by the edge of the river
 

Chapter 9: Trouble That's Gone Too Far

October 17, 1957

Once again, Loyola had avoided him in chemistry—something Brian was, unfortunately, getting used to. He thought he should point out that if they were eating lunch together, in front of the entire school, talking to him in class shouldn't be a big deal. On the other hand, their desks weren't near enough to each other, and, unless they were working on a lab, it wasn't like they could really talk unless they wanted to risk Mrs. Cowles' wrath and detention.

At lunch time, he placed his tray on the lunch table next to Loyola and she barely glanced at him as he sat down. She didn't even mutter a greeting. "Am I in the dog house?" he asked, not understanding the change in attitude.

Shirley glanced at Brian and shrugged a shoulder, indicating she didn't know why Loyola was avoiding him, either.

Loyola shook her head. "I'm sorry, Brian. It's just ... I'm not allowed to go out with you. He said no."

Brian nodded glumly. It wasn't an unexpected response. "Even if he chaperones?"

"He wouldn't even hear of it." She had picked up her sandwich but put it back down, untouched, with a sigh. "I begged and pleaded with him, Brian. All night and this morning."

Shirley's gaze shifted from Brian to Loyola. "Your grandfather?" When Loyola nodded, she continued. "You two want to go out on a date, right?"

Loyola's head snapped up at her friend's words and she put a finger to her lips. "The whole school doesn't need to know."

"Sorry." Shirley lowered her voice. "What if you and I go somewhere and Brian just happens to be there? And then I just happen to leave early?"

Brian didn't like the idea of doing anything so underhanded, but he did like the thought of going out with Loyola, almost enough to readily agree. Still, he didn't chime in on the idea, waiting to see what Loyola would think first.

"I ... I don't know." She stared into Brian's eyes as if seeking his approval. "What if he finds out?"

Brian was about to answer, to tell her they really shouldn't sneak around behind her grandfather's back, but Jesse Sherman had walked up to their table. He pulled out a chair and sat down next to Shirley, glaring at Brian the entire time. "Maybe you should go back to eating with your other friends."

He met Jesse's gaze evenly. "I'd rather stay here."

"What's your hang up?" Shirley asked the basketball player. "He can stay."

"Whose side are you on?" Jesse countered.

"I'm on the side of love." She grinned.

"Love?" Jesse nearly shouted the question.

Loyola put her finger to her lips and glared at Jesse.

He lowered his head and dropped his voice to a whisper. "Sorry. But—love?"

Brian's heart was beating erratically. He knew he loved her but he hadn't dared to say it to her yet. He wasn't sure if she felt the same. And there was a part of him that felt they were too young to really know. Then again, his dad had seemed to think he would know love from a crush. Did he, though? He was pretty sure he did.

Shirley was blathering on about the romance of it all, even though neither he nor Loyola acknowledged the word. "To think, the two of you could be the love story of the century. Maybe Hollywood will even make a movie about it. And then they'll need someone to play the best friend—which would be me. I mean they'd need to hire an actress to play me. I'd be too nervous to—"

"Zip it." Jesse put a hand over her mouth for a second to quiet her and then addressed Loyola. "You can't be serious. What kind of crazy dream are you living?"

"I'm not." Loyola turned away, but Brian thought he saw a look of regret on her face.

"Good." The tall, colored boy sat back. He narrowed his eyes at Brian. "You got that?"

"No, I'm not sure I did." He shrugged a shoulder as he tried his hardest not to smirk, but Shirley's answering grin spurred him on. "Got what?"

"She's not into this crazy dream world of yours." Jesse pounded his hand on the table. "It's time to wake up."

Loyola leaned in toward Jesse, across from Brian, her voice low and calm. "No, Jesse. You're wrong. I am dreaming, and maybe it's a crazy dream, but it's a good dream. Only, I'm not living it. I'm not." She whispered the last two words and then turned to meet Brian's gaze. "I think it's time I start."

