Finding the positive in this situation feels pointless, but I do it.

If I hadn’t come home early tonight, I might not have caught her here at al . It’s only eleven. Dad must not be home yet, or she’d be in their room or one of the guest rooms. She’s not dressed for bed, either, though her mismatched outfit, unkempt hair and makeup-less face tel me she hasn’t left the house today. This is an unspoken agreement between my parents—Mom doesn’t go out in public when she’s been drinking. A quiet, depressive drunk, she’s always al owed herself to be coaxed into compliance with this edict. She never drives, either—the car service is on permanent cal , so no chance for a DUI. Each member of the staff has Dad on speed-dial. My family has enabling down to an art.

An hour ago I was at a party with John, staring at the familiar crowd of fashionably-clad undulating bodies and the smoke curling towards the ceiling, trying and failing to ignore my boredom as the typical laughter rose occasional y over the typical music. While the socialite sitting next to me droned on about her last trip to Amsterdam and the mind-altering experiences she had there, I found myself thinking about shelves.

“…and then I felt so, you know, at peace with everything and everybody, like I was part of the universe, you know?” she said, and I nodded, contemplating the studfinder, which is a clever-as-hel device. I’d attached those brackets with three-inch screws, driving them into the frame, daring them to ever come loose. If the house was demolished by an act of God, those damned brackets would probably remain affixed to the planks of wood inside the wal . When Dori pul ed on the shelves to test them, they hadn’t moved a mil imeter.

My thoughts shifted ful y to Dori. Was her kiss a reward for doing something right? And if so, what was I wil ing to do to earn it again? Not be hungover tomorrow?

The girl next to me paused in the middle of relaying her substance-triggered existential experiences. “Wanna find a room?” she asked, mistaking my silence for interest, I guess.

I focused on her for the first time since she’d begun talking. She was exceptional y hot, despite her buzzed, slow-blinking expression. Smiling, she took my hand. Her fingers were dainty, linked with mine—even her hand was pretty, her nails perfectly manicured, French tips folding over the top of my hand. She stood and headed towards a hal way. I stood and started to fol ow. And then I pul ed her to a stop and she turned back, confused.

I leaned closer to be heard over the music. “Not tonight.

Maybe some other time.”

She blinked, nonplussed. I untangled my hand from hers and scanned the room for John. As usual, he was relatively easy to find. I just looked for real y tal girls.

I told him I thought I had food poisoning and was ditching for tonight, and he fol owed me to the door, looking worried.


“Hey man, you need me to drive you home?”

“Nah, I’m good,” I told him. “Cal ed a taxi already.” I waited outside in the heat, the effects of the party slowly fal ing away. I’d only had one drink, hadn’t smoked anything or swal owed any pil s. It felt good to be in the open air. A little warm, but nothing like digging holes for trees or tamping down sod in ful summer sun. I had to laugh. Reid Alexander, landscaping a yard. Man. No wonder the paparazzi were having seizures over it.

Unsure what to do with Mom now, I leave her on my bed and go shower. When I come back, she hasn’t moved. I scoop her up, wishing I’d done so before showering, because her breath is sour, and even her perspiration exudes a noxious odor. As I carry her to her room, I’m sucked into a memory—a day prior to her earliest round of rehab.

I was ten or so, and must have just come home from school because I was wearing the uniform of the most elite private elementary school in the state. Mom was in her sitting room with her wedding album on her lap. “Reid!” she said when I peeked around the corner. “Come look with me.”

My parents’ wedding had been a social event, organized with a precision usual y reserved for royalty, the whole wedding party arrayed like beings from a fairytale hosted by exclusive designers, courtesy of old money. I don’t remember the photos themselves, just my impression of them, except for one snapshot of the two of them emerging from the church, thick wooden doors braced open behind them. My mother—petite, blonde and beautiful in her ivory gown, stood with her arm tucked through Dad’s, his opposite hand covering hers. My father, in his early thirties, was tal and good-looking. Impressive. No different from his present day look and demeanor—except in these photos, he was beaming. And he had more hair, not as closely shorn as the present salt-and-pepper version.

My mother’s fingers hovered over the photograph, one frosted pink nail tracing her own torso in the stunning ivory gown. “My gown had seed pearls sewn into the bodice,” she told me. “I felt like a princess. And your father was so handsome.” They made a striking pair.

“Reid,” she said then, her fingers shaking, suspended over the princess in the photo, “Mommy’s going to be gone for a little while.”

I frowned at her. “Gone where?”

She swal owed, and it seemed like she was trying to breathe normal y. Maybe she was trying not to cry. I stared at her, concerned, and she smiled through watery eyes.

“Wel , it seems that you are going to have a little brother or sister, and I need to go away for a little bit, to make sure I don’t… make sure I don’t…” She stared at her shaking hand and the photograph underneath it.

