Motion (Page 23)

As Abram opened my door and extended his hand, which I accepted distractedly, and then allowed him to pull me from my seat, I reasoned that—even if his sister was a journalist of the dirt-digging variety—she couldn’t expose me as Mona in the span of an afternoon. I would just . . . not talk much. Speak only when spoken to.

Keep my answers polite, but vague.

Yes. Good plan. I can do this.


Introduction to Two-Dimensional Kinematics

“Ah!” Glancing between the bundle Marie had placed in my hands and the woman herself, I added the apt anytime-phrase “Is this why fate brought us together?” because it was perfect for the situation and needed to be said.

Marie tossed her head back and laughed. And then Abram’s mom was also laughing. And then I was laughing, because the Harris women’s laughter was contagious. For reals, it was an airborne illness of awesome.

Marie reminded me of my friend Allyn in some ways—how open she was, how friendly and engaging—but without the naïve awkwardness I found so charming in my friend. Marie was . . . well, she was a woman. Or, how I thought a woman should aspire to be: Knowledgeable. Confident. Kind. Reasonable. Empathetic. Inclusive. An adult. There was so much I could learn from her. Basically, Marie was who I wanted to be when I grew up.

But Pamela reminded me of no one. I’d never met anyone like her, and therefore I felt like I could learn a lot from her as well.

Perhaps I should have been disappointed in myself for not sticking to the plan. But try as I might, I could not stop talking. I was having too good of a time to care about the logical path forward. It was official: I loved both Abram’s mom and his sister and I wanted them both to adopt me.

Here’s how it happened: Abram and I had walked in, and I’d been determined to be on my best rigid behavior. But then Pamela—Abram’s mom—pulled me into a hug, kissed my cheek like I was something precious, and slipped me a cookie under the premise of wiping lipstick from my face. She also winked. Stunned, I ate the cookie. It was shortbread and it was so good I wanted to cry.

I handed off the present I’d brought to Abram and, with her arm around my waist, Pamela walked me into the kitchen where Marie—who was Abram’s opposite in coloring and willingness to show her smile—also gave me a hug and gave me a cookie. Another shortbread.

Is this all it takes to earn my trust? Cookies and smiles?! Can I be bought for so little?

Apparently, yes. Which I felt was the right answer. Besides, who is to say cookies are cheap? Cookies are priceless! (Don’t @ me.)

Anyway, Marie promptly confided that both she and Pamela were Hufflepuffs, but that Abram was a Gryffindor with Slytherin tendencies, and then asked me which house I was in.

It all happened so quickly. One moment I was discussing how I preferred the blue and bronze scheme from the book to the blue and silver combo in the films (for the Ravenclaw house colors), and commiserating on the absence of Peeves in the movies, and in the next moment—really, six hours later of near constant enthralling conversation—Marie was showing me her hand-knit collection of fingerless gloves and asking me if I wanted a pair.

Which brings us to now.

“You are hilarious. ‘Is this why fate brought us together?’” Abram’s sister quoted me, wiping at her eyes. “They’re just fingerless gloves. Take them.”

“I will. I will take them.” With no shame, I clutched the gloves to my chest. “Thank you.” Not only were they warm, they were blue and bronze, my real house colors.

Since I worked and spent most of my day in cold offices sitting in front of a keyboard, my fingers were often cold. I’d tried full-fingered gloves to various degrees of failure. Explaining my cold finger lament to the ladies over peppermint tea—leaving out any particulars that might reveal me as Mona—Marie had immediately offered me a pair, volunteering that she was a knitter and had several spare sets in her old room, along with scarves, blankets, hats, and so forth.

“My apartment in Chicago is too small to hold everything I make, so I store a lot of stuff here. And you’re welcome,” Marie replied warmly, her face and her smile sunshine. “Thanks for giving my mom such generous gifts for her birthday, they were very thoughtful.” Her gaze flickered over to her mother.

“Yes, thank you so much.” Pamela placed her fingertips on her chest, immediately flustered all over again, just like she’d been when she’d first opened the presents.

