Making It Official
Attendance on Friday wasn’t down like on the day before Spring Break. Even the blatantly Christian kids on campus didn’t seem to take Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, as seriously as they took a week off from classes. Having a preacher mother made it different for me. Sure, I didn’t remember Good Friday of my first year on campus. I hadn’t even gone home – or anywhere else – for Easter. I should apologize to Mom for that… and she would tell me it wasn’t her I owed an apology. This year I was thinking about it. Mom had a collection of religious movies, and I was actually dreaming about one of ’em when I woke up in the morning. I don’t remember the name of the movie, but it showed Jesus completely naked on the cross. Mom says that’s how he probably was. In my dream, it was Wes, and I couldn’t get to him. Trying to make it with too many Roman soldiers and watching Wes die was the worst nightmare ever. It’s a good thing there weren’t any major problems to deal with while I was driving to Gardner.
Grandy was already at the house when I got home, so we went for a run together. He was teasing about streaking with me, and I offered to call Dr. Randall and get him signed up for the research. That led to telling him about my job and the sorority and other things in Coventry. I was in a much better mood when we got home.
A strange thing happened on Saturday. I was looking through some old stuff in my room and found my running log from high school. The strange part was how many miles it said. I know I was running at least fifteen miles every day. It was always more than any of my friends did and more than my coaches wanted me to do. That’s not what my log said in my own handwriting. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t find a single day in the whole book when I ran fifteen miles. The book where I wrote things down wasn’t likely to be that far off. How could my memory be so wrong?
On Easter morning, Dad, Grandy, and I did the paper route because Chip was part of the youth sunrise service; so was Lily. I was sweating pretty heavy when we got to the church, so I hadn’t put on my sweats yet. Dad and Grandy jumped out because the service was starting, and I crawled in back to get my sweats. They weren’t there. I clearly remembered bringing them down to the kitchen table. Had I left them there? I couldn’t exactly get out and say, ‘It’s okay. I just forgot.’ Was Wes naked at a sunrise service somewhere? I was still sweating from having run the paper route, but I wrapped up in a blanket and stood with my parents and Grandy. Like most youth-led Sunrise Services, this one was short. Even with a portable PA, some of the kids weren’t very loud. The last time I had been at a sunrise service, I had a cast on my ankle and was the main speaker. All three years in high school, the other kids chose me to preach. I planned to run home to shower immediately after the service, but I also wanted to tell Lily and Chip they had done a good job with their parts. They had gone into the church to help with serving the breakfast while Mom was thanking everyone for coming, reminding them of the later, more traditional services, and inviting them to stay for breakfast.
“Do you have a van key?” I asked Mom when there was a break in her conversations. I didn’t know where Dad had gone.
“I thought you were going to run home.”
“I am, but I wanna leave this blanket in the van… unless you wanna take it inside. You can tell Lil and Chip for me, too, that they did good with their parts of the service.”
“Why don’t you tell ’em?”
“But they’re inside already.”
“Do you have your button?”
“Well, yes, but…”
There was an interruption while Mom answered another question. An elderly woman with a cane whose grandchildren had been ahead of me in the youth group stopped beside us on her way into the church. “Is it true you’re in that strip-off?”
I drew a slow breath. “Good morning, Mrs. Magnuson. Yes, I’m supporting the death penalty protest, but it’s not a strip-off.”
“That’s what those hotheads on the radio call it. Do you need money?”
“No. I have clothes at home.”
“I meant for the protest. Your mother’s never said where we could send donations.”
“Good morning, Margaret,” Mom said, having turned from her other conversation, “and Happy Easter. The Council decided, since we have church members on both sides, that we wouldn’t be taking donations through the church. You can write to Governor Dityne or our senator and representative.”
“I have already, and all I get back is form letters.” She looked at me again. “Can you take donations? If I give you a check, will it help so people can put their clothes back on?”
“If you want to make a donation to Citizens Against the Death Penalty,” Mom supplied, “Iris can deliver it for you. There are other issues going on right now that mean she might not necessarily get dressed as soon as the penalty is repealed.”
“That streaking research and a naked sorority, is it? I heard about them, but if my money can help get people off death row, that’s a good thing.”
One of the youth came out with an urgent request for Mom, who hurried into the church. I went in more slowly with Mrs. Magnuson, offering my arm for support. That was awkward with the blanket, and before we were inside, it was folded over my other arm. Mrs. Magnuson kept hold of my arm and went into the Fellowship Hall, taking one of the first available seats. I put the blanket on the cold, metal folding chair beside her and sat down. Lily brought coffee and orange juice for both of us, and Chip brought scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast. Mrs. Magnuson got out her checkbook and convinced several of her friends nearby to make donations, too. Mrs. Magnuson’s check was larger than all the cash and other checks combined. The total was considerably more than I wanted to be carrying around. As soon as I finished eating, I took the money to Mom’s office to put it in an envelope and into Mom’s purse. Several people wanted to talk as I went with the keys and the blanket out to the van. Word was spreading about donations for CADP, and everyone seemed to want to contribute. The early service was already starting when I finally got away from the church to run home – with another handful of checks and cash.
When I got out of the shower, Grandy, Dad, Lily, and Chip were home from the breakfast cleanup with more donations for CADP. I was grateful for the support but decided against Grandy’s suggestion that I could get more donations if I didn’t dress for the eleven o’clock service.
