Copyright Amy L. Montz
It was a bright autumn morning the day Bess Higgins was buried, which seemed appropriate given how Bess would have responded. “Damn right it’s bright and shiny,” she would have said. “This is my goddamn funeral. Respect.” The thought stayed with Mags the entirety of the funeral, and she couldn’t get Bess’s voice out of her head. She commented on everything: the flowers (“suuuuper tacky”), the eulogies (“that bitch didn’t even know my name at school!”), and, of course, her own outfit (“my mom has excellent taste for a principal”). Mags moved through the funeral in the fog caused not only by grief but also by the conversation occurring in her head. Bess, it seemed, even in death, would not be quiet.
It was only after they headed to the cemetery and the thunder clouds began to roll in that Mags realized, “Bess is gone,” and began sobbing. She held on to her father’s hand so tight she could not distinguish where one set of fingers began and where the other set ended. She had too much loss on her plate, too much to deal with in one young life: Freddie, her mother, now Bess. While the first two weren’t dead, the loss of them felt as such. But at least she would see them again. Bess, the moment her coffin went into the grave, ceased her prattling and whispered to Mags, “Goodbye, Mags my girl. Take care of Colin and Sean for me, my white sister.”
“Margaret, we’re going to pay our respects to the Higgins now.”
Mags looked at her father and could not begin to fathom going to the Higgins house. How to talk to Mrs. Higgins? How to look at Colin? How to see all those memories of Bess—the photographs on the walls, the couch where they had such a fun sleepover?
“Coach, I’ll take Mags, if that’s okay.” Sean came behind Mags and put a hand on her shoulder. She almost melted back into him, she wanted to escape so badly.
“Yes, of course. We’ll see you there.” Her father hugged her, too tight, it seemed, but she imaged all fathers would hug their daughters too tight today, and then he walked away.
“Want to get out of here for a bit?” Sean asked.
“I thought you were going to the Higgins’s,” she said. “Where is it we’re going instead?”
“For a ride,” Sean said. “I just need to get my head on straight before I…”
He looked good in a suit, the dark fabric contrasting nicely against his black-red hair and his bright blue eyes. She herself was wearing a black A-line dress, something Bess had approved some weeks before as they went through potential Homecoming outfits. Mags wore it in honor and memory of her friend. Then she thought, what a stupid thing to do.
“Let’s go,” she said to Sean. “Wherever you want.”
“Wherever you want” ended up being “a long drive through the country,” and Mags wished she had brought her camera, especially when the skies opened up and the rain began pouring down. She thought, “Bess would love this,” and then, it got darker, and the rain came down heavier, and suddenly hail began beating the top of the GTO.
“I’m going to pull in over there,” Sean yelled over the noise of the rain and hail. “We need to get out of this.”
There was an abandoned farm and an old barn just about a few hundred yards to the right. Bess had told her about it, she thought, the place where teenagers would go and have parties. But it was quiet, and out of the rain, and when they pulled in, Sean shut the car off. Raindrops still scattered on top of the car, but they leaked in from the roof of the barn, and didn’t seem intent to destroy as the others did.
“Are you—” She didn’t get to finish her thought, because Sean leaned over to kiss her.
She felt it, the press of his lips, the earnestness of the hand on her chin, moving along her jaw to clench in her hair. When he pressed harder, she opened her mouth to him and felt his head tilt to gain better access to her. God, she thought, I can feel this in my toes, and then, my toes are actually curling, and then, she couldn’t think about anything at all.
He twisted in his seat to lean closer to her, and his elbow hit the horn. They both jumped back at the sound, and then, both began laughing at the same time.
“Bess says hi, and it’s about time,” Mags said, and then, the tears she hadn’t allowed herself began to fall, finally.
Sean tugged her, rearranged his seat and her until he could hold her, hug her, comfort her. But when she climbed onto his lap, that was all Mags. She felt his hands at the back of her knees, and when she stared down at him, she realized his eyes went dark when he was happy, and when he wanted something. When he wanted something, in this case, seemed to be her. “Is this okay?” she asked.
“You’re kidding, right?” Sean gave her a little smile. “You realize that I’m a teenage boy and you’re the gorgeous girl I’ve had a crush on since the first moment I saw you.”
“Really? That day at your Uncle’s?”
He pinked around his ears. “Actually, I saw a picture of you when your dad came for his interview. And I think it was then.”
“Really. That’s very interesting.” She ran a hand through his hair and felt his hands tighten around her knees. “Does this feel disloyal?” she asked. “To Bess?”
“No,” he said. “Bess wanted us together more than anything. You know that, right? This would have made her overjoyed.”
She started crying again and he held her close, wrapping both arms around her waist and positioning her so that she sat on his lap instead of awkwardly straddling it. She rested her head on his shoulder and sucked in a deep breath. “What does this mean, exactly?”
“Well, this means that we’re going to honor Bess by not going to Homecoming.”
“She would have hated Homecoming. Under the Sea. Who the hell thought of that outdated 1990s theme, anyhow?”
“Indeed,” Sean said. “And we’ll have to tell your dad you’re dating one of his players.”
“Oh,” she said. “Are we ‘dating’? I thought we were just making out in your car.”
“Oh, no, we’re dating. But let’s not even think about what my mother will do. Remember, you’re the incendiary who started a revolution and dragged her son into it.”
Mags laughed. “Indeed. I can hear her now. ‘That girl?’” She sobered a bit. “Wait, dragged her son into it?” She pulled off his lap and sat in her own seat. The beat of the rain still staccatoed on the roof of the car. “Are you supporting us now?”
“Mom and I had a long talk,” Sean said. “And she agreed that we had a point, the students. That it’s our education, and if we were worried about the effects of letting the teachers go, or furloughing them, then maybe she should listen to us.”
“And Bess died,” Mags said in a soft voice.
“That, too,” Sean agreed. But that’s not everything. That’s… a part of it. But not everything. Besides, this has gotten huge. Kids from Helstone caring what happens at Milton High? That’s something that’s never happened. You did that.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“No, you really did. You brought it out in the open.” He gave her a little embarrassed smile. “I know it happened in the worst way possible, but you did.”
And it had happened, in the worst way possible. She had lost Bess, it’s true, and she would never get her back. But she had gained something in return: a promise, a small sliver of light that would protect those she and Bess cared about.
“Revolutions still happen,” Mags said. “That’s hard to believe.”
“It’s not that hard,” Sean said, and pressed a light kiss to her lips. “Clearly, if one has met the persuasive Margaret Hale.”