Chapter 1: first
i. Mary meets Matthew during Orientation. They are in the same Literature Humanities class, and he lets her read along in his copy of The Iliad when she realizes she has left hers in her room. She likes that he does not say anything when she tugs the book closer to her.
"Let's talk about fate," the professor says, adjusting his glasses. "Why do you think Homer deals with it the way he does?"
A girl in the corner raises her hand. "Well," she says, "Homer makes his characters aware of their destiny. They already know what's going to happen and so does Homer's audience. So I think he loses a lot of dramatic irony or whatever. "
Mary smiles slightly and makes a note in the margins of Matthew's book. He reads it, and looks at her with surprised eyes. He nods towards the professor, but she shakes her head. Shrugging, he pulls the book towards him a little, and raises his hand.
"Yes, Mr. Crawley?"
"I don't exactly agree. If anything, I think Homer gains a lot by making his characters aware."
Mary looks at Matthew sharply, and reaches to grab the book back from him, but he rests his arm across it.
"Please, elaborate," the professor says.
"I mean, I think that the characters come across as a lot more tragic this way. Achilles knows he's going to die but he keeps fighting because there's no escaping it. And I think Homer does that on purpose. He makes a tragedy that much more tragic by having these people go knowingly to their deaths."
The professor nods slowly. "Yes, I think there's something to that. Anybody have any thoughts in response?" Mary sits back in her chair with a sigh and does not look at Matthew again.
When class has finished and they are filing out, she is not surprised when he falls into step beside her.
"Hi." She does not respond. "Well? Did I get it right?" he asks.
"Your note. I wanted to make sure I said it right."
"You said it just fine," she replies coolly.
"Hey, relax. The professor liked it."
"How lovely for you."
"Look, I didn't mean to upset you."
"Please, as if you matter enough to be upset over." He stops walking, and she startles herself when she does too, turning to face him. "What?"
He looks at her for a long moment, and then shrugs, his blond hair falling over his eyes. "You're really not very good at this, are you?"
"Good at what?"
He laughs. "Meeting people, making friends. You know, being sociable."
She waits for the appropriate response to come to mind, for the familiar, bitter taste of vinegar and sarcasm to fill her mouth, but it never comes. He sighs and takes a slight step towards her.
"You're Mary, right?"
"And you're my stalker, I take it?"
"Yeah, sure. I also heard your name when the professor took attendance. But mostly the stalking. I'm Matthew." She laughs lightly, looking a little embarrassed.
"Oh, so now who's the stalker?"
"I saw your name written in your book, okay? That's perfectly normal."
Matthew grins widely. "All right. Truce?"
"Fine," she replies.
"Shake on it?"
When she walks away from him, she is almost sure he watches her go.
Chapter 2: second
ii. She sees him again in the Student Center a week later. She is walking down the stairs from the second floor and he is sitting in the café in the corner of the lobby, but she knows the set of his shoulders with a familiarity that is, she thinks, rather alarming. When she reaches the foot of the stairs, she pauses a moment, and is about to leave when he looks up. She remembers that she was not particularly kind to him during their first meeting, so when he leans back and smiles at her, gesturing to the chair across from him, she is surprised enough that she walks towards him before she can respond to the invitation with an appropriate look of disdain.
"Hi, Mary," he says brightly as she stops to stand by the table, her fingers tightly clutching the strap of her bag. "Won't you sit?"
She looks down at the proffered chair. She is fairly sure he's had his feet up on the seat of it. "I'm quite all right where I am, thank you."
"You're Matthew, right?" She remembers his name perfectly well, but is at the same time perfectly sure that it would never do to let him know that.
"Yeah, that's it. Matthew Crawley. Of the Tribeca Crawleys." He chuckles at his own joke and she rolls her eyes.
"Tribeca. I suppose that's respectable," she replies. "That is to say, it isn't entirely heathen."
"Heathen? And you're from where, exactly? The Upper East Side?" He pauses a moment, and then groans. "Oh God, you are, aren't you?"
"What? You say that like it's a bad thing."
"It's not a bad thing, per say." Matthew leans back and tilts his head to one side with a smirk. "It just explains a lot about why you were so rude–"
"– yes, rude, when I met you the other day."
Mary knows she should be upset or irritated or at least a little bit insulted but she is laughing and toying with the ends of her dark hair.
"Anyway," he continues, "I did want to apologize. I didn't mean to steal your idea in class. It's just that you weren't saying anything and, well, I thought it should be heard."
"You thought it should be heard," she repeats uncertainly.
"Yeah." He looks at her as if he is reading an encyclopedia. "You're smart."
"You sound as if that surprises you."
"And if I said it did?"
"I'd say the Upper East Side isn't the only neighborhood in New York with a penchant for rude behavior." She likes the way he smiles in response – widely, as if at the dentist's office, as if nobody had ever taught him how to look nice in pictures.
"Are we going to have to negotiate another truce?" he asks.
"I think doing so would be in your best interests, yes."
"Then consider it done."
She smiles and starts walking towards the door. She is almost there when she hears him call out to her.
"So what do you think? Am I going to see you again?"
She turns to look back at him with a coy grin. "If you're lucky."
"No," he says firmly. "Not 'if you're lucky.' Just say yes."
She frowns. This is the second time that she has waited for resentment to coil in her stomach and been disappointed. "Yes. All right, yes."
Three minutes later, Mary is halfway across campus and two thirds of the way to admitting that perhaps, all things considered, Matthew Crawley is not really all that bad. If you like that sort of thing.
Chapter 3: third
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
iii. Mary's father, Robert, calls her one morning in early October to tell her that her presence is expected at the family apartment that evening. Her parents are hosting a party for her father's clients, and the entire family will be there.
Mary puts on a black dress and black high heels, curls her hair and takes a cab across town to the old stone building (pre-war, as her mother tells anyone who will listen) where she grew up. From the street she can see light pouring out the apartment windows and her ears fill with the laughter of men wearing suits and the sound of cocktail glasses clinking together at the bar.
The doorman waves her into the building, and she steps into the elevator, pressing the button for the penthouse. The carpet in the elevator car is worn and if she looks closely, she thinks that maybe she can make out her old footprints, small and restless.
Mary's mother, Cora, is at her side almost the minute the doors open, grabbing her elbow and steering her towards the coat closet in the hall.
"Finally, you're here. Really, Mary, it's just across town. Couldn't you have been here any sooner?" She helps Mary out of her coat quickly, one of her rings snagging on its silk lining.
"You say 'across town' like it means 'across the street.' And relax, Mom. I'm sure nobody noticed. Are Sybil and Edith here?"
Cora nods distractedly. "Of course they are. Now, would you find your father? He wanted you to meet somebody."
"All right," Mary says, rolling her eyes. Her mother ushers her out of the coat closet and back towards the party. They enter the large, open room and Mary winces slightly, the loud colors of the cocktails and party dresses washing over her like a headache.
