She called herself Lucy. It was only after I had known her for years, after pledging with blood, pinky swears, and sleep-overs
where we wore each other’s pj’s that she told me her name was really Lucretia. We were sitting on her pink flowered
bedspread, and I was holding Mr. Floppy, her favorite stuffed animal, a worn beagle. Her voice was disconsolate, and I hadn’t
the slightest notion of why she would be distressed. I crooned her name, stretching out all the vowels, ending in “shee-yah.”
At the time, I thought Gloria was the most beautiful of all the names I knew, and at my request Lucy was calling me Gloria,
Lucretia sounded strange to me, but it was immediately a close second to Gloria as an all-time favorite. But even if it had
been number one, I couldn’t have asked Lucy to call me Lucretia when that was her name. It would have been too weird.
Even when Lucy explained, I thought it was a beautiful name. She told me the whole story, explained about the Borgia family—the
“real” one, she called it. Her family name was Borgia, too. Her name was a joke, she said, like Karen Cutter’s
family nick-naming her Cookie, or poor Marie Antoinette Jones, whose parents had liked the sound of the name but who were
a tad weak in French history. If “they” knew, she warned me, her life would be a misery.
“They” were the rest of the kids in junior high, especially the rowdy boys who tormented our classmate Kay Marco
by chanting “If you see Kay…” “What?” “If you see Kay” “What will YOU do
-- If You See Kay.” They said it so it sounded like they were spelling the F word. And when it was the right time
of the month they could make her cry if they teased her enough. Lucky the boys didn’t know, but because she took an
M day in gym, we girls did.
Of course I betrayed Lucy. It was in gym, one of those days when the boys and girls had gym together so we could learn how
to dance “civil.” The gym teachers weren’t much with grammar, but they kept us in line with threats of
detention and extra laps around the field or basketball court depending on the weather.
What happened was this. While we were learning to fox trot, Jimmy Fieldstone was running around the perimeter of the court,
sometimes veering towards the dancers so they had to jump out of his way. He was doing it to show off, but he only did it
when Mr. G’s and Mrs. P’s backs were turned. I had had a crush on Jimmy since we were in fifth grade and we sat
together on the bus trip to the zoo. Girls didn’t have to sit with girls or boys with boys, but mostly we did, but
Jimmy sat with me and said he liked the way I smelled. It must have been the Cashmere Bouquet soap my mother had just put
out. But I didn’t tell him, and it was enough for me to like him. He forgot about saying that and pretty much ignored
me, but I was stuck on him. He was a convenient crush. Not too much of a JD, but not a goody-goody either. He had his hair
in a DA and when he ran laps it kind of fell into his face. I wanted to brush it back over his ears but I didn’t know
why. I imagined it being damp on my fingers though, smelling like Vitalis and Old Spice.
Lucy and Michael Longley were dancing on the edge and Lucy could see Jimmy headed right for them. She didn’t try to
get Michael to move. Instead she let go of Michael and jumped out in front of Jimmy so he crashed into her. I was watching
the whole thing and saw her hold her arms out like she was trying to catch someone leaping from a high place. He knocked her
down and landed right on top of her, and before he got up, he kissed her hard on the mouth, and she had her arms around him,
with one hand on the back of his head in his wet hair, kissing him back.
Everybody hooted and pointed, but they stayed on the floor like that, Jimmy on top of Lucy like nobody was there until the
gym teachers pulled him up by his shirt. Lucy lay there a minute, then got up, crying, but it was too late. All the class
was chanting Jimmy and Lucy, Jimmy and Lucy…
I knew Lucy had never kissed anybody like that before or she would have told me. Except in the movie “From Here to
Eternity” I’d never seen anybody kiss like that. “I don’t know what happened,” she said to me—our
clothes were hanging on hooks next to one another in the locker room because we used to be best friends before that class.
“He kissed me, and it felt…I’m sorry,” she said.
I thought she would be sorry all right. She was headed for a week of detention and a note to her parents about her practically
having sex in front of the whole gym class. Her father would ground her for a month for sure. I felt no pity. My body ached
with the impact of what I’d seen.
The girls around us were staring and listening to what we said. I think they might have been hoping she would say what it
felt like to kiss like that. “ It looked like their mouths were open, too,” one of the girls behind me said.“Are
you sorry, LUCRETIA?” I said her real name so loud that Mrs. P marched over to us, with one of her what’s-going-on-here-stop-it-right-now
expressions slammed on her face. “It’s LUCRETIA, Mrs. P,” I said, “LUCRETIA, started it. You saw
what LUCRETIA did in the gym, Mrs. P. “
“Well, keep it down,” Mrs. P said to me, “Or you’ll be keeping Lucy-Lucretia company in detention.”
And she whirled around, “And the rest of you, too. We have plenty of room.”
The bell rang, and the locker room emptied, Lucy followed me out, hissing reproaches as her real name bounced through the
crowded hallway ricocheting off the lockers and the green ceiling and walls. But after a few days nobody else cared about
Lucy did have detention. With Jimmy. Her parents grounded her, but she was freed just in time to go to the winter semi-formal
with Jimmy. I went alone, which was okay to do. Boys went stag or drag, and the stag boys would sometimes dance with the
girls without dates. And girls danced together anyways much of the time with nobody thinking anything about it-- though boys,
of course, could not dance with each other. Mostly the boys stood in clumps around the walls. Girls sat in the first row
of the bleachers or on folding chairs.
I watched Jimmy and Lucy dance cheek to cheek, their bodies pressed together. Her small white wrist was covered by a big white
orchid. She had on a pink dress, a new one. When they were fast dancing near me I stepped out onto the floor, determined to
cut in. I could smell the mixture of Old Spice and Jean Nate and orchid, too. It was hard to breathe, and I was afraid to
talk because I was sure my voice would squeak.
I reached out and tapped Jimmy on the shoulder. Twice. The first time he ignored me, and with the jitterbug I had to wait
for him to come around again. I was sure everyone was staring, because Lucy had stopped sitting with me at lunch and walking
with me from class to class. She’d been with Jimmy. I grabbed at his blue jacket sleeve, almost pinching his arm.
“I want to cut in,” I said. My voice did sound squeaky.
“No. I want to dance with Lucretia,” he said. He said her name as though it were the most beautiful name in the
world. “And she wants to dance with me, don’t you?”
Both of us stared at her. I saw her swallow hard, but my eyes were filling with tears and they burned with maybe the mascara
I was wearing for the first time. She looked at Jimmy and she looked at me.
The record changed to Elvis singing, “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” which made me cry for real. Lucy and I had practiced
slow dancing to this song in her room before all this happened. I didn’t move. “Well?” Jimmy said, making
it a statement that kind of said to me, “Buzz off.”
And then Lucy dropped Jimmy’s hand and stepped over to me. She put her orchid-covered wrist on my right shoulder.
I put my hand in the middle of her back. The pink dress was shiny taffeta, smooth under my palm. I took her right hand in
my left. I always led when we danced together. “Lucy,” I said. We counted the beats so we could talk but not
say in words everything we wanted. We left Jimmy standing on the perimeter as we danced slowly into the center of the gym
floor, and we moved together in perfect circles, right out there where everyone could see.