AN EXCERPT FROM A NOVEL
My older brother Nick died when I was seven. Car accident. I remember his laugh, and I remember the way he could pick me up like a bag of groceries. Other than that, when I think of his face, I think of pictures on our mantle. Or I think about how Mom started using dye to keep her hair blonde, or the album of baseball cards Dad has in his office.
Also, even after twelve years, Mom and Dad say pretty much every week how I remind them of Nick. Not in a sad fashion, more observational. Though to be fair, we seemed to be a lot alike. Our music tastes reside in the same ballpark, though that’s largely because his old cassettes are the foundation of what I’m into. Neither of us can deal with kale, like on a serious digestive level. No other greens are problematic.
And the two of us were always early risers. When I was younger, sleepovers were kind of weird. I was happy to have whoever over (Mom and Dad preferred the house to be filled with noise), but I’d have to know a girl pretty well to be comfortable waking up in her house two hours before everyone else. There’s something that’s, I don’t know, casually invasive about that. The parents of my friend would come downstairs and find me on the couch, wearing orange pajama pants, leafing through a book I'd pulled off of their shelf.
So when Beth walks into her living room and finds me flipping the big pages of her very expensive Picasso book, she isn’t surprised. She looks into her kitchen and sees the happy red light glowing on the coffeemaker.
“Oh, God bless you.”
“I’m a selfless person.” I take a swig from my mug.
Beth pours herself a cup. She’s wearing a t-shirt and tiny workout shorts, like me. Hers is a purple Northwestern shirt, while I’m rocking Speed Racer. Beth is a couple heads taller than me and a brunette, whereas I'm blonde, like my Mom (though without the use of any products bearing Andie MacDowell’s face, thank you very much).
We’re in her Lakeview apartment, or actually her condo, I guess. As expected, her place is swank-tastic. In Sherman, the Fields family is towards the top of the income pyramid. They’re not Kotters, but they still do well. Beth’s place seems like it’s just been taken out of the plastic wrapper. Shiny hardwood floors stretching to huge-ass windows, looking out on Lake Michigan. Shiny steel appliances in the kitchen. A bathroom even shinier than one you’d find in a five-star hotel room. Without a doubt, a great place to end up after a particularly awful trip from Logan to O’Hare.
“Where’s Gary?” Beth sets down on the massive chair across from the couch, where I’m sitting. She pulls her legs up and sips her java.
“Still unconscious, I’m afraid.” Tenderly, I close Beth’s Picasso book.
“We did go at it pretty hard.” Beth finds an empty beer bottle on the floor beside her chair. She grabs it, gets back up and walks to the counter, where an army of glass waits to be recycled.
“He’s a giant, Beth. His alcohol tolerance is maybe a quarter of what science says it should be.”
Beth floats over to the couch and sits beside me. “I like him. He seems like a big, brilliant goof.”
I swallow some coffee. “He is brilliant. Like, seriously brilliant.”
“And is tonight going to be the first time your parents meet him?”
I shake my head. “They’ve met him a couple times on their Boston visits.”
“They like him okay, then?”
“Yeah, he and my Dad are both softies, so they clicked immediately, and he’s driven enough to make Mom happy.” Outside, some sort of traffic disagreement leads to a sustained car horn, followed by profanity. “Still, it’s going to be an interesting dinner, ‘cause I might be telling them that I might be moving to California with Gary.”
As expected, Beth is agog. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Gary just finished at MIT, and pretty much the day after graduation he was offered this job at some company in San Francisco. He’s going out there, and he wants me to come with him.”
“You’ve been going out with this guy for what, a year?”
“More like ten months.”
“And you know how Blonder Woman will feel about you leaving BC.” When we were in middle school, my Mom’s zest, resilience and unrelenting work ethic led to Beth calling her “Wonder Woman.” I said she wasn’t Wonder Woman, because Diana Prince was Wonder Woman, and there couldn’t be two of them. So that’s when Beth came up with the nickname that remains to this day.
“I know. More so, I’ve sort of already told Gary it’s a go.”
“Moment of weakness, 151 was involved, best not to dwell.” I look behind me, like I’m a spy in a movie, and I’m about to pass on confidential information. “But it’s not totally a go. I mean, it’s kind of a crazy idea.”
Beth nods. “Extremely crazy.”
I see my cup is empty, so I get up and walk to the coffeemaker. “I sort of fucking hate school.”
The brew hits the inside of my mug, and the most comfortable smell in the world fills my nose. “Aspects about it are great. I’m taking a literature class that’s excellent, parts of Boston are really cool. Something pretty humbling, exciting and depressing about being around so much history.
“But I’m tired of sitting around listening to these high-paid nerds tell me stuff. And marketing just seems so… soulless. There are maybe a handful of people I’ve met in those classes who are actually decent people.”
Beth smiles at me as I sit. “So the answer is to drop out and go to the other side of the country with some dude you barely know.”
I shrug. “Or transfer.”
“Isn’t there some middle ground you could land in?” With a twirling finger, Beth indicates where she’s talking about. “Like, the literal middle of the country?”
“I’ll never live in the Midwest again,” I say. “Not in a million fucking years.”
She laughs, shakes her head and rolls her eyes simultaneously, a highly coordinated gesture I’ve seen countless times. “So today, no matter what you decide, you’re going to deliver brutal news to someone you care about.”
“Seems like that’s the half empty way to look at it.”
Beth’s gaze wanders over to the plastic CVS bag sitting on her counter, next to the empty bottles of Rolling Rock. Inside is a box with Andie MacDowell’s face on it. “And you’re still going through with that?”
She stands. “Well, let’s get it over with.”