“My running days are over,” Laurie said.
“Oh, that sounds deep,” Julia teased.
“I’m not so interested in running since Julia taught me to dance,” Laurie told Henry.
“I thought your sister taught you to dance?” Henry said.
“She taught me the steps; Julia taught me the moves, man,” Laurie smirked.
Julia smirked back at him. Henry snorted and said, “Hire a room, you two, or pay attention here.”
They were standing just inside the entranceway arch to the rolling green campus. It feels more open than Haverford, and it’s almost as old, Laurie thought, gazing around. Red brick instead of gray stone, but solid. The main difference was in all the black faces of the summer school students they could see strolling across the lawns, moving in and out of the buildings. Here the white faces were the exception.
“It’d be different going to a coed school,” Julia observed.
“That, too,” Laurie said.
“A lot less expensive than your schools,” Henry said.
“We’re both on scholarships, which we’d lose,” Laurie said. “Ease up, Hen, we know you think we should do this, just let us soak it in, ok?”
Henry waved his hands in surrender and resumed his tour spiel. “Ok, that big building you see in the middle there…”
Later, sitting in the student union coffee shop, Henry and Julia were deep in the specifics of course offerings. Laurie, listening with half an ear, broke in. “Wait, so you have to decide whether you’re going to be in the humanities school or sciences or whatever?”
“This is a university, not a college like Haverford,” Henry reminded him.
“I knew that. I just wasn’t expecting—I guess, all these options.”
Henry’s eyes narrowed. “You thought transferring here would be a come-down, didn’t you?”
Laurie ducked his head and put his hand on his forehead. “Guilty,” he said. “I repent in dust and ashes.”
“He can’t help it,” Julia said to Henry. “I’m sure his parents are having fits.”
“Now, there you’re wrong,” Laurie protested. “Mom said I should do what feels right to me. Dad said a college degree is like an entrance ticket, and which college I get one from should depend on what doors I want to have open to me.” He turned to Henry. “You said something like that to me once yourself, talking about whether you’d go here or to Penn.”
“True,” Henry admitted. “And a degree from Lincoln will open doors for you in the black community.”
“And in the Movement,” Julia said. “The impetus is already shifting; the power is going to be with the students, not so much with the churches.”
“SNCC, not NAACP,” Henry agreed.
“Anyway,” Laurie said to Julia, swallowing a bite of his cheese steak sandwich, “you told me your own folks weren’t that thrilled about your transferring.”
She shrugged. “My mom isn’t. She’s all about the respectability; it was really important to her that I got into one of the Seven Sisters. It’s Daddy who’s into the Movement. He never wanted me in Bryn Mawr in the first place. It’s enough for him that I’m the first person on his side of the family who’s ever gone to college.”
She reached across and snagged one of Laurie’s fries, munching it thoughtfully as she went on, “All us kids have Latin names, you may have noticed—me and Marcus and Claudius, obviously, and Tony’s real name is Antoninus. It was my parents’ compromise: Daddy wanted us to sort of redeem names like they used to give slaves as a joke, to degrade them; Mom likes the idea that they’re names of Roman rulers.”
She rubbed a finger over the diamond on her left hand. “And now I wear a ring that used to belong to someone who wouldn’t have let me in the front door.”
“Grandmother McAlister loved Ruby,” Laurie reminded her.
“As a nurse.”
Laurie sighed. “Could we go back to arguing about transferring? Arguing about my family gives me heartburn.”
“I’m sorry,” Julia said, reaching for his hand. “I promised I wouldn’t keep doing that.”
“But you should,” Henry broke in. They stared at him. “Argue about Laurie’s family, I mean. You need to understand it, understand him, Julia. That’s the crux, see? His connection to both worlds. And the way he can talk to people where they are, whoever they are.” He gave a meaningful look to Julia that Laurie couldn’t decipher.
She squeezed his fingers across the table. “I do see why you love them, Laurie. But they’ll always be a little alien to me. So how much do you want to continue that family’s traditions in the way we build ours? Will you want to name our kids after them?”
Laurie had actually been thinking about this. “Names are kind of an issue with us. Me, I’ve got a girl’s name. Confuses people whenever I introduce myself—everybody but you, that is.”
Julia shrugged. “I have an uncle named Lynn. I knew you were a man right away, though, with my superior powers of deduction.”
