Monday, May 6, 2013

Funny Thing About Memory Excerpt

Chapter 4 of Funny Thing About Memory


IV

"Should I keep Pizza Hut on stand-by?" I shout over the blaring of the smoke alarm. Aunt Stephanie is standing on a chair frantically whacking a dishrag through the pluming smoke.

"Just help me!" she cries.

I turn on the ceiling fan, the vent fan over the stove and open the back door. The air starts to clear. "So much for the chocolate sauce." I toss the pan into the sink and run water over it.

"I swear to God Stephanie, if you burn my house down, I'll kill you," Daddy shouts from upstairs.

"I think he means it this time," I say. "Why are you trying to cook anyway? The only thing you can make are pancakes."

"This is the first year that Edward is spending away from his family. I just wanted to make it special."

"But he knows you can't cook, right?"

"That is beside the point, Libby. His mother was like this fantastic housewife and I just want Eddie to have some semblance of that."

"I think that if the Senator wanted a proper housewife he would have married that girl who showed up at your wedding. He chose you and I think he made an excellent choice."

Daddy comes down in a pair of jeans and a nice button down purple shirt. We spent the majority of last night deep cleaning the house in preparation the extra people coming for Thanksgiving dinner. What used to be just me, Daddy, Gran, Aunt Stephanie, Aunt Jan, Savannah and Marcia, this year we've managed to get seven more people for dinner. Thank the lord Daddy's a good cook.

"Stephanie, put your skills to good use and set the table," Daddy says. "I had January print out place cards. Make it look pretty."

"You can be such a condescending jackass sometimes, you know that Benjamin," Aunt Stephanie snaps.

"If it keeps you from burning down my house, I'll condescend all I want."

"Jerk."

"Drama queen."

Siblings. So glad I don't have any. I hear the clinking of bracelets and the click of designer shoes on the wooden staircase. Gran must be up and ready for the holiday festivities.

"Benjamin, dear, you're not wearing that are you?" Gran asks, floating about the kitchen and dining room.

"What is wrong with what I'm wearing, Mother?" Daddy asks, checking on the turkey.

"It's just that we're having new guests for dinner. I'd at least hoped you'd wear something nicer," Gran says taking down the chest of silverware from the top of the fridge.

"What is so wrong with this shirt?" Daddy asks again, he's clearly being ignored by his mother and sister.

"New guests, Mother? It's Doug and Julianne. Nothing we do is going to impress that bitch," Aunt Stephanie says. "And Edward's seen us all at our worst, so Benji wearing a horrid plum shirt is not going to scare him off."

"It's the color that's so offensive?" Daddy says. "Fine I'll change the shirt."

"What about this Tremaine man and his children?" Gran says, going to the wine cooler. 
"You want to make a good impression."

"Believe me, Mother. An impression has been made."

"Benjamin, don't be crude."

"Now they hear me," Daddy mutters, pushing the turkey back into the oven.

The doorbell rings, much too early for any of our guests to be arriving. Gran's busy picking out the wines for dinner while Aunt Stephanie is knee deep in tablecloths and napkins. I smooth out the dress Gran laid out for me to wear, still in my piggy slippers and answer the door. Standing in doorway is the boy my father has forbidden me to see. He's come bearing a bouquet of the most beautiful yellow roses I have ever seen.

"Good afternoon, Miss Van Owen," Huck says. "These are for you." He hands me the roses, which I put to my nose, taking in their scent.

"What are you doing here, Huck?" I ask, shocked to see him. "Daddy'll flip his lid if he catches you out here."

"Bringing you some Thanksgiving cheer," he says. "You look really nice. Love the shoes."

"Huck," I say, blushing and looking down.

"You really don't hear that enough. Plan on changing that."

"Libby! Who's at the door?" Daddy shouts.

"Mormons," I shout. "Thank you for spreading your Thanksgiving cheer but we're not really interested." I push Huck away from the door and close it. "Huck, you can't be here. My daddy, he's not your biggest fan."

