Home > One True Loves(6)

One True Loves(6)
Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Hey,” I said as I got closer.

“Hey.” He went around to my side of the car and opened the car door. No one had ever opened a car door for me before except my father, and even then, it was usually a joke.

“Oh,” I said, taking my backpack off and putting it in the front seat. “Thank you.”

Sam looked surprised for a moment, as if he wasn’t sure what I was thanking him for. “For the door? You’re welcome.”

I sat down and sunk into the passenger’s seat as Sam made his way to his side of the car. He smiled at me nervously when he got in and turned on the ignition. And then, suddenly, jazz music blasted through the speakers.

“Sorry,” he said. “Sometimes I really have to psych myself up in the morning.”

I laughed. “Totally cool.”

He turned the music down but not off and I listened as it softly filled the air in the car. Sam put the car in reverse and twisted his body toward me, resting his arm on the back of my seat and then backing out of the spot.

His car was a mess. Papers at my feet, gum wrappers and guitar picks strewn across the dashboard. I glanced into the backseat and saw a guitar, a harmonica, and two black instrument cases.

I turned back to face the front. “Who is this?” I said, pointing to the stereo.

Sam was watching the steady stream of cars to his left, waiting for his chance to turn onto the road.

“Mingus,” he said, not looking at me.

There was a small opening, a chance to enter the flow of traffic. Sam inched up and then swiftly turned, gracefully joining the steady stream of cars. He relinquished his attention, and turned back to me.

“Charles Mingus,” he said, explaining. “Do you like jazz?”

“I don’t really listen to it,” I said. “So I don’t know.”

“All right, then,” Sam said, turning up the volume. “We’ll listen and then you’ll know.”

I nodded and smiled to show that I was game. The only problem was that I knew within three seconds that Charles Mingus was not for me and I didn’t know how to politely ask him to turn it off. So I didn’t.

My father was at the register when we came in through the doors. His face lit up when he saw me.

“Hi, sweetheart,” he said, focused on me. And then he turned for a brief second. “Hey, Sam!”

“Hi, Dad,” I said back. I didn’t love the idea of my father calling me “sweetheart” in front of people from school. But groaning about it would only make it worse, so I let it go.

Sam headed straight for the back of the store. “I’m going to run to the bathroom and then, Mr. Blair, I’ll be back to relieve you.”

My dad gave him a thumbs-up and then turned to me. “Tell me all about your day,” he said as I put my book bag down underneath the register. “Start at the beginning.”

I looked around to see that the only customer in the store was an older man reading a military biography. He was pretending to peruse it but appeared to be downright engrossed. I half expected him to lick his fingertip to turn the page or dog-ear his favorite chapter.

“Aren’t you supposed to be taking Mom on a date?” I asked.

“How old do you think I am?” he asked, looking at his watch. “It’s not even four p.m. You think I’m taking your mother to an early bird special?”

“I don’t know,” I said, shrugging. “You two are the ones who made me work today so you could go see a movie together.”

“We made you work today because you were being rude to your sister,” he said. His tone was matter-of-fact, all blame removed from his voice. My parents didn’t really hold grudges. Their punishments and disappointments were perfunctory. It was as if they were abiding by rules set out before them by someone else. You did this and so we must do that. Let’s all just do our part and get through this.

This changed a few years later, when I called them in the middle of the night and asked them to pick me up from the police station. Suddenly, it wasn’t a fun little test anymore. Suddenly, I had actually disappointed them. But back then, the stakes were low, and discipline was almost a game.

“I know that you and Marie are not the best of friends,” my dad said, tidying up a stack of bookmarks that rested by the register. When the store opened, sometime in the sixties, my great-uncle who started it had commissioned these super cheesy bookmarks with a globe on them and an airplane circling it. They said “Travel the World by Reading a Book.” My father loved them so much that he had refused to update them. He had the same exact ones printed time and time again.

Whenever I picked one of them up, I would be struck by how perfectly they symbolized exactly what I resented about that bookstore.

I was going to travel the world by actually traveling it.

“But one day, sooner than you think, the two of you are going to realize how much you need each other,” my dad continued.

Adults love to tell teenagers that “one day” and “sooner or later” plenty of things are going to happen. They love to say that things happen “before you know it,” and they really love to impart how fast time “flies by.”

I would learn later that almost everything my parents told me in this regard turned out to be true. College really did “fly by.” I did change my mind about Keanu Reeves “sooner or later.” I was on the other side of thirty “before I knew it.” And, just as my father said that afternoon, “one day” I was going to need my sister very, very much.

But back then, I shrugged it off the same way teens all over the country were shrugging off every other thing their parents said at that very moment.

“Marie and I are not going to be friends. Ever. And I wish you guys would let up about it.”

My father listened, nodding his head slowly, and then looked away, focusing instead on tidying up another stack of bookmarks. Then he turned back to me. “I read you loud and clear,” he said, which is what he always said when he decided that he didn’t want to talk about something anymore.

Sam came out of the back and joined us up by the registers. The customer reading the book came over to the counter with the book in his hand and asked us to keep it on hold for him. No doubt so he could come back and read the same copy tomorrow, as if he owned the thing. My father acted as if he was delighted to do it. My father was very charming to strangers.

Right after the man left, my mom came out of her office in the back of the store. Unfortunately, Dad didn’t see her.

“I should tell your mother it’s time to go,” he said. I tried to stop him but he turned his head slightly and started yelling. “Ashley, Emma and Sam are here!”

“Jesus Christ, Colin,” my mom said, putting a hand to her ear. “I’m right here.”

“Oh, sorry.” He made a scrunched face to show that he’d made a mistake and then he gently touched her ear. It was gestures like that, small acts of intimacy between them, that made me think my parents probably still had sex. I was both repulsed and somewhat assuaged by the thought.

Olive’s parents always seemed on the edge of divorce. Marie’s friend Debbie practically lived at our house for two months a few years earlier when her parents were ironing out their own separation. So I was smart enough to know I was lucky to have parents who still loved each other.

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