I see Randy at a wine and cheese party thrown by the chairman
of my department, and it's the first time I've seen her since
we were both seniors in high school-she was head cheerleader and
the president of our class, I was lead alto in choir and member
of the Butler High School thespian club. While Randy led the
Butler Bulls football team to a firsttime Allstate win, I played
the Cowardly Lion in our version of "The Wizard of Oz."
It took place in modernday New York and I had to wear a
lion suit doctored up with tattoos and a dorag.
"Sarah!" she says when she first sees me. But I see
her first, see her when she first walks into the party on the
arm of Douglas Montgomery, the Dean of The Honors College. He's
more than a Dean, though. He's also the local slick, the ladies'
man here at Northern. In fact, a month ago, at the endofthe
party on Lake Rose, he told me he loved me. I was wearing a dowdy,
floral onepiece, a bathing suit Glamour magazine would
applaud as being properly modest for a work party, and Dean
(Doug), after giving me my third Margarita of the day, pulled
me behind an abandoned boat house and ran his fingers under the
elastic legs of my suit. When he licked my cheek, I realized he
wasn't just playing around. He kissed something like my first
boyfriend, and I found it exciting.
So when I see him with Randy, I choke on my punch. The acid of
lemons and ginger ale bites my throat, and I hold onto a bust
of John Milton while Bart, my date, frowns and pats my back. It's
high school all over again, with Randy making the grand entrance
and me watching. I grab Bart's hand and drag him into the kitchen.
"Sarah!" she says when she first sees me. By this time,
though, I have made my way through the line at the bathroom,
the smudged mascara from beneath my eyes and reapplied my
I have looked through the cabinets below the sink, found an old
bottle of "Charlie," and spritzed the air above my
I have checked my teeth for stray pimento and rinsed my mouth
with cool water.
"Sarah!" she says.
"Randy?" Looking at her is like looking in a mirror,
she is that familiar.
"Sarah!" Randy takes my wrist and holds it. Her jangly
bangle bracelet taps against my skin as I look her up and down.
Her lipstick is pearly gold, her dress is deep scarlet and I taste
vanilla in the air. "What are you doing here?" she says.
"I almost didn't recognize you!"
But Randy, despite her chic, moviestar ensemble, looks exactly
like she did in the fourth grade, when I first saw her. Same tan,
clearglass complexion, same goldenbrown ringlets about her face
and shoulders, same starry green eyes. Still taller than me,
I'm fairly tall myself. I even remember this particular grin she's
leveling at me-it's the one she wore in the Butler High Senior
Beauties photo. All the other Senior Beauties had on bright
O'Hara dresses, with wide bellshaped skirts and crinolines, but
Randy wore a snaky evening gown-bottlegreen with sequins. And
"What am I doing here?" I repeat, at a loss, suddenly,
for the answer. I wish I had worn my black cat suit, which makes
my eyes seem more blue, my hair a deeper red. "I teach
at the college. What are you doing here?" With Dean
I want to ask.
Randy lets go of my wrist and the air hits my skin, cool, where
her fingers were. She points over her shoulder. "I'm engaged
to Doug. Do you know him?" Dean Montgomery. Doug. "I've
moved down, finally," she laughs, "to be with him,
I'm getting my own apartment for the time being. We're getting
married on the anniversary of the day we started dating. In
"How exciting!" I say. I remember how the Dean licked
my teeth when we kissed. "Well. I haven't seen you in a dog's
age, Randy." He never said he was engaged.
"I know! It's been at least ten years," she says.
"It seems like yesterday," I say, and it does. I think
of how the Dean smiled when I slapped his hand away from my
only to tuck them back a few minutes later.
"You look wonderful, Sarah."
"Thanks." I think of how his chest hair felt crisp
my chin when he hugged me good-bye. "You were great. I'll
call you," he said. I knew he wouldn't.
"I like your hair like that, long," Randy continues.
