Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 2 > Chapter 9

More than a few people were relieved to see Doris Schwartz back at school on the Monday. Alumni Day was  now only  a  week and  a  half away, and  Doris  had  taken  on  the  responsibility  for scheduling and co-ordinating all of the events. It would be a thankless job, and one for which nobody envied her in spite of the fact that she'd asked to do it; and while Doris had been away, anyone with a reasonable record of reliability and efficiency had walked with the fear of being co-opted.

     She seemed to be over the 'flu, but one or two of the other students noticed that she didn't exactly seem to be her old self, either. She stayed apart in the locker area first thing, and she just smiled and nodded when anybody said hello.

     When she'd left the locker area and was walking alone, the smile died.

     Suddenly, she was flying sideways. A hand on her arm was jerking her through the air, and before she knew it the storeroom door was slamming with Doris on the inside and Julie Miller barring the way to freedom.

     Julie was looking awfully mad.

     'Frankly,' she said, 'I'd like to slap the hell out of you.'

     'Julie, you said the H word!'

     'I'm going to say a lot more if you give me any dumb jokes, Schwartz!'

     'What are you mad at me for?' Doris said.

     'I don't like being used, all right? And I don't like being lied to by somebody who says she's my friend.'

     Now Doris knew exactly why Julie was angry. 'You mean about last Wednesday?'

     'If you've got some doubts about a guy you're with, figure it out or talk it out or whatever - but don't con me into being some kind of  . . . of . . . '

     'Temptation,' Doris supplied.

     'Some kind of temptation to test out the guy's honesty. It's a rotten thing to do to a friend, and it's also a rotten thing to do to the guy. All he wanted to do was to pump me about you.'

     Doris forgot whatever it was she was about to say; it was wiped from her mind in an instant by Julie's words. Doris said, 'Swear on your cello that what you just said was the truth.'

     'What?'

     'That he was asking you about me. Swear on your cello.'

     Julie didn't actually have her cello to hand, but it was the thought that counted. 'I swear,' she said.

     Julie, you're right. I did use you and it was a chicken thing to do and you've got every right to be as angry as you are. What I did is not what one friend does to another, and . . .  go ahead and hit me.'

     'Doris . . . '

     'No, I'm serious. Go ahead and hit me. I deserve it.' And Doris closed her eyes, and stuck out her chin to make a better target.

     Nothing happened for a few second. When Doris opened her eyes, she saw that Julie was giving her a look which didn't make her feel entirely comfortable.

     'You know,' Julie said, 'what you're saying is the kind of thing people say when they don't really expect the other person to take them up on it. But one of the things you don't know about me is that when I was a little kid I had quite a reputation of being a tomboy. I used to get into fights all the time, and I never lost one.'

     Doris was starting to reconsider her offer. She remembered when she'd gone to see Raging Bull, the closest she'd ever been to what her father had always called The Fights; now she was thinking of all the flying spit and Robert De Niro hitting the canvas with the grace of a swan and a speed of over one thousand miles an hour.

     'Why are you sounding like Clint Eastwood?' she said nervously, but Julie wasn't through.

     'Even though I know that violence is immature and never accomplishes anything, and that it usually makes matters worse, there is one thing to be said for it. When someone deserves to get popped, really deservse it . . . then it can feel terrific. Good job you don't, Schwartz.'

     It took a few seconds to filter through to Doris that she was being given a put-on; the four days of unhappiness that she'd just been through had dragged themselves out like a year of end-to-end winters, and they were punishment enough.

     'Besieds,' Julie added with an affectionate smile, 'I don't want to hurt my hands.'
 

About an hour later, Lydia Grant caught up with Leroy Johnson. Leroy was between classes and moving at quite a clip when she called to him.

     'Where were you going, Leroy?' she said.

     'Library,' Leroy told her. 'Got to return a book.'

     'Well, swing by wardrobe on your way there. You're dancing the lead in the Alumni Day production number.'

     Leroy was blank. 'Say again?'

     'I got a call last night from Johnny Willcox's agent. There's been a union dispute with the studio technicians on the West Coast, and his special is running two days late. You're the Man.'

