Authors: Sarah Daltry
Tags: #romance, #contemporary women, #sarah daltry, #series, #teen and young adult, #jack and lily, #coming of age, #marriage, #wedding, #college, #flowering, #new adult, #growing up, #contemporary romance
He’s quiet while we eat, but it’s not the same quiet as when we are together as a family. Usually, my dad’s quiet because my mom is talking; now, we’re both just relaxed. Over the past few years, I’ve tried to understand my mom more, and she has tried to be less critical, but she and I will never be as close as I am with my father.
My dad takes out another handful of chips and laughs. “I’m not supposed to eat these, you know.”
“I won’t tell.”
“I know. I’m not really supposed to eat any of it. We’re on diets.”
“You look fine,” I tell him.
He shrugs. “We’re on diets,” he repeats and that’s just how it is.
I love my parents, but I don’t want to be like this with Jack when we’re older. I don’t want to tell him who he is and what he does; I just want him to be my friend. I want him to be everything he is. There is nothing I want to change, and I hope that I don’t grow up and start finding things I do.
“Dad, have you and Mom always been like this?” I ask.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s just... she’s kinda in charge. I just don’t want to be like that with Jack. I’m so grateful to him. But is this what comes next?”
My dad puts down his sandwich. “It’s not a bad thing, hon. I know, for you, we’re just Mom and Dad, and you don’t want to know about how we got here or what your own journey will be like, but you learn, over time, what’s important. If she wants me to eat more spinach, she wants it because, now that you and Jon are out of the house, we are just starting again. We were young once, too, you know. But we raised you two and there was work and the house and everything else. She wants me to be alive for what’s next for us.”
“I guess I didn’t think of it like that,” I admit. “But I don’t know. I can’t really picture you and Mom being like me and Jack – or us ever being like you.”
He laughs and picks up his sandwich again. “You’re still a kid, Lily. I didn’t think I’d be here, either.”
After we finish eating, I do the dishes and he waters the plants around the house before coming in and joining me in the sunroom. It’s warmer than normal for April and he opens a few windows before sitting down. “So, we need a song?” he asks.
I nod and grab the planner Jack bought me. I made a few notes, although they’re mostly illegible since I have made a mess of the thing. I also take out my iPod and headphones, so my dad can listen to the songs I picked. My parents own one of those antique radios that don’t actually play music.
Sometimes it’s as if my entire family was transported to this world from another era. I like it, though. There is a quiet and comfortable nostalgia in my house. Nothing changes for us. We still have the same furnishings we had growing up. My parents have the same jobs. My mom still keeps bread in the microwave, because she thinks microwavable food is cheating. It’s completely different from my apartment with Jack, with its mismatched furniture, endless processed meals, and extensive gaming setup, but it’s nice to know that it’s here. And that it will always be here.
My dad listens intently to the four songs I picked, carefully paying attention to the lyrics. I love that he takes it so seriously. It’s just a song, but it means a lot to me. I look up to my father. I guess he’d be a little ashamed of me for the way I am in private with Jack, but at the same time, my dad is the reason I feel so open to loving Jack. Since I was a little girl, there was nothing I could do wrong. While my mom needed structure and had a plan, my dad was happy just to see me happy. I quit dancing a month before my recital in the first year, mostly because I hated dancing and hated the other girls, but it was devastating to my mother. She wanted to be a dance mom. She was so excited about the costumes and helping with the backstage stuff. She was even more upset when I asked Jon to teach me to play baseball. I guess it was a good thing that I sucked, but my dad bought me a mitt and brought me to Cooperstown and wrote letters to my favorite players for me to get signed cards, even though it ended up being a short-lived phase. He has always been completely behind everything I’ve done, and I feel like I only started to appreciate it over the last few years.
“I like this one,” he says and he gets up and hands me one of the ear buds. It’s Loudon Wainwright III’s “Daughter,” and my dad paused the song at the line, “Every time she fell, I caught her.”
