"Oh My God, Stacey, this is amazing! This is the best mac and cheese I've ever eaten!"
I'm standing in the kitchen, shoveling this stuff into my mouth, forkfuls of little shell pastas coated in neon orange cheese. I think it's my new favorite food.
"I know," Stacey says. "It's a secret recipe."
"You should tell me!" I say. My pupils are the size of saucers.
"I said it was a secret," Stacey says, then reaches over to tap me on the cheek. "You have a little cheese... "
"Here?" I wipe at my face with my fist. "No? Here?" I look around for a napkin, but can't find one.
"No," says Stacey, reaching out for my face again. His fingers touch my cheek, then just kind of slide until they're right on top of my lips. I swallow.
"Here," Stacey says, quietly. And then he kisses me.
He kisses me. His lips cover mine, then he's got a hand on the back of my neck and his tongue is in my mouth. His weight presses me against the against the counter and I can feel it biting into my back, but I don't really mind. I kiss back, fall into it, fumbling my hands around his shoulders. My fingers press into his shoulders as he sucks my bottom lip into his mouth and I think, it's been a long time since someone has kissed me. And it feels great. Then, as his hand is sliding down my back and under my shirt, as I’m sinking into the old, familiar thrill, I hear someone step into the kitchen.
"Hey," a voice says.
Over Stacey's shoulder I can see Adam standing in the doorway, watching us.
He almost looks hurt when he says, "What are you doing?"
And then it's not Adam standing in the doorway anymore. It's Ken.
That's when my eyes snapped open and I realized I was lying on my own bed, alone. It was dark outside now, with only the dim glow of the street lights coming through my window. I reached up to push my hair back out of my face. My forehead was damp, sweaty.
That was a dream? Shit, I hadn't even known I was sleeping. When did I get home? My brain was so fuzzy, I must have been sleeping for a while. I looked over at my bedside clock. Ten forty-five? It wasn't even that late.
Then the rest of the day came flooding back to me. The dream had really messed me up, bringing me back to this afternoon.
Stacey had made us mac and cheese. That part was real. The rest was…
Just a dream.
My heart seemed like it was pounding pretty hard and I brought my hand up to my chest to check. I tried to take a couple of deep breaths to slow it down, and while I was doing the whole inhale-exhale thing, I had another horrifying thought and... crap. My boxers were sticky. From a kissing dream? Really? That hadn't happened in a while. I groaned and sat up, fumbling for my bedside lamp.
I thought the Stacey part of the dream should be the part that bothered me because, you know, that was weird, right? But it was the part with Adam at the end that stuck in my mind. Adam's face. What are you doing? And when I looked again—Ken, with the same pained expression.
Why was Ken even in that dream? My mind was betraying me.
I found some clean underwear in my dresser and changed. I could see from the crack of light under my door that Mom and Richard were probably still up. I put on a pair of pajamas, tried to smooth down my hair, and pushed open the door. My mouth felt so dry, I just wanted to find my way to a glass of water.
Mom was still on the couch, watching TVland, and Richard was sitting in the orangey-beige armchair that didn't quite face the TV. It wasn't a very popular arm chair in this family, needless to say.
"Hey, kiddo," said Richard, and it made me bristle. Since when did he call me kiddo? "I thought you were dead to the world."
The whole ride back from Lionel's, I was just fighting to keep my eyes open. All I could think about was how great my bed was gonna feel, so when I got in, I muttered to Richard that I was tired, stumbled past Mom (no explanation needed there) and crashed. This was around eight-thirty, I think. Three hours ago?
"I'm just getting some water," I said.
"Since you're up," Mom said, "Do you want to watch Nick at Nite with us?” She had been stretched out on the couch (of course), but she curled up her legs to make room for me.
I did want to, kind of. It seemed like such a normal thing to do.
"Sure," I said, heading for the kitchen. "I'll be right back."
I went into the kitchen and opened a cupboard. No clean glasses. I wondered if the dishwasher was clean, but when I opened it, it was obviously dirty—and crammed full. No one had bothered to run it. I glanced at my list which was still on the fridge. Richard's handwriting under mine read, dish deterg. Great. I'd settle for a mug instead.
Richard came up behind me when I was filling my mug with tap water and cleared his throat. I hated how he did that when he wanted your attention. It just seemed rude to make other people listen to your phlegm.
"Dillon, I'd like to talk to you for a second," he said.
I froze, letting my mug overflow before I thought to turn off the faucet. "Um... what about?" I tried to sound casual. Did Richard know what I'd done at Lionel's that afternoon? Did I smell like pot when I came in?
Richard swallowed loudly, pressing his lips together. "It's about this person that keeps calling... asking for you."
I should have felt relieved, but I didn't.
"He's called twice yesterday and twice today," Richard continued. "I don't know what's going on, but you should probably tell your friends not to—"
"Look," I cut in, "Whoever is calling isn't one of my 'friends.'" When I put air-quotes around the word, my water-mug splashed onto my shirt.
"Who is he then?"
I looked at Richard. I tried my best to stare him down.
"That's none of your business," I finally told him. I tried to walk past him, back to Mom in the living room, but he moved to block my way.
"Dillon," he said. I hated how he said my name, so very seriously. "I think... " His voice dropped to just above a whisper, and like a sigh, he said, "I think your mother is depressed."
