Hello and welcome to my blog tour stop for
WE ARE STILL TORNADOES by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen!
Today I have an excerpt from the novel for you, which sounds ah-mazing, so be sure to scroll for that. But first, let's learn more about the book!
WE ARE STILL TORNADOESAuthors: Michael Kun and Susan Mullen
Source: Finished copy via Publisher
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: November 1, 2016
Rating: 4/5 stars
Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends their entire lives. Cath would help Scott with his English homework, he would make her mix tapes (it's the 80's after all), and any fight they had would be forgotten over TV and cookies. But now they've graduated high school and Cath is off to college while Scott is at home pursuing his musical dreams.
During their first year apart, Scott and Cath's letters help them understand heartache, annoying roommates, family drama and the pressure to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they want to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should be more than friends? The only thing that's clear is that change is an inescapable part of growing up. And the friends who help us navigate it share an unshakable bond.
This funny yet deeply moving book--set to an awesome 80's soundtrack--captures all the beautiful confusion and emotional intensity we find on the verge of adulthood...and first love.
AGEE’S MEN’S CLOTHING
Where Men and Boys Shop
EAST BLOOMFIELD, MARYLAND
September 2, 1982
I’m appauled that you would accuse me of going through your panties when I left that heartwarming note in your suitcase. Appauled, I tell you. (Did I spell “appauled” correctly? If not, please correct it for me.) Just so we’re clear, are you talking about the yellow bikini ones with the stars on the hip that were packed right beneath your running shoes? Or the light blue bikini ones with the white polka dots? Or the hot pink ones? Or the orange-and-red ones? Or that really big beige pair that you must have stolen from your grandmother?
Seriously, though, your stupid dog knocked over the entire suitcase when I was trying to stick the note inside. I had to scramble to put everything back into the suitcase. And that’s the story I’ll tell the police!
Anyway, unless your roommate hung it up to be funny, the HANG IN THERE, BABY poster is pretty scary. Didn’t Mrs. Wilkins have that same stupid poster behind her desk in fourth grade? But your Elvis Costello poster’s even scarier, if you ask me. You’d never even heard of Elvis Costello until I got you to listen to him over the summer, and now you have his poster up on your wall to try to convince everyone that you’re the cool chick in the dorm? How sad. How very, very sad. You better pray I don’t come down to visit you in whatever state Wake Forest is in and tell all your new buddies about how you were still listening to Tony Orlando and Dawn just a few months ago. Yes, you’d better get on your knees and pray, college girl.
On a different note, my job is terrible. The days are endless. That’s what I get for working at my father’s store, I suppose. Yes, I know, it’s my own damn fault. If I’d just “buckled down” and “put my nose to the grindstone” and gotten some decent “grades,” I could have gone off to college like you and everyone else in our class, but I “didn’t” do those things, and it’s too late to “cry over spilled milk.” I “made my bed,” and now I have to “lie” in it. I imagine I’ll work at “Agee’s Men’s Clothing” until it becomes “Agee & Son’s Men’s Clothing.” Then someday my father will die—it’s going to be a heart attack, in case you want to bet—and it will become “Agee’s Men’s Clothing” again. I will have spent my whole life selling clothes to people in this “one-horse town,” and I will be “fat” and “old” and “disgusting.” But your mother will still have a crush on me.
I think I use quotation marks too much. What do you “think,” college girl?
And I really do think your mother has a crush on me. (By the way, I saw her walking Plum last night. I assume she’s feeding her, too.)
Oh, did I mention that Samantha broke up with me? I know I didn’t mention it, but I waited a few paragraphs to tell you to make it sound casual. Did it work? Anyway, after we agreed that we would date long-distance while she was at college, she sent me a letter telling me she’d met someone else at school and didn’t think it would be fair to lead me on. She sent me the letter after her third day at college. Three days, can you believe it? Honestly, I’m more surprised than hurt. I figured we could stick it out until Christmas, at the very least. But three days? I’ve had pimples that have lasted longer than that. I’ve had gas that’s lasted longer than that. You get the point.
I have to go do something very important right now, at least as far as you know. Hope you’re having fun at school, college girl.
P.S. Did I tell you that my dad is giving me a 10% discount off anything at the store? How cool is that? (I’m being serious. I really want to know how cool that is. I think the answer is, “Not very,” but I’m not sure.)