"You tell him, girl." Shirley whispered, just loud enough for the four of them to hear.

Loyola gave Brian a small, shy smile. "Would you join me at Wimpy's after school tomorrow? I'd like that milkshake, after all."

He was taken by surprise. "Yu-yes. Yes. But what about your grandfather?"

"You can't." Jesse shook his head. "You can't do this."

"Why not?" Shirley shrugged her shoulders.

Loyola frowned, briefly. "Papa won't approve. We already know that. But I don't think he'll stop me. I hope he doesn't, anyway."

Jesse turned to Brian. "If she gets hurt because of this ... if she gets hurt, I swear I'll—"

Loyola shook her head. "Papa would never hurt me. Ground me until I go off to college, maybe. But that's the worst he could do."

"I didn't mean by your grandfather. I meant by those bigots that have been harassing you ever since this guy has been sitting at your table." Jesse glared at Brian again.

"It won't be his fault, Jesse. It'll be the fault of people like you who can't see past the outside." Shirley shook her head in disgust. "Don't blame Brian for other people's hatred. And don't become one of those people."

 

It was uncomfortable. He hadn't expected it to be quite so uncomfortable, but it was. People stared at them. People spoke in hushed tones, watching the two of them carefully. Maybe he was just being paranoid. Maybe it was all in his imagination, but he knew it wasn't, and he knew Loyola felt it, too.

Still, they sat at the counter and tried to ignore the rest of the world.

"What can I get you two?" Mike asked, cheerful as always as he greeted the two of them. At least he seemed to be treating them like any other two teenagers out on a date at his establishment. Date. That thought made him smile at least, and he relaxed, determined to just enjoy the outing with his girl.

"Burn one all the way," Loyola responded.

"Your usual." Mike smiled in response. "And for you, Brian?"

He pictured Loyola and him sharing one drink—whatever that drink was—their heads bent close together as they sipped through the straws, but he reminded himself that just being out together in public was a big step for her. He really shouldn't push it. He had no idea what she had just ordered, but he didn't want to appear ignorant, either, and if they couldn't share from the same glass, at least they could drink the same drink. "I'll take the same."

Mike grinned, an eyebrow raised in mild surprise. "You sure?"

"Yep." He really hoped it wasn't something awful, something actually burnt, even.

"Coming right up." Mike got started on the treats, and Brian watched curiously as he added malt powder and chocolate syrup to milk and chocolate ice cream. The shiny chrome blender whirred noisily as he mixed the double chocolate malteds. It wasn't his preferred vanilla, but at least she'd ordered something he liked, and he made a mental note of just how much she apparently liked chocolate.

Brian glanced at Loyola, still not quite believing they were there, together, on a date. Maybe not a full out dinner or movie type of date, and she'd met him there, after his detention. Still, a date. "Your grandfather was actually okay with this?"

She frowned slightly. "I didn't exactly tell him."

"Great." He really didn't like sneaking around. "So when he finds out, will he come after me with a shotgun?"

"Don't be silly. He doesn't own a shotgun. He'll probably use a baseball bat." She winked at him. He didn't respond. She sighed quietly, drumming her fingers on the table. "He knows I'm here at Wimpy's with a friend. He assumed it was Shirley and I didn't correct him."

"You have to tell him." He realized he was being a hypocrite. He was still on restriction for another week because of the fight and having detention. He had told Moms he was meeting Loyola at the library to get more work done on the project, which is the only reason he'd been allowed to stay even later after school than the detention time.

"I know. And I will." She started to reach a hand out to him and then snatched it back.

Holding hands in public still seemed to be off limits. He wished he had his car so he could take her somewhere private.

Mike placed two tall glasses filled to the brim with the chocolate confection in front of them. "Here you go. Enjoy."

"Thanks." The two teens had spoken simultaneously.

