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The Slightly Unforgettable Summer of Molly and Bruce

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Author's note: I want this book to make people laugh. But I hope it does more than that. I hope it gives people...  Show full author's note »
Author's note: I want this book to make people laugh. But I hope it does more than that. I hope it gives people the idea that we really don't have all the time in the world, and we need to live life to the fullest--because there's no telling when that ability will be taken from us.  « Hide author's note
Chapters:  

chapter one

The memory [1994]

The Kittitas County Community Hospital was exactly what you would expect a hospital to be like in the small town of Ellensburg, Washington (the State, not the Capitol). It had a slightly worn down air and saw most of its action late on Friday nights after the invincible teenagers had overestimated their simultaneous drinking and four wheeling abilities. The Hospital did see its share of the elderly who had fallen and couldn’t get up, and of course , those little bundles of joy who always seemed to find the most inconvenient times to make their debut into a bright new world. For Emily Snow, this happened to be on Sunday, August 28 at 2:26 p.m. as she stood in the cereal isle of Fred Meyer, trying to decide whether or not to stand firm to her low carb diet or give in to the sweet seduction of Fruit Loops. She had gained 30 pounds more than Dr. Loveless’s maximum recommendation. They were on sale, two boxes for five dollars. It must have been a sign—a sign from the God of super sugary cereals. She could just picture Dr. Loveless’s oddly imposing and bushy eyebrows furrowed with disapproval as she stuffed the box in her cart, when she was suddenly struck in the gut by the searing pain she had been anticipating for nine months— and greatly underestimating. She was instantly doubled over and grimacing in pain, causing an old man who was five feet away and seconds from selecting his raisin bran to yank his cell phone from his utility belt and dial that number we have been made to memorize from the time our parents thought we could potentially do anything that would render the need of an ambulance. Why, just the night before she had been curled up on her living room couch with her husband Richard, watching the Friends episode where Phoebe gives birth to triplets.
“Really, people can be so overly dramatic sometimes. I mean, she’s been screaming for five minutes and all she’s done is check in!” Emily stuck out her already massive belly and mimicked what Richard took to be a dying Beluga whale.
“Remember saying that when it’s happening to you. That whole contraction business seems unpleasant…just a little.”
No Kidding. The EMTs found her on the cold tile floor of isle 10 in Fred Meyer, with hardly enough strength to cry. The old man—she never learned his name— had made her a pillow out of his tweed coat; he grasped it tightly as the ambulance whisked Emily off to the hospital a few miles away.
………………

It was at her niece’s wedding a few miles away where Andrea Pruitt sat in the middle collapsible chair in the middle row in the middle of the fairgrounds in the middle of the heat of the day. She was shredding her program into baby blue snowflakes, wishing with all her heart that some would fall from the sky and lower the temperature by about, say, 50 degrees. It was the kind of hot where the color seems zapped out of the world, and the bride with her unnaturally white teeth was avoiding her groom’s hands: Andrea could see his palms were sweating profusely. The pieces of program fell with all grace onto her greatly protruding belly. The wedding had started 25 minutes ago. Her contractions had started 20 minutes ago.
The minister, who must have been as old as the temperature was high, took another deep breath. “But before these two beautiful people can become one, they must first…”
Oh, God. Take me now. But her sister would never let her walk out of the ceremony without an explanation, not after those endless hours of confirming floral arrangements and bridesmaid dress alterations. She cringed again—they were getting stronger, coming on faster. A week later she became aware that people were applauding around her, the happy couple was heading down the aisle. Time for her getaway. As poised as any woman in labor could scoot past a row of knees and folding chairs, Andrea tried her best to be inconspicuous as she passed, doubled over, devising her escape in her head. But then the pain was more than she could handle, and as soon as she cleared the last pair of knees, belonging to a rotund second cousin she had never talked to, she fell to her own. Maybe it was because how ridiculous her situation was, but she thought how ironic it was that she had never prayed a word in her life and here she was, at 2:27 p.m., down on her knees and begging for mercy at her stuck up niece’s first wedding. Oh, with her personality, there would for sure be a second. People had somehow realized what was happening, and Andrea did not fail to notice that the professional photographer (that she had hired) had turned his lens on her and was shuttering away. Someone was now supporting her under her arms, and someone else was calling an ambulance. But things were no longer definite; she could only make out the face of her niece, which clearly revealed that she thought that her limelight had been stolen.
“Mom, you were right, she found a way to screw it up.” She said it just loud enough for Andrea and her sister to hear. At this point, an uncle had decided it would be much faster to transport her to the hospital in the mustang with the words Just Married written across the back.
