Authors: Liz Reinhardt
Tags: #Young Adult, #Contemporary
A Brenna Blixen Novel
Junk Miles: many miles run at a slow pace, attributed to a training strategy by runners who confuse high mileage counts with improvement
My mother is one of the most thoughtful, loving, caring women in the world. That doesn’t mean that she’s dumb, and it doesn’t mean that she’s nice.
I should add that I have no respect for nice mothers, at least not if you use the common teenage definition of “nice.” My mom doesn’t look the other way when I do something she doesn’t like. She doesn’t try to fit in with friends she doesn’t approve of, or with any of my friends at all, for that matter. My mom has high expectations for me, and she drives me with a huge mixture of love, neurotic pressure and guilt. A whole lot of guilt.
This complicated theory ran through my mind Christmas morning, while my head was still bent down, my eyes fixed on the open box on my lap. I had split seconds to come up with the appropriate face for my mom and Thorsten, my step-father, and I knew that my initial feelings of shock and disappointment were in no way appropriate. My mother had done exactly what she was best at.
She had rocked my world with her generosity and cunning.
I hope I can one day be that good.
I made my eyes wide, opened my mouth, and shook my head. “Paris? Paris!” I grasped the ticket in my hand and jumped up. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I hugged her tight. And I was thankful and genuinely excited.
Mom smiled and kissed me hard. I could feel her triumph. Because this wasn’t exactly what it seemed.
Mom had plotted this out with all the intelligence of a military tactician, and that was why there was no chance of moping or sulking. I had always wanted to go to Paris, and there was no one in the world I wanted to go with more than Mom.
But there was more to it than just that. I told Mom and Thorsten about my super sexy, super awesome boyfriend Jake a few months back, and they had handled it really well; no yelling, no threats, no unreasonable restrictions. They had even included him in things. Jake went out with us for my birthday, they gave him a gift on his, invited him over for Thanksgiving, and he was coming over for Christmas dinner later on this evening. I didn’t take advantage of their willingness to be nice about Jake. I am, after all, my mother’s daughter, and I knew that I had to keep Jake distanced from them or they would start to find things about him that weren’t good enough for me. Well, Mom would start to find things. Because Jake isn’t exactly what she wants for me, and my mother does not even consider second best when it comes to me.
I understand where she’s coming from, but it’s still constricting. And since I wanted to stay with Jake, I limited the time I spent with him, even though my body physically ached with the need to be near him sometimes. Cheesy as it might sound, that’s the best way I can explain it. I thought I had done a pretty good job of disguising just how obsessed I was with him and how deliciously he had taken over my life.
But Mom started watching me, exactly the way I knew she would. She looked for anything that would provide evidence that Jake was breaking my heart, making me sad, keeping me up too late, stopping me from pursuing my interests, hogging me from other friends, or any other trumped-up charge. In her mind, she filed any shred of evidence away to digest later.
If I woke up with dark circles under my eyes because Jake and I had an amazing conversation on the phone the night before, Mom narrowed her eyes and made a mental check. If I arranged to go out with Kelsie and she cancelled, and I went out with Jake instead, Mom noted it and frowned. Tiny charges, little details grew and compounded until Mom had, in her mind, a real reason to orchestrate a campaign against Jake, or at least against me being so wrapped around him.
Mom was a huge proponent of ‘dating lots of different people,’ ‘keeping your options open,’ and ‘focusing on yourself.’ All sound good in theory. Until you meet someone like Jake Kelly and have to think about living without hearing his sweet laugh or smelling the clean, minty smell of him or feeling his arms tight around you. Thinking about him made my heart skip and surge. This was love.
And my mom was no fool. She wasn’t about to drive a wedge between us by harping on Jake or voicing her neurotic concerns. My mother was too brilliant for that kind of novice work.
It’s part of a program with the college, honey.” Mom took out a pamphlet and handed it to me eagerly. “They want to give the professors a chance to scout prospective study abroad locations before they choose them, so we’re allowed to bring any family and check out the museums, local universities…oh, sweetie, it’s going to be so incredible.” She hugged me again, and I took a deep breath.
Mom, this sounds so great.” I swallowed hard and prepared for the worst. “So, when do we go?”
We leave the day after tomorrow! We’ll be gone for a full week, just past your winter break. I’ve already cleared it at your schools if you need some jet-lag recovery time on the way back, so don’t worry about that.” She put an arm around me and squeezed me close.
Mom?” I dug deep and willed up some courage to argue on Jake‘s behalf. She looked at me and the look was new-knife sharp. I swallowed back my arguments like the weak coward I often was around her. “I have to pack right now. What’s Paris like in December?”
Chilly.” The flinty light was gone from her eyes. She took both my hands in hers. “Go ahead and get packing, honey.”
Thank you, Mom. So much.” I modulated my voice carefully to keep it happy, and I hugged her again. “This will be amazing.”
And I hoped that by saying it, I would force myself to mean it. Because as I walked quickly to my recently redecorated room, I felt the itchy pain of tears pricking behind my eyes. I tried not to think too hard about the fact that I would miss New Year’s Eve with Jake. It would have been my first ever romantic New Year’s kiss.
