A/N: Thank you to Jim the editor for volunteering his time to sort through all of my mistakes to make this chapter more readable (better) it is appreciated
"You’re in jail again."
Seth frowned, and looked down at his thimble game-piece.
"Your turn," he finally said. But, I didn’t make any move to roll the dice. I’d been sitting in his room for fifteen minutes, wondering why I was there. It wasn’t like he was giving me any of the information I wanted.
"I think I should go home."
Seth looked up at me, not looking shocked, or bothered, or happy...or anything about that announcement. He seemed neutral. I think part of me wished he’d say good riddance or something like that, just because it would seem normal.
"Okay. Need a ride?"
"I have the bike," I said, standing up. Seth stood up, too.
"You could put in my truck," he pointed out, and I went back to looking at him funny.
"You’re doing it again," I accused.
"Being nice to you? So?"
"Maybe I’m just doing it to freak you out," Seth remarked, and for a moment I considered this before I stopped to realize that there was a teasing smile on his face, and then I wasn’t sure what to think.
"I’m leaving," I decided. Seth just nodded and followed me out. By the time we reached the front door, I’d decided to just head to the bike without looking back. "See you later," or even "Bye" somehow didn’t seem appropriate at this point. I definitely didn’t plan to come back here, or see Seth again. Hell, I was still trying to figure out what I was doing there in the first place. The only thing that seemed to make sense was that maybe I was looking for some sort of closure with Aaron. But I was quickly realizing that Seth wasn’t going to be the one to give that to me. Yes, the best course of action seemed to be leaving him with no parting words, and I could keep pretending that I hadn’t embarrassed myself by showing up there in the first place.
I opened the door, ready to make a dash for the bike, and stopped. Out front, where the minivan had been no more than twenty minutes ago, was a truck, the same model as Seth’s, only black. The truck’s bed was loaded with boxes, among other things that looked like old toys, and an intact baby crib, which a tall man with dark, curly hair was attempting to get out of the bed. He looked up and waved just as Seth appeared in the doorway behind me.
"Hey, guys, can you give me a hand with this real quick?"
"Sure, Dad," Seth called, and then glanced at me as he passed by. "Do you mind?"
Did I mind
? I was supposed to be leaving. I still found myself moving towards the truck, though. Seth’s dad was watching me with brown eyes and a smile. It looked like the kind you’d see on a customer service agent who actually liked people. Something about him reminded me of Angela’s father right away. It wasn’t his appearance, exactly. He was just… approachable.
Mr. Fisher gave Seth a pat on the back as my nemesis climbed into the bed of the truck, and then automatically stuck out his hand for me to shake.
"Mars Fisher," he introduced himself. "And you are?"
"Um, Rory," I replied, wondering if I’d actually heard his name right.
"Here we go," Seth said, sliding the crib forward. I followed Mr. Fisher’s lead and grabbed a leg, and together we moved the crib out of the truck and onto the driveway. I wondered if I could go now as Seth hopped out of the truck and I looked between him and his father. They were both studying the crib as if there was actually something interesting about it.
"We’ll have to take it apart," Seth announced.
"You think so?" Mr. Fisher replied, seeming disappointed.
"The stairs are too narrow," Seth insisted. "It’s the only way we’ll get it up there."
"Well, as long as it’s in the baby’s room before your mother gets home," Mr. Fisher replied. "She’s been asking me to get this stuff out of storage for weeks." Seth rolled his eyes at that, but didn’t comment. "Will you grab my tools out of the garage, Seth? I need to call your mom real quick, but if you boys want to get started, that would be great."
"No problem," Seth insisted. "Oh, and Mom says you’re supposed to call Grandma."
"This time it was Mr. Fisher who rolled his eyes, a lot like Seth just had. As he moved into the house, I just stood there, wondering if I was supposed to stick around and help with this now. I was supposed to be leaving.
"My mom’s pregnant," Seth explained, still examining the crib. "My parents weren’t expecting it, and she’s only two months along, but she’s been freaking out since the beginning. She wants everything to be perfect before she has the baby. My dad says she did the same thing when she had the rest of us."
Seth looked up at me, his smile abruptly fading when he met my eyes. Just like my being there, it was pointless for him to be giving me this information--not that I didn’t find it interesting. I don’t think I even minded him telling me about it. I guess it was the why question that was bothering me.
"You know, you don’t have to stay," Seth suddenly said, probably realizing that his dad had in one way or another, volunteered me to help. "I mean, you said you had to go, right?"
"Yeah," I said quickly, and headed towards the bike.
I momentarily paused. I almost told Seth not to count on it. It’s what I’d normally do. Only, I let it go this time, and kept moving. I had my hands on the handlebars when I glanced back, but allowed my eyes to linger when I saw Seth disappearing into the garage and I found my eyes coming to rest on the infant’s bed.
