Suddenly they were alone on an island of forbidden bliss.
Beatrice Darby did a double-take at the salacious caption on the cover of the novel she knew right away she shouldn’t be looking at. Odd Girl Out was its title, and she felt a strange tingle as she absorbed the image of the half-naked blonde perched under it, her naughty parts barely hidden in a pile of plush pillows. She glanced around DeLuca’s drugstore to make sure no one she knew noticed her ogling its cover art on the rack in the back corner.
This discovery raised the stakes in her presence at DeLuca’s that afternoon in 1957 as she was supposed to come straight home from her summer job to prepare supper—a week-long penitence for skipping Sunday mass the day before to enjoy a sunny morning at Lighthouse Point Park. She and her older brother, Quentin, rarely agreed on anything except that when their mother had one of her nervous spells and couldn’t accompany them to church, they would act as each other’s alibi as they pursued separate adventures in religious hooky. Her caper would’ve been a success, too, had their gossipy neighbor, the heathen Mrs. Pritchett, and her brood of five not been struck with that same notion.
Her heart raced as she snatched the paperback from the cluster of other tawdry romance novels on the bottom shelf. She pivoted toward the wall on the heel of her saddle shoes and began fanning through the pages.
A wash of heat flooded Laura’s face. She bent over Beth again, perfectly helpless to stop herself, and began to kiss her like a wild…
“What do you think you’re doing?” a woman hollered.
Beatrice flinched and dropped the book on the floor. As a woman scolded her son for stuffing penny candy down the front of his suspender pants, Beatrice kicked the book under a magazine rack until the mother-son riot ended with the mother dragging the red-faced, screaming boy from the drugstore. Exhaling with relief, Beatrice slid the book out from under the rack with her foot and poked through the pages to finish the titillating sentence.
‘…like a wild, hungry child, starved for each kiss, pausing only to murmur, ‘Beth, Beth, Beth…’
She could hardly believe what she was reading. People actually wrote these kinds of stories? Her palms began to sweat as she continued devouring the passage, fearing at any moment she might be discovered. She wanted to read the novel from beginning to end yet she knew she couldn’t stroll up to the counter and buy it. And if she stayed and kept reading, she would rouse her mother’s ire getting home so late from work. Before she realized what she was doing, Beatrice tucked it under her baggy blouse and headed toward the exit. Her eyes focused straight ahead on the top of her outstretched hand as it was only seconds from pushing the door handle to freedom.
“Beatrice,” Mr. DeLuca called out from behind the counter.
She stopped at the door, clutching the soft cover sticking to her moist stomach and glanced at him over her shoulder.
“Your milkshake and doughnut,” he said. “You haven’t touched them.”
A rush of heat swept up her neck and tickled her ears. “I can’t, Mr. DeLuca,” she stammered. “I’m gonna be late for supper.”
“Well, come over here and I’ll wrap up the doughnut for you.”
“Oh, no, that’s okay. I really need to go,” she said, pulling at the strands from her chestnut brown ponytail sticking to her neck.
“It’ll only take a second, Bea. Bring it home to your mother if you don’t want it.”
Her tongue flicked at the sweat mustache tickling her upper lip. What had she just done? Not only had she stolen, a crime that had never tempted her in all her seventeen years, but what she had stolen could never be explained if she were apprehended. In the moment, however, the high of being only inches from a clean getaway vanquished those inconvenient thoughts.
She shuffled over to the counter, still hugging the book through her blouse.
“What’s wrong with your stomach?” Mr. DeLuca asked, handing her the doughnut in a rolled-up brown paper bag. “You want a sip of Gassosa?”
“No, thank you, Mr. DeLuca. I should just go right home. My mom and brother will be miffed if we have to eat late on my account.”
Mr. DeLuca nodded as he stuck his thumb between his belt buckle and rotund stomach, well aware of the imperativeness of a prompt supper.
Once outside, Beatrice took off down Chapel Street, slicing through the thick July humidity, her legs booster-charged by a surge of endorphins. She couldn’t wait for night to come to read more about Beth and Laura once her mother had fallen asleep watching television.
