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Winter 1997
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"I know that!" she shot back. "Did you think I was going to take off my clothes?" She spoke to me as if I were an imbecile. She spoke as if she had known the truth all along and could've and would've stopped the game at the drop of a pin. She was hostile; I'd meant to be conciliatory. I let it go.

"Dumb idea," I said. There. What more could I do? Slowly we began talking again, about what I don't remember. I know that when Mother came to take Mary Beth home I was still worried she was upset with me. But as she stepped out the door, she looked back and said, "Thank you for getting me out of the house." She was sincere, so much so that when Mother came in and called her a brat, I retorted loud and clear, "You don't know."

Mother, untying her soiled apron, sighed. She bunched it in her hands and let it fall on the table by the dinner plates. Gross, I thought.

Who would have guessed what that night would bring? I didn't, not at first. Mary Beth and I were in trouble. Neither of us had completed our homework; our maps were full of blank spaces.

"How are you going to know which countries are communist?" our teacher Mrs. Tomlinson barked in front of the entire class.

So during the noon recess we found ourselves benched, me unable to play volleyball, Mary Beth with someone to talk to. "I don't give a damn," she said, her eyes on the girls playing ball.

It surprised me, egghead that she was, that she suddenly didn't care about her schoolwork and, of all things, the word "damn." She sat close to me, and though we weren't supposed to talk, confided from the side of her mouth a world of gossip: Our teacher, Mrs. Tomlinson, didn't have a husband who died in the Korean War; he found another woman before he came home. And Mrs. Kennedy, who we would have next year in seventh grade and whose baby died before it was born, went with Allison Witherow's father to a movie, and Mrs. Witherow said Mrs. Kennedy would never be any teacher of Allison's. There was more, and I saw as much when the bell rang and Mary Beth shook my hand as if we'd made a silent pact we were partners in crime. Communists.

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