The Condon Girl
El Goodman sat in English against the wall with an empty desk next to her, listening to Mr. Kravitz work through a sentence diagram. Her green ink traced EG loves PB inside one of several hearts decorating the borders of her notebook paper. She had already finished the sentence being diagramed on the board, and waited for the class to catch up. The door opened and Mr. Kravitz looked over the class at the intruder. The students turned to see who dared interrupt the teacher. A a plump and rather tall girl stood in the door, a green knapsack in her hand. She wore a poodle skirt and shiny thick brown laced brogans. She wore her brown hair in pig tails and plain glasses with big lenses. Yes? asked Mr. Kravitz, his mouth twisting, almost to a snarl.
Im Debby Condon, the girl said, and raised a piece of paper. They say this is my English class. Mr. Kravitz marched from the board to the door and held out his hand. Debby handed him the paper. He glanced at it and pointed towards the empty desk next to El. The girl nodded and walked over, sat down and put her knapsack on her desk.
Take that seat, Miss Condon, he said.
The knapsack was olive drab and had a black U.S. on it,. It reminded her of the one Phil, her brat boyfriend, used in Scouts. Hi, Elaine whispered, Im El. You an army brat?
The girl glanced towards Mr. Kravitz who had gathered up two books and was writing in his gradebook. Yes. Are you? El couldnt help but envy Debbys large breasts which were mountains compared to her onw.
El shook her head quickly. No, but my boy friend is. Mr. Kravitz walked towards them with the books and she stopped talking. Debby opened up her notebook.
Mr. Kravitz placed the literature and grammar books on theDebbys desk, Be sure to take care of these. Elaine, here can show you how to cover them. He returned to the black board and began diagraming another sentence.
El whispered Were diagraming sentences. My name is Elaine, but my friends call me El. Debby began copying the diagram in her notebook.
We were doing compound-complex sentences at Stuttgart when I left, she breathed. Your boy friend in this class? Debby swiveled her head around as though looking for another friendly face. Mr. Kravitzs eyes came back to them and El motioned for quiet, glad that Debby understood the quick signal.
El watched Mr. Kravitz out of the corner of one gray eye. When his back was to them leaned towards Debby and whispered, My boy friend is in military school. Its called Newberry. Ever hear of it? She saw Debby shake her head just as the bell rang. Whats your next class? she asked in a normal tone.
Art. Thats my favorite class. I have lunch next. Do you? Debby said. So your boy friend is a brat?
Yes, Ill show you where the caf is. And yeah, Phils an army brat, too. His fathers at Ft. Belvoir.
A blond with permed hair passed them and muttered, You two are made for each other, a tramp and a brat. Before El could react the girl had gone. She saw Debbys pale cheeks redden.
Im sorry. I remember girls being nasty to us last time I was in a Stateside school. But that was mean what she said about you.
El shook her head sadly. It wasnt you. It was me, Debby. She turned away. You might not want to be my friend.
Well, you seem friendly enough to me.
El turned and smiled. Thanks. Well, all the friends I have now are boys. So if you want to meet them, stick with me. At that Debby stopped walking.
Im not sure. I thought your boy friend wasnt here.
Hes not. These are friends of his. And mine too. She looked at Debby and saw her chewed lip and darting eyes. Shy, perhaps? Well, look, lets get some lunch and just talk. Bet you have lots of questions about Mount Vernon High.
Debby grinned. Okay, El. That would be super. She pointed to her knapsack. I have my lunch here, but Ill wait in line with you if you want.
El nodded. It would be nice to talk to a girl in line again. She led Debby to the line she normally used and compared schedules. They discovered they had General Science and PE together, as well as English.
After El got her lunch they walked together and El found an almost empty table. She avoided her regular table, knowing she could explain her absence to Phils friends later. Theyd probably welcome Debby like they had Phil two years earlier, but she really wanted to just talk to a girl at school for once this year.
Whats your boy friends name? Got a picture? Debby asked after they sat down and she had pulled a paper lunch bag from her knapsack.
El looked at the spaghetti on her own plate. Debbys bologna and cheese sandwich looked awful good right about now, she thought. Hes Phil Boydon. His dads a pilot. She dug out her wallet. I just got his school picture, and she flipped it open to show Debby a picture of a bright-eyed boy in a uniform blouse, close cropped blond hair, a big smile on his angular face.
