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Summary of Life Out of Balance
By Angela Stockton
Edited by Elizabeth Angela
Lily is in her dining room, working at her laptop computer, when she hears the shrill voices of Grace and Carla at the front door. She looks around, then rushes to the other end of the table and peers inside two grocery bags. As the girls approach the dining room, Lily straightens quickly and says "Hi!" too brightly.
Turning away from the bags, Lily rummages in her purse, then heads for the kitchen -- only to freeze in the doorway while Carla and Grace, still giggling and chattering, raid the refrigerator. Lily's eyes focus on a box in the middle of the table, a pregnancy test kit. She holds her breath while Grace picks up two glasses standing next to the box.
["Help!" Lily says to the camera with a nervous laugh.]
As soon as Grace and Carla leave the kitchen, having failed to notice the test kit, Lily lunges for it; but just as she thinks she's dodged the bullet, she hears Zoe and Judy entering the kitchen through the laundry room. Hurriedly she conceals the box behind her back. "You're standing funny," Zoe comments. Instead of answering, Lily sends her upstairs to brush her teeth.
When Lily and Judy are alone, Judy asks pointedly, "What are you hiding in your pants?" Defeated, Lily pulls out the box. "You're pregnant?" Judy asks, astonished.
"No, I'm late," Lily replies.
"Maybe you're stressed," Judy suggests.
"I'm always stressed," Lily says wryly. "I'm never late."
"Maybe you're--" Judy continues.
Lily reacts with scorn, insisting, "I'm not menopausal!" When Judy asks about Rick, Lily admits that he doesn't know.
Their conversation is cut short by the return of Grace and Carla, who announce that they're leaving. "Where are you guys going?" Judy asks politely.
"Out," Carla replies insolently. When Grace explains that they're going to a pep rally, Carla adds, smirking, "Yeah, to make fun of people."
Lily agrees to pick them up after the pep rally. "It was nice to meet you," Judy says to the departing Carla, who responds with "Later!" and a token wave.
"I do not like her," Judy says flatly. Lost in thought, Lily has to ask, "Who?"
At Rick's apartment, Eli and Jessie are in Eli's room. Jessie notices that Eli is holding a bottle of hair dye and asks, "Are you going to dye your hair?" As Rick walks in, Eli says, "No," throws the bottle into his gym bag, and packs his uniform and warm-up suit on top of it. Rick asks if he's ready to be driven to the pep rally and apologizes for missing it to keep a date with Lily. Eli dismisses the pep rally as "shallow and stupid anyway." Rick tries to make conversation about Upton Sinclair's upcoming game with New Trier, but Eli refuses to be drawn in, and finally silences his father by saying that they need to leave.
Later, Rick arrives at Lily's, his arms filled with bags of Chinese takeout. Judy and Zoe come downstairs as Lily ushers him in, and Rick greets them with, "You guys hungry? I've got enough Chinese for an army."
While smiling at Rick, Lily simultaneously flashes Judy a warning glance. Taking the hint, Judy replies that she was thinking of taking Zoe out for double whammies, an offer that Lily heartily endorses.
With the Chinese food spread out on Lily's kitchen table, Rick begins to eat while Lily nervously stabs at a carton with her chopsticks. Setting them down, Lily says, "Okay, I'm just gonna say it."
"Say what?" Rick asks, chewing contentedly.
After much stammering, Lily blurts out, "I'm late."
"For...?" Rick asks, unconcerned.
"As in, I'm never late," she clarifies.
Chopsticks suspended in midair, Rick stares at her, his jaw dropping. "Oh--that kind of late," he stammers. "How late are you?"
"About a week," Lily answers and promptly chokes on her food. Rick pounds her back until she recovers; but once the danger to Lily is over, he tries to absorb her news. "But we use--"
"Please don't say 'precautions'," Lily interrupts.
"Safeguards," he substitutes.
"Nothing's a hundred percent," she reminds him; "That's what I keep telling Eli," he mutters.
