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Queen of Babble

Clothing. Why do we wear it? Many people believe that we
wear clothing out of modesty. In ancient civilizations, however,
clothing was developed not to cover our private parts from view,
but merely to keep the body warm. In other cultures, clothing was
thought to protect its wearers from magic, while in still others,
clothing served merely ornamental or display
can't believe this. I can't believe I don't remember what he looks
like! How can I not remember what he looks like? I mean,
his tongue has been in my mouth. How could I forget what
someone whose tongue has been in my mouth looks like? It's
not like there've been that many guys who've had their tongues in
my mouth. Only, like, three.
one of those was in high school. And the other one turned out to be
that is so depressing. Okay, I'm not going to think about that
right now.
isn't like it's been THAT long since I last saw him. It was just
three months ago! You would think I'd remember what someone I've
been dating for THREE MONTHS looks like.
if, you know, for most of those three months, we've been in
separate countries.
Still. I have his photo.
Well, okay, you can't really see his face in it. Actually, you
can't see his face at all, since it's a photo of his --- oh,
God--naked ass.
would anyone send someone something like that? I didn't ask for a
photo of his naked ass. Was it supposed to be erotic? Because it so
Maybe that's just me,
though. Shari's right, I've got to stop being so
was just so shocking to find it in my inbox, a big photo of my
boyfriend's naked ass.
okay, I know they were just goofing around, he and his friends. And
I know Shari says it's a cultural thing, and that the British are
much less sensitive about nudity than most Americans, and that we
should strive as a culture to be more open and carefree, like they
that he probably thought, like most men do, that his ass is his
best feature.
Okay, I'm not going to
think about that right now. Stop thinking about my boyfriend's ass.
Instead, I'm going to look for him. He has to be here somewhere, he
swore he'd be here to pick me up--
my God, that can't be him, can it? No, of course it's not. Why
would he be wearing a jacket like that? Why would ANYONE be wearing
a jacket like that? Unless they're being ironic. Or Michael
Jackson, of course. He is the only man I could think of who would
wear red leather with epaulets. Who isn't a professional
CAN'T be him. Oh, please God, don't let that be him....
no, he's looking this way...he's looking this way! Look down, look
down, don't make eye contact with the guy in the red leather jacket
with the epaulets. I'm sure he's a very nice man, it's a shame
about his having to shop for coats from the 1980s at the Salvation
I don't want him to know I was looking at him, he might think I
like him, or something.
it's not that I'm prejudiced against homeless people, I'm not, I
know all about how many of us are really only a few paychecks away
from being homeless ourselves. Some of us, in fact, are less than a
paycheck away from being homeless. Some of us, in fact, are so
broke that we still live with our parents.
I'm not going to think about all that right now.
thing is, I just don't want Andrew to get here and find me talking
to some homeless guy in a red leather breakdancing jacket. I mean,
that is so not the first impression I want to give. Not that, you
know, it will be his FIRST impression of me, since we've been
dating for three months, and all. But it will be the first
impression he'll have of the New Me, the me he hasn't met
Okay. Okay, it's safe, he's
not looking anymore.
God, this is awful, I can't believe this is how they welcome people
to their country. Herding us down this walkway with all these
people LOOKING at us....I feel like I'm personally disappointing
each and every one of them by not being the person they're waiting
for. This is a very unkind thing to do to people who just sat on a
plane for six hours, eight in my case if you count the flight from
Ann Arbor to New York. Ten if you count the two-hour layover at
Wait. Was Red Breakdancing
Jacket just checking me out?
my God, he WAS! Red leather jacket with the epaulets totally
checked me out!
God, this is so embarrassing. It's my underwear, I KNOW it. How
could he tell? That I'm not wearing any, I mean? It's true I don't
have any visible panty lines, but for all he knows, I could be
wearing a thong. I SHOULD have worn a thong. Shari was
it's so uncomfortable when they go up your--
KNEW I shouldn't have picked a dress this tight to get off the
plane in --- even if I did personally modify it by hemming the
skirt to above the knee, so I'm not hobbled by it.
for one thing, I'm freezing --- how can it be this cold in
for another, this silk is particularly clingy, so there's the whole
panty line thing.
Still, everyone back at the
shop said I look great in it...though I wouldn't have thought a
Mandarin dress--even a vintage one--would actually work on me,
seeing as how I'm Caucasian, and all.
I want to look good, since he hasn't seen me in so long, and
I did lose those thirty pounds, and you wouldn't be able to tell
I'd lost all that weight if I got off the plane in sweats. Isn't
that always what celebrities are wearing when they show up on Us
's "What Were They Thinking?" page? You know, when they
get off a plane in sweats and last year's Uggs, with their hair all
crazy? If you are going to be a celebrity, you need to LOOK like a
celebrity, even when you're getting off a plane.
that I'm a celebrity, but I still want to look good. I went to all
this trouble, I haven't had so much as a crumb of bread for three
months, and ---
Wait. What if he doesn't
recognize me? Seriously. I mean, I did lose thirty pounds, and with
my new haircut, and all ---
God, could he be here and not recognize me? Did I already walk
right by him? Should I turn around and go back down that walkway
thingie and look for him? But I'll seem like such an idiot. What do
I do? Oh, my God, this is so not fair, I just wanted to look good
for him, not be stranded in a foreign country because I look so
different my own boyfriend doesn't recognize me! What if he thinks
I haven't shown up and just goes home? I don't have any money ---
well, twelve hundred bucks, but that has to last me until my flight
home at the end of the month ---
want from me?
if he's part of some kind of airport white slavery ring? What if he
hangs out here all the time looking for naïve young tourists
from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to kidnap and send to Saudi Arabia to be
some sheik's seventeenth bride? I read a book where that happened
once...although I have to say the girl seemed to really enjoy it.
But only because at the end the sheik divorced all his other wives
and just kept her, because she was so pure, and yet so good in the
what if he just holds girls for ransom, instead of selling them?
Except that I am so not rich! I know this dress looks expensive,
but I got it at Vintage to Vavoom for twelve dollars (with my
employee discount)!
my dad doesn't have any money. He works at a cyclotron, for crying
out loud!
what is this booth? Meet Your Party. Oh, great! Customer
service! That's what I'll do! I'll have Andrew paged. And that way,
if he's here, he can come find me. And I'll be safe from the Red
Leather Breakdancing Jacket, he won't dare kidnap me and send me to
Saudi Arabia in front of the pager guy ---
"Hullo, love, you look
lost. What can I do for you, then?"
the booth guy is so nice! And such a cute accent! Although that tie
was an unfortunate choice.
I'm Lizzie Nichols," I say. "I'm supposed to be being picked up by
my boyfriend, Andrew Marshall. Only he doesn't seem to be here,
"Want me to page him for
you, then?"
Yes, please, would you? Because there's a guy following me, see him
over there? I think he might be homeless, or a kidnapper, or the
operator of a white slavery ring--"
"Which one?"I
don't want to point, but I do feel I have a duty, you know, to
report Red Leather Breakdancing Jacket to the authorities, or at
least to the Meet Your Party booth attendant, because he DOES look
very odd in that jacket, and he IS still staring at me, really
rudely, or at least suggestively, like he still wants to kidnap
"Over there," I say,
nodding my head towards Red Leather Breakdancing Jacket. "That one
in the hideous jacket with the epaulets. See him? The one staring
at us."
right." The Meet Your Party booth attendant nods. "Right. Very
menacing. Hold on, then, I'll have your boyfriend over here, giving
that git the thrashing he so richly deserves, in a second. ANDREW
THE MEET YOUR PARTY BOOTH. There? How was that?"
that was great," I say, encouragingly, because I feel a little
sorry for him. I mean, it must be hard to sit in a booth all day,
yelling over a loudspeaker. "That was really--"
"Liz?"Andrew! At last!Only
when I turn around, it's Red Leather Breakdancing
Except.Except that it WAS Andrew,
all along.
I just didn't recognize him, because I was distracted by the
jacket--the most hideous jacket I've ever seen. Plus he seems to
have had his hair cut. Not very flatteringly.
of menacingly, in fact.
"Oh," I say. It is
extremely difficult to hide my confusion. And dismay. "Andrew.
Behind the glass of the
Meet Your Party booth, the attendant bursts into very, very loud
I realize, with a pang, that I've done it.


