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Chapter 8 – Looking All Over
I was standing on the sidewalk on Agronomy Road when Mom caught up with me. I couldn’t help but notice there was a Starbucks right next to us and I wondered if I’d ever see a coffee shop again without feeling a twinge of panic.
“Hi baby,” Mom said warmly, giving me a big hug.
“Hi Mom,” replied, suddenly fighting the urge to cry again.
Giving me an encouraging smile, Mom said, “I just left Evan at the coffee shop. He’ll stay there for a bit to see if anyone returns the coupon book. Did you want to go retrace your steps now? I assume you already have.”
Taking a deep breath I said, “We can. This is the way I walk to most of my classes, and it’s how I went to my lectures this morning. But Mom, I am SO sorry, I mean I can’t even-” I felt the tears starting and my voice caught in my throat.
“None of that now Ella,” Mom said firmly, “we can all have a good cry later when we’ve found the book and it’s alright again. We’ll laugh too, I bet.”
“Thank you Mom. For everything.” Swallowing, I cleared my throat and continued, “OK, we’re only a block away from the engineering buildings. I’ll take you the rest of the way with me.”
And so, we walked in the cool early evening. It was still winter in Vancouver, which means clouds and drizzle when it’s not actively raining. It was after 5:00 PM now and while there were still dozens of people on the sidewalks around us the day was clearly winding down. I kept my eyes on the sidewalks and gutters the whole way, trying to remember which side of the street I had been on and when I had crossed over.
Finally, we entered the group of buildings that made up the engineering department. Some of the actual classroom areas were closed, but most of the buildings weren’t. I took mom straight to one of the large lecture theaters, it was still open and luckily empty, with half the lights on low I wasn’t sure if it stayed like this all night or if there was an evening lecture of some kind. Shitty class if there’s something at like 6 PM on Fridays.
I quickly walked to the spot in the middle left where I sat for two of my lectures earlier that day. “So, here’s where you spend a lot of your time?” Mom asked politely. She could tell by my nervous walking up and down the rows that I hadn’t found anything and was starting to get upset.
I tried to relax and nodded, “Yeah a bunch of my lectures are in here. I thought if I dropped it out of my bag getting my laptop out it probably would be here. But honestly, if I dropped it here I’m not that worried. No one knows Ev anywhere around here and the Slave El doodle won’t mean anything either. If I dropped it here I think it’s fine, but we just need to know.”
Mom sat down in one of the lecture seats in the front row. She patted the seat next to her for me as she crossed her legs. She was wearing normal work clothes, a long skirt and a blouse with a cardigan over top and a lightweight winter jacket on that. I sat down and looked up at the lights, trying to hide the tears in my eyes. Mom placed her hand on my knee and gave me a little pat.
We just sat for a few minutes. Occasionally we’d hear someone in the hallway walking, but it was quiet.
“I really want to ask you about the ‘Slave El’ thing and what you and Evan are getting up to, but I’ll wait until later. For now, your brother told me you fought. He said he was mean to you and he regretted being – as he said – a jackass.”
My lip quivered and I took a shaky breath. “I was worse. I yelled at him to shut up and he only got mad when I punched him in the arm. I could tell it shocked him, his eyes got so big when I did it, and he looked hurt and… disappointed? It made me go crazy. I was so angry at what he said and I then I just kept saying in my head I’m sorry I’m sorry but I couldn’t get the words out and then he left.”
Closing my eyes, I wiped my nose and admitted, “Mom I think I may have lost him. Even if we find the book, will he ever forgive me? I just turned into an angry kid and he was like my annoying brother and I punched him. I knew it wouldn’t hurt but it always made him so mad when we were little. I’d shove him or hit him, and you and dad would just tell us to settle down but if he ever hit me you’d yell at him and send him to his room. I always knew it wasn’t fair, but I did it anyway. It was like a way I could always win.”
“Oh baby,” Mom leaned against me and wrapped an arm around me, “I’m glad you feel bad about that. It really is, well, not great you did that! You need to apologize to Evan specifically about that and tell him it will never happen again. And to be honest, I think I should apologize to him too, I guess your Father and I taught you that in a way by not recognizing we were being unfair.”