Lily remarks that Rick looks horrified, but he insists that he's only surprised. When he asks about taking a test, she pulls out the kit. He asks when she's planning to use it, and she says uncertainly, "In the morning?" But seeing his obvious distress, Lily decides to take the test right away. Rick offers to help her until he realizes how foolish that sounds. She goes into the bathroom and closes herself inside.
At the pep rally, Grace and Carla observe the other spectators contemptuously. Carla starts the wave, then mocks the fans who continue it as "lemmings." She calls to Jessie, seated several rows below, and offers her the seat next to them, an invitation which Jessie is thrilled to accept.
When the team is introduced, Eli emerges with his hair dyed blue. Jessie, Carla and Grace are amused, but Eli's coach pulls him aside, visibly angry.
Meanwhile, in her bathroom, Lily opens the test kit. [Lily recalls that she was worried about Jake's reaction when she first told him she was pregnant. However, "He just lit up. He was awed by everything."] Pacing downstairs, Rick examines a framed photo of Lily holding an infant. [In his own black and white recollection, he says that when Eli was a baby, "I could hardly believe I had anything to do with creating this beautiful boy, and that he was mine."] Lily returns with the stick, sets it on her kitchen counter, and sets her kitchen timer for three minutes.
Rick hugs her and tries to be comforting, saying, "We're in this together, OK? No matter what we have to do."
"Have to do" strikes a sour note with Lily, who starts to argue with him about his feelings. The timer's ticking heightens their tension. His hint that she might be menopausal earns him a withering stare. "I don't think there's anything I could say right now that you wouldn't misconstrue," he blurts at last.
"You're right," she answers coolly.
As the timer dings, they turn warily toward the stick: the reading is negative. While Rick is clearly relieved, Lily seems regretful. Cuddling her, he asks gently, "Are you sure you're OK?"
"Yeah. Maybe not as OK as you," she answers with a trace of bitterness.
Rick insists that his current relief doesn't mean that he wouldn't want to have a baby with her someday. Though still annoyed, she changes the subject and suggests dessert - fortune cookies.
[In black and white, Rick relates that Eli didn't sleep through the night until he was three. He and Karen took turns getting up with him, a routine so exhausting that as he recalls those years, he notes that sleep deprivation is a classic torture device. Lily points out that the number of a woman's eggs is determined at her birth. "For thirty years, every month you're reminded of what goes on down there. Then one day it's over - no more eggs!" she says philosophically.]
In his cookie, Rick finds an innocuous fortune. Lily cracks open her cookie and silently reads, "When your heart speaks, listen." But she "reads" aloud, "Do not store food cartons in the refrigerator for more than two days."
When Lily suddenly remembers that she's supposed to pick up Grace and Carla at the pep rally, Rick offers to do it for her, since he also has children to pick up. As he dons his jacket, he asks, "Lily, are we OK here?"
"Sure," she replies with a smile. But once he has left, her face resumes its wistful expression.
After the pep rally, Eli asks Jessie to tell their father that he's riding home with Coop. Carla compliments him on his hair and, upon hearing that he and Coop will be going near her home, invites herself to ride along with them. To Grace's reminder that Lily is coming, Carla shrugs and says that it makes sense for her to ride with Eli. As she watches them walk off together, Grace can't conceal her dismay.
["Sometimes people just aren't who you need them to be at a certain moment, and unfortunately there's nothing you can do about it," she says forlornly to the camera.]
When Judy brings Zoe home from their double-whammy feast, Lily has already drawn her bath and started lighting candles in the bathroom. Once she has sent Zoe to her room, Lily confides to Judy that she took the test. "And?" Judy prompts.
"And I won't be reading Goodnight Moon for the eight hundredth time," Lily finishes.
Judy asks how Rick took the news. "He took it like a man," Lily answers cryptically.
Rick arrives at the school and finds Jessie with Grace. He explains that "something she ate, maybe" kept Lily from picking up Grace and that he's taking her home. He invites her to drive his Land Cruiser, brushing aside her apprehension over its unfamiliar stickshift.
