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"Mom!" Angela almost gasps, coming into the kitchen.
Angela gulps, swallows and stares at the sight of her mother sitting in the nook, drinking coffee in her bathrobe.
"I'm going in to see the doctor this morning," Patti tells her quietly, but in a perfectly normal voice, "and then Camille is taking me out to lunch."
"So you must be feeling better then?" Angela says, turning both to pour herself a cup of coffee and to collect herself before she faces her mother again.
"I think so" Patti says softly, sounding a little surprised at the fact herself.
"Oh mom" Angela slides into the nook with her coffee cup "I'm so glad."
She doesn't say anything else because her mothers hand reaches across the table and presses hers and for a minute they just sit there, saying nothing.
"Mommy?" Danielle says coming into the kitchen, up to the table and peering at Patti curiously "are you well now?"
"I'm better, honey" Patti tells her seriously, "how are you doing?"
"I'm okay. Kind of sick of soccer though." She pauses for a second and then adds "Could I get my ears pierced? Amelia's mom is letting her for her birthday."
"We'll talk about it"
"Really?" Danielle says, looking completely surprised.
"Really we'll talk about it. But not now." Patti says, and when she sees the faint smile on her mothers face Angela smiles too.
There's a soft tap at the kitchen door, the sound of it opening and then Jordan walks in and looks immediately confused.
"Oh, um, Ms. Chase, hi," he kind of stutters, "I'm sorry. I should have like, waited for you to say come in or something."
"It's fine Jordan. Are you taking Angela to school?"
"Uhhuh. I mean yeah."
"He does everyday now, mom" Danielle says, and Patti nods.
"Well have some coffee then."
"Um, thanks," he says, still looking confused, so Angela, feeling more than a little weird herself, gets up and hands him a cup.
How's your friend?" Patti says thoughtfully, "Tino?"
"He's okay. I mean his leg's broke and his car's a wreck, but he was really lucky."
"Well, someone must have been looking out for him then" Patti whispers, almost to herself, standing up and starting to drift slowly towards the hallway.
"Have a good day," she adds almost as an afterthought, before turning and heading up the stairs.
"Did you talk to her about Tino?" Angela asks Danielle.
"No," Danielle shakes her head "maybe Camille did."
"So what isn't?" Danielle says sarcastically, grabbing her backpack and heading for the front door "She's out of bed. Did you notice?"
"Yes Danielle, thanks for pointing that out" Angela says, turning back to Jordan.
"I think she's better." she says, almost in a whisper, putting their cups in the sink before they walk out and then closing the kitchen door behind them.
"Looks like it."
"That was definitely kind of strange in there" she tells him, her voice almost back to normal.
He wraps his arm around her, his way of telling her it's all right, so she lets her head rest on his chest, tucked in to him, and doesn't say anything else, but when they get to the curb, outside his car, she looks up at him and frowns.
"This is going to change everything again" she says, looking worried, "I mean, it's kind of like been like my mom's been invisible, I mean, like we've been invisible to her, too. And if we're all going to be visible again…" she pauses and looks down, " it's going to take some getting used to. I mean, I guess I kind of got into it being a parent free house, you know?' she says.
She's totally unprepared for him to pull her up against him and kiss her deeply, but that's just what he does.
"Me too" he tells her, while she's still recovering, just before he opens the car door.
"So you're gonna go to college, huh?" Jordan says to Corey Helfrick, as they're climbing the outside stairs towards shop and the gym.
"Where'd that come from?" Corey laughs, glancing over at him, registering the seriousness of his voice, "Yeah, I guess. I mean I'll probably try to get into art school, see what that's like. Why?"
"You know those tests I took?" Jordan says, looking down at the stairs, "well now guidance – and Foster too – they're telling me I should think about if I want to go."
"So do you?"
"Not really" he shrugs, "I guess I'm like, trying to figure out if there's any reason why I should."
"Some stuff you need a college degree for" Corey says, "like to teach school, or be a forest ranger, for example."
He looks at Jordan and they both kind of smirk.
"Otherwise" he says "I'm just going to do it cause my parents will probably pay for me to live somewhere away from home and I can experiment with different art mediums, you know?"
"Yeah. My parents wouldn't be paying for it. And the thing is, I don't like school much. I mean I don't really get the point, you know?"
