When I put my mittens in my pocket, I feel the note. Everyone passes notes in class. Who put this in my pocket? I pull out the carefully folded square. The outside reads, From Tommy. The Inside says, Dear Ann, I’ve called you the last three nights, but your mother always answers the phone. Do you want to go steady? I’ll call again. Love, Tommy.
Linda climbs the stairs into the bus. I crumple the note, shove it inside my mitten and back in my pocket. Laura is right behind her and flumps into the seat in front of us. I rip open the package of peanut butter taffy and offer some to Linda and Laura. Together we stare out the window and chew.
Before the bus lets me off, Laura says, “We’ll be over after The Edge of Night.”
“Okay.” I race upstairs to my room, lay my coat on the bed, and flatten out the crinkled ball. Do you want to go steady?
I fold it back up as fast as I can and bury it in a drawer full of knee socks. Donna DiCaprio and Danny Weld are going steady. That means she wears his clunky ID bracelet. Rhonda Carpenter is going steady with Ronnie DiPoli and wears his fat ring wound with pink yarn, so it doesn’t fall off. Rumor has it, Rhonda stripped for Ronnie in the woods behind Stewart’s Ice Cream.
I like Tommy. He sits behind me in English, and we always talk during silent reading. He makes me laugh. But I don’t want to wear his ID bracelet like I belong to him.
I change out of my plaid hip-hugger skirt and into a pair of maroon corduroy slacks. When I go downstairs to hang up my coat, my mom approaches with a brown paper bag. “I bought you something.”
I pull out what looks like a game and set it on the kitchen table.
My mom lifts the lid and removes a thin piece of wood printed with the alphabet, the numbers 1234567890, the words yes, no, and good-bye. “This is a Ouija Board.”
Before I can ask, “What do you do with it?” Linda and Laura let themselves in the back door.
With one hand my mom motions them over. With the other she takes the last item from the box. “This is the planchette.” I see a heart-shaped piece of wood on felt feet with a window in the middle. “Put your fingers on it and ask a question. It will move around the board to spell out your answer. You’re supposedly communicating with spirits who know everything about your past, present, and future.”
I don’t want anybody to know anything about anything.
This is not my mother, the wholesome farmer’s daughter, involving me with the occult! What on earth possessed her to give me this?
“When I was your age, my friends and I used a Ouija board to see which boys liked us.”
I can’t believe she’s given me this today! Laura takes the board with a grin. My mother watches us descend to the basement rec room. “Have fun!”
We set the board on the coffee table. Linda and Laura sit on the black vinyl couch. I sit opposite on an old wicker chair.
Laura doesn’t waste any time. “Who likes Linda?”
We set our finger tips on the heart-shaped thingie, and it instantly moves. I watch Laura’s fingers. They are curved as if she’s practicing piano. How can she be pushing? Pulling? The planchette stops.
Linda looks through the small circular window and reads, “R.”
Laura squints. “Duh!” The planchette begins to slide. It stops above an O, R, Y, and finally the word good-bye.
Linda’s eyes bug out. “Rory?”
Laura picks up her fingers. “Paterson, obviously.”
Rory and Brian Paterson are twins. They’re identical, but to me, Rory is the cutest of the cute. He’s on Linda’s team.
Laura flops her hands back on the indicator, “Okay, who likes me?”
I can tell she’s shoving it towards the letter K probably for Kyle Gardner, Marie’s dreamy older brother. But the indicator doesn’t go to Y. It flies to good-bye as if even Laura can’t control it, which kind of freaks me out.
“Maybe nobody likes you,” chirps Linda.
Laura gets up from the couch. “It’s fake. You pushed it to say Rory.”
“Did not! It’s Ann’s turn. ” Does she think she’s defending me? This is the moment I’ve been dreading. If it spells Tommy, they will tease me. Tommy is not cool, not cute. So what? I don’t want them to make fun of him even if I don’t like him like he likes me.
