Once and Again...Once Again
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Summary of There Be Dragons
by Manh Tuong Lewis Nguyen
edited by Angela Stockton
Ecstatic moans and groans emanate from Rick's car. Inside, Rick and Lily are savoring a sensual delight...fast food.
Between bites of his hamburger, Rick tells Lily, "You were holding out on me, I thought you ate like a bird." Shrugging, she asks Rick for a story about Jessie, his daughter. He tells her that yesterday Jessie refused to write a report about The Diary of Anne Frank because Anne would be humiliated if she knew that millions of people have read the book she wrote for her eyes alone.
Flattered by Lily's genuine interest, Rick proposes that Lily meet Jessie the next day. Lily is hesitant, but Rick persists, suggesting she stop by his house to bring him the new Frank Lloyd Wright book, "which," Lily notes, "you already own."
Rick returns home to discover Jessie still awake in front of the television, long after her curfew. Ignoring her good-natured protests, Rick hoists her onto his shoulder and, carrying her up the stairs, tells her what happens to little girls who stay up past midnight -- they turn into toads.
At her home, Lily is removing her makeup. [In a black and white interview, she wonders when one should be considered middle-aged. Her sister had suggested it's when you go from looking good to looking good for your age. Lily believes it's when you spend more time thinking about the bad things that have happened than about the good things that might.]
A ringing phone breaks Lily's reverie. It's Jake, asking Lily about Zoe's cough. Once she has instructed him about treating it, he asks if they can talk privately the next night. Though suspicious, Lily agrees to meet him for a drink.
The following morning, Rick and Jessie prepare for a daylong hike. Eli and Jessie both notice that Rick, who repeatedly asks Eli the time, seems jumpy. Admonished by Rick to find her hiking boots, Jessie calls him "Mr. Grouch-head" before scurrying upstairs, but no sooner does she leave than she calls her father from the bathroom. Outside the closed door, Rick chirps, "What's up, pup?"
"I think I just got my period," Jessie replies somberly.
Speechless at first, Rick recovers to stammer, "Honey -- that -- that's great -- that's wonderful!" and ask her what she wants to do. She decides that they should go to her mother's house.
[In an interview, Jessie describes what would often happen on weekends when her parents were still together. She and her father would make "itty-bitty pancakes" and stack them as high as they could, while her mother, Karen, would still be asleep. They don't do that any longer.]
Karen opens her door to see Jessie and Rick. Jessie's "Mom, guess what?" and ear-to-ear grin telegraph the big news to her delighted mother. After she goes to the bathroom, Rick and Karen are left alone to marvel that their little girl is growing up -- and to reflect on the pain of being divorced parents at such a moment. Having anticipated this milestone for Jessie's entire life, Karen longs to spend the day with her, but Rick won't change his own plans for the all-day hike. Jessie returns and promises Karen that they will share a smoothie the next day in celebration. Karen, claiming "my prerogative," wraps her daughter in a tight, loving hug.
Back at Rick's, Jessie believes she's left her backpack in the car. As she opens the front door to go fetch it, she comes face to face with Lily, Frank Lloyd Wright book in hand. "You're Lily," Jessie guesses immediately. Rick comes to greet their guest, he and Lily act out her "returning" the book, and he ushers her into the apartment. Jessie changes her mind about going to the car and closes the door.
In the kitchen, Lily observes while Rick makes sandwiches, Jessie continues to search for her backpack, and Eli walks in to ask for money. Rick finds the backpack and uncovers an old turkey sandwich whose stench causes everyone to wrinkle their noses. Jessie asks Lily how old she is. Though caught off-guard, Lily matter-of-factly responds, "Forty. How old are you?" Jessie says she's twelve.
While slicing tomatoes, Rick explains to Lily the family tradition of hiking into the woods in autumn to watch the leaves turn, and suggests that she might come along another time. With his eyes on Lily instead of his knife, Rick cuts deeply into his finger. Panicking at the sight of spurting blood, Jessie screams for someone to find Rick's finger (which he hasn't cut off); Eli and Lily both hand him clean dishtowels; and Lily calmly proposes that they go to the hospital. As Eli gleefully asks if they can run the red lights, Rick and Lily exchange looks of dismay and regret.
At the hospital, Lily and Jessie sit together and get acquainted, while Eli is off by himself. Lily offers Jessie some mints, which she accepts. Jessie informs Lily that Rick is squeamish about blood, which Lily has noticed as well, and asks Lily whether she thinks God has a good personality. Lily replies that she doesn't think he controls death, that "it's about cycles." Discussing school, Lily admits that she didn't enjoy high school. Jessie says that her father claims that the popular kids in high school were not successful later in life -- a prospect that makes her feel better.
Rick, his finger heavily bandaged, is finally brought out by a nurse. She gives Lily an ice pack and instructions about rest and pain medication and adds, "You have some cute kids," a compliment which Lily lets pass.
