‘I believe what he’s told me. I believe what he says he feels. And when it comes down to it … what he says he does or feels is mine to believe or not. No one else’s.’ My voice strengthens with these declarations, and I see that this is how rebellions of all kinds gain strength – inside the avowals.
My mother narrows her eyes, and I know her question before she articulates it fully. ‘Dori. Are you and he –’
‘Mom. Please don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to, because I won’t lie to you. Not any more.’
Her face is a picture of defeat, individual features downturned in surrender. ‘So you expect us to sit by while you begin a sordid relationship with a … a celebrity.’ Her voice cracks, but wobbles on. ‘A young man who’ll use you and cast you aside when he tires of you –’
‘If that’s what you want to believe. If that’s what you think I’m capable of.’
‘I don’t know what you’re capable of any more, Dori,’ she snaps.
I sigh. ‘I see that. But maybe you never did.’
Those are perhaps the truest words any of us have just spoken.
When I open the door, he pulls off his sunglasses and steps inside, as beautiful as always. He’s toned-down – as regular-boy as possible, for him: beneath his favourite Lakers cap, brim pulled low, wisps of blond hair fall across his forehead and curl around his ears and temples. He’s wearing his button-fly jeans. His navy T-shirt isn’t too closely fitted, but even still, it can’t hide the solid curve of his wide shoulders and sculpted torso.
I press my face to his chest. Pulling me close, he wraps his arms around me and takes a deep, easy breath as I curl into him. I know that nothing is static. Nothing remains the same forever, no matter how much I wish it would. But in this moment, I love this boy, and I know he loves me, and I don’t care if at some point that will no longer be true.
But my parents? I recall the words we exchanged and all the ones we held back, and I can’t picture them ever coming around to accepting him – accepting us.
‘Hey.’ He turns the brim of the cap backwards and tips my chin to examine my eyes. ‘What’s this?’
I duck my worried face back to his chest, muffling my words. ‘I can’t believe I thought this would work.’
He cups my shoulders in his palms, angling me away from his chest and peering into my eyes. ‘So little confidence in my charm, Dori? I won you over, didn’t I? Although I suppose we’d fare better if we don’t reveal a few of my more appealing attributes to your parents … Your obsession with my button-fly jeans, for example, might lose something in translation.’
I choke an incredulous laugh. This is never going to work. Without loosening my grip on him, I chew my lip and he quirks an eyebrow, waiting. ‘Can we just run away from home?’
His mouth breaks into a grin, eyes flashing mischief. ‘Sure. Where to? Paris? Madrid? It’s summer in Melbourne, you know.’
I’m so not used to these surreal sorts of conversations. I know he’s playing along with my apprehension, giving me an out he knows I won’t take, but if my request was serious, none of these are impossible destinations. A couple of days ago, he asked me about my birthday, which is a month away. In a humorous attempt at subtlety, he brought up cars a half-hour later, quizzing me about transmission types and favourite colours.
Not quite believing he was seriously considering such an outrageous gift, I mentioned that I won’t need a car at Cal. ‘Hmm, yeah,’ he said, preoccupied with a video game. I thought that was the end of it until later, sitting at his kitchen table, he asked me how I intended to get around in Berkeley without a car.
‘Awesome public transportation. And I’m taking my bike.’
He paused, a forkful of pasta halfway between his plate and his mouth. ‘A bike, as in a bicycle?’
I laughed. ‘No – the other kind of bike. I’m actually a closet Hell’s Angel. Wanna go for a spin on my Harley?’
I squeaked when he pulled me from my chair on to his lap.
Hands gripping my waist, he bowed his mouth to my ear and breathed, ‘Yes. Yes, I do.’ And then his father strode into the kitchen, announcing his presence by clattering dishes on to the butcher-block island while feigning ignorance of our PDA-laden presence at the table.
Now, I tap a finger against my chin and pretend to consider running away from home to Melbourne. If only. ‘I guess I should pack my swimsuit.’
‘Mmm. Better and better. Do you own a bikini?’
That single dimple appears at the edge of his lopsided smile. ‘Then I guess we have some shopping to do first.’ He lowers his mouth to mine just as my dad – who refuses to pretend he doesn’t see us – emerges from the hallway to his study and clears his throat.
‘Well, that went well.’ Sarcasm is a favourite line of defence for Reid.
I knew Mom and Dad might be inflexible. I couldn’t very well expect them to feign delight when they’re so opposed to the notion of Reid and me together, but I never thought they’d be openly prejudicial. My altruistic parents urged their daughters to reject racism, bigotry and intolerance, and our entire lives, Deb and I learned by following their examples. Now I’m facing the fact that their broad-mindedness only exists so long as the individuals aren’t famous and affluent.
I’m afraid to look up at him – to see how he’s dealing with the short, denigrating interview my parents just put him through. He seems remarkably unperturbed by what they said and how they said it – more so than I am. I’m livid and embarrassed.