"And have you lost weight?" she asks.
"No." I shake my head hard enough to make my earrings
rattle, then check myself out, glancing down at my dress, which
is actually snug about the waist. "But thanks. I got
For some reason, people think that makes me look skinnier."
"Really?" she says. I nod. I've run out of things to
talk about, safe things. So I just look at Randy. It's like
into my past and it knocks me out because my past is suddenly
my present. I feel seventeen again. Then, oh, Dean Montgomery
comes over and cups Randy's elbow.
"Randy, come meet Dr. Porter," he says. Randy smiles
up at Dean Montgomery, and he smiles a sparkler at me, but his
eyes are a question, as if he doesn't know me.
"Oh, hello," he says. Randy's sweet skin looks strange
next to his. He's handsome, certainly, but much older than we
are. Leathery. His hair is black and curly, I suspect he touches
it up. And his smile is too, too deceiving. When we kissed at
the lake, he tasted of pickles and peppermint candy.
"Hello, Dean Montgomery," I say.
"Sarah, call me? We can reminisce about chasing Jimmy
down to give him a redbelly." She gives me that dazzling
smile again, all teeth and plump lips, unlike Dean Montgomery's,
real somehow. She touches my wrist and I love her all over again.
"Please call me," I say, scared that she will. I go
stand in the corner until Bart finds me. I tell him I have a
ache, and I make him take me home.
I turn from the freshman comp papers I am grading to see who is
at my office door. It's Dean Montgomery, looking sharp in a gray
pinstriped suit, and he is smiling down on me. He comes in-almost,
not quite, shutting the door-and he props himself on my desk.
His thigh grazes my left elbow and to look into his eyes I have
to stitch my head back too far. So I roll my chair away and clasp
my hands in my lap. I want to be comfortable for this. Since I
saw him with Randy last night I thought he might be dropping by.
"Yes," I say. I tuck my skirt down over my knees.
"It was nice to see you last night, Sarah," he begins.
His smile is turned up bright, now, a soft glow of white.
was excited to know she has a friend on campus. Talked about you
much when we got home." He makes "you" into a
"I've known Randy since I was eight," I say. A good
response. It could mean a number of different things.
"Yes, she says you went through school together and lived
in the same neighborhood. What a coincidence," the Dean
"I was surprised to see her." I say. "I didn't
know you had a fiancee." This sounds accusatory, I realize,
so I smile and say, "That's great."
"And I see you were out with Bart Krebs" he says.
accountant in the business office, I understand?"
"Yes, that's great," I repeat, nodding, resenting him
for bringing up Bart, although I like Bart, how could I not? He's
stable and kind. We've been out three times and he hasn't even
tried to kiss me yet. And I haven't tried to kiss him.
"Hmmm, well," the Dean says, stroking at his lapels-they
are impeccable, sharp, but he fingers them once, twice, three
times-and I realize he's as nervous as I am. Has he been making
little visits like this all morning? Or do I pose the only serious
threat? The idea that the Dean might be scared of me makes me
feel better, somehow.
But I don't want to listen to explanations, I don't want to say:
"Yes, yes, I understand, I won't say anything to Randy, why
should I hurt an old friend by telling her that her fiancé
is, how should I put it-always on the make? And I understand,
our little thing was just that, a little thing, and how could
you not want to marry Randy, she is the perfect woman,
I understand," when I do understand, I do.
"Dean Montgomery," I say.
"Doug," he says automatically.
"Doug," I say. "I'm thinking back: did you know,
Randy is the only person I've ever hit? I mean really hit. I
her. Balled up my hand and gave her a shiner so big it was black
for a week."
The Dean looks at me like I'm a bug he's just found behind the
couch. He expected to find the remote control, or the spoon he
just dropped, but instead he's found me.
"It was in the sixth grade," I say.
The Dean's smile drops a notch and he suddenly looks tired.
