The Weirds! Arriving at the Stadlers. An interesting development on a boring Christmas day. Brian watched as the faded, barge-like Chrysler lumbered into the Stadler’s driveway across the street. Brian thought the Weird Family might show up today. He spent most of the day patrolling the windows to watch for them after the present opening/Christmas brunch with the family formalities.
Of all the people Brian watched—and all he did was watch other people—the Weird Family intrigued him the most. He didn’t know their real name, of course. Curious as he was about the Weirds, he never got up the nerve to ask Laura Stadler about them. Laura would know. She would know that it wasn’t the Weird Family that interested Brian.
It was the girl.
Brian had watched Her for over two years. Sometimes She arrived at the Stadler’s with her family, or whoever those other three people were. When She was with them Brian could see, even from across the street, that She always had a blank expression on her face. Sometimes he was lucky enough to glimpse Her, gliding up the Stadler’s driveway on her bike, before She parked it and disappeared through the Stadler’s back gate. Occasionally, he was lucky and spotted Her as She rounded the corner at the bottom of the block and started up the hill past the suburbia sprawling brick veneer houses of Sonntag street. She made the mysterious act of riding a bike seem effortless, even coming up the hill, her legs moving up and down in strong, confident strokes.
When She passed the living room window, long, pale hair fluttering and flickering in the sunlight, Brian would hurry to the dining-room window to watch Her swing off the bike, click the kickstand down with Her toe and flip her hair over her shoulder, all in one graceful movement. Brian had seen Her at school too. Laughing and talking with people he hated—and who hated him. Having a great time, the way normal kids always do.
The doors of the Chrysler opened simultaneously, and the Weird Family emerged. Brian craned his neck around the drapes to get a better look at Her. She slid from the car and stood like an obedient dog with her father and brother while her mother swung her legs out of the car, grabbed the doorpost of the Chrysler, and hoisted her ponderous, puffy body out of the car. Kid Weird opened the trunk and gathered up some presents. Then, in solemn, almost funeral-like procession, the Weird Family filed up to Stadler’s driveway to the back gate—Laura Stadler’s “family entrance.”
The girl was a mystery. From observing many other girls, Brian knew girls like her have sleek, tanned mothers who wear halter tops, dye their hair and drive racy little cars to exercise classes. Since Brian had first started watching the Weirds, he figured She was probably adopted or something. She couldn’t possibly be related to the Weirds, at least not genetically anyway. That made Her even more fascinating in a mysterious way. What was her story? Brian imagined all kinds of twisted fairy tale types of scenarios to explain why she was with the Weirds. He had also drawn a collection of caricatures of the three Weirds.
Mama Weird: Enormous, with sagging skin everywhere like a bald bloodhound. Lacquered, aluminum colored hair piled in a tower on her head. A dour, perpetually dissatisfied face decorated with rhinestone cat-eye glasses and practically fluorescent magenta lipstick. Papa Weird: Bulbous, mushroomesque nose with a brushy mustache erupting out from under it. Goose steps to a different drummer and salutes Mama Weird before they go to bed. Kid Weird: hair sticking out of his head in stiff patches. A dog/human, like a Great Dane, St. Bernard cross puppy but with huge knobs for wrists and ankles, latching hands and feet to the pants and shirt he’d just outgrown.
What a contrast they were to Her. Tiny. Probably barely 5 feet tall. So tiny and delicate compared to the rest of the Weirds.
Brian had never tried to draw Her, even though several times at school he got close enough to see her face and quickly study her features as She passed by. Light-colored eyes, gray or hazel, perhaps. A constellation of freckles across her nose she doesn’t even try to cover up with makeup. If She wears makeup, it’s not the kind that shows like on other girls. And none of the sticky, fuzzy black stuff on the eyelashes, colored streaks on the cheeks to emphasize bones that aren’t there, or strange fruity colors on the lips to outline fashionably pouty mouths.
Brian traced the gold brocade of the drapes with his forefinger and stared out the window at the Stadler’s drive. What a disappointment that She always disappears so quickly. Not like Log Leg lady. Takes her five minutes to waddle from in front of the living room window to the dining-room window. Or Dog Walker Guy inching his way along with an elderly dog that walked slowly and stiffly, as if its joints were seizing up on the spot.
