Preface – Junior High
Thirteen-year-old Tino and Jordan sit in Tino's room, looking at photographs. Tino's is a Polaroid of his mother at eighteen. She is young, pretty, freckled, and looking straight into the camera, her curly hair — the same dark blonde as his — framing her face. It's beguiling. She's alive, and youthful, and there's maybe even a bit of magic in that direct head-on look she's giving the camera, or whoever it was behind that camera that day — a look of fun. And glee. A look that is Tino through and through.
Jordan holds one of the small handful of snapshots he has of his mother. A couple years ago he found a stack of photos of her on a high shelf in the hall closet. He took them, and every now and then he looks through them.
Mostly they're from when they were first married — she and his old man. A picture from their wedding, another when she was pregnant, two more from when Jordan was young. In this one, the one he holds in his hand, she's nineteen or twenty, and she is standing against a wall in a dark room, her face lit by, and partly reflected in a window. The photo shows only from the elbow up, and only her back, but she is nude, and she wears the most captivating expression on her face. Her beauty, her countenance, they're mesmerizing. But there's no warmth. The image is alluring, taunting, evocative — if it were not his mother — but the slight smile is her own. Everything about her draws the viewer in, but she gives nothing away.
At this age Jordan only sees the beauty, and the parent he isn't stuck with. The one who painted, and used to sing — he thinks he remembers. At thirteen he's stopped waiting for her, but this he knows: She's the one that got away. Anything more than that, he lets lie.
Inspecting the Polaroid, Tino reflects thoughtfully on this younger version of his mom, "She was really pretty." He looks up, "I mean, still is."
Turning away from his own photographs Jordan looks over Tino's shoulder; he observes, "I like that no makeup thing."
Thinking aloud Tino posits, "Think it means anything? Both our moms were so young and…" looking for a way to put it he settles on: "Not feo?" A glance in Jordan's direction tells him to translate. "'Not bad looking?'"
Not exactly sure himself what he meant, Tino just makes a joke. "We clearly didn't get neglected by the looks."
Jordan chuckles because he knows while Tino's handsome, if a little goofy looking, he'd never seriously sit around and call himself good looking.
Now getting closer to what had been his original point Tino asks, "Think it ruined their lives?" He means them, he and Jordan. He means being young and pretty and having babies by the time they were twenty-two (or nineteen in Marie Catalano's case). He means being mothers to boys, one with a less than adequate father, the other with none at all.
Tino doesn't know what he's after; he certainly doesn't regret his birth, nor the circumstances of it. He figures it's nearly as good an origin story as Jenny Fields and Technical Sergeant Garp, though much less intentional. He does not miss a father he never had; he does not pity his mother the life they share; he enjoys the fascinations of a pretty girl as much as anyone; but sometimes, he wonders if there's... a price for it. A price for being attractive women pay that men never do. Tino doesn't speak any of this; it's probably silly anyway. And Catalano 'd never get it.
Jordan nods to the picture to indicate Nancy, "She seems okay."
"She's worried I'll end up with a kid. You even more."
Jordan's entertained by this, "Why's that?"
Good-naturedly smacking Jordan in the forehead with the Polaroid, Tino extrapolates for his friend, "'Cuz I'm smart, and you're 'dreamy'." Taking another look at the photo he reflects, "I definitely don't have her nose."
Jordan knows that's true. And wondering now, as he's never really stopped to think of it before, Jordan asks, "You know who he 's?" All Jordan's ever known is there's never been a man around, not till last year— It's taken in stride when a kid's got only one parent; it is what it is, questions aren't asked. Jordan 'd been friends with Nate for more than a year before he realized he lived with both his mother and his father, turned out the guy was just always at work.
Dropping his photo back into an old metal construction site lunchbox, Tino is genuinely flippant, "Some John in a plane, riding first class."
Jordan, still young, smiles at the abstract idea of it.
Tino, less experienced by far but assuredly more worldly than his friend, smiles fraternally at that small moment of betrayed innocence. He shuts the lightly rusted lid to his grandfather's lunchbox and takes another look at Jordan's photo. "Wow." A photo, no, a person, like that's rarely seen outside a magazine. It's impressive. e looks at Jordan, compelled to point out, "You know, it's him she's looking at that way."