"Can we skip this?" he says. "I love Randy. That's
all. I can be different for her." Then he puts his hand on
my elbow. I expect it to drift, to stroke my neck or trail down
to my breasts, but it does not. In fact, Dean Montgomery stares
at his hand as if he hates it.
"I can be different for her," he says again. Then he
gets up and leaves.
I try to get back to work, but I can't concentrate on grading
papers anymore. I keep seeing sixthgrade Randy standing in the
sand beneath the monkey bars, tall and skinny, beautiful, but
still a child-she's cupping her eye with both hands, but she's
not crying. Why did I hit her? Oh, I remember. Jimmy McMullen
told me he loved her.
"So has Randy called you yet?" Bart asks. We're sitting
on my porch swing-my legs almost touching his, his hand on
the moon rise through the pine trees and elms in my neighbor's
yard. It's the color of orange sherbet, soft and big and fuzzy
on the horizon. The twilight is cool enough to raise the hair
on my arms, but not so cold that I want to go inside.
"No, she hasn't called. She probably won't," I say.
"We just ran into each other last week."
"So? You've known each other since you were kids," Bart
"Bart, you don't understand."
"No, I don't. I didn't think she was so hot."
"Maybe she's not, but you're not getting it," I say.
"Look. Wasn't there someone like this at your school?
either wanted to be her, or just wanted her-my biology teacher,
my physics partner, my nextdoor neighbor's dad."
"Your nextdoor neighbor's dad."
"Yeah, Julie Wright's dad. He drove a maroon Corvette and
wore belt buckles that said 'Alabama' on them. He asked me how
old Randy was, once, when he was picking me and Julie up from
choir practice. He said she looked older than she was."
"So he asked how old she was, so what?"
"He said she was striking, a real heartbreaker," I say
remembering Mr. Wright's face. He had looked sad. "Look,
Bart," I sigh. "Her voice cracks when she tries to hit
high C. Her mom used to buy her clothes at Kmart, but she told
everyone they came from the Mall. She wears size five underwear.
I know what her thumbs and big toes look like, for God's sake!
They're weird, they curl up at the tips. Do you think she knows
what my thumbs look like?"
"Sarah, you're freaking out about someone you haven't seen
in ten years," Bart says. "What's going on?"
"The whole time I was growing up, I wanted to be her.
And now she's planning on marrying the biggest sleaze in
I say. Then I take a breath. I almost tell him. But I can't.
hear he fucked someone else at the last Lake party."
"You know the grapevine. He probably told some student she
looked nice, and now everyone says he's boinked her."
I have to laugh at Bart saying "boinked."
"Don't be such an innocent, Bart. He's hit on me. Once, at
a party when his date was in the kitchen, he came up to me and
said 'Lady, I want to nibble the backs of your knees.' How can
I let Randy marry a man who says 'Lady, I want to nibble the backs
of your knees'?"
"What are you going to do," Bart says. "Walk up
to her and say "Your rich, successful, welleducated boyfriend
once asked if he could nibble my knees. Call off the
"I want to," I say. I bury my head into Bart's shoulder
and I can smell his deodorant. It's spicy, comforting.
there's so much more to it than that."
"What? What?" Bart says. "Either you tell her what
you think, or you don't. Either way, she's going to marry the
"I know," I say, and I bury my head deeper into his
"You're acting like you're responsible for Randy's happiness,
Sarah," Bart says. He puts his hand on my head. "But
even the prom queen has problems."
"No shit," I say. I'm surprised to feel Bart's lips
brush my forehead.
"Hi, Sarah, come on in." Randy holds the door for me.
I stick my head into her apartment, look around, then I step in.
The place smells new, looks new-it's one of those boxy,
apartments, with blue and beige floral wall paper. There's a neat
little love seat, done up in pink seersucker, a small TV on a
milk crate, a basket of laundry with a pile of books stacked
on top. I squint, try to read some of the titles. I don't know
what, but I expected more from Randy's apartment.
