They say optimism is like a muscle. You have to exercise it to make it stronger. You have to practice it to make it second nature. They also say happiness is a choice, and it hits me now that perhaps I’ve been inadvertently choosing unhappiness for years without even realizing it.
Growing up, we had good years and lean years. Some years we needed help affording groceries. I back-to-school shopped at thrift shops more times than I can count. Used the same backpack through most of elementary school and into middle school until it fell apart at the seams. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that Mom finally got a decent job with good benefits and a steady paycheck and life got a little more predictable.
My point is, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop.
It dropped when just weeks ago, I was getting ready for school and realized Mom still hadn’t left for work yet, which was unusual. When I went to her room, I found her still sleeping in her bed.
Only she wasn’t sleeping.
She was ice cold.
Turns out she’d had an aneurysm, died in her sleep.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my life, it’s that it’s not a matter of if the other shoe is going to drop … but when.
“So what do you say?” he asks.
There’s an earnestness in his voice that’s hard to resist, and my brain is firing on all cylinders and in all different directions.
Do I listen to my gut? My heart? My head?
If my mom were still here, she’d know. She always gave the best advice. It was always equal parts rational and heartfelt. The irony isn’t lost on me that if she were still around, I wouldn’t be here, faced with this dilemma.
A random memory comes to mind from a few years back. I was having a rough time at school for whatever fifteen-year-old reason at the time and Mom called us both in sick. We took the day and drove to the ocean. She said sometimes life gets hard and it’s okay to bend the rules a little if you need a break.
Well, life is hard as hell now.
And I could use a break.
Maybe I would have that with Thayer. If we kept everything on the down low, kept this strictly between us … maybe this could work.
“No expectations,” I say. “And full honesty. Brutal honesty if needed.”
“Okay. Easy enough.”
“We tell no one,” I say. “We treat this like a secret our lives depend on.”
“If this implodes … there’s to be no drama, no fighting, no going back and forth. We both walk away like it never happened.”
“And if it doesn’t implode?”
I don’t have a response, at least not one that immediately comes to mind because my pessimistic monkey brain is convinced this won’t work out, that we’ll go our separate ways at the end of the summer and never see each other again and years from now, we’ll be nothing more than foggy memories of a meaningless summer fling from our younger days.
“We’ll deal with it when the time comes,” I say. It’s the best answer I can give him at this time.
A dozen other questions flood my mind … like what do we do if we get caught? But I don’t bring it up because we won’t get caught.
And we won’t because we can’t.
My skin tingles and my lips go numb and for some bizarre reason, the thought of looking Thayer in the eye right now makes me anxious. It’s like our entire dynamic has shifted and now the floodgates have been lifted and yet here we are, hesitating.
Or at least, I’m hesitating.
He’s probably trying to demonstrate that he’s still a perfect gentleman.
“So what do we do now?” I finally ask after I manage to steady my breathing.
Slow and steady, his hand reaches for mine, and I ignore my dizzying nerves in order to look his way.
His full lips inch up in the corner. “I think we kiss. But first …”
Thayer guides me into his lap, running his palms down my outer thighs as my heart hammers harder than it ever has.
Our gazes catch, lingering for what feels like forever.
I secretly love that he isn’t rushing this, isn’t treating me like shark chum. That makes me think he wants to enjoy this, wants to take his time and prove me wrong.
Conversely it also makes me want him that much more …
“When’s your birthday?” he asks.
“I’m trying to get to know you.” He winks. “When is it?”
“November 8th,” I say, adding, “Scorpio. In case you couldn’t tell.”
“Explains a lot …”
“April 3rd,” he says.
“What’s your favorite kind of ice cream?”
“Not a big fan of ice cream.”
“You’re lucky that’s not a deal breaker for me. I’m a huge mint chip fanatic. Used to eat it by the gallons every summer. My parents practically had to put me in rehab for it once because I was so addicted.”