“Don’t what?” I asked, reeling with the news of a sibling. I remember feeling happy initial y, but something was upsetting my mother, so I pushed the joy aside until I had time to understand what I should feel.

“To make sure I don’t hurt the baby.”

I had no idea what she meant. I was sure my mother could never hurt anything or anyone. She couldn’t even stand to punish me when I was bad—and I was bad pretty often. There was no way she’d hurt a baby. I said as much to her, and she started to cry in earnest, the opposite of the effect I was going for. “This wil al work out; everything wil be wonderful,” she said, taking my face in her hands. “And I hope he or she is just like you.”

She’d gone to rehab, lost the baby anyway, came home and started drinking again.

I lay her on her bed now, turning the lamp on low and folding the comforter over her. There’s probably more I should do, but I have no idea what. She’s getting worse. I know the pattern, know what comes next. We’re almost to her rock bottom, a slow drifting downward until we al slam into the ground. Sometimes, she jerks up momentarily only to crash again. I realize I haven’t seen her sober in days.

I’ve told myself this is only because I’m not around much, but that’s a lie. Every time she stops drinking, I forget how bad it can be until we get here again.

She flops onto her back, starts to snore damned heavily for such a smal person. I rol her less than gently back onto her side, not that she notices, and prop pil ows behind her. I don’t want her to puke while she’s on her back. She’d most likely wake up rather than breathe it into her lungs… but I can’t take that chance.

I sit on the settee facing her bed, my fingers tracing the patterns in the carved teak frame. This is my mother. I would do anything to help her, but there’s nothing. She must hate her life to need this escape so badly. I understand that desire, at least. Just make it numb. Make the failures vanish, from the loss of the baby to her mother’s disappointment to her husband’s withdrawal. And my own disappearing act, from the moment I could pul it off. I don’t know if the misery begets the drinking or the drinking begets the misery. I don’t have a clue where it al started. Al I know is there is no end.

I wake to my father shaking me. “Reid,” he says. “You can go now.” His mouth is a tight line as he glances at her and back at me. He’s failed her. I’ve failed her. She’s failed herself.

No end.


When Deb told me to pretend that kiss didn’t happen, it sounded so simple.

Sometimes I forget my own aversion to lying, and how lying involves pretending not to feel things that I actual y feel.

Thinking about Colin reminded me of the sensation of having my heart smashed to smithereens, and then trying to pretend that I wasn’t a walking ghost. When he dumped me, it was such an unanticipated end that I moved through my life in a state of shock for days afterward, waiting to wake up. When I final y realized that it wasn’t a nightmare, that it was real, it hurt so much I didn’t think I could survive.

But I did. And to do so, I had to pretend not to feel it, at least in front of him. In front of my friends and classmates. In front of my parents. And in front of his mother, who for al of her genuine concern and her experience in counseling troubled teens, was clueless to what her own son had done to one of the students right under her nose.

The key to lying skil ful y is never lie to yourself. And the best way to keep yourself honest internal y is to have one person, someone you trust above everyone else, who holds and protects that secret true thing for you. The thing you have to hide from everyone else. Deb has always been that person for me.

When I told her about Colin, she nearly came unglued.

Submerged in her studies as a first-year med student, she’d known I was dating someone, but hadn’t been as available during the time of my brief sexual relationship with him. The entire story, from the magical beginning to the devastating end, was relayed in one conversation.

My sister has always known how to hold my heart, and her anger at Colin quickly yielded to my need for the empathy only she could provide. “Oh, baby girl,” she said, her voice breaking. “You need a pint of java chip and a funny movie. I’l come home the weekend after mid-terms, and we’l do an official exorcism. Gather a stack of photos and anything else you’d like to set fire to, because we’re going to burn that worthless boy right out of your memory. It won’t hurt like this forever. I promise.”

She was right, of course. Three years later, I can’t remember how it felt to love Colin. I recal the loss of him as though it had happened to someone else—some naïve, reckless girl I’l never be again.

I hear Reid’s voice just before he comes around the corner, upbeat and friendly as he replies to hel os. He’s here uncharacteristical y early, too, so I haven’t had time to go over the steps in my head that Deb and I discussed, like a last-minute cramming session before an exam.

One—act like the kiss didn’t happen.

Two—if he al udes to the kiss, shrug it off.

Three—arrange to work in a separate area.

Four—don’t get caught alone with him.

“Hey,” he says, this greeting proceeded by the usual coffee aroma that announces his arrival. My addicted caffeine sensors perk up immediately in expectation of the soy latte I know he’s holding, along with a bounce in my heart rate at the sound of his voice.

My own body is a traitor.

I turn, smile, take the latte, thank him. Ignore his fingertips brushing over mine. Ignore his beautiful eyes, the dark blue of them intensified by the snug navy t-shirt he’s wearing.

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