"Oh God, I forgot what these were like."
"They all look like they're dressed for Mardi Gras."
"Or Liberace's birthday party."
Cora smiles slightly and brushes Mary's hair back over her shoulder. "Do try to have a little fun, darling," she says as she disappears into the bright crowd.
Mary wanders across the room to the far wall, where her sisters are huddled together, giggling into their drinks. Sybil, young with eager eyes, looks up as Mary approaches and shrieks, throwing her arms tightly around Mary's neck.
"I didn't know you were coming!" she cries.
"Well, Dad practically threatened to send a SWAT team after me if I didn't show."
"Oh, Mary, you have to tell me all about college. Is it amazing? Do you have fun?" Sybil hiccups, tottering on heels she hasn't quite learned to walk in.
Mary laughs. "Not quite as much as you seem to be having right now. You've started without me, I see." She snatches the glass from Sybil's hands. Over Sybil's shoulder, Edith shakes her head and mouths the words 'club soda.' Mary takes a long sip, making sure to cough and grimace when she swallows.
"Good, right?" Sybil asks, and Mary nods.
"Strong stuff. You be careful with that, okay?" She bites her lip to keep from laughing and Edith smiles as widely as she ever does, the corners of her mouth twisting up slowly. "All right. I've got to find Dad. Have you guys seen him?"
Edith shrugs. "He's somewhere over by the bar, I think."
Mary sighs and is turning to cross the room when a man shoulders past her, sending her stumbling into Sybil. As she regains her footing, she can hear him saying something, but she's more concerned about the spot on her dress from where Sybil spilled her drink. At least, she thinks wryly, it was only club soda.
"I'm so sorry," he is saying. "Are you okay?" She turns around and blinks owlishly, startled to find herself only a few inches from the man.
She first notices his suit, an acceptably reserved shade of grey. Then the broad slope of his shoulders. Then his hair, thick and dark. And then the line of his jaw, which makes her stomach drop and her mouth dry up.
"I'm fine, thanks."
"Kevin Palmer." They shake hands and she flushes slightly. "You're Robert's girl, right?"
Something sparks deep in her chest. "Mary," she says firmly. "I'm Mary."
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Mary."
She leans into him a little. His eyes darken and when she smiles, it feels like triumph. "Of course it is."
She turns back to her sisters. Sybil's mouth is hanging open slightly. Edith has one eyebrow raised in disdain. After a moment, Mary hears Kevin walk away, into the crowd, and she lets out her breath in a rush.
"Well?" she asks. "Did it work?"
Sybil nods frantically. "He looked like he got hit by a bus after you turned around. Will you teach me to do that?"
Edith scoffs. "I hardly think that's something you want to learn."
"And what a nice name," Sybil sighs reverently. "Kevin Palmer. I never thought the name Kevin was all that attractive but I guess I'll have to change my mind."
Mary frowns. "Wait. Palmer. It sounds so familiar. Haven't you heard that before?"
Edith waves a hand dismissively. "He's one of Dad's clients, I think."
"But I remember it being important. I think Mom and Dad were talking about him a lot, right before I left for school."
"Maybe he's the one that saved the company."
"Sybil, please," Edith says. "Let's not mention that here."
"Why? Everybody knows about the recession. It's not a secret."
"It is here."
"Edith's right," Mary says quietly. "If people found out how close we came, they wouldn't stay with Dad."
"Nobody can know, okay? Look, I've got to go find Dad. I'll see you guys later."
She crosses the room to the bar and finds her father there, one hand clutching a glass of scotch and the other patting the back of a young man Mary recognizes. Rage winds its way around her ribs and burrows into her heart and nobody looks at her the way her father is looking at Matthew, with bright eyes and a wide, proud mouth.
"Ah, Mary, there you are!" Robert cries, waving her over. "This is Matthew, Dr. Crawley's son. He tells me he goes to Columbia – I thought maybe you two had met."
Matthew opens his mouth to speak and she can see the word forming on the tip of his tongue but today is not a day for affirmation.
"No," she spits out. "We haven't." She hears his slight cough of surprise, but he doesn't say anything to contradict her.
"Well, in that case, Matthew, this is my daughter Mary. She's studying classics – maybe that's why you haven't met her. I can't imagine there must be many people taking those classes." Robert laughs and takes a sip of his scotch. Mary grits her teeth.
"You're not a fan of classics, Matthew?" she asks, and he looks down, shaking his head.
"Matthew is an economics major," Robert says firmly.
Mary narrows her eyes and Matthew shifts from foot to foot uncomfortably. "Really? Economics?"
"It's just something I'm thinking about."
"Well, it's an excellent option, my boy. Very practical and very interesting. I have always recommended it." Somebody calls to him from across the room, and he sets his glass down, straightening his tie. "Well, that's a client – I'll leave you two to chat. Matthew, see if you can convince Mary to join you in some of those econ classes. And make sure to say goodbye before you leave."
Mary watches her father go, picks up his abandoned glass of scotch from the bar and finishes it in one sip. She can feel Matthew watching her carefully.
"Why did you tell your father you don't know me?" he asks. She leans against the bar. Kevin Palmer looks at her from across the room.
"He called you 'my boy.' Did you hear that?"
"He likes you."
Maybe it is the scratch the scotch has left in her voice or maybe it is the way her knuckles turn white as she grips the empty glass, but something softens the frown on Matthew's face and when his hand brushes her shoulder cautiously it is more than she can bear. She leaves the glass on the bar and slips down the hall, up the stairs and into her old room.
It is dark here – the sun has disappeared behind a forest of high-rise buildings and the shades on her window allow only thin stripes of light from the street to filter through. Mary leaves the lights as they are and sits down heavily on the bed. She toes off her black high heels and presses her bare feet into the carpet. There, next to her left foot, is the lipstick stain she made when she was twelve and putting it on for the first time. It was, she thinks, very clearly the wrong shade for her.
She stands up quickly when she hears the door creak open. Kevin Palmer is leaning against the doorframe, his hands in his pockets and his thick, dark hair hanging in front of his eyes. Mary wishes she were not barefoot.
"Can I help you?" she asks. He doesn't answer, but steps into the room and pushes the door closed behind him. She watches as he takes slow, deliberate steps towards her.
"You know, Mary," he says suddenly, "I've been watching you tonight. I find you very attractive."
She starts a little. "Thank you. I mean, that's very–"
"And I think you find me attractive too."
"That's rather presumptuous of you."
He laughs. "Oh, I don't think so. You see, I know quite a bit about you, Mary." A beam of light from the street slants across his face and Mary presses her hands nervously to her stomach.
"I'm really not sure what you mean."
"I think that you like to make a little trouble," Kevin says. He is in front of her and she leans towards him a bit before she can stop herself. "That you're the rebel." He steps in closer. Her mouth dries up. "The wild child."
When he kisses her, Mary stays as still as she can but his image of her is setting fire to her veins and she can feel herself start to tremble. He pulls away and she bites her lip.