Brian gazed down Sonntag Street, searching for something else to watch. Besides the Weird Family, the only people left were the youngest generation of neighborhood brats showing off their shiny new dirt bikes, and Tony and the other jerks playing basketball in the Grisham’s driveway next door.
Nothing remotely interesting will happen, being as it’s Christmas and people are usually on their best behavior. Mr. Miller won’t lean out of the half-open door of his Seville, furiously pressing the buttons on the little white box, screaming at the recalcitrant garage door opener until Mrs. Miller opens the garage from the inside to shut him up. Mrs. Johnstone’s groovy young boyfriend probably won’t come over. The boyfriend Brian’s father thinks is so scandalous because, “poor Joe Johnston hasn’t even been dead a year and she hooks up with that kid…”
Brian turned his attention to the basketball game in the Grisham’s drive. Muffled shouts and laughter, the pat, pat, pat, pause, ping rhythm of the ball dribbled across the cement and shot at the hoop over the garage door. Brian shook his head in disgust and turned away from the window. Even in winter, they play in cut-offs and tank tops, showing off their perfect bodies.
Brian wandered into the kitchen. Looking up from the potato she was peeling, his mother said, “Brian, please go over to the Stadlers and see if Linda is over there playing with Jenny. I don’t want her hanging around when they have Christmas company.”
Brian stared at his mother in disbelief, groping for an excuse. The thought of seeing Her at the Stadlers and possibly being introduced to Her had crossed his mind many times. So. Many. Times. So many times, in fact, he had compiled a mental loop of all the humiliating scenarios.
His mother looked up with a quizzical expression, “Brian, did you hear what I said… I said…”
“Yeah, I heard you. Why can’t you just call Laura on the phone and ask her if Linda is over there?”
His mother carefully preened the last trace of peel from the potato and said, “I think the kids must have knocked the phone off the hook because I just get a busy signal.” Looking up at Brian she added, “It’s all right, dear, if you’re not…”
“I’m fine!” Brian snapped.
Not much choice. As awful as possibly meeting Her would be, at least he might find out Her name. Her parents, or whoever those people are, probably gave Her some ancient and ugly name.
Brian stuffed his hands in his pockets, hunched his jacketless shoulders against the chill and hurried across the street, imagining one of the scenarios from the humiliating scenario archive: She will stand up and point. “It’s him! It’s The Hated Creep! What’s he doing here?”
Brian paused outside the Stadler’s back door, considering returning home, rather than face an inevitably humiliating situation.
Still, Her name…
Brian took a deep breath, pushed open the Stadler’s den door, and stepped inside. Christmas confusion filled the room: New toys scattered like an overturned toy aisle display. Bright bits of discarded paper. Bleeps and blats of electronic toys, and the Stadler kids everywhere. Toddler Eileen, trailing her grimy, love-worn squirrel, was the first to greet him. Grabbing his pants, she shouted, “Bri-Bri!”
Brian trailed his fingers through Eileen’s wispy black hair and headed for the kitchen, where Laura stood at the sink rinsing dishes. “Do I have a sister over here?” He called over the sound of rushing water.
Brian could feel Her watching him. Feel Her eyes boring a hole in the back of his shirt. Boring a hole so deep she could see…
Laura turned off the water and dried her hands on a dish towel. “Which one?”
“No, I haven’t seen Linda at all today. Kathy was over just a little while ago with a wonderful cake from your mother.”
Brian shot a glance at the den. She was sitting on the raised hearth, eyeing him, looking him over, assessing him.
He knew what She saw as Her eyes bored into him: Wimpy, awkward, short, plain. Definitely grotesque under his shirt.
What She saw: A nice-looking boy. Not real tall. Maybe five foot six. Black hair, long in front in the ‘surfer’ style. But pale skin. Really pale.
Brian shifted his feet awkwardly, feeling stupid. Childish really, bursting in, looking for his sister.
Laura smiled and whispered, “Psst, do you know Sara?” She motioned with her head toward the den.
Brian opened his mouth to speak and then shook his head.
Sara. The name. He captured it. Now to escape with it.
Without a word, Laura took Brian by the elbow and steered him toward the den.
Great. Introductions to the whole Weird Family. Laura would do this. Maybe even planned it.
They strolled right past Mama Weird, sitting in an armchair.
Brian was relieved there wouldn’t be an introduction to the old bag, ensconced in her chair like a chicken sitting on a nest. Would she cluck menacingly if he got too close to her chick? Dread filled every cell of his body and he was sure it would spill out on to the shag carpet.