"I'm glad you called. I've just been so busy getting
Randy says. I nod. She drags a hand through her hair, making it
stand up funny in the front.
"Christ, Doug's kids are running me ragged, too," she
laughs. "They all just left. The youngest? She called me
a slut. Shit. Where's a six year old come up with 'slut'?"
"Indeed," I say. "Things sound kind of rough."
Hearing Randy say "shit" and "Christ" is like
finding porn magazines stashed in my mother's dresser drawers.
"Kind of," Randy smiles. She shakes her hair back into
place, bites her thumb. "But what did I expect? Wait a
I'll go get my shoes."
Randy and I are going running. When I called her this morning,
she said she would be busy all evening, had to unpack and
So I told her I knew a great place to run, and talked her into
trying it out.
"Tell me about your family," Randy calls from the
"How's your brother?"
"Basically the same," I yell back. "He finally
got his braces off, though, and only wears his head gear at night,
so he looks normal for a change."
"Poor Daniel," Randy smiles as she comes back into the
living room. "I always thought he was cute."
"No," I laugh.
Randy bends down to lace up her shoes. Her hair swings about her
face. Her nylon shorts hitch up in back to reveal smooth flesh
and plain, cottonwhite underwear. Her legs are freshly shaven.
"Yes, he has those piercing eyes like your dad's, but deeper.
I liked to watch him play basketball, too. He forgot about
"You remember my dad?" I ask. My father died when I
"Are you crazy? Everyone in the neighborhood remembers your
dad," Randy says. She straightens up and adjusts her bra.
"Remember that night he threw Kevin and Tom Waddox onto the
ground and made them cry? Wouldn't let them get up until they
said the multiplication table up to nines without screwing
For egging Daniel's bedroom window and calling him robotface.
"He wasn't going to hurt anyone," I say.
"No," Randy says. "He was scary all the same. He
looked like a vampire, with his black eyes, black hair, all tall
and skinny and dark. You had the meanest dad on the block."
She grabs her keys. "Let's go."
"MY dad was the meanest? What about Mr. Willis chasing
us around the block with a baseball bat for gluing pennies to
his car windows?"
"Yeah, but Mr. Willis was all violence, no substance. Your
dad had style," Randy says.
It makes me feel good that she remembers my dad. I usher her to
my car and we head off to the cemetery to run. And talk, if I
have the guts.
"If we run around the mausoleum," I say, "over
to the oak tree grove, around that curve and up the little hill,
we hit the end of the path and it will be three miles. Then we
can walk back, cut through the middle of the cemetery, cool off
before going home."
"I can't see too well," Randy says. She's holding onto
an oak tree, stretching her calves.
"Yeah, it's dark, but I like it here at night," I say.
"Quiet. Your eyes will get used to it, and soon you'll get
the graveyard glow."
"You can see by the street lights, see?" I point to
the small lanterns punctuating the walks. The tombstones, lined
up and stretching out in front of us between the trees, like great
rows of teeth, pick up the light from the lamps.
"It's like a city," I say.
"A city of dead folks. Count on you to be morbid," Randy
"Remember that poem you recited in Mr. Moss's class? It was
about cremating someone."
"'The northern lights have seen queer sights, but the
they ever did see, was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
when I cremated Sam McGee,'" I sing out. "Come on, let's
We take off running. Randy stays a bit behind, I guess because
she can't quite see the path, but I've been here before and I
strike out hard. Trees crowd the air high above our heads, and
the air has a cool bite. I look for the moon, and finally find
it poking its cold, fat face through the branches on my right.
Tonight is going to be hard.
"My dad made me memorize that poem," I say after a
"My dad made me learn how to skin a squirrel," Randy
says. "Can you still do it?" I ask. "That's a
Randy laughs. "Probably, but what would I do with a skinned
"Sacrifice it to the gods,"' I say. "A blessing
on your marriage."
