I wasn't trying to steal her family. But I would have given anything to join it.
But Tina wasn't too keen on that idea, which seemed a little selfish because she was never around, anyway. She and Kent Buckley were always off hosting charity galas and living a fancy, ritzy social life. You'd think she could share a little.
She didn't want them, particularly, but she didn't want anyone else to have them, either.
She resented my presence. She resented my existence. And she was determined to keep it that way. All I could think of was to just keep on being nice to her until the day she finally just gave up, held out her arms for a defeated hug, and said, "Fine. I give up. Get in here."
It was going to happen someday. I knew it was. Maybe. But probably not tonight.
After a very long pause, I said something I thought she'd like. "They adore you, you know. And Clay. They talk about you both all the time." But she just turned toward me with an expression that fell somewhere between offense and outrage.
"Did you just try to tell me how my own parents feel about me?"
"Um . . ."
"Do you honestly believe that you're qualified to comment on my relationship with my own parents—the people who not only brought me into this world but also spent thirty years raising me?"
"How long have you known them?"
"So you're a librarian who moved into their garage four years ago—"
"It's a carriage house," I muttered.
"—and I am their biological child who's known them since before I was born. Are you trying to compete with me? Do you really think you could ever even come close to winning?"
"I'm not trying to—"
"Because I'll tell you something else: My family is not your place, and it's not your business, and it's not where you belong—and it never, ever will be."
She knew how to land a punch.
It wasn't just the words—it was the tone of voice. It had a physical force—so sharp, I felt cut. I turned away as my throat got thick and my eyes stung.
I blinked and tried to focus on the dance floor.
An old man in a bolo tie had cut in on Babette and Max. Now Max turned his attention back toward Tina and swung an imaginary lasso above his head before tossing it over at her to rope her in. As he pulled on the rope, she walked toward him and smiled. A real smile. A genuine smile.
And I—resident of the family garage—was forgotten.
It was fine. I never danced in public, anyway.
That night, Max mostly danced with Babette. It was clear the two of them had done a lot of dancing in their almost four decades together. They knew each other's moves without even thinking. I felt mesmerized, watching them, and I bet a lot of other people did, too.
They were the kind of couple that made you believe in couples.
Max lassoed a lot of people that night, and one of them, eventually, was me. I was surprised when it happened—almost like I'd forgotten I was there. I'd been watching from the sidelines for so long, I'd started to think I was safe—that I could just enjoy the view and the music without having to join in.
As Max pulled me onto the dance floor, I said, "I don't dance in public."
Max frowned. "Why not?"
I shook my head. "Too much humiliation as a child."
And that was true. I loved to dance. And I was actually pretty good, probably. I had good rhythm, at least. I danced around my own house constantly—while cleaning, and doing laundry, and cooking, and doing dishes. I'd crank up pop music, and boogie around, and cut the drudgery in half. Dancing was joyful, and mood elevating, and absolutely one of my very favorite things to do.
But only by myself.
I couldn't dance if anyone was looking. When anyone at all was looking, the agony of my self consciousness made me freeze. I couldn't bear to be looked at—especially in a crowd—and so at any party where dancing happened, I just froze. You'd have thought I'd never done it before in my life.
And Max knew enough about me to understand why. "Fair enough," he said, not pushing—but not releasing me, either. "You just stand there, and I'll do the rest."
And so I stood there, laughing, while the band played a Bee Gees cover and Max danced around me in a circle, wild and goofy and silly—and it was perfect, because anybody who was looking was looking at him, and that meant we could all relax and have fun.
At one point, Max did a "King Tut" move that was so cringingly funny, I put my hand over my eyes. But when I took my hand away, I found Max suddenly, unexpectedly, standing very still—pressing his fingers to his forehead.
This excerpt ends on page 11 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman.