Beth Ann Bauman
IT WAS HARD having a lousy personality. Robin would rather have been cursed with a weight
problem or a bald spot or thick glasses, or better yet a missing finger. Instead she was
stuck with her personality, which was a non-personality, a blank sheet of paper she kept
trying to write on. Case in point: here it was Friday night, and she was hiding out in
some little kid's bedroom pretending to care for Lila, who was a slut and was passed out
on the gingham bedspread with chunks of puke dotted down the front of her shirt, while
downstairs a party went on without them.
It was becoming boring, sitting on the bed and staring
at Lila, who breathed rhythmically through her slack mouth, putting Robin into a stupor.
Robin moved to the corner of the bedroom, where a naked Barbie doll was spread-eagled over
the breakfast nook of the beach bungalow. Robin dressed the doll in a fringy cowgirl
outfit and was deciding between boots or Jesus sandals when her friend Janet popped into
the room, guzzling from a bottle of wine.
"What are you doing?" Janet said.
"Lila's sick here."
"Lila's a slut," Janet said. "Why are
you hiding? Have you talked to three new people?"
Robin set the Barbie doll on the roof of the beach
house, placing the sleek, smiling head up against the Barbie telescope, which was aimed at
the lavender wallpaper beyond which were the hedges where Robin had parked her bike an
hour earlier. In her mind's eye, she could see the bike there, awaiting her. "The
thing is" Robin said.
"What? Speak up!"
"It's just that parties"
"Oh, I know what you're going to say: I
don't like parties.' But if you don't like parties then you can't really like people and
if you don't like people then you're an antisocial."
"I like people."
Janet sighed. She was a junior and a year older than
Robin. She had an underbite and would have her jaw broken, realigned, and wired shut one
day in the distant future. She was the first and only friend Robin had made when Robin's
family moved here last year. Janet, who worked on the yearbook and school spirit
committees, had knocked on her door last summer just days after Robin's family had moved
in and had taken Robin on a walking tour of downtown. "Here's Friendly's, where you
can get a chocolate Fribble," she'd said. "Lots of kids hang out here. I mean
it's fine when you're in eighth grade but when you're our age it just sucks, bites, and
blows. Here's the movie theater where the floor's as flat as a pancake. They've been
showing a lot of love stories, which are my favorites, but if you get a large head in
front of you it just sucks, bites, and blows. Here's Trimmings Salon where, trust me, all
you'll want to do is get a trim. If you're looking for a new hairdo you'll have to get
your butt on New Jersey Transit and head into the city. God, you have gorgeous hair,"
she said, grabbing a handful of Robin's long, dark hair and holding it up to her own head.
"My hair's decent but some days..." She rolled her eyes up to the True Value
Hardware sign, which glared green above them. "Isn't this place the worst?"
Janet now plunked down on the bed next to Lila and
stared hard at Robin for several seconds. "It makes me so unhappy, Robin, that you
won't try to be a more popular person."
Robin reached for Janet's bottle and sipped long and
hard. The wine tasted like rotten fruitoverly sweet and funkyand thinking this
made her start to gag and she handed back the bottle.
"Listen, I hate to be boring," Janet said in
a low voice, "but there are some things you obviously don't know." She looked up
to the ceiling, as if thinking, and from where Robin was sitting on the floor Janet's
underbite looked really, really bad. "We live in a highly structurized society,"
Janet began. "Friends don't grow on trees. You can't go pluck one. You have to make
friends. If you just set a little goal to talk to three new people tonight that could be
three more friends for you. Don't you see? It's not enough to be pretty and just stare
into space. You have to act the right way. I've had to work at developing my excellent
personality." Janet slid onto the floor next to Robin, her boobs jiggling into place.
"Take Lila here," she whispered, pointing up to the bed. "If she fooled
around like a normal person she'd be fine. But no, she's so obvious that everyone knows
her business and so she's just a slut. Bor-ing. I mean, who wants to be her friend? Well,
I'm her friend, but you know what I mean. I'm going to be honest because I care about you,
Robin; the thing is that sometimes you can be embarrassing ...I haven't hurt your
feelings, have I?" She looked at Robin deeply. Janet had enormous eyes fringed with
sparse, stubby lashes; they were the eyes of a strange, graceful sea creature gliding
peaceably over coral reefs.
