Once and Again...Once Again

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Written by Angela Stockton

Edited by Sue Kaliski

In front of Upton Sinclair High School, Grace and Jessie are walking across the lawn. Grace says peevishly, "I never said I'd do that -- I said I might. I can't plan my entire life around your therapy!"

"Do you mind not screaming that at the top of your lungs?" Jessie snaps.

Katie approaches them and playfully bear-hugs Jessie as Grace grumbles, "Fine. Whatever," and walks away. Jessie opens her coat to show Katie a two-toned purple sweater. "It looks great on you!" Katie raves. "I love it!" Jessie replies, beaming.

When Lily does her radio show that day, she urges her final caller to let go of any preconceived images and accept his son for what he is, advice which seems to comfort and motivate the caller. "I'm Lily Sammler, and I'm no expert," she signs off, as Judy enters the studio where Les is sitting beside Lily.

"Les, you remember my sister, Judy?" Lily asks. "Not really," he growls, and walks out.

When Judy recovers from this brushoff, she asks Lily if she's coming to a book signing the next day. Lily answers that she is, because she doesn't have to drive Jessie to a therapy session; she has asked Grace to take her instead. Although Judy questions whether Grace and Jessie get along, Lily says that they're practically like sisters. Seeing Judy's smirk, she adds affectionately, "Shut up."

At Upton Sinclair High, as the bell brings Mr. Dimitri's creative writing class to an end, he cheerfully announces, "I have been blackmailed into -- I mean, I have graciously consented -- to serve as the faculty facilitator for the much-maligned Upton Sinclair Gay-Straight Alliance." There will be a meeting the following night, he adds, the location as yet undetermined.

Intrigued, Grace approaches him and asks what he meant by "blackmail." "I was kidding," he explains, then leaves the room.

Tad declares that he's joining the Alliance to meet bisexual girls. Jessie walks in just in time to hear Katie say that such groups are boring and stupid. Tad continues, "I just realized something -- Mr. Dimitri just totally outed himself." Undaunted by the jeers of his classmates, including Grace, he points out, "He runs Drama Club, he now runs the Gay-Straight Alliance, he's not married, and he's obsessed with Joni Mitchell. He's not gay? Yeah, right." Grace opens her mouth as if to speak, but the others file out, leaving her alone and lost in thought.

She follows Mr. Dimitri to his car and tells him that some students may be reluctant to join the Gay-Straight Alliance because they don't feel comfortable about it. "So we should probably figure out some way to help people..." she says. "Feel more comfortable?" he finishes.

To prolong the conversation, she asks him about his car and babbles that she doesn't have her own car but drives her mother's, and that she's always having to drive Jessie places because her own mother is in the hospital and because "she's just the kind of person that people are always worried if she has a ride home, and I guess I'm the kind of person that people assume can walk."

"Would you like a ride home?" Mr. Dimitri asks her at last. As he brakes to a stop in front of Grace's house, Grace suggests that the way to make people feel more comfortable about the Gay-Straight Alliance is to have meetings off campus -- for instance, at his house. Although he's initially taken aback, she reminds him that another teacher held a film festival in his own house the year before.

In the kitchen, Lily compliments Jessie on the purple sweater, to which Jessie replies that it's borrowed from Katie. When Grace walks in and Lily notes that she's home late, Grace explains that she was at a meeting of the Gay-Straight Alliance. When both Jessie and Lily express surprise at Grace's new interest, she replies with a hint of defiance, "People should be allowed to fall in love with whoever they want. Otherwise, what's the point of living?"

After Lily leaves the kitchen, Jessie asks Grace who else was at the meeting. "A lot of people who you think would join probably won't," Grace tells her, "like your friend Katie." Jessie is shocked when Grace states authoritatively that Katie is gay and was another girl's lover until "Katie completely broke her heart." Grace dares Jessie to ask anyone.

"I don't have to ask anybody because I know her!" Jessie retorts, though clearly bewildered.