     For a moment, delight and disbelief were mixed in Leroy's expression. The whole number had been built around the central presence of a star dancer, and now it was being handed to him. It was better than any showcase.

     Lydia said, 'Go down to the wardrobe room and get fitted. Dress rehearsal is Friday night, and that doesn't give us much time to get you looking good. Move, now.'

     Leroy didn't need telling twice; he moved. Lydia turned to walk away, but suddenly Leroy was by her side again.

     'That was quick,' she said, but she saw immediately that Leroy's mood had undergone an abrupt swing. He was looking stricken.

     'The dress rehearsal can't be Friday night,' he said.

     'We fixed it over a week ago,' she said. 'People have got other commitments, and it's the only night we can get the hall before we have to clear out for Doris and the others to get it dressed. Friday night it is.'

     'But the basketball game,' Leroy said. 'That's Friday night, too.'

     If the truth were known, Lydia had forgotten about the basketball game; she'd had plenty of other things to think about. 'Leroy,' she said, 'I sent you over to help out Brother Timothy because he was an old friend. I said if you helped out, you could be in the show. Well, you did help out, and you are in the show. And you're the only one who knows the routine.' She shrugged. 'You did your part; I'm doing mine.'

     'I know,' Leroy said, and he looked awfully downcast for somebody who was supposed to be starting his week on a piece of terrific news. 'It ain't your fault, and it ain't mine either. But most of all, it ain't the fault of those kids, and they're the one most likely to suffer.' He turned away. 'I'll get me to wardrobe.'

     He started to walk away. He was moving like the last man in a funeral parade. But then he seemed to get an idea that stopped him in his tracks; a moment later, he was off and running.

     Lydia Grant watched him go, wondering at the change. Her mystification was increased when  she saw that he was heading, not for wardrobe, but for the library wing.
 

Elizabeth Sherwood had never been able to understand why, as head of the school's English department, she was also expected to step in and hold the library together when its administration started to fall apart. After all, books of every school subject were represented on the shelves, but the rest of the staff always managed to be ingeniously unavailable when a staff supervisor was needed.

     Still, she thought, it at least gave her an opportunity to get some papers marked without having the tempting society of teacher' lounge close to hand. But even so, concentration wasn't easy; it was made even more difficult when the kids brought their books to you to be stamped instead of taking them to the student volunteer at the checkout desk.

     She was about to explain it for the fifth time that morning as a stack of volumes appeared on the desk by her elbow, until she saw that the student in question was Jenny McClain.

     'I did it,' she said, and she seemed excited, proud and scared, all at the same time.

     'Did what?' Elizabeth asked.

     Jenny indicated the books. 'I decided that I needed these.  And that I was going to have these. And that some day I was going to write books like these.'

     'And what's you stepfather going to say?'

     'He's going to say, "Oh, no, you're not", and I'm going to say, "Oh, yes, I am", and it's going to be a struggle and a battle, but Im going to win.'

     'There might be a little pain on both sides of that battle,' Elizabeth said.

     'I know,' Jenny said quietly. 'That's why I have a favour to ask. Would you read this?'

     From under the topmost book - Elizabeth noticed that it was the library's copy of the short story text that had triggered off the whole affair - Jenny took a single sheet of mauve notepaper.

     'What is it?' Elizabeth said.

     'It's a letter to my stepfather,' Jenny explained.

     'Jenny, if this is personal, then maybe I shouldn't . . . '

     'Please. Sometimes when you're in the middle of something, you can't be sure if you really said what you wanted to. Please . . . '

     Elizabeth unfolded the notepaper, and started to read.

     Dear Richard, there's so much I need to say.
     Enough to fill a lifetime of books and plays
     and stories. What I need to say to you, is that
     I love you. You've been a father and a friend,
     and that's made me strong - strong enough to
     try to carve out something that's mine,
     something that says 'Jenny McClain'
     Because of you, I have something to give
     to the people I love. But it needs to be the
     best that it can be; so please understand that
     if I take a step, it's not a step away from you -
     it's a step towards being me. A me that I can
     be proud of, and a me that you can be
     proud of, too - I promise. I love you.
           Your daughter, Jenny.
 

