Pro Quid Quo

He didn't show up for a while after I told him to lock the window. We didn't talk about it during the day -- I didn't want to explain it to Max or Maria, and if Michael wasn't going to acknowledge it, I wasn't going to either.

And then, one night, I woke up and he was there.

"I told you to get better locks," he said.

I smiled in spite of myself. "Is everything okay?" I asked.

His face clouded over. "Max is fine," he said.

"I didn't ask about Max," I said quietly.

He just sat there. He didn't even pretend he was going to talk to me. Why was he here? What did he want from me?

"Are we going to talk or am I going to sleep?" I asked.

"Talk?" He laughed. "Talk. That's great. I'm surrounded by women who want me to express myself."

"Why not?" I said. "Would you rather tell me why you're in my bedroom?"

For a second I thought he would leave. Then he pursed his lips, squinted at me and moved away from the window, leaning against the wall.

"Fine," he said. "Talk."

We were both silent.

"Well," he said, standing up and slapping his hands against his hips, "That was invigorating. Challenging, even," he said, moving to the window. "Later, Parker." He stopped suddenly, pointing at my bedside table. "What's that?"

"What's what?" I said, sitting up in the dark.

"The book."

"Oh," I said, picking it up. "It's, um, Ulysses."

There was another silence.

"You've got to be kidding me," he said, folding his arms.

"What?" I said, holding it out to him. "It's actually pretty good."

There was the smirk again. "You." He laughed. I think it was a laugh. I put the book in my lap. "You're reading Ulysses."

"Yeah, and, you know, for your information I've already read it. This is my second time reading it."

"Parker. Please. Don't embarrass yourself."

"What is your problem, Michael?" I said, putting the book down. He was so infuriating. "I am an A student, for your information, and it's required for AP English."

"You're not in AP English," he said smugly.

"Well, not yet," I admitted. "But I want to make the class next year, and it's required reading, so I thought I'd read it ahead of time so I understand it when -- Forget it. You know, just -- forget it." I threw the book on the table, pulled the covers up and turned away from him. Maria was right. He was a jerk. I heard some shuffling, then quiet. He must have left.

"Liz." So much for that theory. I didn't answer.


I turned over. "What?"

He was holding the book, sitting in the window. One foot out, one foot in. "What's your favorite part?"

Oh, even better. I sat up. "Look, Michael, I know you're going to love hearing this because humans are so beneath you..." I took a breath. "I could lie to you and tell you I really enjoyed this chapter or that obscure reference, but to be completely honest with you, I really -- I didn't get a lot of it. I've never read a book that was that -- difficult, you know, and to be honest with you, a lot of it just gave me a headache."

I waited for the put-down. Nothing. He just looked at me.

"So just, you know, make whatever crack you have to make, about humans not using ten percent of their brain and bolt. I'm tired."

He sat there holding the book. I waited for the smirk, the laugh, anything. The suspense was killing me. He licked his lips. Oh, this was going to be a good one.

"It's --" he coughed. "It's, um, hard to believe you don't get it."

My jaw dropped. "Did you -- wait. I'm sorry. Was that a compliment?"

He rolled his eyes. "Don't get all Oprah on me. It's common knowledge. You've got the science and math thing down cold."

"Well --" this was weird. "Yeah, I get math and science, but English is so -- subjective. There's no right or wrong answer. It's just your personal perspective. That's more --"


"Yeah." There was a pause. "Complicated."

He studied me for a second. "Tell you what," he said. "I'll talk with you about Ulysses, and you tell me about science stuff."

"Science stuff?"

He waved his hands and rolled his eyes. "Astronomy. Calculus. Whatever. Deal?"

Me tutoring Michael Guerin.

"Michael, that's nice, but really, I can manage."

"Liz, Liz, Liz." He said, standing up and shaking his head. "It took Joyce ten years to write this book, and he said it should take the reader ten years to understand it."

That made me pause. "Ten years?"

"Yeah, Liz," He smiled, folded his arms and rolled back on his heels. "Ten. So -- you want to pass AP English or not?"

I couldn't help asking. "Michael, why do you care what --"

"Fine," he snapped. His face was a mask of fury. He was so volatile. He was moving to the window. Fast.

"No! Michael, wait." He stopped, braced against the window. I took a breath. He hadn't turned around yet. "Michael, I'm -- sorry, okay? It would be great if you did that. I mean, I would really appreciate it."

He turned around. Folded arms, narrowed eyes, pursed lips and that look. I was being assessed. Judged. I squirmed and examined the quilt pattern on my bed.

"I just don't understand -- why," I said, expecting him to bolt. When he didn't, I went a step further. "Why you want to help me. That's all."

Nope. No movement whatsoever. He had enough tension to power a small town.

There was a flicker of movement. It took me a minute to realize he'd blinked.

"Do you want. My Help. Or not."

He hadn't answered my question. I decided not to press the issue.

"Yes." More staring. I felt like I'd eaten the last of the chocolate cake and we were all out of tobasco sauce. Well, I wasn't going to say please.

Besides, maybe his being here was an excuse.

An excuse for what?

"OK," he said finally, as if it was my idea in the first place. "I'll start at the beginning and you break in when you don't get something." He flipped the book into his hands and sat against the window ledge. He looked confused, picked out my bookmark, and tossed it out the window. I opened my mouth, thought better of it and sighed.

"What?" He said, flipping pages. "Do you wanna do this or not?"

I shut my mouth. I'd get the bookmark tomorrow. "Nothing," I said.

"All right," he said, leaning back. "Page one."

I wanted to ask him why he wasn't home. The trailer wasn't much of a home, and Hank wasn't much of a father, but even Michael needed sleep. Why was he here with me?


That's how it started. I'd go to bed, wake up in the middle of the night and he'd be sitting in my window. We talked, read and argued until he decided to leave. I missed having a full night's sleep, but on the nights he stayed away - to stay with Max and Is, or stare up at the stars - I just dreamt about him.

As a student, Michael left a lot to be desired. He challenged everything. Once I told him that he might want to consider learning physics, that it might help him control his powers here on earth. He laughed at me.

"First chance I get, I'm getting off this rock," he said. "I could be gone tomorrow, Liz. Go back to astronomy."

Why did I even try?

But still, it was kind of nice talking to him. My 'relationship' with Max was so off and on that tutoring Michael was sort of a reprieve. The ritual was well-established: He came in, we read, we debated, he left. And as opposed to Max... Michael's attention was consistent.

Maybe that was all I wanted. Something consistent.

If we saw each other during the day, we never mentioned it.


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