Wish You Were Here: A Novel: Chapter 7

That Computer Thingy

I was still in a mood when we got to my parents’ house. My mom was asking me a million questions while she cooked beef stroganoff, which I hated, by the way. My brother Chucky loved it, so she made it every time she thought he was joining us for dinner.

“Is Chuck even gonna be here?” I asked her while I hovered around the stove and Helen sat on the countertop, checking her phone.

My mom ignored me. “Helen, get off the counter and help Charlotte set the table.”

“Should we set a spot for the prince?” Helen asked.

My mom smiled. She actually loved Helen. “Set two extra spots. One for Charles and one for the new girl he’s dating.”

“Ew, gross, who would date him?” I asked, rolling my eyes.

Chucky never showed up, even though he technically lived at home. He had zero respect for my parents and they gave him everything, including all of their attention.

The first thing my dad said after kissing me on the cheek and taking his seat at the dinner table was, “When are you girls gonna get serious?”

“What do you mean, Pops?” Helen said.

“I mean, are you going to work at Blackbird’s until they run out of that tortilla soup?”

“Honey,” my mom said.

“No, I’m serious, Laura. These girls are gonna squander their twenties playing games at a diner while they date and date and date some more.” He shook his head. “How come we never meet any of these guys?”

My mom answered for me. “We have. We met that one boy, with the neck tattoo.”

I looked at Helen. “Curtis.”

Helen laughed hysterically. “You met Curtis, the guy who used to cry when he saw an El Camino?”

“It’s not funny, Helen,” I said, “he had a serious phobia. He could barely leave his house.”

I thought about the night before with Adam. He would have seemed suitable to my parents. Too bad he dogged me.

Helen knew I was thinking about him. She was staring at me from across the table.

“It’s too bad you never got to meet Adam, Laura,” Helen said.

“I’ve never even heard of an Adam,” my mom replied.

I tried not to make eye contact with my mom.

“Helen,” I warned through clenched teeth. My mother caught my eyes. “What?” I said to her.

“Tell me about Adam.”

My mom was sincere but my dad, on the other hand, was shaking his head, slurping up his dinner and trying to ignore us.

“He was a lawyer,” I said.

“A lawyer?” my mom said. Both of my parents perked up.

“I went on one date with him, Mom.” I didn’t mention that it was the night before. That would have been too uncomfortable, even for Helen.

“Why? What did you do?” my dad said.

“Nothing. I don’t think he liked me that much.”

“How could he not?” My mother was shocked. “You’re beautiful and smart.”

“Thanks, Mom,” I said into my bowl of stroganoff.

“Of course, leave it to Charlotte to finally find a nice lawyer and then send him running for the hills.”

“How’s the dental business, Dad?” I tried to change the subject.

He looked up at me. “Great, as usual. Charles is very lucky that he’ll inherit the practice, but he’s also worked his ass off for it.”

Helen chimed in, “Adam was an artist, too. A painter.”

Why was she stuck on this topic? I felt bad enough.

“That’s romantic,” my mother mused.

“Yeah, so romantic,” my dad said sarcastically.

“Let’s stop talking about this,” I begged.

“Well, I know you don’t want to talk about it anymore, but I signed you up for that computer match thingy.”

Why is it that so many people over the age of sixty refer to everything on the Internet as some sort of “computer thing”?

Helen was trying to contain her laughter. “Laura, do you mean Match.com?”

My father was groaning audibly now.

“Yes, that’s it. Charles helped me put up her profile.”

“Oh my god, Mother. Are you kidding me?”

Helen jumped out of her seat and started running toward the computer in my dad’s home office, which was right off the dining room.

“Get out of there, Helen,” my dad yelled, but she ignored him.

I chased after her, but she stuck her arm out, blocking me from the monitor. “No, I have to see it!” she shouted.

“Stop it, girls,” my mother chided.

“Move, bitch.” We were very mature for our age.

“This is the best day of my life. Your mommy made a Match profile for you!”

“Actually, Chuck made it,” my mother yelled from across the hall.

Oh shit.

Helen typed my name in quickly. My prom picture from nine years ago popped up on the screen. My brother had cropped Steve Dilbeck out of the photo the best he could, but you could still see Steve’s arms wrapped around my purple chiffon–clad waist. “You’re joking. You’re fucking joking.”

“Language, Charlotte!” my dad yelled.