"Come on, Mary." His fingers ghost along her sides.
"Not with my family and everybody downstairs. I can't."
He lays a kiss along the line of her jaw. "Yes, you can."
"Let's just go back."
"It's so boring down there," he whispers against her neck. "I want to have fun." He lifts his head and his eyes are a steely grey when they meet hers. "You want me to have fun, Mary."
"You do." His hands close around her hips and pull them tight against his own. She flushes with shame and exhilaration when a small sigh forces its way out of her. "Keep me at the party, sweetheart. You don't want me to leave."
His words sink into her skin and settle there like a tattoo. She knows exactly what he means. This is something she can do, and she will wear this night like a medal, pinned to the inside of her heart.
He kisses her again, and this time she allows her mouth to open, her hands to clutch the lapels of his jacket, her back to arch against him. When his hands grasp the hem of her dress and begin to bunch it around her waist, she stumbles backwards away from the bed, with its pale coverlet and stiff sheets, to lean against the wall, next to a poster of Paris she bought when she was sixteen. He follows, one of his legs pushing between hers and his mouth open and hot on her collarbone.
She reaches for his belt and he groans into her ear, making her hands shake and her eyes flutter shut. He slides her underwear down around her ankles and she blushes when she trips slightly trying to kick them off all the way. But then his hips are pressing against hers, her legs are around his waist and she clutches his shoulders, her head thrown back. There is the dim murmur of laughter from the party downstairs and a roaring in her ears and she never says his name, but she hears him whisper hers.
When it's over, he straightens his tie and tells her to wait a few minutes before coming downstairs. He leaves with a wink and she sinks down to the floor, folding her arms around her knees. She feels light and dangerous and she knows that if she were to look in a mirror, she would not recognize her own smile – satisfied, proud, and a little bit cruel. Something is strange now about the way her heart fits in her chest.
She waits until the sound from below starts to thin out, and then stands, slipping her heels back on and smoothing out the wrinkles in her dress. There is a mirror in the corner of the room but she ignores it, grabbing a stray hair elastic from the nightstand and pulling her hair up into a ponytail. She pauses in the doorway, looking back at the perfectly made bed and the white carpet, and wonders how much of herself she will leave behind when she closes the door.
As she walks down the stairs, she bites back a laugh. Matthew is standing by the bar, looking nervous and cornered as Edith twirls her hair clumsily and giggles at a gratingly high pitch. He glances up at Mary as she descends and relief washes over his face. She sighs. Somebody, she thinks, really needs to get a hold of Edith.
"Come on, Matthew," she says briskly, crossing to him and grabbing his elbow. "We're leaving."
"You're leaving with him? What for?"
"To go back to school. Honestly, Edith. Tell Mom and Dad I had to go, won't you?" Mary rolls her eyes and leads Matthew towards the coat closet, not waiting to hear Edith's answering whine.
Matthew pulls on his coat and she bats his hands away when he moves to help her with her own. They wait for the elevator together, and she can't stop fidgeting or pulling at her dress or adjusting her ponytail and as the elevator doors open and they step inside, she realizes that it's Matthew's gaze on her that is making her squirm.
She chances a look at him.
He seems sad.
She presses the worn button for the lobby and remembers when she and her sisters would jump together as the car descended, making it lurch, feeling giddy and sick and clutching each other's hands all the way down. But there is nobody with her now except Matthew, and she thinks that he would not jump with her, but just watch her those resigned, careful eyes.
When the doors open into the lobby, they leave the building and climb into a waiting cab. Mary leans her head against the cool window and closes her eyes. The bright threads of heat that ran through her veins are fading and she wishes that Matthew would stop looking at her, that he would stop drawing triumph from her like poison from a wound.
The cab reaches Columbia and she gets out quickly, breathing deeply. After a minute, she hears the door swing shut and the quiet street echoes with the growl of the engine as it pulls away. She hears Matthew walk towards her and she turns to face him, tightening her jaw and waiting for him to reprimand her for making him pay the whole fare.
He stops an arm's length away from her, and for a moment, just watches her. She frowns and shoves her hands in her pockets, staring down at her shoes.
"Your dad asked me where you were," he says quietly. She tenses but does not look up.
"I told him you went outside. You know, to get some air." He waits, but she shuts her eyes tightly and tries to be angry, to be proud. "That's where you were, Mary. That's all I know."
His shoes scuff on the sidewalk and she holds her breath as he moves towards her. She feels a light tug on her ponytail and looks up at him, startled. He is smiling at her and his face looks so young, like he's never heard of dishonesty or dark bedrooms.
"I like your hair like this," he tells her, and she can't help the laugh that bursts out of her.
"And I wanted to say that I appreciated your help earlier, with Edith."
"Well, I wouldn't wish Edith on anybody."
"Not even me?" He grins, and something in her cracks. "Now, how about that? That's progress."
When she leans up and kisses his cheek, she hears him draw in a quick breath and it sounds more like her name than anything she has heard all day. She leaves before she can hear anything else.
Tonight, she thinks, she will sleep with all the lights on.
Modernizing Mary's Pamuk scandal was a little tricky - if he'd died, the cause would be very quickly found out (according to every crime procedural ever), and premarital sex doesn't pack quite the punch it did in 1912. I found that something smaller seemed more appropriate.
Chapter 4: fourth
iv. The morning after the party and Kevin Palmer, Mary wakes with a headache and skin that feels too tight to really be hers. It is a Saturday, and her roommate Anna is curled up in bed reading.
"Hey, you got home late last night," Anna says, looking up as Mary stretches. "What happened? How was the party?"
Mary stares at the ceiling. She likes Anna – Anna from Nebraska, Anna who'd never heard her father's name before – and she thinks that maybe, just this once, someone can know something about her.
She tells the whole story, the story of the recession and her father's company, of uncertain days over that long summer and of worry lines that deepened on her father's forehead. She talks about hushed conversations overheard from the stairs, about whispering 'Palmer' to her sisters, about her father's hand on Matthew's shoulder, and finally, about the light stubble on Kevin's jaw, the scrape of his lips along her collarbone and the way his eyes looked when he closed the door.
For reasons she refuses to understand, the hardest part is telling Anna about coming downstairs to find Matthew. She can't quite work out how to describe the way he looked in the elevator or the way his hand brushed against her cheek just a little before tugging on her hair.
"Do you think he knew what happened?" Anna asks.
"He seemed like he had at least some of it figured out."
"What did he say? I mean, when you guys left the party, did he just pretend like it never happened, or what?"
Mary sighs and closes her eyes. "No," she says. "He made me laugh."
They say nothing else, but for the rest of the day, she catches Anna watching her as if she were about to make a mistake.
