This is a sample of my new book La Cienega Just Smiled. It’s currently available as an ebook and will be out in print on Tuesday.
Amber’s house was located just around the corner from the celebrated Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina. From their living room you could see Fort Sumter where the initiating shots of the Civil War were blasted. I would’ve given anything to be able to jump into the frigid Atlantic and swim out to that island instead of sitting at the table across from Amber’s stiff parents and her bratty little sister. I wasn’t intimidated by the fact that her father was a judge or that the plates on the table were probably worth more than my car. What made my throat tighten and hands shake was the fact that Mr. Sullivan had asked me five different ways in about three minutes what my intentions were with his daughter. Meanwhile, Amber smiled at me like a lovesick mute who offered no assistance in the form of diverting her father’s attention from me.
“So who are you voting for in the election?” was his first question that didn’t directly pertain to his daughter. Instead of being relieved at the Amber reprieve, I was once again panic stricken as I realized I hadn’t made a final decision. But judging from the McCain-Palin sign in his front yard, I was pretty sure he didn’t want to hear that. Or else he’d spend the rest of the evening trying to sway me to his side.
“Peter, not at the dinner table.” Mrs. Sullivan words were like a life preserver. I would have kissed her if I didn’t think Amber would jump across the table and beat down her own mother in a jealous rage.
“What?” Mr. Sullivan asked innocently of his wife as he looked up from his soup appetizer. “I can’t ask the boy his opinion? He sure better have an opinion by now. The election is in two days. You are eighteen aren’t you?” he asked me.
“Yes, sir,” I said, reaching for water to quench my suddenly parched throat.
“You registered?” he continued, dabbing his Yosemite Sam moustache with a napkin.
“Peter, really? Can’t you ask him a question that’s a little less volatile?” said Mrs. Sullivan who was a dead ringer for Vanna White.
Meanwhile, six-year-old Crystal kicked me under the table then whispered, “You better vote for McCain. Obama is a Sofa list.”
“Socialist, honey. Obama is a socialist,” Vanna, I mean, Mrs. Sullivan corrected her daughter.
“That’s my girl,” Mr. Sullivan said before hi-fiving Crystal.
“Why don’t you ask him where’s he’s going to college? He has so many schools after him, he can go anywhere he wants,” Amber said, gushing so much I half expected her soup to explode out of the top of her head.
“Where do you intend to matriculate?”
“Um, I’m leaning toward Cal State Fullerton. I’d love to play baseball there.”
“California? I don’t want my little girl living amongst all those liberals. You know they let gays get married there?”
“Excuse me … what?” I said nearly choking on the spoonful of soup I’d tried to get down. Who the hell invited Amber to California? Was she really planning on going to any school I went to?
“I know. It’s ridiculous. Men marrying men. Women kissing on women. It just ain’t right.” He misunderstood my confusion.
“God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve,” Crystal volunteered while folding her arms smugly.
“Amen, baby,” Mr. Sullivan said, hi-fiving his daughter again. “Anyway, you and Amber should go to a school right here in South Carolina.”
“May I use your restroom?” I said, standing abruptly. This had gone too far. I couldn’t take anymore.
“I’ll show him where it is.” Amber leaped from her seat, grabbed my hand and led me toward the family room.
Once we turned a corner, Amber flung her arms about my neck and planted a kiss on my lips. “I love you so much, Scottie,” she said when she let me up for air. “I’m so happy we worked through our problems. We’re going to be together forever.” She kissed me again, and then skipped off toward the dining room.
I slipped into the bathroom and texted Stu.
Five minutes later, as a salmon dish was being placed in front of us, my cell phone rang. I answered it and feigned shock and dismay to what I heard on the phone although all my little brother said to me was “You owe me for this. I was in the middle of a really awesome guitar solo.”
“I’m so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, but apparently my brother missed the last bus and he’s stranded in North Charleston. I have to pick him up.”
After a few handshakes and a couple of reluctant hugs, I was released from that prison-like hell without further interrogation. Thankfully, they weren’t bus riding type people and didn’t realize that the Charleston Area bus system didn’t stop running until 10:50 on Sundays.
Stu was on the floor about to burst with laughter when I told him about my evening.
“Do you see this?” he said, pointing to his face. “I’m crying. I’m actually crying. I’ve never heard anything so hysterical in my life.”
Suddenly finding the humor in the whole situation, I joined in the laughter as well.
“But seriously,” I said a few moments later, breaking up the hilarity of the moment. “What am I gonna do? How can I break up with Amber without her going Fatal Attraction on me?”
“Why do you need to break up with her all of the sudden? Just let it end naturally like all your other relationships.”
“What do you mean? How do my relationships usually end?”
“Well,” Stu sat up and crossed his legs Indian style. “You usually date three types of girls. One: the hot gold-digger. She dates you until someone better comes along, then she dumps you and moves on. Two: the hot psycho. She’s completely possessive and drives you crazy from day one, but you stay with her as long as you can because the sex is good. When you can’t take it anymore you get caught making out at a party with another girl and she dumps you. And Three: the hot romantic. She’s completely in love with the idea of you, but once she dates you and realizes you not only have nothing in common but that you’ll never love her as much as she loves you, she cries a little, and then dumps you and moves on.”
“Whoa, you’ve put a lot of thought into this,” I said a little surprised at his summation.
“Reyna and I came up with these categories about a year ago after Savannah and Ashley fought over you in the girls’ bathroom. They were both type twos.”
“Reyna.” I sighed.
“Yeah, Reyna. Now, she’s the kind of girl you should be with. But that’ll never happen.”
“Why not?” I asked, starting to get offended.
He looked at me like I was dumber than a boat made of Corn Flakes, then said, “Because she doesn’t fit into one of the categories.”
I mulled this over for a moment while Stu set up Guitar Hero on the Xbox. I was a walking stereotype. My little brother was able to sum up my love life in like fifty words. And he’d had the help of Reyna of all people. No wonder she wanted nothing to do with me romantically. She would take it as an insult to be my girlfriend.
“Wait a minute,” I said finally. “Why wouldn’t a relationship work with the hot romantic? Why wouldn’t I be able to love her as much as she loved me?” I asked, thinking I’d found a flaw in his reasoning.
“Because you’ll never be able to love any woman as much as you love Reyna,” he said simply as he started strumming to “Dream On” by Aerosmith. “And the sooner you realize that, the happier you’ll be.”
“I do realize it.”
“Seriously?” Stu turned off the game. “All right, Scottie. It’s about time.”
“What do you mean?”
“Scottie, you’ve been in love with her for years.”
“Yes, but you’ve let Sam’s prejudice keep you from acting on your true feelings. What made you finally come around?”
I shrugged. “I guess I started thinking about who would be by my side if I wasn’t a star athlete. Who would still care about me if I never threw another touchdown pass for the rest of my life? Besides you, there was Reyna.” I didn’t want to tell him that the reason I started thinking about this was because lately I thought my body was giving out on me and I feared that a career in sports wouldn’t be in my future.
“So, what’s it like? The whole being in love thing,” he asked.
“Ooookaaay. That’s so not what I expected you to say.” Stu sat down Indian style on the floor and waited for me to elaborate.
“Well, it does. It feels like…it feels like an eighteen wheeler is sitting on my chest and the only relief I get is when I’m around her. Then I feel free.”
“Wow. That was equal parts terrifying and beautiful.”
“Exactly,” I said.