The mantel clock was striking midnight when Mrs. Lily came in. “Jamie, I called your parents several hours ago and explained what you and Sam were doing. They said they understood and you should come home when you were ready. Are you?”
“Yes’m. But I’d like to come back and talk to Sam some more.” Sam reached over and squeezed Jamie’s hand.
Mrs. Lily smiled at Sam and Jamie holding hands. “Certainly. It will be good for you both to continue to mourn.”
She flowed about the room lightly touching furniture and books as she spoke. “Jamie, after someone you love dies, it’s essential that you express your grief. Tonight, that has been the right thing for Sam to do. Since losing his parents a year ago, he has held his grief inside and has suffered as a result. Thank you for coming. You have helped Sam, which in turn has helped you. Please understand that you can miss someone you have loved for the rest of your life. But it doesn’t have to make you unhappy or sad. There are many more people you can love.”
Jamie didn’t understand everything she’d said, but he knew he’d done something good for Sam, which pleased him. He glanced down at their hands with their fingers laced together and smiled.
Mrs. Lily walked to her desk and picked up a small book. “Jamie, in my novels time is often an important part of the story. How we understand and deal with time often determines our path in life. For me, midnight is the most important time of all.”
She walked to the windows and gazed at the snow outside. With her back to them she said, “It is now Wednesday, Christmas Eve, 1930. A wonderful time in a day that will never come again.”
Turning, she set the book on the desk and moved to stand in front of the sofa. “Samantha, you made a promise. Now is the time. I will return later and then we will take Jamie home to his family.”
Mrs. Lily walked from the room, sliding the double doors closed again as she left.
Something in Jamie’s brain was trying to get his attention and it took a moment for him to focus on it. “Mrs. Lily called you ‘Samantha’. Isn’t that a girl’s name?”
Sam smiled and squeezed Jamie’s hand. “Yes, it is.”
“But why would your parents give you a girl’s…?” Jamie stared at Sam who hung onto his hand as he tried to slide away. “No… It can’t be. You’re not a… But how…”
“Actually, Samantha is my middle name. My first name is Elaina, but I didn’t think ‘Ed’ or ‘Lane’ sounded right.” She tightened her grip on Jamie’s hand and pulled him toward her. “Stay there, Jamie. I’m the same person I was a few minutes ago.”
He relaxed and sat back on the sofa. “I guess you’re right, but I don’t understand. Why did you pretend to be a boy?”
“I didn’t pretend. I was a boy in all the things that mattered.”
“Remember I told you I went to a private school in New York? It was a girl’s finishing school and my mother made me go.”
In a singsong voice, Sam chanted, “The Destroia-Harrison Girl’s Finishing Academy prepares a girl for her proper role in modern society as an efficient, creative woman who has mastered the proper cultural and social graces associated with her position in life.”
She let her voice go back to normal. “I had to learn how to dress, walk, talk and behave like all the other useless, spoiled, rich girls in New York City. We studied fashion, French, fine art, penmanship, being hostesses, and managing servants. Mother sent me there to learn how to be like her, but I couldn’t stand it and I talked Dad into hiring tutors for me. On weekends and during the summer, I learned science, math, geography and outdoor skills for Explorer’s Club trips.”
“So that’s why you went to summer school. But what’s that got to with being a boy?”
“Don’t you see? All my life I was told I had to be like Mother. I wanted to be an Explorer like Dad, but that was only for boys. One of my tutors told me that I was better than the boys he taught so when I came here, I decided to be a boy. Then I could be what I wanted.”
“You were sure good at it, although right from the start, I thought you were different. I figured it was just because you were from New York City. Wait until Homer finds out.” Jamie squeezed Sam’s hand making her smile. “What promise did you make to your Aunt Lily?”
“She said she’d let me be a boy only if I promised to tell everyone the truth during the first year. She thinks now is the right time to tell you. I hope you don’t mind.”
“I’m not sure it matters.” Then Jamie paused to think about the things he and Sam had done together and he felt his cheeks get warm. “But what about the sauna bath? We only wore towels and you weren’t wearing anything… you know… on top, but you looked like a boy.”
“I do now, but I’m going to grow up soon.”
“But when you brushed my back with the birch branches, I wasn’t even wearing my towel.” Jamie put both hands on his burning cheeks, certain they must be bright red.
“Yes, but I didn’t peek. One time, I went on an expedition with Dad to South America. It was hot all the time and the people there didn’t wear anything.”
“That’s right. We were there several weeks and after a few days, I didn’t notice because it was normal for them. We were the ones who looked out of place so I decided not to wear clothes either. After a while, I liked it. Why wear clothes if it never gets cold?”
“Well, I can think of a reason why I’d want to.”
Sam grinned and pressed her shoulder against his. “I think I know what you mean, but they didn’t care.”
Jamie shook his head. “At school you used the boys’ privy.”
“So what? They’re alike, except that the seat in the boy’s is always wet.”
“Why would… ” Jamie felt his face get hot again and he looked away. “Never mind.”
Sam squeezed his hand. “You’re awfully shy. I thought all farm boys knew the facts of life from experience.”
“We do, but talking about livestock is a lot different than talking about yourself.”
“I know and I shouldn’t tease you. I’m sorry.” Sam stopped smiling. “One of the most important things I learned from traveling with Dad is that people in other places do things differently and we’d have to do them their way and get used to it. Sometimes it was hard.”
“I’ll bet.” Jamie sighed and looked at the clock. Closing his eyes, he leaned back against the cushions on the sofa. “I’m ready for bed now.” He smiled at Sam and said, “And I need time to think.”
“I do too. If you’re ready, Philip can take you home.”
“Okay. But what should I call you? I’m used to Sam.”
“That’s fine, but whatever you do, don’t call me Elaina. I hate that name.”
“I won’t. It doesn’t fit you anyway.”
“By the way, my last name is Harriston. Since I was going to live with Aunt Lily, I asked to borrow her last name. She didn’t mind and said it would probably make things easier.”
“I like Sam Lily. You don’t mind?”
She shook her head. “I like it too. Don’t tell anyone I’m a girl, especially Homer. I’ll let everyone else know when I think the time is right.”
Jamie grinned. “Will it be soon? I don’t know how long I can keep a secret this big.”
“Not long, I promise. You’d better go.”
Sam held Jamie’s hand as they walked to the door. “Good night, Jamie. Please come back, we have a lot more to talk about.”
Sam stood on her tiptoes and kissed Jamie firmly on the cheek. Even though he now knew Sam was a girl, it still seemed like he’d just been kissed by a boy in bib overalls.
In Mr. Jorgenson’s truck, Jamie touched the spot where Sam kissed him. Warmth was spreading from his cheek the same way it had from the brandy earlier. He’d enjoyed both, but he knew which he liked better.