Robin quickly shook her head. In Janet's presence, she
often felt slow and clumsy as the sparky shower of Janet's words rained down on her. Now
she found herself jittery with gratitude and rage. "I can talk to three people."
"See," Janet said. "Really, I'm just
trying to help."
"Thank you, Janet."
Janet nodded. Then she stood and frowned at Lila and
wandered toward the door. "Coming?" she asked.
"Yep," Robin said, unable to move.
"Good," Janet said, disappearing into the
hallway. Go, Robin told herself. Go now, she commanded, otherwise she might be afflicted
with her lousy personality for the rest of her life. She stared at Lila, who was snoring
into the kid's pillow. Yes, Lila was a little sloppy and slutty but she also had a zesty
life. Be a normal girl, she commanded herself. Growing angrier, she loped down the
hall and down the stairs until she found herself in the middle of the party surrounded by
a roomful of lively kids, holding beer cans and waving cigarettes and talking, talking,
talking. Robin's anger instantly fled her body, and she felt deserted, standing there with
a dried-out mouth and a twitchy eye. Directly in front of her was a loveseat. She made a
beeline for it but two senior girls beat her to it, and she teetered for a second. A wall,
a wall; she needed a wall. She quickly moved to the corner of the room, where she sat on
the arm of a couch and let her hair fall over her face like a dark curtain. Then she
waited for what might happen.
"Are you sleeping?" a guy sitting on the
couch asked, giving her a poke.
"Nope," Robin said, opening her eyes.
Robin smiled, feeling herself blush and grow warm. The
guy turned back to the girl beside him, cocking his head and grinning as she twirled a
strand of hair around her finger. They were having a conversation in which they said
things like, "I did not," "Yes, you did," "When?" "Come
on, you know." They kept at it for the longest time and Robin wondered how these bits
of nothing, like dust, kept the two of them tied up with each other for so long. Soon they
wandered away, and Robin realized that if she just sat here, in the corner, on the arm of
the couch, she'd be all right.
A girl across the room who had been furiously
whispering with two other girls veered toward Robin's couch and plunked down. She looked
like a fly. She had short black hair that hugged her head like a helmet and heavy eyelids,
and Robin had often seen her zipping down the halls at school. She now turned to Robin and
said in a low voice, "Would you be friends with someone who called you an asshole for
"I definitely wouldn't," Robin said, elated.
She slid off the arm of the couch to sit beside the girl.
"Well, I wouldn't either ...but I don't want to
talk about it."
"Who called you an asshole for no reason?"
Robin whispered into the girl's ear, which wasn't very clean. "It's very
discouraging," the fly went on, "when you're the type of person who goes out of
your way to do nice things for your friends and you learn that one of them doesn't even
give two little shits about your feelings. I call that very discouraging."
It sounded very discouraging. Maybe she and this fly
could be friends, Robin thought. "I bet it was the redhead," Robin whispered.
"She looks like a creep."
The fly turned to her head-on. "Not her. The
"Oh," Robin said.
"It's very discouraging to hear you call my very
best friend creepy." The girl gave her a fishy look, popped off the couch and
returned to her little circle.
Robin sat there, trying not to stare at anyone and
hoping no one was staring at her. Then George from her geometry class joined her on the
couch, tapping his foot to Nirvana. He had the bluest eyes, so blue you couldn't help but
think he was a nice person, even if he was stoned most of the time. "Robin!" he
said and smiled. She smiled back. He held out his hand, fingers splayed, and for a panicky
second she didn't know what he wanted her to do. He didn't seem to be looking for a high
five. Did he want to shake, or what? He was stoned, she could see that. He had a rubber
band around his wrist. She had the urge to flick it. A little flick. She would've liked to
do that, but somehow couldn't. He took back his hand and looked at her funny, and then he
was tapping his foot again, and the moment was gone. George bounded off the couch and
disappeared into the room.