I kept my eyes closed but I could feel the tears rolling down. Mom just gave me that sideways hug and held me while I let it go, quietly. Finally, a few minutes later I took a deep yeşilköy escort breath and opened my eyes.
“I’m done. Thanks Mom, but we have things to do.” She held out a Kleenex from her purse and I smiled and took it, wiping my nose and drying my eyes. “There are still some places to look and then we’ll go back to the apartment and think about our next moves.”
Mom smiled and nodded, “Good. And Ella, I know you don’t want to hear this now, but I can’t not say it: if someone finds that coupon book and figures it out… something will need to change. You see that right?”
I stiffened and looked at Mom, “What do you mean?”
“We’ll talk about it together, but I’ve been thinking. If word gets out, we will do whatever it takes to protect you. But even if you manage to convince people there is no truth to it, you won’t be able to see each other as you do now. Not for a long time. Maybe not ever. Surely you recognize that?”
At my scowl Mom sighed and shook her head, saying, “I wanted to tell you first because I know you’ll be angrier and if I make you angry Evan will take your side.”
“Yes, mamma’s boy Evan would normally agree with you I’m sure,” I said archly. Instantly, I wondered why I said that. My emotions were getting the better of me, and I could tell Mom was getting irritated.
“Yes Ella, your brother was always more reasonable and less inclined to argue back. Which is why I want you to know that if your secret gets out, even if you manage to shove that cat back in the bag, I’m going to strongly suggest he join the English Lit program at Queen’s he had been interested in.”
“What! That’s all the way in Ontario! He’d be 5 hours away by fucking plane! Why would you do that!” I wasn’t quite yelling, but I was getting close. I could hear the angry girl in my voice, and I hated it but I couldn’t stop it.
Harshly, Mom replied, “It’s a great program and he’d be happy there. As to ‘why’ the answer is obviously so he can’t fuck his sister for a few years while everyone is whispering about whether he’s fucking his sister.”
I opened my mouth to yell. To scream. To throw a fit probably. But at the very last second, I remembered the look on Evan’s face when I lost my temper and shoved him. I can’t do that, not ever again.
My mouth clenched tight, I let out a slow breath through my nose. When I was done, I said, in a nearly normal tone of voice, “I don’t know that it’s your decision to make Mom. Evan and I want to be together, and while I really don’t want to cause you any pain over it I won’t let you stand between us. If Evan wants to be with me, I’ll be with him.”
Nodding slowly, I could see the fire in my Mom’s eyes too. But she also kept her voice even as she said, “We will see. I won’t hold the money over your head, and we’ll always pay for your schooling, but your father and I don’t need to pay for you two to live together. Maybe you could move back home if that’s what you insist on.”
Honestly, I thought her saying that was definitely holding the money over our heads, but I didn’t respond. Instead, I waited until her eyes softened and she looked away.
“Ella, I truly don’t want to fight now. I shouldn’t have brought it up like that and I shouldn’t have been so harsh. But I’m very worried and scared too.”
I looked down, “I know Mom. I’m sorry too but it’s hard for me to be rational about it. We’ll talk and sort it out together though, I promise.”
Heaving a sigh of relief, Mom stood up and said, “Good! And hey, that’s just the worst-case scenario. If we find the book everything is moot. Now, it’s getting late we should head back.” Mom took out her phone and said, “Has Evan messaged you lately? He texted me a half hour ago to say he was going to go ‘check some leads out’ but he’d be back home by 7 PM. Did he tell you anything?”
Looking at my phone, I shrugged and admitted, “We haven’t said anything since, uh, our argument.” Yeah, I know – good euphemism for hitting and shoving him like the drunken evil husband in a Lifetime movie El, very mature!
Sighing, Mom said, “Well I just texted him again but no reply and it’s unread.” I hid a smile to myself, for someone who ignores her phone for hours at a time my Mom has very stringent standards for other people responding to her texts!
I could have messaged him. I could have called him. But I was still feeling guilty and scared of how he would react the next time I saw him. So instead, on my phone, I opened the Find My app and told Mom, “Never mind, he’s not that far away. We can grab him and head back together, he’s just at the AMS building, it’s like a block away.”
“You guys say everything is a block away,” Mom grumbled, but she got her purse and we headed for the exit. Leaving the engineering buildings again, we headed north away from our apartment.
