At 3:45 pm I get a text from Greta.
u need to talk to ur boy nate. He totes got a rager today over innocent comment.
The text makes me frown because that doesn’t sound like him at all. He’s the patient, steady one. Nick is the hot head. I don’t send her a text back immediately because I’d rather hear from Nate what went down. The phone dings again but I don’t read it. I just know it isn’t either of the Jackson boys.
It’s hard not to be in classes with them because my whole day consists of eating, sleeping, and working on booklets that are my temporary replacement for classes. I’ve no motivation for doing any of those things. Occasionally, if the weather isn’t too cold, one of my parents will take me out for a walk like I’m the family dog. You faint one time on the elevator and you’re never allowed out of the house alone.
The one part of leaving that actually appeals to me is the idea that I might have a little more freedom. But for now, I spend most of my time waiting for the boys to get home because that’s when my real life starts.
I don’t rush them, though. They might need to work out or they might have homework. But every nerve in my body is straining toward their side of the building. The walls are too thick and too well insulated for me to hear the doors slam shut or the thud of their footsteps against the tile or wood floors, but my heart is so attuned to them, particularly Nate, that I know instantly when they arrive home.
I can see them in my minds eye jostling each other as they walk down the hall, their backpacks hanging off one shoo slder. Nick enters his room first, tosses his backpack on the floor, and flops down into his red and black gaming chair. He’ll play some kind of networked game with kids halfway across the world. He once told his parents that he was learning a second language. It wasn’t a lie either, they just didn’t know the second language was primarily sex words.
Nate follows. He’s slower, more precise of the two. Or maybe he’s just looking out for Nick like he does for me. Nate is always watchful. He sets his bag on his desk carefully and unpacks everything that he needs to address. In the past, we would have made plans on the way home from school. I’d do my homework and come over. But now I wait.
He must decide I’m more important than gaming or homework because my stomach does cartwheels at about 4:35 pm. He’s coming. I hear him greet Dad and then the sound of a hand slap. That’s probably Dad hitting Nate a bit too hard to remind Nate who’s in charge. But tonight Mom and Dad and Noah and Grace are going to a business function—a party really. They won’t be home until late. We’ll be alone for hours.
I try to suppress my wide grin so that Dad doesn’t have a heart attack when he sees me. There’s a knock.
“Nate’s here, honey,” Dad says through the door. He never opens it anymore, not since that one time when Greta stayed over and changed in the middle of the bedroom instead in my en suite bathroom. It was like she wanted to be seen which would be utterly gross. I get that girls think Dad is attractive, but please. He’s my dad.
“Okay Daddy!” I throw open the door and my gaze skips by Dad with his furrowed brow right to beam at Nate who is standing slightly behind Dad at the doorway.
“Mom says you should come over and have dinner tonight. She ordered in Lou Malnati’s for us.”
Lou Malnati’s is famous for its deep dish pizza. The crust is different, almost pastry-like in its flakiness.
“Bring some homework. I’ve got about three chapters of American History to read along with a biochem quiz to study for.”
The recitation of all Nate’s homework has inverse reactions from me and Dad. The lines on his forehead disappears and he turns slightly to clap Nate on the shoulder. “Charlotte has plenty of work to keep her occupied, don’t you honey?”
“Yes,” I say glumly and go over to my desk and pick up a couple of my booklets. They are mostly full of rudimentary math concepts as well as logic quizzes and memorization drills. The radiation and chemotherapy used to kill the cancer cells in my skull has affected my brain function so I guess I’m brain damaged. Literally. I hate this but my doctors say that with time, I should be able to catch up with my peers. With time. Everything is going to take time. I kind of hate that saying. ”Have fun tonight Daddy.” I give him a kiss on the cheek. ”Your mom will be by in thirty minutes,” he says with a return hug.I trudge behind Nate as we walk down the service hall that connects the two units. ”Think if we move that the new people will want to close this down?” he asks.”No,” I gasp. “No one’s moving from this place.”"Charlotte,” he chides. “We aren’t going to live here forever.”"Why not?” I know I sound grumpy but the idea that I have to do homework better suited to fifth graders instead of spending time exploring Nate’s fine body has already set my mood ring to white. Now he’s trying to tell me that we aren’t going to be neighbors forever? It’s like he wants me to be in a bad mood all night long. ”Because we should be somewhere that has a lot of space.”"We?” I ask, perking up.”Yes, we,” he smiles down at me and suddenly I’m happy again.
Nate’s parents say hi to us as we walk down the hallway toward the bedrooms but we don’t stop. Instead Nate opens the door to his room and after I slip inside, he enters and closes the door behind him.
Taking the booklets from my hands, he tosses them on the desk and then picks me up and tosses me right onto the bed!
“Nate!” I squeal when he launches himself and lands right beside me.
With a laugh, he buries his head into my neck which causes my entire body to melt and tingle. “Did you really think we were going to do homework all night?”
I bat uselessly at his shoulder. “Um, yes?”
He rolls onto his back but pulls me with him so that I’m tucked next to his body, my head pillowed on his shoulder and his arm is wrapped around my back. His fingers are curved around my waist and I feel fully surrounded by his warmth.
“Nah, we had the biochem test today. Pop quiz and I read my history chapters during study hall.” He tilts his head awkwardly down at me. “Do you need to study?”
“No,” I state emphatically.
He smiles and then rests his head back against the pillows. “Good. We’ll eat, watch a movie with Nick, and then…”
His voice trails off but I know. I know exactly what that silence stands for. Finally.
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