Well, Robin thought, that was three, sort of: the guy
who asked her if she was sleeping, the fly, and George from geometry. She headed
downstairs where it was darker, louder, and more crowded and stood next to Janet, who was
talking to Nolan Fry. Nolan Fry was the prettiest person in the entire school. He had
smooth pink skin, a flop of dirty blond hair hanging over his forehead, and he was very
tall. Every featurehis thin nose, full lips, heavy eyelasheswas perfect in and
of itself, but, as Janet had often said, all together on the same face was almost a crime.
It was hard, Robin decided, to look at him head on. Worse yet, he knew how to be pretty.
He wore his prettiness like a smart jacket. Janet was staring up at him as if in a trance;
her eyes had gone soft and she wore the faintest smile while Nolan talked to the air above
her head. Neither one of them looked at Robin, but when she reached for the wine bottle
Janet released her grip. Robin gulped and when she handed it back, Janet's fingers
expertly closed around the bottle. Robin wished she knew how to be pretty the way Nolan
did. She'd only recently become pretty and often needed to look in the bathroom mirror to
be reminded. She slipped through the sliding doors into the cold air, where she got on her
bike and raced home.
They had a drug problem at school. Lots of kids smoked pot, but it seemed they also had
some sniffers who inhaled stuff like Drano and paint thinner. The school now held weekly
seminars in the auditorium ever since one jerky sophomore had suffered some brain damage.
Everyone plodded into the auditorium, weary and dead-eyed. Janet waved to Robin and
pointed to the seat she'd saved her.
This week's seminar featured a dramatization of
several kids gathered in a bathroom while Britney Spears' "Oops! ... I Did It
Again" played in the background. One of the actors played a reluctant kid, who sat on
the lid of the toilet bowl while several other actors tried to pressure him into putting a
plastic bag over his head and sniffing some Aquanet hairspray.
Janet scribbled on a piece of notebook paper and
handed it to Robin. "I think U R too dependent on me," it read.
The lights dimmed, the actors froze and a voice from
outer space said, "Rule number one: Think of your future. Remember your hopes and
dreams. Brain damage is not cool!"
"Exasperating!" Janet whispered. "If
you're a big enough moron to sniff hairspray, then you should get brain damage."
The actors unfroze and the reluctant one said,
"Hey, listen, sniffing household substances isn't cool. They can mess up your head. I
have algebra homework, and in a couple of years I'm going to college." Robin
underlined the words "too dependent" and scribbled, "How?" She stared
at Janet's profile, waiting. "Not any 1 thing," Janet wrote. "HOW can a go thru h.s. w/ only 1 friend?"
The actor who wouldn't sniff the Aquanet leapt off the
toilet seat lid, and a spotlight zeroed in on him. The outer space voice said, "Cool
Kid." Cool Kid smiled broadly and donned a graduation cap and then galloped offstage.
The outer space voice then said, "Jackasses." The spotlight zoomed in on the
hairspray sniffers, who were wearing donkey ears and braying as they wielded the Aquanet
and pulled plastic bags over their heads and banged into the toilet and the tub. There
were snickers and yawns. Lame, a boy behind them called out.
"What do I do?" Robin wrote, feeling herself
"I don't have all the answers," Janet
whispered. "I definitely don't." She gave Robin a small, weary smile, revealing
her bottom row of even white teeth.
Every week during the seminars they got a new pamphlet
and this week's said, "Everybody Wants to Be Cool and That's Okay." Robin read a
list of ways to be cool. Help a disadvantaged child; be a good neighbor. Doing something
for a kid or neighbor was certainly nice but it wasn't cool, she thought. Who were these
people to talk about cool when they didn't know what it was either? The room was filled
with the whish of pamphlets hitting the auditorium floor. Janet flicked hers, and it
ricocheted off the seat in front of her before landing next to their feet.
