Virginia’s home had enough space to house twice as many people as I’d brought with me, with room to spare, but she contrived a reason to place us all within the same wing of the building. Michel and I shared a room, to our mutual intense embarrassment. Mila requested a room with a corner view which, conveniently, happened to be located in a spot which gave her a great vantage over the driveway and any approaching vehicles. Devlin made no special requests and he ended up, by sheer coincidence, only two rooms away from me.
He and I hadn’t spoken since the brief exchange down in the kitchen. If I’d been honest with myself, I would have acknowledged that my reactions weren’t very fair to him. He had every right to be upset. Maybe I would even gone so far as to accept that his side commentary was the least I deserved for springing so much on him, with so little warning. But I wasn’t honest with myself, so I stalked into the room without so much as a glance in his direction, and slammed the door with far more force than necessary.
It was petty, sure, but that didn’t make it feel any less good.
A moment later, the doorknob turned and I prepared to hurl verbal fire at Devlin. I choked back the insults when Michel’s head appeared around the corner, instead of my ex-husband’s. “Should I go somewhere else or…?”
I blew out a breath and ran both hands through my hair before answering. “No, you’re…you’re fine. This is your room too, apparently. At least as long as we’re stuck working out of my grandmother’s house.”
Michel opened the door wide enough for him to slip inside, then closed it behind him with a soft click. Between CJ and the as-yet unnamed guard, our luggage had been moved inside and placed in appropriately discreet places. Michel crossed the room to his luggage and sat down on top of a trunk. He didn’t say anything, choosing instead to tilt his head and turn a level gaze in my direction.
I endured that for as long as I could – a full two minutes, which seemed more than reasonable to me – before I started to angrily unpack my own suitcase. Still, I felt his eyes on my back.
“What?” I asked, without turning around. Clothes flew out of the suitcase and only managed to land in the bed’s general area, instead of on the mattress proper.
“I did not say anything.”
“I know that you aren’t saying anything, Michel. I would prefer it if you did, instead of trying to communicate whatever you’re thinking through the sheer power of brainwaves.”
“I was not…” He cut himself, waited a few seconds, and tried again. “I am not sure what to think. If it feels like I am trying to tell you something, it is not on purpose.”
“You’re not sure what to think about what?” Devlin had told me at one point that repeated questions implied the speaker was struggling to find conversational footing. The knowledge that he’d easily be able to read through my actions only stoked my anger higher. “Do you think he was right, doing what he did?”
“I am not sure what he did,” Michel stressed. “Remember, I am not a native speaker, Sarah. Innuendo does not always translate well.”
“You aren’t a – nevermind. You do understand that he was saying two things at the same thing downstairs, right? Even if you don’t necessarily get what he meant?”
He cleared his throat, just as I reached the bottom of a suitcase. I weighed the merits of turning my emotions to the task of savaging another one, but decided against it. Michel hadn’t done anything wrong. I wasn’t even sure that Devlin had really done anything wrong, current emotional storm notwithstanding. I cleared a spot on the bed for me to sit and took my place there, facing Michel.
“I know what you are talking about, yes,” he said.
“And do you think he was right to do what he did? To say what he said?”
Michel responded with a helpless shrug. “What do you think, Sarah? He did not say those things for my benefit. I think that Emilia noticed, but I also do not think she cares. And it certainly was not for your grandmother.”
I paused to give that a little bit of thought. Michel had a point. It wasn’t as though Devlin had coded messages in such a way as to put me down in front of my grandmother. Maybe if she’d known about our late marriage, but otherwise? She was likely to chalk it up to a personality quirk and move on to other, more important things. So why would he say things that he knew I’d understand and take offense at?
Devlin was a spur-of-the-moment thinker, a man who acted first and thought things over days or weeks later when the dust settled. He was getting better at crafting plans that took longer than a few seconds to put into action, but it was still wildly out of character for him. He let his emotions do the talking and simply followed in their wake, whenever possible.
So his actions downstairs couldn’t have been a part of some grand plan to get under my skin. He hadn’t the time to come up with anything like that, to begin with, and Devlin had never been particularly petty. What possibilities did that leave, then? Could he have just been showing off, demonstrating his ability to think faster on his feet than I could, and throwing in a little touch of double meaning to vent his emotions? Or had it just slipped out, unplanned and unbidden?
That last bit seemed like the most likely answer. Except that, in order for it to be true, Devlin would have needed to be completely off of his game. When he was playing a character, he became that character. Outside of the occasional nose-tweaking – his immediate rivalry with Hill came to mind – he wouldn’t ever risk breaking character and he certainly wouldn’t risk burning an identity just to score a point. Unless…unless he was that hurt by the revelation that I’d never told my parents about his race. If that was the case, there was no telling exactly how rattled he might be.
