, it’s a bit broken, yes.” Before she offers any potential help, I rush to add, “But it’s ok, I wasn’t working on anything important.”
She blinks twice at me. “I’d like to speak to you about the incident at the Spring Fling.”
I wasn’t expecting that.
“I already spoke to Mr. Sumner,” I say, straightening my back. The wooden chair digs into my spine.
“Yes. And he hasn’t yet spoken to your friend Miss Fellows.” There’s a hint of something in her voice, but I can’t detect what. “In some cases, it’s best to reveal only the essential information. Do you understand?”
I can almost see my eyebrows, they’ve lowered so far on my face. “Um. I’m not sure…”
“Principal Sumner wants to know why Miss Fellows’ friend wrote the things she did. But as long as you and Miss Fellows are not involved in her mischief, the details of the dance are unimportant. All we want Miss Fellows to do is confirm that she is friends with this Amber Tailor. That’s all.”
I clear my throat, and the sound fills the room. “Oh. Ok.” I pause. “Have you told all this to Pearl?”
Sister Bertha stares down at me from her position in the doorway. “I’d like you to remind her.” She turns to leave, and I feel my shoulders slump in relief. “And Trinity, if you ever need anything--help with your computer homework, perhaps--just ask.” She doesn’t quite smile, but there’s a glint in her eyes when she looks over her shoulder at me.
Then, she’s gone.
I turn and stare at the blue screen of the computer. The words, ‘AN ERROR HAS OCCURRED’ stare back at me.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/441793/trinity-15)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/442858/trinity-17)
I check the clock over Miss O’Keeffe’s tower of blonde curls as I leave the office. There’s only five minutes until class change, and there’s no reason for me to go back to chapel. By the time I’d have walked across the campus, I’d just have to turn around and come back.
Instead, I decide to wait in the hallway. Luckily, no one ever checks for hall passes. Plus, there’s no chance of running into Sister Bertha’s disapproving presence, because I know for a fact that she’s in the chapel with all the other ninth graders.
The other ninth graders. Like Henry, like Pearl. It’s clear that Principal Sumner hasn’t talked to either of them yet. I realize then what I have to do.
When the bell rings, I wait at the side doors and watch the ninth graders march across the grass back to the school building. Henry’s tall, but he blends in easily with the other ninth-grade boys, so I almost miss him.
But I don’t.
“What--Trin?” Henry frowns down at me when I tug on his shirt sleeve, catching him coming through the doors. I pull him off to the side of the hallway, but we continue walking.
“Mr. Sumner is asking us about the Spring Fling. Us.” I tell him earnestly.
He sweeps a hand through his hair, and dimples appear on his chin when his frown deepens. “What do you mean?”
“Amber,” I hiss at him. “She wrote the graffiti--or whatever they’re calling it. Mr. Sumner wants to know why you brought her.” Technically, this isn’t my problem, but my voice is pitched too high and my fingernails are digging into my palms. I don’t want Mr. Sumner to know the real reason Amber was at the dance any more than Henry does.
He looks at me for the first time, dead in the eyes. I almost flinch, because it reminds me of that day in the library, of the angry fire in his eyes. Except now he there’s no fire, just an ocean of worry. “What did you tell him?”
“I told him to ask you.”
“What should I tell him?” Now Henry’s tone matches mine. Tight. Panicked.
“Make something up. Say it was a blind date. I don’t know!” I try to stop, having reached my locker, but a few students jostle me forward as they continue walking. I plant my feet and Henry walks a few more paces before he notices and turns back to me.
“Has he talked to Pearl?”
“I don’t think so,” I say, hurriedly collecting books from my locker. I should be getting to class, and so should he.
Still, he’s in the center of the hallway, the foot traffic flowing around him as he rocks back on his feet and forks a hand through his hair again. Even in the midst of a crowd, Henry seems untouchable.
I collect my last notebook, then open my mouth to say something else to him. But when I turn again, he’s already striding away, his head ducked down.
. . .
In science, I anxiously spin the cap of my pen until Pearl arrives. She gives me a big smile from the classroom doorway and sits next to me with a “Hiya!”
I lower my voice and lean close to her. “It was Amber. The Spring Fling.”