The first woven material
was made of vegetable fibers such as bark, cotton, and hemp. Animal
fibers were not employed until the Neolithic period, by cultures
who --- unlike their nomadic ancestors --were able to establish
stable communities, near which sheep could graze, and in which
looms could be constructed.contests/Nevertheless, the Ancient
Egyptian refused to wear wool until after the Alexandrian conquest,
obviously citing its itchiness in warm climates.

History of Fashioncontests/Senior Thesis by Elizabeth


isn't scandal and it's not merely malicious

It's chatter about the human race by lovers of the same.

Phyllis McGinley (1905–1978), U.S. poet,

Two Days Earlier Back in
Ann Arbor

(or maybe three days --- wait, what time is it in

"You're compromising your
feminist principles." That's what Shari keeps saying.

"Stop it," I say.contests/"Seriously. It's not like you. Ever since
you met this guy--"

"Shari, I love him. Why is it wrong that I want to be with the
person I love?"

"It's not wrong to want to be with him," Shari says. "It's wrong to
put your own career on hold while you wait for him to finish his

"And what career would that be, Shar?" I can't believe I'm even
having this conversation. Again.

Also that she would station herself next to the chips and dip like
this when she knows perfectly well I'm still trying to lose five
more pounds.contests/Oh, well. At least she's wearing the 50s black
and white Mexican swing skirt I picked out for her at the shop,
even though she claimed it made her butt look too big. It so
doesn't. Except maybe in a good way.

"You know," Shari says. "The career you could have, if you would
just move to New York with me when you get back from England,
instead of--"

"I told you, I'm not arguing with you about this today," I say.
"It's my graduation party, Shar. Can't you let me enjoy it?"

"No," Shari says. "Because you're being an ass, and you know

Shari's boyfriend, Chaz, comes over to us and scoops up some onion
dip with a barbecue-flavored potato chip.contests/Mmmm.
Barbecue-flavored potato chips. Maybe if I just had one....

"What's Lizzie being an ass about now?" he asks,
chewing.contests/But you can never have just one barbecue-flavored
potato chip. Never.

Chaz is tall and lanky. I bet he's never had to lose five more
pounds before in his entire life. He even has to wear a belt to
hold up his Levi's. It's a mesh leather weave. But on him, mesh
leather works.contests/What doesn't work, of course, is the
University of Michigan baseball cap. But I have never successfully
managed to convince him that baseball caps, as an accessory, are
wrong on everyone. Except children and actual baseball

"She still plans to stay here after she gets back from England,"
Shari explains, plunging a chip of her own into the dip. "Instead
of moving to New York with us to start her real life."

Shari doesn't have to watch what she eats, either. She's always had
a naturally fast metabolism. When we were kids, her school sack
lunches consisted of three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a
pack of Oreo cookies, and she never gained an ounce. My lunches? A
hard boiled egg, a single orange, and a chicken leg. And I was the
blimp. Oh, yes.contests/"Shari," I say. "I have a real life here.
I've got a place to stay--"

"With your parents!"

" --- and a job I love--"

"As an assistant manager of a vintage clothing store. That's not a

"I told you," I say, for what has to be the nine hundredth time.
"I'm going to live here and save my money. Then Andrew and I are
moving to New York after he gets his masters. It's just one more

"Who's Andrew, again?" Chaz wants to know. And Shari hits him in
the shoulder.

"Ow," Chaz says.contests/"You remember," Shari says. "The R.A. at
McCracken Hall. The grad student. The one Lizzie hasn't stopped
talking about all summer."

"Oh, right, Andy. The British guy. The one who was running the
illegal poker ring on the seventh floor."

I burst out laughing. "That's not Andrew! He doesn't gamble.
He's studying to be an educator of youth, so that he can preserve
our most precious resource...the next generation."

"The guy who sent you the photo of his naked ass?"

I gasp. "Shari, you told him about that?"

"I wanted a guy's perspective," Shari says, with a shrug. "You
know, to see if he had any insights into what kind of individual
would do something like that."

Coming from Shari, who'd been a psych major, this is actually a
fairly reasonable explanation. I look at Chaz questioningly. He has
lots of insights into lots of things --- how many times around
Palmer Field make a mile (four--which I needed to know back when I
was walking it every day to lose weight); what the number 33 on the
inside of the Rolling Rock bottle means; why so many guys seem to
think man-pris are actually flattering...

But Chaz shrugs, too. "I was unable to be of any aid," he says,
"not ever having taken a photo of my bare ass before."

"Andrew didn't take a photo of his own ass," I say. "His friends
took it."

"How homoerotic," Chaz comments. "Why do you call him Andrew when
everybody else calls him Andy?"

"Because Andy is a jock name," I say. "And Andrew isn't a jock.
He's getting a masters in education. Someday, he'll be teaching
children to read. Could there be a more important job in the whole
entire world than that? And he's not gay. I checked this

Chaz's eyebrows go up. "You checked? How? Wait...I don't
want to know."

"She just likes pretending he's Prince Andrew," Shari says.
"Um, so where was I?"

"Lizzie's being an ass," Chaz helpfully supplies. "So, wait. How
long's it been since you saw this guy? Three months?"

"About that," I say.

"Man," Chaz says, shaking his head. "There is going to be some
major bone-jumping when you step off that plane tomorrow."

"Andrew isn't like that," I say, warmly. "He's a romantic. He'll
probably want to let me get acclimated and recover from my jet lag
in his king-sized bed and thousand thread count sheets. He'll bring
me breakfast in bed --- a cute English breakfast with...Englishy
stuff on it."

"Like stewed tomatoes?" Chaz asks, with feigned
innocence.contests/"Nice try," I say. "But Andrew knows I don't
tomatoes. He asked in his last email if there are any foods I
dislike, and I filled him in on the tomato thing."

"You better hope breakfast isn't all he brings you in bed," Shari
says, darkly. "Otherwise, what is the point of traveling halfway
around the world to see him?"

That's the problem with Shari. She's so unromantic. I'm really
surprised she and Chaz have gone out as long as they have. I mean,
two years is really a record for her.

Then again, as she likes to assure me, their attraction is almost
purely physical, Chaz having just gotten his masters in philosophy,
and thus, in Shari's opinion, being virtually
unemployable.contests/"So what would even be the point of hoping
for a future with him?" she often asks me. "I mean, eventually
he'll start to feel inadequate --- even though he's got his trust
fund, of course--and consequently suffer from performance anxiety
in the bedroom. So I'll just keep him around as a boy toy for now,
while he can still get it up."

