My chemistry teacher has a poster hanging in her classroom that I really like. It has a picture of Albert Einstein on it, and a quote: "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That's relativity." My friend Claudia's older sister, Janine, says that relativity is actually a lot more complicated than that, and she tried to explain it to us once, but I didn't understand a word of what she said. That happens a lot with Janine.
I knew exactly what Einstein was talking about, though. For one thing, school isn't exactly my favorite place in the world to be, so I've had lots of experience with staring at the clock on the wall and wondering if the batteries had died or if it just seemed like the minute hand had stopped moving.
Chemistry class is usually the exception to the rule. Not because I really like chemistry or anything, although it's okay, I guess, especially when we get to do a really fun experiment, like blowing up soda bottles. What makes chemistry so great is my aforementioned chemistry teacher, Ms. Maxwell. (Isn't "aforementioned" a great word? It sounds so much cooler than "the one that I mentioned before".) She's a lot like me, if I do say so myself: she's very opinionated and she likes to take charge of things (she's the head of the science department here at Stoneybrook High School). She's also very ... pretty.
That's right, I, Kristin Amanda Thomas, think that Ms. Maxwell is pretty. Actually, I think that she's gorgeous. As you can probably tell, since I'm a girl and so is she, I'm gay.
It's something I didn't totally realize about myself until pretty recently, actually. I mean, I kind of knew that I wasn't interested in boys, at least, not in the same way that a lot of my friends were interested in them. I even had a sort-of boyfriend myself, back in eighth grade, but we broke up because he wanted to do more boyfriend-girlfriend type stuff and I just didn't like him like that. It was just last summer, though, that I realized that I was starting to be interested ... in girls. I felt kind of weird about that, to tell you the truth, but I talked about it with my mom and she reassured that it was totally normal and nothing to be ashamed of and that she and Watson, my stepdad, would support me no matter who I fell in love with.
After that, I came out to everyone else that I knew. (There's a reason my friends sometimes call me Kristy the Loudmouth.) All of my friends have been great about it. None of them believe in discriminating against people just because they're different in some way -- in fact, we're all different from each other in a lot of ways, and that hasn't kept us from staying friends. When school started again, though, I knew that it wasn't going to be quite the same. For one thing, some people at our school can be real jerks. When Jessi Ramsey moved here, for instance, a lot of people were rude to her or ignored her, just because she's black, if you can believe that.
Then I had a Great Idea. (Not to brag, but another one of the things I'm known for is having Great Ideas. It just comes naturally to me.) That was why I couldn't wait for chemistry to be over -- I was dying to tell Ms. Maxwell my good news. I thought that the bell was never going to ring.
Of course, the bell did ring eventually. I wasn't really sure what we had talked about during the last fifteen minutes or so, since I had let my mind wander to more interesting things, but I didn't care. I barely restrained myself from shouting "Hurrah!" as I jumped out of my chair. I ran up to the front of the room ... only to be beaten by Miranda Shillaber, who had a question about our homework. By the time I got Ms. Maxwell to myself, I was practically vibrating with impatience.
"Good news, I take it, Kristy?"
I nodded vigorously. "Dr. Kimball says that we can get started right away," I announced, "as long as you don't mind being our faculty advisor."
"Of course I don't mind," she said immediately, and I grinned even harder. "I think we decided that Tuesdays after school were the best for both of us, right?"
"Yeah. That's right. Tuesdays are great," I babbled. "We can have our first meeting next week. I'll get them to announce it and my friend Claudia will design some flyers for us and we can put them up all over the school. I mean, if that's all right with you," I added. I felt my cheeks getting strange and warm. I guessed that I was blushing.
"That sounds great," Ms. Maxwell grinned back at me. "I'm so proud of what you're doing, Kristy. I think that a Gay-Straight Alliance is going to be a wonderful thing for this school."