She burst into the apartment, intent on stashing her ill-gotten treasure safely in her bedroom.
“Beatrice, hold your horses,” her mother barked from the kitchen.
Beatrice skidded to a halt just short of her bedroom. Normally, she would pretend she hadn’t heard her mother and continue into her room, but guilt froze her in her tracks.
Her mother peered around the refrigerator. “Why are you so late? Cooking dinner all week is your punishment, not some good deed you’re doing out of the kindness of your heart.”
“I’m sorry, I uh, I had to stay late at work. They’re redesigning the children’s section.” She paused for a moment to marvel at her previously unknown talent for concocting elaborate pretenses on the draw.
“I don’t know why you kill yourself for that boss of yours. You won’t even be working there much longer.”
Beatrice squirmed at the pressure of the book now stuffed in the waistband of her skirt. “Well, it’s like you say, Mom, do unto others…”
Her mother nodded thoughtfully. “I’m glad to hear you do occasionally listen to me.”
Beatrice’s mouth twitched as her eyes fell short of making contact with her mother’s.
“Now go on. Get yourself washed up and get dinner going. Your brother and I are hungry.”
In her room, Beatrice shook her head at the collection of sins she had accumulated over the last two days. As the corner of the concealed book scraped against her skin, she wondered if sins committed as an adolescent carried less weight than grown-up sins. Or was it that the more sins you racked up as kid, the more penances you would have to pay when you’re old? She resolved to settle her account with God at a later date. Right now, this delicious, forbidden novel required her immediate attention. She lifted her pillow and tucked the book under it, pressing down and smoothing the floral bedspread over it.
“Bea,” Quentin said, peeking into her room.
“What?” she said with a start, spinning around and sitting on her pillow.
“Geez, what are you so jumpy about?”
“Nothing. Just guilty about skipping church.”
He looked at her quizzically. “Still?”
She rolled her eyes, anxious for Quentin to walk away. “You may not care about roasting in hell for all eternity, but I do.”
Quentin rolled his eyes. “God’s got commies to worry about. He doesn’t care about me ditching Sunday mass once in a while.”
“I’ll pray for your soul,” she said dryly, touching her pillow for reassurance.
He screwed up his mouth. “Yeah, thanks. By the way, thanks for not squealing on me. You’re an okay kid, weird, but okay.”
“What do you mean?” she snapped, her titillation with the novel still prickling her skin.
“You know, when that stoolie, Pritchard, called Mom.”
Beatrice shrugged. “One hand washes the other. You can return the favor someday.”
“Yeah, sure,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Now would you start cooking? We’re starving already.”
She pursed her lips and flipped him the bird. He wagged a playful finger at her before disappearing into the bathroom.
Beatrice was still awake at two a.m., an hour after she’d finished reading the novel. Her mind swirled with the sordid tale of Beth and Laura’s romance as she lay in bed, her sheet tangled around her legs. Her skin was damp from the mid-summer humidity that showed no mercy even at that hour of the night. She wondered if that kind of thing really went on between college girls. She was starting college in less than two months. Could something like that happen to her? What would she do if it did? Butterflies bounced in her stomach as she allowed herself to imagine that she was Laura.
The fantasy of kissing some imaginary college girl took off on its own. Soon, however, she wasn’t kissing a nameless, faceless girl—she was kissing Abby Gill, her much older supervisor at the New Haven Public Library. Miss Gill was unlike any woman Beatrice had known in all her seventeen years, a petite, self-confident pill of a gal with rich olive skin and choppy brown hair that always seemed in need of combing. She had found herself drawn to Miss Gill since she started working with her, but now her intense, convoluted feelings were finally starting to make sense.
In her visions, Miss Gill pecked at her lips, caressed her bare arms, pulled her closer, and kissed her harder. A warmth spread up her legs as sweat began beading her forehead. She licked her lips as she imagined Miss Gill kissing them raw. Her hand crept under the thin sheet and before she realized what was happening, it was inside her pajama bottom.
Her eyes sprang open as shame crawled all over her. Where were those dirty thoughts coming from? It was the book, that smutty book. She sat up and fanned herself with a copy of Modern Screen on her nightstand, her wide eyes trained on familiar objects in her room shadowed by the incoming street light. Her heart raced at the vividness of her fantasy.
