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Glory obriens history of.., p.17
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       Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, p.17

           A. S. King
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  “I need to talk to you about something important,” Ellie whispered.

  “Okay,” I whispered back.

  “Not here,” she whispered. “It’s not safe to talk about it here.”

  “There’s no one here, though.”

  “They’re here. They’re always here.”

  “Oh,” I said.

  “Can we go to your house?”

  She’d already started walking toward my house, so I followed her. When I’d have gone to the back door, she went to the front, which was rare. We never used the front door.

  She didn’t knock or anything. Just walked in. And in that split second, I saw her as Jasmine—taking property and not even thinking about it, even if that property was your husband.

  And then the sound of too many people yelling “Surprise!” kinda knocked me into the doorjamb. Ellie yelled it the loudest.

  Aunt Amy was there in the forefront and opened her arms to me and as I hugged her, I saw that there were balloons and streamers and all sorts of party things that had never been seen inside our house before.

  Also, Jasmine was there. And Ed Heffner. And Rick. (And who knew how many Jupiterians.) And probably every member of the yearbook club. And Stacy Cullen brought a bunch of my first-grade friends and there were two kids I shared homeroom with. Strangers. But strangers who were in my house.

  “Wow,” I said.

  That’s all I said.

  So I said it again. “Wow.”

  Then I saw Dad, who had managed to put on a pair of real shorts, and he smiled at me and looked pained and all sorts of mixed up about everything I was pained and mixed up about too.

  Mostly, I think we were freaked out that Jasmine Blue Heffner was in our house.

  Aunt Amy said something like “I can’t believe you graduated!” or “We’re so proud of you!” or “Time moves so fast!” It all rolled into one. She was nicer than I remembered her. Still wobbling her silicone cleavage around, but who cares?

  Transmission from Aunt Amy: Her son will marry a Jewish girl and convert, and Aunt Amy won’t care one bit.

  She said, “Did you see your cake?” and pointed to a cake.

  “Who did this?” I asked, looking at Dad, who was creeping through the strangers to give me a hug. No transmission from Dad because I was focusing on his forehead—a transmission-free night. I hoped.

  “It wasn’t me, Cupcake,” he said. “You told me not to, remember?”

  I wanted to say, And I told you not to for a reason. Watch out if any of those commune people use the bathroom or sit on the couch.

  “Ellie did it, mostly,” Aunt Amy said. “I called her and she told me who to call and—” Ding dong.

  Dad answered the door. It was two more kids from school; one was Stacy Cullen’s boyfriend and the other was his friend. I heard him whisper, “Is there beer?”

  Ellie was over in the corner of the living room with Rick and they were having a close conversation and I felt bad for being mad at her, and yet I was still mad at her. And I also had to thank her for a party even though I didn’t want a party.

  Or maybe I did want a party. It was confusing.

  I didn’t know how to have fun. I figured that out right then, in the middle of a living room full of people who generously came to my house and left me a stack of cards and presents. I didn’t know how to have fun.

  I made my way to Ellie and said, “Thank you!”

  She smiled. “I thought you’d kill me the minute you heard Surprise.”

  “Nah. It’s okay. It’s really nice.”

  “You should celebrate graduating,” she said. “It’s a big deal.”

  “I guess.”

  She shook her head in semidisappointment. “It’s a ticket out, Glory.” Even Rick nodded at this. “It’s, like, a ticket to the next thing in your future. Right?”

  “Yeah. Of course,” I said.

  “No pressure, though,” Ellie said. “Don’t let all these college-bound dorks make you feel bad for what you want to do.”

  That made me laugh.

  “Well, thanks,” I said.

  “Thank your aunt,” Ellie said. “She paid for it.”

  I made my way to Aunt Amy, who was talking to Ed Heffner and Dad. She smiled as if I was her own daughter or something. Maybe she was happy to finally bring me some sort of normalcy.

  They were really talking—I don’t know about what—but I managed a quick hug and she knew what it was for.