I’m not sure what it was that caught my interest about the crib. I mean... it was a crib. But, I could picture Seth’s mom, that tall, blonde-haired woman over it, and suddenly I was wondering what kind of crib I had, what my mom had stood over. I couldn’t remember it. I wondered if I had a picture somewhere.
As I stared, something else caught my eye, trapped in the wooden bars of the guardrail, and I left the bike to get closer, only to reach into the little bed and lift out a toy--an action figure dressed in a ninja suit.
"Hey, that was Seth’s."
I jumped and spun around to see Mr. Fisher coming towards me, and I automatically held out the toy for him to take.
"Seth was so angry when we made him give this to Gail," he explained. "It was the only way we could get her to go to sleep. Do you have any brothers or sisters, Ricky?"
"Um... it’s Rory, and no, I don’t."
"Right, Rory," Mr. Fisher said sheepishly, and then gave me a measuring look. "I haven’t met you before, have I?"
"No, I don’t think so," I said honestly.
"Oh. So, where do you live, Rory?"
"That way..." I answered, pointing. "Down the street..."
"A neighbor; good! Well, it’s really nice to meet you. Seth doesn’t have any friends that are so close by. I hope I’m not interrupting you guys’ plans with all this stuff," he said, waving to the truck. "Gotta keep the wife happy, you know?" He nudged my arm and chuckled while I smiled nervously and watched him move to the truck to lift out a box before extending it out in my direction. "Do you mind?" he asked.
"Uh, no," I said, hesitantly reaching out to take the box from him, and to my surprise, I really didn’t mind, not that much.
"Great; if we could just get these into the living room, that would be great."
As he took a box for himself, I turned towards the house and paused when I saw Seth standing there giving me a funny look, obviously confused when it came to why I was still there. I simply shrugged and walked back into his house, his dad right behind me.
It made me uncomfortable that I was so... comfortable. I think it actually would have been easier if Seth would have done or said something to indicate that he didn’t want me there, but he seemed fine with it. I wasn’t used to this behavior from him. But even if I didn’t want to admit it, it was easy to relax in the environment I found myself in. I liked it.
I didn’t do much talking, but I did help with the boxes, and followed instructions when Mr. Fisher gave them to me. I mostly just watched, and listened. I paid attention to how Seth and his dad interacted with each other--bickering over the ‘best way’ to take apart the crib, discussing what was in the boxes and where they should go, and laughing when Mr. Fisher lifted a box, only for the contents--a breast pump, I’m told--to come falling through the bottom. I caught myself smiling a few times, and a few times, I think I even forgot that I was supposed to despise Seth. He just seemed so normal with his dad. It was a little eye-opening for me, and in more ways than one--especially when I found some of the answers I’d been looking for, even if it took me a while to realize it.
Originally, I’d knocked on Seth’s door in the midst of a mental breakdown, wanting him to know that he’d been lying. I guess I’d figured it would be easy to understand Aaron if Seth wasn’t telling me the truth, but as I calmed down, I saw that it wouldn’t matter. I didn’t understand Aaron. But, as I spent some time with the Fishers, strangely enough, I think I was starting to understand a few things.
Aaron had always managed to give me the impression that Seth needed him in some way. I think I’d automatically figured that something wasn’t right at home for him, given Aaron’s little comments here and there; but now, that was making little sense to me. It was more likely that Aaron was so adamant about remaining friends with Seth because he felt like there was something he needed there. I wondered if it was the environment. I’d met Seth’s mom for two whole seconds before I decided that I liked her; and while there were personal reasons behind it for me, I doubted Aaron disliked her. As for Seth’s dad--well, he was a little odd, but completely likeable. The whole situation was just simple to be around. I could understand what the appeal to Aaron was, given his own family environment. I just wished that I could figure out what I found so appealing about it. Given the history I had with Seth, I should have wanted to get out of there, but I wasn’t really in any hurry to excuse myself.
By the time we were upstairs, and putting the crib back together in an empty room, I was beginning to wonder why Seth hadn’t excused me, either. He hadn’t even mentioned that I’d been focused on leaving not so long ago. I wondered if this was just him being nice to me again. That wasn’t something I was used to, so it seemed natural to question it. And, I decided to question Seth, too, as he tightened the last few screws on the crib and Mr. Fisher excused himself to go downstairs, mentioning that he wanted to look through some of the boxes before Mrs. Fisher got home.
I stared at Seth, kneeling on the ground as he finished up his work. It took him several moments to look up and notice I was watching him and he tilted back his head to look at me from beneath the brim of his hat.
