February 26, 2009

High-Heel Hurricane

Gretchen’s Lexus SUV comes lurching forward, swerving around a row of cars in park, and shudders to a halt as it hits the curb two feet from where I sit. Oh god, I think, taking a deep breath, here we go.

I can hear Gretchen before I can see her, her usually pretty-as-bells voice ringing out like a siren from the driver’s side as soon as the door opens. “No, I said petunias, not begonias! Begonias?! Are you a freaking moron?”

Gretchen steps around the front of the car, her iPhone pressed against her ear through her thick, lacquered blonde mane. She’s wearing huge black sunglasses and a black button-down shirt tucked into the tightest skinny jeans I’ve ever seen. And her heels – her heels are ridiculous yet impressive at the same time. I can’t ever imagine wearing shoes so tall and so pointy.

“Gretchen!” Mom sings out, opening her arms.

Gretchen smiles tightly and allows herself to be engulfed by my mom’s hug, her phone still pressed to her ear. Then she pulls away and turns back to the car. “Twenty tables of eight, not 10. Ten would be a disaster. A disaster. Write that down. Ugh.” Finally, she spins around and presses the phone up against her chest. “Sorry,” she mouths, giving me a silent wave. I awkwardly wave back. Then, like a boomerang, it’s right back up against her ear.

Mom and I look at each other, and Mom shrugs and begins picking up her bags. But I can’t move. I don’t know whether to be mad or embarrassed. Random people are now shooting evil looks in Gretchen’s direction as she begins to loudly rattle off a list of guest names. I can feel my face go red. She is ridiculous. After we just came so far to see her – to help her – she can’t even hang up her phone for two seconds. This is going to be worse than I ever even imagined.

Suddenly Gretchen stops talking, and I think for a second that she finally hung up the phone. “Bonnie! Oh, Bonnie – can you do me the biggest favor ever?”

Mom hoists her last bag onto her shoulder and looks up. “Of course dear. What do you need?”

“Can you drive? I have a conference call I’m already late for. Thanks so so so much!” And before the keys that Gretchen tosses in the air even reach my mother’s hands, she slides into the passenger seat and continues her conversation.

February 23, 2009

Baggage? Check!

“See. Not too bad, right?”

Mom and I step out of the huge revolving doors of Bradley International Airport and into the hazy Connecticut sunlight. I shrug in response to her question, giving my suitcase a violent pull as it gets stuck in a sidewalk crack.

Mom smiles brightly, ignoring my glum expression. Shielding her eyes with her hand, she looks up and down the airport service road, hoping to spot Gretchen’s huge Lexus SUV. “Gor-geous weather,” she sighs. “Isn’t it?”

“It’s ok.” I plop down on top of my suitcase and pull my iPod out of my backpack. It is actually a beautiful day, with a warm breeze keeping the July heat from settling on my shoulders. However, I refuse to give Mom the satisfaction of admitting that any part of this trip is pleasurable.

We had spent the past week tiptoeing around each other, and I had been secretly hoping that she would change her mind about this unnecessary interruption to my summer vacation. But Saturday came quickly, and before I knew it we were locking up our bungalow and headed to the dreary North. Although it didn't look too dreary so far ... But still.

To show her that I was still not happy with her this morning, I had planned on giving her the silent treatment for the entire trip. Maybe even longer. But in the end, I could only keep quiet for about 10 minutes of the car ride to the airport. I broke when Mom asked me a question about “some actor Jack Efron.” I just HAD to correct her.

Now that I think about, she probably did it on purpose.

“There she is!” Mom cries suddenly, dropping her bag and waving her arms wildly. “Gretchen! Over here!”

February 17, 2009

The Latest Gossip

Connecticut? I didn’t even think you could go to Connecticut in the summer. I thought it was like closed or something.”

Katie and I are sitting on Katie’s king-sized bed in her spacious lavender bedroom, flipping through the latest issues of UsWeekly and CosmoGirl magazines. It has been two days since my blowout with Mom and we’ve barely spoken to each other since, except when Mom told me that we’d be leaving on the first plane out early Saturday morning.

“Yeah,” I say softly, turning the pages of my magazine slowly, without reading a word.

“Well that really does reek for you. It’s like, prime surfing time. Plus, you’re going to completely lose your tan. I heard somewhere that the sun is like 40 times weaker in the Northeast.” Katie tosses her magazine on the floor and rolls over onto her back, looking up at the frilly white canopy draped across her bedposts. “Your mom is lame.”