Shari is very practical in this way.contests/"I still don't get why
you're going all the way to England to see him," Chaz says. "I
mean, a guy you haven't even slept with yet, who obviously doesn't
know you very well if he isn't aware of your aversion to tomatoes
and thinks you'd enjoy seeing a photograph of anyone's naked

"You know perfectly well why," Shari says. "It's his

"Who saved whose life?"
Angelo, my brother-in-law, mosies over, having discovered the

"Lizzie's new boyfriend," Shari says.contests/"Lizzie's got a new
boyfriend?" Angelo, I can tell, is trying to cut back on his carbs.
He's only dipping celery sticks. Maybe he's on South Beach to
control his belly fat, which is not enhanced by the white polyester
shirt he is wearing. Why won't he listen to me, and stick to
natural fibers? "How did I not hear about this? The LBS must be on
the fritz."

"LBS?" Chaz echoes, his dark eyebrows raised.

"Lizzie Broadcasting System," Shari explains to him. "Where have
you been?"

"Oh, right," Chaz says, and swigs his beer.

"I told Rose all about it," I say, glaring at all three of them.
Someday I'm going to get my sister Rose back for that Lizzie
Broadcasting System thing. It was funny when we were kids, but I'm
twenty-two now! "Didn't she tell you, Ange?"

Angelo looks confused. "Tell me what?"

I sigh. "This freshman on the second floor let her potpourri boil
over on her illegal hot plate and the hall filled with smoke and
they had to evacuate," I explain.contests/I am always eager to
relate the story of how Andrew and I met. Because it's super
romantic. Someday, when Andrew and I are married and live in a
ramshackle and tomato-free Victorian in Westport, Connecticut, with
our golden retriever Rolly and our four kids, Andrew Junior, Henry,
Stella, and Beatrice, and I'm a famous --- well, whatever I'm going
to be--and Andrew's the headmaster at a nearby boys' school,
teaching children to read, and I get interviewed in Vogue,
I'll be able to tell this story --- looking funky yet fabulous in
vintage Chanel from head to toe--while laughingly serving a perfect
cup of French roast to the reporter on my back porch, which will be
decorated entirely in tasteful white wicker and
chintz.contests/"Well, I was taking a shower," I go on, "so I
didn't smell the smoke or hear the alarm going off or anything.
Until Andrew came into the girls' bathroom and yelled
'Fire!' and--"

"Is it true the girls' bathrooms in McCracken Hall have gang
showers?" Angelo wants to know.contests/"It's true," Chaz informs
him, conversationally. "They all have to shower together. Sometimes
they soap each other's backs while gossiping about their girlish
hijinks from the night before."

Angelo stares at Chaz, bug-eyed. "Are you shitting me?"

"Don't pay any attention to him, Angelo," Shari says, going for
another chip. "He's making it up."

"That kind of thing happens all the time on Beverly Hills
," Angelo says.

"We didn't shower all together," I say. "I mean, Shari and I did,

"Tell us more about that, please," Chaz says, opening a new beer
with the church key my mom had provided near the cooler.

"Don't," Shari says. "You'll just encourage him."

"Which bits were you washing when he came in?" Chaz wants to know.
"And was there another girl with you at the time? Which bits was
she washing? Or was she helping to wash your
bits?"contests/"No," I say. "It was just me. And, naturally, when I
saw a guy in the girls' shower, I screamed."

"Oh, naturally," Chaz said.contests/"So I grabbed a towel and this
guy --- I couldn't really see him all that well through the steam
and the smoke and all --- goes, in the cutest British accent you
ever heard, 'Miss, the building's on fire. I'm afraid you'll have
to evacuate.'"

"So, wait," Angelo says. "This dude saw you in the

"So by then the halls were
all smoky and I couldn't see, so he took my hand and guided me down
the stairs and outside to safety, where we struck up a conversation
--- me, in my towel, and everything. And that's when I realized he
was the love of my life."

"Based on one conversation," Chaz says, sounding skeptical. But
then, having a philosophy masters degree, he is skeptical about
everything. They train them to be that way.

"Well," I say. "We made out the rest of the night, too. That's how
I know he's not gay. I mean, he got a full stiffy."

Chaz choked a little on his beer.

"So, anyway," I say, trying to steer the conversation back on
track. "We made out all night. But then he had to leave the next
day for England, because the semester was over--"

" --- and now, since Lizzie's finally done with school, she's
flying to London to spend the rest of the summer with him," Shari
finishes for me. "Then coming back here to rot, just like

"Come on, Shar," I interrupt, quickly. "You promised."

She just grimaces at me.contests/"Listen, Liz," Chaz says, and
reaches for another beer. "I know this guy's the love of your life,
and all. But you have all next semester to be with him. Are you
sure you don't want to come to France with us for the rest of the

"Don't bother, Chaz," Shari says. "I already asked her eighty
million times."

"Did you mention we're staying in a seventeenth century French
chateau with its own vineyard, perched on a hilltop overlooking a
lush green valley through which snakes a long and lazy river?" Chaz
wants to know.

"Shari told me," I say. "And it's sweet of you to ask. Even if
you're not exactly in a position to be inviting people, because
doesn't the chateau belong to one of your friends from that prep
school you went to, and not you?"

"A trifling detail," Chaz says. "Luke would love to have

"Ha," Shari says. "I'll say. More slave labor for his amateur
wedding franchise."

"What're they talking about?" Angelo asks me, looking

"Chaz's childhood friend from prep school, Luke," I explain to him,
"has an ancestral home in France, which his father rents out during
the summer sometimes as a destination wedding spot. Shari and Chaz
are leaving tomorrow to spend a month at the chateau for free, in
exchange for helping out at the weddings."

"Destination wedding spot," Angelo echoes. "You mean like

"Right," Shari says. "Only tasteful. And it costs more than one
ninety-nine to get there. And there's no free breakfast

Angelo looks shocked. "Then what's the point?"

Someone tugs on the skirt of my dress, and I look down. My sister
Rose's first born, Maggie, holds up a necklace made of

"Aunt Lizzie," she says. "For you. I made it. For your

"Why, thank you, Maggie," I say, kneeling down so that Maggie can
drop the necklace over my head.

"The paint's not dry," Maggie says, pointing to the red and blue
splotches of paint that have now been transferred from the macaroni
to the front of my 1954 Suzy Perette rose silk party dress (which
wasn't cheap, even with my employee discount).contests/"That's
okay, Mags," I say. Because, after all, she's only four. "It's

"There you are!" Grandma Nichols teeters towards us. "I've been
looking for you everywhere, Anne-Marie. It's time for Dr.

"Grandma," I say, straightening up to grasp her spool-thin arm
before she can topple over. I see that she has already managed to
spill something all down the green crepe de chine 1960s tunic top I
got her at the shop. Fortunately the paint stains from the macaroni
necklace Maggie made for her are somewhat hiding the stain. "It's
Lizzie. Not Anne-Marie. Mom's over by the dessert table. And what
have you been drinking?"contests/I seize the Heineken bottle in
Grandma's hand and smell its contents. It should, by prior
agreement with the rest of my family, have been filled with
non-alcoholic beer, then re-sealed, due to Grandma Nichols's
inability to hold her liquor, which has resulted in what my mom
likes to call 'incidents.' Mom was hoping to forego any 'incidents'
at my graduation party by letting Grandma have only non-alcoholic
beer --- but not telling her it was non-alcoholic, of course.
Because then she would have raised a fuss, telling us we were
trying to ruin an old lady's good time, and all.

But I can't tell if the beer in the bottle is of the non-alcoholic
variety. We had stashed the faux-Heinekens in a special section of
the cooler for Grandma. But she may have managed to find the real
thing somewhere. She's crafty that way.

Or she could just THINK she's had the real thing, and consequently
thinks she's drunk.

