Along for the Ride

Author: P Hana

Page 58

   

Too late, I realized this had slipped out, without me even realizing it. ‘Nothing,’ I told her.

I heard footsteps, and looked down the hall just in time to see Heidi and my dad coming upstairs. From the looks of it they, too, were having a pretty intense conversation: my dad was throwing his arms around, his annoyed face on, while she just shook her head. I eased my door shut, switching my phone to my other ear.

‘… ridiculous,’ my mom was saying now. ‘Two years of culture and travel, and for what? To sit and process deposits all day long? It’s heartbreaking.’

She really sounded sad. Still, I couldn’t help but say, ‘Mom, most people Hollis’s age have jobs, you know. Especially if they aren’t in school.’

‘I didn’t raise either of you to be like most people,’ she replied. ‘Don’t you know that by now?’

I had a flash of myself the night before, standing at the Park Mart with Eli, in the toy section. He’d stopped by a big display of rubber sport balls, pulling one out and bouncing it on the floor. ‘Oh, yeah,’ he said. ‘Hear that?’

‘The bouncing noise?’

‘It’s more,’ he told me, ‘than a bouncing noise. That is the noise of imminent pain.’

I looked at the ball, still moving up and down under his open palm. ‘Pain?’

‘In dodgeball,’ he explained. ‘Or kickball, if you were playing the way we did.’

‘Wait!’ I said, holding up my hand. ‘I have played dodgeball. And kickball.’

‘Really.’

I nodded.

‘I’m impressed. And they aren’t even indoor sports.’

‘Oh, it was, actually. At school, in the gym.’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘What? It’s the same game.’

‘Actually it’s not,’ he said.

‘Come on.’

‘Seriously. There’s school rules, and neighborhood rules. The two are very different.’

‘Says who?’

‘Anybody who has played both,’ he said, tossing the ball back. ‘Trust me.’

Now, my mother took another sip of her wine. ‘Oh, I almost forgot,’ she said. ‘A packet has arrived for you. From Defriese. Orientation information, I’m assuming. Would you like for me to open it?’

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Thanks.’

There was the sound of paper tearing, then crinkling. She sighed. ‘As I suspected. Meal plan info, updated transcript requests, a roommate questionnaire… which is due at the end of the week, apparently.’

‘Really.’

‘For God’s sake.’ She groaned. ‘It’s like a compatibility test! “What activities do you enjoy?” “Would you say you are a workaholic, or more carefree with your studies?” What is this, higher education or Internet dating?’

‘Just stick it in the mail to me,’ I said. ‘I’ll get it back as fast as I can.’

‘And if you’re late, you’ll end up with some carefree, activity-loving roommate. We’re better off filling it out now,’ she muttered. ‘Oh, wait a moment. There’s a second page here, where you can request “alternate living arrangements”.’

‘Meaning what?’

She didn’t say anything for a moment, busy reading. Then, ‘There are certain floors and dorms you can request where everyone has a specific focus, such as foreign languages or sports. Let me just… ah. Perfect.’

I heard a pen scritching. ‘What’s perfect?’

‘The Pembleton Program,’ she replied. ‘I just signed you up for it.’

‘What?’

She cleared her throat, then read aloud. ‘“Housed in a dorm removed from the main campus, the Pembleton Program offers academically strong students an environment dedicated solely to their studies. With single rooms, on-site research materials, and close access to both libraries, members of Pembleton are free to focus on their work without the distractions of regular dorm life.”’

‘Which means…’

‘No roommate, no parties, no nonsense. It’s just what you want.’

‘Um,’ I said. ‘I don’t know. It sounds kind of restrictive, don’t you think?’

‘Not at all,’ she replied. ‘You won’t have to deal with drunk frat boys and hormonal, gossiping girls. It’s ideal. Now, I’ll just sign your name here, and we can –’

‘Don’t,’ I said quickly. I could feel her surprise, could see her on the other end of the phone, pen in hand, eyebrows raised. ‘I mean, I’m not really sure I want to live there.’

Silence. Then, ‘Auden. I don’t think you understand how distracting it can be to live in a dorm environment. There are people who come to college purely for the social life. Do you really want to be stuck in a room with someone like that?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘But I don’t want to spend every single second studying either.’

‘Oh.’ Her voice was flat. ‘I suppose this is part of your blossoming, then? Suddenly school isn’t important anymore, just boys and girlfriends and clothes?’

‘Of course not. But –’

A sigh, loud, filling my ear. ‘I should have known spending the summer with Heidi would do this to you,’ she said. ‘I spend eighteen years teaching you about the importance of taking yourself seriously, and in a matter of weeks you’re wearing pink bikinis and totally boy crazy.’

‘Mom,’ I said, my voice rising. ‘This isn’t about Heidi.’

‘No,’ she shot back. ‘It’s about your sudden lack of drive and focus. How could you let yourself get this way?’

Hearing this, I had a flash of my dad, attributing all I’d done to the name he’d chosen for me. All the good was their doing; the bad, mine. I bit my lip. ‘I haven’t changed,’ I told her. ‘This is just me.’

Silence. And I knew, within it, that the fact this might be true was worse than any frat boy or pink bikini ever could be.

‘Well, I’ll just stick this in the mail.’ She drew in a breath, stiff, formal. ‘You make your own decision.’

I swallowed. ‘Okay.’

For a moment, neither of us said anything, and I wondered what could possibly follow this. How we could come back from such an impasse, this huge expanse stretching between us. There were a million different ways, I was sure, but my mom surprised me by not choosing any of them. Instead, she hung up, leaving me with a simple click, the last word, and no idea where to go from here.

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