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People always say that change is gradual; only measured in months or years does your appearance change. Only in movies does the heroine go from shaggy-haired shy girl in baggy clothing to a pony-tailed heartthrob complete with eyeliner and hot body (previously hidden by aforementioned clothes) in the course of one personal renovation. But to me, morphing sounds lax. Change isn't meant to be rapid, is it?
Only slowly do you lose interest in singing, which was once your passion, or the casual interest you had in writing seems to be gnawing for your attention more and more. Or over time, someone drops twenty pounds or grows distant from someone they were once close with or their grades aren't quite what they were a semester ago.
I guess I always thought that this gradual process was true. But yesterday I in the course of one phone call, I somehow managed to go from the life I knew to the life I currently inhabit. Everything I had before: summer java job on Martha's Vineyard, Brit best friend Arabella with me, school lurking in fall, a boy I like who likes me back (Charlie Addison) an upcoming interview at Stanford, and a trip to LA to justify said interview, potential 4th of July party at indie producer Martin Eisenstein's palatial house with my newly found half-sister, Sadie. Doesn't sound bad. A lot of info, maybe, but good info.
In fact, when I think of my life as a compact list like that, it feels great; neat and compact. And then came the phone call — or, more aptly, cell phone calls overlapping all at one time. Calls that changed everything. First was Jacob, my on-again-and-then-not boyfriend turned ambiguous friend, who was waiting for my back on the Vineyard with his heart on his short-sleeve. Second from my now boyfriend, Charlie — who'd gone from local fisherman to practically titled elite prep — saying he missed me. And third from my mother — whom I've never met — and who had finally surfaced.
The knowledge of all that in my ear via cell waves, made it impossible to stay in LA; that made me sure I had to leave Sadie, whom I'd just met, and my interview at Stanford (which I realized I wasn't that into), and a world of surfing and surreal celebrity behind. The fact that Arabella stayed in California makes it better, actually, like having my best friend there to absorb it all for me semi-makes up for what I'm missing coming back.
On the plane ride to Boston, my neat little list of change spiraled into a tornado of terror — a storm of emotions that deserves its own coverage on the Weather Channel that picked me up in its gale force winds and deposited me where I am now, unlocking the door to my house on Hadley Hall campus.
The kitchen with its yellow phone on the wall, the round wooden table set with four chairs, the burn mark on the counter from where I once put a hot tray of brownies down too soon — it's all there. All the same. But me? Not so much. I move through the kitchen with my backpack and take the spiral steps to my room. My body moves the way it always has — so of course I bump into the corner of the coffee table in the living room and bash my knee on my bedroom door. But what I can't really get over is how the world appears to be spinning on a slightly different axis.
My house doesn't know that everything's different. That my biological mother, Gala, whom I've never met — never spoken to — has emerged after nearly eighteen years. The walls don't get that Jacob, the boy who won my heart then dropped it, broke out of our platonic bubble to announce he's "got feelings for me" — again. And the furniture sure as hell has no idea that I have a boyfriend. A real boyfriend. Charlie who likes me, who gives me chills when I see him. And my fall and winter clothing tucked neatly into my dresser drawers hasn't a clue that my dad cancelled his trip to Europe with his girlfriend, Louisa, to help me come to grips with said maternal mystery. The clothing also has no idea that several weeks from now it will be moved from said drawers into the confines of a new Hadley dorm room — with me in it.
The craziest part? Everything except the clothing and my own self are waiting for me on Martha's Vineyard.
I pick up the phone in my room and immediately dial for help. "You need to come over." I say it as a command, not whining, but urgent.
"I'm standing outside already, you fool."
I cup my hands into the glass on the windowpane and see Chris — aka my savior in times of trouble and strife — arms flailing while he grips the cell phone between chin and shoulder. I crack up and open the window enough to throw the keys down to him. He catches them, cheers for himself football style and two minutes later he's in my bedroom getting the full scoop.
"I mean, what else can I say but holy shit?" he asks shaking his head while trying to take in all the information I've spewed.
"I'm overwhelmed." I sit on the floor with my back against one of the twin beds. I can't help but feel nostalgic already in here — my desk, my comfy bed, my view — it will all be gone when boarding orientation rolls around. "I'm going to miss my room." I make a sad face, overly pouty and Chris does it back.
"You're not allowed to mourn your change in status. True, you're losing your day student clout but you're gaining boarder chic. There's plenty of time for that melodrama — you with Lindsay Parrish, Queen of the Dark — when school starts after Labor Day. In the meantime ..." he bites his lip while counting something on his fingers.
"What?" I stand up and cross my arms over my chest, tap my feet, and sigh. "I seriously think of myself as a patient person ..."
Chris makes a face. "You're so not, though ..."
"Yeah, I'm realizing this now."
"Only now? Oh you who when in serious crush phase has to check email and phone message every eight minutes?"
