The bell rings, and I stand and put the kneeler up with the top of my foot in an automatic movement. It falls back into place silently--as it should; the nuns used to make us stay in chapel late if we ever kicked them up or made any sound at all.
The rest of the class would file out, and you’d have to stay, kneeling and standing and putting the kneeler up over and over again until you could do it silently. Sister Bertha was the worst one; I think she used to single me out and hold me back from lunch on purpose.
I look up at her now, since she’s still here after six years. But then again, so am I.
Sister Bertha eyes me stoically as I file out of the chapel with the rest of the ninth graders.
The line of students disperse as we exit the chapel, everyone on their way to their next class. I weave through the students, and Pearl falls into line beside me. I look at her sideways.
Pearl is considered by most of the adults at Saint Paul’s to be a model student. She participates in class, gets decent grades, and volunteers to help in the main office during her free period. She’s not afraid of public speaking, she’s never in violation of the dress code, and she always says ‘hi’ to teachers in the halls.
What they don’t know is that she does all these things to distract from her blatant lack of respect for the church.
“Get a lot of good prayers in?” she asks me as we make our way across campus. Saint Paul’s loves to brag about their ‘campus’, but really it’s just a chapel and some unkempt grass and two connected school buildings that look a little bit like an abandoned outdoor shopping mall. There’s also a playground in the back, since Saint Paul’s goes from kindergarten all the way to twelfth grade.
I glance at Pearl, whose blonde hair is tied up in a high ponytail today. “Mostly I was just praying that Mr. Gleason doesn’t give us another project.”
She smiles but doesn’t laugh. “I just spent the whole hour rewriting chapter eight,” she tells me.
Another thing no one knows about Pearl is that she loves to write fiction. She won’t let me read her book yet--it’s ‘not ready, still in progress’--but she likes to tell me things sometimes. Vague plot points or character descriptions.
I’ve told her she should join the free writing club, but she refuses. She always says that her writing is for her, not other people. I don’t understand it, but also I don’t understand writing at all. I can barely string a sentence together sometimes.
“Maybe you should pray for some inspiration,” I say as we sit down next to each other in our next class. Mr. Gleason lets us sit wherever we want--a rare luxury.
“Oh yeah, ’cause that’ll help,” she snorts back.
I can’t help but look around to see if anyone’s overheard. She gives me a look like, ‘stop worrying’. But I do anyway.
. . .
A few periods later--though it feels like years--I’m finally packing my books into my backpack, ready to leave. It’s Friday, which is the day I always study with Pearl.
And since it’s Friday, there’s normally not that much studying. But both of our parents like to think that we’re being productive.
I don’t share my last two periods with Pearl, so I have to find her. I scan the hallway for her blonde ponytail, but with the general lack of diversity at our school added to the fact that everyone wears the exact same clothes, it’s impossible to find her like this.
I head to the front doors so I can meet up with her when she walks outside.
What I don’t expect to find is Pearl standing and having a conversation with Henry Foley. I suppose it’s possible that it’s for a class, but Pearl and Henry seemingly have no reason to be chatting.
I approach wearily.
Henry spots me.
He puts up a hand in a staccato version of a wave. “Oh hey, Trin.” I try not to take offense; people have been calling me Trin since fifth grade, all thanks to Mrs. Lenner, who likes to shorten everyone’s name. I don’t love my name, Trinity, but I certainly prefer it to Trin.
“Hi,” I say back, fiddling with the strap of my backpack.
Henry turns his attention back to Pearl, and sweeps a hand through his hair nonchalantly. “Anyway, I better go. See you guys,” he says with one of those goodbye nods that boys like to do.
“Hold on,” Pearl calls out, pulling her phone out of her pocket and holding it out to him.
He turns back, spinning on his heel. “Oh, yeah,” he says, his mouth curling into a smile. I narrow my eyes at him as he punches something into Pearl’s phone and then hands it back.
“Thanks,” Pearl says, smiling down at her phone screen.
Henry nods again and steps backwards into the driveway for parents picking up students. “Text me!” he calls out. I watch as he holds up his hands in an ‘I’m sorry’ motion to a car that was, apparently, about to drive right into him.
“What was that?” I ask. Had I not been on school property, I might’ve even added ‘the hell’ to that statement.
Pearl blinks as she looks up from her phone, her eyebrows crinkling. “Henry?”
“Did you just get his number?” I demand in a hushed voice. I’m usually not super gossipy--unless it’s about families at church or people I don’t like or school-related drama that I need to be in-the-know about. I guess that actually makes me pretty gossipy.
Stuffing her phone back in her pocket, Pearl gives me an incredulous look. “Oh my god, you didn’t thi--”
“Miss Reeding, Miss Fellows,” comes a low voice from behind us. I turn, feeling my face heat as I look up at Sister Bertha. She’s always been unnaturally tall for a woman. “I hope you two are being respectful to Our Lord,” she says with a taut smile. She’s looking at me, not Pearl.
“Yes, of course, Sister Bertha,” replies Pearl dutifully. “We’ll see you at chapel on Monday,” she adds with a smile that almost convinces even me that she’s looking forward to it.
The nun doesn’t budge until I mutter my own agreement, then she disappears back into the crowd. Well, as much as a six-foot nun can disappear into a sea of kids.
Pearl laughs as we turn away. “I forgot to pronounce the capital ‘G’ in God, didn’t I?” she jokes when we’ve walked some paces away. Neither of us can drive yet, so we normally walk to the park down the street, or the library if the weather’s bad.
I chuckle, but there’s not much heart in it.
Pearl jostles me with her shoulder. “It’s just Bertha. Underneath the habit she’s just as human as the rest of us.” She knows I hate getting in trouble, even if it’s not something that’s actually trouble.
I sigh, but lightheartedly. “Easy for you to say. I bet no one even thinks you’re capable of sinning.”
Her laugh comes out in a burst. “They don’t know me at all.” Her face is lit up with a smile. “Which is the goal, anyway,” she says smugly.
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/432613/trinity-2)
“So, why were you talking to Henry Foley?” I ask as I sit down at our favorite picnic table. It’s nice out today, warm and sunny, so we pile our backpacks on the tabletop and claim this section of the park as our own.
Pearl doesn’t sit yet; she pulls out a pair of shorts from her bag and pulls them on under her uniform skirt. Then she takes the skirt off, pushes down the ankle-length white socks we’re required to wear, and unbuttons her blouse all the way. She’s wearing a light yellow tank top underneath, so her outfit is instantaneously transformed into casual spring attire, instead of the recognizable Saint Paul’s school uniform.
She does this every week. She said once that she couldn’t stand to be spotted in public in her uniform. I get it--I mean, I don’t love it either--but I’m not undressing in public, even if I am wearing clothes underneath.
Sufficiently de-Saint-Paul-ified, Pearl climbs up onto the picnic table and sits down cross-legged. “What about it? It’s just Henry.” She makes a face at me.
I try not to frown too much. “But he’s like… on the football team and stuff. I mean, you two have nothing in common?”
Pearl laughs breezily and tilts her face up at the sun. “First of all, literally everyone who has legs is on the football team. Well, legs and a di--”
“Pearl!” I hiss, eyeing an old woman and her dog not twenty feet from us.
She sighs, but only to contain her laughter, which is sparkling in her eyes. “Sorry. It’s not like we’re gonna get detention or anything out here, though.”
I ignore the comment. I think we could actually, if Sister Bertha had followed us out here.
“Anyway,” Pearl continues, fiddling with the buttons on her open blouse, “You know how Saint Paul’s is. Everyone knows everyone, we’ve been going to school with all the same kids since we were children, yada yada yada.” She shrugs. “So, sometimes, I talk to Henry.”
I trace the plaid pattern on my skirt. Green and blue. Blue and green.
I do know how Saint Paul’s is, of course. Everyone knows each other, but that doesn't mean everyone is friends with everyone. Quite the opposite. Cliques formed when we were young, so people don’t just randomly start talking to new people. There aren’t any new people. Just the same kids and their parents who volunteer at church every week and their siblings that you see in the hallways every day and their grandparents who sit next to them in the pews every Sunday.
“You’re making a weird face,” Pearl says.
I clear my throat and reach for my backpack. “Why’d he just give you his number then?” I ask, searching through my bag for… something. I pull out a notebook and rifle through the pages.
