Art didn’t need an oracle. When she looked at Linda — her green eyes, her glowing skin — she saw her fate. It had been less than a week since Art had invited Eddie to hang out with her and Tommy. This was her way of confronting him and letting him know it was not okay to call her a “lez.” He had changed his tone instantly when she had spoken to him on Friday. By midday Monday, his friends stopped snickering when she walked by. Instead of looking at her with derision and contempt, they looked at her with awe. Instead of being a social outcast, she was riding a motorcycle and hanging out with Tommy. There wasn’t anyone around who was cooler when he was in high school. There still wasn’t. Now he had his own place. He rode a motorcycle. He was a drug dealer. He was loved and feared. Art knew that she wasn’t revered like Tommy. But now that it was known that they hung out, some of his coolness was bestowed on her.
On Wednesday morning, Linda walked into the glass doors of the school with Art. Art felt like she was walking on water. She was walking taller. Her shoulders were so straight they felt like the blade of a knife. As Art walked down the hall, a younger student walked toward her. As he walked past her, he looked at her with awe. Then she and Linda passed Mark. Art looked at Linda quickly and saw that she had her head down. Mark had an odd look on his face. It must be jealousy, thought Art. She grinned inside, but she kept her poker face. Her plan had worked. Tommy would never know that she had used his name. Each morning on the bike, Linda wrapped her arms around Art a little tighter. Linda spent the following Saturday afternoon with Art. It only took her until the end of study hall to decide. Art felt triumphant. After the bell rang, Art walked through the open space square and around the quad in her black leather jacket. She made a couple of turns to get to her civics class. Each step she took in her high-top sneakers felt springier. By the end of the day, she was walking on air. “This is based on the Pythagorean theorem that states that in any right-angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the square of its two legs,” Art remarked to Linda on Saturday afternoon.
They sat at the dining room table at Linda’s house. Linda gave Art a blank look. Linda was one of the smarter girls in Art’s Algebra II class, which wasn’t saying much, since there were only three girls in the class who had taken Algebra I. Home Economics was an elective to math. One girl in their math class, Kathy, had gotten pregnant and dropped out of school to have the baby. “It’s used in geometry, but it also can be expressed in an algebraic form. Mr. Cherry went over that with us about two weeks ago. You might have been out that day,” said Art. She looked at Linda. Or you might have been daydreaming about Mark, she thought. And he’s not worth it. “Let me show you.” “Okay.” “Just remember that the hypotenuse is the longest side of a right triangle and that it is opposite the right angle,” said Art, drawing a right triangle in black ink across the blue lines on the page. She put a square on the bottom right side. “This is the right angle,” she said. Then she wrote the letter “A” under the bottom line of the triangle and the letter “B” along the straight right side of the triangle. Then, on the long slanted left side of the triangle, she wrote “C.” She spoke slowly and carefully. She repeated herself. Linda was smart enough to understand this. Almost anyone could. It wasn’t difficult. Art wasn’t just explaining this because Linda needed to know it. Art needed her to understand. She did not want to be the only girl left in her Algebra II class. “The Pythagorean theorem is A squared plus B squared equals C squared. Since A is two, it equals four when it is squared. Since B is three, it equals nine.” Art wrote the calculations on the page. “When we add them, we get thirteen, see? Therefore, C equals the square root of thirteen.” “Oh! I see. You’re right. It’s not that difficult. That must have been the lesson the day I was home sick,” Linda admitted. She smiled. Art felt herself blush. “The theory is proven by Euclidean geometry,” Art explained. “Euclid was a Greek mathematician who was often referred to as the ‘father of geometry.'” She was about to explain Euclid’s elements when she realized that she was going too far. She was crossing the line from being smart to sounding like a math geek. Instead, she said, “Pythagoras and Euclid were both important mathematicians in ancient Greece.” “It’s all Greek to me,” Linda’s mother announced. Carrying a pale blue laundry basket, she passed through the dining room. A white tube sock fell onto the beige tile. She went into the walk-in kitchen next to the dining room and put the laundry basket down on the gold-colored dryer next to the matching washer. “So that’s where your brother’s socks go,” she said, walking a few feet back to the dining room and swooping it up into her hand.
“Actually, Pythagoras and his followers invented the term ‘mathematics,'” Art added.
“I just don’t understand what Linda’s teachers think she is going to use this for. Do they expect her to become to next Madame Curie? She’ll probably just end up like me, cleaning up after her husband and kids…” Linda’s mother laughed hollowly.
Art was silent. The living room was right next to where they sat in the dining room. Art stared at the gold and white sofa with wooden ends for a few seconds. The furniture looked new, and there were two matching stuffed chairs. The colors coordinated with the green shag rug. “I hear Linda passed up a date at the mall this afternoon with that nice boy she talks to on the bus.” Oh boy, Linda’s mother sounds just like my mother, thought Art. Linda closed her notebook. “I could sure go for some fresh air.” She kicked Art’s shins lightly under the table.
