“Um, right,” I said. This we thing was kind of strange, considering I'd never been involved in any school teams, so far. It was like she'd forgotten I was even there.
She was already on her way out the door, the schedule in her hand. “I'm going to stick this on the fridge right now, so we'll know when you need to be where. And tomorrow night, after they tell you what you need, we'll go to the mall. Okay? Unless they have to special-?order things from a catalog, in which case maybe I should just go ahead and write you a check to take with you ...“ ”I don't know,” I said quietly.
“Well, I'll just send a blank one with you and that way if they are ordering you can go ahead and do it right away. You don't want to wait too long. Unless they all order in a group together ... ?”
“I don't know,” I said again. My stomach was starting to hurt. “Well, we'll figure it out later,” she said, beaming and waving the paper at me before she disappeared down the hall. I knew she was pulling the Scotch tape out of the drawer by the stove, centering the paper on the fridge in the exact same spot where Cass's soccer/student government/Debate Club/Yale schedule had always been. The only reason I'd even tried out was to do something different from Cass. But here, in the end, I was following her again. I looked out my window to Boo and Stewart's. They were cooking dinner. Stewart was peeling carrots and talking, while Boo stirred something on the stove with a long wooden spoon, a glass of wine in her other hand. And I wished again that I was their daughter, just once, sitting in that kitchen eating spicy greens, peeling carrots, and * just being me. One time, when I was about eight or nine, Boo was watching me at her house. I had my Barbie bedroom/carrying case and was dressing my Barbie for a big date with Ken, who was half-?naked on the floor waiting for me to find his blue velour pants. “So what's your doll's name?” Boo asked me. “Barbie,” I said. “All their names are Barbie.”
“I see,” she said. “Well, I'd think that would get boring, everyone having the same name.” I thought about this, then said, “Okay, then her name is Sabrina.”
“Well, that's a very nice name,” Boo said. I remember she was baking bread, kneading the dough between her thick fingers. “What does she do?”
“Do?” I said.
“Yes.” She flipped the dough over and started in on it from the other side. “What does she do?”
“She goes out with Ken,” I said. “And what else?”
“She goes to parties,” I said slowly. “And shopping.”
“Oh,” Boo said, nodding. “She can't work?”
“She doesn't have to work,” I said.
“Because she's Barbie.”
“I hate to tell you, Caitlin, but somebody has to make payments on that town house and the Corvette,” Boo said cheerfully. “Unless Barbie has a lot of family money.” I considered this while I put on Ken's pants. Boo started pushing the dough into a pan, smoothing it with her hand over the top. “You know what I think, Caitlin?” Her voice was soft and nice, the way she always spoke to me. “What?”
“I think your Barbie can go shopping, and go out with Ken, and also have a productive and satisfying career of her own.” She opened the oven and slid in the bread pan, adjusting its position on the rack. “But what can she do?” My mother didn't work and spent her time cleaning the house and going to PTA. I couldn't imagine Barbie, whose most casual outfit had sequins and go-?go boots, doing s.uch things. Boo came over and plopped right down beside me. I always remember her being on my level; she'd sit on the edge of the sandbox, or lie across her bed with me and Cass as we listened to the radio. “Well,” she said thoughtfully, picking up Ken and examining his perfect physique. “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I remember this moment so well; I can still see Boo sitting there on the floor, cross- legged, holding my Ken and watching my face as she tried to make me see that between my mother's PTA and Boo's strange ways there was a middle ground that began here with my Barbie, Sab-?rina, and led right to me.
“Well,” I said abruptly, “I want to be in advertising.” I have no idea where this came from. “Advertising,” Boo repeated, nodding. "Okay. Advertising it is. So Sabrina has to go to work every day, coming up with ideas for commercials and things like that.“ ”She works in an office,“ I went on. ”Sometimes she has to work late.“ ”Sure she does,“ Boo said. ”It's hard to get ahead. Even if you're Barbie.“ ”Because she wants to get promoted,“ I added. ”So she can pay off the town house. And the Corvette.“ ”Very responsible of her,“ Boo said. ”Can she be divorced?“ I asked. ”And famous for her commercials and ideas?“ ”She can be anything,“ Boo told me, and this is what I remember most, her freckled face so solemn, as if she knew she was the first to tell me. ”And so can you.“ So now I found myself a cheerleader, using pom-?poms and pyramids to forge my way into new and unbroken territory. I wondered again what Cass would think of me: would she be disappointed, like Boo, or ecstatic, like my mother. If I knew my sister, she'd be a little of both.
Every year for as long as I could remember, my family and Boo and Stewart have had an end-?of-?summer cookout to celebrate Labor Day. This year, with Cass gone, I wondered if we'd stick with tradition or just let it go. It was hard to say. In the end, it was my mother who made the call. ”Well,“ she said to Boo the weekend before, over coffee, ”I suppose Cassandra would be gone anyway. Freshman orientation started on the third." As she said this, she glanced over to the fridge, where the Yale calendar still hung next to Cass's junior prom picture and the grocery list. It was the one reminder of Cass's thwarted college plans that she hadn't taken down yet.
“Exactly,” Boo said, taking another grape out of the bowl in front of her and tossing it into her mouth. “Besides, it's bad luck to mess with tradition. And I have a wonderful new recipe for eggplant pasta salad that will knock your socks off.“ My mother smiled at this. ”I suppose I'll make my ambrosia salad,“ she said, stirring her coffee with a clink of her spoon. ”And Jack can handle the steaks, like always.“ ”Stewart will make his famous tempeh fajitas,“ Boo added. ”What about you, Caitlin? What can you make for us?” I thought about this: My biggest traditional contribution was usually lighting the grill. Cass had been famous for her chocolate-?chip cheesecake. It was the only thing she could make, and it was always a huge production, involving her taking over the entire kitchen. She'd bang pans, mumbling and cursing to herself, before finally emerging with a somewhat lopsided, always delicious dessert. As a vegetarian dish, it was loved all around, unless Stewart was in a vegan cycle, which just meant more for the rest of us. The image of Cass in the kitchen with her face smeared with flour, using a spatula to shoo us all out of the kitchen as we tried to help her, always symbolizedmore than the pool closing, cooler nights, and homeworkthe end of summer to me. In the end, I made coleslaw; it was, after all, a summer dish. My mother turned on the bug light, Boo brought a huge bouquet of the last of her zinnias and cosmos, and my father flipped the steaks on the patio and drank beer with Stewart, who had pre-?cooked his fajitas to avoid any meat- tempeh interaction. My mother and Boo took their wineglasses and went for a stroll in the yard, already discussing fall bulbs, while I went inside and turned on the football game for my father, who could half- watch it while keeping an eye on his steaks. The bugs were out in force, and since Stewart had a conscientious objection to the bug light, he winced, as if ;n pain himself, each time it claimed another victim. “Well, I hear we have quite a team this year,” said Stewart, trying to make conversation. He knew nothing about sports and had lost our respect years ago by asking how many points a basket counted for while watching the second half of an NCAA Final Four Game. “Quarterback's good,” my father said, poking at a steak with a fork. “But the defensive line needs help. A good rushing team and we're in trouble.”