On Wednesday night, mum disappears with Michelle for a few hours. They even asked if I wanted to tag along, which was a pointless question. My answer was no. I didn’t even have to think about it.
Not wanting to be completely alone in an empty house, I decided to give Grayson a call to see if he’d like to work on the project. He agreed to come over and I expected nothing less. He’d never turn down the chance to study.
I light some candles, which give the room a fruity smell and let Grayson inside when there’s a tap at the door. The corners of his mouth stay firm, but he isn’t wearing his usual scowl.
He’s right behind me as I sit on the sofa. I perch my feet on the footrest and stretch my legs. My bare feet are now on display and I notice Grayson’s eyes linger on them for a short moment, before I quickly cover my feet with a blanket, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
“How’s it going with your mum?” he asks, organizing his notes on the table, whilst trying to hold a conversation. “You haven’t been in college for a while,” he points out.
I can’t tell him that I haven’t been in college because I’m worried about leaving mum alone in the house. She’s been going outside and acting normal, but that doesn’t mean she’s fully recovered or is recovering. For all I know, she could be having those dark thoughts again. She hasn’t discussed with me how she’s feeling or if she’s getting better. We’ve barely spoken at all, which is something we need to do at some stage.
Grayson is already staring when I glance in his direction. “I haven’t felt ready to come back to college,” I explain. “And as far as my mother’s health is concerned, she seems fine for now. But who knows what could happen?”
He draws in a sharp breath. “Sorry. It must be hard for you.”
Quite honestly, I’m done having people pull sympathetic faces at me and ask how I’m doing.
I do the only thing I can do at this moment. I try turning the attention away from myself onto Grayson. “What is your family like Grayson?”
Grayson’s shoulders rise in sync with his breathing. “That’s not one of the questions,” he says.
“Forget about the stupid guideline sheet for once and answer me already.”
The veins in his neck start pulsing and then he finally caves. “They’re good people – always supporting me in everything I’ve set my mind to. Yeah… just good people really.”
Why do I get the feeling he’s not being completely honest?
I stare him straight in the eyes. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say about the parents that raised you? Come on Grayson, where’s the story? You’ve lived with them your entire life. That can’t be all you have to say.”
His eyes roll heavenwards. “What else is there to say?” he snaps, irritated.
“I don’t know!” I scream, annoyed that he’s reluctant to explain. “Nobody has the perfect family. Yours can’t be any different, unless you’re that special,” I add, distastefully.
The candle flickers between us and he exhales. “My mother is a lawyer. She’s hardly ever at home. Work has always been a main priority.” His jaw tightens. “And my dad has his own business, so he’s busy with that.”
“What type of business?” I ask, crossing my legs.
“He owns a few hotels,” he continues, tapping his pen against the edge of the table.
I suck in my lip and blow out. “Do you have close relationships with them both?”
I make sure to click record on my phone, so I can capture Grayson’s answer word for word. Grayson isn’t aware that he’s being taped, but it’ll make my account more reliable and accurate when we have to present our research.
Grayson looks at me and I quickly place my phone under a cushion. “Uh, I’d say I’m closer to my Dad, but I’m very protective of my mother.”
“What’s your dad like?”
“He’s hard working. I don’t think he’s ever missed a day of work in his life. He’s a family man, always ready to do anything for anyone. I’ve learned a lot from him. He also enjoys doing similar things to me, so that’s a bonus.”
“Like golf?” I take a guess.
“Yeah, but not just that. We go and watch football games together, play darts and pool and no matter what, he’s always there for me when I need him.”
He really does have the perfect father figure.
“What about your mother?”
He sighs, which isn’t the most promising start. “My mum is a very strong willed person, kind of like you actually.”
Grayson thinks I’m a strong person?
“She gives off the impression that nothing can touch her, that she won’t be defeated. But I know it’s just for show. Sometimes her façade slips, and I’ve been there to see it happen. Her walls are a mask.”
I want to get mad at him for accusing me of being similar to his mother – of him believing that I wear a mask. But sadly, I do put up walls, so nobody can see the kind of person I really am beneath the surface. I do pretend that I’m capable of looking after myself, when I’m crumbling inside.
Nobody has seen the real Skye Clemons. Rory has seen snippets, but hardly anything. Who am I really?
Grayson gives me a look, one that I can’t read. “I want to ask you something,” he says, the reflection of the candlelight dancing in his eyes.
“You’re always the last person to enter the classroom. Why is that?”
I’m back to being the centre of attention again - Grayson’s attention. “Different reasons. Mainly because I’ve had to help my mother recover from her hangovers. Other days I stop and chat with Maggie.”
“She’s my next-door neighbour.”
This seems to puzzle him. “You have relationships with your neighbours?”
“Yeah, why is that so hard to believe?”
“I’m just not used to communicating with my neighbours. We don’t even acknowledge each other half the time, unless we absolutely have to. You’re lucky to even get a smile. It’s like drawing blood from a stone, honest.”
I can imagine the people being snobby and it makes me scoff.
After a fleeting second Grayson’s features harden. “It’s nice that you have support from the people around you Skye. That’s one thing I like about this community – you are like one big family.”
It’s official. Barnett college is rubbing some of its charm on the hard to please Grayson Swain. I never thought I’d see the day.