Stomach grumbling, I headed downstairs to the kitchen, passing Zoe on the way. As usual she perched on the bottom step with the phone firmly attached to her ear. She quickly ducked under my playful swat and stuck her tongue out at me. I was pretty sure that, even if she hadn’t been speaking at the pace of an over-caffeinated auctioneer, I still wouldn’t have been able to understand more than a few words of her conversation. As far as I could tell Zoe and her friends spoke their own language.
I put on a pot of coffee and filled a bowl with cereal before sitting down at the kitchen table. I chewed slowly, contemplating the bare wood countertop. At some point in the distant past my father had decided to take up carpentry. The kitchen had been in a perpetual state of renovation ever since. My mother could be a patient woman. When it came to my father. I again thought about how thankful I was for a weekend free of my mother’s probing questions into my non-existent social life. Why was it so hard for everybody to understand that I liked being by myself? I supposed “everybody” was an unfair generalization. Most people left me alone, unless they were asking about Zoe. The only ones who ever really bugged me were mom and, occasionally Zoe. For some reason my little sister found my self imposed loner status extremely embarrassing. And besides, no one in this house had room to complain about my weirdness, they all thought corded phones and compact discs were cutting edge.
I was day dreaming and enjoying the chocolaty taste of my breakfast when Zoe swept in, ear still clinging to the phone, and gave me her rigid-body, wide-eyed, teeth-gritted look that screamed impatience. I choked out a laugh from around a mouth full of mushy cereal at the ridiculous pose and she stomped off into the living room with a little snarl, trailing the long phone cord behind her like an angry cat lashing it’s tail. By the time I had finished breakfast, and poured a cup of coffee, Zoe returned, sans phone, and took a seat across the table from me, glowering.
“What?” I asked sharply when I could no longer ignore her staring.
“Can we GO now?”
I took a sip of coffee to hide my smile and watched her from over the rim of my cup, “what’s the rush?”
“Some of us actually have friends, Ya know? Friends?” Her voice drowned in exasperation, but whether the tone was due to my stalling of my lack of friends I couldn’t tell. Probably both.
“You have enough friends for the both of us.” Boy was that an understatement.
I could see her struggling for a response, and for half a second I could feel an itch coming on, but she settled for another frustrated little snarl and stalked out of the kitchen. What d’ya know, I think I won one.
As novel as that was, I couldn’t really see any way to put off the trip to town any longer. I stoically finished my coffee, dropped my cup and bowl in the sink, and grabbed by car keys from the hook on the wall. When I reached the front door I paused with my hand on the door knob.
“Zoe….” I called with mock sweetness, then finished with a yell, “ARE you coming or WHAT?” I had only just yanked open the door and Zoe was already skipping past me with a huge smile on her face.
“Itch, you’re the best.” She beamed, all sweetness and sunshine now that she was getting her way.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Just get in the car.” I replied.
“Sheesh, lighten up, Itch,” she mumbled as she bounced into the passenger seat of my car and turned the rearview mirror towards her so that she could do a last minute check of her make-up.
I ran my hand over the morning chilled hood of my car as I walked towards the drivers side. I didn’t know anything about cars, but I knew that I loved this one. It was a ’68 Camaro someone had either restored or taken very good care of. This car and I had been destined for each other. my unwavering belief in that was based on three facts: Face one, the guy who sold the car to my father had been afraid he was going to lose it in his divorce and decided to sell it cheap out of spite; Fact two, the car was my favorite color-baby blue-with dual white stripes running down the hood and a white leather interior; Fact three, despite never having driven before in my life (unless you count the arcade) my first time behind the wheel of this car had felt natural. My hands flowed like water over the car’s every contour. This car was one of the few things in my life which made me happy. As I climbed into the drivers seat and shut the door I noticed Zoe staring at me with a finger pressed over her slightly pursed lips.
She continued to stare for a moment before answering. ” You need a girlfriend.” She paused, tapping her chin, and then a slow smile spread across her face. OH NO. ” I could fix you up with one of my friends.”
I could see her already ticking down through a mental list of names. I groaned. Nothing good could come from that look on her face. She had decided what her new mission in life was and there would be no stopping her, but I had to at least try.
“Do you have any idea how embarrassing it would be for me to have my little sister setting me up on a blind dates?” I asked as I readjusted the rearview mirror and started the car. I found it harder to feel annoyed with the engine growling.
” I have a lot of friends your age, ” she said defensively.
“Zee, you’re friends with EVERYBODY. That wasn’t my point and you know it.”
Her face scrunched up with irritation and she threw herself back in the seat, exhaling an aggravated breath and folding her arms across her chest. “Since when do you care about what people think? Besides, it’s not like anyone would even notice anything that you did. You work so hard at being invisible.” She said that last part as if she were accusing me of some horrible crime. In her mind she probably was.
” A trick you make more difficult with each passing year.”
“It’s not funny, ” she grumbled, staring at the dashboard with hard eyes.
“Why do you care?” I asked, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice. I could tell that I wasn’t swaying her resolve one bit.
“Because you’re my big brother and I love you,” She responded in her tiniest voice, looking at me with her wide eyes as big as she could make them.
I snorted and turned back to the road. “More like you can’t resist interfering in my life/”
“If you actually had a life, I wouldn’t have to,” she shot back. I didn’t bother responding and after a minute she continued, “How come you never go to any of the parties you get invited to?”
The question surprised me so much I nearly drove off the road. How had she known about the recent flurry of party invitations I had been receiving at school? Had she been telling her friends to invite me to parties? the little twerp wasn’t even a freshman yet and she already had the entire high school wrapped around her finger. Evil digit. I was not looking forward to the start of the next school year. But no, I was being crazy, she wouldn’t dare-at least, I didn’t think she would. Someone must have mentioned it to her, though why I would be the topic of anyone’s gossip was a mystery to me. Of course I also couldn’t figure out what had precipitated the sudden storm of invitations.
“Well?” Zoe pushed. She was starting to get whiney again.
“Listen, Zee,” I began, taking a deep breath. I only get invited to parties because people are hoping that I’ll show up with you. It’s just a convenient way for guys to bypass dad.” I had come up with it on the fly, but it was probably the truth. It still sounded pathetic when I heard it out loud. “It wouldn’t kill you to drive me to a party every once in a while,” she muttered.
He jaw clenched like a fist and I could hear her teeth grinding. I was pretty sure that if I hadn’t been driving I would have, at that very moment, been scratching at a thousand elusive itches.
“You don’t know why people invite you to parties, ” she argued, glaring at me.
“Well, I had better be right about the reason,” Yeah, popularity by proxy was just awesome. “Because if I find out you’ve been telling your friends to invite me anywhere, I swear, I’ll bury in the back yard. ”
To my absolute horror that shut her up. I guess she would dare.
I spent the rest of the drive trying to figure out how I could convince my parents to send me to military school. Maybe if I begged.