33 • Hesitation
Cameron and Will stopped in front of Pearl’s house. Finn sniffed at the sidewalk around Will’s feet, weaving in and out between his legs until the leash had slipped around both ankles and he ran out of slack. Will stood with his hands in his pockets and looked into the coal of the sky.
“Well, this is the part where I should be walking you to your door, ” he said. “Pearl would give me hell for any less.”
“Pearl Jenkins is not your mother, Will. And she’s not your wife.” Cameron looked up, trying to find the spot in the sky that held Will’s gaze. “At least I don’t think she’s your wife. And if she is, then not walking me home is not the thing you’ll catch hell for.”
Will chuckled but didn’t break his stare, focused on a star that was surely there, hidden behind the band of clouds, blocking his view like a cosmic child had found a use for a wad of dryer lint in his latest craft project.
“No, she’s not my wife. And she’s not my mother.”
“So, what is it, then? Pearl has some hold on you.”
“Rent control, ” Will said.
Cameron turned to look at him. Will lowered his eyes to meet Cameron’s and smiled.
“Rent control, ” she said and looked away, wrapping her arms around herself against the evening chill.
“Pearl needs to feel like she has someone. I consider it part of the cost of living here. Took us a couple of years to find our rhythm, but since we did, my rent hasn’t gone up.”
“Son or boyfriend?”
“Well, I suppose it’s some sort of combination of both.”
Cameron turned back to him. “You know how creepy that sounds, right? And for money?”
“No, it’s not for money. It’s for no money. There’s a difference. Call it nuance.” Will looked at the house. “Damn, ” he said. “It does sound creepy when you put it that way. But it’s not. I’m not an old lady’s paramour.”
“Oh, Will. I didn’t mean—”
Will waved her off. “I know you didn’t. I’d just never thought of it that way before. I’m not her son or her boyfriend. But somehow I’m the most important man in her life right now. I mean, she doesn’t raise the rent because she doesn’t need it. But she has to charge me something because it gives her the upper hand. And keeps people from talking.”
Will fingered the tab on his jacket zipper. “You know how sometimes when you try to explain something that makes perfect sense in your head, but as soon as you attach words to it, it just sounds stupid, or small?”
“Yes, I know that feeling, ” Cameron said, raising one eyebrow.
“Well, that. Right now.”
“Will, when I said it sounded creepy, I didn’t mean—I mean, I don’t know. You don’t have to explain it, I think is what I mean. I get it. It’s unusual, but it’s not creepy to me. Anyone who has seen you together knows this.”
They both turned back to the sky, watching the moon work its way out from between two patches of that dryer lint.
“Does Pearl know you climb on the roof?”
Will put his hands in his pockets. “Yeah, I sort of dropped that knowledge on her one day.”
“What do you do up there?”
“Smoke. She won’t let me in the house.”
“Isn’t it just easier to go out the back door?”
“Sure, ” Will said. “But there’s something about a rooftop in the early morning.” He turned to Cameron. “Ever been?”
“I haven’t.” She smiled. “Are you going to invite me?”
“A little forward, aren’t we?” Will returned her smile. “Inviting yourself up to a man’s roof on the first walk? I haven’t even walked you to your door yet.”
“I didn’t invite myself onto your roof. I invited you to invite me. There’s a difference. Call it nuance.”
“Well, Pearl probably wouldn’t mind if I had a little adult supervision up there.” Will gestured toward the house. “Would you like to come up to my porch roof?”
“I’d love to.” Cameron started toward the house. Will didn’t move.
She turned back. “What’s wrong? Cold feet already?”
Will pointed to his feet, now lashed tightly together at the ankles with Finn’s leash. “Not cold, but a little tied up.”
“Oh, right, ” she laughed. “We probably shouldn’t bring Finn in the house.”
“Pearl, ” Will said, nodding.
“Let me guess. Pearl doesn’t like dogs.” Cameron stood with her hands on her hips.
“She does, in fact. She likes them very much. Here’s the thing. Finn would bark. Pearl would come rushing out of bed because there’s a dog in the house and fawn all over him just because he’s so cute she can’t stand it and did you know that when she was just a girl in grammar school she had a little gray poodle that wore pink bows in her hair and one day she—the dog, not Pearl—ran away and never came home and Pearl never got another dog because she was so heartbroken and no one could ever replace Fifi anyway.”
“Got it.” Cameron bent down and untangled the leash. “And then Will and Cameron will never get to sit on the roof because Pearl the matchmaker will torpedo her own scheme.”
“She did say you were pretty smart when she tried to sell you off to me.”
“Sell me off?” Cameron squinted.
“Well, sure.” Will stood stiff as her hands brushed against his ankles. “She had to do quite a sales job to get me to come to dinner with you that night.”
Cameron stood, the leash in her hand. “No, she didn’t.”
“Okay, but she had to do a little coaxing.”
“No, I’m pretty sure she didn’t.” Will saw the tiny white moon reflected in Cameron’s brown eyes. He did not answer.
After a moment, Cameron touched Will’s arm. “See?” she whispered. “Hang on. I’ll be right back.”
Cameron jogged easily across the street with Finn, his short furry legs scampering as fast as they could go to keep up. She opened her front door and nudged him inside, reaching down to unhook the leash. Cameron latched the screen door and jogged back across the street to Pearl’s house. Will hadn’t moved.
“Ready to show me the roof?”
“I hesitated, ” Will said, and looked into the sky.
“You hesitated? You don’t want to go up?”
“I hesitated. When Pearl invited me to dinner with you, I didn’t accept right away.” He looked back at Cameron and slid his hands into his pockets. “I hesitated.”