"Why aren’t you asking why I haven’t left yet?" I demanded, but my voice was hushed, almost like I didn’t want anyone else to hear the question.
"Because if I ask, you’ll probably leave whether or not you really want to," Seth replied, matching my whispered tone in a mocking way. But, there wasn’t really anything malicious in his voice.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Never mind," he said, shaking his head. "Hey, my dad’s probably going to finish everything else up--do you wanna go do something? Like, not here?"
"I mean--if you want to. You sort of stopped yelling at me an hour ago... and you are still here. I want to get out of the house for a while. Do you wanna come with?"
I just stared, wondering what would provoke him to even ask a question like that. I wondered why he’d want to. It’s not like I’d given him much of a reason.
"If you think I’m just going to ditch you, I’ll give you my keys," Seth added irritably when I didn’t say anything.
"Are you serious?" I asked incredulously.
"Yeah, it’s not like I need my keys until we drive back...."
"No, I mean, you want to go somewhere with me? Why?"
In response, Seth shrugged, as if the question didn’t make a whole lot of sense to him.
I opened my mouth to tell him why not, but stopped when I realized that explaining to him that he happened to be the spawn of Satan would no longer work. I’d met his parents.
"Look," Seth finally said, sounding irritated when I continued to stare at him like he had two heads. "You can do whatever you want, obviously. But, I need to get out of here before my mom gets home and my parents trap me to go through baby stuff, okay? So... I’m going. Do you want..."
"I’m going home," I cut him off. "I mean... I should just go home."
Driving wasn’t really that hard. At least, sitting in front of a race-car video game wasn’t hard. I wasn’t even hitting that many things. I figured I wouldn’t have been hitting anything at all if I wasn’t worrying about the blue car ahead of me, which I was currently trying to get ahead of. I glanced down at the bottom of the split screen. Seth was obnoxiously better at this game than I was, but that could have been because he admitted to hanging out at that place a lot.
We were at an arcade. I wasn’t sure exactly where it was located, but it had only taken us ten minutes to get there and the place was in between a barber shop and a thrift store, packed with kids--mostly younger, I noticed. And, I hadn’t gone home. I really had no excuse for it at this point, either.
"So this is what you do?" I found myself asking. "Seems kind of boring compared to all your drunk friends, don’t you think?"
"What are you talking about?" Seth asked, after a moment of considering the question. "I like it here."
"You like hanging out with a bunch of little kids when you could be at parties with your friends?" I asked skeptically.
"You were at Rick’s party, too," he pointed out, still looking confused.
"Not that party; the other one, where people were puking in the plants."
"Oh...you were at that one, too," he pointed out, smirking in my direction. "But, I wasn’t at that party, not really."
"So, what? You showed up just to rescue me?" I sarcastically retorted.
"It was a rescue now, huh? Does that make me your hero?" Seth remarked, another smile taking over his face. For the second time since I’d met him, the dimple on his left cheek was visible. It faded, though, and he rolled his eyes, when I narrowed mine on him. "I was just giving a friend a ride. Kevin--he calls me to do that sometimes. I was just helping him carry a few things up. I didn’t know you or Aaron would be there."
"Oh; so why didn’t you drive him home?" I asked.
"Do you still think I want him back?" Seth asked, with no small amount of annoyance in his voice as he beat me at the game we were playing once again and restocked the machine with quarters. "I don’t. The only reason I even stayed friends with him after I broke up with him was because I felt sorry for him."
"You broke up with him?"
"That’s generally what I do when someone cheats on me," Seth said smartly. "But, it’s not like I every really hated him for it, so I was cool with a few phone calls, and we could hang out okay; but then he got pissy about Angela, and all that shit with you happened. I just got fucking tired of it. That’s why I let him deal with his own shit at the party. I don’t want anything to do with him anymore."
"What about Rick’s party," I responded desperately, once again feeling desperate to put holes in Seth’s explanations. "You were..."
"Are you kidding me?" he cut me off. "I walked him to his car and made sure he left. Shit, you act like I invited him or something. Can we stop talking about Aaron now, please?"
I frowned, and turned back to the game, trying to piece together everything I’d learned from Seth, matching things here and there to certain events revolving around Aaron. It seemed sort of like a one-side-against-the-other situation, but unfortunately, Seth was coming out ahead in the credibility department. It just made sense for things to have happened the way he said. He’d been at the park that first night, he’d heard about me, he got into an argument with Aaron... he’d heard about me. Heard about me.
"Would Aaron think it’s a load of crap?" I suddenly asked, as if I hadn’t heard the last thing he’d said at all.