For the first week after the party, Matthew follows her to the student café every day after their Literature Humanities class and sits with her in silence as she sips her small Earl Grey tea (which the café keeps in stock after she filed a complaint in September). For the second week, she invites Anna and her boyfriend, John, to come sit with them so Matthew will have somebody else to look at. Matthew and John, to her annoyance, immediately take to each other and spend nearly an hour each day talking about history and the concept of honor. Mary stares at the table and tries not to roll her eyes too often.
Now, sixteen days after Kevin Palmer's hands held her hips, she is stretched out on the floor of her room, her chin resting on her hands. Her books are open in front of her but she hasn't turned a page in an hour and her eyes are slowly falling shut. She shakes herself and looks up at Anna, who is sprawled lazily on her bed with John.
"Hey," Mary says. Anna struggles into a sitting position. John grumbles as he shifts around on the bed. "Let's go do something. I can't read any more of this. I've been on the same page since breakfast."
"What do you want to do?" Anna asks.
"Sleep," moans John.
"Come on, let's go to Central Park or something."
"Oh, that sounds fun!"
"I'm getting Matthew to come," John says. "I am not going to be the only guy in this group."
"But you always are," Anna laughs, and John scowls.
"That's the point."
Mary can hear Matthew's voice on the phone, excited and eager, and a few minutes later they walk down the hall to pick him up. His face is bright and smiling when he opens the door. It makes Mary's stomach twist. She tells him to grab his coat and does not wait for him.
The sun is low in the sky as the four of them meander along the path toward the Sheep Meadow. Anna and John walk slowly and fall behind, their fingers entwined, heads bent close together. Mary tries not to look back at them. Whenever she does, she sees Matthew watching her with strange eyes.
When they reach the meadow, Anna and John head for a spot near the center of the field and sit down. Matthew looks after them with a bemused smile.
"I guess we'll see you guys later," he calls, and John waves a hand dismissively. Mary shrugs and tilts her face up to catch the sunlight.
"We should probably leave them alone for the time being," she says.
"What do you want to do now?"
"Want to go for a walk?"
She laughs. "I thought we already were."
"Smartass," he replies, giving her a light shove. "Let's go back to campus. This way."
They walk along the edge of the meadow, and Mary kicks at the few dandelions still clinging to their seeds. The last rays of sun glance off her hair and skitter into the gray darkness of the trees.
"You know what I've always wanted to do?" she asks suddenly. Matthew shakes his head. "I always wanted to blow a smoke ring."
"You know, like that scene, in Lord of the Rings. Gandalf and Bilbo sitting on the steps and they're blowing these smoke rings and I don't know – I've just always wanted to do that."
"Gandalf and Bilbo?" Matthew laughs. "Are you some kind of closet nerd?"
"If by closet nerd, you mean diligent student of nuanced literature, then yes."
They step off the grass of the meadow and onto the path, walking towards the street. "Well?" Matthew asks. "Did you ever manage one?"
"A smoke ring."
"No," she replies. "I mean, I've never smoked anything, so I've never tried."
"Try now," he says. The street noise is starting to make itself heard over the low rush of the breeze.
"What do you mean?"
Matthew stops them a few yards from the street. "I mean, try like this."
He opens his mouth and curls his tongue and exhales. A cloud of breath hangs in the air for a moment before dissipating. She cannot help but laugh.
"That," he says, "is not what I wanted to have happen."
"You really thought that would work?"
"I have a creative mind, Mary."
"Well, you looked insane."
"Really? You try. You can't possibly be any better at it."
"No," she says, and starts walking again. He hastens to catch up with her.
"Come on. Just once. I won't tell anyone how stupid you look."
"Excuse me. I never look stupid."
"Fine, I won't tell anyone how whimsical yet somehow still elegant you look."
She look around, the corners of her mouth turning up in a reluctant smile. "Okay, okay." She breathes in with a rounded mouth and then releases. Matthew laughs as the air mists across his face.
"Someday," she says. "Someday it's going to happen. I'm going to do it."
"I have complete faith in you."
She looks up at him with a small smile but does not answer. They continue to walk in silence, coming closer to the end of the path.
Chapter 5: fifth
Just a little something to thank you all for keeping with this fic! This is a bit of filler - expect actual events in the next chapter.
v. Three days before Thanksgiving break begins, Mary and Matthew are sitting in the library. Mary is reading a critique of Greek mythology and Matthew, as far as she can tell, is watching her read it.
“What kind of movies do you like?” he asks suddenly. She looks up at him, brows furrowed.
“I’m curious. I mean, I’ve known you for months now and you’re still so… I just feel like I should know stuff like this.” Mary bites her lip. “Well?”
“Comedies,” she says after a long pause.
“Matthew, I have to work.”
“Take a break. Just for a second.”
Mary sighs, picking at the eraser of her pencil. “I don’t know. I guess I’ve always liked Mel Brooks.”
“Yeah. Is that so surprising?” she asks.
“A little. I mean, to be honest, I expected something a little more cultured.”
“Did you now? Well, what about you, then? I suppose you, being the paragon of sophistication that you are, prefer German art house movies or something.”
“Oh, dear,” Matthew says, looking at her down his nose. “You call them ‘movies.’ How pedestrian. And here I thought your family was one of the elite.”
“Shut up,” she laughs.
“Well, I do of course enjoy German art house films, but I rather prefer the French style. Something about the cinematography just speaks to me.”
“Are you quite finished?”
“And the scenery. Can anything compare, really, to the beauty of Bordeaux?”
“You are ridiculous,” she says, throwing her pencil at him. He catches it easily and leans in, tapping it gently on her nose.
“If I’m ridiculous, then what are you, Mary?”
“Beyond all description,” she says, snatching back her pencil and returning to her work.
“Quite,” she hears Matthew say, and something about the rough scrape of his voice makes her look up at him. There is a smile on his lips that she cannot find in his eyes.
She knows these moments, knows the way a slow heat always spreads under her skin when he looks at her like this and sometimes it feels like strength, like a hand at her back. But today it pulls the air from her lungs and burns the roof of her mouth, and she looks down at her work, frowning.
“What?” Matthew asks, concerned.
“Edith asked about you the other day,” she says lightly, knowing it will distract him. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see his jaw drop a little and his shoulders tighten in something akin to panic.
“And?” he asks.
“Oh, don’t worry. You’ve nothing to fear from Edith. At least, not anymore.”
Matthew leans forward, eyes narrowed. “I don’t like that tone.”
“You sound altogether too innocent. It’s making me nervous.”
Mary shrugs. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I simply informed Edith that you are unable to return her affections, which, I should point out, have reached heights only previously achieved by Brian Binnie.”
“Don’t you try to distract me with obscure flight altitude record references.”
“Not so obscure that you didn’t know who he was.”
“What did you tell Edith, Mary?”
“Just that she’s not exactly your type.”
“Not my type.”
“Well, because she’s a girl, of course.”
Matthew does not respond, simply stares at her with wide, bemused eyes. After a long moment, he shakes his head, laughing quietly, and Mary feels an answering smile pull and twist at the corners of her mouth.
