A princess on Another Planet

НазваниеA princess on Another Planet
Дата публикации28.06.2013
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The Assumption of X
"Carrie?" Missy asks.

"Wake up!" Dorrit shouts in my ear.

I moan as visions of twisting pelvises swirl through my head.

"Carrie? Are you alive?"

"Mng." I gulp.

"Uh-oh," Dorrit says as I throw back the covers.

"Get away." I leap out of bed, run to the bathroom, and get sick.

When I look up, Missy and Dorrit are there. Dorrit's lips are curled into an evil, triumphant smile, like the Grinch who thinks he's stolen Christmas.

"Does Dad know?" I ask.

"That you got home at three a.m.? I don't think so," Missy whispers.

"Don't tell him," I say warningly, glaring at Dorrit.

"Sebastian's downstairs," she says sweetly.


He's seated at the dining room table across from my father. "If you assume that X equals minus- Y to the tenth degree," my father says, scribbling an equation on the back of an envelope, "then it's obvious that Z becomes a random integer." He pushes the envelope toward Sebastian, who glances at it politely.

"Hello," I say, with a little wave.

"Morning," my father says. His manner indicates he's considering questioning me about my ragged appearance, but apparently his equation is more interesting. "You see, Sebastian?" He continues tapping his pencil on the X. "The danger here is in the assumption of X--"

I skittle by and hurry into the kitchen, where I dig around for an old jar of instant coffee, dump half of it into a mug, and wait for the water to boil. The phrase "a watched pot never boils" comes into my head. But that isn't true. With the application of proper heat, the water will boil eventually, whether someone is watching or not. Which somehow seems very relevant to this situation. Or maybe it's just that my brain feels like its boiling.

I take my mug into the dining room and sit down. My father has moved on from calculus to grilling Sebastian about his future. "Where did you say you were going to college?" he asks in an uptight voice--a tip-off that Sebastian has failed to impress him with his knowledge of assumptive integers.

"I didn't." Sebastian smiles and pats my leg possessively, which is sure to make my father insane. I squeeze his hand to make him stop. "I thought I'd take a year off," Sebastian says. "Travel the world. Check out the Himalayas--that kind of thing."

My father looks skeptical as I take a sip of my coffee. It's still too hot and has the consistency of sludge.

"I'm not ready to get boxed in," Sebastian continues, as if this explains his lack of ambition.

"You must have some money, then."

"Dad!" I exclaim.

"Actually, I do. My grandmother died and left me and my sister her estate."

"Aha." My father nods. "I get it. You're a very lucky young man. I'll bet if you're ever in trouble, you always manage to get out of it."

"I don't know about that, sir," Sebastian says politely. "But I am lucky." He looks at me and puts his hand over mine. "I've been lucky enough to meet your daughter, anyway."

I suppose this should thrill me, but it only makes me want to puke again. What new game is he playing now?

My father gives me a look, as if he can't believe this guy, but I can only manage a sickly smile.

"So anyway," Sebastian says, clapping his hands together. "I was wondering if you wanted to go ice skating."

Ice skating?

"Hurry up and finish your coffee." He stands and shakes my father's hand. "Nice to see you, Mr. Bradshaw."

"Nice to see you," my father says. I can tell he doesn't know what to make of him, because then he pats Sebastian on the shoulder.

Men are so weird.

Am I supposed to start this conversation or is he? Or are we going to pretend nothing happened last night?

"How's Donna LaDonna? Do you think you can get her to give me my clothes back?"

The suddenness of my attack startles him. His skate slides out beneath him and for a moment, he flails. "Ha. You're one to talk."

He steadies himself and we glide along silently, while I mull this over.

It's my fault?

What did I do? I pull my cap down over my ears as a boy on hockey skates hurtles toward us, laughing over his shoulder at his friends, completely unaware of the dozens of other people skating on the pond. Sebastian grabs the kid's shoulders as we're about to collide and pushes him off in the other direction. "Watch it!" he says.