"My dad says high school's for social indoctrination and to keep us out of the work force."
"Makes sense" Jordan says seriously.
"He didn't go to college. But who knows?" Corey says, turning his palm up, "my mom's just the opposite. She went to graduate school. She's totally happy studying Shakespeare."
"Uhhuh." Jordan thinks that makes sense too.
"Course you don't need to go to school to do that." Corey adds.
They walk up the rest of the stairs in silence and when they get to the top, before they go their separate ways, Corey looks at him.
"Angela will probably be going to college" he says with a slight frown. "It's kind of a socio-economic thing."
"Yeah" says Jordan, quietly, turning to go. "I know." He's never heard the phrase socio-economic before, but he knows exactly what Corey is saying, and it's one of the things that's been bothering him.
"So what did she say?" Camille asks Patti the minute they're out of Dr. Peterson's office, walking down the hall towards the parking lot.
"She was really supportive" Patti says slowly. "She thinks I can stop taking the sedatives now, and then she called and got me an appointment for tomorrow morning with a therapist she likes. She suggested taking a little more time off work and then going back gradually. She said I've been through a lot and I need to take it seriously and take care of myself."
"What about the anti-depressants?" Camille asks, as they walk out into the sunshine and blink.
"I'm not going to take them," Patti says "not right now, anyway."
"Okay. Well you seem to have stopped crying all the time."
"I feel like I've survived the flood. Literally.." Patti looks around "and come out different. It's really strange."
Camille unlocks the car doors and looks over at her friend. She is different, Camille thinks, serious and at the same time softer, as if some of her edge has dropped. Her hair has gotten a little longer in the past month, she's wearing casual clothes and she no longer looks like the former clipped, efficient, cool as a cucumber Patti Chase. Vulnerable was never a word you could use to describe Patti before, Camille thinks, but it might be now.
"So, lunch." she says "where to?"
"I feel like this is already plenty of out in the world for me today. But you need to eat, right?"
She looks over at Camille, who smiles and nods.
Let's get some take out" Patti says "I could do a milkshake and we could sit in the park."
"Big Guy and the park." Camille laughs, "just like high school."
"Not quite" Patti says, smiling back quietly.
"What is going on with you and Corey Helfrick?" Sharon is saying accusingly to Rayanne when Angela walks into the bathroom "and please don't say nothing again, because the way you two look at each other is not nothing, in the like, normal sense of the word."
"Don't ask me" Ricky says in protest, when Sharon frowns questioningly at him, as if he might say something, "I know nothing. Especially about normal."
"Well, if it is something, I don't know what it is." Rayanne mutters, "maybe it's a like, flirtation or something, okay?"
"Yeah, well that much is obvious." Sharon scowls "you're always smiling at each other or laughing, okay. Does anything else happen?"
Angela looks at Ricky and then they both just stand there in fascination with their mouths closed. Rayanne has remained silent every time Corey's name's come up and even though they've both been dying to know if there is anything to know, they haven't pushed her for information.
"Nothing physical, if that's what you mean, okay?" Rayanne says in an exasperated voice "no trips to the boiler room, no dates. All between us is perfectly platonic. Satisfied?"
She puts her purse in the sink and starts digging through it, looking for something.
"I think my cherry's gonna grow back soon" she mutters, and when Angela and Ricky both roll their eyes, she makes a pouty face and says "then we can form a club and exclude Sharon."
"Maybe I won't be eligible much longer myself" Angela giggles and then looks totally self conscious as they all stare at her, "I mean just forget that I said that please."
"Oooh, Angelfood" Rayanne chirps "is the big bang finally about to become more than a theory?"
"Maybe" she blushes "if we can ever be anywhere behind closed doors for long enough to get our clothes off."
"I personally, never let that stop me" Rayanne laughs "but you lovebirds need privacy? Let's see now, where exactly could that be? The loft, the car, his house?"
"I don't like, want to like, plot it out" Angela sighs, clamming up a bit and feeling a little uncomfortable with Rayanne so ready to act as their personal party planner, "but we're busy like, every waking minute and then we're alone after Danielle goes to bed, but on the downstairs couch, and ever since my father walked in that time, you know…"
"Say no more, please" Sharon says giggling "I can't even imagine the look on everybody's faces without laughing. You definitely don't want any kind of repeat on that one."
