And here we are… The moment teenage students dream of but us readers dread! It’s Marcia&Co. senior year and it will be their goodbye to high school and what it meant, good or bad.
The last Waltz begins with Marcia and Charlie on the football field, the fifty-yard line.
“One day we’re gonna say it, and one day we’re gonna be right.” She turned to look at Charlie. “One time’s gonna be the last time. The last time that we hang out on the field together. The last time we go to Frosty’s for ice cream. The last time we get hot chocolate and donuts from Cup O’ Joe’s.”
Charlie sat up, blinking. “Oh my God, Torres,” she said softly, “You’re right! One day it will be the last time.” She shook her head and sighed sadly. “I guess all I can do is help speed things along a little.”
Marcia frowned. “Wha?”
Charlie nodded. “By killing you right now.”
But, as bittersweet as the moment can be, the big question is looming: what after? Yes, the end of high school and its rules and weird customs might seem exciting and well-deserved, but what’s going to happen next? Choose university? If so, which one? And how are we all gonna be friends when we won’t see each other everyday anymore and live in opposite sides of the country? It’s all so scary and confusing, but at least there is a whole year ahead to think about it. For now, let’s focus on the here and now, which specifically is a new Headmaster – or better, Headmistress, Dr Shaw. The first thing she does is calling Marcia, Patience and Charlie in her office.
On the first day, or as soon as you have a spare minute, call to the office three girls – Patience Lancaster, Charlie Parker, and Marcia Torres. They’re the answer to your question. When they come in, say nothing. Just wait. Give it a minute and it will all make sense. Parker is the sarcastic one. Lancaster is the observant one. The one who won’t stop talking is Torres. Once you’re satisfied, please show them this letter, and hand them the note I’d left for them.
This is Mr Anderson’s (a former teacher) message to the new principal. The message ends with a plea for the three girls: “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do under any other principal”. It’s a sweet and powerful presentation of these three incredible young people to the new Principal and a way to get them out from the dog’s house from the very first minute. Because let’s face it: it’s Marcia&Co. we are talking about: as much as they’ll try to avoid it, they will end up in one mess or another for sure. But it’s also the answer to Dr Shaw’s request to have an insight into the social climate of the school and have the names of students she could trust.
While in the office, the girls are also told that Mr Miller will be back as coach of the soccer team, on two conditions:
One, that Ms. Levelle would become his first assistant coach. And the other condition was that his second assistant coach would be…” Dr. Shaw pretended to check her notebook. “Patience Lancaster.”
Patience’s surprise is understandable, but not so justified: since she did such a great job in guiding the team from the bleachers using sign language, what can se actually do from the bench?
Once the dust of the first day settles down and the school begins for real, the girls realise that it’s their senior year and they all have more classes of their majors, but they don’t even have classes together for core subjects like English or Maths. Marcia turns the whole thing into massive drama, already talking about separation and a future without Patience. But soon the argument takes a different direction and becomes more general. It is not just a matter of sitting in the same class, it’s a matter of being single units living in the world: of course there will be people asking me out, or asking you out, Patience explains patiently, but it doesn’t mean we are bad people. We turn them down, kindly but firmly, because neither of us is the type of person who would cheat, she says to Marcia. And that is because we are nice and reasonable people, with good qualities and a positive attitude and once again Patience shifts the focus of the conversation. It’s their last year and so much happened already, and Patience really believes that Marcia should run for Student Council President. Marcia replies that she will only if Patience will run as V.P. It’s clearly impossible: no one will vote for them both. Marcia is not convinced, though. ‘Prove me I would be a better President than you, then’ she tells Patience. ‘But be loyal: prepare your campaign as you would do if you were going to actually run for it, not just to prove a point.’
Patience does it, but during her speech she subtly keeps saying how Marcia is great and kind and smart and pushes Patience to become a better person, driving the vote the way she wants. Marcia realises what her girlfriend actually did one second before launching into her speech, and pays her back, saying how great of a President Patience would be, concluding with ‘I will vote for her’. What she couldn’t predict was that her fantastic-for-the-position girlfriend sent an email to the whole school before their speeches took place, predicting exactly what Marcia was going to do and re-enforcing the need to vote for her.
It comes as a shock to Marcia when the new President is announced and her name comes out of the speakers. But it’s an amazing surprise, and she won’t bear it alone: Mark, Charlie’s boyfriend, is her V.P. His candidature was a last mine one, so much last minute that no one actually knew. But since the other candidate was Kevin Frisk, Mark had to do something.
“Now, to the question of why I am running against Kevin Frisk. Do I have a problem with Kevin?” […] “Yes. Yes, I do.” […] “Kevin Frisk is a bully. I know this from firsthand experience. Many of you do, too. He is a racist and a homophobe. I know this from statements that he’s made, and from the way he treats other people. Of course, some of you already know this. That’s why you’re planning on voting for him. Because you’re racist too.”
It comes as a surprise, but definitely a good one, since the Student Council is divided: gay and gay supporters on one side, homophobe bullies on the other, both elected in almost even numbers, so any future vote on any proposal will become a ferocious arm wrestling exercise, where the matter in question won’t be as important as who proposed it and who is actually going to win the motion. But Homecoming is looming and there is no homophobia, bully or student council election that will be able to ruin it. It’s their last one, after all.
Life goes on, and so do all their activities: Marcia is playing in a jazz band she joined at the beginning of the school year, they are all studying hard for their SATs, scrambling around to allocate enough time for university applications, soccer practice and part time jobs. It’s a chaotic but good time for all of them. One day, Marcia is on the phone with Charlie while her friend is driving back from her part-time job, when the line goes suddenly dead. When Marcia tries her friend’s number again, the call goes straight to voicemail. She doesn’t have a good feeling about it, and unfortunately she is right: Charlie had a nasty collision with a truck, that left her with a temporary spinal injury. It might be gone in a few days or it might be permanent. Mark decides to drop his V.P. position and take care of Charlie, firm in his conviction that it doesn’t matter if he has to help her to go to the toilet for the rest of their life: she is the one and she is worth anything.
And while Charlie lives her last school year in a more or less normal way, the rest of them keeps going through ‘the usual’: the Art Fair, the school play, the jazz band concert, a Code Blue that it’s not a drill [for non-US readers: a Code Blue means danger outside of the school or in the immediate vicinity, so all students must stay put and all doors locked], the Prom, the Prom Queens, graduation and two life-commitment surprises that will squeeze out hearts one last time.
This last instalment of Marcia’s story is a whirlwind of everything! We have an insight of what being queer today might means for teenagers, we are reminded that, yes, high school never ends, nor its cliques and politics, we are guided through first loves and big commitments, we are presented with themes already dealt with in the previous three books (Homecoming, Art exhibition, school play) that feel a little predictable at this point, but as Marcia herself says, this is the last time. And it is for real! Like, no more of her, or Charlie, no more Proms or Patience’s witty remarks, no more big confessions on the fifty-yard line.
As much as I think that there is space for improvement on the quality of the narration, I am actually shedding a tear now that Marcia’s adventures are coming to an end. I followed them for less than the 4 years it took them to complete their personal story arc, but I will miss them just the same.
Do not despair though… Chico has not finished to delight us with his wonderful stories! We have 2 more to present to you, so dry your tears and stay tuned!