"Lizzie?" Grandma looks suspicious. "What are you doing here?
Shouldn't you be away at college?"

"I graduated from college in May, Grandma," I say. Well, sort of,
anyway. Not counting the two months I just spend in summer school,
getting my language requirement out of the way. "This is my
graduation party. Well, my graduation slash bon voyage

"Bon voyage?" Grandma's suspicion turns to indignation. "Where do
you think you're going?"

"To England, Grandma, the day after tomorrow," I say. "To visit my
boyfriend. Remember? We talked about this."

"Boyfriend?" Grandma glares at Chaz. "Isn't that him right

"No, Grandma," I say. "That's Chaz, Shari's boyfriend. You
remember, Shari Dennis, right, Grandma? She grew up down the

"Oh, the Dennis girl," Grandma says, narrowing her eyes in Shari's
direction. "I remember you, now. I thought I saw your parents over
by the barbecue. You and Lizzie going to do that song you always do
when you get together?"

Shari and I exchange horror-filled glances. Angelo hoots.

"Hey, yeah!" he cries. "Rosie told me about this. What song was it
you two used to do? Like at the school talent show and shit?"

I give Angelo a warning look, since Maggie is still hanging around,
and say, "Little pitchers." It's clear from his expression that he
has no idea what I'm talking about. I sigh and begin steering
Grandma towards the house.contests/"Better come on, Grandma," I
say. "Or you'll miss your show."

"What about the song?" Grandma wants to know.

"We'll do the song later, Mrs. Nichols," Shari assures her.

"I'm going to hold you to that," Chaz says, with a wink. Shari
mouths In your dreams at him. Chaz blows a kiss at her over
the top of his beer bottle.contests/They're so cute together. I
can't wait until I'm in London and Andrew and I can be that cute
together, too.

"Come on, Grandma," I say. "Dr. Quinn's starting now."

"Oh, good," Grandma says. To Shari, she confides, "I don't care
about that dumb Dr. Quinn. It's that hunk who hangs out with her
--- him I can't get enough of!"

"Okay, Grandma," I say, quickly, as Shari spurts out the mouthful
of Amstel Light she'd just taken. "Let's get you inside before you
miss your show--"

We hardly get a few yards down the deck, however, before we're
waylaid by Dr. Rajghatta, my dad's boss at the cyclotron, and his
pretty wife Nishi, beaming in a pink sari at his
side.contests/"Many congratulations on your graduation," Dr.
Rajghatta says.contests/"Yes," his wife agrees. "And may we say,
you are also looking so slim and lovely?"

"Oh, thank you," I say. "Thank you so much!"

"And what will you be doing now that you have your bachelor's
degree in...what is it again?" Dr. R wants to know. It's
unfortunate about the pocket protector he's wearing, but then, I
haven't been able to wean my own father from the habit, so it's
unlikely I'll ever make any headway with his boss.

"History of fashion," I reply.contests/"History of fashion? I was
not aware this school offered a major in that field of study," Dr.
R says.

"Oh, it doesn't. I'm in the individualized major program. You know,
where you make your own major?"

"But fashion history?" Dr. Rajghatta looks concerned. "There are
many opportunities available in this field?"

"Oh, tons," I say, trying not to remember how just last weekend I
picked up a copy of the Sunday New York Times, and saw that
every fashion-related job in the want ads --- besides merchandising
--- either didn't exactly require a bachelor's degree, or did
require years of experience in the field, which I don't have. "I
could get a job in the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum
of Art." Sure. As a janitor. "Or as a costume designer on
Broadway." You know, if all the other costume designers in the
world suddenly died at the same time. "Or even as a buyer for a
major high-end fashion retailer like Saks Fifth Avenue." If I had
listened to my dad, who'd begged me to minor in business.

"What do you mean, a buyer?" Grandma looks scandalized. "You're
going to be a designer, not a buyer! Why, she's been ripping her
clothes apart and re-sewing them back together all weird since she
was old enough to pick up a needle," she tells Dr. and Mrs. M, who
look at me as if Grandma had just announced I like to salsa naked
in my spare time.contests/"Huh," I say, with a nervous laugh. "It
was just a hobby." I don't mention, of course, that I only did this
--- re-invented my clothing --- because I was so chubby I couldn't
fit into the fun, flirty clothes in the junior department, and so
had to somehow make the stuff Mom got me from the women's
department look younger.contests/Which is, of course, why I love
vintage clothes so much. They're so much better made --- and more
flattering, no matter what your size.

"Hobby my ass," Grandma says. "See this shirt here?" Grandma points
at her stained tunic. "She dyed it herself! It was orange, and now
look at it! And she hemmed the sleeves to make them sexier, just
like I asked!"

"It's a very beautiful top," Mrs. Rajghatta says, kindly. "I'm sure
Lizzie will go very far with such talents."

"Oh," I say, feeling myself blush beet red. "I mean, I could know. For a living. It's just a hobby."

"Well, that's good," her husband says, looking relieved. "No one
should spend four years at a top college just so that she can sew
for a living!"

"That would be such a waste!" I agree, deciding not to mention to
him that I'd be spending my first semester out of college
continuing in my assistant shop manager position while waiting for
my boyfriend to graduate.

Grandma looks annoyed. "What do you care?" she asks, giving me a
poke in the side. "You went for those four years for free anyway.
What does it matter what you do with what you learned there?"

Dr. and Mrs. Rajghatta and I smile at each other, all equally
embarrassed by Grandma's outburst.

"Your parents must be so proud of you," Mrs. Rajghatta says, still
smiling pleasantly. "I mean, having the confidence to study
something so...arcane when so many qualified young people can't
even find jobs in today's market. That is very brave of you."

"Oh," I say, swallowing down the little bit of vomit that always
seems to rise into my throat when I think about my future. Better
not to think about it right now. Better to think about the fun I'm
going to have with Andrew. "Well, I'm brave, all right."

"I'll say she's brave," Grandma chimes in. "She's going to England
day after tomorrow to hump some guy she barely
knows."contests/"Well, we have to be going inside now," I say,
grabbing Grandma's hand, and tugging her along. "Thanks so much for
coming, Dr. and Mrs. Rajghatta!"

"Oh, wait. This is for you, Lizzie," Mrs. Rajghatta says, slipping
a small, gift-wrapped box into my hand.contests/"Oh, thank you so
much," I cry. "You didn't have to!"

"It's nothing, really," Mrs. Rajghatta says with a laugh. "Just a
book light. Your parents said you were going to Europe tomorrow, so
I thought, if you are reading, on a train, or something--"

"Well, thank you very much," I say. "That will come in handy, all
right. Bye, now."contests/"Book light," Grandma grumbles, as I
hurry her away from Dad's boss and his wife. "Who the hell wants a
book light?"

"Lots of people," I say. "They are very handy things to

Grandma says a very bad word. I'll be happy when I get her safely
tucked in front of the rerun of Dr. Quinn.

But before I can do that, there are several more obstacles we have
to hurtle, including Rose.

"My baby sister!" Rose cries, looking up from the infant she's got
in a highchair by the picnic table, into whose mouth she's
shoveling mashed peas. "I can't believe you're graduating from
college! It just makes me feel so old!"

"You are old," Grandma observes.

But Rose just ignores her, as is her custom where Grandma is

"Angelo and I are just so proud of you," Rose says, her eyes
filling with tears. It's a shame she didn't listen to me about the
length of her jeans. The cropped look just doesn't work unless
you've got legs as long as Cindy Crawford's. Which none of us
Nichols girls do. "Not just for the graduating thing, but for ---
well, you know. The weight loss. Really. You just look terrific.
And...well, we got you a little something--" She slips a small,
gift-wrapped package in my hand. "It isn't anything
know, with Angelo out of work, and the baby in day care, and
all....But I thought you might be able to use a book light. I know
how much you love to read."

