by the edge of the river
 

Chapter 7: Talk About Plans

October 12, 1957

The rain was pouring down, coming at them almost horizontally. The wind had shifted suddenly and then the clouds just let forth a burst of water with no small warning drops.

And there was Loyola, standing in the river, soaked to the bone, looking every bit like some sort of wood nymph or water sprite or something. She had her arms out as she turned around, staring up into the sky, letting the rain wash over her, and all the while a smile lit up her face. Brian stood next to her, watching her, also soaked, but this time with the foresight to remove his shoes and socks before entering the river. Not that it mattered. Both their shoes were getting water logged on the shore anyway.

Loyola laughed, her mouth opening in that wide grin of hers. "This is just great!"

Loyola loved water, she loved rain, she was having the time of her life. And so was he. Now that she had stopped twirling, he tilted his face toward hers and kissed her, right there in the middle of the river, in the middle of a downpour.

Thunder rumbled loudly somewhere not too far away.

"I haven't noticed any lightning—" Loyola started to comment on the storm.

"I've noticed all sorts of lightning every time we kiss," Brian countered.

She rolled her eyes at him. "Seriously, Brian. This storm is moving fast. We'd really better get out of the water."

He recognized the wisdom of such a move. The middle of the river was no place to be standing during an electric storm. "Let's. Do we have everything?" He looked down at his own hands making sure he hadn't dropped anything this time. The bowl of water was there, but he dumped it out, the sample tainted by the rainwater. Luckily they had already fixed two other samples for further tests before the rain had started.

They gathered their things quickly, not bothering to put on their shoes as they dashed to his old jalopy. Once inside, they both started laughing, although Brian couldn't quite say why. She slid over next to him on the bench seat and he put his arm around her while he waited for the car to warm. They started kissing again, but this time he saw a real flash of lightning. Less than three seconds later, they heard the roar of the accompanying thunder. Reluctantly, he pulled away from her and put his hands on the wheel. "We'd better go. That was pretty close."

She nodded in agreement. "How far to your house?"

"Just a couple of miles. We'll be there in no time." He put the key in the ignition but didn't turn it.

Loyola touched his arm.

"I don't want to leave." Brian admitted to her. "I just want to stay here, by the river, so I can be with you." She smiled at him, and it gave him the courage to say more. "I want to stay here and hold your hand and kiss you and just be yours."

"Me, too." She placed her hand in his again, intertwining their fingers. "I just don't think I can handle the snide remarks, the hate ...."

Brian leaned his head against the seat back and gazed softly at her. "I wish I could handle all that for you."

Loyola snorted softly. "Right. Because you can handle that so well. That's why you started that fight with Bill."

"But he ... he said—" Brian laughed with her. "Okay, so maybe I don't handle it so well."

Another burst of lightning seemed to flash right in front of them and the roar of thunder followed almost instantly.

"Let's get to your house. We'll work this out somehow, but not here and now," Loyola said.

Loyola was being practical, which is one of the things he liked about her, usually. He reluctantly let go of her hand so he could shift the gear out of park.

The windshield wipers were going full blast and the visibility was next to nothing even though the sun hadn't yet set. True to his word, in spite of having to drive so slowly, he was pulling onto Glen Road just five minutes later.

He reached out to open the kitchen door of Crabapple Farm when Loyola started laughing again. "What is your mom going to think this time?" She gestured to the shoes he was carrying in one hand, hers and his, and to their bare feet.

Brian shrugged good-naturedly as he pulled open the door. "We'll see in a minute."

Inside, the kitchen was warm and cozy as usual. The copper utensils hanging along the wall reflected the light from the overhead lamp, turned on at such an early hour because of the gray skies outside. His mom was standing near the stove, a pot-holder in one hand, but she turned around at the sound of them entering. "Oh, Brian! I'm so glad you're home. I was starting to get worried."

"Sorry, Moms. We probably should've left earlier, but we wanted to try to get samples from at least three spots along the river today." Brian took Loyola's sweater, heavy with dampness, from her and hung it on a coat hook by the door.

"You have got to stop bringing her over soaking wet." Mrs. Belden winked. She gestured to where Brian had hung her sweater. "Don't bother with that. It looks like it should go in the dryer. You both look like you should go into the dryer. Too bad that's not possible." She grinned at her own joke as she approached them. "Loyola, dear, you are staying for dinner, right? The storm is getting worse and there's no way you can go home anytime soon."

"Yes, ma'am." Loyola smiled back at her. "But I need to call my grandfather so he won't worry. Are the phone lines still working?"

"As far as I know." She took the wet sweater off the hook and held it out gingerly, trying to keep it from dripping on anything important. "Oh, this is wool. It can't go in the dryer. I'll lay it out flat to dry somewhere."

