“Yeah, I kind of disappeared on you, didn’t I? Sorry about that.”
“No problem, I totally would have done the same thing if Chet went to this school. The tragedy of dating an older man, I’m telling you.”
The following Monday, I was surprised to see a girl in Quan’s seat. He looked up from the back of the room and caught my eye. He shrugged as if to apologize. I nodded slightly, confused. When he told me we couldn’t see each other I never expected him to cut off all contact like this. Why couldn’t we stay lab partners? It felt so strange to go from spending almost every possible moment of the school day with him to having to practically avoid each other.
Thankfully, getting ready for the performance of Grease that weekend helped me put Quan out of mind. And Alicia, faithful friend, made sure the rest of my free time was spent in cheerful company.
My drama teacher had said he was casting me against type when he gave me the part of Rizzo. “It will be a challenge, and I’d like to see you stretch yourself. Don’t worry, we’re doing the school version, which skips the whole pregnancy plotline and other racy scenes from the movie.”
“I’ve never seen it,” I’d confided. Although my whole family loved musicals, my parents only let us see ones they deemed family-friendly.
“Even better. You have a blank slate to create your own version of the character without mimicking Stockard Channing.”
Playing a sarcastic, tough party girl ended up not being as much of a challenge as I thought. “Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee,” I sang with gusto. Ironic considering that if Rizzo met the real me, she’d mock me as mercilessly as she did Sandy.
Even in the G-rated version, it was pretty clear that Rizzo was way more experienced with boys than I was. I sometimes caught myself imagining what Rizzo and Kenickie might have been doing in those racy scenes from the movie. Somehow I eked out enough willpower to stop the fantasy each time. I hoped Jolene would be proud of me for keeping my vow so well.
The play’s three night run was a huge success. Before we broke up, Quan had promised to attend every show. Each night I scanned the audience, looking for him. It was hard to see in the darkened theater against the glare of the spotlight, but I was pretty sure he didn’t make it.
The last few weeks of high school flew by in a blur of tests and classes and friends and assemblies. Finally the week of graduation arrived, and with it a trip to Disneyland. My family had passes and we went all the time but it was still a treat to go with my fellow students. Mid-morning, Alicia and I took a break from the rides and relaxed on a low brick wall near the Haunted Mansion.
Molly Green, senior class president, plopped down next to us with a big friendly smile. “Hi! How are you two? Isn’t this a blast?”
Senior Week, or maybe just Disney must have out the best in people I guess, because Molly didn’t normally give us the time of day.
Molly continued, “Mind if I sit with you while I wait for my friends to come out of the Haunted Mansion? It gives me the creeps.” She took off the light jacket she had worn to ward off the chill of the morning overcast that locals liked to call May Gray. “So glad it burned off and didn’t rain today like they said it would!” she exclaimed, then sighed. “I’m going to miss coming here all the time when I’m up at Stanford.”
Of the 450 students in the graduating class, fewer than one out of ten planned to leave Southern California, and even those few weren’t venturing much farther than the Bay Area.
“Stanford, that’s really great,” Alicia said. “I’m sticking with community college for now. I couldn’t even imagine living so far from home. Won’t you get homesick?” She pointed at me. “Then there’s this one, going off to the snows of Ohio. I think I’d rather die!”
“Why are you going to Ohio, Giselle?” Molly queried. I thought I detected vague disgust in her voice.
While had been feeling ever-so-slightly superior to Alicia and her fear of leaving home, suddenly I felt the need to apologize for my choice.
“Um, well…” I stumbled over an explanation about Oma paying my way, finishing up with, “She went Elk River, my uncles went there … I guess you could say it’s a family tradition,” hoping that the Molly would read between the lines and guess that I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.
“Oh, Elk River! That’s a Christian school, right? Good for you!” Molly responded with unexpected enthusiasm.
That’s when I remembered that Molly was not only class president but also president of the Christian club on campus.
“Yeah, I guess you could say I felt led to go there,” I said, dropping a Christian catchphrase to establish my faith credentials with Molly.