Randy doesn't respond. Her stride is the same length as mine,
and she's pulled up to my side now. We're running pretty fast,
so I shut up, concentrate on my breathing. No way will I let Randy
outrun me here.
We take a curve. "Look at that tombstone," I say,
to the figure of a lion. It's sleeping, and has its paws crossed
one over the other. "That's been here since 1864. The lion
means we've run a mile."
"I bet Doug would like it out here," Randy says.
romantic, in a creepy way."
I'm glad she brought him up. "Where did you and Doug get
together, anyhow?" I ask. My tone is light, but my intentions
"At an education conference in Tennessee. I was catering,
he was giving a paper. He liked my chili and chive
"Is that what you do? Cater?" Never would I have
Randy ending up a caterer. An astronaut, maybe. A physicist. A
We're quiet again for a while. I count tombstones as we run by.
I'll bring him up again on the fiftieth tombstone I count, I tell
myself. When I hit twenty number fifty-it's a plain, granite
festooned with plastic roses-I promise myself I'll bring him up
when we get to the Egyptian tombstone, the pyramid at the far
end of the cemetery. Back to Doug, I'll say. So, Randy-Doug. He
likes to lick in between my toes, did you know? No, don't marry
him, I beg you. You were meant for better.
"Turn here," I say. "See that pyramid up there?
We're finished when we get to it."
Randy doesn't answer, just nods when I glance at her. The bare
glow of the path lights glance down her cheekbones, fluff the
edges of her silkfine hair. I pick up the pace, ignoring the small
stones and pebbles that threaten to twist my ankles. She keeps
up. Twenty feet from the pyramid, I kick hard, give it all I've
got. My lungs are full of fire, but I want to go faster. I duck
branches, jump over twisted roots. But Randy kicks hard too.
We finish together, sprinting to just past the pyramid, collapsing
into the cold, mossy earth at the end of the path. We are under
a live oak, whose branches nearly touch the ground. This is the
oldest part of the cemetery and it's overgrown here, thick with
weeds, rosebushes, honeysuckle and trees. I can hear bugs, big
ones, little ones, whirring by, stumbling about-but I can't see
them. I lie back against a tiny marble lamb and let the weeds
growing from it's crevices brush across my face. Randy props
the trunk of the live oak. I can hear her breathe. We breathe
After a minute, I've recovered and I sit up and I look at her.
She wiggles her fingers at me, smiles, and is beautiful.
she says and laughs. This is the time to say it, I realize. I've
slept with your fiancé. He's a sleaze. A liar. Neither
of us are good enough for you.
But over Randy's shoulder, just past the tree, I see a face
through bushes and vines. I'm startled. Someone is spying on us.
I sit up and squint into the dark. Randy sits up too, looks behind
"An angel," Randy says. I see she is right. It is the
face of an angel, a stone angel, peering through the shadows,
the leaves and branches. The light from the path barely touches
her face, but I can make out her beatific smile. Randy gets up
and steps over, parts the branches and vines, bends them down
and away, tucks them back, until we can see more of the angel.
"Beautiful," Randy says. The angel's smooth, blank eyes
are looking down, directly into mine. I stand, and she is my
a touch taller. I walk over.
As Randy kneels, grazes the sandaled feet of the angel with her
fingers, I step closer. My arms feel empty. The angel's hands
are folded across her chest and her chin dips towards her chest,
but she doesn't seem meek or shy. I put my hands on her waist,
climb onto her pedestal.
"Look at her wings, Randy," I say. "See?"
I reach behind the angel. Her wings are covered with moss and
leaves, but they are wild, stretched out like a bird's, ready
"I know," Randy says, but I hardly hear. My arms slip
around the angel and I press my face up to hers. She is cool to
my touch, but she fits me. I pull myself closer, my cheek, I rub
against hers, my fingers trace the curls around her face. Somehow
I feel different.
Look, I am kissing the angel.