When they reached the front entrance of the dormitory, Allison stopped. She pushed out a deep breath from her lungs. ”Maybe I should just go back to Providence,” she said.
Reagan’s eyes grew wide. “Tonight? It’s after midnight,” she pointed out. “I don’t even think there’s trains leaving the city anymore.”
Allison looked away. “It’s … I’m not feeling very well.”
Not buying Allison’s excuse, Reagan gathered her courage. “Can we talk about your total Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act from the party now?”
Allison’s features were stoical. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said with equal passivity.
“Don’t give me that. We were having such a good time, or so I thought,” Reagan said, exasperated. ”What happened to trigger High-School-Allison? I thought we were through with her.”
“I don’t know,” Allison said in a quiet voice. The sidewalk was suddenly very interesting and her gaze remained downcast.
Reagan continued to stare at the uncomfortable girl before her. Something Ashley had said at the party poked at her brain – Are you sure you two hated each other in high school?
She repeated her original answer: “It’s complicated,” she whispered.
Allison looked back up, not having heard Reagan clearly. “What’d you say?”
“Don’t move,” Reagan husked. She took a step forward.
“Huh?” Allison’s eyes widened in alarm as she followed the trajectory of Reagan’s mouth. She watched her momentarily hesitate. Reagan bit down on her lower lip before pressing her mouth fully against Allison’s own.
Allison’s eyes remained open for a second before she felt Reagan press harder against her. Her eyes fluttered shut and she released an involuntary groan. She was startled by how soft and pliable Reagan’s mouth was. Although she’d often found herself staring at her thick, dimpled lips (although she’d always told herself that it wasn’t unusual for one girl to admire another pretty girl), she’d never imagined a kiss could feel so tender. It was a far cry from the chapped lips and rough stubble of a man’s kiss.
She felt something gnaw at the pit of her stomach. At first she thought it was dread, but when Reagan’s teeth softly nipped at her bottom lip, she realized what the feeling truly was—desire. With their lips moving freely against each other’s, Allison threw caution to the wind, shut her eyes, and threw herself eagerly into the embrace.
I rubbed at the back of my neck to find it hot to the touch. The temperature in my bedroom felt impossibly warm, even though I knew my parents kept the thermostat at a reliable 72 degrees, no matter the weather outside.
I turned my book to the next page before glancing toward my closed bedroom door. Had I remembered to lock the door?
No sooner had the question formed in my head when the door swung open and my mom’s head popped into my room. “Dinner’s ready,” she chirped.
I shut my book as unobtrusively as possible and wiggled it under a nearby pillow. “Okay. Thanks.”
My mom lingered in the open doorway. “What are you reading?”
I pushed the book deeper beneath my pillowcase. “Something for school.”
“Homework and the semester hasn’t even started?” She sounded impressed.
“Some professors have assignments due the first day of classes,” I explained.
That part wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t true for me this semester.
Instead of leaving to finish preparing dinner, my mom seemed to get more comfortable. She crossed her legs and leaned against the door frame. “I’ll be sad to see you go back tomorrow. I know you were only home for a month, but I got used to you being around.”
“It’s not that far away. And I’ll be back for spring break and summer,” I reminded her. We had the same conversation every time a school break ended and I had to go back.
“I know; but it’s not the same,” my mom said, looking wistful. “And soon enough you’ll be graduating, and then I’ll really never see you.”
“I’ve still got another year and a half of school, Mom.”
“It’ll go by fast. You’ll see. The past twenty years flew by.”
“Mom,” I sighed.
She held up her hands. “I know, I know. Children grow up. They fly the coop. That’s how these things work. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with myself when you’re gone for good.”
I made a face. The dramatics were exhausting. “You make it sound like I’m dying. Besides, you still have Brian,” I pointed out. My brother had a few more years until he went off to college.
“It’s not the same. You’re my daughter.” She passed her hand in front of her face to brush away imaginary hair. Instead, her fingers stopped to flick at newly-formed tears.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” she proclaimed. She forced a tight smile to her lips, brave but watery.
She looked like she needed a hug, but I didn’t want to provoke waterworks any more than our brief conversation had already caused. I stayed rooted on my bed.
“I’ll be right down,” I promised.
When my mom disappeared from the doorway, I retrieved my book from under my pillow. The book’s cover and title were innocuous enough—far more innocent than some of the other covers I’d seen with their leggy heroines and seam-bursting breasts.
The book belonged to the public library, but I hadn’t been brave enough to properly check it out. Instead, I’d tucked it into my backpack and had hustled out the front doors. The local branch was too small and old fashioned to have electronic sensors in their books. The librarian would stamp a small notecard in the front of the book with a return date and recorded your name in her desktop computer. It was only a book, but I didn’t want my name associated with the novel. I lived in a small suburban town, and like any other city of similar size, gossip was the lifeblood of my community. I figured I would be back to college before anyone noticed the lesbian novel section was one book short.
I’d never stolen anything in my life. I’d never caught the kleptomania bug like some of my friends did in middle school—a pack of gum, a tube of chapstick, a pack of batteries slipped into an oversized coat pocket. My stomach had twisted itself into knots just having the knowledge that my friends had stolen something, petty or not.
I got out of bed to join my family for dinner downstairs. I put the book under my pillow again, but thinking better of it, I shoved the book under my mattress. The symbolism wasn’t entirely lost on me: I was literally sleeping on a bed of lies.
