Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Movie Review: Gloria (2013)

For my library's summer reading program, staff are encouraged to participate as well. Our theme this year is a camp theme and you can earn badges for each "camp" by completing 5 tasks on that camp's list. I just moved on to Travel Camp but last week I was in Camp Hollywood. That meant that two of the five tasks I could tick off were (1) ask a librarian for a movie suggestion and (2) check out and watch a foreign film. I've always hated the expression "kill two birds with one stone" because all I can imagine are these poor, bludgeoned instead I will say that I decided to knock out two tasks at once and asked one of our librarians for a foreign film suggestion. She recommended the Spanish language film Gloria.

I should preface this by the disclaimer that I rarely watch movies lately. I love film - I'd say that it's my second love after literature, with my tastes ranging from French New Wave classics to B-movie campiness. But it's hard to get the time to sit still for nearly two hours or more when one is juggling two classes, two jobs and life itself. I haven't watched a lot of film lately - once in awhile, while on vacation or during a semester break, but mostly I stick to Internet videos related to school projects or catching up on Game of Thrones at midnight, after I am tired of listening to lectures and writing papers for the day. So there is a possibility that my enjoyment of a lovely little Spanish film called Gloria is due to the fact that I am starving for good movies. However, I'm inclined to think that it's just a really good film.

Gloria stars Paulina García, (a Chilean actress I had never heard of but whose other films I will definitely be seeking out for more of her work) as a divorced woman in late middle age who gets involved with an older man, only to find she's more mature than he is. She has grown children of her own, but they have their own lives and while she loves them, she doesn't over-nurture them. Rodolfo, however, not only coddles his grown daughters but regularly allows himself to become entangled in the constant drama of his ex-wife as well. There is push and pull between the two aging lovers, but ultimately, Gloria finds that she is the truly strong one between them and she doesn't need to be held back from enjoying her life by a man who can't take the reins in his own.

There's more to it than that, of course - plenty of great scenes I won't spoil here. Some are infuriating, some are hilarious. I will say, however, that I was most impressed by the way the film did not shy away from the sexuality of a woman in her 50s. There are some truly racy scenes here and a lot of nudity, some of it of the full-frontal variety. Yet Gloria and its titular character are sexy and superb, even with the realism of wrinkles and sagging skin. Outside of the bedroom, García portrays Gloria as vulnerable with a quiet intelligence, so many of her emotions subtly playing across her face. It's a simple film, but thought-provoking and if it seems a little slow-moving at first, it's worth sticking with for the wonderful revelations. The most important of these, of course, is the revelation that Gloria may be lonely, but she has a lot of life left ahead of her and there is still joy worth chasing.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Movie Review: Copenhagen

It's been awhile - a LONG while - since I have posted here. Here I am, though, ending my prolonged hiatus with  a movie review. Copenhagen made me want to travel, want to fall in love, and want to believe that either thing is possible. Readers can find the film on Amazon, Vudu, and YouTube's new streaming service. It's also available on Netflix, but only until Sunday.

Copenhagen is a movie about a lot of things, and most of them are love. Feature film directorial debut for Mark Raso and shot on location, Copenhagen gives audiences a glimpse of the beautiful Danish capitol city, with its colorful row houses and brick streets. It's the story of an immature young man with a chip on his shoulder, played to perfection by Gethin Anthony (who audiences will know as Renly Baratheon from HBO's Game of Thrones), who has been abandoned by his friend in his late father's childhood home of Copenhagen. In his search to find his estranged grandfather and give him a letter his dead father left behind, he finds himself falling for the wiser-than-thou teenager who has offered to help him find his way around. These kinds of inappropriate feelings between teenager and adult are likely to make some audience members uncomfortable, but it serves a purpose and is handled well within the film: Anthony's character, William needs to grow up and it takes a mature 14 year old to help him do that. Meanwhile, the scenes of their travels and blossoming friendship are like magic. Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Queen Amarantha: An Otherworld Theatre Production

The last time I received free passes to see live theatre in Chicago, the play I attended was poorly thrown together with a cliché ending and unconvincing actors (the only notable player was the actor whose character turned out to be just a figment of someone else's imagination in the end). It was fun only because it was a venue I had never been to and I was there with a friend; otherwise, it was a travesty.

Therefore, I wasn't expecting much from this small theatre production when I was offered free tickets. So I was more than pleasantly surprised with the outcome: Queen Amarantha, a production of the Otherworld Theatre Company (whose website describes them as "a science fiction and fantasy theatre company"), was a triumph all around. The performance took place at the City Lit Theater and starred Moira Begale as the titular queen, who takes the throne following the death of her father but never feels like she fits in with the monarchy or in the conventional role of a woman. Instead, she likes to hunt, flirt with both men and women alike, and dress in commoner's (and men's) clothes in order to rub elbows with her people, She has a close relationship with her cousin, Roderigo, who has dreams of power without really knowing what it is.