Upon returning to Rick's place, Lily takes control of the situation while Rick beds down on his sofa. During a moment alone with him, Jessie says she likes that Lily isn't "all flustery;" Rick likes that too. Lily brings Rick a fresh ice pack while Jessie goes to the kitchen to make him some tea. Lily praises Jessie and teases Rick about his drug-induced wistfulness, and they exchange a few kisses. Turning to leave, Lily sees Jessie with a tea tray. "It was so nice meeting you, Jessica," she says. "Jessie," the girl corrects her.
Alone with her father, Jessie gently deflects Rick's promise to go hiking the next day. Rick feels guilty, remembering that his own father missed the only baseball game in which he hit a grand slam, and predicting that the missed hike will be Jessie's only memory of her twelfth year.
Once Rick has drifted off to sleep without drinking her tea, Jessie retreats to her bedroom and idly throws a basketball against the wall. Eli pops in to ask her what she thinks of "Dad's girlfriend." "She's okay," Jessie says neutrally, adding, "How do you know she's his girlfriend?"
"How many of them have you ever met?" he reminds her.
That afternoon, Lily meets Jake at a cocktail lounge. Jake is wearing a blue shirt. [In an interview, Lily remarks that Jake was wearing a blue shirt the day she met him. She was sure he chose that shade because of the way it set off his blue eyes.] When Jake says she looks nice, she adds "for an old broad," and asks impatiently why they're there. Jake blurts out, "I miss you. I miss us," and says he wants to get therapy for them both, and wants to get back together.
Lily is stunned and angry. She reminds him that he broke up their home, an event that their daughters are just starting to cope with. Irked at having wasted her time, she stands up, accidentally spilling their drinks. Flustered, she apologizes but still walks out, leaving Jake staring after her. [In black and white, she confesses, "I slept with Jake exactly twelve hours after we met."]
While Rick sleeps, Jessie goes through some of the things on his dresser. [She recalls the summers the family would go to her grandparents' cabin.] Forlornly, she gazes at a photo of her family taken before the divorce, everyone happy and carefree.
Karen calls and asks Jessie how she is dealing with her period, and how she enjoyed the hike. Jessie tells her the hike was canceled, and why. Karen is stunned, perhaps slightly displeased to hear that Lily was there and drove Rick to the hospital. Jessie begins to say something, then stops. Even though Karen reassures Jessie that she can talk to her any time, Jessie is not forthcoming.
After Karen hangs up, Lily calls. Jessie is polite, but distant. Sensing this, Lily asks how she's holding up. Jessie says she's fine and bids farewell hurriedly. [Jessie says that the trips to the cabin ended once her grandpa died. She is unsure why she constantly thinks of that place.] She goes back downstairs and sits by her sleeping father.
The next morning, Jessie packs her things to leave for her mother's home. Bleary-eyed Rick comes into her room and suggests to Jessie that he make pancakes and then they can take the hike. She reminds him that she's going to her friend Chrissy's birthday party that afternoon, and in a seemingly nonchalant way, points out that the leaves will turn whether they're there to see them or not.
At Karen's, Jessie goes to her room to do her science homework. Karen snappishly asks Rick about his accident and Lily's involvement, and adds that Jessie seemed distant on the phone the night before. Her annoyance makes Rick defensive.
Karen says that she has to go to her office that afternoon and asks him to pick up Jessie after the birthday party. When Rick becomes upset about the short notice, Karen tells him that she called the night before and irritably asks if he thinks she likes going to work on a Sunday. Listening from the hallway, Jessie overhears the escalating argument and quickly interrupts it. Karen and Rick send her back to her room.
[In her next interview, Jessie recalls the day the family photo had been taken. A storm was raging, so the family stayed in the cabin, toasting marshmallows at the fireplace. It was perfect.]
Karen enters Jessie's bedroom, expecting to find her dressed for the party; instead, her outfit is still lying on the bed. Jessie dismisses the dress as "so ten minutes ago," to which Karen replies, "and so forty-five dollars ago." Jessie confesses that she doesn't want to go to the party, but Karen lectures her about following through on commitments. She also reminds her that they have yet to share their celebration smoothie, and suggests that they do so on the way to the party. Though Jessie agrees, she seems indifferent, clearly not the excited, happy girl she was the day before.
[Jessie continues to recall the night at the cabin. She fell asleep in front of the fire. When she awoke, she noticed her father with a cup of coffee.]
Chrissy's birthday party is held at a movie theater in the mall. Jessie trails behind the other girls and tells her friend Bailey that she is not in the mood to see the movie. She asks Bailey to cover for her while she goes for a walk. As she wanders around the mall, Jessie appears to be struggling with many issues, including her impending transition from girl to woman. [She recalls that Rick poured her a cup of coffee and then stunned her with the news that he and Karen were getting a divorce.]
Meanwhile, as Lily arrives home after grocery shopping, Jake startles her by opening the door from the inside. He follows her into the kitchen, where, noticing cartons of milk in her grocery bags, he asks if he can "steal" one.
Annoyed, Lily demands, "What is it you want, Jake?" Suavely, he answers, "I want you," and roughly cupping her face in his hands, he kisses her. As he leaves, he helps himself to a carton of the milk Lily just purchased.
