“Do you talk about what’s going on with you?”
I tried to remember the conversation I overheard between my parents, right after my psych ward stint. Mom said it was good for me to have someone who listened—
“He’s a good listener,” I said.
“Do you talk about what’s going on with him?”
What? “What do you mean?”
She turned to face me, her features neutral and her stare direct. She searched for something in my eyes, but whatever it was, she didn’t find it because she went on. “Noah’s parents are going out of town this weekend and they sent his sister to a friend’s house, so I said he could stay here.”
I nodded. “I know. . . .” I waited for the other shoe.
“I just want to make sure I don’t have to worry about you two.”
I shook my head emphatically. “Nope. No worries.”
She mixed something together in a bowl and then set it down on the counter. “How serious are you?”
“Not serious enough for you to worry,” I said with a light smile, scrambling for a way to distract her before the conversation got seriously awkward. “Hey, Mom,” I started, remembering my conversation with Daniel. “What do you know about Jungian archetypes?” Best segue ever.
She looked appropriately surprised. “Wow, I haven’t thought about that since college. . . . I could tell you more about Jacques Lacan than Carl Jung—he was more my speed, but let’s see,” she said, drawing out the word as her eyes flicked to the ceiling. “There’s the Self, I remember, and the Shadow,” she ticked them off on her fingers, “the Persona . . . I’m blanking on the other two main ones . . . There are other archetypal figures, though—the Great Mother, the Devil, the Hero . . .” Her voice trailed off for a second before her face lit up. “Oh! And the Sage and the Trickster, too—and I’m remembering something about Oedipus, but he could be creeping in from Freud? And Apollo, maybe—” she said before being interrupted by a knock on the door.
I was already on my way out of the kitchen when she asked me to see who it was.
I opened the door to find Noah standing there in a long-sleeve plaid shirt and dark jeans, with sunglasses on that masked his eyes. He looked perfectly disheveled and perfectly blank.
He only ever shows you what he wants you to see.
“Where is everyone?” he asked evenly.
I pushed Stephanie’s words away. “Mom’s in the kitchen,” I said. “And Daniel and Joseph went to go watch someone remove an alligator from a pool.”
Noah’s brows rose above the dark lenses.
He sighed. “I suppose I’m going to have to wait.”
Noah glanced at the kitchen. Not a peep from my mother. He shook his head. “Fuck it.” He reached into his back pocket and handed me a piece of paper.
No. Not a piece of paper. A picture. A faded color photograph of two girls; one blond and vibrant, wearing Noah’s half-smile, and the other—
“Holy shit,” I whispered.
The other was my grandmother.
NOAH,” MY MOTHER SAID, EMERGING FROM THE kitchen and wiping her hands on a towel. “We missed you.”
I stuffed the picture in my back pocket as furtively as I could.
“Thank you for having me,” Noah said. “I have something for you, from my parents—”
Mom smiled and shook her head. “Totally unnecessary.”
“It’s just in the car, I’ll go get it,” Noah said. He left and I ran to my bedroom and hid the picture before my mother saw it or I spilled water on it or it spontaneously burst into flame.
When I came back, Noah and my mom were talking in the kitchen.
“So where in London did you used to visit?” he asked her as he stirred what I thought might be salad dressing.
“Oh, you know, the usual.” She shrugged from the sink. “Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, that sort of thing.”
“Your mother grew up there?”
A hundred points for Noah Shaw. I almost mimed a high five.
“What did she do?”
“She was a student,” she said, her voice clipped.
“That’s so interesting—what university?”
My mother set the salad bowl in front of Noah. “Cambridge.”
Our eyes locked.
“Darwin College,” she went on. “She was in school for her PhD, but she never finished. I think that always bothered her. All right, you two,” she said, grinning at us. “Thanks for helping, you’re free to go.”
This was the one time ever in my life that I would rather be talking to my mother than taking my boyfriend to my room.
“It’s no trouble,” Noah said. He apparently felt the same way.
My mother dusted her hands off. “I’m finished. There’s nothing more to do. Go on,” she said, waving us away and shutting the conversation down. It would happen that she’d extend a grand gesture of trust when what I really wanted was more answers from her. But Noah and I had been dismissed and if we didn’t leave, she might get suspicious.
Once we were alone in my room, I closed the door almost all the way, turned to Noah and said, “Holy shit.”
I was completely overwhelmed, and backed up onto my bed. “Where’d you find it?”
“A random box of my mother’s things.”
I rubbed my forehead. “So they knew each other.”
“Seems that way. Where’s the picture?”
I went to my desk and took it out from the drawer, then handed it to Noah. “How did you know it was my grandmother?” I asked him.
He looked up at me, clearly perplexed. “Seriously?”
“Yeah . . .”
“You don’t see the resemblance?”
I glanced over at the picture again. Something bothered me about it, but it wasn’t that.
“When was this taken?”
He flipped the photograph over. “1987.” He paused. “My mother would have been in university,” he said. “At Cambridge.”
“Wait,” I said as an idea dawned. “Your parents went there together, didn’t they?”
“Yes,” Noah said slowly.
“Can you ask your dad? Maybe he remembers this.” I indicated the picture.
“He won’t talk about her.” Noah’s voice went flat.