Motion (Page 24)
“Smile?” I looked between the women. “He doesn’t smile?”
Pamela nodded. “He was my stoic little deep thinker growing up and wasn’t what you would call a happy baby. Or child.” She sighed.
“Or teenager, or adult,” Marie added, laughing.
“But that’s okay. If I wanted sunshine, I’d spend time with my Marie.” Pamela sent her daughter an affectionate smile. “That’s not to say Marie isn’t a deep thinker—she is—but she doesn’t rain all over your parade with her deep thoughts.”
Marie laughed harder and shook her head at Pamela’s obvious frustration with Abram. “I think what my mom means is that Abram has always been one to push back, question authority, and has a deep sense of right and wrong. He often expresses his opinions as sarcasm and his sarcasm can be difficult at times.”
“You mean his sass-back.” Pamela’s eyes narrowed, her lips compressing as though she weren’t impressed.
“I mean his sarcasm,” Marie said diplomatically.
It was at this point I should’ve clarified that Abram and I were not a unit, we were not dating. I shouldn’t have allowed these fine women to believe otherwise. Continuing to sit quietly and listen without correcting their misconception was dishonest. I knew that.
And yet, I sat quietly, my eyes ping-ponging between the two women, my pulse quickening, my mind arguing with itself.
Speak up! You are lying by omission.
A voice that sounded suspiciously like Gabby’s shushed my altruistic instinct, Don’t you say a word. Just go with it, Mary Sue.
“Well, you know what that’s all about, don’t you? The sarcasm?” Pamela asked, sounding exasperated, but I couldn’t tell which of us she was addressing or if she was merely speaking to herself. “It’s what he does to hide that big, sensitive heart of his. That’s all that is. Abram has always been extremely sensitive. He wasn’t a cheerful child, but he was a cuddly one, always needing hugs. And the world isn’t nice to sensitive little people, so they learn to hide it, unfortunately.”
“They withdraw behind sass-uh-sarcasm, and pretend not to care, act like nothing matters. But when they do care—” Pamela puffed out a breath and lifted her eyebrows meaningfully, glancing between Marie and me with rounded eyes “—watch out, ’cause when Abram commits that heart to something—like he did with his music when he dropped out of high school, leaping without looking—he doesn’t know how to hold any part of himself back. Good or bad, even if he crashes and burns.”
I won’t ask questions about Abram because I am not at all curious, because knowing more about him is pointless.
Okay, okay. You got me. I was curious.
Apparently, I was exceptionally curious, because I was now sitting on the edge of the bed, gluttonously gorging myself on this incredibly fascinating glimpse into Abram’s history and personality courtesy of his mother, greedily coveting and storing and consuming every single word, detail, and insight.
I wasn’t, however, ready to admit how ravenous I’d been for information about Abram. Nor was I willing to cross the snooping line. Passive listening was one thing, allowing them to misunderstand the nature of my relationship with Abram through a lie of omission was also one thing, but actively drilling them for information on this man I liked—but shouldn’t like—was a gamma ray of a different wavelength.
So, I refused to ask any questions, accomplishing this Herculean task by gripping my new fingerless gloves very, very tightly on my lap, holding my breath, and rolling my tongue to one side within my mouth.
“But mostly good, right Mom? Abram’s choices are mostly good?” Marie cut in and her tone held an undercurrent of hardness, one my sister and my mom used on me and my brother when they didn’t want us embarrassing them in public.
Clearly, Marie was trying to be a good sister. I adored her for it, but I also wanted her to mind her own damn business and let her mother spill all the Abram beans.
“And he’s like a big thundercloud when he’s upset—” Pamela sighed again and set her chin in her palm, obviously not taking Marie’s hint, but she also wore a soft smile “—won’t listen. Stubborn.”
