I laid on Seth’s bed, facing him in the dark, my face turned downwards, buried against his chest and fabric-softener-scented t-shirt. I kept closing my eyes, wishing that I could just fall asleep as his fingers moved up the back of my shirt, rubbing gently at my lower back. Things were easier when I was asleep. I could think about nothing and still wake up with a hard-on. Being awake… right now, being awake was a problem because my mind just wouldn’t quit. Too many thoughts. Too much in there. Add to that, I was on the second floor, and when it came to wishing that I could just doze off and forget for a while, I was shit out of luck.
"It’s almost twelve," Seth whispered. "I should take you home soon." He didn’t sound happy about his own suggestion. But, I knew why. I’d come over with bad news, and we hadn’t even been able to discuss it because he’d been too busy trying to make me feel better. I wanted to tell him that his efforts had worked, but I didn’t have the energy to lie.
"No," I mumbled into his chest, shaking my head against him, and I felt his hand on my head, fingers stroking my hair. "I don’t wanna go yet."
"I don’t want you to get in trouble," he replied quietly, sounding worried.
"I don’t really care right now," I told him, and I meant it. He seemed to understand that well enough, because he didn’t argue. He just stayed there with me, and the clock passed midnight.
I wasn’t expecting to have the reaction I’d had to my grandmother. Hell, I wasn’t even expecting my grandmother. But she was there, sitting on her suitcase in front of the front door. And when I’d seen her there, all of the frustrating phone calls, the lies, and the resentment, just didn’t exist because she was my grandma, and she was there in front of me, like everything that my life had been before had come knocking on my door, and I’d found myself to be shocked and oddly touched by it. I’d only been gone for a few months, but when I saw Grandma Alice, I felt like I was facing a long-lost loved one that I hadn’t seen in years, and it turned out that I really had missed her. Which seemed okay at the time, because the first thing she’d said to me as she hugged me right back was, "Oh! I don’t remember you being so tall! Let me look at you!" But then she only hugged me tighter. "I missed you."
"What are you doing here?" I asked, looking down at her suitcase when she finally did loosen her grip on me. "How long have you been here?"
"Not long," she replied. "I tried calling you when my flight landed, but I finally just took a taxi about an hour ago. The driver couldn’t find this address for the life of him. We had to stop and ask for directions."
"You called from the airport?" It was Eddie’s voice interrupting us, and to my surprise, he sounded completely annoyed. As I stepped away from my grandma, and faced Eddie, he looked completely annoyed, too.
That’s when I really started to recognize Grandma Alice--when she faced him sternly, hands on her hips as the sweet grandma disposition left her and she developed a don’t-you-take-that-tone-with-me glint in her eyes.
"Yes I called at the airport. I also called before I booked the ticket, after I booked the ticket, when I was on my way to the airport, and before I got on the plane. You seem to have some trouble answering your phone, and this one," she paused just to indicate me, "hangs up on me!"
"I did not!" I immediately argued. "The signal sucked."
"Language," she warned me.
"Suck isn’t a bad word, Grandma," I responded, becoming somewhat irritable myself, but, not because of her, more because she’d been trying to reach us, and if I’d taken the time to call her back sooner, I wouldn’t have been so shocked.
"Excuse me," Jase suddenly interrupted, stepping past Eddie to hold out his hand. "Alice?"
My grandma stopped glaring at me and my attitude long enough to smile at Jase and take his hand. "Jase. It’s nice to finally have a face to put to the voice."
"You too," he replied politely.
Eddie sighed, and as he caught up on his manners he beckoned Luke forward. "Alice, this is Luke."
I watched as Luke politely exchanged greetings with my grandma, but I was a little unprepared for the cold way he was regarding her. But I ignored that for now, deciding at this point, it needed to be my imagination. Obviously, I had other things to deal with.
"Why don’t we all go inside?" Jase suggested. "I think everyone could use something to drink, and we should sit down."
"Oh, no," Grandma Alice suddenly said. "I was just waiting for you guys to come home; I wanted to see Rory." She paused to smile at me and I found myself taking her hand. "I’ll stay in a hotel if someone could lend me a phone and point me in the direction? I don’t want to intrude, and it looks like you all just got back from a trip of your own."
"We did," Luke said somewhat shortly, surprising everyone. Jase elbowed him and I frowned, wondering what his problem was. Grandma Alice just smiled at him.
"Where did you go?" she asked him politely.
"We were at the lake," Eddie explained, before Luke could say anything more. "And you know you’re not staying at a hotel. We have guest rooms, Alice."
"Yeah, you just got here," I insisted, lifting her bag. "You can’t just leave."
I don’t think she really intended to leave, either, because Grandma Alice gave no more objections as we all made our way inside. It seemed like it took everyone hours just to get through the door and settled in the living room, where Jase made sure that my grandma had something to drink.
"Rory, Luke," Eddie said. "Why don’t you guys go get cleaned up and unpacked?"
I frowned at that, sensing that obviously, Eddie wanted to talk to my grandma, and I really didn’t want to miss anything.
"It’s okay," my grandma insisted, patting my knee where I was sitting next to her on the sofa. "You know, if no one minds, I wouldn’t mind freshening up, myself."
While Eddie looked annoyed again, I smiled at that.
"I’ll show you were the bathroom is," I offered, standing before offering my arm to help her to her feet, not that she needed it. I just couldn’t seem to walk away from her.
"Alice, I’ll take your bags up to the guest room," Jase offered, and Eddie looked annoyed again, but he didn’t comment; neither did Luke as he grabbed his bag and mine and wordlessly went downstairs while I showed my grandma where the restroom was.
