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Fourth comings, p.7
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       Fourth Comings, p.7

           Megan Mccafferty

  Sara burped again, only this time she didn’t bother covering her mouth. “Scotty and I have known each other since kindergarten, you know, but we never even thought to hook up with each other until we started meeting up at the Bamboo Bar on breaks and we realized that we had so much in common, like the same core values. It was destiny. Destiny…”

  So it was destiny that got Sara knocked up. Not the drunken, unprotected sex under the stars in the Bamboo Bar parking lot. Got it.

  (I’m sorry, Marcus. This is how I really think, despite my failed efforts to think otherwise. Isn’t it better you know the truth than live with the illusion that I am a kinder, more evolved person than I really am?)

  And just when I thought we had finally exhausted the subject of baby names, Sara told a long and gassy story about how she would have named a boy baby Alessandro Destino after her father, whom everyone calls Wally, and how that’s just a childhood nickname stemming from his siblings’ taunts about his being “wall-eyed,” and how the reclamation of that insult was proof of his resilience, and how she hopes Destiny Estrella inherits her grandfather’s strong character and savvy business sense but not his crossed eyes and—

  Sara abruptly clutched her gut. “Omigod! Why am I even telling you this?”

  I was wondering the exact same thing.

  “I should be telling you about my Vera Wang. I ordered a size two!”

  I was speechless.

  “That’s, uh…” I turned to my sister for help. “Uh…”

  “Ambitious,” Bethany finished. “It’s a lot of work taking care of a newborn, and planning a wedding….”

  “I’m gonna breast-feed, too,” Sara said.

  “That’s really great,” Bethany said. “Doctors say breast is best….”

  “Oh yeah, it helps ward off infections, especially in the first year,” Sara said, all of a sudden surprising me with a hint of maternity. “And I’ll look so hot in my gown. Omigod! Did you see Angelina Jolie’s rack after she had the baby?”

  Now both Bethany and I had lost the ability to speak.

  “Destiny is due on August twenty-fourth,” Sara said. “I’ve got exactly ten months to snap back into shape!”

  It will be the snap heard around the world. Perhaps you have heard some pregnant women described as “all belly.” It usually means that the pregnancy weight has settled into a cute, compact, baby-shaped ball right there in the belly. If the term “all belly” were used to describe Sara, it would mean that she had literally become “all belly,” that the entirety of her physical being had been consumed by her belly, so that even all body parts that were unrelated and far removed from the belly, such as her ankles, or her earlobes, had become indistinguishable from the belly. Sara was one huge, rotundous belly with one month to go.

  I know it sounds like I’m criticizing her for packing on major pregnancy pounds, but I’m not. In her pre-babymama days, Sara was well into the maintenance phase of anorexia, when the starvation wasn’t such a struggle anymore because it was one of many habits—chain-smoking, mainlining Starbucks, inhaling horse tranquilizers—incorporated into her totally unhealthy lifestyle. So not unlike every Hollywood actress who gets knocked up, Sara had to gain about twenty-five pounds just to be in the normal weight range for an unpregnant woman. And once the pounds started piling on, she couldn’t stop them. In eight months of gestating she’d more than made up for all the food she hasn’t eaten in the last decade. And yet, paradoxically, for all her bellyness, Sara looked more attractive than ever at that shower in that au naturel, glowing-from-within way that pregnant women often do. It’s a shame that her anathematic personality offset these improvements in her appearance.

  Babydaddy Scotty showed up at the end of the shower for the express purpose of piling all the presents into a luxury SUV and bringing them back to the condo they now share in Seaside Park. At twenty-two, Scotty seems prematurely middle-aged, with a thinning hairline and a thickening waistline. To look at him, you would never know that just four years ago he was voted Most Popular and Class Athlete in the Pineville High School Class of 2002 yearbook. (That Scotty and Sara’s ex-BFF, Manda, “the carpet muncher,” were voted Class Couple is not discussed. Ever. Nor the fact that Scotty tried—and failed—to get into my pants for four years, even when he was half of the celebrated coupling.) Scotty is the personification of every Springsteen song about burned-out, packed-in, broken-down, and washed-up high school heroes. You know, the former stars whose best days are long behind them, whose dreams of post-graduation glory are dashed and scattered among the wreckage on the dark, lonesome highways twisting through the abandoned carny towns along the Jersey Shore…

  Or something like that.

