“It’s not your thanks I want.”
“Then what do you want?” And I don’t know why, but I hold my breath, waiting for his answer.
He tilts his head and studies me a moment. “For you to share dinner in bed with me.”
I let the air trickle from my lips. It is the perfect answer, even if I sense it wasn’t what he really wanted to say. “I’d like that.”
I excuse myself to go to the bathroom and quickly change into some shorts I purchased when I bought my t-shirt, and while doing so, I begin to worry dinner is an opening for Liam to drill me with questions. But I don’t let myself linger in the bathroom, where I’m dodging the mirror. I won’t like what I see in it.
Reassuring myself that I’m good at dodging what I don’t want known, I join Liam on the bed. With my legs curled to my side, and the pizza boxes on the mattress between us, I dig into a slice of pizza with a hunger, not for food, but for something no one can take from me. My love of cheese pizza is like every little personal part of me that no name or location change can strip away.
“Why don’t I tell you about your neighborhood?” Liam suggests, dusting off his hands, after digging into his food with a heartiness that beats mine by double.
“You know it well enough to tell me about it?”
“Actually, yes. I consulted on a building project not far from here a few years back. I stayed across the street for a month. When you come out of the building, go right a block and then left, and there are two coffee shops and several restaurants. If you go left instead of right when you exit, two blocks down in a straight line is a mall. There’s a Whole Foods to the right of the mall and another grocery store to the left. You have everything from doctors to hair salons all in a small radius. A lot like New York. Which is good, since the city as a whole is not. Most people have cars, and I assume you don’t have one of those being delivered tomorrow.”
My heart sinks at what I haven’t considered, and I fight the urge to set down my half-eaten second slice of pizza, afraid I will give away how rattled I am. Instead, I pause on a bite and say, “No. No car,” before chomping down on more than my food. I now have one more thing I haven’t thought about and will have to face tomorrow.
“You do have your personal belongings being delivered, right?”
On that question, I abandon eating, setting down my slice and reaching for my soda, effectively avoiding eye contact with Liam. “Yes. I’ll have my things tomorrow.” It’s not a lie, I tell myself. Whatever I buy will be here.
He shuts the lid to his pizza box and I set down my drink and do the same with mine. I’m not hungry. That’s the thing about lies or almost lies. They make everything else harder to swallow along with them. I wonder if that is why he ignored the second half of his pizza. He can’t swallow it with my lies either. And now he’s just staring at me. He’s good at that, I’ve discovered, really darn good at fixing me in his bright blue stare and seeming to see right through to my soul. I almost think his silence is as dangerous as his questions. He’s analytical, a smart, calculated thinker. I see it in his eyes, and his job and his success backs up my assessment. I have to get him to stop trying to piece together my story.
I scoot to the headboard, pull my knees to my chest, and work for diversion. “You don’t seem like a recluse.”
“Subject of your belongings diverted,” he comments. “Check. That’s one of the ‘when you’re ready’ topics.” Blood rushes to my cheeks but he doesn’t give me time to reply, continuing, “I learned privacy from Alex, who was my mentor. He lost his wife and child in a car accident a year before I met him.”
“Oh God. How old was the child?”
He moves the pizza boxes to the floor and then sits against the headboard beside me, and we both turn to rest on one shoulder to face each other. “I never saw a picture. Looking back, I think seeing her hurt too much.”
And I wish for a picture every day of those I’ve lost, and it terrifies me that I can no longer remember their faces. It terrifies me that Liam is so near, so able to read what I feel. It terrifies me that he won’t be tomorrow. “To lose a child must be the worst kind of pain.”
His lips draw into a grim line. “I’m told it changed him, though I have no comparison. I didn’t know him before he lost them. He didn’t talk about them and he didn’t do press or make public appearances. When I began getting my prodigy architect buzz, he told me the hype could go to my head and ruin me, thus forbidding me any press as well. I deviated from his no-press policy one time, and one time only, when he was still alive. It was a hard lesson I’ve never forgotten. My ego and desire to share my success with the world was at Alex’s expense. His personal story ended up in the papers. He went crazy on me and then crumbled like I didn’t think he could crumble. That day changed me forever. I forgot about my ego and to this day I rarely grant interviews and I rarely do appearances.”
A little part of me softens for Liam, and I don’t know what overcomes me. I reach up and touch his jaw. “Now I know why you’re so tight-lipped about your accomplishments.”
He grabs my hand and I am somehow more complete because he’s touching me. “I keep my private life private and I let my work speak for me elsewhere.”
I want to tell him how much I envy his confidence and sense of identity that he doesn’t appear to need anyone else to validate. But if I do, he’ll ask me about who I am and who I want to be and even if I could freely talk, I couldn’t tell him what I no longer know. “That still doesn’t spell recluse to me.”