Her sister grudgingly helped Andrea into the passenger seat, and whispered in a way that she must have thought comforting, “It’s ok. You are not the only one who was uncomfortable here. Is it hot or what?”
“Yeah, and I’m not the only one here who is pregnant, either. But you can ask your daughter about that.”
The shocked expression on her sister’s face and the niece’s horrification, Andrea thought as the uncle drove her off to the hospital, would be just enough to get her through this.
……………...

“This is a whole lot better than giving birth in Fred Meyer, don’t you think?” Dr. Loveless burst into the hospital room where Emily had been lying in the crisp sheets of a metal bed. She really was in no mood to make conversation.
He continued, unaware of her stupor. “Well, how about I turn on the television? The baby won’t be coming for several hours; you might as well be comfortable.”
Emily wanted nothing more than peace and quiet, but she didn’t have the will to speak up.
Glancing out the window, he added, “Would you look at that? A Just Married car just pulled up. Oh, she’s in labor, too! They cut it a little close, don’t you think?” He laughed himself out of the room; leaving Emily to wonder how there could be seven billion people in the world if this is how it felt to bring one into it. The TV was too loud, but she couldn’t muster up the energy to turn it down.
A few minutes later, another woman was wheeled into the room. She was dressed much more fancily than someone who had been planning to have a baby. Dr. Loveless was at her side and said to Emily, “Sorry if you thought you were getting the room all to yourself. Too many babies! We really need to start supporting the gay community—gotta combat overpopulation somehow.”
Again he left, leaving the two women alone together. The only sounds to be heard were the struggling breaths of Emily and Andrea, of the giant air conditioner in the window, and of Bruce Willis.
“Of all the shows that could have been on right now. Die Hard. Today seems like one big cosmic joke, and I am the punch line,” said Andrea. The worst part of it wasn’t ruining the wedding, it was that she was alone there and she would be alone here, too..
Emily was feeling a little better, but she knew it was only the eye of the storm, and the worst hadn’t even come yet. “Well, at least someone is having a rougher day than we are. Running on broken glass, killing terrorists, being bald…”
There is something about being right next to someone who is experiencing the exact same hardship as you. It is that intangible reason why marathon runners breath, “good job,” as they pass by another, why soldiers on the frontline can trust the guy who stole his toothbrush the night before, and it is the explanation for why two women, who moments before couldn’t walk even a few steps, could be laughing together in a hot room at Kittitas County Memorial Hospital.
……………
“Just add ‘in my pants’ to any movie title. It really makes it more interesting. I got one: Die Hard…in my pants!” Andrea laughed at her own joke, and Emily couldn’t help but smile.
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…in my pants.”
“When Harry Met Sally in my pants!”
“Raiders of the Lost Ark!”
“Some Like It Hot!”
If they weren’t already confined to their beds, they would have been on the floor in fits of laughter.
Andrea exclaimed matter of factly, “You know, his eyebrows seem to grow every time I see that doctor,” once they had settled down, only to make Emily bust out in giggles again.
“You are so right. If I saw him on the street I would probably think he was a pedophile.
Andrea laughed and replied, “Once he told me I was having a girl, I just told everyone it was a boy. My family is the kind that always has an opinion, and I didn’t want to hear all the ingenious baby girl names they had.”
“That would have saved me a whole lot of trouble. I have my heart set on one name, and no one likes it. They all think it is too plain, and they want something like Victoria or Cecilia. My mom wants a German name: Olga.”
“Well, what do you want?” Andrea asked, as she felt another contraction coming on. But her new companion was making the pain a little more bearable.
“Molly.” They were both silent. Emily was picturing the little baby Molly she would soon be holding, but Andrea’s eyebrows were raised; she couldn’t hide how upset this news had made her, not even behind the facial contortions brought on by another contraction.
“I know it’s a little plain but…it’s beautiful,” defended Emily. “I had a doll when I was a little girl…my molly dolly. And now—”
“No, it is…I wanted to name my daughter Molly, too,” said Andrea, her face fallen. “We can’t both name our girls Molly. That would just be…. They are too…not special, but…oh, I can’t think straight right now!”
Emily understood exactly what Andrea meant. How could she bear walking around for nine months, looking down in wonder at her ever expanding belly, feeling her girl make her very first movements, her first attempts at playing, and then just give her the exact same name—no matter how sweet—as the baby right across the room?
Finally, and after they both had a contraction in tandem (which may be funny but is nonetheless painful), Emily spoke decisively, surely. “Ok. I know what we can do. We both went into labor at about the same time, right?”