"Wow," I say. "Thank you so much, Rose. That was really thoughtful
of you."

Grandma starts to say something, but I squeeze her hand,

"Ow," Grandma says. "Stab me next time, why don't you?"

"Well, I have to get Grandma inside," I say. "Time for Dr.

Rose looks down her nose at Grandma. "Oh, God," she says. "She
didn't talk about her lust for Byron Sully in front of everyone,
did she?"

"At least he's got a job," Grandma begins, "which is more
than I can say for that husband of--"

"Okay," I say, grabbing Grandma and heading for the sliding doors.
"Let's go, Grandma. Don't want to keep Sully waiting."

"That is no way," I hear Rose wail, behind us, "to talk about your
grandson-in-law, Gram! Wait till I tell Daddy!"

"Aw, go ahead," Grandma retorts. Then, as I drag her away, she
complains, "That sister of yours. How could you stand her, all
these years?"

Before I can form a reply --- that it wasn't easy--I hear my other
sister, Sarah, call my name. I turn around, and see her staggering
towards us, a casserole dish in her hands. Sadly, she is in a pair
of white stretch capris that are far too tight on her.contests/Will
my sisters never learn? Some things need to be left a

But I guess since that's the look that won Sarah her husband Chuck,
she's sticking with it.

"Oh, hey," Sarah says, not very distinctly. She's clearly been
hitting the Heineken herself. "I made your favorite for you, in
honor of your big day." She whisks the plastic wrap off the
casserole dish, and waves it under my nose. A wave of nausea grips

"Tomato ratatouille!" Sarah shrieks, laughing uproariously.
"Remember that time Aunt Karen made that ratatouille and Mom told
you you had to eat it to be polite and you threw up over the side
of the deck?"

"Yes," I said, feeling like I was about to throw up over the side
of the deck all over again.contests/"Wasn't that funny? So I made
it for old time's sake. Hey, what's the matter?" She seems to
notice my expression for the first time. "Oh, come on. Don't tell
me you still hate tomatoes! I thought you grew out of that!"

"Why should she?" Grandma demands. "I never did. Why don't you take
that stuff and put it up--"

"Okay, Gram," I say, quickly. "Let's go. Dr. Quinn's

I hustle Grandma away before punches are thrown. Inside the sliding
doors stand my parents.

"There she is," Dad says, brightening when he sees me. "The first
of the Nichols girls actually to finish college!"

I hope Rose and Sarah don't overhear him. Even though it is,
technically, true.

"Hi, Dad," I say. "Hi, Mom. Great par--" Then I notice the woman
standing next to them. "Dr. Sprague!" I cry. "You came!"

"Of course I came," Dr. Sprague, my college advisor, gives me a hug
and a kiss. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Look at you,
so skinny now! That low carb thing really worked."

"Aw," I say. "Thanks."

"Oh, and here, I even brought you a little going away
present...sorry I didn't have time to wrap it," Dr. Sprague says,
stuffing something into my hands.

"Oh," my father says. "A book light! Look at that, Lizzie! Bet
you'll find a use for that."

"Absolutely," Mom says. "On those trains you'll be taking across
Europe. A book light always comes in handy."

"Jesus H. Christ," Grandma says. "Was there a sale on'em

"Thank you so much, Dr. Sprague," I hurry to say. "That was so
thoughtful of you. But you really didn't have to."

"I know," Dr. Sprague says. She looks, as always, coolly
professional in a red linen suit. Although I'm not sure that
particular red is the right color for her. "I was wondering if we
could talk privately for a moment, Elizabeth?"

"Of course," I say. "Mom, Dad, if you'll excuse us for a
moment...maybe one of you can help Grandma find the Hallmark
Channel? Her show is on."

"Oh, God," my mother says, with a groan. "Not--"contests/"You
know," Grandma says. "You could learn a lot from Dr. Quinn,
Anne-Marie. She knows how to make soap from a sheep's guts. And she
had twins when she was fifty. Fifty!" I hear Grandma cry, as Mom
leads her towards the den. "I'd like to see you, having twins at

"Is something wrong?" I ask Dr. Sprague, guiding her into my
parents' living room, which has changed very little in the four
years since I've been living in a dormitory, more or less down the
street. The pair of armchairs, in which my mom and dad read every
night --- him, spy novels, her, romance --- are still slipcovered
against Molly the sheepdog's fur. Our childhood photos --- me
looking fatter in each consecutive one, Rose and Sarah slimmer and
more glamorous --- still line every inch of available wall space.
It's homey and threadbare and plain and I wouldn't trade it for any
living room in the world.contests/With the possible exception of
the one in Pam Anderson's Malibu beach house, which I saw last week
on MTV Cribs. It was surprisingly cute. Considering.

"Didn't you get my messages?" Dr. Sprague wants to know. "I've been
calling your cell all morning."

"No," I say. "I mean, I've been busy running around, helping Mom
set up the party. Why? What's the matter?"

"There's no easy way to say this," Dr. Sprague says with a sigh.
"So I'll just say it. When you signed up for the individualized
major, Lizzie, you did realize one of the graduation requirements
was a written thesis, didn't you?"

I stare at her blankly. "A what?"

"A written thesis." Dr. Sprague, apparently seeing by my expression
that I have no idea what she's talking about, sinks with a groan
into my dad's armchair. "Oh, God. I knew it. Lizzie, didn't you
read any of the materials from the department?"

"Of course I did," I say, defensively. "I mean...most of it,
anyway." It was all so boring.

"Didn't you wonder why, at Commencement yesterday, your diploma
tube was empty?"

"Well, sure," I say. "But I thought it was because I hadn't
finished my language requirement. Which is why I took both summer

"But you had to write a thesis, too," Dr. Sprague says.
"Summarizing, basically, what you learned about your field of
concentration. Liz, you haven't officially graduated until you turn
in a thesis."

"But." My lips feel numb. "I'm leaving for England day after
tomorrow for a month. To visit my boyfriend."

"Well," Dr. Sprague says, with a sigh. "You'll have to write it
when you get back, then."

It's my turn to sink into the armchair she's just
vacated.contests/"I can't believe this," I murmur, letting all of
my book lights fall into my lap. "My parents put on this huge party
--- there must be sixty people out there. Some of my teachers from
high school are coming. And you're saying I'm not even really a
college graduate?"

"Not until you write that thesis," Dr. Sprague says. "I'm sorry,
Lizzie. But they're going to want at least fifty pages."

"Fifty pages?" She might as well have said fifteen hundred. How am
I going to enjoy having English breakfast in Andrew's king-sized
bed, knowing I have fifty pages hanging over my head? "Oh, God."
Then a worse thought hits me. I'm no longer the first of the
Nichols girls actually to finish college. "Please don't
mention this to my parents, Dr. Sprague. Please."contests/"I
won't. And I'm really sorry about this," Dr. Sprague says. "I can't
imagine how it happened."

"I can," I say, miserably. "I should have gone to a small private
college. In a huge state university, it's so easy to get lost in
the shuffle, and turn out not to have actually graduated after

"But an education at a small private college would have cost you
thousands of dollars, which you'd have to be worrying about paying
back now," Dr. Sprague says. "By attending the huge state
university in which your father works, you got a superior education
for absolutely nothing, and so now, instead of having to get a job
right away, you can flit off to England to spend time with ---
what's his name again?"