“Mom,” I cried, “he used my prom photo! What is wrong with him?” I still had braces at eighteen. I had to wear them for seven years because my orthodontist said I had the worst teeth he had ever seen. You know how sharks have rows of teeth? Yeah, that was me. I blame my mother and the extended breastfeeding for that one, too. My brother, Chuck the Fuck, used to tease me, saying it was leftovers of the dead Siamese twin I had absorbed in utero. My brother’s an ass, so it’s pretty awesome that he set up this handy dating profile for me. In case you hadn’t noticed, our names are Charlotte and Charles. Just more parental torture. Would it be dramatic to call that child abuse?

Underneath my prom photo, I read the profile details while Helen laughed so hard she couldn’t breathe.

My name is Charlotte and I am an average twenty-seven year-old. If you looked up the word mediocre in the dictionary you would see a picture of me—more recent than this nine-year-old photo, of course, because at least back then I hadn’t inked my face like an imbecile.

Did I forget to mention that I have a tiny star tattooed under my left eye? Yes, I’d been drunk at the time. It was a momentary lapse of judgment. It would actually be cute if it was a little bigger, but it’s so small that most people think it’s a piece of food or a freckle. I cover it up with makeup.

I like junk food and watching reality TV. My best friend and I like to drink Champagne because it makes us feel sophisticated, then we like to have a farting contest afterward. I’ve had twelve boyfriends in the last five years so I’m looking for a lifer. It’s not a coincidence that I used the same term as the one for prisoners ineligible for parole.

“Chuck the Fuck,” Helen squeaked through giggles.

I turned and glared at her. “He still doesn’t know that you watched him jerk off like a pedophile when he was fourteen.”

“He’s only three years younger than us.”

“Four. And I will tell him. I’ll unleash Chuck the Fuck on you if you don’t quit.”

My breasts are small and my butt is big and I have a moderately hairy upper lip. I also don’t floss, clean my retainer, or use mouthwash with any regularity.

“God, my brother is so obsessed with oral hygiene!”

“That’s what stood out to you? He said you have a mustache.” Helen grinned.

“Girls, get out of there and come clear the table,” my dad yelled.

“What do you think the password is?”

“Try ‘Fatbutt,’ ” I said.

“Yep, that worked. Okay, I’ll change your profile while you clear the table.”

My parents had retired to the living room while I cleaned up and Helen tried doing damage control for the sake of my love life.

“I have a good picture of you from Facebook,” she said. “Oh my god, Charlie, you have three messages from men who want to date you.”

“Read them to me,” I called out.

“Okay, this is from Rod in Hollywood. It says, ‘Charlotte, I’m dying to see your ink. I also like your candor. Can we chat?’ ”

“What does he look like?”

“Oh no, his entire face is tattooed.”

“Move on. Read the next one.”

“This is Ben in Encino. He says, ‘Charlotte, hit me up, yo.’ ”

“Next!” my mother and I said in unison.

“Okay, this is Charles from TO. It’s your brother.” Helen starts chuckling. “It says, ‘Hey Fatbutt, guess you figured out the password. Please don’t trick any poor fools into dating you by lying about your disgusting habits and sick-ass halitosis. Love, Chucky.’ ”

“Bastard,” I said under my breath.

“Charlotte Ann Martin!” my father scolded from the other room.

I didn’t think he could hear me.

“Okay, I’m fixing it,” Helen said.

The picture she changed it to was of me in a skimpy bikini, standing in a house in Cabo, holding an ice pack to one eye and frowning. Our families were on vacation there the year before. I had gotten stung by a bee on my forehead and my entire left eye had swollen like a puffer fish.

“That picture?”

“You look vulnerable and cute and your body looks hot.”

The new profile details read:

I’m Charlotte, 27, and mildly allergic to bees, but I do love being outside, going to the beach, live music, baseball, and dining out! I love life and adventure, especially when I have someone to share it with.

“I like it, but baseball?”

“You love going to baseball games,” Helen said.

“Right, but I wouldn’t call myself a fan. I don’t even know any of the players on the Dodgers.”

“Listen to me. Guys like girls who are willing to watch sports with them. I wouldn’t be caught dead at a baseball game, but you love that shit.”

“Honestly, it’s the butts in the baseball pants I love.”

“Nevertheless, Charlie, you only have so many angles. Would you rather I include your proclivity for men with debilitating phobias and cross-dressing fetishes?”

“Fine, leave the baseball thing.”

When we left my parents’ house that night, my mom told me to be patient and my dad said, “You better figure it out. Your college fund is gone and I can’t help you out of a pickle.”

I hugged him even though I felt wounded. “I will, Dad. I’m gonna be a hairdresser.”

“What, like how you were gonna be a real estate agent?”

That stung.

Helen tugged on my arm. “Come on, Charlie. Bye Pops, bye Mom, we gotta go.”

Sometimes she saved me from their scrutiny, and I did the same for her with her parents. We relied on each other a lot. Maybe too much.


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