Shuffle, Repeat(6)

Written By: Jen Klein

I find Mom at the stove, stirring a pot of tomato sauce. Her cheeks are pink from the heat and an embroidered headband holds back her straight brown hair. She looks up when I walk in. “June! Taste?”

She pulls her wooden spoon out and taps it against the edge of the pot before offering me some. It is, of course, divine. Everything my mom cooks is divine, with the exception of the things she made during the brief span of time when she was experimenting with scallions. She put them in everything, even cookies.

“The tomatoes are from Quinny,” she tells me. “Her garden is producing like crazy and since ours won’t be much of anything until next summer…How was your day?”

That’s how my mom talks. She trails off from one subject and leaps to the next one without missing a beat. I think her brain must be like that, a patchwork quilt of ideas and questions and thoughts. Mine is more linear. Point A to point B. Clear directions, clear focus. Mom says she doesn’t know how she and my father managed to produce such a brilliantly book-smart daughter, but she’s thankful for it.

I think it’s the only reason Mom is thankful for my father.

“It was fine. Mostly getting syllabi and hearing expectations. I think calculus is going to be hard.”

“You’ll be fine. You’re really good at math and…How are your friends?”

“Darbs has a crush. Lily got a special waiver for two study periods so she can practice violin. Shaun is in three of my classes.”

“So the same,” Mom says with a smile. “How about Itch?”

“Good, he drove me home.”

“That’s…Oh, how was Oliver this morning?” I pause for only a second, but Mom reads into it. “You don’t get along with him?”

“It’s fine, Mom. We get along fine.”

“I have an idea,” she says in this super-casual way, which I know means it didn’t just come to her. She’s been thinking about how to say this for a while. I watch her turn down the burner and give the pot a few more stirs. “I need Saturday afternoon for studio time, but I’m around in the morning. Maybe we could do some practice driving.”

My heart catches. Panic swells thick at the back of my throat. I do what I always do—take a deep breath and wait it out, sinking beneath the waves so the feeling can surge over and past me—and then swallow the panic back.

“I can’t.” I say it in a casual tone to match my mother’s. “I already have plans with Itch.”

It’s not true, but Mom doesn’t know that.

Or maybe she does.

“No cows!” I squawk at Oliver from my side of the behemoth as he trundles us down Main Street. We’ve already been arguing for a full ten minutes and I’m not making any headway at all. Also, I feel like I keep sliding down in my seat, because his car is so damn huge. I decide to change tactics, and I push myself upright, adopting a calmer voice. “I don’t want you guys to get hurt.”

Oliver lets out an exasperated puff of air. “It’s not a bull,” he tells me. “We’re talking about a dairy cow. They’re big and dumb and they make milk.”

“Just like you guys, except for the milk part.” He can’t blame me for hitting a softball when it comes in that low and slow.

“We’re not going to hurt it,” Oliver tells me.

“Oh, really? Medicating it with drugs intended for human consumption just to provide entertainment for a bunch of pumped-up boys isn’t hurting it?”

Oliver lifts his right hand from the steering wheel and slowly—veeeeery slowly—flexes his biceps. He throws me a sideways glance. “What I’ve taken from this is that you think I’m pumped up.”

It’s not that I’m trying to look at his muscle, but it’s right there, pushing against the sleeve of his T-shirt.

“Not funny.”

“It’s a little funny.”

I roll my eyes and then, since Oliver is looking at the road and didn’t see, I lean across the center seat so I’m in his peripheral vision, and I roll them again. Dramatically.

Oliver laughs. “You’re funny. I didn’t know that.” I feel a small stab of satisfaction to have surprised Oliver the way he surprised me yesterday with his vocabulary. “Nothing’s set in stone. I’m sure we can come up with something that doesn’t involve prescription drugs or force-feeding.”

“I don’t get why you have to come up with anything at all.”

“This again.” He darts a quick glance at me before looking back at the road. “Your lack of school spirit is—”

“I know, I know. Sad.”

“So sad. Tell me this, Rafferty. What kind of prank would you deem appropriate?”

“None!” My arms fling into the air all on their own. “I don’t want to be involved in any senior prank! It’s an irrelevant way to leave a legacy! It’s not a legacy!”

“Because high school is not where legacies are made,” Oliver says in a snippy version of my voice. “Because nothing we do now matters.”

“Mock away, but we’re only waiting until real life begins.”

“But these are the memories you take with you into real life! Pep rallies and parties and prom—”

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