P.P.S. Want me to send you some Tony Orlando and Dawn albums to listen to when you get homesick?
P.P.P.S. Three days! Can you believe it?
September 6, 1982
My Dearest Scottie,
I knew Plum knocked over the suitcase. I asked my mom how you left me a note in my suitcase since my dad made you give back the key to our house after that party, and she said she let you go up to my bedroom, but she heard Plum knock over the suitcase and heard you cursing a blue streak. So you’re off the hook. For now.
And I’ll deal with the dorm room poster thing in a minute.
But first, if you’re going to insist on calling me “college girl,” then I’m going to start calling you “underachiever guy.” Or “really bad speller boy.” How does that work for you? (By the way, it’s “appalled.”)
And yes, you do overuse quotation marks. Particularly since you also misuse quotation marks. Who puts “grades” in quotation marks? Oh, yeah—you do. Which is why I had to “help you” through “English class” all during “high school,” underachiever guy.
I’m sorry work sucks, but I love your dad’s store! I love everything about it. I really do, although I’ve never been there for eight hours at a time. Maybe it will get more interesting when it gets busier for the holidays. Or maybe you’ll move up and get more involved in other aspects of the business. (There are other aspects, right?) I don’t know, but your dad always seems happy and that’s where he’s worked forever, so it can’t be that bad, right? (I have some very fond memories of coming into the store to see you, and your dad calling me his “little Catherine” and sneaking me some hard candies. Speaking of which, you might want to check under that last suit rack in the back corner. I never really liked the orange ones.) Or maybe you’ll change your mind and go to college. Despite your quotation mark “challenges,” and despite your spelling challenges, you are way smarter than most of the people here. Besides me, of course.
You think my mom has a crush on you? Please. My mother is thrilled that you will eat her cooking. My dad and I know better. And yelling the F-word (as my mom would say) at Plum when she knocked over my suitcase didn’t endear you to my mother at all, trust me. Although I have to admit that I enjoyed making her repeat it over the phone.
As for your news about Samantha, because you waited until the end of your letter before telling me about her, I’ve delayed in responding. That’s called tit for tat. (Insert a lame sex joke here.) Samantha, Samantha, Samantha. What to say about Sa-Man-Tha? Um, okay. This is what I’m going to say about Samantha. Nothing. And do you know why? Because by the time you get this, Samantha may have come crawling back to you. Hopefully, literally crawling 200 miles on those bony little knees of hers from the Western Kentucky College for Morons, or whatever the name is of that “college” she’s attending. My roommate, who’s hanging in there, keeps saying, “This is just like camp! This is just like camp!” I’m guessing that she means that this whole college thing doesn’t seem real. So maybe that’s what Samantha’s going through. Maybe she’ll wake up and not be hungover for once in her life and realize what a huge mistake she’s made. That you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to her. That she was lucky to have you. And that, really, she didn’t deserve a minute of your time. But until I know that this really is a “breakup” and not just one of her Boone’s Farm–fueled, bubble-headed freak-outs, I’ll keep my opinions to myself.
Okay, on to the dorm room poster thing. Yes, I know you are Mr. Cool Music Guy and got Elvis’s My Aim Is True before anybody else in the galaxy except for Elvis himself and maybe his mother, but I had to put something on my side of the room. Dorothy’s mom showed up with matching black-and-gold Wake Forest bedspreads, curtains, and bulletin boards for both of us. I kid you not. I’d never even met them before, and they’re going to pick out my bedspread? I said something like, “Well, gee, thanks, but I brought my own stuff.” Her mom was clearly miffed and started banging nails into the walls and hanging up all these framed posters all over the place. Elvis is all I had, and I was sort of glad that it clashed with all their matchy-matchy stuff. Besides, “Accidents Will Happen” is like a theme song here. I’ve never seen so many people throw up! In bushes, in hallways, sometimes they even make it to the bathroom. It’s disgusting. And then I hum “Accidents will happen…” and think about riding around town with you, listening to it on the tape deck, and then it’s not so bad.
I have to go to the library. Classes started and there’s a lot to do. They don’t call this place “Work Forest” for nothing. And I have to tell you about my Calculus professor. My parents would die if they knew they were cutting a big check to Wake Forest to pay for this dork. He reminds me of Mr. Laire. Which isn’t a compliment.
Write soon and let me know if Samantha is as dumb as I think she is. About the breakup, I mean.