Robin was saving the pamphlets. They were a mystery,
not really helpful but occasionally very interesting. Last week's"Reach Out for
Friends Not Drugs"said only a small percentage of the people you meet will
actually become friends and that it's important to have realistic expectations. This was a
revelation. There were hundreds of kids in the auditorium; there were so many bodies and
voices, so similar to each other in their boredomeach of them wiggly and
uncomfortable in the stiff seats. Most of us will never really know each other, Robin
thought as she looked at the rows and rows of heads in front of her. When Janet wasn't
looking Robin slid the pamphlet into her notebook.
Robin sat in the library after school, trying to do geometry homework. She sometimes
imagined herself marching over to Janet's house and ending their friendship. She knew
Janet would stare deeply into her eyes. Janet would say insulting thingsor worse,
she might say nothing at all. She might just say "okay" and go back to her
little turquoise room at the top of the stairs and apply another coat of Intrigue #39 to
her fingernails. It was possible.
Robin soon gave up on the idea and went online to a
site she had heard some girls talking about called prettygirl.com. On a message board
called "Being Pretty Is Enough," she read:
"I'm kind of a snotty bitch. I like to diddle my
boyfriend around and because I'm pretty I CAN. Ha!"
"Don't get me wrong I love being pretty. In fact I'm
super pretty but if I had been a little less pretty I might have developed more of a wit.
I'm not good at one-liners like my mediocre-looking roommates and sometimes I get jealous,
like yesterday when one of them came in with a little flower from the lawn and stuck it in
a jelly jar and placed it on the table and said `weed du jour.' I wish I could come up
with stuff like that. I'm twenty so I'm probably older and wiser than most of you. All I'm
saying is maybe I should have felt the need to be clever."
And the responses: "I bet she isn't really
"You are so right. I know an ugly girl who reads
Robin thought of the last party and all of the other
terrifying parties Janet had dragged her to. She wrote: "I love that being pretty
means I don't have to do anything. People seem to like me just because I'm pretty to look
at. Doors open for me wherever I go."
As Robin left the library she saw Nolan Fry, gazing
into his locker as if it were a refrigerator. Surprisingly, he was the only one in the
Robin walked toward him. Doors open for me wherever
I go. "Hi Nolan," she found herself saying. "Hey," he said,
turning his cool eyes on her.
"I thought I'd say hi,'" she blurted.
"Robin," he said, brushing a finger over his
"I'm a sophomore."
"I mean you probably don't know many sophomores,
"Have you read this Bartleby the
Scrivener?" he asked, pulling it from his locker.
Robin shook her head.
"Bartleby. I like that name," he said,
tossing the book into his backpack. He slammed shut his locker. "See ya."
"Bye." He walked the short distance to the
side exit. Doors open for me wherever I go. Robin stared after him as he left the
building. Being pretty hadn't done a damn thing for her. It was almost nothing, really.
She had the urge to check her face in the bathroom mirror.
But Nolan was opening up the door. "Want a
ride?" he called.
She rode in the front seat of Nolan Fry's pickup truck, which was blue with a slightly
crunched passenger door. She was wondering if she should tell him where she lived or if
she should wait for him to ask. It was easier to look at Nolan's profile than to look at
his dreamy, beautiful face. Nolan apparently didn't feel the need for chit-chat, and they
rode quietly listening to the radio. Every now and then he coughed and gave his chest a
small pound with a fist.
"You're Janet's friend," he said, after a
"She's not really my friend," Robin said.
Nolan pulled into the lot at the park and found a spot
under some leafy trees. The sky was growing dark, and the air had became cool. He took a
swig of the purple cough syrup that lay on the dashboard. "Want some?" he said.
"Okay," she said. Her mouth had gone dry,
and she took a sip. He laughed and took a joint from his pocket and rolled it between his
fingers. "You smoke?" he asked.
"Won't that make you cough more?"
