My life is all planned out (Alex)
As always, JFK airport was crowded beyond belief. Standing just outside security, I waited for Carrie, feeling alternately excited to see her and suspicious of her motives. Why suspicious? Because three days before, I had let slip in a conversation with my mom that I was seeing Dylan.
“Dylan? Isn’t he the boy who came to visit you? The one who went off and joined the Army of all things?”
“Yes, mom. He was injured in Afghanistan, and he’s going to Columbia now.”
That was followed by a long, uncomfortable pause. Then she said, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Yes,” I replied, simply. I wasn’t going to get in a long, drawn out argument about Dylan. We’d had enough of those over the last three years.
“I just think you need to focus on your school work, Alexandra. Not on boys… especially that one. He hurt you, honey. And your grades suffered because of it.”
My grades suffered because of it. Of course that’s what she cared about. I got a B last spring in my Comparative Religions course. It was the first B I’d had, well… ever. You would think I had murdered someone for all the conflict it caused at home. When my parents saw my final grades, they grounded me. I’m nineteen years old, and was home from college, and my parents somehow thought it was appropriate to ground me. Can we say overcontrolling?
But then, that’s who they are.
I managed to bring the conversation with Mom to a graceful end, but the next day I got a text from Carrie.
Coming into New York Saturday! Can we get together?
I should have seen that one coming a mile away. For one thing, Carrie was in graduate school, and just as dependent on the dole from Dad as I was. Where did she get the money to fly from Houston to New York on a last minute trip? Dad. Which meant she’d been sent on a mission to spy on me and find out how serious I was about Dylan.
If they had any idea I was planning to sleep with him tonight, they’d go into full scale red-alert. I had a wild thought I should tell Carrie, just to provoke a reaction.
And there she was, coming off the plane, carrying a sizable carry-on. As always, she looked runway-model perfect. Long brown hair, like mine, but always better cut and styled, just so. Instead of casual clothes you might expect on an airplane, she was wearing a chic flowered dress that probably cost upwards of two grand, and fantastic black leather ankle high boots with three inch heels. To say I was occasionally jealous of my sister Carrie would be like saying that the ocean is an oversized pond. When I was around her, I felt inadequate, a little sister who could never live up to her big sister’s accomplishments, beauty or charisma.
She smiled and waved enthusiastically when she saw me. I returned the smile and wave, and when she came through the gate we hugged. She was at least six inches taller than me, and that combined with the heels made me feel like I was still twelve years old.
“Oh, Alexandra, it’s so good to see you! I’ve missed you so much!”
“I’ve missed you too, Carrie.”
“We’ve got so much to talk about, I’m so happy I got to come visit!”
I smiled, still uncomfortable. “Are you hungry? Should we go get some lunch?”
She nodded. “Yes, let’s do that. I’m traveling light today, we don’t need to pick up any bags.”
“Great,” I said. “We can get a cab back to the university and eat at Tom’s?”
She grinned, nodding happily. “I’d love that, I haven’t been there since I graduated! I had a lot of good late nights there.”
I smiled back at her. “Yeah, me too.”
So, into the cab we went. On the way into the city, we chattered about inconsequential things. Classes. She was working on her Ph.D. in behavioral ecology, or something like that. Carrie had always been a bit of a science fanatic. Given that the rest of us were heavy in the humanities, it made her a little bit of a freak in the family, but I’d always thought it was in a good way. She and Dad had a blowout when she selected her major. He’d intended her to follow him into the foreign service.
I was proud of her for defying him. Having one ambassador in the family was plenty, I thought, and sometimes I was sick of him and Mom trying to control our entire lives. The only one of us free of it was Julia. She’d finished her Bachelor’s degree at Harvard, then basically gave dad the finger and ran off with her boyfriend Crank. Yes, really. Crank was a guitarist. In a punk rock band. They’d been happily touring the country for the last five years, and always brought a level of entertainment to family get-togethers during the holidays. By comparison, Carrie’s rebellion was rather minor.
Finally, we arrived at Tom’s Restaurant and got a seat in the back. Our waitress, Cherry, came over and brightened when she saw me. “Alex! You’re back again? That’s twice in one day.”
I laughed, just a little, and said, “This is my sister, Carrie. She went to school here, so it’s kind of a homecoming for her.”
Cherry nodded in acknowledgement, then said, “Well, we’ll try to make your visit worth the trip! Do you guys know what you’d like to drink?”
We ordered, then sat back and looked at each other. For a second I had an image of two cats, fur puffed out, tails twitching, getting ready to pounce.
I was the one to break the impasse.
“So Dad sent you to report back on me?”
She grinned, then sighed in relief. “Yes. Of course. I should have realized you’d figure that out pretty quick.”
“It was pretty transparent,” I replied.
“They’re worried about you,” she said.
“Because of Dylan.”
“Well, you can report back that there is nothing to worry about. Dylan and I are in love, we always have been. But before now there was never … it was never a possibility. Not with us separated all the time. Now we’re not separated, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. Dad can go take a flying leap if he thinks he’s going to interfere.”
Carrie’s eyes widened. “Wow,” she said. “Tell me how you really feel.”
I chuckled. “Seriously, though. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“I know that,” she said. “Except for Julia, you’re probably the only one of us really grounded in who you are. I’m not worried at all, I just want to know all about it! It’s so exciting that you two are finally together, isn’t it?”
I smiled, feeling warm all over. “He makes me happy, Carrie. Really, truly happy.”
“If I promise not to repeat a word to Dad except what you approve, will you tell me about it?”
I nodded, suddenly pleased. Carrie and I had never been close. The difference in our ages, and her ability to intimidate everyone around her, had always placed distance between us. And I wanted to be close. She was my sister.
So I told her the story. Some of it she knew of course. Everyone in my family knew something significant had happened during the trip in Israel three years ago, because I’d come home devastated from mine and Dylan’s separation. I’d cried for almost three days, which was hardly the homecoming anyone else in the family had expected. Then I’d bought a package of photo paper and printed out all of my pictures from our trip. Dozens and dozens of dozens of pictures of us together. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that I’d fallen in love.
What Carrie didn’t know about was how hard it had been, so I told her. About the doubts, the distance. Knowing that he was planning on going off after high school to gain experience and write novels. Knowing that we’d be separated. I broke it off with Mike as soon as I got back to San Francisco, but I’d been anchorless, my existence for those first few months revolving around phone calls, emails and Facebook exchanges with Dylan.
What she didn’t know was the he’d joined the Army the day after I broke up with him. Which meant that, in a big way, his subsequent injuries were my fault.
I told her about how we’d slowly re-tangled our lives after encountering each other outside Doctor Forrester’s office in September. How his injuries had impacted him, and how we ran together every other morning.
“I can believe that. I’ve never seen you looking so… svelte,” she said.
“Well, we run about seven miles. Lots of exercise together.”
“Oh?” she asked coyly, eyebrows raised.
Heat rushed to my cheeks. “Oh, my God! I didn’t mean that, Carrie!”
She smiled. “It’s okay, Alexandra. I wouldn’t tell Dad. You can talk to me.”
I looked down at the table, embarrassed, then said, “I’ve sort of decided we’re finally going to.”
Her mouth formed a big O. “Really?” she said.
I nodded. “I love him, Carrie. More than you can imagine. I want to spend my life with him.”
She sighed. “I’m envious.”
I sat back in my seat, shocked. “You’re envious of me?”
She gave me a bittersweet smile. “My life is all planned out, Alex. I guess all of our lives are, except Julia’s. There’s been no room for men. And … let’s just say I’ve been regretting that. I’m so happy for you.”
“You’ll get to meet him at the party tonight. Oh, and speaking of men,” I said, leaning forward and grinning at her. “I promised to introduce you to his friend. Ray Sherman. Sherman just got home from Afghanistan.”
Carrie blinked. “Dad would have a conniption if I were to date a soldier. Look at how he treated you.”
I laughed. “You’ll like him,” I said. “He’s a nice guy. And … objectively, knowing I’ve got a boyfriend I am absolutely in love with… Sherman is still really hot.”
Her eyes twinkled. “Well, in that case, I’m looking forward to meeting him!”
“You really mean it? You’re not going to report all this back to Dad? I don’t think I can take all the grilling over Thanksgiving. It’s going to be bad enough as is.”
“I promise, sis. Not a word. I’ll tell him you are happy and to leave you alone. ”
“That ought to go well,” I replied, and we laughed, but there was an edge to the laugh. We both knew it wouldn’t go over well at all.