By the time I made it downstairs, Luke was already coming out of a five-minute shower, towel wrapped around his waist as he paused in front of me in the hall.
"Hey," he said. "Are you okay?"
I stared at him for a moment as I tried to decide. "My grandma’s upstairs."
"Yeah, she is," Luke replied, almost indifferently. "What do you think she’s doing here?"
I thought about that for a second, too, and then mentally cursed myself because I hadn’t asked.
"I don’t know," I said, suddenly passing him. "But I’m gonna take a shower and then go find out before she starts talking to Eddie and Jase. I’m tired of being the last one to know."
I moved into my room and grabbed a clean shirt and some jeans without even bothering to look at them before I headed into the bathroom, already filled with steam from Luke’s shower, and apparently, Luke, who was waiting for me there, still holding the towel around his waist as he leaned against the sink.
"Don’t you think it’s weird?" he asked me as I rushed to pull off my shirt and jeans. I waited until I was in the shower and had the curtain pulled back before I removed my boxers.
"What’s weird?" I asked, turning on the water.
"That she’s here," Luke replied, raising his voice to make sure I’d hear him.
"Yeah," I agreed. "I guess. I sure as hell wasn’t expecting her."
"No, I mean... Rory, you’re supposed to be leaving in two weeks. You don’t think she could have waited to see you until then? Why would she be here, now? I mean, unless it’s to talk some sense into you about staying here, I don’t see why..."
I pulled the curtain back just enough to see Luke, and frowned. This was not a good time to start a debate on whether or not I should go home.
"I don’t see why she’d be here now," he continued. "And it is kinda like intruding because if we only have two more weeks with you, then don’t you think a normal person would back off and wait for you to move back in with her? It’s all bullshit, and she shouldn’t be here."
"Luke," I responded, raising my voice, and then wincing as the soap I’d been using to wash my hair ran into my eyes. I released an irritated growl, quickly rinsed off under the water and then pulled the curtain back again to glare at him. "Intruding?" I demanded. "I haven’t seen her in months! Do you realize that my whole life the longest I’ve gone without seeing her is a week? And I didn’t even realize how much I’d missed her until ten minutes ago, and now you’re saying she’s an intrusion? That’s great. Just fucking great, Luke. Oh, and I’m not the one working for the next two weeks. I’d rather spend my time with my grandma than have to wait around for one of you to come home, and if she’s not welcome here, then neither am I."
I dropped the curtain and moved back under the water, continuing to rinse myself somewhat hastily as I adamantly ignored my temper and tried to focus on getting back to Grandma Alice. It was hard to focus, however, when Luke pulled the curtain back on his own, a little more than just a crack. I jumped, had a slight moment of modesty and covered myself as I glared at him, but then got over it and continued to wash, turning my back on him.
"That is not what I said," Luke stated. "And you know this is your house as much as it is anyone else’s. Look, all I’m saying, is that this thing with your grandma being here now, is weird. I just want to know why she’s here, okay?"
"Well so do I," I responded irritably, turning off the water and turning to face him. "But the thing is, I’m just glad she’s here to see me, okay? Fuck, Luke. Yeah, I’m supposed to be leaving in two weeks, do really think that’s the easiest thing in the world for me? I’m going to miss you guys, and the whole time I’ve been here, I always thought that the one person I’d really want my grandma to meet is you, and now you’re being a jerk... Can I have a towel, please?"
Luke frowned, and then rather than handing me one of the towels hanging in the bathroom, tossed the one that he’d been holding around his waist at me and walked out, leaving me to feel exasperated--and more than a little worried as I’d considered everything he’d said.
I guess, if I wanted to look at things clearly, it was a little strange that my grandma was there; but then again, that was part of the reason why I wanted to get back upstairs and try to figure out what exactly was going on--and I wanted to see my grandma. I dressed quickly, hardly even bothering to dry off first. The towel was still damp from Luke, anyway, and it seemed that he hadn’t even bothered to dry his hair. At least, that’s how it looked when I found him dressed and waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs.
"I’m not trying to be a jerk," he told me. "It’s just coming out that way."
"I noticed," I replied, crossing my arms.
Luke sighed. "I’d like to meet your grandma."
"You already did."
"Rory, I’m sorry, okay? I’m just telling you what I think. Maybe I shouldn’t, but it kinda freaks me out that she just showed up."
"Why?" I responded coldly. "Like you said, she could be here to talk some sense into me, right? Wouldn’t you love that."
"No. I want you to stay, yeah, but not because you have to. Because you want to. Besides, for all I know she could be here to make sure you go back, and you should still be thinking about..."
"Luke," I said, lowering my voice as I tried to calm myself. "Please...the decision’s already been made, and like I said, it’s not easy for me, either. Two weeks. Please don’t spend that time trying to fight with me."
Luke frowned, looking very much like he wanted to argue that, too, but instead, he simply shrugged.
"Maybe we should just go figure out what your grandma’s doing here, huh?"
By the time we got upstairs, Grandma Alice had changed out of her walking shoes and into her fuzzy slippers that matched her jump suit perfectly as she sat in the kitchen with Jase over fresh coffee, while Eddie was on the phone. I assumed that he was ordering dinner.
"How long will you be staying, Alice?" Jase was asking.
"The week," Grandma Alice replied. "My flight’s scheduled to leave next Sunday at three, but don’t worry, I have no intention of staying here that long."
"We have the room," Jase insisted. "And, I’m sure Rory would like you to stay. If you’re going to be here there’s really no reason to stay in a hotel."
"That’s very sweet of you," Alice replied. "But really, Rory should be spending time with his father. I just wanted to catch him up on a few things before he comes home. I assume Eddie hasn’t made arrangements for that yet, but I’ve checked, and Rory and I can leave on the same flight next Sunday."
