by the edge of the river
 

Chapter 8: The Boy's Got a Date

October 14, 1957

If Brian had thought school would be any different after the glorious Saturday he'd spent with Loyola, he thought wrong. She barely acknowledged him in class, looking away any time he tried to catch her eye. If he didn't know better, if things were different, he might have thought she was playing some kind of game. But he knew how scared she was, truly scared, at any retaliation she might get for going out with a white boy.

It was frustrating. It was ridiculous. There was no reason to be scared. This was New York—and not even a rural farming community of upstate New York, but a suburb of bustling New York City. They were just a quick train ride away from Manhattan. Sleepyside was modern, forward-thinking, wasn't it? He sighed just as the bell rang. The sound jostled him into movement. He left his books at his desk and quickly stood up, reaching the door before Loyola could leave.

"About the project," he started.

She looked up at him and he could see the worry in her eyes, but now he saw something else as well. Her expression was softer than usual, and he was sure she was remembering Saturday, too.

"I, uh, was wondering if you'd have time to meet me after school so we could work on the project." He held his breath as he waited for her answer.

"I guess so." She smiled back at him briefly. "We do need to start putting together all our data points into charts and writing the actual report."

"Great!" And then he frowned. "I, uh, have detention after school, but if you could wait for me, then maybe we can go to the library downtown. They'll still be open."

Her eyes twinkled, and he was sure she was holding in laughter at his expense. "Yeah, detention."

"So, I'll meet you at four then?" He could get through detention easily if he knew she'd be there, waiting for him.

"Oh, sorry, no. I can't today. Not that late. Let me talk to my grandfather, first." She moved out of the way to let another student pass. "I'll let you know tomorrow what day works."

"Fair enough." He wanted to add that he'd see her at lunch, but she was already on her way down the hall. He went back to his desk to gather his own things before heading to his next class.

When he turned back around, Jesse Sherman was standing right in front of him. The basketball player glanced at the door, even though Loyola was long gone. "Don't cause trouble for her."

"I'm not," Brian stated.

"That's not what I hear." Jesse frowned. "I like her, Belden. She's smart, pretty, confident ... and she's a really nice girl."

"I know." Brian wanted to add that he liked her, too, for the same reasons and more.

Jesse's eyes bore into his as if the colored boy were trying to read his mind. "I don't know what you're thinking, trying to chase after her like this. Why don't you set your sights on a white girl? Leave Loyola alone."

Brian gazed evenly into the taller guy's dark eyes. "Loyola can make her own choices."

Jesse shook his head. "Just watch it, Belden. You're a decent guy, but you're making a big mistake."

Brian sighed as the other boy walked away with long strides. He hadn't expected that reaction from someone he used to think of as a friend, if only because they'd been on the basketball team together.

 

Wednesday. The day she could stay after school was Wednesday. Today. Brian had spoken to her at lunch and she'd confirmed again that she would be at the library at four o'clock that day. He sat in detention, watching the clock, waiting for 3:45 to hit so he'd be free.

Detention wasn't that bad, actually. He'd been worried about it, never having experienced it before. He thought it would be full of rough and tough boys—not that Sleepyside Junior Senior High had many of those—and they'd make fun of the clean-cut, goody-two-shoe newcomer, namely himself. In reality, there were only two people in the room he recognized as part of the "bad" crowd, and no one, not even Bill Wright, well, except for glaring at him on that first day, paid him any mind. A few of the kids just slept with their heads on the desk, one was reading a novel, and another looked like he might actually be working on homework.

Detention finally ended and he was free to go meet Loyola. He didn't even have to stop by his locker, having grabbed his science notebook before detention had started. He scooped up his books and headed for the door, finally on his way.

She had said she'd feel more comfortable meeting him at the library, so he didn't look around or wait for her. He simply jumped on his bicycle—not being allowed to drive for two weeks was part of his parents' punishment for getting into a fight at school—and headed downtown. But once he got to the library, he grew nervous. He didn't see her out front anywhere, but then she'd said she'd meet him inside the building.

He parked the bike and walked in quickly, waving hello to the librarian behind the desk. But Loyola wasn't inside the library, either. He knew he was probably early and shouldn't worry. He grabbed a table and then opened up his notebook, going through his notes on the different tests they had performed in the labs during class.

A soft thunk of books being dropped on his table caused him to look up. She was finally there. "Hi."

"Hi." She glanced around nervously and then pulled her notebook from the stack after she sat down. "We should compare our notes before we start writing. How do you want to divide up the work?"

He was sure he was supposed to answer her, but memories of kissing her sweet lips kept crowding his mind.

"Brian?" She shook her head and then waved a hand in front of his face. "Hello?"