Laura gets that look in her eye. “Let’s not ask who likes Ann. Let’s ask who Ann likes.” How does she come up with new ways to embarrass me? Will it spell out Rory again or Danny Weld? They are cute, but I don’t want to go steady with anybody! To have Laura know my secrets is bad enough, but boys? To have anyone know your deepest feelings, your dreams, who you really are gives them the power to humiliate you. It’s being exposed in a way almost worse than stripping for Ronnie DiPoli.
“Anyone want a cookie?” Whew, my mother has come to her senses! Linda and Laura rise to the aroma of oatmeal and raisins. I pack up the creepy board and throw it on the shelf.
After dinner, I’m afraid Tommy might call. I go down in the basement to practice piano. In the middle of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” I hear the phone ring in the den.
My mother’s voice answers. I hear her hang up. I am playing the glory- glory- hallelujah part when the phone rings again.
My mother answers, “Who is this, please?” She clicks down the receiver and hollers down the stairs. Are you expecting a call from a boy?
I sing along with His truth is marching on, as if I can’t hear her, as if I don’t suddenly realize why she bought me that tattle-tale board. Has even my mother gone boy crazy?
Next day, during homeroom, Tommy says, “Hey, you wanna go to the Roller-Roll with me?”
Van Antwerp is renting Guptill’s Rollarama on Saturday.
I don’t turn around. “I’m already going.”
“With someone else?”
“With my friends.”
“Did you get my note?”
“Yeah.” We are silent during silent reading. Thank God it’s Friday.
Saturday Linda and Laura’s mom drops us off at Guptill’s. My mom is picking us up. We go in and rent what look like scuffed up ice skates only with two wheels in front and two wheels in back. I stand and wobble to the rink. I’ve never skated on this type of skate before, only the kind you strap to the bottom of your shoe and tighten with a key. The music makes it fun. They play all the songs I know from my clock radio, “My Boy Lollipop,” ‘Do Wah Diddy,” “Rag Doll,” by the Four Seasons, and “Baby Love” by the Supremes. By the time they play the “Hokey Pokey,” I’m skating well enough to participate in the game.
But then the lights dim. A neon moon appears on the wall and the announcer says, “Time for the moonlight serenade. Couples only.”
The Beatles “Do You Want to Know a Secret” comes over the loud speaker, and I bolt for the girls’ rest room. I’ve seen Tommy in the wide circle of skaters, but haven’t made eye contact. I’ve got to get off the rink before he asks me to skate. I roll into a stall, close the latch, and steady myself with the hook on the back of the door.
Linda follows me into the bathroom with a pink doll on the door. “Hey, you in here? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just had to go.” I spit into the toilet, but the sound is unconvincing.
“Okay. See you later.”
I come out when the song is over and look at myself in the mirror over the sink. I am flushed. There are wet circles under my arm pits. My teeth are still in braces. I am wearing blue cat-eye glasses. My hair curls under on one side and flips up on the other no matter how I set it in those stupid pink rollers. Why would anybody want to go steady with me?
I go back to the rink and buzz around the arena until “Baby I Need Your Loving” lights up the moon again. Before I complete my beeline to the girl’s room, I notice Tommy skating hand in hand with Debbie Calder, the girl who sits in front of me. She’s in my Girl Scout troop. She’s nice. I’m happy for her. Tommy is a great guy.
I’m just not ready for “When a Man Loves a Woman.” I’m barely twelve years old. I don’t trust my friends, and my mom has unleashed supernatural powers to spill my past, present and future.
That was years ago, so why do I still remember the boy who asked me to go steady on a Thursday and on Saturday was holding another girl’s hand? Because through the lens of time, Tommy Cernak was valiant. He exposed his affection for me in a world where I’d already decided it wasn’t safe to give away my heart.
Now, as a believer, I know love always risks exposure. Jesus risked it all and was exposed to a cross. My name is and was and always will be engraved on the palms of his hands. He is a steady God, the persistent lover of my soul.