“Yes, of course you did.” She motioned toward the porch. “The roof, Will?”
Will turned. “We should go up the back way. The front steps creak.”
They walked around to the back of the house and climbed the tall wooden stairs to his door on the second floor. He wondered if Pearl had told Cameron about finding him there in his boxers. He stopped partway in the door. “I wasn’t expecting company, ” he said. Of course, he was never expecting company. He’d never had a visitor to his apartment. “It might be a little messy.”
“It’s okay, Will. I live alone too, remember? If you stopped by my place unannounced you might discover how many nights I eat popcorn for dinner.”
They passed through the kitchen. Will took the sole cereal bowl off the counter and put it in the cupboard. “There. That’s better.”
“This is where Pearl used to hustle me in pool, ” he said as they came into the den. “She’s damn good.”
“Used to? What happened? Did she get bored of beating you?”
“Nah, just too hard for her to get up the stairs anymore. Though I’d bet she’d find a way to get herself up here if she knew you were here. I wouldn’t mind if she did come up now and then, actually. I miss being played. And she could attest to my hesitation, then, too.”
“You don’t have to round up witnesses, Will. I’ll stipulate to the hesitation.”
“Thank you.” Will nodded firmly.
“All 30 seconds of it.”
“It was a solid 45, ” Will said. “Not a second less.”
“Of course it was.” Cameron smiled. “You might have to have me up another day to shoot some pool. I used to be pretty good, but it’s been years.”
“You want to play right now?” Will reached for the rack.
“No, no. Your weeping when I beat you would surely wake Pearl.”
“Alright. Another time.” Will set the rack back on the green felt. “We were headed for the roof right?”
“This way, then.” Will crossed the room and waited by the door as he waved Cameron through. She stopped above the staircase and stared at the stained glass. It stretched from the landing at the base of the turn all the way to the second story ceiling, a pastoral scene in three panels. The streetlight threw a soft spray of colors at her feet on the brown carpet.
“Oh, my. I’ve wanted to see this glass from the inside since I moved here. It’s really stunning.”
“It is. It’s beautiful, ” Will said, joining Cameron at the top of the dark cherry staircase. I love to sleep in these colors. But some nights I stand up here and connect the lights with my feet.”
“You do what?”
“Like this, ” Will said. He put his arms out slightly from his sides and tip-toed from one colored dot on the ground to another, stepping forward and back and pivoting until he’d touched each one.
“That looks a bit like dancing.”
“Oh, but it’s not dancing, ” Will said. “I don’t dance.” He kept moving, stepping back and forth between the lights. “Barbara always said I was a terrible—”
“Barbara?” Cameron asked. “Who’s Barbara?”
Will quickened his steps. “No one. No one important.”
Cameron crossed her arms in front of her chest. Her mouth tightened.
Will didn’t look up. “Really, she mattered once. A long time ago. She doesn’t anymore.” Will pointed to the lights on the ground. “Come on, race me. I bet I can step on all the colors before you.”
Cameron didn’t move.
Will kept moving his feet and cursing himself—and Barbara—silently.
“You wanted to beat me in pool. Beat me in colors instead, ” he said.
Cameron’s face softened. “I’m hesitating.”
“I can see that, ” Will smiled.
Cameron uncrossed her arms and stepped onto a blue circle on the carpet, then to a red.
“It’s a little like chasing the lights from a disco ball except they don’t move. It’s a little more my speed, ” Will said.
“But how do you know when you’ve touched them all? They’re so random on the ground.”
“I have a certain order I always do them.” Will held out a hand. “Here. Just follow me.”
Cameron took his hand and followed a few steps left and right behind Will. “Wait a minute. How can I beat you if I am following your steps?” She pivoted and faced him, both of them still stepping around colors above the stairs.
“Note to self, ” Will said aloud. “The pretty girl might be a tad competitive.”
“Says the funny boy who set up the contest.”
“Well played.” Will realized he was no longer stepping in his usual pattern but was mirroring Cameron’s moves. They both stepped for the same yellow dot and their bodies came together and stopped.
“This Barbara person was wrong, ” Cameron said softly, looking up at Will. “You’re a good dancer.”
Will stepped back and raised his arm, bringing Cameron’s hand into the air with his. She pivoted under the arch, then spun her way along his arm until she stood against his chest. Will held his arm around Cameron’s shoulder and didn’t move.
“Don’t be too sure, ” he whispered. “Barbara tended to be right about a lot of things.”
“I thought we decided Barbara wasn’t important.” Cameron took a small step backward. “Seems like she still gets to tell you what to think.”
Will slipped his hand from Cameron’s and put it in his jeans pocket. He rubbed the back of his neck with the other.
“Well, ” he said. “Yeah.”
Cameron tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. “That’s your answer?”
“Best I’ve got for the moment, I guess, ” Will said. “Some people get to keep asserting themselves even after they’re gone, it seems.”
“Is that right?” Cameron smiled lightly. She looked up at Will. “How long?” she asked.
“How long what?” Will asked, pushing his other hand into his pocket. His jaw clenched and he stared at the wall over Cameron’s head.
“Since Barbara, ” Cameron said. “How long since Barbara?”
“Fourteen years. Fourteen years and a couple of months.” He rolled his eyes. “Fourteen years, two-and-a-half months.”
Cameron giggled. “Do you know how many days?”
“I do, but it seemed a bit much.” Will looked at Cameron. “It’s been fourteen years, two months, three weeks and five days since Barbara mattered.”
(to be continued)