Stupid Shake Pear

It's 6:13PM when we pull into our long driveway. The numbers glow green on the dashboard, like kryptonite in those Superman cartoons my younger brothers Jason and Alex watch every Saturday morning. The light over the porch is on and knowing Mother, it's probably been on since five-thirty.

"Thanks, Dad," I say, slinging my backpack over my shoulder, "And it was nice meeting you, Julia."

"You're welcome, honey," he replies and Julia smiles. I wait until the taillights melt into the falling darkness before heading towards the front door. It flies open before I've even reached for my key.

"Kenley Tristan!"

"Sorry, Mommy," I say, slipping past her into the foyer, "Getting home took longer than I thought."

"You're fifteen minutes late!" she exclaims.

Actually, it's only thirteen minutes but to my mother, it seems like thirteen hours. "I know," I say again, "I'm sorry." I give her a quick hug and she squeezes my shoulders to reassure herself that I'm not an apparition.

"Why didn't you call?" she murmurs into my hair. "I was about to," I say, "But then..." But then Dad showed up, just like he said he would. "But then we were so close to home that I didn't think it was worth it."

"It's always worth it to call home, darling," she chides gently. She taps my nose like I'm two. "I worry, you know." Yeah, I know.

"Sorry," I say even though she knows I am and I know I'm already forgiven.

She sighs and squeezes my shoulder again. "Jason and his Shakespeare group are working on their English project in the den. They're staying for dinner. Would you please set the table for seven? We're eating in the dining room. There's not enough room in the kitchen."

We used to eat in the dining room every night. Mother and Dad sat on opposite ends of the table with me and my brothers between them. Five salad forks, five soup spoons. Mother even let Alex have a linen napkin, although he's seven and still knocks over his milk at least once a meal. When Dad moved out, we switched to the kitchen. Four plastic forks, no spoons. I miss eating in the dining room. Mother uses it as her office now.

Alex is lying underneath the dining room table when I enter with my armload of plates. He pokes his head out from under the pale green tablecloth. "Wanna help me finish my puzzle?"

I lift the tablecloth and duck down to his level. The floor is a mess. For his birthday a couple of weeks ago, Dad bought him a tyrannosaurus rex puzzle. Alex loves it. He puts it together everyday. There are only a hundred pieces so it doesn't take him very long. Lately, he's started doing the puzzle in different places in the house, as if the pieces change in different locations. He stationed himself in the foyer yesterday and claimed half the kitchen counter the day before. Usually, I don't mind his hundred little puzzle pieces but tonight we're eating in the dining room and I don't want to step over little cardboard squares every two seconds.

"No," I say, "Start cleaning up."

He scowls. "But I'm not done yet."

"You're done for now," I say, "I have to set the table. Get out from under there."

"Noooooooo."

I ignore him and start throwing puzzle pieces into the box.

"Kaaay Teeeeee!"

"Look," I say, thrusting the mostly full box into his hands now, "Here's your puzzle. Go do it somewhere else."

"Jason's stupid shake pear group is here again and Mom says I can't go into the den."

"Then go to your room," I reply. Last week he pieced the T-rex together in the empty bathtub. Today, he doesn't know where to go. My brother Alex is the most contrary person alive.

"But I don't want to do the puzzle in my room. I want to do it here."

I roll my eyes. "You're not doing it here. I have to set the table."

"That's not fair. I was here first!"

"Life's not fair. Get over it." The words roll out of my mouth without thinking.

Alex leaves with a huff, the door swinging in his wake. The phone rings while I'm setting out plates and glasses and Mother answers in the kitchen.

"April!"

Mrs. Gallagher.

"I'm fine, how are you?"

I completely forgot to ask Mother to call her. The clock on the wall says 6:27. I'm a whole half-hour late.

"KT? She's here. She just got home."

But Dad showed up. I didn't lie; he really came and picked me up.

"Danny dropped her off…we agreed yesterday…he offered, actually…yes, he really did."

