I sit staring at the television in Kaleb’s den, but I have no clue what I’m watching. My mind is somewhere else. It’s replaying what Mr. Hammons said to me earlier and every moment with Kaleb after that. I don’t know why, but I suddenly want to know more about him. I want to know his whole life, but he’d shut me down. I wouldn’t tell him anything about my life, so why should he tell me something about his?
When I look back over at Kaleb Nixon, his eyes are focused solely on the movie that plays on the screen. I notice how bloodshot they are and wonder when the last time he slept was. He reaches up and rubs his face, yawning as he does so.
I suddenly realize what I’m doing and stand abruptly to my feet. Kaleb’s eyes jump to mine. “I should really go.” I say to him, staring at everything but him. Spending so much time with him was really starting to get to my head.
“Really?” He asks, straightening up. “You have to stay for dinner. Irene won’t let you leave without eating.”
“No, it’s fine. I don’t want to impose.” I wave him off and head for the door.
Kaleb is at his feet in seconds. He maneuvers around me and stops me from leaving. “You’re acting like you have a choice, Greer. I’m telling you now that Irene won’t let you out of this house without a bowl of spaghetti.”
I want to give in, because spaghetti just happens to be my favorite food, but I know I shouldn’t. It’s bad for me to be around someone like Kaleb Nixon for too long. He was getting to me, making me feel too comfortable. That couldn’t happen. I could easily let my guard down around him and slip up on my cover story. That wouldn’t just put me in danger.
“I really can’t.” I insist.
“Have somewhere else to be?” Something flashes across his face. I instantly realize that he’s asking if I’m meeting someone else.
“I’m actually late for a date.” I lie. I want to see how he reacts.
His jaw clenches, “a date?”
I nod vigorously. “A college guy. Real muscular and real smart. He’s very handsome.”
He studies my face for a moment, “you’re lying.”
“Am not.” I say defiantly.
“You have a tell.” He supplies.
“Excuse me?” I balk.
He reaches forward and presses his finger right between my eyes. My skin prickles. “Your forehead scrunches up right there when you lie.”
I touch the exact spot he just did, “it does not.”
He smirks lazily, “you’re a bad liar, Greer.”
I scoff, if only he knew how wrong he was.
“So, you don’t have plans? Great.” He laughs and then turns around to open the door. As soon as he does, I can hear the music streaming through the house. It’s in Italian so I don’t have any idea what the song is saying, but I like it anyway. Someone is singing, it must be Irene.
I roll my eyes and follow him out into the hallway. We descend the stairs and into the kitchen. Irene is stirring a pot of sauce and dancing. Sofia is right beside her, wearing a pink apron and singing at the top of her lungs.
“My ears are bleeding!” Kaleb yells dramatically, covering his ears.
Irene spins around to face us, “oh, shush, figlio."
“Kay, will you add your secret ingredient?” Sofia asks him, hugging his knees.
“If you say per favore!” Kaleb teases.
“Please, please, please!” Sofia jumps up and down.
“Since you asked nicely.” He rubs her head and then moves towards the refrigerator.
“So, Greer, you just moved here?” Irene asks as she smiles at me.
Kaleb pokes his head out of the refrigerator and gives her a pointed glare. Irene ignores him.
“Yes, ma’am. From Vermont.” I hate how easy the lie is becoming to tell.
“Oh, how nice! How do you like Washington so far?” She asks.
I shrug, “it’s pretty.”
“Do your parents like it, too?” Irene questions, not realizing how awful the question is.
I clear my throat and my eyes snap to Kaleb’s. I hadn’t wanted him to know. He closes the refrigerator and makes his way towards the sauce pot. “Actually, my parents aren’t around anymore.” I kept it vague to avoid talking about their deaths.
Kaleb’s eyes snap to mine quickly and he stops moving. Irene looks sadly at me, “oh, I’m sorry.”
I give her a weak smile, “it’s alright.”
“So, do you live with family?” She asks.
“My uncle.” I explained.
“That’s wonderful, to have family.” She smiles.
“Yes, I’m very lucky.” I agree.
Kaleb starts moving again, peeling his eyes away from mine. He starts to pour wine into the sauce. Irene stirs it as he does.
“Shouldn’t be long now.” Irene hums. “Twenty minutes or so.”
Sofia squeals in delight.
“You like spaghetti don’t you, Greer?” Irene asks.
“Definitely!” I beam.
“Irene makes the best spaghetti.” Kaleb tells me, leaning back against the counter next to Irene.
“Can’t wait.” I smile. “Can I use your bathroom?”
Irene nods, “Up the stairs, last door on the left.”
I thank her and make my way out of the kitchen. I hear Irene and Kaleb instantly start whispering in Italian as I leave. Walking down the hallway, my eyes peek inside an empty room. My feet stop mid stride. I’m staring into a room with a black piano. There’s padding on the walls to make the room sound proof. Tears prick in my eyes.
I look around to make sure no one is looking and my feet carry me inside. My fingers trail over the black and white keys. My mother’s smile flashes across my memory. I can picture her sitting on the bench, her finger flying across the keys.
Before I realize what, I’m doing, I sit down and my fingers are stroking the keys. My eyes close as a wave of emotion passes over me. I’d do anything to have my mother playing beside me once more. I’d trade anything to get my old life back, because I hate this new one.
When I finish playing a familiar song, tears are streaming down my cheeks. My hands are shaking. I reach up and cover my mouth to push back the sob.
“I thought you didn’t play music.” Kaleb’s voice startles me.
I spin around on the bench to see him leaning against the door frame watching me. My heart drops out of chest. I had to quickly come up with yet another lie. “I said I didn’t sing.”
He nods and studies me quietly. The way he looks at me makes me think he can read me like an open book. I don’t like it. “I’ve never seen anyone play piano with emotion like that.”
I don’t know what to say. I spent weeks being drilled to be Greer Evans. I spent day after day being told that it was for my safety that Greer Thomas no longer exists. But around Kaleb, it was like I forgot to put on my mask. It was easy to let my guise fall around him, and that was bad. I couldn’t be Greer Thomas anymore, not around anyone. Kaleb made me want to be her again. Which is why I couldn’t have anything to do with Kaleb Nixon anymore. I had to get out before I got too comfortable.
I clear my throat and get to my feet, “I have to go.”
I don’t bother to wait for his reply before I push past him and run down the stairs. Irene is draining the water from a steaming pot of spaghetti noodles. She smiles up at me, but it quickly falls when she notices the tears streaming down my cheeks.
Kaleb is hot on my trail. He calls my name, but I ignore him.
“I’m sorry, I can’t stay for dinner. Thank you for letting me study with Kaleb.” I say quickly as I run for the front door. Irene nods after me, too surprised to answer.
“Greer, wait!” Kaleb calls after me. His hand closes around my forearm and turns me around. His eyes are wide and pleading as he stares at me. “You can’t leave, not like this. At least let me drive you home.”
“Let me go, Kaleb.” I pull against him.
“Greer, stop. Tell me what happened.” He pleads.
“Nothing happened.” I lie. I finally pull my arm from him and step out onto the front porch. “Don’t worry about the extra credit, we’re not doing it. I’ll see you at school.” With that, I spin back around and jog to my car.
Kaleb Nixon is still standing on the front porch as I back out of his drive way.