P.S. No, I don’t want to bet on how your father will die! What is wrong with you?
P.P.S. Your dad’s 10% discount? Not very cool. He used to give me 20% just for being so darned lovable.
P.P.P.S. Tony Orlando and Dawn are awesome, and “Knock Three Times” is super awesome. Don’t pretend I was the only one who would dance to that song. I may even have pictures of you dancing to it that I could use as evidence.
AGEE’S MEN’S CLOTHING
Where Men and Boys Shop
EAST BLOOMFIELD, MARYLAND
September 9, 1982
Dear College Girl,
You have pictures that would prove I was dancing to a particular song? Tell me how that works exactly. How can you look at a picture and tell what song someone was dancing to? I mean, unless I am holding a sign that says, I’M DANCING TO A TONY ORLANDO AND DAWN SONG AT THE MOMENT THIS PICTURE IS BEING TAKEN, I don’t see how that would work. Do you have a picture of me holding up a sign like that?
And please don’t think I’m over here crying my eyes out over Samantha with the bony knees. (FYI—I didn’t date her for her knees, if you know what I mean. I dated her for two other reasons. I’m trying to be subtle here. How am I doing at that?) I mean, if I had a dollar for every time I wanted to break up with her myself, I’d have a good six or seven dollars! Those are big bucks, my friend. The bigger problem is that there’s no one left in town for me to date, now that everyone in our class is off at college. The only girls left are in high school, and I always thought it was creepy when guys graduated but still hung around the school afterwards. (Yes, I am referring to Todd Wilkerson. Remember how he came back and dated that crazy girl in our class after he had graduated? Oh, that’s right, that was you, wasn’t it? How could that have slipped my mind?) Anyway, I’m committed to not being one of those losers. (I’m committed to be an entirely different kind of loser!) But with everyone gone, that pretty much reduces my potential dating pool to one person—your mom! Boy, will that be uncomfortable for you when you come home for Thanksgiving!
Speaking of high school, you’ll never guess who came into the store looking for jeans yesterday. (Technically, he asked for “dungarees,” not “jeans.” Which is not only sad, but an appropriate use of quotation marks, too.) Mr. Mennori. Give me a D in Biology, then show up at my dad’s store and ask for “dungarees” like it never happened? What a jerk. The funny thing is that for the first time in my life, I could say anything I wanted to him because he doesn’t have any power over me anymore. He’s just another tubby guy coming into the store and lying about the size of his waist. But instead of telling him to go screw himself, I shook his hand and actually said, “Nice to see you, Mr. Mennori.” Can you believe it? “Nice to see you, Mr. Mennori”? I completely wimped out. Next time he comes in, I’m going to say something absolutely devastating that will make him wish he’d never crossed paths with me. I haven’t thought of it yet, but I will. Mark my words. And whatever it is, it will be something your mother would be too embarrassed to repeat to you over the phone. (Did she really say “fuck”? I can’t even imagine her saying that!)
College sounds terrific so far, college girl. Studying and vomiting. Sounds like I’m missing out on so much! In fact, tonight I may try to replicate the college experience by reading one of my old book reports with my finger down my throat.
Give Dorothy my love.
Your future stepfather,
P.S. Would it be too mean if I said something about that giant mushroom-looking thing on Mr. Mennori’s elbow the next time he came in? (I’ll answer my own question: Yes. But I’ll bet you won’t be able to eat mushrooms for a week now that I’ve got you thinking about it!)
P.P.S. In case you really have lost your sense of humor, college girl, I’m joking about marrying your mom. She’s not even the most attractive woman in your family. No, that aunt of yours who came to your pool party was smoking hot! Can you send me her phone number? Do you have a picture of her dancing to a Tony Orlando and Dawn song?
P.P.P.S. I made you a tape of a great album by a British band called ABC. The album’s called The Lexicon of Love. (I had to look up what “lexicon” means.) Every single song is a masterpiece of pop music. “Poison Arrow” is my favorite, but “Look of Love” and “Tears Are Not Enough” are also incredible.
P.P.P.P.S. Calling me “underachiever guy”—is that supposed to be an insult or a compliment?
P.P.P.P.P.S. One more thing. I have a very important question to ask you, and I think you need to be sitting down when I ask it. Are you sitting down now? Okay, here it is: Are you still a Tornado?
