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Broken things can be whole
When she was younger, her parents would take her to Europe every summer. (Not the whole summer-no matter what people thought, they couldn't quite afford that-but three weeks here or a month there. Her parents pretended they were rich, and she pretended not to know that it was Grandpa's money, not theirs.)
They tried, every year, to make it a surprise, even though she always knew it was coming. The summer after fourth grade it was Italy as a reward for good grades, and the summer after sixth grade it was France for being in the honors choir. Then the summer after eighth grade it was Greece for getting into Choate and the summer after twelfth it was Portugal for deciding to go to Wellesley. (Not, as her father pointed out, an Ivy, but good enough none the less, and a chance to escape the co-ed environment. Her parents pretended they didn't mind that she hadn't gone to Harvard, and she pretended to be contrite.)
The last time, the summer after her senior year, it was Italy, again, for getting into Yale Law. Every summer was roughly the same: her parents rented a sea-side villa for the duration and tried to convince her that there was more to do than just go to the beach. (She pretended to agree, once in a while, and they pretended not to notice the year when she decided that the beach wasn't part of the trip, the beach was the trip.)
Now, as she sits in the well-furnished living room of her too-expensive apartment overlooking Central Park, she looks at the eighteen jars of sea glass sitting on her bookshelf. She knows that if she goes into the office, she'll find the sea glass mosaics she made at Choate and the sea glass stained glass panels she made at Wellesley. (In her freshman year a senior from BC, intent on seduction, had come to her room, only to find himself seduced by the mosaics lining the walls of the small dorm room. He offered, shyly, to teach her how to make stained glass panels and she agreed, thankful for the distraction. Her parents pretended not to notice that she spent even more time on the beach that summer, and she pretended to be grateful for the trip.)
She realizes that she can tell time using the jars. The one on the left was the summer she turned five and lost her first tooth, the one next to it was the summer she turned twelve and had her first period, the one in the back was the summer she turned fifteen and stopped collecting the glass because it was beautiful, and started collecting it because it was broken, and she didn't like to look at that one. (That was the summer her parents pretended not to notice that she flinched when they mentioned Jeff, her father's partner's son and her classmate at Choate, and she pretended not to notice when they stopped bringing him up.)
She wonders, sometimes, how three people could spend all their time pretending things are different than they are and call that living. She wonders if that's what "family" is-a group of people pretending together. She'd think she was crazy for wondering that, but her B.A. was in Psych and she knew she wasn't crazy. (The summer after her sophomore year at Wellesley, her parents pretended not to notice as she stared at the topless women on the beaches in Spain, and she pretended she wasn't staring at all.)
If she thinks about it, each jar, each mosaic, and each stained glass panel - each time she tried to piece broken glass into whole glass - is a different lie her family told to get through a trip to Europe. (The summer after her first year at Yale, her parents pretended to believe her when she said she had to work all summer, and she pretended she regretted not going with them to Turkey.)
When she got her law degree (and, through a joint degree program, her M.A. in psychology), she had her favorite piece made into a necklace. She'd found it in Portugal when she was seven, and it was shaped like a heart. She didn't know bottles could break into hearts. She'd kept it in a special place ever since and finally made a necklace out of it when she took the job in Manhattan. From then on, she wore it on a long chain, below her clothes. No one had ever seen it. (Her parents pretended not to notice the charge from Tiffany's on their credit card statement, and she pretended she didn't want anyone to notice the thin silver chain that clashed a little with her golden hair.)
She shakes her head and forces herself to stop looking at the jars. Olivia was coming over to watch a movie and it would be the first time anyone else had seen the apartment since she'd moved in. (Her parents pretended not to be offended that she never took them to her apartment, and she pretended that someday, when it was clean or earlier or she wasn't so tired, she would.)
The doorbell rang and she took one more deep breath before opening it. She smiled at Liv, who looked as nervous as she felt, carrying wine and two DVDs.
"Come on in," she said, "It's small, and I didn't have the chance to clean - "
"Alex, it's perfect," Olivia said as she came into the small living room, leaving her jacket on the couch and looking around. She noticed the jars and smiled. "I love sea glass. You have more than I do, though."
Alex blushed. "I have more," she said. "Would you like to see it?"
Liv nodded and Alex led her into the office.
"They're beautiful," she whispered. "Why haven't you showed these to me before?"
"I didn't know how you'd react." Alex reached out and touched a sea glass sunset she'd made while drunk her second year at Yale. "My parents think I'm crazy for doing so many, but I like the way that - here - I can make broken things look whole. I like that broken things can be beautiful."
"Alex." Olivia swallowed hard, not sure if she was interpreting Alex's words correctly. "Alex, I don't think you're broken. Just beautiful."
Alex smiled and left the office, leaving Olivia to follow.
(Maybe she could stop pretending.)
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