Lily, with a towel wrapped around herself, was just coming out of her room on the way to the bathroom when I came upstairs. “Do you remember me telling you about the swim team going commando on meet days?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Why?”
“If you… I’ll do it today to support you, if… I don’t know. Any more it’s not that big a deal for me, but what you’re doing is a lot. Mom doesn’t like me to do it at church, but I will for you.”
“Get her mad at both of us?”
“She doesn’t get mad about it, and she’s really proud of you.”
“She’s proud of you, too.”
Donations for CADP continued to come when we went back to the church for the late service. Grandy joked about me becoming a professional fund raiser. I was really surprised by all the money, so surprised I couldn’t think about much of anything else. Mom had accepted an invitation to lunch at the home of the church treasurer. He tried to be gracious about it, but he was not at all happy that I had been naked for the sunrise service and the youth breakfast. He was also a supporter of Governor Dityne and the death penalty. However, he had heard about all the donations and didn’t think it was a good idea for any individual – especially a young woman – to carry around that much cash and checks. Despite the decision of the church council not to take up offerings for CADP, a decision he strongly supported, he convinced Mom that they should handle the donations in the same way as the usual church contributions and send the money to CADP directly. I agreed.
Grandy wanted me to go to the gathering at Gramma Iris’s sister’s house. I wasn’t real certain how to find it, so I followed Grandy although he drove slower than I would have. At the edge of Grafton, Grandy stopped at a gas station, and I pulled on a blue shirt-dress before getting out of my car. When we got to Aunt Violet’s house, I was more certain than ever that I should not be there. Family is family, but that doesn’t mean they will like you or agree with your commitments. There were so many cars on the street and in the driveway we had to park in the next block. Despite Grandy’s joking, I wasn’t feeling any more confident when one of Aunt Violet’s sons-in-law came to the door.
He led us through the kitchen and into the family room where the girls and women were gathered. “Andy and Iris are here!” he announced over the general din of uninterrupted conversation.
All eyes turned to us, and Aunt Violet twisted in her chair. “Oh! That Iris!” she said and stood. “I thought you meant… Oh, never mind! We’re happy to have you anyway.”
I forced a smile as Aunts Violet, Lily, and Rose all came to smother us in hugs. “Yes, that Iris,” I said although no one seemed to hear me. The aunts tried to overwhelm me with questions, some of which I managed to answer. The questions really should have been going the other way; Aunt Violet had lost a lot of weight.
The conversations in the family room resumed, and I went out onto the back deck – where Grandy had already gone – to greet the men. They were sitting in a silent semi-circle, watching the boys and young men playing dodgeball in the yard. Jake was one of the players and just waved at me. The men didn’t have much in common other than having married Springer women. Grandy was clearly the only runner; some of them were at least twice his size.
“You gonna bust us for open containers?” one of the men in Dad’s generation asked. “Worse teetotalers are reformed drunks. Or ain’t you reformed?”
“I’ve quit drinking, but why would I bust you?”
“Ain’t you that nudie crime fighter babe we been hearin’ all about?”
I glared at him for several seconds. “I saved a guy’s life, but it had nothing to do with drinking.” Amid chortles from the other men, I went back into the house and down to the basement where the younger women and girls were gathered.
Holly and Ivy, twin granddaughters of Aunt Rose, made room between them on a love-seat, not where I would have chosen to sit. The two were as nearly identical as any twins I had ever met, and they always dressed identically and had their hair and nails done exactly the same. They had even married brothers and lived next to each other in a duplex. The only way I had ever discovered for telling them apart was a scar on the side of Holly’s right wrist. Other than being carbon copies of each other, they didn’t have any interesting thoughts or ideas.
“So,” Jasmine asked, “is it really true?” She was Jake’s sister and a senior in high school, a year older than Lily.
I could feel everyone in the room looking at me. “Is what true?”
“You know! Are you starting a streaking sorority to set all those killers loose?”
I tried hard to find a source of calm. “I am part of the running research; some call it streaking. I also support the nudity strike to get the death penalty repealed. No one will be released from prison.”
“And how does getting a bunch of girls to be exhibitionists help with anything?” one of the cousins asked.
I tried to explain, but they wanted to argue. The argument was still going when I went upstairs. I slipped out on the deck to say goodbye to Grandy and went around the side of the house to get to the street, muttering about relatives as I walked to my car. I tossed my dress in the backseat and got out my running shoes. I was leaning against the car to tie them on when Amaryllis came around the back of the car.
“Wow,” Amaryllis said. “I’m… glad I caught you.”
I glanced at her. “So, here’s your exhibitionist streaker cousin trying to corrupt the whole damned world.”
“Exhi… Did they say that to your face?”
I nodded. “That and too much else.”
Amaryllis sighed. “You’re doing things I wouldn’t, but you’re still family.”
“That’s not what some of ’em back there seem to think.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m proud of you for what you’ve done. Have you met the running researchers?”
I had finished tying my shoes and was standing straight. “Just Dr. Randall,” I said defiantly. “He’s a good guy, and it may not be the most important research ever, but it’s answering some questions people have had for a while.”
“I’ve only talked with him a couple of times, but I like him, too.”
“Oh… yeah. Jake told me you’re part of it, too. Sorry.”
Amaryllis smiled. “Dr. Mabharati, my boss, is one of the researchers. Her specialty is breasts. That’s why I came to talk with you.”
