by the edge of the river
 

Chapter 11: I Lost Her

October 26, 1957

He was anxious to get back to school, to get back to routines, to get back to Loyola. He'd tried calling her the Thursday that he got home and again on Friday when Moms had told him to stay home and rest another day. It wasn't until Saturday that he actually reached her.

She sounded a bit breathless when she answered the phone, and her voice dropped to a whisper when he announced himself. "Hi, how are you?" She didn't even let him answer before adding, "I've been worried."

"I'm fine. A little banged up but I'll be okay. How about you? They didn't hurt you at all, did they?" He was still unclear about exactly what had happened that afternoon.

"No. I'm okay." The phone went quiet for a half minute. "I turned in our ecology project."

"That was due yesterday, wasn't it?" The chemistry class report had slipped from his mind. "Thanks."

"Will you be back in school soon?"

Brian smiled, even though she couldn't see him. "Why? Do you miss me?" There was no immediate reply, so he hastily added, "I'll be back on Monday."

"Okay, good. And, yes, I do." Her voice suddenly changed pitch as she spoke a little louder. "Okay, Shirley. I'll see you in church tomorrow."

And then she was gone. He'd heard the click, but still had the phone pressed to his ear, hoping, somehow, she was still on the line.

He spent the rest of the weekend worried about her, about whether or not they still had any sort of relationship. Her grandfather was forbidding her to see him or even talk to him, apparently. And of course she would be scared by what had happened—he was scared by what had happened. But he wasn't going to let those bigots win. He wasn't going to stop fighting for the girl he loved. He did love her. He was sure of it.

And she missed him. He clung to that, to the way her voice had softened on the phone when she said, "Yes, I do."

 

Brian couldn't sleep that night. Every time he closed his eyes, he pictured Loyola. Thoughts about how scared she must've been and about how upset her grandfather was churned through his mind. He tossed and turned for what seemed like an hour before giving up. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he shuffled his feet into his slippers. A glass of warm milk might help.

Mart stirred on the bed next to him and then his eyes blinked open. "Heading to the kitchen?"

"Figures one of the first words out of your mouth upon awakening would be kitchen," Brian teased. "Coming?"

Mart fished his own slippers out from under the bed and followed him to the door. In the hallway, they could hear mumbled voices from a conversation on the floor below.

Moms' voice carried up the stairs. "Are you sure about this? Darrell Kevins has a point. The next time could be worse."

His father's deeper voice answered her. "I told him I'd support him in this no matter what happened. We talked about possible backlash. He knew this wasn't going to be an easy road."

Brian leaned against the wall, listening for more. His brother stood beside him, concern in his blue eyes.

"Backlash? They nearly killed him." His mom's voice lowered and he couldn't make out the rest of her response.

Brian put his finger to his lips and crept quietly down a few stairs, stopping above the one that creaked. Mart followed just as quietly.

"He has to make his own decisions about this." Peter's voice was calm and even. "We've taught our kids right from wrong. We've taught them to be tolerant. And we've taught them to stand up for what they believe in."

"I know, Peter. I know." Even from Brian's vantage point on the stairs he could hear the worry in his mom's voice. "But I never imagined things would go this way. I guess we just hope and pray that it works out."

The voices became fainter as the Belden parents moved into the living room. Brian glanced at Mart, who had sat down on the step above his while they were listening.

Mart's face looked grave, even in the dim light. Brian studied him for a while before his brother looked up and caught his eye. "What are you thinking?" Brian asked.

"That I'm not going to get my midnight snack." Mart shrugged a shoulder. "You're the one that should be doing the heavy thinking."

Brian stood quietly though his mind was going a million miles a minute.

Mart put a hand on his shoulder. "I won't even ask if Loyola's worth all this, because I know she is. So what are you mulling over in your mind?"

Brian sighed as he stood up straighter. "I'm wondering which way Moms hopes it works out: With Loyola or without her?"

"With her." Mart hadn't even hesitated. "Moms adores Loyola, and even more, she loves you. She's hoping it works out in your favor. Trust me on this one."

 

On Monday, the first class of the day dragged slowly. His English teacher droned on and on about—well, he didn't even know what she was going on about because he really couldn't focus. When the bell rang, he jogged through the halls quickly to Mrs. Cowles' class so he could see Loyola.

Of course, he got there before her. She smiled at him, just for a second and almost imperceptibly, when she walked into the room, and then sat down. Brian sighed and then, since class hadn't actually started yet, he got up and made his way to her desk. "Hi."

"Hi, Brian." Loyola's voice was neutral.

Brian sat down in the still-empty seat in front of her and then turned to face her. He lowered his voice, not wanting the other students to overhear. "Are we okay?"

She nodded, but she avoided his eyes.

"I'll see you at lunch, then?"

She hesitated and then shook her head. "I don't think that's such a good idea."

Brian wanted to pound his fist through the desk, uncharacteristic anger surging through him. He reminded himself of the fear she must be feeling and pushed his feelings back as he sought out her eyes. "I think it's a great idea."

"Brian—" She started to say something, but then hesitated again.

