Authors: Brendan Halpin & Emily Franklin
Emily Franklin &
For my children—may you love deeply and be loved openly
And for Papa, who loved me unconditionally —E. F.
For Kerr Griffin and Melissa Kappotis —B. H.
Before you read the paper or watch tonight’s news, before you grab the
magazine in your orthodontist’s office or dig into the police report, before the protesters’ shouts distract you, you should hear the whole thing from the beginning. Of course, you can’t go to the very beginning, because that’d probably take you back to when I was born and you’d have to see me learn to walk, mumble my first word (“apple,” for those taking notes), and watch me ditch the training wheels and pedal right into Lucas Fogelman—smiling from the side of his mouth. And you’d have to know about Lucas being an All-State pitcher and how maybe he’ll make it to the majors, or maybe just the Indianapolis Indians or the South Bend Silver Hawks. And you’d know about my scholarship to Northwestern
and that I wrote my college essay about how I go running when I’m nervous. But all those details, the ones in essays or in the newspapers, the bits and pieces of us dredged up in interviews (“She always seemed so normal to me!”), the best article in the world won’t tell you everything. We will.
I think I’ve seen too many chick flicks. Mom loves them, and our house is not that big, so there’s no real way to escape them.
Okay, it’s not really a house. It’s an apartment over Hailer’s Drugstore. Or, it was over Hailer’s Drugstore before the MegaMart on Route 126 drove Hailer’s out of business. Now it’s an apartment over an empty space.
10 Things I Hate About You. The Wedding Singer
. Lots of romantic comedies involve the guy making some big, over-the-top public display where he sings a song or something and reveals his love for the girl, and she melts into his arms. I’m not much of a singer, but I do have access to a lighted sign.
There were two events that got me thinking. One
was in Jenny Himmelrath’s basement. The other was in Tessa’s.
It was a Sunday afternoon and Jenny and I had gone to the lake because there’s really not much else to do around here. “I’m starving. You want to come back to my house for a snack?” she asked.
I did not say, “Well, we damn sure can’t go back to my house because it’s actually an apartment over an empty storefront and even though Mom cleans like a fiend we can’t quite get rid of the mice and it’s just embarrassing all the way around.” Though I could have said that to Tessa. And she would have laughed and offered to bring her brother’s BB gun to see if we could pick off some mice. Instead, I said, “Sure. Sounds great!”
We went back to Jenny’s house. Her parents were at an all-day church committee meeting, so the house was empty. She put on some music. It was Miss Kaboom’s “Shake It.” Too fast to be make-out music, but, then again, definitely a song about the pleasure of moving your body. I wondered if maybe Jenny was going to test the limits of what you can get away with and still wear one of those purity rings.
And she might have, if I hadn’t gotten a text from Tessa right after we’d drained our sodas and there was an awkward pause. The kind of awkward pause you’re supposed to fill with a kiss. It filled with my phone buzzing.
Which wouldn’t have been that bad if I hadn’t whipped it out—my phone, I mean—to answer the text. It wasn’t even anything important. It was just some random thing
she’d thought of, but I just never leave Tessa hanging because she’s my best friend.
I put my phone away and turned to Jenny, who was staring at me.
“Um. What?” I said.
Wow, Luke, I can’t even believe I was going to risk hell for you.” I would like to point out that I did not giggle when she said that.
“I’m sorry, Jenny, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about—you know, Luke, you have this reputation for being a nice guy, but you’re not a nice guy. You’re a jerk. You’re a jerk to every girl you date because you’re in love with someone else, and you’re probably a jerk to her too because she obviously loves you and you don’t even know it. How many other guys has she dated? Oh, that’s right, none. She’s waiting for you to open your dumb eyes.”
“What are you even talking about?”
Jenny rose from the couch and looked at me. “Wow. That’s just pathetic. You really—you don’t know. You really think you and Tessa are just friends. It probably never occurred to you to wonder why she doesn’t have a boyfriend. Or why you can’t keep a girlfriend. Luke, get out of my basement and go see your
Okay, so that was one thing that got me thinking.
The other one happened the following Friday. I wasn’t going out with Jenny, and Tessa, as Jenny pointed out, did
not have a boyfriend. So after my baseball game I went over to her house to watch movies like we’ve done a million times before.
She popped in
The Philadelphia Story
, which I’d never seen. I don’t usually like black-and-white movies anyway, but this was one of those movies about two people who don’t think they’re in love but actually are. (In this movie they were exes, but whatever.)
Was she sending me a message? Why’d she pick that movie? I was wondering this stuff while pretending to pay attention to the movie when Tessa got tired and stretched out on the couch with her head in my lap.
Well, technically her head was resting on my right thigh. If it had been all the way in my lap, she might have found it kind of … uncomfortable.