“I’m taking care of mine. It may not seem like it without a bra, but I am, and they’re healthy. Regular check-ups are part of the research.”
“I know. Your scans come to our office, and I go over them with a fine-toothed comb. And you’re still part of our family.”
“Thanks. I’m just upset about the way people were treating me back there.”
“I’m sorry about that, but you need to know about Mom, your Great-aunt Violet.”
“What about her?”
“She didn’t want us to say anything today, but Tuesday she’ll be coming in to the Med Center for a bilateral lumpectomy. Several lymph nodes are already involved, too.”
“That sounds bad.”
“It is. Stage four.” Amaryllis looked to the side, blinking at sudden tears. “With your grandmother already gone…”
I stepped close and hugged her. “The cure and treatment rates are really good these days.”
“I know. I know. But in families like ours… And when it’s so advanced…” She pulled back and wiped her nose with a tissue. “Will you tell your sister? I’ve told all the other women in the family.”
“Good. Since you’re running again, maybe this year you can be in the Run for Hope. If the research is still going on, I won’t have a hard time spotting you.”
I squeezed her hand. “I’ll be there.”
“Good. It’s the third Saturday in September. I think it’s the seventeenth this year.”
“That’s Gramma Iris’s birthday.”
“Hmh. Well, let’s hope her sisters can all be there to celebrate. Here’s my card. I hope we can stay in touch.”
By the time I got to the parking lot behind the ARC, it was almost time to head out for the evening gathering, so I stretched out and took off without going to my room. As nice as it had been running the paper route with Grandy, Chip, and Dad, it was also nice to be running alone where I could set my own pace. Had anyone else in the Sunday evening group been naked in church that morning? Wes and Piña probably were at the chapel; anybody else in the CADP protest probably was, too. I didn’t know if anyone else in the Sunday evening group was even in the protest. It was good being part of a group where I didn’t feel weird. If this sorority thing actually happened, maybe I could figure out some way to help others past that. When I got out to the edge of the city, I could see the Med Center in the distance. Why hadn’t I asked Amaryllis where she lived? Maybe I could call or email her at work and invite her to the gathering next week. Wouldn’t that be the day!
When I got close to the house, there was music – trumpet, clarinet, piano, guitar, and drums – so they must be outside. Wes apparently had brought music from the chapel because the songs were ones from there. The gathering was smaller than usual, but it was harder than usual getting out to the music, too. I didn’t remember all of their names, but everyone wanted to talk. When I finally caught a glimpse of the guy at the piano, it was definitely Evan. Way to go, Piña! Donna interrupted with a bell to call everyone out to the deck. The bass player had clothes on, too; it was Jake Lawrence. Did he and Evan feel weird surrounded by so many naked people? Actually, Wes, Piña, Evan, and the bass player meant over half of the musicians were from the chapel. Ohp, somebody was praying!
Because so many people knew each other so well, there were lots of joys and concerns. We had heard some of the concerns before, and some were new. I had closed my eyes to pray silently for Aunt Violet’s surgery when Jake asked for prayers for his grandmother.
“Hey, Running! There you are!” Wes said later when he found me in the kitchen washing dishes by hand even though they had a dishwasher. “I knew you hadn’t left because your shoes were by the front door.”
“Here I am,” I said, torn between wanting to smile at him and wanting to go back about two years and redo most everything about my life. Even a week and a half would help.
“I’m ready to head back any time you want to go. Becki took Jake back, so it’s just you and me.”
I sighed. “My dad and his mom are cousins.”
“Oh, so is that your gramma, too, that’s gonna have the breast cancer operation?”
“No. My gramma’s sister. My gramma died of breast cancer a little over two years ago. Most o’ the women on my dad’s side either have it or have to watch out for it.”
“Yuck! I don’t know anyone in my family with it. There are too many others, though. That’s why I do the Run for Hope every year. Do you do that?”
“I haven’t. Probably will.” I rinsed my hands and turned to face him and dry them with a towel. “You’re the second person that asked me about it today. Jake’s mother was the first.”
“Wish more people would get involved. A run once a year may not be much, but it’s something most people could do.”
“Yeah. You brought Jake out here? What’d he think of it?”
“Too many naked people. Course, that’s what he thinks at the chapel, too, when there’s just a few of us. He hasn’t been around for any of the CADP meetings.”
Piña and Evan had left earlier for the Java Station where he was going to have a late, short shift. I wished I had talked with him, but there would be other chances. Piña was interested in the sorority, so Evan might be getting lots of practice. If I could figure out a good job for Wes, he could get lots of practice being around naked women, too. No. I always felt comfortable around him already, and I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. Of course, he never seemed uncomfortable around women with or without clothes.
“By the way,” Wes said as we were getting into his car, “can you thank your mother for me? She got me signed up for the email newsletter from her church, and it was her column about inviting people to worship on Easter that got me to invite Jake out here.”
I nodded. “Do you do this to all your friends?”
“Invite ’em to nudist gatherings? Not hardly. When you grow up a nudist, you learn pretty young not to tell anybody, about the time you start to notice most people usually wear clothes.”
“Yeah.” At least he wasn’t disgusted by my presence. “Do you go to class naked like Piña?”