His frustration came to a head. The anger he'd managed to squelch just seconds ago spewed forth. No longer whispering, he cut her off. "You know what's not a good idea? Not being with the person you want to be with is not a good idea. Not sitting with or talking to the person you like, that's not a good idea."

She placed a hand on his arm, stopping him. Her voice lowered to a barely audible whisper as her eyes darted around the room. "I know, Brian. I know. But getting hurt over this, is that a good idea? After what happened, I just—"

The bell signaling the start of class rang. Brian glanced around the room and realized that many of the students were staring at them. If they hadn't had enough to gossip about, he'd just added to the fodder.

Mrs. Cowles clapped her hands to get their attention. "Mr. Belden, you should return to your own desk now. Miss Hastings is waiting to take her seat."

Chagrined, Brian avoided the female student standing patiently by her desk as he hastily made his way back to his own place. He wouldn't be surprised if Loyola hated him. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten they weren't alone, that he didn't wait to have that conversation in private. He'd embarrassed her; he'd tramped all over her feelings. He'd been a complete heel.

 

After the fiasco in their morning class, he didn't dare sit with her at lunch. He made his way through the lunch line, filled his tray, and headed straight to the B.W.G. table, realizing with surprise that he hadn't eaten with the other Bob-Whites in nearly a month.

"Brian!" Di nearly squealed in her excitement. "Glad to see you're back at school. How are you feeling?"

Brian shrugged a shoulder, not wanting to answer that question. Physically, he supposed he was feeling fine. His head had stopped its constant pounding a few days ago. The bruises on his ribs were mostly gone, and the few that remained didn't ache unless he put pressure on them. But his heart? That was another matter altogether.

"I'm glad you're well enough to come back to school. We've missed you." Honey's hazel eyes were wide with worry. "And I'm glad you're sitting with us today. It's nice to see you. I mean, it's not like I haven't seen you but you've been so busy with that project for science and eating with Loyola ...." Her voice dwindled off.

Mart coughed lightly. "Sit. We will invariably make accommodations for our fellow kinsman."

Brian managed a small smile as he put his tray down, but as he scanned the room for Jim and Trixie, who were making their way towards the table, he realized he was also facing Loyola's table. Shirley caught his eye and smiled sympathetically before turning back to Loyola.

"Earth to Brian!" Trixie's voice was cheerful as she playfully ran a hand in front of his face.

Brian ignored her, still staring at the table where he'd spent so much time recently.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jim tug at Trixie's shirt sleeve, effectively pulling her down to sit. "Everything okay?" the red-head solicited.

Brian shook his head, though his gaze was still on Loyola and Shirley. Then he stood up and pulled his chair around to the other side of the table.

"I don't understand." Trixie glanced back at Loyola's table. "Is she mad at you for what happened to you? That doesn't make any sense."

Brian shrugged a shoulder again. He didn't want to talk about it; he didn't really know what to say. He definitely didn't want to admit what an ass he'd been to her on his first day back at school.

"It doesn't make much sense," Mart agreed. "But I'm guessing she wants to avoid any future incidents."

Honey spoke up, her voice a little hesitant. "I think she's just scared. Well, I mean, I would be if it were me and Dan, for example. Not that we would get that same kind of scrutiny but maybe we would if I were still at that boarding school because he wouldn't be in the right social class, but anyway, what I mean is I don't think I'd want to risk anything else happening that would hurt either one of us if we were in a similar situation."

Di nodded emphatically. "I'm scared, myself. I can't believe someone would beat someone else up just because of who they were with."

"Whom," Mart corrected, and it seemed as though he were about to say something more, but the warning glare from those hyacinth-colored eyes made his mouth snap shut.

Jim frowned. "It's wrong." Two simple words were all his friend had to say, but the anger in his tone came through loud and clear.

Brian shoveled a forkful of the meatloaf from his lunch tray, but returned it to the plate before it actually reached his mouth. His appetite had deserted him.

"I'm scared, too." Trixie stared up at Brian. "I'm scared because I don't know who from this school would do such a thing, but someone here did."

The question hidden in his sister's statement was one he couldn't answer, not with any certainty. "I wish I could remember, but I don't."

"I'm not sure I want you to remember," Honey replied. "It seems like an awful thing to go through once. I wouldn't want you to have to relive it."

"Would be good to know who," Mart muttered. "Trouble like that is something we don't need."

Brian scraped his fork through the mashed potatoes, making a pattern of lines in them and hoping they might be easier to get down than the meatloaf. "And I suppose if I did know, if I was able to tell you who, you wouldn't pick a fight with them yourself?"

"Of course not." Trixie gave an indignant snort. "We'd turn them in to the principal. Or the police."

The six friends ate in silence for a few minutes.

"But what will you do about Loyola?" Honey asked suddenly. "I thought you really liked her. Is it over then?"

"I don't know." Brian frowned deeply. "I don't want it to be over, but if she doesn't feel the same, I don't really have a choice, do I?"

"Maybe it's better that it is," Di said timidly. "I mean, she is colored, and, well—"

Mart faced her, his blue eyes piercing. "What's that have to do with it?"