“Oh my god.” Pearl sounds incredulous, but I don’t look at her. I’m picturing Sister Bertha’s disapproving face.
I hear Pearl slide down to sit on the picnic bench next to me, her legs straddling the bench so that she’s facing me. “Do you have a crush on Henry Foley?”
I glance at her to see her blinking her round eyes at me, and I can’t help but shrink under her gaze. “What--why would--I don’t know--I mean, no!” I can’t get any of the right words out.
She laughs into her fist, which she’s brought up to her face. She stops when I meet her eye. “I’m sorry, it’s not funny. Well, it kind of is, but, like… nevermind.”
I turn to fully face her, and push my notebook away. “Pearl?! I don’t like him. Do. Not.” I can’t help but laugh through the words, but I don’t mean to. It’s just out of embarrassment.
“No, nononono,” Pearl says with her hands raised, her ‘nos’ slurring together. “I get it. But--” She laughs, a burst of uncontrollable giggles. “But it’s not like that, me and him. It’s really not.”
I shake my head, still confused, but have the urge to giggle along with her. So I do. “I never said it was,” I say lightly, folding one of my legs under me and swinging the other one underneath the table idly. I laugh then, for real. “Then why did he say ‘text me’?”
Pearl lifts one shoulder as she digs a bag of chips out of her backpack. “I told you, we’ve been chatting. As, like, friends. He is definitely not my type.”
She offers me a chip, and I take one. We crunch for a minute as we eat.
“I do feel like I should say though, before you decide you like him too much… He’s, uh, probably not the best… fit.” Pearl eyes me carefully as I take another chip.
“I wasn’t lying,” I say with playful irritation. “I don’t like him.”
Pearl raises an eyebrow and I smack her shoulder. She holds the chips above her head in revenge, so that I can’t reach them.
“What do you mean though?” I ask. “Is Henry like a terrible person or something? What dirty little secrets have you dredged up?” I’m grinning, but Pearl’s smile doesn’t reach her eyes.
She lowers the bag of chips so we can both reach them again. Then she sits there, hesitating on her next words, which I’ve pretty much never seen. Pearl always knows exactly what she wants to say.
“Ok, you really have to promise not to tell anyone.”
I perk up immediately, unfolding my leg from beneath me and putting both of my feet back on the ground. I twist in my seat to quickly do a full 360-degrees scan of the park to check for eavesdroppers. No one in range. “Yeah, ok,” I say, probably a bit too eagerly.
Pearl’s jaw is moving, but no sound is coming out yet. “It’s not my place to say anything, but since you’re my friend, I don’t want you to, like, get hurt or anything.”
I don’t have the heart to remind her that I really, honestly, don’t have a crush on Henry.
“But he’s gay. So.” Pearl’s looking at me with those wide eyes again, but her expression is different this time. She’s waiting for something.
So I laugh. I stop when I realize she hasn’t joined in. “Oh my gosh, you’re serious.”
She puts another chip in her mouth and leans against the picnic table, looking at the sky. “Well, yeah,” she says, her mouth twisting upwards in some amusement.
I stand to fish my water bottle from my backpack. “But that’s not true. He dated Katherine last year,” I point out, glancing down at Pearl.
She waves a hand in the air. “Sure, but that doesn’t mean he’s not gay.”
I think about it for a second. “He doesn’t seem… you know. Are you sure?”
Pearl hasn’t said anything yet, but I think of something else. “Wait!” I’m still standing, so I jump a little for emphasis. “I remember last year for that book presentation, Abbey and I were working on it after school, and I saw Henry and Katherine kiss right outside the side doors.” I plop down on the bench next to Pearl with both eyebrows raised.
She’s just staring at me. “Yeah. He can still be gay.”
I shrug and pull another chip out of the bag--at some point Pearl discarded it onto the tabletop. “I mean, yeah. But we would know, right? If he actually was gay?”
Pearl sat up straight. “Oh crap. Did you bring your biology textbook? I think I forgot mine.”
I set down my water bottle to look in my backpack. “Um, yeah, I think I do.”
“Good,” she sighs. “I didn’t do any of the readings yet.”
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/432869/trinity-3)
As usual, my mind wanders as our pastor gives the homily. It doesn’t help that I’d seen Henry and his family in the pews when we’d first arrived at church, so I can’t stop thinking about what Pearl said on Friday.
If Pearl says he gay, then I guess he is. It seems weird to me that I didn’t know, but I guess no one does. It still doesn’t explain why he gave Pearl his number and told her to text him, though. Unless they’re best friends now or something.
I wish I could ask Pearl, but her family doesn’t come to Saint Paul’s on Sundays. They live a half-hour drive away, so they go to some other church instead.
Before long, the service is over and I’ve spent all of it scrutinizing Henry Foley. Granted, I don’t usually pay attention during services anyway.
. . .
At school on Monday, Mr. Gleason assigns a project about the laws of motion, and my religion class is put in charge of planning a school-wide church service, and Mrs. Vena gives us another essay to write.
I’m too busy to think about Henry or Pearl.
And then Thursday rolls around, and I’m spending my lunch period with John and Maggie because we haven’t even started our slideshow on Isaac Newton yet. Well, they haven’t started but I actually already made my slides, and some of theirs too because I thought we were going to run out of time. And we still might, because it’s due on Friday.
Luckily we’re not presenting until Tuesday, so I have time to practice. I really hate presentations.
“Can you help, please, John?” Maggie sighs. She’s typing away on her laptop, and I wonder from across the table if she’s even working on our project.
He shrugs from behind his phone. “I already know what I’m going to say. Just put some pictures on my slides or something.”
Maggie meets my eye and frowns, and I mirror her expression, for her sake. I’m not actually upset at John because he always gets really good grades and I believe that he actually does know what he’s going to say.
“Oh, you know what, Trin,” Maggie begins, and my fingers pause on my keyboard. “Sorry, you prefer Trinity, don’t you?” I don’t say anything, so Maggie continues. “I was going to ask you about Pearl.”
I blink. “Yeah, what about her?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see John pause his texting.
“Mary Kate saw her and Henry talking the other day. Are they, like, a thing?”
I let out a little laugh. “Oh, no, I don’t think so.”
Maggie leans back in her seat. “Oh. I thought you would know, since you and Pearl have known each other for so long.”
That was a weird statement. Pearl and I have known each other for six years, which is exactly how long I’ve known both Maggie and John. Pearl and I started at Saint Paul’s in third grade, the only two new third-graders that year. Consequently, we became best friends with each other. But that was partially because everyone else already had friends.
“I meant no,” I amend after a moment. “She told me they’re not together.”
“I think they’d be cute,” Maggie says, then turns her attention back to her computer. “Anyway, does this slide look ok?”
. . .
After school Friday, I’m still at my locker when Pearl finds me. “Hey, Trinity!” She’s swinging her backpack at her side instead of wearing it on her back, and I’m wondering if it even has any books in it.
I stuff another textbook into my own backpack, then point at hers. “Are you bringing anything home?”
She just grins. “I got most of it done already. Come on, let’s go ‘study’.” She makes air quotes with her fingers and begins walking down the hall without me.
I double check my locker to make sure I have everything, then weave through a couple of students to catch up with her. We chat idly about school as we walk to the park.
It’s warm today, but not as warm as last week because of a strong, cool breeze. As a result, Pearl’s outfit change today consists of pushed-down socks, shorts, and a soft orange sweater.
She’s pulling it over her uniform blouse as I sit down at our picnic table. “By the way,” I say as a thought pops into my head, “I signed you up to do a reading at the school-wide service next week. Sister Anne will probably tell you again on Monday.”
Pearl doesn’t even have her arms through the sweater’s armholes yet, and she pauses to crinkle her eyebrows together. “You what?”
I shrug. “You’re always presenting school things, and I was in charge of assigning readers. No one wanted to do it, so I put your name down.” I start to frown as I see her expression. “Do you not want to do it?”
She stuffs her hands out the ends of her sweater sleeves. “I’d rather not.”
“Oh.” Suddenly I feel like I’ve done something wrong, but I haven’t, have I? “But why?”
Pearl tugs at her blonde braid, draping it over her shoulder. “I don’t usually participate in… church-related activities.”
“I know that, but just because you don’t believe in God doesn’t mean you can’t do the reading.” I laugh a little and add, “You pretend all the time.”
She tilts her head as she looks at me. “I pretend because I have to,” she says evenly.
I hold back my hair as a gust of wind blows it into my face. “You don’t have to pretend, you know. We all lose faith sometimes, but--”
“But what? You think that’s what this is, that I just ‘lost faith’ and that if I look hard enough, I’ll find it again?” Pearl’s voice isn’t loud, but her tone makes me flinch.
She scoots closer to me on the bench when I don’t say anything. “Sorry. I just… Can you find someone else to do it? I don’t want to.”
I want to tip my head back and sigh, but I don’t. “How am I supposed to explain that to Sister Anne?” I’m running through scenarios in my head, and none of them sound good. (“Sister Anne, Pearl doesn’t want to help.” “Sister Anne, Pearl hates reading.” “Sister Anne, Pearl hates reading and the church, and by extension, probably nuns.”)
Pearl crosses her arms and looks at me like it’s obvious. “Tell her you found someone else that wants to do it.”
“Who?” I ask, aware that my voice is slightly shrill.
“Literally anyone. You could do it,” Pearl says with a wave of her hand in my direction.
I choke out a laugh. “No way. You should just do it. You know I clam up in front of people. You’re great at giving talks and things!” I can’t imagine it being me, not a chance.
Pearl stares at me with her wide eyes, her mouth a line. “When it’s not a service.”
“What, do you hate God that much?” I don’t mean to snap at Pearl, but I do. The wind blows loudly in my ears.
She flings out her arms, and for a moment I think she’s going to storm away and never speak to me again. Instead, she snaps back. “I don’t hate God, I don’t even know if I believe in a God! That’s not what matters. I just don’t like the church.”
Oh. “The people?” I ask quietly.
Her orange sleeves billow in the wind as she lowers her arms, and her voice is steady. “The hypocrisy. So, yes, a lot of the people.” She lets out a laugh, but it’s bitter.
I don’t really understand, but I don’t want to fight with Pearl. “Yeah. Ok. I’ll find someone else to do the reading.”
A small part of me thinks she should just do it anyway, but I squash that feeling. If Pearl doesn’t want to do the reading, then I would track down someone else. Or, if I really had to, I guess I’d do it myself.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/432613/trinity-2)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/433350/trinity-4)
I’ve only been to first period on Monday when Sister Anne finds me in the hallway. She’s younger and generally more friendly than Sister Bertha, but she’s very uptight when it comes to planning.
“Miss Reeding, do you have a minute?”
I tell her yes, because what on earth else am I supposed to say. Clearly I have a second period to be getting to, but I know Sister Anne would write me a pass.
“I could’ve probably waited until our class time, but you know how I get.” I get a good look at her teeth as she laughs, and I stand in the hallway clutching my books nervously as I wait for her to continue.
“I wanted to remind you about the school service,” she says. “I’ve spoken to everyone you had signed up to read except for Pearl. I haven’t seen her yet today. So, if you see her first, don’t forget to remind her! I want her to look over the reading before Wednesday.”
I swallow nervously. I hadn’t had a chance yet to ask anyone else to be a reader. I’d had it all planned out to ask Maggie or John during science class.
“Yes--” I start, then jump as the bell rings, marking the beginning of second period. Crap, now I’m late. “I’ve actually decided that I’d like to read instead. Of Pearl.”
Sister Anne doesn’t hide her look of surprise fast enough, but she does try. She smiles widely and pats me on the shoulder. “Oh, lovely, Trinity. Well, I’ll give you the passage to look over during class. Do you need a pass to your next class?”
I give her as much of a smile as I can muster, but my insides are roiling. “Yes, please, Sister.”
Weirdly, I don’t see Pearl at all that day. She must be sick.
. . .
It’s Wednesday, the day of the all-school service, and we all have shortened class periods so that we have time for the service in the middle of the day. What this really means is that none of the teachers teach anything, because classes are only half an hour and there’s honestly no point in trying to squeeze in a lesson in that amount of time.
It’s fine with me, because I spend my first two periods reading and re-reading the passage I’m meant to read aloud later. It’s not long, and it doesn’t have any particularly hard words or anything, but I can’t think about it without also feeling nauseous.
It doesn’t help that we presented our project on Isaac Newton yesterday in science class. Despite my two hours of rehearsing the night before, I’d forgotten what to say and John had had to fill in for me.
What if I choke? What if I just stand there like an idiot, and the whole school is just staring at me?
By third period, I’m convinced everyone can see pit stains on my school blouse. Then again, they’re white and pretty hard to visibly sweat through. Thank God for that, at least.
Pretty soon, we’re all filing outside and across the campus to the chapel. Sister Bertha has the gall to tell me that I don’t look so good.
I’ve got to find Pearl and tell her she has to read in my place.
The unfortunate thing is that, although the ninth graders all have religion third period, Pearl is in a different class than me. And we always sit with our third-period class for assemblies and services, no exceptions.
Before I reach the chapel, I slow down and look around at the other students, trying to find Pearl’s blonde head. I’d seen her earlier this morning between classes, but we hadn’t spoken very many words. Now, though, I need her.
But I don’t see her.
Sister Bertha catches me dallying and herds me into the chapel.
During the service, I can’t decide what’s worrying me more: the inevitable disaster that will be when I attempt to speak in front of the crowd, or the fact that I can’t find Pearl in the sea of green and blue uniforms. I’ve scanned the row of students that is the rest of her third period class, but she’s not there.
When the time comes, I make my way to the lectern and shakily read the passage without looking up. In that moment, nothing exists but me and the page of words. I don’t know if it goes terribly or not.
All I know now is that it’s over.
I sit down and tune out the rest of the service, trying to calm my nerves. But I still can’t find Pearl. And, weirdly, I can’t find Henry Foley either.
. . .
Pearl’s already seated when I arrive to Mr. Gleason’s class. She grins at me and leans over to whisper, “Gleason’s got a coffee stain on his tie, look.”
I do look, and she’s right, but I don’t find it very amusing. I don’t say much at all, and Mr. Gleason gives us silent homework time, emphasis on the silent, so we don’t speak the rest of class.
. . .
After school, I find Pearl at her locker. She’s trying to squeeze a textbook into her already-full backpack.
“Hey, Trinity,” she says as she works to zip her backpack closed. “What’s up?”
I watch her struggle with the zipper. “Yeah! Well. What did you think, me reading in front of the school? I was terrible, wasn’t I?” I laugh, and it sounds tinny.
“Ha!” she exclaims triumphantly, her backpack successfully zipped. “No, you were great!”
We start down the hall, and I have to walk extra fast to keep pace with her. She takes the bus every day but Friday, and she’s missed hers more than once because they leave so soon after school. They take off about five minutes after the final school bell, or that’s what it seems like, anyway.
“I was looking for you before the service, and I didn’t see you,” I tell her as she pushes open the school’s front doors.
Pearl turns and squints at me, but I think it’s just because it’s bright outside. It’s hot out, and I can already feel the sun roasting my skin.
“Sorry, but I’ve gotta catch the bus, Trinity. Talk later!” she calls, already jogging away.
I watch, wondering if she’d ever lie to me.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/432869/trinity-3)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/434641/trinity-5)
“The party’s tomorrow night, if you want to come,” Maggie says. She stopped me after math, so now I’m standing in the hallway just blinking at her.
“Oh, um.” I feel dumb that I don’t know what to say, but I haven’t ever been invited to any parties apart from Pearl’s birthdays, of course.
She brings her hands up to play with one of her long, red curls. “Yeah! It’s, uh, not like a party party, though.” She lowers her voice. “Like, no alcohol or anything.”
I nod vehemently. Has she been to a party with alcohol? We’re fifteen.
“But, anyway, I have to get to history, but can you tell Pearl? I mean, I can talk to her in science but she’s invited too.” Maggie gestures down the hallway, and I turn to look. Pearl’s standing at her locker, and Henry Foley is leaning against the wall next to her, laughing. I frown.
“You can tell Henry, too, if you want. But I am trying to keep it small,” Maggie says as she steps away.
I’m not even sure if I respond; I’m already drifting towards Pearl and Henry.
“--know I can’t tonight, but maybe next week? Monday?” Pearl is saying.