“You told your sister I’m gay.”
“Well, it’s best not to give Edith any room to maneuver.”
"I feel sort of bad for her."
Mary rolls her eyes. "You're clearly an only child."
"How is one supposed to respond in this situation? Should I thank you? I feel like I should thank you.”
“You can just owe me one.”
“Oh, no. I’m pretty sure you’re a dangerous person to be indebted to.”
“Yes, God knows what sort of Upper East Side scheme I might force you to participate in.”
“So maybe I could just buy you a coffee,” he says. There is something careful in his voice, she thinks as she goes back to her book.
“That would be fine.”
“Or, maybe…” She hears him swallow and shift in his chair. “Maybe I could take you to dinner sometime.”
“That would be fine, too.”
He nods and sits back, pulling out a book.
“Okay. Okay, cool.”
They fall silent, focusing on their work, but minutes later, when Mary sneaks a look up at Matthew, he is still smiling, and, she realizes, so is she.
Chapter 6: sixth
This one got a little bit long and had to be split into two chapters! The next update should come a bit sooner than others have... probably.
vi. Four days after Thanksgiving break, Mary and Anna are standing in the corridor outside the dining hall, waiting for John and Matthew to finish putting away their plates. Gusts of sharp, biting air sweep past as the door to the quad opens periodically, letting clusters of students in.
“So,” Anna says after a long silence, her blonde hair clinging to her cheek with static electricity. “Are we going to talk about it?”
“About whatever was going on with you and Matthew at dinner just now.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“You hardly spoke to him the whole time.”
“Well, I was busy eating.”
“They served Asian carp for dinner, Mary. Nobody was eating.”
“It’s not a big deal, okay? It’s just… Matthew sort of asked me out before break. Well, at least he said that he might.”
“And has he said anything about it since we got back?”
Mary shrugs and draws her coat tightly around her. “Nope. Just chatters on and on about finals.”
“Well, they are coming up soon.”
“Right. Sorry.” Anna rocks back on her heels. “You’re actually upset about this, aren’t you?”
Someone in the dining hall drops a glass. The shatter is faint but Mary feels it vibrate in her chest like a drumbeat.
“Of course not.”
“Right. And I’m sure this Matthew thing has nothing to do with the way you’re sticking your lower jaw out.”
“I am doing no such thing.”
Anna laughs. “Please, you’ve got a bigger underbite than Keira Knightley right now. Come on, Mary. I mean, I could see you just being annoyed on principle – you know, a ‘how rude to not follow through with this’ sort of thing – but that’s not it, is it?”
Mary eyes the doorway to the dining hall anxiously, prepared to clamp a hand over Anna’s mouth should John or Matthew be near. “Where are they? They’re taking forever.”
“You’re upset about Matthew in particular,” Anna continues. “Which means that you want him to ask you out, which means, my friend, that you like him.”
“That’s ridiculous. I never like anybody – it’s a rule of mine.”
“Sorry, but that’s the only valid conclusion. I'm taking Modern Logic, Mary. I know these things.”
“God, you need to drop that class. It's clearly not doing you any good.”
"Yeah, I hated it when I took it,” someone says from behind Mary, and she turns. Leaning against the wall by the door is a tall, thick-necked boy she vaguely recognizes.
“Did you say something?” she asks.
“Just that I hated Modern Logic. That’s what you were talking about, right?" She nods slowly, and he steps towards her. "I’m Anthony. You’re Mary, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. Aren't you in my Ancient Lit class?” She can faintly picture him, sitting in the back of the lecture hall, keeping his head down and folding pieces of paper into triangles.
“That's right. Look, I was wondering, do you have any plans tomorrow night?”
Mary allows herself one bitter thought of Matthew before answering.
“No plans at all,” she says brightly. “Did you have something in mind?”
Minutes later, after inviting Mary to a party and promising to meet her at the door, Anthony leaves, stumbling a little as he looks back at Mary over his shoulder. The door to the quad swings shut behind him and Anna leans in.
“Are you really going to go to that party?” she asks.
“Yeah. Of course I am.”
“What about him? He’s had plenty of chances to say something, and he hasn’t, so he must not care. And if he doesn’t care, why should I?”
“Mary, of course he ca–”
“I’m not sitting around waiting for him.” Mary takes a deep breath and closes her eyes for a long moment. “I’m not. Okay?”
John and Matthew emerge then from the tangle of people in the dining hall. Anna moves towards them, Mary trailing behind. She shoves her hands deep in her pockets and clenches her fists when she catches her gaze tracing the lines of Matthew’s shoulders.
“Finally. What happened to you guys?” Anna asks, pressing close to John.
“We ran into the TA for one of my classes, and I had a few questions about the final. You didn’t have to wait.”
Anna giggles. “Of course we waited.” John leans down to kiss her and Mary looks away.
The walk back to the dorm is quiet. John and Anna hurry ahead, but Mary lingers on the footpath, kicking at the dead, cracking stalks of grass that poke up along the concrete, and Matthew stays with her, his hands red from the cold.
“So,” he says once Anna and John are out of earshot. “What are you doing tomorrow night?”
She can see it unfold in front of her. She will tell him she’s free and he’ll ask her to a movie – probably that documentary on education that the Student Center is showing – and she’ll say yes. He’ll pick her up from her dorm room and on the walk over his hand will brush hers and she won’t pay attention to the movie because the whole time she’ll be thinking about whether or not she should kiss him on their way home.
It will be like baring her throat to a knife.
“I’m going to a party,” she says. Matthew’s eyes go dark with disappointment and she feels a satisfied smile tug at her lips.
They arrive at the dorm entrance, but Mary doesn’t go in. Apology and acceptance are bubbling under her skin and she needs the winter air to push down her throat, needs the darkness to keep her heart in hibernation.
“Anthony Strallan’s having one in his suite. He’s a senior. I don’t think you know him.”
“No, I don’t.” He walks towards the door, but stops and turns before he reaches it. “Can I come with you?”
“I’d like to come with you. To the party.”
“Sure.” The word forces itself out of her mouth before she realizes it. Matthew starts to smile.
“Great. I’ll pick you up around 9:00.”
“You should probably bring someone with you,” she says quickly. “I don’t know how fun it’ll be for you otherwise, since I’ll be with Anthony the whole time.”
“Yeah. I mean, he’s a senior.”
“Good for you.” His voice is flat and quiet. “Goodnight, Mary.”
He goes inside. Mary tilts her head back and watches clouds of her breath drift up to the sky. She wonders, sometimes, why cruelty runs through her like blood, why she knows how to hurt like she knows how to hail a cab, why pride and retribution sit in her hands like weapons.
One day she will lay them down, she thinks, but today she is empty with resentment, and she clutches them close to her chest.
Chapter 7: seventh
vii. Matthew shows up at Mary's door at 9:00 the next night with a girl beside him. Her name is Caroline, and she is wearing a yellow quilted jacket that Mary remembers seeing on a sale rack at Saks two winters ago.
