Author: P Hana

Page 30


When I got home it was six o'clock, Rogerson was nowhere in sight, and my parents were finishing dinner with Boo and Stewart. The whole house smelled like steak and the Lamont Whipper Show was on, muted, in the living room. “Honey, where have you been?” my mother asked, turning around in her chair as I came up the stairs. “I was getting worried. The ceremony starts in less than an hour and if we want to get a good parking place...”

“Are you hungry?” Boo said, reaching over to poke at something in a casserole dish with a big wooden spoon. “There's plenty of tempeh goat cheese salad left here.”

“I laid out that blue dress for you to wear and bought you some new panty hose,” my mother added. “You should hurry and take a shower, though, because you really cut it close by”

“I know,” I said, already kicking off my shoes as I headed into my room. I was just about to shut the door behind me when my mother yelled one last thing. “Rogerson came by looking for you,” she called out over my father and Stewart talking. “He seemed to think you two had plans for this afternoon.” I eased my door open, sticking my head back out. “What else did he say?” She shrugged, dabbing at her mouth with her napkin. “I told him you'd be back soon because of the ceremony. And he said that he'd call you later.”

“Oh,” i said. “Okay. Thanks.” I shut my door slowly, telling myself that all this time I'd been worried for nothing. We were just going shopping, anyway. He understood. It was no big deal.

The ceremony was just as I expected: endless trophies, a flimsy certificate, and a corsage for me. Rina had recovered, at least temporarily, and was completely composed as she was escorted to the stage and our seats there, in a quick rearrangement, by a defensive back. Bill escorted Eliza Drake, while Ifor punishment, clearlywas paired with the field-?goal kicker, a short guy named Thad Wicker who resembled a short, stubby, chewed-?on pencil with bad breath and a sinus condition. Rogerson showed up just as Principal Hawthorne was making his final speech. I saw the door open, just a crack, and he slipped in and leaned against the wall. I was so surprised to see him, happy he was even interested enough to come. His hair was wetthe warm weather had turned to rain, suddenly, as we drove to the ceremonyand he was glancing around the room and the crowd, looking for me. When he saw me he lifted his chin, then glanced around the room and stuck his hands in his pockets. “A lot of people,” Principal Hawthorne was saying, “sometimes question the value of sports in an education. For me, the facts are clear....” I'd only known Rogerson for three months, but I could recognize instantly the subtle signs of him growing irritated: I'd been to enough parties where I'd felt him watching me, impatient, even as I tried to pull myself away from Rina so we could leave. And I knew he only looked at his watch when he thought his time was being wasted. I started to get a strange sense that maybe the afternoon had been a big deal, after all. Principal Hawthorne kept talking and all I could do was just sit there, watching Rogerson as he fidgeted, glancing around, bored. He checked his watch again. Shifted his feet. Brushed his hand across his head. Checked his watch. “And so, on behalf of Jackson High School I would like to thank all of these fine athletes and their families for a great season. ...” I looked at Principal Hawthorne, willing him to finish, even as he gripped the lectern harder, his voice rising across the faces in the audience. Beside me Rina pinched my leg, then smiled at me when I glanced at her. I smiled back, still listening, and knotted the hem of my dress up tight in my fist, squeezing it hard. Hawthorne would not shut up. “I thank you for your hard work, your school spirit, and your good sportsmanship. We are very, very proud.” Rina was still smiling. She nodded at Rogerson, and when I looked back to where he'd been standing, just seconds before, the door was swinging shut and he was gone. “Thank you and have a good evening!” And everyone started clapping, the auditorium seeming hotter than ever as I got up out of my chair and pushed off the stage, down the steps past the swarms and clogs of people. “Caitlin, honey,” my mother called out, and then she was right in front of me, with Boo beside her. “Let's get a picture of you in that beautiful corsage.” I stood there, forcing myself to smile. “Oh, dear,” she said, pulling down the camera to examine it. “This isn't working, for some reason. Why isn't this working?” Boo leaned over to help, both of them bending over it. “Lens cap,” I said. There were all these bodies brushing past me, and the auditorium was so hot: I could smell someone sweating. “What?” my mother said. “The lens cap,” I said, reaching over and pulling it off. “There.”

“Well, Margaret, I'm glad to see you've learned so much in photography class,” Boo said, smiling at me. “Oh, goodness!” my mother said, laughing as she stepped back to set up her shot. “I always do that, don't I?” I nodded, feeling a hot flush crawl up my neck. “Now, that's better . . . okay! Smile, Caitlin. Smile!” I was smiling. And sweating. I had to go. The flash popped in front of my eyes and I saw stars. “It was a nice ceremony,” Stewart said as he came up beside me, as if I'd planned it myself. “Very uplifting.”

“Show us your certificate,” my mother said, prodding me in rhe elbow. I handed it to her; I'd forgotten I was even holding it. “Isn't that nice? Jack, isn't this nice?” My father, who was standing a few seats down looking hot and uncomfortable in a tie I'd given him just a few years ago, green with dark black stripes, glanced at it and said, “Nice.”

“I have to go,” I said quickly. “Rogerson's here, so I'll just get a ride home with him, okay?”

“Well, I don't know,” my mother said in a worried voice, looking at my father. “I thought we'd have coffee and dessert back at the house.”

“Let her go,” my father said, ready to leave himself. “The traffic's gonna be terrible. We should get going.”

“Well, all right...” my mother said in a light voice, trailing off again. She glanced again at my father, as if wanting him to intervene, but he already had his coat and was heading to the aisle. “But, Caitlin, do try to come back to the house, so we can all celebrate together. Okay?”

“Okay.” I was starting to feel dizzy. “Let's go,” my father, who had a low tolerance for crowds, repeated. He loosened his tie as he brushed past me, the crease in his forehead already folding in on itself. The room was hot and smelled like perfume mixed with sweat and people and dusty school heat. “Very nice,” Stewart said to me again as we walked up the aisle, with Boo and my mother behind us. I was hardly listening, my eyes on the crowd outside the door. “We're very proud of you, Caitlin. Really.”