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You see me as intelligent. Smiling at your ingenuity, I ask about your dog. “Oh, Holly’s doing well,” you reply, chuckling. “Fatter than ever though.”
At the other table, they’re discussing Facebook and the stalkeresque symptoms the site has evoked within them. “Yeah, I know, right? It’s like so weird! Sometimes you’ll go on somebody’s page and not even post anything. If you scroll through their wall, you….”
Beside me, my sister brandishes a steak knife over a stalk of corn, attempting to shear off some nutrition that won’t get stuck in her braces. “Honey,” my mom berates her, frowning, “don’t hold it like that. You could poke someone’s eye out cutting that way!” “Right,” Geena answers, readjusting her weapon.
As I continue polite conversation, I think of a book in which I read that one should be mentally present with whoever they’re currently with. Wondering at my inability to follow this simple advice, I catch a ferociously poignant whiff of the hot dogs someone’s grilling in the backyard.
“So, Stacy,” someone addresses me, “are you still a vegetarian?”
“Yes,’ I reply rather stiffly, annoyed at everyone’s seeming to think that I’m going through some sort of phase.
“Is that right?” George Hamilton muses, patronizing. “When did you decide to do that?”
“A couple months ago, I guess.”
“I think,” my sister interjects, decidedly laying down her knife, “it’s been longer. Like half a year, at least.”
And it continues. Mercifully, my mom switches the direction of talk to my younger sibling, commenting on her figure skating pursuits. “Dolores, did you know that Geena’s taking her skating test on Tuesday?”
“Oh, no, I hadn’t heard! Well, that’s exciting, isn’t it?”
“She’s been working on her program for at least a year, and just last Wednesday her coach says she’s ready! Just out of the blue like that.”
“Oh, yes, I know how these people can be. Those perfectionists are usually the best coaches though,” she informs my mom, nodding wisely, “If the woman says Geena’s ready then I’m sure she is!”
“I certainly hope so! Those lessons are expensive enough! I really don’t know how we afford it. I was just telling Dan….”
As my mom sets off on one of her rants, I retrieve my fork for something to do, directing it over the expanse of my plate, through a splattering of ketchup, around a cucumber.
“Can I take your plate?” I ask my mom, inspired by boredom.
“Sure, honey. Thanks.”
Circumventing the dining room table over to the kitchen, I plop the sullied plates into the sink, run warm water over them, and check the oven to see if the brownies are ready. They don’t look quite done but senseless anticipation contorts my rationality into its own logic. The brownies are ready. I like them a little gooey anyway.
“Stacy?” my mom calls, “could you get the brownies?”
“Yeah, no problem.”
Grabbing an oven mit, I place the deliciousness onto the cutting board.
“Do we have vanilla?” my dad asks as he bustles into the kitchen, our guests’ plates piled in his arms.
“Mmmhmm,” I inform him, taking the plates, “right in the freezer. There’s lemon sorbet too.”
“Oh, good,” he mumbles absently, as Geena enters, asking after dessert.
“Just got the brownies out of the oven. Can you cut them up? Put them on plates? I’ve got to get something.”
In the dining room, all I catch of conversation is “Stacy” and “Geena”, the first spoken contentedly, the other with loving irritation. Smiling vaguely at our guests, I pass through the tumult virtually unnoticed, free as I reach the living room to escape upstairs to my room for a stolen moment of peace. Musing over my eerie ability to appear infinitely purposeful when I am indeed purposeless, I barely notice the boy sitting on the topmost stair until I’ve practically stepped on him.
“Oh, sorry,” I exclaim, retreating down a stair in surprise.
“Uh, don’t worry about it.” As he stands I recognize him as Dolores’ son, Tom.
He smiles, regaining the composure he’d lost as I’d trespassed into his solitude. Stupidly, I notice the whiteness of his teeth, the honest way his lips curve into kindness.
“Sorry,” I repeat dumbly after a moment, “I didn’t know you were up here.”
“Yeah, I just wanted to get away for a second.”
I nod, thinking “Me too” and saying “Do you need anything?”
“No thanks. I think I’ll just head back down.”
“’Kay. See you.”
Opening my bedroom door, I’m suddenly very keen on remaining within the four white walls of my sanctuary which looked oddly like an insane asylum until I taped up the walls with a conglomeration of my drawings, postcards, photographs, posters. Now, lying on my old Scooby Doo comforter, I gaze up at the ceiling adorned with a map of the world. The Russian Federation seems especially large today, almost ominous. I’m easily intimidated, sometimes.
Acknowledging my stupidity, I roll grudgingly over, off comfort and onto my feet.