"What things do I need to catch up on?" I asked curiously, obviously not paying attention to everything that she’d said. I was still in shock, seeing her sitting in the kitchen with Jase sipping coffee as if she did it every day.
"What do you mean next Sunday?" Luke demanded, actually stepping in front of me.
"Luke," Jase said quietly before he looked at my grandma. "Alice, obviously we won’t mind making arrangements for Rory to fly home the following week."
"Yeah," Eddie said, hanging up the phone as he sat at the table, and then glanced at me. "I’m sure he doesn’t mind flying alone."
"No, I don’t," I said quickly, catching up to the situation. I slid into the seat next to my grandma while Luke remained standing, arms crossed defensively. "Plus, I probably need the time to pack. You sent like... everything."
I smiled at my grandma, but the smile faded when I realized that she wasn’t smiling at all. In fact, she looked rather confused. "I’m sorry," she said, and then looked at Eddie. "You don’t want him to miss his first week of school, do you?"
"Grandma," I said, "school doesn’t start until..."
"Next Monday," my grandma cut me off. "Freshman orientation is this Friday; obviously you don’t need that, but I don’t think you should miss your first week of school."
"But I thought..." I paused, and around the table, there was silence. One week. I was being told that I had one week left. Two weeks... that was hard, but I wasn’t prepared for one week. One fucking week? There had to be a mistake.
"Are you sure?" Eddie asked.
"Yes," Alice replied. "Rory’s class schedule came in the mail last week." She looked at me. "Why would you think it was next week?"
"I don’t know," I responded, somewhat defensively. "I heard Nathan’s mom say something, I think..."
"This is stupid," Luke suddenly said, and I looked back at him. He was frowning at me. "You don’t even know that you want to go back yet, so..."
"Luke," I cut him off.
"Are you thinking about staying, Rory?" Grandma Alice asked me. "Because I think before you decide anything for sure, you and I need to have a conversation."
"Why?" Luke demanded, and Grandma Alice looked at him, arching a brow at his tone while I cringed. "So you can convince him to go with you on Sunday? You don’t have any right to do that. He doesn’t belong with you! All you do is lie to him, anyway!"
"She wasn’t the only one!" I suddenly snapped, glaring at Luke. Instinctively I felt like I should be defending my grandmother, just like I’d defend my own mother. The fact that it was Luke who I felt I needed to defend her against simply tore me up inside.
"Will you excuse us?" Jase suddenly said, and I watched as he stood, moved around the table and took Luke by the arm. Luke didn’t object when Jase escorted him out, but he didn’t exactly stop glaring at Grandma Alice, either.
"I’m sorry about that, Alice," Eddie said. "This isn’t exactly easy for anyone. We thought we had more time..."
"Oh, don’t worry about that, Eddie," she replied, waving her hand as she looked over her shoulder in the direction that Luke and Jase had disappeared in before she smiled at me. "He’s spunky, isn’t he? You know, no one’s talked to me like that since your mother was around. She could be such a spoiled brat sometimes," she added with affection. "You know, I remember one time, when she was around your age and wanted to go on an unsupervised ski trip..."
"What do we need to talk about?" I demanded, cutting her off, suddenly feeling a little panicked. "What did you mean by that? Is something happening?"
Grandma Alice frowned, and let out a breath as she faced me directly, setting her expression in one of her businesslike masks. That was never good. It meant that I was about to get an order that only sounded as a request. "Rory, I think I need to talk to your father for a minute. Would you mind..."
"Yes, I mind!" I snapped. "Just say what you have to say!"
"Rory," Eddie said quietly.
"I’m not going to walk away so you can talk behind my back!" I declared.
"No one is talking behind your back," Alice informed me. "Rory Norick..."
"Don’t Rory Norick me," I said stubbornly. "I want to know what’s going on!"
"What’s going on," Grandma Alice responded, raising her voice ever so slightly, "is that I’d like a word with Eddie. It seems I’ve disrupted his family, and I’d like to set a few things straight before we continue this. Now, I’m sure you have a room around here somewhere, and while I don’t exactly know where it is, I’d like you to go to it and think about correcting your tone before you and I do talk."
I think I turned red in the face. I must have, because suddenly I was so perturbed that I couldn’t seem to keep breathing.
"Rory," Eddie said, just as I was about to spit a few choice words at the guest I’d been so happy to see not long ago. "Rory," Eddie repeated, and I forced myself to look at him. "Please, give us a minute, okay? We are going to talk."
I glared at him, everything in me prepared to argue. But unfortunately, we weren’t getting anywhere this way. So, avoiding a well-placed temper tantrum, I stood up and stormed out, but not before flashing them both looks that suggested that I entirely disapproved of all of this.
It was probably a mistake to go downstairs. But, under normal circumstances, I’d go to my room and lock the door when I was pissed off. Given the current circumstances, that’s what I intended to do, especially since walking out of the house all together seemed frighteningly rebellious with my grandma so close by. But, I never even made it to my room. Luke was on the sofa with Jase in the living room, looking irritated as they talked quietly. Luke stood up when he saw me.
"Why can’t you just say it?" Luke suddenly demanded.
"Say what?" I asked. I really didn’t want to be mad at him right now, but his attitude was beginning to remind me of the way it was back when I first arrived, and we were having our one and only fight.
"Why can’t you just say that staying here is at least worth thinking about? Why aren’t you even thinking about it?"
"Luke, maybe..." Jase started, but was abruptly cut off by me.
"I have thought about it," I informed him. "I need to go home. Why can’t you understand that, Luke? Shit, I’m leaving in a week now, why do you have to fight with me?"
