Authors: Teresa Toten
Step one, contact—total success. Step two, meeting in the library re: AP Physics—even better. It was a bit of a challenge to pretend to be unable to follow Olivia. There’s a fine line between slight confusion and hopeless stupidity, a shorter road than you’d think. I’d made Olivia feel like she was an award-winning tutor by the end of the session. She asked me over to her place on Sunday night so I could return the favor with “Lady Lazarus.” So big win all around. Atta girl.
I couldn’t hold on to “Atta girl.” I was sitting in the dark on the Spider-Man sheets on my cot, trying to think about other things—about Olivia, about the prize, about, well, just about anything else. White-knuckling it. Impending change does that to me. A lot of stuff does that to me. It just happens. I don’t want to get sucked back, but back I go, over and over again. I could hear the rain pinging off the sheet-metal roof on the back shed. I should study. I should touch up my nails. I should…but I couldn’t. I pushed it away, but it pushed back—the evidence, the memory. See, I was a liar even then, even when I was ten.
The peeling wood-framed windows were eight feet tall. They had that old wavy kind of glass that was useless against the cold but made the sunshine extra pretty. Class hadn’t even started and already chalk dust was swirling and somersaulting in long skinny beams of captured sun. I got hypnotized by stuff like that. Not this time, though. This time I stood at attention in front of the teacher’s desk. Chalk, erasers, a box of HB pencils and paper clips were in the first drawer on the left. A strap was all by itself in the second one, and a Bible and pink crystal rosary beads were in the bottom.
“But see, the thing is…the nuns are always the worst!” I shifted from one foot to the other. “No offense or anything.”
“None taken.” Sister Rose smiled. “And just why is that, Katie?”
“Well, you know, they…you all make such a big deal about it, especially, especially on the Friday before Father’s Day. Everyone feels all sorry for me and gives me these fake sad looks.”
This would have been enough for Mrs. Cotter, my grade four teacher back at St. David’s. Sister raised one pretty eyebrow.
“But lying is a sin, Katie.”
Sister Rose was tougher than she looked.
“But, Sister, it isn’t a lie. Not really. All I’m asking is that I be allowed to do what I do every year. You said it was real touching and everything when I told you about it a while ago. Remember?”
“I still make my Father’s Day card, just like the rest of the class. Then, after school, I walk over to Prospect Park, which used to be Dad’s favorite, and then, then I bury the card in the flower bed in the corner. And then I wish him a happy Father’s Day!” I gave her the smile I’d been practicing since 6:20 a.m.
Sister raised her eyebrow again.
“After I’ve prayed for the deliverance of his immortal soul.”
I checked the clock: 8:25. The bell would ring at 8:30.
“So all I’m saying—I mean, asking—is that since this is a new school for me, couldn’t we please, just this once, not tell the whole class that poor Katie’s father is dead? And, and then make everyone count their blessings by saying fifteen rosary rounds at recess? I don’t want them to feel sorry for me, and I really don’t want them to hate my guts because of the stupid rosary rounds. No offense. Sorry, Sister.”
“None taken, Katie.” She patted my hand.
Sister Rose had soft, cool hands all the time, no matter what. All nuns have soft, cool hands. It’s like a holy thing.
“So you see? We’re not lying, not really. Not even with that ‘by omission’ thing, because it’s not like anyone’s asking. See? We just don’t have to advertise it.”
Sister Rose looked down at her hands. Her lashes seemed to shade half her face.
“And, and…I’ve been praying on it for weeks—real hard, like—and, well, and I bet that Jesus would be okay with all of this.”
Sister bit her lower lip and frowned. She did this whenever she was trying to stop herself from laughing.
“You are impossible, Katie.”
“That’s what my mom says, Sister.”
She shook her head.
I had her.
The bell rang.
“Okay, Katie,” she sighed. “We won’t make an announcement about your deceased father. No rosary novenas.” She put her soft, cool hand on mine again. “This will be our little secret, Katie. Not a lie, a secret.”
You had to hand it to me.
I was good.
We got to the card-making right after religious studies. Mary-Catherine and I worked on ours together. Mary-Catherine had a deeply superior artistic soul. Just like me. So we’d been best friends since practically my first week at St. Raymond’s. Mary-Catherine knew about it all. Well, except for the part where I really wanted Mr. Sutherland—Mary-Catherine’s father—to be my father.
Sometimes I wanted it so much I felt sick.
He was such a nice dad.
Mr. Sutherland was an important businessman. He had four different suits and a dark brown briefcase with worn handles. He worked in an office with a door in one of those big towers on Wall Street. His office was on the thirty-fourth floor! When school was over, Mary-Catherine and I were going to meet him in his personal office and then we were going to go out for lunch.
Mr. Sutherland called me “slugger” because I was on the Christie Pirates softball team. I was deeply artistic and athletic. It’s a rare combination, Mr. Sutherland said. Sometimes, when he got home early, he would get the three of us big tall glasses of Coca-Cola with lots of ice and then ask us about school or our friends or just stuff. He asked me too, not just Mary-Catherine.
I hated Coca-Cola.
But I drank it right down and I always said, “Thanks, Mr. Sutherland!” And he always winked at me and said, “Well, you’re welcome, slugger.”