"You said, that the night I met Aaron at the park, people were talking about me, and being Luke’s cousin. Aaron would have thought it was a bunch of bullshit, too, right? Just like everyone else? He knew Luke..." I felt sick as I thought over the possibilities. Not only was I faced with thinking that Aaron had only ever approached me because of Seth, but now I had to wonder if Aaron had always known my situation. Maybe he’d only let me in on the secret that everyone I was living with was gay because he was getting tired of playing the game. This, was definitely devastating news. I’d always credited Aaron for telling me the truth when no one else would, but now...
"I said, it seemed like bullshit because you couldn’t be Luke’s cousin and Eddie’s kid. I mean, it’s always been common knowledge that Jase and Eddie are a couple, and Luke’s Jase’s cousin. Plus, Luke never talks about other family--at least, that’s what I’ve heard from Aaron and around school. Luke’s kind of popular." I didn’t doubt that, but I was still frowning, and Seth had stopped playing the game to watch me. "Hey--did you tell Aaron who your dad was? I mean, right away?"
"He didn’t find out until later about that, but..."
"So maybe he figured there was a reason Luke was calling you his cousin," Seth suggested. And, he had a point, I guess; and, he’d also managed to surprise me again, which explained the way that I was looking at him disbelievingly. He’d been pretty good at making Aaron sound like a lying asshole lately, so I hadn’t been expecting him to say anything in Aaron’s defense. And, even if it gave me hope that Aaron wasn’t a complete bastard, I still had to wonder.
"I need some air," I said quietly, and abruptly stood up, suddenly more than ready to get away from the arcade. Seth didn’t say anything, he just followed me until we reached the parking lot, at which point I stopped about four feet behind his truck. He also stopped with me, not bothering to ask what I was doing. Instead, he threw me with an entirely unexpected question.
"So, does your dad still think I did that to your neck?" he asked.
My hand went self-consciously to my hickey when I caught him looking at it, and I stared back at him, not sure whether I should respond to the question, or the fact that he’d ask it while I clearly had way too many other things on my mind.
"It’s Eddie; and no, he doesn’t."
"Okay... ‘cause, he seemed freaked out the other night, so..."
"He doesn’t think it anymore," I insisted. "So, you can relax."
"Right... so, are you hungry?"
I blinked at the abrupt subject change, feeling a little annoyed by it. Seth didn’t look bothered at all.
"Yeah," I replied, deciding that Seth was developing a short attention span. "Is there somewhere to get, like, a pretzel around here?"
"A pretzel?" Seth repeated, a smile curling his lip.
Seth looked up at me as I took a seat across from him with my food at a small table in front of the pretzel stand at the mall, dipping a piece of his own pretzel into a mustard sauce.
"Is that your third one?" he remarked, eyeing my pretzel. I’d already downed two in the time it took him to eat half of one.
"Yeah," I responded, unbothered by the accusing tone in his voice.
"You’re like... a pretzel whore."
"I’m hungry," I informed him.
"We could have gone to get real food."
"I wanted junk food," I shrugged. It was a rarity for me, and I wasn’t going to apologize for it.
"So is your dad’s name really Mars?" I asked, changing the subject. I’d given up on interrogating Seth for information about Aaron. Ever since we’d left the arcade he’d changed the subject each time I brought up the topic, and by now, I was tired of getting annoyed with him for it.
"Yep. Mars Fisher. I have an Aunt Venus, too."
"Yeah," Seth replied seriously. "My grandparents are... interesting. My dad always said that he wanted to name his own kids after planets or something like that, too."
"So what happened?"
"My mom, thank God," Seth half-laughed. "It’s bad enough my dad got to pick our middle names."
"What’s yours?" I asked curiously.
Seth automatically shook his head, but then seemed to think on it for a moment, and after yet another moment of hesitation, he shrugged.
"Saturn. My sister got Mercury, and my brother ended up with Neptune--it’s a weird family thing."
"Yeah," I agreed. It was definitely a little weird, but not uninteresting. "So your name’s Seth Saturn? Catchy."
"You can shut up now," Seth responded, rolling his eyes as he pushed what was left of his pretzel into his mouth and I took a bite of mine.
"Do you like Luke?" I suddenly asked. Honestly, I had no malicious intent behind the question. I think I just wanted to know, after talking to Luke.
"Why? You want to make sure I don’t get between you and your next boyfriend ahead of time?" Seth responded, and when I lifted my brow at that he rolled his eyes at me again. "I never really talked to him before yesterday."
"Yeah, but do you like him?"
"I guess he’s okay," Seth replied, regarding me almost suspiciously. "It’s not like I’d want to date him, though. And, I’ve never really been that fond of the guys he hangs out with, but Angela says they’re alright."
"Is that why you told her to ask them for help the other day?"