“Sara, this is Brian Bergess. He lives across the street. Maybe you’ve seen him at school? Brian, this is Sara Flanders.”
Yep. That was Laura’s style. Good ol’ Laura. Interrupts the conversation and jumps right to the point. No token introductions to the parents. No nothing. And then… leave him there to squirm.
“Hi Brian, I don’t think I’ve seen you around at school. But then, Washington High is a really big school.” She smiled and looked straight into Brian’s eyes.
Looking straight into the eyes. Brian hated that. He felt transparent and knew she could see right through him. Why did she have to look right at him like that and make an embarrassing situation even worse?
Brian laughed loudly, “Oh, I’ve seen you around at school,” he thundered.
Bob Stadler shook six-year-old Willy off a stool. “Here, sit down, Brian. Sara was just telling us about the upcoming school ski trip.”
Of course, the conversation would be about skiing. Of course. But at least he knew her name. That was the entire purpose, after all. Sara. Kind of a nice name. It spun through his head like an English verb assignment: Sara, Sara, in the present perfect. Me, me, present imperfect.
Brian squirmed on the stool and looked away. When he looked back, Mr. Flanders harrumphed at him, “I guess if you go to Washington High, you’re one of those ski nuts too.”
The old familiar humiliation washed over Brian like a wave of nausea. He saw Bob Stadler wince, visibly regretting his mention of skiing, and then glance toward the kitchen for Laura, hoping she could swoop in and recover the situation.
That made it even worse. In the opening moments of the conversation, Brian knew he was knocked out. A stunning K.O. by Old Man Weird, he thought.
“Skiing? Ha!” Brian laughed loudly. “My idea of fun isn’t being cold and falling in the snow.”
He felt her eyes burn clear through his skull to the center of his brain; seeing, knowing. Sara, Sara, past perfect. Me, me, present perfect jerk.
“Bunch a tomfoolery at best.” Mr. Flanders snorted into his mustache. “The girl here spends all her babysittin’ money on the stupid sport.” He snorted an approving snort at Brian and added, “Nice to know not all kids are crazy.”
‘Tomfoolery?’ Brian wondered. What? Was the guy a time traveler from the nineteenth century who just popped up into 1966? That would explain a lot. And, what’s with ‘the girl’? As in the washer, the stove, the car? Who talks like that?
To distract himself from the humiliation, Brian focused on Old Man Weird’s mustache and how he also had brushy hair sticking out of his ears, too. He wondered what sort of disgusting nose debris stuck in the mustache with that strange snorting mannerism. Brian groped for something he could say to impress Sara. Couldn’t use his usual stories. Not with Bob sitting there.
Brian stood, and, staring at the fireplace, announced loudly, “Well, I guess I better take off and try to find my little sister. Her hobby this week is performing frontal lobotomies on her gerbils.”
Brian glanced at Sara. A faint smile whispered across her face and sparkled in her eyes. She looked directly into Brian’s eyes and said, “Bye. Maybe I’ll see you around school or something.”
There it was again. Another penetrating look with those eyes. One look inside a complete jackass wasn’t enough. She had to go back for a second and stare directly into him.
Brian hurried out the Stadler’s den door.
Brian knew he blew it. Maybe if knew more about skiing, he could’ve maybe faked it. Of course, with Bob sitting there, that was totally out. Bob would’ve looked at Brian with a pitying expression, thinking, poor Brian, the pathological liar. He knows he can’t do those things.
“Hey Bergess! Think quick!”
The basketball blasted Brian in the back of the head and rolled slowly down the Bergess’ driveway. Brian stood briefly in stunned confusion and then turned toward the Grisham’s drive.
“Hey! Ya’ wanna play?” Tony shouted sarcastically. The other boys howled with laughter.
Brian picked up the basketball. “Yeah, I’ll play you bastards!” He awkwardly attempted to drop-kick the basketball down the street.
The knot of boys hooted with derisive laughter.
“Nice punt pussy!”
Brian turned and hurried into the house.
“Did you find Linda?” his mother called from the kitchen as he hurried down the hall.
“She wasn’t over there.”
Brian stalked past the den, rubbing the back of his head and turning the name Sara over and over in his mind, as his father shouted to the football players on the television. He shut the door to his room, flopped down on his bed, and stared at the ceiling.
