Once and Again...Once Again

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Written by Angela Stockton

edited by Elizabeth Angela

Mr. Dimitri's English class is reading the novel Grendel, a version of "Beowulf" as told by the monster. Mr. Dimitri asks why the author chose to retell "Beowulf" from the monster's point of view. Grace, in her usual front-row seat, raises her hand, but Mr. Dimitri calls on Alexa instead. She struggles with her answer and is resentful when she's interrupted first by Mr. Dimitri, then by Grace. After class, Alexa observes Mr. Dimitri handing Grace a book from his briefcase, and overhears them talking about meeting at his house later.

As Grace starts to leave, Alexa asks her about the book, and about her going to Mr. Dimitri's house. Grace explains that Mr. Dimitri is letting her borrow the book, and that she goes to his house a lot since the Gay-Straight Alliance meets there. When Alexa suggests that she'll attend the meeting that night, Grace is forced to clarify that she and a few other students are gathering at Mr. Dimitri's house before going with him to a movie--an outing that Alexa has not heard about. Grace finally escapes from Alexa's persistent questions, but she fails to notice the malice and jealousy in the other girl's eyes.

While Lily is at work in her broadcasting booth at radio station WIXB, Grace waits in the reception room. She takes out Mr. Dimitri's book and almost caresses it. [In black and white, Grace examines the flyleaf. "He wrote me an inscription. Oh my God, I can't believe he wrote that!" she gasps.]

Lily signs off and jubilantly accepts her sound man's congratulations on the lively pace of her show. She leaves the booth and gives Grace a thank-you hug for picking her up. Grace tries to hurry her along, explaining that she's going to see the movie Rashomon that night. Lily reacts as if hearing the news for the first time, but Grace claims she's said before that a group from her English class is going to the movie.

On their way out, Lily and Grace meet Les, who asks Lily why the pace of her show was so "frantic." Lily is taken aback, but she has no chance to discuss Les' criticism, because he adds that he has sent some of her tapes to a syndicate called Radiovation, and that representatives of the company will be at WIXB the next Friday to meet her and discuss syndicating her program. Lily is astounded, and her sound man exults, "Wow, a star is born!"

Later, as Lily and Grace unpack groceries in their kitchen, Lily holds up a sheaf of papers and says that she loved Grace's short story--although, as they discuss it, Lily seems not to have fully understood it. When Grace reveals that she has submitted the story to a magazine recommended by Mr. Dimitri, Lily observes, "You have a real mentor!" Grace ends the conversation by saying that she has to get ready for the Rashomon outing. In the bathroom, as she takes extra pains with her makeup, she picks up the book and again opens it to the flyleaf.

Joining Rick and Lily for dinner that night are Zoe, Jessie, and Jessie's close friend, Katie. They all discuss Lily's possible syndication deal, Lily admitting that the prospect of syndication is "somewhat terrifying." When Lily refers to Grace's "field trip," Katie expresses surprise: she's in Grace's English class but knew nothing about it. However, when Lily recalls that Grace said only a few students were going, Katie concludes that the outing must have been announced on a day when she was absent. Later, when Jessie and Katie are alone in the kitchen, out of sight of Rick and Lily, they share a quick kiss.

After dinner, Zoe asks her mother if they'll be rich after she's syndicated. Lily admits to being unsure if Radiovision will want her, or if she even wants to be syndicated, since it will mean more work and she's already feeling overextended. "It'll be a lot more pressure," Rick points out.

"You think I can't handle the pressure?" Lily asks, a challenge in her voice. Rick insists that he meant only that she shouldn't worry about anything until it happens, but Lily seems to think that he doesn't have faith in her.

When Grace arrives at Mr. Dimitri's house, she tells him that two members of the group won't be coming. Casually making herself at home, she opens his refrigerator and throws away something that is obviously past its expiration date. Mr. Dimitri mentions her short story and urges her to rewrite the ending. When she informs him that she has already sent out her manuscript, he says that's no reason to stop working on it.