She lay down again and flung aside the sheet to cool off, staring at the ceiling. She shouldn’t be thinking those kinds of things about other girls, she knew. She used to be able to gently escort them from her mind as soon as they tumbled in, but now it was getting harder to stop. Not long after she began working at the library during her senior year in high school, she began entertaining her idle mind with carefree thoughts of spending time with Miss Gill outside of work, going to DeLuca’s drugstore, window shopping Chapel Street, all the things she had wished she could do with a best girlfriend. But of course, Miss Gill was a grown woman. Why would she want to spend her leisure time with a teenager? Still, it pleased Beatrice to imagine a close friendship with her supervisor who had always felt more like a friend than an authority figure. But lately, perverted thoughts were obliterating the innocent ones. Quietly she often stewed, chastising herself, making promises her maturing body couldn’t keep. She didn’t know what to do about it but knew she certainly couldn’t ask anyone for advice.
Exhaling deeply, she decided that maybe skipping Sunday mass to frolic at the shore wasn’t the brightest thing to do considering the turmoil going on inside her.
She eventually fell asleep, but not much before the clang of the alarm clock jolted her awake at seven a.m. She relished a stretch in the ray of sun pouring in from Franklin Street, until last night’s incident disrupted her repose. She took a moment to expel the whole matter from her mind, confident in her promise to herself. After another long stretch, she leapt out of bed, swept up her hair in a ponytail and splashed cold water at her almond-shaped eyes, the crisp hue of a clear January sky.
As she dug her spoon into a bowl of cornflakes, she was pleased with her new idea that the provocative scenes were a mere manifestation of her fondness for Miss Gill blown out of proportion, simple veneration for the sophisticated, independent woman Beatrice had admired. Her face felt flush again, but she focused her attention on the note next to her cereal bowl from her mother that reminded her of the long list of chores she needed to complete before rushing off to work.
She shook her head as she slurped the last soggy spoonful of flakes, catching the milk drip in the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand. In another month, she would be gone, a college freshman living in a dorm away from her mother’s domineering hand. Then who would she order around? Quentin? Not likely. He worked so hard at the bicycle repair shop every day. Why should he have to lift a finger when he got home? Beatrice may have had to wash his dishes and do his laundry, but she drew the line at picking up his skivvies off the floor.
She had spent most of the day at the library arranging periodical displays, assisting patrons, and stealing glances at Miss Gill, her mind scattered with confusion and wonder. Butterflies had mamboed in her stomach whenever she noticed Miss Gill flash a patron her dimpled grin.
As the day progressed the unsettled feeling she awoke with and attributed to that strange novel reemerged. She was relieved to know there were other girls out there who had those same thoughts, but deep down Beatrice realized the folly in trying to explain her desire for Miss Gill as mere admiration. Her neck suddenly reddened—how would Miss Gill react if she ever knew of the secret things Beatrice had envisioned doing with her the night before?
Toward the end of her shift, Beatrice was helping an elderly woman locate Gone with the Wind in the fiction section. Once she spotted the title, she nudged the step stool aside with her foot and using her long wingspan, snatched the copy off the top shelf.
“How convenient to be so tall,” the old woman said.
Beatrice offered a faint smile. “It’s been an experience, all right.” Suddenly, she caught Miss Gill in her periphery approaching in a brisk walk, and her peanut butter sandwich tumbled in her stomach. She braced herself against the stacks and absently fingered the novel’s binding. As Miss Gill breezed past, she offered Beatrice a playful wink.
She inhaled the exotic wake of Evening in Paris that trailed Miss Gill as she headed toward the front desk, her eyes pursuing Miss Gill’s curvaceous rear end each step of the way. Her heart raced as she anticipated the husk of that mature voice, the words that would invite Beatrice to stand close to her.
“Oh, Bea,” she called quietly, at last. “Would you return these to Non-fiction for me when you’re free?”
“Oh, Miss, can you also help me find…” the old woman began, but Beatrice had already sprinted to Miss Gill’s side.
