Do we really have to go to your sister’s for Thanksgiving? I just wanna stay home and make love to you all weekend
Clive was hounding her with texts like these. Since moving in with him, Lauren’s life had become all-Clive, all-the-time. Not that she minded, really. There was something strangely satisfying about being deeply entangled with another person. She’d never known anything like it. She couldn’t get enough of him. And it thrilled her that five months later he was still ravenous for her.
But Lauren dreaded telling her sister that she was missing Thanksgiving. In her family, Thanksgiving was almost more important than Christmas.
“Doesn’t look like we’ll be able to make it for Thanksgiving,” Lauren told her sister over the phone.
“Hold that thought, we’re pulling into the drive-thru,” Kat said. “I know I’m a horrible mother but sometimes McDonald’s just happens.”
In the background, Lauren heard one of her nephews hollering for a cheesebuhguh wif fwies!
She chuckled. Every time Lauren called her sister there was some kind of chaos going on with the kids. Usually this annoyed her but this time she was relieved. Maybe Kat wouldn’t really notice what Lauren was saying—
“OK, I’m back,” Kat half-hollered. “What were we talking about?”
“McDonald’s,” Lauren lied.
“Oh, right. Oh, that reminds me! Remember when Clive found a Big Mac wrapper in your car?”
Lauren didn’t want to remember. Clive, a highly-conscientious vegan, had been so disappointed in her that she swore she’d never touch fast food again.
“In my defense, it happened after that one ER shift where the kid died,” Lauren said. “I was out of my mind with grief.”
“You don’t have to defend yourself to me, Lolo-Bear. You watched a kid die. I would’ve been snorking down Big Macs for a week JACKSON DON’T HIT YOUR SISTER. Hang on a sec, Lolo, I gotta pull over and deal with the barbarians in my backseat.”
Lauren smiled. This conversation was perfect. Kat was so distracted maybe she wouldn’t mind if Lauren couldn’t make it to Thanksgiving.
“OK, hi I’m back.”
“So, why are you calling?” Kat asked. “I mean, I know you love me but I doubt you called just to hear me yell at the kids.”
“Oh! Well. Yeah. I mean—” Lauren took a deep breath and then let the words tumble out—“just wanted you to know it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to make it home for Thanksgiving this year.”
“Work, blah-blah-blah, not enough money, blah-blah-blah.”
“Well, those are stupid reasons.”
They both laughed.
“But seriously, why?” Kat asked.
“I just told you. Work, money, life.”
“By life do you mean Clive?”
“What? No! Of course not. I mean, maybe a little.”
“Kat, for real. It’s just not going to work out this year. I’ve got too much going on. But I’ll be there for Christmas, promise.”
A sudden howl from the backseat interrupted them.
“JACKSON I SAID—hey, Lo, I gotta go.”
“OK. Hey. Let’s talk next week.”
Lauren ended the call and fell back on her bed. She lay there for awhile, gnawing on the ragged edge of a thumbnail until suddenly, she bit too hard and yelped. She stared at her thumb. A bit of skin had come off and a spot of blood bubbled up around the cuticle. That was strange. When had she started biting her nails again?
Julia whacked the snooze button on her alarm and flipped herself over on her sister’s couch.
She’d been staying at Clara’s since losing the apartment with Lauren. The loss still stung. She hated staying at her sister’s place mainly because she hated her sister’s live-in-boyfriend, a dude named Kagan who spent his time hand-tooling leather courier bags and taking Instagram selfies in front of wood piles.
The alarm went off again and Julia whacked it again. Wish I could whack Lauren’s head, she thought. And Clive’s head. And Kagan’s head. And my sister’s head while we’re at it.
Julia pulled the covers over her head. Why hadn’t Lauren even let her meet Clive? The least Lauren could have done was give Julia a fair shot, a chance to ask questions, confirm suspicions, hate the guy for real.
“But noooooo,” Julia sighed aloud. “You denied me the pleasure of meeting Cliiiiiiiive.”
The alarm went off again and Julia ignored it. She didn’t want to get up. She didn’t want to do anything. She didn’t even want to eat.
Wait. Am I depressed?
This was an annoying thought. Depression wasn’t something Julia liked to admit was part of her life. She liked fixing things and depression wasn’t something you could fix with a bucket of paint and a little elbow grease. She’d learned this the hard way.
The worst part about being depressed was how much it reminded her of being a kid, helplessly waiting at the living room window for her dad to come home and make everything better. Dad was always taking care of other people's problems. As a pastor, it seemed like everyone else in their church came before his family. Julia didn't even care when he came home drunk, just as long as he came home. When he didn’t come home it was like being depressed—there was no possibility of fixing things.
Julia kicked off the covers and bolted upright.
Life was unfair but she wasn’t gonna lie there and take it. She would do something!
“I can be fun!” Julia shouted, fist-pumping the air. “I can be spontaneous!”
Julia cackled at herself and did a little hopping jig into her jeans.
“Yo, Julia,” came a voice from the kitchen. “Take your fun and spontaneity outside, yeah?”
“Only if I can take your pour-over coffee with me!” Julia chirped.
“The coffee stays here.”
“Well, then. So do I!” Julia skipped into the kitchen. She banged around the kitchen drawers especially loudly, raked through the flatware to find just one spoon, clinked through several mugs in the cupboard before selecting one, slammed the cupboard door shut.
Kagan glowered at her.