September 12, 1982
Oh my God, I have NEVER laughed so hard in my life! Ever! And, to make it worse, I made the mistake of reading your letter during Biology class. I burst out laughing, and the professor froze as he was writing on the board and turned around to ask me if there was something I would like to share with the class. Seriously, like when we were in second grade and got busted passing notes. I couldn’t imagine trying to explain it to an entire lecture hall, so I just apologized and tried not to actually, literally, physically die of embarrassment right then and there.
I tried to explain it to Dorothy later, but I must not have done a very good job of impersonating Donnie Dibsie giving his graduation speech, because Dorothy didn’t get it at all. But, to answer your questions, YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES! I AM STILL A TORNADO! I WILL ALWAYS BE A TORNADO UNTIL THE DAY I DIE! (Which luckily was not this morning in Biology class.)
Okay, now that I’ve stopped laughing, the ABC tape is awesome. And the “underachiever guy” thing is a compliment, as far as you know. It means you’re super smart, but you don’t apply yourself.
I’m glad that you’re not too torn up about dear, sweet Samantha, who, as we both know, is not the least bit dear or sweet. Oh God, I can’t believe I just wrote that. Please, please don’t reply with some gross joke about Samantha’s sweetness. I swear I will not let you visit if you make a gross joke about that! (And, yes, everyone can clearly see the two biggest reasons you dated her. Subtlety isn’t your strong suit. And wearing bras isn’t hers.)
Ugh. Anyway, while we are on the topic of losers, Todd Wilkerson was absolutely not a loser when I started dating him. How was I supposed to know that he’d go from being the coolest guy in the senior class to working at the gas station? Okay, so maybe it took me too long to figure out that he wasn’t the strong, silent type and that he was just sort of, well, the dumb, silent type. But who wouldn’t be blinded by that smile? And the flowing black hair. And the way his T-shirts hung off those shoulders. And, well, you get the point. So, I get it that you’re worried about looking like a loser if you date a high school girl. How about the girls at the community college? Or driving down to Baltimore to meet some girls down there? Or what about trying some sort of coed sports thing, like softball or bowling? Okay, whatever, those aren’t great ideas. I don’t really know what to suggest, except maybe to reconsider the whole college thing?
I’m sorry if I gave you a bad impression of college with the vomiting stories. I guess not all 18-year-olds are as used to drinking as you and I are, probably because they came from towns where there were other things for kids to do after school. But there are guys here who can’t even handle three beers. Puh-lease. But I really do like it here. I mean, I am homesick at times and I miss my parents and Plum, but most of the time, I really like it. Some people keep to themselves or are just annoying, but most people are open and really want to make friends and have fun. I’m becoming friends with people I wouldn’t have hung out with in high school. Like this girl who lives in the triple next door to me, Jane, from Kansas City. She was a cheerleader and a drama person in high school, and she’s kind of loud. She seems spacy and almost silly sometimes, but then in English Composition, she cranked out a paper about Invisible Man that was better than anything I could do (and of course, I obsessed about highlighting the novel and writing notes in the margins and rereading critical passages), and she tested into a second-year calculus class, which is just crazy. And she loves new music. She’s been playing this great new record by a guy named Peter Gabriel that has a fantastic song on it called “Shock the Monkey.” You’d like it. And we went to see this band that she told me about called R.E.M. The lead singer was wild! He was hitting himself on the head and dancing so crazily that I was seriously worried about him the whole time. Their music was awesome. You should definitely see them if they come to town. (And don’t pretend you don’t know where Wake Forest is. It’s the town and state you write on the envelopes to your letters.)
We went to our first home football game last weekend with a big group from our dorm. People here actually get dressed up for football games. Does Agee’s Men’s Clothing even carry seersucker suits? Lots of older boys and alumni were wearing them, along with bow ties and shoes they call “bucks.” And apparently I will need to figure out where to buy flowery sundresses down here before the next home game. I did NOT fit in at all with my T-shirt and jean shorts. It was so fun, though—sunny and gorgeous and kind of goofy to be singing the fight song and chanting along with the cheerleaders. Plus, everyone started drinking around 10 in the morning, which meant the lightweights were vomiting by noon.
Oops, another vomiting story. Sorry.