“Gee, too bad you’re spending your last summer of freedom stuck in this musty old place,” Miss Gill observed. “Don’t you ever just feel like taking off and getting out in the sun or having a swim at Lighthouse?”
“That didn’t work out so well the last time I tried it. Besides, my mom would get in a tizzy if I missed a day of work,” she said ruefully.
“How would she know? I certainly wouldn’t tell.”
“She’d notice it in my paycheck.”
“I suppose she would,” Miss Gill said, shaking her head. “You know, Bea,” she went on, narrowing her eyes, “sometimes being bad feels pretty good. There’s no crime in having a lark once in a while. And you’re so young yet. Like the Romans say, ‘Carpe diem’.”
Beatrice shrugged as she traced symmetrical patterns in the rug with the tip of her shoe. It probably would be fun to play against type for once, but as she zeroed in on Miss Gill’s glistening lips, she couldn’t imagine why on earth she’d want to be anywhere but right there.
“Well, here you go.” Miss Gill seemed disenchanted as she wheeled the book return cart around for her. “When you’re done, meet me in the reference room.”
As Beatrice replaced each title to its rightful position within Mr. Dewey’s decimal system, she cringed, thinking about disappointing her paramour. Was doing something rebellious the way to impress her? Beatrice had always done what was expected of her in school, at home, especially when her father’s death seven years earlier fractured the family. Beatrice had so wanted to make him proud and the best way to do that was to continue being his “good girl.”
Later in the reference room, she shifted the heavy stack of encyclopedias in her arms and sighed. Despite her earnest effort, she couldn’t suppress the urge to imbibe the litheness of Miss Gill’s body stretching to reach the highest shelf, her breasts bulging against a thin peach sweater. When Miss bit at her bottom lip pushing two volumes into position, Beatrice could swear she began to salivate.
What would it really be like to kiss her? Beatrice again banished the thought from her head. She had been struggling with those contemplations all day, floating on waves of titillation and terror.
“So you must be thrilled about leaving for college in a few weeks,” Miss Gill said as she tugged at the bottom of her sweater.
Beatrice sighed. “Yes, I suppose.”
“What do you mean suppose?” Miss Gill glared down at her from her perch. “You were so excited in the spring when you learned you got a full scholarship. When we celebrated at DeLuca’s you seemed out of your head with excitement, remember?”
How could Beatrice forget? They sat together at the drugstore counter sipping cream soda floats while Miss Gill regaled her with such thrilling tales of sorority life. Beatrice’s most cherished memory of the afternoon was when Miss Gill giggled so hard recalling a prank she and her sisters had pulled that she’d accidentally tumbled against Beatrice’s arm in dramatic fashion.
“It’s just that, well…” She fumbled for the words. “Well, I’ll miss working here and helping you.”
“Aw.” Miss Gill placed her hand on Beatrice’s shoulder as she descended the step ladder. “I’ll miss having your help,” she added with a smile brighter than Marilyn Monroe’s in the Lustre-Crème Shampoo ads.
“Will you?” Beatrice asked, surprised.
“Why sure,” she replied with a gentle stroke across Beatrice’s shoulder. “You’ve been great fun, especially this summer when libraries can be ghost towns.”
Beatrice curled her lips to prevent her smile from leaping off her face.
“Are you blushing, Bea?” Miss Gill grinned.
Her cheeks flamed. “No,” she whispered, looking down at her shoes.
“I think you are.” Miss Gill then sang, “Beatrice is blushing, Beatrice is blushing.”
“No, I’m not,” she protested, unnerved by the tingles charging through her body.
Miss Gill chuckled. “Aw, don’t be mad. You’re adorable when you blush.” She gently pinched Beatrice’s belly.
Beatrice’s eyes widened as she touched the part of her shirt where Miss Gill pinched her.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”
She watched Miss Gill’s lips form the words and then shook her head.
Their eyes locked for an awkward moment, Miss Gill with an expression Beatrice had never noticed before. God, what was she thinking, Beatrice wondered. Miss Gill then glanced at her wristwatch. “Well, kid, what do you say? Time to blow this clambake?”
