I loved that he was different than the men of my past. He didn’t have the cloak of aristocracy, didn’t care enough to be aloof, snooty, could care less if we played by society’s rules or wrote our own. We had created, in three months of togetherness, an igloo of sorts in San Francisco society. A haven of two, a place where I felt comfortable saying ‘screw it,’ even if I didn’t actually wander too far outside any lines. It would come, my world was expanding, my boundaries blurring. I was moving in the right direction toward happiness. Brant, in his oblivion to anything but work, and us, was pulling me there.
Love? The word hadn’t been verbalized yet, but it was coming. In our eyes, touches, in the affection. But both of us were cautious, guarding our virgin hearts with ineffective hands. I kept reminding myself that it had only been three months. Three months since I’d finally returned his call and we both dove into this relationship. I rolled forward, breaking the view of his beautiful profile and turned, fitting my body into the curve of his own, his arm lifting then tightening around me as he sighed into my neck, my name a whisper off his lips.
It didn’t make sense. He was too perfect. How was I the first woman to tie him down?
In five hours, we would drive two hours, and I would meet his parents. Maybe they were the reason my perfect boyfriend was still a bachelor. Maybe they were satanic, or would ask for a sample of my skin. Maybe they were doomsday preppers, who would teach me to can vegetables and show me their collection of guns. Brant didn’t say much about them, his primary point of contact being Jillian. The Internet provided even less. But maybe they were the reason for his single-dom. I slid down in the bed, pressed a soft kiss to Brant’s forearm, and tried to go to sleep.
“Would you care for more lemonade?” The delicate lilt of Gloria Sharp caused me to lift my eyes.
“No, thank you.” I took a sip of the still full glass, wondering if her question was a muted attempt to get me to drink the tepid lemon water. I set the glass down, trading glassware for silverware, cutting a small piece of chicken and placing it in my mouth.
Food. The excuse we all have to not talk, chewing providing a convenient break from the polite conversation we had all endured. The Sharps seemed unaccustomed to company. They stared at me, as if I was a new species, on display at a museum, asking few questions, content to look, from me to Brant to me to Brant, as if trying to put the pieces together in a puzzle that didn’t match.
Brant stood, his plate in hand, leaning over and kissing the top of my head. “Excuse me for a moment.”
I looked up with a smile, begged him with my eyes to stay, but he nodded his head back. “Restroom,” he explained. I watched him leave, heading through the dining room, my eyes pulling on his red polo shirt to no avail. I turned back to the Sharps, finding two sets of eyes on me. No chewing, just staring. I swallowed. “I love your home. The fact that this is where Brant—”
“Ms. Fairmont,” Brant’s father spoke, the voice of a man older than his years. Strained. Thick with unuse.
I paused in my progression of the conversation. Smoothed my napkin in my lap and waited for him to continue. Smiled. God, I hated using that smile. “Yes, Mr. Sharp?”
“You should probably know that we don’t think it is a good idea for Brant to be in a relationship. You seem like a very nice girl, but you should probably think about moving on.”
Smile. I’d mastered the action. Learned to keep my eyes relaxed, my face muscles loose. So the action looked natural, not forced or tight. You could tell so much about a person from the way they smiled. But not me. My smile gave away nothing of the curses of my soul. “Why is that, Mr. Sharp?” I looked at his wife. Her eyes down, hands nervous.
“Brant’s done better in life when he hasn’t had a girlfriend.”
Brant’s a grown man. I kept the smile in place. Brought it down a level so I didn’t look deranged. “I care very much for your son. He’s a brilliant man. You should be very proud of where he is in life.”
The man gave me an exasperated smile, as if he was ready for my bullshit to be over. “We’d just like it if you could keep your distance. Restrict your time with him to a minimum. Let him focus on work. He does best when he does that.”
There was the sound of a door somewhere else in the house and I looked up, seeing Brant duck in, snagging a piece of meat off a skillet in the kitchen before continuing on, his eyes sheepishly meeting mine. I placed my fork down. “Dinner was delicious, Mrs. Sharp and thank you both for having me over. Brant, do you mind showing me the basement? I’d love to see your old workshop.”
His mother’s mouth twisted, the father’s hardened, and they could both kiss my ass because Brant was an adult, one more intelligent than the rest of this house put together, myself included. The woman rose, the flop of her sandals against tile as she snagged my plate and headed to the kitchen, a glance at my half-eaten meal not going unnoticed. Brant breezed through the room, grabbing my hand on his way. One short hallway later, he swung open a door, and I stepped down a flight of stairs into the basement.
Roughly six hundred square feet of dimly lit space, the back wall illuminated by fluorescents—an unimpressive setting for impressive feats. He sat on a stool, spinning a little as he stretched out his arms and leaned back. “This is it. My home for almost a decade.”
“Fancy.” I walked slowly along the counter, a drag of my finger bringing up enough dust to choke a horsefly. I looked over the wall, a meticulous system of cubbies and cubes, no photos or mementos stuck to its hole-dotted surface. “Has this place changed since you lived here?”
He pulled open the closest drawer—got distracted for a moment, flipping through items before pushing it closed and leaning back. Looking over the room, he said. “Looks about the same.” He ran his hand over the grid work of storage. “I put all of this in place. Looks like Dad hasn’t touched it.” Reaching out, he patted the worn wood counter. “This is where I built Sheila.”
“Sheila?” I grinned at the fond look in his eyes and took a seat on the stool next to him. The room felt good. Lived in, despite its decades of loneliness.
“Sheila Anderson. The hottest chick in my third grade class. Jillian started homeschooling me in fourth grade. So Sheila Anderson’s memory had to keep me alive. Focused. I thought building a computer would make me cool.”
“Trying to impress her?”