"How can I change that?" Huck asks. "I don't want to be a secret from your family. I've done that. Always ends badly."

"Look, let me work on him. Daddy can be reasoned with. It's just going to take some time. Okay?"

"Would it help that most of the things being said about me are at best, highly overrated rumors?" Huck says with a smile.

"He's a reporter. He's got a file on you already. You need to leave, now. I'll see you on Monday."

"You're very special to me. Tell your daddy that."

"I barely know you," I say, placing my hand on his cheek.

"We can change that, you know. Don't worry Libby. If your daddy says no, then I will keep my eye on you, from afar, like I have been."

"You sound like a stalker right now, you know."

"Talk to your daddy and I'll be back tomorrow. Hope the roses aren't too much."

"They're perfect."

"Just like you."

I look down again, the redness spreading across my face. How can someone say things like that and not have the approval of every Southern father? Huck gently lifts my chin, making me look up at him.

"See you at school, Libby."

"Bye, Huck." He kisses my cheek before walking down the driveway to the motorcycle parked on the street. Yep, that's going to be a problem.

I go back inside and straight up to my bedroom before any members of my family can see the roses. I don't really want to have to explain where they came from. I'll get asked later but right now, I just want to savor this moment for as long as I can. How often am I going to be pursued in such a manner? I lay the roses on my desk and stare at them. How on earth did he know that yellow roses are my favorite? There's so much about Huck that surprise me.

"Libby! Come on! You've got company coming over too!" Aunt Stephanie shouts. "You can set the table."

Someday when I can plan Thanksgiving dinner, I'm not having all this insanity. Can't we just have a simple plated meal without all the gluttonous extras? I hear the doorbell again and rush downstairs, kicking off my slippers in the process.

"Senator. Mrs. Randolph-Jones," I say, slightly shocked. We were expecting Uncle Edward but not his mother. She was supposed to spend the holiday with Uncle Edward's brother. Great two, overbearing, critical mothers in one room. We're going to need more wine. A lot more wine.

"These are for you," Uncle Edward says, handing me a lovely spray of fall flowers. "Now, where have you hidden my lovely wife?"

I step aside to allow Uncle Edward and Mrs. Randolph-Jones into the foyer. Mrs. Randolph-Jones removes her soft brown pea coat and hands it to me. She doesn't say a word to me but just adjusts her hair and looks into the sitting room. Uncle Edward has found Aunt Stephanie and sneaks up on her, grabbing her sides, causing her to shriek and drop the napkin rings all over the floor.

"Eddie! You jerk!" she exclaims, whacking him in the stomach.

"Can I get you anything to drink, Mrs. Randolph-Jones?" I ask, directing her towards the sitting room. "Gran opened a bottle of pinot noir. I also made a fresh batch of mint julep tea and sweet tea. I can make you hot tea or coffee?"

"Coffee with cream and two teaspoons exactly of sugar," Mrs. Randolph-Jones says, taking a seat in the high back Victorian chair. She crosses her ankles neatly and sits tall.

"Yes, ma'am," I say. "I will be right back with that."

I push open the swinging doors to the kitchen and let out the breath I'd been holding since she walked into my house.

"I thought your mother was spending Thanksgiving with Michael and Natalie?" Aunt Stephanie says, her voice a harsh whisper. "Ben's having his new boyfriend over. Her head may very well explode."

"I told Mother if she's going to come with me to my new family's for the holiday she had better be on her best behavior. That and Michael and Natalie said they'd disown me if I didn't take her today," Uncle Edward whispers back. "Don't worry, I will entertain her. You will not have to."

"Does your mother drink regular Folger's coffee?" I ask. I reach for a regular mug but then decide on the china cups Gran uses for tea. I get out the mearsuing spoons and mix her coffee as ordered. I set the cup on a saucer.

"She'll live," Uncle Edward says. "I'll take it out to her."

I hand him the mug and peek around the swinging doors. She hasn't moved from the chair except to pick up the coffee table book about collectible Barbies. Uncle Edward carries the cup and saucer into the living room, handing it to his mother.