"You watch it!" the kid growls.

I skate away to the side, where several sawhorses have been set up around a patch of dangerous ice. Black water laps at the edges of a ragged hole.

"You were the one who disappeared last night," Sebastian points out, a note of smug triumph in his voice.

I give him a half-dirty, half-astonished look.

"I was looking for you everywhere. And then Lali told me you'd left. Really, Carrie," he says, shaking his head. "That was rude."

"And it wasn't rude of you to dance with Donna LaDonna?"

"It was a dance. That's what people do at a dance. They dance." He takes a pack of cigarettes from inside his leather jacket.

"No kidding. But they don't dance with their girlfriend's worst enemy. Who also stole her clothes!"

"Carrie," he says patiently. "Donna LaDonna did not steal your clothes."

"Then who did?"



"I had a long talk with Lali after you left." He holds a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger as he lights up. "She meant it as a joke."

I suddenly feel queasy. Or queasier, as the cold air has done little to alleviate my hangover.

"Don't be mad. She was afraid to tell you because you made such a big deal out of it. I told her I would tell you and she asked me not to because she didn't want you to be angry." He pauses, smokes some more, and flicks the cigarette butt into the patch of dark water, where it sizzles like a defective firecracker before floating gently under the ice. "We both know how sensitive you are."

"So now I'm sensitive?"

"Come on. I mean, with what happened to your mother--"

"Has Lali been talking to you about my mother, too?"

"No," he says defensively. "I mean, maybe she mentioned it a couple of times. But what's the big deal? Everybody knows--"

I think I'm going to be sick again.

Don't bring my mother into this. Not today. I can't handle it. Without speaking, I pick up a splinter of wood and toss it into the watery hole.

"Are you crying?" he asks, half smirking and half sympathetic.

"Of course not."

"You are." He sounds almost gleeful. "You act all cool on the outside, like nothing bothers you, but inside you really care. You're a romantic. You want someone to love you."

Doesn't everyone? I'm about to speak, but something about his expression stops me. There's a flicker of hostility mixed with a searching compassion. Is he offering me love, or throwing it back in my face?

I falter, thinking I'll always remember how he looked at that moment because I can't fathom his intent. "Why?" I ask. "Why would Lali take my clothes?"

"Because she thought you were being a pain in the ass."


"I don't know. She said you two are always playing practical jokes on each other. She said you gave her Ex-Lax gum before a meet."

"We were twelve."



"Are you going to break up with me now?" he asks suddenly.

"Oh, God." I pull my knit cap over my face. That's why he was at my house this morning. That's why he took me ice skating. He wants to break up with me but he's afraid to do it, so he wants me to break up with him. It's why he was dancing with Donna LaDonna last night, too. He's going to behave as badly as possible until I have no other choice.

Not that I haven't been considering it for the past twelve hours.

While I was dancing with Walt and Randy at the club in Provincetown, the idea of "dumping the bastard" was like rocket fuel, shooting me into a stratosphere of uncaring bliss. I danced harder and harder, pounding out my aggressions, wondering why I needed Sebastian when I could have this--this carnival of sweaty bodies that flicker and flash like fireflies-- this is fun.

"Fuck Sebastian," I'd screamed, waving my arms over my head like a crazed worshiper at a revival meeting.

Randy, strutting beside me, replied, "Honey, it all happens for a reason."

But now I'm not so sure. Do I really want to break up with him? I'll miss him. And surely I'll be bored without him. How can you change your feelings in a day?

And maybe--just maybe--Sebastian is the one who's terrified. Maybe he's scared of disappointing a girl, of not being good enough, so he pushes her away before she can find out that he's not this incredible, special guy that he pretends to be. When he said I was cool on the outside but wanted love on the inside--maybe that wasn't about me. Maybe he was secretly referring to himself.