School itself isn’t too bad. I’m retaking Calculus 1, so that’s easy, and Mrs. Oberlin did a good job teaching us how to write a paper, so English Comp is okay. I had to drop out of French, though. In certain ways I’m realizing that our high school wasn’t as great as our parents think it is, and I am certainly not ready to read French literature. I mean, I can read Flaubert in English, but not in French. The shocking thing, though, is that a lot of freshmen can! The kids who went to fancy private schools or boarding schools, man, they’re fluent in multiple languages and have read everything already! I thought boarding schools were for screwed-up kids. Turns out, they are like mini colleges. The boarding school kids are pretty intimidating. They smoke clove cigarettes and wear scarves, if that tells you anything. It’s hard to describe, but I probably won’t be hanging out with them anytime soon.
Oh yeah, and Mr. Mennori. I’ve discovered that he was a horrible teacher. I’m thinking of majoring in Psych and doing a Pre-Med course load, so I’m also retaking Biology, which I think I’ve mentioned before. I thought it would be easy because we took it in high school, but I don’t remember any of it. Which, by the way, does not mean that you can or should be rude to him the next time he comes into your store! You have to uphold the Agee family tradition of being super nice to your customers. Perhaps offering him a hard candy will put you in the correct frame of mind? You don’t want to get fired and have to work at the gas station, like someone else we know.
Gotta run, but please give your mom and dad hugs for me and tell your mom that I miss her oatmeal raisin cookies! I tried one in the cafeteria here yesterday and almost broke my tooth. Which is my way of saying that your mom should feel free to send me a tin of her oatmeal raisin cookies!
P.S. No, my mom didn’t actually say “fuck.” She said, “He used the F-word, very loudly.” She had to add in the “very loudly” part because for some reason she whispers when she says “the F-word,” even though Plum is the only one around to hear her most of the time. But enough jokes about my mom, already! My dad would kill you if he found out you were talking about her that way. Okay, maybe not kill you, but he’d do whatever accountants do when someone’s being disrespectful to their wives. Maybe throw his Texas Instruments calculator at you. The big one.
P.P.S. Speaking of my dad, did I mention that he has started calling me his “little princess” again whenever I call home, like he used to when I was eight or nine? He seems weird when I speak to him. And my mom sounds weird, too, but an entirely different kind of weird. Maybe I’m just not used to talking to them over the phone. Have you seen them? Do they seem weird to you? Are they feeding Plum?
P.P.P.S. Jane just told me that a band called the English Beat is coming to play at Wake Chapel the second Saturday in October. Do you want to come visit and go see them with us? Let me know and I’ll get an extra ticket. I think you’d really like it here. Everything but Dorothy. You’re going to hate her with a capital H when you meet her. Trust me.
P.P.P.P.S. One more thing. Are YOU still a Tornado?
AGEE’S MEN’S CLOTHING
Where Men and Boys Shop
EAST BLOOMFIELD, MARYLAND
September 15, 1982
Dear College Girl aka Little Princess,
Damn straight I’m still a Tornado! I will be until the day I die! And when I get to heaven and St. Peter asks me who I am, I’ll say, “I’m Scott Agee, and I AM A TORNADO!” I haven’t figured out how to say it in all capital letters, but I will. And then he will direct me to that special place in heaven that’s reserved for Tornadoes.
And while we may both be Tornadoes, one of us has actually heard of Peter Gabriel, R.E.M., and the English Beat. I swear, I really should come to visit just to rip the Elvis Costello poster from your wall. You don’t deserve it. (By the way, Peter Gabriel used to be in Genesis. That’s the band that did that song called “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” that you liked. And R.E.M.’s lead singer has curly hair and you can’t understand a word he’s saying, right? His name is Michael Stipe. It’s just a matter of time before they replace him with someone who can e-nun-ci-ate. And the English Beat’s lead singer is named Dave Wakeling, in case you were wondering. Their best song is called “Mirror in the Bathroom.” I’ve played it for you before: “Mirror in the bathroom / Please talk free / The door is locked / Just you and me.” Does that sound familiar?)
Speaking of coming to visit, I’d love to come down to see the English Beat in October—and tell you all about them—but I usually work on Saturdays. If you recall, that’s the busiest day of the week for Agee’s Men’s Clothing, “Where Men and Boys Have Shopped Since 1966.” I’ll see if I can convince my dad to let me leave work early, even if the men and boys are still shopping. I don’t think he’d let me leave early to go see a band, though, so I’ll probably tell him that you need me to drive down to whatever state your college is in so I can help you with something. It’ll either be that you need help with calculus or that you’re pregnant. Given that he’s seen my math grades over the years, the pregnancy story would be more believable. And he might even give me some money to take you out to a nice dinner or something. (If that happens, I’ll make sure to ask for extra money because you’re eating for two.)