It used to be that all the members of the Baby-sitters Club ate lunch together -- all the eighth-grade members, that is. Now, at the high school, we're all spread out over three different lunch periods based on what classes we're taking. Last year, it was incredibly strange, but by now I guess we've sort of gotten used to it. Now I eat lunch with Abby and some girls I know from the softball team and some people they know, and it's okay, I guess, but sometimes it's just not the same.
Today, instead of heading straight to the cafeteria, I ran to catch Mary Anne before she got to her American Lit class. For some reason, I wanted her to be the first person to hear my news.
"Hey Mary Anne, guess what!" I said, grabbing her arm. "Dr. Kimball gave me the thumbs up and Ms. Maxwell agreed to be our faculty advisor, so our first meeting is going to be next Tuesday!"
"Oh wow. That's awesome, Kristy." Mary Anne is such a great friend. She's so caring and understanding. We're pretty much opposites in practically every way, but we've been best friends since we were in diapers.
"Yeah, I was afraid that I was going forget all those nice reasonable arguments we practiced and just start yelling at everyone for being a bunch homophobic cowards, but luckily it didn't even come up," I barreled on quickly. "So I just need to get Claudia to put the date and time on our flyers and we can put them up tomorrow. It's pretty much going to be a planning meeting, so if you have any ideas for activities, you can bring them up then."
Mary Anne's eyes widened slightly. "You want me to come?" she asked softly.
"Well, yeah, duh. It's called a gay-straight alliance, so we need to have some straight people there."
"All right. I'll see you after school." Somehow, Mary Anne didn't look as excited as she had been.
"See you then."
On Tuesday I had another object lesson in relativity, because that day went on approximately forever. Pretty much the only thing I paid attention to all day long was my flyers on the walls. About half of them were gone, but that was pretty much what I had been expecting. That's why we had put up two hundred of them in the first place.
Last period was gym, and we were finishing up a unit so we had to take a test, and I'm not actually entirely sure that I passed it, if you can believe that. But I didn't care. The second the bell rang, I sprinted out of the gym and back to the science department. If my grade had been based on how fast I got out of there, and the speed and agility with which I avoided my fellow students in the hallways along the way, I would have aced it.
When I got to Ms. Maxwell's classroom, her seventh-period class was still packing up and drifting out the door. I elbowed them out of my way, too, and dropped my backpack on an empty lab table.
"Hi, Kristy!" Ms. Maxwell greeted me cheerfully. She was wearing her rainbow tie-dyed lab coat, which I thought was a nice touch.
"Hi!" I said.
"Would you mind giving me a hand with a little rearranging? I think people might be a little more at ease if we put these chairs in a semi-circle and move the lab tables out of the way."
"Sounds great," I said. I was glad to have something to do besides wait to see who was going to show up, and I threw myself into it.
Mary Anne was the first person to arrive, and she made a beeline directly for me. "Am I early?" she asked, frowning a little.
"Nope, you're right on time," I said, checking my watch. "Everyone else is late."
"Oh. Well, you know, Kristy, this isn't a meeting of the Baby-sitters Club or anything."
"Yeah, I know," I said. I wasn't worried about people showing up late. I was worried about people showing up at all. Well, aside from the former members of the BSC. But what if no one else came? What if we had to shut down the SHS Gay-Straight Alliance because nobody cared and Ms. Maxwell thought I wasn't capable of organizing anything properly and I still wouldn't be able to find any other gay people at my school?
Then Stacey and Claudia arrived, with a couple of boys that I didn't recognize in tow. A few more people trickled in casually until there were only fifteen of us, and only five of us were former BSC members. On the whole, I was pleased, although that part of me that always aims for the sky was a little disappointed that even more people hadn't shown up.
I was making polite small talk with Lynne, a quiet girl with short-short hair that she had dyed ice blue, when someone elbowed me frantically. I fended off the assault with one hand as I spun around. It was Mary Anne.
"What--" I began to ask, but then I followed Mary Anne's horrified eyes across the room and I knew exactly what she was upset about.
Standing in the classroom doorway was Cokie Mason.
"Hi, everyone," she said, tossing her hair theatrically. "Is this the GSA meeting?"
For a moment, I was completely speechless. At least, it must have been just for a moment; it felt like it was a year. Then I said: "What do you think you're doing here?"
That was pretty rude, even for me, but in the case of Cokie Mason I considered it to be perfectly justified. Cokie Mason hates me and all my friends and she's done some incredibly nasty things to us, including one time when she wrote me a bunch of creepy anonymous notes that I thought were from Bart, and another time when she staged this elaborate prank to convince Mary Anne that she was under a curse and try to make her look like an idiot in front of her (now ex-) boyfriend, Logan, because she wanted to date him herself. As you can imagine, we're not exactly on cordial terms.
Cokie made a fake-surprised face. "Why, Kristy Thomas!" she exclaimed. "I wasn't expecting to find you here."
"You knew perfectly well that I was going to be here," I said furiously. "This is my club. And it's for real gay people, not people who kiss girls so that boys will pay attention to them."
Cokie opened her mouth, but Ms. Maxwell swiftly interposed herself between us. "Both of you stop this right now," she said firmly. "Everyone is welcome here, whether they're gay, straight, bisexual, transsexual, or something I haven't thought of yet, and we will treat each other respectfully. That is what the Gay-Straight Alliance is for."
Immediately I felt bad. Not because of anything I'd said to Cokie, but because I'd lost my temper and made a scene in front of Ms. Maxwell and possibly endangered the future of the SHS GSA. I stared down at my sneakers and muttered, "Sorry."
Luckily, Ms. Maxwell seemed to accept this as sufficient. "All right, listen up, folks. Since this is our first meeting, I think it would be a good idea to introduce ourselves before we get too much farther. Feel free to take a seat and make yourselves at home."
She sounded like me, breaking up an impending quarrel among sitting charges, I thought, a little resentfully. If she knew Cokie, she'd know that she'd demonstrated time and time again why she wasn't worthy of any respect, and that the only possible reason she could have for being at the meeting was to cause trouble. But of course, Ms. Maxwell didn't know, and it was up to me to prove my side of the story was the right one. Which meant acting like a grown-up and not letting her get to me. I worked hard at rearranging my face so I wasn't scowling while Ms. Maxwell introduced herself.
She told us about how her brother had come out when he was twenty-six and had a wife and a three-year-old daughter. "It was a hard time for all of us, especially since we didnŐt really know very much about homosexuality and we didn't know where to look. Luckily, we all love Chris very much and we got things straightened out eventually, although I'm sure we hurt him without intending to on the way. I'm so glad that things are changing now, although we still have a long way to go."
I tried to listen, but I was so furious about Cokie, I was having a hard time paying attention. She was drinking from a bottle of Diet Coke that she had in her backpack and somehow she managed to make it into a provocative act, wrapping her mouth around the bottle in a completely unnecessary way and then licking her lipstick-red lips, slowly, after every sip. I didn't even hear Ms. Maxwell asking me to go next until Mary Anne nudged me.
Usually, I don't have any problem talking about myself, but I definitely wasn't going to share any stories about coming out or anything with Cokie, the faker mole who was infiltrating the GSA. I said something quick about how I liked sports and baby-sitting and entrepreneurship, and let the introductions continue around the lopsided semi-circle.
When it was Cokie's turn, she flipped her hair again and waved her hands around to show off her ugly fake nails with rhinestones on them and laughed her stupid fake laugh and didn't actually say anything that had to do with being gay or being respectful and supportive of gay people, like everyone else had. I exchanged glances with the rest of my friends, rolling my eyes and making faces, and they nodded, discreetly. We've all dealt with Cokie before.
I thought that things would get better once the introductions were over. Boy, was I ever wrong. As soon as Ms. Maxwell asked if anyone had any suggestions for activities that the GSA ought to put together, Cokie said, "I think we should have a dance!"
I gritted my teeth and hoped that someone else would shoot that stupid idea down, but instead one of the juniors, Ian, said that that would be cool.