Jordan knows. And as ever strikes back with unflinching pragmatism, "You don't have to be nice for them to look at you that way." Young as he is, Jordan's already learned this.
After end of show: Jordan and Angela have been dating a couple months
At home in his kitchen Jordan's in the process of throwing something together for dinner. The telephone rings and he crosses the room to answer it. "'lo?"
A woman's voice is on the other end, deep and rich. She speaks his name, "Jordan?"
"Yeah." There's a pause on the other end; she doesn't speak. "Hello?"
Momentarily she speaks again, her voice fractionally less confident than it had just been. "It's Marie." She waits for him to respond, but he does not. She tries again. "Marie Lausen." Still waiting for some kind of confirmation from his end she adds, "Formerly Catalano…"
Jordan's eventual response is brusque, "Yeh." He knows who she is.
She thought there might be more, but when it's clear he's saying nothing further, she proceeds. "How're you?" Still nothing. She continues, seeing this is the way it's going to go. "Okay... " She starts again, "Listen, I'm going to be in Pennsylvania next month, and I wanted to see you. _ Would, that be alright?"
Up against Jordan's austere, monosyllabic responses, her tone remains pleasant, conversational, regal. By all appearances the past is not weighing her down — she isn't feeling guilt, a surly petulant teenager is all she's dealing with, and she does so by taking it all very lightly, like one deals with a child. "If I came up there, would you see me?"
She smiles through his bluntness, "Well, you think about it. I'll give you my number, and—"
At this he speaks up, "No." He swallows. "I don't want your number." After everything, Jordan's not being left with the responsibility of calling her.
Unfazed that he refused the number, she instead sees that he didn't say 'no' altogether. "But, you'll think about it?" No response. "I'll call you when it gets closer? _ I'll call you."
"How'd you get the number?"
Her response is breezy, as if it should be so obvious, "It's never changed."
"Right." Nine years. In nine years they hadn't moved, the number hadn't changed. And today she decides to call. She starts to say something more, but he cuts her off. "Look, I gotta go." Jordan hangs up the phone.
In the morning, Angela exits her house and gets in Jordan's car. Instead of starting for school, he sits there. She looks at him, studying his face, waiting for him to speak. Momentarily she speaks, "Morning." Jordan halfway replies with the slightest head nod, but nothing more. She waits. She tries not to just stare.
Angela cannot gauge his mood. Is he angry? Did something happen? Is he trying to find a way to say something? Is he simply tired, or debating whether to skip the whole day? Eventually, without a word and hardly a look in her direction, he starts the car and they do drive to school.
Their drive to Liberty is quiet. Angela is partly waiting for Jordan to speak, and now partly in her own thoughts. Sometimes Jordan doesn't speak.
Finally he does speak, but not so much to her as just out loud, going over the circumstance. "So, my mom called."
Angela looks at him in total surprise, a look he does not notice as he faces straight ahead. It takes a second before she settles on the question she actually asks, "For what?"
Still looking out the windshield, he shrugs. "Say 'hi'?".
Speaking with some trepidation Angela ventures, "I thought that—" She cuts herself off and Jordan looks at her, trying to discern what she'd started to say. Angela realized saying she'd thought his mother was dead is not the best course.
His eyes narrow, "You thought what?"
With a tight-lipped smile Angela tries to cover, "Nothing." Finding her next words she says to him, "I didn't think you spoke."
"Haven't. Been nine years."
Now at her locker, Jordan leans against it, staring down the hallway as she exchanges her books and drops off her bag lunch. "So," she looks at him, "what happened?"
Jordan mechanically turns his attention back to her, and looking at her, dispassionately gauges her interest. "She left," is all he initially gives her. Then, still leaning, still casually detached, he adds, "Lisa's mom divorced the old man, my mother moved in. When Lis' mother an' aunt died in a car crash, she had to move in. There 's no where else." He straightens up, repositioning his weight against the locker, "She was seven, I was — four."
"Why'd she leave? Your mother." Angela''s asking questions like she's navigating land mines, only she's not. Jordan completely shut himself down about it all years ago. There's nothing raw here for him, nothing charged with violent voltage. Nothing that he can feel.
He shrugs, and flicks something off his sleeve, "She just did."
Looking at him, she searches intently for some emotional marker, "And?"
"And, then she was gone." Jordan shuts her locker and heads down the hall.