I tsk at him. "As if you do anything different." With my hands, I comb my hair and twist it up off my neck. I have that reek of plane travel on me, my hair is still gritty with sand from the beach where I met Sadie, and I never showered before hopping on the redeye back East. "Speaking of crushes, how goes it with your most recent dissing?"
Chris finishes counting and puts his hands in his pockets. "Okay — number one — Haverford Pomroy is, as you know, gay but taken. My ego is only just beginning to recover."
"You liked him for a long time," I say and nod.
"You know what, though? It's not just that — it's like I wasted so much energy on him, on wondering if I had a chance with him, if he ever noticed me beyond friend, all of that. It's energy I wish I could get back."
His words settle around me like birds flocking to scattered seeds. "I think you just described how I feel about the possibility of seeing Jacob."
"And will you?"
I shrug. "I think I have to — he's waiting on the Vineyard and I'm going there ..." I check my watch as if it's programmed to give me an itinerary. "Tomorrow, I guess."
Chris nods. "That's what I was counting on. I'm thinking though ..." he gives me a seductive look that would be a total come-on if Chris weren't gay but because he is, just registers as his playful, scheming self. "I'm thinking baby could use a little support now that Arabella is off on another coast."
"Oh my god you did not just call me baby."
"I did." He raises his eyebrows and gives me another smoldering gaze. "But only in an ironic way. With Arabella away — oh, doesn't that sound like a book title? Arabella Away: a novel by Love Bukowski."
"I'm writing novels now?" I laugh and shake my head in amazement.
"Sorry — a little ADHD slipped in there. Back on track. What I'm telling you is that given your circumstances — you could probably use a little island company so as not to become a little emotional island unto yourself."
"Well put." I touch Chris's shoulder and pretend to be wooed by him, getting obviously breathy and taken in. "You mean, you'll go with me to the Vineyard and conquer my demons with me? You'll stand by my side as I fret over first time meetings with Gala. My mom — ahhh — I just said mom. Anyway, you'll help me deal with my dueling romantic forces?"
Chris bows, gallant. "I'll stand by you all the way, slaying dragons and saving the castle."
I plop down on my floor and hug my knees to my chest. "You really think I'll have dragons?" Images of Charlie wondering why Jacob is there, of my mother — looking at me for the first time — of my father, waving college applications in my face — my still-present pangs of sadness over losing my Aunt Mable — all of this hits me in quick succession, like driving by billboards on the highway.
Chris sits near me, drumming his hands on a stack of my notebooks. Built into mini skyscrapers, the notebooks are journals and half-used school pads, each filled with notes, entries, jottings I couldn't ever get rid of but haven't yet done anything useful with. "You sure have a lot of these," Chris says, reaching for one.
I stop his hand in mid-air. "No." My tone is serious. "You know I'd read a line or something to you if it was contextual — but you can't just flip through there. No one does that."
"Upon penalty of death?"
I shrug and move his hand away from the stack. "Something like that," I say and then. "I guess if my journals are so sacred maybe I should put them out of plain view. Or maybe I just naively assume that people won't violate my trust."
Chris nods and scratches his stubbly face. He's summer brown, taller than I remember, handsome — and single. He deserves someone who will appreciate him. "Or maybe you want to keep the journals out —"
"Oh, because of that weird wanting to be found out psychology? No, I don't think so."
"I didn't mean that," Chris says. He stands up and moves towards the door. "Maybe you keep them out as a reminder." He stretches the last word out long.
"Of what?" I look at the stack, amazed at how many days and months, afternoons and tears, funny happenings, are all contained in those pages.
"A reminder of where you've been, who you are, where you're going." He looks at me with his eyebrows raised, this time in a question. "A reminder that you like to keep track of it all."
Keeping track of my change. True. We stand there, time ticking in silence, as I consider the transitory nature of this room, how it's just a holding pen until I start senior year of boarding school — as a boarder. How every second I keep my feet planted on the rug is a moment I'm putting off confronting all that waits for me back on the island. "Where am I going?" I ask Chris. I check my watch again. This time, it signals something.
"POA?" he asks.
"Plan of action?" I tighten my lips together and pull him out the door and down the spiral steps as I talk. Motivation begins to hit. "We go to your dorm, shove casual yet adorable clothing into your bag and you rejourney with me to the Vineyard."
Chris halts on the staircase, teetering over the edge. "Now? Aren't you exhausted from the flight? I mean a day ago you were ..."
"I was in LA. With Sadie. A half sister. Jeez." I pull him one step farther down. "And now — I know where Gala is. And where two guys who've — as you said — taken a lot of energy from me. Not that they haven't given a lot back but...."
"I get it," Chris says and this time he's the one to yank me by the arm, to the door and lock it after switching off the kitchen light.
"Yeah," I say. "It's like my instinct after landing at Logan was to come back here. To my house. Which isn't really mine anymore, is it?" Chris shakes his head. "I wanted some mythical safe place where none of this new stuff — none of the information that's been pelted at my brain could get to me."
