Last Night at the Telegraph Club(8)

“唔錯,”* her mother said in Cantonese. “幾好.”*

Lily turned to the mirror. She saw a Chinese girl in a characterless gray suit—blank faced, nothing special, even a little boring. Respectable. The word felt square, immovable, like a sturdy box with all four corners equally weighted. A respectable girl was easily categorized, her motivations clear. She wanted a college degree, and then a husband, and then a nice home and adorable children, in that order. She saw her mother smile tightly, as if conscious of the salesgirl hovering behind them, and then Lily understood why her mother had worn the church suit to Macy’s. Even if it was ugly, it declared her investment in respectability. Her mother was a real American wife and mother, not a China doll in a cheongsam, relegated to operating the elevator.

“It’s so professional, but also very ladylike,” said Miss Marshall. “Would you like me to ring it up for you?”


This year we’re going on a journey to better understand ourselves and our goals for life after high school,” Miss Weiland announced, standing at the blackboard at the front of the classroom. She was petite, with a heart-shaped face framed by a halo of light brown curls. She was also one of the youngest teachers at Galileo High School, and half the boys in Lily’s class had a crush on her. Today she was wearing a checked gray pencil skirt and a form-fitting pink blouse that accentuated her curves in a way that Lily had heard the boys murmuring about as soon as they got to class.

Every senior had to take Senior Goals, taught by either Mr. Stevenson (he had a reputation for being a bit lecherous with the girls) or Miss Weiland (Lily was glad she’d gotten her). The class was officially about preparing for life after high school, but it was widely known to be an easy A that involved watching a lot of filmstrips about etiquette and dating.

“We’ll be covering three major units,” Miss Weiland said. “Personal Growth and Family Living, Vocational Adjustment, and Consumer Education. Today we’ll begin with a personal assessment of where you are right now. I’d like you to divide up into groups of four and discuss a few questions with one another that I’m going to write on the board. You will work with the people in your row—the four toward the front and the four in the back. Go ahead and move your chairs together.”

Chair legs scraped across the floor as everyone formed their groups. Lily’s group included Will Chan, who was in front of her; Shirley, who was behind her; and Kathleen Miller, who was behind Shirley. Lily, Shirley, and Will had known each other since they were children, having gone to Commodore Stockton Elementary together. They had known Kathleen since junior high, though they had never been real friends. Kathleen wasn’t the kind of girl who would be part of their group. She was Caucasian, for one thing, and Lily’s close friends were all Chinatown kids. But Kathleen and Lily had been in the same math classes together since eighth grade, and Lily had always thought Kathleen was perfectly nice—quiet, but smart.

She scooted over to make room for Kathleen’s desk beside her, and as she repositioned her chair she noticed Will sharing a grin with Hanson Wong, who was in a group nearby. The boys rather obviously glanced toward Miss Weiland, who had her back to the classroom while she wrote several questions on the board. With her arm raised, her blouse was tugging up slightly out of the waistband of her skirt, and the skirt’s darts led Lily’s eyes over the curve of her backside and down the length of her legs. The back seams of her stockings were decorated, just above her heels, with a diamond pattern.

“Stop gawking,” Shirley whispered.

Lily started guiltily, only to realize that Shirley was aiming her pointed whispers at Will. He turned back to Shirley with a falsely innocent smile. Lily dropped her gaze to her notebook, picking up her pencil and trying to pretend that she hadn’t seen anything.

“All right, these are the things I want you to discuss,” Miss Weiland announced. “What was your childhood dream? What is your dream now? And what are three steps you can take to achieve that dream? I’d like you to appoint a chairman for your group, and that chairman will make a report at the end of class about your discussion. You’ll have twenty minutes to talk over the questions, and then you’ll share your reports. I’ll come around to check on your progress.”

The classroom immediately erupted into discussion. Shirley flipped open her notebook and said, “Will, obviously you should be our chairman.”

“Sure, I’ll give the report.”

Kathleen had taken out her notebook and was dutifully copying down the questions from the blackboard.

“I think Lily should take notes,” Shirley said. “Her handwriting is the best.” Kathleen’s pencil wavered for a moment, and then she put it down.

“All right,” Kathleen agreed.

“Fine,” Lily said. “Who wants to begin? Childhood dreams?”

“I wanted to be a basketball player,” Will said.

“I wanted to be a movie star,” Shirley said, leaning back in her chair and patting her hair. She’d gotten a permanent wave at a Chinatown salon last week, and she was proud of her curls.

Will grinned. “I could see you in Hollywood.”

Shirley preened. “Because I’m beautiful?”

“Because you’re so dramatic,” Lily said, and Will laughed.

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