The real peak of the story comes with the appearance of Amarantha's childhood friend, Thalia (a manic pixie nightmare of a girl, played to delirious perfection by Mary-Kate Arnold). Though Amarantha trusts her implicitly, the audience soon finds that she's got treachery in mind and at once, she sets to work to destroy the queen's reputation. In the aftermath of her friend's terrible betrayal, Amarantha flees with her lover in hopes of a different life; but while she is away, Thalia is wreaking mad havoc on the kingdom, using Roderigo as her pawn. When word reaches Amarantha, she has to choose between remaining free or taking back her kingdom, coming to her cousin's rescue, and clearing her name. I was completely enthralled by the story and the performances. And the set, though simple, was also versatile: it doubles as crumbling ruins and a lavish, shadowy throne. Meanwhile, the costumes were both extravagant and occasional props for comic relief.

Begale is compelling and believable as the tomboyish queen, and her performance never waivers. I actually recalled seeing her in a previous show, The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret, back in 2012 at Mary's Attic, and the reason I remembered her was because she stood out as especially talented. Here, she is equally credible and I imagine her going places.

Similarly, of the remarkable cast, another stand-out performance was that of Arnold. She brings the devious Thalia to life in such a way that the character is, in equal part, charismatic and terrifying.

This show doesn't run much longer; if you get a chance to see it, don't pass it up!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Taking The Ferry Home

I first posted the following tribute to one of my very favorite books on an old book blog I attempted to run for awhile. If you Google the book, it's still one of the posts that come up on the first page of search hits. I'm re-posting it because I've been thinking a lot about younger days lately, when I was content with long stretches of time to read and write and daydream. I recently asked, on the ALA Think Tank Facebook group (i.e., the best, geekiest place to be if you're a librarian or aspiring librarian on the Internet), about other readers' favorite out-of-print books and found that I am not the only one with a literary love that no one else seems to know. Here's what I want to impart to readers about this lovely little book: 

Each summer, from the time I was 13 and into my twenties, I found myself on an island:  Dune Island, populated by the kind of people who own summer homes and the kind of people who worked for summer homeowners. It's the setting of Taking The Ferry Home by Pam Conrad, a New York-born writer. I stumbled upon the book on one of my regular trips to the library in the next town over, drawn in by its almost mysterious cover: one girl with a faraway look sits on the grass in the foreground. Another stands at a distance in the background with the skirt of her dress blowing in the wind, a pristine Cape Cod-style house and shadowy trees behind her. To my thirteen year old self, the cover echoed with loneliness. It was electric with sorrow – I could just feel it – and it struck a chord with me. I had to read it.

It begins with a girl named Alison who has elected to join her father at a cottage he's rented as a writer's getaway – he's a novelist – and on her first night, she sneaks into the neighbors' pool. It's their summer home and Alison assumes they won't be arriving until later, so she can take one quick dip. There she meets Simone, their daughter, who is “beautiful, completely beautiful, and she wasn't even nice.” Their encounter leaves Alison “choked with jealousy,” but as the story goes, the rich girl gets what she wants and what Simone wants is for she and Alison to be friends. So begins the tale of a very “fragile friendship,” as the book's bright green back-cover declares.

Simone Silver is not a one-dimensional character, though – not the prototypical rich girl in the least. In fact, when I look back at all the times I've read Taking The Ferry Home, I am struck by Simone as the character whom I feel the most compassion for and kinship with. She's many-faceted: ravishing, privileged and yet, haunted by a traumatic event from her childhood. She reads Tarot cards and makes bracelets of shells, listens to Springsteen (even now, when I hear “Dancing In The Dark,” I think of it as her song). Darkly, quietly troubled characters have often bewitched me in a way that your run-of-the-mill dysfunctional protagonist could not quite pull off. Conrad manages to create a rich, engrossing character who mostly lives in her own head (something I've been trying to manage for close to a decade to little avail). I wanted to know Simone, let her read my fortune and string up shells for me.

The water was a character all its own. It churns, black and murky, beneath the ferry that takes Ali and Simone around Dune Island. The first summer I read it, I dreamed of being on that island – that island, with all its secrets and sadness. I dreamed of water and even had a bookmark with a picture of foamy waves lapping at the sand.

For me, my real passion for books – the kind of books I read now – begins with Taking The Ferry Home. Pam Conrad died of breast cancer in 1996, at the age of 48, but this one of her many books for children and young adults transformed my life. It will always remain in my list of favorites because it's one of those that formed who I am and how I want to write. 

Perhaps another re-reading is long overdue. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bisexuality in Pop Culture: Shipping Triles

Those who know me well know my obsession with a certain Canadian teen drama that has spanned pretty much my entire life. All the bad acting doesn't seem to ever matter when the characters are so compelling (before you fellow fangirls lynch me, I's not all bad acting) and the stories are just so heartfelt. I don't really have a full explanation of why I love it so much, but Degrassi just makes me happy. And sad, but mostly happy. And sad is just happy for deep people, anyway. Heh. But anyway, my obsession has taken a new turn following this season's finale. Spoiler alert: TRILES!!!