I want to cry, but it will be weird, and I suppose I can save all my tears for my wedding. He looks at me, smiles, and then takes off the iPod and makes sundaes. I think he’s feeling a little sad, too.
don’t think I’m comfortable with it,” Alana says. It’s basically the first thing she says, other than bumming a cigarette from me. Since I’m doing my best to quit, she grimaces when she lights it and half the shit falls out.
“You should quit,” I advise her. “I hear they’re bad for you.”
“Yeah, fuck yourself.” She smokes it anyway, so I suppose it’s good enough. “Really, though, I don’t know about it. I feel like maybe it would be a bigger show of respect to acknowledge its absence.
I watch her smoke, but I fight the urge. I’ve been so good at cutting back on everything that’s damaged me. Of course, Alana and I are standing in front of a bar, but I need to drive to Lily’s parents’ house after and I already promised myself that it was only one drink.
“Besides, we would just end up in an argument about the song,” Alana continues. “Anything I picked would be too popular for your taste, and then you’d just get moody and eventually, either you’d pick a song behind my back that you wanted in the first place anyway but wanted me to guess you wanted, or you’d say it was fine, pick my song, and then bitch about it until we are eighty.”
“We’re not in high school anymore,” I argue.
“No, but it’s who we are.” She stabs out her cigarette and opens the door to the bar. “Let’s go have a drink, so I can tell you how much I’m freaking out and you can tell me all about how perfect your fucking life is now.”
“Yeah, minus the fact that my best fucking friend won’t dance with me at my wedding.”
“Trust me. Once you see her in that dress, you’re not going to remember anything else.” The way she says it is a strange combination of awe and bitterness. Alana and I are still close, but not as close as we were. Most of it is the physical distance, with her being at school and us being up north, but there’s still an unspoken tension based on the fact that I abandoned her. Twice. And she still comes running when I call. I’ll spend the rest of my life making it up to her, but the past is, as Lily tells me all the time, unchangeable. All I can do now is try to be better for her. For them both.
“When does Dave come back exactly?” I shouldn’t miss him, since he’s been gone more in the past few years than he’s been home, but it’s hard not to think that every time he leaves could possibly be the last. When he was home a few months ago, after he told us he was done soon, he pulled me aside and told me that he’d made Alana his next of kin, in the event that he died. What scared me was that the conversation wasn’t hypothetical; he had been told countless times that it was only a matter of when. I guess we all die, and they were right, but we are still too young to be thinking about that.
“Twenty-three days. You know I don’t sleep anymore?” she asks.
She finishes her drink and stares at the empty glass like it should magically refill itself. I’m not helping her get drunk, though. We both agreed to get better, even if we’re a mess, and I’m not contributing to her weakness.
“I used to sleep. I woke up every night, screaming, with images of him dead flashing through my head. Now, I nap in small doses when I have to, but I can’t dream. All I see is losing him, Jack. What if he doesn’t come home?”
“He will,” I tell her, even though I know no such thing. He doesn’t talk about what he does, what he sees, even where he is. She hears from him in sporadic bursts and then goes weeks with nothing. But I need to believe he will come home because, between the three of us, there has just been enough misery. It’s time for something else.
“Before he left last time, he mentioned getting married. I don’t know. Yeah, you’re all about it now, but doesn’t it feel like too much sometimes?”
I shake my head. “Honestly, I can’t imagine a life that doesn’t include Lily. I don’t like to think about the formality of it all, but then again, she was happy to run away and elope. I want this for her. I want to be what she deserves, to give her the life she was supposed to have, but it’s just a word for something that I could never stop feeling.”
“Yeah,” she says, nodding. “I guess I get that. It’s hard to believe we deserve it, though, isn’t it? I mean, I always thought you did, but I know you know what I mean.”
“Maybe it’s time. Why do those people get the monopoly on it? Why do they get to have everything, while you and I have to bear their pain, as well as our own? Why the fuck don’t we get to have a little ourselves?”
I don’t want to get angry, but when I think about it, I can’t help the rage that I’ve been burying. Sometimes, the world just seems so fucking unfair, but I try to think about Lily. I try to think about her words, about the number of times she has promised that she chose me, that our future is certain. When we lie in bed in the morning, especially on the weekends when there is nowhere to be, it feels like it’s my turn. Watching Lily brush her teeth, seeing her socks balled up in the laundry bin, even finding chocolate bars stashed behind the trail mix she claims to eat, it all tells me that I’m entitled to her. Now I just need to believe it.
