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Vitamin R

Well if they’re making it (making it) Then they’re pushing it (pushing it)

—Chevelle

 

 

“CHEESE!”

 

A strobe of red followed by a flash of bright white, hopefully bouncing off my teeth and sparkling in my eyes. I tried not to giggle.

 

“That’s it, everyone,” the school photographer announced with a smile.

 

Everyone on the school literary magazine fell forward, now released from our pose. We were all giddy from just having put the spring issue of Veritas to rest. Even Will, who just designed the cover, had smiled unexpectedly for the camera. And Meera had actually dressed up. Sort of.

 

“Congratulations, everyone,” Mrs. Tildenhurst said. She put her arm around me and gave me a special squeeze. “I am so sorry you’re not going to be with us next year, Thyme. You did such wonderful work.”

 

I blushed a little and felt genuinely bad. “Sorry, I just don’t have the time. I think I should concentrate on my strengths my senior year—and unfortunately they just don’t include anything of literary merit.” Besides, I had been on the magazine for three years now, and junior year extra-curries counted more than senior for college applications. Or so the legend went.

 

Tildenhurst gave me an odd look. “That’s a funny thing for someone so young to say. Don’t you think it’s a little early to write off—pardon the pun—poetry and fiction and journaling?”

 

“I guess I just know my own limitations,” I said self-deprecatingly, winding down our conversation. She was going to be my AP teacher next year, anyway—we’d have more chances to talk then. And I was anxious to get back to the group. They were talking about going to a movie and I didn’t want to miss out. They were the closest thing to a clique I had.

 

All of Ashbury High is divided into three main groups: the rich kids, the jocks, and The Twenty—my nickname for the approximately twenty most overachieving, good-school-bound juniors. They were a social force to be reckoned with, no matter how nerdy. Less important socially (in order) are the partyers, the stoners, the do-gooders, the geeks and freaks.

 

I was just barely in The Twenty possibly GPA #19 or 20 itself, but I was in. In the overinflated world of AP grades and extra credit, staying in the top 10 percent is pretty fricking difficult. But if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t really have had any place in the school hierarchy. I’d be even more of a no one. I sucked at sports, was financially middle class (no matter how upper), never got invited to the good parties, and my interests (making beaded jewelry, e.g.) had no bragging rights among my peers. Nor did they look good on college applications. They were personal. I was personal. Even a little introverted, some might say.

 

So the people in Veritas, the French Club, Model U.N., and everything else were the closest thing I had to a social scene.

“Hey, what are we doing?” I asked, bouncing up to Kevin, the current head of The Twenty. I had thought he was cute for about one marking period, but constant competition doesn’t really do much for sexual attraction.

 

“Oh, I don’t know,” he sighed, rolling his eyes. “I think we’re going to see that action-thriller thing Sonia’s cousin is in. Either that or The Life Aquatic.”

 

Well, that first one sounded kind of exciting. Even if the movie sucked, we would sort of know someone in the credits.

“What are they doing here?” someone else asked—GPA #5, as a matter of fact—indicating the door with a similar roll of her eyes.

 

Lida and Suze, my peeps from the hood and my oldest friends, had finally shown up. I had invited them along to whatever everyone decided to do after the meeting. We did almost everything together, but somehow didn’t come across as the Charlie’s Angels trio we should have been.

 

I was the natural blonde, though it had a hint of red from some Irish somewhere back on my mom’s side. Light skin, freckles, blue eyes, pixie nose. Unfortunately, rather than being the bombshell blonde, I looked adorable in a baseball cap with a ponytail sticking out the back. Maybe that would change someday when I grew breasts.

 

Suze was the really beautiful one, theatrical and dark-haired, with very light brown eyes and perfect red lips. HUGE knockers. And she had this aura that made everything she did sparklier and brighter than anything else in the room (I’m immune through long, repeated exposure). She never stopped moving, pouting, posing. Her teeth were very white.

 

Lida (rhymes with weed-a, perfect for her current incarnation as perpetually mellow chronic) had large, wide-set eyes and long black lashes that made her always look sleepy, cool, or sarcastic. Under her lids her irises were a very dark blue. Hers was the only hair that didn’t need all kinds of crap to give it volume: large, wavy curls that could look elegant pinned up if she gave a rat’s ass and didn’t have the thread-wrapped-with-cowrie things going on. She was a littleheavier than Suze and me, but not fat; sort of this Earth Goddess Mother shape which low-slung jeans and camo pants always emphasized.

 

(Dave was also there, an arm around Lida with his hand in her back pocket. Even Suze and I couldn’t tell if they were actually dating—or if he was just her dealer. Since he was funny and game for anything, we never really objected to his presence.)

 

The three of them … didn’t really fit in here. Lida could have been in with the rich kids but opted out for the stoners. Suze … uh … Suze liked boys. Which did nothing to increase her popularity as a whole. None of them was in The Twenty.

 

But I didn’t think it would really matter. “I invited them,” I said, trying not to sound defensive. “They’re cool.” “This was supposed to be a Veritas-only thing,” Kevin said, a little nasally. “There’s no room in the cars.”

 

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Kevin, do you know how retarded you sound?” Will said, coming to my rescue. “I’ll drive them.”

 

Kevin huffed, “Whatever,” while sort of flouncing away. “Hey thanks,” I murmured, giving the thumbs-up to Lida and Suze. Lida thumbed me back. Suze didn’t notice, too busy frowning over a couple of bills in her hand, making sure she had enough for the movie. Like many of the wealthier kids in Ashbury her allowance was generous—bordering on the unlimited—but restricted to the AmEx card that piggybacked on her dad’s so he could see her every expenditure. Cash was a dying commodity among my friends, in some ways more valuable because of the untraceable things they could buy. In Susan’s case, cigarettes, birth control pills, and R-rated movies.

