Authors: Jennifer Weiner
And here her sister chimed in, “ ‘The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.’ ”
“Wow.” Jo tried to imagine being brave enough to do what Rosa Parks had done, to get herself arrested and put in jail. “I bet she’s glad to be up here and not down South.”
The three girls exchanged a look. “What?” Jo asked.
“You think it’s better here?” LaDrea asked, eyebrows raised. “Ask me how many white people live in my apartment building.”
“Or on our street,” said LaDonna. “Or how many go to our little brother’s school.”
“Um . . .”
“None. Zero. That’s how many. Detroit’s just as segregated as any place down South. The only difference is, it’s not against the law.”
Jo bit a carrot stick, remembering the feeling of her mother’s hands on her shoulders, her eight-year-old bottom being pushed onto the plastic slipcovered couch.
Birds of a feather must flock together.
“That isn’t fair,” she said.
The girls exchanged another look. LaDonna rolled her eyes. LaDrea sucked her teeth.
“Can we change the subject, please?” Vernita asked. “Ya’ll are making my head hurt. And you know we’ve got to run suicide drills this afternoon.” She leaned forward, so that her cross gleamed in the fluorescent light, and pointed at the lemon bar Jo had brought from home. “You planning on eating that?”
Jo handed over her dessert. She was thinking about Mae and Frieda. “It isn’t fair,” she said again, but the bell rang, and everyone got up to throw away their trash and get to class.
Later, after practice, LaDrea approached her in the locker room. “You know,” she began, “if you’re serious about doing something . . .”
“I am,” said Jo.
“There are pickets every Saturday at Crystal Pool, on Greenfield and Eight Mile. Crystal Pool’s segregated. A bunch of us go.” She looked at Jo, her expression neutral. She was holding a
basketball tucked against her hip, and a lock of hair had worked its way out of her braid. “We meet here at the school at ten o’clock and carpool over.”
Jo nodded. Her heart was beating hard. Her mother, she knew, wouldn’t want her at anything like a picket. Her parents believed in equality—at least, that’s what they said. “The Jewish people have been oppressed too much to oppress anyone else,” Jo’s father said. But he’d also moved them away from the old neighborhood, saying it was changing, and Jo was old enough now to understand that
Negros coming in.
Then there was Sarah, who said things like
Don’t ruffle any feathers
Don’t stir the pot
. Showing up at a picket was nothing if not pot-stirring.
On Saturday morning, Jo got up early and told Sarah that she was going to the high school to practice her free throws.
“Be home by four,” her mother said without looking at her, so Jo climbed on her bike and pedaled to school.
“Didn’t think you’d be here,” LaDonna said, and LaDrea said, “C’mon, you need a sign.” There were about a dozen kids, black and white, with squares of posterboard, using black paint to write
LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
. Jo pulled in a deep breath and dipped her brush in the paint. “Is Vernita coming?” she asked as she wrote the word
and hoped her hand wouldn’t shake.
“Pssht, Vernita,” LaDonna said, waving one of the long-fingered hands that let her grip a basketball so easily. “Forget her.”
Jo rode in the Moore sisters’ 1959 Mercury. She marched in a circle in front of the pool’s chain-link fence as cars drove past. A few would honk in support, but most of them would just look the other way. When it was over, she met Lynnette at the beauty shop, where Lynnie was getting her hair washed and set, teased high in the back, with bangs that curled over her forehead. “What’d you do today?” Lynnette asked as she held a plastic fan in front of her face so the hairdresser’s assistant could mist Elnett hairspray from the crown of her head to the tips that curled against her cheeks.
“Oh, nothing,” Jo said.
