Home > One True Loves(8)

One True Loves(8)
Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Oh,” he said.

A trio of girls from school came in the door. I didn’t know who they were by name, but I’d seen them in the halls. They were seniors, I was pretty sure. They laughed and joked with one another, paying no attention to Sam or me. The tallest one gravitated toward the new fiction while the other two hovered around the bargain section, picking up books and laughing about them.

“Piano,” Sam said. “That was my first one. I started in second grade. And then, let’s see . . .” He put out his thumb, to start counting, and then with each instrument another finger went up. “Guitar—electric and acoustic but I count that as one still—plus bass, too—electric and acoustic, which I also think counts as one even though they really are totally different.”

“So five so far but you’re saying that’s really only three.”

Sam laughed. “Right. And then drums, a bit. That’s my weakest. I just sort of dabble but I’m getting better. And then trumpet and trombone. I just recently bought a harmonica, too, just to see how fast I can pick it up. It’s going well so far.”

“So seven,” I said.

“Yeah, but I mean, the harmonica doesn’t count either, not yet at least.”

In that moment, I wished my parents had made me pick up an instrument when I was in second grade. It seemed like it was almost too late now. That’s how easy it is to tell yourself it’s too late for something. I started doing it at the age of fourteen.

“Is it like languages?” I asked him. “Olive grew up speaking English and Korean and she says it’s easy for her to pick up other languages now.”

Sam thought about it. “Yeah, totally. I grew up speaking Portuguese a bit as a kid. And in Spanish class I can intuit some of the words. Same thing with knowing how to play the guitar and then learning the bass. There’s some overlap, definitely.”

“Why did you speak Portuguese?” I asked him. “I mean, are your parents from Portugal?”

“My mom is second-generation Brazilian,” he said. “But I was never fluent or anything. Just some words here and there.”

The tall girl headed toward the register, so I put down the book in my hand and I met her up at the counter.

She was buying a Danielle Steel novel. When I rang it up, she said, “It’s for my mom. For her birthday,” as if I was judging her. But I wasn’t. I never did. I was far too worried that everyone else was judging me.

“I bet she’ll like it,” I said. I gave her the total and she took out a credit card and handed it over.

Lindsay Bean.

Immediately, the resemblance was crystal clear. She looked like an older, lankier version of Carolyn. I bagged her book and handed it back to her. Sam, overlooking, pointed to the bookmarks, reminding me. “Oh, wait,” I said. “You need a bookmark.” I picked one up and slipped it into her bag.

“Thanks,” Lindsay said. I wondered if she got along with Carolyn, what the Bean sisters were like. Maybe they loved each other, loved to be together, loved to hang out. Maybe, when Lindsay took Carolyn to the mall to get jeans, she didn’t abandon her in the store.

I knew it was silly to assume that Carolyn’s life was better than mine just because she had been holding Jesse Lerner’s hand yesterday in line for a pack of cookies. But, also, I knew that simply because she had been holding Jesse’s hand in line for a pack of cookies, her life was better than mine.

The sun was starting to set by then. Cars had turned on their headlights. Often, during the evening hours, the low beams of SUVs were just high enough to shine right into the storefront.

This very thing happened just as Lindsay and her friends were making their way outside. A champagne-colored oversized SUV pulled up and parked right in front of the store, its lights focused straight on me. When the driver turned the car off, I could see who it was.

Jesse Lerner was sitting in the front passenger’s side of the car. A man, most likely his father, was driving.

The back door opened and out popped Carolyn Bean.

Jesse got out of his side and hugged Carolyn good-bye and then Carolyn got in her sister’s car with her sister’s two friends.

Then Jesse hopped back into his father’s car, glancing into the store for a moment as he did it. I couldn’t tell if he saw me. I doubted he was really looking, the way I had been.

But I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. My gaze followed his silhouette even as Carolyn and Lindsay’s car took off, even as Jesse’s father turned the headlights back on and three-point-turned out of the parking lot.

When I spun back to what I was doing, I ached somehow. As if Jesse Lerner was meant to be mine and I was being forced to stare right into the heart of the injustice of it all.

My hand hit the stack of bookmarks, sending them into disarray. I gathered them and fixed them myself.

“So I was wondering,” Sam said.

“Yeah?”

“If maybe you’d want to, like, go see a movie together sometime.”

I turned and looked at him, surprised.

There was too much overwhelming me in that moment. Jesse with Carolyn, the headlights in my eyes, and the fact that someone was actually, possibly, asking me out on a date.

I should have said, “Sure.” Or “Totally.” But instead I said, “Oh. Uh . . .”

And then nothing else.

“No worries,” Sam said, clearly desperate for this awkwardness to end. “I get it.”

And just like that, I sent Sam Kemper straight into the friend zone.

Two and a half years later, Sam was graduating.

I had spent a good portion of my sophomore year trying to get Sam to ask me out again. I had made jokes about not having anything to do on a Saturday night and I had vaguely implied that we should hang out outside of the store, but he wasn’t getting it and I was too much of a chicken to ask him outright. So I let it go.

And since then, Sam and I had become close friends.

So I went with my mom and dad to support him as he sat outside in the sweltering heat in a cap and gown.

Marie was not yet home for the summer from the University of New Hampshire. She was majoring in English, spending her extracurricular time submitting short stories to literary magazines. She had yet to place one but everyone was sure she’d get published somewhere soon. Graham had gone to UNH with her but she broke up with him two months in. Now she was dating someone named Mike whose parents owned a string of sporting goods stores. Marie would often joke that if they got married, they would merge the businesses. “Get it? And sell books and sports equipment at the same store,” she’d explain.

As I told Olive, there was no end to the things Marie could say to make me purge my lunch. But no one else seemed to want to vomit around her, and thus, my parents were promoting her to assistant manager for the summer.

Margaret had just recently quit and Marie had lobbied for the job. I was surprised when my mom was reticent to let her do it. “She should be off enjoying herself in college,” she said. “Before she comes back here and takes on all of this responsibility.”

But my father was so excited about it that even I had softened to the idea. He made her an assistant manager name badge even though none of us wore name badges. And he told my mom that he couldn’t be happier than to spend his summer with both of his daughters at the store.

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