On the way home, I make a mental list in my head, stating all the reasons I happen to dislike Grayson Swain. There are too many to name, but I list them anyway.
- Talks too much about himself.
- Rude to people, not just me.
- Thinks he’s the best at everything.
I quickly swerve to avoid a street light and hold a hand to my heart when I manage to dodge it. Even when Grayson isn’t around, he’s causing me to nearly crash.
At the sound of my name, I turn my head in all directions until my eyes meet with a familiar face.
Michael Swain is sitting behind the wheel of his car, the window completely rolled down so he’s able to talk to me through it. What a coincidence.
“Oh, hi,” I say, a little startled to see him in this part of the neighbourhood.
“I thought I recognised you. How are you doing?”
I take a breath and quickly release it. “Uh, I’m okay. Just making my way home from college.”
He smiles and taps the side of the steering wheel. “Glad to hear it. I’m just heading back to Lakeside myself. Had some business to take care of over here.”
“Do you live far from this area?”
“Not too far. It’s about ten minutes away.”
Silence washes over us and I’m about to bid him farewell, when he says, “Would you like me to drop you home?”
I wave at the air. “Oh no, it’s fine.”
“Are you sure? I really don’t mind. I’m not pressed for time or anything.”
Accepting rides from strangers is definitely not a good idea. But, something about Mr. Swain is unusually comforting. Plus, maybe I can dig for some more information about Grayson if he drives me home. I could include this in my write up about him and I’m sure it will score me some extra points with Ricky.
I jump off the bike and steer it towards the car. “Okay. That would be great. Thank you.”
For the first few minutes, I don’t move or say anything when I sit in the passenger’s seat. I can’t tell if the minty smell is coming from the car itself or Mr. Swain. Either way, it’s definitely not unpleasant.
As soon as he opens his mouth, I’m quick to ask, “So, are you and Grayson close then?”
He blinks, startled. “You know my son?” he asks, his eyes flickering from the road and back to me again.
“We’re working on a project together at college.”
His eyebrows rise up. “You’re in the same class?”
He seems surprised to hear this. “Yup. He hasn’t told you about it?”
I thought he would have mentioned the project to his parents. Does that mean he’s not close to them? Does he have mummy and daddy issues? This is too good. Maybe I should start writing this down.
I grab the notepad out of my bag and turn to a blank page. “We don’t see each other as often as we used to. I’m always working... he’s always...” he hesitates, as if he might reveal too much by finishing that sentence. “We’re both busy nowadays.”
I move on to my next question. “What’s Grayson like when he’s at home?”
“Why do you ask?”
I wave my notebook in the air and watch him briefly glance at it, before switching his entire focus to the road ahead. “Professional reasons. We’ve got to find out as much as we can about each other’s lives. That’s the whole point of the project. Seeming as you’re here, I thought it would help if I asked you a couple of questions.”
This seems to bring him some reassurance. “Alright, if it’ll help you out then I’ll answer any questions you have.”
Bingo. “Cool. So, what is Grayson like behind closed doors?”
“Um, well Grayson’s a good kid. Makes some bad choices at times, but we all have a history for doing that. He worships his mother, always puts her first. He’s quite sensitive too.”
Grayson? Sensitive? That doesn’t sound like the person I’ve been spending all my time with lately. Maybe what I’m seeing isn’t a true projection of who he really is. But then again, am I staying true to myself whenever he asks me a question? Probably not.
“What do you think of him?” he asks, turning the question back on me.
I can’t exactly slag him off now, can I? That would defeat the purpose. I want Grayson’s father to like me to a certain extent, so I can earn his trust and use it for my own personal gain.
“Um, he’s... he’s definitely not afraid to voice his opinions.”
Mr. Swain chuckles, like he totally knows what I mean. “He’s always been like that, ever since he was a kid. Making friends used to be very difficult for him.”
That’s hard to believe. He is a social butterfly at college. Everybody wants to be his friend. “Really?”
“Oh, yeah. He struggled with that for a long time. People didn’t seem to like hearing what he had to say because he was so outspoken and honest. He got bullied when he was in his first year of High school too. All the other kids had sprouted up over the summer, but he was slow to catch up. They teased him about that for months.”
“Wow. That’s horrible.”
“Eventually he had to move schools because the bullying got worse.”
Am I feeling sorry for Grayson now? What is wrong with me?
