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Authors: Catherine Greenman

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BOOK: Hooked
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“Really?” I laughed.

“Oh, absolutely,” he said, smiling and shaking his head. “Absolutely. It never really went away for me. And sometimes at work …” His voice trailed off.

“What about a drink?” I blurted, surprising myself. His drinking was more of a taboo subject for me than sex. To bring it up was not just embarrassing but dangerous. I still had
pervasive, floating fears that he’d start again. And somewhere in my head I believed that if he started again, it would do him in. Whether it was true or not, that’s what I believed.

“That too,” he said, his face stiffening, closing up. He watched Will’s reaction, gauging how much I’d told him.

“I could see how they’d go hand in hand,” Will said.

Dad nodded, chuckled skittishly. “Not too clearly, I hope.”

“How did you stop?” Will asked.

“The same way I stopped drinking,” he said quickly. “I put my mind to it.” He leaned back in his chair and crossed his leg.

“Was it hard?” Will asked, wide-eyed, encouraging. I could hear it in his voice. He was digging for color, but I knew he wouldn’t get any. “Did you have, like, withdrawal symptoms?”

“With the drinking I did, sure,” he said. “The smokes were more of a habit. But like any smoker, I guess, a beloved one.”

“What do you miss most?” Will asked.

“What, about smoking?”

“Or the drinking, or both.”

Dad arched his eyebrows skeptically. “You’re extremely interested.…”

“I just mean a successful guy like you, you know, you had these … demons that you conquered, so to speak.” Will sat back and crossed his legs, jiggling his foot on his thigh. “The partying, you know, you and Fiona, boozing it up, getting high, it seems very glamorous from where I’m sitting.”

Dad looked at Will carefully. It was definitely crossing the line into too-personal territory and we all knew it, but for some reason Dad talked. “I wouldn’t say I miss anything about it. It’s more that I miss my youth, and the requisite recklessness. I’m in my late forties. I’m human. I feel old.”

“You’re not old,” Will said.

“I’m not young.” He let out a forced, theatrical sigh. “You know what’s funny? I miss being married. It’s funny how I associate smoking with marriage.”

“You miss being married?” I asked.

“Of course I do. Does that surprise you?”

“Uh, yeah,” I answered in my best teenager voice. Mom once told me men were like dumb little pups, sitting in a window waiting for a home, any home.

“Well, it shouldn’t.” He smiled. “Enough about me and my checkered past. Who wants dessert? I think Jim picked up a Fruits of the Farm pie.”

Jim appeared silently in the kitchen doorway. I wondered what he’d heard.

“Jim, were you able to get your hands on anything at Chelmsfords?” Dad asked conspiratorially.

“I got lucky,” Jim answered.

“Music to my ears,” Dad said, rubbing his hands together as Jim brought out the pie and set it in front of him. “Who wants a slice? Food. Pie. That’s my downfall now. Who?”

8.

Mom stood by my door with a pair of jeans under her arm and her white sunglasses on top of her head. “What in God’s name are you doing?” she asked.

“Crocheting,” I said, gathering the ball of purple yarn farther up my lap. “Vanessa taught me.”

“God, you’re giving me chills,” she said. “You are single-handedly conjuring the horror of Evelyn Galehouse,” she murmured, meaning Dad’s mother, my grandmother. “The way her fingers twitched when she made those awful blankets! She would always
appear
to be so engrossed, but every time I looked, I caught her glaring at me, like the evil little witch she was. Anyway, how can you even look at heavy yarn like that in this heat?”

“It’s August, Mom,” I said. “It’s hot outside. Deal with it.”

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked, rolling the jeans into a little bun.

“Nothing.” I gripped the loop I’d just done tightly with my finger. “Will’s moving his stuff up to Columbia today.”

“Well, we knew the day would come,” she said matter-of-factly. “Honestly, Thee, do not get so wrapped up in this. You have the rest of your life to need a man to be happy.”

“I’m not wrapped up.”

“Good. Do you have anything for Josephine?” she said, referring to the tailor who worked at the dry cleaners downstairs.

I shook my head. My phone buzzed and Mom jumped. She hated loud, sudden noises and looked at me like the phone ringing was somehow my fault.

“G-Rock, money-love,” Will whispered as Mom waved and left. “Wanna come up here and check it out? Help me unpack all my bongs?”