The following day, while Lily and Les discuss her show, Les refers to "that malarkey about accepting your kids for who they are." Lily insists that she accepts her kids, and that she believes Grace was motivated to join the Gay-Straight Alliance because of the tolerance and understanding she learned at home. When Les calls Grace "your gay daughter," Lily babbles, "My daughter's not actually gay...not that it wouldn't be OK if she was, but she isn't." In the face of Les's blatant skepticism, she argues, "She's just very principled!"

At school, while Mr. Dimitri posts fliers announcing an Alliance meeting at his house, Katie and Jessie meet by the lockers. Katie notices that Jessie's hair is frizzy with static and begins to brush it. Convinced that every passerby is looking at them, Jessie becomes uncomfortable. Finally she says, "OK, that's good," and excuses herself to go to her next class.

Grace stops Jessie to advise her that she can't drive Jessie to her after-school therapy session because she's going to the Alliance meeting and doesn't want to drive back and forth. This so upsets Jessie that to placate her, Grace proposes that after her therapy, Jessie come with her to the meeting. Jessie reluctantly agrees.

During their session, Dr. Rosenfeld explores her unease. Jessie tries to make clear that she's not upset about having a gay friend, because she knows Katie is not gay. What upsets her, she insists, are people who say that certain people are gay instead of allowing the gay individuals to speak for themselves. Recalling how Katie mocked the Alliance, she tells Dr. Rosenfeld that if Katie were gay, she'd be going to the meeting, but that since she isn't going, she's obviously not gay. "Well, that settles it, then," Dr. Rosenfeld pronounces, with irony that exasperates Jessie.

That evening, Grace and Jessie arrive at Mr. Dimitri's house so early that he greets them at the back door in his bathrobe, his face lathered with shaving cream. After he lets them in and returns to his bathroom, Grace and Jessie talk about Katie, Jessie accusing Grace of "labeling" Katie as gay. "Look at Mr. Dimitri, he has all these musicals in his collection," Jessie says, pointing toward a stack of CDs. "Everybody says that he's gay. Does that make it true?"

"Like how many musicals?" Grace asks warily.

Scanning his bookshelf, Grace is astonished to see a book entitled Accidentally on Purpose, Poems by August Dimitri. In the jacket portrait, Mr. Dimitri appears about ten years younger. At that moment, more students arrive, and to Jessie's chagrin, Katie is among them. "I thought you thought that groups like this were stupid!" Jessie exclaims.

"I do. I just felt like seeing Dimitri's house," Katie answers airily. As her eyes scan the room, she doesn't notice Jessie's confusion and distress.

When Mr. Dimitri enters the room, Grace holds up his book and says, "You're a real poet! When did you publish these?"

"Several lifetimes ago," he replies, taking the book and reshelving it. "Can I look at them?" she persists. "They're not really worth looking at," he tells her, ruefully but with finality.

After officers are chosen for the club, Katie whispers to Jessie that she's bored, and suggests that they leave. Jessie declines and pointedly turns back to the binder in which she's writing. The meeting breaks up after the members decide to hold a dance open to both gays and straights. As students start filing out, Jessie asks, "Shouldn't we help clean up?"

Grace answers that she'll do the cleanup, and asks Jessie to tell Lily that she's staying late. Tad asks Jessie if she needs a ride home. "Yes, she does," Katie cynically answers for her.

Meanwhile, Judy and Lily return from the book signing to find Rick in front of his TV, watching a movie. Judy asks what's on. "See that girl that just coughed? She's gonna die soon," Rick informs her.

While washing dishes with Mr. Dimitri, Grace mentions his poetry and the Alliance. He ignores her clumsy probes into his personal life, and when his telephone rings, he answers and is soon deep in conversation with someone named Chris. Grace excuses herself to go back to the dining room, ostensibly to get her coat and bookbag. But unobserved by Mr. Dimitri, she approaches his bookshelf and eyes Accidentally on Purpose. While Mr. Dimitri is still on the phone, she lets herself out the door.

