Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto

Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto
By Eric Luper

To Mom and Dad, who (as far as I know)
never had to endure anything similar
to what happens in this book


Chapter One

“Come on, Seth. Say something.” Veronica stares at me like…

Chapter Two

My father bolts up straight in his seat at the…

Chapter Three

“You sure you're all right about this breakup thing?” Dimitri…

Chapter Five

I've been hanging out at my desk in the basement…

Chapter Six

“What do you mean you want to figure out what…

Chapter Seven

“I can't really tell.” Dimitri squints at my mom's phone…

Chapter Eight

My hands are still shaking. The phone call to set…

Chapter Nine

The instant I walk in the front door, my mother…

Chapter Ten

The two-story brick buildings of the Schuyler Village condominium complex…

Chapter Eleven

“Okay, I'll admit it,” my father says as we walk…

Chapter Twelve

“You've got to keep that back elbow pinned to your…

Chapter Thirteen

“Aren't you going to eat?” My mother is talking to…

Chapter Fourteen

My father called to say he'd be home from work…

Chapter Fifteen

“Just in case,” Audrey says. She hands me a small…

Chapter Sixteen

Mr. Motta slides a putter from the rack and hands it…

Chapter Seventeen

“Are you sure you know what you're getting into?” Audrey…

Chapter Eighteen

The doorbell has already chimed four or five times before…

Chapter Nineteen

“What're you parking all the way over here for?” Dimitri…

Chapter Twenty

“Why in hell did you sell that club?” Mr. Motta swoops…

Chapter Twenty-One

When Caitlyn suggested we change plans and hang out at…

Chapter Twenty-Two

The dim light from the kitchenette barely spills into the…

Chapter Twenty-Three

“I've been working in catering for months and it just…

Chapter Twenty-Four

As we turn onto Audrey's block, I catch sight of…

Chapter Twenty-Five

“You've got to shorten that backswing,” my father says, scooping…

Chapter Twenty-Six

“Let's get a move on,” my mother says, racing ahead…

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Veronica's fingers comb through Mr. Peepers's short fur. He rolls onto…

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Preparing for a golf tournament is nothing like cramming for…

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Kyle Sanders and his father, last year's tournament winners, sit…

Chapter Thirty

“Nice putt,” my father says as I tap in a…

Chapter Thirty-One

“They've already decided we're disqualified,” my father says. Before any…

Chapter Thirty-Two

The Red Scare idles in front of Luz's apartment building.


ome on, Seth. Say something.” Veronica stares at me like I'm the one who should be doing the explaining—like I'm the one who just turned everything upside down. I stare right back and keep sliding the ketchup bottle back and forth across the table like it's a hockey puck. The weight of the bottle, the cold angled glass, feels good in my hands.

“Don't be this way,” she says.

“I didn't know there was a code of conduct that goes along with getting dumped at Applebee's.”

“Se-e-e-eth…” She drags out my name like saying it really long will get me to see things her way.

Veronica sinks lower into the booth. Her black uniform shirt matches the Applebee's upholstery perfectly. I guess that makes sense, considering she works here.

Her lunch break.

A half hour.

She gave herself a half hour to drop the news and kick me to the curb.

“It's just not working out.” Veronica takes the saltshaker and sprinkles it on the Formica. “Would you take off that ridiculous hat already?”

I want to smile, but I don't. We've shared this joke for weeks—ever since I got my summer job. The black, yellow, and red striped hat from Belgian Fries Express sticks up and makes my head look like the end of a hot dog. Veronica thinks it looks like the end of something else. I swipe the hat from my head and shove it between my apron and my chest.

“You're sucker punching me,” I say. “Just last night we—”

“I know all about last night,” she says. “I was there, remember?” She drags her finger through the dusting of salt. She writes her initials. “I just think…I don't know. I'm just not feeling it anymore.”

I want to reach out to her, to touch her arm, to take her hand in mine. I want to cry. But I force myself to suck in a breath.

“I think that's when I realized things,” she says. “Last night.” Her pale skin pinkens like it does whenever she gets upset.

“Maybe if we took a week off…a month…”

“I like you, Seth. You're a really nice guy. Someday I'll probably be kicking myself for letting you go, but right now…”

“Right now what?”