He comments that her eye makeup is smudged. As she starts out of the kitchen, he assumes that she's going to fix her makeup, and urges her to hurry so that they aren't late for the movie. "I just realized that I've never seen the rest of your house. I've never seen where you sleep," she says. Mr. Dimitri eyes her warily as she says that she really wants to see his house. "So can we just not go to the movie?" she asks.

"No, we can't," Dimitri answers after an awkward silence. "I know I'm doing this really stupidly," Grace begins. "No, you are doing it alarmingly well," Dimitri replies with a self-conscious smile, "and I'm extremely honored. However--"

"Oh, God, don't say that!" she pleads. "I have given this a lot of thought--"

Mr. Dimitri abruptly changes the subject back to Rashomon. He says that seeing the movie is an important part of her education, because it depicts a single event as seen through the eyes of four different people. "I made a total fool of myself just now, didn't I?" she says miserably. "Well, that's not how I see it," he replies kindly, and holds her jacket while she puts it on. Outside his house, he comments on how cold it is and zips up the jacket for her. Neither one notices a car parked across the street from Dimitri's, Alexa behind the wheel, her face in shadow.

Next day, when Grace enters Mr. Dimitri's classroom, she sees four students clustered around Alexa. The group breaks up when they notice Grace looking at them curiously. Alexa gives Grace a cold stare in return.

As soon as Mr. Dimitri enters the room, he announces a pop quiz and starts passing out test papers. "So, Mr. Dimitri, is this what you were doing last night?" Alexa asks, her mouth curling into a sneer. Grace hears tittering behind her.

After the class, Katie rushes up to Jessie and blurts, "It's all over school! Your stepsister and Dimitri--apparently they practically had sex!" She tells Jessie that the rumor originated with Alexa. Jessie admits that she isn't surprised by the story; in fact, her main reaction is relief that no one is gossiping about her relationship with Katie.

At the station, Lily searches for Les and finds him rifling cabinets in the break room. She babbles on about the Radiovation meeting, asking if it isn't happening too soon and worrying that a syndication deal might affect her show adversely. Les lets her talk herself out and doesn't answer, seemingly concerned only with the office's cookie supply. When she demands an answer, he advises her to bring up her issues at the meeting. At that moment the telephone rings. Lily picks it up and finds herself talking to Alexa's mother. She is shocked and dismayed by the other woman's message.

That evening, Lily goes to Grace's room and, seeing Mr. Dimitri's book, picks it up. "When did you start reading Chekhov?" she asks, impressed. Grace snatches it out of her hand, answering, "It's just this book that Mr. Dimitri lent me." She says he wants her to read Chekhov because "my work is sort of in that tradition."

Cautiously feeling her way, Lily asks who was in the Rashomon party--a question which flusters Grace--and adds that she received a call from Alexa's mother that afternoon. Distraught, Grace says she knows what Alexa is saying, and calls her insane. She insists that she and Mr. Dimitri have done nothing wrong, that other students were supposed to go with them to the movie, but that they dropped out.

Lily assures her that she understands how rumors get started when a teacher singles out a particular student for attention, but she adds that for the time being, Grace shouldn't spend time with Mr. Dimitri outside school. "Fine, I'll come home every day after school, I won't go anywhere, I won't see anyone without checking with you first!" the girl retorts. Though Grace means to be sarcastic, Lily answers coolly, "I'd appreciate that," and leaves. Grace immediately closes the door behind her.

While getting ready to turn in for the night, Rick and Lily discuss the budding scandal. Lily admits that Grace probably has a crush on Mr. Dimitri--noting, "I mean, look at him" -- but she claims that the rumors are all a big misunderstanding. "So when are you going to tell Jake?" Rick asks. "If it was Jessie, I'd want Karen to tell me."

"You think it might be true?" she asks in surprise. "What movie?" he counters.

Next day, as she walks to Mr. Dimitri's classroom, Grace can't help noticing the whispers, stares, and pointing fingers of everyone she passes. As she comes within sight of Mr. Dimitri outside his classroom, a woman approaches him and asks him to come with her. He follows her down a corridor.

