Monday, July 28, 2014

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

Betsy

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 of...like 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.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

What drives you?

I've been giving this question a lot of thought lately. What drives me? I think about all the things in my life "drive" touches -- drive, meaning ambition, motivation. I would definitely like to move up and get a chance to do something different, take more responsibility, get to be more creative and have that pay my rent and put food on my table. I actually hope to be well on my way into getting my MLS next year, and maybe even be working in a different positon. I like where I work -- two suburban libraries, one award-winning for its outstanding resources and the other nestled snugly in the heart of a college town's downtown. But admittedly, I've grown tired of telling people that I'm a shelver. I can't imagine what they think, but I feel like -- on paper -- it just looks like all I have the skills to do is put things in alphanumerical order, which doesn't account for all the knowledge about libraries that I've gained having worked in them for nearly 9 years. 

Or to patrons, I might say that I am "just a shelver" -- to explain why I can't help them with everything, though I want to. Wish I could. But I have to do this other thing, the thing I get paid for. Which is lovely, in its way: placing the books back in order. Reading their spines and covers from time to time.


I'm not saying that I want to be a librarian in case Rachel Wiesz shows up.
But I'm not saying that idea hasn't fueled fantasies. ;-P


As for what drives me, I will say that this does -- writing, reading, literacy and the idea of libraries as this growing cultural hub that can bring people together. I always wanted to be a writer and I still do -- I've written novels, so far unpublished, that are in the editing process and I blog when I can. But I know that my motivation and discipline waxes and wanes and I am someone who needs that "day job" to supplement a writing career; in 2006, when I started as a shelver in Skokie, I started to feel like I'd found what I wanted to do besides writing. Getting to chat with patrons about what books they like and help them find things always feels great, and I think I would eventually like to be the person who comes into more rural libraries and makes them a little more...hip, I guess? Skokie has all these resources and has lectures, movie nights, computer classes -- things that I know it might take a bigger budget to do, but I'd like to help rural libraries get grants and more resources and find creative ways to bring people together for open, safe discussions of everything from books and movies to politics and the job market. But I don't entirely know how to get from point A, life as a library shelver, to point B, life as a super-librarian, able to smash through research roadblocks in a single bound.


And then there's that other nagging thought: that the thing that drives me doesn't drive me enough? Because what really drives me is this desire to write. Really write -- like, always. Give in to my characters and let them lead their lives to the detriment of mine. But I feel like I would be so happy: sitting in coffeeshops, staring out as clouds turn to rain turn back to clear blue skies, or sitting in sunny kitchens from dawn to dusk and just leading this nice, literary life. I remember when I had that, briefly, before I left the home of my parents, before I went to college, before I got a job or two, before I surrounded myself with a bustling city. Is this what is meant by a mid-life crisis? Because I have been flashing back more and more to the warm, outstretched hand of the first summer after high school and all the times I walked down Yellowhammer Road, deep in thought, inhaling the green, fresh-mowed grass, the scent of rain in the air and the fragrance of honeysuckle. The times I woke early - yes, me! The perpetual night owl! - and drank coffee while I wrote for hours and hours, then took a break to read, then went back to writing. I'd forget to eat! I'd forget everything else until finally, my stomach would be nearly deafening with its growls and I would have to step away, find a breaking off point. But then I would be in a haze of thinking about my story until I could get back to it. I miss being in the country, believe it or not, though I would miss the city, too, if I were away from it. I think I miss the quiet, and the feeling of so much time and potential ahead of me. Maybe I am looking for a balance: the quiet, natural surroundings and the time mixed with the pulsing energy of the city with all its unpredictability. I'm taking advice on how to accomplish this. 


Tell me. I'm open.


Vindication

You do not understand.  

You simply do not get it. Call me the isolationist. Sapiosexual. No, BIBLIOsexual!  Call me crazy cat lady. Look at my glasses and write me off as a stereotype. Go too far in the opposite direction, overlook me and my occasional genius and assume I am not good enough. Not smart enough.  Not organized enough. Too afraid of dust. But you do not understand. 

To work in a library and do what I dream, I would walk the earth. I would scour the globe with blistered feet and only the literary characters in my head as companions. To find a library that would have me, that would propel me, that would honor my creativity and curiosity, I would settle into some backwoods nowhere. "No man is an island," you say? Well I am no man! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, John Donne




Thursday, July 24, 2014

Long Time, No Louise...

But I'm back now and determined to catch up on blogging and life and I hope maybe get back on track with creating a writing life

Lists take all forms with me. I write lists for myself that are actual to-do lists – the kind where I can check off as I go along, finishing little tasks like organizing my paystubs in my file folder or bulk cooking tomato sauce for pasta dishes this week. Other lists I write are more abstract, with things I'd like to do over a range of time: figure out ways to get paid for writing what I want to write, discipline myself to post more blog entries, make time for little joys and pleasures in life. 