“Wow! That’s amazing. I wish I were so in touch with God’s will. I wish I had gotten to know you better, Giselle. Well, there’s my group, so I’ve gotta go. I’ll be praying for you!” She waved and walked away.
It felt good to be on a pedestal, even though deep down I worried it couldn’t be further from the truth. I had based my decision on the flip of a coin and called it the voice of God. Maybe Elk River wasn’t God’s will for me at all. Had I really made the right decision?
Grey clouds greeted me the morning of graduation, but that wasn’t at all unusual for a Southern California May. Usually it cleared by noon or so, and the ceremony was scheduled to be held in the school’s outdoor amphitheater at 3:00. It was the only facility on campus large enough to hold all the students and their families.
The phone rang and Mom brought it to me. “It’s Alicia,” she said.
“We’re going to graduate today!” she sang out. “Ready?”
“Am I ever,” I said. “But I wish we could skip the ceremony and go directly to the Grad Night party. We’re going to melt out there in our oh-so-attractive polyester gowns.” At least ours were white. The guys would be even hotter wearing orange fabric.
“More like get soaked. Haven’t you seen the weather report?”
“Chance of rain. That doesn’t mean much. They’ve been saying that all week.”
But true to the forecast, the clouds darkened as the day went on. At noon, it began to sprinkle. By the time I left the house at two thirty, it had stopped.
“Here, take this umbrella just in case,” Mom urged as I headed out the door.
I felt stupid clutching the folded umbrella as we lined up alphabetically, preparing to march into the amphitheater. But just as we began our procession, the sprinkles returned. By the time we were all seated, it strengthened to a heavy downpour. Only a few students had an umbrella, a few more wore ponchos. Most of my classmates tried in vain to improvise some sort of protection from the deluge out of graduation programs and caps.
We were quite a sight as we made our way across the stage one by one to accept the congratulations of the principal and a diploma holder. The girls were just soggy, but the orange dye from the guys’ gowns bled onto their white shirt collars.
After the ceremony, we reported to the gym to pick up our actual diplomas, then joined our families to celebrate. A few hours later, we returned to the gym and loaded onto buses that took us directly to the secret location of the official school Grad Night party.
The secret location turned out to be the same German-American club where prom had been held. Inside, the parent volunteers had set up a full casino’s worth of table games, and we were each given a stack of chips to bet. Outside there were supposed to have been carnival rides, but the continuing rain prevented their safe operation. Some of the outdoor booths of crafts and games had been hastily recreated indoors.
Thankfully, there was other entertainment to get us through the night. A hypnotist, a comedian and a magician all wowed us with their acts while waiters served midnight snacks.
As dawn approached, we started passing yearbooks to gather signatures. Then we went outside to wait for the buses to come take us back to school. Some, including Alicia, sat down against the wall of the building and fell asleep. I passed the time reading through the notes in my yearbook. Most people signed mine with generic things like, “Stay sweet!” At least Alicia had filled a whole page with inside jokes and her favorite shared memories.
I looked up from reading her mini-novel to see Quan.
“Would you sign my yearbook, Giselle?” he asked.
I silently handed mine over and took his. What should I write?
It was great while it lasted? I wish we could still be friends? Tell the next girl you date that she has me to thank for teaching you how to kiss?
I settled for, “You were a great lab partner and better friend. Best of luck in the future.”
We exchanged yearbooks again just as the buses pulled up. “Well, I guess this is it. Goodbye, Giselle.”
“Goodbye.” What else was there to say?
I flipped through the pages again until I found what he wrote.
“Beautiful Giselle, I will never forget our extra-special relationship. I still say you will have to beat the boys off with a stick in college. I will remember you always in my prayers. Love, Quan.”
Suddenly I felt as beautiful as I had on prom night. Maybe in college I’d look like that all the time. Maybe I’d meet the love of my life in Ohio. Maybe that’s why God was leading me there. I could hardly wait to find out!