Read Notes from the Blender Online
Authors: Trish Cook
“Didn’t something important happen on a youth group retreat when you were fifteen?” Lisa asked.
Thankfully, Sarah jumped in with, “That is not something we’re discussing in front of Declan—”
“And you and I met at a social justice conference,” Lisa said. “I think it was after the keynote speech that we—”
I had to put a stop to this. Like I said, I had begun to think of Lisa and Sarah in parental terms, which meant I never wanted to know anything about them having sex. “Whoa, Lisa, I really appreciate your pointing out the hypocrisy, but I’m gonna have to side with Sarah here about not hearing the details. I mean, no offense.”
“None taken. Ingrate. Eat your Kung Pao. And yes, I have mints for you. All I was trying to point out was that spirituality and sexuality can coexist. In fact, they always do, and it’s kind of silly to pretend that our spiritual selves don’t live in bodies with hungers and urges.”
“Uh, yeah. Listen, I’m sorry, but I wonder if you could just not say the word
. It kinda grosses me out. No offense.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. Sarah ate an egg roll and smiled.
Neilly and I sat next to each other in the circle when youth group started and made jokes when Sarah said something unintentionally sexual. It was nice for a couple of reasons. One, of course, was that I was making sex jokes with a hot girl. Although, strangely, now that I was closer to Neilly, scoring with her seemed even more impossible than it had when she didn’t even know my name. The other was that it was just nice to feel like I was part of something. Like I had something to belong to.
So youth group was going better than it ever had, and then it suddenly got even better. Chantelle—the hot, bespectacled genius from my math class—came in looking kind of scared. I wanted to run over to her and throw my arm around her and tell her that anybody with a rack like hers was always welcome here, but Sarah did a much better job of dispensing the reassuring welcomes than I ever could, so I left it to her. It took her a minute to say hi, though, because I guess she was noticing, and being appalled by, me scoping out Chantelle.
When it was time for us to put blindfolds on and hold hands, I did a really half-assed job tying mine on so I could see out the bottom if I tilted my head back. So when Sarah steered me over to somebody with really soft hands, I leaned my head back and saw Chantelle, with her light brown skin, her amazing chest, and her glasses over her blindfold. That was so cool. I don’t know what it is with the glasses—I guess when I see a girl wearing glasses, I think it means she might have a brain in her head, though maybe she doesn’t, and I also think it means that she’s comfortable enough with who she is that she’s not trying to hide behind contacts. Of course, maybe it just means she has a weird prescription that they don’t make contacts for. In any case, Chantelle was wearing her glasses over her blindfold, and I nearly fainted she was so freaking cute.
I looked over at Sarah. She was looking right at me, so I guess I was busted on the whole not looking thing. I mouthed the words
at her, and she smiled at me and flipped me the bird, which made it really hard not to crack up—actually it was pretty good revenge on her part, I had to hand it to her.
While I was at it, I peeked around to see who Neilly was paired up with. I hated him instantly. Mostly because you could tell even through the blindfold that Neilly was making goo-goo eyes at him. And then there were the other problems. For one thing, he had long hair, but his was all rock-star edgy instead of long and limp like mine. Also, he was tall and good-looking and not deathly pale. Oh yeah, and he was wearing a Motorhead T-shirt. I don’t know if this kid even knew that, but still, it indicated that he was a little darker, and perhaps weirder, than your average Jocky McMoron. If she was there swooning over some short-haired jock in a football jersey or something, then at least I could write it off as like, well, she’s into guys like that. But here she was going into heat over a long-haired metal guy! Sure, he was taller and better-looking than me, but still.
Once she’d finished with the obscene finger gestures, Aunt Sarah started her spiel about judging people, and how we should find something we had in common with the person across from us. Since Chantelle was obviously feeling shy, I decided I should start.
“Uh,” I said, “so, let’s see. Something we have in common.” I racked my brains thinking about what I knew about Chantelle other than that she was good at math. I decided I didn’t know anything else about her, so I might as well just be honest about myself. Kind of a weird strategy that most guys avoided, and probably a really dumb idea in my particular case, but it’s not like I had been having tons of success with the ladies in any case. “Um, I’m good at school, but I hate it anyway.” True, and probably the perfect balance of good boy/bad boy that the ladies craved.
There was this long pause. Bad move. Terrible move. Finally, she said in her voice that was almost as soft as the skin on her hands, “Me, too. I’m really good at math, but I hate school.”
