Honesty Comes in All Forms
By Robyn Brand
I saw him tucking a journal into his backpack as I approached him. My whole body was tense, poised to run. Forcing myself to take a deep breath, I reminded myself that his reputation was probably based on a whole pile of lies and that he was just a boy. Just a boy.
A big scary boy with a pierced eyebrow.
He bent his head over our English textbook and didn’t look up when I stopped at his table. Very faintly, I could hear music coming out of his headphones as I shifted my weight from foot to foot as I debated what to do. He seemed a lot less intimidating in the quiet murmur of the library than he has right after class when we’d made plans to meet. But that did nothing to calm the tightness in my stomach. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself into the chair across from him.
He pulled his headphones off, and chuckled. “I wondered how long you were gonna stand there.” His words made me pause in the process of pulling my book and notebook out of my bag.
I stammered, “Y-you could’ve invited m-me to sit.” My face was quickly turning red as I set my things on the table.
“But where’s the fun in that?”
“Well, it’s polite.” I looked up as I spoke and was surprised to find his green eyes fixed on me. My thoughts turned into a jumbled mess as he continued to gaze at me; the very small part of me that was still managing to think was disappointed that direct contact with another human had yet again rendered me too nervous to speak.
“Shall we get started?” he asked after I’d lost count of how many seconds we’d been staring at each other.
My tongue was too thick to speak so I just nodded as I pulled out the assignment sheet and read over the questions again; the dread that I always felt towards English work welled in my chest. I handed him the questions and flipped open my notebook, “How do you spell your name?”
“Patrik Adams, Patrik without a ‘c.’” I quickly scribbled both our names into the header and then he asked, “What’d you think about the book?”
“It was pretty boring, honestly.” Patrik clutched his chest and gasped.
“How dare you? It was a great work.” I could see the surprise in his eyes but people rarely got theatric when I offended them and I had to look away. I ran my pen over our names again. “Seriously, you thought it was boring?” I heard him ask.
“Um,” I muttered, still running my pen over our names. Disagreeing never led to anything to anything good so I said, “I mean it was all right. I just couldn’t follow it very easily.” Suddenly Patrik’s hand was over mine, forcing me to stop re-inking our names.
“You’re allowed to have your own opinion, you know,” he whispered. Forcing myself to look up, I could see something that I didn’t understand in his eyes.
Pushing away from the table, I snatched up all my belongings and quickly fled the library. As soon as I was outside, I slowed my pace to a walk so I was less likely to trip over the uneven cobblestone as was a habit of mine. My head was pounding with Patrik’s words, cheeks still burning with the intensity of his gaze. I shoved all that away as I hopped onto the bus that was waiting at the curb. My brain slipped into auto pilot as I slid my card across the scanner and found a seat; my head had a destination in mind and I knew I could get there with my eyes closed.
Half an hour later, I was stepping into the Thompson Dance Studio. The very familiar bell chimed with my arrival and I came back into myself. Christy was chattering away on the phone behind the front desk but she did wave as I walked by her. Ducking into the locker room, I pulled off my jeans and sweatshirt, opting for the comfort of my leotard. Once my hair was in a ponytail, I left the locker room in search of an empty studio. The larger ones were full of classes--just like they always were--and I could hear the instructors all counting as I looked through the one-sided mirrors at the students; a little part of me remembered being in a class like that. So much had changed...
I ducked into the first studio with its lights off and stashed all of my belongings in a corner before flipping on the lights and plugging my iPod into the AUX cable. After slipping into my shoes, I sat in the middle of the room and stretched. I purposely faced away from the mirror in hopes that not looking at myself would not remind me of my conversation with Patrik. But it didn’t make a difference. I couldn’t forget the way he’d been staring at me. Once I felt loose enough, I pressed play on my iPod. Facing the mirror, I waited for the music to take over my mind before I allowed my body to move.