“Yeah,” Henry says, his mouth tilted into a smile. Then his eyes latch onto mine, and he looks down at his tennis shoes. I note that they’re both black and neon yellow, which is technically against the dress code. Not that anyone cares.
“What’s up, Trinity?” Pearl greets, shutting her locker. Henry slinks off down the hall, blending into the white and blue and green uniforms of the other students.
“Maggie’s just invited me to a party tomorrow,” I say slowly. “You too, in fact.” Part of my brain is still thinking about Henry Foley, but I shove it away to focus on the strange excitement I feel at the fact that I have been invited to a party.
Pearl laughs and bumps my shoulder with hers, then starts down the hallway. “As if we’d go to a party.”
I follow, not wanting to be late for my next class, and glance at her. Her blonde ponytail swings when she walks, and her eyes are laughing.
“You don’t want to go?” I ask.
“We see enough of everyone at school, don’t you think?” she replies, raising her eyebrows at me.
I almost say, ‘What about Henry?’, but I see the clock in the hallway ticking forward. “We’re gonna be late for religion,” I tell Pearl, picking up speed. I don’t want another reason for Sister Bertha to glare at me.
. . .
It being Friday, Pearl and I head to the park after school as usual. There are some younger kids sitting at our table, so Pearl finds a spot in the sun under a large tree instead.
She pulls on sweatpants and takes off her blouse, revealing a pink tank top, and sits at the base of the tree. I sit down gingerly, not happy that I’m sitting in dirt but unwilling to do much about it. I’ll have to wash my uniform skirt, but I usually wash it on the weekends, so there’s really nothing to worry about.
“Are you really going to Maggie’s tomorrow?” Pearl asks me, pulling her legs into a pretzel shape in front of her.
I squint into the distance. “I--Maybe. I don’t know.” I had told Maggie during science that she should text me the details, but hadn’t explicitly said whether I was coming or not. Pearl had said thanks, but no thanks.
Pearl shrugs a shoulder. “That’s cool. I mean, it doesn’t sound like fun to me, personally, but Maggie’s usually nice.”
I pick at the grass near my feet. “So you won’t come with me?” I ask, staring into the dirt.
“No, I don’t think so.”
I look at her for a second, eyes snagging on her tank top. It has an upside-down smiley face embroidered onto it. I turn away again, towards the kids who had taken over our picnic table. One of them is standing on it. “But you’ll hang out with Henry?”
I see her head whip in my direction out of the corner of my eye, but I don’t turn.
“Are you still jealous?” Pearl asks. She doesn’t sound accusatory, just exasperated. And that makes it worse because it means it was less of a question and more of a statement.
I meet her eyes, big and almost-blue and slightly narrowed. “No! I’m not jealous. Why would I be? I do not like him, we’ve been over this,” I say through my teeth.
She sucks on her bottom lip and scoffs. “Ok, fine. You just seem to be… hung up on him.”
“Hung up on him? I’m not chatting with him in the hallway every day and getting his number and inviting him to hang out Monday and being all secretive about it--”
“So, what? I can’t have other friends? Henry and I are friends, ok, Trinity? Why is that so hard to believe?” Pearl pulls her up legs closer to her body, becoming smaller and smaller as she wraps her arms around her knees.
I shake my head violently at her. “If you’re friends, why didn’t you just tell me? I just feel like you’re trying to keep…” Pearl looks at me, her brows furrowed. “...keep some kind of secret from me,” I finish quietly.
Pearl’s expression barely moves. Her whole body barely moves, like she’s holding her breath, like she’s frozen in time, like she doesn’t know what to do next. Pearl always knows what to do next.
Carefully, Pearl relaxes her legs and kicks them out in front of her. Staring at her shoes, she says, “Yeah. Well, I knew you’d make a big deal about it. This is exactly why I didn’t tell you anything.”
Pearl won’t meet my eye anymore, so I have to stare at that dumb smiley face on her shirt. “If he’s your friend, then maybe I should be his friend. We could all go to Maggie’s party, together,” I say evenly. I don’t really want to be Henry’s friend, but I know this will fix everything, and we’ll go back to not arguing so much.
But instead, Pearl lets out a bark of laughter. “You don’t get it,” she says darkly. “We can have different friends, different interests. You can go to the party without me. And I can hang out with Henry without you. Isn’t that ok?”
My mouth hangs open, and I want to shout at her. No, of course it’s not ok. We’re supposed to be best friends, and we’re supposed to work through our differences and be there for each other and be honest with each other. Apparently she doesn’t care about any of those things.
Only I don’t have the energy to keep arguing. So I say, “Fine.” I can’t quite keep all the anger out of my voice.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/433350/trinity-4)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/435187/trinity-6)
I convince my mom to drop me off at Maggie’s house ten minutes later than her party actually starts. I don’t want to risk being early in case no one else is there yet and I’m forced to, like, socialize with Maggie’s parents or something.
I also tell Mom she should pick me up early, just in case I’m having a miserable time. She tells me that it’ll be fun and I should stop worrying so much.
Maggie’s house is small and homey and filled to the brim with ‘rustic’ home decor. Almost all the wallspace is filled with wooden signs reading things like, “Faith, Hope, & Love” and “I am with you always” and my personal favorite, “All I need today is a little bit of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus”.
I meet her parents briefly, and two of her siblings (apparently there are five of them). Her parents are nice; in fact, they remind me a lot of my parents.
The actual party passes surprisingly quickly. There are twelve of us, and I know everyone from school, so it almost feels like I’m in class. We mostly talk about school and play games like charades and trivia, both of which I’m terrible at, but luckily I don’t think anyone really cares.
Weirdly, I spend most of my time talking with Kelly. His first name is actually Nicholas, but there’s another Nicholas in our grade so everyone just calls them both by their last names. Kelly used to always be on the swings at recess when we were young, and that was always my favorite thing to do too. Since then though, I haven’t spoken to Kelly much; I never have the opportunity to. Kelly is in all the honors classes, and I, most certainly, am not.
“Who are you texting?” Kelly, who’s sitting on a pillow on the floor next to the bean bag I’m in, leans closer to me.
I click off my phone screen, hiding my sent messages to Pearl:
Sorry I was being annoying about Henry. I didn’t mean to be weird about it
I’m at Maggies if you change your mind about the party
It’s pretty fun, actually
The first message I had sent this morning, and still she hasn’t responded. She must be more upset than I think she is.
I lean away from Kelly and say, “Does it matter?” I cringe internally; I didn’t mean to be rude to him.
He just scoffs. “Ok, well you keep frowning at your phone, so maybe whoever it is isn’t worth texting.”
“I wasn’t frowning at my phone,” I argue half-heartedly. I probably was.
“Sure, sure,” Kelly says with a small smile, looking away from me and up at Mary Kate, who’s begun karaoking quite poorly at the front of the room.
He digs his phone out of his pocket. “Oh, well, looks like I have to go…” he says to no one in particular.
“What, now?” I ask, looking over at him.
He sweeps his black hair off of his forehead. “Yup.” He lowers his voice and leans in towards me. “To be honest I hate karaoke.”
I laugh a little, trying to picture Kelly karaoking.
“That doesn’t mean you have to leave,” I say as I watch him stand up.
He looks down at me. “I actually hate parties. I only stayed this long because I had someone new to talk to.” He gives me a crooked smile and then says loudly, “My dad’s here to pick me up. Bye everyone!”
My voice blurs into the chorus of goodbyes, and I text my mom shortly after to pick me up.
. . .
I don’t see Pearl at school on Monday, and she never responded to my texts. I do, however, see Henry Foley.
“Henry!” I curl my fingers around my books as I jog down the hall to catch up to him and his friends.
Henry turns and sees me. “Oh… hey, Trin,” he says, sounding confused. He stops so I can catch up, and his friends jostle him, laugh, and walk away.
“Have you seen Pearl today?” I ask him, staring at his Saint Paul’s football jacket. Which, by the way, is technically against the dress code.
“Uh, not today, no,” he replies, running a hand through his hair.
This marks the second Monday Pearl has missed school.
I sigh and look up at him. “Are you going to see her today? I heard you had plans today.” I try to keep my voice neutral.
“Oh. I think so. Yeah.” Henry shrugs.
I shrug too. “Cool. Yeah. Ok, well, I don’t know if she saw my texts, so when you see her, could you just tell her I’m sorry?” I stare at my shoes, worn black flats. “I think she’s mad at me.”