Veronica's eyes drop, and she shakes her head. “I'm too comfortable with you.”

“Too comfortable? What the hell does that even mean?” That last part comes out louder than I intended, and the man and woman in the booth across from us turn their heads. The woman is pregnant and about to pop. She glares at me as though my words have corrupted her unborn child in the womb. I bring my voice back down. “I thought couples were
to feel comfortable with each other. I thought comfortable was good.”

“They are—it is, I guess—but not comfortable like my mom and dad are comfortable. You know what I mean?” She looks at me with pleading eyes, like she's the one in pain.


“Well, I can't explain it any better.” She blows the wisps of hair that have escaped her ponytail out of her eyes. The waiter brings our lunch. Like always, I ordered a Club House Grill, but Veronica wanted a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad instead of the Quesadilla Burger she usually gets. Her uniform is identical to the waiter's, with the exception of their name tags. His reads A

What kind of stupid name is Anders?

I feel as though I recognize him—his name or his big square head—from somewhere, but I can't place the face. He's bigger than me and has one of those wide jaws that looks like the front of a Thruway plow. I want to ask Veronica about him, to share some joke about his name—what does Anders rhyme with?—but I can't change the
subject. And I can't make a joke. Not now.

Then I realize that starting today Anders will be spending more time with Veronica than I will.

And I hate him for it.

“Refill?” Anders asks. His voice doesn't hint that he knows what's going on between Veronica and me, but I'm sure he does. How could he not? I'm sitting here with my hands shaking, practically crying, pleading with my girlfriend not to dump me. I'm a total spectacle. I'm the joke of Applebee's.

“No, thanks,” I say.

Veronica smiles at Anders like she and I have been talking about nothing more than the weather. “I'll have another iced tea, thanks. Make sure it's—”

“Unsweetened, right?” Anders cuts in.

He disappears with her glass.

Neither of us touches the food.

I push aside my plate and go back to sliding the ketchup bottle from hand to hand. I focus on the music piping into the restaurant. It's a peppy saxophony jazz tune. I had never given much thought to Kenny G, but now I hate him.

Not a word passes between us, and it feels like a century goes by before Anders returns with Veronica's drink.

As soon as he disappears again, I say, “Maybe we could—”

“No, Seth. We can't do anything. I don't feel it anymore, and we can't be together.” She draws a heart in the salt on the table and scribbles it out. “You're a great guy, but there's nothing you can say to change how I feel.
It doesn't work that way.”

But I want it to work that way. I want to change how she feels. I mean, somehow, since yesterday, somehow since we were pressed against each other and sweaty on my parents' pool table, something changed in her brain.

“Vee, how could you come over my house last night—”

“Seth, that's not fair.”

“It's fair as hell.”

“Excuse me,” the pregnant woman says. The man with her begins to say something, but he stops when he sees the glare on my face.

Veronica draws in a deep breath and lets it out slowly. Her bangs dance in front of her eyes. “I suppose some part of me has known for a while.”

A while.

I repeat the words in my mind to see if it helps. All it does is make me feel more hollow, more alone. Tears well up behind my eyes. I stare at the ceiling speaker above our booth to fight them off.
Stupid Kenny G!

Veronica pokes at her salad with her fork. “I'm not hungry,” she says.

Somehow I'm not, either.

She glances at her cell phone. “Look, my boss is going to kill me. You're late, too.”

“This is more important than Belgian Fries Express.”

“I'm sure your manager wouldn't agree.”

“I'm covering someone's shift because she's hungover. What's Mr. Burks going to do, fire me?”

“You've been late back from lunch three times this week.”

She's right. I pull my napkin from my lap. “I'll call you tonight,” I say.

Her head cocks to the side, then shakes back and forth. “I don't think that's such a good idea.”

“Come on, Veronica, just because we're not dating anymore doesn't mean we can't talk.” I make it sound innocent, like we can both be mature enough to put the romance part of our relationship behind us, as though we could both forget the last eight months and go back to being study buddies. But I know the truth. I want to hold on to any part of “us” that I can.

“I need time apart,” she says. “That means no calls.”