The day half done, Angela's walked with Jordan to spend their lunch time beneath the bleachers with his friends. While she picks at a sandwich he smokes a cigarette. None of the others are talking to them at the moment, and so she takes the opportunity to, in a low voice, again broach the subject. "What do you think she wants?"
Jordan picks a piece of tobacco from his tongue. "I dunno."
Remaining discreet, hesitant to push too hard, Angela asks, "Are you going to talk to her?"
He looks at her, more sharply than is his want, "Can we, like, not, talk about this anymore."
Angela nods. "Sure."
He looks at her, with a twinge of regret for cutting her off for talking about something he'd brought up, but she has a way of giving meaning to things that he just wants to let be. Not everything needs to be imbued with such earnest earnestness.
He makes himself make an effort to say something nice, "Thank you," then joins up Joey and Marcus.
Before Angela has to be home for homework and dinner, Angela and Jordan are making out in his car, parked in the lot behind the market. Still entwined with her, Jordan pulls back, exhaling. "So?" His blue eyes hold her gaze, "What do I do?
The shift is so sudden it takes her a moment for his meaning to register. When she's caught up, Angela's mouth opens, wanting to speak some kind of an answer for him, but, she doesn't know what to say. She's stumped, utterly.
Her eyes dart back and forth, searching his face; so reluctant to say the wrong thing — to go too far or to let him down, she has no words for him at all, "I … dunno."
She's still so close to him, her mouth still so near his, they could return to their kiss so easily, but Jordan's lost interest for the time and his attention turns towards the window. But he takes a sideways look at her, just momentarily, and with an expression she reads as mild irritation, then looks away again, distracted, thinking. He shakes his head. "I don't get what she wants."
"You don't," she ventures to query, "want to see her?" Jordan sighs. Angela is quiet, then breaks her silence, "… Have you, talked to Tino?" This is more than feeling out of her element — knowing she has nothing near the full story on Jordan's home life, Angela does not want to steer him in the wrong direction. Tino, she's sure, with more of the background, more insight on the nuances and more experience in reading Jordan's mood, is better apt for this talk.
He swallows. "Nope." She opens her mouth to make her case but he looks at her, as if to say 'I came to you; this is what you're supposed to want.' She closes her mouth. "He's gone anyway," he adds. "He's, ah, in Florida. With his mom. For, a couple days."
Slight shrug. "'s not like we talk all the time." That doesn't sound right to Angela given how they are with one another when they're together, but then again, she'd known him for months before she'd even known he had a sister. "I don't really care what she has to say. Her," he clarifies, "not Lis."
"You're not, not curious?"
Devoid of any emotion, he parts with only one word, "No." Jordan scratches the back of his head and exhales, reverting to his default position, "What do I care?" He looks at her, and absently pushes a hair away from her face, "Whatever."
Briefly nuzzling her head against his hand, she looks up into his eyes, "… Did you, tell, him?"
Jordan scoffs, "No."
"What, would he say?"
He shakes his head, "Don't know. But, I haven't been sitting around waitin' for her."
Speaking for the first time with assurance, Angela stresses to him, "Seeing her doesn't say that you have." Her confidence in this catches his attention — Angela's takes on things often take him by surprise — but he doesn't know whether he should take her word on this.
At Jordan's request two days later, Lisa has driven to Three Rivers and has stopped in to see him at his work at the filling station garage. There's no manager around so she sits with him, perched on a wooden table as he changes the oil for a red '83 Toyota. After sliding back under the vehicle he asks, "What do you remember?"
"Not a lot. I wasn't there for a lot of it."
"C'mon." Jordan's not accepting that. Lisa'd lived with them for four years. She'd been eleven when Marie walked out.
Lisa thinks. When her mother died, Lisa hadn't wanted to move in with her father. When her parents divorced when she was nearly three, her mother had kept her away, and Jeff Catalano didn't make a thing of it. Lisa's aunt was to be her next of kin if anything had happened to her mother, but when they were both killed, the only one around was Jeff. Lisa's mother's family was basically all still in Mexico, and so at age seven she moved in with three strangers. Jordan and she had taken to each other immediately, and Marie — Marie had been kind, and a friend. Never a mother exactly, but Jordan wasn't the only one hurt when she disappeared. Nine years later, Lisa only saw her as the person who left them there. Her own mother had done what she thought was enough to keep her out of his house; Marie just let it happen. 'Let' wasn't even the word — she's why it happened. To remember anything more than that took a little time. "She was beautiful."