“We can go to my house. My mom mentioned she could take us to the mall this afternoon,” Art added.
Linda’s mother smiled distractedly. “That’s nice. Maybe you can find that boy.”
The girls headed outside, books in hand. “I had no idea that you wanted to go to the mall,” said Linda as they walked down the sidewalk. It was a sunny day in mid-November. A curled brown sycamore leaf swirled down and landed on the sidewalk in front of them. It looked like a small boat.
“I don’t want to go to the mall,” said Art, “but I didn’t know what else to say. I was thinking we could go to my house and get my bike and go for a ride.”
“That sounds great,” said Linda. “When I said I wanted some fresh air, I meant I wanted a cigarette. A ride on your motorcycle sounds even better.”
They walked along in silence until Linda spoke. “I’m glad you don’t want to go the mall,” said Linda. “I don’t want to go either. You know I’ve been rethinking the whole Mark thing. He never would have been able to explain the Pythagorean theory like you did. He’s just in Algebra One A. I saw his book on the bus.”
Art smirked. She looked down at the broken concrete in the sidewalk next to another sycamore tree in another identical front yard. Then she looked up at Linda. “Thanks,” she said. “That sounded like a compliment.” “It was.” Linda smiled at her. Art felt like doing cartwheels down the uneven sidewalk. When they reached Art’s house, she threw her leg over her motorcycle that was sitting in the driveway. “Hop on,” she said. Art reached into the top pocket of her jacket and handed Linda the wrap-around sunglasses.
“Don’t you have to tell your mother where you’re going — or at least make something up?” asked Linda. “She’s working. And my brother’s car isn’t here, so he’s not home. Not that I have to tell him where I go,” Art said. “Where do you want to go?” “Anywhere. Let’s go on an adventure,” replied Linda. Art felt her settling into the seat behind her. “Okay. I’ll surprise you.”
Art turned her key in the ignition and watched the tachometer spin to the end. They lived in a section of Levittown called Cobalt Ridge, and all the street names started with the letter “C.” Linda lived on Crown Road, four roads over from Art’s house on Conifer Road. Art drove on the Drive and made a left onto Woodbourne Road, the two-lane highway that ran past their section. At first, Art didn’t know where she wanted to go. Anywhere was fine as long as she was with Linda. The motorcycle roared past the gold dome of the Orthodox Church. Art said a little prayer of thanks as they passed. The church had given her an excuse of why she had to see Linda on Saturday afternoon — even if she had to lie — and it got Mark out of the picture. Art accelerated into third and headed toward the high school. Then she realized the school was the last place she wanted to go on a Saturday. Instead, she turned right onto Route One. Later, she would think she must have known where she was going. Of course, she would want to take Linda to the same place she had gone with Allison. She went toward Morristown and veered right, then rode for a couple of miles. Linda hugged her waist tighter, and wind blew through their hair. Fate pulled them forward. Art stopped at a red light. It turned green, and she turned left onto a smaller, two-lane road. She drove through the intersections of a few small roads and then she made a left. Beside them, the lake stretched half a mile to the far side, where an empty crane — tiny in the distance — stood next to a mountain of sand and shale. Art kept going. After a few miles, she made a right. The crane was about thirty feet in front of them. She turned onto the dirt road and rode past the quarry to the border line of the woods. Art pulled over and let the bike idle. She switched off the ignition and got off the bike. She stood next to it and held the handlebars as Linda got off.
“I’ve been here before, but it was a long time ago. I was fishing with my dad and brother,” Linda announced as she wiggled off the bike.
There were several hills, mounds of sand and shale, around the quarry lake. Art estimated that it was about twenty feet away. At the far end of the mirrored surface was a mountain of sand. The lake was surrounded by cracked beige dirt that was hardened in the sun. The rectangular quarry lake was about one hundred feet long.
Art gazed down the lake until her eyes came to rest on the far end.
“I always wanted to go into the woods and see what was there,” said Linda.
Above the lake, a wall of sheer rock towered. At the top, a tree grew on the edge. Art saw its branches. A leaf floated down to the quarry. Growing out of a crevice, a root pointed down to the lake. It looked to Art like a taproot that had come to the bedrock and was searching for water. The upper parts of it would be absorbing nutrients from the soil. If it grew long enough, it would eventually find what it was looking for.
