I wait by the curb for my mom to pick me up. Before Kyle graduated we drove together, but now the only spare car is taking him to his classes downtown and I am stuck by the curb waiting for my mom or taking the bus.
I see the familiar blue Jeep with the top off pull into the entrance of my school and wonder if mom and Kyle switched cars without me knowing, until the car gets closer and I see Kyle driving.
“What are you doing here?” I ask. “I thought you had class until six?”
“It got cancelled,” he says back. I reach for the passenger door and pull it open. I throw my backpack into the backseat and get in. He turns up the music and we leave the school with country music pumping from the stereo. Only Kyle can get away with rocking out to a song about fishing on a pontoon boat.
He turns the music down two miles from our house. The wind creates a barrier of sound until we slow to a stop at a red light.
“So what are you doing next weekend?” I ask.
“Not sure yet. Some of the guys were talking about driving up to the mountains if it doesn’t rain and camping out near Black River.”
“If it rains, any chance you want to come to Hannah’s birthday party? It’s the big one, sixteen.”
“I suppose I could make an appearance…”
“Don’t act like it’s a big hassle, you barely turned eighteen two months ago.”
“Still a college student,” he says as we pulled into our driveway.
“Still a jerk,” I attempt to say as an insult, but we can both tell it doesn’t work.
“And you’re still a terrible liar.”
My smile is big as I grab my backpack and walk to our front door. My mom is playing James Taylor on the old record player that sits on a table in the corner of the living room. It is a cluttered, tight space, almost too small to house the music player, but we make it work. Mom won’t have a home without a record player. She is at the stove when we walk into the kitchen.
“Thank you, Kyle,” she says. “I had more time to prep the zucchini and squash for our dinner.”
I make a face at the vegetables, no doubt shoved in some organic stew with kale and tofu mixed in. My mom loves health foods. My dad loves good food. I partook in many second dinners with my father, late night pizza orders or runs to Mcdonald’s for real food. I don’t mind eating healthy, and honestly not all of the vegetables are bad. But when my mom starts making pasta sauce out of carrots, mushrooms, and eggplant, some lines have to be drawn. Food should never be a combination of purple and orange unless you’re in a Dr. Seuss story.
“Stop making faces about dinner and start doing your homework,” mom says, using the eyes behind her head. Sometimes I’m convinced I can’t be the only different one, my mom knows too much. Maybe everyone is hiding it from me out of some sick joke. Maybe my life is secretly a psych experiment or television show like The Truman Show.
“I’m already done with my homework.”
“Good, then you can work on the SAT test prep book that’s been collecting dust on the bookshelf.”
“Mom, college is a long time away. Why can’t I start studying when everyone else does, last minute? I think it’s a necessary rite of passage to experience the procrastination-panic of SAT exams and college applications.”
“Lynnette,” she says.
“I’ll get it. But just the math section tonight, please?” I knew I could get through that without too much trouble. I loved reading but that many words would only induce more of a headache. Especially because the stories they gave in SAT tests were never as good as the ones I bought at the bookstores.
“Alright, but the next two days are on the essay and the two days after that, literature.”
“I will have homework later this week, you know.”
“Just see how much you can do.”
“Goodbye life. Kyle will you tell the outside world I’ll be back when I have my college acceptance letter?”
“Should’ve been the dumb one like me,” he says.
“Someone had to keep us alive. If I chose to be dumb too, we would’ve done a lot worse as kids than trying to zipline from the trees in our backyard,” I say. Kyle laughs and rubs his elbow, the one he broke when the knot we tied in the rope connecting the two trees came loose and made us fall to the ground, halfway across our homemade zipline at ages seven and nine. He let me fall on top of him and his arm was the cost.
“Kyle, stop saying you are dumb. I have no dumb children,” mom says. She doesn’t always get humor, some things she took so literally it added more humor to mediocre jokes. “And stop distracting your sister.”
“Call your father, ask him how long until he’ll be home. I can let the vegetables sit for a while, but I don’t want to overcook the rest if he’s running late.”
I work through the first fifteen problems and by the time my father comes home I never want to see a number again. And I enjoy math. He is an anthropology professor at the local state college, but he has been on sabbatical for the past three months researching the small Native American tribe that used to reside in the next county. We all thought he’d have more time off with his sabbatical, but if anything, he’s busier. What started out as an extensive journal article on the social dynamics and labor roles within the tribe led to a plethora of material and interest, enough for a book length piece on his research alone. He discovered that this tribe’s organization may have been an origin for several other tribes, in fact some links are even showing that at least three other tribes originated from this tribe alone. Now dad is talking about extending his sabbatical to another year and traveling a bit more for more research.
The front door frame rattles a little after he slams it shut. I toss my pencil into the spine of the book to hold my place before shutting it and shoving it aside.
“There are enough bugs out there to match the population of China,” he says. He tosses his battered briefcase on the kitchen table, but it only stays there for a few seconds before he moves it because of a glare from mom.
“How was work?” I ask. I stand up and stretch before grabbing plates and silverware to set the table.
“Marvelous, I was able to find enough research to finish the section on familial bonding and now I can move on to leadership roles.”
Kyle comes out from his bedroom and helps me put plates down on the old oak table. I am pretty sure he’d been watching The Office while he was hidden away and I am instantly jealous. I’m stuck at school all day and he has his class cancelled, and then I have to come home and do SAT prep work and he gets to watch Netflix. Where is the justice?
We all sit down at the table after mom gathered all of the food from the oven and stove and set them on hot plates. We eat in a comfortable silence, which is pretty typical for our dinners. Mom insists on us eating together, she is a firm believer in family dinners keeping us from drugs or teen pregnancies, but we usually use the time to eat instead of talk. Leo was usually the talker in our family. When he first went away, we sat at the table and stared at each other for a moment in silence before Kyle and I broke it with our laughter. For a while we tried to force a conversation, but we all pretty much sucked at it, and the force of it only reminded us that Leo was missing, which silenced us more. I am proud of him for chasing his dream but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a little bitter and sad that he’s gone so much. So we eat our dinner quickly and clear the table just as fast. Barely forty minutes pass by the time the kitchen is clean and mom and dad leave to their room, which means I am free to leave my SAT studying to another day.
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