"What kind of dance did you have in mind?" Ms. Maxwell asked.
Cokie looked like a trapped animal for a brief moment before answering, "Well, a gay-friendly one, obviously."
I snorted. I had my lips firmly pressed together so I wouldn't actually say anything, but I couldn't help the way I breathed.
"We could play music by queer musicians," Lynne offered. "I have a huge CD collection. We could come up with a really great playlist."
"People could come in drag if they wanted to," Abby put in. "I, for one, want to dress up as Elvis."
We ended up talking about this stupid dance until 4:00, when Ms. Maxwell said that she had to leave. I couldn't even get a word in edgewise to share any of my ideas. Cokie was smirking.
"She has got to be up to something," I muttered to my friends as we headed down the hallway. "I'm calling an emergency meeting of the BSC."
The Baby-sitters Club technically doesn't exist any more. I mean, we don't meet at Claudia's house on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 5:30 to 6:00 to take sitting jobs any more. But we are still good friends with each other and, well, old habits die hard.
"All right, I have Twinkies, Skittles, and saltine crackers here, and probably some other stuff here, but nobody gets any until they explain to me how to conjugate hablar and why I would want to do that in the first place," Claud announced.
"That is not what we're here to talk about," I reminded her.
"Yeah, well, I have a lot of homework to do, so we're multitasking tonight."
"I can help you with your Spanish," Jessi volunteered. Jessi is very good with languages. We'd already explained to her and Mal basically what had happened since they were the only ones who hadn't been there, since they still go to SMS.
"I can't believe that we're planning a dance," I said, for about the millionth time. "Cokie just waltzes in and takes over my Gay-Straight Alliance."
"Oh, come on, Kristy, it's not that bad," Stacey said. "It'll probably be fun. Everyone else seemed really into it."
"We already have a million dances at SHS. Every time you turn around, there's another dance. Why do we need another one?" I put my hands on my hips. "Besides, this is Cokie. So it's not just going to be a dance, it's going to be some kind of elaborate plan to try to humiliate us. Whose side are you on, anyway?"
"Yours," Mallory interjected placatingly. "We won't let Cokie ruin everything. We just need to figure out a plan."
"How can you tell them apart?" Claudia asked Jessi. "They all look like the same word to me."
In the end, we came up with a plan, sort of. Our plan was that we were all going to keep an eye on Cokie for the next week, so that hopefully, we could figure out what her plan was. Also, at the next meeting, we were going to work together to make sure Cokie didn't monopolize the discussion.
Personally, I didn't think that this plan was as good as my own suggestion, which involved punching Cokie in the face, but I could see why that one wasn't going to work.
On Friday I invited everyone over to my house to eat pizza and watch movies and, of course, talk about Cokie.
"I swear, it seems like everywhere I go, she's there, staring at me," I began. "But the only thing I learned is that she's incredibly annoying. And she has a stupid laugh."
"I didn't really learn anything either," Claudia said. "Sorry, guys."
"Me either," Stacey said.
"I think I'm allergic to her," Abby said. Jessi and Mal just shrugged apologetically.
"I learned something," Mary Anne said softly. "I think Grace and Cokie had a fight. They aren't even speaking to each other."
I stared at Mary Anne like she had just grown a second head. "Whoa," I said, finally.
"Well, that probably means that they're not conspiring to ruin your GSA," Stacey said, finally.
"I wonder what they fought about," Mallory said, thoughtfully.
"Maybe Cokie was such a bitch that not even Grace could take her any more," Claudia said around a mouthful of pizza.
"That wouldn't surprise me," I said, caustically. Inside my brain, though, the gears were turning, or maybe it was more like a hamster running in its wheel, because all I knew was that I had no idea what was going on.
After a while, we moved on to more interesting topics (or, in the case of Claudia's math homework, more boring ones). I couldn't stop thinking about Cokie, though.
Mary Anne was the last person to leave my house, and for a second I thought she was going to say something to me, but instead she gave me a quick, tight hug and said good night.
