"Are you two still planning to live together this summer?"
By this time Madeleine had taken a bite of her bagel. And since the answer to her mother's question was complicated - strictly speaking, Madeleine and Leonard weren't planning on living together, because they'd broken up three weeks ago; despite this fact, however, Madeleine hadn't given up hope of a reconciliation, and seeing as she'd spent so much effort getting her parents used to the idea of her living with a guy, and didn't want to jeopardize that by admitting that the plan was off - she was relieved to be able to point at her full mouth, which prevented her from replying.
"Well, you're an adult now," Phyllida said. "You can do what you like. Though, for the record, I have to say that I don't approve."
"You've already gone on record about that," Alton broke in.
"Because it's still a bad idea!" Phyllida cried. "I don't mean the propriety of it. I'm talking about the practical problems. If you move in with Leonard - or any young man - and he's the one with the job, then you begin at a disadvantage. What happens if you two don't get along? Where are you then? You won't have any place to live. Or anything to do."
That her mother was correct in her analysis, that the predicament Phyllida warned Madeleine about was exactly the predicament she was already in, didn't motivate Madeleine to register agreement.
"You quit your job when you met me," Alton said to Phyllida.
"That's why I know what I'm talking about."
"Can we change the subject?" Madeleine said at last, having swallowed her food.
"Of course we can, sweetheart. That's the last I'll say about it. If your plans change, you can always come home. Your father and I would love to have you."
"Not me," Alton said. "I don't want her. Moving back home is always a bad idea. Stay away."
"Don't worry," Madeleine said. "I will."
"The choice is yours," Phyllida said. "But if you do come home, you could have the loft. That way you can come and go as you like."
To her surprise, Madeleine found herself contemplating this proposal. Why not tell her parents everything, curl up in the backseat of the car, and let them take her home? She could move into her old bedroom, with the sleigh bed and the Madeline wallpaper. She could become a spinster, like Emily Dickinson, writing poems full of dashes and brilliance, and never gaining weight.
Phyllida brought her out of this reverie.
"Maddy?" she said. "Isn't that your friend Mitchell?"
Madeleine wheeled in her seat. "Where?"
"I think that's Mitchell. Across the street."
In the churchyard, sitting Indian-style in the freshly mown grass, Madeleine's "friend" Mitchell Grammaticus was indeed there. His lips were moving, as if he was talking to himself.
"Why don't you invite him to join us?" Phyllida said.
"Why not? I'd love to see Mitchell."
"He's probably waiting for his parents," Madeleine said.
Phyllida waved, despite the fact that Mitchell was too far away to notice.
"What's he doing sitting on the ground?" Alton asked.
The three Hannas stared across the street at Mitchell in his half-lotus.
"Well, if you're not going to ask him, I will," Phyllida finally said.
"O.K.," Madeleine said. "Fine. I'll go ask him."
The day was getting warmer, but not by much. Black clouds were massing in the distance as Madeleine came down the steps of Carr House and crossed the street into the churchyard. Someone inside the church was testing the loudspeakers, fussily repeating, "Sussex, Essex, and Kent. Sussex, Essex, and Kent." A banner draped over the church entrance read "Class of 1982." Beneath the banner, in the grass, was Mitchell. His lips were still moving silently, but when he noticed Madeleine approaching they abruptly stopped.
Madeleine remained a few feet away.
Excerpted from The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Copyright © 2011 by Jeffrey Eugenides. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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