“Yeah. I sure hope we can get the repeal before next winter. I’ve been naked outside at home all year round but never for all that long when it was cold. It never seemed as cold as it does or did sometimes walking across campus. Piña and most o’ the other protesters on campus weren’t nudists before, so it was an even bigger deal for them.”
“I’m missing something here, aren’t I?”
“I don’t know. With this sorority…”
When I didn’t continue, he asked, “You’re worried about going to class naked?”
I looked out my side window. “Seems dumb when I say it.”
“Not really. I’ve never had that dream people talk about, but it’s common and pretty scary for most people.”
“Yeah. Usually for me, it’s at church. Last time…”
“Pretty bad?” he asked after a long pause.
“I was in the choir making it with five guys at once, guys I didn’t know. And the choir director wanted me to stand up and sing a solo; I don’t sing solos, especially with a guy in my mouth. And my mom wouldn’t look at me, and it was my gramma’s funeral, and my dad and grandfather and all my other relatives were telling me there was no place in the church for a fucking whore, and I couldn’t get the guy out of my mouth because it was like a garden hose, and I was about to explode because my other end was plugged by two other guys, and… Shit! I don’t want to even remember that dream, let alone tell it to a friend.”
“Sounds like you really need a friend to talk to.”
“Sounds to me like I need a shrink.”
“Maybe. Okay. We maybe don’t know each other well enough for me to ask this. Don’t answer if you don’t want to, but… are you… when you go to class naked… are you… is sex…”
“No. I won’t be drunk in class. When I’m running, it’s usually easy not to drink.”
“Guess it’s a good thing you have the name you do.”
“I’ve always thought so… except for the two years after I broke my ankle and couldn’t run. Those were the absolute worst years of my life.”
“Is that when you were drinking?”
“Yeah. I hope, if there’s anything in your life you’re addicted to like I’m addicted to running, you aren’t ever forced to give it up.”
Wes pulled up to the front of the ARC, but I asked him to take me around to the parking lot in the back. He offered to help carry things up to my room, but I said I could handle it. Even though I had rinsed off after running out to the gathering, I took a long shower.
I chose a light blue dress to wear on Monday, not a fancy one, but one that looked good and I had worn to class before. During the previous week, I had applied to the Panhellenic Council for provisional approval to start another sorority on campus. No one I asked seemed to know what would happen if the Scholars Program approved the sorority and the Panhellenic Council didn’t. The meeting was every Monday from twelve to one in an upstairs meeting room in the Campus Center. Not every house was represented every week, especially when things got busy at the end of the semester. If GYM actually got started, we would have to send either a representative or our president. As far as I was concerned, if we were going to be a Greek sorority, we would have to find a way to be active in the Panhellenic Council. Maybe we could change the reputation for sorority girls on campus.
I was at the meeting room before noon, but only a few women were talking at a table. When one of them noticed me, they fell silent. Well, it wasn’t all that surprising that I or GYM or both would be the main topic of conversation. With as much as I had been in the news, I was probably the center of more conversations than I would ever know about or want to. One of the women told me to have a seat and that our application would be at the end of the agenda. I was reminded why I disliked sorority girls. The house names were printed on folded card stock; the women looked through the stack and set the right one in front of themselves on the table. There were no personal names, and I was the only one without a card.
The business could have gone much faster than it did. Two representatives in particular – both of whom had been in the little huddle when I came in – seemed to be trying to make everything go as slowly as possible. The GYM approval was the only item left on the agenda when one of them moved to adjourn and the other immediately seconded.
“I’m not recognizing that motion while we have just one more item,” the chair said. She had done as well as she could with running the meeting. “We have a request for a…”
“We can consider it next time,” the one who had moved to adjourn interrupted. “I move we table it.”
“I’m not going to recognize that motion, either. This is our last meeting of the semester. You all know who Iris Running is. She’s waited patiently, and we’re going to give her an answer. The issue is provisional approval for a new sorority, Gamma Upsilon Mu. All of the paperwork is in order. The sorority is part of a Scholars Program project, the lead project for this coming year. The head of the Scholars Program, the Student Affairs office, and the Dean of Students have all asked us to approve this. It’s before us. Iris, you have the floor if you want to say anything to us.”
I took a deep breath. “Thank you. It shouldn’t surprise any of us that there’s a lot of opposition to this. Many people were really amazed that the strike against the death penalty has gone on this long or that the running research ever got either funding or approval in the first place. Frankly, I didn’t think the Scholars committee would approve our project, but they did. There’s been a lot of interest in it, but I still don’t know if we will actually be able to get it going. It is a pretty radical idea. While I was still in the planning stage of the proposal, I learned that the first sororities were considered pretty radical, too, even though fraternities had been around for a while. We aren’t asking any of you to change your sororities or how you do things. We aren’t asking any of you to join the strike or the running research. All we’re asking is a chance to be a sorority.”
“Okay,” the chair said, “are there any questions for Iris? Keep ’em civil if you don’t want to be ruled out of order.”
“Will this approval,” the one who had moved to adjourn and to table asked, “mean we have to let them speak in our houses?” The question was addressed to the chair.
“We all have agreed to the inter-sorority covenant. It grants reciprocal speaking rights and requires non-interference with the legitimate policies of another house.”
“But their policy isn’t legitimate. It’s even illegal!”
“That’s what I thought,” I said. “When this project was approved by the Scholars committee, nudity became part of our purpose. Therefore, it has a special legal status like in Art and Swimming classes. We still need to work out the arrangement with the police.”