Today I present to you My Library Haul, something I will try to do bi-weekly. It's a list of the things I checked out of the library and my motives for doing so: what was I hoping to experience, to learn, to gain? It's a reminder to myself of the reasons I love libraries and it's a way to connect with my readers over what I am trying to know, experience or accomplish. 

I feel like this week, there's a very pink theme running through my choices, although it wasn't intentional. It's sort of a sunset blushing pink and hot pink kind of week, I suppose:


The stack includes: I Am That Girl by Alexis Jones, Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour, Isa Does It by Isa Moskowitz, Publish Your Book by Patricia Fry, plus the film The Descendants and Passion Pit's CD Gossamer from 2012.

I've been in love with Passion Pit's music for the last couple of years, but I didn't have this one. They just keep me upbeat and on top of things, the way the best indie pop can. 

And presently, I am trying to figure out better ways to nourish my body despite not having a surplus of free time and being on a narrow budget. Realizing that my blood sugar issues and other health issues are not going away and that I either need to take care of myself or get a jumpstart on will-writing and funeral-planning (whoa, that got dark!), I have been reading a lot of food books and also, skimming lots of cookbooks for things I can whip up easily with minimal ingredients that will be both: healthy and energizing. Isa Moskowitz of Post Punk Kitchen kinda has this way of breaking stuff down and her book is both a cookbook and a tutorial on cooking and nutrition. I'm an ovo-lacto vegetarian, not a vegan, but I still eat stuff that's vegan and I like how easy she makes it so I wanted to check this out again and Xerox stuff. :)

The Descendants is one of those movies I've been meaning to get around to, and honestly, I'd meant to read the novel first, but I had both on reserve and this came in. So I indulged. I like Shailene Woodley's film presence and I'm excited to see her, eventually, as Hazel Grace in The Fault In Our Stars. I loved the subtlety of the performances in this flick, too -- there's this really nice moment where Shailene's character defends her dad, played by George Clooney, to her grandfather and the exchange is so perfect. Clooney has this look of surprised pleasure on his face in what I feel was a rare moment of acting perfection from someone I find mediocre otherwise (yeah, sue me - he seems like a nice guy and I LOVE that he was related to Rosemary and also on The Facts of Life, but I am not a huge fan of his acting). I like it when I can read feelings on the faces of actors -- when they register their character's emotions on their faces; it's the cinematic equivalent of  "show, don't tell."

So far, I am only up to the third chapter in Nina LaCour's Everything Leads To You, but only because I am a slow reader lately (except when I was in Michigan -- having nothing else I have to do certainly leaves more time for devouring literature!!). It's pretty delicious so far, as LaCour's work often is -- so evocative.

I Am That Girl and Publish Your Book are just for skimming -- one for inspiration and the other for things to think about in the whole self-publishing process, respectively. Though I am really holding out for Mark Levine's The Fine Print of Self-Publishing as far as books on that subject go -- and I hope to read that one cover-to-cover. 

That's it for this library haul, lovelies!

XOXO,



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Been hangin' around...

I've just been sitting around, not getting much accomplished today and I refuse to feel guilty that I haven't blogged in weeks because I have needed a break from thinking so much about everything! I'm exhausted from worrying about money and graduate school and how I am going to manage to go and see my siblings in the next several months and oh, let's not forget, how much I NEED to get out of Chicago and go see my siblings on their opposite coasts or else I may go mad. I need to see people who I miss and I need a change of surroundings, a break from the daily grind (read: rut) of my life so that I can clear out the cobwebs in my mind and figure out what I could do next.

One thing I have decided is that I'd like to have the final edit of Turn To You completed before the end of the year, so that I can offer it as an eBook and/or paperback to my readers. I haven't posted this month's installment, yet – I'm behind schedule on that – but once this month's chaos is over, I'll be back on track. Promise! Meanwhile, tune in this weekend for Part Twelve.


Other stuff: I have some ideas for relationship and self-help/positivity articles that I want to write and I really need to structure myself some time to work on these, as well as working on proposals to the magazines that I hope will consider including them. I have come to see myself as someone with some insights that are valued, even if I don't always have a handle on my own shit. Might as well put this and my current obsession with self-help books to some good use!

I'd also like to get back to reviewing films. It's been awhile since I sat down and watched an entire movie from beginning to end. These days, I've just been binge-watching How I Met Your Mother, Orange Is The New Black, The Fosters and Faking It (yep, that's a lot of TV-binging!) and I can't even remember the last movie I saw that I hadn't seen before. Once upon a time, I had this lofty idea that I might watch ALL of the AFI top 100 and write about them...but that fizzled after I watched all of Lawrence of Arabia and afterward, felt depleted and kinda thirsty. But maybe I will try something else soon. I have always liked writing about movies – when I was in college, I wanted to be the next Roger Ebert, I loved it so much. Oh, the ambitions of the young!


This has been, I suppose, a post full of things that I intend to do but haven't yet done. Kind of reminder to myself. Alright, Louise...it's your move. Time to put some plans in action.

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.
Asha
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.
"Yep."
"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.