"Do you like it?" she asked, patting her newly dyed hair. "I did it for you. I know you prefer blondes."
"You dyed your hair for me?"
"Oh, it wasn't that big of a deal. My hair wasn't that dark. It only took three hours."
"You spent three hours dyeing your hair for me?"
"Well, I want to make you happy. I want you to know that this is more than just some high school romance for me. I'm in love with you, Scottie. This is for keeps."
Amber grabbed my hand and pulled me into her house.
"And I know you're serious about me, too. We've been dating for sixty three days. That's five days longer than any of your previous girlfriends."
"Whoa. You've counted?"
"Of course. Every girl wants to get past the two month mark with you." She pulled me into the dining room where a veritable feast had been spread out.
"Well, I thought about what you said on Friday night and I finally realized that you weren't trying to break up with me. You were trying to take our relationship to the next level. You wanted to meet my family. So tonight we're having dinner with my parents."
Amber's house was located just around the corner from the celebrated Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina. From their living room you could see Fort Sumter where the initiating shots of the Civil War were blasted. I would've given anything to be able to jump into the frigid Atlantic and swim out to that island instead of sitting at the table across from Amber's stiff parents and her bratty little sister. I wasn't intimidated by the fact that her father was a judge or that the plates on the table were probably worth more than my car. What made my throat tighten and hands shake was the fact that Mr. Sullivan had asked me five different ways in about three minutes what my intentions were with his daughter. Meanwhile, Amber smiled at me like a lovesick mute who offered no assistance in the form of diverting her father's attention from me.
"So who are you voting for in the election?" was his first question that didn't directly pertain to his daughter. Instead of being relieved at the Amber reprieve, I was once again panic stricken as I realized I hadn't made a final decision. But judging from the McCain-Palin sign in his front yard, I was pretty sure he didn't want to hear that. Or else he'd spend the rest of the evening trying to sway me to his side.
"Peter, not at the dinner table." Mrs. Sullivan’s words were like a life preserver. I would have kissed her if I didn't think Amber would jump across the table and beat down her own mother in a jealous rage.
"What?" Mr. Sullivan asked innocently of his wife as he looked up from his soup appetizer. "I can't ask the boy his opinion? He sure better have an opinion by now. The election is in two days. You are eighteen aren't you?" he asked me.
"Yes, sir," I said, reaching for water to quench my suddenly parched throat.
"You registered?" he continued, dabbing his Yosemite Sam moustache with a napkin.
"Peter, really? Can't you ask him a question that's a little less volatile?" said Mrs. Sullivan who was a dead ringer for Vanna White.
Meanwhile, six-year-old Crystal kicked me under the table then whispered, "You better vote for McCain. Obama is a Sofa list."
"Socialist, honey. Obama is a socialist," Vanna, I mean, Mrs. Sullivan corrected her daughter.
"That's my girl," Mr. Sullivan said before hi-fiving Crystal.
"Why don't you ask him where's he's going to college? He has so many schools after him, he can go anywhere he wants," Amber said, gushing so much I half expected her soup to explode out of the top of her head.
"Where do you intend to matriculate?"
"Um, I'm leaning toward Cal State Fullerton. I'd love to play baseball there."
"California? I don't want my little girl living amongst all those liberals. You know they let gays get married there?"
"Excuse me … what?" I said nearly choking on the spoonful of soup I'd tried to get down. Who the hell invited Amber to California? Was she really planning on going to any school I went to?
"I know. It's ridiculous. Men marrying men. Women kissing on women. It just ain't right." He misunderstood my confusion.
"God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve," Crystal volunteered while folding her arms smugly.
"Amen, baby," Mr. Sullivan said, hi-fiving his daughter again. "Anyway, you and Amber should go to a school right here in South Carolina."
"May I use your restroom?" I said, standing abruptly. This had gone too far. I couldn't take anymore.
"I'll show him where it is." Amber leaped from her seat, grabbed my hand and led me toward the family room.
Once we turned a corner, Amber flung her arms about my neck and planted a kiss on my lips. "I love you so much, Scottie," she said when she let me up for air. "I'm so happy we worked through our problems. We're going to be together forever." She kissed me again, and then skipped off toward the dining room.
I slipped into the bathroom and texted Stu.
Five minutes later, as a salmon dish was being placed in front of us, my cell phone rang. I answered it and feigned shock and dismay to what I heard on the phone although all my little brother said to me was "You owe me for this. I was in the middle of a really awesome guitar solo."
"I'm so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, but apparently my brother missed the last bus and he's stranded in North Charleston. I have to pick him up."
After a few handshakes and a couple of reluctant hugs, I was released from that prison-like hell without further interrogation. Thankfully, they weren't bus riding type people and didn't realize that the Charleston Area bus system didn't stop running until 10:50 on Sundays.
Stu was on the floor about to burst with laughter when I told him about my evening.
"Do you see this?" he said, pointing to his face. "I'm crying. I'm actually crying. I've never heard anything so hysterical in my life."
Suddenly finding the humor in the whole situation, I joined in the laughter as well.
"But seriously," I said a few moments later, breaking up the hilarity of the moment. "What am I gonna do? How can I break up with Amber without her going Fatal Attraction on me?"
