Story — From the May 2014 issue

The There There

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Drew should have gone to college on one of the coasts; he should have had the same kind of adventure as his brother (minus the aged Peruvian). But he couldn’t bear to leave his mother, so he went in-state instead. That was her second boy, cursed with loyalty, and guilt, and softness. That dreamy look in his eyes. His brother, meanwhile, married Adora Zabron. His parents were not invited to the ceremony (civil; witnessed by his two new stepdaughters, those beauties) and were told, when they asked, that gifts were not necessary. Adora and he already possessed all the required gadgets and appliances and stemware. If they wished, his family could donate funds to rescue an endangered animal or build a sewage system for orphans somewhere in the Third World.

It wasn’t just his abandoned mother (his betraying father) who was responsible for Drew’s choosing to study close to home. There was also his girlfriend, Crystal Hurd. She’d been his best friend since they were children. The nearby tomboy neighbor with her bully brothers and their de-scented pet skunk. For the whole of eighth grade she and Drew had feuded and not spoken; then they had sex in the ninth grade and were once again inseparable, yet in a way quite unlike their former inseparability. No longer did Crystal walk into Caroline’s house without knocking. No more opening the cookie jar and helping herself to a treat. Instead of calling Caroline by her first name, she used no name at all to address her. In fact, when she spoke it was exclusively to Drew, as if she’d never had her bottom wiped by Caroline, or gum snipped very gently from her quite long and ratty hair. Crystal’s parents worked at the same places Drew’s did, but in utterly different capacities. Her father served on the crew reclaiming the mine ruins, wearing a hard hat, while Gerald supervised from a trailer. Her mother was a lunch lady and custodian at the high school where Caroline had taught English before being promoted to vice principal. Labor and management.

Drew came home frequently from college, and Crystal joined him in his bedroom, yet when they emerged neither looked pleased. He missed Crystal, he told Caroline, when he was in Fort Collins, but at home he didn’t wish to see her.

He wanted his old feelings, Caroline believed. They were gone and he resented Crystal’s not being able to inspire them any longer. During his second semester, he returned only once, for spring break. By the time summer came around, he had met Elizabeth. Never Beth, Liz, or any other nicknames, always the full royal title. Drew kept his mother apprised of the marvelous and mysterious Elizabeth: her father the Manhattan lawyer! Her penthouse childhood! Her current astonishing inability to operate a motor vehicle! For her part, Crystal seemed to have talked herself into thinking of this rift like the eighth-grade one: a necessary separation that would yield, eventually, another reunion, an intimacy as yet unknown.

Caroline didn’t think it likely. Drew’s Elizabeth was heading back to New York for the summer, and he planned to go with her. There would be no European vacation this year, and when Caroline lay alone in the Telluride house where they’d all lived for so long, she imagined her former family members pinned on a U.S. map, each man with another woman, one on the West Coast, one on the East, and her ex-husband relocated two hours south. How had it turned out that she was the only one sleeping by herself?

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’s latest book, Funny Once, will be published this month by Bloomsbury.

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