What every girl except m.., p.8
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       What Every Girl (except me) Knows, p.8

           Nora Raleigh Baskin
 
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  I cringed. Mrs. Tyler couldn’t have said a worse thing to my dad if she had tried. (Unless she was going to ask my dad if he had any paintings with maybe just a touch more mountain to pick up the brown tones in her client’s beige walls.)

  “This is my brother, Ian,” I said quickly, before my dad had time to respond.

  Both Mr. and Mrs. Tyler shook Ian’s hand.

  “And this is Cleo Bloom,” I said. “Just Cleo. Not my mom. Just Cleo.”

  Cleo took my hand behind her back and squeezed it; at the same time, she reached out with her other hand and said hello to Taylor’s mom and Richard.

  “Nice to meet you,” Mrs. Tyler said. Mrs. Tyler had this confused look on her face, like “So, then, who are you?” But none of us offered any more information.

  “Gabby has talked a lot about your daughter, Taylor,” Cleo said. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

  “Oh,” Mrs. Tyler said. “Oh, yes. Well…of course.”

  “Bye,” I said. I waved and Cleo and I walked out to the car, still side by side. My dad just wanted out of there. He and Ian led the way.

  “That was Mrs. Tyler?” Ian said when we got out into the parking lot. “And your friend is Taylor? Taylor Tyler? You’re kidding, right?” Ian laughed. “That’s her name? Taylor Tyler?”

  I was too content to correct him or to let him get to me this time.

  It had stopped raining. By the time we got home there were at least two inches of snow on the ground.

  Chapter 22

  It snowed again Wednesday, and by Thanksgiving we had half a foot. The river disappeared under the never-ending whiteness. You couldn’t tell the frozen water from the frozen ground. Animal footprints led from one side of the river straight across to the other. Large, brown branches trapped and sticking out of the ice were the only hint that what lay underneath was not always solid. Everywhere was white.

  “We have to leave in ten minutes,” Cleo was saying. She had been pacing around the house for the last hour. I had never seen her so nervous before. We were going to Long Island, to her parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner. So that’s what we were doing for Thanksgiving. I’d have to tell Taylor.

  “Cleo, it’s not going to take us three hours to get there,” my dad told her.

  “Three hours!” I called out.

  I hated sitting in the car for that long. I was in my room, fighting with a pair of tights. Then my tights were fighting my skirt. With every step I took, my skirt crawled higher up my legs and the crotch of my tights sank lower. I changed into my overalls and a T-shirt and came out into the living room.

  “I thought you said it was less than two hours to Long Island,” I complained to anyone who would listen.

  “You’ll live,” Ian said, looking at me. He was sitting on the couch again, playing his guitar. Ian never spoke much to me before, but with Cleo around, he spoke even less. Two or three words, tops.

  Cleo was dressed up in a long skirt and big earrings. She looked me over but didn’t say anything. Ian carefully put his guitar in its case and leaned it against the wall. My dad jingled his keys. We were ready.

  “How long is this drive, really?” I asked as we all walked through the studio out to the garage.

  No one answered me.

  I was carsick before we were out of the Wallkill Valley. I sat by the window and watched the telephone poles fly by. I felt worse. I tried looking straight out between my dad’s seat and Cleo’s. Before this new family arrangement, Ian would be in front and I could sit in the center of the back seat, looking out past the dashboard. Now I could only stare straight at the back of the front seat. I was feeling motion sick. I started singing to myself to keep my mind off my stomach.

  “Dad, tell her stop.” Four words from Ian.

  “What?” I said. “I’m not doing anything.” I kept singing softly.

  “Then be quiet.” Ian didn’t bother to look at me while he complained about me.

  When we were younger, if we were fighting in the car my dad would just reach his hand back like he was trying to hit us and swing around at anything. He would growl and grunt, and we’d all wind up laughing. If Ian and I got into a really bad fight he would make us stare at each other without smiling for sixty seconds. (For this purpose my dad kept a little egg timer in the glove compartment.) Ian or I or both of us would crack up before the minute was up and forget what we had been fighting about.

  “Dad, make her be quiet,” Ian said. “I can’t stand listening to her.”

  “Just knock it off back there,” my dad shouted without taking his eyes off the road. “There’s a lot of traffic.”

  Cleo was breathing carefully in and out. “I told you we should have left more time for traffic. My father says I’m always late. It’s his big joke.”

  “Cleo, we’ll be fine,” my dad said.

  I started singing again.

  “You sound terrible. Will you cut it out?” Still Ian didn’t look at me. He was turned to the world rushing past his window.

  “You sing off-key,” Ian said to his window. He meant it for me.

  “I do not,” I defended myself, as I had to, but what I was thinking was that Ian would know something like that. Wouldn’t he?

  My dad made his loud hiss from between his teeth. That’s when you knew he was really mad. Cleo sighed. I stopped singing. Not because of Ian telling me to stop, or the hiss, or the sigh. But because Ian said I sang off-key.

  I did? I didn’t inherit anything musical? Figures. I probably inherited carsickness, but even that I couldn’t say for sure.

  I took out my Game Boy, flipped it on, and turned off the sound. We pulled into the Blooms’ driveway ninety minutes later.

  Chapter 23

  We were on Long Island. Or in Long Island, I’m not sure which is correct. The Blooms had a house just like the house next to them and the house next to that. A single-story, half-brick and half-wood home with a flat driveway and low, neatly trimmed evergreen bushes by the entrance.

  As I got out of the car, I could see through the big window in the front of the house. Mrs. Bloom was walking by with a plate in her hands. She put it down on a table, I supposed, because I couldn’t see what was below the window. Mr. Bloom was sitting in a chair near where the plate must have gone. Mrs. Bloom leaned over to Mr. Bloom and kissed her husband on the head. It was one of the most loving things I had ever seen. I liked these people, before I even ran ahead on their brick walkway and rang their doorbell.

  “You must be Gabby!” Mrs. Bloom said as she opened the door. Behind her I could see Mr. Bloom rising from his chair.

  I nodded. Cleo came up behind me, followed by my dad and Ian.

  “Hello!” Cleo sang out.

  “Cleo!”

  Then her father was at the door. “Cleo, my baby! I’m so glad you’re here. I was getting worried.”

  “Sorry we’re late, Daddy,” Cleo said. “Just the usual me, right?”

  “I didn’t say you were late, Cleo,” her father said. “I said I’m glad you’re here.”

  “You’re not late at all, darling,” Mrs. Bloom said to Cleo, kissing her on the cheek. “Pay no attention to your father.”

  Cleo’s parents didn’t wait a second. They hugged and kissed each one of us. When Mr. Bloom bent down to hug me, I could see he had a little pierced earring.

  Once inside the house, I could see the table where the plate had been set. Besides that one dish I had seen through the window, there was more food. There were crackers and cheese, and vegetables all cut up with dip. There was a small bowl of some brown stuff and more crackers next to that, and a bowl of M&M’s. For a quick second I thought maybe this was dinner. Then I glanced into the dining room and saw a fully set table—woven tablecloth, candles, big ceramic dishes and bowls.

  Mr. Bloom asked everyone what they wanted to drink right away. He started with Ian, which I think Ian liked. These were such friendly people, they didn’t notice how crabby we were, and before you knew it everyone was as hap
py as they were.

  Cleo asked her mother if she could help in the kitchen, something I had seen before, a woman thing to do. Ian and my dad and Cleo’s dad all sat around and dipped crackers into the dips. I sat with them. The brown stuff, I learned, was chopped liver and was the most delicious thing in the world. I ate most of it. Mr. Bloom was talking about the New York Giants, and I noticed my dad was really trying to keep up his end of the conversation, even though he doesn’t follow sports that much and he never watches football.

  I guess he was trying so hard for Cleo. To show Cleo, or her parents, to show himself maybe, that he could do it. When the topic went from football to artificial turf and then changed to gardening, he did pretty well. My dad loves his garden.

  After a while I wandered into the kitchen. I was, after all, a woman now.

  “So you want me to tell you what I think of him?” I heard Mrs. Bloom whisper. She was stirring something on the stove. From where I was, it smelled like gravy. Cleo stood beside her, pouring some white liquid stuff into the pan.

  “Not really, Mom,” Cleo was saying.

  Cleo was so different here. She was less open.