“We placed him in a private school and he was much happier there,” he continues, “He seems to be doing a lot better now. His grades are always spectacular, he’s enrolling to the universities of his choice and his girlfriend is good for him.” I can’t agree with you there Michael, but please continue. “I might be hard on him sometimes, but that’s only because I want him to succeed and do well in life.”
It’s nice that he cares about his son that much. I’m slightly envious. And I hate that I’m seeing Grayson in a different light.
I realise that I haven’t even written any of this down yet. My fingers are lingering over the paper, but no ink has touched the page. “Have you got any more questions you’d like to ask me?”
Honestly, I can’t think of anything else. Maybe I’m coming down with something. “Um, I - I think you’ve covered the main points.”
It’s official. I’m the worst interviewer ever.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters Skye?”
Hang on. This isn’t supposed to be about me. Maybe he feels like he needs to carry on the conversation before it gets awkward. I think I’m okay with that actually.
“Nope. It’s just me and my mum.”
A shadow crosses his face for a split second and then it’s gone before I can analyse what it might mean. “What about your dad? He’s not around?”
I shouldn’t be revealing parts of my personal life to my nemesis’s father, but I can’t see why not. It’s not like he’s going to go running back to Grayson to tell him all of this.
My eyes burn as I try to explain. “No. He’s not. It’s a long story. My mother likes to keep the full version to herself.”
He gives me a crooked smile. “That must be hard... not having your dad there.”
“I’m used to it now.” I notice my street coming into view and I quickly turn to him. “You can drop me off here if you like. I can walk the rest of the way.”
“Don’t be silly. I’ll drop you off outside your door.”
“You really don’t have to do that Mr. Swain. Honest. If my neighbours see you drop me off, they’re going to start asking me all sorts of questions because they are super nosey and like to know everything. And you’re going to attract a lot of attention because nobody owns a car like this in my neighbourhood.”
His shoulders fall, but he doesn’t object this time. “That’s understandable. I’ll pull up here.”
He parks on the sidewalk and I grab my things quickly. He helps me to pull my bike out of the boot and then we just stare at each other in awkward silence.
“Well, thanks so much for dropping me off Mr. Swain. I really appreciate it.”
“That’s alright. It was my pleasure. It was lovely seeing you again Skye.”
“If you wait here, I can quickly run inside and get those clothes you gave me. I’ve been meaning to give them back to you.”
He waves his hands in the air. “There’s no need. Keep them.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. They’re yours.”
I try to pull my confused face into a smile. It’s difficult. “Okay. Well, thanks… again.”
I start walking away and give an exhausted sigh when I reach my front door. It’s been a tiring day and the idea of going to bed and having a sleep is sounding more appealing by the minute.
I’ve barely stepped foot into the hallway, when I hear a voice I’m unfamiliar with float up from in the living room.
I edge towards the small gap in the door and peer inside. My Mother is sitting facing me, her expressions large and animated, as she speaks to a woman I’ve never seen before. She reminds me of Cher the singer – with the perm and everything.
“Most days I feel completely useless,” my mother is saying, “And I’m suffocating here. I can’t carry on living like this.”
I freeze in the doorway, attempting to eavesdrop. They seem to be having a private moment not meant for witnessing. I don’t know whether I should risk sneaking up to my room or take another trip around the block.
The Cher lookalike is nodding. “It’s okay not to be okay Collette. It’s always better to be honest with yourself.”
Mum blows into a tissue. “I worry that I haven’t done enough. I rely on Skye, more than she relies on me. It should be the other way around.”
I have never seen my mum talk like this with anyone, not even me. She thinks that I’m disappointed or that I feel let down and, in some ways, I can’t disagree with her.
Whenever there was a problem at school, I couldn’t approach her and have a mother/daughter discussion about what was going on. I didn’t feel I could. I didn’t want to burden her with my problems, when she was dealing with enough of her own.
“Skye won’t talk to me and that’s understandable. I should have told her about the account ages ago.”
“We all make mistakes. That’s part of being a parent.”
“This is so much bigger than that though. Skye deserves to know the truth about her father.”
“Was he ever violent towards you Collette?”
“Oh God no, never! It was nothing like that. He was the love of my life. I thought the world of him and for a long time we were in love. But it all got a bit complicated after that.”
I no longer need to debate what I should do next in my head, I take the quickest exit and run away with it.