The next Gay-Straight Alliance meeting was, if anything, worse than the first one. More people showed up, which would have been a good thing, except that all of them seemed to want to talk about Cokie's dance just as much as Cokie did. They totally outnumbered me and my BSC friends, so we didn't have any luck getting them to drop the subject, although honestly, I'm not even sure the rest of them were even trying as hard as I was.
Just when I thought things were as bad as they could get, they got worse. Ms. Maxwell asked Cokie and me to stick around for a minute after everyone else left. "I'm glad to see that you two have resolved your differences," she began. I wasn't really sure what had given her that impression, except that I hadn't actually tried to strangle Cokie all afternoon, but I was definitely glad that she thought so. "And I really think you've come up with some great ideas for a dance." I hadn't, as far as I was aware, come up with a single idea for the dance, but if Ms. Maxwell wanted to think that I had, she could go on thinking that! "But of course, something like that is going to take a lot of planning, not to mention permission from the administration. Which is why I would like to ask both of you to draw up a proposal for me to submit to the principal."
Time did that thing where it stood still again. Cokie tossed her hair. "No problem," she said.
"Great," Ms. Maxwell said. "The sooner you get it together, the better. Definitely before we meet next week, and I'd really like to look over it first."
"We can give it to you tomorrow," Cokie said. "That is, if you're not busy, Kristy?"
I thought of a hundred excuses, all of them stupid. I have to wash my cat. I think I'm coming down with the plague, and it's contagious. "I'm not busy," I said finally.
"Perfect. If the two of you need someplace to work, you can stay here. I've got some departmental paperwork to do. Just make sure you shut the door when you leave."
"Thanks, that'd be great," Cokie said as I opened and shut my mouth like a goldfish. Ms. Maxwell scooped an enormous stack of papers into her bag and hurried out the door, leaving me alone. With Cokie.
I think I've had nightmares like this, I thought.
Then I realized that now that Ms. Maxwell was gone, I could say whatever I wanted to Cokie. So I did.
"I don't know what you're up to," I said, "but you won't get away with it. We're onto you."
Cokie smirked. "I'm sure you would like to get onto me, Kristy."
"Don't flatter yourself," I snapped. Cokie just flipped her hair again.
"So who are you going to ask to the dance, Kristy?"
I quickly changed the subject. "There isn't going to be a dance unless you write the proposal."
"I'm more of an idea person. I don't do the actual writing."
"Well, I'm definitely not going to do the writing! I don't care about the dance in the first place. Some of us are interested in the actual issues that face the gay community and not just trying to make everything all about them and their stupid dance."
"Wait, I'm the one trying to make everything all about me? You're the one who's mad because other people have the nerve to be interested in something that you're not."
"You don't even belong in the GSA in the first place! You're just here to try to make my life miserable."
"Is it working?" Cokie inquired, staring at me intently.
"No!" I insisted, too quickly and too emphatically.
"That's funny, you look pretty miserable to me. It must be because you don't have a date to the dance."
"Oh no, I don't have a date to the dance that's never going to happen because Cokie isn't writing the proposal! Whatever shall I do?" I intoned sarcastically. "Who exactly are you planning on taking to the dance, Cokie? Last time I checked, you were still throwing yourself at Logan Bruno's head. Did you hear that he had a fantasy about lesbians or something, so you thought you'd act it out for him?"
This time, it was Cokie's turn to be speechless. She had a weird, stunned look on her face, like I had just slapped her or something. "You really don't understand anything, do you, Kristy?" she said finally.
Well, that wasn't what I was expecting at all. "The only thing I don't understand is why I'm still here," I said, and I reached for my backpack and my sweatshirt and my baseball cap with the picture of a collie on the front. "Have fun planning your dance."
Cokie grabbed my arm, hard enough that I couldn't break loose, at least, not without starting an all-out fight. Her fake nails dug painfully into my skin. "Are you seriously this dense? We're both here for the same reason. Because we like girls." She jerked my head towards hers and kissed me, hard and lipgloss-sticky. It was a terrible kiss, all clumsy and hateful and wrong.