"So now you’re just leaving in a week?" Luke demanded. "Why? Because she said..."
"School starts! I can’t control when school starts!" I defensively retorted.
"Okay," Jase said, standing up. "Luke, you’re upset right now, I know, but I think..."
"Yeah I’m fucking upset!" Luke suddenly snapped, turning on Jase. "Why is Eddie even going to let this happen? Because of some stupid deal? Fuck that! Rory was moving here! That was the only deal!" Luke turned towards me. "Eddie’s your dad. Doesn’t that fucking mean anything to you? You know I’m sorry about your mom--you know I am, and I’m sorry that life has generally sucked for you ever since she died, and I can appreciate that you didn’t want to come here in the first place, and I’m sorry everyone lied to you, but this hasn’t been easy on everyone else, either! Fuck, look around you, Rory. We moved when we found out you were coming. We’ve tried to be your family and now you want to go live with some old lady and go back to a school where no one knows who you really are? What the fuck do you have there that you don’t have here?"
I felt my hands shaking as I held them at my sides, and my eyes suddenly felt heavy. Luke was glaring at me. Luke. He was angry, and hurt, and I wanted to apologize to him, but I couldn’t. Because at the same time, I was pissed as hell at him.
"My life is there!" I stated. "And my grandma is old and overbearing and I could even argue that sometimes she’s actually insane, but she’s still my grandma. She’s my family. She has been a hell of a lot longer than you have. I’m going home because that’s where home is, Luke, with my mom!"
"Your mom’s not there anymore!" Luke snapped, and then there was silence.
I thought about what I said. I thought about what Luke said. I stood there, suddenly feeling sick to my stomach, torn between hitting whatever was available or completely breaking down as Luke and Jase stared at me, Jase looking concerned and Luke looking as torn as I did. I don’t think he knew what to say. I don’t think anyone did. I chose to solve the problem by eliminating myself from it. I turned, meaning to get back up the stairs, away from them. But, I stopped in my tracks when I found Eddie in front of me, his expression sympathetic and worried as it focused on me. Obviously, he’d heard enough, and I frowned at that.
"Alice has gone to bed," he said quietly, and before I could get mad about that, he continued. "She says she’s not here to convince you to do anything, either way." He looked at Luke pointedly after he said that. "From what I understand, she’s made a few changes at home--I’m not sure what they are yet. Right now, she wants you to know that you’re still welcome to go home with her; but she’d understand if you did decide to stay here, Rory... You have a week to think about it."
"Like he’s even going to bother," Luke remarked, and I glared at him again.
"Alright, no more of this," Jase stated. "I think everyone needs to calm down." He looked at Luke. "That’s not a request. Eddie, you ordered dinner?"
"It’s on the way," Eddie said quietly, still looking at me. I was having trouble meeting his eyes and had to look away.
"I’m not hungry," I replied, right before I passed Eddie and headed upstairs and out the front door, only stopping for a moment in the living room to use the phone. Eddie found me standing in the driveway a few minutes later.
"Rory, maybe you should come in," he suggested, and I turned to face him.
"I had two burritos. I’m not hungry."
"Listen," I cut him off. "I can’t, okay? I need a break... and I don’t want to go in there. I’m not running away, and I’m not going to do anything stupid, I’m just going to Seth’s, alright?"
There was silence for a few minutes, and Eddie sighed. "Alright."
Seth was there to pick me up no more than sixty seconds later. He had a smile on his face, but it went away as soon as he saw the look on mine. I tried to explain what I could to him on the way to his house, but he got quiet once I told him I only had a week left; and once we were in his room, he insisted that we should lay down, and that he wanted me to relax. Now, my body had relaxed, but my mind was a different story as I finally lifted myself into a sitting position and looked at the clock. It was two in the morning, and Seth had fallen asleep.
I wondered how he felt about all of this. I guess I was just glad that he hadn’t started yelling at me, too. But then, Seth wouldn’t do that. I had a feeling that he was always going to be one of those people who was going to try to be understanding, even when he didn’t understand the situation himself.
I’d told him what had happened tonight, but not how I felt about it. I think lying there with him, was really the first time that the idea of going home actually scared me. To the point that I was truly questioning if it was what I really wanted. But I couldn’t say that out loud, not when I felt like I already had enough people around to tell me what was best for me.
I lifted my hand, carefully brushing away a strand of soft hair from Seth’s forehead as I shifted closer to him, resting my head on the pillow so that we were face to face. My eyes had adjusted to the dark some time ago, and I could see his eyes when he opened them, and even under the circumstances, it felt good when he smiled at me.
"Are you feeling better?" he asked quietly.
"No," I said honestly as moved my hand to his side. He cupped the back of my head and drew me towards him, briefly kissing my mouth before we each pulled back, and I studied him for a moment.
"One week," he finally said, getting what we were both thinking out into the open.
I nodded, frowning. "Are you angry, too?" I forced myself to ask. "I think everyone else is."
Seth seemed to choose his words before he opened his mouth again. "Honestly? I hate that you’re leaving," he explained. "But, I knew it was going to happen, didn’t I?"
"So... what is it going to mean? We said we’d talk..."
"It means that we still have one week," he cut me off. "I mean, I know you still have your family, too... but we still have some time."
"But then what?" I asked. "I leave, and then we’re just... over?" I hated saying it out loud more than I hated thinking it.
"Is that how you want it to be?" Seth asked.
I frowned, not really sure how this was supposed to work. "No... but I’m going home, and..."
"And, we’ll keep in touch," Seth insisted, and then smiled. "I’m very good at writing letters."
"You’re not leaving permanently, right?" he asked.