"I told her that we could get everything done with more people. I didn’t know who she was going to ask. I probably wouldn’t have offered to help if I’d known--actually, I would have, because it was Angela. But, she could have warned me before she did it."
"What?" Seth half-laughed. "You don’t think I’d actually want to hang out with a bunch of guys all day who hate me, do you? And don’t tell me they don’t. Everyone knows Dave likes Angela. Every time she even looks at another guy that whole group gets bent out of shape, and it’s stupid, too. If Dave doesn’t have the guts to ask her out then he shouldn’t get pissed when someone else does."
Okay, so, he did have a point
"Does Angela know Dave likes her?" I asked curiously.
"Yeah," Seth responded simply.
"Well... does she like him?"
"I don’t know, she never really said. You could always ask her, though."
I almost laughed out loud because Seth was making this all so simple, while Dave or even Luke seemed to treat it like such a complicated situation. I’d have to remember to mention it to Luke, later.
"How long are you here for?" Seth abruptly asked, and when I looked up, trying to catch onto his meaning, he continued. "Aaron told me you’re leaving at the end of the summer."
"Oh...yeah, I’ve got just over a month, and then I’m moving back in with my grandma."
"So I guess you’re probably glad to be going, right? I mean, with all the bullshit around here... it must have sucked, having everyone lie to you like that. I mean, when Aaron was talking..."
"I thought you said you didn’t want to talk about Aaron anymore," I cut him off, not really wanting to discuss this with him.
"I’m talking about you."
"I don’t want to talk about me," I said quickly.
Seth gave me a long, measuring look, and then simply shrugged.
"Wanna walk around for a while?"
I shoved the rest of my pretzel into my mouth--a rather large quantity, and mumbled around it.
"Yeah," I said, nodding my head, just in case Seth didn’t understand me.
A hat store. Only Seth could spend twenty minutes in a hat store. I found myself watching him, wishing he’d try one on just so he’d have to take the one on his head off. That didn’t happen, though, but he did buy one.
"What’s with the hats?" I finally asked, when we walked out of the store.
"What do you mean?" Seth asked, and there was nothing in his voice indicating that he wasn’t completely clueless.
"Like, do you ever take them off?" I asked. "I’ve never seen you without a hat on, that’s all."
"I like them," he replied.
"You’re not prematurely bald, are you?"
"No," he replied, cracking a smile.
"You weren’t in some kind of freak accident that left the top of your head all deformed?"
"Horns," I decided. "You’ve got horns."
Seth laughed and shook his head, looking at me for a moment, as if he were trying to figure something out. But, the look faded and a moment later he was looking past me, seemingly interested in something, so I turned around to see what it was. We were on the second floor of the mall, looking down on the first, and what Seth seemed so focused on was the ice rink, where a small group of hockey players were just finishing up practice.
"They started building that last year," Seth explained. "I didn’t know it was open yet. Wanna go?"
"Yeah," he replied. "It looks fun, doesn’t it?"
"Come on," Seth insisted, passing by me to head for the escalators.
No more than ten minutes later, after renting some skates, paying the entry fee, and circling the rink once, I stopped in front of Seth, who was still on the sidelines, staring down at the ice and watching everyone who passed him.
"What are you doing?" I asked. "I thought you wanted to skate."
"I do," he said quickly, and as he started to step onto the ice, balancing on his skates, I took off again, deciding that I liked this skating business. I was halfway around for my second time when I noticed that Seth, who was on the ice, was also holding onto the wall now, both his feet seemingly unable to keep their balance as they slid and twisted beneath him. I smiled to myself, suddenly feeling very amused by the situation, and picked up my pace until I was stopped in front of him.
"You can’t skate," I stated the obvious.
"Not yet," Seth responded, staring down at his feet with no small amount of concentration.
"Why did you say you wanted to go skating?" I asked.
"Because I do," Seth insisted, finally moving away from the wall, and a moment later, he lost the ability to stand. The look on Seth’s face when his butt hit the ice, was priceless. It actually gave the impression that he hadn’t expected to fall at all, and I cracked up. Seth looked up at me with narrow eyes, but when I didn’t let up on my laughing he suddenly smiled, and shrugged at himself. "I’ll get it," he insisted, grabbing onto the wall to pull himself up. He made it about two inches before he slipped and went down again. This did nothing to improve my laughter, but at least I had the sense to reach down and help him. He grabbed my wrist, and being heavier, and taller than me, I had to grab the wall to get him on his feet; add to that the fact that I couldn’t stop laughing and I was lucky that I hadn’t lost my balance.
Seth wasn’t laughing, though. Actually, that’s what made me stop, the way that he was just standing there, leaning against the wall, smiling at me. That’s when it occurred to me, that I was having a good time, and the realization took me by surprise as I pulled my hand away and said the first thing that came to mind.
