Look at us. A family of four. Seated around the dinner table. Someone asks: "Pass the couscous." The son. The younger of the two children, he has a mop of sandy blond hair the girls in his class find excuses to touch. The older sister pretends to spit in the couscous before she slides it over to him. He rolls his eyes. The parents don't notice. They're unusually quiet tonight. Mom is at one end of the table, Dad at the other. Here we are. We do this every night. We eat our dinner together. Isn't it perfect? Aren't we the perfect family?
Now look more closely. The mother also has that sandy blond hair, although hers is tied back in a loose ponytail, and let's face it: she probably could be more attentive to those split ends. The father doesn't have much hair to speak of and what he does have is darker, but the pictures in the hallway reveal that he was once a fair-haired boy with a suspicious glare for the camera.
Now look at the older sister. The differences don't stop at the hair. I have olive skin and almond eyes. I don't have the father's dimpled chin. I don't have the mother's husky voice. I'm a whiz in math. I can fold my tongue into the shape of a U. Did you know that the ability to do that is hereditary? No one else in my family can do that.
This is where we are all sitting, at the dining room table, eating Dad's Moroccan chicken with couscous, when my mother puts down her fork, fixes me with one of her looks, and says, "Rivka called. She wants to meet you."
Let's back up. Let me tell you about my day. When I was really little my parents used to start every morning by saying, "Let me tell you about your day." They'd go through every detail: "And then you are going to read some books, then you are going to have a nap, then Daddy's going to take you to the park to play with Cleo, then we're going to eat dinner . . ." Not exactly riveting information, but they said I had a problem with control and that I needed to feel like not every decision was being made for me. By the way, you'll notice that every decision was indeed being made for me, and telling me about these decisions wasn't giving me any real control over them, only the illusion that I had control over them. Which is kind of sneaky. Anyway. Let me tell you about my day and what preceded the Moroccan chicken and couscous and my parents dropping the bomb of Rivka on me.
School started last week. So you can probably imagine what it's like. There's a feeling like the year can go any way you want it to: teachers don't know you yet, your clothes are new, your hair is freshly cut and styled, and also Cleo's boobs got really big over the summer. I had suspected this all summer long and mentioned it to her on more than one occasion, but you know how it is hard to notice changes when they're happening right in front of you. So when we got back to school and a few of our other friends said something to her, she started to realize that maybe it really was true and maybe she should actually go to one of those old, heavily perfumed ladies in the women's intimates department at Filene's and get herself measured for a new bra because, as I mentioned, I'm pretty good at math, which includes geometry, and I can tell you with confidence that she is no longer a 32B. And then today Conor Spence, who's a total jerko jock but is also kind of hot if you like guys like that, which neither of us does, stopped and said, "Nice tits, Warner" to Cleo as we walked by him in the hallway, and she was totally mortified but also, I imagine, a little bit thrilled.
So after Cleo's boobs literally stopped traffic, we went to English, which is the only class we have together this semester. We've been friends since our diaper days. Her mom, Jules, and my dad met at the playground pushing us in those little bucket swings. They were both home with babies, bored out of their minds. They started to get together a couple of times a week and throw us on a blanket on the floor with some bright plastic toys we weren't supposed to choke on, although once I somehow managed to anyway. This is what they called a play date. And just in case you are getting any weird ideas about Cleo's mom and my dad, nothing ever happened there. Jules became great friends with Mom too, even though Mom was always working and not around for those mind-numbing afternoons of baby care. Jules would come over with Cleo for dinner whenever Cleo's dad was working late or out of town. But they never got together as couples because Dad and Mom never liked Edward. Eventually Jules had to admit that she didn't like him either, and when Cleo was five they got divorced. He moved to Scottsdale, remarried, and has two young kids. Cleo hasn't seen him since three Christmases ago.
In English class we're reading The Great Gatsby. I didn't read the chapters last night because . . . well, I guess I don't really have a good excuse other than laziness and my brother bursting in and out of my room to ask questions about his homework. I knew what he really wanted was to pump me for information about upper school, not about Algebra 1. Jake just made the gargantuan leap from the lower school to the upper school campus. It's an entirely new social order, and Jake is trying to figure out the food chain. All the people he's heard me talk about on the phone or with Cleo when she's over are suddenly flesh and blood to him. So he wanted to know if Stephanie Stark was that fat when she was going out with Mike Pine or whether her ballooning