"No. I’ll be back for breaks and holidays and stuff."
"So, it’s not like we’ll never see each other again."
"You could meet someone else."
"So could you," he pointed out. "And, if you do... I’ll pretend that I’m okay with it, and do my best to seduce you back the next time I see you," he added, sliding his hand down my back until it was resting directly on my ass.
I managed a small chuckle. "That kinda leaves me SOL if you meet someone," I replied. "I don’t think I’d be that good at the seduction thing."
Seth smiled, but then became more serious. "Rory, I don’t know what’s going to happen, okay? But I want us to keep in touch. And... who knows, maybe when you do come back... let’s just, not say it’s over yet. Okay?"
I leaned forward again, wanting to kiss him, momentarily closing my eyes as his lips met mine. "Okay."
There was a silence as he shifted closer to me, and we simply laid there for a moment, reflecting on our conversation, and in my case, wondering if just keeping in touch with Seth would be enough. "Seth?"
"Yeah...I should probably take you home," he said, as if reading my mind.
It was almost two thirty when I walked in the house, definitely past curfew. But I was going to get away with being late. Considering that I was under the impression that my life sucked more than anyone else’s at the moment, I was being stubborn, and quite determined to get away with it, actually. It didn’t even bother me that when I walked in, there was light coming from the living room. I guessed that Eddie had decided to wait up, and I decided to at least let him know that I was home before I headed to bed.
"You’re late," he said, before I even reached the living room, his voice sounding lower than usual.
"Yeah, well it would be kinda pointless to ground me now, so...oh." I stopped as I reached the living room, my eyes falling on Jase, not Eddie as he flipped through a book. He put it aside when he looked up at me. "You’re not Eddie."
"No, I’m not," he replied, cracking a small smile.
"It’s still pointless to ground me now," I insisted, and Jase actually laughed as he gestured to a chair near where he was sitting on the sofa.
"You wanna sit down?" he asked.
"For a lecture? No," I replied honestly, but took the seat, anyway.
"No lecture," he promised. "We just thought someone should wait up for you. Eddie tried, but..."
"What time to you think your grandma will wake up?" Jase asked.
"Early," I replied.
"So... I’m going to stay home tomorrow. I wanted to let you know. I mean, obviously, you’ll want to spend some time with your grandma... but I’ll be around. You guys are welcome to use my car if you want to show her around. Eddie wanted to be here, but he has to be in court."
"That’s okay... I mean, it’ll be fine."
"None of us realized you’d be leaving early."
"You know... um, if it will make it easier, you don’t need to pack all of your stuff, just what you’ll need. You could call and tell us if you want us to send it later. Or... maybe you’ll want to leave some of it here."
I let out a breath, watching Jase for a moment. He looked like he fully expected me to decline the offer.
"Okay," I agreed, and he smiled.
"Okay then... Eddie’s going to tell you, that any time you want to come back..."
"I know he will," I said.
"I wanted to tell you that, too," Jase said, and for some reason, that surprised me. He must have seen it. "Eddie... he’s always been happy. Not goofy happy, but happy. But, he’s been happy with you here. I can see it, and I’m not telling you this to make you feel guilty, but it’s going to hurt him when you leave, because he feels like he’s just getting to know you."
"I’m not leaving to hurt anyone," I objected.
"I know you’re not," Jase said quickly. "I just want you to promise me that you’ll let him know you."
"I still want to get to know all of you," I confessed, giving a small shrug, and Jase smiled.
"I’ll hold you to that."
On the way to bed, I stopped by Luke’s room and opened his door. I think I was hoping that he was still awake. If I knew anything, it was that I couldn’t fight with him for the rest of the week. But, he wasn’t awake, so I closed his door and hoped that tomorrow it would be easier to talk to him.
It was past nine when I woke up on Monday, and the whole house smelled like blueberry pancakes. As I got dressed, I wondered who Grandma Alice got to take her to the grocery store so she could make breakfast. I guessed Jase, because he was the one I found her with in the kitchen. It looked like they were just finishing up with the cleaning, and to my surprise, Alice didn’t seem to be driving Jase crazy. In fact, they seemed to be quite happy with each other, but that could have been because the topic was Eddie. I stood behind the table for a moment and listened while their backs were to me as my grandma told Jase all about Eddie when he was a little boy. It sounded like she was covering a variety of topics including school detention, science fairs, football games and homecoming king. My mom, of course, was included in these stories, and I was surprised to find that my grandma could talk about her happily. Before I’d left, my mom had been a delicate subject for both of us, and I found myself wondering when my grandma had made peace with her death. I also found myself somewhat offended by it. Obviously, Grandma Alice hadn’t forgotten about her, but I guess, I just thought that she should still seem... sad. I understood that this was somewhat unreasonable of me, because of course she was still sad. I knew that, even if it didn’t show.
I pushed my thoughts aside as Jase and Grandma Alice noticed me. Jase looked a little nervous for a moment, probably worried about the drama from the night before interrupting a peaceful morning, but my grandma regarded me as if nothing happened, smiling as she kissed me good morning and instructed me to eat some of the pancakes left over for breakfast. She sat down with me, having a half of one while Jase poured us all orange juice and joined us at the table where my grandma continued to talk about what my mom and Eddie were like when they were children.
I think instinctively, I wanted to snap at her and demand to know why no one had bothered to tell me these stories before. I wanted to ask her why she couldn’t have been honest with me before and after my mother passed away. But instead, I found myself simply listening, enjoying the stories now, even if it was a little late. I even found myself laughing a few times with Jase at the way my grandma explained how my mom won Eddie’s first fight for him, but Eddie was the one who got suspended for three days. Apparently, this was a good thing because it did wonders for his reputation.