Lily meets Judy for lunch at Booklovers, where, after telling Judy about Grace and Mr. Dimitri, she's not amused by Judy's wisecrack, "You can relax in the knowledge that she's probably not a lesbian." Seeing Jake approach their table, Lily forces herself to smile at him. They trade banalities about lunch and his new daughter, but while Jake senses that Lily and Judy are keeping something from him, he can't pry it out of them. As soon as he walks away, Judy says, "I can't believe you're not going to tell him."

"How do I tell him? What do I tell him?" Lily demands, reminding Judy that the rumors may not be true: "He could really be just a mentor, who loans her books by Chekhov and takes her to Japanese movies. I just can't tell her I don't believe her."

Judy volunteers that she had an affair with one of her college professors in her freshman year. "Of course you did! After all, he was one of the men there," Lily groans, burying her face in her hands. She is exasperated that Judy recalls the affair fondly and with no regrets whatever, and thus doesn't share Lily's passionate conviction that "a teacher should never do this with a student, ever."

When Mr. Dimitri returns to his classroom, he starts to close the door, but when he sees that Grace is waiting for him, he pushes it wide open. She wants to talk about her story, but he discourages her. "Are you really in trouble?" she asks worriedly.

He tells her that he has just come from a meeting with Mrs. Conway, the head of the school board, and the woman Grace saw with Mr. Dimitri earlier. "I could lose my job and my license and possibly never get hired to teach anywhere ever again," he says grimly. "I think it's probably best for both of us if we just don't talk to each other outside of class any more."

"No!" Grace cries, but he abruptly leaves the room.

At WIXB, Jake and Lily exchange sharp words, Jake informing her that he learned of the rumors through Alexa's mother, and he's angry that Lily didn't tell him. She tries to defend herself by saying that she wasn't sure there was anything to the rumors, but he fumes, "That teacher's a dead man! I want him fired, then dead, in that order."

After Jake leaves, Lily realizes that Les heard their argument. She tells him that with all her personal problems, including "a marginally employed husband and a rage-aholic ex-husband," her life is so complicated that she can't deal with the possibility of syndication and can't meet with the Radiovision team on Friday. Les' only response is a bland "Fine."

After school, Grace goes to Eli's room to find Jessie. To explain why she wants to speak to her alone, Grace sardonically tells Eli, "She hasn't told you yet? I'm having an affair with Mr. Dimitri." "Are you serious? Do you realize how old he is?" Eli snickers. Grace and Jessie ask him to leave. Once they're alone, Grace asks Jessie if it's true that everyone is talking about her and Mr. Dimitri. "No, not that much," Jessie lies.

Grace tells Jessie that Mr. Dimitri won't talk to her any more, and blames herself for the trouble he's in. "What am I gonna do?" she wails.

"We'll figure something out," Jessie says comfortingly, resting a hand on Grace's shoulder.

Grace returns to her room, where she labors over her short story. Later, she goes to Mr. Dimitri's house, where she knocks on his door and shouts his name until he relents and lets her inside. "I rewrote the end of the story," she explains.

Expecting a rave review, Grace is stunned when Mr. Dimitri lays down the papers and asks in disbelief, "It was all a dream, that's your ending? You're backing away, disowning it, like none of it mattered. Just finishing something is not an ending."

"If you're angry at me, don't take it out on my story," she snarls, and taunts him over his having abandoned his poetry, saying that unlike him, she is at least trying to write and get published. She looks inside his refrigerator, bitterly commenting that she probably shouldn't be doing that either. Apologetically, he admits he is angry at her but angrier at himself, but that her ending still doesn't work.

"Are they gonna take away your license? Maybe if you talked to Alexa--" she suggests.

"This has gone way past Alexa," he reminds her. "But we have to tell them the truth!" she insists. "What's that?" he asks tiredly.

Although Grace rages against the rumormongers, she makes it plain that she wishes the rumors were true, and that her real anger is aimed at Mr. Dimitri's resolve to keep her at arm's length. He can't help smiling at her fervor, and in spite of herself, she musters a smile in return. She thanks him for writing the inscription in the Chekhov book, then suddenly leans forward and kisses him. Although he does not embrace her, neither does he push her away. When she steps back, they exchange embarrassed glances. "Oh my God," she whispers, tears trickling down her cheeks. "I'm going home now," she adds, and leaves.