Julia poured herself a cup of coffee and smiled broadly.
“Whatcha up to today, Special K?” Julia asked cheerfully.
Kagan’s mustache twitched.
“You’re really annoying, you know that?” Kagan said.
“Says the guy who takes more selfies than Kim Kardashian."
"So you stalk me on Instagram is what you're saying."
"Just keepin' an eye on you, home fry. Can't have my sister dating just any dude who makes a living using miniature hammers."
Julia picked up her phone and started scrolling through a local news website, searching for their weekly list of “Fun Things to Do This Weekend.” It was nearing Fall and there were the typical family activities like apple picking excursions and apple pie baking contests. There was a Sunday farmer’s market. A Brewery tour. Beach clean-up. No, no, no and no.
Why did life have to be so impossible?
“Thanks for waking me up, Jules,” said Clara, entering the kitchen in her SuperWoman jammies.
“Blame Kagan,” Julia said, not looking up from her phone. “He’s the one pounding that poor dead cow into a purse or whatever.”
“It’s vegan leather,” Kagan said. “And it's a courier bag, not a purse.”
Clara sighed loudly. “You two are giving me a pounding headache.”
“Oh, look,” Julia droned in a fake-interested voice. “There’s an Open Mic Poetry Slam tonight at the Vine & Barrel.”
“Actually, that sounds kinda amazing,” said Clara.
“It’s been awhile since we went to one of those,” Kagan remarked, pushing aside his tools and reaching for Clara.
“You two lovebirds should go,” said Julia.
“You’re coming with us,” said Clara.
“What? No way. I don’t do artsy-fartsy and I certainly don’t do it in front of an open mic.”
“You owe me, Jules. You’re coming.”
“But artsy-fartsy is your thing, not mine. Come on. Kagan? Help me out here.”
“She’s the boss,” Kagan said.
“If I don't see you there at 9 tonight then you can pack your stuff and go stay with someone else," said Clara.
“OK, bossypants,” Julia griped. “Just remember you’re blackmailing me into this.”
“You know, if you let go of the cynicism for thirty seconds you might enjoy yourself.”
Julia only pretend mad at Clara. Ever since they were kids growing up in an alcoholic home, Clara had watched out for her. Kept her out of trouble. Hung out with her when nobody else would. Even now as adults and it was clear Julia was floundering a bit, Clara insisted they hang out. That’s just what sisters did for each other. As Julia grabbed her keys and headed out to work she found herself smiling.
Clive was restless. This always happened when he could sense the lies catching up to him.
Lauren’s question this morning had caught him off guard, made him realize that cracks were showing in his carefully crafted persona. Clive shook himself. There was no point in brooding now. It was time to perform. He walked to the stage and took the mic.
A few heads turned. The room hushed slightly.
“This one’s for my dad, an old-fashioned preacher-man.”
“GET IT!” someone yelled from the back of the room.
A few awkward giggles.
Clive gripped the mic. This wasn’t exactly the right “target demographic” for this piece. But it was all he had today. He cleared his throat.
“The Inceptive Soliloquy,” he announced.
He soldiered on. Nothing to lose now....
Words sweet as honeycomb,
eat them, eat them all
until only one word remains—
your name, set as a seal on my heart
seared into the palms of my hands.
I am jealous
after every jot and tittle
I gather colloquies, vernaculars, dialects unto myself,
I give and take away
from conception to grave.
I am the inceptive soliloquy
bespeaking every alphabet.
In the beginning was the Word.
I spoke it knowing you’d reject me.
Clive spoke the last word and opened his eyes to the polite clapping of the bored-looking crowd. Nobody was really looking at him except one woman. She wasn’t even clapping. She was clutching her drink and staring at him with the most piercing eyes he’d ever seen. He looked away and stepped down from the stage.
He had just made it back to his seat when he felt a light tap on his shoulder. He turned. She had a wry, almost cynical smile but not unfriendly. She seemed curious, fixing him with that intense look again.
“Your poem,” she said. “It was…surprising.”
He nodded. “Thanks, I guess?”
She nodded at the empty chair next to him. “May I?”
“Go for it.”
She slid into the seat and took a sip of her drink. Vodka/tonic with lime. “It was incredible. I’m a pastor’s kid. That’s how I know the King James Version of the Bible. I’ve never heard someone work it into their slam poetry, though.”
Clive laughed. “Pretty sure you’re the only one here who caught that reference.”
“Oh, you mean ‘jot and tittle’ isn’t in the hipster dictionary?”
“Naw, it’s not socially conscious enough.”
They both laughed and Clive, taking a second look at her, found himself drawn to her wide-open smile, the playful way she pushed back a flop of hair from her face.
“I want to kiss you,” he said.
“I want to kiss you,” she answered. “Or maybe that’s just the vodka talking.”
“Stop talking,” he said, pulling her mouth to his.
She seemed a bit flustered afterward. “Well, that might be the first time in history the KJV leads to making out.”
“You must be forgetting the Song of Solomon.”
“Hmm, yes. Well, now that I think of it, your teeth are like a flock of sheep.”
Clive smiled, showing all his teeth. “I want to know everything there is to know about you,” he said and leaned in for another kiss. She kissed him slowly and then pushed back a bit.
“Maybe we should start with our names.”
“Fair enough. Ladies first.”
She straightened and stuck out her hand by way of formal introduction. “Hi, there. My name is Julia.”