While they wait for Coop in the parking lot, Eli and Carla become better acquainted. Moments later, Grace drives past and sees them seated side by side on the tailgate of Coop's pickup truck. Forgetting to watch the road, she stares at them until Rick shouts "Grace. Grace!" She turns her attention back to the road, but too late to avoid crashing into a concrete post.
Rick delivers Grace to her home where, in spite of Lily's urging, he refuses to accept her check for the damage to the Land Cruiser. After Rick and Jessie leave, Lily and Grace prepare for bed. While Lily is brushing her teeth in the master bathroom, Grace walks in and spots the test kit box in the wastebasket. "Are you pregnant?" she asks in surprise. Hearing Lily's denial, she persists, "Are you trying to get pregnant?"
"Honey, Rick and I are very cautious," Lily replies. "But sometimes when two people are in a relationship--"
Mortified, Grace stops her with, "Mom, I get it!"
["Sometimes I just feel like everybody in the world is like, living, and I'm just watching it happen," Grace sighs.]
When Eli arrives at Rick's dimly lit apartment, Rick tries to talk to him about his sore ankle, but Eli answers in monosyllables. By the light of the open refrigerator, Rick sees Eli's hair. He asks first if the dye will wash out, then if Eli has adopted the punk look for his band. Still uncommunicative, Eli excuses himself and leaves.
Next morning, Rick calls Lily at work and asks, "Is this Christie Parker's drop-dead-gorgeous assistant?"
"No, it's her middle-aged evil twin," she answers dryly.
They confirm their plans that she will spend the night with Rick, but she cuts the conversation short, leaving Rick looking hurt and confused.
Meanwhile, Eli storms into a hall at school and furiously slams his backpack, then his fist, against a locker. Observing him, Carla drawls, "You must really hate that locker." She asks if he "needs" to set someone's car on fire and offers to do it for him.
Eli complains that the coach has told him he needs "an attitude adjustment" and kicked him off the team. She wags her head sympathetically and counsels him not to let it bother him.
Eli tells Carla that he has heard she's trouble. As if flattered, she invites him to repeat everything he's heard about her, then kisses him. Seconds later, the bell rings and students begin to pour into the hall, Grace among them. She notices how close Carla and Eli are to each other, and their greetings are stilted. Eli leaves quickly.
Carla pulls Grace aside and suggests that they cut their next class. Irritably, Grace replies, "I know it's easy for you to just cut class and do heroin or whatever, but I have things, other things that I think about, that have nothing to do with you. Sorry!" She walks away, leaving Carla dumbstruck.
That evening, Eli tells Rick that the coach has suspended him from the team. "Why?" Rick asks.
"Because I wouldn't take any of his crap!" Eli retorts. His angry statement that he's quitting the team upsets Rick, who pleads, "I'm trying to understand."
"Why? Why do you always have to understand everything?" Eli snarls, and turning his back on Rick, walks upstairs. [Helplessly, Rick tells the interviewer, "I've tried to reason with him, it doesn't work. I've yelled at him, it doesn't work. Nothing works. I have no power, and he knows it."]
When Rick crawls into bed that night, Lily is already settled in on the other side, her back to him. He asks about Grace, and Lily assures him that she's no longer upset about the car accident, adding, "Actually, she's back on my case. She found the pregnancy test."
Rick mutters something that Lily doesn't understand; he explains that it's a Hopi word meaning "life out of balance." Life, he sighs, can be overwhelming, especially now that he's having problems with Eli, Jessie, Karen, Miles--
"And me," Lily adds.
"You don't have blue hair," he replies. He tells her that Eli now has blue hair, and that he quit the team. "Mostly I think he just wants to piss me off. He loves basketball."
"You love basketball," Lily corrects him. Rick glances at her in surprise.
[To the camera, Rick says he doesn't think that he and Karen had sex more than half a dozen times in the year after Jessie was born. Lily shares her hunch that Jake started to cheat while she was pregnant with Zoe, because he hadn't wanted another child. Rick recalls that Karen had a hard pregnancy and that Jessie was a colicky baby. "We just lost the way back to each other," he laments. "To go to bed with someone night after night and to lie there and know that you have somehow become invisible...." As a tear rolls down her cheek, Lily adds, "I've never felt so alone in my life."]
