Grace led her to the door, taking her by the hand as she did so. It was just as much to keep her from falling as it was to keep her from shaking uncontrollably at this point. Mike knew in her heart that she might not be ready for this, but she also knew that it was inevitable. Paris lived only on the next block over from them and they would take the same bus to school in the Fall from the same stop. She clenched involuntarily as Grace opened the door.
He’s going to know!
“He has no idea, Mike. Calm down.” Her mother seemed to know exactly what to say, which was comforting.
Mike looked down at what she was wearing involuntarily. She wore a baggy pair of shorts and a hooded t-shirt. It wasn’t really anything to look at, but that couldn’t be helped – it’s not as though she could run upstairs and change and then run back down before seeing him. Grace put her keys in the bowl on the kitchen table as she normally did. Mike breathed a sigh of relief as she heard the sounds of the Xbox going in the family room. That meant they were most likely playing Halo together, or something engrossing like that. Peter did enjoy computer games as much as She and Paris did, and never turned down an opportunity to blast either of them to pieces.
Before the accident, she shared a room with Peter. It didn’t bother her; they were very close and got along well despite the difference in their personalities. Now that she was a girl, she’d been informed that they moved her things into Danny’s old room at the end of the hall. Since he was in the Navy now, he was rarely home except some weekends, so it was more than ok to move his things and let her take that room. She protested at first, but Grace had wisely explained that she would need her privacy and that continuing to sleep with Peter would make him uncomfortable. She padded past her old room, pausing for a moment as if she meant to enter. She turned slowly and took the few extra steps down the hall towards her new room.
She was momentarily startled by the sound of Paris’s voice as he stepped out from Peter’s room holding a pack of batteries. She spun around to face him, involuntarily locking eyes and dropping her bag. Paris froze in place, not wanting to startle her. He was tall and lanky like she remembered with thick, wavy black hair with bangs that cascaded into his eyes at odd intervals. With skin of deep brown, his boyish looks were only enhanced by his dark brown eyes and easy smile. Only now he seemed much taller and broader, which for some reason didn’t seem to have anything to do with the fact that she was in a much smaller frame.
Mike was rooted to the spot, unable to move. She looked back and forth, as if she was desperately looking for an escape hatch. Paris took a tentative step forward.
“I didn’t mean to startle you. You’re Peter’s cousin, aren’t--”
Emotions surged forth in her heart as she remembered what happened, forced by the moment. The images of the car, the breaking glass, the sidewalk –even the look on her brother’s face flooded her mind all at once. Her vision blurred, and the hallway seemed to lose cohesion as the outpouring of emotion took control. She must have been visibly shaken because Paris’s look turned into a mixture of mild horror and concern. She found it difficult to breathe properly.
How can women live like this?
What did he say?
Paris took a few tentative steps forward. In her helplessness, all she could do was watch him approach, even though her eyes begged him not to.
“It’s you? …Isn’t it?”
How could you know? How could you know so easily?
She couldn’t understand how he’d come to that conclusion so quickly. Her knees buckled as she struggled to stay standing. She fell forward after losing to her own emotions. Paris caught her by the arms easily and helped her into a more steady position on the floor. Even on his knees, he towered over her. She held onto his arm, fearful to let go, and in a thin voice asked:
“How could you know?”
Paris exhaled slowly as if he’d just set aside a great weight. He brought his other hand to the back of her head and hugged her fiercely.
“We’ve been friends for half our lives, Mike. I’d know you anywhere.”
The words were simple and comforting. Paris liked to talk as much as she did, but he’d always been better with words –more focused. He always knew how to get to the heart of the matter quickly.
“I’d suspected… I’d hoped… Your family didn’t grieve in the way that I thought they would. They said all the words, but it didn’tfeellike they believed you were dead. Plus I know what your father does for a living.
After the funeral, he and Peter were barely home, spending almost all their time at his lab. I thought that he might be throwing himself into his work –but then why would Peter be with him? Then the announcement about a cousin coming to live with you came and I knew it was you.”
She buried his head into the crook in his arm, and looked up to see both her mom and Peter standing silently at the end of the hall. She wanted to wipe the tears from her face, but her hands refused to let go of her friend. He was alive and whole –a fact that she knew, but the full weight of it had not reached her until this moment.
Paris, it seemed, did not seem to want to let go either. “I never got to say it. You saved my life, Mike. You gave up everything for me. …I don’t know if thank you is enough, but thank you.”
She tugged at the fabric of his shirt for a moment longer and then relaxed a little bit. “I’m still getting used to this. Everything fires off at once, and I don’t know what to do and things like this happen. It’s embarrassing…”
“I don’t think anyone here minds, Mike.”