‘If I can just make it to the top of here, I’ll be able to find it,’ Noah encourages himself as he looks up at the tall wall-fitted shelves that are before him.
It wasn’t as intimidating when the idea came to his head moments earlier; in fact it was easy, simple. He would fit his feet into the gaps on the shelves and mountain climb to the top. All the kids did it in the TV shows so if they could do it, he could do it. He just needed to be clever about making it quiet.
“Noah,” Olivia calls from down the hall, her voice instantly followed by impeding footsteps, and with each stride they drew closer, his heart began to beat faster than it does during tag, and he makes a desperate twist on the spot to decide which direction he’s going to flee to, because if she catches him in here, now, he’s going to be in so much trouble.
Making a prompt decision to head for the safety of his room, he spins on his heel, quickly closing the door, then cringing as he becomes aware of the loud latch of the heavy door closing behind him.
As his mind starts to search for a semi-credible excuse as to why he was in that room, his eyes quickly focus onto his stray baseball he dropped earlier.
Immediately kicking it out of sight and safely under his bed, he breathes out a sigh of relief just in time for his mom rounding the corner.
“Noah?” She’s soft, curious, doesn’t have that suspicious tone she usually takes when he’s caught in the act.
“Yeah mom?” He notices his voice is lower pitched than usual, croaky even. It must be the instant sheer panic consuming him so he coughs, bringing it back up to its usual tone. His voice hadn’t broken yet, not like some of his friends. Lucy told him it might happen soon, and he was sooo excited, but not Mom. She had said how much she loves his cute, angelic voice. ‘You can get away with anything with a sweet voice like that,’ she had told him, and right now, he’s so grateful because he really needs this to go in his favour.
“Were you just in the closet?” she asks and he must look like a…
What does she say again?
A deer in headlights.
He blinks, maybe a little bit more than he usually would, maybe a little giveaway that he is urgently thinking through the silence, but his words just are not forming.
She tilts her head, and then he nervously gulps.
Then he panics again, because if he heard how loud that gulp was then maybe she did too? He desperately needs to put the blame on that baseball now as she’s growing impatient.
‘Think Noah, Think’
“Ok,” she starts, but his boisterous words answer simultaneously.
“I was looking for my ball!” he shouts, and maybe it was his pitch or the speed that the words fell out, but he immediately stops her talking. Her eyes are squinting, but she’s still making eye contact, and he hopes he’s not blushing.
‘Please do not let there be blushing,’ he internally spirals because he knows she is not going to buy his ball search story. No way is she going to buy it, so he quickly looks behind him and heads towards his room.
“Maybe my ball is in my room!” he calls back to her, his body so tense he can almost feel the tops of his shoulders touching the bottom of ears, but he needs to hide his face as he lies, because after all, it is out of sight, out of mind.
“No-ah,” she draws out his name, and he knows she’s suspicious.
He takes in a deep breath and closes his eyes in an act of surrender. “Yeah?”
“Why were you in the closet?” She hadn’t bought into his lost ball, but she’s still calm, and for that he’s grateful. “Noah, can you turn around and answer me please? Why were you in the closet?”
He doesn’t move. He can’t move because this is exactly why he wanted to silently scramble to the top shelf, grab that wicker basket of secrets, and see if he was right. See if he could find the picture of that man he’s been noticing hanging around his mom and see if it’s him.
The man in the picture from all those years ago.
“Noah Benson,” she slowly says his full name, and it’s in the way she uses it when he’s about to be grounded or lose his phone or his games console, and now he is regretting his stupid curiosity because she is going to make him turn around to face her, and he can’t do that because then he’ll confess.
Just like he always does.
“Noah,” Olivia’s clear surprise in his actions fuelling her words. “Turn around and tell me what is going on.” she sternly urges him.
“No!” he shouts back, and he’s not angry with his mom, he loves her, he’s just so frustrated. So upset and irritated because he had a plan, a plan to find out the information he needed to know without having to make her sad again.
