The Dare

Page 25

“Yeah, it’s great. I definitely know elementary education is where I want to be. The kids are terrific.” I shake my head in amazement. “And they learn so fast. It’s incredible to watch their development over such a short period of time.”

I always knew I wanted to be teacher. Mom briefly tried to convince me to pursue a professor track like her, but that was a non-starter. The idea of getting up in front of a room full of college kids every day, being dissected under their scrutiny—I’d be breaking out in hives. No, with little kids, they’re engineered to see teachers as authority figures first. If you treat them fairly and with kindness and compassion, they love you. Sure, there are always the brats and bullies, but at that age, kids aren’t nearly as judgmental.

“What about you?” I ask. “How’s work?”

Mom offers a wry smile. “We’re almost through the worst of the Chernobyl effect. Unfortunately, it also means the research windfall has mostly dried up. Nice while it lasted, though.”

I laugh in response. The HBO series was the best and worst thing to happen to Mom’s nuclear science and engineering department at MIT since Fukushima. The sudden popularity brought a renewed energy to anti-nuke demonstrators who started gathering near campus or outside conferences. It also meant the research grants came pouring in, along with every fanboy who thought he was going to save the world. Except then they realize there’s a lot more money in robotics, automation, and aerospace engineering, and switch majors before their parents find out their tuition checks were feeding fantasies brought on by the guy who wrote Scary Movie 4. Good show, though.

“We’ve also finally filled Dr. Matsoukas’ old position. We hired a young woman from Suriname who studied with Alexis at Michigan State.”

Dr. Alexis Branchaud, or Aunt Alexis as she was known when she used to stay with us during visiting lectures at MIT, is like Mom’s evil French twin. The two of them with a bottle of Bacardi 151 were a natural disaster. For a while, I wondered if maybe Aunt Alexis was the reason I rarely saw my mom date.

“It’ll be the first time the department will be majority female.”

“Nice. Smashing atoms and the patriarchy. And what about extra-curriculars?” I ask.

She grins. “You know, normal kids don’t want to hear about their mothers’ sex lives.”

“And whose fault is that?”

“You have a point.”

“It’s big of you to say so.”

“Honestly,” she says, “I’ve been swamped with work. The department is overhauling the curriculum for the master’s thesis next year and Dr. Rapp and I have been taking care of Dr. Matsoukas’ advisees. Elaine set me up with her husband’s racquetball partner last month, but I draw a hard line at middle-aged men who still bite their fingernails.”

“I have a fake boyfriend.”

I don’t know why I blurt that out. Probably low blood sugar. I didn’t eat breakfast this morning and only had a bowl of grapes for dinner last night while I was studying for a quiz in diagnostic and corrective reading strategies.

“Okay.” My mother looks justifiably baffled. “Define fake boyfriend.”

“Well, it started off as a dare, and then it sort of became a joke. Now we might not be friends anymore because I might have gotten mad at him for trying to like me for real and I keep ignoring his text messages.”

“Uh-huh,” is her response. Her ocean-blue eyes narrow in that way they do when she’s evaluating a puzzle. My mom’s always been brilliant. Easily the smartest person I know. But when it comes to me, I’ve never felt like we were working off the same reading material. “Have you tried liking him back?”

“Definitely not.”

Okay, maybe that isn’t true. I know if I let myself, I would absolutely develop feelings for Conor. I’ve been replaying our kiss over and over again in my head since the second he dropped me off at home. I could barely concentrate on studying last night because I can’t stop thinking about the firmness of his lips, the heat of his body, the feel of his rock-hard cock pressing against my belly.

There was no denying he’d wanted me that night. He asked me to go home with him because he wanted to fuck me, no doubt about that.

But that’s the problem. I know the minute I give in, Conor will wake up from this daydream to realize he should be with someone much hotter. I’ve seen the girls that the guys on his team date—I’d stick out like a fat sore thumb.

I’m not interested in being the collateral damage once Conor figures that out.

“Well, what did you fight about?” Mom asks curiously.

“It’s not important. It’s dumb that I even brought it up.” I move my fork around the remnants of cauliflower rice in my bowl and try to psyche myself up for finishing it. “We’ve only known each other a few weeks anyway. I blame the punch bowl at the Kappa party. I should know better than to drink out of a five-gallon paint bucket.”

“Yes,” she says, grinning, “I should think I raised you better than that.”

As we’re walking back to her car, though, something dislodges itself from the back of my mind.

“Mom?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you think I…” Dress like a bag lady? Have the fashion sense of a literary school marm? Am doomed to live out my life as a spinster? “Do you think the way I dress says I’m embarrassed by the way I look?”

She stops beside the car and meets my eyes with sympathy. Even with her more minimalist style, which has generally consisted of blacks, whites, and grays, she always looks so fashionable and put together. Easy, I guess, when clothes are designed for exactly your body type.

It was always difficult growing up with a mom like her. Not that she didn’t try—she was my consummate cheerleader and booster of self-esteem. Constantly telling me how beautiful I was, how proud she was of me, how she wished she had hair as thick and lustrous as mine. But despite her efforts, I couldn’t help comparing myself to her in a vicious cycle of self-defeat.

“I think your clothes say nothing about your intelligence, your kindness, your wit, and humor,” Mom says tactfully. “I think you ought to dress however you feel most comfortable. With that said…if you don’t feel comfortable with the way you dress, perhaps that’s a conversation you need to have with your heart rather than your closet.”

Well, that’s one vote in the bag lady column from Mom.

 

 

On the walk up to my apartment after saying bye to my mother, I decide to bite the bullet and text Conor.

ME: You home?

 

 

A ball of anxiety coils in my gut once I hit send. After ignoring him for two days, he’d have every right to have written me off by now. I was kind of a bitch the other night, I’m well aware of this. Despite his lack of social graces, Conor hadn’t meant to offend me, and there was no reason to storm off the way I did. None, except that I was feeling insecure and vulnerable and generally sick of myself, so I took it out on him rather than explaining how I felt.

The screen lights up.

CONOR: Yeah.

ME: Coming over, k?

CONOR: Yeah.

 

 

Back-to-back “yeahs” aren’t exactly promising, but at least he hasn’t ghosted.

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