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I showed Mikey to the bathroom so he could clean himself up, then used my underwear to wipe down my own torso. When I finished I dropped them into the hamper and retrieved a new pair from my dresser. I waited until Mikey returned to begin dressing, since he remained naked and I did not want him to feel vulnerable.
“Still big, even when you’re soft,” he said, stepping over to his clothes.
“I’m not completely soft yet,” I said. “And look who’s talking.”
“If we don’t change the subject I’m going to get hard again.”
As far as I was concerned, he wasn’t joking. I felt my own corporeal response occurring as we spoke.
“Do you mind if I stay awhile longer?” he asked as he dressed.
“Of course not.”
“Cool.” He sat down on the couch and looked at his phone until I was dressed and came over to sit next to him.
“Although it would be pretty hilarious if you just left after that,” I said.
He laughed. “No words. Just walked out the door.” He picked up the sea glass from its perpetual home on the coffee table. “We can joke, but seriously, I’m not about that at all. That’s not what this is.”
“I know.” I stared blissfully ahead into the void of the powered-down television.
“What are you reading?” he asked, exchanging the sea glass for the paperback novel I’d left near the edge of the table. “Fuck, this is a long book.” He flipped through the pages. “A Suitable Boy, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s really good. If you like to read I can lend it to you when I’m done. Might be a while, though.”
“I should say so,” he said. “Fourteen hundred pages. Jesus. Yeah, I’ll give it a try when you’re done.” He turned it over and skimmed the back for a few seconds. “You’re sure this doesn’t say something about you? I mean, I get that you’re not looking for a boyfriend, but still…”
I laughed. “It’s about a lot more than just that.”
He set the book down. “Do you read a lot? I always feel like I don’t read enough.”
“Sometimes,” I said. “I go through phases.”
“So what do you like to do? You can’t possibly just go to work and read at home and that’s it.”
“Well, let’s see,” I said, pretending to recount my activities from some mental schedule, “there’s work, reading, Netflix, porn, listening to music, the gym… Nope. No free time after that.”
“Oh, come on. You’re keeping something from me. Porn only takes, what, two or three hours from your day?”
“Fine,” I said, laughing. “I like to write. But I haven’t done it much since I was in school. My job’s been a little overwhelming.”
“I knew it. You’re too creative to be someone who just sits around. What do you like to write?”
“Poetry,” I said. “And sometimes prose. Fiction. But it has to be spare and important, like poetry.”
“Is all poetry spare and important?”
“All good poetry is,” I said.
“Whoa.” Mikey raised up both of his hands. “Sit down, Emily Dickinson.”
I laughed and punched him lightly on the shoulder. “You don’t know anything about it.”
“Hey, look who’s getting violent now.” He rubbed his arm in feigned injury.
Over the next several minutes we discussed combining our talents into some kind of illustrated book of poems or stories.
“What would we call it?” I asked.
“The title would come to us in the process,” he said, now laying on his back with his head near my hip, hair spilling across the cushion and legs dangling over the arm of the couch. “That’s where all the best titles come from.”
“I’ll agree with that.”
Mikey’s mouth unhinged into an enormous yawn and then he said, “I still like books with illustrations. Never grew out of that.”
“Me too,” I said.
The conversation slowly abated over the next few minutes and Mikey said softly, “The test of a true friendship: napping together.”
I smiled to myself. Completely relaxed, I had also begun to feel drowsy. “Good idea,” I said, curling myself into my corner of the couch. Mikey didn’t say anything after that.
I woke up as my phone shook angrily in my pocket. I glanced up at the wall clock. An unfathomable hour had slipped by-it was ten minutes after six. “Mikey,” I said groggily, turning toward him.
He didn’t stir so I fished out my phone and read the offending text. “If you haven’t left yet,” my mom wrote, “could you please bring your rice cooker with you? Something is wrong with ours.”
“Mikey,” I repeated.
He sat up. “What?” He looked around the room and then flashed a broad smile at me. “Oh, hey Chickadee.”
“It’s after six,” I said. “I better go. My mom wants me to bring my rice cooker.”