"I think Jordan's permanently scarred" Angela mutters, embarrassed, while Rayanne and Ricky chortle.
"Well, you have Danielle sitters whenever you need them," Sharon says "but you two will have to figure out the rest."
"We believe in you, Angela" Rayanne laughs "you can do this."
"Thanks you guys" she says "I'm, you know, touched by your faith in me."
"Well, part of our faith is in Jordan too, you know" Sharon says grinning.
"Oh right," Angela says, "him." which for some reason hits everyone's funny bone and all they can do for the next few minutes is look at each other, sputter and laugh.
"Angela's not the only one who could use some privacy," Rayanne thinks, coming onto the stage instead of going to class, and looking at Corey's new sets. Now Maria's bedroom set, she tells herself, is just what they need in real life. Corey is super sweet with her these days and they've certainly become friendly, but pleasant and all as that is, what she wants is something else, and for once she has no real idea how to make that happen. It's not exactly like she's dying to have sex with him, because sex for her is totally anti-climactic, or, to put it more accurately, non-climactic, but none the less, it would still be reassuring to know that Corey wants to have sex with her. And she also imagines that sex is what it would take to move this flirtation thing they have along, into something else. Because like it or not, she wants something else with Corey Helfrick. She doesn't even know what the something else might be, or how to make sense of wanting it, but there it is. She wants him.
She flops down on the bed in the bedroom set, knowing she's not supposed to, and closes her eyes.
"Catnapping?" Corey says with a smile in his voice, walking onto the stage.
"I couldn't like, resist" she says, without opening her eyes, feeling herself smiling back, "Nap time was always my favorite subject. Never could understand why they dropped it from the curriculum in first grade."
She feels the bed shift as he sits down on the edge of it and tenses up a little at his closeness.
"Don't disturb the set" she says a little edgily.
He reaches down and touches her hair softly and Rayanne's body sort of just floats up to sitting next to him, all on its own without her telling it to. When he wraps his arm around her she's surprised to find her head has floated onto his shoulder, and then she's surprised by how easy it feels to just let it stay there.
There's a minute of them sitting together like that, like there's no need to say or do anything, like they have all the time in the world, and then there's the sound of doors opening and people pouring in backstage, and he lets go of her gently, smiles, and is gone without a word.
"Sharon says Principal Foster has been pretty harsh with Ricky" Camille says, munching on a french fry and staring out at the park from their shaded bench, "He actually threatened to call child services and have him put in protective care if he didn't get right out of Mr. Katimsky's."
"That's horrible" Patti says, looking troubled "I knew he was a strict principal, but I certainly didn't think he was mean. And to be mean to Ricky, of all people."
"He's a completely sweet kid" Camille agrees "even if the eye make up is a little bit of a shocker at first. It's really a shame that nice English teacher is going to lose his job over this."
"He could have stayed with us. Ricky." Patti muses "I wonder why he didn't."
"Graham said he might go talk to Mr. Foster about what a good teacher Mr. Katimsky is" she adds after a minute.
"Sharon likes him. She says they had a hard time finding an English teacher in the first place."
"Maybe you could go in with Graham."
"I don't know about that" Camille says "Maybe we should just let Graham go mano a mano with the principal. I'm not sure I really want to get into it with the ultimate authority figure."
Patti sighs in agreement. "I don't think I'm quite up to it right now either," she says. "I just hope Ricky's going to be okay in this new place. Camille?"
Patti's voice sounds a little shaky, and Camille turns to look at her.
Patti looks at her oldest friend and wonders. She wonders if she should even try to talk to her about what seems really important now, about how she feels changed inside, about meeting Tino's father and how different the world looks to her since then, about how she wonders how to best help their kids and about how she wants to start going to church, not for social reasons but something to do with spiritual ones. About Graham and how she's maybe ready to think about moving on.
"What?" Camille says.
"Nothing, I guess" Patti says, smiling at Camille fondly. "Some things you don't need to talk about," she thinks. "Thanks for being such a great friend" she says, instead.
"Right back at ya" Camille says, and Patti thinks again of Graham. That's something he says, sometimes.
