Motion (Page 20)

“Abram.” I stood, shaking my head at the tangled strands of information he’d just dropped in my lap. “Wait. Stop. Let me get this straight. You want me to go to your mother’s birthday? What if I promised to stay put?”

“Where I go, you go.”

“I won’t leave the house.”

“I don’t have a choice, and neither do you. I promised your brother.”

I couldn’t argue with that. “So, we’re going to your parents’ because it’s your mother’s birthday? And you have to be there by two thirty, but you haven’t slept, so you need me to drive, and you’re expecting to sleep on the way?”

“Correct.” He was almost to the door, his steps shuffling, like he was too tired to pick up his feet.

Hastily discarding the blanket, I followed him. “Do you have a present?”

“I’ll pick something up on the way.” He yawned again. “Maybe a card. She likes flowers.”

Frowning at his blasé comment, I persisted. “No, no. Don’t get her flowers on the way. We have—I mean, my mom has—a stash of stuff. Designer bags, perfume, silk scarves for last minute gifts. Let me put something together.”

Abram stopped walking backward, but he also made a face. “Silk scarves?” he slurred, his eyes blinking like he was having trouble keeping them open.

“Trust me. Just, go get ready. I’ll get the gift and meet you downstairs in a half hour.” I walked around him, pressing the call button for the lift. “And take the elevator. You’re exhausted.”

“I’m fine. It’s just one floor down.” He waved away my comment, but promptly had to cover his mouth again for another yawn.

Thankfully, the doors opened immediately, and he didn’t protest as I pushed him onto the elevator. In fact, my pushing seemed to amuse him.

“Okay, see you soon.” I ignored the way my skin heated at his warm expression, focusing instead on what needed to be done. “And if you use the stairs, promise me you’ll hold onto the rail. I don’t want you falling down.”

“Yeah, gravity can be such a downer,” Abram mumbled, repeating my words from the prior evening, and that gave me pause.

I watched him closely as he leaned backward against the wall of the car, as though standing upright took too much energy. His sleepy, half-lidded gaze moved over me. His smile grew.

“You look . . . nice,” he said, his voice dropping an octave.

Frowning in confusion, I glanced down at myself, at my braless chest in the skimpy pink tank top and boy-short PJs. Awareness caused a shock of pinpricks beneath my skin and I lifted startled eyes, catching the tail end of his transparently hot and appreciative look just as the doors slid shut.


Falling Objects

I assembled a birthday package for Abram’s mom, pulled on one of my—Mona’s—dresses as it felt more appropriate for the situation; unbraided and brushed my hair, ignoring the bottle of dry shampoo; applied the eye makeup; and grabbed two granola bars. The bars I washed down with a glass of milk just as Abram called Lisa’s name from the foyer.

“That’s a nice dress,” he said, leaning against the front door and watching me as I entered.

Glancing down at my somewhat fitted skirt, I shrugged. His gaze persisted, but I ignored it, instead turning to the mirror and pretending to fuss with my appearance.

“Very librarian chic.” His voice was deeper than usual, probably because he hadn’t slept at all. “All you need now is glasses, a ruler, and a very disapproving scowl.”

I fought against the sudden urge to scowl disapprovingly—just to see what he’d do—and said, “It’s Mona’s.”

Telling the truth here made the most sense. I’d never worn it before, so I didn’t have to worry about any pictures of me (Mona) in this dress somewhere in the house. Yet, it definitely wasn’t Lisa’s style: “boring” navy blue cotton, capped sleeves, a conservative neckline with a little collar, and an equally conservative hemline that fell just past my knees. However, it was form-fitting, which was why I’d never worn it, but was why I thought maybe it was a good compromise for today.

Abram pushed away from the door and strolled to my shoulder. “You’ll need this.”

Avoiding eye contact (and speaking and smelling), I turned to him and accepted the phone he held. Google Maps was already pulled up, and an address in Michigan was already mapped out.

