“Not every child likes being part of a team.” Gus remembered well how Sabrina and Aimee fought when they were younger.
Gary nodded. “Maybe they want to play a new position,” he insisted. “And that’s what we’re doing: figuring out how we can find our places in the kitchen. When it’s time to start, start at the beginning: let’s share our favoritechildhood memories.”
Gus pursed her lips with displeasure.
“Making gazpacho with my
,” said Carmen, eyeballing Gus as she spoke. Challenging her.
“Gus, what about you?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “It was a long time ago.”
“Don’t try that lazy ‘I’m too old’ garbage on me, Gus,” said Gary. “You’re hardly geriatric.”
The Andy Griffith Show
,” she said finally. “I watched it with my cousin when she babysat.”
“Did you have a favorite episode?”
“When Aunt Bea got her own television cooking program and Opie and Andy struggled to make their own dinner.” She frowned. “But then Aunt Bea gave it all up simply because she felt she had to be home.”
Aimee let out a snort.
“Did you always want to have your own cooking show?” asked Troy.
“No, I wanted to be a photographer when I was a college student,” Gus said. “I wanted to be Margaret Bourke-White and travel all over. But I liked to cook. I always enjoyed exotic flavors.”
“Thank you, Gus, for honoring the circle,” said Gary, much to her chagrin.“What’s your favorite memory from childhood, Troy—and no more TV answers. We’re not going to discover that the most important thing we share is a deep attachment to
The Brady Bunch
. That much can certainly be assumed.”
“I liked apple season at my parents’ farm,” he said. “No, wait—I liked to
apples. I recall that I resented the picking part.”
The facilitator consulted his clipboard. “And now you have a fruit vendingcompany,” he said, tapping with his marker. “Is everyone seeing the connections?”
“I had a Play-Doh restaurant kit,” piped up Oliver, though Gus was quite confident he was pulling one over on Gary.
“There we go again!”
“Pong was my favorite arcade game,” Hannah shouted, her cheeks burning.She was never a good one for fibs.
“Shazam!” shouted Gary.
“Are you expecting me to say I liked counting Monopoly money or runninga lemonade stand?” Aimee was openly scornful, which embarrassed Gus. She didn’t like Gary, either, but there was such a thing as discretion. Typically she didn’t have to worry about her eldest in that regard.
“I’m the economist,” her daughter explained to Gary. “And my sister, the mess monster who could never pick up her clothes—and still can’t—has turned into an interior decorator who specializes in minimalist designs. Guess the two of us just shot your theory all to hell, huh, Gare?”
“Sabrina, do you agree?”
“I dunno.” Sabrina had barely been participating, not that Gus blamed her. The entire morning had been like living in
The Twilight Zone
with Gary Rose as the host. “I guess when I was a kid I liked hanging out with my dad. He played games with us.”
“What sort of games, Sabrina?” asked Gary.
"Cards and board games,” she said. “He had a bowl of candy on his desk.”
Aimee’s face was an angry mask. “That was grandpa who had a bowl of candy, you idiot. You barely remember Dad.”
Aimee addressed the group. “She was seven years old when he died,” she said. “She doesn’t recall anything. It all went over her head.”
“I do so remember him.” Sabrina could hear her voice, could hear the childishness of her phrasing. She felt diminished, as she often did when Aimee took her on, and she felt angry, which always made her cry. She hated that: the way the sheer boiling frustration set her off. It was humiliating.
“Oh, not the waterworks,” Aimee said. “That melodrama is so ten years ago. You’ve always been overemotional, and frankly, I’m sick of it. It sucks all the oxygen out of the room. There are other people who need to breathe around here, too.”
“I miss Dad,” said Sabrina, betrayed by her slick cheeks. “Is that some sort of crime?”
“He died almost twenty years ago, and it’s not like you see me crying. Dry.” Aimee patted her face. “Still dry. No tears here. That’s because what’s done is done. Move on.”
“If you were so good at moving on, you wouldn’t be so angry all the time,” Sabrina pointed out.
“You just breeze in and out, don’t you?” said Aimee. “Happy little baby Sabrina. Wanting everyone to look after her.”
“She don’t look so happy to me,” piped up Carmen.