She nodded and followed Miss Gill to the break room to punch out, ever wistful to say good-bye even for a day.
The next morning, Beatrice looked at her reflection in horror. Her eyes were puffy, the side of her face marred by sheet wrinkles from a fitful sleep. It was well after three by the time she had fallen asleep. Visions of Miss Gill in various scenarios of intimate closeness kept sleep at bay. Why couldn’t she stop these thoughts about Miss Gill? She closed her eyes as she brushed her teeth and tried to imagine kissing her best friend, Robert Carlin. Her forehead wrinkled and her eyes squinted tight as she forced the image in her mind’s eye. Nothing remotely close to picturing kissing Miss Gill—in fact, she accidentally poked her tonsil with her toothbrush and gagged into the sink.
As she walked to the library, she passed Robert on the street washing his father’s ‘56 Ford Fairlane. She had known Robert since he moved to the neighborhood in the fifth grade, earning his undying loyalty tutoring him through eighth grade Algebra, saving him his spot on the junior varsity basketball team. Robert was a nice boy, cute and sort of shy around girls—that is until they got to know him. Beatrice didn’t have many friends in high school, but she certainly counted Robert as her closest.
Toward the end of his graduation party in June, he had tried to ask her out on a real date, but when she picked up on what he was stammering about, she managed to change the subject before he could it spit out. And before she knew it, Maria Perillo came along and Robert was happy just being friends again.
“Hiya, Bea,” Robert said, shaking the soap suds from his hands. “Off to work on this beautiful day? Sorry about that,” he teased.
She nodded. “Gee, you sure wash your dad’s car a lot.”
Robert frowned. “Say, what do you mean? This is my car. My dad gave it to me.”
She knew he was lying. “Well, it’s a really keen car. I’m sure Maria enjoys tooling around in it.”
“Sure she does. Maybe I can take you for a spin sometime,” he said with a blushing smile.
She thought about the offer. According to most of the stories from girls she knew who dated boys, accepting a ride in a boy’s car meant you could expect to wind up at the top of East Rock steaming up the windows. She looked at Robert’s expectant smile, the fine brown hair on his top lip gleaming with sweat. He was cute. Very cute. So why didn’t Beatrice think about him the way she thought of Miss Gill? She closed her eyes and tried again to picture him kissing her, her lips pantomiming as she forced the image.
“What’s the matter, Bea? You got something from breakfast stuck in your teeth?”
She opened her eyes and smiled awkwardly. Nothing. No tingles, no butterflies, zilch.
“So how about that ride?”
“I’d like to, Robert, but my mother won’t allow me in cars with boys until I’m eighteen.”
“That’s in October, isn’t it?”
She nodded confidently, knowing she would be safely nestled away on Salve Regina’s Rhode Island campus by the time that day arrived.
“Okay, I’ll see you then for that ride,” he said with a grin.
She grinned back. “Not if I see you first.”
He flung soap suds at her as she trundled off down the street. “That’s okay,” he called out after her. “Maria would probably get sore if you came with me anyway.”
“You certainly wouldn’t want that,” Beatrice said over her shoulder with a satisfied grin.
At lunchtime in the break room, Beatrice pealed her tuna sandwich from its waxed paper wrapping and poked it. Her suspicions were correct—mushy bread from a runny tomato slice. She sighed and sunk it like a basketball into the garbage can. She wasn’t hungry anyway. Waiting for Miss Gill to come in had her stomach in knots. She absently picked at something crusty on the table’s surface, making another attempt to rationalize her exuberance as admiration. After all, Miss Gill was thirty-one, never married and a self-assured career girl, the kind of woman Beatrice had long aspired to be in lieu of the apron-wearing, slotted-spoon wielding homemaker all the girls in school seemed bent on becoming.
Finally, Miss Gill arrived in a huff. “Damn it, now I barely have enough time to eat. I swear that Draper does this to me on purpose. ‘And another thing, Miss Gill’,” she mocked and then looked directly at Beatrice. “What the hell is wrong with an Emily Dickinson display anyway?”