Brian smiled at Loyola. He wanted her to be honest with her grandfather. He wanted to hold her hand. He wanted so many things. Still, just being there with her, for now, it was something.

 

"Dan couldn't make it?" Brian asked, handing Honey a soda. It was the night of the homecoming dance and the two of them had decided to spend the evening together in the Belden's living room. Neither of them had a date for the dance, and, even though the other Bob-Whites tried to talk them into it, they didn't want to go alone together—or "together alone" as Honey had put it.

"Oh, he would've made it, except my father said I wasn't allowed to go. Not with Dan, anyway." Honey frowned as she grabbed a few potato chips from the bowl on the coffee table. "He almost came up anyway, just to spend the evening with me, but I talked him out of the idea."

"Really?" He turned the radio on for some background noise and then returned to the sofa. "Why didn't you want him to come up and visit at least?"

"I do. Really. It's just if I let him do that, my father would've been hovering around glaring at us all night. Or worse, Dan would be at his apartment and I'd be stuck in my room, alone. It would've been even more miserable than not going to the dance with him. I hope he understands." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "He gave me quite the lecture—Daddy, that is. Dan's never lectured me."

He nodded in sympathy. "Let me guess. You're too young?"

"That's just the half of it. I'm too young. Dan's too experienced." She blushed slightly. "He just doesn't trust him. Or me, apparently."

Brian refrained from agreeing with Mr. Wheeler on the age issue. She was only thirteen—fourteen, he amended, again. But he knew better than to say anything about that. "I thought he did trust him."

"Maybe he did a little. Until he learned the two of us went bike riding without a chaperone during Dan's last visit. We had permission from Miss Trask, but Daddy wasn't at all happy about it when he found out." She sighed and then leaned back into the couch cushions. "It's not like we did anything wrong."

"That does seem a bit extreme for him to be upset about a bike ride." He took a chip and scooped it into the home-made ranch dip, and then washed that down with a swig from his fizzy cherry soda. "Are you sure that's it?"

Honey shrugged in response. "Who knows?" She started tapping her fingers on the arm of the couch in time to the song on the radio. "So, how was your date with Loyola?" she asked, changing the subject. "Trixie said the two of you went to Wimpy's together."

It was Brian's turn to shrug.

"That bad?" Her hazel eyes filled with sympathy.

"No, it was good. Great, actually. She's just ... nervous, I guess, about being seen in public with me." He took another sip from his bottle and then leaned forward to set it on a coaster on the coffee table. "I was pretty surprised she went out with me at all. Glad for it, though. And I guess I can thank Jesse for that."

"Jesse?" Honey puckered her lips in thought, apparently trying to place the name.

"Jesse Sherman. From the basketball team." He ran a hand through his hair. "He likes her, too."

"But she picked you over him?" She grinned widely. "Well, that's got to be a good thing."

Brian grinned back. "You're right. She made it crystal clear to him that she wanted to be with me."

"But?" She seemed to sense his hesitation.

"It's nothing." He tried to dismiss the uneasiness he had felt the previous night at the popular diner.

"If you say so." Honey leaned forward, regarding him earnestly. "But it sure seems like something."

He should have known the would-be detective wasn't going to let it go that easily. "I just ... I hadn't expected everyone to stare at us. And I felt like they were all whispering and talking about us." He shrugged a shoulder. "I guess it will take some time for people to get used to seeing a white guy with a colored girl."

"Or maybe it will take some time for you and Loyola to get used to people not being used to the two of you together. I mean, not you two specifically, but like you said, seeing someone white with someone colored." She paused a few seconds. "Did that even make sense?"

He gave a little laugh and reached for his soda again. "Yeah, it did," he answered after taking another gulp of the cherry-flavored drink. "I must be getting used to your 'Honey-speak', although I think Trixie's just as bad as you, or even worse."

Honey jumped up from the couch and for a half a second Brian thought he might have offended her, but she had run over to the radio and turned up the volume. The disc jockey was rambling on about lonely hearts on a Saturday night. "You should do that!" she exclaimed. "I bet you anything Loyola's at home listening to the radio right now, too."

