“A duvet,” I told her, stopping to eye a stack of thick purple towels, “is a cover for a comforter, usually a down comforter. And a comforter is just a glorified quilt.”
She crossed her eyes at me, sighed, and pushed some hair out of her face. Lately she’d just seemed cranky all the time, defeated, as if at the age of eighteen life already sucked beyond any hope of improvement.
“I’m supposed to get a comforter in a purple/pink hue,” she said, reading off Delia’s letter. “And sheets to match. And a bed ruffle, whatever the hell that is.”
“It goes around the base of the bed,” I explained. “To cover the legs and provide a sort of color continuity, all the way to the floor.”
She looked at me, eyebrows raised. “Color continuity?” she asked.
“My mother bought a new bedroom suite a few years back,” I said, taking the list out of her hand. “I got an entire education in thread count sheets and Egyptian cotton.”
Lissa stopped the cart next to a display of plastic wastebas kets, picking up a lime green one with blue trim. “I should get this,” she told me, turning it in her hands, “just because it will so clash with her predetermined scheme. In fact, I should pick the most butt-ugly furnishings as a complete protest against her assumption that I would just go along with whatever she said.”
I glanced around: butt ugly was entirely possible at Linens Etc., which carried not only lime green trash cans but also leopard-patterned tissue holders, framed prints of kittens frolicking with puppies, and bath mats shaped like feet. “Lissa,” I said gently, “maybe we shouldn’t do this today.”
“We have to,” she grumbled, grabbing a pack of sheets-the wrong size, and bright red-off a nearby shelf and tossing them into the cart. “I’m seeing Delia at orientation next week and I’m sure she’ll want a freaking update.”
I picked up the red sheets and put them back on the shelf while she pouted around the toothbrush holders, completely un-enthused. “Lissa, is this really how you want to start college? With a totally shit attitude?”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, yeah, well that’s easy for you to say, Miss Going-across-the-Country-Free-and Clear-No-Problems. You’ll be out in sunny California, windsurfing and eating sushi while I’m stuck here in the same place I’ve always been, watching Adam date his way through the entire freshman class.”
“Windsurfing and sushi?” I said. “At the same time?”
“You know what I mean!” she snapped, and a woman pricing a stack of washcloths glanced over at us. Lissa lowered her voice and added, “I might not even go to school anyway. I might defer and join the Peace Corps and go to Africa and shave my head and dig latrines.”
“Shave your head?” I said, because, really, this was the most ludicrous part of the whole thing. “You? Do you have any idea how ugly most people’s bare heads are? They’ve got all kinds of bumps, Lissa. And you won’t know until it’s too late and you’re flat-out bald.”
“You’re not even listening to me!” she said. “It’s always been so easy for you, Remy. So gorgeous and confident and smart. No guy ever dumped you and left you shattered.”
“That’s not true,” I said in a level voice. “And you know it.”
She paused at this, as our shared history caught up with her. Okay, so maybe I was known for having the upper hand in my relationships, but there was a reason for that. She didn’t know what happened that night at Albert’s, within shouting distance of her own bedroom window. But since then, I’d been stomped on my fair share. Even Jonathan had caught me unaware.
“I planned my whole future around Adam,” she said now, quietly. “And now I have nothing.”
“No,” I told her, “now you just don’t have Adam. There’s a big difference, Lissa. You just can’t see it yet.”
She harrumphed at this, yanking a cow-print Kleenex box cover off the shelf and adding it to the cart. “I can see that everyone else is doing exactly what they wanted with the rest of their lives. They’re all at the gate, pawing the dirt and ready to run, and I’ve already got a lame leg and am this close to being taken around back of the stable to be put out of my misery.”
“Sweetie,” I said, trying to be patient, “we’ve only been out of high school a month. This isn’t even the real world yet. It’s just in-between time.”
“Well, I hate it here,” she snapped, gesturing all around her, including not only Linens Etc. but the world itself, “in between or not. Give me high school any day. I’d go back in a second, if I could.”
“It’s too early for nostalgia,” I told her. “Really.”
We walked along the main aisle toward the miniblind section, not talking. As she grumbled over curtains I walked over to the clearance section, where summer picnic ware was on special, one day only. There were plastic plates in all colors, and cutlery with clear handles, forks with metallic prongs. I picked up a set of tumblers decorated with pink flamingoes: definitely butt ugly.
But I was thinking of the yellow house, where the only dish-ware consisted of one ceramic plate, a few mismatched forks and knives, some gas-station freebie coffee mugs, and whatever paper goods Ted had managed to score from the damaged bin at Mayor’s Market. It was the only time I’d ever heard someone ask, “Can you grab me the spoon?” as opposed to “a spoon,” which at least connoted there was more than one. And here, on bargain special, was an entire plastic, blue-handled set of cutlery-a virtual plethora of flatware-for only $6.99. I picked them up and put them in the cart without even thinking.
About ten seconds later, it hit me. What was I doing? Buying flatware for a guy? For a boyfriend? It was as if I, like my brother, had been suddenly brainwashed by aliens. What kind of girl purchases housewares for someone she has hardly been dating for a month? Psycho desperate-to-get-married-and-pop-out-babies types, that’s who, I told myself, shuddering at the thought. I threw the cutlery set back onto the table with such speed it crashed into a stack of dolphin-patterned plates, causing a commotion loud enough to distract Lissa from the reading lamps.
Calm down, I told myself, taking in a deep breath, then promptly spitting it out, since everything in Linens Etc. stank of scented candles.
“Remy?” Lissa said. She was holding a green lamp. “You okay?”