Now, as for your last letter, I need to be honest—I skipped all the paragraphs dealing with our old teachers or the classes you’re taking. I’m sorry, but if I had any interest in school, I wouldn’t be helping men and boys shop, would I? I assume you’re doing great in all your classes, so thumbs-up for that. And I assume you think our old teachers suck, so another thumbs-up.
As for whether your parents are being weird, I don’t know how to answer that. The only time I ever see your mom is when she forgets to close the shade in the bathroom when she’s taking a shower, and even then it’s only if I feel like walking all the way over to my closet to get the binoculars, take them out of the box, walk back to the window, etc. It’s a whole production. Anyway, I’m sure she’s fine. She probably just misses you since she’s now stuck at home with your dad and your ugly dog. Or she’s heard about your pregnancy. The news is spreading like wildfire, I tell you!
As for your dad, he’s always been weird in my book. The only time I ever see him is when he’s walking from his car to the front door when he gets home. He did come in the store for a new pair of pants, but I didn’t help him. My dad did.
One more thing: so if you think Todd Wilkerson is such a loser because he didn’t go off to college and got a job at a gas station instead, what does that say about me? And don’t try to draw a distinction between a gas station and a clothing store. If my dad owned a gas station, I’d be working at a gas station—and you know it.
There, I’ve just made myself depressed. Looking forward to seeing how you’re going to talk your way around this one, Ms. Psych Major. (Okay, I did read the paragraphs about your classes, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t bore the proverbial crap out of me. And, no, I don’t recall which proverb that comes from.)
P.S. If your friend likes Peter Gabriel, tell her to check out the new album by Simple Minds called New Gold Dream. It just came out the other day, and it’s phenomenal. The first song is called “Someone Somewhere in Summertime.” It’s really good. So is “Promised You a Miracle.”
P.P.S. I know you’re not a huge baseball fan, but have you seen what the Orioles are doing? They’re making a last-minute run to make the play-offs, and it’s incredible! We’ve been watching them on TV or listening on the radio almost every night. I think they can do it. They’ve got a great young team. Eddie Murray’s playing great at first, and Cal Ripken, Jr., is having an incredible rookie year!
P.P.P.S. “Underachiever guy” was an insult, wasn’t it? Damn!
September 18, 1982
Well, if you were trying to ruin my day, it worked. And it has nothing to do with you being so obnoxious because you know more about music than me, although that didn’t help. I mean, seriously, Scott—what’s with the pregnancy jokes? Maybe you were trying to be funny, but you made me cry.
This is my third attempt to write back to you. I’ve been trying to remember what I could have written to upset you or to suggest that you are a loser like Todd Wilkerson. Unfortunately, I didn’t make a photocopy of my letter, but I don’t recall connecting you and Todd in any way whatsoever. The bottom line is that Todd is a loser who didn’t go to college and works at a gas station. Not “because” he didn’t go to college or “because” he works at a gas station. You and Todd are nothing alike. Nothing. You are smart and funny and interesting and … whatever. I’m too upset to pay you any more compliments. Todd is just so … Todd. Remember how he used to hang around the high school parking lot, just waiting for me to get out of school, and then all he’d want to do was sit in his basement and drink beer and watch TV? And he’d come to the football games and just go crazy, yelling and screaming at the other team, and then he got in that fight at the homecoming game? I mean, that’s the stuff that made him a loser. You don’t do that kind of stuff. At least I hope you don’t.
You just write crappy letters to the girl who’s supposed to be one of your closest friends! Seriously, Scott, you had to know that letter would hurt my feelings. And the pregnancy jokes? I’ll give you five seconds to think about why I wouldn’t find those funny. One, two, three, four, five. Got it. Oh, yeah, now you remember. Not so funny, is it? So cut the bullshit, okay?
I’m not in the mood to write anything cute or witty to you today. I’m too tired, I have a headache from crying, and I have that red, blotchy face thing going on, thanks to you. I just hope the puffiness goes away before the Pit closes so I can get dinner without everyone thinking I’m a homesick baby or something.
I’m still glad that you want to come see the English Beat with us. We got an extra ticket just to be on the safe side, and I’m sure your dad will let you out early to visit, particularly if you tell him that I’m upset with you right now. And guess what—you won’t be lying!