"Hey, Mary," Caroline says, bouncing up on the balls of her feet."Thanks for inviting me."
Caroline smiles uncertainly. "I mean, thanks for inviting Matthew and then inviting him to invite someone else and–"
Matthew clears his throat and Caroline looks down, blushing.
"Of course," Mary says coolly. "The more, the merrier."
The elevator ride to the ground floor is cramped and slow. Caroline smooths her hair and glances at Matthew. He shoves his hands deep in his pockets and stares at his shoes. Mary's stomach turns over.
"Caroline," she says, eager to break the silence, "I really like your coat."
"Oh, thanks. I mean, the color's a little too bright."
"But that's nice, especially with this kind of weather. You'll never get lost in a snowstorm, that's for sure."
"Yeah, I guess," Caroline says, laughing a little. "I like yours, too."
Mary looks down at her black peacoat and bites back a smile. Of course you do, she wants to say, but Matthew is watching her with bitterly expectant eyes, so she thanks Caroline and looks away.
The elevator reaches the ground floor and the doors slide open. Caroline walks out but Matthew stays behind, blocking Mary's path.
"Come on, Mary," he says, his voice low, "you don't have to be mean to her."
"Mean? What are you talking about? I complimented her coat."
"Please, that wasn't real."
"You hate color. And that thing about getting lost in a snowstorm? What was that?"
Caroline has reached the other end of the hallway and is waiting by the door. Mary feels a hot rush of guilt.
"I was just trying to be nice, okay?"
Matthew leans in. "She may have thought that's all it was, but I know you. You let people think you like them, but the whole time, you're playing games, and you're laughing at them. That's not nice, Mary, that's poisonous."
He gives her one last look and then leaves the elevator, walking down the hallway towards Caroline. Mary follows behind, eyes fixed on the floor.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Matthew says. "Just had to work something out with Mary."
Caroline's answering smile is small and nervous. "Oh, no problem. Ready?"
"Let's go." Mary pushes the door open, and the cold air rushes in. "We're late already."
They cross the courtyard and head out onto the street, where a gust of wind keeps Caroline tucked close against Matthew. As they near the upperclassman dorm, the low thump and the high whine of music grows louder and Mary can't help the smile that spreads like a smear of blood across her mouth.
Andrew is waiting for her just inside the door. He hangs up her coat for her and smiles graciously when he notices Matthew and Caroline waiting in the entrance.
"Hey, guys, come on in. Are you Mary's friends?"
"Yeah," Matthew says, taking off his jacket. "Hope you don't mind that we came along."
"Of course not. Everyone's welcome." Anthony smiles down at Mary, his hand brushing against hers. "You want a drink?"
"A drink would be great," Matthew says loudly. Next to him, Caroline ducks her head, embarrassed. Anthony glances at Mary with a bemused smile, and she shrugs.
"Well, come on. Everything's this way."
He leads them through the main room, dark and full of people, to a small kitchen. Liquor bottles are lined up haphazardly on the counter, and the fridge is propped open by stacked cases of beer, revealing more cans inside. Next to it, a small trashcan nearly overflows with red punch.
"So, Mary, what can I get you?" he asks. Matthew clears his throat behind her.
"I don't care. Surprise me."
Anthony fills two plastic cups with punch and hands one to Mary. She drinks half of it quickly, swallowing hard and ignoring the empty clench of her stomach.
"How are you liking Ancient Lit?" he asks, smiling at her over the rim of his cup.
"It's not bad. I mean, Williams isn't the most exciting professor but I'm enjoying the reading."
"Matthew," Caroline asks, "can you grab me a drink?"
"I'm with you on Williams. He's as boring as they come. I'm surprised he hasn't fallen asleep during his own lecture yet."
Matthew takes a beer from the fridge and pops it open. He comes back to stand by Mary, his elbow pressing against her own, and takes a long sip. She shifts away a little, moving closer to Anthony.
Caroline sighs. "Never mind, I'm not thirsty anyway."
"Well," Mary says quickly, "I'm just happy to be reading all these books,"
"Yeah. I've always been interested in classic literature. What about you?"
"I needed a last class to fill out my schedule and this was the only one that fit."
"So it's not quite your favorite?"
Anthony laughs and shakes his head. "Not quite, no."
"Hey, Matthew." Caroline tugs on the sleeve of his shirt. "Do you want to go dance?"
"What is your favorite, then?" Mary asks, and Anthony's smile widens.
"I'm in this fantastic lecture on the politics of North Africa. Really, really cool stuff."
Caroline twirls her hair around her finger and steps in closer to Matthew. "Or we could go somewhere and talk, if you wanted. It's so loud in here."
"Is North Africa the part of the world you're most interested in?"
"No, my thesis is on Russia, and its relationship with the West."
"Look, Matthew, if you're going to ignore me, I'm going to leave."
"You're writing a thesis?" Mary asks loudly, trying to ignore Caroline.
"I'm working on one, yeah. It's been a bitch to manage it along with the writing for my Honors seminar, though."
Caroline walks around the corner and into the main room. Mary waits for Matthew to follow, but she can still feel him at her elbow.
"You must be so busy," she says. "I can't imagine how you get everything done."
"Oh, believe me, I don't. I'm always so behind in my work that I never know what's going on in half my classes."
Matthew makes a sound that's almost like a laugh and Mary knows that if she looks at him, his eyes will be the shade of blue that makes her love aquariums and the ocean and the Greek flag and so she stares instead at Anthony's jeans, which are, she thinks, a much safer shade.
"Like this morning I got to my lecture and I realized I'd totally read the wrong thing." Anthony says, and she laughs.
"I'm sorry. That's the worst."
"Yeah, but I'd read something similar for a class last spring, so I got through it."
"That's so lucky," she says, swaying forward a little and laying her hand briefly on Anthony's arm.
"Yeah," Matthew says, "it must've been touch and go for a while there."
Mary looks over at him and smiles, sweet like rotting fruit. "What a wonderful addition to the conversation. Do keep it up."
"I'm just saying."
"Everything okay?" Anthony asks, and she laughs, stepping closer to him. Matthew's frustrated sigh hits the back of her neck.
"Yeah, everything's fine."
"Awesome. Well, I need another drink. You too, Mary?"
"That would be great." She goes to the counter with him and looks briefly back at Matthew. The angry set of his jaw makes her press herself into Anthony with a hazy, wicked smile. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Matthew walk away.
Anthony reaches for a beer, and she grabs his wrist lightly, making sure to slide her fingers over his pulse point as she does.
"I have a better idea," she says.
Fifteen minutes later, Mary has had two shots and three dances with Anthony and she is starting to hate the feel of his hands on her hips. As the song changes, she takes a small step away from him and looks around. Caroline is across the room talking to a boy Mary's never seen before, and Matthew is gone.
"Hey," Anthony says, leaning in close. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm just… have you seen Matthew?"
