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Coming of Age Drama Fiction

               The red and white striped bikini went back into the drawer, to be buried by a small mountain of black socks. She grabbed two pairs of the socks and squeezed them into a corner underneath the turtleneck sweater and a pair of jeans. It was the flip flops that made her cry. There was something about replacing them with the chunky, old “I mean business” kind of snow boots that she’d learned to value over any fashion footwear while growing up in Vermont. She blinked back the hot tears. She had dreamed of soaking in sunlight. It was Thanksgiving, and she was bitter to be going home for the holiday.

               At least she hadn’t purchased a ticket. He never even had the decency to say it was over. Just ghosted her until her pathetic unanswered calls had grown so large in number that there was no more hiding it, even from herself. Her best high school friend at NYU had promised a holiday in the city. She had pep-talked herself into happiness again, dreamt of visiting the tiny boutiques in the city, walking down Fifth Avenue and admiring the swank hotels and the carefully planned out layers of boxwood and ornamental cabbages, the manicures of New York City gardens. But then, the call back from her best friend. Something came up.

               “You can always come home,” her mother had said. It had been so disappointing. Home, the rural Vermont town that she had spent so much of her life trying to escape. She stopped fighting the bitter tears and let them fall freely, a moment of indulgence. Somewhere in her conscience, she knew that she should be grateful for the comfortable home she grew up in. She’d never wanted for food or shelter. She’d never known real problems. But it was stifling. Her mother’s words nailed home the dread. “If you need help with your report, your brother Ted will be home and maybe he can help you.”

               Ted was three years younger than Cara. Cara’s mother refused to refer to Cara’s dissertation as anything other than a “report,” and Cara thought miserably that she would be missing out on hours that she could be spending at the library getting caught up on her work in favor of doing things like running to the store for another gallon of milk or vacuuming the living room floor.

               She squeezed books into a box and put them into the trunk of her car with her laptop. The phone rang. It was Jaden, Cara’s older sister. “Hey, be safe on your drive home,” she said. “And do you mind picking up a bottle of half-decent wine? You know that Mom’s only going to get that terrible stuff that she always gets. Carl can’t drink that stuff, and neither can I.”

               “Yep. Fine.”

               “Why aren’t you going to Barbados?”

               “Just fell apart.”

               “Oh, Stephan dumped you?”

               She winced and bit back the urge to respond.

               “Well, he was a dud, anyway. Remember, he always told that goofy story about his buddy from Winston-Salem? What a dork! You’re better off. Seriously. Safe travels!”

               She sighed. “See you in a couple of hours.”

               She zoned out on the drive back. There was Christmas music, but she didn’t want to hear it. She was preoccupied with thoughts of growing up, the stifling feeling of being one of the gaggle of children in an eight-person household. Her parents never had time to really pay attention to any of the children, and so she had grown up learning to make grilled cheese sandwiches and how to walk home from any given point in the city, years before any of her friends were permitted to cross the street. Maddeningly, her parents claimed to have no recall of any of this, and in fact, complimented her on things like driving in the city. Really? she thought bitterly to herself. What did they expect when they were never around to do the things that most parents did, like teach her how to drive. (That task had fallen to the school driver’s ed teacher.) They’d even missed her college graduation. (“Sweetheart, you don’t care, do you?” her father had asked. “I’ve got a big meeting on Monday and I need the weekend to prepare.”)

               Now something distressing was happening. She smelled oil burning. There was a cloud of gray smoke billowing out behind her. Great, she thought. She pulled into a gas station nearby.

                                                       *            *            *  

               “Trannie,” the greasy-handed man at the shop had said. “You won’t make it home today, sorry to say. Where were you headed?”

               “Moose,” she answered.

               “Really, Moose?”

               For the first time, she noticed that the mechanic had an old sweatshirt from her high school. “You’re Cara Lindberg.”

               “Yes,” she said.

               “You look just like your brother Jesse. I’ll ride you home. You’re only an hour and a half away.”

               Cara looked at her watch. There was nothing around, and the snowflakes that had fallen as she was driving were getting thicker and heavy. There was only a diner close by, with a sign for Thanksgiving dinner, $10.99. She hadn’t seen the inside of the place, but she imagined a pallid slice of turkey next to gray-green beans and cold, gelatinous gravy.

               “Sure. I’d love a ride.”

               *            *            *

               Biff was in the seat next to her chuckling. “Yep, Jesse showed up to our high school prom wearing his shitkickers. We were all like ‘hoo, hoo, hoo!”

               Cara smiled in spite of herself. She remembered. Jesse had a prom date but didn’t realize that he needed a tuxedo. Her mom had been grocery shopping and forgotten that it was the prom. Jesse had telephoned a friend’s dad to borrow the tux, but there were no dress shoes. He’d worn his hiking boots, still caked with mud from a party in the woods the weekend before.

               “Pretty funny,” Biff chuckled. There was a pause. “Hey, remember when Jesse saved that little girl’s life when she fell in the creek?”

               Cara remembered. Some fifteen years ago, Jesse had been walking home from the gym when a fifth grader had been swept away in the river. Jesse, the oldest of the children, had just slipped off his shoes, dived in and fireman-carried the girl back to safety. He’d pumped water out of her lungs. He was on alert because that was how it was. Jesse was the adult to all the other younger ones. It had never occurred to Cara until now that it was this benign neglect of the family that made him uniquely suited for what he’d done.

               “Yeah, Jesse’s a prodigy.”

               “You’re not so bad.”

               She stared out the window.

               “Weren’t you the full ride to Dartmouth?” She was surprised now. She had been, but she had striven so hard trying to earn the attention of her parents that it had never occurred to her that this had meaning for anyone other than herself.  “Mmhmm.”

               “Well, here you are.” The truck rolled to a stop. She hesitated.

               “Can I pay you?”

               “No.”

               “Want to come in for a second?”

               “Well, just for a minute.” Biff followed her in.

               Jesse was in the hallway taking off his coat. “Biffy!”

               “Jesse!”

               The two knocked shoulders. “It’s been years, buddy! What’re you doing here?”

               “Just gave your sister a ride from my shop. Car broke down.”

               Jesse grinned. “Well, look out. She’s available now.” He raised his eyebrows at Cara. “Just got dumped by her boyfriend.”

               “Oh. Sorry.”

               “Don’t be,” said Jesse. “He was a doofus.”

               “Hey Cara, got a live one here for you,” Jesse double-raised his eyebrows again.

               “Want to join for dinner?” Cara’s mother was wiping her hands on an apron. The smell of tomato sauce permeated the air.

               “Oh, you guys aren’t turkey eaters?” Biff said.

               Cara’s sister walked in. “Mom forgot to thaw the bird,” she said matter-of-factly. “It’s OK. We’re raised to be resilient, right mom?”

               Cara’s mother was distracted. “Oh, gosh, I forgot to get that wine that you like,” she said. Cara, could you take Jesse’s car out to pick up some wine? And one more thing, could you vacuum the living room floor? We can’t have Biff thinking that we live with this dusty carpet all the time.”

November 26, 2020 16:18

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2 comments

Lourenço Amorim
11:24 Dec 03, 2020

Nice story. You can feel there are layers in this story. I don't have much to say except well done, spotless written.

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Amy DeMatt
23:48 Dec 03, 2020

Lourenco Amorim, thanks so much!

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