Lily arrives home and finds Rick, Eli, Jessie, and Zoe--everyone except Grace--in the kitchen. "Where's Grace?" she asks.

"I thought she said she was going to the library," Eli answers.

Her suspicions aroused, Lily snaps, "She's not at the library," and bolts from the kitchen. When Rick catches up to her, she is upstairs, ransacking Grace's room. "Lily, you don't want to be doing this," he cautions her. Undeterred, claiming that she needs to know the truth, she continues pulling items out of Grace's desk and bureau drawers, and opening boxes. Finally, reaching under Grace's mattress, she pulls out Mr. Dimitri's book, opens it, and reads the inscription. ["Oh, my God!" she says to the camera.]

At that moment, Grace returns and is furious that Lily is in her room, holding Mr. Dimitri's book, surrounded by the debris of her frenzied search. She tries to snatch the book back, but Lily holds it out of her reach and reminds her daughter of their agreement that Grace would check with her before going out. "Well, I'm sorry, but I couldn't keep that promise. Actually, I'm not even sorry," Grace snaps. Behind her, Rick slips away.

Lily opens the book again. "'For the girl with the loveliest eyes. Love always, August,'" she reads. Angrily, she says that Mr. Dimitri shouldn't be writing such things to her, and that Grace knows it. But when Grace pleads for the book, Lily reluctantly hands it back to her. "It's not the loveliest eyes, it's 'the girl with the loneliest eyes,'" Grace almost whispers. "You read it wrong."

Rick and Lily are in their bedroom when Rick takes a phone call. Hanging up, he tells Lily that there will be a meeting at school the next day. "He'll be there," he says, and promises to go to the meeting with Lily. Silent and hollow-eyed, her back to him, she gives no sign of having heard. "When's your meeting with the syndicators?" Rick asks. "Never mind about that," she answers wearily.

Neither Grace nor Lily can sleep that night. Giving up, Lily goes to her kitchen, where she's joined by Grace, who has an envelope in the pocket of her bathrobe. Grace asks Lily if she's nervous about meeting the syndicators. When Lily replies that she's not going to meet with them because the timing isn't right, Grace blurts, "That's just crap. If you're scared, I think you should just admit it."

Lily contends that not pursuing an opportunity doesn't mean that a person is scared. Dropping the subject, Grace hands Lily the envelope. Inside, Lily finds a letter from a magazine, rejecting Grace's story. Lily offers her sympathy but, smiling bravely, Grace insists, "It is a good story. With a magazine like this, it's almost an honor to be rejected. That's what--" She catches herself.

"What Mr. Dimitri says?" Lily finishes for her gently.

[Lily recalls, "She used to be afraid of spiders, of the vacuum cleaner, of being left alone in the house. She was afraid of so many things. She's not afraid any more. I'm not sure how that happened but I know I can't take all the credit."]

Lily demands that Grace tell her exactly what happened with Mr. Dimitri, reminding her reluctant daughter that as a parent, she has a duty to protect her child. "I don't need to be protected from this person, I don't need to be protected at all!" Grace shrieks. "Look at me, don't you realize that?" Lily stares at the daughter who has suddenly grown up before her eyes. ["I used to really know her, I knew everything about her, I knew what had and hadn't happened to her yet. Now...are her eyes really that lonely?" Lily wonders sadly. "Because I didn't know."] Lily glances at the letter again. "'Shows promise,'" she reads.

In the morning, Lily approaches Les, who is again searching for cookies in the break room. Almost tripping over her words, she blurts out that she never should have let him cancel the Radiovation meeting, that she did it only because she was scared, but she's not scared any more. She promises to not blow another opportunity if it ever comes. She's stunned when Les replies, "Good, because they're here."

"But I told you I didn't want to meet with them!" she exclaims. "Oh, I didn't pay any attention to that!" he scoffs.