"Thank you," she says. She wrinkles her nose at the smell of the Folger's, but takes a sip. Gran comes out and the two women nod to each other. I can't wait for Savannah to get here. At least then I'll have someone to talk to.

"Cynthia, how lovely to see you again," Gran says, sitting opposite her. "Stephanie didn't tell us you were coming."

"I didn't know until this morning when my sons decided to play ring around the rosy with my plans," Mrs. Randolph-Jones says. "Will your husband be joining us today?"

I hear Daddy clear his throat and Aunt Stephanie squeak. Pop-Pop is, how can one put this delicately, not always around. He lives in his yacht on the harbor. Gran and Pop-Pop are not divorced, as that would cause quite the scandal within their friends. He's not a bad guy, Pop-Pop. He and Gran just hate each other. Adores me, though, so that's a plus. I mean my Thanksgiving card from him had a check for a hundred and fifty bucks in it. Can't complain much about that.

"No. Carl has other plans for the holiday," Gran answers. "It will just be us and a few family friends. We were very sad to hear of James' passing."

Ugh, society small talk. Lament over the loss of someone close by, delight in the passing of someone you can't stand, discuss the ballet or some other organization that delights in believing the only the best of the best can participate and gardens. Two society matrons like Gran and Cynthia Jones, they could be at it for quite a time. I retreat back into the kitchen to help Aunt Stephanie with setting the table.

"So guess the annual Van Owen Liar's Dice game won't be played this year," I say, picking up a stack of china plates.

"I think once we get rid of Cynthia and Julianne, we'll still play. Have to make up for Easter," Aunt Stephanie says. "Besides it was a fluke that Edward won. No one wins Liar's Dice on the first try, ever."

If there's one thing Daddy, Aunt Stephanie, Aunt Jan, Savannah and I play at every holiday, birthday and family gathering, it's Liar's Dice. Take Yahtzee, feed it crack, add poker faces and the element of piracy and it can get quite interesting. I have been condemned to hell by my aunt so often the threat has lost all meaning.

There's another ring at the door. We're really popular today. I excuse myself from the table setting process and go to answer the door, being the ever proper lady of the house. I open the door and greet those standing behind it.

"Steven, it's so nice to see you again," I say. I step aside to let the Tremaines in the house.

"Libby, these are my kids; Zelda, Link and Pitt," Steven says. "Guys, this is Libby, Ben's daughter."

Seeing Zelda staring back at me, there's something about her that I know. Link and Pitt give me the feeling that I know them but there's no way I could though. The three of them look as nervous as I feel. I lead them into the living room and call for Daddy.

Daddy comes out of the kitchen, flour on his plum shirt and grease on his jeans. "Hey! So glad you guys could make it." The Tremaine kids look at Daddy like he's a crazy person. 
"Sorry, I'm Ben. Please come on in. I just put out the appetizers and there're drinks in the kitchen. You're are welcome to anything. If you want, you can hide out in the cave. TV's in there and any movie you can think of." I hang up the Tremaine's coats in the hall closet. "If you don't mind, I have to go baste the bird. Wouldn't want it to get dry. I leave you in the very capable hands of my darling girl."

Daddy and Steven disappear into the kitchen leaving me in that awkward position to talk to total strangers. "Well, umm, would you like a tour of the house? It's one of the oldest on the block."

"Just direct me to a drink, some chips and a football game," Link says. "Shout when dinner's ready."

"Make that two," Pitt says. I lead the boys to the Cave.

When I was eight, Daddy got the idea to remodel the house. He turned the two bedrooms on the bottom floor of the house into a TV/game room. There's a full bar, behind lock and key, of course, a pinball machine, a Pac-Man machine, an arcade style Mario Brothers machine, and a photo booth. I still have no idea why we bought the photo booth. Aside from the video games, Daddy put in a giant screen TV. Perfect for all the movie nights we have. The thing takes up the whole upper part of the wall.