“Still wrong,” the other woman muttered.
Provisional status was approved for GYM with only two nay votes.
Instead of working in the HP lab or running with McKenzie after my afternoon class on Tuesday, I ran to the Med Center to check on Aunt Violet. The surgery had been in the morning, and Aunt Violet was in her room… along with Amaryllis and her husband Gary, Jake, Jasmine, and Jackie, Aunt Violet’s daughter-in-law and Amaryllis’ sister-in-law. Aunt Violet had her eyes closed. The TV was on with a story about the death penalty protest. Jackie was carrying on about how awful it was for people to be naked where God and everybody could see them when nobody wanted to have that forced on them.
From just inside the room, I cleared my throat and said, “I’ll come back another time.”
Jackie, whose back had been to the door, yelped when she saw me.
“No,” Amaryllis said, jumping up. “You stay!”
There was considerable noise and confusion as I tried to leave while Amaryllis tried to get me to stay while Jackie tried to convince someone, anyone to throw a blanket over me. Two nurses came running into the room, and Jasmine did her best to figure out what Aunt Violet was trying to say. I wanted to leave, but Amaryllis went out of the room with me and took me into a semi-secluded waiting area near the elevators.
“I was hoping you would come,” Amaryllis said. “The news for Mom isn’t good. Jackie just doesn’t understand.”
I drew a deep breath. “She understands we’re at fault for everything wrong with the whole universe.”
“Maybe, maybe not. It’s our family; she’s married into it, but she doesn’t have any daughters, and it isn’t her mother in that bed.”
I moved from the chair where I had sat down to the couch beside Amaryllis, taking her hand. “Tell me.”
Amaryllis squeezed my hand way too tight in both of hers. “I wish we could get all our female relatives to have regular scans like yours. By the time we can feel the lumps…” She shook her head.
“Does that mean… like Gramma…?”
“We don’t know yet. They did the best they could, and we’ll give her the best available treatment.”
With my free hand, I offered the box of tissues from the coffee table to Amaryllis, and she let go of my hand. A few minutes later when Jasmine found us, I had my arm around Amaryllis’ shoulders – where my hand was a little safer. Jasmine said Aunt Violet wanted me to come back to the room and that Jackie had left in a huff.
“She’ll get over it,” Amaryllis said, “or she won’t.”
“You really run without a bra?” Jasmine asked as we were going back down the hall. “I’d hate being sore all the time.”
“I’m not sore.”
“My boss thinks it probably helps keep her breasts healthy,” Amaryllis offered. “Maybe we should get Jackie to sign up for the same research.” Jasmine snorted, and we all started laughing.
Aunt Violet wasn’t able to talk much, but I mainly talked with Amaryllis and Jasmine while Jake and his dad went to find some vending machines. I stayed for only a short visit before running back to campus.
In the evening, everyone in the Scholars Program gathered in the Campus Center to hear about all the projects which had been approved and to sign up to participate. Because mine was the lead project, I made the first presentation, following the advice I had gotten from my family and friends. Though McKenzie wasn’t in the Program, both she and Cassie were staffing the table where people would sign up for the project. McKenzie was considering signing up for the running research and the sorority if she could figure out how to tell her parents. Both Cassie and McKenzie had helped me develop a plan for how to select who would be included in the project and in the sorority. The positive response to the presentation was not unanimous, but we quickly had more people than we needed.
“You’ve made quite a splash,” Matt Garrett said when I broke free from a group of women I had been talking with. He had been standing at the end of the table for several minutes, and Cassie and McKenzie had both spoken to him.
“More’n I want to,” I said with a smile. “So, how did your presentation go?”
“Not as good as yours, obviously. Maybe I shoulda gone naked. Anything a guy can do to help out with your project?”
“Well, sure. There’s lotsa work for all the studies.”
I had to talk with others about the sorority, but Matt stayed around to walk me back to the ARC. Since he was limping, I kidded him about needing help himself and offered to walk him to his fraternity. His proposal on developing a way to encourage more responsible sexual activity among college students had been approved for only three credits.
Piña wanted to meet at the Java Station, so I went therefrom the ARC. I don’t like running with a backpack, but it was nice to be out in the pleasant evening. I wasn’t surprised to find Evan working; Piña almost never went to the Java Station if he wasn’t. Piña claimed they weren’t officially a couple yet, but I couldn’t see how it could be any more obvious. When Evan wasn’t stopping by our table, Piña was watching him more than she was looking at her books. I talked a little with Piña, Evan, and a few of the other customers, but my main focus was on studying. My grades were in surprisingly good shape, but I wasn’t going to let that be an excuse to do less than my best on my finals.
Close to ten o’clock, Wes came in with Damien, Barb Maxwell, and her husband. So much for concentrating. Piña, for a change, was focused on her own studying and hadn’t even looked up. I tried not to stare. Wes was the only naked one in the little group. What kind of sex did Wes like? With all I used to do, there wasn’t much I wouldn’t enthusiastically offer him. I sighed. No. It wasn’t about what you did; it was about who you did it with. Unless you’re drunk. I was thinking about heading back to my room, but Wes came over to our table.
“Hey, Running. You asked me a question the other night that I never answered,” he said after greeting both of us.
“I did? What question?”
“You asked if I do that to all my friends. I don’t even know what you were talking about. Probably not giving ’em a ride back to campus.”
“No. Well, thanks for that, but I was asking if you make all your friends feel, I don’t know… inadequate.”
“Inadequate? Whataya mean?” Even his frown was cute. “You don’t have to live up to anything for me.”
“You read my mom’s church newsletter. I don’t even look at it. You can tell her if you want; she probably already knows.” Besides, I wanted to live up to his highest ideals.
He held up a hand, palm toward me. “Hey, I’m on your side. You don’t hafta feel bad.”
I didn’t respond because Barb, her husband, and Damien came over to the table. Barb said she had a couple of things to talk about with me, and the three guys went to a nearby table. I would have had an easier time concentrating if Wes wasn’t right over Barb’s left shoulder.
“Do you have plans for the summer?” Barb asked after sitting down, looking at me.
“I didn’t tell her what you asked me,” Piña said.
I looked from one to the other, wondering what was going on.
“Wes’s change of plans has meant we need to do some last minute recruiting. He’ll be here in town most weekends, so he’s going to help with worship leadership at the chapel, but during the week, he has an internship in Senator Parsons’ office at the state capitol. Do you know her?”
I shook my head. “She isn’t the one that’s all upset about our research, and the strike, and everything, is she?”
Barb chuckled. “Not hardly. That’s Senator Hogue; his district is just north of the city. Senator Parsons represents mainly just the city. She and Hogue are about as opposite as you can get. We’ll have to make sure you meet her. Hogue would never have anyone associated with CADP on his staff.”
“Oh, well, good for Wes, I guess. Does that mean you’re recruiting for CADP here? I’m already wearing the button.” I tapped the button on my phone carrier lying on the table. There was a button on my shoe, too.
“No. We are, but that isn’t what I need to talk about with you. Wes had planned to be a justice intern with the church for the summer as well as helping at Camp Wesley Woods some weeks. Chelsea has been one of our resident managers at the chapel, but she agreed to help at the camp, so we need a summer resident manager at the chapel and another justice intern. The resident manager isn’t as much work in the summer, and it would be free housing. If you’re more interested in being a justice intern, you’d be working with a team of other college students and spreading the word about justice issues across the state.”
“Mom always said I should be a justice intern, but since this sorority got approved, I need to be here to work with all the committees.”
“You could do that as a resident manager. Other than unlocking the doors in the morning and locking up at night, there isn’t much that needs to be done at a specific time.”
I glanced at Wes, then Piña. “Barb, I just can’t take on something else right now. I probably have too much already between the Human Performance lab, this sorority, and the Mayor’s 10-K. If I did the resident manager thing, I’d have to give up something else; I don’t know what. If I agree to something, I give it my best.”
“That’s why everybody respects you so much,” Piña said.
I shrugged. “Maybe. Remember, she asked you first.”
“I saw her first,” Barb said quickly. “I wanted both of you to apply.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Not this time. Not when I’m already too busy.”
“Well, I still want to do everything I can to help with your sorority, and I hope we’ll see you around the chapel whenever you have a few free minutes.” She excused herself and took the rest of her iced coffee to the other table where her husband was in deep conversation with Wes and Damien.
“He’s hot for you,” Piña said softly.
I couldn’t keep my eyes from jumping to Wes, but I pulled them around to Piña. “Who?”
“Who? Santa Claus! Who do you think I meant?”
“I have no idea. Are you on the Pill?”
“What!? I don’t…” Piña said, flustered. “Why?”
“You and Evan may not be dating, but I’ve seen the way you watch him. If you’re playing together in the praise band at the chapel…”
Piña looked quickly at her books and blushed clear down to the upper part of her chest. “If we’re at the chapel, we won’t… That’s public. We won’t… we won’t…”
“If you’re on the Pill, you won’t get pregnant. Just sayin’. Thank God I was on it while I was still partying.”
With her capped pen, Piña traced over an elaborated heart doodle in the margin of her book. “If I’m not on it, I have a little more incentive to behave myself,” she said very softly. “I need more incentives, not less.”
“What about you and Wes? Are you on the Pill?”
I pulled back. “You’re kidding, right? He’s taken, and if you haven’t noticed, I don’t qualify for that one.”
“Taken? Wes? By who?”
“He and Damien are on a date. He talked to us but went back to his boyfriend.”
“Hmm. I don’t know. Listen. Can I give you a ride back to your dorm? There’s more I need to talk about, and I really can’t stay focused when Evan’s around.”
We packed up our things, said good-bye to our friends, and walked to Piña’s car. A light breeze made the night rather cool. “Are you really never afraid when you’re out like this at night?” Piña asked.
“Who told you that? If a girl’s not at least a little bit afraid, she’s gonna be doing dumb stuff.”
“Yeah. When I first joined the protest, I didn’t think it could possibly go on for very long. It’s been over two and a half months since I joined and three since the whole thing started.”
“That’s a long time.”
“Tell me about it! I never did much of anything naked before, and now look at me. With the weather getting warm finally, I feel like it will be no problem to stay naked until next fall.”
“Yeah. I think it’s going to be more of a problem for me.”
“Maybe. You know, I turned Barb down ’cause I’ll be taking private clarinet lessons. That means I’ll have to spend almost all my time playing my clarinet. That might be more effective than birth control pills.”
