It reminded her of his house back home, Grace decided. The same books, same cds in the same cd rack, same coffee table – well, of course he would have the same furniture, naturally. He'd only moved; it wasn't like he'd been exiled or evacuated in a hurry. She wandered around the living room, running her hand along the spines of the books, savouring their smell. His smell. There again was the picture she remembered from before – August as a teen, smiling shyly in his cap and gown. And then, next to it – Grace picked up a simple wooden frame in surprise. The picture it contained was one that Rick had taken at the cast party at their house after the final performance of As you like it. There she was, right in the middle, behind the cake, Lily next to her, beaming with pleasure. She'd been so proud that night. There was Tad on Grace's other side, grinning cheekily, and then Jessie, with Katie's arm around her shoulder. And there was August, standing behind Jessie, but his eyes not quite meeting the camera; he was glancing down and to his left – at Grace, sitting there, smiling but not quite smiling. Smiling with her mouth but not her eyes. She'd never forgotten that night. She'd arrived home abysmally late, drenched from the rain, having made sure she'd missed most of the party, and there he was, suddenly telling her all these amazing things – and then there had been that moment where he had looked into her eyes and she into his over a plastic cup of wine.
"I took it out last night," Grace heard August's voice behind her. He had entered from the kitchen with two glasses of red wine. He handed one to her. "I had it out for a while, a few weeks – after it was taken – I thought it was a nice reminder of a great play, you know -"
"I never saw it in your house when I came over," Grace interrupted.
"No, you wouldn't have. I took it down and put it away - hid it in a drawer – when I realised that I was starting to have feelings for you. That I was looking at it nearly every minute I was home just so I could see you."
Grace was taken-aback. "But – but you were seeing me at school everyday. How is that different?"
"It just is. It's a terrible thing, Grace, to be left alone with your thoughts, your dreams, your wishes – when you know they can never come true. Well, you know how that is. At school I could play a part, me in the role of the teacher, you as the student, and in the context of the classroom, it worked for me. Up to a point. That's part of the reason I didn't want to have the gay-straight alliance thing at my house to begin with. It broke too many boundaries. That photo was sitting on my desk, right by my computer, and I was always looking at it, distracted by it. Fantasizing over it."
"You fantasized about me?" Grace said incredulously, but unable to keep from smiling.
"Not one of my proudest admissions, but yes," he said, self-deprecatingly. "Obviously it was wrong; you were my pupil and I was your teacher, but I couldn't help the feelings I was beginning to have for you. The day you suggested having the gay-straight alliance meeting at my house – the first time I gave you a ride home - I came home and put that photo away, in a bottom drawer. I never looked at it again until I packed up my house to move – and then I just shoved it in a box, hoping I'd never want to see it again. But I knew inside that I would, of course – otherwise I'd have just thrown it out to begin with."
"I know. It's the same with me and the Chekhov."
"You still have the Chekhov?" he looked pleased.
"Of course I still have it! It – it meant to much to me, at a point in my life when no one, not even my mother, understood me like you did. It still means so much to me."
"I'm glad, Grace. After I wrote that inscription I went through such hell, you have no idea. I felt so incredibly – stupid, and guilty, because I wanted you to know how I felt, but I'd never been able to say it in words, and then when I took down the book to give to you it just occurred to me that that was a good way – and a permanent one – of letting you know that I felt…the same way I knew you did. So I did it. And then I spent the next few days in utter agony in case something went wrong; what if your mother found it, or your stepsister, or one of your friends, and I thought I was going to go insane. I started envisioning myself breaking into your house and stealing it back…but then, of course, Alexa did her little spying thing and your mother and everyone found out anyway. Though never about the book, thank God. That might have been impossible to…explain away."
"My mother did see the book, August," Grace said quietly.
"What?" He was shocked. "When? Afterwards?"
"No. The day before that stupid meeting, the day I came over to your house with my story and we – kissed," she paused and smiled crookedly, "when I got home my mother had, like, torn my room apart. When she'd got home and found I wasn't there she guessed I was with you, and she went totally insane. I think she was looking for evidence that everyone was right, because she hadn't really believed it up till that point."
"And she found it," August said wryly. "But then why – why didn't she say anything?"
Grace shrugged. "I'm still not sure. To be honest, we never spoke about it again. I thought at the time that it was just that she didn't want to hurt me any more, or make things look worse for me than they already did. But I think that, deep inside, she knew. That what we had was…special. And that if she'd told those - jerks - about the book it would have made it all seem so dirty, somehow. And so she didn't say anything. I think she wanted to let me keep a tiny piece of...of us. Even though she was really mad at you."
"She was pretty mad," August said, putting his glass of wine down on the table. He hadn't touched it.
"Yeah. But I think she also understood, even if she didn't want to admit it. And she really didn't want to."
"Your mother," August replied, taking Grace's glass and putting it down as well, "is a remarkable woman. Well, she would have to be, to have created an amazing person like you." He moved closer and encircled his arms around Grace's waist. "Oh, Grace, if you only knew how many fathom deep I am in love…"
"I do know," she responded. "Because I am too."
And then they were kissing again, deeply, passionately, as though they could never stop. His hands found his way up the back of her tank-top, and rubbed smoothly against her bare skin. Grace shivered; it felt delicious.
"I think," August said, nuzzling into her neck, "I think you said once before that you wanted to see my bedroom."
"That hasn't changed," Grace murmured, pushing her mouth hungrily against his. He pulled away suddenly and stepped backwards.