After a half a block, Mom said, “I don’t want to be the bad guy, I really don’t.” Her voice was quiet and sad, and zeytinburnu escort suddenly I remembered all she was going through.
I grabbed her hand in mine and, stricken, looked at her and said, “Oh god Mom, I’m so sorry! I’ve been so wrapped up in self-pity I forgot about you! You’re going through a really bad thing and I’ve just added to it so much!”
Laughing bitterly, Mom shook her head and said, “Oh don’t worry, it’s nice to not be thinking of my own problems and regrets for a little while. Your Dad thinks I’m going to stay with Jan tonight anyway, but I did text him when I left work to say I was going to visit you two first. He probably assumed I came to tell you about our… trial separation.” As she said it, Mom’s expression fell again. I squeezed her hand.
“Mom, when we find this stupid book the three of us will talk about it all. Ok?”
Ruefully, Mom nodded and said, “Sure thing honey. I’m not sure you and your brother can help, but I owe you the truth about your Father and I. Face to face.”
My stomach was roiling now. Partly from hunger, I hadn’t had anything to eat since a late breakfast, and now from the stress of remembering my parent’s collapsing marriage in addition to my problems. I looked at my phone and saw Evan hadn’t moved since we left the lecture theater. My Mom and I crossed University Boulevard and then walked around the Alumni Centre. My iPhone told me Evan was either outside between the buildings in the small courtyard or else inside the door. Either way, we should be able to see him soon, but if not I would just call him and ask which building he was in.
Mom was beside me as we walked up a few steps. There were a number of people around, many of them entering into the atrium of the AMS building where the pizza place is. Some of them were dressed up, but many were not. I remember Mom saying something about the people in fancy clothes, but I didn’t hear exactly what she said. I thought I had seen a flash of something, but it was just my eyes playing tricks on me. I stepped to my right, looking at the glass wall next to the bike rack. I took a few quick steps as the crowd thinned in front of me.
Again, Mom said something, but I didn’t hear her over the sound of my heart pounding. Now Mom was beside me again, and she stopped dead in her tracks just as I had.
We both had a great view as Shanti, my friend, leaned up to kiss Evan again. Her hands were gripping the front of his open jacket, and she was partly turned away from us which meant that when Evan saw me I could see his eyes widen in panic. Pulling his head back, he opened his mouth to say something but all I could see was how Shanti had been leaning in more, unwilling to let the kiss end. I knew just how she felt.
“Ella! No!” his voice was loud and it snapped me out of my second long paralysis. As I turned on my heels my Mom said “What!” in disbelief and then turned to me. I was already a step away and she put her hand on my arm, but I just started running into the crowd. Away. Just anywhere else but there.
Chapter 9 – Shanti
It wasn’t until I was ready to walk out the door that I realized I had basically gotten ready like I was going on a real date. I hadn’t even thought of it, but I guess part of my brain went into autopilot. I had a quick shower, then dressed up in slightly fancier clothes, used some of the cologne mom had gotten me for Christmas and took some extra care styling my hair. I even shaved. I’m not completely sure why, I guess it just felt like the thing to do.
By 5:30 I was sitting at the computer desk quickly looking over all the social media feeds I could think of. I checked all our friends, of course, and the Beanery and so on. I searched for any hint online of someone finding an erotic coupon book, which apparently happens now and then, especially on February 14th because I found a few instances. None of them were anywhere close to Vancouver though.
Finally, it was time to go. I wasn’t sure what to think about Shanti’s behavior. I had gotten a slight impression she had been interested in me a few months before when I had just met her but that went away. It was this timing I didn’t understand, granted it was Valentine’s Day but for her to ask me out a few hours after the coupon book goes missing and then to weirdly say Ella wouldn’t mind and it wouldn’t be serious? It didn’t add up.
On the other hand, she was a good person, and clearly a great friend to Ella and someone I had always liked a lot. I couldn’t imagine her having any sort of nefarious goal. So what was it? The coupon book and the secret Ella and I shared were just all consuming and I couldn’t take the chance. I should have just asked Shanti at the coffee shop right there if she had found anything, but I had frozen.
The walk down to the AHS building took about 15 minutes so I was there a little before 6 PM. While I had been walking through the cool early spring anadolu yakası escort bayan weather, I had a chance to think and calm myself. Every hour that passed since Ella had called me without anything happening made me slightly more convinced nothing would. After all, even if someone found it they might not know me. And if they did know me, they might not look through the book. And if they did look through the book, they might not catch the doodle Ella had made. Might not, might not, might not.