Tad takes Jessie home and walks her inside. Rick is surprised to hear that they were at a meeting of the Gay-Straight Alliance, although Jessie is quick to clarify that she's not a member, saying, "Grace dragged me there." Rick and Judy are both surprised to hear that Grace is in the group. Tad takes a seat beside Rick, who's still watching his movie. Rick knowledgeably informs him, "See that girl that just coughed? She'll be dead soon. When they cough like that, it's pretty much all over."

Lily and Judy go to the kitchen. "So she joined the Gay-Straight Alliance!" Judy stage-whispers. "Apparently," Lily replies.

Although Judy humorously professes shock that her niece is "a person with a sex life of any kind," she's baffled by Lily's reluctance to admit that Grace's joining the Alliance might mean that she is gay. "What happened to accepting your kids for who they are?" Judy reminds her.

"I am accepting her for who she is. She happens to be straight," Lily answers emphatically. At that moment Grace walks in and immediately feels Lily's and Judy's eyes on her. To her mother's question, "How was the meeting?" she answers brusquely, "Fine," and leaves the kitchen. "Did you see that?" Lily asks Judy in dismay. "She couldn't look me in the eye. Oh my God, maybe it's true!"

In her bedroom, Grace avidly reads Mr. Dimitri's book. The next morning, still reading it over breakfast, Grace is annoyed when Lily tells her to drive Jessie to visit Karen that afternoon. Lily asks about the Alliance meeting, but Grace's responses are evasive. At last, when Lily says, "I hadn't quite realized that Mr. Dimitri was gay," Grace asks, "What?"

"Not that it makes any difference," Lily adds hastily.

"You're right. It doesn't make any difference who's gay and who isn't," Grace says coldly.

"If it doesn't make any difference, why do you keep talking about it?" Jessie asks.

Lily tells the girls to go to school. Once she's alone in the kitchen, she mutters, "Try not to learn too much."

At school, Katie catches up to Jessie by the lockers. Jessie is not happy to see her, and when Katie asks if Jessie saw her waving earlier, Jessie claims that she didn't. When Katie suggests that they hang out together after school, Jessie answers that she has to visit her mother. Katie offers to come along, only to have Jessie say that it wouldn't be any fun for her.

"Are you mad at me?" Katie asks suddenly. Jessie denies it, but rushes off to her next class, leaving Katie distraught and dumbstruck. On her way into Mr. Dimitri's classroom, Grace passes Katie and gives her a cool stare, and Mr. Dimitri sardonically "invites" Katie inside.

In class, Katie takes no part in the discussion of John Donne's poetry. Instead, she scribbles on one sheet of notepaper after another until, finally laying down her pen, she folds up the papers. Meanwhile, Grace remarks that although Donne wrote a lot of love poems, he seemed detached. "That's what it meant to be a poet back then -- like a scientist of the human heart. And a scientist must remain detached," Mr. Dimitri explains.

"I don't think that's what poems should be," Grace argues. "I just read these poems by...this other person. And they just showed you like his entire life, how he thought and felt about everything. And it made you realize how you felt about everything." Mr. Dimitri eyes her thoughtfully, but at that moment the dismissal bell rings. Katie approaches Grace, hands her the folded note, and nervously asks her to give it to Jessie, saying, "It's extremely personal." Once Katie has left, Grace is tempted to peek and opens the note, but quickly refolds it and stuffs it into her purse unread.

After reading the note at her mother's hospital bedside, Jessie looks shaken. Karen awakens and notices that her daughter doesn't look like herself, but Jessie insists that she's fine. Karen asks how Katie is. "She's fine," Jessie answers vaguely.

"I'm so glad you have such a good friend like her. When I was in high school there was so much pretending going on. I had friends, but I don't think we were ever really honest with each other," Karen recalls wistfully, her face lined with both regret and physical pain.

Seeing her daughter fighting back tears, Karen thinks that her own accident is causing Jessie's distress. When Jessie starts to talk about someone who wants a more intense relationship with her, Karen assumes that it's Tad. Without enlightening her, Jessie asks what she should do if someone likes her more than she realized. Karen advises her that just because a person has feelings for her, she doesn't have to return those feelings. Jessie is relieved when Karen's attention is diverted by the arrival of an aide bearing her dinner tray.