Sometimes Jo wondered if Lynnette liked her because she was taller and ungainly and less attractive, the ugly duckling to Lynnette’s swan. The two of them did not have much in common. Jo was a strong student; Lynnette struggled, especially in math class. Jo was an athlete; Lynnette would get winded the single time each year that Coach Krantz actually did make her run a quarter mile. Lynnette loved clothes—wearing them, shopping for them, talking about the ones she wanted to shop for and wear next—while Jo just grabbed whatever was nearby and relatively clean. What they shared was a sense of mischief, a love of disruption and fun. Lynnette had gotten Jo drunk for the first time when they were both fifteen, and Jo had convinced Lynnette to cut school sophomore year. They’d climbed into Sarah’s car with the boy upon whom Lynnette had been bestowing her affections at the time, and one of his tall friends for Jo, and driven to a bowling alley, where they’d ordered pitchers of beer and plates of French fries and laughed about their classmates, stuck back at school for a pep rally. Lynnette sighed over Jo’s slender figure—“you can wear anything,” she would say—and Jo was similarly appreciative of Lynnette’s curves, even when Lynnette despaired about her hips and what she claimed was her double chin. Lynnette had taught Jo how to smoke, and Jo had taught Lynnette how to swim, and they told each other everything . . . except for the increasingly frequent daydreams Jo had been having about their weekly sleepovers, a daydream in which, instead of one of her silk nightgowns, Lynnie would come to bed wearing nothing at all.
“Does he want to go all the way?” Jo asked, careful to keep her voice neutral.
“He tried to put his hand down my pants, but I told him to forget it.” Lynnette wagged her finger in Bobby’s imaginary face. “I said, ‘Mr. Bobby Carver, not until there’s a ring on my finger.’ ” She touched the class ring that she wore around her neck, as if to reassure herself of Bobby’s commitment, and how one ring would lead to another.
“Did you like it?” Jo asked. Lynnette tilted her head sideways as she considered.
“It was kind of like brushing my teeth,” she finally said. “Or, no, that’s not quite it. Maybe it was like clapping. Just, you know. Clap clap clap squirt. Then it’s over.” Their sneakered feet crunched against the cinders. “I don’t know,” Lynnette said, sighing. “It was kind of exciting to see how excited he was, you know? To know that I could make him feel like that. But I didn’t really feel anything at all.” She sighed again. “Maybe real sex will feel better.”
“Maybe.” Jo was secretly relieved that Lynnette hadn’t enjoyed ministering to Bobby Carver. Lynnette interpreted her response as an indication of Jo’s frustration over her own lackluster love life.
“It’s going to happen for you,” she said, reaching up to pat Jo’s shoulder. “You’ll find the right guy.”
Jo shrugged. She’d been out with plenty of boys, usually on double dates with Lynnette. She knew their moves. At the movie shows, the Redford or the Senate, the boy would stretch his arm up high, then casually drape it around her shoulders. At the Bel-Air drive-in, they’d try to get her into the back seat, and at school dances, they’d ask if she needed some fresh air, but their clammy hands on her shoulders, their cool, wormy lips against her mouth had all left her feeling less than nothing.
“Have you ever . . .” Lynnette looked at her, a brief glance from underneath her curled bangs. Jo saw her cheeks blushing pink. “Have you ever touched yourself?”
“Sometimes,” she said, after making sure there was no chance that any of their classmates would be able to hear them. A few times, when she’d been fastening a sanitary napkin to her belt, her fingers would drift over the soft triangle of hair between her legs. There was, she had discovered, a tender place right at the top, and when her fingers brushed against it, jolts of pleasure would shoot through her lower belly, making her nipples get hard. The feeling was so strong that it frightened her, and she would hastily take
her fingers away. She looked at her friend, gathering her nerve. “Have you?”
Lynnette’s lipsticked mouth curved up in a smile, and when she spoke, her voice was so low that Jo could hardly hear. “When I went to Camp Tanuga last summer,” she began. Jo moved so close that their shoulders were touching. “One of the counselors there really liked me.”
Jo nodded, unsurprised. Everyone liked Lynnette. When she realized what Lynnette meant, about this girl who’d really liked her, she felt her body flush again, this time with jealousy.
“She had something that she let me borrow.”
“What?” Jo asked. “What is it?” She felt envious of this counselor, angry that Lynnette had waited all this time to tell her, and, above everything else, desperate to keep Lynnette talking.
“I can’t tell you.” Lynnette giggled. She’d turned a color past pink, closer to red. “But I can show you. After school,” she said, and gave Jo a saucy smile. “My house. I am going to change your life.”
* * *
Lynnette’s family had once lived in a house like Jo’s, but when Lynnette was in junior high, her father, who’d been working at an accounting firm in Detroit, got promoted. He moved his family into a much bigger house, a four-bedroom redbrick mock Tudor with a finished basement and an in-law suite. The Bobecks’ house had a kitchen with two ovens and creamy white Formica countertops, a living room with a bricked-in wood-burning fireplace and a big color television set, a card table with padded chairs and special lighting where Mrs. Bobeck played bridge. The basement featured pine-paneled walls, a pool table, and a wet bar. Lynnette planned to host the senior class for a party after they finally graduated.
