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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 Raging 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 mangebitten 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 quarter 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 Montgomery (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, dabbed the smudged mascara from beneath my eyes and reapplied my lipstick. I have looked through the cabinets below the sink, found an old bottle of "Charlie," and spritzed the air above my wrists. 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, although 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 Scarlet O'Hara dresses, with wide bellshaped skirts and crinolines, but Randy wore a snaky evening gown-bottlegreen with sequins. And this grin.

"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 English at the college. What are you doing here?" With Dean Montgomery, 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, although I'm getting my own apartment for the time being. We're getting married on the anniversary of the day we started dating. In December."

"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 breasts only to tuck them back a few minutes later.

"You look wonderful, Sarah."

"Thanks." I think of how his chest hair felt crisp against 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 contacts. 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 looking 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 McMullen 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 stomach 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. "Randy was excited to know she has a friend on campus. Talked about you much when we got home." He makes "you" into a twosyllable word.

"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 laughs.

"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. "An 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 pounded 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 mine-watching 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 says.

"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? Everyone 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 town," I say. Then I take a breath. I almost tell him. But I can't. "I 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 wedding!"

"I want to," I say. I bury my head into Bart's shoulder and I can smell his deodorant. It's spicy, comforting. "Because 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 guy."

"I know," I say, and I bury my head deeper into his arm.

"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, apartment-complex 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 precariously 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 settled," 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 minute, 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 exercise. 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 bedroom.

"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 himself, then."

"You remember my dad?" I ask. My father died when I was nine.

"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 up?"

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."

"What's that?"

"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 says.


"Remember that poem you recited in Mr. Moss's class? It was about cremating someone."

"'The northern lights have seen queer sights, but the queerest 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 go."

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 while.

"My dad made me learn how to skin a squirrel," Randy says. "Can you still do it?" I ask. "That's a skill."

Randy laughs. "Probably, but what would I do with a skinned squirrel?"

"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, pointing 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. "It's 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 aren't.

"At an education conference in Tennessee. I was catering, he was giving a paper. He liked my chili and chive canapés."

"Is that what you do? Cater?" Never would I have imagined Randy ending up a caterer. An astronaut, maybe. A physicist. A model.

"Yeah. Food."

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 cross, 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 against the trunk of the live oak. I can hear her breathe. We breathe together.

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. "Tie," 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 peeking 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 her.

"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 height, 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 for flight.

"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.

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