“My family . . . we’re not the Brady Bunch, but everyone’s always been all there, if you get what I’m saying.”
I think I may throw up. “Emory’s all there.”
“C’mon, Gwen. Your aunt Gules is a nutcase, but she’s not . . .” He’s been sitting straight but now seems to deflate a little. “Not like your brother. No one we know is like your brother. I just don’t know how the hell this happened.”
“Do you know how many things have to go right to make a perfect baby, Dad?” I hold out my hands, settle each finger into the next, slotting them both together. “It all has to—”
His hand closes on mine, rough from work, freckled from the sun. “No, I don’t. I don’t know that sort of thing. I don’t want you to know either, for Chrissake. Just stay away from all that. I only know your brother is never going to get better.
There’s always going to be something. Ben’s getting on. Your mother takes crap care of herself. Every time I turn around Nic is working on his body or out messing around with Vivien.
With plans to light out for God knows how many years after that. That leaves you and me, pal.”
“Everybody helps with Em,” I say—although lately it’s mostly been Grandpa and me—and my voice is choky, hardly recognizable. “What’s different now?”
“Castle’s. I gotta start doing breakfasts. Put in more outside tables. All costs money. I don’t have extra.”
My knuckles are white around my fork. “Nic’s extra? Or would that be Emory?” I look over at my little brother, his hair sticking up in front because there’s a bit of syrup in it, kicking his foot in time to “We’re a Couple of Misfits.”
Dad scrapes back his chair, shifts over to stroke the back of my brother’s neck. Em tips his neck back, leans his head against Dad’s open palm.
Dad stares at me over his shoulder. “No, he’s not extra.
Screw my life.”
I am a huge cliché.
I am a teenage girl at the mall.
I am a teenage girl at the mall trying on bathing suits.
I am a teenage girl at the mall trying on bathing suits even though she has a perfectly good one from last year that fits fine.
Worst of all, I am a teenage girl at the mall trying on bathing suits even though she has a perfectly good one from last year that fits fine and hating how she looks in every single one.
It doesn’t help that I am also a teenage girl who baked two batches of sugar cookies and a pan of congo bars last night as a chaser for dinner with Dad. I’m trying not to think about how few leftovers there were this morning. Nic must have scarfed some when he got in late, right?
Aren’t these stores supposed to want to make us look good?
Then what’s up with the cheapo overhead lighting that high-lights every single flaw and creates a few extras for good measure?
Cliché #5: I am a teenage girl with body issues.
Which get worse in bathing suits. (#6) And I’m doing this for a boy. (#7) Well, not because he asked or anything. Not that he had
time to do anything but blush after I blurted, “Were you wearing anything under there?” and then did a bat-out-of-hell from his apartment. But Spence must have passed on the reason for my epically awkward visit to the Field House, because this morning Grandpa Ben came in from his early morning walk.
“I met the young yard boy getting to work. He had trouble starting the mower, so I showed him the tricks. He said he would tutor Emory in the swimming today at three.”
Did he say anything else? Did he mention me? Did he . . . Yes, right, absolutely. He lined up the tutoring, then said, “By the way, Mr. Cruz, I think you should know that I have reason to suspect your granddaughter was picturing me naked.”
I’ve got a perfectly adequate bathing suit but it’s a one-piece and black and bears a distinct resemblance to Mrs. E.’s beachwear. I suspect dressing exactly like an octogenarian is a fashion don’t when you’re seventeen. On the beach. With a gorgeous boy.
Who’s simply giving swimming lessons to your brother.
Out of the goodness of his heart.
I wheedled the use of Dad’s truck out of him, saying I needed it to take Emory to speech. Though, really, it was more that I felt he owed me one after last night’s bleak lecture, stark as black-and-white headlines on a newspaper. Your brother =
your future. No amount of sugar, butter, and flour can quite get the taste of that out of my mouth. Then Grandpa wanted to come along because there’s almost always a few yard sales happening on Saturdays in Maplecrest.
Which brings me to the non-clichéd part of all this.
“Guinevere! Your brother has lost his patience with this store
and I am losing it with him. Have you gotten what you need?”
Yes, my grandfather is right outside the changing rooms.
Also . . . my little brother.
“Not yet!” I call.
I can hear Grandpa move away, trying to dicker down the price of a cast-iron frying pan. “You cannot mean to charge so much for this. It’s brand-new. It hasn’t been seasoned yet. It will take years of cooking in it and wiping down with the olive oil to be worth the price you are asking.”
Then I hear him calling, alarmed, for Emory, who I know must be doing his I’m-bored-in-this-store routine, hiding in the center of those circular racks of clothes until Grandpa spots his feet.
I’ve tried on four tankinis. I think I read once in one of Vivien’s magazines that, like, ninety percent of the guys on the planet hate tankinis. Which can’t be right. I mean, I’m cer-tain men herding goats in Shimanovsk don’t care one way or another. And if they include the men who want every part of a woman except her eyes covered, that’s unfairly skewing the percentages and— I reexamine the pile. No, and no, and Jesus God, let me for-get how that one looked.
“Almost done,” I call feebly.
Forget it. I’ll just wear the black one-piece. It’s not like it’s a date. I mean, he told me about it through my grandfather.
I wonder how long it took him to stop blushing. When I left, throwing some excuse about Fabio over my shoulder, I heard him come out from his bedroom and Spence ask, “What happened to your face?”
Outside there’s a commotion and a “You can’t come in here!” and Grandpa Ben saying “Acalme-se, ” and thrusting this bikini in through the side of the curtain.