There was a knock at the door and Matt leaned in, swinging a brown paper bag in her direction. “I heard Mom made stuffed peppers tonight. Last time she made those, I nearly died from flatulence. I assume she stuffed them with her usual repulsive ground chicken, quinoa, Brussels sprouts, and pomegranate seed mix?”
Just the sound of Matt’s voice made Celeste relax. She smiled at him. “Based on the smell, I believe you’re right.”
“So you didn’t eat then? I was right!” Matt flopped onto her bed and lay down, his long body scrunching up the neat white comforter that she spent ten minutes arranging before she’d gone to school this morning. “I thought I’d take a break from studying and bring you something edible.”
“It smells like a burger from Mr. Bartley’s,” she said as she got up and took a seat next to Matt. “Hand it over, thoughtful brother.”
He tightened a hand around the top of the bag. “You have to guess which kind I brought you first.”
“How am I supposed to know?”
“Close your eyes.”
She did as instructed and felt him move the bag under her nose. Sweet, spicy… a bit garlicky. “Aha! Boursin cheese and bacon! The Mark Zuckerberg burger!”
“And sweet potato fries and a bottle of iced tea, but you win. A burger named after ‘the richest geek in America,’ as the restaurant calls him.”
“You will be the richest geek in America after you finish your Ph.D. Program,” Celeste said through a mouthful of fries.
“If M.I.T. doesn’t land me in a psych unit first.”
“You only have this year left to endure. And you will hardly find yourself in need of psychiatric care, Matthew. You are doing stupendously.”
“I’m scraping by.” Matt reached into the bag and grabbed a handful of fries and opened her iced tea.
“You are not ‘scraping by.’ You are assistant teaching classes, excelling in your own, and in all ways performing to standards that exceed even the high ones our mother set for you.” She frowned as he chewed on the fries. “Did you not eat?”
“I did. A Big Papi burger and a Fiscal Cliff. But you can never have enough sweet potato fries.”
“I have a finite amount of my own from which you are stealing. But I shall not complain because this was very kind of you.”
Matt chewed and studied her. “Are you okay?”
“Why do you ask?”
“No contractions. When you’re stressed out, they disappear.”
“I know. But most days I do not care to use them. If it is an effort, then I do not push.”
“Okay. I get it.” He chewed for a minute. “I heard your presentation went well. Did your friends like it?”
“It went marvelously. My friend Dallas took me aside to share quite the flow of compliments.”
“That’s great, Celeste.” He was downing half her iced tea.
“And then I bitch slapped her.”
Matt choked on the drink and desperately tried to clear his airway. “I’m sorry. You did what?”
She cocked her head. “I bitch slapped her.”
“That… that can’t be right,” he sputtered. “I mean, I hope it’s not.”
“I slapped my hand against her hand. Up in the air.” She looked at Matt blankly. “Is that not the right term?”
“Thank God, no, it’s not. I think you mean a high-five.”
“If you say so. Well, either way, it happened. You know I have trouble with colloquialisms, so I resent your shocked reaction.”
“I do know that about you, and I apologize.”
“Since we are on the subject, there is something else I would like for you to clarify.”
“What is meant by ‘nut bag’? Is that a testicular reference or merely the identification of a satchel of cashews or pecans?”
Matt groaned. “This conversation has gotten really weird. Could we just talk about— Wait a minute. Why are you asking me this? Did someone say that to you?” He looked angry.
Celeste picked at her fry. “No. Certainly not. I heard the term and had a natural curiosity.”
“Okay then…” Her brother crumpled up the paper bag and then smoothed it out in his hands. Then crumpled it again. “It’s the same as ‘nuts.’ You know, crazy.”
“Thank you for the definition.” She took the last bite of her burger and wiped her hands on one of the paper napkins. It shouldn’t matter what her classmates thought of her. Celeste would just be strong about this. She would move on.