gregarious, adj. (grih-GAIR-ee-us)
Paul made enough of a fuss to get out of going with his parents to fetch his grandparents at the train station. His mother tried to guilt him into it because they took the two-hour ride, which isn’t cheap you know, to be here on his fifteenth birthday. Paul called her a liar. They were staying through the weekend to see Jeanie’s graduation and if his birthday were months from now they would have come down for that anyway. Why didn’t she have to go to the train station?
“Because,” his mother said, “she and Dane only have a few more months together. You don’t know what that’s like.”
Paul couldn’t deny her that. Damn, he really needed a girlfriend. But he persisted in the argument. If Jeanie could wait until dinner to see them, then he should be able to as well. His mother pursed her lips and looked ready to say something in response when his dad entered, pointed at his watch and said:
“We need to go, now.”
“Fine,” his mother said, with a really hard F. She turned back to Paul, “But you better be charming and sweet to them at dinner, you hear me?”
“Yes!” he said, like it was so obvious she was an imbecile for saying it.
He really did mean to be nice to his grandparents at dinner. That’s why he couldn’t go to the station; he needed the house to himself. Once he heard the car pull away, he went into the garage and pulled his driver out of the golf bag. In the snug felt cover for the club’s bulky head he had hidden a small bag of weed. He rolled a joint on the kitchen table, mindful not to leave any crumbs, thinking that the effects would make him more gregarious.
After putting the bag back in its hiding place, he went out to the backyard to smoke in his favorite spot: the tree house. Built when he was four, it was furnished with a Mexican rug, a small bookshelf and a radio. Paul was surprised to smell weed before he reached the top. He worried that maybe the smell didn’t go away as quickly as he thought, and if his parents suspected anything. When he got to the top, his fears were allayed.
Jeanie was sitting there, smoking a joint of her own. She jumped when she saw him in the doorway, and that or something else made her laugh.
Paul got over the momentary shock and climbed through the opening. He deduced that she had lied about going to Dane’s house to smoke out here.
“Do you even have a boyfriend?” he asked.
Jeanie inhaled her joint deeply and held the smoke in for a second, extending her hand to offer it to him.
“No, thanks. I’ve got my own.” He pulled it out of his shirt pocket and lit it. Jeanie finally exhaled.
“No. I just say that to mom and dad so I can come out here. Hey share that, will you?”
Paul looked quizzically at her, then relented and handed her his joint. She gave him hers and they continued passing the two around in this way, neither getting much of a break except brief pauses for conversation.
“So who was that guy you brought to dinner?”
“Just a friend. One day we were talking about how hard it is to keep coming up with excuses to get out of the house, and it kind of just hit us.”
“Wow, that’s pretty smart.”
Jeanie just looked at him with furrowed brow and inhaled.
“I mean, not that I’m surprised,” he added hastily.
“You know, little brother, maybe you could get a girlfriend or even just a girl friend if you didn’t think everybody was so much stupider than you.”
“I don’t think that,” he said in defense. “It’s just…” he lost his train of thought and looked at the ceiling, mouth agape, trying to find it. “It’s just…just…everyone is so loud. And they always sit with the same people, you know? If I sat with other people I wouldn’t be loud enough.”
Jeanie snickered, but stopped herself as soon as she saw her brother was serious. “What other people? Why do you have to sit with them anyway?”
“Come on, you know. I bet they even show up at parties you go to.”
“Only a few kids in your grade show up at any parties I go to. I don’t know them, but you don’t wanna hang out with them, little brother. They’re douchebags.”
“Well yeah, the guys are assholes, but—”
“But you like one of the girls they hang out with?”
“Yeah. Well, one of them.”
“Why, because they’re hot?”
Paul didn’t pick up the mockery in her tone. “No, she is really funny—”
“Don’t you know why girls like that always get invited to parties my classmates throw?”
“Because they’re with the cool crowd.”
“Pfft, no!” Jeanie laughed again, and this time she couldn’t stop for over a minute.
“Well why, then? Come on, tell me! What’s so funny?”
Looking at her brother helped Jeanie compose herself; she pitied him. “Don’t be so shallow, dude. You’re better than that. Why don’t you look for a smart quiet girl like you?”
Paul considered this advice. She’s right. Jamie would never date me. I bet I could try to go out with someone else. But who? Who do I know… Chemistry: that girl Christy is cute. But she’s only talked to me once… History: Maria thinks my drawings are funny. I hear she’s got a boyfriend at another school, though. Oh yeah, I did hear that. Damn… What if I start talking to a girl and she’s not interested? What do I do then? Look for someone else. But if I stop talking to her, every girl will think I’m a dick. So don’t stop talking to her. But then she’ll think I’m obsessed with her. Why wouldn’t she just want to be friends? Please, dude, every girl thinks you are a creep. Jamie is the only one nice to you. What if she’s just making fun of me behind her back? Is that what they laugh about?
“Use this.” Jeanie passed him eye drops. “We should go back inside now, get changed and stuff.”
“Yeah…” Paul’s inner monologue continued, and Jeanie could see it on his face.
“Chill, little brother. Try to forget it. Let’s go and enjoy this dinner. That’s what we came up here for, right?” She smiled at him, her hand on his shoulder.
“Right.” He forced a smile and followed her down the latter.
At dinner Paul was distant and mostly mute. Jeanie engaged their grandparents amiably, but his mother still stared icily at him from across the table. The whole situation made him uncomfortable. If Jeanie hadn’t been in the tree house, he wouldn’t have smoked two joints’ worth. Damn. He got up, mumbling that he needed to go to the bathroom.
He inspected himself thoroughly in the bathroom mirror. Nothing looked weird, or did it? How wide were his eyes normally? A waiter smirked as he washed his hands at the adjacent sink. He needed to get a hold of himself. His grandparents would like to hear about his science project. That’s it. He would go back out there and tell them about it.
When he exited the bathroom he saw his father in the hallway.
“Hey, buddy. I wanna talk to you for a second.”
Paul stood rooted to the ground. Did he know?
“You look stressed out at the table. Don’t worry about your mom, okay? Just relax, you don’t have to be so paranoid.” He added emphasis to the last word, smiled and mussed Paul’s hair.
“Okay, Dad,” Paul said. He wasn’t sure if he was in trouble, his punishment delayed until after dinner or his grandparents went back home. Then his dad picked his nose and put the booger on an oil painting of a cottage. Paul chortled and felt ready to go back to the table.