I tried to laugh but it caught in my throat. "What? She's just a little…you know. You don't know her like I do. She'll be fine."
Richard frowned; he probably didn't like being told how well he didn't know her even if I was obviously bluffing.
"I'm worried—" he started to say. Then he shook his head. "Look, Dillon, let's try to get along? For your mother's sake?"
I bit the inside of my cheek. "Okay. We’ll try."
"I'd just like... for you to let me help you," said Richard. "Both of you. Let me be part of this family."
I looked down in my mug. “’Family’ might be an overstatement.”
"And you know what? I already have a dad. A real dad. And my brother told me that he's been calling here asking to talk to Mom and that you won't let him."
That one got to Richard. He went rigid, squaring his shoulders. "Did you stop to think that maybe she doesn't want to talk to him?"
"Mom doesn't want to do anything!" I was trying to keep my voice down, but it was hard. "Except sit in front of the TV. And you aren't helping—you're enabling!" Slamming my mug back down on the counter, I pushed past Richard to get back to my room. I'd decided I wasn't that thirsty after all.
"Is everything okay, honey?" Mom asked. But she'd barely turned away from the TV. I felt sick, but I pretended not to hear her as I stomped into my room to find my real pants, my sneakers. I shoved my feet into them without untying the laces so that the tongues bunched up on top of my feet. I found a sweatshirt on the floor of my room and yanked it over my head.
Richard was there waiting on the other side of my door when I pushed it open again, which I had kind of been expecting, but I was faster than him and was halfway across the living room before he had a chance to say, "Where do you think you're going?"
"Out," I said, "I have to clear my head."
"At eleven o'clock at night?" It was actually about five 'til.
"Yeah," I said. Against my better judgement, I turned around and looked at him. He was standing by the couch where Mom was still sitting, her legs curled up, making room for me. She started to sit up, looking surprised.
"Sorry, Mom," I told her. "I'll have to take a rain check."
Richard looked from me to her, then back again. "Dillon... I really don't think you ought to be going out so late."
"Well," I said, looking him straight in the eye, "If my mom has a problem with it, she can come and stop me."
Then I turned around and walked out the door.
This part might be shocking, but Mom didn't come after me.
I jogged to the corner to catch the eleven o'clock bus. Mom had actually picked our apartment for its proximity to frequent-service bus lines, so at least I never had any trouble getting out when I wanted. The buses ran until midnight on Fridays.
I hopped on the bus and showed the driver my pass. There were only two other people on board, both women. An older woman sat hunched in the back, wearing an army surplus jacket and muttering something to herself. I sat closer to the front, across the aisle from a girl who was maybe my age, maybe twenty, with a nose ring and a red jacket. She was pulling apart the threads on the denim bag in her lap and she when caught me looking she looked back, straight at me. I pretended to be staring out the window instead.
I had a very vague idea of where I was going when I left the house. I was mostly just going to die if I had to spend another moment talking to the Dick about my mother, or the phone calls, or anything else. And when I left, part of me was really hoping that my mother would get up off the couch and come after me. She could even ground me. I wouldn't have minded; it would be such a normal, mother thing to do.
Richard had said, I think your mother's depressed.
I didn't want to believe it. I didn't know anything about depression. I did spend almost a year lying around like Mom did, feeling crushed, but no one ever made me see a psychologist or handed me a bottle of Prozac. And I still had to leave the house to go to school, and I still did my homework, so maybe it wasn't the same thing. Or maybe it was. Mom didn't have school or homework, and she was suspended from nursing until her hearing. Maybe depression was just what happened when you no longer had a reason to leave the house, to get up off the couch. I scrubbed at my eyes. My mouth still felt weird, the way it does when you take a nap you didn't mean to in the middle of the day and I'd left my mug of water on the kitchen counter.
I would go to Teek's, I'd decided. It was right on the bus line, and she and her mom would inevitably still be up. Teek said she didn't have a bedtime and they stayed up until two or three together after Jolie had fallen asleep, even sometimes on school nights, making things at the kitchen table. Teek was probably exaggerating, but it was only eleven.
The lights on the bus were too bight, making me squint. I scrubbed at my eyes again and then pulled down my hood so I wouldn't be tempted to look at the girl across the aisle again. What was her story? I wondered. She was probably just going out to meet some friends, late on a Friday night. But I hoped it was more interesting than that. Maybe she was running away from something too. I leaned my head against the window, which is dangerous if you are not paying attention because if the driver hits a bump or hits the brakes, you're going to get a good bonk against the glass. But the window felt so cool and nice against my skin.
Sitting there on the bus, with my cheek pressed against the glass, I started to feel lonely and hopeless like I had totally lost my home. Because I had, sort of. It didn't feel like the same place anymore, with Mom on the couch instead of up and and about, at the table, running the vacuum while I was trying to watch 30 Rock. It didn't feel the same with Richard always there, following me around and asking me questions like I was the one in charge, like I was the adult.
Maybe I should move in with Dad and Lionel. Even if Mom didn't come with me. I knew I'd miss her, but honestly I already did.
I already missed Mom.
The bus hit a pot hole and I smacked my jaw on the window. I knew it was going to happen, but it still hurt.
Up next Thursday, Chapter Fifteen: Teek's House.