Dance had been the only thing for as long as I could remember that had ever made any real sense to me. The music just made me go; Dave had noticed me when I was in his Ballet for Tots class. Over the years, he’d never let me quit, regardless of how much else was going on in my life.
My reflection copied my movements perfectly as I switched from hip-hop to jazz to ballet to blues--whatever the music told me to do. The nerves that had formed a knot in my stomach during my meeting with Patrik melted as my feet carried me up and back across the floor. I was lost in the music and the movement; there was no room in my mind for anything else.
The door to my studio opened a long while later; I didn’t think anything of it, knowing that it was probably just Dave or Christy coming to check up on me. Maybe we weren’t blood but almost everyone as TDS was a family that cared, a family that could tell when something was going on.
“So this is where you ran off to,” a voice said, stopping me cold. Whirling around, I saw Patrik leaning against the doorframe with a small and curious smile across his face.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, suddenly feeling very exposed in my leotard.
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, “My kid sister is in ballet class right now.”
“You bring your sister to ballet here?”
Patrik shrugged, “What can I say? I’m a doting brother.” Silence fell between us and I turned my face to my toes. My stomach felt odd; it was void of the nerves that usually developed around people I didn’t know. But I didn’t know what to say to him. Part of me thought I should apologize for running way but the rest of me guessed that he probably didn’t really care. “Can I ask you a question?” he asked after a few more minutes of us just listening to the music that was still emanating from the speakers.
“Sure,” I nodded, forcing myself to stand still as he walked toward me. He didn’t stop until he was so close that I could feel his breath on my nose. I could see that his eyebrow piercing was dark blue--not black like I’d thought the first time--and his eyes had a ring out dark brown on the outer edge of the iris. My mind flipped through my memories almost instantaneously and determined that this was the third time that any boy had ever been as close as Patrik was at that moment.
Then he spoke. “Why are you scared of me?”
“You’re big and dark and scary,” I muttered, all too aware that I sounded like a pathetic five-year old. However, I did manage to bite my tongue before adding that he was a person and that all people scared me.
Patrik’s face was pensive for a minute then he laughed. “Am I really?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “You’re scary, too, ya know?”
I blinked, shaking my head. “I’m not.”
Gently, he took my arm and pointed me toward the mirror. “Did you see the way you were dancing? That’s scary.”
“It’s just dancing,” I muttered, refusing to look my reflection in the eye.
“It’s intimidating; I couldn’t do any of that,” Patrik insisted.
“If you had training, you could; I’ve been doing this since I was a little girl.”
The door opened again and I quickly stepped away from Patrik. Dave appeared in the doorway. “You okay, Tami?” he addressed me but his eyes stayed fixed on Patrik. Sometimes Dave liked to present that he was my dad, which was actually my favorite of his traits.
“Yeah, Dave. This is Patrik, a friend from school,” I murmured, rubbing my arms.
“Well, good. If he wasn’t a friend, I’d have to have him forcibly removed from the building.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Patrik nod to Dave. “Good. Watch your toes, Tami.””
“Okay, Dave.” Turning his eyes to me, he smiled gently before leaving Patrik and me alone again.
“Your protector is intimidating too,” Patrik chuckled. “So, do you want to get together tomorrow to work on the project?” He stepped in front of me again; I swallowed before looking up at him.
“Uh, yeah, sure. Tomorrow. When?”
He sighed, “My place, around 6.”
“Where is your place?”
“Indian. Here, let me grab your number and I’ll text you.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and held it out to me. I punched in my number and handed it back to him. “Great, I’ll see you tomorrow then.” He smiled and turned to leave. When he got to the door, he turned back, “I’ll try not to be too scary tomorrow.” Then he vanished through the doorway and I turned back to the mirror. The music took over my body again and I couldn’t shake Patrik’s words that my dancing was intimidating. Or the fact that I’d just had a real (well, almost real) conversation with him.