I’d expected to hurt him, but I hadn’t expected to shatter him. Even though I wasn’t quite sure what I’d done or why it had affected him so much, a deep pool of guilt welled up in my stomach.
“Michel? How…how bad did I mess up?”
He gave the question a serious amount of consideration before he answered. Even as I found myself irritated at the prolonged silence, I appreciated that he wasn’t just spouting the first thing that popped into his mind.
“I have been kept secret before,” Michel said finally. He was speaking slowly, like someone who’d just learned the language instead of a near-native speaker. “It was not a…pleasant experience.”
Put in that light, I felt even worse about my omission. “That’s not the same thing,” I protested.
“Is it not? You were in love, but you did not want anyone to find out exactly who you were in love with. How is it different?”
I opened my mouth to reply and, slowly, closed it as I realized that I didn’t actually have an argument in my defense.
Michel continued, slow and inexorable. “I do not think you have ruined anything, if that is what you are worried about.”
“You’re telling me that I basically buried Devlin in the closet, didn’t let him know he was in the closet, and then sprung it all on him without giving him a chance to adapt. How would that not ruin things?”
“There are differences in the situation,” Michel said.
He gave me a long, intense look. I got the impression that he was attempting to transfer some message, using nothing but his eyes, but I couldn’t quite get a grip on his meaning. I drew in the breath to ask him to speak his thoughts plainly, but a knock at the door interrupted me.
“Sarah?” Devlin’s voice, tentative and hesitating. “Can we talk?”
Before I had an opportunity to respond, Michel stood up and made his way over to the door. “I need to see what vehicles your grandmother has in her garage,” he said. “It will be better to know now than to find out later, no?”
It was a thin excuse and we both knew it. But I made no effort to stop him. Michel allowed Devlin to enter the room, slipped around him, and shut the door in his wake.
Devlin and I stood alone, several feet apart, looking at any- and everything in the room except each other. Academically, I was willing to accept that I’d dealt him a deeper wound than expected, but my pride still wouldn’t allow me to make the first peace overture. I tried to will Devlin to understand my position: he’d attacked me for making the only possible decision I could have made, given the circumstances, and I wasn’t about to pretend that I could have made any other choice. I was sorry that I’d hurt him, and I understood that he had his own valid reasons to be upset with me, but I just couldn’t take the first step without ceding some ethereal territory.
Either he understood or he was less welded to his own pride. Whatever the cause, Devlin extended the olive branch before I was forced to. “I shouldn’t have said those things,” he said. “I’m sorry about that. It was a mistake that I made because…well, whatever the reason, it wasn’t appropriate. Really, I’m sorry.”
With that first step taken, I was free to speak my own thoughts. “I didn’t think about how it would affect you,” I admitted. “And I really should have considered that. That one’s on me, and I’m sorry for insulting you like that.”
He blinked. “Insulting me? What’re you talking about?”
“It wasn’t like I thought you weren’t good enough for them or anything like that,” I said. “You know that wasn’t the case, don’t you?”
“It really hadn’t crossed my mind, but it’s good to hear anyway.”
Devlin’s tone said the exact opposite of that, but I didn’t realize that until I was already halfway through the next sentence before my mind caught up and translated his body language into something I understood.
“My parents aren’t even like that,” I said. “But that’s not the point. I shouldn’t have kept you a secret from them and I really want you to know that I get how big of a deal it is.”
“Sarah,” Devlin said. He dragged out the two syllables of my name and, finally, I caught the hint of danger in his voice. I wasn’t at all frightened of Devlin’s anger – at most, he might raise his voice, but even that was unlikely in a situation where my grandmother could hear his voice – but the possibility that I’d somehow misspoken again loomed like a mountain in the distance.
“Did I say something wrong?” I asked. “You know I’m not good at this, Dev, but -”
He raised a hand and cut me off, mid-sentence. “Do you even understand what upset me? Actually, truly understand?”
I thought over the last few minutes of conversation and cross-referenced them with the exchange we’d had in the car on the way over to my grandmother’s house. “I…think so?” I said, finally. “You’re upset that I didn’t tell my parents that you’re white, as if I was somehow ashamed of that.”
He barked out a sharp, bitter laugh. “You think that bothered me?”
“…did it not?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Devlin said, “that’s plenty irritating, but seriously? It’s not like I forgot about the differences in our skin color. I don’t think about it often, but you really have no idea how much shit I got from other crews back when we were…well, you know.”
I might not have known specifically, but I had a pretty good idea and was willing to bet that I’d dealt with a lot more subtle racism and sexism than Devlin. This didn’t seem like the right moment to bring that up, though.
“What, then?” I asked. “What got you so upset?”