Art’s heart pounded. “There’s a dirt road that goes into the woods. We can keep on going … if you want,” Art said. “Sounds good to me,” replied Linda. They got back on the bike. Art turned the key in the ignition and pulled forward slowly. This was where Art had come with Allison. They had been on foot then, that first time when they hid behind the trees and called out to each other with lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Art remembered the light shining through the trees, the way it did now as it danced on the ground around them. It was summer then. Now, red, orange, and brown leaves covered the path. Art felt the bump of tree roots under the tires. She brought the bike to a halt. She sat there for a minute, feeling the warmth of Linda behind her: the inside of Linda’s thighs cupping her ass; Linda’s arms hugging her waist. Art had been thinking that it didn’t get better than this. But now she knew it did — and it would. The difference between the time that she first came here with Allison and now, coming here with Linda, was that Art had been here before. She knew what she was doing. But she wanted it to be Linda’s idea. Linda got off the bike first. She walked to a log next to the path and sat down.
“I can see the lake from here,” said Linda. The back of her head was toward Art. Her windswept hair fell over her jacket collar. “Come on over.” Art swung her leg over the bike. She put down the kickstand and stood there for a moment, holding the handlebars until she made sure that the bike was on steady ground. Then she walked the bike to the side of the path — beyond the log where Linda was sitting. A narrow trail shot off from the path. It looked familiar. Art walked over to the log.
“You can see the lake from here,” Art said. “I never realized that before.”
Linda scooted closer to Art. “You know the first time I walked into school with you, the girl sitting next to me in homeroom asked, ‘Who’s that cute guy with the motorcycle?'” Art looked at her. “Art is a guy’s name,” Linda explained.
“It’s short for Artemis,” answered Art. “My mother’s Greek. Artemis is a goddess from Greek mythology.” “Yeah, the goddess of the hunt. She was always my favorite,” replied Linda, looking at Art perceptively. “I think it’s cool that you’re Greek.” Art looked into Linda’s green eyes.
The woods were shady. Afternoon light filtered through red and orange leaves. Linda’s eyes blazed into Art’s. “You would make a cute guy,” Linda continued. Art was drawn into the green vortex of Linda’s eyes. Art’s arms and legs trembled, and tiny flames scorched her skin. She opened her mouth slightly to say something, but speech eluded her. Linda leaned in and kissed her. Art kissed her back. Linda’s lips felt as soft as moist rose petals and she smelled like musk oil. Art didn’t know if Linda wore perfume or if the scent came from her own body. A breeze rustled the leaves. Art’s heart trembled. This wasn’t the first time she kissed a girl, but this kiss felt different. A universe opened between them. Their tongues found new language. Soon, Art drew back. Linda looked radiant, as if the moon and stars were glowing inside of her. Still speechless, Art remembered that there was something she wanted to say.
Words formed on her lips: “But I’m not a boy. I’m a girl.”
“A smart girl,” whispered Linda. “I like that.”
This time, Art leaned in and kissed Linda. Their hands were everywhere. They came up for air, stood, and stumbled ahead on the path. They turned down a narrow path and found a large mossy patch that looked inviting. Art thought she had been here before with Allison, but she wasn’t sure if this was the exact place. Now, here with Linda, it was new. They were standing, kneeling, lying on the ground, rolling, touching. It was too cool a day to take off their clothes, but, as it turned out, it didn’t matter. There would be plenty of time for that later. Art rolled on top of Linda. Excitement sparked in her groin and danced throughout her body. Her fingers tingled. Her tongue entwined with Linda’s. When they were done kissing, Art drew back and looked at Linda. Her hair was the deep red of autumn apples. Her skin was radiant. Shifting her weight, Art thrust her thigh against Linda’s crotch. Linda groaned.
“I’ve wanted to do this ever since I got on your bike with you,” she whispered.
Art had wanted to do this ever since she set eyes on Linda. She wanted the bike more than anything, but she wanted Linda just as much. Maybe Linda was the reason she bought the bike. Her grandmother Yiayia, who left her the money that she had used to buy the bike, would have understood. The wind blew harder, and the leaves rustled. A distant roaring filled Art’s ears. Linda moaned and writhed under Art, as Art rubbed her crotch in a circular motion on Linda’s thigh. Cries overflowed from her throat. A humming filled her ears. The moss felt like moist velvet under her fingertips. It was chilly, but Art was filled with warmth. She rolled to the side. As she lay there, her arms circling Linda, she imagined that the red and orange leaves looking down at them were the trees blushing.
Janet Mason is also the author of Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters, published by Bella Books in 2012; the novels THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders and The Unicorn, The Mystery both published by Adelaide Books. Loving Artemis, an endearing tale of revolution, love and marriage was published by Thorned Heart Press in August, 2022.
Janet Mason is an award-winning creative writer, teacher, radio commentator, and blogger. Her book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books; 2012)was chosen by the American Library Association for its 2013 Over the Rainbow List. It also received a first-place Goldie Award.
Her novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders was published in 2018 by Adelaide Books (New York/Lisbon) and was well received around the world. THEY also offended quite a few people – proving that the author did her job well! An excerpt from THEY was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Adelaide Books published her novel The Unicorn, The Mystery in the fall of 2020.
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