"Why do you need to break up with her all of the sudden? Just let it end naturally like all your other relationships."
"What do you mean? How do my relationships usually end?"
"Well," Stu sat up and crossed his legs Indian style. "You usually date three types of girls. One: the hot gold-digger. She dates you until someone better comes along, then she dumps you and moves on. Two: the hot psycho. She's completely possessive and drives you crazy from day one, but you stay with her as long as you can because the sex is good. When you can't take it anymore you get caught making out at a party with another girl and she dumps you. And Three: the hot romantic. She's completely in love with the idea of you, but once she dates you and realizes you not only have nothing in common but that you'll never love her as much as she loves you, she cries a little, and then dumps you and moves on."
"Whoa, you've put a lot of thought into this," I said a little surprised at his summation.
"Reyna and I came up with these categories about a year ago after Savannah and Ashley fought over you in the girls' bathroom. They were both type twos."
"Reyna." I sighed.
"Yeah, Reyna. Now, she's the kind of girl you should be with. But that'll never happen."
"Why not?" I asked, starting to get offended.
He looked at me like I was dumber than a boat made of Corn Flakes, then said, "Because she doesn't fit into one of the categories."
I mulled this over for a moment while Stu set up Guitar Hero on the Xbox. I was a walking stereotype. My little brother was able to sum up my love life in like fifty words. And he'd had the help of Reyna of all people. No wonder she wanted nothing to do with me romantically. She would take it as an insult to be my girlfriend.
"Wait a minute," I said finally. "Why wouldn't a relationship work with the hot romantic? Why wouldn't I be able to love her as much as she loved me?" I asked, thinking I'd found a flaw in his reasoning.
"Because you'll never be able to love any woman as much as you love Reyna," he said simply as he started strumming to “Dream On” by Aerosmith. "And the sooner you realize that, the happier you'll be."
"I do realize it."
"Seriously?" Stu turned off the game. "All right, Scottie. It's about time."
"What do you mean?"
"Scottie, you've been in love with her for years."
"Yes, but you've let Sam's prejudice keep you from acting on your true feelings. What made you finally come around?"
I shrugged. "I guess I started thinking about who would be by my side if I wasn't a star athlete. Who would still care about me if I never threw another touchdown pass for the rest of my life? Besides you, there was Reyna." I didn't want to tell him that the reason I started thinking about this was because lately I thought my body was giving out on me and I feared that a career in sports wouldn't be in my future.
“So, what’s it like? The whole being in love thing,” he asked.
“Ooookaaay. That’s so not what I expected you to say.” Stu sat down Indian style on the floor and waited for me to elaborate.
“Well, it does. It feels like…it feels like an eighteen wheeler is sitting on my chest and the only relief I get is when I’m around her. Then I feel free.”
“Wow. That was equal parts terrifying and beautiful.”
“Exactly,” I said.
Stu stretched out on the floor and clasped his hands behind his head. “How did we end up like this?” he asked. “How did we grow up with a lunatic for a mother yet still turn out relatively normal?”
I shrugged. “I think it was easy for you. You came out of the womb hating Sam. You did everything in your power to be her exact opposite. If she told you the sky was blue, you’d insist it was green just to piss her off. So, of course, if she’s crazy and racist, you’d be sane and tolerant. It took me a little while longer.”
“How’d it happen for you?” Stu asked.
“Do you remember the summer I went to soccer camp in New England?”
Stu rolled his eyes. “How could I forget? I was only five, but I remember Sam trying to make me learn golf. She thought I could be the next Tiger Woods.”
“I was eight-years-old and my mother had sent me a thousand miles away for six weeks. In all that time, she only called me twice. Once to make sure I was doing my daily triple fives and once to try to get me to convince you to stop throwing your golf clubs at her.”
Stu giggled. “That was the best part of the summer man. I think I clocked her once in the head. If there was a golf club throwing competition in the Olympics, I’d definitely get the gold.”
“Any way,” I said, interrupting Stu’s only happy memory of his mother. “I shared a cabin with fifteen boys from Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Angola, and Japan. Each of them talked to their parents every day and got care packages and letters from them all the time. Sam had taught me all my life that those people were somehow defective because of the color of their skin. Well, that got me thinking. If they were defective and still received unconditional love from their parents, what did that make me? So, I couldn’t bring myself to hate them anymore. Not when they were obviously better than I was.”
Stu stood up and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “You’re not defective, Scott. And Sam does love you in her own sick, twisted way. She just doesn’t know how to show it like a normal human being.” Suddenly it was as if he was the big brother and I was the little brother drinking in his wisdom.
I felt a lump develop in my throat. How pathetic was I about to cry because my mommy didn’t love me?
“Man, she has really screwed us up,” Stu said sitting back down on the floor. “You have a complex about feeling worthwhile and I apparently think the sky is green.”
I laughed and then hit him in the head with a pillow. Stu always knew how to lighten the mood at just the right time.
"In any case, we’ve got some work to do. Since you finally know how you feel about Reyna, we have to figure out a way to get rid of Amber.” A grin spread across Stu’s face that I have to admit was a bit creepy. Or maybe it was just the black lipstick that made it creepy. “I think it's time to give her a taste of real psycho, Kincaid style."