Lily and Rick each say that they're tired. As Rick turns off the bedside lamp, he and Lily say "I love you" to each other, but they are so emotionally distant that they seem to be in separate beds.
Next day, Judy drops in on Lily at work. As they nibble sticky buns, Judy asks if things are better with Rick. "No," Lily answers, "I'm not sure he's who I thought he was." Judy describes love as a fog which has to burn off before one knows who the other person is. "What if he really isn't who I thought he was? How would you feel if you were in my place?" Lily asks.
"Well, the truth is, I would love to be in your place. Except the test would have to be positive," Judy says. Her heartfelt answer surprises Lily.
At school, Carla finds Grace in a meeting of the literary magazine staff. As the meeting adjourns, Carla asks if Grace has a problem with her dating Eli. She explains that she assumed that since Eli and Grace are almost stepsiblings, Grace wasn't romantically interested in him. Grace hotly denies that she has ever wanted Eli, and after some stroking by Carla, agrees that they're still friends. But when Eli walks in to offer Carla a ride, she immediately follows him out, abandoning Grace without even a good-bye.
That evening, while Grace is doing her homework among books spread out on her bed, Lily comes to her room. She again tells Grace that she and Rick are not trying to have a baby. She says she doesn't want to have secrets, "and I don't want to hide the fact that Rick and I are together."
"Mom, that's sort of obvious, and it's not really my business," Grace interrupts hastily.
Oblivious to Grace's embarrassment, Lily continues, "He and I are in a relationship and he's a part of me. I know this is very intimate, but--"
"Mom, stop it! Stop telling me these things! I can't take it any more!" Grace screams. Taken aback, Lily tries to apologize, but Grace, still upset, shouts, "I don't care about your life! I have my own life, which happens to be miserable right now. Then you come in here and everything's about you! And the truth is, I could be falling apart right now, and you wouldn't even know why."
Guilt-stricken, Lily hugs Grace, who clings to her as they both let their tears flow. When she recovers her sense of humor, Grace complains good-naturedly, "Mom, you're crying on Bleak House."
It's dark when Eli, driving Karen's van, delivers Carla to her home. But instead of climbing out of the van, Carla waits for Eli to park, then kisses him.
At the same time, Rick lets himself into Lily's house through the front door and startles her by appearing behind her on the back porch. Rick helps put out her trash and recyclables, then tells her he wants to talk. Lily invites him inside.
Carla crawls into the back seat of the van, pulling Eli along with her.
In Lily's laundry room, Rick and Lily confide that they've both wondered what would have happened if they had met each other first. They admit that had they married, they might have divorced. Rick says that he knows he's capable of failing at marriage. "Well, mine wasn't exactly a walk in the park," Lily reminds him.
When Rick confesses that it was always important to him to be a good father, Lily realizes that he doesn't feel like a good father now. Fervently, she assures him that he is. When he thought Lily was pregnant, he continues, it was like going back to a place where he couldn't deal with anything.
Lily tells him that at least once every day of her life, she has had no idea what she was doing. When she met him, things became no easier: "If anything, they got crazier, but it didn't matter because we were going through it together." She says that when they were faced with her "pregnancy," she felt him pulling away and feared that this was when he would cut and run.
"Listen to me. I'm not going anywhere," Rick answers fiercely. "I may not know much of anything else in my life, but I know that everything I want is right here."
"In the laundry room?" she asks skeptically.
"Yeah, the laundry room," he says with conviction. "And the garbage, and the dented car, and Eli's hair, and a baby maybe, if that's what we want."
"A baby maybe?" Lily mimics him.
"Shut up," he murmurs.
"Make me," she begs. Rick lifts her onto the washing machine, where they kiss hungrily and begin to tear at each other's clothes. While Carla and Eli continue having sex, Rick and Lily make love.
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