While Jessie is visiting Karen, Grace goes to Mr. Dimitri's house uninvited and barges in when he opens the door. Nervous at first, she ignores his obvious displeasure and begins, "There's something I wanted to tell you. In your car the other day I just felt like there was this connection." Mr. Dimitri tries to interrupt, but she continues boldly, "Now I know that I'm not alone, and it's just such an amazing thing to know --"

"August?" a female voice calls from the next room. Grace is stunned when in walks a woman about Mr. Dimitri's age, whom he calls Chris. He introduces Grace to Chris as one of his brightest students and chairman of the Gay-Straight Alliance's dance committee. This reminds him of a memorandum that he intended to give her. When he leaves the room, Chris tries to engage Grace in friendly conversation, but Grace is too embarrassed to feel comfortable. Mr. Dimitri returns with a paper which he hands to Grace, saying that she needs it for her presentation to the school administration on behalf of the dance. "Try to remember these things during school hours next time, OK?" he tells her sternly as he shows her the door.

Later, upon her return home, Jessie complains to Eli, Rick and Lily that Grace was upset about having to pick her up from the hospital. When the others ask where Grace is, Jessie replies that she's still in the car. Eli offers to go after her, but at that moment Grace walks in. To Lily's question about why she stayed in the car, she replies, "Mom, please, just don't talk to me right now, OK?" and leaves.

That night, while Rick and Lily prepare for bed, they discuss Grace's moodiness, Lily confiding that Judy thinks Grace is gay and lamenting, "It seems like she's keeping something from me, and when I try to talk to her, she just shuts me out."

"If she is, you'll deal with it," Rick soothes her.

"It's easy for you to say, your daughter's heterosexual," Lily retorts, then berates herself, "No wonder she won't talk to me! I'm a bigot!"

When the phone rings, Lily answers. The caller is Katie, asking for Jessie. Lily takes the phone to the girls' bathroom, where Grace, standing by the door, confirms that Jessie is inside. Opening the door to Lily's knock, Jessie asks Lily to tell Katie that she's tired and will talk to her the next day.

Once her mother leaves, Grace enters the bathroom. "Why won't you talk to her? You're lucky you can," she urges Jessie. "Just go for it, no one will care. At least the person you're in love with--"

To Jessie, the words sound like an admission that Grace has read Katie's letter. Her anger flares as she denies that she's in love with anyone, and accuses Grace of snooping. Grace heatedly defends herself and is infuriated when Jessie sneers, "Just because you picked somebody who'd never love you back in a million years! Everybody knows, and it's embarrassing! The way you look at him, the way you do anything just to be near him--"

"You'll do anything to protect your little image, won't you? Perfect Jessie, who couldn't possibly be in love with a girl!" Grace taunts her.

"I can't believe how much I hate you," Jessie snarls, her eyes narrowing. She storms out, slamming the door. "I hate you more!" Grace barks.

In the morning, when Lily looks in on Grace, she finds her still in bed. Trying to make conversation, Lily asks about Spencer Lewicki and why Grace is no longer dating him. Grace mutters that he's gay but doesn't know it. To her mother's obvious confusion, Grace says that if she can stay home from school that day, she'll explain. Unmoved, Lily replies that they can talk about Spencer after school. When Lily returns to the kitchen, Rick tells her that Jessie has a sore throat and he's letting her stay home.

During his class, Mr. Dimitri calls on Grace, who responds only with a cold stare. The dismissal bell breaks the tension. As the students leave, Katie asks Grace if she gave Jessie the note and if Jessie said anything about it. Mr. Dimitri interrupts them to ask if Grace is ready to meet with Mrs. Gonzalez, the vice principal who must approve the proposed dance and allocate school funds for it.

"I don't care when we do it," Grace answers curtly. To Katie, she says that Jessie may not have read the note at all. Katie is overwhelmed with relief and joyously hugs her, not noticing Grace's discomfort.