To this he's curtly dismissive, "I know that." Both his parents were — good looking. At this point, what did it matter?
Lisa thinks, remembering back, "Brown eyes. I guess, maybe hazel. Great hair. Really long, really straight."
Impatient, Jordan drops his wrench and grabs the oil pan, dragging it over with a great metallic clamor. "More," he directs. And setting the pan in place he slides out from beneath the engine.
Lisa looks at him; she thinks. "She had a good laugh. But I don't remember her smiling a lot. She had a great voice; one of those really wonderfully deep voices. She was nice, but … distracted. She always seemed like she was looking past you. Us."
Jordan pauses to reflect, "I don't remember that…" She watches this affect him.
There isn't much more to say, anyway he must remember; she shrugs, "And they fought. They laughed, but they fought. But," she reflects, "she never seemed fazed." Jordan exhales. And wipes his brow. Lisa doesn't know what else to say; she doesn't know if it's a good idea he sees her. But in the end she says what she knows is true. "She liked you."
A few days later, Jordan's lounging in Tino's backyard while Tino hand rolls his cigarettes. Tino glances at Jordan as he lifts the paper to his mouth and licks it, "What's the big deal?" Jordan glowers at him, knowing full well that cavalier flippancy from Tino is no indicator that he isn't taking something as important, but choosing to be irritated by it anyway. Continuing, Jordan's glare not giving him a moment's pause, Tino counsels, "Just do it. See her. If you don't care, there's nothing to lose. Hey," he points out a potential upside, "maybe she's got money." Amused, Jordan scoffs. Tino shrugs, slipping a cigarette behind his ear, "Could happen."
Idly picking up a leaf Jordan tears it from its base, "She's a flake." Tino casts a glance in his buddy's direction; from Jordan Catalano, there aren't much worse accusations.
Having safely stored his freshly rolled cigarettes in his great-grandfather's engraved pocket case, Tino decisively snaps it shut, hops down from his perch, and lights the cigarette he'd had behind his ear. Exhaling, he picks up the conversation with a renewed buoyancy and rationality. "J, she could be doing it, for the shadiest, selfish reasons, but, I know you want to see her." He lets this sink in, and then adds, "At the very least, tell 'er off."
Jordan's answer is fatigued, "Why? I don't wanna do that."
"Sure ya do. She left you with him, didn't she?"
Jordan rallies a bit of humor, "Doesn't speak well for her."
Exhaling, Tino chuckles his affirmation, "No."
Jordan takes a seat across Marie in a booth in the River Diner, a rustic Three Rivers institution he frequents semi-regularly. When she'd called again, he'd agreed to meet. He recognized her at once. He wasn't sure he would. Still beautiful, she's different, than how he'd remembered her. Or, how he thought he remembered her. There's a quality about her, something unflappable; she keeps her poise, no matter what, and the source of this seems to be some kind of pleased self-assurance. For one thing, she doesn't see herself in the wrong, and — in an entirely different, and more composed, way than Amber Vallone — considers herself a free spirit. She's prepared to talk to Jordan like an independent adult, not like a child, her child, she left waiting for her.
Across the table she smiles sedately as he sits. "So, thanks for meeting with me."
She smiles over his terse response, "It's been a while." Jordan looks at her blankly. "Hm." Seeing that he has no immediate intention of keeping up a conversation, she continues on, "How's your sister?"
"What do you want?" He isn't hostile, but in no mood for bush beating, he'd rather get on with it.
She takes no offense, possibly to his further irritation, merely smiling at his bluntness, "Wow. Well," she starts smoothly, "I thought, it was time to see you. See how you're growing up." She pauses, takes a sip of her green tea, "You look great. Very handsome."
Jordan's entirely devoid of any emotion, "Great." She doesn't flinch.
Marie studies him, "You're not excited to see me." Her trimmed nails shine, but there's no paint on them; he's noticing everything, and it's all — every detail — irksome.
He looks away, "Whatever."
"It's been a long time," she remarks benignly. She waits, but whether Jordan hasn't realized this was an invitation for him to speak, or whether he's refusing it, she isn't sure. "I thought you'd at least be curious."