What did he expect? Being a jackass and all, he would always blow it. Always. Not that there was any chance anyway. Even if he had better lines, what good would it do? She’s probably hounded for dates by skiers and jocks. Why the hell would she want to have anything to do with him?
Brian closed his eyes and tried to picture Sara’s face. Every detail. She had such a gentle expression, especially when she smiled, well, almost smiled, at the stupid joke about the gerbils. She didn’t have that snooty nose-up-in-the-air-come-grovel-at-my-feet-you-swine expression most pretty girls have.
Brian rolled over and pulled pencils and one of his sketchpads from under the bed. He sat up and flipped through the drawings of cars. Cars from all angles; Porsches, Ferraris, Jags, Alphas, cars he made up. He came to a clean sheet, thoughtfully rubbed his pencil across the sandpaper. He sketched Sara’s face, carefully filling in every detail he could remember. When he finished, Brian gazed at the drawing in disgust. The lines were hard and awkward, the tracing of a personified car. Then he smiled.
Draw her in the car sketch pad and she comes out like a car. One of the oldies. Ah yes, this girl has the smile of a ’52 Buick, and probably the breasts of a ’49 Ford. Definitely not Sara with the incredible grey eyes.
Brian ripped the page out of the sketchpad, wadded it up, tossed it toward the trash—and missed.
The closest thing the old man will ever get to a star forward son, and I always miss the unguarded shot into the trash, Brian thought in disgust.
Brian shoved the sketchpad and pencils under the bed, opened his door, and strolled into the kitchen. His mother was worrying some kind of dough across the counter.
Always cooking. He wondered why she couldn’t be like other mothers and serve TV dinners, or be a secretary or something.
Brian fished an apple out of the stainless-steel basket hanging over the cooking island and tried to wander ever-so casually over to the dining-room window. His 13-year-old sister, Kathy, was putting clean dishes away in the china cabinet.
“She just left.”
Brian whirled around and scowled at Kathy. “Who just left?”
Boy, much too obvious. Even Kathy figured that out.
“That girl. The cute one with the long blonde hair and the dumb-looking parents and brother.” Kathy said with a smirk.
“What makes you think I was looking for her jerk-face?” Brian snapped.
“Let me give you a hot tip, big brother. When you see a red bike parked by the Stadler’s back gate, she’s hanging over there helping Laura with the brats.”
“Talk about brats… I think I’ll go over and talk to little Eileen Stadler. She’s a brilliant conversationalist compared to you. Here. Catch!” Brian tossed the apple to Kathy. To his disgust, she picked it out of the air like a pro, even with the armload of dishes.
Brian walked out the front door and glanced around for enemy basketballs. Seeing the coast was clear, he headed quickly for the Stadler’s back gate. The Stadler kids directed him to the back bedroom, where Laura was changing Eileen’s diaper.
Brian straddled the chair next to the changing table and sat quietly while Laura extracted a diaper pin from her mouth and guided it into Eileen’s diaper.
“Why don’t you use those throwaway diapers?” Brian asked at last.
“No kid of mine is going to have a fancy lamination of paper towels taped around their butt. After what these kids have been through, especially Eileen. They need the best of everything. I sure wouldn’t want to wear paper underwear, would you?”
Without waiting for Brian’s reply, Laura added. “Besides, they didn’t have those eleven years ago when I had the twins and I survived. Or, should I say, the washer survived?”
Laura turned and winked at Brian. “Didn’t you notice how our new washers coincide with the adoption of a new kid?”
Laura grinned at Brian. “Yeah, we’re having another one delivered next week.”
“A kid or a washer?”
“Silly, you’ll believe anything.” Laura said with a laugh.
“After what it took to get Eileen out of that orphanage in Viet Nam, I think we’ll pause. Five kids are enough… for now.”
Laura turned back to Eileen and slipped a pair of corduroy crawlers over her chubby thighs. “So, what did you think of Sara? I know you didn’t come over here to discuss the merits of disposable diapers with me.” Laura turned and faced Brian.
To hide his embarrassment, Brian leaned over and picked up Eileen’s squirrel from the floor, handed it to Laura, and looked away.
Staring at the floor, Brian said, “Oh, I thought Sara was fine. She thought I was a jerk. Not a skier, you know.”
Laura hoisted Eileen off the changing table and patted her freshly diapered rear. Eileen was off with a giggling gurgle, dragging her squirrel by the ear. Laura put her arm around Brian’s shoulder and ruffled his hair, just like she did with her own kids.