"I don't know. Do I have to decide right now?" I peel my hat back, looking up at him.

And this, apparently, is the right thing to say, because he looks at me and laughs. "You're crazy."

"So are you."

"Are you sure you don't want to break up with me?"

"Only because you're so sure I want to. I'm not that easy, you know?"

"Oh, I know." He takes my hand as we skate across the pond.

"I want to do it, but I can't," I whisper.

"Why not?"

We're in his room. "Are you scared?" he asks.

"A little." I roll onto my elbow. "I don't know."

"It doesn't always hurt. Some girls really love it the first time they do it."

"Yeah. Like Maggie."

"See? All your friends are doing it. Don't you feel stupid being the only one who isn't?"

No. "Yes."

"Then why can't you do it with me?"

"Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with you."

"Of course it does," he says, sitting up and pulling on his socks. "Otherwise you would do it."

"But I haven't done it with anyone." I crawl after him and put my arms around his shoulders. "Please don't be mad at me. I just can't do it...today. I'll do it another day, I promise."

"That's what you always say."

"But this time I mean it."

"Okay," he says warningly. "But you can't expect me to wait much longer."

He pulls on his jeans and I flop back onto the bed, giggling.

"What's so funny?" he demands.

I can barely get the words out. "You could always watch a porn video instead. Jugs!"

"How do you know about that?" he asks in a fury.

I cover my face with his pillow. "Haven't you figured it out? I know everything."

The Circus Comes to Town
"Two more days," Walt says, taking a toke on the joint. "Two more days of freedom, and then it's over."

"What about the summer?" Maggie asks.

"Ah yes. Maggie's long summer," Walt murmurs. "Tanning by the pool, basting herself with baby oil--"

"Putting Sun-In in her hair--"

"You put Sun-In in your hair," Maggie says, rolling over.

"True," I concede.

"This is boring." Lali gets up off the couch. "Bunch of deadheads. Give me a hit of that."

"I thought you'd never ask," The Mouse says, handing her the joint.

"Are you sure you want to smoke?" I ask teasingly. "The last time you ate an entire pound of bacon. Remember?"

"It was three strips!" she exclaims. "God, Carrie. Why are you always making things up?"

"Because it's fun?"

The six of us--Walt, Maggie, The Mouse, Lali, Peter, and I--are hanging out in the old playroom above The Mouse's garage. It's New Year's Eve, and we're smugly congratulating ourselves on being too cool to bother going out to a party. Not that there's a party we'd want to go to anyway. There's a dance for old people at the country club--"Deadly," according to The Mouse--there's a movie night at the library--"Middle-brow conservatives who want to pretend they're intellectuals," according to Walt--and a fancy dinner party at Cynthia Viande's where the girls wear long dresses and the boys rent tuxes and they supposedly drink Baby Champs and pretend to be grown-ups. But it's limited to twenty of Cynthia's nearest and dearest friends, if you can categorize the two Jens and Donna LaDonna as bosom buddies. None of us have made the cut, with the exception of Peter, who was only asked at the last minute because Cynthia needed an "extra man." In order to spare Peter this indignity, we decided to gather at The Mouse's to smoke pot, drink White Russians, and pretend we're not losers.

"Hey," Peter says to Maggie, tapping on his bottle of beer. "The extra man needs another brewskie."

"The extra man can get it himself," Maggie says, giggling. "Isn't that what an extra man is for? To do all the extra work?"

"What about an extra woman?" Lali asks, passing the joint to me. "How come no one wants an extra woman?"

"Because an extra woman is a mistress."

"Or a third wheel," adds The Mouse.

I cough and slide off the old easy chair where I've been stationed for the last hour. "Anybody want another drink?" I ask, giving The Mouse a look. She shrugs, knowing exactly what she's said.

If Lali is offended, she doesn't show it. "I'll have another. And make it a double."