“Yeah. I could almost deal with the teachers trying to suck every last ounce of creativity out of my brain, if it weren’t for the evil morons who run the social side of stuff.”
She laughed a little bit. I was so in! “It’s pretty hard to find a way to fit in. Especially when…well, when you’re obviously different.”
“Yeah. I mean, for me, it’s my sexiness. You know, the guys are jealous, the girls are intimidated, and so that leaves me kind of isolated.”
Now she laughed aloud. “So if I took off this blindfold right now, I’d be intimidated by your sexiness?”
“Totally. It’s actually pretty terrifying the first time you encounter it.”
“Are you sure you’re not just really weird?”
“Well, I guess that’s another possibility. But my version is a lot more fun.” I leaned my head way back and peeked at her, smiling. So far so good, but there was a crucial step missing here that I didn’t really know how to get past. Namely, how do you go from making them laugh to making out? Well, maybe my new sister could help me figure that one out.
But when Neilly grabbed me at the end of the meeting, all she could talk about was how horny she was for some guy she’d seen at the beginning of group. This was problematic for me in so many ways. For one, that guy wasn’t me. For another, he wasn’t me. And so on and so on, not to mention the fact that she failed to explain how I could engender those same lusty feelings in Chantelle. From start to finish, the conversation was a total loss.
Neilly gave me a ride home, and there was a note from Dad on the kitchen table.
Dec—I am at the new place doing some painting.
Back by 10. If I don’t see you, make sure you clear the decks for tomorrow afternoon. You and I have a family therapy appointment.
Oh, for God’s sake. I freeze the guy out for one weekend, and now we have to go talk about our relationship. If it weren’t for the fact that he’d recently impregnated a woman, I’d have to wonder if Dad were turning into one.
This I could call Neilly about.
“Guess what?” I said as soon as she picked up the phone.
“You know the identity of the mystery hottie, and you’re calling me on three way?”
Oh, for the love of SuicideGirls. Neilly Foster just said “three way.”
“You wish. No. Get this. I mean, of all the horrible surprises I’ve gotten recently, this has to be the worst. Guess where Dad and I are going tomorrow after school?”
“No, it’s…Oh, wait. Yeah. That’s right. Fucking family therapy. Can you believe that? Wait, how’d you guess that?”
“Because Mom and I are going on Thursday.”
FAMILY THERAPY, WHAT A BUNCH OF HORSESHIT. WE
don’t need some PhD to tell us we have problems. That’s already more than apparent from the way my mom has been alternately following me around like a puppy needing approval and then yelling at me for not reacting the way she must have wanted me to.
For some random reason, she seems to think I enjoy being miserable. What she doesn’t understand is that none of this is any better for me than it is for her. I wish more than anything we could just go back to the way things were. Unfortunately, the sudden appearance of Dec’s dad means nothing’s the same, and nothing will ever be the same again.
Because you know what they say—three’s a crowd. Whenever I’m at home, it seems like it’s always Mom, Dec’s dad, and me. Guess who’s the odd one out in that scenario?
And I can tell it’s only going to get worse once we all move into that House of Horrors. Because if three’s a crowd, I’m sure all five of us—Mom, Dec’s dad, me, the unnamed spawn of Mom and Dec’s dad, and Dec (who recently informed me his bedroom in the new digs has a history of bloodshed, creepier even than my mom getting it on with Dec’s dad)—will be a freaking riot. Or something equally as loud and unsettled. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
It’s just that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t get over the fact that my mom was carrying on this secret double life behind my back. I mean, why couldn’t she have started by telling me she was thinking about dating again and then eased me into the rest of it—rather than dating, having unprotected sex, getting impregnated, and making plans to get married, all without ever peeping a word of it to me until I found her naked with her aging lover boy?
The thought of that day still makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a newly sharpened pencil. I probably feel the same way clueless parents do when they find out their straight-A student is, like, running a crystal-meth lab from their basement, or their super-religious-I’m-gonna-stay-a-virgin-until-I’m-married high school senior pops out a baby between dances at the prom. Like,
How could I have been so blind?
“So, how do you two
about all these
Dr. Rappaport was straight out of an
skit, peering at us over smart-looking glasses perched on the end of her nose, pen poised and ready to scribble about how crazy we both were on the pages of the notebook resting on her crossed legs, using that low, soooooothing tone of voice. If I hadn’t been so irritated about having to be there in her office, I would’ve laughed.
Instead, I examined my very bitten-up nails.