“Look, Sara is a very warm and kind person. I’m sure she’s not just interested in skiers. You know, I could kick myself for not introducing you two before. I just thought you already knew each other from school.”
“Yes, Laura, I’m that infamous.” Brian said, swinging his leg over the chair as he stood.
“Brian, you know what I mean. I just thought you already knew each other.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter if she didn’t know me. Now she does, and it’s only a matter of time before she hates me like everyone else.”
“Well, it’s true.”
“Look, do you want me to put in a good word for you? We’re going over there for dinner tonight.”
Brian grinned. “What do those people eat? Does the old lady fix filet of puppy for your dining delight since Bob’s a veterinarian? Maybe a side-dish from her gourmet mold garden?”
Laura scowled at Brian and then laughed. “Such irreverent humor.”
With a sigh, Laura continued, “I know they look like strange people, but Madeline and I grew up together. We’ve been friends a long time.”
“What? How can that even be?” Brian asked, incredulous. “She looks old enough to be your mother.”
“She used to be really pretty, but she’s had a pretty hard life, and it’s still really difficult. So, don’t judge. Life beat her down. Anyway, do you? Do you want me to put in a good word for you? Even if you say no, I’ll do it anyway.”
It was Brian’s turn to scowl. “I knew you would, so I guess I have to say yes. Not that there’s any chance. Please, just don’t mention…” His voice trailed off. “You know.”
“Brian, Sara’s a sweet girl. That wouldn’t make a bit of difference to her.”
“Sure Laura. Just like it doesn’t make any difference to anyone else, right?” Brian stared at his feet.
“We have to get going. Bob has to stop at the clinic and make sure everyone is alive and howling before we go over to the Flanders. Come over tomorrow and I’ll fill you in.”
“Sure Laura.” Brian said, leaning against the door.
“Now Madeline, you go sit down. Sara and I can make quick work of this mess.” Laura said firmly. “You really overdid it by fixing this lovely meal and having our international circus of kids over… Now scoot!”
Sara solemnly carried the plates in from the dining room as Laura slid them into sudsy water.
“Did you peek at Eileen? Is she asleep yet?” Laura asked cheerfully, as Sara set down a serving dish and gravy boat.
“Yeah, she’s out of it.”
“Listen Sara, that touring ballet company is coming next month. Want me to see if I can get tickets for us?”
Sara’s eyes lit up. “Yeah!” And then her face fell. “Wait. You didn’t tell her, did you?” Sara said, gesturing toward the living room where her mother sat with a glass of bourbon on the rocks, staring into space.
“No. We’ll do a matinee. I’ll tell Madeline to send you over to help with the kids or something.”
Laura and Sara laughed conspiratorially as Sara nodded. “Great! Great!”
“So, what did you think of Brian?” Laura asked over the rushing water as she rinsed dishes.
“He was okay, I guess. Why?”
“Kind of a loud-mouth. Plus, he’s not a skier, isn’t even interested. He’s cute. Nice hair and eyes. Awfully pale, though. Looks like he never goes outside.”
Laura sighed, dried her hands, and motioned to the table for Sara to sit.
“I know Brian seems to have a rather, uhhh, loud personality…”
“You mean obnoxious,” Sara interrupted.
“Well, yes, I guess it may seem that way, but it’s all a front.”
“Part of his charm?” Sara offered sarcastically.
Laura knitted her brows and gave Sara an annoyed look.
Realizing that Laura must have some sort of fondness for Brian, Sara dropped her eyes from Laura’s gaze and stared down at the table. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
“Brian’s had a lot of problems,” Laura said at last. “A lot.”
“Haven’t we all?” Sara agreed with a sigh.
“Look, I know it’s hard enough to escape the purgatory of adolescence, but Brian’s got extra problems. Big problems.”
Sara pulled her chair closer and sat quietly.
“Anyway, Brian asked me not to tell you this, but it’s too important not to tell you.” Laura took a deep breath and continued. “Brian was born with a severe heart defect. He’s had a number of operations, the first one experimental because his situation was so desperate. He spent most of his childhood in and out of hospitals. His mother is, well, a little overprotective now. I mean, I can see why. If your son was so close to death so many times and still managed to pull through. Well, I know if it were one of mine…” Laura’s voice trailed off. She glanced around the kitchen to make sure they wouldn’t be interrupted and continued.