“Okay,” I said, squeezing the ball of yarn and smiling from ear to ear. I thought it would be weeks or months until an invitation came. “Do you need anything?”

When I got out of the subway at 116th Street, there were plantains at the vegetable stand on the corner instead of bananas,
and the plantains spoke to me. They said: We dare you to succeed in our strange new world. We dare you to try to hold on to him.

The street outside the main building was a sea of cars with lampshades, stuffed animals and stereo speakers on their roofs. A girl ran by in a tennis skirt with a purple boa around her neck.

“Mom, wait!” she shrieked. “I have the keys!”

I walked through two stone pillars into a grand, imposing courtyard and had a flash that I was in some other part of the world—one of those piazzas in Florence, where I’d sucked face with some now-almost-faceless boy—and that I’d be leaving soon, getting on a plane or something. I went into the building, up the stairs and around a corner with a bulletin board displaying ads for used couches and rides. There was a note card tacked to it: “To whoever made a grilled cheese in the lounge toaster 4/23 … clean it out, asshole!” I wanted to stare at that board for every clue of what life would be like for him, but I continued down the carpeted hallway, which smelled of cigarettes and Doritos. I passed a huge, plastic black cat with a skinny neck and a pointy snout. It was almost as tall as me, its creepy, imperious eyes following me as I stopped at room 208.

Will’s door was ajar and a tall man gazed at me with a sandwich perched at his mouth. I smiled at him and then registered the woman sitting on the bed reading. She didn’t look up. A wave of something close to panic overtook me. Will had neglected to mention his parents would be there.

“G-House Rock!” Will yelped, stepping down from a grimy wooden desk chair. He hugged me with a mix of enthusiasm and awkwardness, turning me around by the shoulders to face his parents. “Thee, this is my mom and dad, Phil and Lynne Weston. Guys! This is Thea!”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Mr. Weston said, crumbs dangling from his lips. His handshake was surprisingly limp. Mrs. Weston crossed her arms and didn’t stand up. Her dark hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail, with little bullets of unruly strands sticking out at the sides. She looked at me with her spooky gray eyes and heavy, arched eyebrows, which somehow had the ability to angle down at me even though I towered over her as she sat on the bed. She and that creepy plastic cat in the hallway automatically morphed into the same person in my head.

“Hello, Thea,” she finally said. She had a switch on–switch off smile that zipped across her face, almost like a tic, then disappeared.

“This is my special fwend you’ve heard so much about,” Will said in an off-putting baby voice. On the desk there was a fish tank with two coral reefs and a fake Campbell’s soup can propped in the corner of it. A green fish with rainbow-colored gills swam around in a plastic bag inside the tank.

“I didn’t know you had fish,” I said.

“Not fish,” Will said, holding up the plastic bag. “
A
fish. Ricky, meet G-Rock.”

He turned to his father. “Did you remember to throw in the extension cords?”

Mr. Weston nodded blankly at Will. “I should go check the car,” he said. He turned to me and I noticed little lakes of long-ago stains on the navy-blue polo shirt that stretched across his belly. “Will is under the impression that double parking is now allowed under some new citywide ordinance,” he said, winking at me. “Do you find his laissez-faire attitude toward life as refreshing as we do, Thea?”

I shrugged like a dumb teenager, cursing my cutoffs and
wishing I’d been somehow better equipped for meeting them. I felt blond and fat and didn’t know where to stand.

Mrs. Weston picked up a framed poster of a big tree with violins hanging off it like Christmas ornaments. It was for a music festival in the Berkshires in 1969.

“Where do you want this, sweetheart?” she asked, standing to face the dingy, cinder-blocked wall as Mr. Weston almost tripped over a laundry basket stuffed with hangers on his way out.

“I’ll do it later, Mom.” Will looked at the digital clock that had been plugged in but was still sitting on top of an opened box. “We should go to this reception thing … it’s already started. Dad, just meet us there, it’s down the hall.” I saw Mrs. Weston look away as Will put his arm around me, and I had a moment to take in what she was wearing: a white tank top under a too-big, untucked denim shirt.

“Will you be my l’il date, G-Rock?” Will asked, batting his eyes at me.

A large tray of white and orange cheese cubes was the only splash of color in the drab, olive-hued lounge. About thirty kids stood around, some forming triangles with their parents. A guy with short, black hair and a sweater tied around his neck stepped toward us.

