“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)