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Rainbow Rowell

Two people walked into the break room then, a man and a woman. They were arguing about something. Amicably. “Give our readers some credit,” the woman said, wagging a rolled-up Sports section at the man and leaning against the coffee machine. “I can’t,” he said. “I’ve met too many of them.” The man was wearing a dingy white shirt and a thick brown tie. He looked like he hadn’t changed his clothes or gotten a good night’s sleep since the Carter presidency. The woman was younger. She had bright eyes and broad shoulders and hair that fell to the middle of her back. She was too pretty to look at.

They were all too pretty to look at. He couldn’t remember the last time he had looked a woman in the eyes. A woman who wasn’t his mother. Or his sister, Eve.

If he didn’t look, he didn’t risk accidental eye contact. He hated that feeling—at the bank, in elevators—when you inadvertently catch someone’s eye, and she feels compelled to show you she’s not interested. They did that sometimes, looked away pointedly before you even realized you were looking at them. Lincoln had apologized to a woman once when their eyes had met, unintentionally, over a gas pump. She’d pretended not to hear him and looked away.

“If you don’t get a date,” Eve kept threatening, “I’m going to start fixing you up with nice, Lutheran girls. Hard-core Lutherans. Missouri Synod.”

“You wouldn’t,” he told her. “If any of your church friends met Mom, it would totally ruin your rep.

Nobody would want to sit next to you at adult Bible study.”

The woman in the break room laughed and shook her head. “You’re being perverse,” she said. She was so preoccupied with her argument, it almost felt safe to watch her. She was wearing faded jeans and a soft green jacket that inched up when she bent over to get her coffee. There were freckles on the small of her back. Lincoln looked away.

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Lincoln,” his sister would tell him. “You’ve been on dates.

You’ve had a girlfriend. There is nothing about you that is inherently un-dateable.”

“Is this supposed to be a pep talk? Because all I’m hearing is ‘inherently un-dateable.’”

Lincoln had been on dates. He’d had a girlfriend. He’d seen the small of a woman’s back before.

He’d stood at concerts and football games and basement parties with his hand on a woman’s back, on Sam’s back, with his fingers sliding inside her sweater. He’d felt like he was getting away with some secret intimacy, touching her like that when no one was paying attention.

Lincoln wasn’t inherently un-dateable. He’d gone on a date three years ago. A friend’s sister had needed a date to a wedding. She’d danced all night with one of the groomsmen, who turned out to be her second cousin, while Lincoln ate exactly thirteen cream cheese mints.

He wasn’t scared, exactly, to start dating again. He just couldn’t visualize it. He could imagine himself a year in, at the comfortable place, the hand-at-the-small-of-the-back place. But the meeting, the making a girl like him …He was useless at all that.

“I don’t believe that,” Eve said. “You met Sam. You made her fall in love with you.”

He hadn’t, actually. He hadn’t even noticed Sam before she started poking him in the shoulder during tenth-grade world geography. “You have very nice posture,” she’d said. “Did you know you have a mole on the back of your neck?

“I spend a lot of time looking at the back of your neck,” she said. “I could probably identify your body if there was ever an accident. As long as your neck wasn’t hopelessly disfigured.”

It made him blush. The next day, she told him that he smelled like peaches. She was loud. And funny. (But not as funny as loud.) And it was nothing for her to look you straight in the eye—in front of people—and say, “No, really, Lincoln, you smell like peaches.” And she would laugh, and he would blush.

She liked embarrassing him. She liked that she could.

When she asked him to Homecoming, he thought that it might be a joke, that she’d spend the night teasing him in front of her friends. But he said yes anyway. And she didn’t.

Sam was different when they were alone. She was quiet—well, quieter—and he could tell her anything, even things that mattered. She liked to talk about things that mattered. She was wholehearted, and fierce.

He hadn’t made Sam fall in love with him. She just did.

And he’d loved her back.

Lincoln looked up at the coffee machine. The man in the rumpled shirt and the girl with the freckles were gone.


From: Beth Fremont

To: Jennifer Scribner-Snyder

Sent: Mon, 08/30/1999 11:24 AM

Subject: Who looks good in a strapless dress?

Not just strapless. A strapless sheath. Who can pull that off?

<<Jennifer to Beth>> Um, Joan Collins. Lynda Carter. Shania Twain …

<<Beth to Jennifer>>

1. Do you only watch the Lifetime Network? Or do you also occasionally watch Hollywood Squares?

2. Even those lovely ladies would look hippy standing next to my sister’s bridesmaids. They’re all 20 years old and have “I might not be throwing up in the Tri-Delt bathroom after dinner, but my roommate is, and I like to borrow her jeans” hips.

Maybe I could have gotten away with a strapless sheath once …for like one day in 1989, but that day is long gone.

<<Jennifer to Beth>> Ten years gone.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> Thanks for that. Oh, and did I tell you that the wedding might have a theme?

Kiley’s fiancé wants to do something with the New Millennium.

<<Jennifer to Beth>> What does that even mean?

<<Beth to Jennifer>> Damned if I know. I wish it meant that I could wear a silver jumpsuit.

<<Jennifer to Beth>> Maybe your sister would let you wear a wrap or a sweater or something so that you won’t feel so exposed.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> That’s a good idea. Maybe I could talk Gwen into wearing one, too, so that I’m not the only one.

<<Jennifer to Beth>> Your sister Gwen is in the wedding? She’s not a teeny-tiny Tri-Delt. You won’t be the only life-size bridesmaid.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> No, you’re right. You’re right. I’m not sure why I’m getting so upset about this. This dress, this wedding. I really am happy for Kiley. And for you and every other happily married lady.

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