"What am I doing here with you?"
"Mocking my skating skills?"
"You don’t have any skills," I replied, smirking.
Seth opened his mouth, likely to protest, but he was abruptly cut off by the ringing in his shorts and I watched as he reached down to retrieve his cell phone. He flashed me a look that suggested that our conversation wasn’t over before he answered.
"Hello?" he said. "Hi, Mom... um, yeah, why?" I watched as Seth’s smile faded and he glanced at me. "Right now?...Yeah... like, fifteen minutes, we’re at the mall. Okay." Seth hung up the phone and looked pointedly at me. "Your dad’s at my house."
"Eddie?" I asked, not expecting that. "I didn’t know he knew your family."
"He doesn’t... I mean, we don’t know him. He showed up looking for you; I guess he saw your bike."
With this announcement, my hand went directly to my pocket and I cursed.
"What?" Seth asked.
"I forgot the stupid cell phone," I explained, sighing. "I have to go. Now."
Seth nodded, took a step forward, and fell directly on his ass again.
"Are you in trouble?" Seth asked me as we reached his door. Eddie’s truck was in the driveway, the bike already crammed into the back seat, and I was a little nervous. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from him. After everything with Aaron, I didn’t know what to expect.
"I don’t know," I said honestly. "Probably not too much."
Seth looked unconvinced, but opened the front door and let me in his house, where I followed him back to the kitchen where we could hear laughter, one of the mixed voices matching Eddie’s perfectly. He was next to the counter, handing Seth’s mom an empty glass, while Mr. Fisher sat at the kitchen table. He saw us first.
"There they are," he said happily, and Eddie automatically turned his head to look at me. I stared right back, but not exactly at Eddie. It was Eddie standing next to Seth’s mom that placed strange images in my head. Once again, that woman’s presence had an unnerving effect on me.
"Are you ready to go?" Eddie asked me, pulling me away from it. I focused on him and tried not to frown. He didn’t look very happy, but I forced myself to nod.
"You’re going to have to come back over and visit," Mrs. Fisher started to tell Eddie as he turned to her to say a quick "Thank you" and "Goodbye." When Mr. Fisher stood up he stopped in front of me first, shaking my hand.
"It was nice meeting you, Ronnie, thanks for all your help today."
"His name’s Rory, Dad," Seth said, looking embarrassed, but his dad didn’t seem to notice as he crossed the room to shake Eddie’s hand, and suddenly, I found myself face to face with Seth, not really sure what to say. Things had been a lot easier when I hated him. After today, I didn’t really know if it was fair to say I hated him, exactly.
"Maybe I’ll see you later," Seth said quietly.
"Maybe," I responded noncommittally. There was still the possibility that spending the day with Seth was a fluke, and tomorrow when I woke up, I would come to my senses. Although, even I had to admit that while my day hadn’t been perfect, it hadn’t been entirely unenjoyable, either. I was having some difficultly when it came to despising Seth as much as I had when I came knocking on his door earlier that day.
Seth only nodded, and a moment later I was having trouble meeting Mrs. Fisher’s eyes when she said goodbye to me, and I was following Eddie out to the car. Once we were in, all attention I might have had focused on the last few hours was pulled directly to Eddie, and the sudden tension that seemed to be between us. At least, I could feel tension. Something didn’t feel right, the way that Eddie didn’t even look in my direction when we started to drive. The sudden knots forming in my stomach were an unexpected reaction to this.
"Am I late for dinner or something?" I finally asked, trying to get him to acknowledge me at least. In response, his knuckles whitened on the steering wheel, and I bit my tongue, wishing that I hadn’t said anything at all.
"I tried to call you," he said.
"I’m sorry, I forgot the phone..."
"I know. It’s in your room. You could have called me."
"All the numbers are in the phone," I replied. I thought it was a reasonable explanation, but it caused Eddie to fall silent again; and when I glanced over at him the muscle in his jaw looked like it was working harder than usual, the way he was clenching it. But, that didn’t worry me half as much as it did when he passed the driveway, missing our house entirely. "Where are we going?"
"Nowhere; we’re just driving for a minute. We need to talk, Rory."
"I’m really sorry about the phone, okay? It’s just not something I was thinking about when I left."
"When you left, you said you were going for a short walk down the street and back. Do you even have any idea how long you’ve been gone?"
"Not really," I admitted.
"Four and a half hours. I woke up from a nap and found out you weren’t back yet. You can’t disappear like that and not call! We’ve had this conversation before. I’m not trying to step on your toes, but I need to know where you are--I need to be able to reach you."
