by the edge of the river
 

Chapter 6: To the Passing River

October 12, 1957

He was back in front of her house. He couldn't believe it had only been a week since he last stood there; it seemed like so much had happened. He had Bobby's Superman pencil box with him again and a small notebook to record the data, and Loyola had taken charge of the new beakers and test tubes Mrs. Cowles had given them. There was definitely a sense of déjà vu.

She came to the door wearing an outfit similar to the previous weekend: comfortable, casual, and this time with a cardigan over her blouse. She barely looked at him as they walked back to his car, and he was pretty sure she was wishing she didn't have to do this.

"Where are we going?" Loyola asked, in lieu of any kind of greeting.

He wondered if they should go back to the same spot on the river or try somewhere else this time around. Last week hadn't gone particularly well, though, so maybe a change of scenery was in order. "I was thinking we'd go almost all the way up to the dam. Well, not all the way to the dam. The water would be too rough to go in right by the dam, but further down where the water's more calm."

"Okay. And let's be more organized about it this time." She huddled against the passenger side of the door, placing her Coca Cola cooler on the seat in between them.

Brian started the car and headed out of town. They drove in silence for a while until he just couldn't stand it anymore. "Loyola?"

"Hmm?" She kept her face turned away from him, staring out her window.

"That kiss in the cafeteria—"

"Shouldn't have happened," she interrupted before he could say anything more. "Can we pretend it didn't and just deal with this project?"

"No, I don't think I can." Brian glanced at her as he turned down another road, following the river up to the reservoir. "I don't want to, anyway." He could never forget that kiss. There was no way he could just pretend it hadn't happened. He'd thought about it day and night since that fateful afternoon. It had been the first truly meaningful kiss he'd ever shared with a girl, one he could swear he'd felt all the way down to his toes. He only hoped it meant something to her. He was terrified that it hadn't. "Can you honestly tell me you didn't feel anything when we kissed?"

She didn't respond. That had to mean that the kiss did mean something to her. Didn't it?

He pulled the car off the road into a small dirt clearing and shifted the gear into park. "Loyola, you like me, don't you? You said you did. So why won't you give us a chance?"

"I told you, Brian. White and Negro don't mix." She finally looked at him. He wondered if she could see the hurt he felt at her words, because her expression softened. "I brought some of that salad you like so much. No apple seeds; promise."

He managed a small smile. "Thanks." But he didn't care about Waldorf salad. He took a deep breath, wondering once again if he was just making a fool of himself. "Loyola, I can't get that kiss out of my mind."

She turned away from him. "Try."

No. Not unless you tell me it didn't mean anything to you. Not unless you convince me you don't feel the same. But he didn't say those words. Instead, he got out of the car, trying to push down his feelings and to focus on their science project. He went around to her side and opened her door, a little surprised she hadn't just gotten out on her own.

"Oh, are we here?" Loyola took his hand briefly as she stepped out, and then she looked around the clearing. "Where's the river?"

"Just through those trees." He pointed across the road before reaching into the car for the cooler. He wanted to hold her hand again—really, he wanted to kiss her again—but he didn't dare.

Loyola seemed nervous as she followed him along the narrow path. But once the trees cleared and they were just a few steps away from the bank of the river, she ran ahead of him. "Oh, wow, Brian. This spot is beautiful!"

The river was at one of its wider points, and the water seemed choppy in the wind that had picked up. The sunshine that managed to filter through the clouds building up above reflected onto the surface, allowing the water to sparkle and mirror the scenery around them. The green of the water ranged from light to dark due to the shadows of the overhanging trees which showed all their beautiful fall colors—the oranges and reds contrasting with the light gray of the sky and the green of the river. It really was a beautiful spot.

Brian barely noticed. His heart thumped wildly in his chest. His eyes were on Loyola, and she was the only beauty he saw.

He hurried to catch up with her, placing the cooler on the ground. "How do you want to do this?"

She sat down on a nearby rock and rolled her pants up just past her knees. "I don't mind wading in again, but I'll take everything with me. You can stay here and record everything."

