It started with the magazines. My aunt worked at the library, and she's always getting free samples of magazines she says are "indecent" or just "unsuitable for our community." I was returning Billie Joe's books—his dad didn't like him going to the library, says reading too much is for sissies—and I saw a whole stack of magazines in the garbage. One of them mentioned a band I'd heard about, so I grabbed the whole stack. Billie Joe and I could look at the crazy hairstyles and see what the "sluts of Hollywood," as my aunt called them, were wearing this month.
We met at Ken's Diner, split an order of fries while Billie Joe's brother Steve and his friends dropped quarters in the ancient pinball machine. I don't remember the name of the magazine, XTREEM STARZ or SUPER HITS or something like that, but it had an 80's "where are they now" special, full of glam-rock bands with hair like they'd been electrocuted and leopard-print tights.
We snickered at Dee Snyder. Talked about what'd happen if anyone who looked like that ever showed up here. Last year, a new guy moved here from Colorado and he had an earring, and it was all the church ladies could talk about for three weeks. We rolled our eyes at Stryper. Like "Christian rock" was ever gonna catch on, when Reverend Peterson didn't let us play the Tanya Tucker Christmas album because she sang about divorce. He certainly wasn't gonna allow guys wearing hairspray in his town. And then we saw Joan Jett wearing a black tank top, with her shock of short hair and pointy chin and sharp, angry look and I said, "Hey, she looks like you!"
Billie Joe looked at her and his mouth fell open, then he looked back at me and I knew, knew, and his eyes were lost, full of ache and hunger and confusion. And I could tell he didn't want to be on stage screaming into a microphone.
"Oh, Billie Joe," I heard myself whisper as I shook my head slowly.
He took a breath to talk and whatever he was going to say, I couldn't let him say it here, with his thug of a brother grabbing his third beer of the afternoon and talking about how to get Becky Mathers to put out on a weeknight.
Then I grabbed his hand and said "C'mon," and tried to grab the magazine but he wasn't letting go of it, so I just dragged him out of the diner. For once I didn't care if his brother thought we were dating.
I held his hand—his wrist, really; he held the magazine in his hand—and we walked all around town. We finally sat on the brick border around a patch of trees. He kept glancing down at the magazine, and looking at me, and looking at it again.
I could feel the tension in his arm, the catches in his breath while he thought about what he'd just realized. Whatever was going through Billie Joe's head—and I didn't know what, not really; I just knew it was big, California-and-Hollywood big, and it was too big for our little church-ridden town, and it was going to hurt him.
"Billie can be a girl's name, can't it?" He sounded hesitant, quiet.
I caught my breath. Swallowed. Why couldn't it be easy? Why couldn't he just want a black leather jacket or a guitar? I looked at him sideways. He wasn't looking at me. His hand was shaking where he was gripping the magazine.
"Sure, I guess." I thought about it for a minute. "Short for Wilhelmina. Or maybe Bilitis."
"Bilitis?" he asked. "Never heard of that name."
"It's Greek, I think. Famous lesbian woman. There's a movie; plays late nights on the Playboy channel sometimes. Saw parts of it when I was babysitting for the Hamiltons. They got a satellite dish."
"Huh." He was quiet for a long time after that. We sat there, not talking, until it started getting dark.
I gave him a hug and said, "It'll be okay," before we went home.
I knew I was lying.
I named my first daughter Bilitis Joan.