Giselle: almost 15
Knox: barely 16
Giselle sat in the back of the room in a corner, her arms crossed over her chest. The Young Women’s president droned on about their goals, getting them approved, accomplishing them. For what? A medallion necklace she didn’t even like?
Susan Mendenhall had set a goal of reading a two-hundred-page book. That was a goal? Giselle had two-hundred-page books for breakfast with a little left over for lunch if she stopped reading at just the right spot.
Now, lose sixty pounds? That was a goal. Not that she would ever make her dreams and desires known to the perky, the popular, the pretty girls who surrounded her on Sundays and looked at her with a slight curl to their carefully glossed lips.
“Today’s lesson is on chastity,” said Sister Bremmer with a brightness that Giselle supposed had to have come from having obeyed all the rules, having never messed up. Nobody could be that happy if they’d ever done so much as swiped a peanut from the bin at Milgram’s.
As for Giselle, well, it was too late for that, what with her midnight forays with Sebastian.
“ … necking and petting … ”
What did that mean, necking and petting? Was that what she and Knox did? Just yesterday he’d slid his tongue in her mouth and touched hers. That felt so good—and in such a different way—she knew it had to be bad and it gave her leftover shivers when she thought about it.
She raised her hand. “Sister Bremmer?”
“What is necking and petting? I mean, what happens?”
“Well, uhm … ”
The other girls burst out in knowledgeable titters. Sister Bremmer stumbled over her words and blushed. Giselle thought she might just like to melt into the floor. She looked down at the carpet and blinked tears back when Susan cast her a contemptuous glance.
“If you don’t know,” she murmured under the laughter, “then Knox isn’t a real boyfriend, is he?” The titters turned into peals and shrieks of laughter.
Sister Bremmer calmed the class, but never actually answered Giselle’s question. If she’d caught Susan’s remark, she didn’t betray it in any way.
Not that she would’ve reprimanded her for it if she had.
Giselle picked at her hand-me-down dress, the dull brown of it making her feel as dowdy as her classmates did when she stood next to them in their pretty clothes and perfect hair that Giselle didn’t know how to mimic.
Class didn’t let out for another agonizing thirty minutes and Giselle tuned out most of the lesson. Meaningless words to her. If she couldn’t visualize it, she couldn’t avoid doing it. If no one would tell her what was what, how did she know when the line—what line? where?—had been crossed?
About the only thing she really knew was bad was when the boy put his penis in the girl’s vagina.
Yeah, that was bad. Her mother had lectured her on that over and over again, so she understood the basic concept. Why anybody would want to get that close remained a mystery to Giselle and, furthermore, what happened when the boy’s penis was in the girl’s vagina? Romance novels were no help; the love scenes weren’t actually described using any language Giselle knew. Even sneaking her Aunt Dianne’s copy of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) did nothing to enlighten her.
She now knew a whole lot about a whole lot of sexual things, but absolutely nothing about the mechanics, logistics, or what it felt like. Still. And she’d never seen an uglier word than “orgasm” in her life. It didn’t sound any better than it looked.
Chastity must have some other components, but it definitely meant refraining from putting tab A into slot B. Then she decided that if it wasn’t important enough to be explained in Young Women’s, it must not be bad.
“ … self-abuse … ”
Yeah, and that was another one. The only thing Giselle could visualize was a person slugging himself in the face with his fist and surely it didn’t mean that . . . ? If it had been mentioned in any book she’d ever read, it hadn’t been called “self-abuse,” that was for sure.
Giselle waited until the other girls left the room, dawdling over the task of gathering her things.
She looked up, startled at the hand on her shoulder and she pulled away.
Giselle, you fat little pig. Don’t touch me; I don’t want to catch your fat.
Giselle figured if Aunt Trudy could get fat from her, then everybody else could, too. Sister Bremmer sat beside her, careful not to touch her again, which confirmed her feelings about that.
“Giselle, has your mother talked to you about—about, uhm, chastity?”
“Yes,” Giselle drawled warily, wondering again what chastity actually meant to Sister Bremmer and if her mother really had told her everything. “She said making love was only between a man and a woman who are married and who love each other.”
“And … ” Giselle trailed off, not understanding what else Sister Bremmer expected of her, “ … that it was to make babies.”
Her teacher smiled then. “Right. And that’s all it’s for.”
Well. Her mother hadn’t gone so far as all that, but Giselle could appreciate her teacher’s need to put the brakes on the conversation.
“I still don’t understand what necking and petting are. And self-abuse?”
She cleared her throat. “You need to ask your mother.”
No, thanks. The minute Giselle got curious and started asking questions, Knox would have to go live with Sebastian.
It didn’t brighten her day any to walk down the hall toward the chapel for sacrament meeting and see the same PerkyPopularPretty girls gathered like groupies around Sebastian and Knox. Susan flirted shamelessly with a miserable-looking Knox until he saw Giselle and broke away from the crowd to meet her halfway.
“Save me,” he quipped, dropping his arm around her shoulder. “Not a brain cell amongst them.”
Well, Giselle didn’t know if that was true or not, but at that moment, she preened when she felt the nastiness rippling her way. She did have one thing the other girls did not, that they wanted, that they hated her for having:
Not to mention her access to Sebastian Taight. Any girl who wanted Sebastian’s time or attention had to get it through Giselle, but Giselle had stopped granting that particular favor a year ago.
“Giz, they’re using you to get to me and then they ridicule you behind your back. Stop feeding them. You’re too good, too smart, too savvy to play their games.”
Giselle remained silent.
“I know you want friends at church, Giz,” he said finally, sighing. “But you’re not going to get them that way. As long as you have something they want, they’ll hate you for it.”
