First Day Blues
The still shiny and clean black '55 Oldsmobile turned into Mount Vernon High School's drive and pulled over to the curb. Mrs. Goodman turned to the passenger, and put her hand on her daughter's shoulder.
"It's going to be all right, honey. Just get out of the car and walk into school. You're going to be late."
El Goodman looked at her mother, holding the steering wheel with one hand and now pointing with the other towards the white doors of the red brick high school. How could Mommy think it was going to be okay? How could it be? I'm not sure I have any friends here at all, now.
"Mommy, can't I just miss the first day? Lots of kids do. Nothing happens. And I only got back last night."
"No, Elaine. You have to face your friends some time. It might as well be today. They know you're home. If you don't go in there today it'll make them talk. It will be worse when you do come." El felt her mother's hand's gentle nudge towards the passenger door. "You know perfectly well we've said no three times since you got home from Mom's. Your pouting won't change the situation." Her mother's set face made it clear. "On the other hand, don't you think you are a little old for 'Mommy?'"
El shook her head, "No, Mommy. Somehow that makes me feel safe." She saw her mother shake her head. Well, maybe it was strange, but it felt good to her. Not like going to school after being away for a month. With a sigh the girl scooped up her new notebooks and the pencil holder along with her purse before opening the door. It looked like the last kids were walking in.
She got out of the car. "Thanks for driving me, Mommy," She said tonelessly, closed the door and turned to walk away.
"Good luck, Elaine. Remember, bus tomorrow."
El heard the car begin to move. "Yes," she said, even as she increased her pace. She didn't want to be late. Now that she was here and out of the car, she didn't want to have any more reason than necessary for people to notice her.
Nevertheless she paused at the door and used the window as a mirror to remove the small green stone cross from under her blouse to lie on top of the white cloth in the shallow valley between her small breasts. Phil's first present revealed, she twisted her pony tale once and entered the building, her long, pleated green skirt swaying. She found her homeroom listing, second floor, right hand corridor and then looked at other lists. In the second ninth grade home room she found, lined through in red ink, "Boydon, Phillip M." Like she'd imagine some sergeant would do after a battle when one of his men had been killed.
El turned and hurried for the stairs and the second floor. The bell rang just as she entered the room to find it mostly filled. "Your desk has a card with your name on it, young lady," the teacher said. El didn't recognize him, but he was new and young. That was good, she thought. One less to have heard rumors about me.
When home room was over she went to General Science and sat in a back corner. Once things settled a bit the teacher said, "Tomorrow there will be a seating chart. Please answer when your name is called. Phillip Boydon." He paused and El knew her face turned red as she put her head down.
"I don't think he'll be here," a boy volunteered, but she didn't recognize the voice. If they knew he wasn't in home room, how come they couldn't have scratched his name out in science? How many more times would she have to know that he would have been in her class?
"You know why?"
"Not sure. Ask the girl with the red hair over there. They were going together. " El looked up and saw the kid pointing to her. He might have been one of Phil's Boy Scout troop mates. The teacher looked towards her, his eyebrows rising as though he were about to ask a question.
"His parents sent him off to private school, sir. He's not coming to Mount Vernon this year. " She turned away, sure she was blushing. She opened her notebook, took out her cartridge pen and drew a green heart on the inside cover. She added an arrow and then EG loves PB. Then she started another one, looking up to answer "here" when the teacher called "Elaine Goodman" .
As she left the class at the end of the short period she heard the boy who knew Phil say "...caught doing it... ." She turned to defend both of them, and stopped, even as her mouth opened. What was the use? She could deny all she wanted to, but rumors were bound to happen. If she denied, it would be worse. That's what her grandmother had said when asked about rumors in general.
Her next class was gym and Mrs. Fox, who was rumored to be eighty years old, immediately got the class organized by height, separating El from two friends, both of whom were much taller than she. Nobody talked in Mrs. Fox's class. El had heard that a talker had to stand on her head for fifteen minutes.
When the bell rang she headed for third period and English. The room was close to the girls' locker room and she was early. She took a seat in the rear of the room, away from the massive windows and began to draw hearts and arrows again. She was surprised that again the teacher was young and new. He carried a pointer which looked like it had shiny gold metal at both ends.
"I'm Mr. Kravitz," he said. "I just got out of the army, so look out for me. " He looked at a sheet of paper which had to be the class role. "Boydon, Phillip M.," he said and El's heart sank. Two classes, they'd have been in together. He swivelled his head around the room in the silence. El could feel others looking for her. "Boydon?"" the new teacher said.
Without raising her hand El said, "His parents sent him to Newberry Military School, sir. He won't be here," and turned her face away. Could she hear some snickers around the room? But lunch was next. If a lot of her friends had first lunch, she'd be in trouble, she just knew it.
As she left the class she heard a boy behind her say, "Those brats just come in, ruin our women and leave. " The rest faded out even as she felt her freckled face redden.