“Right.” Andrea was pretty sure she knew where this was going.
“Well, whoever—delivers her baby—first…gets Molly.”
Andrea thought about this. She knew she would have to do it, even though the thought of losing Molly would defer her dream of naming her daughter after the Breakfast Club starlet. But that was better than giving her a name that wasn’t just as exceptional as Andrea knew she would be.
“You’re on. But you just made a big mistake, because I was voted ‘Most Likely to Push Out a Baby First’ in college. Say good-bye to your precious Molly.” Andrea screwed up her face in concentration, as if she were about to make a pivotal chess move, then with a big Unnnggghh! started pushing.
Crap. This was not what Emily had expected. And the last time the nurse had measured, she was only at 8 centimeters Right then, the nurse came in to check on the two of them. She smiled at them like empathetic sunshine, and Emily would have been much more relaxed in her presence if the gravity of her situation wasn’t so high.
“Andrea, What are you doing, lady? You shouldn’t be pushing for at least another 15 minutes! I’m getting the doctor. Would you like me to turn off the tv?” Bruce Willis had just fired several loud rounds from an automatic.
“No. It helps.”
The nurse, incredulous but unfazed—she gets all sorts—went over to Emily. “Looks like you are ready to go, Emily. Full steam ahead!” Emily was ready. With more effort than it would take to squeeze an elephant in an elevator, she pushed with all her might.
“Don’t kill yourself, this isn’t some kind of competition!” The nurse hurried out of the room.
“You have no idea!” Andrea called after her, gasping. A new fire was lit in her; Emily could see it in her eyes. Amidst the gunshots, the whirrs and beeps of the abundant hospital machinery, and her own moans and Andrea’s winces, Emily didn’t stop her fight—but she wondered how it was possible for her and Andrea to act like old friends when they had only known each other for several hours, why neither of them had questioned why the other was also alone at such a moment as this, and how they didn’t let that get in their way of being the first mother in the room. It must be something about seeing someone at their worst, when they are most vulnerable, and being the one to help them through it. It is that kind of love that unites all people, stronger than kindness, more stable than a promise. The kind that builds friendships and memories.
Suddenly, Dr. Loveless’s eyebrows burst into the room, with him soon following, and the unwavering nurse at his side.
“Don’t worry Taylor, this isn’t the first race to the crowning I’ve had! Let’s see, Emily was fully dilated first, so I got five on her.”
Nurse Taylor rolled her eyes. “I’m really not making a bet on this.” She walked over to Andrea’s bed and as she began adjusting the pillows, whispered, “You were pushing a good ten minutes before her. You got this!”
For the next half hour, the nurse paced the floor, going back from bed to bed, seeing who was in the lead and who might burn out first. The pregnant women hurled their own smack talk back and forth: “You’re so fat, you went to the movies and sat next to everyone!” went to Andrea, who shouted back, “I know you can’t do anything about being ugly, but could you at least make your hair look less doggish?” No one had turned the television off, and there was apparently an all day marathon of back to back Die Hard. Then as suddenly as a car crash came a cry through the crossfire: soft but piercing, a calming arrow into the heart of Molly’s mother. At 6:42 p.m., the baby, whose birth had begun in the cereal aisle at Fred Meyer, was brought into the world. All was silent, except for the cries of Molly and of Andrea at the bed across the room.
“No! What will I call my baby now?” She whined, defeated, but now she was pushing harder than ever. No sooner had Molly been taken from her mother’s arms to be cleaned and checked, another baby was soon welcomed to the universe, at 6:46. But there was no cry. Instead, she looked all around the room, her tiny eyes wide open, taking in the strange and wonderfully new alien surroundings. The doctor took the nameless child as well, leaving the two mothers and Nurse Taylor. She lingered at the door, admiring the soldiers lying in front of her, then she slipped out and called after the doctor, “Ok, ok, I’ll get my purse.”
Andrea opened her eyes and said to Emily, “A worthy opponent. Alas. I must relinquish Molly.” Emily smiled. “You’re girl is gorgeous, it fits her. But now, I have no idea what to call my baby.” Andrea allowed the weight of her daughter’s birth to wash over her. If things were hard before, now life would never be the same. They both looked up at the movie, just as Bruce cried, “Yippe-Kye-Ay…”
“I know you hate suggestions just as much as anyone. But what about…Bruce?
