by the edge of the river
 

Chapter 2: Find a Way to Get it Right

October 5, 1957

He changed quickly and headed back downstairs, anxious to see how Loyola was getting along with his mom. He found the two of them in the living room, sitting on the couch together. His sister's blouse was loose on her, and the waistband of the skirt bunched up over the belt, but she still looked beautiful.

"Loyola told me she's in your science class at school." Moms smiled at him rather pointedly; it was her 'I think you like her' smile. "And that you two are working on the project together."

Brian sighed. Then he noticed how quiet the house was. The volume on the radio had been turned down and it was the only noise he heard. "Where is everyone?"

"At Di's house, including Bobby. Except your father; he went bowling with Ed." She turned to Loyola. "Have you two had lunch yet?"

"No, ma'am." She glanced at Brian and then turned back to his mom. "I actually have some sandwiches and salad in the car. We forgot to bring them in."

"I'll go get them." Brian strode quickly toward the door, relieved to get some fresh air. He knew that look on his mother's face and he was in trouble with a capital T. Not for the ruined shoes or the wet clothes or any kind of 'done something bad' kind of trouble—no, that he could handle. It was his mom realizing he liked the girl sitting in their living room, his mom getting information out of her, his mom probably finding out what an idiot her son was when it came to matters of the heart. That kind of trouble.

He came back in carrying the cooler, placed it on one of the kitchen chairs, and took out the sandwiches and salad. It didn't take long for Loyola and his mom to join him in the kitchen.

"Do you want to eat with us, Moms?" Brian asked, setting some place mats and forks on the table, hoping she'd decline. He was nervous enough as it was.

"No, thank you." She reached into a cupboard and pulled out two glasses for them. "Although that salad looks delicious."

"It's a Waldorf salad—my grandfather's recipe. We have plenty if you change your mind," Loyola offered.

"Thank you, dear. That's very nice of you." Mrs. Belden opened the refrigerator. "Milk or juice?"

"Juice, please." Loyola took the pitcher from her.

"Enjoy your lunch." Mrs. Belden turned and headed back to the living room. "I'm just going to finish up my ironing."

 

Now that he was alone with Loyola again, Brian swallowed nervously. Things were not going well. He remembered studying at her house in May, at the end of the previous school year, and what a fool he'd made of himself then. He hadn't told anyone about it—he'd been too embarrassed—but he'd stepped on her foot, stabbed her in the arm with his pencil, and managed to spill grape soda on their notes. And yet, she still talked to him, still agreed to do this project with him. Maybe he did have a chance with her.

Well, he might have had a chance with her, if he hadn't been responsible for losing their equipment in the river while nearly drowning her.

He watched her pick at her salad as they ate. "It's good," he commented. "Don't you like it?"

"I've never cared much for apples." She pushed one aside.

He looked down at his salad and then back at her in confusion. "Then why did you put them in?"

She shrugged. "Because we had so many apples at home and I needed a way to use them up. Do you like them?"

"Yeah, sure." He took another bite of the salad. "I think you're delicious. I mean the salad. The salad is delicious."

Loyola frowned. "Beautiful and delicious. If I didn't know better, I'd think you like me, Brian Belden."

Brian's heart pounded in his ears. "Yes. Of course I do. I mean, we're friends, in a way, aren't we?"

"Friends. Sure." She smiled in apparent relief, and then twirled her fork nervously in her hand. "I mean, it's not as if you like me in a girlfriend, dating, going steady way, right?"

He sucked in his breath. "You make it sound like a bad thing. If I did."

"Because it is a bad thing." She dropped her fork, giving up on her salad.

His dark eyes met hers and he knew that it wasn't a bad thing, no matter what other people might think. He may have garbled the words on the river; she may not have understood him, then. This time he was going to state it clearly. He took a deep breath and spoke calmly. "I like you, Loyola. I'd like to go out with you. On a date."

She stared back at him earnestly. "You're joking."

"No, I'm not. I like you ... a lot. A whole lot."

"This is bad." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "This can't happen."

"Why not?"

"Because you're white. And I'm Negro. And that just ... it can't happen." She opened her eyes again, and when she saw that he was still staring at her, she turned away. "I'll switch partners on the project. I think Jesse is working with Todd. You wouldn't mind working with him, would you?"

"Todd." Brian shook his head. "Todd Maurer is smart and all, but I'd rather work with you."

"Brian." Loyola pleaded with him.

