“Can you keep a secret?” I can feel my eyes bulging in my sockets as I await Dora’s reply. I know she’ll say yes. She always says yes. And I always tell her, even though I know the girl can’t keep a secret to save her life. But I can’t resist impressing her, even if it’s only for a moment.
“Of course.” She coaxes me by leaning in. Her head is tilted in an adorable, curious way. Like a puppy who hears a whistle for the first time. I never tell her the real secret. Maybe I will, some day. I’ll have to, really. But for now, I’m happy to have my hooks in a really juicy rumour. One that will make her huge leafy eyes grow twice their natural size.
“Ms. Faulkner.” I say, and pause for dramatic effect. She reaches for me. She puts her hand on my leg – my thigh to be exact - and squeezes.
“Go on.” She says, with a showy flourish that makes me laugh.
“Right, you really can’t tell anyone. Promise?” I make her pinky swear, though I know the gesture is as futile as crying in the rain. “Ms. Faulkner is a lesbian.”
Both of her hands fly up to her mouth. “No. Way.” She says, and I was right. Her eyes, as green as the leaves of an Elm tree in the middle of a wet summer, grow to a seemingly impossible size on her tiny, fox-like face. “But she’s married. Her husband works with my dad. He’s kind of awful, to be honest. Maybe he made her gay.”
I wince, but not visibly. It’s true I have ulterior motives in telling her this particular secret.
“How do you know?” She asks. Her hands are still on her face.
“Fiona Harris saw her. She was at her family’s summer house in Sooke and there she was. On the beach. With a woman.”
“With a woman?” She wants details. This is a good sign.
“As in, tangled up on the beach and kissing a woman. Fiona said there was no mistaking it.” As I say this, goosebumps begin to manifest and multiply all up my arms and seem to settle at the base of my neck.
“Wow.” Dora says. She looks thoughtful. “Who else knows?”
“Me, Fiona, and now you. And I’m sure she’s told Ava. And Chels.” As I list the names of my conspirators, I realize how much this secret will not stay a secret.
“This is crazy!” Her eyes have not become any smaller, and I wish I had this kind of news every day. “I always got a bit of a vibe from her.”
This catches me off guard. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. Like, she’s young. And super pretty. She seems cool. I saw her once at the mall on a Saturday and she was wearing a Ramones t-shirt. Her husband is a total dud. I always thought something was off there.”
As she speaks, I dissect her words. Seems cool. Super pretty. “Yeah, she is really pretty.” I hope she doesn’t detect the wistfulness in my voice. Like you. I want to say.
“Well, well. This is certainly the juiciest gossip of the year!”
I think not for long. But I say, “Right?”
I was right. The secret does not stay a secret. The grapevine multiplies over the weekend, and its invasive lianas soon have the entire school in their grasp. Ms. Faulkner walks into the classroom on Monday’s first period, and the energy shifts. As soon as Tanis Dermot starts giggling and whispering from her throne in the back row, I know the proverbial fan is about to be pummelled.
“Miss Dermot, is there anything you’d like to share with the class?” Ms. Faulkner asks, stern and clueless.
“I don’t know, Ms. Faulkner. Is there anything you’d like to share with your husband?” Tanis really is a bully. But I must admit I’m curious to see how this will play out.
Ms. Faulkner keeps her cool. She seems cool. Dora’s voice floats through my amygdala and I wish she was here to see this. But I know from her relentless complaining that her Monday morning first period is gym.
“I do not engage with bullies, Miss Dermot, and nor should the rest of you.” She says with a sweeping glance around the room. “Anyway, Plath.” She turns to the whiteboard and begins to write.
“That’s enough. Miss Dermot.” Ms. Faulkner spins around and for the first time I see a flicker of dread take hold of her delicate features.
“What?” Tanis is ruthless. “Am I not your type?”
This causes a tsunami of laughter from all corners of the room. Everyone is laughing but me. I feel like every ounce of blood in my body has moved to my face. Ms. Faulkner’s face isn’t red at all – it’s white. I wonder if maybe I’ve sucked all the blood from her face into my own.
“Your disrespect will not be tolerated, Tanis. Leave now to Mr. Peterson’s office and we will discuss this further at break.” Her voice is meek and a little bit crackly, like walking on ice that’s spidering but not quite breaking.
Tanis laughs as she gathers her things. “Sylvia Plath sucks anyway.” She tosses her long blonde hair over her shoulder and struts out of the room as if she’s a model on the runway.
Ms. Faulkner closes her eyes and takes two long, deep breaths. “Right.” She says, recapturing at least some of her lost composure. “Lady Lazarus. What did you think?” She turns back to the board to see her incomplete excerpt:
I have done it again.
The words seem to stir something in her. The ice has broken.
“I’m sorry, I’ll be right back.” With her hands covering her face, she flees.
Stunned silence soon gives way to idle chatter. It’s obvious that every single person in the room knows what Fiona Harris saw on her summer vacation. At once, I feel terribly sorry for Ms. Faulkner and terribly guilty for my involvement in the spreading of the rumour.
Before anarchy has the chance to manifest, Ms. Green materializes and continues to teach the rest of the period without a word about what happened.
At lunch, Dora is waiting for me at our usual spot.
“What happened this morning? Sounds like Ms. Faulkner is having a total breakdown.” Dora’s eyes, greener than the grass making up her backdrop, are at their biggest.
“Really? I haven’t seen her since she left English lit this morning. I felt really bad for her. Tanis was awful.” I say this, hoping Dora will be in my camp. I know she’s friends with Tanis. As much as anyone can be.
“I heard.” She says.
“What about Ms. Faulkner’s breakdown?”
“Oh, I don’t know for sure. A few people saw her run to her car crying.”
I feel like an hourglass. I’ve been tipped over to start a timer, and guilt is the sand. Dora notices.
“What’s wrong?” She asks, her hand touches my upper arm, and I’m jolted from guilt to some other emotion I know well but can’t, (won’t), articulate.
“I just feel so bad.” I say. I can’t, (won’t), explain the deeper reason behind my feelings, and I’m thankful there’s enough of a situational shield for me to hide behind.
“Yeah, me too. Ms. Faulkner is a cool lady. Her private life is none of our business. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
I should be angry at her for betraying my trust and perpetuating the secret after I asked her not to. But I’m not. I did the same to Fiona. None of us and all of us are to blame.
After dinner, I get a text from Dora.
Holy shit. I think Mr. Faulkner kicked her out. I just heard my dad on the phone.
My heart drops and I think it’s in my feet. Could I have stopped the rumour? I doubt I was the only person Fiona told, but I could have at least kept it from the world’s biggest gossip. My motive in telling Dora is so clear to me, but what did I gain from it? At least I know she’s not a homophobe. But is that really enough to warrant ruining a poor woman’s life?
I resolve to use our teacher’s plight as a springboard.
Can you meet me at the swings? I send the message before my cowardice has time to process what’s happening.
Sure. Leaving now.
I’m already on a swing when she arrives. As soon as I see her, everything I’ve been rehearsing flies out of my head. How is it possible for her eyes to look so green, even in the dark?
As if I’m being controlled by a ventriloquist, I stand and meet her halfway across the gravel of the playground. Without hesitation, I grab her face in my hands and kiss her. She tenses, and I’m horrified that she might push me away. Instead, she melts into me and we kiss. Softly at first, and then all restraint disappears, and I can’t feel my body.
A certain amount of time passes, I’ll never know how much, before we pull apart.
I smile, and for some comic relief, I whisper;
“Can you keep a secret?”