And if he asks you how upset I am, tell him I’m so upset that I’m not even signing this letter, “Love, Catherine.”
With vaguely positive emotions toward you at this moment, but secretly hoping you get the stomach flu,
P.S. If you want to make sure that one of the two people in my dorm room talks to you when you visit, I’d advise you bring something from the East Bloomfield Quality Bakery, “Where Butter Makes the Difference.” (What a stupid motto.) Dorothy loves brownies. She’s the brownie version of the Cookie Monster.
P.P.S. “Underachiever guy” isn’t an insult. But I guess it’s not exactly a compliment, either. It’s a combination of the two. It’s an “insultiment.”
P.P.P.S. In the highly unlikely event that a lightning bolt strikes me dead as I am placing this letter in the mailbox, I’d hate for the last thing you’d remember to be a letter where I suggested that I don’t care about you or wished you got the stomach flu. I do. You’re just very difficult sometimes.
P.P.P.P.S. Go Orioles!
AGEE’S MEN’S CLOTHING
Where Men and Boys Shop
EAST BLOOMFIELD, MARYLAND
September 21, 1982
Or, “Dear, sweet, lovely, adorable, brilliant, looks-kind-of-cute-in-gym-shorts-but-not-as-cute-in-gym-shorts-as-Nancy-Gilmartin Cath.” (Feel free to insert any adjectives I forgot.)
I’m so, so sorry about my last letter and about making you upset. Now I’m the one trying to figure out what I wrote because I also don’t make photocopies of the letters I send you. I was feeling sorry for myself and obviously didn’t explain what I was feeling in the right way. I didn’t mean to blame you or suggest that you had called me a loser or thought that I was anything like Todd. I’m just not very good at writing my thoughts down, and I have the grades in English to prove it. (Actually, now that I think of it, since you did most of my English homework, you have the grades to prove it.)
If it makes you feel any better, now I feel terrible. I really look forward to your college girl letters. When I got the last one, I was excited until I opened it, then I felt terrible the entire night and couldn’t sleep. I even tried to call you on the pay phone in your dorm, but some girl kept answering and hanging up right away.
So, if it’s not already clear, I’m sorry. You’re the last person on earth I’d want to hurt. Giving each other a hard time has always been our “thing”—sorry for the quotation marks—but maybe it’s different when you do it in a letter. I’ll try to be more careful about what I say and how I say it in the future.
And the pregnancy jokes? I wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry about that, too.
Anyway, I hope you’ll forgive me. I’ll understand if you’d rather I not come down for that concert, and I’ll understand if you think it’s better if we stop writing to each other for a bit. You’ve got a lot to do at school, and I really should be working harder to take some pressure off my dad. If I don’t hear from you for a while, that’s cool—I’ll see you when you come home in a few months for Thanksgiving, okay?
With much more than vaguely positive feelings toward you at this moment,
P.S. If I do come down, I will bring brownies. Although I may lick them all first.
P.P.S. Quick Orioles update: they’re amazing. They’re in second place now. I think they can catch the Brewers!
P.P.P.S. I’m enclosing a tape I made for you as a piece offering. It’s got a bunch of English Beat songs on one side so you’ll recognize them at the concert, and it’s got that new Simple Minds album on the other side. The last song is a Kate Bush song called “Wuthering Heights” that I like. It reminds me of that book we were supposed to read junior year, and her voice reminds me of yours when you used to sing in the choir. I think you’ll like it.
P.P.P.P.S. Hold on a second. Were we supposed to read Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice? They’re basically the same, right?
September 23, 1982
Thanks for your letter. We’re fine. Sorry if I was overly sensitive about the pregnancy jokes. And maybe I was overly sensitive about some other stuff, too. It was mean of me to say that you’re difficult. You’re no more difficult than I am. And you’ve saved my proverbial ass too many times to count. (I’m afraid I don’t know what proverb that’s from, either.) And now you’ve introduced me to Kate Bush! She’s amazing. I only wish I could sing like her.
Anyway, I expect to see you here for that English Beat concert. And, no, we don’t need to stop writing to each other. I look forward to your letters, too, and Dorothy keeps begging me to let her read them. (Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen.) So let’s just put this behind us and put it in the folder marked “Things We Don’t Talk About,” right next to that night at Burger King and the time you tried to grow a mustache.