He still looked a little dazed as he stood up and went pendik escort over to the front door.
I rummaged through a cabinet under the counter for the plastic serving scoop that went with the cooker.
“I’ll drive you,” he said, putting on his shoes and coat.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s only about a mile from here-I walk all the time.”
“With a rice cooker?” he asked.
“Alright,” I said, grinning. “If you insist.”
By the time we sat in his car we were restored to full alertness.
“I feel bad,” he said, patting down a cluster of rogue hairs that attempted to escape from orbit. “If I hadn’t suggested a nap, you wouldn’t be late.”
“I’m not late. The fact the my mom just now asked for the rice cooker means we won’t eat for an hour. Setting a meeting time with my parents is a pretty hopeless pursuit.”
“Alright,” he said, tossing his phone on my lap and starting the car. “Before I forget, can I get your number? I’ll text you later so you have mine.”
He told me his passcode and I opened up a new contact. “I guess not having each other’s numbers has already been a problem,” I said.
“Exactly. Now I can stalk you whenever I want.”
“Yeah, whatever,” I said.
I directed him to my parents’ house and as we turned down their narrow street I saw both of them and my sister chatting out in the front yard. The sun had fallen down from behind the clouds in one last brilliant bid of light before disappearing completely. Their shadows sprawled across the lawn and crept up the wood siding of the house.
“Shit,” I said. “Okay, when I get out, you just hit the gas, let out your clutch-whatever it is that you do-and just go. If they manage to flag you down, they will ask you every question imaginable. They live for this stuff.”
Mikey laughed. “It doesn’t bother me.”
“You say that now,” I said.
“Alright, alright,” he said, still laughing. “I’ll text you later, okay?”
“Perfect,” I said. “Thanks again for the ride.” He stopped the car and I climbed out, cooker cradled in one arm. We said goodbye, I closed the door and he drove away.
The house had been built in the 1960s and stood in various stages of remodel. The kitchen was mostly modernized, but the layout remained sectioned off into small, dedicated rooms. It had a main floor and carpeted upstairs, but was not large. Around the time I was born, the carpet in the dining room had been torn up, down to the particleboard base. It was a project that had remained unfinished my entire life. Many of the decorations were old family pictures and keepsakes, mostly from my mom’s side, extending back a few generations.
My dad and sister greeted me warmly and my mom ordered me to follow her to the kitchen with the rice cooker.
“I told Dad to just pay the extra thirty dollars for the better brand,” she said. My mom was small, fit and energetic with wavy, dark hair that hovered above her shoulders. Lately she unabashedly indulged in the mod-style fashion that had been popular when she was a little girl. She wore a bright orange, sleeveless dress that fell just below her knees.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “Stephanie and your dad insisted that we get some sun before it disappears. I was so cold standing out there.”
“All you’re wearing is that dress, Mom. It looks kind of like summer.”
“Do you mind if I hold onto your rice cooker? Are you using it?”
“Not much, lately,” I said. “Keep it as long as you want.”
“Who was your friend?” she asked. “He looked very cute.”
“How could you even see that?”
“I looked when you had the door open,” she said, transferring the half-cooked rice from one pot to the other. “Is he older? How does he pay for a fancy car like that?”
“It’s just a Honda,” I said, sorting through a pile of mail by the refrigerator. My parents did not buy new cars.
“Well, tell me about him,” she insisted. “You never bring guys by.”
“There’s not much to tell. He’s a new friend, around my age. I don’t know him that well yet. He’s a nice guy.”
My dad and sister walked in, closing the front door and laughing their way toward kitchen.
“Wyatt, Dad says you haven’t been visiting enough,” said Stephanie. “They’re getting lonely over here.” With her angled features and small nose, Stephanie very much resembled a taller, younger version of my mom, but she’d borrowed my dad’s lighter hair (as had I) and she grew it out, well past her shoulders.
“Hey, I visit as often as you do,” I said.
“That’s not saying much,” she replied, giving me a hug. “I’m in Brickhouse. What’s your excuse? You’re literally right across the highway.”