She pulls away from me and looks at me skeptically, a surprised smile flickering over her face. “The sign thing?” I nod. “Yeah, right it was.” Her face is stuck in this incredulous expression, and I shift in my seat when I realize it’s directed at me.
“What? It was. There’s proof. She--”
“She wouldn’t do that, Trinity. I know her.” Pearl’s eyes darken and she angles her body towards the front of the classroom, away from me.
“I was called in to Principal Sumner’s office! It’s on the tapes!” I’m trying to speak as quietly as possible, mostly because Maggie sits two rows back and I know if she catches wind of this conversation the whole school will be buzzing with the news by lunch.
Maybe Pearl doesn’t hear me, but I can see her eyebrows furrow. She doesn’t say much to me for the rest of class.
. . .
At home, I scribble essay ideas onto sticky notes, because I saw online that it’s a good strategy for brainstorming. So far all I’ve done is waste paper and come up with a billion terrible essay topics, but at least it’s better than an empty page.
I jump when I hear my ringtone, an old song from the electropop band Radon Runners. I pick up my phone and check the caller ID, but it’s an unknown number. I decline the call.
When the same number calls a second time, I wonder if someone actually needs to reach me, or if it’s just a dedicated telemarketer. Either way, I absolutely despise phone calls. Just thinking about talking on the phone doubles my heart rate.
Then, they leave a message.
“Trinity, hello? It’s me. Pick up? Pearl told me… listen, can we just talk? Please? It’s Amber, from the dance. You know who I am.” The message ends with a loud sigh, and then a click.
I’d rather talk to a telemarketer.
I stare blankly at my pink and yellow sticky notes until my phone plays Radon Runners again. I swipe my finger across the screen.
“Trinity? Oh finally. I thought Pearl’d given me a wrong number.”
I clear my throat quietly. “Oh. Nope, this is right.” I wait.
Amber fills in the silence. “So you know what’s up, probably. About the dance thing. Are they, like, for sure I did it? Pearl didn’t really have any details.”
I squint at my most recent sticky note because I don’t have anything more relevant to squint at. It reads, ‘day in the life of Shakespear’. “Did you do it?” I ask, which is stupid, because I know the answer.
She barks out a laugh. “Good lord, Trinity. Obviously I did it. Did you read the original sign? What a load of BS.” I’m glad she can’t see my horrified expression. “I just wanna know what they said.”
“I don’t know if you’ll be in trouble, or what they plan to do, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“They can’t get me in trouble. I don’t even go to school there. What the hell are they gonna do? Expel me?”
I take a deep breath. “Why did you do it?”
I can feel a wave of anger passing over me. “Why did you do it? Pearl brings you to a dance, and you ruin it like this. Why?”
I can hear rustling over the phone, but I don’t know what it is. “That dance was fucking boring, Trinity. You know when I said things got interesting? I wasn’t talking about Henry’s panic attack, although that was kinda exciting. I was talking about fixing that dumb sign. That was me making things interesting for me. I didn’t hurt anyone, and I only wrote what’s true. Pearl agrees with me. I thought you’d be a little more accepting, but I guess you’re not. I’m surprised Pearl doesn’t complain about you more.”
I can’t even process everything she’s saying. “She… Pearl what?”
“Yeah. She says she came out to you, and the best you can do is never talk about it? What a shitty thing to do. You know how fucking hard it is to trust someone with that kind of thing? We’re just trying to be normal, Trinity. We’re all just normal kids going through normal kid shit, it’s just that some of it’s about boys and some of it’s about girls and some of it’s both or neither or it depends.” Amber sucks in a loud breath on the other side of the line, and I’m afraid to make a noise.
She continues. “Sorry, I’m kinda being a dick. But in all seriousness, I think you should go on the internet and look some stuff up. And not just for Pearl. I think you might want to read up on some things. It might help you.”
I can barely follow this conversation. “What are you talking about?”
“I could be a thousand percent wrong, but I don’t think you’re into guys, Trinity.”
A shocked laugh tears through me. “Excuse me?” I knock the yellow sticky notes off my desk as I lean forward.