"Right ... work ... project." He reached for his notes. "If you hand me your notes on the test results, I'll kiss them to—"

"Focus, Brian." She winked. "On the project, not on me."

"Right." Brian stared at her in confusion. "Like I said, if you'll give me your test results, I'll add them to my charts and draw up some graphs."

"Okay." Loyola was grinning, and he wasn't sure why, but he liked it. "I'll work on writing up the hypothesis and the procedures."

"Oh, I already wrote out the procedures." He flipped through his notebook and then opened it to hand her his work. "Look this over and feel free to add to it or change it."

She scanned the page. "This is great. We might actually get done early."

"If we do, maybe you'd let me take you to Wimpy's for a milkshake before heading home?" He gazed at her hopefully, imagining the two of them snuggling next to each other in one of the booths of the popular diner.

"Maybe I should take you for a milkshake." She nodded at the page he'd handed her. "To thank you for all this. You're very thorough."

"Are you asking me out, Miss Kevins?" He reached for her hand. "I accept."

She snatched her hand back and glanced around them nervously, only relaxing when she realized the librarian was the only one there, and she was busy with her own work behind the desk, not paying attention to the two love birds. "You know I'm just kidding, right? We can't really go to Wimpy's together."

"Why not? We'd just be two friends grabbing a shake on the way home. What's wrong with that?"

"I ... I guess so. But ... are you sure?"

"Of course. Just friends, at least in public, right?" He tried to smile, but it still bothered him that they couldn't be open about their feelings for each other, even though he understood her reasoning. He wondered again just how much she had been harassed. He had tried to find out at school, but no one he knew had any information, and he knew if he asked one of her friends, it would get back to her and she'd probably get upset.

"Friends." She smiled back at him. "But, in private, maybe friends who hold hands?"

"Friends who kiss?" He could at least try for it, he thought.

"Just get to work." She pushed her glasses up on her nose and then bent her head over her notebook, ending any other flirtatious talk he might have had the nerve to try out on her.

 

They put in a solid hour and half of work on the report. When Brian wrapped up his part of the assignment, he looked up at her, writing away. A cursory glance around the room revealed no one else around to bother them, and he leaned over, intending to steal a quick kiss.

"Brian!" Loyola glared at him before he got close enough. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Uh, nothing." He grinned. "Are you at a good stopping point?"

She nodded, even though she kept writing. "Five minutes."

He put his own things away, neatly organized into his binder. Then he waited patiently for maybe another half a minute. It would be getting dark out in less than an hour. "So, what about that milkshake?"

Loyola glanced up at him and then back down at her work. "I really think we'd better not."

"Why not?" He drummed his fingers on the table, anxious. "Just as friends."

"I ... I'm sorry, Brian." She stopped writing and then quickly put all her own things away. "I wish I could. Maybe if we went some other time, with a group?"

He wondered how long he'd be able to wait for her to have the courage he did about the two of them, the faith he had that this town would prove to be accepting. But would it be? For just a second or two, he hated Bill Wright and Mike Larson and all the nameless people like them. Hate wasn't something he was used to feeling. It made his stomach churn and he wanted to vomit.

Loyola stood up and then waited for him, watching him with concern.

He forced the uncomfortable feeling aside and gave her a small smile. "Can I at least walk you home?"

"I'd like that." She smiled back. Everything felt right again.

 

He walked with her down Albany Post Road, holding the handlebars of his bike with one hand. Both of their books were stacked into the wire basket in front. He had offered to give her a ride—either on his seat or his handlebars—but, of course, she'd refused. She lived on the opposite side of the school from the library, and, as they approached Sleepyside Junior-Senior High, he sensed her stiffening her posture. It was only after they'd gone a block past it that she seemed to relax again.

Just as they were turning onto her road, he had an idea—one he hoped she would go for. "Listen, Loyola, I know you won't go out with me here, in Sleepyside, but what if—?"

She stopped walking and turned to him, shaking her head. "Brian, it's not just Sleepyside. It's not our classmates or the residents of this town. It's Papa."

"Hear me out, at least, please?"

She nodded. "Sorry, I should've let you finish."

"Thanks." He took a breath and tried again. "What if I took you somewhere where your skin color, my skin color, didn't matter?"

She frowned in disbelief. "Is there such a place?"

He hoped so. He had some ideas, or, rather, he hoped Dan would know of some places in Manhattan, maybe in Harlem, but he didn't want to say anything until he was sure. "I think so. I need to look into it, but, if I could find such a place, would you go with me? We could even bring your grandfather along to chaperone—so he could see for himself that it was okay."

"I don't know, Brian. You're not making much sense again. I wish you'd be clearer." She gazed up at him and then giggled before she turned to resume walking. "You know, if I understand you right, you just asked my grandfather out on a date with us, only you won't say where this mysterious place is."

