“We all wear two faces. What counts is what they mask.” Batman Vol. 1 528
Everyone has a public face versus a private one. High school is where I learned to to tell the difference, to wear one mask with teachers and another with friends. It came to be that even when I was at home, alone, I didn’t know which one was my natural face.
It was almost as if…I didn’t have one.
And so it was that when the illustrious San Joaquin High School football team met for a strategy planning session and accolades all around, there just happened to be a bevy of beautiful girls with pink lipstick and blushing cheeks all cooing in awe at the sight of so much manly muscle.
It would have been quite ungentlemanly for those good ol’ boys not to extend an invitation for us to join them, at least to eat together.
I slipped in between two giant heavenly bodies and tapped on an empty stool next to a lanky young man staring deeply into the bubbles of his root beer.
“Hi,” I said, a little breathlessly. So close!
“Hi,” he replied, sighing a little. He played with his straw and did not look at me.
Mentally I reviewed the ten different topics I felt confident about, but I couldn’t think of a way to begin. “So…football. Wow. That must be tough!” I giggled, turning to give him the maximum amount of my attention.
It was exactly the wrong thing to say.
“Not really. Everybody here plays football.” He stared more determinedly into the depths of his soda.
“Well, yeah,” I said, watching him. For the first time I actually used my real voice, not the modulated little-girl tone I usually employed to achieve results. “Here. But thank God here isn’t the whole world.”
He looked up at me then, looked at a girl who had just possibly used the Lord’s name in vain in a deeply (superficially) religious community and who had plainly stated that this red-neck town was not the Center of the Known Universe.
He smiled, a true smile.
“Hi, my name is Roane.”
“Hi. My name is Susannah.”
“Susannah? Like, that song ‘O Susannah’?”
“My friends call me Sunny.”
“What, we’re not friends?”
“I’ll let you know…Susannah.”
He grinned, his white teeth and all-American smile dazzling in the dim lighting. I bit my lower lip, dredging through my memory for something memorable. Then I remembered the book he had been carrying yesterday, the red-orange numbers against a white background.
A book I recognized.
“Ignorance is strength,” I said lightly, deliberately tracing concentric circles in the condensation and not making eye contact. Still, I felt the table rock as Roane swiveled sharply in my direction.
“You know Orwell?”
A pause, one long heartbeat and then two, while I quelled the first impulsive, sassy response: Call me by my name and find out what I know!
But I couldn’t risk being myself; I needed this to go right.
At last I raised my eyes and answered, softly, “My father is a professor of literature at Sierra College. It is useless to resist.” I giggled, and he laughed, too, leaning in so that our shoulders touched. Surrounding us his teammates muttered and grinned and high-fived each other. The girls gasped and telegraphed their approval with elegantly arched eyebrows.
My father pulled into the parking lot moments before Coach Bingley, ready to load all eight girls into a cargo van without seat belts so that we could continue our sleepover party. Our fine, upstanding dinner companions walked each young lady to the door of the restaurant. Roane and I trailed behind, last of all.
“Sunny,” he said, and I turned to look up at him, willing him with every fiber of my being to figure it out. A pause, as he realized all of his friends were suddenly listening in, then he plowed on, “Would you like to go out, maybe tomorrow or something?”
I beamed at him, then coyly looked away. “I thought you’d never ask,” I murmured, and the team erupted in shouts of congratulations. Feigning embarrassment I fled to the van, to my father and the chattering group of girls I called my friends to tell them all about it.
Well, most of the story, without the in-depth research.
O.K., some of the story, anyways.
I had done it.
I was safe.
And I was going to survive the next four years of high school.