“You didn’t even bat an eye at Jackson, and he’s very attractive. Very. And I’m a lesbian. From what I can tell, either you’re into girls and you’re too god-fearing to see it, or you should Google the word ‘asexual’. And, hey, I could be way off-base. But it helps to read about these things anyway. Just to know they exist.” When I don’t say anything, Amber says, “It helped Pearl. It helped me.”
It’s a lot harder to find my voice than I think it should be. “I have to go.”
I stare at my blank pack of pink sticky notes for a long time after I hang up. I can't think of anything to write. I can't think of anything at all.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/441401/trinity-14)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/442423/trinity-16)
I stare at my thumbnails, my hands clasped together, my forearms resting on the pew in front of me. Out of boredom, I’m seeing if I can silently recite all the lyrics to “You’re My Way Out” by Naya Bloom. She hadn’t played it at the Spring Fling, which was a bit disappointing, as it features a very cool drum solo. Then again, she hadn’t brought any drums.
I’m almost through to the last chorus when I hear the sound of shuffling shoes echo through the chapel. I slide my eyes to my left slowly, subtly, doing my best to remain looking pious and not look too curious.
Sister Anne is coming down the aisle, and her eyes lock with mine. I duck my head down and clutch my hands together harder, as if that will convince her that I’m definitely praying.
She stops beside my pew anyway. “Miss Reeding, you’re requested in the office.” Her voice is whisper-soft, but the sound in the chapel carries, and I know for a fact at least ninety percent of the students in here heard her. I can feel my ears burn red, but I nod.
Why do they need me in the office?
I stand, and the wooden pew lets out a groan. With one foot, I raise the kneeler, its hinges squealing slightly, but the action otherwise silent. Then I tiptoe out of chapel, knowing full well everyone’s watching me.
I cross Saint Paul’s campus both as quickly and as slowly as possible. I’d like to seem nonchalant, like nothing is wrong--because nothing is wrong--but I also don’t want to seem like I’m dallying. My brain tells me to slow down, but my legs are working on double time, propelling me forward like the chapel behind me has been set on fire.
The outside air is hot and sticky--or maybe it’s just me--as spring is turning into summer. (And today feels a lot like summer.) The bit of grass separating the chapel and the rest of the school is certainly no great distance, but my armpits are wet by the time I enter the school building.
A few more steps and I’m entering the tiny, cramped front office. Miss O’Keeffe, the secretary, gives me a red-lipped smile and points me into the next room, the room with the name ‘Principal Sumner’ plastered across the door’s window.
Oh God. I’ve never been sent to the principal’s office before.
“Miss Reeding, thank you for coming,” Mr. Sumner greets me from behind his desk. He’s cradling a coffee mug between his hands, and through his fingers I can see that it’s a blue-and-green plaid matching the pattern on my skirt.
I sit down across from him, hoping not to look too baffled or too terrified. The chair is wide and plush and the armrests are too far away so I have to spread my arms like I’m doing the chicken dance to reach them.
I nod at him, and my eyes skip around his spacious office. The tall windows on my left offer a surprisingly scenic view of the courtyard, and in front of them is a large wooden table, empty save for a fish bowl full of what could be candy. It’s hard to say.
The wall to my right is lined with trophies and awards and Saint Paul related merchandise, like it’s a gift shop. And the wall behind Mr. Sumner consists of shelves full of dusty books and one shelf of much-less-dusty framed photographs, all of them featuring him shaking hands with someone, both of them grinning ear-to-ear.
My eyes snap back to the real Mr. Sumner, whose expression is eerily similar to the mini doppelgangers’ behind him. “You’re not in trouble, Trinity,” he says. He must have sensed my fear. I wonder how.
I shift my chicken arms on the armrests, and they squeak. Can forearms sweat? “Yeah. Ok.”
He sets down his coffee mug, his fingers settling instead on a manilla folder on his desk. “You remember the… incident that occurred at the Spring Fling? I’d like to ask you a few questions about it.”
I can feel my face scrunching up in confusion. He doesn’t think I had anything to do with it, does he? “Ok,” I say again, my voice dry. Oh my God, do I sound guilty? I mean gosh. God. Yikes.
He speaks over my inner monologue. “We believe it’s a friend of yours after reviewing the tapes. Firstly, we’d just like to ask if you knew anything about this stunt.” He pauses, and his eyes are serious as they meet mine.