"Coming right up." A bag of ice, plastic cups, and various alcoholic potions sit atop an ancient card table. I begin mixing two drinks, filling Lali's cup with vodka. It's slightly evil, but I've been feeling slightly evil toward Lali ever since Sebastian informed me that she took my clothes. We laughed it off, but there's a quiet tension between us, like the shadow of a cloud on a beautiful summer day. You look up and suddenly realize you're in for a thunderstorm.

"When is Sebastian coming back?" Lali asks with deliberate casualness, which may be a reaction to The Mouse's "third wheel" comment after all. She knows Sebastian returns from his family vacation tomorrow. And she also knows that on Sunday, we have those tickets to see Aztec Two-Step at the Shaboo Inn. She hasn't been able to stop talking about it. Until now.

"Tomorrow," I say, as if it's no big deal. What Lali doesn't need to know is how desperately I've been counting the days until his return. I keep playing our reunion over and over again in my head. He'll pull up to my house in his yellow Corvette. I'll run to him and he'll sweep me into his arms and kiss me passionately, murmuring, "I love you." But when I imagine the scene, instead of picturing me, I see Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago instead. I'm in my early twenties, I have dark hair, and I'm wearing a white ermine hat.

"What time is it?" Walt asks suddenly.

"Ten fifteen."

"I don't know if I can make it till midnight," Maggie groans contentedly.

"You have to," I insist. "Just because we're losers doesn't mean we have to be lightweights."

"Speak for yourself." Walt picks up the bottle of vodka and takes a swig.

"Walt, that's gross," Maggie scolds.

"You didn't think it was gross when we swapped spit," he says.

"Hey!" Peter jumps to his feet, making boxing motions in the direction of Walt's head.

"Take it easy, homeboy." Walt looks at me and takes another gulp of vodka.

"Do you want a glass?"

"Nope." He places the bottle back on the table and claps his hands. "Okay, everybody," he says loudly. "I have an announcement to make."

Crap. This is it. The moment we've all been waiting for. I glance at The Mouse and Maggie. The Mouse is making tiny nods of encouragement, smiling kindly the way you would at a five-year-old who has just shown you a stick figure drawing of his family. Maggie has covered her mouth with her hands and is looking wildly from me to The Mouse, as if hoping someone will tell her what to do.

"You got into Penn," Peter says.


I move behind Walt and glare at Maggie, making a face as I put my finger to my lips.

"Hey--what's going on?" Lali says, catching me. "I know. You're taking over as the manager of the Hamburger Shack."

"A pox on you," Walt replies. It's a phrase he's never used before but probably picked up from Randy.

"This surprise is much better," he continues, swaying slightly from side to side. "I was going to wait until midnight, but I'll probably be passed out by then." He looks around the room to make sure he has our complete attention. Then he casually drops the bomb:

"For those of you who haven't figured it out, I'm now officially gay."

For a moment, it's quiet, as we all ponder how to react to this information, given our previous knowledge of it or lack thereof.

It's broken by a low chortling sound. "That's it?" Lali declares. "You're gay? That's news?"

"Thank you very much," Walt says with faux indignation.

"Congratulations, man," Peter says. He crosses the room and hugs Walt gingerly, patting him on the back. "When did you find out?" he asks, as if Walt has just announced he's having a baby.

"When did you find out you were straight, Peter?" I ask, giggling.

"Well," Maggie says coyly. "We knew it all along."

Actually, "we" didn't. But luckily, ten days after "we," meaning Maggie, found out, she got all caught up in planning a camping trip with Peter, and completely forgot about Walt's insult to her womanhood. I raise my cup. "To Walt," I cheer.

"To Walt!"

"And to us," I add. "To nineteen eighty--"

There's a loud knock on the door.

"Shit." The Mouse grabs the marijuana paraphernalia and shoves it under the cushions of the couch. Peter hides the vodka bottle behind a chair. We run our fingers through our hair and dust the ash off our fronts.

"Come in," The Mouse says.