     She handed the letter back. 'A-plus,' she said.

     'Thank you, Miss Sherwood.' Jenny gathered up her books, and took them over to the checkout desk; but the space on Elizabeth Sherwood's horizon was immediately filled by a breathess Leroy Johnson.

     'I got bad news,' he said.

     'Oh, really,' Elizabeth said, her mellow mood abruptly broken. 'Tell me all.'

     'I won't have that paper on Dickens. You'll have to take me out of the Alumni Day show.'

     Elizabeth frowned. 'The paper on Dickens isn't due for another two weeks.'

     'Well,' Leroy explained, 'I've got a real full schedule, and I won't have time to do the paper.'

     'Leroy, I can't take you out of a show because you think a paper due two weeks from now is going to be late. You can't go building up a credit balance of punishments.'

     'What would I have to do for you to take me out of the show?'

     It was the tone of his voice; it wasn't a rhetorical pleading, but a search for some common ground so that they could start to bargain

     She said, 'I don't think I'm going to tell you.'

     'Why not?'

     'Because, judging from the tone of your voice, whatever I tell you it takes to get kicked out of the show is exactly what you'll go out and do.'

     'That's right.'

     'Why?' Elizabeth asked. And then, more perceptively; 'Is it because of these kids you and Danny have been working with?' Leroy nodded, and Elizabeth sat back in her chair.

     She said, 'I've been  waiting for what seems like centuries for you to realise that all of life is not tied up in performing. I was hoping you might see it through literature or history or . . . whatever. But if a kids' basketball game is what it takes, then so be it. You're getting educated, Mister Johnson.'

     The expression on Leroy's face indicated that this was no consolation at all. 'Thought education was supposed to make you feel better?' he said.

     'Education doesn't make you feel better. Doesn't even make you feel worse. But it does make you feel more.'

     She knew that Leroy could see what she was getting at, but she also knew that it was of no help with his immediate problem. He moped away, muttereing something about the wardrobe department, and as the period ended she gathered her papers together to transfer back to the teachers' lounge.
 

David Reardon was just inside the doorway to the lounge when Elizabeth arrived; he was reading the staff notices on the pin-up board and eating an apple.

     'Gutten morgen, mein Herr,' she said, but he waved the apple at her to indicate that it wasn't necessary.

     'Save it,' he said. 'No need.'

     'No more East Berlin?'

     'No. He moved it to limbo, just outside the gates of Heaven. Then he told me I couldn't play the part. Said I was miscast.'

     'Miscast?'

     'Said that Everyman in limbo couldn't have an appendicitis scar.'

     It took a while for Elizabeth to get the message. 'How in heaven's name would he know whether or not you had a . . . ' But then it clicked. She said, 'They don't wear many clothes in limbo, as I recall.'

     'Not a stitch,' Reardon agreed, and he tossed the remains of the apple towards the nearest wastebasket. 'The rehearsal hall was cold, too. The point was that I didn't give up.'

     'You got fired, though.'

     'I know I got fired! I just told you I got fired. But what I didn't do is give up. Now if I can only keep my sanity until my house guest leaves, things can get back to what passes for normal around here.'

     They walked across to the coffee machine together, and Elizabeth set her stack of papers down on a nearby table. She said, 'Reunions can be a lot of fun, or so they say.'

     'But you're supposed to "reunite" with someone you know. This guy has developed an attitude with a capital A. He's gone through four marriages, and now he's a roving reporter for three, uh . . .  newspapers.'

     Elizabeth detected the implied qualification. 'What do you mean, "uh . . . newspapers"?'

     'They're scandal sheets.' He passed her a coffee. 'You know the kind I mean, the ones Mrs. Berg reads all the time. If you lined a garbage can with them, you'd have to apologise to the can.'

     'How long is he here for?'

     'Two more days, then I'm out for under. I can make it.' He made a clenched fist of determination, but he looked as if he wasn't so sure that he could believe his own publicity. 'I think,' he amended.

     'Well, I know you can do it,' Elizabeth assured him. 'I think . . . '
 
 
 

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