The day she and Dad told us they were getting divorced, my math teacher told me that each school district could only send two students to the state level Ross competitions, regardless of overall score rankings. My high school is in the second largest district in the state. People from smaller school districts with lower scores than mine advanced to the next round while I had to drop out. It was unfair but there was nothing I could do about it, just like it was unfair that my parents were splitting up while Reverend and Mrs. Gallagher celebrated their twentieth wedding anniversary. I wrote a letter to the organizers of the Ross but they never responded. And Dad said that the divorce wasn't my fault, that these things happen sometimes. I felt so powerless, like nothing I did mattered. Then my teacher started talking about next year's competition and Dad explained how we would still see each other every other weekend. They moved on so quickly that it was like a slap in the face, a wakeup call. Life's not fair. Get over it.

I push open the connecting door and peek into the kitchen. Mother has her back to me, her free arm wrapped around her waist, hugging herself. It sounds like Mrs. Gallagher doesn't quite believe her either. I want to grab the phone from her hand and yell into the receiver but I know that won't make anybody feel better, including me.


"Ay me!" Lysander/Robbie exclaims, pressing the back of his hand to his forehead, "For aught that I could ever read / Could ever hear by tale or history…" He looks at me and grins. "What's the next line, Katie?"

I sigh and glance down at the script in my lap. This is the eighth time he's asked me in the last five minutes. When my younger brother Jason's Shakespeare group recruited me to help them learn their lines to A Midsummer Night's Dream, I thought they wanted me to sit on the sagging brown couch in the den and watch their bad acting. No one mentioned anything about putting up with the raging hormones of a scrawny thirteen year old boy. "Look at your note cards," I say.

His smile widens. "I don't want to look at my note cards. I want you to tell me what my line is."

Two of the girls in the group laugh and I feel myself turn red. This is ridiculous. I'm sixteen, way out of his league. Doesn't he realize that? He must be impervious to embarrassment. Beside me on the couch, Jason jabs me with his elbow. "Just read the stupid line," he orders, "This is taking forever and we still have to practice the quiz show at the end."

"The course of true love never did run smooth," I say flatly. The line is not lost on me.

"The course of true love never did run smooth," Lysander/Robbie repeats. His voice cracks on the last word and he pauses to look mournfully at me, as mournful as a boy can look while wearing my mother's floppy velvet green hat. I raise an eyebrow. If he looks at me like that one more time, I'm going to leave and then—

"—Dinner!"

I'm the first one in the dining room.

"How's play rehearsal going?" Mother asks, sliding a serving spoon into a steaming casserole.

I don't quite know what to say.

"Seems like Robbie has taken quite an interest in you," she teases.

I make a face. I can't believe she thinks it's funny. It's actually very, very disturbing. Were boys that bad when I was in middle school? I can't remember. Not that they're any better now. The guy that has the locker next to mine makes out with his girlfriend between every class. It's nice that they like each other so much but I don't need the reminder every fifty-two minutes. They shouldn't need it either. I've never had a boyfriend nor been in love, but I think there's got to be more to a romantic relationship than holding hands and kissing.

Mother puts a huge scoop of casserole on my plate. "People do funny things for love."

"It's not love," I point out, "It's a creepy adolescent fixation."

She swats me. "Oh, be nice to him. It takes a lot of courage to show that you like someone."

It takes a lot of courage to shoot yourself in the head too, but I don't think anyone ever advocates for that course of action. The other kids file into the dining room and before Lysander/Robbie can sidle up, I grab Jason's nearest female classmate and pull her into the chair next to mine.

"Hi, KT," Rachel smiles, not at all startled, "you want to sit next to each other?"

Since Mother started dating Rachel's dad Michael a couple of months ago, Rachel's been the closest thing I've had to a sister. And being the only girl from a family of two boys, a sister is a welcome ally, especially when a precocious thirteen year old boy is giving me puppy dog eyes. Lysander/Robbie's grin falters when he sees Rachel next to me but then it lights back up when he notices the amount of food Mother's prepared.

We start on our plates of casserole. "Thanks for helping us rehearse," Rachel says. "We're putting on a quiz show later. Can you help us by pretending you're an audience member? You don't have to know any of the answers. You can make up stuff."

"Sure," I say. As long as they keep Lysander/Robbie far, far away from me.