Oh, God. The sense of mild embarrassment that Gus had had all morningwas blossoming quickly into outright horror. Private things, she believed, were better kept that way. Within the family.
“That’s enough, girls,” interrupted Gus. “This has nothing to do with
Eat Drink and Be
, and I can assure you, no one here is interested.” The rapt faces of her colleagues said otherwise but the rest of them had better mannersthan to speak up.
“Tough stuff with the family, Gus?” Gary asked, his face thoughtful. She stared at his pen, just daring him to make some notes.
“No, we’re quite fine,” she said. “A little overtired and cranky, perhaps, but
don’t feel fine,” Sabrina said, staring down her sister.
“It’s not your own personal tragedy,” Aimee said quietly. “It didn’t just happen to you.”
“Aimee, let’s not upset your sister,” said Gus, more sharply than she’d intended.
“Quit coddling her,” Aimee replied. “We’ve been tiptoeing around her for way too long, if you ask me.”
“No one asked you,” Gus said. As usual, she couldn’t bear to see her most sensitive child upset and the familiar reflex to soothe kicked in. “Sabrina, dear, why don’t you switch seats with your sister and come sit next to me?”
She very much wanted to get things back on track, get Gary the facilitatorback to coaching them through renditions of the hokey-pokey or somethingequally frivolous.
“No,” said Aimee. The rest of the group, even Carmen, who exulted in defying and tormenting Gus, squirmed in their seats. It wasn’t like her, Aimee knew, to resist but she was just so tired of making everything better for Sabrina. We could all be as happy-go-lucky if everyone was picking up the pieces behind us. And it’s not like anyone was handing out medals for it.
“Aimee!” hissed Gus. She heard a loud rip of paper from across the room and knew immediately that Hannah was opening a bag of candy. The crinklingsound told her the drug of choice today was caramels.
They were making everyone anxious.
“I’ll switch,” said Troy, who was sitting on Gus’s other side. He was already out of his seat.
“No,” said Gus, in a tone that left no room for discussion. “I want Aimee and Sabrina to switch.” She could hear the collective intake of breath, the furtive unwrapping coming from Hannah’s direction. Troy hovered for a moment, then sat, then stood up again. Gus studiously ignored Gary, knowinghe was watching her every move.
“I am not giving up my seat to her,” Aimee said. “I refuse.”
“What are you doing, behaving this way?” Gus spoke in a low voice, only to Aimee, without turning her head toward her.
“I like my chair,” said Aimee. “You’re not even looking at me.” She sounded sulky, so unlike herself.
“You’re a grown woman.”
“Sabrina’s an adult, too.”
“Aimee, really, just move for your sister. It’s no big deal.”
“No!” Aimee stood up and shouted. “No! Why are you always like this? What happened to
“Can I be excused?” It was Troy, still standing, a look of alarm on his face. “I, uh, need to ... go. Uh, to the restroom.”
“I could use some air myself,” said Oliver.
“Me, too,” mumbled Hannah, doing more caramel chewing than talking.
“Me three.” Well, it had to be even worse than it felt when even Carmen wasn’t enjoying the spectacle, thought Gus. She was mortified.
“Okay, everyone, there’s a lot going on here,” said Gary, making the time-outsignal with his hands. “We’re going to take a group break and meet up again later, at two PM in the conference room here. Grab some lunch, take a walk, have a talk. Lots of talking, people.”
Oliver approached Gus, looking concerned. “Want to join me for a little stroll?”
She shook her head. “No, no, I can’t. It appears to be time for a Simpson family meeting. I want to meet upstairs with my girls.”
There was no conversation in the elevator: just three women riding in stony silence. Aimee and Sabrina followed their mother to her room, which had seemed so spacious earlier but now felt cramped and uncomfortable. Gus’s cell phone, which she’d left in her room during the morning’s festivities,gave out a chirp to let her know she had a message. She ignored it.
“Sit down,” she said. “We can order up some lunch.”
But Aimee was pacing the patch of carpet near the bathroom.
“Aimee, please sit,” implored Gus.
“You don’t have to control everything, Mom! If I want to sit, I’ll sit.”
“What’s all this?” Gus was genuinely confused. “I always let both of you do whatever you want.”