No calls. There's nothing I can say to that. It's like Veronica just slammed the door in my face.

Then something changes.

Veronica looks past me. Her eyes narrow, then go wide. She sinks farther into the booth. “Seth,” she whispers. “Isn't that your dad?”

I turn to look, but her hand shoots across the table and grabs my forearm. Now that she's dumped me, her touch feels uncomfortable. I start to pull away.

“Don't look,” she whispers. “He's with someone.”

“So what? My father goes out for lunch with clients all the time.”

I try to turn again, but her nails dig into my skin. “I don't think that's a business associate.”

I sink into my own seat and peer around the backrest.
It's my father, all right. The hostess is leading him and some woman to another booth. As usual, my father is wearing a business suit. The tie I gave him on his last birthday—the purple and black Jerry Garcia one I thought he'd never wear—hangs loose around his neck.

When the hostess steps aside, I see the woman. Veronica was right. She is
not a business associate. That is, unless my father's accounting firm recently picked up the Bunny Ranch as a client. She is a slightly weather-beaten Eva Longoria wannabe, with black hair that tumbles over her bronzed shoulders in thick, loose curls. Her breasts threaten to leap out of her sequined camisole, and her miniskirt, which is some kind of snakeskin print, does less to conceal her lower parts than a few well-placed napkins might.

“Do you know her?” Veronica asks.

I shake my head.

“Doesn't your dad know I work here?”

“I'm not sure I ever mentioned it,” I say.

“Doesn't he at least know you work in the mall?”

“I'm supposed to be off today. Anyhow, I'm not sure if he's up to date on where I'm working. It's my fourth job this year.”

My father leans forward, says something to the woman, and smiles. She says something back. Then, as if they are trying their damnedest to make today, without question, the worst day of my life, my father reaches across the table and strokes the woman's forearm with the backs of his fingertips.

My face gets hot, and a rushing sound fills my head.

I want to melt into the booth.

I want to disappear.

But instead, all I do is stand up and walk out. I leave my now ex-girlfriend behind. I leave my cheating father behind. I leave my cheating father's mistress, too.

The mall passes under my feet like I'm in a dream—really slow and really fast at the same time. It might be Veronica's voice I hear filtering in through the static in my brain, but I can't be sure because I don't turn around.

Since I'm late back to work, Mr. Burks puts me on fryer duty rather than at the register where I usually work. A line has formed. Mr. Burks hates lines.

I lower the first wire basket into the fryer. The sizzling seems to fill a newly vacant part of me. The heavy heat of the oil reaches up and touches my face.

“Baumgartner!” Mr. Burks barks. “Get your goddamn hat on!”

I pull the hat from the folds of my apron and position it on my head.

I gaze at the roiling bubbles in the fryer until it beeps.

I heave the basket out of the oil and secure it on its hook.

After it drains, I dump the fries into the stainless steel tray.

Gil, the new kid, scoops up the fries and jiggles them into a cardboard cone, ready for one of our twenty original Belgian Fries Express sauces. “Douche,” he mutters as he turns back to the counter.

When I got my job here, my friend Dimitri told me that French is one of the national languages of Belgium (along with Dutch and German), so I suppose Gil calling me a douche is appropriate. And it's true. I feel like a major-league douche.

I load up the empty basket with another package of frozen fries and lower it—crackling, sizzling, and popping—into the hot oil. Fryer duty is fine by me. I'd be useless anywhere else.

At least fries are easy.

At least fries make sense.

“Oh, and Baumgartner.” Mr. Burks pokes his head around the white tiled divider that separates me from everyone else. “After your shift, be sure to leave the apron and hat. You're fired.”

I know I should feel stunned or upset, but after everything that happened in the past twenty minutes, it doesn't surprise me. I have no idea what to say, and all that comes out is “What about my name tag?”

Mr. Burks doesn't think on that more than a second. “I couldn't care less about your name tag; just don't bring the rest of yourself around here anymore.”

Other books

A Shadow's Embrace by Carnes, Cara
Bitter Cold by J. Joseph Wright
The Less-Dead by April Lurie
Lily and the Beast 2 by Jayne, Amelia
Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose Copyright 2016 - 2023