Miles went gaga for nerdy cello player, Maya.
I think what is making me especially happy about this is the way it came about and how I've never seen anything like it on television before. All these dramas will have the girl who has been dating boys all along and she suddenly finds herself interested in another girl. But I have never - NEVER - seen it the other way around. No one has ever tackled male bisexuality or male sexual fluidity that I know of, unless you count the second and a half that Blaine thought about dating Rachel on Glee or how Jack on the 90s drama, Dawson's Creek originally dated Joey briefly before coming out. It's pretty different, though.

All this time, we've been seeing Miles and Maya break up, reconcile, break up again. And all this time, he seemed pretty crazy about her, going to any length to get her back. But now that they're off again, it seemed like the writers decided it was time to revisit the crush that Tristan, Maya's best friend, seemed to have on Miles when they all headed to Paris last spring, before Maya and Miles got together. Tristan had kissed Miles back then, too, and I'll hand it to Miles -- even when he was into Maya, he never overreacted in a homophobic way to Tristan's advances. He was always sweet about them, which is something else you rarely see on TV. It's such a tired old cliche that the straight guy freaks when the gay guy leans in for a kiss, so Miles was pretty refreshing in this way, too.

So anyway, the season 14 finale had Miles and Tristan waiting out the storm in Miles' family's mansion, alongside his sister, Frankie and her boyfriend/Miles' best friend, Winston. To pass the time, they ended up playing charades and later, a hide-and-seek-like game called Murder. During Charades, Tristan is batting his eyelashes and flirting with Miles like crazy and Miles is taking it all in, obviously flattered by the attention. These two boys have the prettiest eyelashes and were giving each other the cutest smirky glances, so I was DYING for them to just make-out already. And then, when they were hiding during the game of Murder, the heavens heard my cry and granted my wish!

The best thing was that, when Winston caught them kissing, Miles was still smirking about it, like "so what?" and later, when Tristan thought it was a one-time thing and told Miles it was okay, Miles corrected him. They don't know where it's going, but it looks like it is definitely going somewhere! No lie, I am totally shipping these two and I don't care if I sound like a 15 year old.

It almost makes up for last season's painful finale. But, er, not quite. Degrassi, you still have a lot of work ahead of you for that.

Monday, July 28, 2014

[[Turn To You: A Novella]] -- PART TWELVE


I was feeling a little down and out when Glenn came over to see Ben the next day. I had already called Asha twice with no answer and she hadn't called back. I felt idiotic. I wanted to know how things went, what Rhonda had told her and most of all, I wanted her to answer some questions for me. 
Ben was slumped in my brown beanbag chair reading my latest issue of Sassy and I was pacing to the sounds of Cyndi Lauper on the radio. I was sure I was about to drive him bonkers, but Ben was pretty polite. He remained quiet and flipped the page of the the magazine. Over the time we'd spent together, Ben had started to feel like family - the brother I'd never had. It was nice, but since we sometimes argued for use of the bathroom or I found him using my nail polish I wasn't about to admit it to him. 
"Betsy," Ben said in an even tone, "please calm down. You're going to make yourself sick with worry. You know, that literally can happen. Give the girl time."
"Aughhhh!" I growled, annoyed. 
"Glenn's coming over later. Maybe you guys should practice or something. You have that gig later this week. And didn't you say Asha wants The Windows to play at her prom. Shouldn't you get the girls together to practice, then?"
"The problem," I hissed, "is that I have no idea what Asha wants now. Does she want me to play music for her big night with Todd? Does she want to be my friend? Is there...gods-help-me-for-hoping, but is there maybe something else she'd like to be? Don't you see, Ben? I'm going nutty!"
"Yeah," he said. "You're cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, alright."
I glared at him. The door to the bedroom flew open just then and Glenn waltzed in.
"Do you know what your mom just asked me?" Glenn said. "She wanted to know if I was sleeping over?"
"Sheesh," Ben said. "She's come a long way, baby." 

