Fourth Comings, p.1Megan Mccafferty
December 31, 2005
note book number
one saturday: the second
sunday: the third
monday: the fourth
tuesday: the fifth
notebook number two
wednesday: the sixth
thursday: the seventh
friday: the eighth
saturday: the ninth
About the Author
Also by Megan McCafferty
For Christopher (again).
And for Collin (who wanted to know
if he was “in the book”).
* * *
December 31, 2005
My dear Jessica,
I have but one request before you depart for Virginville, Pennsylvania: Don’t forget to write.
Handwritten letters are going the way of the telegram. Landlines. VHS. It won’t be long before we’re all communicating via a wordless, emoticon-only language from a microcomputer directly implanted into our brains. Sci-fi writers have anticipated this for decades: a world in which language as we know it no longer exists, replaced by unpronounceable symbols that are instantly recognizable and incapable of being distorted by multiple interpretations. Maybe the written word will vanish altogether, and our descendants won’t even comprehend the meaning of the word handwriting. It will be a baffling term one stumbles across in an old text, until all such texts crumble into so much dust.
(Dust is on my mind and under my skin. It cracks my eyelashes, sludges my nostrils, and muddies my tongue. Buddhists believe we’re all dust, we’re all everything. Here in the desert, I’m inclined to agree.)
I’ve always preferred laboring in longhand over swiftly skimming my fingertips across the keyboard, over dumbly thumbing messages short on characters and character. I feel sorry for future generations who will never know the pleasure of uncovering (recovering, discovering) old letters. I imagine myself far in the future, my knotty, gnarled fingers gingerly handling the delicate papers addressed to me from you.
You claim you’re too impatient to practice zazen, and yet you stay still long enough to write and write and write. Writing is your preferred form of mediation. Hours slip away in seconds. The present is exchanged with the past. Time transcribed is time transformed.
(Translated. Transposed. Transferred. Transgressed. Transcended.)
And so, in addition to the eleven notebooks I’ve filled over the past two years, I give you this empty notebook as a simple going-away gift. I hope it inspires you to share your life stories with me, as I have with you. The tales we tell ourselves about ourselves make us who we are. To know them, dear Jessica, is to know you. And I want to know you always.
* * *
september 2–5, 2006
saturday: the second
The voice was male and came from behind my right shoulder. I was so startled by the sound of another’s voice rising above the undemanding Top 40 sound track, I nearly spazzed myself off my barstool.
The voice tried again, this time with an awkward paraphrase.
“It sucks, you know, to wait.”
To have confirmed the source of the voice would have required me to turn away from the bar. I was the only one seated there, so I knew the voice was directed at me. And yet confirming this fact wasn’t something I was particularly inclined to do. There was a swift movement, followed by a fresh whiff of citrus, sweat, and testosterone. The voice had taken the empty stool to my right.
“I hate being the first to show up anywhere,” he continued, so sure of his hypothesis. “You feel like such a jackass.”
The shift from first to second person was reflexive and unintentional. This is how his kind talk. To confirm, I refocused my attention away from my drink to his face. I was unsurprised by what I saw: a white, early-twentysomething male with a pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses resting on top of his head. His light brown hair was mussed in a calculated way that required far more product than neglect. He was broad-shouldered in his I’m-so-secure-about-my-masculinity-that-I-can-wear-pink Lacoste polo. A popped collar brushed against his ruddy rugby-player cheeks. Without looking down, I knew he had flip-flops on his feet.
It could’ve been worse. Plenty of guys renounce Dude’s scruffy preppy aesthetic and take to the sidewalks of this town wearing gaudy madras shorts, striped button-downs, and pastel sweaters knotted around their shoulders, like illustrations straight out of the first edition of The WASP Handbook. Earlier today on the way to the bar, I spotted a yachting, lockjawed specimen wearing green twill trousers (a corny word, but the only one that fits) with tiny ducks embroidered all over them. Tiny ducks. Unironically. I almost pointed and shrieked, which is something I hadn’t done since first grade when I got smacked in the back of the head for screeching at a man with a cantaloupe goiter in the frozen-foods aisle of the Pineville SuperFoodtown.
Dude wasn’t hot. He wa
“Hmm,” I murmured. Then I sipped my drink and tried not to wince as the whiskey scarred my windpipe.