This made Andrea stop. She looked at her hands, and ran her fingers through her light blonde hair. She didn’t fail to notice that her daughter had the same exact hue. She knew that a baby’s hair color often changes. She hopes this wouldn’t hold true for her’s.
“Bruce.” If her daughter could wear a name like that, there was no doubt in Andrea’s mind—she could do absolutely anything. “Bruce.”
………………
[2011]
“Bruce! Hurry, we’re already late! I told you we didn’t have time to stop for coffee! You don’t even like coffee! Bruce! I am driving away.” Molly started edging out of the D&M parking lot, yelling a shuttle launch countdown out of her van’s window at the girl with an iced latte in hand and a smirk on her face. Bruce hopped into the passenger seat.
“You sure took your sweet time,” Bruce could tell she was a little miffed, but she was just pretending to be so mad so she could guilt her into giving her a sip, when she would down the whole thing in one gulp.
“The barista couldn’t get my order right. It’s like she’s never heard of pig latin or something. ‘I ouldway ikway a attelay. Besides, it’s not like were going to her funeral or something. Not yet anyway, but she is turning 89, so when we all yell surprise, it might just do her in.”
Molly had to laugh at that. “Nothing could get Nana. Remember the time she was in Seattle and got mugged, and the guy went to the hospital?” Molly glanced in the rearview mirror and brushed a stray brunette ringlet into her ponytail. She could tell that the sunburn she got at the lake the day before wasn’t going away anytime soon. She looked over at Bruce and saw that the sun had brought out her freckles, the surest sign of summer. Her blonde hair was already starting to lighten.
Neither of them were thrilled that Molly’s mom had planned Nana’s surprise party on the last day of school. But they were fine with missing out on the last day of school fun that their friends were having: it was always—interesting—when they got to be with all of Nana’s family and friends, and roller derby team. The Flabby Flyers. You see, most people’s grandparents went grocery shopping or to museums for a good time, but no, Molly’s Nana is the kind of lady that doesn’t only live life to the fullest, but goes back for seconds. And thirds. And still has room for dessert.
“Looks like everyone else just parked at the high school across the street. That’s smart. Throw her off the scent.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure she knows about it already. Ever since she learned how to hack mom’s hotmail, we haven’t been able to keep anything secret from her.” She turned off the ignition and they stepped out into the summer sun, black asphalt baking beneath their flip-flops. Bruce grabbed the hot pink walker that they would be giving to Nana, and slapped on a shimmering bow. She hunched her back and hobbled after Molly, and as she shuffled across the street shouted in a perfect imitation of Nana’s thick German accent, “If I’m dead, everyone else has been dead for months!”
…………………
“SURPRISE!!!” Molly and Bruce let out shrill screams and Molly clutched at her heart as a gaggle of over 50 people jumped out from behind various pieces of furniture, and one very svelte old timer had hidden herself behind a vacuum cleaner. But all of their faces fell at the exact same time as they realized that it was only two teenage girls— not the eagerly awaited nana. Except for her 90 year old squash partner, Amanda, who everyone believed to be loosing her mind.
“Ha ha,” she excitedly breathed, her hands balled into fists, “we finally got you Nazis good and cornered. Someone get the door, they aren’t getting away this time!”
The crowd gradually returned to mingling and drinking punch as they waited for the guest of honor to arrive. Emily stepped forward to hug Molly, whispered a “you’re late!” but then quietly added “I was getting worried.”
Bruce walked over to Amanda and tried to calm down her flailing arms, which were making a move for her squash racquet. “All right, you got us again. Now how about a nice nap?
Nodding complacently, Amanda allowed Bruce to take her by the arm and was lead slowly up the stairs. Molly handed her mom the pink walker and began to explain. “Sorry mom, we didn’t mean to be so late, at least she isn’t here yet. We were on our way, but then I remembered that I left my Stanford essay at Bruce’s, so she had me drop her off at D&M, and then—”
“Molly.” She looked her daughter in the eye; the worry she had felt a few minutes ago was returning. “You don’t need to be stressed right now. And I know for a fact that that essay isn’t due until January. The last thing we want is for you to get stressed out,” Molly looked her in the eye and breathed in deeply, but her shoulders were still tight. “Please relax. Enjoy the party!”
Bruce walked up to them, donning a party hat that looked like a traffic cone and joined in, “Molly, she’s right. I remember the last time when you forgot to take your pill, you were rolling on the floor like a Tasmanian Devil!” she forced out a laugh and put a matching cone over Molly’s head, trying to hide the concern in her eyes.