Laurie and Henry laughed. “I notice Roscoe calls you Mac,” Henry said.
“Yeah,” Laurie picked an olive off Julia’s salad, tossed it up, and caught it in his mouth, to the sardonic applause of the other two. “He says it makes him feel like a sissy to call me Laurie. People in the navy call my dad Mac, too, because ‘Sean’ sounds exotic or something. Anyway, I found out when I met my birth mother that ‘Laurence’ was supposed to be my last name; my original name was Rufus. And my brother Jamie, he was born ‘Chaim,’ but nobody can pronounce that guttural ‘ch’ right.”
He pushed his plate away and put his elbows on the table, resting his chin on his clasped hands and gazing at Julia, who was watching him intently. “It all seems to come down to authenticity. So… how about African names?”
She sat back in surprise. “Like what?”
“Zuri, for instance. It means ‘beautiful’ in Swahili. Or Jelani, ‘mighty,’ for a boy.”
“Huh.” He could see she was intrigued. Let her cogitate on that for awhile, he decided.
Henry said slowly, “I can see the appeal. But it might be a problem later on.”
Laurie turned to Henry. “You and Jeff are named for illustrious ancestors. You’ve told me that sometimes makes you feel inadequate, or like there are expectations laid on you. But it also makes you feel grounded, connected to your past, right? Or do you mean the kids might be self-conscious because their names are unusual and maybe hard to pronounce.”
Henry chewed and swallowed the last bite of his ham sandwich before answering. “I actually wasn’t thinking about your kids. I was thinking about you. You might have a harder time in politics if your kids have names that aren’t American.”
“Politics? Who says I’m going into politics? I thought that was you.”
“Man, we’re all in politics. Wake up and smell the coffee, I keep telling ya,” said a voice from behind Laurie’s chair.
He craned his head back to see Roscoe grinning down at him. “Good God, what time is it, Ros? I’m sorry we didn’t meet you at the gate, we just got talking and lost track.”
Roscoe cuffed his shoulder lightly and nodded at the others. “No big thing,” he said. “I figured you’d be someplace exercising your jaw, one way or another. But we better get this show on the road if you’re going to get Miss Julia home to Philly and carry me off to the boonies with you before your family sends out the Saint Bernards.”
“Right,” Laurie said over the scraping of chairs as they got to their feet. “Henry, give you a lift?”
“No, thanks, I’ll wait for Jeff to get out of class. Our mom’s coming to get us, take us to the grandparents’. Papaw Still’s been a little under the weather lately.”
“Sorry to hear that. Give him and Miz Pearl my best, will you? And say hi to your mother and Jeff for me.” Laurie slung an arm around Henry’s neck and squeezed him to his side. “And thanks for showing us around today. Good thing Lincoln has rolling admissions; if we get busy, we should get our applications in for the fall semester.”
“So you’re going to transfer?”
“Oh, I think the fix was in on that before I ever got here today, wasn’t it?” He gave a mock-stern glare at Julia.
She shrugged it off. “I can’t help it if I know what you’re going to do before you do.”
They all laughed as they made their way out to the parking lot. Laurie, Julia, and Roscoe waved at Henry as he veered away toward the library building, then made their way to the car.
“Nice wheels,” Roscoe said, running his hand appreciatively over the Oldsmobile’s flat emerald green roof. “Like ridin a boat.”
“My mom’s,” Laurie said. “Her Dodge finally gave up the ghost.” He handed Julia into the front passenger seat.
As he eased the car onto the road and turned toward Route 1, Roscoe said, “So, your folks going to blow a gasket that you’re leaving your fancy school?”
“Are you talking to me?” Julia said. “’Cause I’d think you’d know by now that Laurie’s parents never object to anything he does.”
“Quit it, will you?” Laurie said, half laughing, half annoyed. “I thought you were taking a break from ragging me out over them.”
Julia looked surprised. “I wasn’t. I really meant it. I’m jealous, really. It’s not just that they love you, it’s that they let it show so much.”
“Mmm,” Laurie agreed, distracted as he maneuvered into the highway traffic.
Silence fell in the car for the next few minutes.
Suddenly, from the back seat, Roscoe said, “Your old man’s not gonna try to hug me or anything, is he?”
Before Laurie could answer, Julia made a hooting sound. “Man,” she said, “I thought you knew that family. Everybody in the house is going to hug you.”
“Yeah,” Roscoe said gloomily.