+ + +
“Hey, ugly,” my brother Brian greeted as I descended the staircase.
“Hey, smelly,” I returned.
He curled his lip. “Takes one to know one.”
“So you’re admitting that you stink,” I teased.
“Why can’t you two behave?” my mom called from the kitchen. “I thought you’d have grown out of that by now.”
I couldn’t help one more quip: “Sure, once Brian learns how to use deodorant.”
My brother pressed his hands over his heart as though injured.
“That’s enough,” my mom admonished, exiting the kitchen. She held a ceramic casserole dish in her oven-mittened hands. “Some day when your dad and I are gone, you’ll be all each other has and you’ll be glad for the company.”
“Yeah, just me, Hunter, and her 16 cats,” Brian crowed.
My brother was quite the comedian.
I hovered near my chair and fished a cherry tomato out of the large wooden salad bowl. “Is Dad home yet?”
My mom’s mouth formed a hard line: “No.”
Dinner at the Dyson household followed a strict routine. We sat in the same chairs and ate off the same dishes we’d had for as long as I could remember. My mom cooked all day and had dinner on the table promptly at 6:00 p.m. while my dad tended to breeze home a reliable half an hour to forty-five minutes late. I could probably count on two hands how many times he’d made it home on time. I’d once asked my mom why she didn’t postpone the meal at least half an hour, but she’d looked at me like I was from another planet, so I’d never made the suggestion again.
“Brian, go wash your hands,” my mom instructed.
My brother, already seated, held his hands in the air like a surrendering criminal. “They’re clean.”
“Wash your hands,” she insisted, this time more sternly.
With the grumble that only a teenaged boy could muster, Brian slunk out of his seat and obediently left for the first floor bathroom. He moved as if he had no bones in his body.
My mom had a lot of rules at the table—no TV or music in the background. No hats, no phones, no reading. No elbows, no talking with your mouth full, no talking about unpleasant topics. Finish the food on your plate. Beverage choices were two—water or skim milk. But at least she didn’t make us wait until my dad got home to eat. It was rude to let one’s food grow cold, she’d said.
The three of us ate in slow silence. A polite request for food to be passed around the table filled the quiet. We continued to eat even when the front door opened and closed, half an hour later, with my dad’s arrival.
“Sorry I’m late!” I heard him call from the front of the house. “There was an accident on 94.”
There always seemed to be a lot of accidents on the highway.
My dad walked directly from the foyer to the dining room after leaving his leather briefcase by the front door. He loosened his tie and surveyed the dining room. “Hello, family,” he cheerfully greeted. “How was everyone’s day?”
Not waiting for an answer, he kissed my mom on the cheek before he sat down. He didn’t have to wash his hands before dinner. My mom’s rules typically didn’t apply to him. “Smells great—what are we having?”
“Lasagna,” my mom answered. “If yours is cold, I can put it back in the oven.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” my dad replied.
I chewed my food with silent resentment. I hated how my mom catered to him. He was the one always late to dinner; he knew how to work a microwave. I loved my parents, but these small, everyday, mundane interactions made me hate them—he for not working harder to be on time for once and she for letting him get away with it.
“What’s new with everyone?” my dad opened, as if we hadn’t seen each other just that morning at breakfast.
“I bought mulch today to go in the flower beds,” my mom announced.
My dad drank the majority of his water in one, giant gulp. “Isn’t that a little early? We just packed up the Christmas decorations.”
“It was on sale at the garden store,” my mom defended. “And once I get you to sell that snowmobile that you never use, there’ll be plenty of room in the garage.”
“The cedar or the cocoa shells?” he asked.
“I went with cedar this year. The cocoa shells always blow around when you first lay them out.”
“That’s because you’ve got to wet them down with the hose,” my dad said. “I tell you that every year.”
“I know, but it seems like such a waste and expense,” she sighed. “I’m already paying more for the mulch, but then I have to spend money on water to make it last?”
“We could always have one of those yards like folks do in Arizona,” my dad said between mouthfuls. “I wouldn’t mind not having to cut grass anymore.”
“We are not going to have a cactus yard.”
My parents’ inane conversation faded in the background to an indistinguishable murmur as I followed their volley, back and forth. Did they still love each other? I wondered. They were still together, unlike the majority of my friends’ parents, but that didn’t mean their relationship hadn’t lost its spark. But maybe it was unreasonable to expect anything more than housekeeping conversations after being together for over twenty years. When my parents had gotten married all those years ago, was this what they imagined their life would look like, two decades in the future? What had filled their dinner conversations before they’d had kids?
“Do you think we’ve seen the last of the snow?” My dad thought aloud. “I’m almost at the end of a tank of gas in the snowblower, but I don’t want to put more in if I’m just going to have to siphon it out in the spring.”
“God, you guys are boring,” Brian blurted out.
“Brian.” My mom shot my brother a look of warning.
“Well, it’s true!” he exclaimed. ”Don’t blame me when I pass out in my lasagna from boredom.”
“Show some respect,” my dad growled.
“You think they’re boring, too, Hunter.” My brother flailed for some backup.
I bent my head down, eyes focused on the little flowered pattern at the edges of my dinner plate. I knew better than to get involved. I’d be going back to school the next day, and morning couldn’t come soon enough.