Chris nods as we walk the familiar path to his dorm. Campus is empty. Peaceful like this, it's difficult to imagine the grounds teeming with khaki, suntans, and sudden scholastic pressures in September. I try to relax, telling myself we have some of July, Illumination Night in August on the Vineyard, the annual Agricultural Fair there, and Labor Day — marking points before I'm officially a Hadley Hall senior.
Chris looks back at my house, then out to campus. "The thing is, change can find you anywhere. You can't run from it. Trust me, I speak from experience. One minute I was the hook-up artist du jour and the next I was coming out to the entire school. Now I'm starting up the GSA."
"Ah, yes, the Gay-Straight and Everything in-between Alliance ... I'm sure you'll be great at that." My flip-flops scratch on the pavement, my mind still reeling. "But just so you know, I wasn't running from it — from change," I say and push my bag so it's on my back rather than my shoulder. "I was hiding from it."
"And now?" Chris waits for my words before we grab his stuff and jump on the bus to Cape Cod that will take us to the ferry terminal.
"Now I'm heading right for it."CHAPTER 2
The ocean funnels out in front of me, seeming to widen as we get farther away from the mainland. Chris and I sit on blue plastic seats, our feet on the white metal railings, enjoying the cool sea air that causes his hair to stand on end and mine to whip this way and that while seagulls dart around for scraps of bread.
"You're so good at that," Chris says, punctuating our conversation with compliments.
"At what?" I have a habit of scanning the ferry for people I know — acquaintances from Hadley, random kids I've met at parties or even faraway faces from London. I stop myself form doing this now, realizing it's a fine thing to do when alone, but rude when in the midst of a conversation.
"At describing situations. Or conversations."
I've just finished telling Chris everything that happened in LA — all the way from coming up with a new name for Slave to the Grind 2 on the plane with Arabella to meeting Sadie, to thinking my mother was about to pop up at any minute. "Well, thanks. I guess I need to paint a picture really clearly to have it make sense."
"It's more than that." Chris turns his head, checking out another group of prep school students, all with worn-in t-shirts, casual clothing that looks comfortable and cool while still effortless. He looks back at me. "You know how some people have a gift for soccer or they excel at Latin?"
"Like Dalton Himmelman?" I ask. "Man, I just pulled his name out of nowhere. Isn't that so weird how you can go months without saying — or even thinking about — someone from school?"
"It is a bizarre fact of life," Chris agrees. "Though perhaps Dalton isn't the best example of random — I mean, he is Jacob's best friend."
"True ..." I start to say more and then am stopped by yearbook-style candids in my mind. "Remember when Dalton and Jacob took apart Ms. Galligan's car and reassembled it on the roof of Maus Hall?" I smile thinking about it. "Everyone stood there, staring up at it like it had been placed there by some giant creature."
"See? Even then," Chris says. "Do you ever listen to yourself?"
"What do you mean?" In front of us the Vineyard Haven port comes into view, the shelter of the cove making the wind lessen. My hair stops doing its funky dance and the sun feels hot on my shoulders. "Oh my god I just got a wave of total nausea. And not from seasickness." The reality of all of these people and potential upheavals waiting for me on the quiet island suddenly hits.
"You, Love. Your talent isn't taking apart cars and being snarky and witty like Jacob. It's not triple-lettering in sports like Nick Samuels. It's not organizing and motivating people like me ..." Chris gives a little shimmy then pats himself on the back. "It's words."
I breathe in the salty air, the smells of suntan lotion and seafood — lobster rolls and lemonade — the smells of summer that will begin to fade fast. "Doesn't it feel like right after the fourth of July summer slips away?" The image of water rushing down a drain comes to mind but I don't say this — I just think of it and do some mental math about how long I have left before senior year starts. The ferry docks with a lurch. Chris and I stand up, grab our bags and begin the shuffle toward the gangway and into the masses of disembarking passengers.
"You're right, you know," I say to him when he's in front of — but not looking at me. "I just like them. Words. I get to control them, or pick exactly which ones to use. And I always like when people tell me their stories from start to finish — rather than 'yeah, you know, I met a girl, we kissed on the beach' — it's so much more satisfying when someone takes the time to tell you about the beach, why they went there, what the girl looked like — or boy, sorry." Chris smiles at me and nods.
We stand, angled toward land, but for now stuck in a crowd on neither boat nor firm footing. "So singing is done?"
I shake my head. "No. I'll always love to sing. But it's been dawning on me that writing — words, like you said — are what I like most." Maybe parts of change are gradual, learning something about yourself over the passage of time. Then I remember the multiple phone calls from my dad, from Jacob, from Charlie, the possibility that my mother is right here — in the crowd of people waiting.
"So basically you're loving college essays," Chris says.
I shrug. "I dread the idea of them like everyone else — but maybe the reality will be better."
Excerpted from Labor of Love by Emily Franklin. Copyright © 2007 Emily Franklin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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