"You were sorry the last time," Eddie pointed out. Apparently, he was really mad. "Rory, I really have no idea what to do here. I can understand that you’re going through some things right now, and if you don’t feel comfortable enough to talk to me about all of it--fine. But I need to know what’s going on with you."
"Is this because of Aaron?" I asked. It seemed like a good question at the time, but I probably wouldn’t have asked it if I would have known what answer I was going to get.
"Yes," Eddie responded unapologetically. "Some of it’s about Aaron. The fact that you didn’t think you could tell me about him should have told you that it was a bad idea, Rory."
"Hey, the reason I didn’t tell you about him is because I knew how you’d react!"
"If you would have told me about it, you wouldn’t have been seeing Aaron at all."
"You can’t tell me who I can and can’t..."
"When it’s Aaron Keslin I can! Rory... damn it." Eddie roughly raked his fingers through his hair while I sat in my seat, too furious to even respond. The fact that he was telling me who I couldn’t spend my time with angered me to no end. I didn’t really feel that anyone had a right to do that. My mom certainly never would. Maybe she would have voiced her opinions, but never would she have told me that I couldn’t. But unfortunately, the fact that I was beginning to wish that I’d never met Aaron in the first place, made it difficult to argue this with Eddie. Even I could see that if I’d been kept away from Aaron I probably would have been better off, and that pissed me off even more. "Something needs to change," Eddie continued in a much calmer voice. "I know that I said we can stick to what’s comfortable--and we still can--I don’t expect you to tell me every little thing, but I want to know the important stuff. I want to know what you’re doing when you reach the house, and how I can reach you... and I want to know that you can reach me. You have to start remembering that phone!"
"I will, okay? Shit."
"I want to know who you’re with, too," Eddie added, ignoring my irritated response. He seemed to be on a roll that I didn’t much care for. "I’ll promise not to screen your friends as long as you promise Aaron Keslin is no longer one of them, but I want to know who you’re spending time with and where you’re spending it--and you have to call when you’re going to be out longer than you say you are! It’s seven numbers, Rory. I’m not asking you to memorize the whole phone book!"
"Is that all?" I was ready for this conversation to be over.
"No, there’s definitely more. I just haven’t thought of it yet."
I looked over at him and narrowed my eyes.
"Do you want to ground me or something? Would that make you feel better?"
"Yes," Eddie responded a little too quickly. I opened my mouth to object, but shut it and abruptly went to staring out my window. Grounded? By Eddie.
Okay, this day was not going as expected at all. Grounded. I felt like I should be somewhat pissed by that. Only, as I forced myself to take the matter under consideration it occurred to me that it didn’t really matter if I was grounded or not. It’s not like it would keep me from any plans; besides, as much as I hated to admit it, it’s probably what my mom would have done, given the circumstances. Not that I ever would have found myself in this situation if my mom was still around. I would have called her. I would have thought to call her. It occurred to me that throughout the entire day, I hadn’t thought of Eddie once. Calling to tell him where I was, hadn’t even occurred to me, and this really wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation. It was just the first time that I probably wouldn’t forget it.
"But I’m not grounding you," Eddie continued a moment later. "However, you are going to start coming down to the office with me. My secretary is going on vacation, so I’ll have a temp, but you can help with answering phones and some filing, I think. I don’t want to lock you up, Rory. That’s not what this is. I want to spend some time with you. I’ll be taking some time off, too. I can’t do it this week, but maybe the next. In the meantime, you can work a few days. It’ll give you something to do."
"I’m not doing this to punish you," Eddie added, sighing as he finally turned around on the empty road and headed for the house.
I stared down to the bottom of the pool, my legs hanging lazily over the edge. Someone had cleaned it since the party the night before, and I was tempted to just jump in. It was easier to think under the water, and I felt like I had a lot of thinking to do. Only, according to Jase, dinner was going to be ready soon, so I didn’t see myself having a whole lot of time.
I was having trouble when it came to being angry with Eddie. I think what I was angry about, was that he was right about a few things, and that was still a little hard to swallow. I remembered Jase telling me that I still needed to figure out where I fit in with this family, and I was beginning to see some truth in that, because I really didn’t know. Luke was my friend. That seemed easy. Jase was the guy who made sure we didn’t have to suffer through Eddie’s cooking on a nightly basis; and while it was appreciated, it seemed a little shallow. I was beginning to wonder if I should get to know him better, because I really didn’t know him. And with Eddie... I think I was trying to figure out who he was to me. I’d always been under the distinct impression that I didn’t need a dad. He could be my friend, but not my dad. Only today, it became clear that when it came to parents, Eddie wanted to fill the role, and the way he’d talked to me--well, he easily could fill it, that spot in my life being vacant and all. I just didn’t know if I wanted him to. It didn’t feel right, not with my mom being gone. She’d always been enough. Now that she was gone... I wasn’t sure what enough was supposed to be.
