From a cold, hard distance Tammy looked like a warm person. There was something (head buried in her chicken-fried steak sandwich, her lunchbox of leftovers from the funeral) about those sustained and indiscreet looks up and around her, at the other children in their groups, talking and laughing and moving that signalled a profound willingness to communicate, and to have her mind explored by someone. But the parameters for such an exploration maybe were just too involved, too inexpressible, too time-consuming and strange that she almost despaired of ever finding someone up to the task, and everyone else failed to notice there was any such thing—a mind waiting hopefully, despairingly for intercourse with another. What Tammy was up-close so to speak was not the same as what she was from a distance—the effect for Conrad, watching from his table at the other end of the quadrangle (he watched many people like this) was like one of those impressionist paintings hanging on the wall at his grandmother’s house where from half way across the room a picnic scene or a lake with rippling blue water and a canoe could be enjoyed, but at a closer distance the tangle of blobs and lines were incomprehensible, and ugly amateur artefacts like nylon paint brush bristles were stuck to the surface, which all suited his grandmother fine because she was legally blind. That was why Conrad avoided Tammy, because he knew that if he ever connected with her, if he ever, close-up and uncritical, made sense of her lines and blobs and freckles, it would be a like tractor beam; his key would fit her lock, and she would never want nor be able to disconnect from him.
Tammy, at her place in the court, at the small table outside the library where Grace also used to sit, reminded herself of something her dad had said to her a long time ago. Well actually she couldn’t remember what he had said but the idea, which was the salient thing for her was that something could be bad for a person’s soul, like a double burrito for the heart. This was what she thought of as she looked about the tables at the kings and queens of the fashion club, football team, bookclub, basketball, sewing, equestrian enthusiasts with tidy, beautifully brushed and arranged hair styles like the horses on their father’s ranches, blonde plaits and buns and etcetera, because she was looking with the kind of secret hate that was gratifying and fulfilling, but unhealthy-feeling. The knowledge that it was bad for her however, like the double burrito, didn’t really have any effect on her doing it or not—she felt like she wasn’t mature enough yet to be one of those people, like her mother, who thinks of something good, and does it, or learns that something is wrong, and doesn’t. She was on the whole a good person, there were certain things she grew up with and naturally adhered to that tipped her over that edge. She didn’t graffiti, spit, steal or curse, and she and her family went to church, and that was very important to her.
This was the third day of school without Grace. With Grace the cynicism she felt—the hate she felt—not necessarily about particular people, but about the whole school situation, and the feeling she had of being abandoned to it, this place of vain talkers and deceivers, was a shared thing, perhaps not so toxic when expressed in jokes. By herself she felt that the same thoughts were making her darker and less amenable to some kind of recovery, which beneath everything she supposed was what she wanted. She, one day, would be a mother, a homemaker, a talker and caroller, hostess of barbecues beside her husband, children splashing in the pool and jumping from the trees into the pool. She was capable of getting there, she felt, but not without help. At the moment she felt on the outside of all of that, like everyone she observed was moving naturally to that point, without thinking too much about it, and she stuck, or perhaps holding on, not willing to lose control. With Grace gone it was a lot scarier. Grace knew what she wanted, she was a leader, lived on the outside purely by choice. With her Tammy had the feeling, unspoken, that things were leading somewhere—there was no break in the single, glittering green-grey ribbon that Grace was led by, that was Grace (and Tammy was led by Grace). This sense, she thought now, prodding with a finger at a scallop like a piece of set silicon rubber, had been deceiving—the ribbon didn’t float, didn’t lead—it was made animate by their own expectations, movements, their lack of foresight, or maybe only Tammy’s lack of foresight—Grace perhaps knew it led nowhere, yes this sprawling, lustrous ribbon, this way of dancing when others were running, but had not told Tammy, only knew that sometime soon her missed phone calls, her secretly slit wrists, her closed eyes, lips grimaced would be the goodbye she hadn’t wanted to say herself. Tammy tried not to cry, but did anyway and it was horrible.