“Excuse me?” she asks, and he feels like it’s a dare.
Does he dare tell her the truth? Does he dare not tell her the truth?
“Noah!” she gasps, but he can’t help but feel angry because she always pushes him, pushes him to talk, to share his feelings, but he doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t actually know what he wants; he’s still figuring it all out.
She has secrets in that closet, her special closet, the closet that makes her cry.
At least it had the last time she had been in there, but she hadn’t seen him, hadn’t noticed when he snuck out of bed and peered around his bedroom door after he heard noises in the hallway.
She thought she was the only one who was able to sneak in there and not be caught, but she was wrong.
She was so wrong because he watched her, the last time she had been in that room of memories.
All he remembered was that he was asleep and some strange, old-fashioned music started playing out from the hallway opposite the closet, and when he looked, he could see his mom crying on the floor in the hallway. He thought it was probably a sad song with a really sad story she was listening to because she was so weepy for sad movies, and if it was because of that, then it was ok. She wasn’t real-life crying.
She was movie/story/music crying, and that was totally different. He had gone back to bed, and the next morning she must have started listening to some happier music because she was back with her big warm smile again.
“Noah, why don’t you go in your room, take five minutes, then come back out and we can chat?” Olivia raises her eyebrows, and he just knows he is going to have to have this talk, so he submits. He’ll tell her he decides, but on his terms.
“Can we have ice cream?” Noah asks, and he smiles because he is so proud of how grown up he feels right now. Mom always gets out the ice cream when they have a big conversation, and now it’s his turn to bring out the big tubs.
“Ice cream huh?” She lifts her chin and purses her lips towards him. “Must be serious.”
He can feel he’s beaming, not just with his success but also with how well she understands him. She always gets him.
“Shall I get the spoons, Mom?” He doesn’t need to wait for a reply because she instantly smiles sweetly towards him and nods her head.
“So,” Olivia begins and she takes a seat on the couch and watches him set the spoons down on the table. Turning to look towards her, he sets his eyes into a very serious gaze, just like she would do in a situation as important as this. He really hopes she is honest with him because he’s not a little kid anymore, he’s nine now.
“So,” she repeats, fully concentrating on his eye line, and Noah assumes this is his cue to start the cha t so he cracks his knuckles out in front of him in preparation, but when he hears Olivia let out a giggle his brow naturally furrows toward her because this is not a laughing matter.
“Mom. Stop laughing at me!” he snaps, and she does because she’s good like that, and she’s even levelling herself up, straightening her back, and Noah can’t help but wonder if she is feeling how he usually feels when he’s in the hot seat.
“Who is the man?” he blurts out. He watches her face change expression, and she looks away from him, fixating her gaze into her lap, fidgeting with the rings on her fingers. Why is she twisting it round and round? He’s never worn a ring before but surely that hurts?
“What man?” she asks when she finally looks up, and suddenly Noah doesn’t feel as confident.
“Remember? I stayed at Lucy’s because you were going out? You looked really pretty… and Henry says his mom always looks pretty when she goes on a…”
He can’t help but smirk to himself as he says the last word. “Date.”
“Oh, ok Noah.” She twists her mouth the side and squints her eyes, and Noah knows she’s thinking again. “Thank you for saying I looked pretty.”
His insides feel all fuzzy when she says that, but he knows this next bit will throw her off, so he lowers his head away from her gaze. “You looked so pretty, and you were happy, and then I saw you crying one night outside the closet.”
“Awww Noah.” She offers him a sympathetic smile, but she doesn’t look sad he notices. She looks happy?
Why is she happy when there is a man that keeps coming around who makes her cry? He is so confused, his face probably shows it, but he just doesn’t understand. Ever since this new man appeared she had been different. Good different but still different.
Until that one night; that wasn’t good.
“I didn’t realise you had seen me that night Noah, I’m so sorry.” She holds her hands out, stuttering slightly, “But the person I think you’re trying to ask about isn’t the reason I was upset that night. It wasn’t because of him.”
Olivia shakes her head before standing up from the couch, and it’s as if a light bulb has gone off in his head, just like they do in the cartoons, and he has this huge sudden list of questions he needs immediate answers to.
“So there’s another man? Who is he? Do I know him?” He watches her hold her hand up, but he has one more thing to squeeze out before she shuts him down, and she’s just about to, but he bursts out with, “Did you kiss him?”
And… that was quite a big exhale she just released, he notes.
Maybe he should not have asked the kiss question.
He sits back; nerves are taking over him now. She’s silent. He hates it when she’s silent.
Should he speak or stay quiet?
“Noah,” she smiles and maybe half-laughs.
“You have so many questions, sweet boy,” she says, and before he knows it, he’s being pulled in for a hug, and she’s rubbing her fingers through his hair, and she’s doing that thing where she thinks he’s being cute again.
“Mom, stop. I wanna know!” he pleads as he ducks from underneath her arms and takes a very formal halt in front of her.
“Is this man I’m thinking about that man, or is the man I’m thinking about the other man?” he starts, but quickly stops when he notices her rubbing her thumb into her temples.
“Ok Noah.” She drops her hands to her lap and interlinks her fingers together, her voice sounding taut. “I’m a little confused. Let’s start from the beginning. What man?”
He can’t believe he has to go over this again so he face palms himself and rolls his eyes, and he knows she’s now trying not to laugh but he’s so annoyed. How can manage to read his mind when he doesn’t want her to but can’t do it now when he wants to know things?
“Mom!” he calls out in frustration. “The old man who always wears the grey coat, the one who was there in the snow. You know who I mean?”
“Wow,” she whispers through a little giggle. “I know who you mean Noah, although I wouldn’t say he was old.”
“Well he’s older than Uncle Sonny,” he points out as he rolls his eyes again because she always says old people are not old.
“Ok you can have that one.” She winks over to him before folding her arms across her chest. “So that man you’re talking about, his name is Elliot Stabler.”
Now all the little light bulbs are going off in his head because he knows that name, he’s heard it many times, and they have even talked about him before. Noah can’t really remember what was said, but he knows he was someone special to his mom.
“So that’s the guy in the picture?” he eagerly asks as he points towards the closet door, and it’s as if he is living in his own real-life cartoon because as he says it, he can see the light bulbs jump from the top of his head to the top of hers.
Olivia grins. “So that’s what were you were looking for in the closet?”
“Yes,” he nods, and a wave of a relief washes over him now that he’s not hiding secrets from her anymore.
Finally taking the lid off the ice cream, she hands him his spoon, and he excitedly looks into the tub because he expects it has all probably melted by now, and that means he will get to dig his spoon down deep to get to the good bits, and he knows what she will say.
“Don’t eat it too quickly.”
Yep, that was it.
“So you remember the picture of Elliot?” she subtly probes him.
He doesn’t reply, just nods. He has a mouth full of a marshmallow, brownie, and cookie dough concoction, and she must have realized because she carries on anyway.
“Elliot was my partner a very long time ago. He was, still is, a good friend of mine.” She smiles and digs her own spoon in the tub before continuing. “He wasn’t around for a little while, and now he’s come back, and he’s having a bit of difficult time at the moment.”
“That’s sad Mom, but where’d he go?” Noah feels himself surging with curiosity. Why would someone leave their good friend? He can’t imagine ever not wanting to play with Henry.
“Well,” she thinks for a moment. “That’s a tricky question to answer and not something you really need to know about.”
“Why?” He knows he’s frowning again, but he can’t help it; he really wants to know.
“Grown up reasons” she bluntly replies and gives him the don’t push it look he knows to obey.
“If he’s your friend, why didn’t he say hello to me? My friends all say hello to you?” he asks. He’s not pushing it because he kind of changed the question so she can’t tell him off.
“Ah, that day in the snow?” she replies before moving her hands to his sides, loosens her voice into an early giggle and starts tickling him. “That’s because you were having too much fun.”
He shakes his head from side to side, and through all the squirming and laughter, he manages to get her attention. “No, no, not then.”
She stops, slightly taken aback, maybe a little confused, and as she tilts her head to the side, he wonders if she knew that morning when she dropped him off at school he had turned back to see this Elliot getting in her car. He had thought it was strange that they had waited until he left, but at the time hadn’t really been interested.
Olivia nods in acknowledgment, and he thinks it’s probably best if he just spills all the information he has on this Elliot guy sooner rather than later, and then he can run and hide for a bit because she will definitely be angry at how much he had been snooping.
Although, he didn’t think he had been snooping. He was older now, and he noticed things more. That’s what his teacher at school had said. “As you get older, you notice things that maybe you hadn’t in the past.”
And that’s what’s happening now; he’s noticing things.
“He’s the one who came to our apartment that night, and he was banging on the door, and I came to look when you let him in, but then you said you needed to check Noah, so I hid under my cover and pretended to be asleep.” He is surprising himself; it really was confession time.
She eyes him suspiciously, and he almost holds his breath in anticipation for some form of punishment, but instead she takes his hand, moves the now empty ice cream tub and spoon, and looks at directly at him. “So, what did you hear that night?”
“Uhmmmmm.” He tries to think back to everything he heard, but at the time, it was taking all he had to try to listen through the door that he eventually gave up when that other lady cop came around, and he fell asleep.
“He said Kathy, whoever she is, likes to write letters, and you and him are going to draw straight lines, I think that’s what para-llel means.” He twists his face up at that bit because that never did made sense to him. “And then he fell over.”
She lets out a soft bout of laughter. “Ok Detective,” she jokes. “Is there anything else?”
“Nope.” He shakes his head, and he feels a huge release of relief because now he knows he was right about the sad song she was crying over that night. It wasn’t something real-life sad because this Elliot, and he’s her very good friend. He wouldn’t make her cry.
He’s too busy thinking to notice her watching him. He’s thinking about his friend Henry and how his mom got married to her ‘very good friend’, and he tries to keep his face straight, but he can’t because he’s all of a sudden excited, he’s so excited and he’s going to have to have someone to do boys things with and play computer games with and…
“Noah, you ok?” she interrupts, and he squashes his excitement up into a little shaky head nod.
“Ok good. Now you know a little about Elliot. Do you have any other questions you would like to ask?”
He can’t help but giggle, so he quickly covers his mouth in an attempt to hide his laughter because he’s building himself to ask this next question, and it’s risky but he’s going to do it.
His voice has an extra bit of sassiness to it as he draws out all of the syllables as he says his next sentence.
“Is he your boyfriend?”
He can feel his own eyes widen in excitement and surprise because he was right, he’s totally right. This is just like Henry’s mom, and he rubs his hands together, something he’s always done since he was a baby.
She’s blushing now. His mom is blushing, and she was right, he is a good detective, and he loves being right.
“He is your boyfriend!” Noah repeatedly shouts as he jumps up and down on the spot, and the more he jumps, the pinker she goes, and she’s shaking her head and saying, ‘No,’ but Noah doesn’t believe her because it all makes sense now.
Why she kept his photograph, why he comes around late at night, why she smiles all.the.time.
“Mom’s got a boyfriend, Mom’s got a boyfriend,” he sings aloud as she continues to shake her head from side to side and deny it.
"Noah, I do not have a boyfriend but if I ever do, you'll be the first to know. Is that OK with you?" Olivia holds her arms out in front of him as if to ask for a hug and as excited as he is, he can never not dive into his mother's arms.
Attempting to keep his excitement all to himself, he whispers, “That’s ok with me, Mom.”