In the kitchen, Graham listens to Halle returning phone calls and making reservations, while he checks the cakes in the oven and then pulls both of them. He'll be really glad when the school play wraps up and Rayanne's back in here to take care of pastry, he thinks to himself.
"No" he hears Halle actually giggling into the phone "not really."
"Okay, tomorrow then" she says, still laughing "after I finish up here."
He tries not to be too interested in her conversation, but she's standing right in earshot, and when she hangs up the phone, still smiling, he looks at her curiously.
"Personal call" she says in explanation "someone I met from the personals, as a matter of fact."
"Someone you like, from the sound of it."
"Well, I'm hopeful. Where there's life, you know."
"Good for you" he smiles at her encouragingly.
"How about you?" she asks "hopeful? Or shouldn't I ask?"
"I don't know," he tells her, shaking his head, "I'm kind of on the one day at a time program right now, so hopeful, resigned and not knowing are all in about equal proportion I guess. Maybe not knowing has a slight lead."
"How's Patti doing?"
"A little better, I think. I talked to her for a minute yesterday."
"Sounds hopeful to me" Halle says, looking at him affectionately.
"One day at a time" he says, shrugging his shoulders.
"Hey," Frank says, coming up to Ricky's locker with a friendly smile on his face, "I hear your room's almost ready at Pride House"
"I hear that too" he says, looking pleased, "Ms. Krazynowski told me. It's looking like I can move in next week."
"Well, good news finally, huh?"
"Yeah. It will be good to be settled somewhere, I guess," he says seriously. "I mean I hope it will work out. I mean, given my like, track record with living situations, I guess it would be kind of naïve to think it's going to be perfect or something."
"I think maybe you'll be surprised." Frank says quietly. "Listen, are you doing anything right now? Cause I was going to hit Big Guy for lunch and thought maybe you could come along. If you want."
"Sure. Big Guy sounds good" he says, wondering again why Frank Repniki is so nice to him.
"I wanted to talk to you about something. I mean Pride House and stuff" Frank tells him.
"Okay" Ricky says, closing the locker behind him and looking curious "let's go then. To Big Guy."
"I think Sharon's got a new love interest." Camille says, sounding far away while she sips at her soda, "Tino or Tonio or something like that."
"It's Tino" Patti tells her, smiling quietly.
"Did Angela say anything?"
"No, but I know who he is. He's a friend of Rayanne's. The one who drove Rayanne when she followed after me that night I," she pauses "that night I walked in on Graham and Halle and hit the mailbox."
"I have a good feeling about him" she adds after a minute. "I think he's part of our karass."
"Karass. Group of souls who know each other, are linked in a cosmically significant way. Kurt Vonnegutt. Cat's Cradle."
"Of course" Camille says, standing up slowly and gathering up their take out containers, "our karass."
He hears his name being called just as they're walking into the park across the street from Big Guy and turns to see Patti Chase walking towards him.
"Sweetheart how are you?" she says, putting her arms around him and hugging him.
"I'm uh, fine" he tells her, totally surprised both to see her there and to be hugged so affectionately, "how are you?"
"Out of bed. Out of the house," she says, resting a hand on his arm and continuing to look at him fondly "better, I guess."
"I'm really, uh, glad to hear that" he says, a little self consciously, because Frank Repniki is standing right next to him watching it all.
"Ricky, I want to thank you for helping Angela and Danielle so much."
"Oh" he says "I, um, you're welcome."
And I'm so sorry to have made this trouble for Mr. Katimsky. I was just in no condition to answer the phone."
"I know" he says, "Don't feel bad about it, Ms. Chase. It's my fault more than anybody's. I'm the one who left the shelter and showed up on Mr. Katimsky's doorstep."
"That's not your fault, Ricky" Patti looks at him sadly and shakes her head.
"Well," he says slowly and looks at Camille "Hi, Ms. Cherski."
"Hi Ricky" she says, but she's staring at Frank.
"So," he's forced to say "Ms. Chase and Ms. Cherski. This is Frank."
"Sorry about that" Ricky says quietly, when the moms have said goodbye and are out of earshot, "she was kind of emotional."
"No problem. Mom's are sometimes."