Anyway, Mary-Catherine and I were hands down making the most fancy cards in the whole class. Father Bob said that God is in the details. Our stuff was always bursting with God. My card said “You Are My Hero” on the front and “Happy Father’s Day to the BEST Dad in the World” over a pop-up striped tie on the inside.
I headed straight to the park after school.
I looked all sad.
You never know. Sister Rose could go right by in the school van or something.
There was a spot of bare earth behind the orangey roses and just in front of the yellow bushes. I dug a hole with my ruler, then I folded up my card and buried it. I made a sign of the cross. Not a little fast one in the middle of your chest but a big one—just in case.
Not for my father.
I prayed that God in his infinite wisdom would figure out how to make Mr. Sutherland my father. And that he would do this without hurting Mrs. Sutherland, who’s nice enough, or Mary-Catherine, who’s my very best friend, or my mother, who has been hurt bad already. Thank you very much. Amen.
I prayed a lot when I was ten. I have not prayed since.
It was going to be an A-list party, and that would have mattered to Olivia before, sort of. But not now. Suze Sheardown and Emily Wong were throwing a birthday bash for Alejandra Morena, whose parents were in Colombia. All the best kids from Waverly and Rigby, Waverly’s brother school, would be there. Alejandra was harmless and sweet in that “which one is she again?” way. A total yawn, in other words. But that wasn’t why Olivia’s answer was no.
Been there, done that, directed the movie. Olivia sighed, swallowed a pill and started wandering through the penthouse. She had lobbied hard for a redo of grade twelve at Waverly rather than somewhere else. As he did with almost everything, her father had smoothed the way and reentry was a nonissue. Why
she been so hell-bent on returning? She couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. Olivia kept her distance, but when she had to, she mimicked the pitch-perfect giggling and the squeals of fake shock, fake outrage and fake sympathy—all the hallmarks of any good girls’ private school. It was easy.
What threw Olivia was how much older she felt than the other girls. Sure, some of them were already eighteen, but when she was gliding through Waverly’s halls, Olivia felt like she was forty. This further dampened any desire to hit the party circuit. What drowned it completely was the lack of a posse. Olivia didn’t have a crew anymore. Her former best friends, Anita, Gwen and Jessica, were away at college. Oh sure, they sent flowers like clockwork, and they still texted and messaged on occasion, but on Facebook, so…you know. She could hardly walk into a party alone. Olivia needed at least one pal. You didn’t need a phalanx in grade twelve—a phalanx was for grade ten. One would do, one awesome person, and Olivia was pretty sure that she had found her in Kate. Together, they would make proper entrances at a couple of select parties.
She checked her watch, which was actually her father’s Rolex. Apparently, wearing men’s watches was still a thing this year. Olivia was the one who’d started that trend last fall. Her father had an extensive collection, but he only wore the Cartier that Olivia’s mother had bought him. Kate never wore a watch. Other than that, she was right on or just ahead of trend. A good sign. That she did so while appearing not to care was an even better one.
A month into school and Kate had not settled into any one clique, although most of them were visibly bidding for her. Street smart, book smart and beautiful were good cards, but being poor
mysterious was catnip to the inbred denizens of Waverly. Kate moved from class to class, unfailingly polite, occasionally funny and seemingly oblivious to their offerings. But she
coming here in an hour, and Olivia was pleased. Perhaps it was because she sensed that Kate was also “too old” for her age. Something had aged her. They had that in common.
It was all working out.
Still, to make doubly sure, she headed off to her room to her makeshift altar at 6:50. She lit a lavender-scented candle and propped up the gold crucifix that Anka had given her. Pretty much everything Olivia knew about God and the Bible was learned in disjointed snatches from her Houston roommate, Anka and the Christian Television Station (“CTS, Television You Can Believe In!”). As a result, Presbyterian merged with Baptist and mingled in a confused soup with Catholic. Olivia wasn’t entirely committed to the praying, but she still enjoyed the candle-lighting part.
The door chimed. She heard Anka shuffle off to get it. Olivia blew out the candle, checked her smile in the mirror and went to greet her new best friend.
I took the subway. I hate the subway. Public transportation makes me feel poor. If I had the option I’d walk to school, but the Upper East Side is almost two hours from Chinatown. Two hours and two different planets. I sometimes did it on the way home. On the bad days. Olivia’s place was just a few blocks south of the school. Nice.
A doorman who looked like he’d stepped out of a
cartoon greeted me. “My name is Aftab” was dressed in full Upper East Side regalia: hat, gold braiding, brass buttons—it doesn’t get better. “Miss Sumner is expecting you, Miss O’Brien.” Aftab raced around his desk to the elevator and pressed a button marked PH. Was I supposed to tip him? “Thank you, sir,” I said to the closing doors.
My body pulsed in time with the door chimes. It was the penthouse, for God’s sake! A Middle European–type opened the door. She looked relieved to see me. “Goot evening, hello! I am Anka.” She flashed a gold tooth on her upper-left incisor as she smiled. “Please to coming in.” Anka had a big pudding of a body topped off by a bullet-shaped head. This rather extravagant presentation was further intensified by badly dyed jet-black hair that was swept up into a beehive. The hair seemed to hover above her like an exclamation point.