This week, for Sweet Saturday Samples, I’m sampling another portion of Chapter 28 of Adicia’s story, “A Feverish Situation.” It’s the spring of 1965, and Lenore has slowly been recovering from her ordeal in the winter. Right now she’s talking with Allen’s little sisters Ernestine, Adicia, and Justine, and their friends Julie and the Ryan sisters (whose now-absent parents gave them the anonymous monikers Girl, Baby, and Infant). The girls are teasing Lenore about her feelings for Allen and trying to get her to confess what they all know.
Girl smiles at her. “I think it’s obvious to all of us here that you really like Allen, and we’d have to be blind to not have known for a long time now that he’s got a major thing for you. Why don’t you just tell him you like him? Are you afraid he’ll laugh at you for being the one to tell him first?”
“What are you talking about?” Lenore demands. “He’s told me on a couple of occasions he’s in love with this one girl, but he hasn’t approached her about it ‘cause he thinks she’d never have him. I also think he hasn’t asked that girl out ‘cause she’d never want to go steady with a fellow who has a female roommate. It’s been almost three years now that he’s been celibate on account of me.”
“He was probably saying he likes you without up and telling you he likes you,” Ernestine says. “Didn’t you tell him you liked some other guy that would probably never have you? God knows we all know you were referring to him when you told him that!”
“You think I like him?” Lenore blushes. “Even if I did, he’d never be interested in me in that way. I’m too young for him, and at almost eighteen I’ve never had a boyfriend. I think I’m healed enough from what my father did to me to feel ready to do things with a guy, but a guy who’s had a lot of girls would never consider going out with a girl who would need a lesson in how to kiss.”
“I know Allen had his first girl when he was thirteen,” Ernestine says. “He says he met some eighteen-year-old girl who invited him up to her place and taught him some things. We all lost count of how many girls he had since then, but none of ‘em lasted very long. Longest was five months. He never loved any of ‘em. They were just girls to pass the time with. You’d be the only girl he really loved and who he waited for, instead of doing all that grownup stuff within the first few dates. I know if I had a boyfriend, I’d feel it was more special if he didn’t kiss me or try to make out immediately. It probably means more when you’ve known each other for awhile and you saved it to look forward to.”
“You’re thirteen now yourself,” Lenore reminds her. “If Allen is any kind of good big brother, he’d never let you get away with doing things with boys at your age. Maybe he learnt from his mistakes.”
“Boys are allowed to do that stuff at any age, pretty much, and go unpunished,” Girl says. “Us girls get crucified if we do anything with a boy one second before marriage. I wanna know how guys are supposed to get all of this experience they’re allowed to have with girls before they settle down. Are they going around with all the same girls, or are these girls too afraid to admit what they’ve done?”
“Anyway, what are we going to do special for Allen’s birthday?” Adicia asks, not quite understanding what Lenore, Ernestine, and Girl are talking about.
“How much money have you still got in your bank account?” Girl asks.
“I’m not old enough for my own bank account, at least not without a co-signer,” Lenore says. “I was always paid in cash, and I saved the cash in a jar in my room. There’s probably enough to buy some nice food and a decent present.”
“Make him steak,” Julie says. “That’s a really nice meal, and something normal people don’t get to eat every day of the week.”
“And you can buy him a suit,” Ernestine says. “Allen doesn’t have a formal suit. I’m sure he’d really appreciate getting his first real suit from the girl he loves. If he’s going to move up in the chain of command at the bakery, go to college eventually, or someday have another professional job, he’ll need to dress the part. You don’t have to shell out a fortune to get a decent suit.”
“Make sure to include a necktie with the suit,” Girl says. “I think monkey suits look ridiculous on our boys, but if one of our boys is moving up in the world, he has to wear formal clothes from time to time. Maybe you can even tie his tie for him if he don’t already know how.”
“White suits look ridiculous,” Adicia says. “I don’t think Allen would wear one even if he did want to wear a suit. And black suits are too common. He should stand out in a crowd if he’s gonna wear a suit.”
“You could probably find one in dark blue or even red,” Girl says. “They also make ‘em in gray and tan. All the formal clothes I’ve seen Allen wear is that old brown vest of his he sometimes wears with a button-down shirt and a bowtie. I think he got the dress pants he wears with that getup from a secondhand clothing store.”
“He could use a new pair of nice shoes too,” Julie says. “Maybe he’d even pay us to shine his shoes.”
“He bought you a television, paid for all your hospital bills, and bought you all these stuffed animals,” Baby points out. “The least you could do for him in return is to buy him a good suit of clothes and make him steak for supper.”
“We can all go shopping for it together,” Girl says. “Do you know what his size is?”
“I used to take his laundry to the laundromat, but it’s been so long now that I’ve forgotten what his size is,” Lenore says.
Infant rushes into Allen’s room and comes back out carrying a pair of pants and a shirt. Girl takes them and looks for the tags.
“He’s a thirty-four-inch waist and a medium in shirts,” she reports. “Infant, go put these back and bring us some of his shoes.”
Infant goes to put them back in the closet, trying to make it look like nothing were disturbed, and picks up Allen’s dress shoes. When she comes out to the living room, Girl takes them and holds them up to the light to see the numbers written on the bottom insides.
“Ten even,” she says. “Not too freakishly large and not too small for a man. We’ll have no problem finding stuff in his sizes.”
“Say, Ernestine, have you or Girl started having menses yet?” Adicia asks. “You’re both thirteen now and I haven’t heard anything from either of yous about it, though botha yous wear a bra now.”
“Glad to say it ain’t happened yet,” Girl says. “I hope I’m onea the girls who makes it till age seventeen without bleeding. That would just get in the way of the things I do. How could I wash windshields or run around doing my odd jobs if I had to deal with that stuff every couple of hours? Getting it this young only made sense when people only lived till all of thirty years old and had to have kids in their teens.”
“Not yet,” Ernestine says. “I’ve no longer got Sarah or our older sisters to help me when the day comes. Maybe I’d be more excited about the idea of getting it if we still had them, so they could help me and share their stories.”
“Boy, I’m glad Justine and I are only six,” Infant says. “All this grownup stuff sounds so strange.”
“Getting older isn’t that bad,” Lenore says. “People take you more seriously when you’re not a kid, and you get to do a lot of stuff you couldn’t do at a young age. I could learn to drive a car if I wanted, and I can have a job. Allen will be old enough to vote next Sunday, which is another good thing about becoming a grownup.”
“You’re both also old enough to be married,” Girl teases her. “How did you like being called Mrs. Troy at the hospital?”
Lenore buries her head in her hands and blushes.
“We know, Lenore,” Ernestine says. “You like Allen. We’ll just see if you’re still denying it after you make him his special birthday supper and present him with his fancy grownup suit and shoes next weekend.”