“I feel very excited, of course,” my mom jumped in when she realized I wasn’t slobbering all over myself to offer up a peek into our personal lives. “But I also feel like it has driven a wedge between Neilly and me, and that, of course, makes me feel dreadful.”
I just sat there, not saying a word, while my mom stared at me expectantly. Dr. Rappaport finally interjected herself into the quietquietquiet of the room.
“Neilly, it sounds as though your mom is experiencing a roller coaster of emotions. Is that how you feel, too?”
I stared at the doodles I’d added to my black Converse. On the toe of my right shoe, I’d crossed out
Neilly + Sam
and writ ten
My mom jumped all over my nonreaction. “See? She’s like this all the time lately. Completely uncommunicative.”
I rolled my eyes while my mom dabbed at hers with a Kleenex. This was going nowhere fast.
“As well as angry and sarcastic,” she added. “It started with the divorce, but it’s gotten worse since Thomas and I met.”
I glared at her. More like since she’d met Dec’s dad, didn’t tell me she’d met him, started banging him, got knocked up by him, and decided to marry him without even telling me she’d met him. It was so messed up. How could she not
“Let’s try putting your frustrations into words, Neilly,” Dr. Rappaport told me. “Give them a voice.”
If the fake doctor wanted a voice, I didn’t want to let her down. So I launched into my best impression of my mom. “This is going to be a great adventure for all of us, Neilly! You’ll have the big family you always wanted!”
My mom glowered in my general direction, and I went back to being plain old me. “I have no say in any of this, no matter what voice I put on my frustrations. So what’s the point? Let’s just agree to disagree.”
After the family therapy debacle, we pretty much didn’t talk to each other for the rest of the week and on through the weekend. Not that it could’ve upset my mom too much—she spent all her free time with Dec’s dad at the House of Horrors, trying to see through the mold and grime enough to figure out how she was going to decorate the behemoth. I could’ve cut to the chase and made it easy for her—a creepy old pipe organ here, Dracula’s coffin over there, hellhounds in the mudroom. See? Piece of cake.
Sad to say, though, even my mom had a better social life than I did by this point.
Going to parties hadn’t seemed all that appealing lately. Yelling over loud music just to make conversation, and then realizing the conversation was completely ridiculous because everyone else was drunk and I was stone-cold sober…I guess it all just seemed like way too much effort without Sam and Lu. So my life had turned into pretty much just school and home. All alone.
I started to think that maybe parties had never been much fun.
Or that maybe
had never been much fun.
Or maybe both.
It was hard to tell at this point.
All I knew for sure was that by Monday night, I was practically salivating to get to Aunt Sarah’s church youth group. It was the most social thing—no, make that the only social thing—I’d done since the disaster of a party with foamy-lipper Tanner McManus, unless you counted looking at random people’s Facebook photos six thousand times without ever commenting on any. And if that didn’t make me a big fat loser with a capital BFL, I didn’t know what did.
Still, that didn’t stop Hermit Girl—aka me—from arriving way too early to even pretend to have an ounce of cool left. Jumping the gun so heavily would’ve normally left me hanging out all alone at the church for a good half an hour, but luckily Dec was already there doing a little cleaning up.
“Whoa, brother, that’s a mighty big broom you’ve got there,” I called out to him.
“That’s what she said,” he shot back, grinning. “So how was family therapy?”
“The biggest time waster on the planet,” I said. “You?”
He plunked himself down next to me. “Same.”
“You know what the real kicker is, Dec?”
“It’s not even that I’m mad about my mom falling in love with your dad, or them having a baby, or that crazy creepfest of a house—though I’m sure that’s what therapist lady wanted me to say.”
“Not really. I’ll totally beat you if you tell anyone this, but sometimes I actually think that part might be a tiny bit fun. You know, moving into a bizarro new house, having a bizarro new baby brother to torture—”
“I thought you were convinced the evil spawn was going to be a girl,” he interrupted me.
“I meant you,” I teased, giving him a gentle elbow to the ribs.
“Funny. Ha. Like not at all.”
“Seriously,” I said. “The part that really bugs me is that my mom is acting so different. We used to be so close. Now we’re like…I don’t know…acquaintances or something.”
“I know what you mean,” he said, nodding in agreement. “It’s like they forgot about everything that happened before they met or something.”
“Maybe they turned into zombies?” I asked, only half kidding now.
“Yeah, love zombies. It really fits the ambience of the new digs, right?”