I just slumped to the floor and put my head down on a heap of my clothes. Bad idea. Something smelled like sour milk and I gagged, sitting back up. I got up and threw myself on the bed instead, burying my head under a pillow and screaming into the mattress to muffle me.
"What's with her?" Glenn said.
"Two words. Asha Campbell," Ben said.
"What did she do to her?" Glenn said.
"Nothing. I think maybe that's the problem."
I uncovered my head to glare at them.
"You know I am right here. I can hear you both."
"Then you tell me," Glenn said, turning to me with a hand on one hip. "What happened?"
"She went on a double date with Asha and her boyfriend," Ben said, shaking my magazine in the air to emphasize each word.
"Um, Ben? He's asking me!" I said through clenched teeth.
"Sheesh," Ben said. "Crabby!"
I exhaled loudly. 
"Drama queen," Glenn whispered to Ben and I just growled.
"I went out last night," I said finally. "And yes, it was with Asha and her stupid jerk of a boyfriend."
"Wow that is mature," Glenn said.
"I wasn't finished," I said. "Asha brought her cousin - sort of like a date for me."
"Yikes. Guess that was basically her way of blowing you off? An 'I-just-wanna-be-friends' statement?" Glenn guessed.
"I thought so at first, too," I said. "But then we had this moment. Asha and I, I mean."
"Now you're just confused?" Glenn finished my thought.
"Yes," I said.
"And she can't get ahold of Asha," Ben said.
"So I can't get any answers," I concluded.
We all sighed.
"I'm sorry sweetie," Glenn said, coming to my side and plopping down next to me. He leaned over until his head was on my back. "Maybe we should go out. Do something. Get our minds off our problems." 
He looked over at Ben, who was probably thinking about the rift between himself and his parents. I felt really bad for being cross with him. It made me think that maybe it was a good idea to get out of myself for awhile.
"Let's go downtown to the juice bar and maybe go walk around the beach." 
They both looked at me like I'd sprouted antlers. I probably deserved that. I'd been the mopey one more often than not lately and for me to suddenly suggest leaving my bedroom, much less doing something, must have come as quite a shock.
"Quit looking at me like that," I finally said. "You're right. We need to get up, get out of here. Songs aren't going to write or play themselves and I know I need more inspiration than these four walls." They were still gaping at me, so I said, "Let's go, let's go!"
They hopped up and marched like soldiers toward the door, perfectly synchronized.
"Very funny," I said before I followed them. 
I didn't drive, since we could walk from my home down to the lakefront shops faster than I would've been able to find parking there. You could often tell the tourists from the residents by their souvenir-shop T-shirts. Glenn and Ben liked to make fun of those, but I felt an odd sense of protectiveness toward tourists - wacky, confused people just going with the flow in a place where they clearly did not quite belong.
"I'm thinking that we should call Heather and everyone tonight and go ahead and set up practice," Glenn said. "For Her-Whom-We-Shall-Not-Name's prom."
"I don't even know if we're playing or not," I said. "And anyway, even if she did still want us to, how do I know the band will want to?"
"That's why we call Heather," Glenn said. "And we'll just consider it a potential gig - with the idea that if it falls through, we can just find another. Practice is never a waste of time, is it?" 
Glenn's words rang true, of course. It did make sense to be prepared either way. 
"We call her then, but when do we find time to practice?" I said. "Between school and work and homework? And this week we have the junior and senior class trips?"
"There have always been hurdles, Betz," Glenn said, placing his hand on my shoulder.  "We jump over them. Remember?"
"Plus," Ben said, "you get the chance of possibly impressing Asha with your musical stylistics and your super-suave, super-cool on-stage persona."
I had to laugh at that.
"Right," I said. "I'm sure that'll charm the straight girl into magically falling in love with me."
"You never know," he said with a shrug.  
We continued down the beach and back up the boardwalk. We watched a couple on roller skates whiz by and Glenn and Ben ogled some guys playing volleyball. 
"Why don't you go play with them?" I said.
"Really?" Ben said.
"You want to?" Glenn asked him.
"Sure! You want to come, Betz?"
"That's okay. You guys go and enjoy yourselves. I'm just going to go and check out some of the shops. My mom's birthday is in two weeks, so maybe I'll get a head start on gift-buying or just get some ideas. You two have fun."
"Aw, but Betsy! You've been depressed! We don't want to abandon you in your hour of need," Glenn said.
"You're not," I said. "Promise. I am ditching you guys because there is plenty of time for playing chaperone to a melancholy teenager and not a whole lot of chances to play volleyball with a bunch of hard bodies in Speedos. Seriously. Go!"
Glenn and Ben gave me excited smiles and then ran down the beach to where the guys were gathered around the net.
I headed up the boardwalk, feeling only a bit lonely. I could have