"Now this is a TV room," Pitt says. "Can I move in here?"

"I think Daddy wouldn't mind. He's a little outnumbered," I say. "Well if you get bored of football, look in that left cabinet."

As I go around the corner I hear them exclaim. "Oh my God! Shigeru Miyamoto doesn't have this many video games!"

I come back to the living room to what seems like a standoff. Uncle Edward has his arms crossed over his chest and Zelda is pacing. Oh no. I was only gone for minute.

"Oh, don't patronize me, Senator!" Zelda snaps. "I interned for the Governor! I know what 'changes' you plan to make to the state education. You're going to make it that much harder for lower income students to qualify for loans and grants."

"I don't know where you are getting your information, young lady, but my office is working to help all students achieve a higher education. I do not appreciate being ambushed by a bleeding heart college student," Uncle Edward snaps. "Come talk to me after you've spent a few years in Sacramento."

Zelda goes to speak again but her father clamps his hand over her mouth. He takes her out of the sitting room and into the kitchen. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a walk," Uncle Edward says, he walks to the front door and slams it hard.

"Well, that was unpleasant," Gran says. "Cynthia, how about you and I retire upstairs. I can show you the quilt I have been working on for the children's hospital."

Did everyone take crazy pills this morning? Aunt Jan's sitting on the couch reading a magazine. "Aunt Jan, what the hell happened?"

"A bleeding heart law school student versus a junior California state senator," Aunt Jan says. "I think we need to make it a family rule that no more politicos can join."

"I'll second that. What are the odds Uncle Ryan got a flight?"

"Slim to none," Aunt Jan says. "But you never know with him. He's always one for surprises."

There's a calm for about ten minutes then Savannah bursts in the front door. "Savannah Dawn, there is no call for that kind of language! You come back here, young lady!"

And this keeps getting better. Julianne and Doug barge into my house. Julianne looks like she's ready to go to some big red carpet event and Doug's super casual. Doug's expression is neutral whereas Julianne is seeing red.

"You know what, Julianne," Savvy says, turning on her heel to stare down her stepmother. "You're not my mother nor do you have the right to tell me what I can and cannot do with my life. If I want to apply to all the art schools in France, then I will. It's not up to you."

"Umm, is there any way this particular argument can be tabled until there's not a ton of people in my house?" I ask, trying to diffuse the situation. "Savvy, why don't we go up to my room and chill for a minute. Doug, Mrs. Hinton, appetizers are in the kitchen. There's wine and the full bar. Make yourselves comfortable."

I put my arm around Savannah and lead her towards my room. We get upstairs and she just starts to sob. "I hate her, Libby. I hate her so much."

"I know, sweetie," I say wrapping my arms around her tightly.

"I was looking at art schools and I found one in France that would be just perfect," she says, trying to calm down. "I mention it offhand to Daddy, knowing he'd be all nonchalant about it and she has to stick her fat nose into it and starts telling me that they won't pay for college out of the country."

As Savannah rails against her step-mother, I can't do much more than let her cry into my shoulder. About ten minutes later she recovers and goes to my bathroom to wash her face. When she comes back, she notices the roses sitting on my vanity.

"Where'd those come from?" she asks.

"Huck brought them over this morning," I say with a slight smile.

"What did Ben say when he saw them?" I told Savvy about what Daddy had said after cotillion.

"He hasn't. I don't know what to do here, Savvy. I don't want to openly defy Daddy but I like Huck. I want to see where it can go."

"You need to tell him that he can't be surprising you at home like this," Savvy says. "You have to give Ben time to warm up to the idea of you getting serious with a guy. You've never really been one to date, so you have to go easy on your poor dad. He's probably just freaking out because you're his baby and he doesn't want you to be all grown up yet."

"Well, let's go back downstairs and see if our two families have killed each other yet," I say, getting up from my bed. I slip on the "nice" shoes Gran would prefer I wear while we have company. Savannah and I make an appearance in the sitting room to find Uncle Edward and Aunt Stephanie making strained, yet polite conversation with Doug and Julianne.

