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I have three simple wishes. They’re really not too much to ask.
The first is to attend the winter formal dressed like Marie Antoinette. I want a wig so elaborate it could cage a bird and a dress so wide I’ll only be able to enter the dance through a set of double doors. But I’ll hold my skirts high as I arrive to reveal a pair of platform combat boots, so everyone can see that, underneath the frills, I’m punk-rock tough.
The second is for my parents to approve of my boyfriend. They hate him. They hate his bleached hair with its constant dark roots, and they hate his arms, which are tattooed with sleeves of spiderwebs and stars. They say his eyebrows condescend, that his smile is more of a smirk. And they’re sick of hearing his music blasting from my bedroom, and they’re tired of fighting about my curfew whenever I watch his band play in clubs.
And my third wish?
To never ever ever see the Bell twins ever again. Ever.
But I’d much rather discuss my boyfriend. I realize it’s not cool to desire parental approval, but honestly, my life would be so much easier if they accepted that Max is the one. It’d mean the end of embarrassing restrictions, the end of every-hour-on-thehour phone-call check-ins on dates, and—best of all—the end of Sunday brunch.
The end of mornings like this.
“Another waffle, Max?”
My father, Nathan, pushes the golden stack across our antique farmhouse table and toward my boyfriend. This is not a real question. It’s a command, so that my parents can continue their interrogation before we leave. Our reward for dealing with brunch? A more relaxed Sunday-afternoon date with fewer check-ins.
Max takes two and helps himself to the homemade raspberry-peach syrup. “Thanks, sir. Incredible, as always.” He pours the syrup carefully, a drop in each square. Despite appearances, Max is careful by nature. This is why he never drinks or smokes pot on Saturday nights. He doesn’t want to come to brunch looking hungover, which is, of course, what my parents are watching for. Evidence of debauchery.
“Thank Andy.” Nathan jerks his head toward my other dad, who runs a pie bakery out of our home. “He made them.”
“Delicious. Thank you, sir.” Max never misses a beat. “Lola, did you get enough?”
I stretch, and the seven inches of Bakelite bracelets on my right arm knock against each other. “Yeah, like, twenty minutes ago. Come on,” I turn and plead to Andy, the candidate most likely to let us leave early. “Can’t we go now?”
He bats his eyes innocently. “More orange juice? Frittata?”
“No.” I fight to keep from slumping. Slumping is unattractive.
Nathan stabs another waffle. “So. Max. How goes the world of meter reading?”
When Max isn’t being an indie punk garage-rock god, he works for the City of San Francisco. It irks Nathan that Max has no interest in college. But what my dad doesn’t grasp is that Max is actually brilliant. He reads complicated philosophy books written by people with names I can’t pronounce and watches tons of angry political documentaries. I certainly wouldn’t debate him.
Max smiles politely, and his dark eyebrows raise a titch. “The same as last week.”
“And the band?” Andy asks. “Wasn’t some record executive supposed to come on Friday?”
My boyfriend frowns. The guy from the label never showed. Max updates Andy about Amphetamine’s forthcoming album instead, while Nathan and I exchange scowls. No doubt my father is disappointed that, once again, he hasn’t found anything to incriminate Max. Apart from the age thing, of course.
Which is the real reason my parents hate my boyfriend.
They hate that I’m seventeen, and Max is twenty-two.
But I’m a firm believer in age-doesn’t-matter. Besides, it’s only five years, way less than the difference between my parents. Though it’s no use pointing this out, or the fact that my boyfriend is the same age Nathan was when my parents started dating. This only gets them worked up. “I may have been his age, but Andy was thirty,” Nathan always says. “Not a teenager. And we’d both had several boyfriends before, plenty of life experience. You can’t jump into these things.You have to be careful.”
But they don’t remember what it’s like to be young and in love. Of course I can jump into these things. When it’s someone like Max, I’d be stupid not to. My best friend thinks it’s hilarious that my parents are so strict. After all, shouldn’t a couple of g*y men sympathize with the temptation offered by a sexy, slightly dangerous boyfriend?
This is so far from the truth it’s painful.
It doesn’t matter that I’m a perfect daughter. I don’t drink or do drugs, and I’ve never smoked a cigarette. I haven’t crashed their car—I can’t even drive, so they’re not paying high insurance rates—and I have a decent job. I make good grades. Well, apart from biology, but I refused to dissect that fetal pig on principle. And I only have one hole per ear and no ink. Yet. I’m not even embarrassed to hug my parents in public.
Except when Nathan wears a sweatband when he goes running. Because really.
I clear my dishes from the table, hoping to speed things along. Today Max is taking me to one of my favorite places, the Japanese Tea Garden, and then he’s driving me to work for my evening shift. And hopefully, in between stops, we’ll spend some quality time together in his ’64 Chevy Impala.
I lean against the kitchen countertop, dreaming of Max’s car.
“I’m just shocked she’s not wearing her kimono,” Nathan says.
“What?” I hate it when I space out and realize people have been talking about me.
“Chinese pajamas to the Japanese Tea Garden,” he continues, gesturing at my red silk bottoms. “What will people think?”
I don’t believe in fashion. I believe in costume. Life is too short to be the same person every day. I roll my eyes to show Max that I realize my parents are acting lame.
“Our little drag queen,” Andy says.
“Because that’s a new one.” I snatch his plate and dump the brunch remains into Betsy’s bowl. Her eyes bug, and she inhales the waffle scraps in one big doggie bite.
Betsy’s full name is Heavens to Betsy, and we rescued her from animal control several years ago. She’s a mutt, built like a golden retriever but black in color. I wanted a black dog, because Andy once clipped a magazine article—he’s always clipping articles, usually about teens dying from overdoses or contracting syphilis or getting pregnant and dropping out of school—about how black dogs are always the last to be adopted at shelters and, therefore, more likely to be put down. Which is totally Dog Racism, if you ask me. Betsy is all heart.