gone home and read a book or gone to the small, two-movie theater. Either of those things might have made me feel slightly better. But only slightly. It occured to me that I was exactly where I had been before I'd met Asha - broken-hearted, lonely, alienated. I was all the things that Callie had left me, but this time it was my own fault. Hell, maybe it was my fault with Callie, too. Maybe I was too boring, too predictable for her. That actually made sense. Callie had always been explosive and I was sort a dormant volcano. I knew it, but couldn't really change it much. Not without changing me, which I wasn't willing to do. I was the girl who read books, saw movies, occasionally took on volunteer work or drove other people's kids to school. I fixed cars sometimes, made model airplanes, watched cartoons. I made good grades and didn't smoke or do drugs. I only drank for self-destructive purposes and really hadn't even done that until after Callie had hit the road. I was not a terribly exciting person. But I wanted to be. Why couldn't that be enough?
I saw in the window of a little boutique a pair of earrings like the ones that Asha had given me. They were beautiful, but I couldn't wear them. I knew it was lame and kind of weird but I decided that I needed to know where we stood before I could show them off. I wanted to be able to say where and from whom I got them and be certain that it was accurate. I guess what I really wanted was to be able to say "my girlfriend gave me these," but wasn't sure I ever would.
I wandered into the store to look for something for my mom. There were pendants made of bone china that, for an extra sum of money, they would put on a charm bracelet, necklace or earring. I wished there were two because my mom wasn't the type to wear mismatched earrings.  I looked at the purses and remembered that she had mentioned needing a new wallet. I walked over to where their designer wallets were on display. They had some pretty ones - one with dyed leather binding in various colors, ones made of plastic or denim. I still couldn't find anything I was sure she'd like. The store also had scented candles, Polaroid cameras, unusual stationary and other little knick-knacks. Still, I didn't find anything there. 
Next door there was a lovely metal clock in the window along with ceramic animals. I knew that I would never get my mom ceramic animals. The perpetual klutz, I'd end up breaking anything like that in the house. Then I passed a place called The Artist Store and was intrigued. I went inside and found things like paints, easels, wooden palettes, canvases -some framed and some not. That's when I remembered - it was a faint memory only, but I remembered - when my mom used to paint. I have a vague recollection of coming across some of her paintings - some of them my own image - in our attic one night when I'd gone looking for some old doll furniture for a project I was working on. I never knew why she had stopped painting, but she was actually really good. 
I let my fingers rest over all the acrylic and oil colors. They were all so brilliant, and I wondered if the paint would come out of the tubes in as bright a hue. However, I decided to get my mom a kit of the most basic paints and, as a bold gesture, a framed canvas to work on. It was only partly selfish, because I wanted to see what the paints looked like and how an older, more experienced painter might work. I also liked the idea of giving my mom a gift that brought a bit of creativity back to her life. 
I purchased the gifts and decided to head back home, where I went on a search for tape, wrapping paper and ribbons and set about wrapping my mom's birthday gift. At four I started to make dinner - chili and cornbread - and when everyone got in, we all had dinner together. I was still in another world, thinking too much about the past few days and those ahead.  
After dinner, Glenn left and Ben and I did homework at the kitchen table while my mom watched television in the front room. I kept hoping Asha would call, but she never did and, after my homework and shower, I just went to bed. 
We had to be at school the next morning early for a field trip. Our History class was going on a field trip - the last of the year before exams - to a historic plantation where people in costumes dressed up in colonial garb and reenacted Eighteenth Century life. Ben sat with me at the back of the first activity bus. We were early because we'd skipped breakfast and gotten a ride with my mom on her way to work. We kept looking out the window for Glenn's car, but as other students started to show up it was harder and harder to spot him in the crowds. Our bus was getting full by 6:30am.
"If he doesn't show up soon, you know Mr. Gregory is going to make us scoot over and let someone else sit with us!" Ben said. The prospect of having to share the back seats with anyone else from our class was upsetting and I started getting panicky. I'd really hoped this day would go by smoothly, without any major harassment from my classmates and I'd be able to enjoy butter churning demonstrations and keep my mind off Asha. But suddenly things were looking dire.  
"Wait!" Ben said.  "There he is!" I jumped up and looked over his shoulder at where he was pointing. There was Glenn, walking across the parking lot in hot pink leather pants and a David Bowie T-shirt, Care Bears lunch box in hand.  I was so relieved I pushed the window down and yelled out to him. 

