11. Other People's Dads

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11. Other People’s Dads
Freshman Year

“So what did the judge say?” Nora asked. Seagulls circled overhead, laughing noisily. I’d been visiting her house a lot lately, as our friendship grew. Nora’s place was a sanctuary from Broadway.

“The judge made us all go to counseling; my dad was so pissed about it, but at least he got to keep me. They think that Mr. Gimble might have screwed with us all, so we all should see this psychiatrist in case some of us aren’t like…telling the others what he did. My dad got some slap on the wrist. Long as I go to this counselor I should get to stay at home.

“I don’t have anything to tell him really, so I don’t mind that much. He’s just some nice old guy who asks you about your feelings. Well, at first. But someone told him about this game we play, and now he won’t stop asking me about it.”

“What game?” she asked, cheeks red from hours in the sun.

I took a deep breath. “I’ve never told anyone about this before.”

“Well, what is it?” She was interested, now.

I decided to tell her; I knew her better than anyone else outside of Broadway. Besides, Kent had already blabbed the whole story to Mr. Aschen.

“So someone tags you. Like, David in this case—and you have to change your life in the next fifteen minutes.” The coffee-colored chasms of Nora’s wide eyes showed no signs of reaction. I’d expected fireworks, like when David explained Eureka to me. “Then you’re It and you can tag one of them, and they have to do the same. Anyway, my counselor is not very supportive of the idea.”

“You should listen to your counselor; the game sounds…kinda stupid,” she said. Her long, thick legs were stretched out on a stool, and the wind blew over the lake in her backyard onto the sun-drenched deck. Nora’s father smiled from behind expansive, clear windows, where he washed the dishes we’d eaten from.

I held an arm out over my bare torso and watched how individual drops of water glistened on my skin. We were still wet from our swim. “I don’t think it’s stupid. Sometimes the things we’re afraid of doing need to be done most. Some people will do anything to avoid the one big thing they really need to do.”

“Okay, so maybe once.” She drank from a large glass of iced tea. “Or even twice. But why keep doing it over and over? Don’t you guys get in trouble like…constantly?”

“Well,” I admitted. “Yeah, we do get in some trouble. That’s not the point, though.”

“Not the point you want to make, you mean,” Nora said. “Why not make normal friends? Live a regular life?” She opened her hands at the lake and porch around her. An enormous white shirt covered her bathing suit and the body she didn’t want me to see.

“Because my normal life isn’t anything like this one. Most freshmen don’t go see a state-appointed counselor. Not everyone lives on the lake and has a nice dad who makes them lunches.” Acid rose in my voice.

“Okay, okay, sorry. I know, okay. You have had it bad. I want to see the best happen for you, is all. I think if you get your grades up and work hard, then you won’t need to escape your life, right? Your life will be good enough to hold on to.”

“So you keep telling me.” I stood and water seeped down between my bare toes. “I guess it seems like it’s never going to happen for me. What David invented makes sense, honestly. If every adult was so happy with their decisions, I might agree with you—but c’mon, look around you, Nora. Every adult I see is on drugs or drunk or miserable. How many happy, well-balanced people do you know? They must be doing something wrong. Don’t stand in line to walk off the ledge just because everyone in front of you is doing the same thing.”

“Did David say that?” she snapped. Then Nora shook her head, seeming to reconsider the comment. “Sorry, that doesn’t matter. I’m sure it’s difficult to live a happy life, but not impossible; personally, I think you don’t want to do the work. You know it won’t be easy and you’ll need to try, and that bothers you.” She stood as well.

“I’m sorry I even told you about it.” My throat tightened around the words. “You’re supposed to be my support, Nora. Can’t one person on this planet agree with me?” Other than the Six, of course.

“I would never agree with you for the sake of agreeing, Jacob. I actually care about your well being,” Nora said, then fell silent.

This must be true, but neither of us ever voiced it until that moment. The realization doused my anger. “C’mon, let’s go inside.” I shouldn’t have expected Nora to comprehend; her life was fine. Nora had no reason to want to change, and so couldn’t understand.

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