Marilyn’s eyes were fixed upon her.
Anne had always thought Marilyn had the bluest eyes.
“With the tips of his fingers, he stroked down over her bare shoulder . . .,” Anne paused for effect. The two of them sat facing each other on the hardwood floor. “Until he touched her breast.” Anne paused again, this time because she wasn’t sure what came next.
Anne was the one who usually told the stories. This time the swirls on the cover of the paperback she’d found came to mind. There’d been the fresh white pillowcases under her fingers, cool to the touch. She’d been making her parents’ bed and discovered the book under the pillow. All about a man named Ted and a blonde, and the man had touched the strap of the girl’s evening dress, and Anne had read on, and over and over from there.
“Her breasts get hard then,” Marilyn supplied for her and then turned away.
Anne thought her friend was certainly acting as if she were smarter than everybody else these days. She forced herself to visualize neat black type, the exact page and place on the page she needed. “Nipples,” she corrected. “Her nipples get hard.”
And so Marilyn turned back, her dress swishing along the floor as she did. Marilyn’s family had originally moved into town from the country. This had to do with why Marilyn wore dresses. Her mother had explained to Anne that some people were religious in this way, and religion was also why Marilyn had also once told Anne that her slacks were “sinful.”
Anne reached out and placed her palm face down on Marilyn’s chest. She felt her friend’s collar and chest bone, her breasts on either side, her heartbeat. “He massages to the flat of her stomach.” Anne noticed that Marilyn almost stopped breathing then. She became aware of the hard patterns of the lace slip Marilyn wore underneath her dress. “His fingertips brush the inside of her thigh.”
Marilyn started though Anne had not moved her hand. The afternoon sun shone in at the windows and along her own bare arms, the softness of her t-shirt.
“Haven’t I told you girls to get up and get moving!” The voice split them apart. “Marilyn, you still have to get ready for church.” Violet, Marilyn’s mother, cast a shadow across the doorway.
“We were just finishing our game!” Marilyn’s face blanched, but she turned back in Anne’s direction to whisper, “His finger.”
Anne was more concerned that the white of her friend’s face suddenly seemed ringed with her damp, shiny curls, and the glare of the sun was making Marilyn’s face all hazy in front of her.
Marilyn glanced carefully back over her shoulder before lifting the middle finger of her hand. “He uses it to . . .”
“What are you girls up to?” Mrs. Jenkins appeared in the doorway. Marilyn’s mother always wore dresses too—longer ones though, coming to just over her knees. They were covered with brightly-colored flowers. The flowers seemed, to Anne, to run into the veins that splattered purple here and there over the woman’s calves.
“Now, I’m not going to tell you again, Miss Marilyn, to get yourself ready. And, if you’re going to ask Jerry to go along,” Mrs. Jenkins jerked her had first in the direction of the new house on the block and them toward the phone.
“It’s not Sunday,” Anne managed. She fought the urge to go limp and pale. Marilyn’s mother had always frightened her.
“A revival,” Marilyn explained. “So we have church every night.”
Her girlfriend’s face had turned smooth and calm, peaceful milk white.
“Can Marilyn come home with me instead, while you all go to church?” Anne summoned the courage to ask. Her parents certainly didn’t mind her having a friend over. In fact, this school year her mother had become increasingly glad about that sort of thing. She wanted Anne to have more friends and go to more parties.
“Have you ever taken Jesus as your personal savior, Anne?” Mrs. Jenkins asked her formally.
Marilyn had risen to dress. “Bees around honey!” Violet Jenkins always laughed about the boys at school and the way they seemed to flock around Marilyn these days. They’d call her on the phone and ride by the house on their bicycles. “A flower for the pluckin’,” she’d comment more seriously, and Marilyn’s father, Ed, who rarely talked, would simply nod at his own reflection in the hardwood floor.
Anne thought of her own father who also rarely talked. He always asked “Who?” and then acted like he’d never heard of any of the boys she mentioned.
Marilyn smiled, “Jerry is coming, Anne. He says he might get saved like me, and his mom told me she’d bring him to church after his ball practice.”
Anne pulled at her socks. “So what?” She’d just see Jerry another time, she reasoned to herself.
Marilyn lifted her hair and turned to let her mother hook her up. Mrs. Jenkins made most of her daughter’s dresses. “His mom said Jerry asked if he could come along.” Marilyn stated.
Anne thought her friend looked like one of those girls in a picture—the fragile chin, blue eyes, and frothy brown hair.
“I’ll swear if I know what it is you girls see in that boy!” Violet laughed and shook her head as she returned to the kitchen. “You’re welcome in church though, Anne. Jesus is there for everyone.”
It worried Anne too that Jerry might really matter to her friend.
“During revivals we have a contest,” Marilyn explained. “Everyone tries to fill up a pew.” She turned with a sachet toward the kitchen after her mother.
Anne did not want to leave the bedroom. Her friend’s furniture was made of dark wood. Handmade by Mr. Jenkins for his daughter. Anne had stayed with Marilyn so many times this past couple of years, and they’d talked way into the night, the two of them in flannel gowns and lost in Marilyn’s featherbed. Anne loved the smell of the wood.
“It’s Anne who really likes Jerry, not me” Marilyn was saying.
Damn. Anne decided she’d better join them.
Marilyn glanced across the kitchen to make sure her mother was busy with the dishes before whispering, “The man puts his finger up into where the baby starts.” She took an orange from the bowl of fruit on the table. “And that’s how the woman gets pregnant.”
Anne eyed her friend’s face coolly.
“Well, I think Marilyn has a crush on that boy too!” Mrs. Jenkins was laughing.
“That’s not all that happens, Marilyn.” Anne felt triumphant.
“So what are you two girls plannin’ to do about you both likin’ the same boy?” Violet looked at her reflection in a plate.
Marilyn eyed Anne carefully.
Anne studied the tablecloth.
“So what does happen then?” Marilyn plunged a nail through the skin and began to peel the orange.
“What happens when?” Mrs. Jenkins crossed over to stand beside them and Anne froze.
“I was telling Annie about the minister teaching us how Jesus died on the cross for our sins,” Marilyn spoke calmly. “So now, she can be saved too.”
Anne was thankful.
“God calls you to the altar,” her friend bit through the membrane of the orange. “And that’s when you just let Jesus enter your heart.” Marilyn sucked at the sweet juice. “Then He lives through you.”
Anne watched Marilyn. Mrs. Jenkins watched Marilyn, but then added, “That’s at our invitational after the service, Anne. Jesus enters you during the altar call.”
Anne and Violet Jenkins finally looked at one another. Anne realized suddenly that she had grown almost as tall as this woman. She’d become tall and thin, a young tree, and now actually stood almost eye to eye with Marilyn’s mother. Mrs. Jenkins was very nearsighted; she wore bifocals.
“Marilyn could loan you a dress,” the mother suggested to Anne.
“It wasn’t the walk to the altar that worried Anne. Dark wooden altar. But what was it exactly that happened after Jesus entered your body, took over your life?
Anne realized that Marilyn was studying her carefully. “I will have to call home,” she pointed out conscientiously, but then followed Marilyn back down the hall. She didn’t like the idea of Marilyn and Jerry together without her there either.
When the girls reached the bedroom, Marilyn took a dress from her closet, but kept it over her elbow and stood waiting. “Tell me,” she implored.
“Just as I am without one plea . . .,” Mrs. Jenkins began singing a hymn as she finished her dishes.
Anne studied the darts in the dress’s front, the puckering at the waist, and the fullness of the skirt. Also, the dress was pink.
“Annie,” Marilyn coaxed.
“But that thy blood was shed for me.” Violet Jenkins sang. Dishes clattered.
Anne was thinking she’d feel like a tulip in that dress. A tall, thin stem with a round head bobbing around on top. Also, she thought of the way Jerry stretched and turned when he caught a baseball.
Marilyn chose two more dresses and put them out on the bed as if on a garment rack.
“To rid my soul of one dark blot, oh Lamb of God, I come,” Mrs. Jenkins’ reedy voice soared.
Anne’s thoughts strayed back to her own parents blond bedroom set and that novel. She remembered the red and pink swirls that had been on the cover. She searched for words to tell Marilyn about what had then happened to that blonde. The man had actually “skinned” the woman’s clothes off, laid her across the bed, and pumped her with . . .”; well, it had to be sinful, didn’t it? All what her mother evidently and then Annie had read about—frightening, shocking. Sinful?
“Tell me!” Marilyn insisted. She opened her closet door to the whole rack full of dresses.
“Oh, Lam of God, I come.” Mrs. Jenkins finished with a flourish. “I come.”
In the too bright halls of school, Anne remembered how the students laughed and how Marilyn was so bright and easy among them. A new grade and new students, and Anne thought Marilyn had so many friends and she, Anne, had only one.
“Annie, what happens next?” Marilyn’s blue eyes searched her own.
Anne decided to be safe, she’d rather stay in her pants. Her friend’s hair, her whole expression was frothy though. The girl was primed. “Marilyn, I guess I’d better tell you what happens.”