Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 1 > Chapter 13

After more than a week of English from the substitute teacher, Leroy was starting to get distinctly uneasy. Miss Hardy was fine as far as the broad details went, but at best Leroy felt that he was marking time. He'd got his sights fixed on making Sherwood hold good on her offer, and nothing less was going to do.

He tried, but nothing seemed to work. Leroy had the feeling that this O'Hara guy was getting at something, and if only he could have a push in the right direction the day might break and he'd suddenly understand what it was. A couple of times he'd hung around at the end of the lesson, but when Miss Hardy had seen him waiting at the back of the room she'd hurriedly gathered her papers together and rushed out. That had made him spend some time in front of one of the makeup room mirrors, looking at himself from every angle and wondering what it was about him that made some white folks take on so. After all, he didn't even carry a knife to school these days - not unless you counted the spring-loaded flicker that he kept hooked on the inside of his jacket or the long stiletto in his locker.

It would have been easy just to give in and let Doris and the others carry his load. They probably wouldn't even notice that they were doing it. But that wasn't the idea.

In the end, he went down to the school office to speak to Mrs. Berg. His idea was to come up with some reason why he had to know Sherwood's home address. The truth would have been the best reason of all, but somehow the truth didn't sound right.

As it happened, he needn't have worried. Before he had a chance to concoct an excuse, Mrs. Berg had given him the address that he needed, and something more.

The apartment block wasn't exactly Park Avenue, but it was better than he'd expected. The foyer was carpeted, and there was one of those canvas awnings with a frilled edge that stretched about five yards out over the pavement and gave the tenants somewhere to stand while they watched all the offduty cabs going by whenever it rained. Sherwood lived up on the fifth floor.

Leroy knocked on the door, and waited. There was one of those little beady glass eye things in the centre panel; standing before it made him uncomfortable, but he didn't have any choice. After a few moments, he heard a couple of locks being disengaged.

The door opened as far as the security chain would allow, and Elizabeth Sherwood looked out. She seemed wary, as if she couldn't really believe that it was Leroy Johnson standing there.

'Leroy?' she said uncertainly.

Leroy looked her over. She had that drawn-out, spaniel-eyed look that women got whenever they'd been crying. In fact, Sherwood looked as if she'd spent the whole of the last eight days on a crying jag; she even looked a few pounds lighter for it, and the loss wasn't an improvement.

'I brought you something from school,' Leroy said.

She hesitated for a moment, and then freed the security chain to let him in.

Leroy stepped into the apartment. It looked neat - too neat, as if someone had been obsessively tidying it, over and over. He looked at Sherwood and said, 'You been sick?'

'No,' she said, closing the door behind him.

'Then what's wrong?'

'Who said anything was wrong?'


'When did I say that?'

'Just now when I asked if you been sick, and you didn't get on me about bad grammar.'

That got him a weak smile, at least. It looked like the first one for some time.

'What's wrong,' she said, 'is that I think I broke something.' She moved across to the window and looked out at the skyline without really seeing it. 'My ex-husband died last week,' she said.

Leroy was at a loss. 'I thought . . . you said you broke something.'

'I did. I even saw it coming . . . I thought I was used to it. All the excitement when there's a production coming up. All the chatter about costumes and music and sets. All the groans and gripes when I hand out homework assignments . . . ' She smiled and looked at the floor, but it was more a smile of bitterness than anything else. After a moment the bitterness won, and the smile died. 'What I teach has value, damn it, and I'm sick and tired of apologising for what I do. I am sick and tired of begging people to listen to me . . . sick and tired of having to coax people to speak the language without sounding like they only started to learn it yesterday. An then when the wire came about Nick's death, no-one on his side of the family had even had the decency to tell me that he'd been ill. It was like I didn't matter. To him, to the school, to anyone anywhere on this damn planet. That's when something inside broke.'

She turned and sat, suddenly and heavily, on the couch. Leroy took a couple of steps closer, but he didn't sit beside her.

'You matter to me,' he said, and she smiled. He could see straight away that he hadn't got through; she was taking it as just one of those meaningless things you say to someone that's having a bad time. The smile was about as accurate a register of her feelings as the out-of-date sales total on a McDonald's storefront. He sat himself down across from her, and searched for the words.

'I don't mean to be puttin' down what's hurting you,' he said, 'but you've really got a bad case of white folk's blues.' That got her hooked; she didn't know what the hell he was talking about. 'You see,' he explained, 'black folks know what the blues are all about, you know? They know it's just a part of the whole deal. But white folks . . . well, it seems to me a lot of times they get scared when the blues come by and they don't get into it. It's like they save it all up for one big bad time. Like what you're going through now.'

'You said it,' she agreed, and Leroy could see that he'd given her something to hold on to.

'Ain't nobody gets it all,' he pressed on. 'You ever seen Bruno Martelli try to act? You can't be perfect and happy all the time.'

'And you can't conjugate verbs worth spit.'

'Not on my own, I can't.'

She got up, and went over to the door. She opened it wide and said, but not in an unfriendly way, 'Get out of here. I'm going to cry again.' And then, to allay his concern: 'A good kind of crying. Doesn't scare me at all.'

He watched her for a moment, just to be sure. Then he said, 'You got it,' and bounced off the couch.

But before he'd gone two steps outside, she called him back.

'Hey,' she said. 'I thought you brought me something from school.'

Leroy braked and turned. He'd almost forgotten. He dug in his pocket, and came out with a crumpled envelope. He tossed it to her, and she caught it.

'Packers, Jets, and the Rams,' he explained as she tore it open. 'Mrs. Berg asked me to give it to you. All beat the spread, more than thirty bucks. Congratulations.'

He flipped her a goodbye wave and left her standing there, counting the money in the doorway and giggling helplessly.

He didn't have what he'd originally set out for, but that could wait. Until she started taking her classes again, sometime tomorrow.

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