“Some days, I don’t even recognize myself,” Alana admits. “I made all these changes and I thought it was good, and I guess it is, mostly, but fuck. I don’t know. Where did my life go?”
“Rich asked me to cover an investor meeting before the wedding,” I tell her, which isn’t really an answer. “I said yes immediately, but all week, I had these moments when I realized... I’m a guy who goes to meetings with investors. Me. The fucking train wreck. I have a job. Last night, I renewed my car registration and paid the electric bill. These are normal things, right? So why the fuck do they feel like they’re things other people do? I didn’t think I would even be alive at this point. Now I think about signing up for a 401(k) plan. Part of me is overwhelmed by how... well, how fucking happy I am about it. Because I made it, you know? This stupid shit people take for granted? I didn’t think I was ever getting a shot at it, and now I do. But another part of me kind of wants to punch myself in the face.”
Alana laughs. “I miss you, Jack. You’re the only person on this entire planet who makes sense to me.”
on looks displeased. He’s carrying bags of curtains and my mom is giving him instructions about how to keep them from fading, but if there was a way to make someone violent about curtains, she’s close.
“You guys have fun?” I ask, because although I know the answer, the easiest route is to stop my mom’s instructional rampage.
“Don’t think you’re off the hook,” she replies. “As soon as you get back from your honeymoon, we are doing something about that disaster of an apartment.”
Jon smirks and carries the bags to the living room. Then, he goes to find my father. I’m left with my mom, therefore, and my distraction only focused her energies on me. “Also,” she continues, “I need to get the invites sent to the calligrapher by next weekend and we’re still waiting on meal choices. You and Jack have the tasting Sunday?”
I nod. “Yeah, and the meeting with the minister afterward.”
“Oh, good. I was going to ask. Have you spoken with her yet?” The way she says
is unintentionally critical, but she can’t comprehend how we decided to go with a Unitarian minister. Especially a female one. According to my mother, that’s a “hippie church” and she has repeatedly told me people expect a normal wedding. Nothing weird. I haven’t even mentioned that Jack already requested that all the readings be from literature, not the Bible. Although my parents aren’t even religious, there are rules and there are standards. My mom’s head will pop when she discovers we’re having one of those “free-for-all” weddings, as she calls them. But when she gets on me, I remind her that the wedding is inside the castle and I’m not going barefoot on the beach, which was what I wanted. Most of what I wanted has been vetoed several times over.
“I have. We just need to wrap up the readings and selections, and the vows.”
“Oh, okay. Hold on.” She slips into their office and comes back with a packet, complete with giant binder clip. “I made copies of several passages recommended online at the top wedding sites. There are notes, too, and highlights about what I like.”
“Thanks, Mom.” The good thing about the service is that she will find out what it’s like when it happens. And she can deal with it then.
“Did you and Dad have dinner?” she asks.
She raises an eyebrow. “Did you order pizza? I told him-”
“No, we had sandwiches.”
“Sandwiches?!” Sandwiches are a food eaten by people all over the world, but I get the impression I could have said chocolate-covered fire ants and that would have been more acceptable. “Thomas!”
My mother goes running into the sunroom, where I hear the word
being tossed around like I came home with herpes. Eventually, my father and Jon enter the kitchen, followed by my mom, who silently points to the table, where they sit. She says nothing and gets to work on dinner. I’m full, and I like bologna, but I sit, too, because that’s how it goes.
She’s in the middle of marinating chicken – at nearly eight o’clock – when Jack arrives. I consider making a break for it and getting out of the house, but he probably hasn’t eaten and we might as well have the food. She’s not going to be thwarted anyway.
“Hi, Jack. I’m just making supper. Have a seat. It shouldn’t be more than 40 minutes,” she tells him.
He sits, looking at me for clarification, and I mouth, “We had sandwiches.” Jack looks at my father sympathetically and we wait for chicken.