“If I were you, I wouldn’t bet on it.”
“Yeah. Anyway, what I really want to ask about is how much time being in your sorority is going to take. If I’m going to make it as a clarinet major, I’m going to have to practice more than just about anything else.”
“I really don’t know. We’re gonna have people with all different kinds of majors, so I don’t see why we couldn’t have a music major, too. I hope so, anyway. I want you to be part of it.”
“Well, thanks. If it was any other sorority, I wouldn’t even be considering it.”
“You’ve said that before. Maybe if one of the others went naked…”
“I doubt it.”
“Hey, Running,” Wes said the next morning as he fell into step beside me just outside the ARC. “Are you mad at me again?”
“Oh!” I hadn’t even noticed him… but it was nice not to be the only naked person in sight, especially since it was his glorious sight. “Why would I be mad at you?” And why had I never seen him on the way to class before?
“I don’t know. You seemed upset last night.”
“No. By the way, congratulations on your summer job. Barb told me you’re gonna be working for a senator.”
“Pretty amazing, huh? That crazy guy on the radio seems to be the best recruiter we have.”
“What crazy guy? The only one I know about is totally against the Strike and people being naked in public.”
“That’s who I mean. If he weren’t so extreme, I doubt I’d have this internship.”
“Maybe. My dad always says I shouldn’t put myself down.”
“Like saying your sorority won’t happen?”
We walked in silence for a little way before I responded, “That’s not nice.”
“Using what I said against me.”
“Oh. Sorry. A lot of people are talking about it. The people that know you all seem to think, with you working on it, it’ll happen.”
“I wish I had their confidence.”
“Well, if there’s any way a trumpet player that makes you mad way too often can help, let me know.”
Our paths diverged, and I went over my list of teams and committees for the sorority, trying to think which one would be best to ask him to be on. Probably not the same one as Matt Garrett. Of course, if Wes was going to be working in the capitol all summer, he wouldn’t be around to help with the sorority. I almost walked into my classroom before I remembered to duck into a bathroom to pull on my shorts and T-shirt.
On the Friday night before Finals week, I was in my room, going back and forth between studying and working on the sorority committees, when I thought I heard something at the door. My music wasn’t loud, but I turned it down and listened. After a bit, I turned the music back up, and the noise sounded again. Was something wrong with my music player? I paused it and went to the door. Angie was standing there, biting her lower lip. Unlike most evenings, the lounge was deserted. After awkward greetings, Angie asked if she could come in.
I studied her for a moment before taking and releasing a slow breath. “This is my room now. I never wear clothes here.”
“Yeah. I, I came to apologize.”
“Apologize?” I asked with a frown. “For what?”
“Can we… can we talk inside?”
“Still don’t want me out where anybody can see me?”
Angie looked at the floor for a moment. “Iris,” she whispered, “if it’s the only way you’ll talk to me, I’ll strip naked, too, right here.”
“No. Come on in.”
When we were settled on opposite ends of the couch, she said, “I broke up with Mitch.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“No. It’s a good thing. I should ’ave before… before… Okay. I can say this. I should have broken up with him before…” She looked across the room, blinking back tears.
“Before I started running again?”
“Yeah, but that’s not it. Okay. You know we were s-sleeping together, right?”
“It did get kinda obvious.”
“Yeah. I’m… I’m sorry for that, too. Y-you don’t hafta believe me, but… okay, this isn’t the kind of thing I ever talk about, but…”
“Angie, I don’t know what’s going on, but I really don’t feel like you have to apologize to me for anything. After the way I was before I started running again, I’m not exactly in any position to judge people.”
“You don’t know what I…” She stopped and shook her head.
“Okay. Shall I guess? Did you make it in my bed or something?”
“No. We never did make it.” She glanced at me and quickly away again.
“I thought… But… You just admitted you were sleeping together!”
“That was just sleep. Before we went to sleep… Okay. I hafta say this. I was giving him blowjobs. You caught us once. It definitely wasn’t making love.”
“Lots o’ people…”
“Don’t say any more,” Angie interrupted. “While I was judging you for… for… well, for being naked out in front of God and everybody, I was sucking him off anytime he wanted and pretending like I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
“Well, if you love somebody, I don’t think…”
“Iris, it wasn’t love. It was… I was just using him so I could feel better than you. It wasn’t better at all. It was really, really awful.”
“Sorry, Ange, I…”
“Yeah. It was easy to feel superior to you first semester. Have you made it with anybody since you started running again?”
“You really shouldn’t compare…”
“That’s what I thought.” She stood. “I gotta go.”
I stood, too. “Angie, you can stay a while if you want. It would be nice to just hang out with you again.”
“Yeah, I’m not really welcome around most of my old friends anymore,” she said without turning to face me, “but…” She sniffed. “Do you remember when I told you my parents got divorced when I was little?”
“Yeah. I don’t remember any details.”
“Well, I’m sure I said my mother walked out on my dad. She didn’t. He walked out on her because…” She closed her eyes. “Because my mother wasn’t just giving blowjobs and it wasn’t just one guy. I… I always promised myself I’d never be like her, but…”
“Have you been doing it with more than one guy?”
Angie looked at the floor and shook her head.
“Then you aren’t like her.”
“Yeah. Thanks, but…”
“So, how’d you find out?”
“Dad told me.”
“And you believe him?”
She just stared at me.