“Uh…” I wipe my palms against my skirt, staring at the manilla folder that he still hasn’t opened up. A friend. I only have one friend. I only have one friend. It can’t be. It just can’t.
“You’re not in trouble, Trinity. Anything you say here is to help us. We just want to know who did this and why, and we’re hoping you can help.” Mr. Sumner smiles warmly, and he takes a sip of his coffee. His eyes crinkle into happy little crows feet and he looks again like he does is all his photographs. “Nothing you say will be used against you. Think of it like confession,” he adds.
I always hated confession. It makes me feel worse, not better.
“I don’t know anything about it. I mean, other than what you said at the assembly. I didn’t know it happened. And… and I have no idea who did it.”
Mr. Sumner opens his manilla folder and pulls out a black and white print-out. A still from the security tape. He pushes it across the desk toward me.
My stomach flips as I lean forward and see a girl in the photo. Not Pearl. “Oh,” I breath, touching a fingertip to the picture.
“Your friend,” Mr. Sumner prompts.
I shake my head. “Not really. I hadn’t met her before that night.” I want to sit back and the chair and relax, now that I know what’s going on. It’s Amber. Amber with her shrewd eyes and black dress and manic smile. It’s a fuzzy picture, but I don’t have any doubts that it’s her.
In the photo, she’s standing near the art room doors, a shadow against the unlit hallway. Her short ponytails give her away, that and her long legs. She’s holding a pen or pencil of some kind, her hand hovering over a sign that’s posted on the wall.
People had mentioned it, that they’d taken the sign down. It was a large wood sign, and it had said, “Our God is loving. As His children, we are called to love as He loves, and give as He gives.” I can’t make out from the photograph what Amber had written on it.
I sit on my hands, still leaning forward and looking at the picture. The timestamp in the corner says 8:41. I recall Kelly pointing out the time around 8:30. Amber could’ve easily left the others, gone into the hallway, then come back and found me. I quickly inform Mr. Sumner of these facts.
Principal Sumner takes the photo back and pulls out another piece of paper. A permission form. “Henry Foley brought her to the dance, correct?” I nod. “Do you know why? Or how they know each other?”
I cannot lie to the Principal. According to the bible, I cannot lie to anyone at all, but lying to the Principal seems like an even worse sin. Like lying to a priest. “Maybe you should ask him?” I say with a tiny shrug.
Somehow Mr. Sumner takes that as a satisfactory answer. “Alright. You’ve been a huge help, Trinity. Thank you.” He sticks out his hand to shake, and it’s hot from his coffee mug, and mine is damp from my sweat.
I stand, but before I leave, I can’t help but ask, “What did she do?”
Mr. Sumner eyes me, clearly deciding what to tell me, then sighs and pulls another photograph from his folder.
In ink or marker, Amber had altered the sign to read, “Our God is PREJUDICED. As His children, we are called to DISCRIMINATE as He DISCRIMINATES, and THEN PRAY TO MAKE OURSELVES FEEL BETTER.”
I stare at the page for a long time, my fingers clutching it so tight that the edges of the paper wrinkle. My forehead is similarly wrinkled. Silently, I hand it back.
“I know it’s a bit disturbing, but she might not even be a member of the church. Sometimes outsiders don’t understand until we teach them,” he says, frowning at the words in the photo.
“At least you know who did it,” I say quietly, then I flee the room, hoping never to get called back to the Principal’s office again. My mind is still repeating Amber’s words, over and over again. We are called to discriminate as He discriminates, and then pray to make ourselves feel better.
Mr. Sumner had called her message disturbing, and in a way it is. It is because it goes against everything I’ve been told is right. It is because it feels… a little true. Unsettlingly true. Not always, not about everything, but still. True enough to make my stomach feel like it’s turning over and over.
I wonder if Amber knew. I wonder if she knew that I hated Pearl--part of her--since she’d told me she’s bisexual. Maybe I still do. That I never actually pray, but I had. I’d prayed for her to be fixed, to stop being weird and selfish and confused. I hadn’t said any of it to her face, but I had to God, whoever that was.
Does that make me discriminatory? Prejudiced? A terrible friend at the very least? Definitely that last one. But that doesn’t make Amber right… Right?
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/440682/trinity-13)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/441793/trinity-15)
Amber blinks at me as if I’ve just suggested that I might amputate one of my fingers for fun. I stand very still, regretting I asked her to define her relationship with Pearl. Clearly this was a mistake.
“Is that what she told you?” Amber asks, her face frustratingly devoid of expression. She puts more weight on her elbows, which are propped on the tabletop, and the table between us tips so far I’m afraid it’s going to fall onto her.
“Oh. No, she didn’t say anything. I just--well, I just thought, maybe… Since she’s…” I expect her to cut me off, but she doesn’t, so my voice just fades away.
Amber’s dark eyes watch me for an excruciatingly long moment before she says, “We’re not. I don’t date, not really. Just have a little fun here and there, you know?” She looks at me expectantly, so I open my mouth to respond, but she speaks before I do. “Nevermind. You don’t know.”
Amber pulls her weight off the table, and it clatters loudly towards me, making me jump. She doesn’t notice, as she’s too busy surveilling the crowd. “What has she said about me, then?” she asks.
“Nothing, really.” I think I see a crease form between her brows. “How do you know her, again?”
“Through our very fun and exciting conversion camp at Our Lady of Guidance.” I must look surprised, because Amber says matter-of-factly, “Pearl has mentioned it to you.”
It unnerves me that it’s a statement and not a question. “Yes,” I answer. “She didn’t call it… that.”
“No, it’s officially called Youth’s Road to Jesus. I’ve got a few years’ worth of t-shirts, if you’re looking for merch.”
A silence falls between us then, but it’s anything but silent as other students chatter around us. I can hear Naya Bloom say from the stage, ”--and this will be my last song of the evening. You all have a great night!”
“You know, Pearl talks about you a lot, but you don’t really talk much.” Amber glances back at me for a millisecond.
I’m not sure what to say to that, but keeping silent would prove her point, so I end up saying, “Oh.”
Amber laughs, then cuts herself short as she spots something. “Jackson!” She waves her arms, and I stand on my tiptoes to see around her tall form. Jackson’s sauntering towards us, parting the sea of students easily and leaving girls sighing in his wake.
When he reaches us, I see that his mouth is turned down in a tiny frown. “Have you seen Henry at all?” He puts a hand on the back of his neck, eyes flicking to the floor. “I’ve lost him.”
I stay silent, remembering that Henry did not want Jackson to know that he’d had a panic attack. I stare holes into the back of Amber’s head until she responds. “Hm. Yeah, well, I haven’t seen him. I think him and Pearl stepped out for a moment.” Jackson makes a face, and Amber pats his shoulder. “Not like that, I can assure you. He’s been making googly eyes at you all night.”
A grin jumps onto Jackson’s face, and his neck flushes. “Really?” he says, that dumb smile on his face. His tone suggests that this question is for show, and he does not actually need any confirmation for his effect on Henry.
Amber punches him in the arm a little harder than is appropriate for the situation. “Duh. Him and every single girl in this school. God,” she scoffs. I flinch. “Except for me, obviously, because I am immune to male charm.” She flashes him a grin, and he laughs.
I scrub my sandals against the gym floor, tracing the path of an existing scuff mark, and wonder how much longer it will be until Pearl comes back.
. . .
Naya Bloom has already packed up her guitar and left by the time Henry and Pearl appear at our table. I’m not sure if she’s left the building, and I think it would be very neat to meet her, but I don’t see her anywhere.
They’ve started playing regular pop music, and this puts Amber into some kind of mood which involves a lot of hip-gyrating and shout-singing. I’m not sure how she could possibly know every lyric to every song, but it seems like she does.
According to the clock in the back of the gym, it’s 9:19. I don’t see Kelly standing back there anymore, and I wonder if he’s left. We’re not supposed to leave early, but if his dad picked him up I’m sure they’d allow it.
Pearl comes and stands beside me, her pink skirt brushing my purple one. “Sorry I was gone for a bit. Is Naya Bloom still here?”
I shake my head, watching Henry talking to Jackson. I wouldn’t describe him as ‘googly-eyed’, but he does look a little nervous. I wonder if Jackson had anything to do with his panic attack; I wonder if something happened.
“That’s too bad,” Pearl says. She sounds genuinely disappointed.
“It’s ok,” I tell her. “I got to hear her sing. It’s been good.”
“Has it? You won’t even dance with us.” Pearl’s eyes are glued to Amber, who has wrapped an arm around both Jackson and Henry and is swaying with them to the beat of the music.
“That’s not how I have fun,” I tell her quietly. It’s true, but I don’t think she believes me. “Go ahead. You dance. I just don’t want to.”
Her mouth slants down a little. “Ok, then.” Her hand brushes my skirt as she leaves, and she joins the others in the middle of the gym.
. . .
On Monday morning, all of the ninth through twelfth graders are escorted into the gymnasium after first period. This is not the normal time for assemblies, and no one is sure where to sit. The room is heavy with murmurs and questions and speculations. There’s not a trace of blue streamers or ankle bubbles or cardboard clownfish from Friday night.
I dart through the crowd until I see Pearl, sitting high up in the bleachers, smoothing her skirt in her lap. She looks pristine and proper. As always.
I climb towards her and sit down beside her, selfishly glad that Henry is elsewhere with his guy friends. I am significantly less glad when I feel Sister Bertha’s hawk eyes on the back of my neck and glance around to find her perched on the very top row of bleachers behind us.
Principal Sumner takes to the stage and gets our attention with a loud squeal of feedback from the microphone. “This time of year is meant to be a celebration for our students. Spring: a time of growth and light and celebration in the church as well. The end of the school year is nearing, yes, but we expect you to not let this interfere with your studies. Or your actions.”
Mr. Sumner talks for a very long time, and at great length, about what a marvelous time spring is before reaching his point.
“Many of you attended the Spring Fling this last Friday. And many of you were very well-behaved, and I’d like to thank those students for that. However.” He pauses here, his shock of white hair rotating left then right as he looks across the crowd. “Not all of you were as well-behaved as we expect students here at Saint Paul’s to be.”
As it turns out, someone graffitied a sign on the wall in the art wing. The problem is that that hallway was not in use on Friday, and therefore was dark, and therefore they are still checking the security footage for details on the culprit.
Mr. Sumner then encourages the perpetrator to come clean--the confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works, Saint Augustine--and assures us that they will track down who did this.
For a moment I think he’s done talking, then he adds, “We’ve already pulled plenty of information off of the security footage. The vandalism happened just after 8:30, and we know approximately what the culprit looks like. We’re already reviewing the other cameras, and we will continue to do so if need be.”
“What do you think they did, exactly?” Pearl whispers to me.
I shrug. “It must’ve been bad if they’ve called an entire assembly to talk about it.”
The rest of the day passes in a whirl of rumors: who’s responsible (maybe Dylan, because he owns a skateboard), what it said (“principal suck-ner sucks”), and what the punishment will be (suspension, definitely; jail, maybe). I don’t agree with any of the rumors, mostly because they’re outlandish.
But I do wonder.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/439925/trinity-12)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/441401/trinity-14)
I stare at the profile of Kelly’s face until he finally turns back to me. “You know, there’s only an hour and twenty-eight minutes left,” he informs me, pointing to a clock above my head.
I crane my neck to look up at it. 8:32. “Oh, yeah,” I reply as I look back at him. I’ve finally decided, after much deliberation, that his hair is quite nice, but it looks better when it’s scruffier and not so neatly arranged. “How do you like the music?” I ask, tilting my head toward Naya Bloom, who’s still singing her love song.
He scoffs and leans against the gymnasium wall. “It’s not exactly party music. Like, not very good for dancing.” His eyes dart in my direction. “Not that I’d be dancing anyway, of course. Goodness, what torture.”
I laugh for the first time that evening. “Yeah, I don’t understand it. It’s just awkward.”
He shakes his head, a light smile playing on his lips. “Exactly. I can’t wait for this to be over.” His eyes flick above my head to the clock. “An hour twenty-six, then we’re outta here.”
I lean against the wall then, too, imitating his position. We stand silently, and I drum my fingers against the wall behind my back. Naya starts another song.
“I wish they’d gotten someone less boring,” Kelly gripes from beside me, eyes on the stage.
“She’s not boring,” I say automatically.
He just shrugs and tries to push up his shirt sleeves. They fall down his arms, past his fingertips. He sloppily rolls them up so that his hands aren’t swimming in fabric.
I look out at the dance floor and push off the wall. “I think I should find Pearl,” I tell him as I drift away. He doesn’t try to stop me. But why would he?
I can’t find anyone but Jackson, who is talking to some junior girls I don’t know. He doesn’t look concerned that he’s lost the rest of his group, so I don’t even bother to ask him if he knows where Pearl is.
To my surprise, Amber finds me next. I’m at the edge of what I suppose would be called the ‘dance floor’--of course, it’s just the center of the gym--when she appears beside me.
“This dance is way more fun than I was expecting. I thought it was going to be boring as hell, but it has certainly gotten interesting.” She grins down at me, and, this close, I realize how tall she is. Not Sister Bertha tall, but still very tall.
I can feel my heartrate pick up. Pearl’s use of ‘God’ is one thing, but openly swearing on school property is not something I’m used to hearing. I think I must have visibly paled, because Amber says, “What’s your deal?” The devilish grin fades off her face, and she looks at me with piercing eyes.
I blink more than necessary as my brain searches for a response. “What?”
Amber jabs a thumb suddenly to the gym’s entrance. “Why didn’t you dance with that guy?”
“Why would I--”
“He was flirting, wasn’t he?”
My face is probably doing a pretty good lobster impression right now. “Um. No. He wasn’t.”
Amber purses her lips.
“Why were you watching me?” I ask. “Weren’t you dancing with Pearl? And where is Pearl?”
Amber leans back on her heels. “One, I wasn’t watching you; I’m just observant, thank you. Two, Pearl went to talk to Henry, who is having a panic attack in the bathroom. And three, I think that dude was totally flirting, because that’s what dudes do.” She fixes me with a look that says ‘it’s obvious’. “Unfortunately.”
“Wait. Henry’s having a...?” My eyebrows lower in concern. I don’t think Pearl ever mentioned anything like that to me about Henry. Then again, we almost never talk about Henry.
“Panic attack,” fills in Amber. Her eyes go wide for a second. “Ah. And Pearl told me not to tell Jackson because Henry doesn’t want him to know. Or something.”
“Doesn’t he need help or something? Like a teacher? Should we call, like, his parents or anybody?” I ask, fisting my skirt in my hands.
Amber pats my shoulder. Not condescendingly, but naturally, like she pats a lot of people’s shoulders. “I have no idea, but it sounded like Pearl has it under control.”
“Shouldn’t we check?” I ask, somewhat shrilly, my feet already starting towards the doors.
Amber takes my arm. “Actually probably not. Do you think you’re the best person for Henry to see right now? If he’s trying to calm down?”
I stop short and wait for her to take her hand off my arm, my eyes narrowed in her direction. “What are you trying to say?”
She sighs. “You kind of worry a lot. I don’t think that’s the best vibe for him right now.”
I want to argue with her, but I can’t, because she’s right. “Well, what are we supposed to do, then?”
She smiles and overexaggerates shimmying her shoulders. “Dance? We’re at a dance. Henry will be fine.”
I chew the inside of my cheek. I don’t know a thing about panic attacks, so I don’t know if he’ll be fine. But he should be. Right? I have no idea.
Amber stills, watching me. “We don’t have to dance,” she says flatly, as if I’d been complaining about it.
“Maybe I’ll just go and stand at one of those tables,” I tell her, pointing to the standing tables on the left wall. She follows me to a table, and we find that it’s been left open because if you lean on the one side, the whole table leans with you. Cardboard seashells are scattered at our feet, too, having fallen off of the sides of the table. My arm sticks to one of the stray pieces of tape still adhered to the table’s edge.
We listen to another one of Naya Bloom’s songs, and I’m uninclined to speak. Amber scrolls through her phone and leans heavily on the table, despite its tilty-ness.
The whole time my mind is working on answering new questions, and old ones too. And I’m so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I not only surprise Amber, but my own self as well, when I ask, “So are you and Pearl, like, dating?”
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/439478/trinity-11)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/440682/trinity-13)