It's her father, Mr. Castells. Even though he's kind of old, I'm always struck by how handsome he is. The Mouse says that when he was young, he was known as the Cary Grant of Cuba.

"I hope you're having a good time," he says politely, striding into the room. I can tell by his manner that this is not a social call. "Carrie?" he asks. "Your father is on the phone. He needs to speak with you immediately."

"Apparently they have an old car that nobody uses. They didn't realize it was missing until I called," my father says. His face is white. He's in shock--probably terrified.

"Dad, I'm sure it will be fine," I say, praying he won't notice that he now has two juvenile delinquents for daughters--Dorrit, the runaway, and me, the stoner. Except I feel frighteningly sober and clearheaded. "How far could they get? Neither one of them has a license. How can Cheryl even know how to drive?"

"I know nothing about these people other than the fact that Cheryl's mother has been married three times."

I nod, staring at the road ahead. Despite its being New Year's Eve, the streets are dark and mostly deserted. I'm convinced that somehow this new crisis with Dorrit is my fault. I should have been paying more attention. But how was I to know? She said she was going to the library for the movie event--my father even dropped her off at four and waited until she met her friend Maura, who we've known for years. Maura's mother was going to pick them up at seven and drop Dorrit off at home on her way to a party. But when she arrived at the library, Maura told her mother that Dorrit had gone to the mall and was going to get a ride home from me. When she wasn't home by nine, my father started to panic. He tried calling Maura's mother, but there was no answer until after ten. He called Cheryl's house, guessing Dorrit might have snuck off with her, but Cheryl's little brother said his sister wasn't home and his parents were at The Emerald. So my father called The Emerald, and Cheryl's mother and stepfather went back to their house and found the car missing. And now we're on our way to Cheryl's house to try to figure out what to do.

"Dad, I'm sorry."

He says nothing, only shakes his head.

"She's probably at the mall. Or the golf course. Or maybe the meadows."

"I don't think so," he says. "She took fifty dollars from my sock drawer."

I avert my eyes as we turn off Main Street and drive past The Emerald, as if I've never even noticed the place. We continue a bit farther onto a narrow road crowded with nearly identical houses and stop in front of a Colonial with peeling paint and a recently remodeled front porch. Light pokes around the edges of the drawn blinds, and as we examine the house, a man peers out, glaring. His face appears bright red, but it could be the lighting.

"I should have known," my father says grimly. "Mack Kelter."

"Who's he?"

"Local contractor," my father says, as if this explains everything. He pulls into the driveway, behind a truck. At the side of the house is a rundown two-car garage. One of the doors is open, the inside illuminated by a bare bulb.

"What does that mean?" I ask.

"Mack Kelter is what's known as a shady character." My father unbuckles his seat belt and takes off his glasses, delaying the inevitable encounter. "Your mother refused to deal with him. She had a few run-ins with him over some building construction. One evening we found Mack Kelter standing in our driveway with a crowbar."

I'm shocked I don't remember this. Or maybe I do. I have a vague recollection of hysteria and of us three girls being told to hide in the basement. "Did you call the police?"

"No. Your mother went out and confronted him. I was scared to death, but she wasn't. You know Mom," he says, getting teary. "She was a little thing but tough as hell. No one messed with Mimi."

"I know. And she never had to raise her voice," I add miserably, recounting my line from our familial stories about my mother.

"It was something in her manner.... She was a lady, through and through, and men knew it," my father says, doing his part. He sighs. "She had a few words with Mack Kelter, and he skulked away with his tail between his legs."

That was my mother--a Lady with a capital L. A Lady. Even when I was little, I knew I'd never be one, not like my mother. I was too rough and tumble. I wanted to go every place my parents said was bad, like New York City. I made Missy and Dorrit burn their Barbie dolls in a bonfire. I told my cousins there was no such thing as Santa Claus. I suspect my mother always knew I wouldn't make it as a lady, that I'd never be like her. But it never seemed to matter.