On Sunday morning, I slept much later than the previous week when I helped with the paper route, but I still was up long before most people on campus. McKenzie had accepted my invitation to go to worship at the chapel. When we met at her dorm, she was carrying a green dress, and we ran first to the chapel to drop it off. As we were getting close, my heart lurched; Wes was just going into the building with Damien. I was glad to be able to leave again without running into anyone to talk to. McKenzie didn’t seem to want to talk much, either, so I had plenty of time to think while we ran.
I had other sexy guy friends; Wes was just going to have to join that list… if I could find some way not to drool too much when he was around. Piña might think he was hot for me, but he sure had a strange way of showing it. No, I definitely needed some way to distract myself from thinking about him so much. If he was more like any of my other guy friends – taken or not – there wouldn’t be a problem. None of them made me go all ditzy. Wes had offered to help with the sorority, but he hadn’t actually signed up. His offer was probably just being polite.
More people had gathered by the time McKenzie and I got back to the chapel. Apparently, lots of people wanted to get all the help they could on their finals. Wes and Damien were in the lounge talking with people McKenzie and I both knew. McKenzie took her dress to the women’s restroom to change, but I wanted to cool down first. I tried to stay away from the group around Wes, but they drew me in. Unfortunately, Damien was part of the group, too. If I could get him interested in somebody else… No, that would be just plain wrong.
When Barb came into the lounge and announced that it was time for the service to start, I hurried to the restroom, gave myself a quick sponge bath with paper towels, and ran my fingers through my hair. Good enough.
The praise band was playing, so I paused at the entrance to the sanctuary. I told myself I was listening and watching Piña and Evan playing and that Wes just happened to be there, too. The volunteer usher – whom I didn’t know – offered me a bulletin and invited me to come in. I sat beside McKenzie.
After the service, McKenzie accepted an invitation from Barb to go out to lunch with the group, but I passed. I was almost out the front door when Wes caught me.
“Hey, Running, way to go, bringing a friend!” he said. “We all should do that more.”
“Yeah, well, you did, too.”
“I’ve been working on Damien for a while. Listen, are you goin’ out to Piña’s tonight?”
“Maybe. Probably. Why?”
“Just wanted to let you know I won’t be there to give you a ride back to campus. I have a big paper due tomorrow that isn’t near as far along as it should be.”
“Oh. We’ll miss your trumpet.”
“Yeah. This summer I’ll have to miss more to get back to the capital.”
“Yeah. I… Yeah.” I needed to make a list of things to say to him. I was almost back to the dorm when I realized I should have congratulated him again on his internship, rather than acting like an awkward middle-school girl with a crush.
Although we usually didn’t run on Sundays, Cassie wanted to run that afternoon. I had told her about the gathering before but was surprised when she accepted my invitation to run out there and back. Since we both had work to do, we headed back to campus before it got dark. Out and back was farther than she had been running, but we took it easy and had no problems. I was putting in more miles and faster times for the Mayor’s 10-K.
It seemed impossible for my life to get more hectic, but during finals week, it did. Matt, one other guy in the Scholars Program, and Nate, who wasn’t in it, were on the project team with all the women. Too bad Wes wasn’t on a committee. In addition to daily meetings with Geri Foote – the main advisor for the sorority – I did my best to meet with each of the committees. They all had to work out their plans before they left for the summer. The most work was for recruitment. Cassie was heading up that committee, and her project was now part of mine. Cassie got everyone on the recruitment team to be naked for their meetings. Some of the others had intended to wait and see if the sorority actually happened.
Before my last final on Wednesday, I went to the CADP office downtown to turn in the form that had been filled out since before Easter. My plan was not to change anything and not to tell anyone unless they asked. For my final, I was going to put clothes on just like I’d been doing since Spring Break; it didn’t seem fair to distract my classmates. The final turned out to be way easier than I feared.
My first counseling appointment was after my final. My counselor was with a woman who was a grad student in Psychology. We talked about how much I had messed up my life when I couldn’t run. I didn’t say anything about obsessing over Wes. Like Mom, she didn’t think I was a total loss just because I had a couple of bad years.
Afterward, I went to Still Point. Chelsea had moved most of her stuff out of the manager’s apartment already, and Angie was helping with the last of it. Angie was going to be the summer resident manager and maybe beyond. “Unless I join your sorority,” she said with her back to me.
“Ange?” She looked like my old roommate, but somebody must be playing a practical joke on me!
“Don’t get excited. I’m just kidding.” The Angie I roomed with wouldn’t even kid about such things. “My old friends… well, you’re the only one from before that hasn’t cut me off.”
“He’s history I’d rather forget.”
“Darn it! That’s the answer I couldn’t remember for my History final.”
She studied me for a couple seconds, then started laughing. She had two finals on Friday and wanted to get settled in ahead of time so she could crash after they were over. Chelsea wanted to do the last cleaning herself, so Angie and I went to the grocery store. One of the things she really liked about the apartment, even though it was really tiny, was that it had a kitchenette and bathroom. Compared to my suite in the ARC, everything was really cramped.
Chelsea wasn’t done cleaning when we got back, so we hung out in the lounge. “So, are you over whatever was bothering you when you came by my new room last Friday?”
Angie looked at me like I had asked her to swallow a dead toad. She stood and said there were more things we could bring from Wilson. Okay, she didn’t want to talk about it.