I wanted to tell her it was no big deal. My mother received free luxury goods from all the major names, so a Burberry bag, scarf, and bottle of perfume had been—quite honestly—nothing from my perspective. But after seeing how Pamela had been almost afraid to touch the bag, scarf, and perfume upon opening them, and how agitated and grateful she’d been, I decided to keep this information to myself.

“I hope you enjoy them” was all I’d said then—which had earned me a soft smile from Abram at the time—and it was all I said now.

“Well, I absolutely will.” Pamela sent me another affectionate gaze of gratitude, which only made me want to change the subject.

I wasn’t comfortable with her appreciation. It wasn’t deserved. Plus, I’d intruded on her birthday celebration. I was the one who needed to express gratitude.

“Thank you so much for having me today. Thank you for letting me crash your party.”

“Oh pshaw. You didn’t crash anything. You’re welcome anytime. Did you get enough to eat?” Pamela motioned to Marie’s bedroom door. “Do you want another piece of cake?”

I laughed. “No, thank you. I think two is enough.”

“And you’re assuming, Mom, that Abram hasn’t already finished it off.” Marie crossed to her bed and sat on the end of it, motioning that I should do the same. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a birthday cake last twenty-four hours in this house.”

“He’s always been a good eater,” Pamela said proudly, lowering herself into the chair in front of Marie’s desk.

Marie glanced at me, giving me a closed-lipped smile. “Does he finish your food when you go out to restaurants? I swear, he only visits me in the city when he’s hungry.”

I straightened my spine, the question catching me unprepared, and opened my mouth to respond, but said nothing. This was the first time since I’d arrived that either Marie or her mother had asked me about Abram or made any reference to the possibility that he and I existed as a unit.

I’d been partnered with Marie and Pamela all day while Abram had gone off with his dad. We’d reconvened for a leisurely dinner, during which Abram sat across from me. The seating arrangements hadn’t done much to settle the knots in my stomach, but they had strengthened my resolve to avoid him upon returning to the city.

First of all, I caught him staring at me. More than once. And worse, he’d caught me staring at him, a lot more than once. Each time it happened was like cymbals crashing between my ears as our eyes collided, snagged, and were hastily ripped away. After the crashing came the hot flare of mortification in my chest and up my neck.

And yet, I did it over and over, almost compulsively, like my free will had been hijacked. It was the most maddening thing, but my eyeballs drifted to him, seeking out his face, wanting to watch his features as he conversed quietly with his dad, or sparred good-naturedly with his sister, or told his mom how pretty she looked on her birthday.

I was mesmerized during these little interactions; how he demonstrated affection for these people he loved; how they in turn showed their affection for him. This family seemed to know each other intimately, and—for some inexplicable reason—Abram’s attractiveness increased exponentially as I watched him love through quiet, small gestures. It made . . . it makes me . . .

It gave me heartburn.

Wonderful, dizzying, problematic heartburn.

And, yes, I also found myself once more mesmerized by the action of his jaw and throat and lips as he chewed. Why am I such a weirdo?

Dessert and presents followed, but then we split again. While the men did the dishes, the women sipped tea and talked.

Over the course of the afternoon and early evening, we’d discussed books, movies, historical events, current events, recipes, and even scientific advances, but neither of them had asked me a single thing about Abram. Or why he’d brought me. Or who I was.

Presently, Marie’s eyes moved over me as I struggled to answer her question, her gaze feeling remarkably patient. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“You didn’t,” I said automatically, wanting to reassure her. “It’s, uh, just that he’s never finished my dinner at a restaurant because I’ve never gone to a restaurant with Abram.”

Pamela made a clicking sound with her tongue and teeth. “What is he thinking? I swear, I raised him better. I know I did.”

For some reason, her irritation made me chuckle even as I sought to clarify that Abram and I weren’t a unit. “Oh, no. No, no- Abram and I aren’t—”

“It’s just, this is the first time my brother has brought anyone home.” Marie leaned closer to me, her voice lowering, like she was confiding something important. “It’s been great to see him smile so much.”