Brian stared at her, confused. "Do what exactly?"

"Call in a request!" She practically skipped over to the kitchen. "If you can't be together at the dance tonight, at least you can let her know you're thinking of her."

"No. We don't even know that she's listening to the radio." He protested the idea. "This is Loyola we're talking about. She probably has her head buried in a book or—"

"On a Saturday night? Nope, I don't believe that." Honey ran back to the couch and grabbed his arm. "What have you got to lose?"

"Okay. Fine." He gave in rather ungracefully. "But what song?"

She suddenly halted her trek to the kitchen phone and put a finger over her lips. Then she shrugged her shoulders and gazed at him expectantly. "Do you two have a special song? Something she'll know is from you?"

He shook his head ruefully. "No. Maybe a song about a river?" She gave him a puzzled look and he hastened to explain, "You know, since we've been working on that project for school."

"Of course." She grinned and then almost as suddenly frowned. "The only songs I can think of that mention the river also mention drowning ...." Her voice trailed off.

"Yeah, not such a good idea." Brian thought that might have gotten him out of the crazy plan. And then he had an inspiration. "What about food? She's always making me that Waldorf salad. You know, the one with the apples in it."

"Apples?" Honey's brow furrowed in puzzlement. "Is there a song about apples?"

"Yes. You're the Apple of my Eye." Brian started singing the chorus while snapping his fingers. "Doo-doo. De-doo-doo. De-doo-doo. De-doing-doing."

Instead of agreeing with him, Honey clutched her stomach and doubled over in laughter. "De-doing-doing? Oh, no! You cannot go with that."

"Geez. Why are girls so complicated?" He feigned disgust as he leaned against the counter by the telephone. "Do you have a better suggestion?"

"It should be a romantic song. Not a 'doing-doing' song." She was still laughing.

"Like that?" He nodded his head toward the radio in the other room where the singer crooned out, "And my baby's really wild about me-ee."

"No, of course not." Honey shook her head. "How about Pat Boone? Love Letters in the Sand? That's almost rivery, too, isn't it? I mean the sand part?"

"Not really, no." Brian vetoed the idea, even though Loyola had compared him to Pat Boone. "I don't know if I'm ready to go that romantic yet. And I think she'd like the song I picked, anyway. It's romantic enough."

"De-doing-doing is romantic?" Honey covered her face with her hands. "I am so glad I am not your girlfriend," she mumbled from behind them.

"Do you even know the song? 'I love you. I need you. Do anything to please you.' How is that not romantic?" He panicked briefly about saying "I love you" even in a song, but then surely that didn't necessarily mean the same as saying it in person, did it? And he did, anyway. Love her. Yes, if he had to go through with this song request idea, that should be the song.

Honey nodded her head as he repeated the lyrics. "I suppose it will do, then."

"It's that or nothing." Brian made his stand. "And, while we're at it. Shouldn't you request a song for Dan?"

"Oh, he doesn't listen to this station. There's no way he'd ever hear it." Honey tried to duck out of having to put in her own request.

"That's a flimsy excuse. Besides, he lives near a beach and you two are separated. Love Letters in the Sand makes sense for the two of you." He put his hands on his hips and waited for her to acknowledge he was right. "'Perfectly perfect' sense, as you or my sister would say."

"Okay," she relented. "I'll put in a request for Dan. But not that song. I'll pick Come Go With Me." She grinned triumphantly.

"Oh, so 'dom dom dom dee doo bee dom' is better than 'de doo doo de doing doing'?" Brian sighed with exaggeration. "I will never, ever truly understand female logic."

"It so happens that is the same song that Dan and I danced to when we were in the city over the summer. That makes it our song. So there." Honey stuck her tongue out at him.