El entered the cafeteria and headed for the complete lunch line. Nobody she knew was close to her and, even better, nobody around her knew her, or it seemed that way. With her full tray she searched out an empty table, or one full of people she didn't know. She kept her eyes focused in front of her, but suddenly she saw Becky seated, surrounded by other girls. Becky turned away, lowering her eyes and a purse and a pile of text books appeared from either side of the one vacant chair. El turned away and continued walking.
From her left she heard a boy's voice say, "El. Here's a seat." She turned towards it and saw Mark waving, and Freddy pointing to a seat. All the boys at the table were members of Phil's scout troop, she was sure. Were they being friendly, loyal to Phil or were they just trying their luck with her. It was obvious that the word was out. She was an "easy" girl now.
"How's it going?" Mark said as she sat down and took her fork, poking at the gray gravy covered meat. She guessed it was meat.
"Okay. I miss Phil," and instantly regretted saying so.
Freddy smiled. "He misses you, too. " He reached into his shirt pocket and brought out a small envelope. "This is for you," he said as he offered it to El.
She grabbed it and tore it open. "Hi, El. I still love you and hope you love me. You can write me at Newberry Military School, Leesboro, Virginia. I hope you do. Can I write you at home? All my love, Phil." The scrawled letters were as sloppy as always, but seeing his familiar writing was a joy.
"He still loves me," she whispered.
The boys around her grinned. "We could have told you that, El. Every day since he got off house restriction he wanted to know if you were home yet," Mark said. El smiled and took a bite of the meat. It really wasn't very good. Briefly she hoped that Phil would get better food, since he'd be eating three meals a day, seven days a week at Newberry Military School. "He asked the troop to look out for you. At least the Sioux patrol will."
"Thanks, fellas," she said. "You're real good friends of Phil's. "
"Maybe they're just trying to beat out the seniors." came from behind her Of all people, Brandon Butts.
"Brandon, get out of here," Mark said, rising out of his chair.
"Maybe Elly wants me to stay. She can't be without a boyfriend for long. The football team wants her phone number."
El began a retort when Freddy ordered, "You keep your trap shut Brandon. You leave Elaine alone. She has enough to worry about without you. Now make like a tree and leaf." El turned back to look at Freddy whose pudgy hands were balled into fists.
"Yeah," another boy said, "scoot, or we'll wire San Francisco for Paladin."
"No TV gunslinger scares me. Anyway, I'm running this up Elly's flagpole. Let's see if she salutes," Brandon said.
"Scram, Brandon. I have a boy friend and now I can't date until I'm at least fifteen anyway. You bother me again and I'll tell my father. " Brandon laughed and opened his mouth. "He'll send me off to a convent and you won't be able to bother me again. "
Brandon closed his mouth, laughed and turned aside. "I'll talk to you in private, Elly. I'm sure you want to look innocent around these guys. Bet you've already told them 'I'm not that kind of girl.'"
El half rose out of her seat, "When Phil gets home he'll beat you up like he did in July. If I don't do it first." Mark grabbed her arm and pulled her back into her chair. El sat still, breathing hard, clenching and unclenching her fists. This was going to be awful. Brandon wanted revenge, or he wanted to get fresh or both. She wasn't going to let him, she was sure. But how? And how to let Phil know.
"El, if Brandon tries anything, you let me know, okay? " Mark put out his hand. She took it and squeezed it, smiling her thanks.
"Like you could do anything. I could have clobbered Phil if he'd fought fair. And you with one hand tied behind my back," Brandon snarled as he turned and stalked away.
El let out her breath. Well, that was real clear. She was about to be real popular and the boys thought she'd be willing to do it. This was awful. How could she manage without Phil. "Phil wants to write to me and wants me to write to him, but I don't think my folks will let me have his letters. What will I do?"
Mark looked at her for a minute, a year it seemed. Then he grinned. "The same way, El. The same way."
El stared at him, "What do you mean, Mark?"
"You give your letter to me, and I'll mail it with my return address. He writes a letter to you, but addresses it to me, or Freddy or somebody. We'll come up with a code to let us know it's for you, and to let Phil know it's from you. "
El stopped eating. She stared at Mark, and saw the others were doing the same. "So how will we do this exchange? I can't ride my bike all over the place every day."
Mark snorted. "Why right here. Where else? Or in the classroom. " He grinned. "It'll be like those war movies with the secret messages passed right in front of the Gestapo."
"We'll call them 'Elograms'," Freddy said, clasping his hands in a victory wave. "I'll see him this evening. One of us goes every afternoon until Phil leaves for that prison school they're sending him to. "
"You'll do this for Phil and me?" El said, knowing her cheeks glowed and her freckles showed.
"Yes. I know I thought you were trying to help Becky fool Phil once. But I was wrong. We'll help both of you. Friends?" Mark said and put out his hand El took it at once. She smiled. Maybe there was some hope for this year, after all.
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