I was finishing up my pancakes when my grandma slid her hand across the table and gently placed it on my arm, indicating that she wanted attention. As if she didn’t already have it. She’d been the center of attention ever since I’d sat down at the table.
"Well, Rory, I did say that we needed to talk about a few changes at home."
I put down my fork and immediately paid attention, the ease I’d felt during breakfast fading away as my mind jumped to conclusions and I faced Grandma Alice nervously.
"Oh. Should I leave?" Jase asked, prepared to get up.
"No, no. you can stay," My grandma insisted, waving for him to keep his seat. "I don’t mind you hearing my news, I just wanted to make sure that Rory was around to hear it first."
"What news?" I asked suspiciously, and Jase regarded my grandma curiously.
"Well," my grandmother said, a smile on her face as she reached into the pocket of her pink blouse, "I’m married."
I blinked, my eyes focusing on the simple diamond that my grandmother was currently slipping onto her ring finger. It wasn’t the same ring that she’d been wearing ever since my grandpa died.
Yeah. My reaction to this was to stare, feeling altogether perplexed. Perhaps a little amused. I sort of wanted to laugh out loud, because my grandma, married... well, that was kind of funny. At least, it was easier to think it was funny than to realize it was crazy. Because either my grandma had to be joking... or she was crazy.
Fortunately, Jase didn’t seem to be having as much trouble with this as I was, and I heard him clear his throat. "Congratulations. Who’s the lucky guy?"
That question seemed to snap me out of some of the shock.
"Who?" I repeated. "How about when? And... what? No." I shook my head at grandma Alice and the ring on her finger as she raised her brow at me. "You can’t be married."
"Well, that’s, funny," she responded as she studied her ring. "That’s the same exact thing I said when I woke up the next morning with a strange man in my room."
I was scandalized. "Grandma, eww! And I’m serious... how are you married? I hardly left you alone for three months..."
I was interrupted by Grandma Alice’s abrupt laughter. Apparently, she found something I said hilarious.
"Oh, sweetheart, don’t look so surprised," she insisted. "It’s not like I got a new puppy."
Jase snickered, and I found myself glaring at him, too, wondering when the world had lost its mind.
"Okay," she said, sobering slowly. "His name is Jarred Britchski. We met two weeks ago at an auction. I found a very nice dresser for your room, by the way. There’s plenty of room in it for all of your clothes, and..."
"Two weeks?" I demanded. "And you’re married to him?"
"He’s a very nice man, Rory. And, he’s looking forward to meeting you. Part of the reason why I came here was because I wanted you to know, so we wouldn’t just be springing it on you."
"You don’t call this springing it on me?"
"Well, you are the first to know, and Jase," Alice replied, smiling at him.
"Nice man?" I scoffed. "You’ve only known him for two weeks!"
"I take it you think I’m rushing," she said calmly.
"Well, it does seem a little fast," Jase said.
"Thank you," I told him, happy that I wasn’t the only sane one in the room.
"I’m not rushing," Grandma Alice insisted. "I just found a man who I happen to care for very much. We’re happy together, Rory. I’d like to tell you about him."
I opened my mouth, ready to continue insisting that she’d lost her mind, but Jase’s hand on my shoulder stopped me and when I looked at him, he was regarding me pointedly, obviously wanting me to be patient. So, I let out a breath and did my best, even if I didn’t like everything that I was hearing. Like, the fact that Jarred already had a family of his own.
Like Grandma Alice, he was widowed. He had a daughter in her twenties, already married with two young children, and a nineteen-year-old son who still lived with him. A nineteen-year-old son, who in all likelihood, would be living with us. I wasn’t too sure about that. I’d already gone through moving in with a family I didn’t know, and while that hadn’t turned out exactly bad, I wasn’t sure that I was ready to go through it again, and that left some concerns on my part. But I guess it wasn’t all bad, because then Grandma Alice explained that while she was married, she and Jarred wouldn’t be moving in together anytime soon. He had his own home, where he would stay until at least Christmas, she explained. That’s why she was making changes to the house, wanting it to seem like new. Apparently, when she’d said that I was the first to know about this marriage, she’d meant it. Jarred hadn’t even announced it to his family yet. Alice was spending some time with them, and getting to know them, but they wouldn’t actually know that my grandma and Jarred were married until December, when they’d have a real ceremony.
I think it was the way it made me feel to know that I’d actually been the first to know for once that made it easier to agree to give my grandma away at her wedding when she asked me to. She invited Jase, Eddie and Luke right there at the table, just like she set a date right there at the table. December twenty-third. She hadn’t bothered to consult Jarred on this, and later when she showed me a picture of him I decided that the poor guy probably didn’t stand a chance with my grandma. He was a small man, but had a full head of white hair.
As I slowly accepted the fact that my grandma was married, the idea of a real wedding actually seemed like a good idea, because when Jase wasted no time getting out his date book, I realized that it was just another way of being able to see everyone, even if I’d planned to see them at Christmas, anyway. I guess this just made it real, and it seemed to make the idea of leaving somewhat easier than it had the night before when I was with Seth.
When my grandma was all finished telling us about her Jarred and his family, Jase excused himself, saying that he had some calls to make and some work that he could do at home, and me and Grandma Alice went outside for a while, walking around the house as we talked, catching up on everything that had been going on since we were separated. She told me all of the random ways that she’d kept busy, and rather than bringing up any of the heavier stuff that we both knew needed to be discussed, I found myself telling her all about what I’d been up to. I told her about Luke, and meeting his friends, going out with Eddie and our recent trip to the lake, and I even told her about Aaron. I kept some details to myself, but even then my grandmother still decided that she didn’t like the little hooligan.