"Are you sure?" That didn't seem fair to him. She'd be doing a lot of the work.

But Loyola nodded. "I can take the temperatures and do a pH test. Then I'll bring the large bowl of water here to shore and we can work together on doing the dissolved oxygen and fixing the other water samples we'll need for the other tests. Okay?"

"All right," Brian agreed.

"And we should try to go to a second spot today and repeat everything there. That way we'll have at least two points of comparison, since we need at least five days for the samples to sit for the biochemical oxygen demand results."

Loyola chattered on about the procedures and expected results, but Brian had a hard time concentrating. He couldn't hear her words, only the sound of the river rushing past in the background. He could see the sparkle in her eyes, the fullness of her lips, and all he could think about was that kiss they'd shared.

Barely aware of what he was doing, when Loyola reached down for the bowl and the bottles they'd brought along for the experiments, Brian reached for her shoulder, stopping her.

"What?" Loyola asked, standing back up.

He leaned in and kissed her with some trepidation. He half-expected her to slap him, hit him, kick him even, and he was sure he would deserve it if she did.

When she didn't, he relaxed and prolonged the kiss. It felt like electricity was buzzing through his veins. It felt good. She wrapped her hands around his neck and pulled him closer. He tightened his hold on her shoulder, his other hand stroking her hair, as he deepened the kiss, letting his tongue dance with hers.

Eventually, she broke the spell and ended the kiss. "Brian, this is crazy." Loyola put her hand on his chest, as if to push him away, but she didn't actually push.

He felt his heart pounding under her hand. He wondered if she could feel it, too. "Maybe, but I'm crazy about you."

"How can we do this?" She sighed.

He reached a hand out and caressed her cheek. "The same way any other two people do this?"

"No. Not the same way at all." She moved out of his arms and started pacing. "Things were just dying down at school. I didn't get any harassing notes and none of my property was vandalized the last two days. Things were starting to be fine again."

"How bad had it gotten?"

She shook her head. "It wasn't too bad. Wednesday was the worst."

Brian shifted his weight from one foot to the other, nervous about her response. He should've realized that while he was getting hassled with some name calling, Loyola was probably getting much worse treatment. "What did the notes say? What did they do to your stuff?"

"It doesn't matter—" Loyola tried to dismiss his concerns.

"It does matter." He gazed into her eyes. "It matters to me."

She shrugged a shoulder as she stared at the ground. "Just stuff. Writing nasty remarks on my books and things like that. But since I've been ignoring you, those boys have left me alone."

"Which boys?" Brian was ready to pummel them into the ground for bothering her. He already knew it was likely Mike or Jerry—the same two that had been most vocal in calling him names. Or maybe it was Bill and some of his friends with their lewd comments.

"The real problem is Papa." Loyola chose not to answer him and diverted the conversation. "He won't understand."

"He doesn't like me." Brian repeated the words he'd told her the previous week. But now he knew a little bit more of Loyola's and her grandfather's history.

"He doesn't hate you. But if he finds out I'm seeing a white boy, he'll flip his top." The left leg of her jeans started to unroll, falling below her knee, while the right leg was still rolled up above the knee.

The uneven cuffs were distracting to Brian as he watched her traipse back and forth, but he suddenly realized she was implying they were an item. He couldn't help but smile.

"Don't smile. It's not funny."

"No, it's not." The smile didn't leave his face.

She paused in her pacing and stared out at the river. "We can keep it a secret from him, can't we?"

"I don't want to keep us a secret, Loyola." He wanted to shout for joy from the rooftop of the Rockefeller Center. He also wanted to scream in frustration. "So, this means I can't take you to the dance?"

"No!" She turned around to face him and repeated the word softly. "No. No dances, no holding hands in school, we can't let anyone know."

"That's not—"

"At least not for now. Please, Brian?" Her eyes were filled with fear. "When we're someplace like this where no one is around and no one will see us, that's okay. But at school it has to be like it was."

