I’m so excited to have just received my Advance Proof copy of THE ROCKY ORCHARD as we make our way to the JUNE 2 RELEASE! Meantime, here is a new excerpt from novel #5, THE READING. This passage begins where the previous post stopped.
Tom continued around the circle making introductions. I decided to preempt the possibility of tanked-up frosh teetering to a standing position and shaking my hand by saying, “Hey, really, don’t get up. No need.”
“This is Pauly,” Tom said. Over there is Nathan. The tall guy is Chip. And right here is Natalie. She’s from Texas.”
I had no idea why Tom singled out the Texas information, or what I was supposed to do with it. I waved kind of lamely at everyone and said, “Hi, all.” I turned to Natalie. “Yeah…Texas. Cool accent, I’m guessing.”
Natalie laughed and said, “Well, I’m thinkin’ it pegs me pretty quick as not being from around here.” She was right. Her drawl was leisurely and thick – to such a degree that it seemed like it must be deliberate. Natalie had very long, disturbingly unhealthy hair. She was quite lean, with long legs and big boobs that she seemed intent on displaying, as her polo shirt was a good couple of sizes too small. Wait. Polo shirt, again.
“Oh,” Tom said, “Oh, God, I’m so sorry. This is Adele.”
I felt like an awful person for taking one look at Adele and understanding completely why Tom would have forgotten about her. She was little, with hair and facial features that appeared to be all one color. She seemed to blend into the background so much that I had a difficult time focusing on her. I thought that this was probably the story of her life – not even being noticed, not significant-seeming enough to be overlooked because she hadn’t been seen in the first place. It made me want to like her, to hope that I would. “Adele!” I said. “Cool. I’ve only known one other Adele in my life. She was the piano teacher for my ballet class when I was a kid. She was a riot.”
“Yeah, it’s not a very common name,” Adele said. I felt an enormous sense of relief that I was able to overcome my initial inclination to laugh when I heard Adele’s voice. High-pitched, squeaky, nasal in a way that seemed to go straight from her mouth to that spot on your forehead, right between your eyes. Instant headache.
“Adele the pianist chain smoked the entire time she was playing classical ballet pieces for us little girls. The ashtray on the edge of her keyboard would be filled by the end of an hour long class. Her voice was so low, and so raspy-hoarse that I’m pretty sure she must have been hitting the whiskey pretty hard, too.” I pantomime like I’m taking slugs from a bottle.
I am trying too hard. Way too hard. I probably have been for a while, certainly since that idiotic remark about “who’s with me, brothers?” I’m some exaggerated version of myself. Aggressively iconoclast, or something. Thank God it’s gotten too dark for everyone to see me blushing. I can feel the heat in my cheeks. The pulsing at my temples.
I do this thing sometimes where I sort of turn off the sound. I stop listening — just for a minute — to what people are saying. I shut out the words. I watch them then, their gestures and their movements. With the sound track off, I can see different things. I saw that everyone was trying too hard. Every person sitting around in this random little group collected by the super extroverted Tom on our third full day of our first year at college.
We had a clean slate. We were all brand new. Each of us understood this in our own way, and the knowledge was at once thrilling and terrifying. We had no idea, none whatsoever, what we were meant to do. We introduced ourselves to other brand new people who knew nothing about who we were before we arrived here. Whether we were the one who spent every Saturday night in the bathroom, leaning into the mirror as we squeezed the zits under the harsh lights. Whether we were the one who left behind a sweet and tender first love full of breathy whispers and dreamy sighs. Whether we were the one whose parents travelled the world and left us completely alone while we rode a unicycle through the maze of our hallways. Whatever we had been, whatever triumphs and suffering lay behind us, we began anew.