“What do I have? I’m not pretty, I’m fat, I have ugly clothes and frizzy hair. I don’t play the piano, I don’t sing or dance. I go to East High School, Sebastian. Not Ray South. Not Truman. Not Raytown. East High School. Tell me what I have.”
“Well, for a thirteen-year-old, you have a helluva bank account. You could get yourself some decent clothes.”
She swallowed and looked away. “I don’t know where to go or what to buy.”
“Call Victoria. She’ll help you.”
Well, that was an idea. It wasn’t as if she lacked for cousins. The trick was finding one who could drive who had time to help her.
“Okay, so I get new clothes, big deal.”
Sebastian shot her a look. “You really don’t know, do you?”
She stared at him until he looked down at what she held in her lap. She followed his gaze and saw the nine-millimeter in her hand.
“Power, Giz. That’s what you’ve got. They can feel it but they don’t know what it is and apparently, you’re as ignorant as they are. If you want girlfriends, wait ’til you get to college, ’cuz those girls at church? Not worth having. Now, are you ready?”
Giselle got out of the truck, stuffed her gun in her waistband, and fished a flashlight out of the glove compartment. Sebastian checked his own gun and stuffed it in the back of his jeans.
“If I could fit into a pair of Jordache jeans, they’d be my friends.”
“Yeah, and that’s the problem, right there,” Sebastian muttered as he retrieved his baseball bat from the bed of the truck.
“Oh, hey. Mom has to be up at four to get to work.”
“Shit. Well, we can’t be in a hurry, so if she catches you, too bad. We got money to make and I hear these fuckers have an ambush waiting for us. Whatever you do, don’t aim higher than the belt buckle.”
Lost in her thoughts and approaching the gauntlet of PerkyPopularPretty, she ignored whatever Knox rambled on about and concentrated on how best to navigate it.
But Knox stopped abruptly just in front of the door to the chapel’s overflow annex, his ear cocked toward it. He eased closer, nudging her with his body.
“ … home with us for dinner?”
“Did you ask him?” Giselle’s mother’s voice, razor sharp, even through the wooden door.
“Yes, but he said he had to eat with his family on Sunday.”
“Then why are you asking me?”
“I thought if he had your permission to miss … ”
Long silence, then Giselle heard her mother sigh. “Barbara, why do you think Knox would be interested in Susan? It’s not as if he can’t make up his own mind and his mind’s set on Giselle.”
“Well, quite frankly, Lilly,” Susan’s mother returned, an edge of what Giselle might think was hatefulness coming from anybody else. “That girl of yours is terrifying.”
“And yours isn’t. See a correlation?”
Giselle didn’t feel terrifying at church and Susan seemed plenty terrifying to Giselle.
The door burst open, nearly slamming Giselle and Knox in their faces. Her mother stood in front of them, her expression ferocious—almost as ferocious as the time she’d come home early from work and caught Giselle and Knox kissing.
“Knox,” she barked. “Do you or do you not want to go to Sister Mendenhall’s house for dinner today?”
Knox squirmed under her mother’s stern gaze, under the expectant stare of Sister Mendenhall. “Uh, not really,” he finally croaked.
“Are you at all interested in asking Susan Mendenhall out?”
Giselle glanced up at him. Susan was gorgeous. Giselle was not. In Giselle’s mind, it was an easy choice and she prepared herself for the blow.
“No,” he said with a gulp, staring at Giselle’s mother, never looking at Sister Mendenhall or Susan, who had sidled up beside her mother.
“All right. Go on into the chapel.”
Knox jerked Giselle’s hand and made his way to the chapel doors as if stung, pulling her two steps before she found her feet—
—then lost them again when Susan stuck her foot out and tripped her.
Down she went, on her face, the back of her dress flying up to her waist, her bottom, covered by panties and pantyhose, exposed.
She heard her mother’s gasp, felt her hands smooth her dress down to cover her and make her modest again.
“You bitch,” Knox snarled, and gasps rose into the air like a fog and lingered near the ceiling before dissipating. Giselle felt his arms around her, lifting her to her knees, helping her to her feet.
Giselle wanted nothing more than to run away, hide, cry. Away from her mother, Knox, Sebastian, Aunt Dianne and Uncle Charlie, her family.
Oh, lovely. Sebastian had seen the whole thing, if his murderous expression was any indicator.
She hated feeling—being—weak in front of her family and that only happened at church where the cult of PerkyPopularPretty reigned supreme. Her family knew it and it humiliated her that she became a completely different girl here at church where all she wanted was the acceptance she should have been able to expect.
“Well,” Sebastian finally said. “If that’s an example of Christ’s teachings, I sure as shit don’t want to see an example of Satan’s.”
“Dianne!” Sister Mendenhall gasped.
Giselle’s mother, her hand caressing Giselle’s cheek, glared at Sister Mendenhall, catching Giselle’s tears with the pad of her thumb before they spilled.
Giselle’s aunt ignored Sister Mendenhall’s outrage, rubbing Giselle’s back, between her shoulder blades the way she liked.
Giselle’s uncle stalked away to catch Brother Mendenhall to give him a piece of his mind.
Giselle’s cousin folded his arms across his chest as he stared at Susan until she squirmed.
Giselle’s boyfriend since before she could remember wrapped her in his arms.
“C’mon, Giselle,” Knox murmured. “Let’s go home.”
She got stuffed in the cab of Sebastian’s truck, squeezed between the two of them, the gear shift between her knees. With the ease of a long partnership, she shifted when Sebastian clutched. None of them said a word, but Knox draped his arm across her shoulder and pulled her to him, kissing her temple.
“I hate girls,” she whispered. “Power, my ass.”
Sebastian patted her knee.
And she still didn’t know what necking and petting were.