“You maltepe escort both should visit more,” said my mom. “But I’m told if I pressure you, it will only push you away. So that’s all I’m going to say.”
“Wyatt,” said my dad, “I’m disappointed you didn’t introduce us to your friend. He looked very nice, from what little I could see of him.”
“I gave him the business already,” said my mom. She then complained that it was too crowded with all of us together in the kitchen, so my dad, Stephanie and I headed for the living room. My dad turned on the television to catch the tail end of the news and Stephanie and I talked as we waited for dinner. We covered the usual subjects, including the finalization of her divorce, which had been fairly amicable but mystifyingly drawn-out.
My dad insisted that we watch a commercial he liked, and when it was over Stephanie turned to me. “Who is he?” she hissed. “I mean, who is he really? I saw him, too. Holy shit, Wyatt.”
“His name’s Mikey,” I whispered. “We’re just messing around. He says he’s not looking for anything romantic.”
“Well that’s not all bad, right?”
“No,” I said. “It’s definitely not.”
My dad cracked up at another commercial and my mom yelled from the kitchen that dinner was ready.
We gathered in the dining room and sat down. My mom had separated the meat, greens and rice into different serving bowls. Wine glasses were set for all of us, each containing the same generous amount. We were quiet as we dished up our plates and began to eat.
I knew my announcement of the possibility of moving would have to occur sooner or later, so I spoke up after a minute or two. “Tandon and Dufresne wants me to move to Fern Hill. They told me on Wednesday. I would leave in a little over five weeks.”
Everyone stopped eating.
“What?” said my mom. “Isn’t there plenty of work in the city?”
“They have kind of a little stronghold up there,” I said. I explained about how they were short on room and some of the new hires were expected to, in essence, do their time away from the main branch. “They’ll pay for relocation costs. I’m just not sure if I’m going to do it.”
My dad cleared his throat. “Hold on. Are there any ramifications if you don’t?”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “I won’t have a job with them anymore.”
He frowned. “Well, what is it that you’re not sure about?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “There’s like a ninety-five percent chance I’ll go. It’s just hard to imagine actually doing it. There’s a lot I’ll miss about the city. Plus it’s nice to be close to you guys again.”
“Sweetie,” said my mom, “we love it, too. Every minute of it. But if this is your career we’re talking about, and as long as it’s only temporary, I just don’t think it’s right to pass it up. Not if it’ll cost you your job.”
“I know. That’s where the ninety-five percent comes from.”
“Okay,” she said. “Alright, that’s fair. You just need some time to used to the idea. I understand that.”
Stephanie had been listening silently and began to eat again. “He’ll probably go,” she said with a mouthful of rice, “but if he doesn’t, it’s because it wasn’t right for him.” She swallowed. “Anyway, it’s his decision, not yours.”
“We know that,” said my dad, “but spending, what, a year or two away? That’s not a big deal. Not with a job that has so much potential for growth.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I told them. “Stephanie’s right; I’ll probably go. And I could use some help with the move.”
“Of course,” said my mom, gesturing up to the ceiling with her fork. “We’ll get the old truck out of the garage-it’ll be just like when you left for school. Dad and I will come visit as often as you let us.”
“I’m not eighteen anymore,” I said. “You can visit whenever you want.”
We continued to eat for a few minutes and then my dad said, “Stephanie’s officially a single woman again. I’ll drink to that.” My dad had never liked my sister’s marriage with her now ex-husband because he had suspected, long before any actual evidence surfaced, that Craig was closeted.
“Hide your husbands,” Stephanie muttered, sipping her wine.
“You’ve handled it all with such poise, sweetie,” said my Mom.
She sighed. “Ultimately, there’s not much to contemplate. Makes things easier. That and hopefully staying friends.”
“I like you better as friends,” my dad announced.
“Yes, thank you, Dad,” said Stephanie. “So good to finally know how you feel.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“So, Wyatt,” my mom began, “I know you don’t want me to ask, but you’re always so quiet about your love life. If a boy spends his time driving kartal escort you around, I think that could mean he’s more than a little into you.”
“What if he’s straight, mom?” said Stephanie. “Not every boy Wyatt hangs out with has to be gay.”
