Hovering over her cracked porcelain mug, Franny frowned. I don’t know how you manage to do this every time, she said. She picked up the mug again, tilting it just enough to touch her lips, letting the liquid slide down the back of her throat. Grimacing, she examined the cup, her tongue pressing on the roof of her mouth in an attempt to rid the taste from her mouth. She set it back down on the table.
What? Elaine asked. She picked up the deck of cards and shook them out of the box.
Battery acid, that’s what it tastes like, Franny said. She pushed the mug away from her and crossed her arms on the table, the sleeves of her bulky patterned top scrunching against the folds of her bent elbows.
It’s fine. Like, I don’t know why you don’t just make it, Elaine said. She began shuffling, awkwardly bending the cards over one another in her small hands.
Franny cleared her throat. Have you figured out where yet?
College. What schools?
There’s a list, Elaine replied. She slipped the cards in between one another. Somewhere outside a car alarm went off.
Do I get to hear it? Franny asked, spinning the mug around, coffee lapping up on the sides, and spilling over the lid onto the tip of her finger. She watched it, her brow furrowing. You know, it’s because you don’t know an exceptional roast from a terrible one.
Well, not all of us have been to Spain.
That has nothing to do with anything.
On the other hand, I can never find the one you like, they’re always out of stock.
So, how many are there?
I don’t know, I don’t stock the coffee.
No, schools, Franny said. Why would I ask that? That doesn’t make any sense.
Sorry, it’s late. I have a paper due in the morning. Elaine tightened her grip on the cards, pressing down on them as she attempted a bridge effect. I have about five though – Schools I mean. Stanford, Amherst, Brown, NYU. The cards fell out of her hands, the bridge collapsing on a king of hearts halfway through the maneuver. There might have been another, I don’t know.
Sorry? Elaine quickly recovered the cards.
A safety school sort of thing. You know what I mean. Franny reached out across the table and placed her hand delicately on top of Elaine’s. Here, let me take that. She gestured for the cards, which Elaine handed over with hesitation.
NYU, I guess, Elaine said. She looked down at her hands and picked at a hangnail.
I’m being serious.
And I’m not?
Yeah, but you’ve never gone through this process before. Franny pressed her thumbs down on the cards with precision, letting them fold down on top of one another. I’m the same way. I used to be the same way.
I haven’t thought about any other schools.
I mean in the long run it makes sense because you apply here, you apply there, you get rejection letters – it’s inevitable. There’s always one though, where you you’ll get in. Like, I don’t know, a state school. UCLA even.
Well, you didn’t get rejected.
That’s different though.
It’s not different at all.
I mean, you’re in what the top 50%? That’s admirable.
Worthy of praise.
I know what admirable means, Elaine said. She leaned back against the paneling of the chair, the wood aching against her weight. I’m sorry, am I missing something here?
How have you distinguished yourself then? You’ve got all these impressive schools yet…
Is this an interrogation?
I’m just curious. I mean, this is the shit you have to think about when you’re applying.
Well, what is so impressive about you? Distinguish yourself.
I don’t have to.
Neither do I, Elaine said, shifting in her seat. Have I done something? Sometimes when I’m talking to you I feel like you’re not even hearing me, you’re there, there, but, look at the way you’re sitting, you’re so blasé. Exhausting. Want me to define it? She tugged on the sleeves of her oversized sweater, pulling on a snag in the fabric.
You should try sitting in on some of my courses. This coffee…
So, where do you think I should apply? I know you’re dying to tell me.
It’s fucking cold. Franny dipped her finger in the coffee, lifted it and licked it with the tip of her tongue. She turned and looked out the window.
Did you hear me?
Absolutely no flavor.
It’s been sitting out for ten minutes, of course its fucking cold.
Somewhere you can get in, I think that’s probably best. How about near me? You’d love Chicago.
You want me to apply to your school?
Don’t be ridiculous.
Why is that such an unbelievable statement? Elaine watched Franny take another sip from the mug, her lips pursing in displeasure. It’s not going to get any better, she said.
It never does. That’s not why I’m drinking it though.
Is it because I didn’t ace my SAT’s?
It’s admirable, Franny said. The coffee, anyway.
I think I’m going to take off. The paper, you know.
You should go where you have a chance to get in. Franny pushed herself back from the table, mug and deck in hand, and walked over to the coffee pot. She picked up the bag of coffee grounds, examining the back. Can you make another pot? She asked.
And I don’t have a chance at any of the schools I listed?
No, I mean, yes, but the backups.
Hand me the deck.
You don’t do it right.
I’m not going to give you the gratification of making another pot, when you didn’t even drink this one, Elaine said. She rose from her seat, grabbing her jacket off of the chair and wrapped it around her waist. I don’t have backups because I don’t need them. I know what I want.
You sound like you’re in high school. I’m just trying to make you understand. Understand that you aren’t miss perfect Ivy League okay?
So, I’m just not as good as you, right? That’s what you’re getting at. Elaine started towards the door.
You know what I mean. Franny turned, placing her arms behind her on the counter and hoisted herself up. She nodded towards the coffee pot and attempted a smile. Please, Just make it, she said.
Someday, you’re going to be the one standing here doing this.
And someday, you’re going to get it right.