"Hey! Glenn! Get over here!" I shouted. He saw me, waved and started jogging toward the bus. When he made his entrance, I stood up and let him sit next to me on the window side. 
"What," I said, giving him the once-over, "are you wearing?"
"I figured if I was gonna get beat up by jocks, it was gonna be for something good," he said. I laughed. 
"I'm so glad you're here," I admitted. "It wouldn't be the same without you."
"I brought you something," he said and he produced a thermos from his lunch box. "Sip carefully."
I sniffed it instead and blinked. It was definitely Coke and it was definitely spiked.
"Is that rum?" I whispered.
"Yep," he said proudly.
"Glenn Christopher Balaban!" I hissed. "What has gotten into you? We could get expelled!"
"We're not going to because no one will know," he said and Ben happily took the thermos as it was offered to him. He sipped and handed it back. Glenn pushed it in my face.
"I don't know," I said. "My mom is really trying and she's been great so far. If I got in trouble, though..."  I let my voice trail off.
"You won't as long as you're careful. C'mon, this is hardly enough to get us drunk. We'll just start the day off...a little buzzed."
I grimaced.
"Ok," he said. "Suit yourself."  He shrugged and started to bring it back to his lips, but I stopped him with one hand on the thermos and an exasperated sigh. He beamed and handed it over, then bounced on the seat a little with excitement. 
"This is gonna be such a fun day!" he said.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