“She’s not lame, she’s just…” Lost, I’m about to say, but instead: “So anyway, what do you think about Brandon?”

“Brandon who?” Katie asks as she holds her hands palms up in the air and examines her deep purple manicure.

“Brandon Bennett.”

“Your neighbor? What do you mean, what do I think about him?” Katie flips over onto her stomach and props her chin in her hands.

“I dunno,” I shrug, looking down quickly as I begin to flip faster through the magazine’s pages.

“Ha!” Katie cries suddenly, jumping up onto her knees. “You like him!” She giggles and shoves my shoulder.

“What? No! No I don’t, don’t be stupid!” I cry, rolling my eyes dramatically, as I feel the beginnings of a flush start to creep up my neck and hit my ears. “Ew, that’s gross – he’s like my brother!”

“So, what then?”

“What do you think about him? Like, do you think he’s cute?”

Katie shrugged, her long curls falling off her shoulders. “I guess. I never thought about it. He’s not ugly. Jeez Lucy, why?”

“Well I think he kinda likes you. I think he might ask you to the School Daze.”

I wait for Katie to burst out laughing, to throw her hair over her shoulder and squeal in amusement. When she doesn’t, I look up from my magazine.

“Huh.” Katie says, her face turned toward the window. “Well,” she shrugs. “Why not? You think he’s a nice kid, and you’re my best friend. There must be something special about him.”

“Y-yeah,” I stammer. “Yeah, Brandon’s a great guy. You’ll have fun.”

“Yeah. As long as…” Katie turns to me and narrows her eyes, her gaze questioning. “Are you sure you don’t like him as, like, more than a friend?”

“I’m sure.” I say soundly. Because I am. Sure. I'm sure.

February 16, 2009

A FRESH Perspective

Lucy: For the second time today, my heart sinks into my stomach.

“What?! Why?” The only times I had been to Connecticut were for my brother’s wedding and his funeral – both memories I wish I could forget. Connecticut is a cold, snowy place with too many cows and too few beaches. It’s like going to a foreign country.

“It’s Gretchen … She’s having a really rough time with things. Andrew is a handful, and she’s still trying to keep her event planning business afloat. I think she just needs some support – just for a week or two.” Mom looks at me hopefully and grabs my hand.

“But it’s the middle of summer vacation! Who wants to be in Connecticut in the summer?” I cry, pulling my hand away from her and standing up. “Why can’t her own mother take care of her? She certainly has enough money!”

“Her parents are vacationing in Belize until September,” Mom says softly. “And besides, Gretchen is still family. You don’t quit being family when someone passes away.”

“No, you just quit being family when one person decides to up and leave to become someone else,” I mumble under my breath, my eyes cast down on the floor.

Silence. And then, “We are going to Connecticut. And that’s that.”

Mom waits until I raise my eyes to meet her own. Then she stands up and walks out of the room, closing the door behind her.

February 12, 2009


I give Mom a small smile back and nod, and she moves swiftly down the hall. I hear her answer the phone and then sing out, “Oh, Gretchen! Oh, so nice to hear from – wait, wait. Start over. What happened?”

I crane my neck around the bathroom wall and look down the hallway to where Mom stands grasping the phone to her ear in the kitchen. She hunches her body over slightly, her back to me, and is listening intently.

Inside, I cringe. Gretchen is Billy’s wife, and whenever she calls, drama ensues.

“Gretchen, please calm down. You can do this. No… yes, I know it’s difficult… no, I don’t know how… yes, I do know what it’s like….” Mom interjects occasionally in hushed tones.

Although I’m curious about what Gretchen’s dramatic story is about this time, I quickly sneak across the hall to my bedroom and quietly shut the door behind me. I do not want any part in my sister-in-law’s latest antics – especially not today.

Alone in my room, I attach my iPod to its speakers and flop back onto my bed, staring at the ceiling. Kelly Clarkson begins to sing, and I try to focus on the lyrics and not my mother’s muffled voice in the hallway.

Sighing, I roll onto my side and stare at the photos that line my nightstand – me as a 5-year-old at Disney Land perched on my father’s shoulders, a mouse-ears popsicle in my hand and my then white-blonde hair matted to the ice cream smeared across my face; a recent photo of me and Katie at the beach, our arms entwined; a family portrait snapped at Billy’s winter wedding in Connecticut, a little more than a year before he died.