  “Well, he’s adorable.” Mrs. Bloom didn’t seem to notice how closed Cleo was being.

  “He is cute, isn’t he?” Cleo looked over to her mom.

  “But I told you about—” Then Cleo saw me standing in the doorway.

  “I bet Dad is going on about the New York Giants again.” Cleo started toward me as if she were going to run right out into the living room and stop that conversation immediately.

  “Oh, stop, Cleo,” Mrs. Bloom said. She teasingly hit Cleo in the arm with her dishrag. “They’ll be fine. All men like to talk about football.”

  “No, they don’t, Mom,” Cleo said. “And you know Dad never notices when the person he’s talking to has absolutely no interest in what he’s saying at all.”

  “They’re not talking about football anymore,” I said, but so quietly that neither of them heard me. Something was going on between them I couldn’t understand. A tension was building and it made me uncomfortable. I wanted it broken.

  “You’re doing your thing,” Mrs. Bloom said, more serious than she had been before. “You can’t take care of everyone, Cleopatra.”

  “Cleopatra?” I butted in, this time a little louder.

  “Oh, yes.” Cleo turned to me like she just noticed I was there. “I never told you?”

  Mrs. Bloom lifted the gravy pan and began pouring it through a strainer into a large bowl set up in the sink.

  “Oh, here we go with ‘Why did my parents name me that horrible, strange name,’” Mrs. Bloom chanted.

  “My parents were hippies.” Cleo stepped back into the kitchen. She picked a piece of turkey off the bone and popped it into her mouth.

  “They had me during the Summer of Love,” Cleo explained. “They were into that Indian-peace-feminist-freedom thing.”

  So far, tension still unbroken.

  “Cleopatra wasn’t an Indian,” I said. I wanted them to keep talking. “Not American Indian. Not India Indian.”

  “No, but it sounded better than Indira Gandhi Bloom,” Cleo said.

  “Now, come to think of it,” Mrs. Bloom said, as she put down the pan, “that sounds pretty good. Or maybe we should have named you Susan B. Anthony Bloom or Golda Meir Bloom.” She giggled.

  “Oooh, I got one,” Cleo broke in. “How ’bout Amelia Bloomer Bloom!”

  They both started laughing. Mrs. Bloom grabbed the corner of the butcher-block table, as if Cleo’s jokes were just knocking her off her feet. Cleo kept going, making her mother laugh until they fell into each other’s arms. Whatever tension had been there rose away and was lost, like the heat from the oven. They hadn’t been scared of it in the first place. They didn’t need any help; they’d had each other all along.

  It was time for dinner.

  “So, Cleo tells us you just had a show of your artwork?” Mr. Bloom said. He had finished cutting the turkey and was laying slices on everyone’s plates as they were passed up to him.

  “Well, yes.” My dad looked uncomfortable, like he had just put a tie on again. I wished they’d stick to tomato plants and mulching, so my dad would look better. I saw Cleo give her father the warning eye but he wasn’t looking when she did it.

  “What kind of painting do you do?” Mr. Bloom asked.

  “Landscapes, mostly,” my dad said.

  “We would have come up for the opening,” Mrs. Bloom added. “If Cleo had told us about it.”

  “Mom-my” Cleo began, but my dad interrupted.

  “You didn’t miss anything,” he told them.

  “Oh, you artist types,” Mrs. Bloom chided kindly. I knew I had heard that expression before.

  I sat and listened and ate everything before me. My dad seemed okay with all the questions, so Cleo stopped hissing from across the table. Cleo’s parents turned from one person to the next. They asked Ian about his music and his teachers and his wonderful talent. Ian was particularly talkative. I think he liked the other Blooms more than he liked Cleo these days. Then they turned to me.

  “So, Gabby,” Mrs. Bloom said, “how are you doing in school?”

  I said, “Fine.”

  “What is your favorite subject?” Mr. Bloom asked. I know that sounds like the dumbest question on earth, but I couldn’t help liking him. All through dinner he kept offering me more of whatever I seemed to like. He had filled my glass of soda twice already. My dad never brought soda.

  “Music,” I answered.

  I heard Ian choke on his stuffing.

  “Oh, another musician,” Mrs. Bloom said cheerfully. “Do you play an instrument, too?”

