“These Harvard boys are so arrogant! They really feel they are doing you a favor to dance with you. They don’t consider for a minute that you might rather not.”
“Why do you go if you don’t want to dance with them?” Eden asked, hoping her tone did not betray her anxiety.
“It’s fun anyway—everyone goes…” Gertrude stopped, realizing that of course, Eden never went to Harvard affairs.
Eden ignored Gertrude’s slip. “I would expect that with so few of us and so many of them, they’d feel you are doing them the favor to dance,” she said.
“Oh Eden, it’s not like that at all. There are throngs of Cambridge girls—girls from Boston and even New York—at these parties. They all want a Harvard man. The Radcliffe girls are considered queer for being educated. They’d rather have an empty-headed townie in a garish hat than one of us,” Gertrude said.
“Well it’s their loss. I prefer an educated girl, myself.” Eden smiled across the wooden table stained with cup rings and old coffee spills. The smell of stale cigarette smoke permeated the place, though they sat in the ladies’ dining room where no smoking was permitted. Eden wished she had taken Gertrude somewhere quieter and cleaner, more refined and romantic.
“If you had been there, I could have danced with you,” Gertrude teased.
Eden guessed Gertrude was grinning, but she found she couldn’t meet her eye. She wouldn’t dare admit it aloud, but it was the very fear that Gertrude wouldn’t dance with her that kept her from the parties. Gertrude always made a show of inviting Eden to come with her, but Eden was reluctant to go among the Harvard boys in the skirt she would be obligated to wear to such an occasion. If she was going to accompany Gertrude to a dance, she wanted to go as a boy herself. In a skirt…she didn’t like to imagine the comparison Gertrude might draw between her and the young men.
But she could only wear her trousers when she was among strangers. She could nod politely if a maitre d’ called her “sir” in a restaurant in Boston, but at a dance full of her classmates and their brothers and beaus, she could not pretend to be anyone but herself. She would have to wear the same black gabardine skirt that she wore to lectures. So she let Gertrude go alone, a thing which filled her with nearly as much anxiety as the prospect of going with her.
Last term, after a walk in the park, Gertrude had said she loved Eden. She had never said it since, but when they sat together studying in their rooms, Eden sometimes laid her head in Gertrude’s lap while the girl stroked her hair affectionately. Gertrude had let Eden kiss her enough times that Eden had stopped counting. But in recent weeks Eden thought she felt a waning of Gertrude’s enthusiasm to be with her.
Standing in the square today, Eden had even found herself battling a vague, doubtful feeling that she couldn’t quite name. When Gertrude had arrived, relief had flooded the doubts. But now, listening to Gertrude analyze the behavior of what Eden imaged to be a faceless crowd of entitled young men, anxiety twisted her stomach.
She gave Gertrude a strained smile as they left money on the table and rose to leave.
“What have you got this evening?” Gertrude asked, taking Eden’s arm as they let the café door fall shut behind them.
“Library—I need about a dozen books for the weekend,” Eden frowned.
“I’ll come too. I got mine this afternoon, but I’ll help you tonight,” she said with a smile that lightened Eden’s heart.