What's Not to Love - Austin Siegemund-Broka


I HOLD MY HEAD high, sitting up straight in the passenger seat of my mom’s SUV. Whatever happens, I will not vomit in the next hour.

Mom eyes me suspiciously, like she’s reading my mind and formulating the questions she would for one of her witnesses. I stare forward, focusing intently on the sedan in front of us in the drop-off zone for my high school. In hopes of resolving my expression into one evincing no intestinal distress, I rehearse the key facts for this morning’s Shakespeare exam. Thirty-seven plays, not including works of disputed origin. Seventeen comedies. Ten histories. Ten tragedies. I try to picture the timeline I created listing each of them in order, which of course reminds me that I left the study guide next to the toilet in my bathroom between two and three in the morning. The thought brings on a new wave of nausea.

“You sure you’re feeling okay, Alison?” Mom’s voice is wary. “You look a little off.”

I check my reflection in the window. It could definitely be worse. My glasses, which I’m only wearing because I was too sick to put in my contacts, do a commendable job of hiding the dark circles under my eyes. My skin is a little paler than usual, but nothing out of character for someone who spends most of her time indoors studying, and though I didn’t have time to wash my hair, I pulled it into a respectable if lopsided bun. Instead of wearing the cozy Harvard sweatshirt I wanted to leave the house in, I put on a lightly wrinkled button-down blouse. But my mom’s not wrong. There’s a slick sheen of sweat on my forehead, my hair, typically a shiny dirty blond, is flat and unwashed, and my sallow cheeks don’t give the strongest impression of health and well-being.

“I’m fine,” I say. I’m lying.

The drop-off line crawls forward. Our car doesn’t budge. I glance over and find Mom’s hand inching in my direction. Realizing what she’s doing, I reach for my seat belt.

I’m too late. Mom’s hand finds my sweaty forehead.

“You have a fever,” she says, sounding worried.

I don’t give her the chance to finish her diagnosis. Unbuckling my seat belt, I jump out of the car. The cool morning hits my skin refreshingly, soothing the dull headache I’d been fighting to ignore.

The relief is short-lived. When I grab my bag, I catch my mom’s expression. Irritation has replaced whatever motherly concern her face held. I pause, knowing not to ignore her outright.

My mom is fifty-seven years old, older than every one of my friends’ parents. Not that she acts her age. Unless she’s in court, defending multimillion-dollar corporations like she’s done for thirty years, she’s remarkably unfiltered. “We’re not doing this again,” she says sternly. “What is it this time? You have a gov exam today?”

“Nope.” I fling my bag over my shoulder.

In my defense, I don’t have a gov exam. I have a Shakespeare exam. In ten minutes. It’s completely different.

“I feel great, and I just want to go to school like a normal person.” Despite Mom’s grimace, I pack confidence into my voice.

The car behind Mom’s honks, which she ignores. “You’re a smart kid,” she says, “but I’m not convinced you understand the concept of normal.”

“Like mother, like daughter,” I say with a smile, not entirely joking. It’s true she fits in on paper with my classmates’ parents. Her lucrative career, her SUV hardly three years out of the dealership, her frequent SoulCycle attendance. Having spent seventeen years with her, however, I’ve learned she’s outspoken, easygoing, and the furthest thing possible from a helicopter parent. I don’t know if it’s because she has ten years on the other moms and she’s over the whole parenting thing, or if it’s just the way she is.

“Alison Sanger,” she says, leaning over the center console. “I am not picking you up in the middle of the day.”

“Great,” I reply. “You won’t have to. I’m not sick.” I shut the door in one swift motion, hoping it will feel like a punctuation mark.

I immediately hear Mom rolling down the window. I wanted punctuation, and she’s given me a semicolon. “If you had your license—”

“Bye, Mom,” I interrupt her, waving behind me and heading for the locker hall. I know every inch of the Fairview High School campus—every bench useful for last-minute studying, every shortcut so I’m never late to class, everywhere people hang out, which is helpful when I need to hunt them down for quotes for