? That’s the problem.” Aimee ran her fingers through her brown hair and let out a groan of frustration. “We’re not little kids here. Or, I’m not, anyway.”
“Why are you so pissed off? I’m the one she’s smothering.” Sabrina sat cross-legged on the bed, her arms folded. “You’ve always been a miserable bitch, Aimee. You’re the anti-joy.”
“No, you’re the one who’s always running over to Mom, taking up all of her time. You suck the oxygen out of every room you’re in,” said Aimee. “I’m sick of it. Aren’t you sick of it?” She turned her attention to Gus, who was trying to sneak a peek at her cell, which had continued to beep. What was odd was that most of the people who would call on her personal cell phone were already at the resort with her.
“I don’t understand what’s going on with the two of you or why it’s comingup now,” Gus said. “Is this about being on the show?”
“I never wanted to be on television,” Aimee said. “That’s you. That’s all you.”
“It’s not easy when your mom is famous,” agreed Sabrina.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Gus. “This has never been an issue before.”
“Not for you,” Sabrina said. “You’d never guess how many people want to know me because they want to get to you.”
“But you’re a lovely young girl.”
“I’m not a kid, Mom,” Sabrina said. “I’m twenty-five.”
“Yes, of course, dear.”
“Please don’t condescend to me,” insisted Sabrina. “Really, I’m not a child.”
“You don’t act like an adult.” Aimee sounded triumphant.
“Is that what you do? Play the adult?” Sabrina grabbed a pillow and squeezed it into her lap. “Unlike you, I don’t think that means being the black hole of happiness.”
“You’re not happy,” said Aimee. “You just pretend.”
“Well, then we’re all a bunch of fakers,” Sabrina said, motioning toward Gus.
“What on earth are the two of you talking about?” Gus’s body was tense, her jaw clenched. “I can’t believe all this childish bickering. What, in God’s name, do you want?”
,” said Aimee softly. “Call me sometime and don’t ask about Sabrina.”
“I do that, darling,” Gus said. “You never want to talk to me.”
“No, you don’t,” Aimee said. “It’s always about something else.”
“Aimee, you’ve always been so self-sufficient,” said Gus. “Independent. I’ve always counted on you because of it.”
“Aaaahhhh!” Aimee screamed and hollered as tears began to fall. Gus felt almost light-headed with confusion and alarm.
“You know what I want? I want Dad. I want it like it used to be. We were happy then.”
“Things were better then,” agreed Sabrina. “You were different.”
“We were all different,” said Gus. “Don’t you think I want him, too?” She could sense, even before it happened, the trembling in her bottom lip, the way the fears and memories rushed to the edge, eager to spill out. Stuff it down, she told herself, stuff it down. Because she knew the truth of what she had always known: once the pain started, it might never stop. And she couldn’t risk it.
She rushed over to soothe Aimee, not merely to comfort her but also to distract her from her own emotions. It’s what she’d always done in the past. Taking care.
“Everyone used to be nice to us because our dad was dead.” Sabrina looked worriedly in her sister’s direction, as though she’d be in trouble for revealing their shared secrets. Never tell Mom, Aimee had always said, she doesn’t need the stress. You be happy and I’ll be good. That’s what she’d told Sabrina when they whispered, late at night, their words floating over the tape running down the middle of their bedroom floor.
We can make it okay, she’d said, if you act happy and I’m good.
Gus brought Aimee over to the bed and guided her to sit next to Sabrina. She could see, of course, that physically they were grown women, but those were simply wrappers around them. She could much more clearly see the chubby thumb-suckers they once had been. The way they had waited on the stairs the night of the accident, long after the babysitter should have put them to sleep, Sabrina dozing and clinging to her sister, Aimee playing tough. It was all just tucked away inside.
“Then people treated us differently because you were on TV,” continued Sabrina. “It’s weird having a famous mother. I just wish we could be a normalfamily.”
“We are normal,” said Gus. “We’re unique.”
“We haven’t been normal since Dad died,” Aimee said, hiccupping a bit from her tears. “We hardly ever talk about him, do you know that?”
“That’s not true, Aimee! We did all that grief counseling.”
“It’s not the same,” she said. “We talked to some outsider whom you paid.”