  Someone had stacked board games in random places. The yearbook club was already setting up Star Wars Trivial Pursuit on the back patio. No one seemed disappointed that there was no beer. Someone had music playing from their phone. Two citronella candles burned in the middle of the tables. I stood there and watched them all having fun. At my house. It was weird.

  “If I had a choice, I’d take a year off before college too,” Stacy Cullen said. Randomly. Blurted. From behind me. “It’s cool that your dad’s letting you do it.”

  “He’s cool, all right.”

  “You were really surprised, weren’t you?” she asked. “I mean, this party.”

  “Still am,” I said, watching the Trivial Pursuit game.

  “Not many people can be surprised by a graduation party, you know?”

  “I’m weird. What can I say?”

  “You’re not weird,” she said. “I bet half the graduating class wishes they were as cool as you.”

  I laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever been cool in my life.”

  “Bullshit. Seriously.”

  I was supposed to say something then, but instead I just thought Am I really cool? over and over again. Then Stacy’s boyfriend asked her if she wanted to play LIFE and they disappeared back inside.

  “Glory, where’s your yearbook?” one of the yearbook kids asked.

  “I don’t know. Probably in my room.”

  “I never got to sign it,” he said.

  “That’s okay,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”

  “Hey, I didn’t sign it either,” someone said.

  “Me neither,” another yearbook clubber said.

  Dad turned on some Led Zeppelin pretty loud from inside and I was going to tell him to turn it down, but then I figured if it was loud, I wouldn’t have to talk as much.

  “Get it!” someone else said, presumably about my yearbook. I didn’t get it.

  Instead, I went into the kitchen, where Aunt Amy had arranged some snacks—some for the commune people from the Whole Foods store and some for everyone else. There were cheese curls.

  And root beer.

  So I opened a root beer and picked up the entire bowl of cheese curls and carried it with me. Maybe if I had my hands full, no one would ask me for my yearbook again.

  I met Ellie on her way to the kitchen as I was coming out.

  “I see you found the fluorescent orange snacks.”

  “So all the talk about Markus Glenn coming to your party tonight was bullshit?”

  “He was supposed to come here, actually,” she said, which made me wonder if she knew me at all. “But I told my mom about him and she said he wasn’t allowed anywhere near me.”

  “And Rick is?” I asked.

  “Rick is.”

  “Okay, then,” I said. “Just tell him to keep his Jupiterians off my toilet seat.”

  Ellie’s dad talked to me for a while out in the yard, which was lit by a few citronella torches. He sat down next to me on a bench as I cleared the entire bowl of cheese curls and I stared into the sky and prayed—or whatever it meant to ask the sky for something—that the curse of the petrified bat would go away. I didn’t want to know anybody else’s future. I didn’t care about anyone’s past. I just wanted to go back to the present. Here. Now. This party where people thought I was cool.

  Ellie’s dad said, “We were all close once, you know.”

  “I know.”

  He sighed. “I regret what happened.”

  “I bet,” I said. I said it like I knew what ha
d happened because I wanted him to know that I knew what had happened. “So, did you talk to my dad? You guys make up or whatever?”

  “Not quite.”


  “Sometimes too much time passes. It’s been a long time. I regret what happened.”

  “You already said that.”

  “Yes. I guess I did.”

  “I regret a lot of things, too,” I said.

  “You’re too young for that. You’re only seventeen. Things happen for a reason, even shitty things. Does that make sense?”

  “Yeah. That makes sense.”

  He caught my eye and I got a transmission from him against my will. Transmission from Ed Heffner: One day Ellie will be standing in the commune’s field alone. She will be crying. She will be surrounded by ducks that walk upright. She will step into a car and will never come back.

  I didn’t want to see that.

  I told myself Ellie was right. The transmissions were all bullshit. None of this could be right. Ellie wouldn’t leave and Rick wasn’t the grandfather of the man in the red pickup truck… who would eventually harm my family.