Wordlessly, he guided me out the door, ten meters to the right beyond our gate, and to his car, a 1999 Honda Civic. Good thing I knew how to drive a stick shift. But, unfortunately, the stick shift also meant I had to hike my fitted skirt up a bit to use the clutch. Feeling acutely self-conscious—especially after the look he’d given me this morning before the elevator doors closed—I had difficulty swallowing until I glanced at my companion.

Abram had already fallen asleep, zonking out as soon as I’d pulled away from the curb. Seeing this, I laughed at my silly self-consciousness, hiked my skirt up a little more for ease of clutch-usage, and released a giant sigh.

I must be in an alternate dimension. My brain has officially gone off the rails.

I felt . . . lost. Not geographically lost, thanks to Abram’s GPS, but mentally and emotionally and physically muddled. Since talking everything over with Allyn was out of the question, I used the long, quiet drive to sort through the tangle of thoughts in my brain and the bundle of nerves in my stomach without her help.

First and foremost, I was nervous because I’d never operated a motor vehicle without my driver’s license before. If sleeping in my day clothes felt disobedient, this felt exponentially disobedient. I couldn’t relax. I felt the illegal nature of my actions like an elusive hair in my mouth, but instead IN MY BRAIN. Which was why I drove ten to twenty miles under the speed limit the entire way, with both hands on the steering wheel. At all times.

Second, there was that dream from last night and that look from this morning. I tried to talk myself into believing that look had been imagined. But then I’d recall the image of his hot eyes in his super handsome face, staring at me daringly, brazenly.

No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t talk myself into believing something false. Abram had been ogling me. Fact.

No. Not me. Lisa.

Except, in that moment, I wasn’t Lisa. But, I also was her. Confusing.

Which brings me to the third item: everything else. The tense moment between Abram and I last night in front of Lisa’s door and whatever that meant; the revelation that Lisa had appeared naked and uninvited in his bed last year; the fact that I’d told Gabby about that stupid story with that stupid TA my freshman year (Why oh why had I done that?); the possibility that Lisa had been dealing drugs to teenagers; the unknowns surrounding her arrest; and the fact that I was a lying liar, pretending to be her, right now. What a mess.

I didn’t like all the unknowns.

My life had been supremely tidy up to now, by design. And Abram was the definition of messy—from the way he dressed to how infrequently he shaved to eating cold pizza, sleeping at random hours, approaching his responsibilities with a laissez-faire nonchalance, waiting until the last minute to get his mother a birthday gift, and did the man even have a job?—and liking him had the potential to be incredibly messy.

And yet, I did.

I liked him.

Talking to him was confoundedly easy. One might even say seductively easy. Seductive because, when we spoke, I was constantly forgetting to lie, or speak in one-word sentences, or try to be Lisa-like. I couldn’t help but default to being myself.

I liked, now that I understood the situation better, that he’d shunned Lisa (I know, I know, I’m strange) and firmly rejected her BS, setting down rules and laying out expectations with both her and Gabby upon our arrival. Lisa had behaved horribly to him in the past. Still, he’d agreed to help my brother and had forgiven her—me—as soon as I’d apologized.

Also, I was now mostly convinced he hadn’t been making fun of me during the sperm-whale-poop conversation at the guitar shop. He’d been teasing me and, upon recalling the conversation, I liked how his teasing had been clever and informed. He’d caught me by surprise with something I hadn’t known. I liked that his sarcasm was funny and quick-witted rather than biting and mean-spirited. Clearly, he was intelligent, though it was a species of applied, pragmatic intelligence mostly foreign to me.

But! He’s a slacker. And you’ve only known him for two days, Mona.

True. Very true.

In my world of faculty and fellows, data and research, practical smarts weren’t a requisite. In fact, I’d been told they were an impediment to expansive thinking. Theoretical intelligence was all that was needed, application of theory was for capitalists and corporations.

And yet, I couldn’t help but enjoy Abram’s pragmatism, like when he’d told me to take a bath instead of engineering a shower helmet (he’d been right!)

And finally, I liked how gentle he’d been last night when I’d freaked out. He’d been comforting and concerned. Of course, there was this morning, and how he’d woken me up with more gentleness. Even though there’d been unexpected touching, I’d liked everything about it.