I pick up the last photo and hold it inches from my face, my breath making steamy half-dollars on its glass surface. In it, my brother stands proudly in the center, a perfect white-toothed smile on his tanned face. His black hair is slicked back and gleaming, his chiseled jaw clean-shaven. Standing there in his designer tuxedo, he looks like he could be an actor arriving at the Oscar’s red carpet.

Next to him, Gretchen stands clinging to his arm, staring up at him in pure adoration. She has definitely dressed the part of the princess for her special day – a huge, billowing ball gown engulfs her tiny frame, and her beaded corset shines like a sequined beacon. Her long blonde hair is pulled into a classic bun on top of her head, surrounded by a diamond princess crown and delicate veil that trails the floor behind her.

To Billy’s left, Mom stands proudly in a flowing printed skirt and long-sleeved black top woven with strands of shimmering thread. Her right arm crosses in front of her body and her hand holds tightly to her son’s elbow. The smile on her face is enigmatic. On Gretchen’s right, my father, in the tux he wore to his own wedding 25 years before. It hangs loosely on his tall, thin frame, but his carefree stance gives him a casual elegance that somehow makes him look like a rugged James-Bond type. His strawberry blond hair has a tousled, bed-head look, and his lean, weather-beaten face wears a lopsided, yet sincere, smile.

And finally, standing almost an entire foot to my father’s right, is 9-year-old me in an oversized black velvet jumper and pink turtleneck. With my long, unruly hair pushed back off my face under a shiny pink headband, and visible runs in my white stockings betraying the rowdy game of tag I had just played with my cousins in the church basement, I look like the ugly stepsister to Gretchen’s Cinderella. Or maybe one of the little mice who runs around the castle and stirs up trouble.

Even at 9, I think, I didn’t fit in to this family.

Just then Mom raps hard on the door three times and opens it before getting a response. I quickly shove the photo underneath my pillow and sit up to face Mom, whose worried face makes me instantly anxious.

“What is it?”

Mom reaches over and turns off my iPod. She sits down on the edge of the bed. After taking a deep breath, she says, “We have to go to Connecticut.”

February 8, 2009

The Fledgling Reporter

“Ooh, what’s that?”

I drop the large Styrofoam container of leftovers onto the kitchen table in front of Mom. “Lobster ravioli’s in some kind of cream and truffle sauce. I couldn’t eat it all. You can have it.”

“Mmmm, thanks Luc. I was just going to make some soup or something.”

As Mom cracks open the box of leftovers, I make my rounds through our small bungalow-styled house, flipping on every light switch. When I had gotten home to a pitch-black house, I thought my mom must be out. Instead, she was sitting in near darkness at the kitchen table, watching the news on a small portable television.

“Did you do anything today?” I call from the bathroom as I pull a large bottle of Aloe Vera out from under the sink and begin to apply the cooling gel to my cracked red nose.

I can hear Mom start up the microwave. “Not really. I did some research, I watched that new documentary on the Miami public school systems … and I talked to John Bainbridge.”

A glob of Aloe Vera slides through my fingertips and plops onto the bathroom counter. “Oh yeah?” I call out sweetly, trying to sound nonchalant.

Mom suddenly sticks her head around the corner of the bathroom door, her eyebrows raised. “Yes, I did.”

“That’s nice.” I focus intently on evenly spreading the gel across my cheeks and hairline, ignoring Mom’s prying gaze. Finally, I give up.

“Oh, all right!” I sigh, wiping my hands on my shorts. “I threw out his note.” I plant my hands on my hips and stare into Mom’s smirking face. “So what?”

Mom raises her eyebrows, but her eyes are smiling.

“Oh fine! I’m sorry!” I cry, exasperated. “The guy just creeps me out a little, that’s all.”

“Lucy, stop being a drama queen. John is a perfectly nice guy,” Mom says. I scowl. Pretty soon my face is going to stick this way.

“Lucy…” She cups her hands under my chin. “He’s very helpful. And he’s just my friend. I need a friend right now.”

“You never even met him! He lives across the country and writes stupid articles about dog fashion shows and Connecticut’s largest pumpkin patch.”