Hes an officers son? Oh. Maybe he wont want you to be my friend. My dad just got promoted to Master Sergeant. We lived in Germany for five years to save money. But to get his promotion he had to come here. Hes at Ft. Meyer. They needed somebody to work with the horses for the funerals. Dad served in artillery when they still had horses, so he got the job. Hes about to retire.
El smiled. Why wouldnt Phil want you to be my friend? Who cares about parents, right? She took a mouthful of the bland, luke warm spaghetti. Anyway, Phil wont tell me who my friends are. For a moment it looked like Debby wanted to say something.
El realized that those five years in Europe caused Debbys old-fashioned appearance with the poodle skirt and her pig tails, not to mention the shoes. El also noticed a silver crucifix on a thin, beaded chain. Probably Catholic, she thought.
I have an older brother, Debby. What about you? El said after a silence.
I have a brother in sixth grade. And two older brothers and three older sisters. But my oldest brother joined the army two years ago and my oldest sister is married. This is her skirt Im wearing. She just had to have one, so now I have it. I know its not hip, but we still have to watch money, even with Harmon and Anne gone.
El saw a slight blush on Debbys face. Maybe I can help. Mommys teaching me to sew.
Debby chuckled and the blush faded. I know how. I dont think Ive ever had anything brand new from my folks. I want to get a job so I can help out like Jill and Gary. El smiled. She enjoyed talking to a girl at school again. She liked Phils friends, but she missed talking to girls.
After lunch they parted. See you tomorrow in General Science, Debby said and left before El could say anything. Would she really have a girl friend again, El wondered. She couldnt wait to write Phil about it.
The next three days passed pleasantly for El with a girl to talk to in three classes. Soon Friday came and Debby rode the bus with El to her house after school. El took her friend into the spare bedroom, which her mom used for sewing and the girls began to clear the sewing table to work on Debbys new skirt. Some small black boxes with gold lettering and scroll work on them lay on the counter. Debby picked one up. Is this what it says, El? she whispered. She opened the box. It is. A Distinguished Service Cross. Whose is it? she breathed, her eyes wide.
My grand dads. He fought in both World Wars. He just retired from the National Guard. He forgot to take them back home with him. Are they important? El looked inside the box to see a mostly dark blue ribbon with some red and white stripes holding a bronze cross with an eagle in the middle.
Thats the second highest medal for bravery we have. And a Silver Star; thats for bravery too. And a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Debby put down the boxes gently. Youve got a hero for a grandfather, El.
Well, he used to give great horsie rides, El laughed. Debby did, too, but then her face turned serious after El put the black boxes on the dresser and laid out the blue cloth they had selected.
I have to ask you something else, El, Debby said while smoothing the cloth.
El sighed. The inevitable had obviously happened. Its about Phil. What have you heard?
Debby looked at the cloth she was cutting. Girls say you let him.... They say you and he.... Uh, they say youre... She looked up. Youve been so nice since I came, but I cant even say what they say about you. They even said youve petted with another boy.
Im sorry all those back biters got to you before I could tell you the real story. Was it Melissa Peppersmith who told you?
No. A bunch of girls in art. Most of them are sophomores and juniors. Im not sure they really know you, but they say youre really wild.
Well, they got it from Melissa. El sat on the bed, and looked at Debby at the sewing table. Melissa was my best friend. First she fooled me into let her cousin touch me. Thats the petted with another boy. Then last year she got me to trick Phil into thinking I liked him, but I fell for him. And then we spent as much time together as possible. We were making out, of course, but that was all. Then Phil told me he was going off to school and we wouldnt be at Mount Vernon together. After that we started going further. One day we went up to his room when his folks were gone. But his mom came back for something and caught us.
Debby blushed, her eyes down cast. She caught you doing it? she whispered.
No, El said. We were going to. I admit that, but we hadnt. And weve both vowed we wont go all the way until were married. So I really havent done anything more, or much more than Melissa or Michelle or a lot of other girls I know. I know Melissas petted with at least two boys and pretty heavy, too. And Pauline has too. Theyre just really jealous because I have a boy who really loves and respects me and they dont.
Our parents wont let us see each other and I cant date until Im fifteen, if then. So even if I wanted to be wild, it would be hard. She tugged on her ponytail. You ever have a boy friend, Debby?
