“So, you weren’t out with a guy?” Mom asked pointedly, and I saw Milo looking ashamed out of the corner of my eye.
“Well, yeah, I was.” I drew my shoulders back a bit, telling myself that I hadn’t done anything, no matter what my mother’s angry glare said. “Is that a problem?”
“Who is he?” She flicked an ash off the arm of the chair, looking down instead of at me.
“His name is Jack.” I shifted uneasily, and stole a glance at Milo.
I felt very sorry for him. I had no idea how long he'd been forced to stand here with my mother, and I couldn’t imagine the kind of interrogation she had put him through.
Let me be clear: she wasn’t a bad mother. She was just a tired, lonely woman that worked seventy hours a week and hardly ever saw her kids. She barely had time to try to convince us not to make the same mistakes she did.
“I see.” Abruptly, my mother put her cigarette out and exhaled deeply. When she spoke again, her voice was sweet, much too sweet, and my skin wanted to crawl. “I think I should meet this boy.”
“How? When? You work all the time.”
“Well, he seems to be a night owl, much like yourself.” She looked up at me, batting her eyes exaggeratedly. “I’m sure that you could find a time within the next two days.”
A million different arguments ran through my head, but I didn’t want to set her off further. I just nodded instead.
“Okay. I’ll figure it out.”
“You better.” She sounded a little surprised that I had complied so easily, and I wondered if I spent a lot of my time arguing with her just for the sake of arguing. I was probably a very bad daughter. Maybe even a very bad person. “And if I decide that I don’t want you to see this boy anymore, then that’s it. Do you understand?”
“Completely,” I nodded again. Of course I would see him anyway, but that wasn’t something I would tell her.
“Good.” Mom got up, grabbing her purse off the table. “I’m going to go the casino now. I’ll see you sometime tomorrow.”
She was apparently satisfied with the conversation, and she hadn’t even really screamed at me. It was actually a pretty good talk, as far as our talks go.
Mom brushed past me on her way to the door, smelling thickly of cigarettes and cheap brandy, but she paused at the door, turning slightly towards me. “I am glad that you’re home safe.”
“Thanks,” I said, unsure of how else to respond. Then she nodded once and walked out the door.
Milo apologized as soon as she left, but I assured him he had nothing to apologize for. He always looked out for my best interest, and I knew that. Besides, I was too tired to worry about anything else.
I decided to get it over with and text Jack to ask if he could meet my mother. When he messaged me back a few seconds later, I realized what exactly he’d done with my phone. He had bought the song “Time Warp” and put it as his ringtone, so when I got a text message or call from him, that’s the song I would hear.
Thankfully, he agreed to come over for supper the next night at 8 pm sharp, and I tried not to think about how terrifying that prospect was.
First thing when I got up, I briefed Milo on Jack’s arrival, but Mom was still asleep. For some reason, Milo had been gifted with everything domestic, meaning he was the cook in the family. I let him make supper, but scurried about trying to help him and straighten up the apartment.
We actually had a nice apartment; it was just very small. It was important to me that we impressed Jack with where we lived, and I didn’t know why.
I didn’t know why I felt anything I did about him, but I pushed that out of my mind. That wasn’t tonight’s problem.
Then the unthinkable happened. Jack arrived early.
- 5 -
“Jack,” I said breathlessly when I opened the door. He had found my place without me telling him the apartment number, but I couldn’t mention that in front of Milo.
“Hi,” Jack beamed at me. He wore a simple tee shirt with Dickies, but it was the first time I’d seen him in pants. I suspected that this was his attempt at dressing up, and it made me smile.
“You’re early,” I told him. I held the door open, but I hadn’t let him inside yet, so he stood in the hallway, giving me an odd look. Milo had been behind me in the kitchen, noisily preparing something, but he hadn’t made a sound since we’d heard the knock at the door.
“Is that a bad thing?” Jack asked.
“No, not really,” I admitted, and finally took a step back so he could come inside. He smiled at my brother and his eyes quickly scanned the apartment. “My mom’s just not awake yet.”
“Oh.” He glanced at the clock on the wall, noting that it was after seven. “When does she get up?”
“I’ll go get her now,” Milo offered, wiping his hands on his jeans and stepping away from a pan.
“Oh, sorry,” I fumbled, realizing that I hadn’t introduced them. “Jack, this is my brother Milo. Milo, this is Jack.”
“Nice to meet you.” Milo did a little half wave/half nod combo, and then darted off to get my mom.
“I think I make him nervous,” Jack told me quietly.
“Everyone makes him nervous.”
We stood rather awkwardly in the kitchen, although I did feel slightly better now that he was around. He had a kind of calming effect on me, but I didn’t know if that was good or bad.