"I like you, Loyola. And I'm sorry if ... I'm sorry if I get so flustered around you and make stupid mistakes and can't talk straight." Brian sighed. He really didn't have a chance with her.

"You're talking fine now." She gave him a small smile.

"I am." He hadn't even realized it. "See. I'm not a complete idiot all the time."

"I know. And I wanted to work with you because you're the smartest student in the class, well, except for me, of course." She winked. "And you're cute. And I like you, too."

"You do?" Brian's hopes soared. "Then go out with me. I'll take you to dinner, or do you want to see a movie, or can I, would you please, if you don't have a date yet, let me take you to the Homecoming dance?"

"No, no, and ... no. I like you, but ...."

Of course, the 'but'. "But what?"

"But I like you in that unattainable-crush sort of way. Like Pat Boone or ... or Elvis Presley." She gave him a small smile. "Do you understand?"

"No." He really didn't, and, yet, he did. "It's just because I'm white. Being white doesn't make me unattainable."

"No, it shouldn't." She picked up her fork and started twirling it in her hand. "But it does to me."

"But why?" Brian frowned. "I'm not too good for you just because I'm white. You know that, right?"

"Too good for me?" She laughed out right.

He was glad he'd gotten her to laugh, even if it was at his expense. "Then why?"

"Because of my grandfather, okay?" Her eyes were pleading with him to drop it.

"Your grandfather doesn't like me." He knew that was true. "Why?"

"Why doesn't he like you?" She lowered her eyes briefly and then stared at him. "Don't you get it? It's because you're white."

"Isn't that just bigotry in reverse?" Had he really just asked that? How insensitive could he possibly be? He closed his eyes, bracing himself for an onslaught of anger from her.

"Yes."

He opened his eyes again, slowly. "So, you won't go out with me because I'm white. Your grandfather doesn't like me because I'm white. But ... we can still be friends and work on this project together." He threw in the last bit, hoping she'd forgotten she was going to try to switch partners and work with Jesse.

"I don't think so." She frowned slightly. "I'm sorry, Brian. Could you just take me home after all?"

"Sh-sure." He didn't want to take her home. "Do you need to change back into your old clothes first?"

"Yeah, I'd best do that. Your mom put them in the dryer. I'll go see if they're ready." She got up from the table and headed back to the living room.

Brian stared at the remnants of their lunch and then sighed heavily. He cleaned up the mess, washing out the empty containers. He heard his mom walk into the kitchen, and confirmed it was her when he turned to face her.

"Everything okay?" Moms asked.

"No." He dried the dishes and then arranged the empty containers neatly inside the cooler.

"No?" His mother gazed at him, concerned. "What's wrong?"

He shrugged.

"Is it Loyola? She's in the guest room changing." He thought he saw a hint of a smile around his mom's mouth. "She's not mad at you for dumping her in the river from what I can tell."

"I know." He reached for where he had dropped his car keys earlier.

"Okay." His mom sighed. "She's welcome to stay for dinner."

"Thanks, but she asked me to take her home." Brian frowned.

"Oh, well, maybe she can come over again some other time." Moms gave him that look, the one that said she knew he liked Loyola and wanted her to stay.

"I—" I don't think so. But he wasn't going to give up on her, not that easily. "Maybe." He gave his mom a small smile. "I hope so."

"I hope so, too. She seems like a nice girl." She patted him on the arm lightly. "I'm sure we'll see more of her if you two are working on this project together."

Brian shrugged. "Maybe," he repeated. "Moms?"

"Yes, Brian?"

What do I do if the girl I like likes me back but won't date me because I'm white? No, she seems to think that's okay .... How do I convince a Negro man that a white boy should be allowed to date his granddaughter? He didn't even know how to phrase his question. He wasn't even sure where to start. "Never mind."

 

When he returned to Crabapple Farm after taking Loyola back to her home, the house was full of the usual boisterous noises of the Belden clan. Everyone had returned from the Lynches', apparently, and Trixie and Mart were squabbling over whose turn it was to set the table. Brian sighed, barely acknowledging them as he walked through the kitchen. He was hoping to escape up to the room he shared with Mart, especially since he knew Mart was downstairs and he'd actually have some privacy. His father waylaid those plans.

"Do you have a minute, Brian?" he asked, standing in the doorway of his study.

Brian nodded and tried to look cheerful, or at least normal. "Sure, Dad."

