It was a different cab. This one had that stale, wet smell, like the inside of a shoe. Matthew and I climbed into the cavernous back seat. I put my feet on the seat and hugged my knees. “Is it far?”
“It’s a little ways. We’re staying on the far side of the airport.” Matthew pulled on his mustache, smoothing it with one finger. “You know, we wouldn’t have even noticed you were gone at first if Carynne hadn’t made a big deal out of it. She was pretty upset.”
“Oh, no.” I wondered what she could have said. I rested my head on my arms. As the cab jostled down the road, my skull felt heavy against them. Too much on my mind.
“Everything alright between you two?” Matthew’s eyes were turned toward the window, watching the streetlights go by, but I felt like he was watching me, looking at my insides.
“No.” It would have been an obvious lie to say otherwise. “I, she just…” I left it at that.
He continued smoothing his mustache with little downward strokes of his finger. His voice was calm, like a public radio announcer’s. “You don’t like her much?”
“That’s not it. She’s great, a lot of fun. But..”
“Is she always like this?” Let’s talk about her, I thought, and get the subject off me.
Matthew smiled out of one corner of his mouth. “Sort of. She only comes on tour during the summer–I think she goes to school. Last summer we did that big thing, all those outdoor arenas with opening acts and all. I always thought her thing was to play hard to get, and then lose.” He looked at me, now, letting his shoulders curve back against the seat. “She must really have something for you.”
“Ah.” I buried my face again. I thought all those hours of wandering might have dulled the image in my mind. But no, I could still see her coming toward me, still feel her hands on my thigh.
“What?” I looked through my hair to see his lips move.
“Is it too deep for you.”
“You mean, am I in the shit too deep?”
“Well, that too. I mean, are you afraid her feelings for you are more than you can handle.”
“Well, that’s one way to put it.” I wondered if Matthew could help me. If he would help me. I might be able to avoid the whole thing if he could keep me busy enough. “I never wanted to get deeply involved. No, that isn’t even it. I never even wanted to… to anything! But she sticks to me like a leech! Matthew, what am I going to do?”
The cab turned onto the highway and it became harder to see Matthew’s face. But his voice was the same, quiet and calm. “This is a first.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that most guys want to get in bed with her, that’s all.”
“Well, I guess I’m just not like most guys.” That was too close to the truth. I clenched my eyes shut as if that might shut my mouth, too. In the dark, with the hum of the tires and the creak of the seat, it was impossible not to think about Matthew sitting there. My fantasy played inside my eyelids.
His hand touched my shoulder. “Are you alright?”
I wanted to fall over and cry. I wanted him to reach over and hug me and tell me everything was okay. But I said “Yeah, just stressed out is all.”
“You could tell her you’re not interested.” He stopped himself and thought. “But I guess it’s too late for that. If I can make that assumption?”
He knew what he’d seen. “I’ve tried. She seems to like it.”
“It’s the hard-to-get mentality. She thinks she’s playing the other side of the game this time, that’s all.”
“You sound like you know a lot about her.”
“I’ve been watching.” He gave me another half-smile in the light of a passing car. “I have a degree in human behavior.”
“Oh.” I felt as if his X-ray on me just intensified. “Do you like her?”
His hand went to his face as he smoothed his mustache yet again. His voice dropped low. “She’s, you know, not my type.”
“She’s not my type, either.” I felt my jaw go loose then, a silent gasp as the fuller significance of what he’d said sank into my brain. And I’d said the same back to him, already. It wasn’t possible. But through the rush of blood in my ears, through the tangle of thoughts trying to figure out where I’d betrayed myself, I thought I heard him whisper, “I know.”
Frozen, I tried to pretend I wasn’t there. Like a deer in the woods, I could be invisible when I wasn’t moving. Matthew had folded his hands in his lap. Neither of us moved. The cab driver must have thought we went to sleep.
She’s, you know, not my type. I could hear him saying it. It could have been my imagination. But I looked at him still as a statue like me and I knew something secret and private had passed between us. We had exchanged hostages and we were both safe.
I uncurled my legs and my breath came out slow and even. “Do you… have a new book for me to read tonight?”
His head twitched toward me like I had hit an ON switch. “I might.”
You can’t have Matthew, I told myself. If you can’t have her, you can’t have him either. But I wasn’t listening. I stretched in the cab, hearing my shoulders pop. Matthew’s finger went to his mustache. I ached for an excuse to touch him.
“Were you scared?” he asked. “When they arrested you, I mean.”
“No.” I wondered how far the hotel could be. “They didn’t really arrest me. They just, detained me, I guess.” I leaned my head against the high back of the seat. “Shit. I hope Remo’s not too bent out of shape about it.”
Matthew watched me stretch. “He’ll get over it.” He let his voice drop again. “You really are an amazing player. He should be proud of you.”
“I hope we get there soon,” he said, and I felt I had him, uncertainty ebbing away as I listened to him talk. “It’s late.”
We arrived to find the hotel quiet. Matthew got our keys from the desk. I had forgotten my empty stomach, but it growled in reminder. “Think Remo will be asleep?”
“I doubt it. Maybe we’ll find him in the bar.” Matthew pointed his chin toward the far end of the lobby.
I stopped. “I’ll see you upstairs.”
“I’ll come with you if you want.”
“Nah, that’s okay. You go on up.” I felt myself blush as if it were too bold of me to say it out loud. But he gave me a half-lidded smile and squeezed my hand. I sucked down the adrenalin, watching him saunter away. Yes.