I see Henry’s black and neon yellow tennis shoes shift uneasily. “Sure. I can tell her. But, uh, Trin?” I look up again at his annoyingly-traditionally-handsome features. “I don’t think she’s mad at you, I think she might’ve been, like, away? A family vacation or something, I guess.”
I find it hard to believe that Pearl wouldn’t have mentioned a family vacation to me.
Henry’s standing in front of me, just kind of nodding. “Well, gotta get to class.”
I don’t watch him go; I spin on my heel and march down the hall away from him.
The only other thing that happens Monday is that I pass Kelly in the hall. I lift my hand in a wave and say ‘hi’, but I guess I don’t say it loud enough, because he glances at me, then away. My smile slides off my face pretty quickly, and my hands tighten on the books I’m holding.
. . .
On Tuesday morning, I hear Pearl talking chipperly with Mrs. Vena. I must’ve paused in the hallway, because Pearl’s big eyes find mine and she smiles and says ‘see you later’ to Mrs. Vena and makes her way towards me.
“Trinity! Hey!” Her blonde hair is neatly and perfectly pulled back into a high ponytail, and her uniform is as crisp and clean as ever. She looks the same as she always does.
I stop in the hallway and smile back naturally, but something about it feels wrong.
“Where were you yesterday?” I ask.
Her smile never falters. “Oh, you know, fighting crime and whatnot,” she lets out a breath of laughter before her face softens into a more serious expression. “I saw your texts by the way, but my phone was off all weekend, so I couldn’t respond. How was Maggie’s party though? I want to hear everything.”
My first instinct is to tell her about the party, but instead I falter. “Why was your phone off?”
She just rolls her eyes at me. “What do you mean? It just was. Now really, who was there?”
I can see that the hallway is getting less and less crowded as everyone starts to finally make their way to class. The bell will ring soon. I stand still and blink at Pearl. “I just--Is everything ok? I mean, what about your weekend?”
Something in Pearl’s expression changes, and she turns her face away to look down the hall. I realize in that moment that I can’t read her expression, that I don’t know what she’s thinking or what she’s going to say. I don’t know why that makes my chest ache.
“Yeah, well, it wasn’t really the best weekend. I, um…” Pearl never says ‘um’. “I don’t really want to talk about it now.” She looks at me and her wide eyes look even wider than usual.
I feel a wave of panic, and I can’t tell if it’s mine or hers or if it’s because the bell is about to ring or because of I don’t know what, something else? “Let’s meet after school, then, at the park. Yeah?” I offer hopefully.
Pearl smiles, but her eyebrows are pinched together. “Yeah, ok.”
The bell rings then, and Pearl is still standing there and I nearly jump out of my skin. I’m not even sure if I say goodbye, I just sprint as gracefully as I know how to my next class, knowing I’ll have a tardy marked on the attendance sheet.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/434641/trinity-5)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/435863/trinity-7)
As the hours drag on, my day only gets worse. First, I’m assigned a five-to-seven page paper for religion class, and I need to pick a topic by tomorrow. Religion. Not even English. Next, Pearl acts concerningly chiper in Mr. Gleason’s class, which normally wouldn’t worry me, but kind of does today. But most concerningly, Henry Foley stops me in the hallway on my way to eighth period.
I see him barreling down the hallway, his mouth set in a firm line, and I look behind me, expecting to find some of his football friends. But no, it’s just other students.
Before I have time to face forward again, fingers have wrapped around my left wrist and are pulling me to the side. In a millisecond, I whip my head around and come nose-to-nose with Henry and his dark brown eyes.
I’m too in shock to do anything but squeak.
Henry drags me down the hall a few feet and into the library, which is infamously devoid of students. In fact, at the moment it’s devoid of all people, because Mrs. Leonard, the librarian, likes to go to the parking lot between classes to take a smoke. She’s tried burning candles to cover up the smell, but our principal shut that down pretty quickly for safety reasons.
I really wish Mrs. Leonard was here now.
Henry lets go of my wrist roughly, and my arm swings back and bangs into the shelf behind me. I’ve backed so far into the bookshelf I’ve almost folded up and become a novel myself.
And I think I’d prefer it, too, because Henry is looming over me, his jaw set and his eyes narrowed.
For some reason the only thought I keep having is, Oh God, please don’t try and kiss me.
Thankfully, he doesn’t.
“Have you told anyone?” he asks, his voice strained. It strikes me as strange that I can’t immediately tell if he’s trying not to yell or trying not to cry. Obviously yell, though, from the way he’s glaring at me right now.
“Sorry, what?” My voice is so whispery that I’m not sure he can even hear me.
“I assume Pearl told you. So, who did you tell?” He grounds out the words, his eyes never leaving mine.
I feel as though I’ve stumbled onto the set of a crime drama. I press myself into the bookshelf behind me, trying to form more space between us--trying to take a breath.
I don’t have to ask him to clarify; I know what he’s talking about. “She did,” I quickly admit. “But I didn’t say anything to anyone!” There’s a book spine digging into my shoulder blade.
Henry takes a step away from me and rakes a hand through his hair, gaze pointed at the ceiling instead of at me for once. “Damn.”
I cringe, but I don’t say anything.
He raises his arms like he’s going to punch the bookshelf nearest to him, but then he lets them swing down to his sides. “Everyone knows. They keep talking. Damn. Damn.”
I still can’t believe I’m having this conversation with Henry Foley.
He begins to pace. “It’s just rumors. Right? I mean, you didn’t say anything. Pearl wouldn’t say anything. Right? Of course. Pearl wouldn’t say anything.” He’s muttering to himself, and I wonder if I can just slip out of the room unnoticed. The bell’s going to ring soon.
“Uh, yeah, I’m sure it’ll all be… fine,” I offer weakly, scrambling for something to say. I don’t know what to say. Sorry the whole school thinks you’re gay? But you are, right? So…?
He throws his hands up again, and I try not to flinch, even though he’s not close to me anymore. “I can’t believe I’m talking to you of all people.” Henry laughs incredulously, eyeing me from the other side of the library.
I narrow my eyes--but I think the desired effect is lost because my eyes have been so wide this whole time--and say, “What does that mean?”
He scrubs a hand through his hair at the same time that the bell rings, and for the second time today I jump, nearly dropping the books in my hands. Late again.
I take two large steps towards the door, but not before I hear Henry, who hasn’t moved an inch, say, “Nevermind.”
. . .
I pack my backpack extra fast at the end of the day, shoving in all my notebooks just in case, and slamming my locker shut. I find Pearl as she’s closing her own locker, and I follow her down the hall towards the school’s front entrance.
“Oh, Trinity, I actually can’t stay after school today. I texted my parents, and they want me to come straight home,” Pearl tells me over her shoulder as we walk.
I tighten my grip on the straps of my backpack. “What? But we were going to…” I trail off, because I’m not sure what we were going to do. Have a chat in the hopes of somehow curing this sudden ‘weirdness’ that’s been lingering between us for the last few days?
“Yeah, I--you know--have to take the bus. They can’t pick me up so I better--” Pearl shoulders through a couple of students and out the front doors.
I jog to catch up and reach a hand out, grabbing her forearm and spinning her towards me. “My parents can take you back home. Just stay for a little bit,” I find myself pleading.
Her wide eyes blink at me. “My parents won’t be happy about that,” she says, a strangely twisted smile appearing on her face. “Thank you, though.” She disappears into a wave of students, and I see her about to climb onto her bus, and its engine is idling, and students are still getting on but the bus at the front of the line is starting to drive forward--
“Wait!” I’m running now--or close to it--and I hear a shout from behind me.
“Miss Reeding! No running.” It’s the unmistakably low and disapproving voice of Sister Bertha, who I swear is literally always watching me.
Pearl is also watching me, a hand on the bus’s door, a foot already on the steps.
I’m still a distance away from her, but I freeze at the sound of Sister Bertha’s warning. I’m close enough to the bus to hear the busdriver shout at Pearl to get on or off, and I’m close enough to hear Pearl say, “Stop me, then.”
Maybe it’s the reserved yet impish smile spreading across Pearl’s face, but I run. My backpack knocks uncomfortably against my back and arms, and my flats almost fly off, and Sister Bertha yells again, but I run and I pull Pearl off the bus steps and onto the sidewalk.
