The gym doors opened, spilling light and warmth out into the stormy March night. A raucous group of teenaged boys and girls emerged, laughing and joking. From the exertions of the last dance, a fast one to the tune of the Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over,” the boys’ neckties were askew, their shirts coming untucked, and the girls’ hair was mussed and their faces flushed.
Most of the students from Holy Spirit Academy, the girls’ school that had hosted the visiting boys from Cranford Priory, made their way back to the main building. A few others stayed to accompany their companions to the bus that would take the visitors back to their school in northwestern Connecticut, two hours away. Illuminated by the bluish glare of the lights inside the coach, a few heads could be seen in the windows, those boys who had been in a hurry to escape the cold wind or social failure.
“Hey, Blake,” one boy called to another. “Where’s your girlfriend?” This last was said with a sneer.
“Shove it, Groody,” was the response from a handsome sixteen-year-old, star of the school football team, with thick blond hair that fell forward over his brow.
“Well, at least the sacrifice was worth it,” another boy said. “The pig pot was up to sixty bucks. You have to buy us all shakes at Foster’s.”
“Or beers at Rumors,” someone else said, more quietly so that the priest chaperone herding the boys onto the bus wouldn’t hear.
With all the students out of the gym, the lights went off and a nun emerged and locked the outer doors, her long black habit flapping in the wind. The boy called Blake said to one of his friends, “Damn, I gotta take a whiz. Hold the bus for me.” He set off behind the building.
“What’s the pig pot?” one of the girls asked her companion. She didn’t notice the person behind the two of them, a pudgy girl in a plaid dress, the plainness of her face emphasized by black-framed glasses that swooped up to jaunty points on the sides. Following them closely, she was straining to overhear their conversation.
He shrugged. “Oh, just a stupid joke.”
“No, tell me,” his date said.
He winced. “Some of the guys thought it was funny to chip in money to give to the guy who had the worst date.”
“That’s horrible!” the girl protested. “So he won, that blond guy? Who was the poor girl?”
“I don’t know, I don’t pay any attention to these morons.”
The girl in the plaid dress had stopped abruptly. She stood motionless until the nun came up beside her and said, “Waiting for something, Mary Grace?”
“Well, get on back to the main building before this wind carries you off.”
Blake McCarthy was not cheered by his monetary triumph. He had wasted a whole night with a complete dog when all around him were cute and even beautiful girls, whose interested eyes had locked with his from time to time. He had had to pretend to be riveted by his date’s stories of dull school life and how strict the nuns were, and answer her questions about his family, what it was like to grow up in Boston, whether he liked his school.
“It’s the third boarding school I’ve been to,” he said. “I guess my parents were hoping that the priests at this one would manage to straighten me out. At least it gets me away from home so I don’t have to deal with their constant nagging.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking at him with her small eyes framed by black glasses that swooped up to points on either side.
He brushed off her sympathy. “I don’t care. The minute I turn eighteen I’m gonna head down to the Florida Keys and get a job on a fishing boat, and live a life of total freedom and sunshine.” With all the girls I want, he thought, but of course didn’t say.
“Sounds nice,” the girl said. Judging from her pasty pallor, he thought she must have little experience with sunshine. She probably hid out in her room reading books all summer.
At the end of the night, when the harsh overhead gym lights blazed to life, he couldn’t get away from her fast enough.
“I hope I see you again,” she said with a smile that showed a lot of gum and too-small teeth.
Not if I see you first, he thought, but said, “Yeah, we probably will at another one of these things next year. Hey, gotta run, I have to ask Father Cooley something.”
Now he stood on the edge of the sea wall that surrounded the peninsula on which the school was situated. He unzipped his fly and urinated onto the rocks that glistened far below. Waves lashed against them; the wind howled; in the distance, black sky met black water. Far out on Long Island Sound a foghorn bleated a mournful warning, its buoy flashing red every few seconds. Blake zipped up and turned.
He started. A girl stood behind him. He hadn’t seen or heard anyone approaching. He was a little embarrassed; she must have seen him pissing. “Oh, sorry, I thought I was alone out here,” he said. “Where did you come from?”
“I was taking a walk.”
“On a night like this?”
She didn’t answer, just stood there looking at him. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was the most gorgeous creature he had ever seen, with luminous pale skin, huge eyes, thick black hair cut chin-length and whipping in the gale. Her clothes were strange, and fancier than the outfits of any of the other girls; she wore a loose fitting, silky dress, sleeveless, with shiny beads around its low neckline. It fell just below her knees, a contrast to all the other girls’ dresses which in this era of miniskirts were as short as the wearers could get away with under the nuns’ watchful eyes. The wind blew the thin fabric against her body, molding it to her small breasts, her flat stomach, the ridges of her hipbones. On her feet she wore delicate shoes with low heels.
She looked a little older than he was, maybe in her late teens, possibly even twenty. Was she a teacher at the school? He thought there were only nuns here. No way she was a nun, not even a nun in training, dressed like that.
“I saw you tonight,” she said. “You really went all out to make an impression on that girl. I wouldn’t have thought she was your type.” She spoke in a monotone.
“She’s not!” he said, outraged. “It was a bet I had with some of the guys.”
“What kind of bet?” She was looking at him fixedly, with her thin, bare arms hanging by her sides. He was feeling the cold through his blazer and shirt, but she didn’t appear to be shivering at all.
“Everybody chipped in money and the guy who had the ugliest date won,” he said. “But he – me, I mean – had to dance every dance with her. And pretend to like her.”
“And you enjoyed that cruel game?” Her gaze was unwavering; her face expressionless.
He shrugged. “It was just a goof. The girl didn’t know what was going on.” Then he smiled at her in the way that, in his experience, no girl could resist. “But if I’d seen you I would have ditched her and the bet in a heartbeat. Where were you anyway? Were you one of the chaperones? Are you a teacher here?”
“So many questions, Blake McCarthy.”
He stared at her. “How do you know my name?”
“I know all about you.”
He gave her a sly smile. Her expression remained blank. “Oh, yeah?” he said. “What do you know?”
“I know about that girl on the Cape who almost died getting rid of your baby.”
Alarm mixed with anger spiked in his chest. “How in hell do you know that?”
“In hell we know everything.” She delivered the joke without a smile.
“Oh, good one,” he said flatly. This girl, beautiful though she was, was creeping him out. “I gotta go.”
“Not yet.” She moved toward him, raising her white arms. Confused but excited, he watched her approach. As her face drew near to his it changed, a smile appearing for the first time, and he thought, That’s more like it, and opened his own arms. Her smile continued to widen; the eyes narrowed and glittered, the nose crumpled, the lips stretched into a grimace until her delicate features had become a white mask of pure malice.
His knees turned to rubber, his insides to liquid, and he tried to step back, but she grappled him in an impossibly strong embrace and hoisted him into the air.