Ricky doesn't say anything, but this time, when Frank lays his hand on shoulder again, in yet another sympathetic gesture, he's not sure he appreciates being the object of so much sympathy.
"Here?" he says, looking down at a sunny spot on the lawn, and sitting down with the take out when Frank nods. "So about Pride House, huh?"
"Look" Frank says "it's not exactly about Pride House. I mean, it's kind of about me, and Pride House" he looks at Ricky, "and you."
A funny little certainty, a happy kind of strange certainty, starts to grow in Ricky, and when he looks at Frank looking at him, he's pretty sure Frank can see it.
"I wanted to, I mean I'm not sure where to start" Frank says, and then he looks at the little smile playing on Ricky's face, "I mean, I guess I'm bi."
"Uh huh." Ricky says, not quite sure of how to respond, "I'm not."
"Right. I mean I figured."
"I'm going to be coaching all summer at Pride House" he says and then he stares at Ricky thoughtfully for a minute before rolling onto his back and shielding his eyes from the sun "and I really like you."
"Okay." Ricky nods, and doesn't say anything, because he senses Frank has more to say but also because he's kind of at a loss for words. He's pretty sure that like you means what he hopes it does, but he's also waiting for Frank to get it all out, to see if another shoe needs to drop.
"I wanted to wait till I got out of here, you know, till I was in Colorado, before like, coming out that way."
"Does anyone else know?"
"No. I mean I barely know. I mean it's always been there. That I'm like, attracted to guys the same way as girls, but it was like, clear that girls were allowed and guys, kind of…"
"Weren't. Yeah" Ricky says it for him, slowly, "I understand, I guess. I never actually said I was gay till a few months ago. It felt strange to finally, like say it, even though I always knew."
"I wanted to leave everybody here, happy like, you know, take Judy to the prom, say good bye to everybody, kiss my parents, and go a thousand miles away. Not hurt anybody. There's just so much like, I mean I don't really want to rock the boat here," Frank continues after a minute "and that seems so lame. But my parents and Judy, they won't be happy to hear about this, to put it mildly. Not to mention the whole frigging football team. I even wonder if people would want me to stop coaching at Pride House, you know, if I like came out with this? Maybe they'd think I was like some kind of sexual predator or something."
"Like what's happening to Mr. Katimsky." Ricky says.
"So, don't do it. You should probably just, you know, do what you said, wait till you get to Colorado, where people don't have, like, expectations of who you are."
"It doesn't seem fair though" Frank says.
"I mean fair to you. I wanted to tell you, because I thought maybe," he looks at Ricky carefully "I thought maybe you liked me."
"I mean, like, you know."
"Yeah, I know. I do."
"Yeah" Frank sighs, but he's smiling again, even if it is a little wryly, "me too."
Ricky's face lights up, and a million feelings he can't even begin to separate flood through him, but mainly he's just incredibly happy. Frank likes him. He feels afraid, but he feels brave at the same time.
"Well, I can live with that" he says, taking a deep breath. "Nobody else has to know."
"Maybe my best friends?"
Frank nods. "I don't have anyone else I can tell" he says, shrugging.
They look at each other steadily for a minute, and get up to go without another word.
"This is good, you know" Ricky says, walking back to the car "liking is good."
Actually, he thinks, watching Frank grin at him shyly, it's pretty great.
Easing onto the brakes as they near a light, Camille looks over at Patti and grins.
"Frank was cute."
"Camille! I saw you looking at him."
"Do you think he's Ricky's boyfriend?"
"I have no idea. I guess it would be nice for Ricky if he was."
"They're all too young for this. They're baby's" Camille says, looking stricken "Aren't they?"
"They're teenagers, Camille. Turn your mind back and try to remember what it was like, how serious everything was" Patti says calmly "remember how serious we were?"
"I don't want to. I'm so glad high school is behind us."
"Well, the thing is" Patti almost laughs, "that it's not. Not while our kids are in it."
"So, I'm reluctant to ask" Camille says, turning to face her as they pull up to the house, "but what about Graham? Is he still a part of our karass?"
"Of course" Patti replies, totally seriously, "a really big part."
"Well, I guess that means you'll be talking to him soon."
"I guess." Patti says "It's all going to unfold one way or another, just not right now. For now I'm going back to bed. Today was all kind of exhausting."