“Brian’s father is your typical perpetual jock. You name the sport, he’s interested in it and can tell you all about it, especially football. Walter will tell anyone with an earshot about all of his football accomplishments in college. It seems to me that even though Walter loves Brian, he was bitterly disappointed that his only son would never grow up to play sports even recreationally, much less be a football star. I guess what I’m getting at is that Brian has always sensed his father’s disappointment, and that makes it even more difficult for him to accept his situation. As a defense, and to somehow boost his own ego, Brian puts up this ridiculous tough front and makes up these elaborate stories. He wants desperately to fit in.”
Sara nodded slightly and looked around the kitchen, uncomfortable about where the conversation seemed to be going.
“Brian can’t do all the things you take for granted. He can’t ride a bike, swim, ski, run, none of those things. It torments him. He wants to belong, to be part of normal kid activities. Any kid does.” Laura rose, glanced into the living room to make sure her kids were contented with the large jigsaw puzzle, and then settled back into her chair.
“One of the worst parts for Brian are the scars,” Laura continued softly. “Sara, his chest and back are covered with huge scars from all the operations. There’s a big scar on his neck from tubes they had to put in. You couldn’t see it because he nearly always wears turtlenecks. Even in summer, it’s a wonder the poor kid doesn’t sweat to death. Then there are scars on his arms from more tubes. And all this started when he was a baby.”
Laura raised a finger as Sara started to speak. “You teenagers are so painfully aware of your bodies. Boy, I sure was, always the tallest in the class, always in the back row with the boys at class picture time. You know how you feel when you get a few zits. Think how Brian feels. He thinks he’s a freak. And,” she added, “Kids can be so cruel.”
Sara nervously pushed spilled salt grains along the table with her finger. “I don’t know what to say,” she mumbled. “I didn’t say anything mean to him, just sort of about him, just now.”
Laura took Sara’s hand and squeezed it. “Oh honey, I didn’t tell you all this to make you feel bad or something. This isn’t some morality lecture, you know, pity the poor cripple sort of thing. I just hope maybe you’ll give Brian a little more of a chance than you would your average guy. You’re an understanding kid. Be compassionate. Look at him with your heart now that you know what’s going on with him. Look through the unpleasant shell he puts around himself to protect himself and ignore the ridiculous lies he tells to impress people. He wants to impress people because he’s desperate for people to like him and doesn’t see it has the absolute opposite effect.”
“So, you’re trying to set something up here?”
“Yeah, not so subtle, huh?” Laura went on quickly and said, “I don’t want this to be a pity thing for Brian. He doesn’t need that. He needs to see that people can like him for who he is. He’s a very intelligent, interesting kid and witty, too. It’s a rather precocious, caustic wit perhaps, but that’s also just a cover-up.”
Laura ran her fingers through her hair, smiled and added in an almost secretive voice, “And he’s an incredible artist. He draws mostly cars. I guess all teenage boys are fascinated with cars. I’ve seen a lot of his stuff and it’s amazing actually, way more advanced than you’d expect from a sixteen-year-old, especially portraits of people. Sometimes when we’re sitting at my kitchen bar talking, he starts sketching on the pad I keep by the phone, mostly to keep from looking at me if we’re talking about something difficult. He’s made some remarkable sketches and caricatures of my kids. I guess spending so much time in bed, drawing was about all he could do, and he’s developed a remarkable talent.” Laura sighed, “It’s sad. His folks are scarcely aware of it. He’s afraid his father thinks drawing is a silly, effeminate activity.”
Laura smiled at Sara. “Did I overwhelm you? You’re pretty quiet. I know that was a lot to take in.”
“No, I was just thinking about what you said about seeing with your heart. I guess I should do that more often. You’re right. Kids can be cruel. I know how much it hurts me when the girls at school sarcastically ask if I made the blouse I’m wearing. Just because their dads are all doctors and stuff, and they get all kinds of expensive clothes and cars, doesn’t mean that they have to be so snide with me. I can’t help it if my father owns a failing gravel quarry and I babysit to be able to buy anything. It’s a drag to have to make my clothes or buy them at K-Mart.”
Sara paused and looked at Laura expectantly. “I understand about Brian and I’ll go out with him or be his friend, or whatever you had in mind. At least I’ll try it once. The guys don’t exactly beat the door down for dates or anything. And when they do ask me out…well, the last date was a disaster.” Sara sighed and added, “But just once, is all I’ll promise, ok?”