“Hang on, did you forget your pill today? You didn’t say anything about that!” Emily realized how loudly she was talking and said, “Go up to your room and take it, then hurry back before she gets here.” Bruce and Molly exchanged a knowing look, and they quickly walked up the stairs, passing family photos on the wall: most of them contained a smiling Molly in her mother’s arms, but a few had Bruce in them as well.
Ever since she could remember, Molly had been her best friend. Neither of them had any brothers or sisters, and that was a good thing: how could they be closer to anyone else, other than each other? When they were in daycare together, who were the two always staying awake, laughing about the funny name oil pastels and eating animal cookies? In second grade, who was it that went to the dreaded think time to be with her friend because Bruce was falsely accused of drawing a picture (with some grossly exaggerated body parts) of the teacher? And in fourth grade, when Brian Harding was making all of the kids laugh at the way Molly fell and spazzed out, who was it that pushed him down and wrote “NOT NICE” across his face? Bruce didn’t exactly feel lucky to have a friend like Molly, who always got her jokes, sang back street boys with her, and made her feel so loved. Do you feel lucky to have oxygen?
“Molly,” Bruce said gravely, as she sat down cross-legged on her bed, “why didn’t you tell your mom that you ran out of your prescription yesterday?” she looked up at Molly, who was lying face down on the floor.
“I just forgot, ok? Can’t I forget things once in a while? I was just so wrapped up, thinking about my Stanford essay, and that horrible prompt. If you had just 24 hours to live, what would you do? What kind of prompt is that?” she raised her head and rested her chin in her hands, and sighed.
“Ok. First of all, that essay is due in just about…six months—all right,” Bruce held up her hand to stop Molly, who was mouthing the words early decision, “four months, with early decision. Jeez. That really is a fast approaching deadline. And second? Why is that a bad prompt? It sounds great! There are so many things you could do…rob a bank, run a marathon, go sky diving—” She got up on her knees, clenched a pillow to her chest, and launched herself off of the bed, landing on the floor next to a laughing Molly.
“Well, all those things would definitely make it my last 24 hours. But there are so many things that I would want to do in that last day, there is no way I could squeeze them all in! How could I pick?
“What would the first thing be?”
“Hmmm…I would want it to be something I have never done before,” Molly looked up at the ceiling in deep consideration, and stared at the glow in the dark planet stickers she had put up there when she was eight. “Got it. First I’d—”
But suddenly and with much more intensity that the circumstance warranted, they heard Bruce’s mom cry out, “People! Places people! She’s coming up the driveway!”
Without missing a beat, Bruce and Molly sprinted out of the room and, stumbling down the stairs through the darkness, found an unclaimed hideaway behind the flat screen.
All was quiet. Bruce felt as if her breathing was being magnified through a megaphone and she tried to hold in her breath. She scanned the darkened room, her eyes adjusting. She tried not to laugh and nudged Molly, motioning towards Mr. Anderson, Molly’s 86 year old neighbor, who for some reason thought he was completely concealed by huddling behind a lamp that was as high as his belt. Then there was the sound of keys clinking in a lock. It stopped abruptly, but the door didn’t open. Bruce felt a chill of panic and thought, the door was unlocked. It is never unlocked. From the other side of the door, everyone in the living room heard an ominous Click.Click.
“Oh, for the love of God. She got her gun back,” said Emily in an anxious yet exasperated voice. She rushed to the door and yelled, “Mom! Don’t shoot! We are here to surprise you!”
“Yeah yeah, I know exactly what you are here for, you rotten schurke. To steal my valuables and have of the ruckus in my house. I am prepared to shoot, and if you are not out by the count of three, I will shoot to kill. ONE.” The door swung open, and Nana’s stout silhouette was framed in the doorway.
Bruce leaned over and whispered, “I heard she was the inspiration for the terminator movies. But they had to change it a little, you know, since the reality is too graphic for movies.” She glanced at Molly, and that is when the world stopped. Molly was gasping for air, and her spasms, which hadn’t even been happening ten seconds ago, were rapidly turning into convulsions—soon her legs gave out and she crumpled on her side, her arms completely out of control.
“Oh God! Emily! It’s happening again, hurry!” But this was much worse than any before and it was lasting longer. Someone turned on the light, and Emily rushed to Molly’s side panic written across her face.
“TWO.” Andrea and Mr. Anderson had taken the duty of reasoning with Nana no one else had even notice what was happening what was falling around them. It was only a few minutes after it started but to Bruce it was as if summer was now over. Molly was lying still on the carpet and someone was calling 911 and someone was shouting three! and someone was holding Bruce but all she could think about was how she couldn’t breathe.
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