Home > When You Were Older(2)

When You Were Older(2)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

I sighed, and backed the car carefully out of the garage. I hadn’t driven in years. In fact, I no longer had a valid license. But this was hardly the time to address any of that.

Ben jumped into the passenger seat and buckled his shoulder belt. I threw Mom’s Buick into reverse again.

‘You can’t leave the driveway,’ he said. Before I could even ask why not, he said, ‘You can’t leave the driveway till your seat belt is on.’

I nodded a couple of times, and put on the belt. It was the fastest, most stress-free way to settle the issue.

I glanced over at Ben as we drove. Gathering up six years’ worth of changes. But as far as I could see, he just looked older. He was over six foot six, which of course I hadn’t expected to change. Still lanky and skinny and long, with a looseness in his joints, like the world’s weirdest example of a young horse; though Ben himself no longer looked young. His brown hair was longer, shaggy. Probably just a lack of maintenance, but it looked purposeful. It looked like a style someone would wear to seem unconcerned and cool. Girls and young women traditionally found Ben absolutely irresistible. Especially when he was silent and standing still. They thought he was being enigmatic. Fascinatingly reserved. Until he spoke. Then they hurried off to tend to some important business they’d only briefly forgotten.

‘Turn here,’ Ben said.

‘Aren’t you forgetting something?’

‘No.’

‘I think you are.’

‘What, then?’

‘To tell me which way I should turn.’

‘That way,’ he said, pointing right.

Every street, every building that rolled by, was a scene straight out of my worst and most common recurring nightmare: suddenly waking up to find myself back in this bizarrely tiny town where I’d been stranded for the first eighteen years of my life. So I tried to experience it that way. As a bad dream. It was easier and less upsetting than accepting it as my actual reality.

Ben’s voice startled me. ‘You want to know … what?’

‘What?’

‘You want to know … something?’

‘Oh. That kind of what. OK. Tell me something.’

‘In this big city. There are these big buildings. And somebody flew a plane. Into them. I mean, two planes. And they burned up. The buildings, not the planes. Well, both.’

‘I know, Buddy. I was there.’

‘You were? You’re not burned up.’

‘I was close enough to see it, but not close enough to get burned up.’

‘Oh,’ Ben said. ‘You want to know … something else?’

‘Sure,’ I said, though it was not entirely true.

‘Where’d you go, Buddy?’

I pulled in one long, forced breath and then slowly let it leave again. I knew sooner or later he’d have questions. But I really thought the first one would be about Mom.

‘I went away to college. You knew that.’

‘Oh. Did you … what do you call that? When you finish? School.’

‘Graduate.’

‘Yeah. Did you?’

‘I did.’

‘When did you?’

‘About two years ago.’

‘Oh.’

A block or two rolled by in awkward silence.

‘Then I went to New York.’

‘New York! That’s the name of that big city where the buildings …’

‘Right, Buddy. I know.’

‘You want to know something else?’ He didn’t wait to hear if I wanted that or not. ‘I know a lot about bagging groceries. It’s not as easy as it looks. There’s a lot to know. You shouldn’t put too many glass bottles and jars together cause they can hit against each other and break. And no eggs on the bottom. And no bread on the bottom. You can put some fruit on the bottom, if it’s hard like a coconut, but not if it’s soft like peaches. And it all has to balance, otherwise it’s hard for people to carry. And it can’t be so heavy that it breaks right through the bottom of the bag. And I bet you didn’t know there was so much to know about it.’

‘I guess I didn’t,’ I said, suddenly thinking I would kill for a cigarette. I hadn’t smoked in more than four years. And I had watched the towers fall without ever once craving a smoke.

‘I bet I know more about it than you do.’

I couldn’t tell if he was feeling petulant or proud. Or both.

‘Definitely, you do.’

‘I bet you didn’t think there was anything I knew better than you.’

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