Other students look at us, but right now they’re just a blur of blue and green plaid. Pearl’s grinning at me, and she grabs my hand and laughs out the words, “Oh my god, Trinity,” as she begins to pull me along. Pretty soon she’s running and Sister Bertha is definitely still yelling but I’m not listening anymore, and I’m laughing because I can’t believe any of this and her hand slips out of mine as she runs. I jog after her, self-conscious, but by now we’re too far away from school for it to matter.
I laugh again and choke out the words, “Slow down!” as I watch her blond hair fly out behind her, and she looks back at me with a grin.
We collapse in a patch of grass at the closest end of the park, under a large, droopy tree.
Once we both catch our breath, I ask, “Do you think we’ll be in trouble tomorrow?” And it’s a serious question, but when Pearl starts to giggle I do too.
“It’s after school hours, what could they possibly get us in trouble for?” She’s lying on her back and she rolls over and props her head up on her hands.
“You’re going to get your blouse dirty,” I can’t help but point out, but there’s still the ghost of a smile on my lips.
She sits up suddenly. “You’re right,” she says and unbuttons it. It’s a blue tank top today with three white hearts embroidered onto it. She lays back down on her stomach, and we sit there for a minute just listening to the breeze.
“Are your parents going to be mad?” I ask tentatively. I’ve only met Pearl’s parents twice, and they seemed awfully nice, but she usually doesn’t talk about them.
“Furious, for sure,” she says with a grin. I grin back, but I’m not sure if she’s joking or not.
“Now tell me about your weekend?” She twists a blade of grass between two fingers.
I nod. “Ok, and then you tell me about yours,” I say as light-heartedly as I can manage. I wish that all of our conversations could be like this, in the sunlight and filled with little laughs. I have a feeling that her weekend was filled with neither.
“Of course,” she says with a soft smile, eyes cast down to the grass in her hand.
So even though I want nothing more than to hear what she has to say, I begin recounting my weekend.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/435187/trinity-6)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/437661/trinity-8)
I lean back in the grass, propping myself up on my arms behind me, and tell Pearl about Maggie’s party. I leave out all the times I texted her, of course, and all the time I spent waiting for her reply. I tell her about Mary Kate’s terrible karaoking and Maggie’s cringe-worthy elephant charade and Kelly’s incredible trivia knowledge.
And for a moment, everything feels normal.
“Did you get his number or anything?” Pearl’s still lying on her stomach, kicking her legs lazily in the air. Stray wisps of blonde hair flutter next to her face, escaped from her once-perfect ponytail.
“What? Whose?” I blink down at her.
She stacks both fists under her chin and looks at me with a wide smile. “Kelly, of course.”
I laugh because that seems like the appropriate reaction. “Um, of course not. No.” I slap her shoulder for good measure.
Pearl erupts into giggles. “Alright, keep your secrets,” she says with a slanted smile.
An uncertain laugh bubbles out of me, and I feel a wave of irrational anger hit me. Well, not completely irrational. “I don’t have secrets,” I say, my voice laced with annoyance. I shouldn’t have said it like that; we’re supposed to be getting along. I shouldn’t even be upset.
“Ok,” she replies sassily. “If you don’t have secrets, tell me who you like, if it’s not Henry and it’s not Kelly.” She’s got a whisper of a smile on her face, reminiscent of her expression on the bus steps. A challenge.
“That’s not fair,” The words spill out of my mouth without thinking.
“Why?” Pearl rolls onto her back and throws an arm over her eyes.
“Well, I don’t know, you go first,” I say, my mouth on autopilot. My brain’s still whirring for an answer to her question. I mean, I did like hanging out with Kelly, but not in like a… dating kind of way. Ugh. Do I like Kelly?
“Fine. Nevermind,” Pearl says, and I still can’t see much of her face because it’s still blocked by her arm, but I hear something in her voice and I can’t identify what it is.
I sit up and lean over her, but she rolls her face away. “I guess I like--nobody?” I almost say ‘Kelly’ but that feels like a lie. I liked him paying attention to me, but that’s not what liking is, right?
She pulls her arm away from her face just long enough for me to see her squint up at me. “What an answer,” she deadpans.
I set my jaw, because my intention was to stop arguing with Pearl, but at the moment, I don’t know what she wants to hear. I stand up and brush the dirt off my skirt, because it’s my only one since my last one lost a button and I need to wear it to school tomorrow.
“Yeah. Well, one day I’ll meet someone rich and handsome or something. But right now everyone’s just the same gross third-graders we met forever ago. Right?” I stare down at her and fold my arms.
Pearl drags her arm off of her face and concedes, “They are all pretty gross, aren’t they?” Her voice is less playful than I was hoping it would be.
I shift on my feet, wondering if I should sit back down. And wondering what to say next, too, because I’ve run out of words on the current topic.
Instead, Pearl stands up. Her ponytail is mussed now, strands of her blonde hair flying into her face, and she picks up her discarded blouse and shoves it into her backpack.
“So what about your weekend?” I blurt out, suddenly afraid that she’s packing up to leave.
Pearl wrestles with her backpack zipper--it must be broken--and speaks without looking at me. “Do you want to walk the trail?”
Her question catches me off-guard, because although this park does have some walking trails, we’ve never explored any of them. I’m not even sure where any of them go.
“Sure.” I pick up my backpack and put it on.
We walk through the picnic table area, towards the section of the park that’s more wooded. As we step onto the path, the air feels cooler in the shade of the trees, and gooseflesh breaks out on my arms. My flats seem insufficient for the rocky, uneven ground, but I don’t say anything. I just hope I don’t trip or fall over anything.
Pearl walks just ahead of me. “My parents really would be mad if they knew I was here. They won’t know I missed the bus. Yet.”
I pause, and Pearl stops when she notices. I say, “I’m sorry, maybe you should get back. I shouldn’t have convinced you to--”
She surprises me when a smile spreads across her face. “You didn’t convince me of anything, Trinity. I basically asked you to pull me off that bus.”
Seeing her smile gives me the courage to say, “What did happen this weekend?” After a second, I add, “If you want to tell me, anyway. You don’t have to.” But I really, really hope she does.
She starts walking, but this time she times her steps with mine. The path is barely wide enough for the two of us, so we pick our way carefully down the path, over roots and under low-hanging branches.
“I didn’t just have my phone off,” she starts. “I didn’t have it with me at all, where I was.”
I wait, but when I only hear the wind in the leaves above us, I say, “Henry told me you were on vacation?”
Pearl lets out a little laugh, and I smile a little, just to hear the sound. “That’s nice of him. No, I told him where I was, and it wasn’t vacation. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” She takes a deep breath and stops for a moment.
We’re on the path still, but the forest is thinner here, and a patch of mushrooms grows on a tree trunk just behind Pearl. A tiny creek bubbles just a few feet away, and a small wooden bridge has been built over it. It feels like we’re in the middle of nowhere, just me and her.
Her wide eyes search mine, and I know I must look confused and anxious and impatient even though I’m trying not to. I can’t help but fiddle with the strap of my backpack.
“I’ve been fighting with my parents… And so they…” Pearl looks down and around and past me and then back at my face. Every part of her is tense. “They sent me to this retreat.” She spits the word, and I don’t know what she means, but it sounds like she didn’t like it.
“I don’t understand,” I say weakly.
Her shoulders loosen slowly, like she’s had to think about how to relax, and she tilts her head, regarding me. “Henry thinks I shouldn’t tell you, but you’re my best friend, you know that right?”
This, at least, makes me smile a little. “And you’re my best friend,” I reply. How could she not be?
She mirrors my expression, then her mouth falters somewhere between a hopeful smile and a frown. “Just promise not to hate me,” she whispers.
I can feel a crease forming between my brows, and my hand tightens on my backpack strap. “I won’t ever hate you.”
She drags a foot in the dirt path, drawing an arch in the loose dirt. “I’m friends with Henry because he’s gay. Partially, anyway. Because I’m kind of like him. Kind of.”
I can feel her watching me, but I have no idea what expression I’m making. I’m not sure I’m making any expression at all. I’m not sure what to think. Like him, like, gay? Like what? Pearl isn’t gay; I would know. This isn’t right. None of this makes any sense.
I know she’s waiting for me to say something, but I’m also reprocessing everything she’s ever said to me. Her hesitation when she told me Henry was gay, her weird reaction when I tried to laugh it off. She’s serious.