I mean, Jenny Himmelrath with her stupid purity ring and all, might have been right. Tessa was sending me a pretty clear signal. Right? You don’t just put your head in someone’s lap without that meaning something.
And then Tessa said this: “I just love Katharine Hepburn in this movie. She’s like tough and fragile at the same time. I totally want to be her.” She paused for a minute. “Or, you know, make out with her.” I laughed at her joke, and then she laughed, but then I thought about it. Tessa wanted to be Katharine Hepburn, whose character was pretending not to be in love with someone she was actually in love with. Tessa really was practically hitting me over the head with it.
I started noticing how much Tessa touched me. Every touch on the forearm, every squeeze of the shoulder, every poke in the ribs, everything that I had stupidly just written off as something people who’ve been best friends since childhood do suddenly made sense in a different way.
And I realized that Jenny wasn’t just right about Tessa—she was right about me, too.
Mom picked up on this with her scary mom radar. I wasn’t seeing her much—Tessa’s parents, the Mastersons, promoted Mom to manager of the store bakery, which meant she had to be at work at four thirty every morning. Which meant she was in bed by nine at the latest. Nights when we had away games, I didn’t see her at all.
So I came home one Tuesday afternoon after practice and sat down at the kitchen table, drinking a sports drink. Mom just stared at me.
“Who is she?” she said from the sink as she scrubbed a plate.
“Who is who?” I said.
“The girl you’re obsessing about. Don’t just sit there, help me dry.” She tossed a dish towel at me, and I got up and started drying.
“I’m not obsessing about anybody,” I lied as I put a plate away.
“Liar. You just got home from practice and did not eat two thousand calories’ worth of anything. So who is she?”
I dried out the big plastic cup we’d gotten at a Cincinnati Reds game last summer and figured telling the truth
would be easier than trying to deflect her questions for the next hour and a half. “I … I think she’s Tessa,” I said almost in a whisper.
Mom laughed. “Well, thank God! The whole town’s been waiting for you guys to make it official for years. And Tessa’s a good kid with good parents. I worry like hell about you dating those purity-ring girls. Those girls get a third date with a boy, they wind up pregnant. That is something you do not need, and I am way too young to be a grandmother. I’m sure Tessa at least knows what a condom is.”
“Agh, Mom, God!”
“Don’t Mom-God me. You come home with a pregnant girlfriend before you’ve got a bachelor’s degree in your hand and I’ll—”
“Cut off my man parts and feed them to me. I know, Mom, you’ve said the same damn thing every time I’ve left the house to do anything except play baseball. You need a new line.” I think she’s probably joking about mutilating me, but I’m not a hundred percent sure.
Mom was one of those churchy girls who didn’t know anything about sex when she, valedictorian of Brookfield-Mason Regional High, went off to Purdue. And she was one of those girls who got pregnant on her third date. She didn’t even finish her freshman year. So she’s been pretty adamant about me not fathering a kid until I’ve got a degree. And my getting a full ride to Purdue to play baseball has only made her more freaky about this.
“Fine,” Mom said. “You know what, if you’re with Tessa, I’m not going to worry. That girl’s got enough sense for the both of you. And I like her family.”
When Mom came back to Brookfield pregnant, the Mastersons gave her a job, “which is more than any of those holier-than-thou sons of bitches at First Lutheran ever offered a girl in need,” according to my mom.
“Well, great, Mom. I’m glad you approve,” I said. “Now what do we have to eat in this dump, anyway?” That earned me a pretty hard punch in the arm. “Hey, not the pitching arm, Mom, okay?”
“Toughen up, Sally,” Mom said, laughing.
So I was on board and, according to Mom and Jenny Himmelrath, the whole town was on board too. That just left Tessa.
I thought about different ways to do it. There was the classic lean in for a kiss in her basement, but I felt like I wanted it to be bigger than that. If she’d really been waiting for me while I went through a bunch of Jenny Himmelraths at Brookfield-Mason Regional (or BM, as our sports opponents never tire of calling it), then I owed her something a little bigger. Larger scale.
Of course the whole town was going to find out anyway—everybody in Brookfield knows if you’ve taken a dump before you even have a chance to flush—but I thought it would be cool to tell the whole town how I felt.
And I figured Prom would be a great place for us to come out as a couple. In Indiana, you’ve got the basketball tournament, the Indianapolis 500, Notre Dame football, and the Prom. I couldn’t really involve Tessa in any of the first three, so it was going to have to be the Prom.
It was crazy in so many ways: if it didn’t work, I was risking a lifelong friendship; you don’t start dating someone at the end of senior year, especially if you’re going to colleges two and a half hours apart in the fall; and putting up a twenty-foot-tall sign about your feelings is just not something guys usually do.
But I’ve seen enough chick flicks to know that anything that feels this crazy must be love.