I never thought about it that way. Rachel just always seemed as if she was jealous or unhappy being single. I didn’t realize that perhaps it was the way the rest of us considered her singleness that really bothered her.
“I want to meet someone,” Rachel says. “Don’t get me wrong.”
“But if that doesn’t happen until I’m forty or fifty, I think I’m OK with that. I have other things I’m interested in.”
“And if you don’t have kids?”
“I don’t want to have kids,” Rachel says. “That’s the other thing.” She’s never said this before. We don’t talk about it that often, I guess. And I suppose I never asked her. I just assumed that she did. How hetero-normative of me. “I love kids. I’m excited for Charlie’s kid. I’m excited for when you have kids. But you know? I just haven’t ever felt that longing to have my own. I look at new moms sometimes, and I immediately feel stressed out for them. I saw this family the other day at the mall. It was these two parents and then these two kids. The boy was a teenager, the girl was maybe ten, and I just . . . I felt this very clear sense of ‘I don’t want that.’ ”
“Well, you might,” I say. In my head, I’m thinking that she’ll feel it once she meets someone, and then I realize, Jesus Christ, it’s so ingrained in me that I can’t get it out of my brain, even when I’m consciously trying to get it out of my brain. Marriage and kids. Marriage and kids. Marriage and kids.
“Sure,” she says. “I might. But listen, you and Charlie, you want that normal family life so bad. You wanted it so bad you met someone at nineteen and never looked back. Charlie wants it so bad that he’s going to marry a woman he barely knows.” She shrugs. “I don’t need it.”
My sister and I are alike in so many ways, and it is that similarity where I have always found comfort. But the truth is, we are two distinct women, with two distinct sets of wants and needs. This basic difference between us was always there. I just never saw it, because I was never looking.
“I’m really glad this came up, actually,” I say. “I’m happy you said all of this.”
“Thanks,” she says. “I think it’s been on my mind for a while.”
“I forget sometimes that you’re not me,” I say. “You seem so much like me that I just assume you think all the same things I do.”
“We’re still pretty similar,” she says. “You know me better than I know myself sometimes.”
“Yeah,” she says, nodding. “I have an appointment with a bank on Tuesday.”
“I’m looking into a small-business loan.”
“For the bakery idea?”
She smiles, embarrassed. “Yeah.”
I high-five her. “Oh, my God! This is such great news!”
“You don’t think it’s a disaster waiting to happen?”
“I really don’t. I swear. I really think you would be so good at it.”
“I was thinking of doing a line of sugar-free stuff, too, seeing as how the sugar cookies went over so well.”
I laugh. “Finally, Grandma’s cancer does us a favor.”
Rachel nods and laughs. “I knew it would be good for something!”
We move on to talk about other things, but on the car ride home, one thing just keeps playing over and over in my mind. You want that normal family life so bad. You wanted it so bad you met someone at nineteen and never looked back.
I couldn’t see it until she said it, and yet now it seems so blazingly clear that it’s all I can see. It’s amazing the things that have been written across your forehead for so long that even when you’re looking in the mirror, you don’t see them.
At home, there’s an envelope waiting in my mailbox from one Mrs. Lois Spencer of San Jose, California.
Here they are, sweetheart. A few of Ask Allie’s columns. Think about it. Love, Grandma.
She printed them out from the Internet and mailed them to me. I laugh to myself as I look them over and then stick them in a box of miscellaneous stuff. I tell myself that I’ll sit down and read them soon. Then David calls asking if he can come over, and I say yes. I jump into the shower.
By the time I’m dressed and dry, I’ve already forgotten where I put the Ask Allie articles. They simply aren’t on my mind. I’m not thinking about what advice I need to fix my marriage. I’m not reflecting on what my grandmother thinks of what I’m doing.
I’m not reflecting at all, really.
I’m starting to just live.
In January, I help Charlie move into his apartment with Natalie. The entire family goes out for a big Italian dinner at Buca di Beppo, the plastic checkered tablecloths and old-timey photos reminding us all of when we came here as kids, when Mom would order two extra bowls of pasta and tell us it was our lunches for the week.
In February, I help Rachel put together her business prospectus. I help her research possible bakery locations. I help her learn the ins and outs of applying for a small-business loan. She asks me if I’d be willing to cosign, and I tell her I can’t think of another person I’d be ready to vouch for more than her.
In March, Charlie and Natalie decide to have the wedding at the house of one of Natalie’s friends in Malibu. Their house apparently backs up onto the beach. I determine that Natalie must have obscenely rich friends. The save-the-dates go out. The caterer is hired. Charlie’s only job is to choose a DJ. So that won’t be done until June.
By the beginning of April, Natalie is in her third trimester. And my mom is struggling with how to handle her relationship with Bill. He thinks they should move in together. She does not.
And meanwhile, I sneak texts with David. I open my door to him late at night. We call each other when we need a friendly ear or want an understanding touch. I like David a lot, and I know he likes me. But he’s still in love with the woman who cheated on him. And I . . . am in no position to be loving anyone. So we are good to each other and good for each other, and we are, essentially, that thing I’ve heard about from teenagers: friends with benefits. And there is something freeing about having sex with a man you don’t see a future with. It’s all butterflies and orgasms. There’s no politics or unspoken words. And when he’s going too fast, you just say, “Slower.”
When Mila asks me if Ryan has been writing to me, I tell her the truth. “I have no idea,” I say. “I haven’t checked in months.”
MOST OF THE TIME
Rachel, Mom, and I have been planning Natalie’s baby shower. When we asked Natalie if we could throw it for her, she seemed really overjoyed and flattered. We asked her what sort of theme she wanted or what she’d like to do, and she just said that she was sure she would love whatever we came up with. She tries so hard to be accommodating and kind, and it’s really sweet, but sometimes I want to grab her by the shoulders and say, “Tell us the truth! Do you like the color yellow?” So at least we know.
Rachel, Mom, and I are sitting at this pizza place, trying to come up with a theme, but somehow the conversation evolves—or devolves, I guess, depending on how you look at it—into whether Mom should let Bill move in.
“I just don’t think I’m ready for something like that,” my mom says, as the waiter puts our pizzas on the table. The minute it’s in front of them, both my mom and Rachel start damping their slices with napkins to soak up the grease. I just bite right into mine.
“You guys have been dating for a while now,” Rachel says.
“Yes, but right now, on the nights that he doesn’t stay with me, I miss him.”
“Right,” I say. “Which is why you would ask him to move in . . .” I’m speaking with my mouth full, which my mother normally abhors, but she’s too focused on her own problem to notice me.
“No!” my mom says. “I like missing people. You know when you call someone just to hear their voice? Or you wait all day until you can see them that night? If Bill lives with me, he stops being this person I can’t wait to see, and he becomes the man who leaves his dirty dishes in the sink.”