"Les, how do you know the things you know about me?" she asks in amazement. "I come in here for an assistant's job, and you put me on the air. How did you know I could do that? How do you know I can do this?" Munching a cookie, Les merely tells her the men's names and how to tell them apart. Together they go to meet their visitors.

Later, the meeting to determine Mr. Dimitri's fate is held at Grace's school. To a question by Mrs. Conway, head of the school board, Mr. Dimitri replies that he has seen Grace off-campus twice. Behind him, Jake is seething, and Lily rests a steadying hand on his arm. When Mrs. Conway calls the Rashomon outing a "date," Mr. Dimitri takes issue with the word, saying that he accompanied Grace to the movie for educational purposes.

Mrs. Conway asks if Rashomon contains material of an explicitly sexual nature. "I guess so," Mr. Dimitri answers. Under further questioning, he says that although Rashomon bears directly on what his class is studying, he didn't take the whole class because he knew only a few students would benefit from seeing it. Enraged, Jake springs to his feet and challenges Mr. Dimitri, "You want to step outside?"

"Step outside?" Mr. Dimitri repeats, incredulous at hearing a barroom cliché in a school setting. Rick wedges himself between Jake and Mr. Dimitri, and prevails upon Jake to "get some air" with him.

Mrs. Conway asks Grace if she has anything to say. "You don't want to hear what I have to say," Grace replies sullenly. Turning to Lily, Mrs. Conway asks about "inappropriate gifts or written communications of a questionable nature." Seeing the alarm in Grace's eyes, Lily lies, "No, nothing." Grace exhales an almost-imperceptible sigh of relief.

Lily asks to say one more thing: "This teacher changed my daughter's life by believing in her, in a way that's hard to describe, and rare, and really valuable. That needs to be said too." If her endorsement influences Mrs. Conway, she gives no hint of it. Instead, she immediately announces that the board has no choice but to suspend Mr. Dimitri with pay for the rest of the semester, "at which point, the school board will have a decision to make."

In the hallway, Grace embraces her father, who is told by Lily, "He's out." Rick nudges the still-angry Jake toward the exit, so that only Lily and Grace see Mr. Dimitri leave the conference room. Seeing the yearning in Grace's body language, Lily gives her a moment to tell him good-bye.

While Mr. Dimitri packs up his things, Grace determinedly predicts that he'll be back because people will be upset once they learn he's not teaching. He replies that he has decided on his own not to return. He admits that Grace was right about him, that he stopped writing because he was scared. He needed to change his life, he continues, and, even knowing that something like this might happen, he used her to bring about the change. "Which doesn't mean I won't miss you," he says.

Desperately, she asks if she can still send him her story. Instead of giving her a yes or no, he urges her to read "On Love," a short story by Chekhov. "Is there a message in it about you and me?" she asks hopefully.

Exasperation at her indiscreet question flickers across Mr. Dimitri's face. But he masters his feelings to impart one final lesson, saying, "It's important you read it as a writer." Seeing her mother in the doorway, Grace quickly lowers her eyes. "Don't worry," Mr. Dimitri adds, "you'll figure out your ending."

Carrying a crate filled with books, he turns toward Lily. "Mrs. Sammler," he begins. "I don't want to hear it," she says coldly, not meeting his eyes, and steps aside. Rebuffed, he silently leaves his classroom for the last time. Lily and Grace follow him out, no one looking back.

That night, in her room, Grace reads from "On Love," by Anton Chekhov: "There was a burning pain in my heart. I realized how needless and petty and deceptive were all those things which had kept us from loving one another. I came to realize that when you are in love, that in all your judgments about love, you should start from something higher and more important than happiness or unhappiness, virtue and sin and all their accepted meanings, or you should make no judgments at all. I kissed her for the last time, pressed her hand, and we parted forever. The train was already in motion."

Entering the room, Lily sits beside Grace and offers her sympathy. Heartbroken, Grace lays her head on Lily's shoulder and sobs, "You don't understand. It's just--Mom, it's just such a beautiful story!"

The End

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