Mom smiles and gently tugs at a loose strand of my hair. “Well, you’re the one who keeps telling me to read the HAPPY stories in the papers. What could be happier than a black lab dressed as a pirate, or a poodle in a tutu?”

I can’t help but laugh, and Mom pulls me close and gives me a tight squeeze. “Mom, I love you.” My voice sounds muffled in her bathrobe.

“Love you too, Lulu,” Mom replies, using my childhood nickname. Sighing, she takes a step back and grabs my hands. “Trust me when I say that things with me are changing for the better…”

The shrill sound of the telephone ringing interrupts her mid-sentence, and she smiles. “Let me get that.”

February 7, 2009

What Are Friends For?

Lucy: My stomach drops. “Huh?” is all I can manage.

“I mean, I know it’s stupid, but I know Katie likes those kind of things, and now that she broke up with Jason Keller, I just thought…” Brandon looks at his feet.

I scowl, shaking my head. “Wait, what? You and Katie? That doesn’t make sense!”

"Why not?” Brandon says, suddenly looking up and scowling. “You don’t think I’m good enough for her?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” I huff, rummaging in my bag for my keys, or my cell phone, or something to keep me from looking at him. “It’s just… you don’t have anything in common! And she’s never been that nice to you anyway, and, well, you don’t even dance!” I sputter, as my bag slips out of my hands and a handful of change, lip balm and sunscreen cascades onto the steps.

I bend down and begin scooping up everything in my arms. Why do I feel so angry all of a sudden?

Brandon squats down to help. We’re both silent for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” I say finally. “You are good enough for Katie.” I stand up. “But maybe she’s not good enough for you.”

He drops a few nickels and quarters into my bag. “Well, help me find out. Ask her what she thinks about me.”

I raise an eyebrow, then sigh. “Fine. But I’m not getting involved. And don’t cry to me when she gets back with Jason in a week.”

A wide smile spreads across his face, and he puts his hand on my elbow. “You rock, Luc. You really are the best.”

I smile tightly. “Yeah. I know.”

February 5, 2009

The Boy Next Door

“Hey! Hey Luc!”

Lucy: I stop trying to open the front door of my house while balancing a Styrofoam container of leftovers in my arms and look up to see Brandon Bennett bounding down the sidewalk in my direction.

“Bye Lucy! Call me later!” Katie calls out of the open passenger window of Mrs. Heeley’s black Range Rover as it reverses out of our short gravel driveway. I wave goodbye as Brandon hops up onto the step next to me. He watches the Range Rover disappear down the street.

“Hi! What’s up?”

“Oh…nothing.” Brandon – who is usually pretty outgoing and, well, goofy – suddenly looks at his feet, pushing his wavy brown hair back out of his eyes. “Um, what’s up?”

I narrow my eyes and peer at him sideways. “I just asked you that. Brandon, what’s going on?” Brandon sighs loudly and leans against the step’s wrought-iron railing.

“Jeez, this is weird, but…” He begins picking at a loose thread in the seam of his navy blue polo t-shirt. Wearing frayed cargo shorts and Reef sandals, he looks just like every other fourteen-year-old boy I know. Only his hair sets him apart – while others boys have started cutting their hair short and spiking it up with globs of gel, Brandon’s unruly mess of hair falls to his chin, and he’s constantly tugging it back behind his ears.

I wait to hear what could be so incredibly “weird” for him to tell me. Since before I can remember, he’s been telling me everything – from when he confessed to opening all of his Christmas presents a week early and got me to help him tape them back together to when he secretly had a crush on the pink Power Ranger. Brandon's family has lived next door since I was two years old, and although I would never tell Katie, he's been my best friend ever since.

“Well I know it’s stupid and we always skip it and go for pizza instead, but you know that dance they always have at the beginning of the school year? The School Daze Social or whatever?”

I can see Brandon’s cheeks flush through his mane of hair, and my heart stops. It’s like someone tightens a belt around my entire chest, and I simply forget to breathe. But, why?

“I was thinking about it, and I was just wondering…”

Brandon finally looks up, and his green eyes seem to waver for a second. The belt gets tighter.

“Yeah?” I gulp. I can feel my face turn bright red and am instantly embarrassed. Why am I acting like an idiot?

Brandon takes a deep breath, and his words fall out of his mouth like a bag of marbles. “Do you think Katie would go with me?”