Mr. Dimitri and Grace meet with Mrs. Gonzalez, Grace presenting the Alliance's proposed budget for the dance and offering a history of the club. She also notes that a gay student is twice as likely to attempt suicide as a straight. While conceding that the dance may not deter any suicides, she concludes, "If it's within your power to give someone hope, someone who really needs it, and instead you just turn your back on that person, I just think it's really horrible." Twice during her concluding remarks, she turns to stare at Mr. Dimitri. Mrs. Gonzalez thanks her for an impressive presentation and promises to consider the request. Grace abruptly walks out, offering neither thanks nor good-byes to Mr. Dimitri or Mrs. Gonzalez.

Jessie is in her attic room, rereading Katie's letter, when Katie appears in her doorway. "I just want my sweater back, and then I won't bother you again," she says.

"You're not bothering me," Jessie answers. Katie sees the letter on the floor and tearfully asks for that back also, saying she shouldn't have written it. "It's OK," Jessie begins, but Katie sobs, "It's obviously not OK, you barely even talk to me!"

"I just want to be friends!" Jessie tells her.

"That's what I want!" Katie says. "I don't want anything you don't want."

"You're really important to me, don't you know that?" Jessie wails; "You're so important to me!" Katie answers. Emotionally pledging that they're still friends, they wrap each other in a tight embrace. "Just throw the stupid letter out, okay?" Katie begs.

"I can't throw it away. I want to keep it forever," Jessie whispers. For a moment she looks directly into Katie's eyes. Suddenly she kisses Katie full on the mouth, then steps back. "Oh my God," she gasps; "I know," Katie murmurs. They kiss again, longer and more ardently.

Grace is walking across the deserted school parking lot when Mr. Dimitri drives past. He stops alongside her and they stare at each other in silence.

Once she's seated beside him and the car is stopped in front of Grace's house, Mr. Dimitri thanks Grace for her presentation and tells her that because of her, the school will fund the Alliance dance. "I don't care about the stupid dance. I don't care about the Gay-Straight Alliance," she answers petulantly.

Mr. Dimitri says he knows, and that he also knows she took his book. "We're not friends. You can't just drop by my house like that," he reminds her. Ignoring her deep embarrassment, he continues relentlessly, "If circumstances were different, I would like nothing more than to be your friend. I would want you to drop by my house and I'd loan you my book of poems I wrote when I was in my twenties and I'm now embarrassed by, I'd want you to call me August and not Mr. Dimitri, and we would sit around and talk for hours, but we can't do that. We...can't...be...friends."

"OK, OK! Just stop saying it, please!" she wails, tears flowing.

She asks if Chris is his girlfriend. "And you shouldn't be asking me questions like that," Mr. Dimitri reminds her; but hearing her sniffles, he explains gently that Chris was his girlfriend in college, but is now just a friend. "You'd better get out of the car now," he advises her. "Why?" she whimpers almost inaudibly. He leans toward her, but at that moment Lily taps on the window. She thanks Mr. Dimitri for giving Grace a ride and asks Grace to help her with the groceries. Grace climbs out of the car without a backward glance or a farewell.

"How'd the presentation go?" Lily asks in the kitchen. "Fine," Grace answers briefly. Lily says she's glad that the presentation went well and that Grace is part of a group like the Alliance, and that she has someone like Mr. Dimitri who understands her. "I want you to be true to who you are, no matter what, because I love you, no matter what," Lily says warmly.

"Well, I love you too," Grace answers, bemused. "I love everyone."

At Lily's request, Grace takes cough drops to Jessie's room, where Katie and Jessie are sitting on the floor, gazing adoringly at each other. Hearing Grace's knock, they spring to their feet, and when Grace walks in, Jessie explains that Katie was bringing her some homework. Katie says her good-byes and departs.

Grace hands Jessie the cough drops. "I'm feeling a lot better," Jessie says.

"Me too," Grace answers, smiling, and goes back downstairs. As Jessie stretches out on her bed, a tiny, contented smile steals across her face.

The End

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