"Andrew," I say, dejectedly.

"Right. Andrew. Well." Dr. Sprague shoulders her expensive leather
purse. "I guess I'd better be going now. I just wanted to drop by
to give you the news. If it's any comfort to you, Lizzie, I'm sure
your thesis is going to be just great."

"I don't even know what to write it on," I wail.

"A brief history of fashion will suffice," Dr. Sprague says. "To
show you learned something while you were here. And," she adds,
brightly, "you can even do some research while you're in

"I could, couldn't I?" I'm starting to feel a little better. The
history of fashion? I love fashion. And Dr. Sprague is right
--- England would be the perfect place to research this. They have
all sorts of museums there. And I could go to Jane Austen's house!
They might even have some of her clothes there! Clothes like they
wore in Pride and Prejudice on A&E! I loved those
clothes!contests/God. This might even turn out to be fun.

I have no idea whether or not Andrew is going to want to go to Jane
Austen's house. But why wouldn't he? He's British. And so is she.
Naturally, he's going to be interested in his own country's

Yeah. Yeah, this is going to be great!contests/"Thanks for coming
by personally to deliver the news, Dr. Sprague," I say, getting up
and showing her to the door. "And thanks so much for the book
light, too."

"Oh," Dr. Sprague says. "Don't mention it. I shouldn't say this, of
course, but we're going to miss you around the office. You always
made such a splash whenever you'd show up there, in one of your,
um--" I notice her gaze drop to the macaroni necklace and my
paint-splashed dress. " --- unusual outfits."

"Oh," I say, with a smile. "Well, thank you, Dr. Sprague. Any time
you want me to find you an unusual outfit of your own, just stop by
Vintage to Vavoom, you know, over in Kerrytown--"

Just then my sister Sarah bursts into the living room, her anger
over the tomato ratatouille incident apparently forgotten, since
she's laughing a little hysterically. She's followed by her
husband, Chuck, my other sister, Rose, her husband, Angelo, Maggie,
our parents, the Rajghattas, various other party guests, Shari, and

"Here she is, here she is," Sarah yells. She, I can tell right
away, is drunker than ever. Sarah grabs my arm and starts dragging
me towards the landing --- the one we used to use as a stage, when
we were little, for putting on little plays for our parents. Well,
the one Rose and Sarah used to push ME onto, to put on little plays
for our parents. And for them.

"Come on, graduate," Sarah says, having a little trouble with the
word. "Sing. We all want you and Shari to sing your little

Only it comes out sounding like, Shing! We all want you and
Shari to shing your liddle shong!

"Uh," I say, noticing that Rose has Shari in a grip about as tight
as Sarah's on me. "No."

"Oh, come on," Rose cries. "We want to see our baby sister
and her little fwiend do their song!" And she throws Shari hard
against me, so that the two of us stumble and almost fall across
the landing.

"Your sisters," Shari grumbles in my ear, "have the worst cases of
sibling envy I have ever seen in my life. I can't believe how much
they resent you because you, unlike them, did not become
impregnated by a bohunk your sophomore year, and have to drop out
and stay home all day with drooling sprog."

"Shari!" I am shocked by this assessment of my sisters' lives. Even
if it is, technically, accurate.

"All college gwaduates," Rose continues, apparently unaware that
she's using baby talk while speaking to adults, "have to

"Rose," I say. "No. Really. Maybe later. I'm not in the

"All college graduates," Rose repeats, this time with dangerously
narrowed eyes, "have to sing!"

"In that case," I say, "you're going to have to count me

And then I turn to face thirty dumbfounded expressions.contests/And
realize what I've just let slip.contests/"Kidding," I say,
quickly.contests/And everyone laughs. Except for Grandma, who's
just come in from the den.

"Sully's not even in this episode," she announces. "Goddammit.
Who's going to get an old lady a drink?"

Then she topples over onto the carpet, and lets out a gentle

"I love that woman," Shari says to me, as everyone rushes forward
to attempt to revive my grandmother, completely forgetting about
Shari and me.

"So do I," I say. "You have no idea how much."

who has obeyed nature by transmitting a piece of gossip experiences
the explosive relief that accompanies the satisfying of a primary

Primo Levi (1919–1987), Italian chemist,

"I thought that was you!"
Andrew gushes, in that cute accent that had all the girls in
McCracken Hall swooning --- even if his th's do sound like f's.
"What's the matter? You walked right past me!"

"She thought you were a kidnapper," the guy from the Meet Your
Party booth explains, between guffaws.

"Kidnapper?" Andrew looks from the guy in the booth to me. "What's
he talking about?"

"Nothing," I say, grabbing Andrew's arm and rushing him away from
the booth. "Nothing, really. Oh, my gosh! It's good to see

"Good to see you, too," Andrew says, putting an arm around my waist
and giving me a hug --- so tight that the epaulets from his jacket
dig into my cheek. "You look fucking fantastic! Did you lose
weight, or something?"

"Just a little," I say, modestly. No need for Andrew to know that
no starch whatsoever --- not so much as a French fry or even a
lousy crumb of bread --- has touched my lips since he waved goodbye
to me last May.

Then Andrew notices me looking at an older, bald man who has come
up to us and is smiling politely at me. He is wearing a navy blue
windbreaker and a pair of brown corduroy pants. In

"Oh, right!" Andrew cries.
"Liz, this is my dad. Dad, this is Liz!"

Oh, how sweet! He brought his dad to meet me at the airport! Andrew
really MUST be taking our relationship seriously, if he would go to
so much trouble. I've already forgiven him for the jacket.

Well, almost.

"How do you do, Mr. Marshall?" I say, putting out my hand to shake
his. "It's so nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you, too," Andrew's father says with a nice smile.
"And please, call me Arthur. Don't mind me, I'm just the

Andrew laughs. So do I. Except --- Andrew doesn't have his own

Oh, but wait, that's right. Shari said things are different in
Europe, that lots of people don't own cars because they're so
expensive. And Andrew is trying to get by on a teacher's

I've got to stop being so judgmental about other cultures. I think
it's just cute as can be that Andrew doesn't have a car. So
environmentally conscious! Besides, he lives in London. I imagine
lots of people in London don't have cars. They take public
transportation, or they walk, like New Yorkers. Which is why there
are so few fat people in New York. You know, because they're all
such healthy walkers. Probably there aren't many fat people in
London, either. I mean, look at Andrew. He's thin as a toothpick,

And yet he's got those marvelous grapefruit size biceps....

Although now that I look at them, they seem sort of more

But how could anybody really tell beneath a leather jacket,

It's sweet he has such a close relationship with his dad, too. I
mean, that he could ask him to come with him to pick up his
girlfriend at Heathrow. My dad is always too busy working to take
time out for things like that. But then, his job at the cyclotron
is very important, since they're always smashing atoms up there,
and things. Andrew's dad is a teacher, like Andrew wants to be.
Teachers get summers off.

Dr. Rajghatta would laugh his head off if my dad ever asked for a
summer off.

Andrew takes my bag, which has wheels, so it's actually the
lightest thing I'm carrying. My carry-on is way heavier, since it
has all my makeup and beauty supplies in it. I wouldn't mind so
much if the airline lost my clothes, but I would totally die if
they lost my makeup. I look like a total beast without it. I have
eyes that are so small and squinty without liner and mascara, that
I actually resemble a pig...even if Shari, whose lived with me for
the past four years, swears this isn't true. Shari says I could get
away without makeup if I wanted to.

