“Dude, you didn’t tell me I was missing a study session,” Kade said, sliding into the seat beside me. Our dining room table was spread with textbooks and notebooks like it always was on Sunday afternoons. Just another part of my routine life that Kade was disrupting. He flopped his chemistry textbook on the table and spoke directly to Gracie. “Need any help?”
“Actually, I do,” she said. I hadn’t realized she was struggling. “I can’t get these coefficients to balance. What am I doing wrong?” She slid her lab notebook across the table and Kade placed hers beside his, glancing back and forth between the two. Was he really smart enough to know how to help her?
“Ah, you didn’t account for the coefficients you used to balance the carbon atoms before you tried to balance the oxygen atoms.” He slid both notebooks across the table and pointed to his notebook to show where he’d already balanced the equation. “See, when you add coefficients to the product, you’ve now increased its number of oxygen atoms. If you add a coefficient of five to the oxygen molecule in the reactant, you’ll have balanced the carbon and the oxygen, and the hydrogen should be obvious.”
“Oh my gosh, that totally worked.” Gracie sounded almost as surprised as I felt.
“Dang, how did you get so smart?” I asked my brother.
He shrugged. “I had a lot of time to study the past couple of years.”
“Yeah, I guess you did,” I mumbled, pulling out my dogeared copy of The Great Gatsby, the dreadfully boring story of snobby rich people who swore too much and had more affairs than I could keep track of. They lived in Long Island mansions across the bay from each other on something called the East Egg and the West Egg. I was glad my family lived in a nice, normal house in a nice, normal neighborhood without all the drama of the uber rich. “Got any more chemistry questions? Or do you want to move on to the great American novel?”
“That was the only question stumping me,” Gracie said. “We can move on.” She also pulled out her copy of The Great Gatsby.
“Gracie and I are good with chemistry, aren’t we?” Kade winked at Gracie. Jealously flared inside me and I almost shoved my brother off the chair beside me.
“Do you guys have any idea what this book is about?” Gracie asked with exaggerated frustration. “I have no clue.”
Yeah right. Was she playing dumb to get Kade’s attention? She probably had the book overanalyzed and ready for next week’s exam.
“Fitzgerald clearly wanted to distinguish the transcendence of class over wealth in American society,” Kade said. Huh? I wanted to ask him again how he got so smart, but in asking I was making myself look stupid. “It’s a classic case of old money trumping new money despite the capitalist economy that rewards innovation.”
“But I thought capitalism was bad.” Gracie’s brow creased.
“No, that’s just what the people with old money want you to believe,” Kade told her. “If it weren’t for capitalism you wouldn’t be holding that iPhone in your hand and Buxton Peak wouldn’t be the greatest rock band on the planet.”
Gracie threw her head back and laughed. “What does a rock band have to do with capitalism?”
“That rock band is a classic example of new money created on the premise of innovation and talent.”
“What about the next generation after the rock band creates new money?” I asked, now fully engrossed in the discussion despite our complete derailment from the topic of The Great Gatsby. “Would the children of the rock stars be considered to be from old money because they were living off the riches created by their parents?”
“Possibly…” Kade narrowed his eyes at me. “I suppose that depends on how the kids choose to invest their time and energy.”
“And if they look down upon people who don’t have money,” Gracie pointed out.
“Or if they allow their wealth to justify their own corruption,” I added, knowing Gracie wouldn’t understand the reference but Kade would.
“Sometimes wealth enables people to fall into the trap of drinking and doing drugs… and other bad things.” Kade glanced at me and I could tell we were no longer talking about an historic novel from the nineteen twenties.
“Like Gary Owens,” Gracie said, pulling our focus away from each other. Kade and I both turned our attention to her, startled by the direction of her thoughts. “He was their drummer. Don’t you remember?”
“He died before we were born,” I said, confused. “We never met him.”
“But you’ve heard of him, right?” Gracie’s eyes darted back and forth between me and Kade. “You guys are huge fans of the rock band, Buxton Peak. You had to have heard of Gary Owens, right?”
“Yeah, of course.” Kade snorted. I wondered if he’d mention the collector’s memorabilia their dad had purchased at auction autographed by Gary. “I mean, he was a great drummer.”
“But going back to your original point,” Gracie said. “If he hadn’t gotten super rich, he might not have had access to drugs and then he might be alive today.”
“Yeah, it’s good to be alive.” Kade lowered his eyes and fiddled with the corner of his book. I wondered how close he’d come to doing something over-the-top stupid. I could have lost him for real. Not just for two years. I needed to remember that.
“Unlike Gatsby, who was murdered,” Gracie declared.
“Only because he took the fall for the person he loved the most,” Kade mumbled.
“What do you mean?” Gracie asked.
“Daisy was driving the car that killed Tom’s mistress, but Gatsby took the blame,” Kade said, lifting his gaze. “Sometimes people take the blame and pay the ultimate price.”
“Like going to jail…” I choked out, again knowing Kade and I were talking about a completely different story than Gracie.
“Or in Gatsby’s case, getting murdered.” Gracie sighed. “Thanks, guys, you have really helped me understand this story. We’re going to ace this exam.”
As Gracie gathered up her books and notebooks, shoving them into her backpack, Kade and I sat in silence. I weighed the implication of his statement, realizing there was more to the story that had haunted me for two years. What was he really trying to tell me?
Book Club Discussion Question: What do you think Kade's trying to tell Taylor?