Ballads of Suburbia

Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert Read Free Book Online

Book: Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephanie Kuehnert
table. Not that anything new ever happened.
    My dad had remodeled the kitchen two years before and it looked like a set for homey supper scenes on a sitcom: the perfectly arranged table with the glossy red plates, shining silverware, and place mats of thatched yellow fabric that matched the cushions of the chairs, a slightly deeper shade than the butter-colored walls. At dinner, the setting sun shone in through the windows behind the table and blended with the red accents and yellow hues to make the room glow with warmth.
    In stark contrast to the setting was our chilly exchange:
    Dad kissed Mom on the cheek.
    Mom told Dad that he was late.
    Dad mumbled something about a grant. Then he asked, under his breath, if this wasn’t the same meal we’d had two days ago.
    Mom replied under her breath that he of all people should be familiar with how work consumed so much energy.
    Dad ignored Mom and asked me and Liam about school.
    Liam said school sucked.
    Mom told Liam that she didn’t like that word.
    I shrugged in response to Dad’s question and pulled my knees up to my chest, leaning over them to stab at the food on my plate.
    Dad studied me with mild irritation and told me not to do that.
    I let my feet fall to the floor with a thud and acted angry for the rest of the meal.
    Everyone stopped talking until Mom reminded Dad that he needed to help Liam with his algebra. Before Dad could complain about how busy he was and Liam could object that he didn’t want help, Mom disappeared to bed to read.
    I put my plate in the dishwasher and went to my room to listen to music with my headphones on because I’d been reprimanded by Dad for being too loud too many times. Every time, I’d hoped that when I turned the music down, he’d stay and talk with me, but he always rushed off.
    Dad and Liam remained at the dinner table, struggling with algebra until they both got frustrated with each other.
    That was our routine.
    My forcing Liam to watch MTV instead of cartoons after school became routine, too. He sat there with his arms crossed for the first week, but didn’t ask me to change the channel or try to provoke me into leaving the room. By the middle of the next week, he was quietly singing along to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when the video came on.
    I turned to him and declared triumphantly, “You like it, don’t you!”
    â€œYeah,” he admitted with a shrug, “I guess.”
    But then he flashed me a smile and I grinned back.

    â€œG OD!” L IAM GAGGED AS HE HIT mute on Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” video. “They call this crap one of the greatest ballads of all time?” he asked, mocking the VJ’s introduction. “Have they ever heard a Johnny Cash song? Ballads aren’t all sappy love songs. The truly good ones tell a story about real life.”
    I vigorously nodded my head in agreement. My brother had become quite the music critic in six months’ time. I definitely preferred discovering new bands and bashing crappy ones with him to talking boys with Stacey. She was preparing to break up with boyfriend number five. Luke, I think. All of them had monosyllabic names that would easily fit on the McDonald’s name badges they were destined to wear. Stacey’d invited me to go to the mall that day, but I’d declined. Hanging with Liam was a lot more enjoyable than watching Stacey strut around in a short skirt and too much makeup in pursuit of Neanderthals.
    â€œSwitch it back to MTV,” I told my brother. He did, but since it was spring break, we were assaulted with images of overbaked sorority girls in skimpy bikinis dancing like fools for the camera. I rolled my eyes. “Put it back to Whitney on mute.”
    Liam did as instructed, but he also smirked at me. “You’re just jealous.”
    â€œOf a bunch of airhead bimbos on a beach? I don’t think so.”
    â€œSeriously, you

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