Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chapter 30, part 2: Off Balance

That night Brad and I flipped through cable channels, waiting for Saturday Night Live to come on. Vivian and Walter had long since gone to bed. We settled on a B movie to heckle. Brad stretched out across the couch and rested his head in my lap. I started to run fingers through his hair.

“Braddie Laddie, huh?”
“You called?” He lifted his head from my lap and propped himself up on an elbow across my legs, his back to the TV. “Ridiculous huh? I’ve asked mom a thousand times not to call me that. Only she’s too stubborn to give up on the old baby name.” He rolled his eyes and picked up the remote to flip through the channels again.
“Brad, I thought we talked about that.”
“What?”
I looked at him pointedly.
“Oh, right. Honor your mother and father and all that jazz. Well, she’s not here to hear it, so it doesn’t really matter, right?” He sat up with a lopsided grin that I did not return. “Hey, at least I cleaned up my act for a while after you confronted me this afternoon; don’t I get credit for that?” He made an exaggerated show of getting into a kneeling position, prostrating himself at my feet. “Please, Reverend Mother Giselle, not another lecture! I beg for mercy.”
I finally gave in and smiled at his antics. He climbed back on the couch and softly kissed me. I wrapped arms around him and kissed him back with increasing passion.
After a few minutes lost in a world of sensation, I turned my head. “Let’s not get carried away.”
He resumed his position, sprawled across the couch, head on my lap. I stroked his hair once more.
“Really, Giselle, I am grateful you said something. I’ve really tried hard to forgive my mom after all these years, but treating her like crap is such a habit … I didn’t even realize how bad it still was.” He sat up and leaned in for another kiss as he whispered, “She told me to thank you. She really likes you. But who doesn’t, right?”
I returned the kiss with a peck. “Look, it’s time for SNL to start.”
“Actually, I’m going to head up. Want me to help you make up the sofa bed?”
“No, I didn’t sleep that well on it last night.”
“There’s room in my bed upstairs,” he said with a glint in his eye.
“No, I’ll be fine down here. The couch cushions will probably be more comfy with a few blankets.”
“Okay. Well, see you in the morning.”
Sleep remained elusive. No matter how I tossed and turned, or rearranged the cushions and the blankets, I just couldn’t get comfortable.
“I should have made Brad take the couch,” I muttered to myself, wondering why he hadn’t offered.
Well, he had offered to let me joined him upstairs. Why had I turned that down? It was innocent enough, wasn’t it? We could just snuggle and sleep.
I headed for the stairs.
A creak of a door stopped me in my tracks. I saw a light come on and heard Vivian’s raspy voice.
Like a frightened rabbit I dove back to the couch and pretended to be asleep in case Vivian came downstairs.
As I lay there, I wondered what I would have done if I made it up to Brad’s room and something did start to happen? Could I have stopped it? Did I want to?

