Truth Serum


October 1, 1995
“Do you want to talk about it?”

I look over at Alice; she’s sitting cross-legged on her bed, hugging Simba to her chest.

“I don’t think so.”

I’m grateful she’s heard my end of the phone conversation, because I don’t want to repeat any of it. Though I don’t doubt my parents’ divorce is real, there’s a level of finality in saying it out loud that I don’t think I’m ready for.

“Okay,” she says, nodding.

I throw myself on my bed and cry until my head throbs, and I’ve run out of tears. When I sit up to blow my nose, I look over at Alice.

“I just can’t believe it,” I say. “Last week they call to tell me they’re painting the kitchen. This week they say they’re putting the house up for sale. My mom’s moving to Arizona. My dad is—get this—living with his best friend’s widow while swearing up and down their relationship is…” I raise my hands and curl my middle and index fingers like quotation marks. “‘…not like that.'”

“It should make for an interesting Thanksgiving.”

“I wouldn’t know; they told me not to come home.” Realizing for the first time what that means, I cover my eyes with my hands, threading my fingertips through the roots of my hair. “Oh my god, Alice.” I tug on my hair, groaning. “The dorms are closed over Thanksgiving Break, and I missed the deadline for special housing. I don’t have anywhere to go. While the rest of word is eating pumpkin pie, I’ll be sleeping on a cardboard box at the Metro.”

“You’re not going to end up sleeping in a box.”

“You’re right. I’m little; someone will beat me up and steal it.”

“If everything else falls through, you could always crash at Edward’s apartment. I know he won’t mind.”

“No one in his right mind would be okay with letting a stranger stay in his apartment while he was in another state.”

“You’re not a stranger; you’re my friend. Besides, he’s staying in DC, so you’d have to actually deal with his Type-A bullshit. His place is small, so there’s no way you could avoid it.”

I do my best to imagine what spending a week alone with Edward would be like. I want to think it’ll turn into something similar to the trashy romance novels I used to sneak into the Hallmark aisle to read while my mom did the grocery shopping, but I can’t see it happening. Hard as I try, I don’t see him shirtless on his knees before me licking my cleavage; I just see myself being a really big imposition.

“On second thought,” she continues, “maybe a cardboard box would be better.”

She means it to be funny, so I fake a laugh. But my feigned emotion causes its genuine counterpart to resurface, and the next thing I know, I’m crying yet again.

“I still can’t believe it.”

“Had they seemed happy?” she asks.

“No—that’s the crazy thing. They got married because my mom was pregnant with me. They never liked each other very much. I’m not upset they’re divorcing. I’m more…” I shake my head. “This is going to sound awful…”

“Go ahead; I won’t judge.”

“They were miserable, right? It was obvious to me for as long as I can remember. So when my mom said they’d only been staying together for me—that otherwise they would have done this years ago—that made me feel like shit. And what for? How did it help me?”

“I think they thought it would be easier on you if you didn’t have to see it happen, but they’re delusional. Not having you there just makes it easier on them.”

“How old were you when your parents got divorced?”

“My parents never got divorced.”

“Oh.” I don’t understand, but I don’t ask for details. I’ve often heard Alice refer to her father’s wife, but I’ve never heard her refer to her mother.

“My mom died when I was twelve.”

“I’m sorry.” I feel like an asshole. “I knew you had a stepmother, and I just assumed–”

“It’s okay.” She stares straight ahead for a moment, her eyes focusing on nothing. “It’s an easy mistake. Divorce is more common than dying in your thirties.”

“I meant that I was sorry for your loss.”

“Yeah.” She hunches over and crushes Simba against her chest. “Thanks.”

Though Alice is a small girl to begin with, curled into a ball like that she takes up even less space than usual. She’s in the same position I was only moments before, but somehow on her it’s worse—maybe because she’s usually so bubbly and upbeat. It’s jarring to see this side of her, to know how easily she can transform into a frightened little girl.

She sits up, and all of a sudden, she’s herself again. She tucks her chin-length black bob behind her ears and leans forward onto her elbows.

“I need a distraction. Tell me a secret.”

Wanting to make her smile, I blurt out the most embarrassing thing I can think of.

“When Edward was zapping your PRAM yesterday, I briefly considered dropping my towel.”

“You like him; that’s normal. I want to hear something shocking…something that you’re totally ashamed of.”

“I’m more upset that I’ll never sleep in my old room again than I am that my parents are getting divorced. My diaries are hidden under a loose floorboard, and I’d kind of like them back. If I tell either of my parents to get them for me, they’ll read them. They’d kill me for some of the things in there.”

She laughs and throws Simba at me.

“What?” I ask.

“You’re eighteen years old. You’ve never been kissed, until two days ago you’d never had a drink, and you graduated high school with a perfect grade-point average. What could possibly be in your diary that would make your parents flip out?”

“There’s some stuff,” I insist. “I don’t know. My mom is religious; she’d blow a gasket if she knew I even thought about sex. The idea that I want to have it at some point before I die would probably send her over the edge.”

“You’re thousands of miles away from her. What’s she going to do to you—take away your phone privileges?”

“You asked for something I was ashamed of; you didn’t say it had to make sense to you.”

“True. But as far as dirt goes, that’s pretty lame.”

“Maybe by prep-school party-girl standards. The typical high-school experience is more mundane. Anyway, now that I’ve humiliated myself, it’s your turn.”

“I have nothing to share.”

“Yeah, right.”

“It’s true. You know very well nothing embarrasses me.”

“Uh-uh,” I say, shaking my head. “You’re not getting out of this—fair is fair. It doesn’t have to be something you’re ashamed of, just something juicy I don’t already know.”