"I—I'm just saying it isn't normal, and—"

Mart shook his head in disgust. "What's not normal about it? A boy and a girl—"

"I think she means it's not accepted as normal." Jim glanced at her. "Right, Di?"

Di nodded. "Right. I don't mean that it's bad, but that people aren't used to it ...." She cast her eyes downward.

"And because they're not used to it, they lash out against it," Trixie added. "But is that really it, then?"

Brian nodded, trying to hold in his misery at the situation. "I've done everything I can think of. She doesn't want to fight for us and I can't make her. I guess she doesn't—" He was about to say love, but he wasn't sure he wanted to admit to the others that he loved her. "—care about me as much as I do her."

The atmosphere around the table was heavy. Eventually the conversation picked back up, but the other Bob-Whites avoided the topic at hand and discussed their upcoming Halloween plans instead.

Lunch time ended, and as Brian and the others stacked their trays, Jesse Sherman walked by the group. The normally peaceful boy stared down his nose at Brian, "Looks like you learned your lesson the hard way."

Jim narrowed his eyes. "And what lesson would that be?"

"Races don't mix. Just glad it wasn't Loyola that got hurt this time."

Brian frowned as Jesse walked away. His mind drifted back to his birthday, trying to picture the car that stopped, the person who jumped out of the car.

"This time?" Trixie echoed, interrupting the faint memories. "Was there another time where Loyola did get hurt?"

Brian thought about it but then shook his head. He didn't think Jesse was referring to anything in the past. It seemed more like a warning that the next time they might both get hurt.

 

The next few days at school, Brian did his best to avoid Loyola. He didn't seek her out in class and he didn't try to sit with her at lunch. He caught her looking his way, once, and turned his head away. It didn't matter that his heart was breaking, that he wanted desperately to talk to her, hold her, kiss her. She'd made her decision. She wasn't going to fight for them, and he was done trying to convince her otherwise. A mixed-race relationship wasn't normal—he remembered Mart's reaction to Di saying that and amended his thoughts—it wasn't acceptable to many of the students at the school. And apparently it wasn't acceptable to Loyola, either. He couldn't help dwelling on the moments he had shared with her, though, the times they had been alone on the river and she had opened up to him.

The Bob-Whites were almost suspiciously quiet about the topic as well. Lunch time was filled with the normal chit chat and banter, but absolutely no mention was made of his failed relationship with Loyola. When he walked down the halls, or sometimes at the beginning of classes, he heard the other students whispering about it. He couldn't catch what they were saying, but he sometimes caught Loyola's name or his own, and they clammed up when they caught him staring at them.

He cornered Todd Maurer after math Thursday afternoon, his Belden curiosity getting the better of him. "Maurer, wait up."

Todd stopped walking and turned. "What's up?"

"Listen, you know how people have been talking," Brian began.

"It's just talk, Belden." Todd's lips curved up at the corners making it look as though he were trying hard not to smile. "Don't worry about it."

"Well, what are they saying?"

Todd regarded him carefully, as if he were struggling with what to tell him, and then he shrugged his shoulders. "Just the usual gossip."

"Yeah, gossip that I'm not hearing. Which makes me nervous." Brian frowned and the two boys started walking together down the hall.

Todd's voice kicked up a couple of octaves as he mimicked a female student. "'Can you believe that someone beat up Brian Belden just because he was walking with Loyola Kevins?'" His voice changed slightly as he repeated another girl's response. "'I hear that they actually kissed each other. Can you even imagine one of us kissing a colored boy?'" His inflection dropped back to normal. "Is that what you want to hear?"

"I suppose not." Brian stopped walking as they came to the end of the hall.

"It's either that, or I've overheard guys and girls alike saying they just don't get it." Todd shrugged a shoulder apologetically.

"Don't get it?" Brian asked. "What's to get?"

"I'm not saying this, really, but the consensus seems to be that there are plenty of white girls around to chase, so why are you wasting your time on Loyola Kevins? That's what they don't get."

Brian grunted. He was about to turn away to head to his next class.

"Can I ask you something?" Todd's expression had lost the air of amusement he'd had earlier.

"Sure," Brian answered automatically, though he was pretty sure he wouldn't like the question.

"I don't want to seem insensitive, but, do you really like her? I mean seriously, not just to fool around or something." Todd's cheeks flushed when Brian didn't answer right away. "Not that you seem like the type of guy that would just use a girl ... I didn't mean to insinuate—"

Brian had half a mind to punch his friend just to shut him up. But he knew that other people were probably thinking the same thing. "Yes, I like her. Seriously." He ran a hand through his hair nervously. "Very seriously."

"Then don't let the talk get to you. They'll get over it. Besides, by next week there will be some other news for them to whisper about. You know how it goes." Todd clapped him on the shoulder, the smile that had been creeping around his lips earlier was back with a vengeance. "Gotta jet to my next class. Later, Belden."

Brian trudged off to his own class, but in the back of his mind he was wondering what Todd had been grinning about. It was almost as if there were some sort of joke he'd wanted to share but couldn't. Or maybe Todd thought Brian was the joke. Apparently, even his friends were laughing at him and his failed love-life.


chapter 12: two of us and maybe more