Date! She acknowledged it would be a date. "I know. I shouldn't have said anything, and I don't want to say anything more until I have more details." He sighed. "Would he go for it, though?"

"How can I even ask him when I don't know where you're planning on taking us?" She laughed a little louder. "Why is it I let you talk me into these crazy ideas of yours?"

"Because you liiike me." He grinned at her, but then sobered. "And it's not really a crazy idea for two seniors in high school who like each other to go on a date, you know? Sounds perfectly normal."

She stopped and gazed at him for what felt like a long time and then finally started walking again.

He followed her, still clutching his bike with one hand. "It is normal. Going on dates. With the guy you like. Isn't it?"

She nodded slowly. "I'll ask him. I'll ask Papa if I can go out with you, on a date. And I'll only add the part about him coming along if he resists." She winked. "Because it is not normal to bring one's grandfather along on a date with a cute guy that one likes."

They were almost at her house when the fact that she'd called him cute suddenly registered. Brian grabbed her arm, stopping her before she turned onto the driveway for her row of apartments. Then he leaned in to kiss her. Surprisingly, she let him. The bike in his hand wobbled precariously and he had to grab it with his other hand to keep it from falling over. "Thank you."

She grinned back at him. "He hasn't said yes."

"Tell him it's my birthday. I mean, my birthday is coming up next week, and I really want to celebrate it with you this weekend. Especially since we're not going to the dance together. Maybe that will help?" He shrugged a shoulder, giving her a sheepish smile.

 

At home, Brian picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number, hoping his friend would be there.

"He-llo!" The sing-songy voice that answered the phone could belong to only one of the residents of that home.

"Hi, Mrs. Diamond. This is Brian Belden. Is Dan available?"

"Hold on, Brian. I'll get him for you."

He heard the phone being placed on a hard surface. A few seconds later, Dan picked up the receiver. "Brian?"

"Dan, I need your help."

There was no response.

"Dan?" Brian asked, almost frantic.

"Yeah, I'm here. And I'm wondering what you would need my help with. Usually if you call, you talk to Neil." Dan sounded amused at the idea of Brian needing his help. "What's going on?"

"I want to take Loyola out." Brian couldn't help smiling as he said the words, knowing she was actually considering it.

"And ...?"

"And I need to take her someplace where we won't run into anybody from Sleepyside," he explained. He still wasn't happy about this arrangement, but he hoped if he took her somewhere outside of town, somewhere they wouldn't be recognized, maybe she'd go for it. That is, if her grandfather approved.

"You don't want anyone to know you're dating?" Dan sounded concerned—almost angry.

"I want to take out a front page ad in the newspaper and proclaim my love for her. She doesn't want anyone to know about it, and her grandfather probably wants to forbid it." He tapped his fingers on the kitchen table, the phone nestled under his chin.

"That's tough." Dan paused. "And I thought I was in a bad place with Honey's parents."

"Tell me about it." Brian sighed. "Anyway, I need to make a good impression. And I'm hoping I can convince Loyola that it really is okay for us to date, that we won't get struck down by lightning, the world won't end, nothing horrible will happen."

"Okay. So, how can I help?" He could hear the confusion in Dan's voice.

"I was hoping you'd know of some place I could take her where the crowd is more ... mixed." He crossed his fingers. He knew Dan knew a lot of places in Manhattan and maybe one of them would be someplace he could actually take Loyola.

"You understand 'mixed' usually means mostly colored and a few token whites, or maybe the other way around? Although," Dan paused in thought, "there are a few places that draw a crowd from both races."

"Yes. Like where?" Brian knew Dan would come through for him.

Dan hesitated for a moment before finally answering. "There's this pizza place over by the Apollo. It's where I went to meet Teddy and Unay. It's a pretty popular teen hangout and the crowd is very mixed: whites, Negros, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, you name it."

Perfect. "Sounds great. Just the kind of thing I was looking for. What's the Apollo?"

"A theater in Harlem. Not a movie theater, but live acts. Comedians, variety shows, bands, that sort of thing. Check the newspaper to see who's playing there. Sometimes they restrict the ages depending on the act, but maybe you could take her there and then over to Al's Pizzeria after."

"Okay." Brian wrote down the names on a piece of paper. "What about jazz? I think her grandfather is into it and it wouldn't hurt for me to be able to talk about it if I do have to talk to him. He ... uh ... there's a small, well, maybe big, chance he may come along."

Brian yanked the phone away from his ear as laughter erupted from the other end.

"Dan?"

"Yeah, I'm still here." He tried to stop laughing, or, at least, Brian thought he was trying to stop. "Did I hear you right? You have to bring her grandfather on your date?"