  Scotty and I exchanged the briefest of banal pleasantries.

  “Congratulations,” I said lamely.

  “Yeah,” he said, doing pop-a-wheelies with the Bugaboo stroller filled with pink and white paraphernalia.

  “A girl,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

  “Yeah,” Scotty said. “Sara says so. Every firstborn in her family for the past one hundred years or something has been a girl. It’s the D’Abruzzi Family Legacy.”

  “Oh,” I said.

  “Sara and I call it”—he paused here and spread his impressively thick hands in the air, as if he were calling attention to an imaginary marquee—“the D’Abruzzi Pussy Legacy.”

  Now, that would have been a memorable motto for the parting gifts: miniature baby bottles filled with pink bubble-gum jelly beans. Instead, Sara had attached a tiny “Save the Date” card that read like a promo to a cheese-ass romantic comedy I’d never pay ten dollars to see in a theater but might watch on an airplane if the headphones were free.



  BEGINS JUNE 24, 2007.

  (FOREVER. Is your final postcard on its way?)



  Shea’s beat-boxing brought me back to the conversation in a most unpleasant manner. High-hatting spit was spraying all over the Cupcake.

  “B-b-b-babymama, g-g-g-go head be g-g-gone wit dat thang,” Shea rapped into her cupped hand/mic. “G-g-g-g-get dat thang c-c-c-cut out…”

  “Get that thing cut out?” Manda screamed. “It’s a human being, not a tumor!”

  “To -may- to, po -tay- to, fuck -fuck- yo.”

  I am living with K-Fed’s retarded half sista/brotha.

  Manda turned to the more civilized participants in this conversation.

  “Sara is, in fact, scheduled for a C-section today,” I said, remembering what my sister had told me. “I bet she’s pissed that Destiny’s late. I mean, she’s lost two weeks of workouts before the wedding. That is, if Scotty ever—omigod! —quote technically unquote proposes.”

  Hope giggled because she loves my nasally Sara impression, but she refrained from further comment. Manda remained serious. That is, as serious as one can be when one is wearing booty shorts before nine A.M.

  “It’s so weird,” Manda said. “Like while we’re sleeping all day”—because Manda seemed to be under the impression that we all sleep during daylight hours—“Sara will be having a baby. Today. Sara. A baby. I mean, she’s a total bitch and I hate her, but she was my best friend. It’s so weird that she’s having a baby.”

  “Scotty’s baby.”

  And we muttered various incredulities.

  “Well,” Hope said, ever the optimist, “I hope they’re happy together.”

  “Me too,” Manda said without a trace of meanness.

  And I was just happy that all this talk of Destiny had drawn the attention away from my own hypothetical milestones.

  Heavy footsteps stomped on the ceiling.


  We are united in our fear of Ursula, that if any of us says or does the wrong thing, she’ll kick us to the curb with one of her pointy-toed roach killer boots. We froze, hoping we wo
uld be spared her morning wrath.

  “Yo, I’m headin fo’ bed before she come down.” Even Shea knows better than to fuck -fuck- yo with Ursula.

  “Me too,” Manda said. Then to me: “Don’t think I’ve forgotten about your situation.” She tapped the ring finger on her left hand as she backed out the door.

  “Crap,” Hope said, looking at the clock. “I’m getting picked up in ten minutes. Another Sunday, another Long Island wedding…”

  “Speaking of weddings…”

  “This is too big to talk about in ten minutes or less.”

  “I know,” I replied. “But what were you going to say before we were interrupted?”

  She jumped from the top bunk and stuck the landing. She had to wind her way through the maze of unpacked boxes to get to the closet.

  “Do you think you can finally put these away?” she asked, pointing to a stack of taped-up cardboard boxes, all unhelpfully labeled. For all my anal-retentive tendencies, I have a rather aimless and unorganized packing style, as one box claims to contain SOCKS, COFFEE FILTERS, PSYCH BOOKS.