“Ok,” I try.
Pearl puts her face into her hands. “I’m sorry, I know, it’s terrible, but it’s true and I--”
I let go of my backpack strap and almost give her a hug, but end up putting a hand on her shoulder and patting her gently. “Don’t be sorry,” I say quietly. “You can’t help it.”
Her eyes are glassy, but they’re also wide and tilted into an angry shape. I drop my hand as she begins to speak. “No, I can’t help it. You think I’m horrible and disgusting, don’t you? Just say it.” She doesn’t sound angry; she sounds broken.
I can’t believe she’s saying any of this. “You’re not--Pearl, you’re not horrible. You’re not any of those things--I’m sorry, I just didn’t know. You’re perfect like this. You’re always perfect.”
I wonder if the breeze is making her cold, because she wraps her arms around herself. “I’m not, but thank you,” she says, her voice thick.
She’s avoiding looking at me now, and I want to say the right thing, to make her understand that it’s ok and she’s ok and I’m ok as long as we get to keep being best friends. But I don’t know what the right words are.
“I tried to tell my parents, and that’s why they sent me to the retreat. To reeducate me. I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid--” Pearl cuts herself off with a deep breath. “And I needed to talk to somebody, so I started hanging out with Henry.”
This is a lot of information all at once, so I’m not sure where to start. I have so many questions but I can’t tell if she wants me to ask them, or if that would be prying and she just told me the extent she’s comfortable sharing.
Selfishly, I ask, “But this doesn’t change anything? I mean, you’re the same Pearl. You’re still my best friend.” Even to my own ears, it sounds like I’m trying to convince myself. But I don’t know. Maybe we’re too different now. Maybe Henry is a better friend for her, maybe I’ll never understand like he does.
She shrugs and drops her backpack onto the ground, wandering a couple of feet off the path to stare into the nearby creek. I follow, discarding my backpack besides hers.
“Yeah. Everything’s the same. I’ve always been like this. And I will be, forever. Even with these retreats,” Pearl says as I join her at the edge of the creek. Her white tennis shoes are dangerously close to the murky water.
I stare down at our feet. “There’s… more than one retreat?”
“I’ve gone to two. This last weekend and the week before.”
“But what… are they?”
Pearl leans down and picks up a handful of rocks, and lets most of them sift out of her palm. She’s left with just a couple of larger stones, and she drops one into the water with a loud plop. “They’re through my church. It’s not specifically for anyone, but everyone knows it’s like religious-military camp. It’s supposed to fix you.” She continues to drop her remaining rocks into the water one by one. “They send all kinds of ‘bad’ kids to them. Sinners. Anyone who’s ever been caught stealing or in a fight or anything like that. And anyone… well, anyone anything like me.” She’s run out of rocks to drop, and she stands there, staring at her hands.
“Do you mind… I’m sorry, I mean, do you mean anyone, like, gay, then?” I stumble through my question, cringing at my inability to string a sentence together.
Pearl looks over at me, but she doesn’t look like she did before, terrified and unsure. In the soft sunlight, her eyes look clear blue, almost matching the baby-blue of her tank top, almost looking as spunky as usual. “No, that’s ok. It’s nice to talk about it. And… yes and no.”
She reaches a hand up to pull some loose strands of her hair off of her face, and it almost looks like her lips have curved upwards. “I’m bisexual, I think. But there’s a lot of different words that I’ve learned recently, and I’m still trying to figure out which ones are right. But it’s not just boys. And it’s not just girls, you know?”
I didn’t know, but I understood what she meant. In concept, anyway. “Yeah,” I say. She looks almost happy again, and not in the bubbly way she has been at school. In the silent way that I normally observe when I see her across the classroom, or when we’re at our picnic table.
“Can I ask you another question?”
She sucks on her bottom lip and says, “Only if I can ask you one first.”
This sounds more like Pearl. “Ok,” I say with a nervous smile.
“You really don’t think it’s, like, bad? Me?”
I pick up a rock and drop it in the creek, like she did. “You? No. No, of course not. Why would I think that?”
I can see her eyes skip down to my uniform. My Saint Paul’s green and blue plaid. “I just thought, because of all the church stuff you’re into, that maybe you’d think it’s wrong. Like my parents.”
I feel my stomach churn at the thought of her parents telling her she’s wrong. Her parents sending her to a retreat to try and change her. “If this is who you are, then it can’t be wrong. Your parents are wrong, not you.”
I need her to believe me, because I do want to believe in the church, but how could it be right? How could it be right when Pearl is the best person I’ve ever known and now they want to change her? Suddenly, everything Pearl has ever done makes so much more sense. Because believing the church has never been complicated for me. But it’s complicated for her.
Her mouth tugs up, and it looks like she’s about to speak, but a buzzing is coming from behind us. Realizing what it is, she walks away and fishes her phone from her backpack.
Wordlessly, her wide eyes find mine, and I know who it is. Her parents, wondering where she’s gone. I want to tell her not to answer, not yet, but she does. And even three feet away, with my flats mere inches from the creek water, I can hear the voice on the other end of the phone. And it does not sound happy.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/435863/trinity-7)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/438441/trinity-9)
Pearl’s phone conversation with her parents is short. She tells them that she missed the bus and she’s sorry she didn’t call sooner and she knows that she’s supposed to come straight home. When she hangs up, she tells me they’re just fifteen minutes away; she’d already missed a call from them and they’d started driving towards Saint Paul’s.
“We better head back to school.” Pearl picks up her backpack and smoothes her stray hairs back into place. “Or, I better, at least.” She heads up the path without waiting for me.
When I catch up to her, she doesn’t even turn her head. I wonder what she’s thinking.
“It’ll be ok, though, with your parents?” I ask as we emerge from the path and back out into the sunlight. It feels humid and sticky and warm.
“Yeah. It’ll be ok. I’m not officially grounded or anything, so…” She pulls her mouth up into a halfhearted smile.
I realize then that I don’t know what her life at home is like, and until just now, I’d never considered that it would be any different than mine.
“You were going to ask me something,” Pearl prompts, her tennis shoes scraping the ground as we slowly trudge back towards Saint Paul’s.
My eyes flit around. A fence and bushes to our left, a few cars passing on the road to our right, nothing but the familiar slope of sidewalk to school in front of us. “How did you… know? Like, have you always known?”
She lifts her head and she might’ve even straightened her shoulders. When she turns her face to me, it’s thoughtful. “No, I haven’t always known. It’s hard because everyone always told me I should like boys, and I do. So I didn’t really understand liking girls, or I just convinced myself that it wasn’t really ‘liking’ at all.”
I nod. I wonder what boys she’s liked. And I wonder what girls, too. Just as long as it’s not me, a little voice in my head says. It can’t be me.
She continues, “I kind of always thought that everyone felt like I do, but I realized more recently that that’s not true. Clearly.”
I’m still not really following, and I have more questions, but we’ve reached the uncut lawn in front of Saint Paul’s, and both of us fall silent. There are still students around, waiting to be picked up or talking or goofing around. Not many, but enough that I don’t say another word.
And as if that wasn’t enough, I feel a presence watching me and turn to see Sister Bertha eyeing us from the doorway of the chapel. I swerve towards the parking lot, wanting to put distance between the nun and our very un-christian conversation.
We wait for our parents to pick us up, and in the end, my mom pulls up first because we live close. So I leave Pearl standing on the curb, her hair smoothed into a perfectly presentable ponytail once again, and the three hearts on her tank top winking at me.
As my mom pulls away, the rosary hanging on our car’s rear-view mirror clinks against the windshield, and I stare at it. I’ve never really paid it any attention before, even though it’s been there my whole life.
. . .
The next two weeks pass by in a blur of spring rain and routine conversations and late-night homework assignments. Pearl and I fall back into our normal habit of discussing our classes and our classmates and ordinary everyday things.
Everything is exactly as it was. For the most part.
Pearl doesn’t say anything about her parents or her church retreats or her girl-and-guy-liking, so I don’t either. She continues to hang out with Henry, and he and I continue to ignore each other in the halls. I haven’t spoken more than a word to him since he pulled me into the library all those days ago.