 

“No problem,” Will answered back with a smile. He was one of those rare people who managed to remain an individual entity without being relegated to freak status. We’d known each other since kindergarten, before all the social divisions began. His mom was white and his dad was Dominican (I can’t tell you what that meant when they first moved to Ashbury but my parents sure could), and he somehow wound up looking like a taller than average Mayan: aquiline nose, blunt proportions, dark hair, clear coffee skin.

 

“But, could you carry my shit for me?” he asked, indicating his notebook and my bag.

 

“Of course,” I sighed. Everything was a negotiation. Nothing was free.

 

On the way home, I slumped in the front seat, thinking about the movie.

 

“I don’t think I get it,” I finally admitted aloud. “I liked the fish and the weird music, but I don’t really get what the point of the whole movie was. I mean, the guy goes to kill the shark that killed his friend, but doesn’t and then like his son shows up out of nowhere, and he dies…. Wasn’t that kind of random?”

 

To be fair, I often have trouble getting into a movie, or “suspending my disbelief” for more than a minute at a time. I can never concentrate properly and my thoughts begin to wander. Sometimes I miss entire plot points (ditto for lectures, homework reading, class discussion …).

 

“Wait, what shark?” Suze piped up from the back. Then again, compared to Suze, I’m like a virtual total-recall.

 

“The shark he was going to get revenge on for killing his friend,” Will explained patiently, both hands on the wheel as we gracefully turned a curve. “The big thing at the end? The whole reason for the expedition?”

 

“Oh.” I could hear the confused pout in her voice. “I sort of missed the end. There was this really cute guy from Lewis next to me.”

 

“And you were what, too busy sharing popcorn?” I muttered, just low enough for Will to hear. I had actually considered getting up and going to the bathroom at one point just so I could move seats. Did Suze have to be so loud when she flirted?

 

Will smiled.

 

Lida gave a distinctly unfeminine snore and turned over in the back next to Suze. She was in the sleepy stage of being stoned, smiling and comfortable and completely oblivious.

 

“Well, think about what wasn’t there,” Will pointed out after a moment. “We never saw or heard the editor who got Cate Blanchett pregnant. We never actually saw Steve’s friend who died, except in a video flashback. We never see his dad. And we’re told that there’s no way he could even have had a son.”

 

“So?” I asked half defensively, half curiously. Who thought about what wasn’t in a movie?

 

“So … did you notice that no one was upset when Owen Wilson died? It was almost like Steve’s son never really existed, he was just a figment of everyone’s imagination. So he’s like all the others … all different aspects of being a father, or the stages of a man’s life. The guy who helps conceive a baby, the son, the father figure, the adult friend. The movie was all about how Steve Zissou was trapped as a sort of teen who never wants to grow up. At the end, when he picks up Willem Dafoe’s nephew, it shows he’s finally matured a little, ready to be more of a father figure.” I thought about what he said. It was hard. The thinking, I mean. But as I walked my way mentally through the movie, it all fit.

 

I never got stuff like that. My essays for English were badly labored attempts at finding subtext and figuring out what the author was implying—where all I really found was plot. Let’s face it. I wasn’t really Twenty material.

 

I looked out the window at the woods beyond the pavement. Thinner and thinner every year, as a new strip mall or condo development or whatever went up. But for now you still couldn’t see to the other side; just trees mixing with the dark sky until everything was blurred and black in the distance, no lights puncturing it.

 

My house was first and I was glad to jump out, still depressed that I had missed the whole point of the movie and sort of embarrassed that Will had done us the favor of driving us home. I slammed the door before Suze or Lida could suggest we hang out afterward, and went around the SUV to the driver’s side. Will unrolled the window to talk to me. It was all extremely grown-up. Weird.

 

“Hey uh, thanks,” I said, trying not to bite my lip, looking him in the eye. I used every possible chance to practice for college interviews, to shed the shy teenager thing in favor of something brighter and more, well, acceptable. I couldn’t help playing with my necklace, though, a dangly tasseled beaded affair, the last one I made before junior year began.

“No problem.” He gave a soft smile and rolled his eyes again; he knew just exactly how nice he was for driving all of us. I wish I could have offered something in return, like a latte or a study session. I hate hanging debts. “See you Monday.”

The window hummed up, sealing the occupants of the giant space vehicle, and it rumbled off into the night. Our street was one of the older ones, dark, and it felt extremely lonely as they pulled away, like they were stranding me on an empty planet. Once they were gone, silence descended. Not even crickets.

 

Finally I turned around and went in.

 

“Thyme!”

 

The front door opened and my mother’s voice hit me at the same time as the blast of brightness and heat from the house, somehow unwelcome even after the black chilliness of the spring night. Oh, and yes, my name is Thyme. As in Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and. It’s the name of an expensive restaurant They used to go to in the city. They joked: After I was born, They couldn’t afford to go to a place like that for a long time, and wanted to commemorate it. They also liked to joke that I’m the most beloved mistake in the world. Pretty hilarious parents, no?

 

“How was the movie?”

 

My mom is one of those people who stays dressed right until bed. Her hair remains as neat and flat as it was in the morning, her makeup retouched if necessary, gold watch, triple strand of pearls, even socks and shoes remain in place until she “turns in for the night. ...

 

 

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