"Maybe. Hopefully not." He sighed. Why had he mentioned the idea to Loyola before thinking it through?

"All right." Dan's laughter finally died down. "Jazz ... What do you need to know about jazz? Just listen to it and enjoy."

Brian snorted. "What if I want to take her—them—to dinner at some kind of jazz club instead?"

Dan let out another small snort, threatening to laugh out right again. "You're underage."

"So are you, yet you, Mart, and Neil went to Minton's that one time," Brian pointed out.

"True enough." Dan paused, presumably in thought. "So, you need a family-friendly place to take her where they serve dinner and play jazz and that has a mixed clientele? Well, the Apollo may or may not be playing jazz. It's just as likely they'll have mambo or a rock-and-roll group if it's a musical act." His friend paused for a beat. "I would suggest Tommy's Back Room on Lenox, I guess. That's where I was originally going to take everyone when we were staying there over the summer. Why don't you call Teddy so you don't have any trouble getting in? I hear it can get pretty crowded and I think he has some clout there. Or he might have a better place to recommend, anyway."

Teddy Hill. Brian had lied to the man the first time he'd met him. Hopefully that was all water under the bridge. "I could do that. Do you have his phone number?"

"Of course." Dan took a minute to find the number and then read it out to him.

Brian repeated the letters and numbers as he wrote it down. "Got it. Thanks."

"Hey, Brian?" Dan paused, a nervous catch to his voice. "Are there any dances coming up at your school?"

"Homecoming." Brian sighed. He really wished he could take Loyola to that dance. "But I already asked her. Four times I think ... she always says no. I'm giving up on that for now."

He held the phone away from his ear again as Dan laughed loudly at the other end of the phone.

When the laughter died down, he hesitantly spoke into the receiver again. "Is it out of your system yet?"

Dan chuckled. "Sorry. Well, no, I'm not sorry. That's too funny. I've heard about the infamous Belden stubborn streak. You didn't get the hint the first time? What makes you think she'll go out with you anywhere?"

"She likes me." Brian grinned. "It's just that a few kids at school gave her some trouble when I sat and ate lunch with her. She doesn't want it to get any worse by going to a dance with me."

"Hmm. Trouble? How bad?"

Brian shrugged before realizing Dan couldn't see him. "I don't know. It seems to have died down."

"Good. Well, anyway, I was actually asking about dances because I want to ask Honey out." Dan cleared his throat with a light cough. "So you haven't had your Homecoming dance yet? When is it?"

"Honey's not allowed to date yet, remember?" Brian couldn't help turning the tables and laughing a bit. It was a relief to know he wasn't the only one with girlfriend troubles.

"When's the dance, bozo?"

Brian snickered. "This weekend. On the 19th."

"And I thought ours was held late. We had our homecoming last weekend."

Brian shrugged as he glanced at the calendar on the wall. "Ours is always closer to the end of October. So, why didn't you take Honey to yours?"

"Because she can't date, yet, remember? I already asked." Dan sighed. "But she is allowed to double-date, so I might be able to convince Jim or Mart to let us go with them."

"Triple-date, would be the term. They're all already going as a group." He wondered if Honey had a date to the dance. He couldn't recall anyone mentioning it to him, but then he'd been a bit preoccupied with Loyola and the water study for school. "I don't know if it's just the five of them or if they're including another boy to make the numbers even."

He heard Dan's sharp intake of breath.

Think first and then speak, Belden! "If they are, believe me, Honey's not interested in anyone except you. You don't need to worry."

"Right." Dan did not sound convinced. "That's why she didn't mention the dance to me." There was an awkward silence on the line for a brief time before Dan spoke again. "Well, I'd better call her. Chances are it's too last minute for me to arrange, anyway, but it's worth a try. Good luck with Loyola."

"Yeah, you, too. With Honey, I mean." Brian hung up the phone, wondering briefly why Honey wouldn't have mentioned the dance to Dan. It was obvious she really liked him, but with them living in different towns, he supposed it made any kind of serious relationship difficult. Besides, she was only thirteen—fourteen, he corrected himself, realizing she and his sister were both actually growing up. Funny that he didn't have any trouble picturing Di all grown up and dating, but Trixie and Honey? No, they'd be his little sisters in his mind forever.

He shrugged the thought away and went in search of last Sunday's paper to check the entertainment section, hoping it was still in the stack by the fireplace, kept there for kindling. If he could manage to take Loyola out without the elder Mr. Kevins tagging along, the Apollo sounded like the place to go. Otherwise, he may just have to call Mr. Teddy Hill and find out more about Tommy's Back Room.


chapter 9: trouble that's gone too far