Dude settled back onto his stool. My indifference intrigued him, as all romantic impediments do. It’s been scientifically proven. The harder the conquest, the more you want it. It’s called frustration-attraction. (I don’t think it’s unfair for me to pipe in with this parenthetical: Frustration-attraction explains a lot when it comes to you and me.)
“So, you know, when we noticed you”—he thrust his carefully disheveled hairstyle toward a table in the corner, where three identically dressed dudes of varied races were pretending to drink beers instead of watching us—“we figured that one of us should come over and keep you company until your friends arrive.” The fact that his friends were still sitting over there, instead of cockblocking him over here, suggested that money had exchanged hands before Dude made his approach.
“Twenty says I’ll get her number.”
“Dude, you are so owned.”
“Hmm,” I said again.
“So where are they?” he asked. “Your friends?”
It wasn’t an unreasonable question. I was, after all, a female sitting conspicuously alone in a college bar, drinking whiskey on a Saturday barely past one in the afternoon. Girls who look like me don’t drink whiskey by themselves in bars barely past one in the afternoon. Granted, it wasn’t the kind of dingy dive bar that ruins reputations, but a respectable Princeton institution that serves classic pub fare along with whatever is on tap. It’s proudly decorated with orange-and-black paraphernalia and even sells a poster-sized version of a mural depicting Brooke Shields sitting in a booth across from Einstein, Toni Morrison, and other less instantly recognizable local luminary. Parents still bursting with pride were dining in the back room with their sons and daughters—freshmen and freshmeat who also arrived early for the pre-Orientation programming—enjoying one last lunch as a family before leaving their children alone to embark on their miraculous college journeys.
“My friends aren’t here,” I said. “Just me.”
My first cryptic yet intelligibly human response made him break out into a smile. His teeth, it almost goes without saying, were thermonuclear white.
“I’m Dave,” he said, extending a gentlemanly hand. “And you are…?”
“I’m Jenn,” I lied. “With two n’s.”
“Two n’s?” Dude was emboldened by two multisyllabic replies in a row. “And how do you defend this blatant overuse of unnecessary consonants?”
Dude thought very highly of himself, and he considered this comment to be charming as all hell. As a female, I didn’t have to play along in the same way. Just sitting there, seemingly agog at his patrician charms and in possession of a functional vagina, really was the only participation required on my end. And yet I couldn’t stop myself.
“I need two n’s,” Jenn-with-Two-N’s continued in this facetious, flirtatious vein. “Because one’s naughty and the other’s…”
“Nice?” he offered.
Dude laughed really, really hard. He thought I was being ironic, which I was. But he was unaware of the full extent of this parody playing out before him. Ours was a multilayered mockery of a conversation, one occurring within a set of quotations within quotations within quotations. I was tired of having these types of conversations. I had a ~relationship with a philosophy major at Columbia that existed entirely within multiple sets of quotations.
“Why haven’t I seen you around here before?”
“I don’t go to Princeton,” said Jenn-with-Two-N’s.
“I didn’t think so,” Dude said. “By the time you’re a senior, you feel like you know everyone even if you don’t.”
“Maybe it’s because you all look alike,” I replied, gesturing my glass toward the corner table. “That is, in your racially diverse way.”
This also made him laugh. “I should be offended.”
“But you’re not.”
“No,” he said. “Because it’s true.”
I finished my drink in one long gulp. It was starting to burn less. Jessica Darling is a puker. But Jenn-with-Two-N’s could handle her liquor. Dude lifted his finger to alert the bartender that we’d like another round. He was drinking Stella Artois.
“So you don’t go here,” he said.
“Work here? Live here?”
“No,” I said. “And no.”
“So if you don’t mind me asking,” Dude said, cracking his knuckles in such a way that required him to flex his lats, delts, and pecs, “what are you doing here?”
“I…don’t…know.” Each word a mystery unto itself.
Dude smiled because he thought I was joking. But it was a tight smile, one that betrayed his concern that I might be a bit of a nutcase, a drunken one-night stand not worth the psychotic hangover. He asked a question designed to get a better sense of what he was dealing with.
“So what do you do?”
“Breathe,” I blurted in a bad German accent. “Eat. Fuck. Shit. Not necessarily in zat order.”