But why would I want to when makeup is such a brilliant and helpful
invention for those of us cursed with piggy eyes?

Still, makeup does weigh an awful lot, at least when you have as
much of it as I do. Not to mention all of my hair styling equipment
and products. Having long hair is no joke. You have to bring about
nine tons of stuff with you in order to keep it properly shampooed,
conditioned, tangle-and-frizz-free, dry, shiny, and full of body.
Not to mention all the different adapters I had to bring for my
hair dryer and curling iron, since Andrew was remarkably unhelpful
in describing what British electrical outlets look like ("They look
like outlets," he kept saying, on the phone. Isn't this just
like a guy?) so I had to bring every different kind I could find at

But maybe it's just as well Andrew is pulling the wheelie bag and
not carrying my carry-on. Because then if he asks what's inside and
why it's so heavy, I'll have to tell him the truth, as I have
resolved this relationship will not be founded on artifice, like
the one with that guy T.J. I met at the McCracken Hall Movie Night,
who turned out to be a practicing warlock--which would have been
all right, I totally respect other people's religions....

Except that he also turned out to be a chubby chaser, as I learned
when I caught him making out in the Quad with Amy De Soto (and
excuse me, I was never pushing two hundred pounds, like she was,
last time I saw her. Talk about someone who should lay off the
Froot Loops once in a while). He tried to tell me his familiar
made him sleep with her.

Which is why I plan to always tell the truth to Andrew, because T.
J. did not give me even that much respect.

But that doesn't mean I'm not going to go out of my way to avoid
having to tell him the truth, if I can. Like, there is absolutely
no reason he needs to know that the reason my carry-on bag is so
heavy is because it's filled with approximately seventy-five
billion Clinique cosmetic samples; a container of astringent pads
(because I shine so much, thanks to Mom's side of the family); a
family size container of Tums (because I've heard English food
isn't necessarily the best); a family size container of chewable
fiber tablets (because ditto); the aforementioned curling iron and
hair dryer; the clothes I wore on the plane before I changed into
my Mandarin dress; a Gameboy loaded with Tetris; the latest Dan
Brown (because you can't go on a trans-Atlantic flight with nothing
to read); my mini-iPod; three book lights; Sun-In for my
highlights; I had to repack my sewing kit --- for emergency
clothing repairs --- into my suitcase because of the stitch
scissors and seam ripper; but I've got all of my pharmaceuticals,
such as aspirin, Band-Aids for the blisters I am undoubtedly going
to get (from strolling hand-in-hand with Andrew through the British
Museum, soaking in all the art), and prescriptions, including my
birth control pills and antibiotic acne medication; and of course
the notebook in which I've begun my senior thesis.

There is no reason at this point in our relationship for Andrew to
find out I wasn't actually born this good looking --- that a great
deal of artifice goes into it. What if he turns out to be one of
those guys who like naturally pink-cheeked beauties like Liv Tyler?
What kind of chance do I stand against an English rose like that? A
girl has to have some secrets.

Oh, wait, Andrew is talking to me. He's asking how my flight went.
Why is he wearing that jacket? He can't seriously think it looks
good, can he?

"The flight was great," I say. I don't tell Andrew about the little
girl in the seat next too mine, who ignored me throughout the
flight, when I was just wearing my jeans and T-shirt, with my hair
in a ponytail. It wasn't until after I came back from doing my hair
and makeup and changing into my silk dress a half-hour before we
landed, that the kid did a double take, and the next thing I knew,
she was asking shyly, "Excuse me. But are you the actress Jennifer

Jennifer Garner! Me! This kid thought I was Jennifer

And okay, she was only like ten or whatever, and wearing a shirt
with Kermit the Frog on it (surely she meant this ironically and is
not actually a current viewer of Sesame Street, as she
seemed a bit old for it).

But still! No one has ever mistaken me for a movie star in my life!
Let alone a skinny one like Jennifer Garner.

And the thing is, with my makeup on and my hair done, I guess I
do look a bit like Jennifer know, if she hadn't
quite lost all the baby fat. And had bangs. And was only five feet

I guess it never occurred to the kid that Jennifer Garner would
hardly be flying coach, by herself, to England. But whatever.

And before I could stop myself, I was going, "Why, yes. I AM
Jennifer Garner," because, whatever, I'm never going to see this
kid again in my life. Why not give her a thrill?

The kid's eyes practically bugged out, she was so excited.

"Hi," she said, bouncing a little in her seat. "I'm Marnie! I'm
your biggest fan!"

"Well, hi, Marnie," I said. "It's nice to meet you."

"Mom!" Marnie turned to whisper to her dozing mother. "It IS
Jennifer Garner! I TOLD you!"

And the little girl's drowsy mother looked over at me, her eyes
still bleary with sleep, and went, "Oh. Hello."

"Hi," I said, wondering if I sounded Jennifer Garnery enough.

But I guess I did, since the next words out of the kid's mouth
were, "I just loved you in 13 Going on 30."

"Why, thank you," I said. "I do consider that some of my best work.
Besides Alias, of course."

"I'm not allowed to stay up late enough to watch that," Marnie
said, mournfully.

"Oh," I said. "Well, maybe you can see it on DVD."

"Can I have your autograph?" the little girl wanted to know.

"Of course you can," I said, and took the pen and the British
Airways cocktail napkin she offered me and scrawled, Best wishes
to Marnie, my biggest fan! Love, Jennifer Garner
on it.

The little girl took the napkin reverently, as if she couldn't
believe her good fortune. "Thanks!" she said.

I just knew she was going to take that napkin back to America when
she got home from her fun European vacation, and show it to all of
her friends.

I didn't really start feeling bad until then. Because what if one
of Marnie's friends has an autograph from the REAL Jennifer Garner,
and they compare the handwriting? Then Marnie is going to be all
suspicious! And she might even ask herself why Jen wasn't with her
publicist, or even why she was flying commercial. And then she'll
realize I wasn't the REAL Jennifer Garner, and that I was lying the
whole time. And that could shake her faith in the goodness of
mankind. Marnie could develop serious trust issues, like the kind I
myself developed when my prom date, Adam Berger, told me he had to
go home and paint the ceiling instead of taking me to the
after-party, when really he went ahead and attended the after-party
with skinny-as-a-stick Melissa Kemplebaum after dropping me

But then I told myself that it didn't matter, since I'd never see
Marnie again. So who even cared?

Still, I don't mention the incident to Andrew, because, seeing as
how he's getting a masters in education, I highly doubt he approves
of lying to young children.

Also, the truth is, I am feeling kind of sleepy, even though it is
eight o'clock in the morning in England, and I am wondering how far
it is to Andrew's apartment, and if there's any chance at all he
might have some Diet Coke there. Because I could totally use

"Oh, not too far at all," is what Andrew's dad, Mr. Marshall says,
when I ask Andrew how far he lives from the airport.

It's kind of strange that Andrew's dad answered, and not Andrew.
But then again, Mr. Marshall's a teacher, and answering questions
is basically their job. He probably can't help it, even when he's
off duty.

It's such a good thing there are men like Andrew and his dad who
are willing to undertake the education of our youth. The Marshalls
are truly a dying breed. I'm so glad I'm with Andrew and not, say,
Chaz, who chose to pursue a philosophy degree solely so that he
could argue more effectively with his parents. How is that
supposed to help future generations?

Whereas Andrew has purposefully chosen a career that will never
make him much money, but that will ensure that young minds don't go

And isn't that the noblest thing you've ever heard of?