"What have you been doing since high school, Julianne?" Aunt Stephanie asks.

"You probably heard that I made it to the Miss America Pageant," Julianne says. "Got first runner up. The pageants made it possible for me to go to college and get my degree in public relations."

"And what have you accomplished with that?" Aunt Stephanie asks, a strained smile on her face. I can see the jokes forming in her head about the Miss America pageant.

"Well, it has been hard to get started in the business, especially here in San Francisco," Julianne says. "You and January seemed to have done all right for yourselves."

"That we have," Aunt Jan says. "It hasn't been easy to keep up with Stephanie, but I do okay."

"Since you haven't found anything in PR, what have you been doing?" Aunt Stephanie asks, setting her wine glass down, making sure her ring flashes at Julianne.

"Doug and I will be celebrating our second anniversary next month," Julianne says. 
Apparently the fact that Julianne got married before Aunt Stephanie is a big deal. I shake my head at my aunt, silently begging her not to say it.

"Did you know that Doug and I went out for awhile?" Aunt Stephanie says, an evil smile on her face. I can't believe she did that. Julianne goes white as a ghost. "It was just after he and Marcia split. But it didn't work out. It was too weird for Savannah and Libby." Julianne looks like she's about to explode. I can only imagine what's in store for Savvy's dad when they get home.

"I feel better now," Savannah whispers to me.

"I'll ask Daddy if you can spend the night," I whisper back.

"What's going on in here?" Daddy asks, kicking Uncle Edward out of his chair.

"I was just telling Julianne that we have a mutual history," Aunt Stephanie says, smiling, clearly enjoying herself.

"Stephanie, stop being mean. Well, let's see if I can find my boyfriend and his kid and get dinner started. Mother! Dinner!"

"Benjamin, I am not a field hand. There is no reason to yell," Gran says as she comes down the stairs with Mrs. Randolph-Jones. Savvy covers her laugh watching Aunt Stephanie and I as we mouth along with Gran's scolding. "Honestly, I cannot believe the way my children treat me."

"You can come stay with me," Mrs. Randolph-Jones says. "Marta is a wonderful cook. You'll just love her."

"Oh no," Aunt Stephanie whispers. "I can't handle having both of them within a three mile radius of each other." She looks over at Gran. "You know we're just teasing you Mama."

"Now it's Mama," Gran laughs to Mrs. Randolph-Jones. "Must not have liked the suggestion about moving."

Zelda and Steven come back in and she apologizes to Uncle Edward. "I apologize, Senator," she says. "I tend to go too far when talking about politics. I meant no disrespect." The apology seems rehearsed.

"It's fine. You're young and idealistic. I was the same way my first year working in Sacramento. I'm sure my office would love some new minds. Call my chief of staff on Monday." Uncle Edward hands her a card. "I think we'll have opening for an intern this next session."

"Thank you Senator Randolph-Jones," Zelda says. She slips the card into her back pocket. I catch myself just staring at Zelda. There was something about her, the way she speaks, the way she walks, even her looks themselves remind me so much of myself. Shaking the thought out of my head I join everyone in the dining room.

Daddy has dinner laid out in the kitchen in a buffet style line. The gentlemen wait for the ladies to dish up our helpings before serving themselves. We have a large dining room table and surprisingly, we all fit. Because of the proper nature that my grandmother demands, Aunt Stephanie and Aunt Jan have made up place cards for where everyone is to sit. At the head of the table is Daddy and going around in a circle is Gran, Mrs. Randolph-Jones, Uncle Edward, Doug, Link, Pitt, me at the other end of the table, then Savannah, Zelda, Aunt Jan, Julianne, Aunt Stephanie and Steven.

"I would like to thank everyone for spending Thanksgiving with us," Daddy says, rising from his chair. "To new friends and family."

We all raise our glasses to Daddy's toast, it would be rude not to. Good food, great friends and family always make for an interesting meal. This is no exception. The first topic out of the gate was last weekend's cotillion.