My mom turned to me. “Well, is he gay?”
“He’s interested in guys,” I said, “but not romantically. He’s only dated women. And for what it’s worth, as far as the gay thing goes, I usually pick up vibes from people. I’m not getting any from him. But that doesn’t really mean anything either way.”
“You say he’s interested?” my mom asked. “Interested in what? Friendship?”
“And sex,” Stephanie added.
“Oh.” My mom took a long drink from her wine. “Oh, well, I really hope you’re being careful.”
I laughed to myself, elbows resting on the table and hands clasped to my forehead. “Don’t worry, Mom.”
“What does he do for work?” asked my dad.
“He owns a software company,” I said. “It’s doing well.”
“Sounds promising,” he said, reaching out and playfully shaking my arm.
I smiled but did not say anything in response. We returned to discussing the logistics of my probable move, then wandered into the topic of what movie to watch after dinner. When we were done eating, I stepped in to complete the post-meal cleanup, and soon after we settled into Big Hero 6, which only Stephanie had previously seen.
Later that night, after the movie was over and my parents had gone to bed, Stephanie and I put on our coats and sat together on the front porch swing. The yard glowed very dimly in the orange gloom of a towering lamp at the end of the street, silhouetting the ancient cherry tree that stood at the center of the lawn.
“Sorry if I embarrassed you at dinner,” she said. “I was just kind of irked at Mom and Dad’s attitudes, I guess.”
“Trust me, I was a lot more entertained than embarrassed.”
“Okay, good,” she said. “Check it out: Mom’s face when she heard the word ‘sex.'” Stephanie mimicked perfectly my mom’s expression of thinly veiled shock.
I cracked up. “So perfect.”
“Seriously, though,” she said, “I’m glad you know how to relax and enjoy what’s in front of you. Believe me, you have more time than you even know.”
“I’m sensing that more and more.”
“Good,” she said. “And as far as this move is concerned, just try to listen to yourself and what you want.”
“Okay,” I replied. “I can try that.”
“I’ve made some hasty decisions in life just because everything felt so goddamn urgent. You know what I mean?”
“I guess so.”
“Well, you can take this for what it is, but in light of recent events, I’m seeing that very little in life is actually urgent. Almost nothing at all.”
“That’s good to know,” I said. I knew Stephanie referred to the divorce, and for reasons that did not align perfectly with my parents’, I was proud of her for the self-affirming attitude she had carried throughout the experience.
We talked for a short while longer, mostly laughing over shared memories of growing up. Soon, she brought up her long drive home and asked if I wanted a ride.
“No thanks,” I said, “I’m going to sit here a little longer.”
The truth was that I enjoyed the fifteen-minute walk between my childhood home and my apartment, rain or shine, and its ability to clear my head of persistent and unproductive thoughts before going to bed. I started walking only a few minutes after her car’s taillights disappeared around the corner.
I’d borrowed one of my mom’s scarves from the narrow closet by the front door and now snugged it more closely against my neck to ward off the mist that hung in the cold, lamplit air. I walked through a lonely pedestrian tunnel leading under the highway, kicking at the concrete wall and listened to the juddering reverberations that crashed down the length of the of tube.
When I reemerged, I noticed I’d received a text from an unknown number. I had forgotten that Mikey said he would text me. “Hey, didn’t want to interrupt your dinner,” he wrote. “Just thought you should know that it’s calm seas tonight. Not having any doubts about what happened. I had the best day.”
I continued walking for a few minutes, mulling over an appropriate response before returning to my phone and texting back, “I’m really glad to hear that. A little relieved, to be honest. Looking forward to our bus ride tomorrow.”
Glancing back over the the highway, I saw that the moon, a somber puddle of white, hung low with edges softened by the mist into an encircling aura of light. It turned its sorrowful gaze downward, bisected by an instant of ribbonlike cloud that lingered over the farmland to the east.
I looked back at the screen and for a few seconds an ellipsis flickered under my response indicating that Mikey had, willfully or by accident, begun to enter another text. But it soon disappeared and I tucked my phone back into my pocket.
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