 

The rest of the weekend passed, and Brian had never been as nervous about going to school as he was that following Monday. All weekend long, he had relived the small moments with Loyola at Wimpy's: the little looks, the "accidental" touching of hands now and then, and the bits of conversation that had made her laugh. He knew she'd been nervous about it, but besides the stares and whispers, no one had really bothered them while they were there. No one had bothered them when they left or when he'd walked her home. Hopefully no one would bother her at school, either. He hoped the day would pass without incident, and realized the timing of the homecoming dance could help with that—most students would still be talking about who had been voted king and queen and anything else that may have happened at the dance. Their Friday evening date would already be old news.

He hadn't seen or heard anything unusual before the first class started, no vandalism of his or her locker—he'd checked hers first. No one had blurted out any slurs, no calling of names, either. Hopefully that meant everything was okay.

Between English and chemistry, Mike Larson had shouted a string of insults at him, but nothing more. In chemistry, Jesse Sherman glared at him but hadn't said a word. When Loyola walked in, she sat down and everything felt normal.

By the time they made it to lunch, nothing more than the usual stuff had happened. Their Wimpy's outing hadn't seemed to cause much of a stir at all. He was relieved.

He was doubly relieved, although admittedly disappointed, when she made no mention of having listened to the radio over the weekend, either. It seemed unlikely that she had heard his song request dedicated: "For Loyola, without any apple seeds."

 

After school the following day, Brian led his bike with one hand while he and Loyola walked together to the library. They still had some work to do on their project, which was due at the end of the week. He supposed they could have gone to her house, but he knew she was avoiding being with him in front of her grandfather. "He knows we're going to Wimpy's after, right? For dinner?"

"He does," Loyola acknowledged. "He's not happy about it, but he didn't forbid me or anything."

"I guess that's a start." This time he had also gotten permission from his parents to go to Wimpy's after the library. It was his birthday, after all. While Moms and Dad had wanted to have a nice dinner for him at home, after some small debate they had decided to give him a reprieve from his restriction and let him spend the evening with Loyola.

They turned right, taking the side streets to avoid the traffic and other students walking along Albany Post Road. When Brian could see that there weren't a lot of other students around, he reached for her hand. She started to snatch it back, but then he felt her relax as she wrapped her fingers around his own hand.

"Happy Birthday." She smiled up at him. "I don't think I've said that to you, yet."

"Thanks." He grinned back at her. "When's your birthday?"

"In December. The eleventh. So, you're eighteen now? Does it feel any different than seventeen?" she asked.

"Actually, I'm only seventeen now. Another year to go before I'm eighteen." He shrugged a shoulder and then winked at her. "I don't expect it will feel much different, though."

"Really? I'm older than you? I hadn't realized that." Her eyes twinkled merrily. "I'll be turning eighteen in December. I hope you don't mind going out with an older woman."

"Not at all." He stopped walking and stole a quick kiss—a mere peck on the lips.

They walked on in silence for the rest of the block and then turned up a smaller side street. Conversation resumed as they chatted quietly about school and the report they needed to complete.

A car drove by, honking its horn. Brian turned to see who it was, but the driver had sped down the street before he could identify him or her. They were almost at the end of the small street when another car came toward them, squealing as the driver slammed on the brakes.

Three guys jumped out of the convertible and ran towards him. They were yelling, but he couldn't make out the words. He felt like everything was happening in slow motion. He let the bike fall to the ground

"Run!" He thought he yelled out the word to Loyola but he couldn't even be sure. He couldn't hear anything because there was so much noise all at once: the clang of the bike on the pavement, the thuds and fluttering of their books and papers flying out of the basket, the attackers shouting, Loyola screaming, and then his own voice, sounding lost.

He lifted up his arms, defending himself as the guys' fists reached out to pummel him. He tried to fight back. He felt someone's fist connect with his nose. Then he lost his balance, falling backward. There was a sharp pain at the back of his head and then everything just faded.


chapter 10: you're there at home