Finally there came an awkward pause. They had explored surfaces as far as possible, and both hesitated before plunging into the depths. Finally, Neil asked, “Why did you invite me over? I mean, why tonight in particular?”
“Well,” Fiona said, smiling to take the sting out of what she had to say, “until today, I thought you were pretty dull. You tried so hard to look cool and fair and impartial that you came out looking uninvolved. Today was the first time I saw you stand up on your hind legs and act like a man.”
“When you told me that my being Sean’s mother meant nothing to you.”
“That is not exactly what I said.”
“That is exactly what you said. Now don’t spoil it by trying to be polite. I like you better with backbone.”
After a long pause, she said, “Say something.”
“A man can’t always appear to others the way he would like to appear.”
Neil smiled. “Because then people would ask too many questions.”
“Are you hiding a deep, dark secret? Who did you murder? Did the FBI give you a new identity?”
“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Fiona.”
She sighed. “Sarcasm suits me fine. I’m a bit of a bitch, and I know it. But I don’t like dishonesty.”
“I have never been dishonest with you, or with anyone else.”
She snorted. “When you put up a barrier like you do, it amounts to the same thing.”
“You don’t know the situation well enough to say that.”
“So explain it to me!” she snapped.
Life with Fiona, Neil decided, would certainly never be dull. Her temper lay close to the surface. Yet he wasn’t sorry to have aroused it. Anything was better than being ignored.
“Fiona, I have my reasons. They are good ones, but I can’t explain them.”
“Because I don’t know you well enough.”
Surprisingly, that satisfied Fiona. Neil had expected it to send her temper blazing again, but apparently the honesty of it met with her approval.
It was also the limit of honesty for a first conversation. Their talk slipped back to surfaces and remained there until Neil was ready to go. Fiona walked him out to his car and as he got in, she added a final word. “Neil, you seem like a nice person. I don’t know why you feel you have to be so secretive, but when you are ready to share whatever is on your mind, try me.”
Her concern was a balm. He said, “Thank you. I will.” Then he grinned and said, “I think you are also a nice person. Pretty, too.”
“Why thank you!” Her face lit up with an impish grin. She leaned in to kiss him briefly, but it lasted longer than she had intended. When she drew back, her face held a thoughtful look.
“You taste good, too,” Neil said, as the car slid away from the curb.
She got the last word in, shouting, “Ah, go on with you!” after him in a mock Irish brogue.
# # #
Three days later, Sean and Duarte got into a fist fight on the playground. Carmen caught them, wrote them up, and they were suspended for three days. Neil started to ask Fiona what punishment she had meted out at home, but she was so angry he decided to let it ride. more tomorrow