  It was all bullshit. Fertilizer. Poppycock. I went inside.

  Someone playing LIFE was pretending to cry because she had too many little plastic children to fit into her car. Someone else was rocking out with Dad to “Black Dog.” I felt like something was missing, so I went to Dad’s room and retrieved a picture of Darla and put it on the mantelpiece so she could smile at all of us instead of smiling at Dad’s empty room.

  At some point, the game of LIFE ended and after they all got to Millionaire Acres and counted their money, a winner was declared. At some point, someone had set up Jenga on the table that Dad usually used for his feet when he was working on the couch.

  Then Aunt Amy made Dad turn down the music and yelled, “It’s time for cake!” As she cut it and divvied it up, she told me to open presents.

  “I’ll wait,” I said. “Isn’t that what most people do?”

  “Don’t forget to send thank-yous,” she said, still cutting perfect squares.

  Don’t forget to send thank-yous. What a concept. I hadn’t even opened the presents yet, but I already had this social responsibility based on Aunt Amy’s rules of gift-receiving. As if every gift giver is doing it for the thank-you note to come.

  I looked at the stack of cards and looked around the room. Everyone was having a good time. People were commenting that the cake was especially moist.

  Jasmine didn’t eat any cake. I took a plate of cake and a fork and I walked over to her and said hello.

  She smiled a pained smile—the same pained smile I had and Dad had and Ed Heffner had. I looked over at Darla-on-the-mantel. She did not have a pained smile. She was no longer in pain.

  I don’t know what Jasmine and I talked about. We stood there for about two minutes, her making chitchat and me eating and nodding and realizing that Jasmine didn’t know what was going to happen.

  She did stupid things. Yes.

  She did mean things, sure, but I was still wondering if Dad suffered some form of flattery from what happened and if that was the secret I would never know.

  What I did know was that she wasn’t to blame.

  She just did what she did.

  Then she did what she was told to do. She stayed away from our family and our house, and even Darla’s funeral.

  And now she was here.

  Making chitchat. Not eating cake. Not touching a wall, a chair. Just there. Uncomfortable. I bet she couldn’t wait to walk back across the road and escape all those haunting pictures.

  She said, “Do you want more cake?”

  I said, “Yes.” And I walked toward the cake and the pile of pre-thank-you cards.

  “Did you get it?” one of the yearbook kids asked me.


  “Your yearbook.”


  “Go get it,” Matt said. “I want to sign it.”

  I saw Jasmine walk out the front door and I saw Ed Heffner watch her. He was talking to Dad, who had switched the music to some down-tempo live Grateful Dead.

  I went to my bedroom and got my signature-free yearbook. After the party was over, it would be the one gift I got that didn’t require a thank-you card.

  People passed it around and signed things in it. Some of them took forever. Stacy Cullen had it for ten whole minutes. One of the yearbook clubbers drew a cartoon starring me and my camera. And then, Ellie. She spent a long time writing on the inside cover, which everyone had saved for her on account of her being my best friend… even if I’d forgotten that she was my best friend.

  By this time, the Star Wars Trivial Pursuit game was over and the reigning champion was promised ten dollars apiece by the losers. As people signed my book, they left and hugged each other and me and said thank you and I gave some of them extra cake because I didn’t plan on sending thank-you notes.

  Ellie and Rick left last, along with Stacy Cullen and her boyfriend. Stacy whispered in my ear that she’d lied to her mom and told her she was sleeping over at my house, and asked if I would cover for her. I said yes. I said, “Be safe.”

  Ellie handed me my yearbook on her way out the door and said she’d see me tomorrow.

  I closed the door behind them all and went out to the patio to read through the things people said. They all started in the same way: To a cool girl I met in… To a mysterious girl I met when… To a fun girl I met when… To a talented photographer and friend… To a great friend I met in… To a nice kid who turned out to be a nicer adult…

  One of the entries talked about how I’d seen the world differently than others. One entry talked about how my life had started bumpy but it meant that I was heading to greatness. So many predictions.

  I had a book full of my own predictions. The History of the Future. But I preferred this book to my own. I preferred these predictions. I preferred being a cool/mysterious/fun/talented/nice girl rather than the girl who would one day be known only for a prediction of suffering.


  Aunt Amy was cleaning up in the kitchen and I went downstairs to help her. She talked to Dad as if they’d been friends for a lifetime, and I guess they had been. I never saw it that way before—how adults have lives on top of lives on top of lives. Layers. Maybe that was why Ed Heffner told me I shouldn’t have regrets now. Maybe there were too many regrets to come. Or maybe now was the time to stop having them so there weren’t too many later. Or something.

  “You looked like you had a good time,” Aunt Amy said.

  “It was great. Thank you so much.” I said this and realized I wanted to send at least one thank-you note… to her.

  “How about we sit and open those cards now?” She dried her hands on a tea towel and cracked open one of Dad’s beers. He cracked one open too, and then went out to the patio to blow out the citronella candles and tidy up. I grabbed another root beer.

  Nearly every card had a gift card in it. Some were bookstore gift cards. Some were clothing store gift cards. Online store gift cards. Restaurant gift cards. Home furnishing gift cards.

  Aunt Amy counted the cash value. I’m not sure why. Maybe that’s what normal people do.

  “Three hundred and seventy-five dollars,” she said. “That’ll buy a heck of a lot of books.” She handed me an unopened envelope. “From me and my family,” she said, as if I wasn’t aware of her husband and fragile-necked children.

  The card was pink and it had a cartoon of a graduate on the front—a female graduate with high heels on. And jewelry. Lots of jewelry.

  The inside was blank, and Aunt Amy had written in it. I could only read what she wrote when I moved the hundred-dollar check out of the way.

  My sister was the only sibling I had. When I lost her, I felt like I lost everything. But then, there was you.

  I wanted to come around more and see you but my own family grew. Your dad would keep me updated as you went from little girl to big girl to teenager, and all the whi
le, I prayed that you would grow into the type of woman Darla was.

  You have.

  You are creative, resourceful, intelligent, strong, funny and beautiful.

  I don’t want to make you sad on such a special day, but I want you to know how proud Darla is of you today. She loved you so much and I can’t imagine how much you must miss her.

  Keep in touch, Glory. Let me know if you need anything. Let me know if you want to talk. Maybe I can fill a tiny piece of the hole she left, the way you fill a piece of the hole she left in me.

  I love you. Congratulations.

  Dad came in then, which was probably bad timing. If I could have, I would have sat and talked to Aunt Amy about my mother for the rest of the night. Darla’s darkroom didn’t have the answers. Why People Take Pictures didn’t have the answers. Dad didn’t really have the answers. No one would have all the answers except Darla. That’s how suicide goes. No one has all the answers except the person you can’t ask anymore.

  But Aunt Amy would be able to talk about so much because she lost a sister to suicide and that couldn’t have been easy either. But now Dad was there, jovial and a little tipsy and asking if we wanted to play Scrabble.

  “Or poker if you want. Amy was always a shark at poker.” I had to dry my eyes quietly on my sleeve and Amy did, too. On her sleeve, not mine. Dad noticed. “Or… I can go back to the porch and mind my own business if you want.”

  “No,” Aunt Amy said. “It’s fine. Stay here. I’d love to kick your ass in poker, Roy, but only if we play for real money.”

  “You two finish talking and come out when you’re ready. I’ve been practicing, Amy. Don’t be too cocky.” He walked out of the room.

  Aunt Amy called after him, “Playing a computer isn’t real practice, you know!”

  Then we looked at each other.

  Transmission from Aunt Amy: Her grandson will run a safe house for orphans and will find them new homes, all under the radar of the new laws and New American Army. The safe house looks very familiar. It will be Ellie’s barn. The one across the road.

  “I want to talk about a lot of things,” I said. “But not tonight.”

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