Renaissance Online's second serial story, "Dear Dreadful Book" will appear over four months, concluding with the November 1999 issue.
SHARON E. SVENDSEN, an English teacher and writing instructor, is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. She makes her home in Bremerton, Washington.
Dear Dreadful Book
SHARON E. SVENDSEN
Jack Franklin called me up and asked me to go out with him. I lied and said I already had a date with Larby. "Larby?" he says, "who's that?"
I said, "Lawrence Douglass." "You mean Lardbutt?" I said, "His name is Lawrence. And he happens to be a very nice guy." "Okay, if you say so." "I do." "Well, another time, maybe." "Maybe," I said, but I don't know. It just made me kind of mad to see his disrespect for Larby.
Mr. Burmaster asked us to think about where we will be in five years. Five years. Such a long time. I see myself graduated from college with a good-paying job. I have my own apartment and my own car. Beyond that, I just don't know. Anything could happen. I don't think that I will be married or pregnant. That much seems pretty sure.
Larby is still kind of dorky and dumb looking. I mean, he hasn't really changed. I guess I have changed. Before, I wanted to laugh at his looks. Now I want to protect him from other people's laughter. Trina said, "Why don't you give him some tips about clothing?" And I thought about that. I could tell him how to dress. But then, I thought how I hate it when someone tries to tell me how to dress. Mom tries to tell me how to dress, and it drives me crazy. I don't mind when Trina and Lux suggest something, or when they tell me something looks bad when we are trying things on, but I would hate it if they criticized things I wore to school. If I read something in a magazine, I feel like I'm learning, so that's not bad.
Then it occurred to me that Larby must know his clothes are different from the other kids' clothes. I mean, he isn't stupid. And if he knows, it means either he's dressing differently on purpose or he just doesn't care what he wears. If he doesn't care what he wears, I could suggest other things and it might not hurt his feelings, but if he's dressing the way he dresses on purpose-but why would anybody dress that way on purpose? I think maybe he just doesn't care what other people think about his looks. That seems a little bit brave. But isn't it also a little antisocial? And if he's antisocial, is it because he's rebellious or because people have hurt him? It might be a little bit of both. Listen to me. Geez. He probably just wears the clothes his mother buys. My mother would dress me in dorky clothes, too, if I would let her.
Lizzy, Lizzy, Lizzy. My Mom is stuck on an endless loop of Lizzy, Lizzy, Lizzy. So we're down in the kitchen and I just get fed up. I say, "All I hear about is Lizzy and Lawrence, Lizzy and Lawrence - you like Larby so much, what if I was fruit loops and bringing home girls instead of guys? Mom got this kind of shocked look on her face then she says, real serious, "You are my baby. I will always love and protect you, no matter what. I'd love you just as much if you were attracted to girls, but it would make me feel sad, because I'd know you'd have a hard life ahead of you."
I just had to turn away because she was saying that she loves me, and it hit home to me how much I need and depend on her always loving me. It also occurred to me she'd seen things with Lizzy that I don't know about. Maybe Lizzy did bring home girls when they were young. When Mom looks at Lizzy, does it make her sad? I mean, maybe Mom has seen some unhappiness that I haven't seen.
Larby called me then, thank God, and we went for a walk. We started talking about college. Larby is going to go to a college in Massachusetts. So far away. We'll just get to know each other and he will be gone. I'm just going to Springfield Community College for the first couple years. It's only five miles away. I'll still be at home.
Larby and I went to the movies. We saw The Demarriagized Zone. It was funny but it was so sad. I was glad that I'd brought a lot of Kleenex with me. At the end, when the lights came on, I just had to sit there a minute or two and pull myself together. I looked up at Larby, thinking he was probably going to think I was really silly. I was amazed. He had tears in his eyes, too. He kind of tried to hide it, but I saw his tears. That just touched me, you know? I mean Sid would have started putting the movie down - even if he had been moved by it - and pretty soon I'd get to wishing he hadn't gone with me if now he was just going to spoil it. But Larby was so sweet. He didn't talk about the movie at all until we were at the Pizza Shack. I finally asked him if he liked the movie. He said yes, but it was really sad. I agreed. We talked about the movie for a little while. We both liked the first part, where they got to know each other, and we both liked the part where the father crashed the boy's birthday party. That part was funny. And we agreed that the father knew it was best for the boy to go with his mother in the end. But it was just so sad because nobody was really a bad guy, but everyone was going to be hurt. We both agreed we wouldn't want that to happen to us, if we ever had kids.
We had a plain old pepperoni pizza, but it tasted so good.
We had Larby over for dinner tonight. Mom really likes him. You'd think she was going out with him. He gets along really well with my Dad, too. Mom and Dad keep trying to tease me about him, but I keep telling them we are just friends. And that's all we are.
I got another B in art on my drawing of Trina. I really worked hard on it and everybody said it was really good, it deserved and A, but Mr. Tarryton wouldn't even give it a B plus. I've always gotten A's in art until this year. They say that Mr. Tarryton has only given one A in all the eight years he's been teaching at South Springfield High School. It really isn't fair.
We got our annuals today. Trina was the first to sign mine. She wrote a long, sweet message about what great friends we've been - sort of like what I wrote in hers. Lux wrote this really funny stuff about when we all come back for our 50th high school reunion. She should be a comedian. Larby gave me a ride home after school and we sat in the porch swing and signed each other's annuals. He wrote, "To the girl who made the prom into a memory I will treasure all my life." Wasn't that sweet? He signed it, "Lawrence 'Larby' Douglass." I wrote in his that I was glad we had finally gotten to know each other and I hoped we would always be friends.
Mom and Dad were both at work, so we were here alone together. I thought about Sid and how he always wanted to neck when my parents weren't here. Larby wouldn't even suggest that type of thing. I wondered if he'd want to if he thought he could. Anyway, I thought of Larby and me going in on the couch and necking, and I started to giggle. Larby wanted to know what I was laughing at, but I wouldn't tell him. Then I wondered if Larby would try to touch my breasts the way Sid used to try to do, and I started laughing even harder. "What?" Larby asked. He was kind of smiling. I said, "I just had a funny thought." He said, "What is it?" And I said, "I can't tell you." But I kept looking at his lips, and I kind of wanted to kiss him, but it seemed so silly and I kept giggling. Then I saw like a shadow go across his face, and I could tell he thought I was laughing at him, so I said, "Don't worry. It's not bad." Then he got this kind of question in his eyes. I said, "I mean it's not mean." Then I started giggling again. He sort of smiled and said, "It's not mean but it's bad?" I started laughing harder, but I nodded my head. I tried to stop, but every time I'd look at his lips I'd start laughing again. Then he started to kind of tease me, like he knew what I was thinking. "What is it?" he said, but his eyes were all kind of happy. He took our annuals and put them on the porch rail and he moved closer to me. He had his right arm on the back of the porch swing, so it was kind of halfway around me. I kept laughing but he was so close, so I kind of bowed my head, but he brought his left hand over and lifted my chin, just so gently, until I had to look at him, then I wasn't laughing. I was looking into his eyes and feeling all kind of suspended in time and space. And I was sort of out of breath and I could smell his clean soapy smell and my heart was beating kind of hard, then he looked down at my lips and I know he would have kissed me - right there, on the front porch swing, in front of old Mrs. Rogers, who was probably watching from across the street, but Mom drove up and Larby took his hand away from my face and he moved back a little bit. I wanted to grab him anyway and kiss him hard and long, but of course I didn't. It's just as well we didn't kiss each other. We are just friends.
[ MORE: Just Friends? ]