It was electric.
Cokie broke away as abruptly as she had started and laughed her stupid laugh again. "What, haven't you ever kissed a girl before? Sweet sixteen and never been kissed!"
"Shut up," I snarled defensively. Then I remembered what Mary Anne had said on Friday night, and it was like when you look at a puzzle piece and all of a sudden you know exactly where it fits, even though the picture hasn't changed at all. "At least my straight friends are still talking to me."
I knew from Cokie's face that I had been exactly right. She opened her mouth to say something, but instead she kissed me again. And I let her. Actually, I shoved her pretty hard against the wall, and she whimpered, and it felt good.
Another scientific concept I have a pretty good understanding of is Murphy's Law: you know, anything that can go wrong, will. A good demonstration of Murphy's law would be the fact that the next time I opened my eyes, I saw Mary Anne standing in the doorway, staring at us in wide-eyed horror.
"Mary Anne, wait!" I shouted as her eyes filled with tears and she turned and fled.
"Great, now you really have made my life miserable," I said. "I hope you're happy."
"Mary Anne, don't hang up. I really need to talk to you."
There was a pause, and a sniffle, and then the voice on the other end of the line said, resentfully: "Why should I talk to you?"
This was the first time she had actually said anything to me, so I took that as a good sign.
"Because I can explain," I said. Then I stopped, because I didn't really know how to explain at all.
"I'm listening," Mary Anne prompted. Her voice sounded ever-so-slightly less icy.
"See, Ms. Maxwell left us to come up with a proposal for the dance. She wanted us to work together, because, you know, I had been yelling at her and stuff." Another long pause. I could feel my cheeks getting red again as I got closer to the kissing part. "And then we started fighting again, and ... I said that, you know, she was just doing it for attention and stuff." I left out the part about Logan. I figured it would be an incredibly bad idea to mention him to Mary Anne at this particular time. "And then she grabbed me and kissed me, and it was really, really weird, and then you came in."
"Ah," Mary Anne said, noncommittally.
"I guess she was trying to prove something to me, or something," I added.
"But you looked like you were enjoying it!" Mary Anne burst out.
"I wasn't!" I protested. But I knew that wasn't entirely true, and I couldn't very well lie to Mary Anne. For one thing, somehow, she can always tell. "Okay, there was a part of me that kind of enjoyed it."
"How could you possibly enjoy kissing Cokie Mason? After everything she's done to you? After everything she's done to me?"
"I don't know," I said, honestly. "It doesn't make sense. It just sort of happened. Kind of like I'm gay and there's no reason for it, I just am."
Mary Anne was quiet for a long time, and I started to worry if maybe she'd put down the phone or something, when finally she said: "Would you want to kiss me?"
"Yes," I said, immediately. "But only if you wanted me to," I added. "If you wanted me to kiss you, I definitely would." Apparently that was the right answer, because Mary Anne thawed a bit more and talked about neutral things that had nothing to do with kissing or Cokie Mason. After a little while, she said that she had to hang up because it was late and she had homework to do, and I said that I had homework to do, too and that I would see her at school tomorrow.
I brought the cordless phone back down to the kitchen. David Michael and Emily Michelle were already in bed, so the Brewer-Thomas household was pretty quiet, all things considered. Back in my bedroom, I left all my books in my backpack and pulled out several sheets of notebook paper.
I made sure to get to chemistry early so I could give Ms. Maxwell my proposal for the dance. I was fumbling through my backpack looking for it when Ms. Maxwell looked up and saw me sitting at my lab table and said, "Oh, Kristy! I looked over the proposal that you and Cokie wrote last night and it looks excellent. I really appreciate it."
Once again, I was rendered speechless. It was almost like it was getting to be a habit.
Albert Einstein smirked at me from on the wall.
I ran into Cokie in the hallway again and she winked at me. I stuck out my tongue at her. She flipped her hair at me and then she was gone.
I wondered what it would be like to dance with her.