My mother slid the magazine off her lap and onto the couch. “You’ll still have the info desk, though,” she said. “Right?”
“Oh, yeah, right,” I said, too quickly. “I mean, yes. Of course.”
A pause. Too long of a pause for my taste.
“So how is the library?” she said finally. “You hardly mention it anymore.”
“It’s okay. Just, you know, the same.” This was definitely the truth. My days at the library had not improved at all in the last few weeks. The difference was it just bothered me less. I put in my time, avoided Bethany and Amanda as much as possible, and got out of there the minute the big hand hit three. “It’s work. If it was fun, they’d call it fun, right?”
She smiled, nodding. Uh-oh, I thought. I just knew there was something coming. I was right.
“I was out for a lunch meeting yesterday, and I saw Mrs. Talbot,” she said now. “She told me that Jason is really enjoying the Scholars’ Retreat he’s on this summer.”
“Really,” I replied, reaching up to smooth my part again.
“She also said,” she continued, crossing her legs, “that Jason told her you two are taking a break from your relationship for the summer.”
Oh, great, I thought. “Um, yeah,” I said. “I mean, yes.”
For a second, it was so quiet I could hear the refrigerator humming. I remembered these awkward pauses from Caroline’s homecomings, as well. It was now, in the empty spaces between accusations and defenses, that I had always wondered what, exactly, was happening.
“I was surprised,” she said finally, “that you didn’t mention it to me. She said this happened weeks ago.”
“Well, it is just a break,” I told her, trying to make my voice sound cheery, confident. “We’re going to talk as soon as he gets back. We both just thought for now it was the best thing to do.”
My mother put her hands in her lap, folding them around each other, and leaned forward slightly. I knew that stance. I’d seen it at a million sales cocktails. She was moving in. “I have to say, Macy,” she began, and I felt something inside me start to deflate slightly, “that I’m a little bit concerned about you right now.”
“Concerned?” I said.
She nodded, keeping her eyes on me. “You’ve been out an awful lot of nights lately with your new friends. You’re working so many hours catering that I fear you’re not giving your full attention to the library job, which is your most important commitment in terms of your college transcript.”
“I haven’t missed a single day there,” I told her.
“I know you haven’t. I’m just . . .” she trailed off, glancing out the window. Now the sun was on her face, and I could immediately make out tiny lines around her eyes, how tired she looked. Not for the first time, I felt a stab of worry, totally overreacting I knew, that maybe she was pushing herself too hard. I hadn’t noticed with my dad. Neither of us had. “This coming year is so important for you, in terms of college and your future. It’s crucial that you do well on your SATs and are focused on your classes. Remember how you told me you wanted to be working toward preparing for those goals this summer?”
“I am,” I said. “I’ve been studying my words and taking practice tests online.”
Another glance out the window. Then she said, “You’ve also been spending nights out with your friend Christine—”
“Kristy,” I said.
“—as well as a bunch of other new friends I haven’t met and don’t know.” She looked down at her hands, folding and unfolding them in her lap. “And then I hear this about you and Jason. I just wonder why you didn’t feel like you could tell me about that.”
“It’s just a break,” I said, “and besides, Jason doesn’t have anything to do with my goals. They’re totally separate things.”
“Are they, though?” she asked. “When you were with Jason, you were home more. Studying more. Now I hardly see you, and I can’t help but wonder if the two are connected somehow.”
I couldn’t argue with that. In the last few weeks, I had changed. But in my mind, those changes had been for the better: I was finally getting over things, stepping out of the careful box I’d drawn around myself all those months ago. It was a good thing, I thought. Until now.
“Macy,” she said, her voice softening. “All I’m saying is that I want to be sure your priorities are straight. You’ve worked so hard to get where you are. I don’t want you to lose that.”
Again, I could agree with this. But while for her it meant how I’d pushed myself to be perfect, gotten good grades, scored the smart boyfriend, and recovered from my loss to be composed, together, fine just fine, for me, it worked in reverse. I’d been through so much, falling short again and again, and only recently had found a place where who I was, right now, was enough.
This was always the problem with my mother and me, I suddenly realized. There were so many things we thought we agreed on, but anything can have two meanings. Like sides of a coin, it just matters how it falls.
“I don’t want that either,” I said.
“Good. Then we’re on the same page. That’s all I wanted to be sure of.” She smiled, then squeezed my hand as she stood up, our accepted sign of affection. As she started toward her office, I headed for the stairs and my room. I was halfway there when she called after me.
I turned around. She was standing at her office door, her hand on the knob. “Yes?”
“I just want you to know,” she said, “that you can talk to me about things. Like Jason. I want you to feel like you can share things with me. Okay?”
I nodded. “Okay.”
As I climbed the stairs, I knew that my mother had already moved on to the next challenge, this issue now filed under Resolved. But for me, it wasn’t that simple. Of course she’d think I could tell her anything: she was my mother. In truth, though, I couldn’t. I’d been wanting to talk to her for over a year about what was bothering me. I’d wanted to reach out to her, hold her close, tell her I was worried about her, but I couldn’t do that either. So it was just a formality, what we’d just agreed on, a contract I’d signed without reading the fine print. But I knew what it said. That I could be imperfect, but only so much. Human, but only within limits. And honest, to her or to myself, never.