[[Turn To You: A Novella]] -- PART ELEVEN

Rhonda was standing on the other side of the street now and she looked chilly as the wind picked up, blowing through the trees and litter swirled around her. I felt awful and I turned the engine off, poised to get out and chase her down the street if I had to. But as soon as I was standing outside the car and getting ready to cross, she looked both ways and marched toward me instead. Her face was still red and pinched and I could tell she'd been crying. Here I was thinking about some other girl who probably would never want me - or anyone else without a trust fund - and I'd made Rhonda, who actually liked me, cry and ruin her makeup. I felt like the real asshole extraordinaire of the evening. Todd Rossi had nothing on me.
"Rhonda, I'm a jerk," I said, throwing up my hands. "You're completely and totally right and I have no right to judge you. Self-preservation is a pretty important instinct. No matter what age you're at."
She sniffled. "Can you just take me home?"
"Sure. Of course." What else could I say? She had started to shiver so I handed her my jacket, but she just shrugged away from me and headed to the car. She slammed the door shut and I did the same. She was staring out the window, not looking at me, as I drove her back to Brambleton Street and Asha's family's place. Once we got there, she leaped out and I turned off the ignition. She already had her key out but was fumbling with the lock when I came up beside her.
"Damn door. Stupid light never comes on when it's supposed to. How the hell am I supposed to get the key in the door if I can't see?" She continued mumbling under her breath, a stream of obscenities. I put my hand on hers to get her attention and she jumped away from me, then looked me straight in the eye.
"I don't get it," she said. "Why are you being nice to me now?"
"What?" I said. "Because, I don't want you to hate me. Because I apologized and I want you to know I meant it."
She nodded.
"You figure," she said, "that you might as well like me now that it seems my cousin couldn't possibly be interested in you."
"It's not that," I said. "I don't know what I want, but I know that I do think you're cool and honestly, my lashing out at you had very little to do with you. I'm ashamed of myself. I never meant to hurt your feelings. None of what I said is true about you - at least I don't really think so. If it's true about anyone, it's true about me."
She sniffled and put her hand on her face and I thought she might cry again, but then she gave a half-hearted smile.
"You know," she said, "thank you. That may be the nicest apology I've ever heard."
I nodded slowly, wondering if this was going anywhere.
"To be honest with you, I want you to know that I most likely would have made out with you - or more even - tonight...and it would have been incredibly wrong."
"Uh..." I said. I was speechless at this revelation. "You're going to elaborate, right?"
"Yes," she said and laughed a weak laugh. "It would be wrong because, while you're really sweet and definitely hot, both of us are in love with someone else. I recently ended a relationship with a woman named Rebecca. I really loved her - and it was my first time for that sort of thing. Because, while I wasn't exactly out in high school, I certainly had my share of...extracurricular activities then. And after graduation. But in my second year at college, I was in between friends-with-benefits and I met someone I thought was special. And I guess I am still hung up on her."
"Right," I said. "That's perfectly understandable. I-"
"You -" she said, "are also dealing with your feelings for someone else. Someone you're in love with."
I nodded.
"Yes," I admitted. "Callie broke up with me earlier this month and I spend a lot of time feeling very alone and..."
"That's not who I meant," she said. I stared at her. "You're in love with someone else, I think. Really, actually in love."
"I-I don't know. What? What do you mean? I...I was just dumped. Callie dumped me," I said.
"Yeah," she said. "That may be so, but I think the person you're most tied up in now is my cousin. And if you want to know what I think...well, I think she likes you, too."
"But there's that whole issue of status," I reminded her.
"Screw that," she said.
Slowly, I began to smile and then, we both started laughing. And then, before I knew what was happening, Rhonda kissed me.
"Whoa, whoa - um," I said once we had parted. "What was that?"
"Can't blame a girl for trying," she said. Then, with a wink, she pushed her way inside. "Goodnight, Betsy." The door closed and I was alone on the porch steps.
"Goodnight Rhonda," I said quietly to no one. With a baffled laugh, I headed back to my car.
I was so glad to be home at ten. I'd been pretty tired, you know. Like, tired of Todd trying to grope me every time some scream-happy cheerleader or whoever got knifed in what turned out to be a really crappy sequel. I was happy to be soundly in my own driveway, walking up to my own home to change and crawl into my own bed.
Todd had been an incredible jerk, whining about why did I pay money to go to a movie if we weren't going to do something in the car? If it weren't for the fact that I really wanted to go to prom, I might have given up on the whole relationship thing. He probably still expected that I would sleep with him on the big night, despite the fact that I had no intention of doing so and had told him numerous times that it wasn't what I wanted. I planned to be in love before I did that - that part I hadn't said because I was afraid he would take offense and wonder why I didn't love him. It was something I wasn't entirely sure of - he had been a really sweet guy (or seemed like he was) when I first met him. I had no idea why I'd never fallen for that charm. Maybe deep down I knew that it was probably phony. Wait, what am I thinking? Todd means well...he just wants to be like the other guys.
I sighed and pulled my shoes off, placing them quietly on the rug, trying not to wake Rhonda. I was standing in my dark bedroom. I could hear Rhonda's light breathing on the other side of the bed and I found myself wondering what she and Betsy had been up to. I could see no sign that Betsy had come up to the room, but I wasn't sure. I pulled on my pajamas and left my clothes there on the floor next to the nightstand. I was just too tired. When I climbed into bed, the cool sheets against my hot skin felt nice and relaxing. I stretched out and waited for darkness to settle under my eyelids. In minutes, I was fast asleep.
I had another dream that I could only somewhat remember. I was in my gauzy prom dress with my hair feathered and adorned with tiny flowers and I was lost in a fog. I knew Betsy was there and I was trying to find her, but I kept running into things - trees, a barbed wire fence. And then there was something about the creepy monster man in the movie I'd seen with Todd and I was riding a flying camel or something strange like that. It dropped me into a river and I woke up with a start. Rhonda was standing over me with a cup of coffee.
"Wakey, wakey," she said. "Your parents left for the morning and they want me and you to watch Gio. I hope it's okay that I said we would. If you have plans, I'm sure I can deal on my own."
"Sure," I said. "It's not a problem." I sat up, taking the cup of coffee she offfered to me.
"I heard you making noise in your sleep. Bad dream?"
"It was weird, but I don't remember all of it," I said and shrugged. I picked up the brush from the nightstand and ran it through my hair. I could feel her eyes on me - or was that my imagination.
"You, um, said Betsy's name a few times," she said, with amusement in her tone. I whipped around.
"I did not!" I said.                         