He eyes her, biting his lips before making any concession on this point, "Maybe. Something like, four, five years ago." He bites his thumbnail, registering her response.
But she circumvents his accusation of neglect and continues with banal pleasantries. "You doing okay?" He shrugs, as if to say, 'How does it look?' "School?"
He looks at her with edged skepticism, "You came up here to talk about school?"
"Okay," she smiles graciously, "what should we talk about?"
At that point, a waitress, in her late forties, who seems to know Jordan, drops off an unordered cup of coffee for him, and pulls a bowl of sugar cubes from a nearby table and leaves it for him.
The woman looks from Jordan to Marie, and back to Jordan, who'd smiled briefly when she'd brought the coffee, and who is now defiantly lounging back against the booth seat, right hand resting atop the rim of his coffee mug, staring at his mother. The waitress smiles, "I'll come back," and is gone.
Marie waits a minute before asking, just as pleasantly as everything preceding it, "How's your father?"
Jordan doesn't exactly look up from adjusting the sugar to coffee ratio, but he does answer, after a fashion, "You know..."
"It's been a long time," she needlessly points out, "you've known him much longer now."
Putting down his spoon, and leaning back with directness of purpose, he looks her straight on, "He's the same as when you left."
"'Left.'" She repeats it as though it's humorous, questioning the semantics.
"Oh, you didn't?"
She answers breezily, like no real defense is needed, "I had a life to live. I couldn't do it here."
"Fine." He lets it go. What else is he gonna do? In the silence he drinks his coffee.
Watching him, she can't help herself, "All that sugar's not good for you." Taking another deliberate sip, he raises his eyebrows and forms a tight smile, simultaneously communicating: 'Okay, whatever' and 'Go fuck yourself.' She smiles it off and with poise repositions the stone pendant on her necklace. She continues sociably, as though a thought has just occurred to her, "Kiddo, you know. I'm surprised to still find you here."
This beats everything she's said so far. Jordan can't swallow the scoff as he responds, "Oh yeah?"
But she sees nothing odd in what she's said. She looks at him with assumed camaraderie, "Kind of stifling, isn't it?"
"Is that what you call it?"
She won't be browbeaten; airily she points out, "Well, you're still here." From Marie Lausen's point of view, if he's been unhappy there, leave. At nineteen she was married and pregnant; just two years younger, he's surely capable of taking charge of his own life.
Jordan leans forward, trying to get straight just what she has in mind; his words are wry and acerbic, "So, uh, where should I be? According to you?"
If she noted his sardonicism she doesn't show it. "There's all kinds of places you could be."
She makes an amused observation, "You're a little angry."
"Okay," she concedes, as complacent as she was at the start. She drinks her tea and she looks at him. "Jeff know I'm here?"
He doesn't exactly answer her, instead he taunts her, "You wanna see 'im?"
"No," she sedately smiles. "That's alright." She says it like she's turning down a refill on her tea. And one more time she starts again, "So," she nods at him, "how's your life?"
He looks at her, and though not exactly sociable, he does drop the hostility, at least long enough to give this thing a chance. "What'ya wanna know?"
She gestures as she brainstorms possibilities, "What are your friends like?" He shrugs. "You do have some, right?"
Pleasantly she endeavors to elicit anything more from him, "And?"
"They're good." He wraps his fingers on the handle of his mug; while her self-composure is bothering him, he's temporarily decided to try an actual conversation with her, but never really verbose in the first place, his responses are still the model of pith.
Noting the shift in his demeanor, she ventures to the more personal, "Funny? Loyal?" She looks at him, "Girls? Is there one? Is there many?"
Of course she hadn't meant it that way — if anything she was flattering him — but he took the 'many' as a dig. He looks at her, his eyes narrowing, trying to see how she sees him. "One," he swallows.
"I'd like to meet her." Jordan makes a face. "What?"
In the face of her willful naivete Jordan's obliged to point out the obvious, "You're just meeting me."
He hadn't expected her to laugh, but she does. "You speak your mind."
Now it's his turn to find humor, "First time I've heard that."
"Could that," she smiles warmly, "have something to do with the absence of complex sentences streaming from your lips?"
And with that he reverts to surly, "Dunno."
"Can't we be friends?"