“Sarah, you weren’t hiding me from your parents because you were ashamed of the fact that I’m white,” Devlin said. “I mean, sure, maybe that had something to do with it, but that wasn’t the real reason.”
I felt my hackles begin to rise. I tried to suppress the flash of anger and was only moderately successful. “Then why? Please, Devlin, tell me exactly what I was feeling.”
“You were ashamed that I’m a thief,” he said immediately. “Not even that, actually. You were ashamed that you’re a thief.”
The anger that had threatened to rise up, higher than my internal walls, evaporated instantly. Was he right? Devlin did have an eerie ability to accurately spot what someone was actually feeling, as opposed to what they claimed to feel. He wouldn’t have been very good at his job, otherwise. But was he actually able to read me that well?
I tried to distance myself from my own thoughts, so that I could examine them dispassionately. The effort wasn’t wholly successful, but I did manage to give myself a bit of perspective. In the deepest parts of my heart, I knew that my parents wouldn’t really have cared all that much about Devlin’s race. Even if they had, it wasn’t as though I’d decided to live my entire life based on what did or did not meet their expectations. So why had I used that as a scapegoat?
The answer came back from the hollows of my mind instantly: because it was easier. Devlin didn’t have a biological family anymore. He made light of that fact and generally tiptoed around the subject, but facts were facts. He wouldn’t have been able to understand the delicate interplay between an average mother and daughter pair, or a pair of siblings Toss in the added difficulty of my family’s public identities and it quickly became impossible that Devlin would be able to do more than build a vague mental model of them. Essentially, blaming my failure to properly inform them of matters would have fallen outside of his experience..if and only if that had been my real reason for staying quiet. The more I thought about it, the more I was beginning to doubt that fact.
Devlin was still talking. “That’s why you didn’t want to tell them about me. How do you explain how we met? You’d have to pick a lie and stick to it, forever. When your family asks what I do for a living – and we both know that was going to be a question, at some point – what answer do you give them? Art acquisition? Wealth redistribution?” He laughed again and the sound was almost acrid in the humid air of the house.
“That…that isn’t true,” I protested, hating the weakness and insecurity in my voice. “Why would I even be ashamed of that?”
Devlin shrugged both shoulders. “How should I know? I’m not in your head, Sarah; I’m just good at picking up on signals. And you were signaling ‘shame’ the entire way from the airport to your grandmother’s house. Now that we’re here…” He trailed off, inviting me to fill in the rest of his thought, without explicitly inviting me to do so.
I couldn’t find any words to fill the silence. As soon as Devlin had spoken his suspicions out loud, they’d found purchase in my brain and refused to relax their grip. I restricted myself to staring in his direction, while my mouth worked open and closed in search of the proper answer.
No such answer arrived.
After nearly a full minute of this, Devlin shrugged again. “Anyway. I just wanted to apologize. It won’t get in the way of the job again, promise. I just needed some time to process.”
I wanted to tell him that he was processing this wrong, that there were a dozen reasons why someone in my position would have made the choice I’d made. But that would have been a lie: there were only a precious few reasons someone would emerge from the shelter of privilege, take up life as a hacker, and still balk at the idea of introducing a loved one to family. Fear wasn’t one of them.
So, what was Devlin actually right? Was I using the imagined reactions of my parents as an excuse to cover some deep-seated insecurities?
“Are we good?”
I hauled myself back into the present. “What?”
“Are we good?” Devlin repeated. “Everyone made mistakes, so everyone could use a do-over. Sound like a deal?”
I nodded to signal my agreement, but also because I couldn’t quite trust my voice. Almost every cell in my body wanted to violently defend themselves against his accusations, but not all of them. Some of them only wanted to curl up in a ball and steadfastly refuse to accep the validity of Devlin’s arguments.
Devlin took the nod as assent, turned, and left the room without another word. I was pretty sure he was still keeping some things close to his vest – which he always did – but I couldn’t deal with the prospect of navigating through his accusations and then checking myself for any corresponding thoughts.
What I needed, I realized, was an appointment with Doctor Bridges.
But, that appointment being currently out of the question, I choose instead to busy myself with the process of unpacking and cleaning up the mess I’d made while tearing through my luggage. That didn’t take nearly as long as expected. I sought out places to stash clothing and made use of them. Still, no one returned to the room.
Eventually, with nothing left to do, I laid down on the bed and allowed exhaustion to seep back into my conscious mind. When Michel returned to the room – if Michel returned to the room – he would have found me passed out on top of the sheets. To an outside observer, I might even have looked peaceful in sleep.
But, within the walls of my own mind, I was anything but peaceful. Echoing refrains of Devlin’s accusation returned to me in the darkness, time and time again, and my sleep – if that’s what you could even call it – was anything but restful.