If every American presidential candidate was removed from the election to be replaced with people who were actually half decent, only for those people to be abducted by aliens set on destroying humanity, it would be less frustrating to Kaitlyn than her situation right now. Because right now, Kaitlyn was frustrated.
She was not frustrated about the political system in America, although that happened to be on the backburner. She was not even frustrated that, in a year and a half, she was expected to suddenly be an adult and go to college and take out the trash without her mom telling her to. Although that, too, was on the backburner. No. Right now, Kaitlyn was frustrated with herself.
The frustration stemmed from Kaitlyn’s lack of passion. She was surrounded by books and movies about these people who were motivated by something that moved them on such a spiritual or existential level that they could make something beautiful. They would write plays or perform songs or draw illustrations that brought tears into the eyes of people around them. They knew exactly what they were put on Earth to do right from the very start.
Thinking about it made Kaitlyn unhappy and a little jealous. She buried her head into her hands and groaned.
“Hey, does anybody else hear a whale dying? Strange, I thought the nearest SeaWorld was in Boston.”
Kaitlyn didn’t even bother to look up. The grating sound of her older brother’s voice was undeniable.
“Nick, leave,” Kaitlyn demanded. “I’m trying to suffer in peace.”
She felt a solid poke on her shoulder. “Pretty sure that’s an oxymoron. Or something else literary. So, why are you suffering?” He sounded more amused than concerned, which was no surprise. If Kaitlyn had to be brutally honest with herself, she was a bit of a drama queen. But also, Nick was a soulless monster. “Normally I wouldn’t care, but I haven’t even put in any effort today to make you miserable. What did I do right?” He punctuated the question with a burp.
“You never do anything right,” Kaitlyn mumbled. “You were a mistake the moment you exited the womb.” Grinning, she lifted her head and gave him an angelic smile. “That’s why Mom and Dad tried again and got me.”
Nick gasped and lurched backwards, clutching dramatically at his heart. His short, brown hair bounced when he moved. Nick called it his “flow.” “Oh my gosh, Kaitlyn insulted me. Excuse me as I go cry and write about it in my diary.”
“Go away, you walking disease,” she mumbled. “I’m trying to get inspiration.”
Nick put his hands on his hips in a surprisingly effeminate manner. Although Nick was over six feet tall, jacked, and probably the filthiest football jock in the world, sometimes his cliche gay guy came through. It was rare, though. “Why do you need inspiration?” he asked.
“It’s for my essay,” Kaitlyn said. “Mr. Jones suggested writing about something that I’m passionate about, but apparently I’m dead on the inside. I don’t know. Everything is so mediocre.”
The essay Kaitlyn was writing was The Essay. The college essay. The essay that mattered. Kaitlyn was freaking out. It seemed like colleges expected her to know exactly what path she wanted her life to take at age sixteen. She was supposed to have a motivation inspired by some event or some passion that she was expected to pursue for the rest of her life.
But Kaitlyn didn’t have a passion. She had played soccer in middle school and she was horrible. She’d tried the trumpet in sixth grade-- never again. Writing? No way, her thoughts were to cluttered to form a decent sentence that didn’t go on forever. It seemed that Kaitlyn could try as many activities as she wanted, but she would always be just decent. She had absolutely no idea what she could possibly do with her life.
Nick shrugged. “Yup, you’re dead inside.” He gave her a solid pat on the shoulder. “We can talk about this, sissy, but not right now. Danny-Boy is picking me up soon. We’re catching a movie.” He ruffled Kaitlyn’s hair, making her growl, which received a raised eyebrow from her older brother. “First a whale, now a cougar?” He looked confused for a split second, until a wide grin split his face. “Hmm, you want to be a cougar. That’s a unique goal in life. Write about that in your college essay.”
“I’m not even going to respond to that.” Kaitlyn plopped her head into the palm of her hand right as Nick pulled on a torn football jersey that smelled a little like BO. He was already wearing a crappy pair of sweatpants. He looked like he’d rolled around naked in a dumpster and just accepted whatever made its way onto his body. It got even more cringe-worthy when he put on his Nike mandals. He was still wearing socks. “Poor Danny is going to be so embarrassed to be out in public with you,” Kaitlyn commented.
Nick grinned. “Danny loves me no matter what I wear.”
And there it was. There was that spark in Nick’s eyes that everyone talked about. It was that passion. Kaitlyn wanted that. It didn’t have to be a significant other the way Nick’s was, it could be anything that made her heart rate pick up. Anything that made her less of an undecided person filled with blah. She wanted something that she could care about so much that it could inspire her to make a difference in the world.
“Ew,” Kaitlyn grumbled, because anything that made her weird older brother happy was always “ew.”
A car pulled into the driveway and Danny stepped out. He was the type of guy who could be blown over by a strong wind. Tall, lanky, and had a shock of blond hair that was always messy. At least he was more fashionable than Nick. He had a button-up shirt and jeans. Kaitlyn’s jaw dropped when he pulled flowers from the car.