"How are dance lessons going?"

I groan. "Don't remind me."

Our church's youth group is open to anyone from sixth grade and up but the dance lessons are only for high school kids. The middle school project for this year is some knitting activity but so far, the only thing I've seen Jason produce is a knotted ball of yarn. Rachel's knitting a scarf for herself right now and she's promised that she'll make me one too when she's done. I can't wait. I love scarves.

"Who was your partner today?"

She asks after every lesson, as if who I'm partnered with has some special significance, like the guy and I are destined to fall in love and have 2.3 children together. I don't have the heart to remind her that this is high school and not a fairy tale though. "David Gallagher."

"Oh, he's nice."

When the Gallaghers came over for Sunday brunch a couple of weekends ago, David let her have the last piece of chocolate chip pie. Since then, he can do no wrong in her eyes. (She didn't notice that he ate half of my slice instead.) "He's so freaking tall. Dancing with him is like dancing with a giraffe."

"You should marry a tall man so your kids won't be short," Mother says in a sing-song, coming around with the casserole dish again. She always says that when I complain about the world being designed for people over five feet. "Seconds, girls?"

Rachel passes over our plates before I can open my mouth. "How tall is tall enough?" she asks.

The corners of Mother's mouth turn up in surprise. I usually brush her off when she says that. She's pleased that someone wants her to elaborate on her weirdo saying. "Good question…hmm…a little under six feet should be a good starting point." She turns to me. "How tall is David?"

I give Rachel a look for encouraging Mother. She's totally making this stuff up. A useless statistic I read about in my math class today pops into my head. "The average American male is 5'10." Using a little less than six feet as the standard doesn't really cut out anybody."

Mother ignores me and turns to Rachel. "How tall is your dad?"

"6'1." " She laughs.

Mother smiles back. "Of course."


After dinner, I brave through two rounds of giggles from Lysander/Robbie before his mother comes and collects him.

"Well," he says, checking his Spiderman watch as his mother waits by the door, "It's getting late. It was nice to meet you, Katie." He spreads out his arms for a hug.

I shove Alex in front of me.

The Shakespeare group starts breaking up and by the time Michael, Rachel's dad, arrives, only Jason and Rachel are left quizzing me. "What are Oberon and Titania fighting over?"

"Uh…" I say, "Money?" That's what most couples fight over. That's one of the things Mother and Dad fought over. Rachel shakes her head.

"A child," Michael answers. He sits down next to me, in Dad's old armchair. Jason hits a tiny bell, signaling the right answer. Well, I guess that makes sense. Mother and Dad fought us too.

Mother comes out of the study with Alex trailing behind. In her mission to feed every hungry person in the neighborhood, she fixes Michael a plate of leftover casserole while Jason and Rachel clean up their quiz bowl supplies. I yawn, sinking further into the couch. I've had a long day. History test, dance lessons, ignoring Lysander/Robbie….I've got to finish a book for English tonight and do some problems in stat and physics. I really should get up and start my homework but I'm comfortable stretched out on the cushions. We've had this couch forever, since before Jason was born, and Mother is thinking about throwing it out. I hope she doesn't. I love this old couch. She calls it my reluctance to accept change. I call it a fondness for the familiar.

Alex scrambles on to the couch and pokes me in the arm. "You have to help me finish my puzzle."

"No, I don't." I close my eyes. I could fall asleep here. That's what Dad used to do.

"But you have to!"

"I can't. I have homework."

"But you helped with the stupid shake pear project."

Crap, he's got me cornered. I open my eyes. I could procrastinate a little more but I hate doing puzzles with him. He's so slow. He has to try every side of every piece in the box. I look around for Mother to bail me out but she's back in the kitchen, warming up leftover casserole. Oh, heck. Why do I have to justify my decision anyways? I'm his big sister. I should be the one bossing him around, not vice versa. "No."

"But that's not fair!"

Haven't we covered that topic already? I don't know where he thinks that line is going to get him but it's definitely not into any sort of agreement with me.