He wished for more, but he tried to be understanding. He worried about just what she'd been dealing with at school—and why she hadn't let him know. "Can I still sit at your table with you and Shirley? Or would you ever consider sitting at my table with the Bob-Whites?"

"I guess you can sit at our table. You have been all week." She flashed a small smile at him. "I don't think I can sit at your table, though. That would cause too much talk."

He knew she meant trouble, not just talk. He walked over to her and grabbed her hands. "Promise me we won't have to hide our feelings forever."

"Not forever. But at least for now. Okay?"

It wasn't okay, not really. "Okay." He kissed her and that did make everything better, at least in that brief moment.

She leaned her head against his shoulder. "I'll work on my grandfather. If I can convince him, then I don't care what happens at school."

He took the small bit of hope and pocketed it, but, short of her grandfather dying—and he certainly didn't want that—he didn't see how he'd ever change his mind about a white boy.

"We should get started. On the water." She maneuvered out of his arms and then bent down and re-rolled the errant pant leg.

He walked back over to the equipment, picked up the thermometer and the bowl, and handed them to her, but he couldn't focus on the ecology project. His mind was on his budding relationship with the beautiful girl standing next to the river.

 

They collected some water samples they needed and fixed some samples for the tests they couldn't perform directly in the field. The work only took about forty five minutes of their time, but Brian didn't feel like leaving. Truth be told, he was scared to leave. He was afraid that whatever magic had happened in that small clearing, as soon as they left, Loyola would act like they weren't together again.

"I think we're all done here," Loyola commented, looking around the clearing sadly, as if she, too, was reluctant to leave.

"Yep." Brian had just finished labeling the last of their water samples and packed them carefully into the cardboard box. He sat down on a wide boulder and then grabbed Loyola's hands, pulling her down next to him. He liked the way their hands looked together, her dark fingers intertwined with his pale ones. And he liked the way it felt even more, the way her skin was so soft against his.

"Brian, we still have to collect more samples from other spots along the river," Loyola reminded him, but she didn't pull away. She leaned in against him and he put his arm around her shoulder.

"Would you come home with me later and eat dinner with us?" he asked quietly.

"My grandfather's expecting me." She frowned. "The wind's really picked up. There might be a storm coming."

"And if we take a long time here or at the next spot, that storm might make it unsafe to drive you home, so you'll have to stay and have dinner with me." Brian lifted her chin and stole a quick kiss.

"I do enjoy watching the river during a storm. It reminds me of home." She smiled up at him.

"Tennessee?"

"Yeah." She gazed out at the water, a peacefully dreamy expression on her face. "Momma and I used to love to sit together by the Tennessee, especially when it was raining. The water would get all dark and turbulent, swirling in so many different directions at once. You could hear the water churning and sometimes it sounded like voices." She glanced up at him, smiling sheepishly. "You probably think I'm nuts."

"No. I wish I could've met her—your mom." He hoped it was okay to say that, because he wasn't really sure what to say.

"She would've been okay with this, with us." A small frown crossed Loyola's brow. "Not Daddy, though. And my brother, Albert, he'd have pounded you into the sand for even looking at me. But things were different there. Maybe if they had moved here ...." She twitched her shoulders and then suddenly switched subjects. "Are you sure it's okay? If I go to your house for dinner?"

Her reluctance to talk more about her past was disappointing, but he could imagine how difficult it must be to lose one's parents. He silently counted his blessings as he thought of all the people he knew who had been orphaned. Still, his smile came easily as he answered her. "More than okay. My mom is hoping you'll show up. She really likes you."

"Really? Well, that's not surprising." She winked at him. "I am polite, and smart, and pretty, and—"

"And so modest and humble," Brian added, kissing her again. Eventually, and reluctantly, he pulled away. "We really should head down stream and see if we can get some more samples before the storm reaches us."

"We should. I hope the next place you take us to is as quiet as this one." She put her hand in his. "This has been nice."

He squinted up at the sky. "On a warm, clear day, we'd probably run into other people, but the way the weather's changing so fast, we might get lucky and have some more time alone."


chapter 7: talk about plans