But at the same time, I started thinking about how I’d found myself so comfortable about being around Seth and his dad today. I hadn’t known what was so appealing about it at the time, but I think I’d just enjoyed being in such close proximity to a real parent. The interactions between Seth and his dad... it had been so natural. I mean, I spent the same kind of pointless time with Eddie, going to the park, or out to lunch, or running errands, but it wasn’t the same. I wouldn’t let it be the same.
But, he wanted to spend time with me. Eddie did. I guess I could understand that. I wasn’t opposed to it, either. Maybe I even thought it was a good idea. I was leaving in just over a month. It wasn’t a whole lot of time to get to know the only guy who I’d ever known my mom to fall for. It wasn’t a whole lot of time to get to know the man who could have been my father, if things had been different.
"Where have you been?"
I looked up as Luke approached me, kicking off his shoes in the process. According to Jase, he’d been with Dave somewhere by the time Eddie and I got home.
"With Seth," I replied, still surprising even with myself with the answer as Luke took a seat beside me, dropping his feet into the pool. His brow flew up when he looked at me.
I let out a breath, wondering how to explain this to Luke. I guess the beginning seemed like a good place to start, so I started with Rick’s party, and the way that I’d spotted Seth out front when I went to get the sodas. And it felt...good, to talk about it. I told Luke what Seth had told me, everything.
"I wasn’t planning to go over there today," I insisted. "I just sort of ended up there. I was just so pissed about Aaron... I mean, it probably shouldn’t surprise me that he was just using me, right?"
"Rory..." Luke had been frowning for a while now.
"But it did," I continued. "It’s stupid, but I thought if I could get Seth to say he was lying..."
"Aaron’s an idiot. But, that doesn’t mean he never liked you, Rory."
"Maybe," I replied, shrugging. "But you know what? I think I believe Seth. Maybe you’re right. He’s not that much of a jerk." That admission was more difficult to make than I thought it would be.
"Really?" Luke asked skeptically. Obviously, my adamant dislike of Seth had left an impression.
"Well, it’s not like I’ve been the best judge of character lately, but yeah. Besides, you said he was okay. I just spent most of the day with him, so...he’s not horrible, okay? And, I’m sorry about asking you if you liked him, too. I didn’t have a right to do that after Aaron, and I want you to know...it’s cool. I mean, if you did want to go out with Seth or something, I could live with it. Not that you need my permission," I added quickly, and Luke laughed at me.
"Well, as long as you’re okay with it," he replied, rolling his eyes. "Look, I already told you I’m not interested. Besides, I’m guessing he isn’t, either."
"Right... so are you ever going to tell me who it is? Who you are interested in?" My curiosity over the matter had not dwindled in the slightest.
I looked up from the photograph of my mom, tucking it behind me when Eddie knocked on my open bedroom door.
"Hey, I just wanted to say goodnight," he said quietly.
I stared at him, waiting for him to walk away, but instead he moved into the bedroom.
"You should probably try to get to sleep soon," Eddie insisted. "We’ll probably leave around six thirty tomorrow."
Eddie sighed, looking like he wanted to say something else, but when I didn’t respond further he nodded and left the room. I stared after him for a moment, wondering how things were supposed to change between us. Something had to change. That’s what Eddie had said. But how? I didn’t think I should be eager to find out.
I lifted my mom’s picture again, staring at it, feeling kind of like I needed to. I think I even felt guilty, for not looking at her pictures enough. Maybe I should have been looking every single day; at least that way, I wouldn’t forget her face. I wouldn’t look at strangers and see things there that I thought... were her.
He’d hardly left my room before he was back in it, looking sort of eager, even if his tone was nonchalant.
"Did you see Mrs. Fisher today?" I asked, and then frowned when Eddie flashed me an inquisitive look. I guess it was a stupid question. He’d been a foot away from her, talking. "I mean...did she look...do you think she looked like my mom? Kinda?"
Eddie looked surprised by the question, his brow furrowing as he gave me a measuring look, but seemed to take the question into consideration.
"I’m sorry," he finally said, shaking his head. "I didn’t really see anything, Rory; but, it’s been a long time since I was face to face with Gina, so..."
"That’s okay," I cut him off. "She probably doesn’t look like her... um, but... do you think it’s creepy that Mrs. Fisher reminds me of her? I mean, that’s kind of weird, or morbid or something, right?"
"No," Eddie said quickly. "Actually... I think Mrs. Fisher should be flattered."
I considered that for a moment, and then couldn’t help smiling. He was right. She should be flattered.
Eddie nodded as he moved to leave my room again, but paused and looked back, regarding me curiously.