"Kenley. Alex." Michael's watching us from Dad's armchair, "Let's keep the bickering to a minimum, okay?" He smiles weakly and any reproachful effect the statement had is lost. He's been doing this more and more lately. Mother calls it timely intervention. I call it useless interference. Mother and Dad let us bicker, why can't Michael? It's not like it's really any of his business anyways.

"She started it," Alex says. He stabs an accusing finger at me.

Thankfully, Mother chooses this exact moment to reappear, saving Michael from having to show off his pseudo-parenting skills. Despite Alex's protests, I shut myself in my room and start on physics.

A soccer player kicks a soccer ball of mass…The force of the kick is given by the following formula F(t) some horrible equation. Find the magnitude of the impulse.

Big question mark N-s. Maybe I should have agreed to do that puzzle with Alex instead.


I'm still working on physics homework when Alex pops into my room. "Shouldn't you be in bed, Beans?" I ask, producing a cloud of eraser shavings. I figure I should probably cut him off before he can build up steam.

"It's only eight-thirty!" he says, "And if you're going to make fun of me, I'm not going to tell you what I'm supposed to tell you."

He looks so gleeful at the threat that I realize it might actually be something important. "I'm not making fun of you," I say. Beans is a family nickname coined by Jason, who thought that Alex was the size of a kidney bean from looking at the ultrasound pictures. He should be thankful that we don't call him Kidney. The name's sort of stuck, like the way I'm KT and not Kenley Tristan unless Mother's upset or sentimental. And eight-thirty is getting pretty late for a seven year-old. When I was that age, Mother never let me stay up past nine. "What are you supposed to tell me?"

He looks torn for a couple seconds, debating whether or not he should lord it over me. I sigh. "Alex, I'm sorry. Would you please tell me what you're supposed to tell me?"

Brow furl. I can see the gears turning in his head. "There's some boy on the phone for you."

Oh...what? Boys never call me, unless you count David, and that's when he's hanging out with Sam and they're prank calling people. Last week a 'Mr. Pylon' called and asked if I was interested in a lifetime supply of aluminum siding. Alex shuffles off, miffed that he's relinquished his secret, and I go into the hallway and pick up the phone sitting off the hook on the end table. "Hello?"

"Hey! It's Jeremy. How are you?"

Jeremy…who's Jeremy? Whoever he is, he better not try to sell me two dozen baby elephants. "Fine. And you?"

"Good. You have Roberson for English, right? I was a slacker and forgot to write down which chapters we were supposed to read for class tomorrow. Do you know which ones they are?"

Roberson. English. Roberson. English. Maybe this person really is named Jeremy. I know so many Jeremys though…Jeremy Blackwell, Jeremy Millikan, Jeremy Li…which one is in my English class? I try picturing all my classmates in my head but the only face that flashes into my mind is the black-and-red Nathaniel Hawthorne poster on the wall. "Sorry," I manage finally, "But who are you?"

Pause. "Uh…Jeremy, Jeremy Millikan. We were lab partners in bio lab last year?"

Jeremy, Jeremy Millkan. Jeremy Millikan.

"Right," I say. My tongue feels thick and there's a sandpapery taste in my mouth. "Sorry about that. I have the world's worst memory." Suddenly, my tongue seems deflated. "I'm really bad with names and faces. Except I'm not actually looking at you right now. So forget about the faces part. Except if I were looking at you right now, your face probably wouldn't help either…" Wait, am I calling him forgettable? "…Not that there's anything wrong with your face. Your face is okay. It's pretty good actually. Not bad at all." I pause to catch my breath and the dull buzz of the phone line fills the silence between us. "So, Mrs. Roberson's class," I continue, determined to make a complete idiot of myself now that I've started down the path already, "We're supposed to finish Their Eyes Were Watching God. It's just two chapters and they shouldn't take that long, so even a slacker like you can get them done without any problem." Did I really just call him—?

"—Uh, okay."

"Thanks," I say.

"What?"

Oops, autopilot must not be working properly. "You're welcome?" Oh, wait. That's not right either. He never thanked me in the first place. "I mean…how are you?"

"Um, good?"

"Great. Bye!" My hand is shaking so I slam down the receiver before I have to listen to him hang up.


