"Good afternoon, Julian."

"Solved it, eh?"

She snapped her fingers. He smiled, then acknowledged her guardian.

"Sister Dana."

"Mr. Papp. Have a good class, Melanie. I'll be outside in case you need me."

Julian, with an effort, swallowed the retort on the tip of his tongue. He had gotten the nun withdrawn to an acceptable position. Best leave well enough alone.

Teacher and student took their seats.

"So we're both being christened today—to borrow a Zoeian term. You're Melanie now?"

"Uh huh."

"Melanie what?"

"Don't start, Julian."

"So M&M is still standing guard."

"If you mean the Miniature Man, his name is Benjamin."

"Well I'll be damned; identities are popping up all over. Has all this come to light apace with that fuzz atop your noggin?"

"You think it's ugly, don't you?"

"Cute as a bug's ear. Don't avoid my question."

"I'm not here to answer your questions. Are you going to teach me this game or not?"

He spread his hands in a conciliatory gesture.

"Show me your solution."

With an adeptness that he found amusing—for it was a parody of his own—Melanie set up the board. The mating moves were correct. He handed her a folded piece of paper, which she rightly assumed was her homework problem, indicating she put it away for later. The lesson then proceeded.

Meanwhile, Sister Dana wrestled with an elusive magnanimity. Julian's politeness helped—as did the talk she and Melanie had on the way to class, in which she had finally amassed sufficient courage to apologize for her behavior that night in the girl's room. She had not visited since, and was overwhelmed with gratitude when Melanie said she had missed her, even suggested that the visits might resume. After all the hideous mistakes she had made, it seemed a miracle that they were not being held against her. Melanie had hardly remembered, really. She had not forgotten, but had merely let the matter pass as if it had little significance. A sense of reprieve gave new strength to the nun's determination to tread, with all concerned, more hallowed ground.

What were they up to? She checked her watch. The hour was half over. For the last fifteen minutes she had heard nary a sound. Putting aside the book she had brought, she walked the two steps to the door.

With her mouth stretched into a silly grin from her palms compressing her cheeks, Melanie sat, elbows on the table, scrutinizing the board. To everything outside the checkered plane, she was oblivious. Julian, on the other hand, was studying the girl—or so it appeared from the angle he held his head. He sat erect, expectant. Like a cat, she thought, a fierce white leopard poised to spring on its unsuspecting prey. His stillness was uncanny, mesmerizing. An impulse to call out and warn her ward possessed the nun. And yet she was unable, as if the awful tension—and its fascination—held her in its enervating power.

Melanie moved a chess piece. Julian leaped.

"Marcy!"

Both players started at the cry. The nun stood red-faced in the doorway.

"I'm terribly sorry. Forgive me, please."

Melanie looked at her inquiringly.

"I just looked in a minute to see, and… Well, I… Julian, I mean. He seemed to jump right out at you. I…"

"Oh, that. He always makes his moves that way. It's just a trick to keep whoever he's playing with off guard."

Julian was annoyed by the interruption (as well as by his student's flip analysis of his technique).

"Is our time up, then?"

"No, I'm sorry, no… You have fifteen minutes left."

Still confused, the nun did not withdraw. Julian grew impatient.

"Well?"

"Oh. Yes, I'm going. Forgive me… I'll be right outside. Sorry."

She retreated to her chair out in the hall.

"I'm beginning to think that woman is a patient here, not a therapist."

"Shhh. She's neither."

"What is she, then?"

"Just a nun."

"Just a nun? Just your normal Bible-toting paranoiac homosexual nun?"

"What?"

"Oh, come now. You're not that na�ve."

Melanie was angry with him instantly. She made her voice a hissing whisper.

"You just be quiet, Julian!"

"Not that there's anything wrong with being…"

"I mean it!"

He stopped. He waited for her to calm down. Her knuckles were white with the pressure in her fists. Seconds passed and still she clenched them tightly.

"Look at your hands, Melanie. Or should I call you Marcy?"

She looked. They seemed foreign. It took a monumental effort just to open them—which she made. She breathed in slowly, held it, then exhaled. With caution, Julian proceeded.

"Didn't you know, honestly?"

She found herself nodding in affirmation.

"Relax. It isn't your concern, it's hers."

"But she's my closest friend."

"And gay. So what?"

She turned away. Her thoughts and feelings were too entangled, too contradictory, too perplexing to have to cope with everything at once. The more she tried to sort things out, the more confused she grew. Her hands again crept into fists as tears welled into her eyes.

"Stop it!"

Immediately Sister Dana was at the door.

"Something wrong?"

He scowled at the intrusion. Melanie, responding once again to his severity, recovered.

"It's okay, Sister. Julian likes to yell at me whenever I do something stupid. He forgets that things he thinks are obvious maybe aren't so obvious to me."

Melanie stood. Julian protested.

"Class isn't over."

"What time is it, Sister?"

"Ten to three."

"Close enough. See you Friday, Julian."

He stayed seated.

"We'll pick up right where we left off, Melanie."

She fixed him with an insolent look.

"I may not remember."

She exited with Sister Dana.

 

 

 "Don't worry, I'll remind you."

 

Gotta have tits...

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