Pamela York Klainer
Eighteen year old Dermott had no idea Sister Loretta was barely eight years older than he and his class of high school seniors. Dermott thought all nuns were old, well, at least as old as his mother. Being a Catholic school kid since kindergarden, Dermott also thought nuns tended to run to the mean side. Sister Perpetua in third grade rapped the boys on the knuckles with her metal edged ruler, drawing blood. Sister St. Adelbert in the fourth grade made boys roll up their pants and kneel on a cup of uncooked rice spread over the wood floor, which hurt more than it sounded like it would and left little dents in the skin of their knees.
Not that Dermott himself was typically punished. Dermott had pale skin with dark curly hair and long eyelashes, and his mother regularly baked for the nuns and drove Sisters from the convent to their doctor’s appointments. Dermott’s father consorted with the Bishop. Now, in high school, Dermott was a basketball star. The nuns thought Dermott was a real charmer, and even if Dermott initiated a prank, Sister usually blamed someone else. Dermott prided himself on never having been kept after school for detention, not once. Few boys who were lifers in Catholic school had such a stellar record.
That meant Dermott wasn’t alarmed when Sister Loretta summoned him to her office, only curious. He knew Sister Loretta from sophomore survey of American literature, but not well. The girls hung around Sister Loretta. Dermott preferred Father Stephen’s orbit.
Sister Loretta often invited visitors to sit in one of her comfortable low chairs and regularly offered tea, but in this case she pointed Dermott to a stiff back wood chair positioned on the other side of her desk.
She wasn’t smiling.
Dermott, vastly overconfident for the moment, turned on the charm. He knew that a broad smile made his dimple show, and that nuns who weren’t mean were dazzled by boys with dark eyes and dimples.
“How can I help you, Sister?”
Loretta waited, her expression fixed and stern. She was about to bluff. In truth Mother Superior would be furious to know Loretta was confronting Dermott.
Dermott shifted in his chair, puzzled by the silence. He tried again. “You asked me to come here, Sister? How can I help you?”
Loretta let another minute go by, and when she spoke, it was not to ask a question.
“You had sex with Regina McConville, who is fourteen years old. You gave Regina one of your mother’s birth control pills.”
Dermott sat up straighter. “Did Regina tell you that? She’s lying. She isn’t my girl. She’s only a freshman. I go steady with Claire. Everybody knows that.”
Dermott’s expression turned sullen.
Sister Loretta was prepared for the interchange. Dermott was not. She struck again. “Having sex with an underage girl is against the law. Providing a prescription medication to another person is against the law. Both would be considered grave sins. So is lying in a matter as serious as this. You are in a great deal of trouble, Dermott. Let’s begin this conversation again, this time with the truth.”
Dermott shifted in his chair. “She’s lying. All the girls in school want to go out with me. I can’t help it if they say things that aren’t true just to get attention.”
He crossed his arms in front of his chest and stared at Sister Loretta, trying to project confidence but slightly off his game. When Sister Loretta finally got ready to speak, Dermott’s expression gave way to panic.
“Crap. She’s not knocked up, is she?”
“We’re not here to talk about Regina, Dermott. We’re here to talk about you. This is the second incident that I know of where you’ve treated girls in this school like objects for your sexual gratification. You were warned last year, and now you’re at it again.”
Dermott paled. “My father said no one was supposed to know about that other girl and that I should shut up about it. How did you know? It’s not fair. I’m applying for a basketball scholarship to college. That’s not part of my record, and no one is supposed to know.”
Sister Loretta ignored the question. “How is your mother not aware you’re stealing her birth control pills?”
Dermott mumbled his answer. “It wasn’t a birth control pill. I just told Regina that.”
“What was it?”
“A coated aspirin. It wouldn’t hurt her.”
Loretta felt rage, at Dermott and at Father Stephen and at the Bishop and at Dermott’s father. And at Mother Superior, whom she knew wouldn’t support her calling Dermott’s parents or making an issue of his getting Regina pregnant. This boy was going to walk away untouched, just like Father Stephen.
But Dermott didn’t know that. Loretta continued her bluff. She pulled out a yellow legal pad, and a pen.
“Mother Superior wanted to call your parents when this first came to our attention. But I said I’d like to talk with you first. I want you to write down all the girls in school you’ve had sex with, and all the ones to whom you’ve given a pill of any kind.”
Dermott’s eyes widened. “No way. You can’t make me do that.”
Sister Loretta reached for her phone, pulling it closer, and lifted up the receiver. “Your choice. I can call your parents now.”
Dermott muttered something under his breath that sounded a lot like “bitch”.
“Nothing, Sister. I didn’t say anything. You don’t get it. These girls all want to go out with me, and when they do they throw themselves at me. You think Regina is some sweet little girl. You should have seen her in the car. She wanted it. She didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to. I didn’t make her. She wanted it.”
Sister Loretta’s stare all but burned a hole through the center of Dermott’s adolescent brain. Her silence was more effective than words.
“What are you going to do with the names if I write them down? You aren’t going to call the cops on me, are you? I’m going to college. You can’t mess that up.” His voice was almost a whine.
Sister Loretta continued to stare.
Dermott took the pen and began to write.
Four names. When he finished writing there were four names, not nearly the number Sister Loretta feared. Dermott was biting his lip and looking down at the floor as he pushed the pad back across the desk.
“I don’t have that many chances. People just think I do. My mother only lets me take the car if I get straight A’s and if I start every game in basketball and if I call my grandmother on Sundays without being told to. And Claire gets really mean and nasty if I even look at another girl. That’s why I broke up with her and went out with Regina in the first place. And I don’t tell my mother I’m taking a girl to the drive in. I tell her we’re going to the movies with a lot of our friends and then to the diner for something to eat and then right home. And if I’m late bringing the car back I don’t get to have it again for a really long time.”
Dermott managed to look up and meet Sister Loretta’s eyes, his voice barely audible.
“What are you going to do with that list?
What indeed. The Bishop had a particular interest in this boy, and in his family. Mother Superior would never countenance Sister Loretta creating a public scandal that would embarrass the high school and embarrass the Church.
Loretta’s pent up fury drove her to confront Dermott. But her next step was far from clear. Deciding to buy some time, she pushed the pad back across the desk.
“Sign and date this.”
“You and I will meet again in this office in two weeks. During that time you will not speak to Regina, or to any of these girls, or speak about them to your friends. Do you understand?”
“And I assume Claire is the fifth name, the one you haven’t written down?”
“Between now and the time we meet you will not find occasion to take any girl in your family’s car to a drive-in. Do you understand?”
A very nervous Dermott picked up his books and left, and Sister Loretta sat looking at the names on the list, trying to decide what to do.