While we talked, kids finally started showing up. One here, one there, then in a steady stream. As they were filling up cups of Gatorade and soda, grabbing a handful of pretzels, then plopping themselves down on the carpet, I got down to the business of trying to spot hothothottie the second he came through the door.
“Crap, that’s not him,” I said every time someone who wasn’t my fake Travis from We the Kings filtered in. And when it finally was him, I gasped to Dec, “Omigosh, he’s waaay cuter than I remembered.”
Dec was all scowly and silentsilentsilent. Then this: “You’re supposed to be here to learn more about yourself and your relationship with God, not some kid you’ve never even talked to. How shallow can you be?”
Great. He’d gone from perfect, understanding half brother to shithead in the span of about three seconds. “How much of an asshole can
be?” I demanded, giving him my best Nerves of Steely Neilly look.
Dec opened his mouth two, three, four times before anything came out. “I just think you need to get your head straight before you bring another guy into your life, that’s all.”
So now Mr. Metal But Totally Should Be Emo Man was psychoanalyzing me? That was the last straw. I was
talking about my feelings again, to anyone. Not even—or should I say, most especially—my new stepbrother. “Thanks a lot, Freud, but I think I can handle my dating life without your expert input,” I said, and stalked off to the complete opposite side of the room. I was too mad to even look at Mr. Hottie out of the corner of my eye.
“Listen up, people,” Aunt Sarah was saying a minute later. “Tonight we’re going to talk about the ingredients of a good relationship, and what happens when they’re not present.”
She started passing out blindfolds again. “Same rules as last time—no peeking, no identifying personal information, just heartfelt sharing. To be consistent, I’m going to pair you with the same person as last week.”
Soon enough, Aunt Sarah plunked me down on the rickety old couch next to my partner and placed my hand in his. “Get talking, you two.”
I had the exact same reaction as last time—the perfect fit, the feeling of being entirely at ease and comfortable with the guy. “So what do you think?” he asked.
“I guess truth is the most important thing there is,” I said, thinking about the recent lack of it in my relationships with Sam, Lulu, and my mom, and how it had ruined everything. “Because without it, you’re pretty much left with no relationship at all.”
A long pause. Then, “I don’t think you’re left with nothing. I think you’re just left with a messed-up relationship. Like if one person cheated and the other felt like they couldn’t trust them anymore—”
“Has that ever happened to you?” I interrupted. Maybe it would be another thing we had in common.
“Not that I know of. You?”
Though I wanted him to think of me as a person no one would ever dream of cheating on, I felt like it would be really bad karma lying like that in a church. Especially after I’d spouted off about how important trust was to a relationship.
“Yeah,” I admitted, my voice registering just above a little peep. “Yeah, it has. Recently.” I had to use the old pinch-myself trick to stop from getting emotional. It was getting harder and harder to distract myself these days, and it was really starting to piss me off.
He squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” I asked with a hoarse laugh. “It’s not your fault.”
We sat for a long while before he spoke up again. “Well, want to know what I think?”
“I think honesty is important, like you said. But what I actually think is that the key to a good relationship is forgiveness, because without it we’re all completely screwed.”
Over the past few years, I’d become a total master at the art of
forgiving people—first the kids who’d given me shit about my dad, and now Sam, Lu, and my mom. In my head, that made me strong, not screwed. “Why do you say that?”
“Because we’re all human, and we all make mistakes. Without forgiveness, we’d all be walking this Earth angry and alone, and I think that would really suck.”
“So you think I should just forgive the asshole who cheated on me, and the used-to-be best friend he cheated on me with?”
“Yeah, it might be hard to believe, but I really think you should.”
Was he kidding? No freaking way. “Why?”
“Because I don’t want you to be angry and alone.”
I drew in a sharp breath. I don’t know what surprised me more—the realization that I’d just made, or that I was about to admit it to a total stranger. “I kind of already am.”
“All the more reason, then.”
“Time to wrap it up,” Aunt Sarah called out before we could say anything else. “No more talking. Just silent thought and prayer while I lead you all back to your places. I heard a lot of conversation tonight about unconditional love, trust, faithfulness, even forgiveness, and I want to tell you you’re on the right track. Fact is, all of those things are important. And they’re also exactly what God brings to your relationship, and what you should give back in return. You can all take off your blindfolds now.”
Once again, the hottie had disappeared, leaving me with all the notties. As everyone filed out of the room a little while later, Dec approached me, his eyes on the broom he was once again pushing around. “Neilly, I’m sorry for what I said before. It was stupid, and I know it was none of my business.”