***

I woke up at eight to a silent house. Vivian and Walter came downstairs around nine, and I offered to help Vivian make breakfast. As it approached nine thirty, I crept up the stairs and cracked the door to Brad’s bedroom. He rolled over and pulled the covers back over his head. Not wanting to start the morning mothering him, I gave up and went back downstairs.
Still, I nursed a bit of a grudge against him for leaving me to fend for myself with his parents. I felt so awkward. But soon my unease dissipated as Vivian regaled me with stories about her little Braddie Laddie as a boy. We sat at the kitchen table nursing cups of coffee. Walter sat a few feet away in one of the room’s two recliners, smoking and watching ESPN.
Brad finally dragged himself out of bed at ten, and came down still wearing his flannel pajama bottoms and a white undershirt. He looked so cute and rumpled that my annoyance with him melted away.
Vivian jumped up from the couch. “Braddie Laddie, you sleepyhead, you’re finally up. Sit down. Let me fix you up a plate of flapjacks and eggs.”
“Thanks, Ma.” He smiled at me and squeezed my shoulder. “Good morning, beautiful. Sleep good?”
I nodded, and leaned over to kiss him when he settled into the chair next to me. We held hands under the table.
"I wish you had been sleeping in my bed,” he murmured in my ear, and nibbled my earlobe. I thought again of my words the night before. “Let’s not get carried away.” For a moment that was exactly what I wanted, to be carried away on a flood of all the passion I’d bottled up out of guilt.
“Brad, you missed it,” Vivian called from the stove. “I was just telling Giselle some baby stories about you before you walked down. I bet it was your burning ears that finally woke you up.” She cackled at her own joke.
Brad scowled at first, then suddenly brightened. “Ma, now that we’re on the subject of old memories … I thought you might tell me again how Grandpop proposed to Grandma.”
I shot him a questioning look. Was he that serious about me?
“I’d love to. It’s so sweet of you to ask.” Vivian beamed at him, then sighed as she slipped into reminiscing.
When she finished the story, Brad cleared his throat. “Do you still have the Grandma’s old ring?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I was hoping I could give it to Giselle.” What? What?! Did I just hear him right?
Vivian looked as shocked as I felt. “Wait. What are you saying?”
“What do you think I’m saying? Giselle and I are on the road to marriage.” He gave my hand a squeeze under the table and winked at me.
“Walter, get in here. You need to hear this.”
Walter shut off the television and came to the table.
“Now, let’s talk this through,” Vivian continued. “I can see you two have a special relationship, but why talk marriage so soon?”
Yes, why? Why did he spring this on me? Everything was moving so fast. Too, I hated being caught in the middle of an argument like this.
“What your mother’s trying to say, kiddo, is that you’re too young to be committing to something like this. Why don’t you try living together first?”
“Right, look at your sister Casey and her boyfriend,” Vivian agreed. “They’ve lived together in Exeter for seven years, that’s longer than a lot of people stay married.”
Walter and Vivian switched from a lecture to an interrogation. When were we planning to get married? What would we do to support ourselves? Where would we live?
Brad defended his right to make his own choices so vigorously, it seemed he missed the moment when Vivian gave up.
“Fine, fine. You can stop defending yourself,” she said. “I still think you’re making a mistake, but it’s your mistake to make. I’ll go get the ring.” She ran up the stairs and returned with a burgundy velvet box. “Giselle, I hope you didn’t take offense to all this. We really do like you. I’d be happy to have you as a daughter-in-law one day, but please, wait until you two have had a chance to grow up a little bit.”
“I understand,” I said meekly. How could I say I was as surprised at this as she was?
“Thanks, Ma, Pop.” Brad set the box on the table as he stood. “We’ve got to get ready to go pretty soon. There’s a speaker on campus later today that Giselle really wanted to hear. I’m going to take a shower and pack. Giselle, be ready in thirty minutes, okay?”
***
Most of the drive home was silent. Even when we stopped for lunch and milkshakes, I made no real effort at conversation. The only words I spoke to him the rest of the trip were to ask him to pull over for an emergency stop at the restroom.
As we pulled up to the curb next to the German House I let out a long sigh. “I wish you had talked to me first instead of putting me through that.” It was the longest sentence I had spoken to him since we left Mansfield.
“What do you mean? I thought we were on the same page. When we did that marriage role-playing assignment, it seemed obvious to me that we’re meant to be together. I thought you’d be happy I got the ring for you.”
“It’s just going so fast.”
“Listen, I didn’t mean to imply that we’d be getting married tomorrow. This is a someday kind of thing. There are a few steps in between.”
“So you bought into all that stuff they were saying about shacking up?”
“Don’t put words in my mouth. I never said anything about agreeing with them.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming,” she said.
“Well, you have to admit, what they said about a trial period made sense. What’s the rush, right?”
“I guess.” I got out of the car, closed the door and leaned through the window. “Listen, I know I said I wanted to see that speaker, but I’m not feeling too well. I think I’m just going to go up to my room and take a nap.”
“Giselle, don’t be like that.”
“Like what?”
“Like you’re punishing me for my sins.”
“It’s not that. I can see why you might think it is, but it’s not. I’m just worn out from the long weekend, and my stomach is still bothering me.”
“That’s my girl. Do you want me to come up to your room and tuck you in for your nap?”
I hesitated. “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”
“C’mon, you can trust me. No hanky panky, I promise. Just a little back rub for my best girl.” He gave me his most disarming grin, and I reluctantly agreed.
He lay down next to me on the bed, rubbing my back, nuzzling my ear. Before too long, I no longer felt sleepy and started returning his kisses. He ran his hand down my side and pulled me against him, then moved it slowly up under the bottom of my shirt.
I felt like I should stop him, but hesitated. When we first started seeing each other again I had sworn to myself I wouldn’t let the situation last year repeat itself. But each time we were together, Brad tested the limits, and I let him go a little further before I told him to stop. I knew he didn’t agree with my beliefs in this area. He had said he refused to believe that God condemned something that was so natural and felt so good. Could I believe that too and let him have his way with me?
Finally I crossed arms in front of me. “Brad, don’t,” I murmured between kisses. “I don’t want to cross our line.”
How narrow was that line really? What was the difference between what we were doing and the real thing?
Before I could answer my own questions, Brad abruptly broke our embrace.
“I’ve overstayed my welcome,” he whispered as he stood up. “You are supposed to be napping, remember? I’ll come by later and we can go to dinner together.” He leaned over and kissed my forehead. “Sweet dreams.”