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)