"My friend Matthew. He was here a little while ago and now I can't see him anywhere."
"I'm sure he's fine. Do you want another drink?"
Mary pushes her hair back from her face and sighs. "No. Okay? No. I don't want another drink."
"Do you want to go somewhere else?"
"Yes," she says sharply, "but not with you."
Mary doesn't wait to see the hurt bloom on Anthony's face, just pushes through the closely packed crowd until she reaches Caroline by the far wall.
"Caroline, where's Matthew?"
"What? Mary, I'm in the middle of a conversation."
"I know, and I'm sorry for interrupting. But I need to know where Matthew is."
"I haven't seen him in a while. I think he probably went home."
Caroline rolls her eyes, looking angry in a way that Mary can't quite place. "Are you serious?"
"Am I serious about what?"
"God, never mind. Check the stairs – maybe he's out there."
Mary shoulders her way through the crowd and into the hallway. From the landing she can just see Matthew as he disappears down the first flight of stairs. She hurries after him, the slam of her feet on each step echoing loudly in the stairwell.
"Matthew!" she calls, slowing down. "Where are you going? "
He stops on the landing, but does not turn around. She can see the tension in his shoulders from where she stands halfway up the staircase. Noise from the party filters in and out and somebody closes the suite door, leaving the stairwell empty.
"I'm going home, Mary."
"No, you can't go now. Everything's just starting."
"I think I've had enough for one night," he says, turning and looking up at her. "And I think maybe you have too."
She shakes her head. "Please, I'm fine."
"Are you, Mary?"
She is not sure why she starts to walk down the stairs towards him, but she thinks it has something to do with the way his voice curls around her name – softly, and without fear.
"I wish you wouldn't ask me that," she says. "I never know how to answer."
Something in his face shifts and he takes a step away from her. "What are you doing out here, Mary?"
"I'm coming to get you."
"What for?" His voice is tight with something that is not quite anger, but Mary isn't sure what else it could be, and her head is spinning from the vodka and the lights and the urge to push back the stray piece of hair that's fallen in Matthew's eyes.
"Look," she says, "let's go inside. It'll be fun. Just come with me."
"What, so I can stand around listening to Anthony for another twenty minutes? I had enough the first time, thanks."
"What is the matter with you?"
"It's just not my idea of a fun night to watch you fall all over some guy."
"My hand was on his arm. That is hardly falling all over him."
Matthew rolls his eyes and paces away from her. "No, you're right. That wasn't anything at all. And I'm sure you went to dance with him just to hear his opinion on the state of the economy."
"I don't know a damn soul at this party and you're off dancing and doing God knows what and you just leave me standing there like–"
"Is that what you're mad about? That I left you alone?"
"I'm not mad, I'm just–"
"Because you definitely weren't alone."
"What are you talking about?"
And suddenly Mary steps towards him and she's angry, so angry her hands are shaking. "Are you being thick on purpose? I'm talking about Caroline, your date."
"Caroline's a friend."
"Please. You invited her to a party."
"Because you told me to!"
"You could've invited anyone. You could've invited John or one of those idiot boys from the pre-law club but you picked her. She's your date."
Matthew sighs wearily and tilts his head back. "Look, I asked her to come because she's my friend. We were just going to hang out. That's what friends do. And anyway, she hardly counts. She disappeared after five minutes."
"Yes, because you weren't paying any attention to her. That's not friend behavior." Mary's voice is getting louder and louder and she wishes it would stop.
"Oh, come on, Matthew. She has the biggest crush on you. It's so pathetic I want to cry. I mean, hearts are practically coming out of her eyes."
"Well, that's something nobody could say about you."
"Yeah, okay," she says with a short and bitter laugh. Matthew looks at her sharply.
She knows that she should go back inside, back to Anthony and his hands and the loud music. But Matthew's eyes are as hopeful as she has ever seen them and so all she can do is shrug and look down at the floor, at her pair of sleek, black flats, at his feet as he steps closer to her.
"What are you saying?" he asks quietly.
"I don't know. Nothing."
"Come on, what did you mean?"
"Nothing, okay? Just forget it. I never mean anything."
"No, Mary, that was something."
"Let's go back inside."
"No. We're not going anywhere."
"God, you can't just say things like that and expect me not to–"
They look at each other, Matthew's eyes turning dark, and suddenly she can't breathe quite right, can't get enough air as he takes a step forward. She's seen this moment in all the movies and it always looks so fast but this is slow, slow like honey, and it's burning her up. And then his fingers curl carefully around her jaw, her knees tremble, and he kisses her.
His lips are too chapped. The stair rail is pressing into her hipbone. He's pulling a little too much on this one piece of her hair and it hurts. But her eyes slide shut and it's Matthew. It's Matthew.
When she opens her eyes, his face is an inch from her own and her hands are clutching the front of his shirt. He's looking at her expectantly. She takes a shuddering breath.
"You're from below 59th," she says in a rush.
"59th Street. You're from… I can't believe I just kissed someone from Tribeca."
He laughs. "It's pretty nice in Tribeca, Mary. Have you even been down there?"
"Once, on a school field trip." She lets go of his shirt and tries to take a step away, but the stairs are at her back and she stumbles a little. Matthew's hands go to her hips to steady her and she bats them away.
"Why does where I'm from matter, anyway?" he asks.
"It just does. I mean, you've seen my house. You've met my parents."
"I did, yeah, and they liked me, remember?"
She turns and starts back up the stairs towards the party. She can hear Matthew behind her rushing to keep up.
"Oh, believe me," she says, "I remember. That's a whole other problem."
She pulls the suite door open and goes inside, stopping suddenly by the coat rack. She can see Caroline in the other room, dancing with the boy from before. She smiles.
"Mary." Matthew's voice is low in her ear. "Let's go."
"Come on. Let me walk you back."
She turns and looks up at him. He's not smiling but he looks like he wants to and he's holding her coat carefully, like he knows how expensive it was.
"Okay. Yeah, let's go."
On the way back to their dorm, Mary waits for him to reach for her hand, for him to bump her shoulder with his. Instead, he walks apart from her, his head down and mouth silent. By the time they reach her door, Mary's hands are clenched into fists and her heart is turning to stone.
"So. Goodnight," she says, turning to unlock her door.
"Hey, hold on."
"Oh, now you have something to say?"
Matthew looks at her calmly and nods. "Yeah, I do. Look, I've been thinking about this for a long time and after tonight, I'm sure. I think we should date."
She laughs and leans back against the door. "Why? Why should we?"
"Because I like you."
"Hardly a convincing argument."
"And because I'm fairly certain you like me."
She stiffens. "Don't tell me how I feel."
"Okay. Okay, then you tell me."
"No." She looks away, frowning. "I'm not doing that. I don't do that."
"Is that all you wanted to say? Because I'm tired and I really don't need–"
"We kissed, Mary. You can't just ignore it."