"Yeah," she said. "Ya did. You have been known to talk in your sleep before, though. I remember when we were ten and you kept talking about Mickey Mouse and the sinking boat in your sleep. What was that about?" She chuckled, but I was blushing.
"What else did I say?" I said.
"About Mickey Mouse?" she said, but I knew she knew what I meant. I looked at her sideways and put my hands on my hips.
"Rhon, you know what I mean!"
"Yeah yeah. That's all you said, though. Just her name a couple of times. I assumed you had too many nachos at the show."
"Funny," I said with mock annoyance. I was still feeling embarrassed, though. I wasn't sure why - I mean, what could I have said? But I still felt really exposed and the need to pull the covers back over my head was hard to ignore. I sipped my coffee instead.
"Better get a move on," she said. "I made breakfast!" She sounded proud of herself, the way a child might if she had done something she saw as particularly "grown-up."
I got dressed quickly, then joined her and Gio at the kitchen table. There were pancakes and syrup on the table, next to a carafe of orange juice. Gio had a cocoa with teeming marshmallows and was eating his pancakes like he was a giant monster attacking a city.
"Garrrr," he growled, plunging his fork into his breakfast. I smiled and mussed his hair, but he didn't even look up, so engrossed he was in his little world.
"This is a pretty sweet breakfast," I told Rhonda. "He's going to be hyper the rest of the day and you signed us up with baby-sitting duty."
"He'll be fine," she said. "He has an insane amount of energy as it is. I doubt this will change that much. We should take him to the park, though. It will be good for him to run around some."
"Sure, that'll be nice. For us, too. It's looking like it's going to be a sunny day," I said, glancing out the window at the cloudless blue sky.
"Maybe we can play Frisbee or something," she said. She turned to Gio. "Would that be fun, kiddo?"
He nodded, his mouth crammed full of pancake. I sat next to him and placed two of the pancakes on my plate. I poured myself some juice.
"How was your night?" Rhonda asked, sitting in the chair with her knees propped up.
"Good," I said, though it was hardly true. I wasn't ready to talk about everything going on in my head at that moment. "Yours?"
She smiled mischievously and my stomach rolled.
"It was great," she said.
"Oh," I said. My mind went completely blank for a second and then I got up the courage to ask, "Did anything happen?"
She glanced over at Gio and shrugged. I sighed and got up, pulling her elbow toward the other side of the kitchen and out of my little brother's earshot.
"Ok, spill it," I said.
"She kissed me," she said. My smile was permanently plastered to my face, but I was pretty sure my eyes gave away my dismay. I couldn't explain it, but I felt...well, jealous.
"Or, actually...I guess I kissed her," she said, noting my look. "But now I'm wondering."
"Wondering what?" I asked her, barely able to look at her.
"Wondering if perhaps she was thinking of you when she kissed me back."
That got my attention. I looked at her squarely now.
"What do you mean?"
"Don't tell me you're that oblivious, Ash," she said. "That girl is crazy about you. You haven't noticed? I'm positive it wasn't just the fact that he actually was being an asshole that Betsy commented on Todd's behavior. She seemed to be a little...protective, shall we say?"
"Betsy said something about Todd?" I said.
"She said he was a jerk and didn't understand why you were with him."
"Really?" I said. It was all I could manage to say.
"And what did you tell her?"
"I said that you had seen something in Todd at some point that you liked," she said. In her voice, I detected a note of uncertainty. "That's true, right?"
"Yes, of course it is. There was something I liked...about Todd. Initially," I said.
"Initially?" she laughed. "So his status as most popular jerk-off is no longer as appealing as it used to be?"
"Please tell me that's not what you told her, Rhon!"
"Um, sort of."
"You didn't!"
"Well, isn't that why you're with him? Because I gotta tell you, Ash - I see no other redeeming qualities. If it isn't popularity, I don't know what it is."
I groaned, fell back against the sink and buried my face in my hands.
"She must think I'm an idiot...and just the most horrible person," I cried.
"That's what I'm trying to tell you, Asha!" she said. "She doesn't! Betsy thinks you're about the greatest thing since toasters and The Clash. Seriously." She pulled my hands away from my face and showed me how sincere she was being. "Seriously."
I looked down at my shoes. I was so confused about why I cared so much, why just the thought of Betsy liking me so much made me giddy and like I wanted to pirouette all the way down to her house.
"Then I have to talk to her," I said.
"Yes. But today, you need to give her some time. Because I think she's coming to the realization of her feelings, too. And I say 'too' as in 'in addition to Asha's,' I hope you know. A blind person could see how you feel."
I just nodded. I needed to deal with my own revelations.
It was around noon that Rhonda, Gio and I got to the park. Rhonda was on a swing, smoking a cigarette as irritated mothers gawked at her and shuffled their kids away. I hung back and watched as Gio was dangling on the monkey bars and I snorted at the way parents ogled at Rhonda, while she didn't even seem to notice. I took a slow stroll around the bike path and nearby softball field. Watching a couple play with their dog, chasing him back and forth, I thought about what being a couple meant for me and Todd, as opposed to what it probably felt like for other people. Happier people I thought. People who were together for the right reasons.
But it had started out like that. Todd had been very nice when we'd first met. It was at a soccer match between our competing schools. We'd talked awhile about the game, made some jokes about the horrible players on both sides. He'd invited me out for pizza with his family. Though not exactly swooning, I was charmed. I thought he was funny and there was no denying he was attractive. Over time, we had seen more and more of each other with and without other friends around. Tennis on Saturdays at the country club where his parents belonged or just hanging out and watching TV at his place. We'd listen to records and play card games in his basement until my parents expected me home. It had been nice, we had been friends and it was all very PG-13. But somewhere along the line, he'd gained more attention at school or from friends. Was that what had happened? I wasn't sure. But he'd grown distant for awhile. And then, he'd gotten downright mean. Some days he would act like his old self...but only for a short time before being whiny, telling me he was bored with me and all the while, pressuring me about getting more physical. I was more and more fed up and last night had certainly felt like the last straw...but then, in the morning light, I was wondering what life at school would be like for me without him. There were no other options anymore. Mom couldn't afford private school anymore. None of us could.
That was another thing about Todd. He had been there when my mom had had the affair. When she lost her job and when we lost so much of the footing in the community that we'd once had. Even when we had to move and there was all this talk - he had stuck around. He knew about it all. Betsy didn't.
Betsy? I thought. Am I really thinking about her in the same way as Todd? I knew the answer to that. It had been as clear as daylight the day we met. No, I didn't feel the same about her as I did about Todd. Because what I felt for Betsy was much, much more. The question was, how would she feel about me when she found out more about my family and our past?
I knew that I had to talk to her, of course. But I needed time. I needed a chance to practice what I would say. I was afraid, though. I could no longer imagine my life without her in it and I was terrified I might lose her with the truth.
Lost in thought, I didn't hear Rhonda or Gio calling me until they were right up behind me. Gio smacked my arm as he ran by me and yelled, "Tag! You're it, Asha!"
Rhonda was laughing and she tagged me, too. She yelled to Gio that she was "it" now and I watched as he chased her and caught her, then she chased him. When she caught him, she started tickling him. I laughed as I watched him try to wriggle away. I glanced at my watch and realized we'd been there for two hours.
"We should get home," I called to them. When they came closer, I said, "I should get some lunch and Gio here needs a bath. He's filthy."
"Nooo," Gio groaned in complaint.               

"Yes, you need a bath Gio. But if you're good and don't argue with me, we can watch cartoons or maybe Kids, Incorporated. And I'll make pizza."
"Spaghetti," he bartered.                          
"Okay, spaghetti," I said.
"Yay!" he said and jumped up and down. I had to hand it to the kid. He was easy to please. What's more, he was a happy kid and a really great one at that. He linked arms with me on one side and Rhonda on the other. Like that, we walked to the car doing the Monkees' walk like Rhonda and I had taught him when he was younger. If I could have kept my kid brother younger and free of the problems I was having forever, I would have. It made me sad that it wasn't possible, but I was just glad I could enjoy Gio this way for now. I'd make the most of it.
Back home, I checked the answering machine and found three messages from Betsy. Each said something along the lines of "I hope you enjoyed last night. It was good to hang out with you all. Maybe we can hang out again soon" or "Hey, just calling to see what you're up to this week. My band may be playing a gig at this coffee shop, so maybe you can come." I thought of calling her back but wasn't ready. Instead, I spent the evening with my brother and my cousin- but the whole time, my mind was with Betsy.