"No tears, remember, Mom?" he said.
"No tears," she said.
Annie had promised him that on the drive here, and she knew she had to keep the promise. He would not want her crying on his move-in day for college. She had to hold herself together, no matter what.
He was standing there with the sunlight in his tousled hair on this brilliant day in late August, at the edge of the green quadrangle, with students and their parents going to and fro, and his chin was jutting out the way it did when he was being obstinate.
She wanted to say so much.
I'm sorry for being so emotional. I didn't think your leaving would affect me this way. I pride myself on being strong, self-reliant, but right now I feel like I'm falling apart inside. Do you remember that old Teddy bear you had? "Mr. Fluffy" is what you called him. Do you remember I washed him once, just because you had carried him everywhere for years, and he was dirty and smelled bad? And because I put him in the washing machine a part of him ripped and some of the stuffing came out? You cried and cried and said, "Fix him, Mommy. Fix Mr. Fluffy!"? I had to sew him back together, remember? I feel like Mr. Fluffy right now, all soft and insubstantial inside.
But I can't tell you that.
"I guess it's time to go," he said. He was looking at the tops of his sneakers, the way he did during awkward moments.
"Are you sure you packed everything? Do you have your allergy pills? Your eyedrops? Your--"
"I have them all, Mom." He rolled his eyes.
"You'll call, right? You'll call tonight and let me know how it's going?"
When he was a little boy he would come into her room when he had a nightmare -- this was after his father had died and she was alone in the bed -- and she would wake with a start to him poking her in the arm.
"Had a bad dream," he would say. "Can I get in bed with you?"
She would move over and let him climb in next to her, and in seconds he would be asleep, with Mr. Fluffy cradled in his arms. She could never get back to sleep very quickly, and she would lay there for a long time listening to his breathing, smelling his little boy smell, and realizing that her heart was so full it could almost burst.
"It's a new chapter in your life," she began. She had rehearsed a whole speech, all about how he was going to meet new people, have all sorts of new adventures, and embark on some of the best years of his life. It was a very rational, reasonable speech, very high-toned and inspirational.
She couldn't get the words out.
He rolled his eyes again, and said, "Don't give me that speech, Mom. Please. I know what you want to say."
"Okay. It's just that I want you to know, you don't have to feel like you have to come back after graduation. You need to spread your wings, and--"
"Thanks, Mom, I'll keep that in mind four years from now." He took a deep breath, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "I really should be going."
"Yes, of course. You should go."
It was a girl, slim as a reed, with long chestnut hair, calling to him from across the quadrangle. A light went on in his face and he said, "Hi, Sophie. What's up?"
"We're going out for pizza. Want to come?"