While Loyola spoke to her grandfather, Mrs. Belden took the sweater and left the kitchen. Brian heard her call up the stairs for Trixie and Mart. Their heavy footsteps echoed loudly through the house as the two summoned teens galloped down the steps, making it hard to hear Loyola's conversation. Brian couldn't tell if that conversation was going well or not as all she kept saying was "Yes, Papa" and "No, Papa", but then she looked over at him and smiled.

"Trixie," his mom was saying as everyone returned to the kitchen, "when Loyola finishes on the phone, take her to your room and find her something dry to wear." Then she turned to his brother. "Mart, I'm hoping your father will be home any minute, although I'm not sure how he'll get here in this weather, but, meanwhile, can you lay out a fire and get it started? Your brother and his friend need to get warmed up and that seems the best way to take care of that."

His siblings murmured their consent to their new chores just as Loyola was hanging up the phone. She glanced at Brian and then at Mrs. Belden. "Papa says I can stay for dinner and he apologizes for any inconvenience I'm putting you through." She frowned slightly, and then hastily added, "And I do, too. I'm sorry for troubling you."

"It's no trouble at all. I was hoping you'd stay for dinner, anyway." Mrs. Belden ushered her to follow Trixie upstairs. "But if the weatherman on the radio is right, you may need to call him back and ask to stay the night. I don't think this storm is going to let up until well after midnight."

"If you do have to sleep over, there are twin beds in my room, so you can stay with me." Trixie's blond curls bounced up and down as she headed quickly up the stairs with Loyola right behind her.

Brian wished he could listen in on their conversation. Who knew what Trixie might say to Loyola? Who knew what Loyola might say to his sister? But he tried not to worry about it as he trudged up the stairs to his own room to change. Pleasant thoughts drifted through his mind: thoughts of Loyola spending the night and then having breakfast with him in the morning. He seriously hoped the storm would last the entire weekend—just bad enough to make it unsafe to drive her home, but not so bad as to cause any serious damage.

 

Brian's mother was a matchmaker by nature. After all, she'd gotten Di to kiss Mart on the cheek earlier in the year and those two were practically going steady. And now she had arranged for him and Loyola to sit quietly together in front of a roaring fire while his brothers and sister were in the kitchen and dining room getting everything ready for dinner.

"Your family's really nice," Loyola commented. She was wearing one of Trixie's old dresses, a deep navy blue knit fabric with a white lace collar and long sleeves. It looked really pretty on her; much prettier than it ever had on his sister.

"Thanks. I think we're a fairly nice bunch." He winked. "Are you warm enough?"

She nodded. "Warm and dry." The fire crackled in agreement with her.

"I had fun today." It was a pointless thing to say, probably, but he wanted her to know.

"Me, too." She inched closer to the fire, turning her back to it slightly. "It was a good day. I'm surprised we got so much work done."

"Hi, Brian! Who's your friend? I have a friend whose skin is brown like yours," Bobby announced, barreling into the room and darting from one person to the next in a way only Bobby Belden could.

"Really?" Loyola looked up at him, her eyes widened with surprise. Brian wasn't sure if it was due to Bobby's sudden and unexpected entrance or by the actual statement.

"His name's Jerry. Jerry, Larry, Terry, and I all hang out together at recess, even though Jerry and I are in second grade and Larry and Terry are only in first grade." Bobby paused a moment. "It makes me wish my name was Barry instead of Bobby. I'm sort of the odd one out in our group."

Mrs. Belden marched in behind him and mouthed an apology for the interruption. Then she turned her focus back on the youngest Belden, roughing up his hair gently. "Well, we're not changing your name, young man, but you should invite him over some time. Now, let your brother and his guest alone and come help set the table like you're supposed to."

Bobby grumbled a bit under his breath but followed his mom back out of the room.

Loyola started giggling. "Your family is really nice."

"You said that already," Brian couldn't help commenting, but he smiled at her in relief.

She glanced back at the doorway. "He'd make a good Barry, your little brother. He looks kind of like a Barry with all those wild blond curls." She looked around uncomfortably for a few seconds and then smiled up at him. "Is he the owner of the Superman pencil box?"

Brian put a finger up to his mouth. "Shh! He doesn't know I borrowed it, and if he does find out, he'll suddenly want it back, even though he hasn't used it once."

"Borrowing without asking? In my world, we call that stealing." Loyola tried to frown but her eyes were dancing with laughter.

"He doesn't even read Superman comics or like Superman all that much," Brian protested. "It's not like he picked it out himself. It was a gift from our Uncle Mart."

Loyola laughed again. "Well, I can't promise your secret's safe with me, but I'll try not to mention it again."