"So…" Mother says, when she comes into my room later to check on the homework progress, "How are things going?"

I mutter a response, setting up the last question in my stat homework. There is a hat containing slips of paper numbered one through twenty.

"You've been working for a while. Why don't you take a break?"

There are two such sets in the hat so that there are two slips of paper numbered one, two slips of paper numbered two, etc, for a total of forty slips of paper.

"Come and have a cup of hot chocolate with me." I glance up at the mention of one of my favorite treats. Mother smiles, "C'mon, darling, I just bought marshmallows."

Marshmallows, marshmallows, marshmallows. Ah well, in that case, homework can definitely wait. I trail her down the stairs and scramble into my usual chair at the kitchen table. Mother puts on the kettle and hands me a dish and the bag of powdery sweet goodness. I rip it open and start arranging the marshmallows in a smiley face pattern.

"Do you have a lot of homework left?"

I nod my head, mouth full. Stat and the last two chapters of Their Eyes Were Watching God.

"Hang in there. Tomorrow's Friday."

I bob my head again. Pizza and movie night.

"So…who called earlier?"

I freeze.

"Darling?"

Quickly, I pop two more marshmallows into my mouth and pretend to be engrossed in centering the smiley face. The kettle whistles and while Mother's distracted with mixing the hot chocolate, I take the opportunity to review my list of possible responses: (A) 'Jeremy Millikan' Well, that's the truth but a bit too much. Mother will probably want to know his favorite type of pie so she can make it for him. (B) 'A classmate' Hmm…that sort of reply would probably just invite more questions because I usually name the person too. (C) 'This guy' Oh, that's a bad answer on so many levels…

Mother sets two steaming mugs on to the table and settles into the chair opposite of me. She smiles at my smiley face and drops the nose marshmallow into my cup before handing it to me. "So who was that on the phone?"

"Jermilin," I say through a mouthful of scalding liquid.

Mother takes a sip of her hot chocolate. "And who is he?"

A guy in my bio class last year, who has two dimples in his left cheek, likes NASCAR and salt-and-vinegar potato chips. He writes in the neatest, loopy cursive I've ever seen, and wakes up at five-twenty every morning to walk his two German shepherds, Blitz and Blinkers. "A classmate."

Mother takes another sip but she's still watching me.

"He'sjustthisguy," I mumble before stuffing another marshmallow into my mouth.

Eyebrow. "And what was he calling about?"

"Something about the English assignment for tomorrow."

"So he's in your English class?"

Is he? I'm not entirely sure. I know Nathaniel Hawthorne is though.

"Ah," Mother says.

I shrug. I sit in the very back of the classroom. There are only two eleventh grade English teachers. The chance of him having Mrs. Roberson is pretty high. "I think we have the same teacher but are in different class periods."

"Ah," Mother says again, "So he isn't in your class, is he?"

I squirm. I can't help it. I know I'm lobster red and the fact that she's still watching me isn't helping. "I've got a ton of homework left," I fumble.

She smiles but lets me go. Back in my room, I set my hot chocolate down on my desk and reach for my pencil again.

Given that your friend drew a seven, without replacing the slip of paper, what is the probability that you also draw a seven?


4/14/08:

Bonus brownie points to the person who can solve the probability question KT is working on at the end of the chapter!

(1) Snippet readers:

Uh, next bullet point, please?

Okay, okay. It's been a year. Time to admit the truth: I have no idea what is going on. The next chapter is half written and I have the rest of the story planned out but whenever I work on Snippets, I want to work on Take Two. This story has been demanding my attention more. I think I need to figure out KT's past before I feel okay about letting her go to David. So…I'm not scrapping Snippets. I'm just putting it on hold until I finish this.

Just as a side note, some things won't follow Snippets. KT is no longer a chem. geek and I've cut out a few of her siblings (yay, less characters!)

(2) Anonymous readers (Nel & A Reader Peep):

It's cool that you guys left me reviews. It's even cooler that you guys are Snippet readers. But there's no review reply option for you guys so I thought I would just say thanks here. A Reader Peep—how KT ends up at AVIT will be explained in the story.