"Mrs. Van Owen," Julianne says, setting her fork down and dabbing the sides of her mouth with the cloth napkin. "Cotillion was lovely last weekend. I know the Christmas ball is coming up, I was wondering if there's anything I can be assistance in?"

Rule number one with Gran: Unless she asks for your assistance concerning events, you don't ask. That goes triple if you're not a member of the Society Matrons, to which Julianne Hinton is not.

"Volunteers for the Christmas ball have already been acquired," Gran says. "You should have inquired back in September." Gran sips her wine and goes back to eating her turkey and sweet potatoes.

"Oh Mother," Aunt Stephanie says. "The florists emailed me last night with the final designs for the centerpieces. I can show them to you after dinner."

"That would be lovely, dear," Gran says. She takes another sip of wine and turns her attention to the three Tremaine kids. "Link, is it? Your father said you are in your final year of school at Stanford."

"Yes ma'am," Link answers. "I really like the campus. Hope to stay on for medical school." 
Link looks like he's been thrown to the wolves. He looks to his dad and his sister. They nod at him, encouragingly.

"Stanford's an excellent establishment. Mr. Van Owen went to Stanford."

"I sure like it, ma'am," he chuckles. "I didn't think I'd like medicine as much as I have. Thought I'd take the legal route like Zelda here." He smiles at his sister, effectively turning the heat off of him and on to her.

"Yes. I heard the argument between you and my son-in-law," Gran says. "That was not very ladylike."

Zelda sips her wine, I can see it in her face that she's gearing up to give Gran some big speech about being a strong woman and not catering to the feelings and egos of men, all things I've heard from Aunt Stephanie, before she went Stepford. "Yes, ma'am, it wasn't. I'm a guest in your home and I forgot my manners."

Well that's different. I look over at Steven and see him smiling and nodding. It must have been a speech he planted on her to keep peace. For once it's nice to not be the center of all things Gran. Downside to being an only child, no other siblings to take the heat off of you. I sigh contentedly and look down at my plate, trying to figure out what I'm going to eat next. 
Then I feel something heavy land on my knee. I cautiously lift my napkin to see Savvy's phone, the notes app open.

Dinner's boring. Tell Dad Huck brought you roses this morning.

Is she kidding? Ain't no way in heaven or hell that I'm bringing up that topic of conversation at Thanksgiving dinner. I think Daddy's head would literally explode. Have you lost your freaking mind? I ain't saying a damn word about that to him. Ain't no way.

Oh come on. We need some drama. Dinner's too tame.

So you do something. I'm keeping the Huck card out of play.

Spoilsport.

Attention whore.

That was mean.

No it wasn't.

Libby…

How can someone whine with just one word?

Skill.

"So how's things at Gregson's, Doug?" Daddy asks, saving Pitt from being the next in Gran's interrogation.

"Well if the basketball team can do better than the football team, we might have a chance to make it to state," Doug says.

"You're being overly ambitious Dad," Savannah says. "Ain't no way Gregson's making it to state in anything but show choir or debate."

"Don't say ain't, Savannah," Julianne says.

"Why? You just did," Savannah counters. "Besides, I've heard that Queen Elizabeth says ain't. If the queen can say it, so can I."

"Don't be impertinent."

"Don't be such a—"

I elbow her hard in the side. "Savannah!" Doug exclaims. "What has gotten into you?"

"Excuse me," Savannah says, getting up from the table. She takes her plate and goes in the direction of the game room.

"May I be excused?" I ask.

"Go calm her down," Daddy says. His voice may be calm and cool but his eyes told me a different story. He was not happy with what just happened.

"Silly girls," I hear Zelda say as I'm leaving the room.

Silly girlsSilly little girl. All my life, no one in my family ever used that term to describe me. But yet, Zelda's words, the way she said them, with a slight laugh and shaking her head, it's like I've heard it before. My mind is filled with images and voices that I've only ever heard in my nightmares. Nightmares about a fire. Nightmares that I thought I had gotten over. A word comes to mind and I blurt it out. "Gracie!"