I was quoting my landlord, Ursula, but Dude didn’t know that. He looked over a muscular shoulder to the boys in the corner, perhaps wondering how he was going to get out of this bet but still save face.
“‘What do you do?’ is the first question people in the States ask when they meet someone,” I said. “No one asks that question in Europe. It’s considered rude. Over there, people don’t want to be defined by their jobs. Over here, it’s the only way most people define themselves. I’m an i-banker. I’m a corporate lawyer. I’m in real estate.”
Dude’s eyes glazed over, and not with booze. How could I ever expect this future titan of industry to understand?
“I’m in publishing.”
It took a moment for Dude to realize that I wasn’t speaking in faux first person anymore and that I had just informed him that I, Jenn-with-Two-N’s, work in publishing.
“Oh. Like books?” Dude asked.
“Well, it’s really more of a journal than a magazine,” I said. “I’m sure you’ve never heard of it.”
“What? You think I don’t read? You think I’m illiterate? I do go to Princeton, you know.”
“I had no idea,” I said dryly.
I also had no idea why I was still talking to Dude in this manner. Maybe it was because Dude was encouraging my antics by nodding his head vigorously, as if this whole conversation made perfect sense. Drunk is the universal language, the dipsomaniacal Esperanto, so he totally, totally got everything I was saying.
“So listen,” Dude said, all business, all pleasure, all the time. “Since you’re not waiting for anyone, maybe you’d like to join us.”
“I don’t think so,” I announced as I stood up, smoothing out the wrinkles in my butter-colored Bermuda shorts with my palms. “I have to go break up with my boyfriend now.”
Dude laughed harder than all his other laughs combined. He slapped his forehead in laughter, which sent his sunglasses falling to the floor. More laughter rang out from the corner table.
“Why are you laughing?”
“The way you said it,” he replied as he not-so-stealthily gave my legs a once-over. “‘I have to go break up with my boyfriend now.’”
“I didn’t think I was going to say it,” I said, almost to myself. “It just came out.”
“I have that devastating impact on the ladies,” Dude boasted, pretendi
I really hadn’t intended for Dude to be the first to know. It only took a nanosecond for my mind to catch up to my mouth, but it was a nanosecond too late. It was a relief, in a way. Putting feelings into words makes them so. Once words are spoken (or written…) they take on a greater significance. With this slip, I suddenly felt that readiness I’d been missing all morning. It wasn’t liquid courage, it was the real thing: I’m here to break up with Marcus. That’s why I’m here.
I considered what could have happened next, if I wanted to.
I thought about lifting myself up on my tiptoes and leaning into Dude’s face. I thought about breathing in his sweet-and-sour scent of citrus shaving cream and perspiration. I thought about his mouth opening to say something unnecessary and mine clamping over his to shut him up. I thought about a mushy kiss with a mealy banana mouthfeel.
Making out with Dude could’ve been a harbinger of all the horrible hook-ups to come. It could’ve proven that I wasn’t looking to get involved with someone else right now, I was just looking to get out of the involvement I was already in. But I didn’t need to kiss Dude to confirm this truth. Kissing Dude is something I might have done when I was in college (okay, something I did do in college), but I knew better now. So instead of making out with Dude, I made my exit.
“Wait! Where are you going? Can I get your number?” His cell was out and ready.
I walked away to the sound of Dude’s halfhearted protests, leaving him behind to pay up for one piece of ass he shouldn’t have wagered on.
I teetered out of the dimly lit bar and was assaulted by the sunlight.
It should be dark right now, I thought. It should be midnight and not…1:39 P.M. Your first meeting had ended at one P.M. You had another meeting at three-thirty. I had one hour and fifty-one minutes left.
Official Orientation begins next week, and classes another week after that. But you were so eager to get everything you could out of your Princeton experience, you arrived early for the Frosh Trip, one week of hiking, kayaking, tent-pupping, and bonding with hundreds of other first-year students in the wilds of the tri-state area. You assured me that Outdoor Action is a very popular program, and I still can’t help but wonder if its attractiveness to the majority of the eighteen-year-old attendees has something to do with its prurient sex-in-the-wilderness connotations.
Fourth Comings by Megan Mccafferty / Young Adult / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes