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The Art of the Listener
“I still don’t know why you’re taking me somewhere.”
He leaned forward, shifting the car into a higher gear, the engine revving in response. It really was a nice car, a ’69 Chevy Impala with leather seats and a sleek new paint job. But it was also really loud and the ride wasn’t smooth.
And who did that remind her of?
He smiled widely at her, one hand relaxed over the steering wheel, while the other tapped his leg in a misshapen beat.
“Because Tessa, I want to get to know you.”
She rolled her eyes, glaring at the dashboard. “Somehow I doubt that, Matthew.” If he was going to patronize her, she could deliver it right back. They drove by a park, the squeals and laughter of obnoxious children infiltrating the glass windows. Tessa hated kids. They were too loud. She took a deep breath and started again, “Besides, weren’t you supposed to be shooting today?”
Matthew flicked his blinkers on and took a left turn. “Actually, they still have some prep work to do on the last episode. Parker wanted to fit a couple scenes in, but I said no.”
“You just said no to your leading director?” she asked incredulously.
He shrugged arrogantly and looked at her. “I am the star of the show, you know. They can’t exactly roll without me.”
She could so shove his narcissistic—.
“Whatever,” she growled, rolling her eyes.
Matthew threw his right arm over the bench seat, until his hand rested right behind her head. Tessa uncomfortably shifted closer to the door. If he was looking to make the next seven weeks torture, he was doing quite well. His face dropped.
“Look,” he deadpanned. “You’re going to be guest starring with me on six episodes. And I don’t know about you, but it’d really be nice to have developed some sort of chemistry between us before we start shooting.”
“But I die in the end anyway!” she protested.
Matthew reclined into the leather and sighed, seemingly relaxed. “And how do you die? Oh, that’s right! Bleeding to death, in my arms, and then we kiss before your pretty little ticker gives out.”
She opened her mouth to give some sort of argument, realized there was none, and then snapped it shut.
Laughing lightheartedly, as if they were the best of friends, he grinned at her. This was all wrong, she thought. Tessa watched him drive, silently appraising the Crest-white teeth, smooth peanut-butter complexion, and messy dark brown hair. He belonged on a billboard for Abercrombie, not sitting in a car with a rumpled mess like her.
He must’ve noticed her heavy glare, because the car started slowing down, and then they pulled off onto the side of the road.
“Okay, I get it.” He sighed, almost apologetically. “You really don’t like me, and this was a bad idea. But you were the one who got in the car. I just wanted to have a little fun. You’re the first person my age to ever guest star on the show. You know how boring it is to hang out with old people every day? Nobody stays awake past ten!”
He paused, probably waiting to see if she would laugh. When she didn’t, because this wasn’t going to last, Matthew faced her, his features soft.
“It’s not hard to tell you have no friends.”
Ouch. Tessa blinked fast, hurt, her cheeks burned red, but she couldn’t turn away.
“No! No, I didn’t mean it like that. God, I suck at talking. I didn’t mean it like that, I swear.”
She dropped her eyes, trying in vain to ignore the hot sensation building up in them, and stared at the necklace hanging on his sternum.
Matthew started stuttering again, “Hey, hey, hey. Don’t cry. Please don’t cry. I put it the wrong way. That was not what I intended. That’s not what I meant.” He took a deep breath. “What I’m trying to say, is that you’re lonely. And I just wanted to see if you wanted to try and hang out, maybe get to know each other.”
Tessa coughed noisily, avoided his gaze and stared out of the windshield, watching the empty road. Matthew sunk into his seat, and started up the car, swerving onto the road again.
“You need new brakes.” she said.
He eyed her carefully. “You know stuff about cars?”
“My uncle taught me a few things.”
Matthew hummed quietly, and then spoke up. “Your uncle raised you, didn’t he?”
Tessa shook her head and then narrowed her eyes. “Yeah, but, how’d you—.”
The car was suddenly quieter than it had been before. There was a soft thud as they rolled over a bump in the road. Tessa eyed his long fingers where his hand rested around her shoulder, but not touching her.
“I am listening to you when you talk to me, Tessa. If that counts for anything.”
The lump in her throat seemed to grow bigger.
Matthew’s voice rang out again. “Although, sometimes I think it’d be easier to get things out of you with a crowbar, then wait for the rare moments when you do talk. But I listen.”
“Matthew?” Tessa asked.
She smile softly and stared out of the window, watching the world go by.
“You are so odd.”
He laughed quietly, like he was agreeing with her.
“Tessa?” he asked.
“Are you ever not going to call me Matthew?”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t count on it.”
“I am listening to you when you talk to me, Tessa.”
And that seemed to make all the difference.