It's a long, long way to Mr. Marshall's car. We have to go through
all of these hallways where, along the walls, are advertisements
for products I've never heard of. Chaz had been complaining, last
time he'd gone to visit his friend Luke --- the one with the
chateau --- about the Americanization of Europe, and how you
couldn't go anywhere without seeing a Coca-Cola ad.

But I don't see any Americanization here in England. So far. I
don't see anything even vaguely American. Not even a Coke machine.
Not even one selling Diet Coke.

Not that this is a bad thing. I'm just saying. Although a Diet Coke
wouldn't be so bad, right about now.

Andrew and his dad are talking about the weather, and how lucky I
am to have come at a time when it's so nice out. But when we step
out of the building and into the parking garage, I realize it's
maybe sixty degrees, at most, and that the sky --- what I can see
of it at the end of the garage level--is grey and overcast.

If this is good weather, what do the British consider bad? And,
granted, it's certainly cold enough for a leather jacket. But that
doesn't excuse the fact that Andrew is wearing one. Surely there's
some rule somewhere --- like the one about no white pants before
Memorial Day --- about no leather in August.

We're almost to the car --- a small red compact, exactly what I'd
expect a middle-aged teacher to drive --- when I hear a shriek, and
look around to see the little girl from the plane standing next to
an SUV with her mother and an older couple I can only assume are
her grandparents.

"There she is!" Marnie is screaming, pointing at me. "Jennifer
Garner! Jennifer Garner!"

I keep walking, my head down, trying to ignore her. But both Andrew
and his father are looking over at her, bemused smiles on their
faces. Andrew does look a bit like his dad. Will he, too, be
totally bald when he's fifty? Is baldness a trait passed on by the
mother's side of the family, or the father's? Why didn't I take a
single bio course while I was designing my own major? I could have
squeezed in at least one....

"Is that child speaking to you?" Mr. Marshall asks me.

"Me?" I glance over my shoulder, pretending to notice for the first
time that a small child is shrieking at me from across the

"Jennifer Garner! It's me! Marnie! From the plane! Remember?"

I smile and wave at Marnie. She flushes with pleasure and grabs her
mother's arm.

"See?" she cries. "I told you! It really is her!"

Marnie waves some more. I wave back, while Andrew wrestles my
suitcase into the small trunk, swearing a bit. Since he's been
wheeling it along the whole time, he had no idea how heavy it is
until he bent to lift it.

But really, a month is a long time. I don't see how I could have
packed less than ten pairs of shoes. Shari even said she was proud
of me for being sensible enough not to bring my lace-up platform
espadrilles. Although I did manage to squeeze them in at the last
minute before I left.

"Why is that child calling you Jennifer Garner?" Mr. Marshall wants
to know as he, too, waves at Marnie, whose grandparents, or whoever
they are, still haven't succeeded in herding her into the

"Oh," I say, feeling myself begin to blush. "We sat next to each
other on the plane. It's just a little game we were playing, to
pass time on the flight."

"How kind of you," Mr. Marshall says, waving even more
energetically now. "Not all young people realize how important it
is to treat children with respect and dignity instead of
condescension. It's so important to set a good example for the
younger generation, especially when one considers how instable many
of today's family units really are."

"That's so true," I say, in what I hope sounds like a respectful
and dignified manner.

"Christ," Andrew says. He's just tried to pick up my carry-on bag
from where I've set it on the ground. "What have you got in here,
Liz? A dead body?"

"Oh," I say, my respectful and dignified demeanor threatening to
crumble. "Just a few necessities."

"I'm sorry my chariot isn't more stylish," Mr. Marshall says,
opening the driver's door to his car. "It's certainly not what
you're used to, I'm sure, back in America. But I hardly use it,
since I walk to the school where I teach, most days."

I am instantly charmed by the vision of Mr. Marshall strolling down
a tree-lined country lane in a herringbone jacket with leather
elbow patches --- rather than the extremely uninspired windbreaker
he is currently wearing--and perhaps a cocker spaniel or two
nipping at his heels.

"Oh, it's fine," I say, about his car. "Mine isn't much

I wonder why he's just standing there by the door, instead of
getting in, until he goes, "After you, er, Liz."

He wants me to drive? But...I just got here! I don't even
know my way around!

Then I realize he isn't holding open the driver's door at's the passenger side. The steering wheel is on the right
side of the car.

Of course! We're in England!

I laugh at my own mistake and sit down in the front seat.

Andrew slams down the trunk and comes around to see me sitting in
the passenger seat. He looks at his dad and says, "What, I'm
supposed to sit in the boot, then?"

"Mind your manners, Andy," Mr. Marshall says. It seems so strange
to hear Andrew called Andy. He is such an Andrew to me. But
evidently not to his family.

Although truthfully, in that jacket, he looks a bit more like an
Andy than an Andrew.

"Ladies in the front seat," Mr. Marshall goes on, with a smile at
me. "And gentlemen in the back."

"Liz, I thought you were a feminist," Andrew says (only it comes
out sounding like, Liz, I fought you were a feminist). "Are
you going to stand for this kind of treatment?"

"Oh," I say. "Of course. Andrew should sit in front, he's got
longer legs--"

"I won't hear of it," Mr. Marshall says. "You'll muss your pretty
Chinese dress, climbing about." Then he shuts my car door, firmly,
for me.

Next thing I know, he's come around the right side and is holding
the driver's side seat back for Andrew to crawl behind. There's a
brief argument I can't really hear, and then Andrew appears. I
don't really know any other word I can use to describe the
expression on Andrew's face, except for peevish.

But I feel bad for even thinking Andrew might be feeling
peevish about me getting to sit in the front seat. Most likely he's
just embarrassed about not having his own car to pick me up in.
Yes, that's probably it. Poor thing. He probably thinks I'm holding
him to American standards of capitalist materialism! I'll have to
find some way to assure him that I find his poverty extremely sexy,
seeing as how all the sacrifices he's making, he's making for the

Not Andrew Junior, Henry, Stella, and Beatrice, of course. I mean
the children of the world, the ones he'll be teaching

Wow. Just thinking about all the little lives Andrew's going to
improve with his sacrifices in the teaching profession is making me
kind of horny.

Mr. Marshall climbs into the driver's seat and smiles at me.
"Ready?" he asks, cheerfully.

"Ready," I say, and I'm filled with a spurt of excitement, despite
my jet lag. England! I'm in England, at last! I'm about to be
driven along the English countryside, into London! Maybe I'll even
see some sheep!

Before we're able to pull out, however, an SUV drives up behind us,
and a back window powers down. Marnie, my little friend from the
plane, leans out the window to yell, "Goodbye, Jennifer

I roll down my own window, and wave. "Bye, Marnie!"

Then the SUV pulls away, Marnie beaming happily in the back.

"Who in heaven," Mr. Marshall asks, as he backs out, "is this
Jennifer Garner?"

"Just some American film star," Andrew says, before I can say

Just some American film
star? Just some American film star who happens to look exactly like
your girlfriend
, I want to shriek. Enough so that little
girls on airplanes want her autograph!
But I manage to keep my
mouth shut for once, because I don't want Andrew to feel
inadequate, knowing he's dating a Jennifer Garner lookalike. That
could be really intimidating, you know, for a guy. Even an American

Excerpted from
QUEEN OF BABBLE © Copyright 2011 by Meg Cabot. Reprinted with
permission by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins
Publishers. All rights reserved.

Queen of Babble
by by Meg Cabot

  • Genres: Chick Lit, Fiction
  • paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Avon A
  • ISBN-10: 0060851996
  • ISBN-13: 9780641953354