"What's with all the noise in here?" a deep voice asked from the doorway. "Sounds like you two are having too much fun."

Brian turned around, wondering if they would ever get any privacy, but he tried not to show his annoyance at yet another interruption. "Hi, Dad. This is Loyola. Loyola, my dad."

Loyola stood up and nodded to his father. "Hi, Mr. Belden. It's nice to meet you."

"Likewise. I've heard—" He paused mid-sentence at Brian's warning glance, but then ignored it, giving his son a wink. "I've heard lots of nice things about you. You're staying for dinner, I hope? It's raining cats and dogs out there."

"I am, thank you."

"Speaking of dogs, where's Reddy?" Mr. Belden looked around the room cautiously.

"Last I saw him, he was sprawled out asleep on the rug in the kitchen," Brian replied.

His father settled into his arm chair, not even bothering to change out of his work suit. "That's a pretty dress. I think Trixie has one just like it. You didn't go out to work on the river wearing that, did you?"

Brian repressed a sigh. He should've known better than to expect any real privacy in his house. But it didn't matter. Loyola was here and she was staying for dinner. He couldn't help the smile that formed at the thought.

 

Grace was said, followed by a chorus of pleases and thank yous as dishes were passed around the table. Then, for just a moment, the Belden clan and Loyola were actually silent as they all dug into the delicious chicken, potatoes, and a cheesy broccoli and mushroom casserole—the only way Bobby would eat his vegetables without a fight was if they were covered in cheese. It didn't take long for the conversation to start flowing again, though.

Mr. Belden apparently hadn't grilled her enough in the living room before dinner. "So, Loyola, Brian mentioned you were hoping to attend Barnard next year."

"Yes, sir." Loyola didn't offer anything further on the school, probably because her mouth was full.

"Brian's planning on going to Columbia, which is near there, aren't you, Brian?" Mr. Belden smiled proudly at his oldest son.

Brian nodded. "I hope so. Neil and I are going to go over our applications and get them sent off early next month. Neil will probably get that fencing scholarship to help cover the costs. I'm still waiting to hear back on a scholarship, too."

"Neil?" Loyola thought over the name. "I don't know any Neils in the senior class at Sleepyside."

"Oh, sorry, no, you don't know him." Brian reached for his glass of milk and then continued after taking a sip. "He lives in Brooklyn. I met him the summer before last when we were both counselors at some camps upstate."

"Neil and Brian are both going into pre-med. Are you planning on being a doctor, too, Loyola?" Mr. Belden asked.

"No. Well, not a medical doctor, anyway." Loyola dabbed her mouth with her napkin before continuing. "I'm going to study Marine Biology and I'd like to think that maybe I'll get a PhD, someday." She seemed embarrassed at revealing her future dream. "It's why this project is so important to me. Anyway, I've been offered a scholarship already and Barnard has offered to match the dollars up to a certain amount, provided I maintain my grades in math and science."

"That's great!" Trixie grinned. "I don't know how I'll ever get to college with my grades, but I still have a few years yet to worry about it."

"You need to worry about it now," Mrs. Belden corrected gently. "Your grades for this year are just as important as your future years' will be." She turned back to Loyola and Brian. "I didn't know schools would do that. Maybe Columbia would also match scholarship funds. Is that something you can look into?"

Brian shook his head. "This is the first time I've heard of anything like that."

"I don't think so. I mean, it doesn't hurt to ask, but when Barnard contacted my grandfather about it, it was part of a program to enroll more colored people in the college. I think the money is actually funded through the United Negro College Fund or maybe the N.A.A.C.P." Loyola shrugged her shoulders, a sheepish smile adorning her face. "I don't think Brian would qualify for that."

"Oh, no, I suppose not," Mrs. Belden commented.

"No, he wouldn't," Mr. Belden affirmed with a wink. "But I think it's great that the college has a program like that."

"What's the in double a sea pea?" Bobby asked around a mouthful of potatoes.

"Don't talk with your mouth full," Mrs. Belden immediately admonished.

"It stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People," Mart announced. "It's aim is to establish justice and equality for people of color."

"Oh." Bobby seemed confused by the answer but didn't follow up with any further questions.

"So, Barnard has already accepted you?" Brian wished he could squeeze her hand under the table. "I hope Columbia will accept me. It'll be nice having another friend so close to campus right from the start."

Loyola gave him a small smile. "Like I said, it's contingent upon my grades. I'm hoping it all works out."

"Me, too." Brian fantasized briefly about strolling across both of the college campuses with Loyola while holding her hand, no grandfather to complain about it, no ignorant high school students causing trouble. Surely college students in New York City would be more progressively minded, wouldn't they? Me, too, he thought again.


chapter 8: the boy's got a date