After the movie, when Chrissy and her guests meet their parents in the parking lot, Jessie is missing. Bailey reluctantly admits that Jessie left the theater before the movie started. Frantic, Rick enters the mall and searches until he discovers her sitting on a bench, looking despondent. Rick grabs her arm and angrily orders her out to the car.
As Rick stops his car in front of Karen's house, Jessie petulantly "thanks" him for humiliating her. He, in turn, is angry that she was not where she was supposed to be. He asks what is wrong and tries to stroke her hair, but she shrinks from him. Again, Rick grabs her arm and demands to know what's wrong.
"What's wrong? That's all everybody ever says to me! Everything is great, okay? I love my life!" she wails.
Rick makes the mistake of assuming that Jessie's mood is related to her period; when she sharply denies it, he realizes that meeting Lily may have upset her. Jessie blurts out, "I don't care who she is. All I know is that she wrecked our whole weekend. If she hadn't come over, none of this would have happened!" Slamming the door, she bolts the car and runs into the house, past a confused and worried Karen. [Jessie recalls that after her father broke the news to her about the divorce, he cried and held onto her for what seemed like an hour. She sometimes wonders what would have happened had things gone differently -- if they hadn't gone to the cabin, if she hadn't fought with Eli.]
Jessie retreats to her room and sinks to the floor, crying. After finding Jessie's door locked, Karen returns to the porch and asks Rick, "You want to tell me what's going on?"
He recounts what happened at the mall, but he can't explain it; after all, it's been three years since the divorce and Jessie knows Lily isn't the first woman he's dated. Having seen for herself that Rick is in love with Lily, Karen points out, "She's not stupid -- she senses something."
"Senses what?" he asks.
Exasperated, Karen throws up her hands and says, "God, you're so dense. Anyone with half a brain can see that you're..."
"I'm what?" he persists, still not comprehending.
"Rick, please, don't make me be the first one to say it!" Karen exclaims before going inside and leaving him baffled in the yard.
That evening, Jake brings Grace and Zoe back to Lily's. [Lily recalls that Jake always wanted her, even when they were fighting, but that he never wanted to know the real Lily, because the more she wanted to talk, the less he wanted her.] Lily tells him that he can't kiss her and get away with it. Smirking, Jake "apologizes" for still being attracted to her and promises, "We're not done yet." He calls good-bye to the girls and leaves.
On Monday morning, after Lily delivers Grace to school, she and Rick spot each other in the parking lot. Rick climbs into her SUV. In their embrace, she accidentally hurts his finger, a reminder of the crazy weekend. Lily comments that it was too soon for her to meet Jessie, and Rick counters, "When would have been the right time?"
He admits that he assumed Jessie was dealing with the divorce just fine, with no drop-off in her grades or extracurricular activities. Now he realizes that she must have harbored a secret hope that her parents would get back together. "Meeting you blew it right out of the water," he sighs.
Lily likens Jessie to Jake. "But he's not twelve," Rick notes. "Oh, really?" she banters. Unwittingly, she alarms Rick by alluding to Jake's desire to get back together with her. To reassure him, she explains that it's "for the moment. Of course, Jake only lives in the moment. He has no idea that what he does has consequences."
Seeing Rick's faraway expression, she asks, "Were you and Karen able to just break it off?" He shakes his head. He's worried about how to make Jessie face reality, since Karen has warned him that Jessie doesn't want to talk about it. With a knowing smile, Lily assures him, "Trust me, girls always want to talk about it."
That evening at Karen's house, Rick enters Jessie's bedroom. The astronomy homework spread out on her desk prompts him to recall that he loved astronomy. When he speculates about life "out there," she wishes that anyone out there would hurry up and make contact. He remarks that not knowing can be exciting.
Jessie joins her father in staring out the window. Summoning her courage, she asks, "Dad, are we ever gonna be a family again?"
"No, sweetheart, not in the same way, ever," he answers, choking on his words.
Jessie tells her father that he has changed -- he seems excited, happier, he sings and whistles as he's getting ready to go out: "I'm glad you're happy, but when you were so unhappy, I felt I could really help you."
"Do I really sing?" Rick asks, with tears in his eyes. [Jessie recalls how much she wanted to ride a two-wheel bike when she was six. Rick would help her practice.] He tells her that she's changing: not just getting her period, but becoming more independent, staying up late, walking alone through malls...soon, boys will be interested in her. Jessie is slightly embarrassed. [Jessie describes feeling both scared and excited at riding her two-wheeler, going faster and faster.]
"The thing is, sweetheart, I'm not sure that either of us really wants things to stay exactly as they've always been," he continues, still with a catch in his voice. "When I was a kid, I didn't want things to change either. I knew every single constellation and where to find them. It felt good knowing where everything was. But then, you grow up, and you realize that everything is constantly changing. Like when you were born: it's like suddenly there was this beautiful new star in the sky. You changed my whole universe, Jess. And maybe that's what love does to you. If you're lucky, it keeps opening you up and changing you, and the funny thing is, you end up finding there is always more."
Still sad but somehow comforted, Jessie hugs her father. [In her final interview, she proudly recounts how her father let go of the bike and she was finally able to ride alone: "I was free!"] By moonlight, father and daughter play basketball in Karen's driveway.
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