He followed his father into the cozy room. Peter Belden shut the door behind them and gestured for him to sit down.

Brian sat in the chair next to his father's desk. It was the spare dining room chair that had been tucked into his office to keep it out of the way. The other chair that they should've had to make a complete set of eight had been broken long before—he couldn't recall how or why, but it was probably due to him and his brother goofing around.

His father gazed at him thoughtfully. He looked casual and comfortable in his Saturday bowling attire. The pale green polo shirt had a patch above the pocket with his last name and the words "Bank of Sleepyside" embroidered on it; it was his official team shirt even though he hadn't been playing with the league that morning. "Your mother tells me you had a visitor this afternoon."

Of course she did. "Yes, Loyola. She and I were working on a school project together." He couldn't help the small frown at having to use the past tense.

His father may not have picked up on the full meaning of 'were' though. "Your mother thinks she's a lovely girl. Very polite, she tells me, and intelligent."

"Mmm hmm." Brian fiddled with the button on his shirt. It had been coming loose and he knew he should ask Moms to re-sew it before it fell off and got lost. Actually, Honey would probably do it, since Moms paid her to do the mending.

"She's Negro." The simple statement held such weight, but there was a kindness in his father's brown eyes.

"Mmm hmm." He wasn't sure how else to respond; there didn't seem to be much more to say about that.

Peter nodded his head knowingly. "And you like her. I mean, you like her as in you want to go out with her?"

"Mmm hmm."

"Brian?"

"Yes, Dad?" He'd answered all the questions, hadn't he?

"How serious are you about this girl?"

"It doesn't really matter." Brian sighed.

"I think it does." His father leaned forward. "I know we've had 'the talk' and I'm not going to make you sit through that again, but this is slightly different."

Brian stiffened at the words. "Why? Because she's colored?"

"Yes, actually." Peter matched his son's earlier sigh. "It shouldn't make it different, but it does. I just want you to tread very carefully here."

Brian bit down on his words. He watched his father, holding in his initial reaction, waiting for him to explain.

"Other people might not be as accepting of your relationship as your mom and I are." His father must've noticed his defensive posture. He quickly added, "And we are accepting of it, please don't worry about that. But some people might not be. I just want to be sure you're serious about her before you put the two of you through ...."

"Through ...?" Brian knew people might not like it, but he wasn't sure what his father expected to happen. New York wasn't like the states in the south. The thought made him think of Loyola's accent. He still hadn't asked her where she was from.

His father shrugged a shoulder. "I don't know what exactly. Name calling, harassment." He picked up a newspaper from his desk. An article on the desegregation of Arkansas schools was on the front page. "People might throw rocks at you or her."

Brian tried to dismiss his father's concerns. "This isn't Arkansas. Our school's always been integrated." Was she from Arkansas? That might explain her reluctance.

"I know. Thank the Lord things are pretty good here." Peter shook his head sadly, placing the newspaper back down. "But people might see a difference between letting white and colored children go to school together versus letting them go out on a date together." He paused, staring thoughtfully at Brian. "Is she worth it, son? Is she worth putting both of you through any potential trouble?"

He didn't even have to think about it, didn't hesitate even one second. "She's worth it."

"Then you have our full support, no matter what happens." His father stood up and clapped him on the back.

"Great. Can you talk to her grandfather?" Brian asked, a sarcastic edge to his voice.

"Her grandfather?" Peter sat back down.

"He's against it. Because I'm white."

Peter frowned. "And her parents?"

"Died. A car accident, I think." He shifted in his seat. "It's just her and her grandfather."

"How does Loyola feel?" his father asked.

"I'm not sure." Brian shrugged a shoulder. "She says she likes me, too, but that it can't work, because her grandfather won't stand for it. Because I'm white."

"I'm sorry, son." Peter sighed again. "You made me go through that whole bit just to say it doesn't matter anyway? You did try to say that at the beginning, didn't you?"

"So you think I should give up on her then?" Brian shook his head. "I really like her, Dad. I can't just forget about her. I don't want to forget about her."

Peter stared quietly at Brian for a long moment. "I hate to go against the wishes of any parental figure, but in this case—" He sighed again, filling the air with a heaviness. "If you really like her, if you love her, if you think you want to have a future with her, and if you honestly think she feels the same ... if you think there's a real chance for the two of you to be happy together, you should fight for her."

Brian smiled for the first time since he'd taken Loyola home. He would fight for her.


chapter 3: you give me hope