Stuart, of all people, was the one to pick me up from school that afternoon. The plan had been for Uncle Frank to get me, but he had called Stuart when a meeting went longer than expected, and there had been some last minute editing to do with the graphics on the gum commercial.
All pick-ups were in the office, so Stuart had to go in the school to get me. I tried to rush him out of there, but he still managed to find out I’d been sent to talk to Father Christopher. He didn’t say much about it at first, but offered to take me out for an Italian Soda.
Aunt Lucy had a later class on Mondays, which she’d already cancelled once to get me registered at St. Ignatius, and there was no telling when Uncle Frank was going to get home.
“When he’s busy, he’s really busy,” Stuart explained, “but then he goes through long slow periods. I hear you’re a pretty good artist yourself. Maybe the two of you could trade secrets, once things calm down a bit.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“What’s this about going to talk to the priest, Jennie? Was the day too long for you?” Stuart asked.
“I don’t have to tell you anything,” I told Stuart.
“Of course you don’t have to. But sometimes that makes it easier. I have no authority in your life. I can’t send you to your room, or take away your privileges-but I’m still an adult. I can offer advice, if you want it,” Stuart said.
“Why do you keep being nice to me when I screamed at you like I did? Why aren’t you mad at me?” I asked Stuart.
“Because the way I see it, you didn’t scream at me,” he said.
“What do you mean? The whole dance class heard me.”
“You weren’t screaming at me. You were screaming at your own fear. You can’t fight fear with anger. It doesn’t work that way. Now, do you want to tell me what happened at school today?” he asked. “I promise I won’t judge.”
This was too weird, I thought, the way Stuart said he wouldn’t judge. Someone must have called Aunt Lucy from the office. Somehow she must’ve tipped Stuart off, had him be the one to pick me up as a way to teach me a lesson. I had seen Uncle Frank’s gum commercial. It was perfect. Aunt Lucy and Uncle Frank were probably home already, sitting at the kitchen table talking about how smart they were the way they got me to open up to Stuart when I’d made it clear that I didn’t approve of the way he lived.
I hoped if I sat silent long enough Stuart would forget he’d brought anything up. But he didn’t. He sat at the table with his caramel latte waiting for an answer.
“I’ve been through this whole thing with Father Christopher. I lost patience with my teacher. She didn’t think I could keep up. I told her dead toads could keep up.”
“The day went pretty slow, huh.” Stuart said.
“It wasn’t that the day went slow. My teacher thought I was slow. She thinks people from the country don’t know much,” I said.
“Sometimes people don’t give you the credit you deserve until they know you. Sometimes you have to give them time.”
“My teacher shouldn’t think I’m slow,” I told Stuart. “I have straight As. My teacher can see that.”
“Grades are letters on paper, Jennie.” Stuart told me. “They’re labels. Some teachers might trust that, treat you accordingly and never look for anything else. I always preferred the teacher who took the time to know me as
a whole person.”
“Okay,” I said. “Tell me the truth. Aunt Lucy and Uncle Frank put you up to this, didn’t they? They aren’t even busy, are they?”
“They are busy, Jennie,” Stuart said. “I already told you that. What do you think they put me up to?”
“I get through with a big lecture from Father Christopher about having patience, and not judging others, and here you are.”
“And you’ve been judging me, haven’t you, Jennie?”
“I think if God would’ve intended for men to be with men he would’ve created another Adam instead of Eve,” I told him.
“You’re pretty smart to know God’s intentions,” Stuart said. “I can’t say I’ve ever been able to figure that out.”
I took a long sip of my Italian soda until my straw made a noise. I didn’t know what to say next.
“Look, Jennie,” Stuart said. “You can believe what you want about Adam and Eve. I don’t expect you to understand why I am how I am. But there’s a lot to me that has nothing to do with the kind of person I’m attracted to. You are obviously a very smart and special girl. I hope you can find something about me to like.”
“You have been patient with me,” I admitted. “And you’re always willing to help out Aunt Lucy and Uncle Frank.”
“Well, Frank is my brother, and your Aunt Lucy was like a sister to me long before they ever got married. I suppose that makes you kind of like family too,” he said.
I stirred the last few cubes of half-melted ice with my straw and thought about what Father Christopher had told me about judging others. It was up to God to decide if how Stuart lived was right or wrong. Stuart had treated me pretty well so far, but I still barely knew him.
“I can give you a chance,” I told him. “But I’m not ready to think of you as family.”
“That’s okay,” Stuart said. “I was just shooting for the chance.”
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