  “I will, I will,” I promised, as I’ve promised for the past three months. When I moved out of Bethany’s guest room in June, I stuffed all my summer clothes and shoes in my duffel. My bedding came along in a Hefty Cinch Sak. Everything else was sealed in those cardboard moving boxes, which have remained sealed and triple-stacked since you helped lug them here on move-in day. That was your first trip to Sammy. (Do you realize that you only visited once more before your seven-day visit last week?)

  I watched Hope as she pulled a sleeveless black dress off a hanger and over her head. She slipped her feet into a pair of unadorned black flats with a thick rubber sole. Since getting the job with Capture the Moment, she’s built a whole wardrobe designed for comfort and blending in with the background, the latter of which is pretty much impossible when you’re nearly six feet tall with miles of orange hair.

  “So what do you really think about the proposal?” I asked when she was finished getting ready. “I need you to tell me the truth.”

  Hope gulped loudly. “I think…” She paused to pull a pile of hair off her shoulders with the twist of an elastic band. “I think that this is so Marcus.”

  And on that point we were in total agreement.


  After Hope left for the Chateau Briand Country Club and Gardens (“Where Only the Bride and Groom Outshine Our Spectacularly Opulent Ambiance”), I dedicated the rest of the day to unpacking those boxes. That was my plan, anyway. It seemed like a constructive, productive thing to do on an otherwise eventless Sunday. Boxes would be removed, floor space would be discovered, and quantifiable progress would be made. I had taken over far more than 50 percent of the square footage of Claire and Chloe’s pastel playland and it was time to even things out. I would carefully cut the Cupcake in half, making sure Hope got her fair share of closet room and floor space, vanilla batter and butter-cream frosting. Oh, how I looked forward to Hope’s evening return and hearing her marvel over my finger-licking equanimity.

  Only I didn’t get very far.

  According to my useless labeling system, the first box blocking my path purported to contain MOM AND DAD. Hmm. I was fairly certain that they were still alive and well in Pineville, and that I had not dismembered them in a sick reenactment of a CSI episode titled “In Loco Parentis,” guest-starring that angelic actress from The Gilmore Girls going against type as the homicidal daughter. I carved open the cardboard with Hope’s X-Acto knife, if only so I could find out what I might have meant by that mysterious, possibly murderous label. I pulled back the flayed cardboard and winced at my hasty, X-Acto–wielding handiwork: I had ruined the mosaic Hope gave me on the day she moved to Tennessee nearly seven years ago, just before my sixteenth birthday.

  Hope had meticulously pasted together innumerable confetti scraps to reconstruct our favorite snapshot, an arm’s-length view of two thirteen-year-old best friends, our teeth gleaming and eyes blazing with manic energy after staying up all night to watch the sunrise.

  Hope would surely be embarrassed by this mosaic now, deriding it as untrained and immature. But her youthful lack of pretension distinguished this work of art from her other, more accomplished pieces. I’ve always thought it was the best thing she’s ever made.

  And I ruined it. I’d sliced it right down the middle. Not in a way that separated Hope from me as if we were conjoined twins surgically transformed into our whole, independent selves. No, I had sliced the page horizontally, slitting our throats, separating our minds from our bodies. Or our heads from our hearts.

  I sunk into the bottom bunk and cried when I realized what I had done.


  Try to imagine us as the girls captured in that self-portrait, two thirteen-year-olds whiling away the stagnant, swampy summer in New Jersey. Hope was too tall for all the boys, with wild orange tresses. Her complexion was as delicate as an eggshell and almost as pale, and she always sought refuge from the relentless sun under the leafy protection of an oak tree. I had muddy hair and dark eyes that were ever-ready for a sardonic roll in the sockets. I was shorter and skinny to the point of scrawny, and I defiantly subjected myself to the UV rays in pursuit of the perfect tan even though my melanin never deepened beyond the shade of a bruised persimmon.

  It was the summer before the start of eighth grade, and Hope and I had invented a game of hypotheticals called Would You Rather?

  Would you rather have Manda’s impressive rack OR Bridget’s perfect ass?

  It was an escapist coping mechanism, in which we inserted our boring, Brainiac selves into fantasy scenarios often involving the Pineville Middle School hoi polloi. Eventually the game evolved (or devolved) into a series of pseudo-philosophical inquiries that probed the shallow depths of our adolescent psyches.