Zelda, Link and Pitt turn to stare at me. "What did you say?" Zelda asks. "I haven't heard that in years. Not since…"

More and more images flood my memory. A man and woman's faces, so much like the Tremaines, seem to be looking down on me from above. I blink my eyes hard and look back at them. Their faces seem younger, less refined. I see pigtails and red bows on Zelda, a green stocking cap covering Link's head, a red bowtie on Pitt. How am I seeing these things. It's like they're memories, that I don't have. Tears pool in my eyes, dripping down my cheeks.

"Liberty Anne?" Gran's voice comes through. "Darling, are you all right?"

I run out of the dining room and up to my room. What's going on? Where did those images come from? I must have a tumor or something. That's the only logical explanation. A person doesn't hallucenaite images of people they've never seen before. There's something else wrong. There has to be.

"Libby? Baby, are you okay?" Daddy asks, coming into my room. He sits down on the edge of my bed, wrapping his strong arms around me. "Libby, talk to me. I can't help you if you don't tell me what's going on?"

"How do I know them?" I cry, holding tightly to my daddy. "They seem so familiar, like I've known them my whole life."

"Known who, baby?"

"Zelda, Link and Pitt. There's something about them, like I knew them when I was very small. Before you."

"Libby, sweetie, I don't know what to say here," Daddy says, rubbing my back. "We'll call Robbie in the morning and schedule an emergency session. I think you're having a panic attack."

"Daddy this isn't a panic attack. I know them. I can't explain how I know them, I just do."

"Is it possible that you were at the same group home and that's where this is coming from? 
Take a minute then come back down. We'll take care of it. Don't scare me like that."

He lets go of me and goes back downstairs. I wish I knew what was going on. It's all so clear but so distant. If only I knew what "it" is. I go into my bathroom and wash my face, letting the cool water clear my head. I close my eyes and try to breathe. In and out. In and out, just like my yoga instructor says. It has to be all in my head. Daddy's right, it's a panic attack.

Once I'm calm, I return to the dining room Savannah has also calmed down and is back in her seat. There is an uncomfortable silence over the table. I take a drink and look over at Pitt, the youngest Tremaine.

"What are you studying at UC San Francisco?" I ask him.

"At the moment just trying to make it through my freshman year," Pitt says. "General education classes are the pits."

"What do you want to pursue?" Gran asks.

"Well since those two took doctor and lawyer, I'm not sure what's left," he jokes.

"There's always journalism," Daddy says. "You'd make a good anchor. You have the face for it."

"I'll think about it."

"Liberty Anne, what are your plans for college?" Mrs. Randolph-Jones asks.

I hate that question. I can't very well answer, "I don't know" because that's not an answer. Not an acceptable one anyway.

"Libby's going to go to business school so we can run a bed and breakfast art gallery," Savannah answers for me. "I'll supply the art for the gallery and she can run it. We've only been talking about it since like, forever."

"Sounds like a lofty goal," Mrs. Randolph-Jones says.

"Maybe I'll go to culinary school and run your kitchen," Pitt says. Snorts of laughter from his brother, sister and dad lessens the validity of the offer, if only slightly.

"Pitt, the only thing you know how to cook is Chinese take out," Link teases. "If it wasn't for the food court on campus, you'd starve."

"Ham it up, bro," Pitt says, glaring at his brother. "I don't think you want all these fine folks to know that you—"

And this is the first time we've ever had a food fight at Thanksgiving dinner. To keep his brother from spilling whatever dirty secret, Link smashes a handful of mashed sweet potatoes in his brother's face. Pitt retaliates and rubs green bean casserole into Link's hair. I'm trying so very hard not to laugh at the look of horror on Gran, Mrs. Randolph-Jones and Julianne's face. Daddy and Steven chuckle and shake their heads.

"See, that's why I have a girl," Daddy says, grinning at me.