As I walked towards the entrance I could see some people in evening wear entering the Alumni Building. That must be where the formal dinner was, and according to Shanti she had two tickets for the more casual dinner and a show Valentine’s Day event next door in the Great Hall South. I was still a half a block away when I saw Shanti outside between the buildings, looking around through the crowd.
She looked great, as she always did. She was still wearing tight jeans that accented her long legs, but she had changed into a nice black top that went well with her colourful winter jacket. Her long black hair was loose and fell in a thick wave well past her shoulders. Her striking profile was in full effect as she looked down the street at an angle to me, her warm brown skin catching the light just so. She was beautiful, and a funny, extremely smart and very ambitious woman as well. The total package really, and for a moment I was sad that I could never meet Ella like this. Ella could never be waiting for me to show up for our date on campus, looking gorgeous and excited.
Well those gloomy thoughts certainly weren’t going to be at all useful! I was still a hundred feet away down University Boulevard, not quite close enough to call out, when Shanti began looking towards the crowd at the Alumni Centre and walked out of view. As she did, my phone vibrated and a goal horn played.
“Uh, hi dad?” I said after hitting the answer button. I stopped walking and stood on the sidewalk, using my free hand to block out the street noise.
“Hi Evan, how are you?” He asked.
“Oh, doing well dad, how are you?” I couldn’t help but immediately think about what Ella had told me the night before. I felt bad that I hadn’t reached out to him when he was going through a bad time, but honestly, I just don’t think I knew what to say or even how to bring it up. Like a little kid, I couldn’t say anything about my parents maybe splitting up without making it more real.
“Doing all right, all things considered.” He paused for a moment and then continued, “I guess you’ve heard about your mother and me. What’s happening.”
I sighed and walked to a bus stop bench, sitting down. “Ella told me some. She talked to mom last night. I’m really sorry dad, I wish like hell I could do something to help. Is there anything I can do?”
Dad gave a short laugh. Say what you want about guys and repressing our emotions, but in times like this I didn’t mind defaulting to the strong silent type routine. Dad wasn’t going to start crying about his relationship on the phone with his son, and I sure wasn’t going to either. It sucked, he was unhappy and sad, and we both knew it. Stiff upper lip time, and we both gladly fell into our gendered roles.
“No, I doubt there’s anything you or your sister can do, but I appreciate you offering. Your mother and I will sort it out, one way or the other. But look, is your mom there? She texted me that she was going to see you guys tonight.”
I was briefly surprised, but it made sense that mom would have let him know. She hadn’t mentioned that to me, but we had more pressing matters. “Well she’s not with me right now, I’m off to meet a friend. She is probably with Ella but I’m not sure where they are at. Maybe at the apartment?”
“I called your mother but no answer, I guess I’ll try your sister when I’m closer. Regardless if you see them let them know I’m on my way to UBC, I should be there in about an hour. I… I need to talk to your mom and I don’t think it should wait. I’ll send her another message maybe, but I don’t want to miss her and she’s going to her sister’s tonight.”
For the first time, I heard some clear pain in my dad’s voice as he said, “Some things you need to say in person, I guess. Anyway, I don’t want to ruin your night, you have a good time ok son?”
“Don’t worry about us at all dad, I just want you and mom to figure out whatever you both need to be happy. Whatever happens, Ella and I love you both and that won’t change.”
A long pause then gruffly he replied, “Thank you Evan. I really appreciate it. Give your mom my message if you see her, if not I’ll go to your apartment and meet up with her there. Just as good doing it on neutral ground. I love you son.”
“I love you too dad. Bye.”
He hung up and I stared at my phone. Was he going to end it all tonight, on Valentine’s Day? In Ella and I’s apartment? Jesus. I considered calling my mom or messaging her but she’s not the best at noticing her texts sometimes. I was still thinking about what to do when I saw an incoming message.
Sushanti Nath: Hey Evan! I see you! I’m just at the entrance now!
I looked up and saw Shanti, holding her phone and waving. With a sigh I tried to mentally move from one ongoing heartbreak to a different potential disaster.
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