Home > The Serpent King(15)

The Serpent King(15)
Jeff Zentner

Ugh is right. You can’t imagine my school’s awfulness, Lydia texted.

Feel for you. We have creeps at school too.

I bet Phillips Exeter has a different kind than Forrestville High. When does your school start?

Yeah, probably. September.

Hate you. (But in loving way)

LOL gotta run love. Hang in there at Hillbilly High.

Lydia set down her phone and began typing a post about the road trip to Nashville, shopping at Attic, and some thoughts on the first day of school. She got stuck and began looking for ways to procrastinate.

She downloaded her pictures from the Nashville trip to her new computer and sorted through them. Travis, leaning on his staff, doing his best to look grim. She opened a tab and pasted them into an email to him.

Can you believe it? We ran into Rainer Northbrooke (sp?) in Nashville. He said to say hi. Enjoy.

And then she started browsing through the pictures of Dill, looking distant. Lost. Haunted.

Lydia felt a familiar pang of guilt and sadness that she couldn’t use the photos on her blog. When she’d gone to New York Fashion Week, there’d been a meet-up of teen fashion bloggers. A bunch of thirteen- to seventeen-year-olds talking about content and brand preservation.

“It sucks when your friends have a look that’s off-brand and you can’t talk about them or show them on the blog. It’s so awkward to explain. What? Are you going to say ‘Hey, sorry, but your style sucks so I can’t tell people I hang out with you?’ But that’s the reality,” a thirteen-year-old from Johannesburg said with a world-weary air, the others nodding sagely.

Lydia had just sat and listened. Oh, I could tell you a thing or two about having friends who are off-brand.

Travis was hopelessly off-brand, and he couldn’t care less.

Dill? He was another story. He was tall and had these dark, brooding eyes with high, sharp cheekbones; thick, shaggy dark hair (that she cut for him); gaunt, angular features; and full, expressive lips—all of which placed him outside of the vanilla beauty standards of Forrestville but would make him a great Prada or Rick Owens model.

She did her best with him. And even though she dressed him as what he was—a musician from the rural South—his look wasn’t what made him off-brand. In fact, he’d probably be a big hit with her audience, not that she needed to spend her time dealing with people crushing on Dill (not possessive, just busy).

His name was the problem. Her readers were inveterate Googlers. The last thing she needed was for them to see a picture of Dill, get curious, find out his name (They had ways. Oh how they had ways.), and Google it. Because guess what came up on a search for “Dillard Early.” Very bad for the Dollywould brand.

People, Dahlia included, already treated Lydia with a sort of benevolent condescension (You’re so intelligent and open-minded for a Southerner! You have such sophisticated taste for living where you do!). They imagined her living in a house…well, like Dill’s. My house is probably nicer than yours, she’d murmur to herself while reading their well-meaning comments. My parents met at Rhodes College. There are two Priuses and a hybrid Lexus SUV in our driveway. I have a hundred gigs of music on my brand-new Mac laptop and Netflix and high-speed Internet. I’m not chasing raccoons around a trailer park barefoot, folks.

She skipped through the pictures of Travis, Dill, and the three of them; picked out the best pictures of herself and some of the pictures of her with April (who was on-brand); and dragged them to her computer desktop to use. She still didn’t feel like working on her blog post, so she texted Dahlia. Hey. What are you doing right now? Can you talk?

Sorry, darling, not at the moment. Just sitting down to dinner with Peter Diamond. Text me later.

Peter Diamond was the latest up-and-coming Brooklyn wunderkind literary sensation. He was two novels into a Proustian four-novel cycle that dealt, semiautobiographically, with the day-to-day (sometimes hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute) travails and ennui of being an early-twentysomething creative in Brooklyn. Captivating stuff, no doubt.

This is a good preview of what I have to look forward to in New York, Lydia thought. She loved Dahlia, but.

Maybe this is the universe telling me to stop putting this off. After a few false starts, she began her post about the first day of school.

Here’s what I’m thinking about as I drive to Nashville today, my last day of summer before I begin my senior year: nothing makes you feel like you’re trying to grab and hold on to a handful of sand like first days of school. And by “sand,” I mean time.

The first day of senior year is when you realize that summer might never again mean what it used to. Before you even enter a classroom you learn that life is composed of a finite number of summers, passing us by in a haze of ice cream, fireflies, chlorine-scented hair, and skin that smells like coconut sunblock. We live in a series of moments and seasons and sense memories, strung end to end to form a sort of story. Maybe first days of school are to give us lines of demarcation, to make sense of these childhood moments and the life cycle of friendships and—

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