"Are you sure? Grace, are you one hundred per cent sure? Because I refuse to pressure you into anything, even though I've already been accused of it," he said, smiling.
"Trust me, I've never been more sure of anything in my life," she said. "And it's not because I want to get back at my mother, or those people, or the kids at school who whispered behind my back my entire senior year. I want to, just because I want to. Because I've waited more than two years for this. And because I love you."
"I love you too, Grace." And he gathered her up in his arms and carried her down the hall.
"What are you thinking about?"
It had begun to rain while they were in bed, and now Grace was lying on her side watching the water stream heavily down the bedroom window. August leaned over
and rested his chin on her shoulder.
"Mmm." Grace stretched her body a little. "I'm fine...I was just thinking about that night in my kitchen back home...you know, at the cast party?"
August did know. That very dangerous night he would never forget.
"I was thinking about what you said to me," Grace continued. "That I was finally open and honest - in my performance that night. Did you mean it?"
August kissed her bare shoulder. "Yes. I meant it. Why would you think I didn't?"
"I didn't...well, I wasn't sure. You were acting a bit - strange, that night, but I felt strange too, so I wasn't sure if it was you or me, and then there was the wine, and I wasn't sure how much you'd had -"
He burst out laughing at this revelation. "You thought I was drunk?"
"I don't know...weren't you?" Grace evaded the question.
"No. I wasn't. Okay, I'd had a glass before you came in. A very large glass." He chuckled. "Which I'd topped up twice. Okay, maybe I was a little tipsy. But I knew what I was saying, Grace. Your performance that night - it touched me, so deeply. I was astounded. I could never make that up, no matter how drunk I was. Believe me."
Grace turned over on to her other side, and faced him. "And what about everything else you said? Did you mean that, too? Like - when you said you were a fraud, that you could never do what I did."
August sighed. "Let me explain something, Grace. The night before that, when I got so angry at you, and said all those horrible things, it wasn't so much you I was angry at, as myself. Everything you did, the way you saw things, interpreted things, your outlook on life, your expectations - when I looked at you I saw myself at your age. And - it scared the hell out of me. Everything you did, I'd done. I didn't let myself show, either. Even with the poetry. I thought that's what I was doing, that here was a way I could really bare my soul, I convinced myself that's what I was doing, but deep down I knew that all I really had was a knack for making people believe that I was touching them."
"What? No, your poems, they meant everything!" Grace protested. "I've never felt that close to - to myself, as when I read them-"
"Ah, but that's what I was saying," he said gently, smoothing her hair away from her face. "I wrote those poems when I was pretty much in the same place as you were back then. I knew how to manipulate people into believing that I was being this wonderful, outspoken, honest talent. But I knew I wasn't. I knew I was a fraud. And then you came along, and you bought into that lie. Because you did the same every day. And I was so afraid for you, Grace."
"Afraid for me?"
"Yes. You didn't see the lie, because you were getting too good at convincing yourself of what the truth should be. And then I saw you doing the same in the play; showing just enough to let people think you were being open, and brilliant, but actually not letting
anything show at all. And I was the only one who could see it. I saw you going down the same road as I had, ending up with nothing, doing nothing, not writing, not acting, nothing with any truth in it at all. And I was so angry that I'd let myself do it, that I got
angry at you - because I couldn't bear to let you do it too. I had to save you, Grace of my heart. So I said those horrible, hurtful things, and I felt like an absolute monster. When I got home that night I just lay in bed and cried."
"You did?" Grace said incredulously.
"I did. I loved you and I hurt you. And I couldn't explain that to you, and that hurt even more. And then on the final night - you were so wonderful, I couldn't tear my eyes away from you. Back at your house, I waited and waited for you, and you didn't come, and I guessed you were avoiding me...that's when I went to find something a little heavier than coke and kool-aid - to try and forget what I was thinking."
"So you were trying to get drunk," Grace said slyly.
August laughed. "Maybe I was. And then - there you were, and I had to tell you all these things I'd kept hidden inside myself for so long. So I did. And then I got scared, and I tried to run away from you as much as I could after that. Obviously it didn't work."
"No," Grace smiled. "Thank you for telling me this, August. I've been thinking about it constantly ever since, and I didn't think I'd ever be able to ask you."
"You can ask me anything, Grace. We can be totally honest now."
Grace nodded. "I know. There's something I have to tell you too, about that night. You asked me how I did it; how I let everything show, and I said it was because of what you said. And that was true. But there was something else to it...my stepbrother - Eli - he kept promising he'd come to the play. The night after you'd said – those things - he was so great. He comforted me, he believed in me, and he promised he'd come to the play and help me through it by being there. And then..he didn't show. I figured he was with some girl. Like she was more important than I was. And I was so angry; I thought I couldn't go on. But then I remembered two things - that you'd said I wasn't being honest onstage, and that you'd always told me to use whatever I was feeling in my performance. And I figured here was my chance to do both - to use my anger in the play and to just let it all out there. And so I did."
"And that's all I wanted from you," August said softly, and he kissed her, rolling her over onto her back and lying on top of her, his hands holding hers above her head. "Well, maybe not all. This would have been nice too." He smiled.
"Well, you've got it now," Grace replied.
"I know, and I couldn't be happier. I've never been happier."
"Me neither. You know, August...that was my first time."
"I know." He kissed her gently on the lips. "Are you...I mean, do you feel all right?"
"Perfect. In fact," she grinned wickedly, "I think I could do with a second time."
"I think I could arrange that," he responded, suiting action to the word by leaning down and kissing her deeply.