Christy gave me a ride home a few hours later. She kept changing stations on the radio and fidgeting with the volume--everything she did when she wanted to ask me if something was going on. But I didn’t know what to say about Patrik’s visit in the studio so I just stared out the window.
“I’ll see you later,” I said when she pulled up to the curb in front of my dorm.
“Are you okay, Tami?” she finally asked when my hand was on the door handle.
“Yeah, just got lots of homework to finish up. I’ll see you later.” I climbed out of the car, ignoring the guilt that I knew stemmed from not telling her what was going on. I ran up to the door, unsurprised at the rain but still annoyed that I’d forgotten my jacket. As I turned my key in the lock, I heard her car pulling away from the curb and let out a sigh of relief before sprinting up the stairs to my room.
I collapsed onto my bed, my mind working in overdrive to figure out what had happened over the past twelve hours. It was nearly impossible for me to believe that I’d had an actual conversation with Patrik or that he’d called me intimidating. If there was one word I would never ever use to describe myself, it was “intimidating.” Professors were intimidating; protesters were intimidating; Patrik was intimidating...not me. I was quiet and docile. I could only think of one person I’d ever stood up to and that had turned out terribly. Trying to push away the memories of my past, I rolled over and closed my eyes.
Patrik was sitting on the front stairs of his house when I walked up the next afternoon--I’d barely slept two hours and felt slightly unsteady on my feet. I smiled at Patrik without the familiar feeling of nervousness that always stemmed from human contact swell in my stomach.
“Glad you came,” he said as he stood then led me into the house. “By the way, house rules, no shoes.” As I slipped mine off, I could hear shouting from down the hall. Then Patrik led me toward the noise.
“What’s going on?” I asked him.
“It’s a Smash Bros tournament,” he answered as we entered a room that seemed to be overflowing with boys; the nerves in my stomach peeked their heads out from their hiding places at the sight. Patrik must have seen a worried look cross my face because he nudged my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, they’re harmless.” I managed a weak smile but it disappeared as all of the boys in the room--except Patrik--started shouting.
“I so got you!” one of them said.
“Dude, it was this close,” another shouted back as a third groaned and leaned back into the couch.
“Oi!” Patrik yelled over all of them. “Has anyone ever told you that you are louder than a bull stampede?”
“Ole!” two of them yelled in unison and the fact that I could barely hear that two of them were talking made me guess that they were brothers. Patrik just rolled his eyes.
“Guys, this is Tami. Tami, these are my housemates: Andrew, James and Charlie.” Each of them waved in turn and I tried my best to smile back.
“What do you do, Tami?” James asked a few seconds later. Patrik had stepped forward to take a perch on the end of the couch; Charlie handed him a spare controller.
“Um,” I hesitated. “I dance. What is this?” I gestured toward the TV.
Andrew turned to gape at me. “Patrik, you brought a girl who doesn’t know about Smash into the house?”
“I did bring her here to do homework, Andrew, not to play video games.”
“It’s blasphemy,” Andrew cried and I couldn’t help cringing.
“Hey, would you pick your character please?” James asked, tapping Andrew’s shoulder.
Patrik glanced over at me, “I’ll be done in just a second. Then we’ll get started.”
“Ready?” James asked. All the other boys gave their assent and, from my position at the edge of the room, I tried to watch the screen and the boys as they battled. James and Andrew yelled the most; Charlie’s fact was set in careful concentration, and Patrik started acting really goofy. He would make his avatar run from one end of the world to another, dancing his way through the others and creating chaos in their battles until one of them would get annoyed enough to turn their attention on him. James and Andrew seemed to be fighting in person as much as on screen and I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what sibling rivalry was like.
It seemed like years later when the battle was over--it was very pointedly marked by James and Andrew’s moaning and Charlie’s smug smile.
Patrik tossed his controller to the ground and climbed off the couch. “We’ll be upstairs.” I saw James give Patrik a very pointed look but Patrik just shrugged at him as he said, “C’mon Tami.” We walked back through the hall and up the stairs. “Welcome to my abode,” he welcomed me into his room.
“You’re a boy?” I commented but my voice jumped up at the end, making it a question.
“Last I checked, yes. Why?”
“Isn’t your room supposed to be a disaster?" We both looked around his very orderly room and he chuckled.
“I guess I never thought about that. My dad was Navy brass so our whole house had to be shipshape and Bristol fashion at all times; guess the habit just carried over.” As my eyes landed on the desk, I saw the journal he’d been tucking into his backpack the day before. I took a half step toward it before I got scared to ask about it. “So did you bring your opinions today?” Patrik asked.
I stuttered, not looking at him even though I could feel his gaze on me. My eyes went back and forth between the journal and my socks.
“Do you want to work on the project?” he said softly, so softly that I felt like he was maybe actually asking my something else.
“No,” I admitted, forcing myself to look up at him; his smile made me relax a bit. He did look less intimidating when he smile and I felt he nervousness in my stomach fade a bit.
“In that case, I want popcorn. Make yourself at home; I’ll be right back.” He touched my shoulder as he walked back out into the hall. I heard him walked down the stairs as I set my bag next to his desk and sat on the edge of his bed. The nerves in my stomach hadn’t faded enough for me to be comfortable and my feet started tapping, wanting to be able to move. But I forced myself to sit still until Patrik came back in, popcorn bowl in hand. He smiled wider when he saw me.
“What?” I asked, extremely nervous again.
“I wasn’t sure you’d actually relax but I’m glad to see that you actually took the advice. Popcorn?” Patrik sat next to me as he spoke, offering me the bowl. I took it and ate a few bites, glad for the excuse not to talk. My eyes, again, fell on his journal. It was leather bound and obviously well worn; I couldn’t stop myself from wondering what he wrote in it. “You know that I’m not going to be offended if you’re honest with me, right?”
“People always say that,” I murmured. “Then they do get offended when people are honest.”
“Well true, but I mean it; honesty is always the best policy.” His words made me freeze; it was exactly that sentiment that I never understood. People wanted to hear what they wanted to hear, not the full truth. Honesty--complete honesty--was never the best policy. Honesty destroyed everything.
So I swallowed the lump in my throat and asked, “If honesty is the best policy, why did my mom kill herself when my dad told her he had a mistress? Why did that mistress--my stepmom--tell my dad to throw me into the street when I told her she’d ruined my family? Why did he say he loved me as he drove away with her in the passenger seat?” Patrik moved off the bed to crouch in front of me as I kept talking. “If honesty is the best policy, why did Dave have to lie to get the loan he needed for the studio? Why is Christy hurt every time a boy says he doesn’t want to be with her anymore?” I didn’t see Patrik take the popcorn bowl from me so much as I felt its absence and then it was replaced by his warm hands. My eyes wouldn’t focus on anything as I said, “Honesty is a terrible policy.”
“Is that your honest opinion?” Patrik wondered.
“Does being honest make you feel better?”
Immediately, my mind played an ultra fast version of the day when my stepmom decided that I wasn’t worth her time. She’d yelled, hit me and forced my father to leave me. I didn’t even know where he was anymore, if he was even alive. “No,” I told Patrik. “Keeping my mouth shut makes me happy. People like me better when I tell them what they want to hear.”
“Do you know what I want to hear?” he asked quietly.
“I want to hear you say that you’ll teach me some dance moves.”
“You want to learn to dance?” I asked quietly as my eyes started to refocus.
“Yeah, you seem like you know what you’re doing and I hear guys who know how to dance are really in demand.”
“Yeah, I could show you a few things; I’m not very good at teaching leads to partner dance, though.” My eyes focused completely and I thought the gleam in his eye was a sign of sincerity.
“Will you show me now?”
After a minute, I nodded, “Sure.” He stood and then helped me to my feet.
“Do we need music or anything?”
I shook my head and took my place in front of him. “Not just yet, there are a few things you should learn without trying to do it to music. So your hand goes around my back right here,” I said, placing his right hand right between my shoulder blades.
“What are you teaching me?” he asked as I laid my left hand on his shoulder and joined our free hands.
“I’m in a blues/fusion kind of mood so that’s what you’re going to get.”
I looked up at him and took a deep breath; I was still on edge but didn’t feel like running away, which I took to be a good sign. “So the first really important thing is frame; feel how I’m leaning into your hand? Press back with the same amount of pressure. See? Now we have tension so if you were to take a step forward, I’d know to step with you.” He took an experimental step and I followed in turn. “Same goes if you walk side to side or backwards.” For a few minutes, we worked on just walking around his room--and suddenly I appreciated that his cleanliness left us lots of floor space. After he understood the basics, we moved onto turns and dips.
“So, like this?” he asked as he pulled my hip against his and leaned to the side.
“Yeah, you’re a natural at this. You could hold your own in classes, if you wanted to take any,” I said as he situated me back onto my feet.
“Yeah, the girls would be all over you.” As he smiled, my eyes started clouding. Quickly bringing my hands to my face, I tried to center my balance.
“Tami?” I heard Patrik ask just before I began to fall. “Whoa, you okay?” Relief flooded through me when my body met his arms instead of his carpet.
I didn’t move my hands from my eyes as I said, “Do you think maybe I could lay down for a bit?”
“For sure,” he said, lifting me up and then setting me on his bed. “Can I get you anything?” he asked as I pulled the pillow under my head.
“Do you have a blanket I could use?” I wondered, still keeping my eyes shut and trying to breathe normally. A minute later, after hearing a closet door open and close, I felt a soft blanket around me.
“I’ll be downstairs,” he whispered.
“Actually,” I started before I could bite my tongue. It was the first time I’d been vulnerable in front of anyone that wasn’t Dave or Christy but Patrik wanted honesty--and he hadn’t yet thrown that in my face.
“Would it be terrible of me to ask you to stay?”
“You want me to stay?”
“Yeah,” I mumbled, terrified that he would laugh and spurn me.
“Okay. I’ll just be doing work at my desk, then.”
I shook my head. “No, um...” I trailed off, not knowing exactly how to ask him for what I wanted.
“What is it, Tami?” I managed to open my eyes but couldn’t see much through the cloudiness there.
“Will you cuddle with me?” I breathed quietly. The worry on his face turned into a little smile.
“I can do that. Just give me one second” As I closed my eyes again, he stood and I heard him move across the room for a minute. Then he came back and I felt him lay on the bed next to me. I rolled toward him, curling into his side. “Has this ever happened before?” he wondered.
“Sometimes,” I said, not entirely sure if he was referring to the cuddling or the fact that I’d almost fainted; either way, it was true. But it had been a very long time since I’d cuddled with anyone, much longer than it had been since I’d had an episode. “Can I ask you a question?” I wondered a few minutes later.
“What do you write in the journal on your desk? The leather one.”
“Anything and everything that makes me happy or that makes me think.”
“When did you start that?”
“A couple years ago. I was being a typical pain in the butt teenager so my mom bought me this really nice leather bound book and told me to start looking for the good things in life.” He paused for a second and then added, “There’s practically a whole page dedicated to you thus far.”
“You’re different; you make me think. And you’re definitely honest, even if you communicate with your body instead of your words.”
“Dance makes sense to me. People don’t.”
“That’s okay; we’re all entitled to have one thing that doesn’t make sense.” His arms wound around me, pulling me just a little tighter. “But just because it doesn’t make sense doesn’t mean that you have to be scared of it.”
“How I am supposed to feel toward the things that don’t make sense?”
“Like you can figure them out.” And, with that, I fell asleep next to the scary boy with a pierced eyebrow and a journal full of quotes that make him happy.