She smiled, like I was kind of cute, then patted my shoulder. "Ah, to be young and confident," she said, and then she was shuffling away.
I wanted to tell her that I wasn't confident, I just worked really hard. But she had already moved onto the next booth, chatting up the guy sitting there, and I knew she didn't really care anyway. There were worlds where all of this—grades, school, papers, class rank, early admission, weighted GPAs—mattered, and ones where they didn't. I'd spent my entire life squarely in the former, and even at Ray's, which was the latter, I still couldn't shake it.
Being so driven, and attending such an unorthodox school, meant that I'd missed out on making all those senior moments that my old friends from Perkins Day had spent this whole last year talking about. The only thing I'd even considered was prom, and then only because my main competition for highest GPA, Jason Talbot, had asked me as a sort of peace offering. In the end, though, even that hadn't happened, as he canceled last minute after getting invited to participate in some ecology conference. I told myself it didn't matter, that it was the equivalent of those couch cushions and cul-de-sac bike rides all those years ago, frivolous and unnecessary. But I still kind of wondered, that night and so many others, what I was missing.
I'd be sitting at Ray's, at two or three or four in the morning, and feel this weird twinge. When I looked up from my books to the people around me—truckers, people who'd come off the interstate for coffee to make another mile, the occasional crazy—I'd have that same feeling that I did the day my mother announced the separation. Like I didn't belong there, and should have been at home, asleep in my bed, like everyone else I'd see at school in a few hours. But just as quickly, it would pass, everything settling back into place around me. And when Julie came back around with her coffeepot, I'd push my cup to the edge of the table, saying without words what we both knew well—that I'd be staying for a while.
My stepsister, Thisbe Caroline West, was born the day before my graduation, weighing in at six pounds, fifteen ounces. My father called the next morning, exhausted.
"I'm so sorry, Auden," he said, "I hate to miss your speech."
"It's all right," I told him as my mother came into the kitchen, in her robe, and headed for the coffeemaker. "How's Heidi?"
"Good," he replied. "Tired. It was a long haul, and she ended up having a Caesarean, which she wasn't so happy about. But I'm sure she'll feel better after she gets some rest."
"Tell her I said congratulations," I told him.
"I will. And you go out there and give 'em hell, kid." This was typical: for my dad, who was famously combative, anything relating to academia was a battle. "I'll be thinking about you."
I smiled, thanked him, then hung up the phone as my mother poured milk into her coffee. She stirred her cup, the spoon clanking softly, for a moment before saying, "Let me guess. He's not coming."
"Heidi had the baby," I said. "They named her Thisbe."
My mother snorted. "Oh, good Lord," she said. "All the names from Shakespeare to choose from, and your father picks that one? The poor girl. She'll be having to explain herself her entire life."