"I'm not cast in anything right now, but I'm taking workshop classes, and I'm auditioning a lot."
"What kind of classes?"
"And what've you been auditioning for?"
"Television and print."
Alice swirled her wine, drank the last, big gulp, and licked her lips.
"Lydia, what exactly is your plan here?"
"I'm not planning on stopping, if that's what you're asking."
The drinks were taking effect, but not in the direction Alice had hoped for. Instead, they served as the fuel that burned that little piece of tracing paper, leaving the tension between them fully exposed and at the helm of a dangerously familiar conversation.
"You can't live like this forever. Are you still going to work at Starbucks when you're thirty?"
"That's eight years away! Do you know what you'll be doing in eight years?"
"Yes, I do. At some point, you need to be responsible, you need to able to afford things like health insurance, a mortgage, savings for retirement--"
"I have health insurance. And I might make it as an actor. There are people who do, you know. And they make a hell of a lot more money than you and Dad combined."
"This isn't just about money."
"Then what? That I didn't become you?"
"Lower your voice."
"Don't tell me what to do."
"I don't want you to become me, Lydia. I just don't want you to limit your choices."
"You want to make my choices."
"This is who I am, this is what I want to do."
"What, serving up venti lattes? You should be in college. You should be spending this time in your life learning something."
"I am learning something! I'm just not sitting in a Harvard classroom killing myself trying to get an A in political science. I'm in a serious acting class for fifteen hours a week. How many hours of class a week do your students take, twelve?"
"It's not the same thing."
"Well, Dad thinks it is. He's paying for it."
Alice clenched the sides of her skirt and pressed her lips together. What she wanted to say next wasn't meant for Lydia.
"You've never even seen me act."
John had. He flew out alone last winter to see her perform in a play. Swamped with too many urgent things at the time, Alice couldn't free up to go. As she looked at Lydia's pained eyes, she couldn't remember now what those urgent things had been. She didn't have anything against an acting career itself, but she believed Lydia's singular pursuit of it, without an education, bordered reckless. If she didn't go to college now, acquire a knowledge base or formal training in some field, if she didn't get a degree, what would she do if acting didn't pan out?
She thought about those condoms in the bathroom. What if Lydia got pregnant? Alice worried that Lydia might find herself someday trapped in a life that was unfulfilled, full of regret. She looked at her daughter and saw so much wasted potential, so much wasted time.
"You're not getting any younger, Lydia. Life goes by too fast."
The food came, but neither of them picked up a fork. Lydia dabbed her eyes with her hand-embroidered linen napkin. They always fell into the same battle, and it felt to Alice like trying to knock down a concrete wall with their heads. It was never going to be productive and only resulted in hurting them, causing lasting damage. She wished Lydia could see the love and wisdom in what she wanted for her. She wished she could just reach across the table and hug her, but there were too many dishes, glasses, and years of distance between them.
A sudden flurry of activity a few tables away pulled their attention away from themselves. Several camera flashes popped and a small crowd of patrons and wait staff gathered, all focused on a woman who looked a bit like Lydia.
"Who's that?" asked Alice.
Copyright © 2007, 2009 by Lisa Genova
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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