“Nothing,” Beatrice replied timidly. She loved it when Miss Gill had her eyeglasses pushed up into her hair, little black strands poking out this way and that.
“Here,” Miss Gill said, sending her Scooter Pie skittering across the table. “I won’t have time to eat this.”
Beatrice offered an innocent smile. “Want my help fixing the display after?”
“You’re such a sweet kid,” Miss Gill said with a wink.
Beatrice adored any kind of personal acknowledgement from Miss Gill but hated it when she referred to her as a kid. She certainly was not a kid. She was a young woman, almost eighteen and practically a college girl.
Later, as Beatrice stood holding Nathaniel Hawthorne novels and story collections, Miss Gill shifted the hard-covers around the small square table with each one she added. She stepped back and eyed the display, then scooped up the books and shoved them at Beatrice. “Draper may not want a ‘Great Nineteenth-Century American Poets’ display, but she’s getting a ‘Great American something’ display.”
Beatrice smiled at her defiance.
“What are you grinning at, you little monkey?” Miss Gill said.
For some reason, Beatrice suddenly felt emboldened. “I’m just wondering how long you’re going to make me hold these books. Hawthorne’s been dead a long time. He doesn’t care how they’re positioned.”
“Well, aren’t you fresh?” Miss Gill eyed her flirtatiously. “Good. I’m starting to rub off on you.”
Beatrice grinned and launched The House of Seven Gables at her. “Here you go.”
“I asked you to hold it,” Miss Gill replied, launching it back.
They began to struggle playfully with the book, shoving it at each other, forcing the other one to hold on to it. On one of the frenetic exchanges, Beatrice’s hand grazed the side of Miss Gill’s breast, stirring an arousal in her much like what she’d been experiencing since reading Odd Girl Out, superimposing images of Miss Gill and herself in the steamy scenes. Before Beatrice could process her feelings, Miss Gill one-upped her by tickling her in the stomach and on her sides. The pages of the novel flapped liked wings as it tumbled to the floor, and Beatrice backed away as the sensation surging through her body grew more intense.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Bea,” Miss Gill offered as she bent to pick it up. “Did I pinch you or something?”
“Uh, no, no,” Beatrice stammered. “Your uh, your hands are cold.”
Miss Gill chuckled. “My hands aren’t cold. In fact, they’re too damn warm—feel.” She pressed both palms against Beatrice’s cheeks.
Beatrice’s heart fluttered wildly as the ecstasy of the moment gave way to an awkward self-awareness.
“Miss Gill,” barked Mrs. Draper from the end of the stacks, scaring her hands off Beatrice’s face. “If you can spare Beatrice for a moment, her mother would like a word with her on the telephone.”
“Of course, Mrs. Draper,” Miss Gill said with a suppliant smile. “You take all the time you need, Bea.”
Beatrice shuffled to the phone at the front desk, trying to make sense of what had just happened, to rationalize why her body was now responding in such a shameful way whenever she was close to Miss Gill. They were friends and yet Beatrice was having more and more difficulty controlling her thoughts—how would Miss Gill feel if she ever knew? Disgusted, no doubt. She shuddered as she picked up the telephone receiver.
“Bea, darling. I’m out of my pills. Would you stop by DeLuca’s on your way home and pick up my new prescription?”
“I don’t have any money on me, Mother.”
“Just have him put it on my account.”
Beatrice frowned. She hated being the mule for her mother’s pills, knowing she would get the hairy eyeball from Mr. DeLuca over their past-due account. “Can’t Quentin stop and get them on his way home?”
“You’ll be home before him, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t insist on turning into Sarah Bernhardt over every little thing I ask you to do.”
“All right, Mother. Good bye.” She replaced the receiver and was startled by Mrs. Draper, lingering behind the desk with a glare that could have surely penetrated through Beatrice’s skull and into her private thoughts. Beatrice offered her a solemn nod and decided to make herself scarce for the rest of her shift, if only to allow her feet to return to earth.
Bannon, Ann. Odd Girl Out. San Francisco: Cleis Press, Inc.,1957, 2001. Print.
Read Jean Copeland’s interview about The Revelation of Beatrice Darby, her novel in progress.