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“For God’s sake Barb, the waste paper basket was right next to you!” My mother screams from the bathroom. “Did you have to vomit all over the $700 veil?
We are in my mother’s bedroom and Mom is in the bathroom furiously scrubbing the veil in her sink and screaming every profanity possible. Barbara is standing in her dress bawling, makeup running. I am holding the bustle up with one hand and wiping Barbara’s face with a tissue with the other hand.
“Sorry Mother, I guess I missed!” she spits back at her.
I am tired. Tired of my mother getting upset over the wrong thing. How come she doesn’t say: “For God’s sake. Barb, did you have to get trashed the night before your wedding?”
Instead we stand around screaming and crying over a veil.
Moments later, after I tuck Michael’s ring (designed by his father who owns a swank jewelry store in town) into my tiny, blue-beaded purse, we tumble into the white stretch limo and are on our way to meet Michael, my dad, and Michael’s parents at the temple. We are fifteen minutes away. My mother is discussing draperies with the limo driver (she constantly tries to recruit more customers, no matter the situation).
“Now, Mrs. Hickman, my wife wants to buy all these curtains and pillows. I tell her: You make it! Why do you have to buy them? Women used to make this stuff. Why does she have to buy it?” says the limo driver, who is a balding, wrinkled man with a toothy smile.
“George is it?” My mother asks him. He nods, teeth gleaming. “George, your wife probably is a busy woman. She takes care of you and maybe the grandchildren–”
“Great grandchildren!” He announces as if they were a prize.
“Well, then, George, don’t you see how hard she works?” George nods vigorously. “Does she really have time to make drapes and pillows?” She stresses the word “drapes”. My mother refuses to say curtains.
“I guess not.” Poor George has been defeated by Martha.
“Let me give you my card....”
My sister and look at each other and roll our eyes. She mouths to me, “Sucker!”
My sister busies herself with her compact, fixing her lipstick. It all somehow doesn’t seem real; my sister is getting married and leaving the house. It just doesn’t seem possible.
My mother closes the deal with George and turns back to us. She looks over at Barbara and says, “Did you bring any concealer?”
“Because you have circles under your eyes.”
I stare at my mother. And that’s because...?
My sister looks into her mirror. “I already put some on.”
“Well,” my mother smoothes her dress. “You need more.”
“No, I don’t, Mother.” Barbara turns to me. “Do I need more concealer?”
I stare at her, not wanting to get involved. Not wanting to open my mouth for fear that I may scream, who gives a shit! You’re friggin’ hung over! Can we just say it already?
I say nothing because now they are going at it. I tune them out and stare out the window. I have started to become aware of my family and how screwed up it is.
I feel like a child who smells chocolate chip cookies and is lured out of her room and into the kitchen by the hypnotic smell. Inside the music shack, some instrument cases and stands are scattered around the scuffed hardwood floor. As I peer around the corner of the foyer area, I see curly brown hair flopping up and down. The boy who owns the hair looks up and the playing stops. Red blotches creep up his thick neck. He’s stocky. Tan with dark black hair. Cute in a cuddly way.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I was walking by and I heard the song and—”
“That’s okay. I was just messing around. I hope it’s okay.” His voice is deep but soft.
So he’s not a CIT. But he looks and sounds way too old to be a camper. The cook’s kid or something? He reminds me of Jack Black. Maybe his younger brother.
“Is it okay?” Now he’s asking me. He closes the piano. “Are you one of the JCs?”
“No, no. I’m a CIT. In the pub shop. Are you a—?”
“Camper,” he finishes for me. “I’m a camper, but it’s my first year. I’m starting a little late. I’m going to be fifteen in July.” Fifteen is the cut-off age for older campers before they have to either be a CIT or forget coming to camp.
“I love John Lennon,” I say. “No one my age likes Lennon or the Beatles.” I motion to the piano.
“You’re really good.” I like this kid. Immediately. He could be my Peter for the summer. Not that I want to bump out David. But I think David will be otherwise occupied.
“How old are you?” he asks.
“I just turned sixteen.”
“You look older. I thought you were a counselor.”
“You too.” We both laugh. Instant cocoa and marshmallows. That’s what my sister says when she connects with someone. It’s something she picked up in rehab from a sixty-year-old recovering alcoholic who was her group therapy counselor.
I walk over to him and lean against the piano. “What else do you play?”
He starts clanging out the John Lennon song, “Woman.” I feel a shiver that doesn’t belong in this stickyhot weather. His voice is gravelly but deep and strong. It doesn’t belong on anyone under forty. I hide my tears with a cough and eye rub.
He finishes the song and looks up at me. “So how did you get into old music?”
“I have a sister who’s nine years older than me.” I stop, not sure I want to reveal the full reason for Barbara’s appreciation for older music.
“My brother, Orin, is nine years older than me.” He tugs on his curls and runs his hand rapidly over the back of his head. “A real screw-up. But a great musician. If he hadn’t blown a major record deal, he’d be a Behind the Music episode.”
His candor nails me to the floor. “Maybe it’s an older-sibling trend to be a screwup. Mine’s a recovering alcoholic.”
“At least she’s recovering,” he says. “Although Orin, I guess, is too. He’s always recovering or trying to recover or in recovery.”
I feel compelled to top him but I can’t. “Wow.” It’s all I can come up with.
“Even fucked up, Orin is a rockin’ singer and guitar player. Arista Records wanted to sign him last year after they heard him play with his band Couch Brats. They wanted just him. He fucked that up. Never showed up for their first meeting. They even sent a car to our house. The record dude even called and asked to come by. Orin was busy at the hospital.”
He stops, and I notice he has a sort of weird tic, where he moves his jaw slightly from side to side. I haven’t moved from my position, arms leaning on the piano. I fiddle with a hangnail on my left thumb and wait for the end of the story.
“Yeah, he was busy getting his stomach pumped. Too many pills along with the coke the night before.” He slides his jaw.
I want to say Wow again, but instead I say, “That sucks.” Pretty original.
“He’s one of those people that went to school stoned every day and got straight A’s. I can’t even have a bad night’s sleep and make it through first period. He’s OD’d five times and died on the table twice.” He moves his jaw. He talks like his singing voice sounds ... over forty.
“I’m Maddie,” I offer.
“Brian.” He leans back a little on the bench, holding on to the piano. “Do you play anything?”
“No. But I love music. I wish I could play.”
“I can teach you.” He leans into the piano keys and lightly plays a few. “It’s easy. Do you read notes?”
“Actually, yeah.” I inch over to the bench and sit next to him.
“I can’t.” We both laugh again. “Maybe you can teach me that.”
“So you play by ear?” I ask him as I slid on to the bench next to him as naturally as brushing hair out of my face. “My father’s mother could do that. I never met her. Supposedly she was nuts and would play the piano in this bright pink housecoat all day. Local bars wanted to hire her but every time she was supposed to play, she’d wear her damned housecoat. My dad says she thought she wouldn’t be able to play without it. I get why my dad married my anal-retentive mother. Imagine what his home life was growing up!”
“Yeah, I think it’s genetic. My mom, her grandmother, Orin, and me.”
“No one else I know can do it. Play music, I mean.”
“Maybe you can.” He grins. “You just don’t know it.”
Brian keys a few bars of “Imagine” by John Lennon. Another one that makes me cry. This time I don’t bother hiding it. Cocoa and marshmallows. Brian plays the entire song and when I look over at him toward the end, he’s tearing up too.
After I leave the music shop, I realize I hadn’t thought about Justin once.