  Read minds OR have X-ray vision?

  We believed that we had elevated conspicuous boredom to a higher art form. (In fact, publishers later developed a series of books with page after page of either/or hypotheticals. Hope and I felt royally gypped out of the tremendous profits made from what we self-centeredly considered our idea.) At the time this favorite photo was taken, we were less than a year into our best friendship, having found each other at the start of seventh grade when our town’s separate elementary schools merged into Pineville Middle School. And yet while we already appreciated our friendship for the rare and precious thing we knew it was, we had no way of knowing that we’d only have two more summers together before Hope’s family would decamp to Tennessee in the wake of Heath’s death….


  It just occurred to me, right now, in the middle of all this reminiscing, that these events harken back to the summer of your druggy precocity. It’s quite possible that you don’t need to imagine the scene because you had eavesdropped on it while altering your own reality in Heath’s bedroom on the opposite side of the wall. As day turned into night and again into day, Hope and I stayed awake playing round after round of Would You Rather? Meanwhile, you and Hope’s doomed older brother passed the bowl around and around, laughing over inscrutable insider stoner jokes, laughing at us. Chances are that you and Heath even earwitnessed the most controversial question in the history of the game.

  “Would you rather kiss the same guy for the rest of your life,” I asked, “or never kiss the same guy more than once?”

  Neither Hope nor I had kissed anyone at this point in our young lives, and we could think about little else. It was somewhat miraculous that this question hadn’t already been asked. Hope cried foul, claiming that I had broken the cardinal rule of the game.

  “Can’t be answered with the information given!”

  “Yes, it totally can,” I said, slipping down my training-bra strap to compare the pale, unexposed flesh against the dangerously red “tan” I’d roasted all afternoon.

  “No, it can’t!” Hope was—and still is—incapable of sounding pissed off, even at her most pissed off. “The most crucial v
ariable—the Guy!—is unknown.”

  Then she went on to explain how if the Guy was an amazing kisser but a jerk, she’d ditch him for a wandering, wanton lifetime of one-time-onlies. But if the Guy was her soul mate, she would forsake all others…even if he came on with all the finesse of a saliva-soaked toilet plunger.

  My rebuttal came in two parts:

  1. By its very definition, her soul mate wouldn’t be a mediocre kisser, because true soul mates bond on all levels: physical, emotional, spiritual, and so on.

  2. The question was still answerable even without the specification of soul mate or non, as it had less to do with the Guy and more to do with one’s attitudes about the familiar versus the mysterious. Security versus freedom. Guarantee versus risk. Monogamy versus polyamory.

  Before I continue, and before you can beat me to it, I’m just going to call bullshit on my revisionist history. You know as well as I do that I wasn’t capable of using those exact words back then, as my vocabulary was still steeped in “likes,” “totallys,” and “no duhs.” I didn’t even attempt to make vague approximations of those arguments. And as yesterday’s debate in your dorm deftly proves, I’m barely capable of making such arguments now, nearly a decade later.

  Okay. So I didn’t really make that apocryphal speech. In truth, I simply told Hope she was right and the question was invalidated because it couldn’t be answered with the information given. We moved on to a more straightforward hypothetical.

  “Okay,” I said with a sigh. “Would you rather make out with Bender from The Breakfast Club or Jake from Sixteen Candles?”

  And then we started laughing hysterically for no good reason at all, a moment that was first caught with a quick click of my camera, then captured once more through Hope’s painstaking clipping and pasting.


  The mosaic is just the first of a collection of keepsakes that had me wallowing in my emotional archives for the remainder of the afternoon. It turned out that MOM AND DAD was shorthand for THE BOX FROM MOM AND DAD’S HOUSE THAT THE FORMER THREATENED TO THROW AWAY UNLESS I TOOK IT OFF HER HANDS BECAUSE THEIR NEW CONDO HAS MANY AMENITIES BUT ABUNDANT CLOSET SPACE FOR JESSIE’S JUNK IS NOT AMONG THEM. (My mother had, in fact, once labeled an earlier version of this same box JESSIE’S JUNK.)

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