  I looked Mrs., Bloom right in the eye and said, “No, I sing.”

  “How lovely,” Mrs. Bloom said. “Anyone want more stuffing?”

  No one mentioned the upcoming Bloom/Weiss marriage until dinner was being cleared and coffee was perking. Ian, my dad, and Mr. Bloom went into the other room to look at Mr. Bloom’s collection of shot glasses. He had a funny vacation anecdote for each one.

  I didn’t really love clearing the table and scraping the leftover food into the garbage. But I couldn’t complain. I liked it enough being around Mrs. Bloom, and she didn’t seem to mind all that work one bit. In fact, she was only worried if everyone had had enough to eat.

  “Do you think your Larry wanted more turkey?” Mrs. Bloom asked Cleo. “He hardly ate.”

  “Now you’re doing your thing, Mom,” Cleo said.

  I thought for a second they were going to go at it again, but Mrs. Bloom just laughed.

  “Okay, fair enough,” she said. “So when’s the wedding? Do you have a date?”

  “We’re not doing that whole, big, wedding thing,” Cleo told her mom. She slipped the last dish into the dishwasher and flipped up the door.

  “Oh, why not?” Mrs. Bloom’s voice went up like a little girl’s. “You know you always wanted that. When we lived on that commune and we all had to wear plain coveralls, everything simple, remember? You used to say when you grew up you were going to be the most beautiful bride in the longest, most-satiny dress with pearl beads, pink ribbons, and lace.”

  “Remember that, Cleo?” Mrs. Bloom’s voice smiled. She turned off the tap as if she were listening to her own memory. The way she looked into space, I could almost see Cleo’s wedding dress.

  “I remember.” Cleo grinned. “And remember when you had to get a ladder and take me down from that giant Buddha statue because I climbed up there to paint his face?” she went on.

  Mrs. Bloom remembered. “You said he looked sad. You know, as much as you said you’d rather live with the Brady Bunch, you loved it there,” she told her daughter. “You were such a free little thing.”

  My family never did this; the back and forth with memories they had and tried to get the other person to remember. It was like we never existed before the right here and now. The Blooms had stories, and stories about those stori
es, that made them real, made them exist.

  “Well, maybe a few pink ribbons and a little lace, then,” Cleo said quietly. She leaned against the counter. “Maybe a couple of pearls.”

  That’s when Mrs. Bloom got excited and went on and on. She had a friend whose brother was a big caterer. “You only get married once,” Mrs. Bloom said.

  But that’s when I lost interest and decided to slip out of the kitchen and go look at shot glasses.

  Cleo must have looked to see that I was gone, because there was a long pause before she answered her mother.

  “Remember, it’s not Larry’s first wedding, Mom,” I heard Cleo say, but I was already hurrying to the living room, more interested in seeing what Ian had gotten.

  *

  The shot glasses were already put away. Mr. Bloom was showing Ian and my dad pictures of their recent trip to Israel. Ian held a small, foreign-looking string instrument in his hands. Judging from the wrapping paper on the table, the instrument had been a gift for Ian.

  “Oh, here, I have something for you, too, Gabby,” Mr. Bloom said when he saw me come into the den.

  “I hope it’s not too babyish.” He handed me a train of four tiny, wooden camels, strung together by a miniature chain.

  “I love it,” I said as I breathed in.

  I held my gift all the way back home in the car. I looked down into their little carved faces. I saw their expressions. They were a family, from big to small, connected from one end to the other. I almost fell asleep holding them in my lap. Ian had his present in his hands, too. He even let me listen to his Walkman. I was going to like this family.

  I put the volume up on the Walkman, so I could barely even hear my dad and Cleo having a “discussion” about the wedding all the way home.

  Chapter 24

  I wanted to call Taylor as soon as I got up the next morning. She had said she’d be home by Thursday night, because she was going to have a second Thanksgiving with her mom and Richard on Friday.

  It had been a whole week and I hadn’t told her my big news yet—that I had gotten my first period. (Although it was gone two days after that, almost as suddenly as it had appeared.) And I hadn’t even told her about Cleo yet, let alone that my dad was getting married. Maybe it hadn’t really sunk in until Thanksgiving and all that wedding talk.

 
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