Rumors do circulate though. About Henry, not Pearl; no one suspects her of being anything short of flawless. It only takes a day for Maggie to inform me that she heard that Henry might be gay. I just act surprised and say ‘no way’. But after a few days that talk dies down, and everyone moves on to new rumors, like how Mrs. Vena might be pregnant.
I’m starting to think that I can finally stop thinking about who likes who and who likes people they’re not supposed to like and anything involving the word like. And then the flyers start to go up: the Spring Fling.
Pearl slides into the seat next to me, yellow print-out in hand. I look away from Mr. Gleason, who is currently writing a very complicated looking science equation on the chalkboard in preparation for class.
“You are going to love this,” Pearl says earnestly as she smacks the sheet of paper onto the desk in front of me.
The Spring Fling
Join the school for an ocean-themed
shell-ebration that you won’t forget!
With special guest Naya Bloom
My eyes jump to meet Pearl’s. She’s barely containing a squeal. “Naya Bloom, Trinity! Are you seeing this?”
I shake my head, but only because I can’t believe it. Naya Bloom is one of the small musicians I’m currently obsessed with, and Pearl knows because I love to share my music finds with her. I know Naya is from around here, but I didn’t think I’d ever see her live, especially not at Saint Paul’s annual Spring Fling.
“How did I not know about this?”
Pearl leans back in her chair and folds her arms. “I don’t know, but now you’ve got to go, right?”
I hadn’t considered going. Not until now, anyway. “Do you want to go?”
She lifts a shoulder. “I was thinking about it.”
I pick up the flyer and tuck it into my science notebook. “I guess we should go,” I say back, suppressing a grin. This is the first year we’re allowed to attend any of the dances, and I’ve never known if they’re any fun or not. But now I’m picturing Pearl and I, maybe wearing silly sea-inspired outfits, getting to hear Naya Bloom live.
Then she goes and ruins it. “I wonder if we should go with anyone?”
“Go with--?” I fall silent as Pearl cocks her head in Mr. Gleason’s direction. He’s starting the lesson, so I sit through the class and take notes. But my eyes still wander to the flap of yellow paper sticking out of my notebook.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/437661/trinity-8)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/438893/trinity-10)
I climb out of the car, wrapping my arms around myself and surveying my surroundings. We’re at a park--not the one near school, the one closer to my house because this one has nicer flowers, according to my mother. I don’t see Pearl yet, but Henry is here, wearing khaki pants and a white dress shirt and a bright blue tie.
My mom steps out of the car after me, camera in hand. “Trinity, I told you to bring a sweater,” she tells me, rubbing my bare arm with one hand.
I look down at my outfit: little silver sandals and a purple sequin-y dress that wasn’t my first choice of what to wear, but isn’t horrendous. It fits me well, at least. I thought a sweater would make me look dumb, and I probably won’t need one when we actually got to the dance anyway.
The Spring Fling kind of snuck up on me, but apparently it didn’t sneak up on Pearl; she’s the one that made all the plans for today. She concocted some kind of scheme that involves inviting more people and a work-around of the school’s rules.
It turns out that Henry has a friend he wants to bring--a boy--and only girls can bring boys from other schools, and only once they’ve filled out the proper paperwork. So Pearl filled out the forms saying that this boy is her date, and somehow this scheme evolved into her also bringing a friend.
So now Pearl is bringing a date for Henry, and Henry may or may not be bringing a date for Pearl? I have very few details on the whole thing other than I am here and I am very much not bringing a date.
“Shouldn’t you go say hi to Henry? And who’s that boy he’s with? I’ve never seen him in church... he must not be from around here. He is quite handsome though, don’t you think?” My mother guides me towards Henry, and, as it turns out, another boy I hadn’t noticed. I resist the urge to dig in my heels.
“Oh, hey, Trin. Mrs. Reeding.” Henry greets us with a nod, his hands shoved deep in his pockets. He takes a step away from the boy he was talking to, almost guiltily.
I don’t think my Mom notices, though I’d be surprised if she hasn’t heard any rumors through her network of parents.
“Hi, Henry,” I offer with a tight smile.
He returns the gesture, then uses one hand to flail in the direction of his friend. “This is Jackson,” he says, as if that’s all we need to know. I guess it is.
Jackson, unlike Henry or any of the boys at Saint Paul’s, has a piercing, which has probably dropped him pretty low in my mother’s list of potential suitors for me. It’s through one side of his nose, which I’ve obviously seen before, but I still can’t help but stare at it. When I finally pull my eyes away, I note that he’s smiling warmly and also has almost no eyebrows.
“Hey,” I say, raising a hand in an awkward wave.
We’re saved from making any more conversation by the sound of tires on gravel behind us. Across the way, a girl jumps out of the car, her sparkling pink dress glinting in the evening sun. Her blonde hair falls in waves across her shoulders, and she grins when she sees me, setting off into a jog, heeled shoes clutched in her hand. Her dad shouts from behind her, “Careful, Pearl!”
“Trinity! That dress is such a pretty color! Good to see you, Mrs. Reeding! And you too, of course, Henry. And Jackson.” She smiles at each of us in turn, and her dad huffs as he appears beside her.
I’ve met Mr. Fellows before, but I don’t see him often. He would be a very imposing figure if he was taller. He’s pretty short--shorter than my mom, even--but makes up for it by being broad and loud.
He claps a hand on Pearl’s shoulder and grins at her. “I can’t imagine what your mother would say if she saw you run in that dress.”
Pearl looks up at him playfully. “At least she’d be glad I didn’t try to do it in my heels,” she quips back, bending down to fasten the shoes to her feet.
Mr. Fellows emits a deep, resounding laugh, and greets the rest of us. When he gets to Jackson, his gaze sharpens. “You be nice to my girl,” he commands while shaking Jackson’s hand. I fear the boy’s hand might go purple from the force of Mr. Fellows’ grip, but Jackson barely flinches.
“Of course, Mr. Fellows,” he replies with a gentlemanly bow and a soft smile.
“Time for pictures?” my mom asks eagerly. Pearl’s dad agrees.
I look to Pearl. “What about, um, Henry’s date?” I ask, remembering after speak that I probably should’ve addressed the question to Henry, not Pearl.
I note that Pearl’s eyes widen a little, as if to say do not say anything else. Lucky for her, she hasn’t told me anything else, so that isn’t much of an issue.
“Oh, yeah. Well, she’s meeting us at the school,” Henry says with a shrug. He makes it sound very casual.
It takes almost a half an hour for my mom to take a satisfactory number of pictures. I would be fine with just five minutes’ worth, but she wants all kinds of configurations and smiles and goofy and just girls and couples, the whole shebang.
As for Mr. Fellows, he looks like he’s just having a good time holding his phone up and pressing buttons. I’m not sure if he actually gets any photos, though, because he swears at his phone a couple of times and asks Pearl how to use the camera flash at least three.
Just after seven o’clock, we’re finally being dropped off in front of Saint Paul’s, and my mom’s once again reminding me to have a good time. I tell her I’ll try my best.
And then we’re standing there, in the middle of Saint Paul’s slightly overgrown campus, watching as other students we know arrive and wander their way into the school building. A group of Henry’s friends go by--one literally wearing a football jersey--and they throw glances at him and snicker. I personally can’t tell if the interaction is friendly or unfriendly, but Henry doesn’t seem to take offense to it.
A sharp breeze cuts across my legs, and I’m starting to get cold again. I fold my arms and nod toward the school’s entrance. “Should we go in, then?” I ask, but the words are overshadowed by Pearl yelling out, “Amber! Over here!”
This Amber girl comes toward us--Henry’s ‘date’ presumably, and Pearl’s I-don’t-know-what. I’m not even sure how they know each other. She’s tall and angular and has legs that seem to go on for ages. Her hair is tied back into two short ponytails, and her dress is simple and sleek and black.
She approaches us surely, like she knows us all already. “Hey, everyone,” she says, and Pearl beams at her. Amber squints at Henry and Jackson, pointing a finger between the two of them. “My date?”
Henry raises his hand in a staccato motion and then pushes it through his hair. “That’s me. What’s up.”
She chuckles as she looks him up and down. “Alright, cool. Let’s head in,” she says, linking her arm in his.
And just like that, I find myself trailing behind three random people and my best friend, at my first real school dance and on my way to see the very excellent musician Naya Bloom, and yet nothing about it feels very fun anymore.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/438441/trinity-9)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/439478/trinity-11)