They were just such stars, that's all. He thought of Gabriel Adler, in his house at night, knowing that tomorrow he would come to a place where the other kids would see him and think, there's Gabriel, and it would be nothing but an addition, and Gabriel would know it was nothing but an addition, easily and effortlessly, not like it was anything special at all, and they would all just jump into being eleven-year-old boys and girls together, which itself wasn't easy, but it was...whatever the word was for when you were allowed to be all of eleven. He hadn't known how much space it took to be all of eleven, but it only took a few months of working at the small progressive private school to know that he hadn't had it as a kid in public school back home.
It wasn't a complaint; it was just a wonder. You could come to school and you could know that the things that were on your mind and in your heart had a reasonable amount of a home there. If you were a boy, you could know that you had a heart, and that it was a worthwhile thing. It didn't have to come as a surprise later on. That alone changed the world, he thought. Who would I have been if I'd gone to a school like that, he thought for the millionth time. He had already seen boys go from the greatest hardness inside themselves to the greatest softness. That could have been all of us, he thought. But they'd had a much smaller space to work with. They could've all been just as big though.
And it wasn't just a matter of the boys and who they could be. There was Gabriel Adler and the way he walked into the classroom, but there was also Rebecca Maury and Mina Powell and the way that shy and quiet girls were still stars too, because being shy and quiet was part of the story of being eleven too. And it wasn't just eleven either. There was stardom in all the kids there, a very casual stardom that none of the kids knew they had. Maybe all that school did was try not to put it out. Of course somebody might say that the world was going to put it out, so you might as well get used to that at school. That was more like the schooling he'd had and remembered. But you could just as easily say that the world wouldn't put it out if a kid got used to not having it put out. Who knew? The thing that stuck with him though was that children naturally gravitated toward stardom - toward some kind of stardom - when there wasn't something around them that set out to put it out.
These were the thoughts he had while Alice Peru was in the shower. This was his third time in her bed. It was very nice to lie in her bed and think about the kids at the school. There was a part of him that was thinking about them all the time, but it was the difference between his thoughts of them being a river he was sailing down versus sitting on a bank watching it go by.
When she came back she said, "What were you thinking about?"
"I was thinking about how famous we were as kids."
"All of us."
This was why she liked having him in her bed, Alice thought.
"It may be that we were famous because we didn't know how famous we were. In which case I suppose there is something paradoxical about fame."
"Were you famous?"
"Yes. I had some famous moments. Although I don't remember them very well. But I do remember that the world started telling me pretty early that I wasn't famous."
"How did it do that?"
"By telling me that my main job was to go from first grade to second grade. And from second grade to third grade. Like that. I know I had to do that, but that wasn't really my main job."
"What was your main job?"
"My main job was to be a person."
She got into bed with him.
"I am still learning how to do that," Alice Peru said.
"Me too. I just wish somebody had told me that it was my main job. I didn't really know it until I saw that it was a kid's main job. The funny thing is that when you tell a kid that's their main job, they say, okay, sure. It doesn't mean it's easy, but they pretty much get to work. You can practically see them clocking in and clocking out. The important thing is not to treat them like it's something easy."
"You're lucky. You get to be around famous people all day."
He laughed. "They're not always famous. Sometimes I have to leave and go home before I remember how famous they are."
"How do you know that's the truth?" There was something sad in her voice.
"When you have to go home to remember how famous they are."
"I don't know. That part's easy with kids. There's a lot that's hard about them, but that part's easy. They're always famous when I go home."
"I wish there was something that was always famous when I got home."
He wanted to tell her that there was, but it was the kind of thing that if you were going to say that, you ought to say what it was. Still he went ahead with it.
"There is," he said.
"What is it?" she said.
"I don't know," he said.
It was his third time in Alice Peru's bed and he liked the other two times and he liked the thought of there being a fourth time and he liked very much to think of the kids and remember them afterwards while she took a shower. But he'd lied when he told her he didn't know, and he'd lied because it was easier to embrace and to be in bed together again if they both didn't know what the famous thing was past childhood, but his conscience got the better of him as he was putting on his clothes a little later, because it looked like she knew that he knew what it was that kept people famous, and she knew it herself, and once it got to that point, things just felt bad if no one said it out loud, and he understood clearly that if he said it, it might mean that there wouldn't be a fourth time in her bed, or at the very least it opened up the real question of it, but it just felt too bad if it was there in the room but nobody said it, it felt the way it did when two kids who'd had some kind of fight both wanted there to be a sorry in the room but neither one of them wanted to say it, and he'd learned to be a genius of that moment, telling them that they might both feel better if they apologize, and there was no way to remember that now without saying to her, "I lied. I do know what it is that can stay famous when you get home. It's love."
She looked at him and smiled. "Thanks for saying it."
"You're welcome," he said. And there was nothing to do then but to say goodbye to Alice Peru and go home.