“Good,” Laura said, patting Sara’s hand. “I’ll talk to Brian and let him know you’re interested. I think you two could have fun together. But I’ll warn you. Be patient with him. Very patient. At first, he’ll try to show off and impress you and say outrageous things, big lies. Which is why he doesn’t have any friends. Just ignore it. When he sees he doesn’t have to impress you, I think he’ll settle down and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out what a great guy he is and how funny he can be. You know, sometimes one person’s kindness can transform a life.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Sara replied, “But I can try to get to know him.”
Laura stood up and hugged Sara. “We better get on this mess and get it cleaned up or your mom and dad will think we’re being unsociable.”
“They’re probably too bombed by now to notice.” Sara mumbled morosely.
Sara sat in the lotus position on her bedroom floor doing neck rolls. The radio was playing almost inaudibly in the background. When the Supremes started singing, “You Can’t Hurry Love,” Sara resisted the urge to turn it up. She knew if her father could hear it, he would storm in and click it off, yelling about “that damn stupid hippie music.” All popular music was “damn stupid hippie music” to her father.
Going out with Brian might actually be interesting and her father might not hate Brian either, since he’s not a skier. And, since his hair doesn’t touch his collar, there probably wouldn’t be a repeat of the disaster date with Michael Arlen where her father called Michael a “Commie anarchist” just because his hair was slightly long, and he was wearing a t-shirt with a peace symbol. Then he yelled at Michael that the peace symbol was “the footprint of the American chicken,” and told Michael to get out and never come back. Not enough words to describe that humiliation. Michael just kind of smirked about it at school, almost like it was a badge of honor to be called a Commie anarchist.
Still, Sara couldn’t imagine her father liking anyone who wasn’t a gravel fancier or gun fanatic, much less any boy she might go out with. And what if he interrogates Brian about his political views and the war? That could be Michael Arlen all over again if Brian says the wrong thing. And it was so easy to say the wrong thing to her father. Actually, it was so easy to say the wrong thing to just about anyone, what with everyone so divided on the war, civil rights, or anything else Walter Cronkite talked about on the evening news.
Sara flopped backwards on her bed and swung her feet up overhead, pressed her legs up against the wall, raised her head up and held it until she could feel the burn.
She wondered how Mrs. Stadler was going to set up a date. Would she explain to Brian her parents’ situation the way she explained Brian’s heart problem? Would she tell Brian, ‘they are not bad people.’ That’s what she told Sara all the time. It was the only thing she’d never been able to make Sara believe.
Sara imagined Brian sitting on a barstool in the Stadler’s sunny kitchen with all the Stadler kids running around. Mrs. Stadler would probably say, ‘Now Brian, I know Sara’s parents are a little strange, but really they are not bad people. They’re just under a lot of pressure. Harvey’s business is failing because one of his workers was badly injured in an accident and sued him. Sara’s older brother, Randy, dropped out of school to help with the business.’ She might even tell Brian about her mother’s drinking problem, but be sure to add that it’s probably because her mother’s whole family was killed in a car wreck and she was the only one that survived. The whole burden of survivor’s guilt thing.
Sara couldn’t understand Mrs. Stadler’s friendship with her mother. Even more unbelievable was how she was always trying to rationalize her mother’s behavior to Sara.
Sara swung her legs down, slid to the floor to do more stretches.
And then there was the matter of living in a half-finished house. Mrs. Stadler would probably prepare Brian for that, so it won’t be such a shock if he actually came over. Maybe she’ll tell Brian how her father wanted his family to have a nice place to live and built most of it himself…until he ran out of money.
Sara wandered over to the window. She parted the curtains and peered out. Skeletal trees glowed with an ashen frost in the moonlight. No sign of snow.
Sara wondered how Brian would react to Mrs. Stadler’s story about her family? Would he sit in her nice kitchen with all the pretty wood cabinets and plants in macrame hangers everywhere and listen to her respectfully, but wonder if it was worth it to get involved with a girl with such a messed-up family? Sara figured Brian probably called her Laura, that his parents didn’t have some medieval mindset about kids not calling adults by their first name like her parents.
Sara closed the curtains, paused to hear the end of the Beatles sing, “We Can Work It Out” before she switched off the radio and climbed in bed.