"Probably. I'm an idiot sometimes." He took
a hit and handed the joint to her. Robin didn't especially like getting high, because most
times nothing much happened, though once she had the repeated sensation of falling off a
They passed it back and forth until she got a chill
and the top of Robin's head went momentarily frosty. Nolan took another swig of cough
syrup and slunk down into his seat. Robin felt smooth and polished as a stone and slunk
down next to him, and they stared into the park. After a while Nolan said,
They crawled into the cab of the truck where it
smelled like breath and sleep; he lay down on a pile of clothes and she lay next to him.
He picked up a chunk of her hair and ran his fingers through it until she tingled all
over. He held the strands to his nose. She was aware of how shiny and thick her hair must
seem between Nolan's fingers and how lovely she must look. She felt as though she were
being revealed to herself for the first time, and she saw a flicker of the alluring girl
she could become. Nolan scooted closer and scooped up more of her hair and let it fall
over his face. They were like this for a while.
"Janet, man," Nolan said in a sleepy, slow
voice. "Do you know she invited me over for lunch last winter?"
"No," Robin barely said.
"This is bizarre..." he whispered, lifting
her hair from his face.
Nolan sat up on his elbows and shook his head as if to
clear it. "I'm in the bakery one morning. Janet comes in for a sticky bun and asks me
to stop by for lunch. So, I'm like, I guess. I go there expecting grilled cheese...
"When I get there she's the only one home,"
he said. "She's got the table set in the dining room and she's serving roast
tenderloin and mashed potatoes and string beans with almonds. She's got gravy in a gravy
"She's got on tight jeans and all this perfume
and high heels. I'm sitting in her freaking dining room with a real napkin, and I'm sweaty
and covered in flour. She's running back and forth from the dining room into the kitchen,
and her high heels are going click, click, click on the linoleum. The whole time she's
smiling like a goon. Man..."
A gravy boat! Robin thought. High heels!
"She was seriously hitting on me, man...I-mean,
the food was totally yum. Totally. But it doesn't change the fact that I don't exactly
like her. I mean, she's okay but I don't ever think about her. Not to mention that she
looks like something that crawled out from under a rock."
Robin blinked. "You know, she's going to get her
jaw fixed one day."
Robin pictured the little scene Nolan Fry had painted
for her. She could hear the click of Janet's heels. She could see Janet's dark creature
eyes and goony smile. She felt ashamed as if it were she, not Janet, serving Nolan a roast
tenderloin lunch. And she was ashamed for feeling ashamed. "That Janet, she's a
"Sad but true," Nolan said.
"You said it!"
"You like talking about your friend like
"She's not my friend ...and it's not because she
looks like something that crawled out from under a rock, which she does, but because she's
"Nice!" Nolan said. "Are you nice?"
"I think so. I don't know. I see what you
mean." Nice. It was sort of a dopey, incomprehensible word. A kiss-ass word.
What was so good about being nice?
"I'd rather be true than nice," Nolan
"I'm true," Nolan said.
"True is good."
"Are you true?"
She closed her eyes and wondered. "I'll let you
know," she whispered.
After a pause Nolan Fry said, "That seems like a
true thing to say."
She turned her eyes toward his chest, where her hair
sprawled across him like tentacles.
"Would it be all right if we didn't do it,"
Nolan said. "Some skank in Sandy Hook gave me something nasty and my pecker's still
sore." He reached lazily for his backpack and took out a prescription bottle, popped
a pill, and swallowed it with cough syrup.
"I wasn't thinking we should do it," Robin
"You're a virgin, aren't you?"
"I'm not answering that."
"It's all right. I like virgins." They lay
down again, this time with her head on his chest, and he roamed his fingers through her
hair, and they were quiet for a long time. "I know exactly who you are," he
"Who?" she barely whispered back. She looked
into his dozing face, so perfect even slack. She brought her cheek to his.
"Who?" she whispered again.
A long while passed, or so it seemed, as she drifted
in and out of sleep. "Wake me in two minutes," he murmured. "I gotta go. My
mom's making Hungarian goulash for supper. Totally yum."