"I didn't," she says, anger flickering to life. "You're the one who didn't say anything the whole walk back."
He is quiet for a moment, frustration pulling at the corners of his mouth. When he speaks, his voice is even and firm. "What do you want? I mean, you won't tell me how you feel and you practically ran away from me after that kiss, but you're mad because you thought I was ignoring it. Do you want this, or don't you?"
She opens her mouth, waits for the words to come – of course she knows what she wants, of course she does – and feels them stick in her throat. She looks away.
He sighs. "I wasn't ignoring it, Mary. I just wanted to give you time. So you could be sure. I'm sorry it came across the way it did. Look, It's okay if you need more time. You don't have to answer me now. Just think about it, all right?"
She nods. He takes a few steps down the hall towards his own room, and then stops, looking back at her.
"Can you do one other thing for me?" he asks.
"When you're deciding, don't think about your parents. Or about Tribeca or any of that. None of that matters."
"It does. Of course it does."
"Not to me."
"So what should I think about, then?"
"Just us," he says. "That's it. And it's enough, Mary. You're enough."
He turns and keeps walking down the hall. Mary unlocks her door and goes inside, shutting it behind her. The room is dark and the air cold. For a moment she's back in her house and Kevin Palmer is a shadow in the corner but then she turns on the lights, and he's gone.
When Anna comes back, Mary will laugh and smile and recount the whole night, and when Anna sighs and says how romantic it is, she'll nod along. And she'll think about it. About him. About being together and being enough.
For now, she leans back against the door. Closes her eyes. Remembers the kiss, the honey-slow stretch of the before and the sweet smoke haze of the after. Lets it sink into her skin, inch by golden inch.
Chapter 8: eighth
viii. Mary wakes slowly the next morning. Her skin feels thick and dry and she's still wearing her clothes from the night before. She sits up in bed and rubs her eyes, leaving her fingertips black with mascara dust. Anna is gone, the sheets on her bed made up neatly, and she's left a note folded up next to Mary's pillow.
Mary picks it up and opens it, running her thumb absently along the edge of the paper.
Gone for breakfast with John. We'll be in the library around 11:00 if you want to come study.
Mary rolls her eyes and slips out of bed, dropping the note into the trash. She peels off her tights, frowning as she notices a long, wide run stretching up the left leg.
Ruined after just one night, she thinks. Unfortunate.
Later, after she's showered and watched the last traces of eye makeup spiral down the drain, Mary pulls Anna's note from the trash and stares at it, head tilted thoughtfully to one side. Her phone is in the pocket of her coat. She can imagine calling him, saying his name, saying hello and saying yes. She can imagine saying nothing at all, too.
Her limbs feel heavy and slow as she gets dressed. The weight of her phone bumps against her hip as she puts on her coat and she ignores it, pulling on her shoes and grabbing her bag. It's near enough to 11:00, she thinks. Anna will be at the library soon.
She's locking the door behind her when she hears him call her name. She turns around. Down the hallway, Matthew is walking towards her from his room.
"How are you?" he asks, sounding friendly but careful.
"Yeah, I'm good, too." He looks at her for a moment, frowning slightly. "Sorry, but is your hair–"
"What about my hair?"
"Is it wet?"
She lifts a hand to it reflexively, pushing a stray piece behind her ear. "Oh. Yeah. I mean, I was… I took a shower, so it's… it's wet."
"I figured that was probably it. I've just never seen it wet before, I don't think."
"I usually dry it."
Mary rocks back on her heels and pushes her hands deep into the pockets of her coat. She feels the edge of Anna's note scratch against her palm. He'd asked her to think about it. And she hasn't, really. But he's the boy who kissed her last night and his hands are shaking like they want to reach for her and maybe she doesn't need to.
"I'm going to the library," she says suddenly.
Matthew nods, the line of his mouth turning flat. "Okay, well, I'll see you later, then."
"No, I was going to see if you wanted to come."
He is silent for a moment. Her stomach clenches.
"To the library?"
She tries to smile. "Yeah."
"I'm just making sure."
"Are you coming or not?"
"Yeah," he says with a laugh, "I'm coming."
As he hurries to his room to get his things, Mary lets out a long breath, pressing her hands to her stomach to keep them steady. He comes back after a few minutes with his jacket on and his bag slung over his shoulder,
She can feel him looking at her as they walk towards the elevator. This invitation isn't an answer to last night's question – she knows that. She knows it's not enough. He hits the button for the elevator and as they step back to wait, she glances up at him, at the familiar line of his profile. Something in her settles.
The elevator arrives and the doors open. They step in together, both turning and leaning back against the wall. The doors shut and the car begins its slow descent.
Next to her, Matthew is quiet, waiting. There are words to say what she needs to, but Mary knows that if she spoke, they would come out all wrong, all bare bones and metal. Their velvet language is one she never learned.
She keeps looking forward, stares at their dim reflections in the elevator doors, and takes his hand, pushing her fingers between his. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees him startle and look down quickly at her hand holding his. He starts to smile and she feels his grip tighten and relax.
"Really?" he asks. "That's how you're doing this?"
"You're just reaching over and holding my hand? That's it?"
"I have to say, it's sort of a letdown."
"So sorry to disappoint."
His hand shifts in hers, lacing their fingers more closely together. "I mean, it's not horrible."
"I'd give it a B+. Maybe a B, on second thought."
"And the best thing is that there's plenty of room for improvement."
"All right, I'm letting go."
Matthew tugs on her hand, sending her stumbling a step closer to him. She looks up at him cautiously. His smile is wide and easy, and she lets one corner of her mouth pull up in response.
"So, how long do we do this for?" he asks, swinging their joined hands. "Are we holding hands all the way to the library, or is it strictly an indoors thing? Because it's cold out and neither one of us is wearing gloves."
Mary wrinkles her nose and turns back towards the doors. "Just until we're outside."
The elevator shudders as it reaches the ground floor, and the doors slide open. Mary walks out, Matthew following a pace behind. He pulls on her hand a little and she bites her lip, slowing her stride until it matches his, until she can feel his shoulder brushing hers. As they approach the end of the hallway, she loosens her grip on his hand and finally, as he pushes the door open and the cold air from outside slams into her, she lets go.
Later that afternoon, sitting across from Matthew in the quiet of the library, she gets a text.
So if I'm buying us gloves, do I buy black or navy?
She looks up at him with a frown. "Seriously?" she whispers. "Come on."
He shrugs. "Couples hold hands. We're a couple, aren't we?"
Mary closes her eyes for a moment. When she opens them again, he's watching her, his head tilted to one side. She knows what he's hoping for, can see it in the frown around his mouth. She nods a little and texts back.
Black. You really needed to ask that question?
He laughs under his breath and she leans back in her chair, waiting. Then,
Just wanted to be sure you're with me on this.
She types the response quickly and sends it. She looks up. Matthew is smiling.
Don't worry. I'm with you.