This was the truth: between the two of us, there was no question whose memory was more reliable. And wouldn’t I know my own history better than anyone else? Still, even as we ordered, I couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d said. He was going on about Laura, and Europe, but I was only half listening as I thought back, back, to that day in the driveway. It was all so clear: climbing on, pushing down on the pedals, rolling forward, it had to be true. Didn’t it?
‘So the word on the street,’ my mother said in her formal, cool way, ‘is that you’ve changed.’
I took my toothbrush out of my mouth, already wary. ‘Changed?’
These days, she always called around five, when I was waking up and she was ending her workday. I wanted to believe it was because she missed me, or had realized how important our connection really was to her. But I knew that really, she just needed someone to vent to about Hollis, who was back under her roof, still madly in love with Laura, and completely on her nerves.
‘For the better, if that’s what you’re asking,’ she said now, although her tone suggested she was not entirely convinced. ‘I believe the exact word your brother used was blossomed.’
I looked at myself in the mirror: my hair was uncombed, I had toothpaste on my lips and was still wearing the scoop-necked tee I’d had on last night at the bowling alley, which reeked of smoke. Not exactly flowery. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘that’s nice, I guess.’
‘He was particularly impressed,’ she said, ‘with your newfound social life. Apparently you’ve got scads of friends and a serious boyfriend as well?’
The fact that this last part was phrased as a question pretty much said everything about how she felt about it personally. ‘I don’t have a boyfriend,’ I told her.
‘Just a boy you spend your nights with.’ A statement, this time.
I looked at myself in the mirror again. ‘Yep,’ I told her. ‘That’s about right.’
Among all the other sudden changes in my brother, he was now an early riser – Hollis, who’d always slept past noon – as well as a jogger. He and Laura ran every day at sunrise, then came home to do yoga stretches and meditate. Although apparently, he wasn’t that immersed in his oms and namastes. When he heard me come in the morning after their arrival, he immediately came to investigate.
‘Auden Penelope West,’ he said, wagging a finger at me as I carefully shut the door behind me. ‘Look at you, doing the walk of shame!’
‘I’m not ashamed,’ I replied, although I did kind of wish he’d keep it down.
‘And who is this young man dropping you off?’ he asked, pulling aside a blind to peer out at Eli, who was backing his truck out of the driveway. ‘Shouldn’t he have to show himself, get my approval before taking you out courting?’
I just looked at him. From the living room, I could hear Laura chanting.
‘My little sister,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Staying out all night with a boy. Seems like just yesterday you were playing Barbies and skipping rope.’
‘Hollis, please,’ I said. ‘Mom considered Barbies weapons of chauvinism, and nobody’s skipped rope since 1950.’
‘I just can’t believe,’ he said, ignoring this, ‘you’re growing up so fast. Next you’ll be married and bouncing a baby on your knee.’
I ignored this, walking past him to the stairs, but it didn’t stop him, not then, and not the mornings that followed, when he always managed to be waiting for me, opening the door as I came up the front walk. One day he was actually sitting on the porch when we pulled up, necessitating both an introduction and a conversation with Eli.
‘Nice guy,’ he’d said, when I’d finally wrangled him away. ‘What’s with the scars on his arm, though?’
‘Car accident,’ I told him.
‘Really? What happened?’
‘I don’t really know, actually.’
He shot me a doubtful look as he pulled the front door open for me. ‘Seems kind of weird, considering how much time you two spend together.’
I shrugged. ‘Not really. It just hasn’t come up.’
I could tell he didn’t believe me, not that I cared. I’d long ago stopped trying to explain my relationship with Eli to anyone, including myself. It wasn’t any one thing, but many strung together: long nights, trips to Park Mart and Builder’s Supply, pie with Clyde, bowling in the early morning, and my quest. We didn’t talk about our scars, the ones you could see, and the ones you couldn’t. Instead, I was having all the fun and frivolousness I was due in one summer, night by night.
Now, my mother took another sip of her wine as I left the bathroom, heading back down the hall. Thisbe’s door was slightly ajar, and I could hear her waves, steady and crashing, over and over again.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘frankly, I’m glad to hear you’re not getting involved with someone. The last thing you need before you head off to Defriese is some boy begging you to stay with him. A smart woman knows a fling is always best.’
There had been a time when I liked my mother to think we were similar. Even craved it. But hearing this, I felt a weird twinge, something not settling right. What I was doing with Eli wasn’t like her and her graduate student(s).
‘So,’ I said, shaking this off, ‘how’s Hollis doing?’
She sighed, loud and long. ‘He’s insane. Completely insane. I came home yesterday and do you know what he was doing?’
‘Wearing a tie.’ She gave this a minute to sink in, then added, ‘She had him interviewing for a job at a bank. Your brother! Who this time last year was living in a tent on the side of a mountain in Germany!’
It was just too easy to get my mom off my back these days. One mention of Hollis, and she was off and running. ‘A bank,’ I said. ‘What’s he going to be, a teller or something?’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she said irritably. ‘I didn’t even ask, I was so horrified. He did volunteer, however, that Laura thinks employment might help him to be “more responsible” and “prepared for their future together”. Like that’s a good thing. I don’t even think this is a relationship, it’s so dysfunctional. I don’t know what to call it.’
‘Call it chicken salad.’