“Excuse me, I saw you across the hall from my room,” he said. “You’re the other lucky one.” Mrs. Weston, Will and I stared at him blankly.

“Oh,” Will said, “the singles, you mean?” He rubbed his hand through his hair. “Yeah, that was a break, I guess. I tend to be lucky in things that involve sweepstakes.”

“My name’s Olivier, nice to meet you.” He shook Will’s hand.

“I’m Will, and this is my mom, and my girlfriend, Thea Galehouse.”

Olivier nodded, assessing me with his French eyes. “Listen,” he said to Will, “I’ve asked some people from the hall over for a little thing tonight. I hope you can swing by.” He looked and sounded like he couldn’t care less if Will came. I dubbed him “Sweaterboy” in my head. So far college seemed like an endless series of “little things” where people stood around avoiding each other. After some more small talk Olivier cleared his throat. “I’m just off the plane from Paris this morning, so I’m starting to fade. Time for a catnap.” He nodded again and sort of bowed to Mrs. Weston, whose smile switched on and off as he walked away.

“So, Thea, you’re a senior now, is that right?” Mrs. Weston nibbled on a cube of cheese and bored into me with her gray eyes, which looked somehow icier now that she was standing by a window. “What are your plans? How is Thea Galehouse going to set the world on fire?”

“Good question,” I said, belching out a stiff, truncated laugh. “Haven’t quite tackled that one.” I looked around the room at all the tall, tanned kids oozing summer relaxation in their new olive-hued lounge, and felt suddenly overwhelmed. How was I going to face senior year without Will? Take the SATs? Apply to colleges? Write essays? How was I going to do any of it? Dad’s face flashed in front of me. His intense, steely scrutiny, demanding results and performance. How was I supposed to be a normal high school student when I had this rope pulling me here? It wasn’t fair that Will had gotten away to this place, to his own room with the plastic cat in the hall and Sweaterboy across the way, while I still had this mountain to climb.

Mrs. Weston must have read something on my face
because she paused, orange cheese cube in midair, and said gravely and urgently, “Be positive, Thea.”

I nodded, seething at her new age–claptrap comment. Be positive. Could two words in the English language be more meaningless?

“Frankly, I think your generation has it made,” she said, folding her arms. “Mine was still scatterbrained. Too many mixed messages from our mothers.” She tapped her bony temple with her fingertip. “Anyway, Thea, I wish you every success. We need strong women like you out there, forging ahead with great things.” Will looked at me, wide-eyed, as if to say, Don’t mind her, she’s crazy.

Mr. Weston appeared next to Mrs. Weston and cleared his throat. “There’s an officer circling the cars downstairs. Lynne, I think we should make ourselves scarce.” He seemed to always have the same smiling expression on his face, as though he were cracking deeply ironic personal jokes to himself all the time. He pulled his glasses off and rubbed them with his shirt as he turned to Will. “You all set?”

“Yep,” Will answered, giving his father a hug with half his body and patting his back.

Mrs. Weston turned to me and held her hand out formally. “Goodbye, Thea,” she said pointedly, and I understood the gesture right away: she believed she was saying goodbye to me forever.

They ambled side by side through the swinging doors as Will started to reach for a toothpick to pick up a cube of cheese. He glanced at me and retracted.

“You could have told me they’d be here,” I said.

“I didn’t tell you?” he asked. He reached again and this time popped a cube into his mouth. “Sorry.”

“Your mother hates me.”

“What are you talking about?” Will rolled his eyes and stuck the toothpick in the side of his mouth. “She wouldn’t know how to hate you. What was all that about setting the world on fire, or whatever she said? She’s a repressed bra burner, stuck in the seventies.”

“Did you hear her tell me to be positive?” I asked, realizing that other people in the room were tentatively striking up conversations with their hall mates. I felt like I was holding Will back. He looked around quickly at everyone, then leaned toward me.

“I must have you. Now. Let’s blow.” He chucked his toothpick into a grimy, black wastepaper bin and we pushed through the swinging doors.

Back in his room, Will lifted the vinyl-upholstered bolster running along the side of his bed and gestured to the shelves underneath. “You can put your exfoliators and night creams and whatnot in there,” he said, grabbing my ass. He pushed me down on the bed, angling my body away from a bag of opened fish-tank gravel as a warm rush accosted my stomach. It never ceased to amaze me how quickly sex worked.

BOOK: Hooked
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