"I don't know," she said, "but I've had the impression recently that Michel is acting strange. Well, not really strange, but different. Distant. Haven't you noticed?"
"Oh yeah?" I said. "I guess it's possible."
I had to be careful not to look at Clairewe know each other too well for thatmy eyes would give me away. Instead, I behaved as though I were looking around the café, as though I were deeply interested in the spectacle of ordinary people involved in lively conversation. I was relieved that I'd stuck to my guns, that we wouldn't be meeting the Lohmans until we reached the restaurant; in my mind's eye I could see Serge coming through the swinging doors, his grin encouraging the regulars above all to go on with what they were doing and pay no attention to him.
"He hasn't said anything to you?" Claire asked. "I mean, you two talk about other things. Do you think it might have something to do with a girl? Something he'd find it easier to tell you about?"
Just then the door to the men's room opened and we had to step to one side, pressed even closer together. I felt Claire's beer glass clink against mine.
"Do you think it has something to do with girls?" she asked again.
If only that were true, I couldn't help thinking. Something to do with girls . . . wouldn't that be wonderful, wonderfully normal, the normal adolescent mess. "Can Chantal/Merel/Rose spend the night?" "Do her parents know? If Chantal's/Merel's/ Rose's parents think it's okay, it's okay with us. As long as you remember . . . as long as you're careful when you . . . ah, you know what I mean . . . I don't have to tell you about that anymore. Right? Michel?"
Girls came to our house often enough, each one prettier than the next. They sat on the couch or at the kitchen table and greeted me politely when I came home. "Hello, Mr. Lohman."
"You don't have to call me Mr. Lohman. Just call me Paul." And so they would call me "Paul" a few times, but a couple of days later it would be back to "Mr. Lohman" again. Sometimes I would get one of them on the phone, and while I asked if I could take a message for Michel, I would shut my eyes and try to connect the girl's voice at the other end of the line (they rarely mentioned their names, just plunged right in: "Is Michel there?") with a face. "No, that's okay, Mr. Lohman. It's just that his cell phone is switched off, so I thought I'd try this number."
A couple of times, when I came in unannounced, I'd had the impression that I'd caught them at something, Michel and Chantal/Merel/Rose: that they were watching The Fabulous Life on MTV less innocently than they wanted me to think that they'd been fiddling with each other, that they'd rushed to straighten their clothes and hair when they heard me coming. Something about the flush on Michel's cheekssomething heated, I told myself.
To be honest, though, I had no idea. Maybe nothing was going on at all, maybe all those pretty girls just saw my son as a good friend: a nice, rather handsome boy, someone they could show up with at a partya boy they could trust, precisely because he wasn't the kind who wanted to fiddle with them right away.
"No, I don't think it's got anything to do with a girl," I said, looking Claire straight in the eye now. That's the oppressive thing about happiness, the way everything is out on the table like an open book: if I avoided looking at her any longer, she'd know for sure that something was going onwith girls, or worse.
"I think it's more like something with school," I said. "He's just done those exams; I think he's tired. I think he underestimated it a little, how tough his sophomore year would be."
Excerpted from The Dinner by Herman Koch. Copyright © 2013 by Herman Koch. Excerpted by permission of Hogarth Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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