Debby started to shake her head back and forth and then nodded briefly. Well, sort of. In Germany. Dad never knew about it. Hed of killed me if hed known, but I met a GI at the bowling alley when I was thirteen. He was just eighteen, just got to Germany and he seemed real friendly. First guy I ever kissed. We started meeting in lonely places, or going to the movies and sitting way in the back. Debby looked down. So Ive been touched, too. He kept telling me he had rubbers and Id be safe, but I told him Im Catholic and it was bad going to Confession and telling the Father what I let him do. I also told him my age . I finally told him I wasnt going to go any further and he stopped seeing me. I was actually glad when we stopped meeting. By the time she stopped, El strained to hear the words. She could feel her own cheeks glow and saw Debbys scarlet cheeks.
Well, nobody knows but me and Im not telling anybody, Debby, she said and leaned over and hugged her new friend.
Thanks, El. We werent even supposed to talk to GIs. I thought he went to high school when we met. We had elementary up through eighth and I thought he was a junior or senior. Hiding all that from my folks and my older brothers and sisters made it tough, too.
El stared at her new friend. Debbys eyes lowered and her fingers twisted amongst each other. It struck El that other girls had problems, and at least Phil really loved her. Three or four smuggled letters a week for six weeks now showed how much he loved her. Glad nothing worse happened, El offered.
Debby raised her chubby face and smiled broadly. So am I. And Im glad were friends. Its so nice to have somebody to sew with. El noticed how well Debby moved the cloth through the Sears sewing machine, much better than she could.
Its nice to have somebody other than Mommy to teach me to sew, El said, shrugging her shoulders. Both girls laughed at that, and El felt relief as pressure and tension from revealing secrets dropped. Still, she thought the things she was learning about brats from Debby were things she would never have learned from Phil. They were very different, Phil and Debby, but she was glad she knew them both.
But El, do you really call your mom, Mommy all the time?
El nodded vigorously. I dont care what people think. Its almost like my Raggedy Ann doll. Saying Mommy makes me feel safe.
Debby shook her head, then hugged El. Its your flagpole. if you salute it, thats fine.
Monday found the two friends leaving English and heading for lunch together. Debby no longer had the knapsack, but, like El, carried her books as a shield to her breasts. I found a St. Barbara statue in the chapel and lighted a candle to her. Dad used to be artillery and shes his patron saint, so sort of mine too, Debby said.
Phils dad was artillery, too, before he became a pilot, El said. She sort of knew about saints, but the ranks, branches and other insignia still bothered her. In some ways Debby had confused what she thought she understood. El noticed their way blocked by four girls.
Debby Condon, we know all about you. Youre the eighth grader who dated that maintenance GI in Stuttgart. No wonder you didnt look for any of your old friends. El heard a cold tone in the voice, a tall, older girl with hair straight from Gone With the Wind.
Debby looked around. Old friends? You werent in Sttugart High this year. And I was in elementary school last June.
Well we dont want you to make a mistake again, the middle girl said, her lip raised on the left. This Elaine is giving us a bad name. Drop her and maybe soon well let you be our friend. After all, were army brats, too, and shes just a sillyvillian.
El opened her mouth, but Debby put her hand on the smaller girls arm, looking at the middle girl. If you wanted to be my friends, youd have said something my first day. You didnt, but El did. Maybe its cause of her boy friend, I dont know. But shes a friend, which is more than I can say for any of you. She laughed brightly. Besides, my dad retires in six months and hes going to be a GS-11 up in Arlington. Then what are your dads going to say? Yes, sir, Mr. Condon. Well find the supplies you need, Mr. Condon. Debby pointed at the four girls. I know you. Your dads are quartermaster, transportation, military police and ordnance. Debby pointed towards El. Her boy friends dad is artillery and so is mine. And her grandfather has a DSC. So get out of our way before you get bracketed. You rear echelon trash dont talk to combat arms that way.
Els eyes opened wide as the four girls turned scarlet and parted for them to pass. Her knees shook a bit as she walked through with her friend. When they passed out of hearing, she said. You didnt have to do that, Debby. You probably have more in common with them than with me.
Debbys head signaled negative. No I dont. Their dads are janitors with brass on their collars. Im glad to know you, Elaine Goodman. Youre what Dad calls Real folks.
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