When two minutes seemed to have passed she took his
sleeping hand and held it with both her hands. "Tell me how to be pretty,
Nolan." He was in a lush, private sleep and didn't answer. She felt safe, separated
from him like this, but she wanted to know all the things he seemed to know and she wanted
to know how he knew them. She brought his hand to her chest and gently held it there, not
ready to relinquish it. When he stirred, he raised his sleepy head and gave her a quick
kiss with chapped lips.
He dropped her off at the end of her block, and she
lingered for a moment. "That was fun," she said.
"Yup," Nolan said. "Thanks for smoking with
She stepped from the truck.
"Later," he said. Then he sped away toward
his mom's Hungarian goulash.
Janet padded down the hall in Robin's direction before homeroom, dragging her feet and
chewing a gob of gum. "Janet," Robin said, startled. "I've had enough of
you." She left Janet standing there, baffled and peeved. Robin spent the next few
days in giddy expectation as if she were gathering energy. She ate by herself in the
cafeteria and darted from class to class, not unhappily, her thoughts far from Janet,
who'd become remote as a star, casting only a faint light over Robin.
Days later Robin developed Nolan's cough. The cough
was very dear to her and she delighted in every hack. He had given her something, like a
souvenir. She decided to never speak of the Nolan episode, since once it touched the air
it might disappear.
It wasn't so much that she wanted to be with Nolan,
though she thought she might; rather, she wanted to be like him. The first time she
passed him in the hall since their encounter, he lowered his eyes to her and said,
"Hey you." Then most every time after he smiled, but near the end of the week it
occurred to Robin that this might be the extent of her relationship with Nolan Fry.
On Friday, Janet had a note delivered to Robin,
while she ate a ham and cheese sandwich in the cafeteria. "At first I was furious
with you, but maybe my behavior has been less than stellar lately. Please come over after
At the beginning of the week Robin hadn't cared if she
ever spoke to Janet again, and she liked discovering what her days could feel like without
Janet in them. But now she was lonely and curious and found herself walking toward her
ex-friend's cantaloupe-colored house after school. In the kitchen window, she saw the back
of Janet's hateful head.
"There you are," Janet said, pulling her
inside. Robin felt feverish and Janet pushed her into a chair. "Are you sick? Do you
need an aspirin?"
"I have a cough," Robin said, hacking
several times, which made her feel better. She slid into a seat next to the watery hiss of
the radiator while Janet opened a cabinet and rooted through a swarm of prescription
"I don't know where an aspirin is," Janet
sighed. "There's never anything I need in this house. What you need is homemade
chicken soup, but do you think we have homemade chicken soup in this house? Never. Do you
think my mom ever makes homemade chicken soup? Nope. She's a bitch." She opened a can
of chicken soup and placed it on the stove. Then she sat down without looking at Robin.
"Frankly, you dropped me like a hot potato."
"Yes, I did."
Janet twitched in her seat. "I can probably sneak
a beer. Want to split one?"
"Okay." While Janet poured the beer into
glasses, Robin noticed that Janet had forgotten to light the flame under the soup. They
sat together silently, drinking the beer.
"We're friends again, right?" Janet asked.
Janet folded her hands and looked solemn. "Why
don't you tell me everything you can't stand about me."
"Wait!" Janet said, springing up from the
table. "Let me get my cigarettes." She lit one and fumbled with an ashtray.
"I'm ready. I feel like Anne Boleyn or something."
Robin took a sip of beer. "For starters, you're
mean, Janet." Robin had lined up a few pieces of evidence and she pulled them out
piece by piece, illuminating Janet's various shortcomings.
"It's just that I think it's a crying shame not
to live up to your potential," Janet said, blowing a thin stream of smoke from the
side of her mouth.
"I'm the kind of person who's on the quiet side.
Why can't I be quiet?"
"Rightly or wrongly, I'm the kind of person who's
"Well, you're ugly, Janet."
Something flashed across Janet's face, so quickly that
Robin wasn't sure she had seen anything at all. "Just plain ugly," Robin said as
a feeling like silk enveloped her. She took a long sip of beer, letting her eyes wander
over to the window. "I'm not saying you're not a good person underneath it all, but
you're a fault-finder and an extreme know-it-all."