“Okay.” She sits up and takes an exaggerated breath. “You’re not allowed to get mad at me, because you asked for this.”

“Duly noted.”

“That whole Edward seeing you in your towel thing? I might have intentionally made myself scarce so you two would be alone together. I figured you were in the bathroom because your Docs were next to the door, but I didn’t realize you were in the shower. Setting it up so Edward would see you naked is over the top—even for me.”

She puts her hands over her face, bracing herself in case I start throwing things at her.

Except I don’t. I’m not angry—just a bit confused. She spreads her fingers and peeks through them, and when she sees I’m in the exact position I was before, she relaxes her posture and exhales.

“Why would you do that?”

“I have a feeling Edward would like you if he got to know you, that you’d be good for him. This isn’t something I advertise because I know how weird it sounds, but sometimes I have premonitions about things.” She shrugs. “This is one of them.”

I don’t want to laugh at her, but I can’t help it.

“What’s so funny?”

“I’m waiting for Dionne Warwick to pop out of our closet and tell me that for four dollars a minute, I can find out what I got on my philosophy paper.”

“I’m serious, Izzy. It doesn’t happen often, and I can’t predict when it will. All I know is that whenever I’ve had a gut feeling like this, I’m usually right.”

“Okay, then.” I don’t believe her, but I’m willing to play along. “Let’s hear some examples.”

“When my mom died, I knew my dad would remarry within the year. I knew Edward would hate his new wife, and he’d stop coming home on holidays. When I got the letter in the mail with my room assignment, I knew you and I would be great friends. I know I’ll die of cancer like my mother…” Her voice breaks. She takes a deep breath, then swallows with such force the muscles in her throat flex visibly. “…and when I do, I’ll be even younger than she was.”

I say the only thing I can think of that might comfort her. “Precognition goes against what science knows is true. It isn’t possible for effects to precede their causes.”

“Do you believe in god?”

“Yes.”

“Science can’t prove he exists.”

I can’t argue with her logic.

“I want you to be wrong,” I say.

“Me, too.”

The next time the phone rings, I’m in bed, but not yet asleep. I’ve had enough bad news for one day, and because the caller is from off-campus, I think it’s more of the same. Since Alice isn’t here to answer it for me, I let the answering machine take care of it for me. Expecting my mother’s voice after the beep, I pull my comforter over my head in a vain attempt to block out the sound. But I hear Edward’s voice instead, and I’m happy my effort was futile.

“Good evening, ladies. No, Alice, I’m not calling to scare away any guys you may have in your room. I just got home from training for UFC 8, and since I had a few minutes before heading out to the shooting range for target practice, I thought I’d–”

I pick up the phone, laughing. “Alice is in the bathroom; it’s just me. So while your over-protective brother thing is amusing, it’s a waste of effort.”

“But it made you smile.”

“It did.”

“Then it’s worth it. Anyway, I’m glad Alice isn’t there; I called to talk to you. I’m sorry to hear about your parents.”

“How did you know about that?”

“Alice emailed me. I know you and I don’t know each other well, but I’m here if you want to talk. I have a pretty good idea how you’re feeling right now–”

“I can’t imagine how.” It comes out more abruptly than I would like, but what he’s saying doesn’t gel well with what I know of his history.

“My mother died while I was away at prep school,” he explains. “So while the circumstances were different, I know how it feels to have the home you knew and loved disappear without warning.”

I feel like an asshole.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I know that it’s trite and something you’re probably sick to death of hearing…”

“Thank you,” he says. “I understand you need a place to stay over Thanksgiving–”

“I’m going to kill your sister.”

He laughs. “She has issues with boundaries, there’s no doubt. In this case, though, she’s doing the right thing. I don’t have a lot of space, but if you’re willing to make it work for a week, I am, too. There’s one condition.”

Yes, I’m willing to make out with you.

“Okay,” I say.

“Do you know how to cook a turkey?”

I start to think maybe it’s going to be okay.


November 22, 2009
Jasper’s not like I expect him to be, which is silly, because I’m not sure what I expected. He seems warm enough, even if he is very quiet. I hope he’s shy—that would give me reason to believe that though he may be reserved around me now, he won’t always be. Then I remember he’s one of Edward’s close friends—that’s how he got to know Alice. It bothers me because I want him to like me, but I can’t blame him. He knows me as the person who abandoned two of the people he loves most. If I were him, I wouldn’t have much to say to me, either.

“Did you sleep all right?”

Alice’s voice startles me. My cheeks heat up and my eyes focus on the grocery list I was making, feeling very much like a high-school student who’d just been scolded for day-dreaming.

“Wonderfully,” I say, smiling.

“You seem a little out of it.”

“I was just thinking about to serve on Thursday—that is, if you still want me to cook.”

“As long as you don’t mind.”

“Are you kidding? I’d love to.”

It’s the least I can do.

“We’ll be happy to eat whatever you’d like to make.”

“Great.”

I scribble what I need to prepare the same meal I made Edward our first Thanksgiving together—something about it just feels right.





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3 Responses

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  1. on 10 Nov 2010 at 10:05 pmCarol Hansen

    Edward will be with them for Thanksgiving?
    Really like the back story to this! They really haven’t moved on in ten years though?

    [Reply]


  2. on 25 Apr 2012 at 1:14 amStormDragonfly

    Oh no! Alice is in her thirties now!

    Congratulations on finishing your two-year+ writing project, by the way. :-)

    [Reply]


  3. on 28 Jun 2012 at 5:01 amSimone

    I’m very attached to your Alice; I’m glad her premonition concerning her own death seems to be inaccurate… or so I’m hoping.

    [Reply]