“He brought flowers!” she busted up laughing. “This is obviously an important date! Nick, look at yourself!”
Nick glanced at the disgusting outfit he had on. Then he looked at the nice clothes Danny was wearing and the pretty red roses he was carrying. Nick nibbled on his bottom lip in mild concern for about two seconds, then shrugged and got over it.
Danny walked into the house without knocking. He had a key in case the house was locked, so he was used to just letting himself in. “You better not look like crap, mister,” were the first words out his mouth. “I told you, no jerseys.”
“Ha,” Nick said, with a wide smile.
Danny looked at Nick and suppressed a grin. Kaitlyn nearly vomited when she saw the sparkle in his eyes too. Danny was looking at Nick. Danny could be inspired by Nick of all people. If Danny could be passionate about his love for nasty Nick, Kaitlyn really needed to step up her game.
“You look like crap,” Danny said, but his dimpled smile showed that he didn’t care too much. Nick and Danny had been dating for two years, so he’d obviously learned not to set his expectations too high. “I brought flowers.”
Nick plucked the flowers from Danny’s hands and put them in a plastic cup that he’d stolen from Red Robin. He filled the bottom with a bit of water. The long stems of the roses looked really awkward when it was sticking out of the short cup.
“You’re a trainwreck of a human,” Kaitlyn told him. Nick scoffed, just when the cup fell over and water spilled all over the counter. Danny just laughed and walked over to Kaitlyn.
“Whatcha workin’ on?” Danny asked.
Kaitlyn groaned. “College essay,” she said. “It’s impossible. I’m supposed to write about something I’m passionate about or love doing, but I don’t have anything. I’m always in the middle for everything, nothing sticks out as something I want to do for the rest of my life. I don’t know what I love, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I don’t even to know what college I want to attend! It’s horrible. I don’t get why I have to write an application filled with all my life experience so that I can spend a bunch of money I don’t have just to go to college. And then, once I’ve spent money I don’t have, the job I get gives me money and life experience! That’s so backwards!”
Danny nodded along. That was the nice thing about Danny. He cared when people talked and he listened to long rants.
“Save your emotional baggage and mental tirades for your pillow at night,” Nick grumbled to Kaitlyn. He’d finished sopping up the water and had commenced in finding a bigger cup for the flowers. “Leave my poor, frail boyfriend alone.”
“Just because I’m not a beefhead like you doesn’t make me frail,” Danny grumbled. “At least I know how to say thank you when someone brings me flowers.”
“Two years, Danny,” Nick whined, which made Danny grin. “That’s a long time to date a man. Stop being such a try-hard and let it fade into the dull affection that long-term relationships bring. Flowers are fine for the first date. Then it gets old.”
Nick could moan and groan all he wanted, but Kaitlyn still noticed that he placed the flowers, which were now in a secure glass cup, on the middle of the table where there was a bout of sunlight and everyone could see them.
“You know, you don’t need to be so stressed about college,” Danny said. “You don’t need to be Michelangelo or Mozart to be accepted into a respectable university. I mean, look at Nick.” He waved a hand in the direction of his boyfriend. “Nick got accepted into U Mass. Dartmouth even though he wears socks with mandals. If he can do that, you can probably make it to Harvard.” Danny shrugged and Kaitlyn laughed. “There are so many colleges that you’re bound to find one that’s perfect for you. You don't need to plan everything out right now. You're a kid, Kay. Don't spend your time stressing. Just be happy.”
Kaitlyn felt herself grin. “Thanks, Danny. I don’t know why a smart, put-together guy like you would even pay attention to my brother for more than a millisecond, but I’m really glad you’re here.”
“Anytime,” Danny said.
Nick threw his hands in the air. “I don’t know why I’m here. If you guys don’t wanna appreciate me, then I’ll just leave--” he was interrupted by Danny standing and grabbing his arm.
“C’mon, meathead,” Danny said. It was beyond Kaitlyn how he managed to make that term sound affectionate. “We’re going to miss the movie. There’s a reason I have to pick you up instead of vice versa.”
“And what’s that?” Nick growled.
“You always make us late,” Danny reminded. “You always lose your jacket or a shoe or a shirt, still don’t know how that happens, by the way, and then I’m sitting here for twenty minutes waiting for you to…”
Danny kept talking, but the sound of his voice got quieter once the two twenty-year-olds walked out of the house.
Kaitlyn stared at the blank page of her computer and thought about what Danny had said. Was it true? Kaitlyn had felt like she needed to have everything planned out, but maybe she didn’t. Maybe she didn’t need to be extremely passionate about being an anesthesiologist or a lawyer or making artwork. Maybe, just maybe, not knowing quite where she fit in was okay.
Talking to Danny helped her feel a lot less stressed about her future. She had plenty of years to figure out what she wanted to be and to find that passion. She didn’t need to have her whole life planned out when she had barely lived it.
Smiling, Kaitlyn put her fingers to the laptop keyboard and began to write.