In my room, with its robin’s-egg wall and poppy-covered bed, the Chagall and Cassatt hanging in wooden frames, the softly glowing paper lamps, and the books piled everywhere, I popped my iPod onto its dock and put on some happy packing music, even though I wanted to scroll through my specially-made teen-angst mix and let it all envelop me in something suitably dreary. I started to put piles of clothes here and there and took out my brand new pink leather traveling bag, the one I had unwrapped this morning and hugged Thorsten for. I didn’t feel any ill will towards Fa. He was a puppet in Mom’s very capable hands, no doubt about that.
I didn’t feel any ill will at all, not really. I picked up the picture of me and Mom in front of the big tree in Rockefeller Square. We were both really rosy-cheeked and pink-nosed with cute hats on, our arms around each other. I knew that what my mom was feeling stemmed from a lot of really deep emotions and events that all proved the one thing I’ve known my entire life; my mom loves me so fiercely, it’s scary.
Mom had me when she was barely out of high school. The guy, my father, left her high and dry. He was her boyfriend and as far as I can tell, she believed this guy was the love of her life. I knew that she assumed what Jake and I had was very similar to what she thought she had with my biological father. It took her a long time to get her life back on track after him. I knew it was the ghost of that experience that made her uber-protective.
Mom never told me much about the whole thing with my father, but I knew there was a lot of resentment on her part towards my grandparents. She felt like they should have been looking out for her more, making sure she was on the right track, that she had the right back-up.
It was what she was doing for me right now, or at least what she thought she was doing for me. So I couldn’t be upset.
But I was.
And I had to do the one thing that I really, really didn’t want to do. Especially on Christmas day, knowing the kinds of Christmases Jake had experienced every year before. But every second that I put off packing and moped, every second that I chickened out about calling him was one second that I took away from our time together, and I couldn’t do that.
I was always a good packer. Thorsten, Mom, and I traveled a lot, so I knew how to roll my clothes, how to pick things that will layer well and that will move from casual to fancy easily. I knew how to make a little bag of accessories that would dress everything up. I had a special tiny cross-over purse with a wide zippered strap to keep my passport and anything else important in. Once I’d laid out what I wanted to take on my bed, pared through the pile and taken out what I knew I didn’t really want to bring, I rolled the clothes up and put them in the suitcase. I picked up the phone and turned my music up a little bit. I packed so fast that I had time to call Jake and give him a little bit of a heads-up before he got here.
Merry Christmas, Brenna.” His voice was silky and deep on the phone, and I felt my mouth go dry at the sound of it. I loved that voice.
Merry Christmas, Jake.” I smiled despite the bad news I was about to deliver.
Did Santa leave you some good stuff?” Jake asked. He sounded happy, inexplicably.
I had been to his house early on Christmas Eve, before the candlelight service and Christmas caroling at our church. He and his father bought a small, dry turkey and had two wilted vegetable sides and mashed potatoes, a veritable feast as far as the Kellys were concerned. We sat on the couch and ate off of plates that we balanced on our laps and watched
It’s a Wonderful Life
. Jake’s father barely spoke to me. He didn’t seem mean, just socially uncomfortable and nervous. When the movie was over, he got up and announced that he was going out bowling. Jake and I had a few hours before I had to go home, so we snuggled in his room and talked and laughed under the blankets. His dad kept the house at sixty-eight degrees in the winter, so snuggling was pretty much a necessity.
I got a lot of great stuff.” I pawed through my bras and underwear, picking the nicest ones. This was a trip to Paris, after all. “Thorsten got me an awesome new design program for the computer. Um, did you get anything good?”
He laughed like I made a joke. “I got my socks, flashlight, and fifty. I told you, babe, it’s what I get every year.”
Well, I got you some good stuff.” I tried very hard not to get aggravated at Jake’s dad on the most peaceful day of the year. How could he be so cheap with his own son? And I didn’t mean cheap monetarily, although that was true, too. Jake was this vibrant, amazing guy, but his dad put no effort whatsoever into making things good or nice for him. It was just basic necessities as far as Jake’s dad was concerned, and he didn’t even stretch his imagination much there.
I can’t wait to see what you got me. I’m still trying to get over my birthday gift.”
I had custom-made him a motocross jersey. Jake was really into dirtbikes, and when he raced during his last big amateur competition, I had taken a bunch of action shots of him. I transferred them to the computer, played with the images, and made them into really high quality iron-ons. I had the shirt ordered and put his last name and the images on it; it was pretty professional looking.
It wasn’t a big deal.” I sat on my bed and unknotted a tangle of necklaces from my jewelry box. “It was just a shirt.”
And the rest of the outfit to match, and a helmet that you custom-designed. And the decals for my bike.” He sighed a happy, adorable sigh. “Don’t downplay it, Bren. It was awesome.”
Well, it all had to match.” I moved on to my bracelets. “And it was cool that that big dirtbike magazine was at Dingmans when you won that race.”
I can’t believe I got a spread.” Jake laughed. “It was your design. It was good luck.”
I know I’m pretty great, but don’t you think it had something to do with the fact that you won the race?” I smiled at the memory, a little girly pride pricking me nicely. “Like by a mile.”
By a couple yards,” he corrected humbly. Typical Jake. “Yeah, I guess. You just…” He stopped. “Alright, I didn’t want to get all mushy on you, but what the hell? I never had someone care about me the way you do. It makes me feel like I could do anything. Like you give me the confidence to do whatever I want. You don’t know how incredible it’s been for me to have you in my life.”