“Worried you won’t be the smartest boy at Northwestern?” She smiled and then sighed. He felt a sudden twinge in his gut—in retrospect, it was the first hint that some piece of him might soon go missing.
“Why are you sighing?” he asked.
The waitress came then, interrupting with a rectangular plate of California maki and smoked salmon negiri. Katherine pulled apart her chopsticks, and Colin grabbed his fork. He knew a little conversational Japanese, but chopsticks eluded him.
“Why did you sigh?” he asked again.
“Jesus, no reason. ”
“No, just tell me why,” he said.
“You’re just—you spend all your time worrying about losing your edge or getting dumped or whatever and you’re never for a second grateful. Yo u ’ re the valedictorian. You’re going to a great school next year, for free. So maybe you’re not a child prodigy. That’s good. At least you’re not a child anymore. Or, you’re not supposed to be, anyway. ”
Colin chewed. He liked the seaweed wrapped around the sushi roll: how tough it was to chew, the subtleness of the ocean water. “You don’t understand,” he said.
Katherine placed her chopsticks against the saucer containing her soy sauce and stared at him with something beyond frustration. “Why do you always have to say that?”
“It’s true,” he said simply, and she didn’t understand. She was still beautiful, still funny, still adept with chopsticks. Prodigy was what Colin had, the way language has words.
With all the nasty back-and-forth, Colin fought the urge to ask Katherine whether she still loved him, because the only thing she hated more than his saying she didn’t understand was his asking whether she still loved him. He fought the urge and fought it and fought it. For seven seconds.
“Do you still love me?”
“Oh my God, Colin. Please. We graduated. We’re happy. Celebrate!”
“What, are you afraid to say it?”
“I love you. ”
She would never—not ever—tell him those words in that order ever again.
“Can sushi be anagrammed?” she asked.
“Uh, sis,” he answered immediately.
“Sis is three letters; sushi is five,” she said.
“No. ‘Uh, sis. ’ The uh and the sis. There are others, but they don’t make grammatical sense. ”
She smiled. “Do you ever get tired of me asking?”
“No. No. I never get tired of anything you do,” he said, and then he wanted to say he was sorry, but just that sometimes he felt un-understandable and sometimes he worried when they bickered and she went a while without saying she loved him, but he restrained himself. “Anyway, I like that sushi becomes ‘uh, sis. ’ Imagine a situation. ”
“Imagine a situation” was a game she’d invented where Colin found the anagrams and then Katherine imagined an anagrammatic situation.
“Okay,” she said. “Okay. So a guy goes out fishing on the pier, and he catches a carp, and of course it’s all riddled with pesticides and sewage and all the nasty Lake Michigan shit, but he takes it home anyway because he figures if you fry a carp long enough, it won’t matter. He cleans it, fillets it, and then the phone rings, so he leaves it on the kitchen counter. He talks on the phone for a bit, and then he comes back into the kitchen and sees that his little sister has a big hunk of raw Lake Michigan carp in her hand, and she’s chewing, and she looks up at her brother and says, “Sushi!” And he says, “Uh, sis . . . ”
They laughed. He had never loved her so much as he did then.
Later, after they tiptoed into the apartment and Colin walked upstairs to tell his mom he was home, leaving out the possibly relevant information that he wasn’t alone, and after they’d climbed into bed downstairs, and after she pulled off his shirt and he hers, and after they kissed until his lips were numb except for tingling, she said, “Do you really feel sad about graduating?”
“I don’t know. If I’d done it differently—if I’d gone to college at ten or whatever—there’s no way of knowing if my life would be better. We probably wouldn’t be together. I wouldn’t have known Hassan. And a lot of prodigies who push and push and push and end up even more fugged up than me. But a few of them end up like John Locke20 or Mozart or whatever. And my chances at Mozartdom are done. ”
“Col, you’re seventeen. ” She sighed again. She sighed a lot, but nothing could be wrong, because it felt so good to have her nestled up against him, her head on his shoulder, his hand brushing the soft blond hair from her face. He looked down and could see the strap of her purple bra.
“It’s the tortoise and the hare, though, K. 19 I learn faster than other people, but they keep learning. I’ve slowed down, and now they’re coming. I know I’m seventeen. But I’m past my prime. ” She laughed. “Seriously. There are studies about this shit. Prodigies tend to hit their peak at, like twelve or thirteen. What have I done? I won a fugging game show a year ago? That’s my indelible mark on human history?”
She sat up, looking down at him. He thought of her other sighs, the better and different ones of his body moving against hers. For a long time she stared at him, and then she bit her lower lip and said, “Colin, maybe the problem is us. ”