"I think," he pushes away his coffee for measured effect, "the point is you're 'spos'd to be a mother. But," channeling Tino's flare for irony he smiles at her coolly, "sure, we can be 'friends'."
Not bothered by his reluctance to be sincere, amused by his tendency to be taciturn, she smiles at him. "You're smart; I like it." He takes this in, pursing his lips. To be called 'smart' —what she meant as an innocuous compliment brought up a lot of— It brought up a lot. He sits, looking at her. He decides he doesn't like her tan. He doesn't like her earthy New Age jewelry. He doesn't like her Santa Fe art scene clothing. He doesn't like her warm, infinitely patronizing smile, or her outright refusal to make amends, or to admit that amends need to be made. He really didn't like the part when she'd blamed him for still being there. 'He was smart'? She 'liked it'? He didn't care what she liked.
His posture, his tone of voice, his expression — everything changes. He shuts down. "This was stupid."
Without understanding the 'why', she sees that she's touched a nerve. Her apology is for his reaction, and not much more. "Sorry."
"Look," his eyes flash at her as he gestures for meaning, "I don't know why I even agreed to do this."
"Well," she shifts his weight, taking on the air of an analyst, "that's worth exploring then."
"No. It isn't." He's firm in this. "It's too late."
"Jordan," she points out. "You're still with him." Her point being that if he's managed to stay living with his father all this time, making nice with her over coffee shouldn't be too tall an order.
He scratches his head, feigning conversational folksiness, "Yeh, you know, the fact that you would say that, knowing what you know about him—" He stops himself. He looks at her. "You left me there."
She begins to say something but he cuts her off. "Forget it; it doesn't matter." Jordan rises, "I'm gonna get going." He drops a few bills on the table, and gives a quick glance in her direction, "I'll see you."
"Don't say what you don't mean."
"Alright," he nods in agreement and tries again. "I don't think I want to know you." He exits the diner.
In the evening Jordan sits with Angela on the Chase's front steps. He's quiet, but not moody, and she knows this is one of the rare occasions he's waiting for her to ask him. "How'd it go? … Was it...? Bad? ... What was she like?" He shakes his head.
Arms folded and resting across his knees, Jordan drops his chin to his arms, and so obstructed, mumbles, "Why did I go?"
Again she's on unsure footing, wanting nothing more than to be a comfort, but the way to do so eludes her. But she cannot not answer him, "Because…" She fades out. She doesn't have the words. Instead she studies him. "Was it terrible?"
He looks at her sharply, 'Terrible'? Jordan grumbles, "It was a waste of time. I don't know her. She doesn't know me." He straightens up, regains a little apathy — some distance from the day. "She's not my mother." He looks at her to drive his point home. "I know your mother more than I know my own. Tino's for sure. _ She didn't even care."
Angela takes this in. She shakes her head. "It's her loss."
Jordan scoffs caustically, "Yeah."
Trepidatious in these moments, wary of overly mothering him — too sweet, make him too vulnerable, and he always turns it round on her — but feeling it too strongly not to say it, she risks saying the words and speaks to him, in lowered tones, "It's them. It isn't you. Jordan."
His jaw jutted to one side, his eyes catch a sideways view of her. He tries to hear her, but in the end he shrugs it off. "Just forget it. _ It doesn't matter."
Jordan walks into Tino's room and flings the old snapshots of his mother at him. Tino lowers his guitar, and looks from the photos to Jordan. "Didn't work out?"
"Waste of time."
To give Jordan room to talk — if he wants — Tino keeps his attention on his guitar, casually strumming, being careful not to corner him. "What's she like?" Jordan's silence tells him to move onto the pictures. "Am I tossing these or holding on to 'em?"
"I don't need 'em."
Doing what he does, which is lighten a mood, Tino nods with an upbeat smile, "Oh, just looking out for a buddy in need of prime mother nudie photos. Got it. Sweet." He pockets the picture and the others for safekeeping, should Jordan ever decide — even years from now — he wants them. Cocking an eyebrow, he looks at his best friend, "Burritos?" Tino recognizes this silent-shutdown version of his friend, and knows that if he takes charge and gives him time and a wide birth, Jordan Catalano will come around. He sets down his guitar, rises from his chair, and good-naturedly shoves his friend back into the hallway and down the stairs.