After school, Lynnette and Jo bypassed the kitchen, where normally they would stop for a snack (apples if Lynnette was dieting, cinnamon toast if she wasn’t). They went right to Lynnette’s bedroom, which had pink and white patterned wallpaper, a
dresser, a bookcase, and a nightstand all made of the same painted white wood, and a lacy white canopy over the queen-sized bed. Lynnette locked the door, even though the house was empty—both of her brothers went to the Boys’ Club after school, her father worked downtown, and her mom volunteered at the Hebrew Home for the Aged most afternoons. As Jo watched, Lynnette took the chair that sat in front of her desk and wedged it underneath the doorknob. She crossed the room, bent down in front of her record player, and put on a Connie Francis album. Finally, with great care, she slid her hand underneath her mattress and removed something that looked like a handheld eggbeater, complete with an electrical cord and plug. The body was encased in hard tan plastic, but in the space where the beaters should have been there was only a hard rubber disk.
“What is it?” Jo asked, and Lynnette whispered, “It’s a vibrator!”
Jo stared. She had only the vaguest idea of what a vibrator was, thought she’d heard the word but wasn’t one hundred percent sure of its meaning, and she’d assumed that something meant for sexual pleasure would be shaped more like a penis than a kitchen utensil. “And it’s for . . .” Jo gestured vaguely toward the lower half of her body, feeling the strangest combination of excitement and fear as Lynnette nodded.
“Carla—she was my counselor—she showed it to us, and she told us how to use it, and we decided every girl in our bunk would get a turn. You get it for two weeks, and then you have to wrap it up and mail it to whoever’s next on the list.”
“You wash it first, right?”
Jo felt like her entire insides were contracting, squeezing tight around the space between her legs, making it throb. There was an ache in her belly, and she wanted to take her friend by her rounded, cashmere-covered shoulders and kiss her. She knew, somehow, that instead of feeling wet and wormy, Lynnette’s lips would be firm and sweet, and that instead of feeling faintly revolted, she’d feel happy and content. Had Carla, the camp counselor, kissed Lynnette?
I’ll kill her
, Jo thought, feeling jealousy
fighting with desire, and both of them at war with shame, because she wasn’t supposed to be feeling this way about her best friend, or any girl at all.
“See, look,” said Lynnette, unfurling the cord, plugging the little machine into the wall.
Jo’s heart was beating hard. “I don’t know if we should do this,” she said. Her voice sounded hoarse. “Maybe it’s, you know, bad for us or something.”
Lynnette looked amused. “Just wait,” she said, “until you find out how good it feels.” With that, she flicked a switch. The little rubber cup began humming. Jo could see that it was, indeed, vibrating, so fast that its motions were almost imperceptible. She imagined how that humming cup would feel against her and felt her lower body contract like a cramp.
“Are you sure the door’s locked?” she whispered.
“Yes, I’m sure,” said Lynnette. She got on the bed, leaning back against a pile of pillows. “You’ve really never done anything with a boy? Not anything?”
Jo shook her head. Somehow, the half-darkness made it easier to tell the truth.
“What about with Leonard?” Lynnette asked. Leonard Weiss had been Jo’s only long-term boyfriend. They’d dated that winter, during the four months of basketball season, when Jo had been the starting center for the girls’ team and Leonard was a guard for the boys. Jo sometimes thought that the only reason she’d stayed with Leonard for so long was that he was one of the few boys at school who was significantly taller than she was. She liked how he made her feel small, how he actually had to bend down to kiss her. But when he did kiss her, it was the same as it had been with Stan and Donald and Paul. She would feel the spit in the boy’s mouth, and hear the sound of teeth clicking together, and she’d have to fight to keep herself from shoving away and running immediately for a hot shower and a bottle of Listerine.
“I told you about Leonard,” Jo said. “I let him go up my sweater, but that’s all.”
“Inside your bra or outside?”
“Inside. Once.” Jo winced, remembering the way Leonard had fiddled with her nipples, squeezing and pinching them like they were tiny mouths he was trying to shut.