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“What are we doing for lunch?” Jamie asks, slinging her bag over her shoulder. Just then, I remember what I’m doing. I straighten up and look at my friend.
“Luke asked me to lunch today,” I say.
“Oh,” she says, sounding disappointed. I think I see a flash of something in her eyes. Annoyance? Jealousy? “That’s okay, I’ll go with Anthony.”
“Sorry, J.”
I notice then that Anthony is leaving in a hurry, and I wonder how she’ll really spend her lunch hour.
As I walk to meet Luke, my mind is on the photos. One photo, really. One person, specifically: my grandmother.
I can’t believe that I didn’t recognize her this morning. Now, I consider what that recognition means.
On one hand, I have an older, wiser role model who (presumably) loves me and might want to bake me cookies and braid my hair. Well, okay, just the cookies.
But on the other hand, my single future memory of her is the darkest one I’ve got: my grandmother is the older woman wearing the pretty beetle brooch at the funeral.
My brain twists and turns as I round the corner to the commons. I see Luke leaning against the far wall, bag dropped to the floor next to him. His eyes are cast down; he appears to be deep in thought. As soon as I wonder what he’s thinking about, his eyes are on mine. He smiles, pushes off the brick wall, and picks up his bag.
For some reason, my brain chooses that exact moment to figure it out. I stop halfway across the commons. A boy nearly collides with me. Luke looks confused.
The funeral.
There is only one logical explanation. I don’t want to think it but the thought shoves its way to the front of the line anyway.
It’s Dad’s funeral.
My dad is going to die.
I am almost completely distracted by Luke by the time we make it through rows of student cars and reach his…
He laughs at my baffled expression at the sight of a car usually reserved for soccer moms. Apparently it was his soccer mom’s car before she replaced it with an oh-so-economical SUV.
As he starts the engine, Luke confirms that, yes, I’m still fine with going to his house for lunch instead of going out for pizza or something. Apparently his mother has taken his baby sisters shopping for new clothes in the city today.
Apparently Luke has baby sisters.
“How old are they?” I ask, looking around the van.
“Almost three,” Luke says. I screw up my face in concentration as I try to figure out the math.
“Are you wondering whether one of my parents is remarried?” Luke asks with a laugh.
“Sort of,” I confess. “It’s a pretty huge age difference.”
“Yeah, it is,” Luke says. “My parents had me young.”
“And they decided to have more kids later?”
“Yep,” Luke says. “They divorced and remarried each other. Then had the twins.”
I must still have a funny look on my face, because Luke keeps talking.
“I know it’s weird. Want to hear the saga?”
“Yes,” I say enthusiastically.
“Okay,” Luke says, smiling. “So, we lived in Chicago when I was born. My parents were high school sweethearts. They got married young, right after graduation. Can you imagine?” he asks, but doesn’t let me answer.
“Anyway, they had me when they were twenty-five or something. They were superpoor, so we lived in my grandparents’ basement. My dad was in law school and my mom took care of me and worked nights to help pay for it. I guess they were pretty happy despite the no-money thing.
“After school my dad got recruited by a big law firm in New York. We moved there when I was around five or so.”
“You lived in New York? That’s so cool,” I say, remembering the city from visits I’ll have as an adult. I can’t wait to go.
“Yeah, it was. I mean, I was young, but I remember a lot of it. My mom used to take me around the city. It was really fun. You know how some childhood memories just stick with you?”
“Yeah,” I lie, trying to plaster a nostalgic look on my face. Luke pauses and smiles at me. He looks like he wants to ask something, but he doesn’t. Instead, he continues his story.
“Anyway, the fun didn’t last long. Dad made partner and my parents started fighting because he spent a lot of time at work. Like, a lot. I don’t remember him being home much for a few years.”
At least you remember him at all, I think.
Luke exits the freeway and turns right, toward the newer housing development across the highway from mine. I am happy to discover how close we live to each other.
Luke goes on. “So when I was about ten, they got a divorce. For two years, I didn’t see my dad at all. He sent cards on my birthday and stuff…”
“… and I know he paid child support. We moved to Boston. My mom took a job at a furniture store. She worked a ton and so I spent the summers with my aunt and uncle.”
Luke pauses again, as if he’s waiting for me to say something. Unsure how to respond, I look back until he is forced to return his eyes to the road. He continues.
“Then one day Dad showed up with flowers and begged Mom to take him back. Eventually, she did, and he took a job in Boston at a smaller firm and came home at five thirty every night. It was like New York had never happened.
“It was all pretty weird, but that’s my parents. Then one day they shock me with news that they’re having twins.”
“Wow,” I say when he’s finished.
“I know, sorry. That was really long and boring,” Luke says.
“No, not at all. It sounds like a movie.”
Luke laughs and says, “Oh, I’m sure we all have our movie dramas,” in a way that makes me think he can see into my soul.
“What about your parents?” he asks casually.
“My mom sells real estate,” I say, eyes on the houses we’re passing.
“What about your dad? What does he do?”
“I don’t know,” I say quietly. Luke glances at me.
“Sorry for bringing it up,” he says.
“It’s no big deal,” I lie. In truth, it’s a very big deal, particularly today, but it’s nothing I need to share with a potential boyfriend who seems to play no part in my future. I’m relieved when we reach Luke’s house. Luke’s very new, very large house.
We go in, and after a quick tour of the main level, Luke fixes turkey sandwiches in the kitchen while I scan a mantel in the library bursting with framed photos of him and his little sisters. I feel a little twinge of jealousy at the sight of the happy siblings.
A particular photo of Luke when he looks to be eleven or twelve catches my attention, then magnetically draws it back the first few times I look away. In it, he’s clearly going through a tough-guy fashion phase. I can’t stop looking at it.
Finally, I focus on shots of his baby sisters.
“They’re adorable,” I say about the little girls when Luke brings in lunch.
“Yeah, they really are. You should see them in real life. They say the most hilarious stuff.” Luke is beaming, and the thought of him serving as older brother to these two precious ladies feels right. “Anyway, you’ll meet them sometime,” he adds. “Here you go,” he says, offering me a plate.