“Remember when he found out about Santa Claus?” Pamela pointed at her daughter but didn’t wait for her to respond. “Took him a year to forgive his dad and me. A year! Even longer to forgive Marie, since she knew before he did. Said the trust had been broken and we’d all lied to him. He was seven. Thank God we never did the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny with him, he might’ve sought emancipation! Always been that way.” She made that clicking sound again with her tongue and teeth. “And so broody. Quiet. Keeps everything bottled up, like his dad. Won’t talk. And once he sets his mind to something, doesn’t matter how nonsensical and foolhardy, there’s no changing it.”
“Anyway, I think today is the most I’ve seen him smile. Ever.” Marie tried again to shift the conversation back on track, adding softly, “He’s clearly smitten with you.”
Again, she’d caught me off guard. Again, I opened my mouth to respond, to explain that Abram and I were not a unit, or together, or dating, or anything of the sort. But this time guilt kept me from speaking. I’d let them talk and talk and talk about Abram, revealing things they may not have revealed if they’d known the truth about us.
There was no us.
And admitting that we weren’t a unit now would certainly crush me under the weight of confession-awkwardness. So, I closed my mouth, and I returned her smile.
And I said nothing.
Vector Addition and Subtraction
Abram was the one who drove us back to Chicago through some unspoken, implicit agreement.
But then, once we were on the highway, he said, “You don’t mind if I drive, do you? I’d like to get back before my next birthday.”
Glaring at him from the passenger seat, I asked, “When is your birthday?”
“In a few months.”
I rolled my eyes, pressing my lips together, pretending to be irritated. This made him laugh, a good, deep sound. I liked the sound, and I liked the way a smile looked on his face, which was why I’d pretended to be irritated. He seemed to enjoy teasing me. And, you know what? I liked it too.
Lisa’s teasing hadn’t been actual teasing—but rather passive aggressive barbs—in a very long time. Leo used to tease me, but we’d been speaking so infrequently these days and our calls had grown shorter and shorter.
Other than Allyn, no one teased me. I’d been in very real danger of taking myself too seriously, a personality trait of my parents’ I’d never wanted to share. I firmly believed that good-natured teasing was good for keeping the ego in check, and therefore, it was good for the soul.
We drove in silence for a while and I thought about the day’s events, feeling a small smile on my lips wax and wane at intervals. My brain kept snagging on and returning to one short conversation during dessert where Abram’s dad, a man of few words, had questioned Abram about his music.
“How’s the song writing going?” He sounded genuinely interested and I found this enthralling.
As far as I could piece together, Abram had dropped out of high school to pursue music. Where most parents would still be holding a grudge about potentially being embarrassed by their child’s rash choices (in front of their friends and colleagues), Abram’s parents seemed more interested in having a relationship with their son.
The attention evident in Mr. Harris’s voice was one of the main reasons I’d kept smiling at the memory. How would that be? To have a parent interested in what brought you joy? To have a parent who valued the actual relationship over the value of having the relationship?
The other reason I kept smiling had to do with Abram’s response.
“Great,” Abram answered immediately. But then, as though needing to clarify, he added, “Now it’s great.”
Abram lifted his chin in my direction, his gaze sliding over me in a way that had my breath catching before his eyes dropped to his cup and he cleared his throat. “Since Lisa, it’s been going great.”
“Really?” I sat up straighter, equally confused and surprised by this news.
“Yes.” He rolled his lips between his teeth, not raising his eyes from the surface of his coffee. “Really.”
I’d felt myself smile in wonder, still confused, but also flattered. An enjoyable, spreading warmth had expanded in my chest, a feeling I couldn’t seem to stop chasing on the quiet drive home.
I appreciated the quiet. Finding other people who also liked quiet, with whom it wasn’t strained or awkward, seemed to be a rare occurrence.
I thought I’d be spending the time grappling with residual guilt instead of trying to relive the best parts of the day, but I didn’t. In retrospect, passively plying Abram’s mom and sister for information about him didn’t feel like such a terrible thing.
Sure, in the moment, I’d worried that all my morals and ethics were crumbling around me, that failing to correct someone else’s misunderstanding today would undoubtedly lead to running for a US senate seat and golfing with big tobacco tomorrow.