Janet lowered her eyes and then looked up at Robin,
cowed. "I guess I am at times, and I can now see how that could be extremely
"And what do you think my potential is
exactly?" Robin asked.
"Well, you're very pretty for starters."
Robin let Janet look deeply into her eyes. "And you have an interesting way of
looking at the world. You're mostly a loyal person and you're always on time, and these
things suggest a dependable person."
Robin nodded. "That's true, but that's not all I
am, Janet. You're always talking so I think you miss some of my other qualities." She
wondered what some of those other qualities might be. "I hope you don't think I'm
being terrible or attacking you"
Janet vigorously shook her head.
"I'm not. It's just that I have to be straight
with you, Janet, because I swear sometimes you act like something that crawled out from
under a rock."
Janet rose from the table. She pulled a bowl from the
dish washer and poured the soup in it. She reached to turn off the burner, saw it was off
and looked confused. "Something's wrong with this soup!" she cried. She flung
the pot into the sink. "My life is just retarded! " she blurted. "I hate
calculus and world history. My bangs won't grow. No boys like me. I go to stupid matinées
with you on Saturdays. When I need beer for a party I have to ask that
pimply-community-college-moron up the street. There's nothing to look forward to
Robin assured her there were things to look forward
to, and she rattled off some possibilities. "And some boys do like you"
"Not the ones I like!"
"But still ...and you're going to have your jaw
fixed one day."
"Of course I am," Janet said, coolly. She
turned àway and started emptying the dishwasher, stacking the clean pots and pans on the
counter. "What do you think my potential is, Robin?"
Robin stared at the back of Janet's head and gathered
her thoughts. "You're smart. You speak extremely well. You're always able to come
through with free movie tickets or wine coolers or Carvel coupons. You're a real
"Uh-huh ...I'm also savvy and enigmatic."
Janet's face was still and soft, like a child's, when
she turned to Robin. "My mom and dad left me pizza money." She picked up a
twenty-dollar bill and made it dance for Robin. "Would you like to get a good dinner
somewhere?" She suggested The Pier. Robin often pedaled past the chic restaurant,
where the billboard said "fine dining" and featured two lobsters doing the
tango. They counted the money in their wallets and decided they could afford some fine
Janet went upstairs to fix her hair. Robin sat in the warm kitchen, fidgeting and feeling
exhilarated. She waited a long time, mesmerized by the whir of Janet's hairdryer. Unable
to keep still, she finally bounded out of her seat and wandered into the dining room,
where she searched for her face in the glass doors of the breakfront. She studied her dark
reflection, the curve of her cheekbone, and her long hair falling past her shoulders.
As she tried to find herself in the glass of the
breakfront, she saw it. There among the plates and bowls and serving dishes was the gravy
boat. It must have been the roast tenderloin lunch gravy boat. Robin took it out of the
case and held it in her palm. It was very pleasing sitting on its own little plate. She
turned it from side to side, admiring its ring of periwinkle flowers and its elegant
curled lip. Such a fancy thinga gravy boat. She pictured it sitting on the dining
room table among the plates of food and linen napkins. She imagined Nolan Fry holding it
in one of his perfect hands, the same hand that had touched her hair, the same hand she'd
held to her chest. She saw him pouring a smooth trail of gravy over his meat and
potatoesNolan Fry, who would never know what it was to be anyone but Nolan Fry.
When Janet came downstairs Robin saw she had been
crying. Janet had sprayed her hair several inches off her forehead and teased it. Her eyes
were moist, but she stood on the staircase smiling brightly and jangling her keys.
"Ready?" she asked.
"Janet!" Robin said, dashing toward her.
Robin was struck hard with tangled feelings of tenderness and guilt. She needed to gush
something, to gather up herself and Janet in some binding way. Janet, I didn't mean it.
That's not who I am. I'm sorry, so sorry, Janet. I like you, Janet. Janet, how pretty you
look. Janet, you are a good friend. But she just stood there, swelling up with the
things she wanted to say, these things that weren't true.