I think you made an excellent point in your letter about how it may be different giving each other a hard time in writing than doing it in person. When we do it in writing, it’s permanent and you can go back and read it over and over again and try to figure out the meaning. When we do it in person, you can see the other person and tell that they’re joking or tell if their feelings are hurt.
That said, something good came out of our little miscommunication—College Boyfriend Number 1! His name is Walter. He’s a junior. He saw that I was upset and came over to talk to me, and now we’re dating! I’ll tell you more about him soon. We’re headed off to the Pit in a minute to get dinner together, so I need to wrap this up.
P.S. It’s “peace” offering, not “piece” offering.
P.P.S. Oh, the girl who kept hanging up the phone every time you called? That was me. Sorry.
AGEE’S MEN’S CLOTHING
Where Men and Boys Shop
EAST BLOOMFIELD, MARYLAND
September 27, 1982
P.S. I knew it was you!
September 29, 1982
What do you mean, “What?” I know you haven’t always liked them, but I’ve had a boyfriend pretty much constantly since eighth grade, so why are you so surprised? Plus, as I may have mentioned, it’s your fault that Walter talked to me in the first place. I was sitting in Mag Court, near the bookstore and the campus post office, just staring into space, and he walked into my line of vision and said, “I’ve never seen you look sad before.”
Good line, right? I’m embarassed to tell you about it, but I’m also smiling like an idiot just thinking about it. Anyway, he sat down, and I started talking to him about you and our friendship and how your letter had made me sad. So, yeah, we’ve been hanging out a lot since then and I think I really like him. I’m a little worried that I’m too impressed by him. He’s introduced me to a bunch of his friends and fraternity brothers. Unlike most of my awkward freshman friends, Walter and his friends are very comfortable here, and everything they do seems cool. They have cars and live in upperclassman housing and know everything about everything. Of course, they also know about the English Beat and have tickets to the concert, so you’ll get to meet Walter and some of his frat brothers. He said you can stay on their hall while you’re visiting. I didn’t really answer him when he offered. I mean, we’ve slept in each other’s house so often, I don’t think it will be a big deal for you to sleep on my dorm room floor, but I’ll leave it up to you. Whatever makes you comfortable (and keeps you safe from Dorothy).
Speaking of Dorothy, I let her read your last letter. She was somewhat disappointed. You two are really going to hate each other. If it gets too bad, it might make sense for you to sleep at Walter’s fraternity house.
Warning—here comes the boring part about school—Biology is kicking my ass. I’m already thinking about changing majors. To what, I don’t know. That’s it for the boring stuff.
I talked to my parents on Sunday. My dad gave me the “little princess” stuff again, but there must have been some mix-up because he said he didn’t buy new pants at your dad’s store. Is there another guy in town who looks exactly like my dad? Yikes! My mom said she sees you “all dressed up” and heading out to work all the time, so I assume that you see her, too. Would you please stop and talk to her once or twice before you come to visit so you can let me know how she is? I miss her so much and I feel guilty about leaving her home alone with my boring dad, regardless of whether he has new pants.
Oh, gross, Dorothy just came in with a big stinky pizza. Seriously, what do you put in a pizza to make it smell like that—sweat socks and Ben-Gay? I’m going to go hang out with Jane next door. Jane’s cool, and her room doesn’t reek of food all the time. Write soon, okay?
P.S. Are you still a Tomato?
Susan Stevens Mullen lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband, Kevin, and their two daughters, Hannah and Haley. She practices law in the Reston office of Cooley, LLP. Sue was born and raised in Chicago. Her family relocated to Northern Virginia when she was in the 7th grade. A graduate of Langley High School, Duke University, and the University of Virginia School of Law, Sue loves reading fiction and running with the family and their dog, Griffin the Boxer.
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Michael Kun is a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Virginia Law School. His first novel, "A Thousand Benjamins" (Atlantic Monthly Press), was published in 1990. After "A Thousand Benjamins" was published to some acclaim, much was expected of Mike (especially by his employers, who really wished he'd start doing some work). No one, however, expected that he would disappear from the literary world for 13 years. His disappearance led to rumors of his death, many of which appeared on customer reviews on amazon.com.
Mike's short stories have appeared in Atlanta Magazine, Urbanite, Other Voices, Fiction, Indy Men's Magazine, Story Quarterly, and Cottonwood, among other publications. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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