Table of Contents
A PLUME BOOK
A PLUME BOOK
NINA KILLHAM lives in London with her husband and two children. Believe Me is her third novel.
Praise for How to Cook a Tart
“A devilish delight . . . smart, sexy, hilarious and not to be missed.”
—The Washington Post
“A delicate, wicked comedy that made me want to throw out my margarine and luxuriate in butter. I can relate to a book that celebrates eating and laughs at diets.”
—Tracy Chevalier, author of Burning Bright
—The New York Times Book Review
“How to Cook a Tart is gastro-porn—as if Julia Child and William Burroughs had a bastard child. Filled with magnificent descriptions of the best of food, the novel’s dark subtext left me questioning whether I should cook less and have more sex—or cook more, just with more butter.”
—Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential
“This debut black comedy . . . is not only delicious, it’s simultaneously rare and well-done.”
“A wickedly wonderful dark comedy that makes mouths water and skewers self-proclaimed gourmands, cookbook writers, and self-righteous dieters.”
Praise for Mounting Desire
“Thoroughly amusing . . . Her send-up of romance novels is spot-on . . . a very funny, very clever, very adult novel.”
—The Washington Post
“Killham’s rollicking second novel . . . cleverly sends up the romance genre while standing as a funny, romantic novel in its own right. . . . Fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable.”
“A dishy romp through the maze of chicks and lit.”
“Well-written and fast-paced. Killham lovingly pokes fun at romance-genre stereotypes. Readers who like wacky humor and can handle a few laughs at the expense of romance novels will enjoy this book.”
“Killham’s extremely funny take on the dating scene . . . is a highly amusing read.”
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, February 2009
Copyright © Nina Killham, 2009
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
LIBRARY Of CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Believe me : a novel / Nina Killham.
eISBN : 978-1-101-01479-0
1. Teenage boys—Fiction. 2. Mothers and sons—Fiction. 3. Faith—Fiction.
4. Maryland—Fiction. 5. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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For my children, Lara and Ben
A big thank-you to Elise Laird, Amy C. Fredericks, Stuart Vogel, Tanner Parsons, Jonathan Drori, Lisa Hogg, Isobel Dixon, and Stuart Krichevsky. Special thanks go to my sister, Amanda Davis, for tirelessly reading my drafts, and to Sarah Fortna for reminding me I wanted to write this. And, as always, endless gratitude to Andrew, for making it all possible.
What is the point of life? I mean, why do I have eight kinds of crunchy peanut butter to choose from, and this kid in Pakistan whose house just fell on his head doesn’t even have a word for peanut butter? Why does Darryl Green have five broken bones and I’ve never even sprained my ankle? Why do people die of stupid things all the time?
And I know what you’re thinking. Duh, you moron, you just noticed this now? And no, not just now, but I guess I’ve been thinking more about it because I’m thirteen. Mom calls it the “cusp” of manhood. She says the cusp used to be thirteen forty years ago, though now she says it doesn’t seem to arrive until a guy is at least thirty-five. So I’m thinking, okay, I’ve been born and, eventually, I’ll die, so now what? Am I supposed to do some living? But how? And if I don’t do it on reality TV, does it count?
“Nic, it’s a quarter to eight. You’ve got to go.”
“I’m busy here.”
“You’re still in the bathroom?”
“Can’t rush these things.”
“You’re going to miss the bus.”
“Any minute now . . .”
Mom keeps telling me she wants me to find my passion. She says she’s found hers: stars. She’s this big professor of astrophysics at the University of Maryland. Says she’s lucky because she found her passion early and she wants me to find mine too. She’s pretty intense. Dad says it’s her red hair, and she always frowns and says that’s a cliché. But everyone knows clichés are usually true. My dad now lives in Williamsburg, Virginia. He’s a professor too. He got a job down there, but Mom had just gotten her job here and so she wasn’t budging. They were pretty calm about it. This town isn’t big enough for the both of us, he joked, when he stuffed all his clothes and a billion books into his Volvo and drove off.
It’s not like I don’t see him. I see him lots on the weekends and vacations. It’s been two years now. They’re not divorced; they’re not anything. I’m not sure what their point is. Maybe they’ll let me know.
So I’m living with Mom alone now and every morning she hassles me.
“Great. See you later.”
I’m halfway out the door when I remember. “Oh, we’re supposed to do an oral history project interviewing two generations older than us and turn it in this morning.”
“I’m going to kill you.”
Even when Mom comes home from work wiped out, she doesn’t chill. When she comes home she starts her second job: tormenting me. She’s determined to teach me everything she knows. She keeps a humongous stack of books on the kitchen table. If a question comes up that I don’t know—and I mean any question, like What is the composition of a second generation star? or What era is a trilobite fossil from? or How many sperm does your average chimp have?—she considers it her duty to find out the rational answer then and there. It’s as though, if she doesn’t tell me right away I might break out in a bad case of ignorance and end up believing in astrology or superstitions or, worst of all, God.
She’s got a lot of opinions, my mom. And she’s not shy about telling you. Our car is the National Gallery of Bumper Stickers: FREETHINKER, ATHEISTS BELIEVE IN PEOPLE, PEACE Is PATRIOTIC, and the latest: ASTRONOMERS DO IT FOR The BIG BANG.
Everything is a debate with her. And she’s really smart. Though I got to tell you she sort of wears it on her sleeve. You know, the whole “I’m a brilliant scientist, so what the hell have you done lately?” You know the type. But she’s nice. She just gets worked up about things. Like the M74 galaxy. I mean, let’s face it, the thing is 30 million light-years away. Like it’s really going to affect us. Like it’s really going to change my day. But intelligence is a big thing for her. Nothing lamer than a dumb kid. Of course if you really are a dumb kid she’d sympathize and be all for the government paying for you to have tutoring. She’s no ogre. She just doesn’t like brains wasted. Says they are “the hallmark of humanity.” Lucky for her I’m no slouch in that department. I’m a class-one brain.
At school, Mrs. Brickman sees it differently.
“Nic, I see you’ve neglected the assignment again.”
“I told my mom, but she didn’t have time to drive me around.”
“This is the third time this month.”
“I told her.”
“I’m going to have to send a note home.”
“Maybe that’ll help. I don’t know.”
When I get back that day from science club, Mom’s where she always is. In her souped-up home office. She’s got more wires in there than Barnum and Bailey. She spends most of her nights designing computer programs to measure how far away the stars are and what might be circulating around them. She’s a planet hunter. Which means she’s looking for a star that has a planet the same distance away from it as the earth is from the sun. She’s trying to prove that we are not the only life in the universe. That our world is way more complicated than we morons can imagine.
“What’s this?” she says when I come in and hand over the note.
“It’s from my teacher. She says you’re really letting the team down.”
“But . . .”
“Sign here and you can consider yourself formally warned.”
“Nicolas . . .”
Nicolas. Can you believe it? She named me after Nicolas Copernicus. You know, the guy who figured out that the earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around? Can’t decide if that’s pretty cool or the geekiest thing ever. I change my mind a couple of times a day. So I’m Nic. Without the k, which is a real pain sometimes. The popular kids call me Nicotine. Otherwise it’s fine. Short and sweet. The name. Not me. I’m pretty tall for a thirteen-year-old. I just wish I’d bulk up. I’d ask Mom for some muscles for my birthday, but I don’t think she can deliver. Not that kind of scientist.
Luckily she clicks off like a blinker at 9 pm.
“Is there anything I need to know about your education before you turn in?”
“I’m flunking math.”
“I love you.”
Mom likes to tell me she believes in the universe. She believes in its wonder. In its ability to confound us. Which is why she says she wants me to know everything. Why the leaves on the trees change colors. Why the sky is blue. How the wings of a bird make it fly.