"Do you think Dorrit knows about Mack Kelter? And what Mom thought of him?" If she does, it could explain something about Dorrit's behavior. "Dad, I think Dorrit needs to see a shrink."

I've made this suggestion several times before, but my father always resists. He comes from a generation that thinks shrinks are bad. Even in this dire circumstance, my father still won't have it.

"Not now, Carrie," he says. And looking as if he's going to an execution, he gets out of the car.

The door opens before we can knock, and Mack Kelter stands in the entrance, blocking our passage. He's handsome in a kind of dirty way that makes you feel slightly ashamed even looking at him.

"Bradshaw?" He smirks. "Yeah," he says, answering his own question. "Come in."

I hope he doesn't have any crowbars lying around.

"In there." He motions toward the living room with a bottle of beer. We sidle in tentatively, not knowing what to expect. Along one wall is an enormous television set, flanked by two speakers. There's a brick fireplace, a scattering of toys on the white shag rug, two small yellow poodles with runny eyes, and a long modular couch. Sprawled across it with what appears to be a gin and tonic in one hand and an ice pack in the other is Cheryl's mother, Connie.

"My little baby," she wails when she sees us. She puts down her drink and holds out her hands, which we have no choice but to take. "My little girl. She's just a little girl," she sobs.

"She's not that little," Mack Kelter scoffs.

"What if they've been kidnapped?" Connie blinks rapidly. "What if they're lying in a ditch somewhere--"

"Put a lid on it, Connie," Mack Kelter says. "They took the car. They went drinking. When Cheryl gets back, she's going to get a walloping. That's all."

My father, meanwhile, has politely managed to extract his hand from Connie's and is standing stiffly, as if trying to pretend he is not in this situation. "Have you called the police?"

"Why do we want them involved?" Mack Kelter asks. "They'll only cause trouble. Besides, they don't investigate missing persons until they've been gone for at least twenty-four hours."

"By which time they could be dead!" Connie cries out. She puts her hand on her heart, gasping for air. "And this is my reward for a life of misery. I've got a juvenile delinquent for a daughter and a deadbeat drunk for a husband."

"You want one upside the head?" Mack Kelter asks. "I told you to zip it."

My father and I glance at each other in horror.

"I think we ought to look for them." I check my watch. "It's ten forty-five. They've been gone for about three hours--"

"They could be all the way to Boston by now," Connie exclaims. She looks over at her husband.

"I'm heading back to The Emerald," he announces. He takes in our shocked expressions and grins. "Hey--she's not my kid. And there's a man called Jack Daniel's waiting for me at the bar."

My father, Connie, and I drive all around town looking for Dorrit and Cheryl. We check out the meadows, the country club, and several little bars Connie knows about, although why she thinks anyone would serve alcohol to thirteen-year-olds is a mystery to both me and my dad. But we keep searching anyway, to no avail. At two a.m., we finally give up.

"Did you find her?" Missy squeals hopefully as we walk into the house.


"What are we going to do?"

"What can we do?"

"How could this happen?" Missy wails.

"I don't know. If she's not back by six a.m., we're going to the police."

We stand there in terrified silence, and then I tiptoe across the floor and peek into the den where my father has retired to suffer alone. He's sitting on the couch, slowly turning the pages of the old photo album my mother started when she and my father became engaged.

I return to the kitchen, ready to fortify myself for a long night, taking bread and cheese and mayonnaise from the refrigerator to make a sandwich.

The phone rings.

The sound is loud and jarring and somehow expected. I drop the bread and grab it.

"Carrie?" says a male voice.

"George?" I ask in shock. And then I'm disappointed. And angry. Why is George calling now--way past midnight on New Year's Eve? He must be drunk. "George, this is not the time--"

He cuts me off. "I have someone here who wants to talk to you."


"Happy New Year," Dorrit says, giggling into the phone.
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