And then I told her about Seth. It was kind of embarrassing, talking to my grandma about my boyfriend, but that was probably just because she saw fit to tease me about him, when she wasn’t playing twenty questions. She wanted to know everything from his eye color to what kind of family he had. I, of course, only had good things to say about him, and in the end, she insisted on meeting him. She got to that night, if only briefly, when Seth stopped by on his way home from work. He was polite to her, and even put up with her questioning and embarrassing remarks about how handsome he was before he said he had to go, but asked me if I could get out later. I guessed that I could meet him after eight. My grandma would be in bed by then.
Later that night, I was disappointed that Luke still seemed upset with me. He had dropped his attitude, but when I tried to bring anything up with him, he shut me down, saying that it was better not to talk about it. I disagreed, but for the time being, I let it go. At least, until after dinner, where he’d been a lot nicer to Grandma Alice than he’d been the night before as we caught him and Eddie up about her recent nuptials, but he’d practically refused to speak to me. It was around seven o’clock when I cornered him in the garage. He’d been ready to get into his car, but I’d stepped in front of him and refused to let him pass.
"Move it, okay?" he said tiredly. "Chey’s still at Dave’s. I need to go get her."
"So I’ll go with you."
"Your grandma’s inside. You should probably stick around here." He tried passing me, but I stepped in front of him again.
"Luke," I said sternly. "Don’t do this, okay?"
"I’m just going to get my dog, Rory."
"You’re trying to block me out," I informed him. "Is that what you plan to do until I leave, because if it is I swear I’ll..." I lost my train of thought as Luke narrowed his eyes at me almost challengingly. "Look, just stop, okay?"
Luke studied me for a long moment, and I think I half expected him to just push me aside when he stepped forward, but instead, he let out a breath, his perturbed expression deflating, and I sighed as he leaned forward until he was against me, pulling me forward, into a hug as I rested my chin on his shoulder, feeling more relieved than anything.
"I still don’t think you should leave," he told me. "That’s not gonna change."
"And I miss you already."
He squeezed me tighter for a moment before giving my back a firm pat and then releasing me. "Just get in the car, okay?"
I nodded, and did just that. It was hard talking to Luke, mostly because he didn’t want me to go, and he had no trouble voicing it. But, at the same time, he was willing to listen as I talked about my grandma being married, and about her husband’s family. I think he cheered up a little when I told him that Jase had already agreed that they’d all be coming to visit when she got married in December, but Luke insisted that there had to be school holidays before that, like Thanksgiving, and that I’d better have my ass on a plane and coming to visit at the earliest opportunity.
Luke and I got Chey, and by the time we got back, my grandma was getting ready for bed. I watched the end of a movie with Luke, Jase and Eddie, and then I called Seth. I decided that he was the easiest to be with because as we went to the mall to skate until the place closed, we didn’t mention my coming departure at all. In fact, I think with Seth, I forgot that I was leaving at all.
On Tuesday, everyone went to work and I was left with Grandma Alice. I thought it was nice of Jase to carpool with Eddie so we’d have a car, but we didn’t use it. Instead, we stayed home, and I finally brought up my mother. I didn’t go straight into interrogating Grandma Alice, though. Instead, I played another of the CD’s. My grandma had confessed to having no idea what was in the box when she sent it, and hearing my mom’s voice had obviously surprised her. It was something special, she’d said, and no less special than anything else in the box my mom had sent me when I did decide to show her as we sat downstairs in the basement. My grandma was studying the ring that had once belonged to my grandfather when I stopped the CD player, which was currently playing my mom’s voice, reading Bambi, and I pulled the journal into my lap.
"The other night," I explained, "I was reading... Mom said that you’re the one who wanted her to find Eddie."
Grandma Alice silently pursed her lips before handing me back the ring, which was still on the chain that Luke put it on, and she released a large sigh.
"Your mom wanted to find him, too," she insisted. "There were just times... when she didn’t know how. She was worried about it--what he’d think. What you’d think. She really did want what was best for you. Always has."
"Grandma, I need to know..."
"Not telling you about Eddie was a mistake," She cut me off before I could finish asking the question. "From the beginning it was something... well, it was something your mother should have done a long time ago, Rory. It was never my place to say."
"Even after she died?" I responded angrily. "Do you have any idea how much trouble you caused? You let me come down here thinking that he was some kind of deadbeat, when all along it was you and Mom..."
"That, was also a mistake, and I’ve apologized for it."
"Mom wanted me to know sooner."
"I know what I did, Rory," she cut me off. "Listen, I know this doesn’t change the mistakes I’ve made. But, I did have a reason. After the funeral, you were..."
"I know what I was like. But that doesn’t mean you should have..."
"Do we need to have this conversation later?" she challenged, clearly annoyed with my interruptions. I gritted my teeth together, holding my breath as she waited to see if I was going to be quiet before she continued. "It was a big thing--your mother not telling you about your father; and to be honest... I didn’t want you to know that Eddie didn’t know about you. At least, I didn’t want to be the one to tell you."
"It wasn’t easy for me, either, Rory. I lost her too, you know... I didn’t want to lose you next if there was a chance you were going to be angry with me. More importantly, I didn’t want you to feel anger towards her, when she... she would have done anything for you. I couldn’t stand it if you ended up resenting her for not telling you. Or, me."
It wasn’t like my grandma to cry. Even at the funeral, I never saw a tear leave her eyes. Instead, there were very few moments when she’d return from another room, looking tired and bleary-eyed. Once, I saw her wipe at her eyes when we were going through some of my mom’s things, but that was it. Now, she was doing the same thing, wiping at invisible tears, sniffing once. Staying in complete control. But, it was there, and my instincts prevented me from getting angry at her for her reasoning.
"I never would have hated her. Or you," I stated, leaning into my grandma when she placed a hand on my shoulder.
"I really am sorry, Rory. If I could go back and do it differently--I would," she said, and I believed her.
I took a moment, processing her reason, the one I’d been waiting for, and after deciding that I could accept it and move on I leaned back in my seat, staring at my mom’s journal for a long moment before something else came to me, and once again I was regarding Grandma Alice suspiciously.
"That still doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me Eddie was gay," I pointed out, and then frowned when she actually laughed.
"Well, that, I’m not going to take responsibility for. You were so worried about meeting your father that I thought... well, I thought that when he told you and you figured out that you had something in common, you’d settle down. I had no idea that it was going to take him so long. When he told me he was living with another man, it only made sense that he’d tell you right away, but obviously, I was wrong about that, too."
"You wanted Eddie to tell me so we could bond?" I asked incredulously.
"It didn’t work, huh?"
"No. Because he didn’t tell me. I had to hear it from Aaron Keslin, and then read it in Mom’s letter."
"Ah, well, I see where you could have avoided some trouble had you known."
"Some?" I demanded.
"Eddie should have told you," she said firmly. "But, that’s in the past now, isn’t it? You should be thinking about what comes next... You wouldn’t hurt my feelings, Rory, if you thought about staying here. You know that, don’t you?"
"I’m just saying. You follow your heart on this one. You’ve got a nice family here."
"I have a nice family there," I replied, and she smiled at me.
"Well, you still have the rest of the week to think about things. You should."
It was exactly midnight on Tuesday when Seth dropped me off. I was pretty sure that I’d be spending every night with him that I could, and tonight, had been a good one. We’d gone to see a movie, but apparently you actually can get kicked out for talking, and Seth and I couldn’t stop doing that. He’d received a letter from his brother earlier that day, actually addressed to him. Apparently, he wanted to start talking again, and Seth was all for it. I was simply happy that he was happy, and even happier when he pulled over on the way back from the theater for the sole purpose of getting into my pants. He’d thought it was funny when I told him that he should do that as much as possible, since I was stocking up for a very long winter. I had to explain to him that I was dead serious.
I was still kissing him after I got out of his truck, but that’s because Seth had followed me, refusing to get back in before he walked me to the door, and then I equally refused to go inside until I’d watched him walk back to his truck, deciding that he needed to wear his black jeans more often, particularly liking the way they clung to his butt.
I was in a pretty good mood when I did go into the house. Only, that all ended when I went to the kitchen to pour myself a glass of water and found Eddie there, sitting at the kitchen table with a glass bottle in front of him and a short glass filled with dark liquid that had me pausing.
When I’d left the house, Eddie had been fine, going through some pictures with my grandma and Jase before she went to bed, and he’d seemed relatively happy. But now, the expression on his face was grim, his eyes were red and downcast, and he hardly looked at me, even when he acknowledged me.
"I’m not late again," I quickly informed him.
He looked up then, as he topped off his glass. "Again?"
"Um... never mind," I replied, grabbing a glass from the cabinet.
"Want to sit down?" Eddie asked, and after a moment of hesitation I turned and moved to the table. I probably should have filled my glass first, because as soon as I got to the table Eddie took it from me and my eyes widened as he filled it with what he was drinking. As he slid it back, I asked myself how drunk he was.
"Um... is everything okay?" I asked carefully as I watched him down his drink, while keeping a suspicious eye on mine. I lifted it when he looked at me expectantly.
"Yeah. Fine," Eddie replied. "I’m not working tomorrow." He pointed at my glass. "It’s really good."
I forced a small smile, held my breath and took a swallow, fully expecting one thing, and coughing when I tasted another. "This is apple juice," I announced.
"Jase made it," Eddie explained.
"It’s good," I agreed, putting my glass back down. "So... not working tomorrow?"
"Nope. Or the rest of the week. I know we did it last week, but I thought we could spend some more time together... if that’s okay with you."
"Yeah, sure," I replied, and we both fell silent for a moment.
"You and Luke are getting along again," Eddie commented.
"Yeah, we talked. Kinda."
"You know, the things he said to you, he didn’t mean..."
"Yes he did," I cut Eddie off. "But it’s okay. I mean... I think me and Luke are fine."
"That’s good," Eddie said, and then, "You’re getting tired of everyone telling you not to go back."
I sighed. "Well, yeah. It’s just that..."
"I’m not going to do that," Eddie cut me off, continuing what he was saying, and I looked up at him as he stared at his half-empty glass. "But I need to ask you, one more time, if you’ll stay here with us." He lifted his eyes, meeting mine, and I swallowed. Lately, it seemed like no matter what I said, someone was going to be disappointed in me, and Eddie already looked so tired and depressed that I didn’t want upsetting him on my conscience. "You don’t have to answer now. I just want to make sure you know that when I said I wanted you here, I meant it... I’ve just missed the last sixteen years. I don’t want to miss any more time, and I’m not saying this out of obligation to your mother, or even to you. I just want you here because you are my son, and I think... I think you do belong with us. And... I love you. I do. I do like I would if you were a newborn that I carried home from the hospital three months ago. I want you to know, that I don’t care about when I found you, Rory. I’m just glad I did. So please, don’t leave now."
I’m not sure how long I stared at Eddie in stunned silence. But I was aware of his hand on my shoulder as he passed by while leaving, and then I became even more aware of the much smaller hands of my grandmother behind me, and I found myself leaning back in my chair, closer to her as she ran her fingers through my hair.
"Well," she said quietly. "I think you have some decisions to make."