were beyond Brian in a moment. Later, well beyond even her notions of what to do and what not to do, lathered and breathing as if in toil, she heard herself say, “Yes.” She said that several times.
S HE LOOKED FOR Keith everywhere, catching glimpses of his head, his shoulder, in the hallways. In chemistry they didn’t talk; there were final reports, no need to work together. Finally, three days before graduation, they stood side by side cleaning out their chemistry equipment locker, waiting for Mr. Miles to check them off. Keith’s manner was what? Easy, too confident, too neutral. He seemed to take up too much space in the room. She hated the way he kept his face blank and open, as if fishing for the first remark. She held off, feeling the restraint as a physical pang. Mr. Miles inventoried their cupboard and asked for their keys. He had a large ring of thirty or forty of the thin brass keys. Keith handed his to Mr. Miles and then Barbara Anderson found her key in the side of her purse and handed it to the teacher. She hated relinquishing the key; it was the only thing she had that meant she would see Keith, and now with it gone something opened in her and it hurt in a way she’d never hurt before. Keith turned to her and seeing something in her face, shrugged and said, “The end of chemistry as we know it. Which isn’t really very well.”
“Who are you?” Barbara said, her voice a kind of surprise to her. “You’re so glib. Such a little actor.” Mr. Miles looked up from his check sheet and several students turned toward them. Barbara was speaking loudly; she couldn’t help it. “What are you doing to me? If you ask me this is a pretty chickenshit goodbye.” Everyone was looking at her. Then her face would not work at all, the tears coming from some hot place, and Barbara Anderson walked from the room.
Keith hadn’t moved. Mr. Miles looked at Keith, alarmed. Keith whispered: “Don’t worry, Mr. Miles. She was addressing her remarks to me.”
T HERE WAS ONE more scene. The night before graduation, while her classmates met in the bright, noisy gym for the yearbook-signing party, Barbara drove out to the airport and met Keith where he said he’d be: at the last gate, H-17. There on an empty stretch of maroon carpet in front of three large banks of seats full of travelers, he was waiting. He handed her a pretty green canvas valise and an empty paper ticket sleeve.
“You can’t even talk as yourself,” she said. “You always need a setting. Now we’re pretending I’m going somewhere?”
He looked serious tonight, weary. There were gray shadows under his eyes. “You wanted a goodbye scene,” he said. “I tried not to do this.”
“It’s all a joke,” she said. “You joke all the time.”
“You know what my counselor said?” He smiled thinly as if glad to give her this point. “He said that this is a phase, that I’ll stop joking soon.” Their eyes met and the look held again. “Come here,” he said. She stepped close to him. He put his hand on her elbow. “You want a farewell speech. Okay, here you go. You better call Brian and get your scooter back. Tell him I tricked you. Wake up, lady. Get real. I just wanted to see if I could give Barbara Anderson a whirl. And I did. It was selfish, okay? I just screwed you around a little. You said it yourself: it was a joke. That’s my speech. How was it?”
“You didn’t screw me around, Keith. You didn’t give me a whirl.” Barbara moved his hand and then put her arms around his neck so she could speak in his ear. She could see some of the people watching them. “You made love to me, Keith. It wasn’t a joke. You made love to me and I met you tonight to say—good for you. Extreme times require extreme solutions.” She was whispering as they stood alone on that carpet in their embrace. “I wondered how it was going to happen, but you were a surprise. Way to go. What did you think? That I wanted to go off to college an
Jerry Pournelle, Roland J. Green