When I got to Teek's house the lights were still on, but I stopped halfway up the walkway when I saw, through the picture window, that Janet was alone at the kitchen table.
That's when I remembered: Friday was date night. I couldn't believe I'd forgotten; Teek had only been talking my ear off about going bowling with Jacob the whole damn week. But shouldn't she have been home by now? I dug my phone out of my pocket to double check the time. I was only half-surprised to find no missed calls from Mom or Richard.
I stashed my phone again and stood between the rhododendrons and the front porch light, wondering what I should do. Janet would let me in if I knocked, of course, but wouldn't that be kind of weird? Though Janet was the kind of person I could have confided in. She was easy to talk to; it was obvious she was a good listener. Teek took that for granted. I didn't think she realized how lucky she was to have a mom like that. But I guess when someone is your mother, it's hard to see how great they are.
I decided I was going to knock. Then I hesitated. No, I was definitely going to knock. But I didn't move. I wondered if Janet would see me, a shady figure hovering near their front door, and think I was some kind of creep. I entertained the idea that another neighbor would maybe see me and call the police.
While I was waffling between knocking on the door and maybe getting arrested, a little blue car came careening down the street and skidded to a stop at the curb in front of Teek's house. One of its headlights was out. Though I hadn't seen the car before, I knew it was Jacob's.
Teek was back from her date. It was hard to tell in the dark, through the glare of the car windshield, but I knew she could see me. I grinned and waved my arms. There was some movement in the car, then the passenger side door swung open and Teek stepped out and started stomping towards me. In the lamplight, I couldn't tell if her widened eyes cued annoyance or just surprise. Maybe a little of both.
"Dillon, what are you doing here?"
"Oh, I'm, uh…" I glanced back at the dark windshield, imagining Jacob watching me. "I wanted to see you."
Teek looked back at the car too, her mouth stretched in a wince. "Hold on," she said, before spinning around and heading back to the car.
She opened the driver's side door; I could hear her talking to Jacob, but not what she was actually saying. It went on for a while though. I stood tapping my foot until finally, she shut the door again. Teek touched Jacob's arm through the open window before leaning in, maybe to give him a kiss.
"Hi, Jacob!" I called, too loud for the street at this hour. I'm not sure why. I knew I was being an asshole. Teek looked up to give me a death glare then stepped back from the car. The engine rattled to life and Jacob's hand waved out the window as he pulled away. I waved too, even if he couldn't see me.
Suddenly pain bloomed in my arm and I realized Teek had just punched me, much harder than usual.
"What was that?" she hissed.
"What was what? And ow, by the way."
"Hi, Jacob!" She flopped her arm around in an unflattering impression. "Just so you know, it doesn't look great to come home from a date with a guy you like and find another guy standing on your porch, like, waiting for you."
I tried for a joke. "If he thinks I'm also trying to do you, doesn't that make you seem more desirable?"
She looked at me like I was an idiot. "I told him you were super gay. And that you were having boyfriend drama, or something."
"You said that?"
"What was I supposed to say?" She planted her hands on her hips. "I still don't know what you're doing here!"
"Maybe I don't know either," I said. And somehow, it deflated me. I sank down to sit on her front step and looked down at the sidewalk between my sneakers.. "This night just…it just sucks is all."
Teek sighed. Her shadow crouched down by my side, then I felt her hand on my shoulder.
"Okay," she said. "Let's go inside."
Teek dragged me straight to her room, pausing only to say hello to her mom. Janet seemed surprised to see me, but she didn't say anything.
"Tell me what's wrong," she ordered, once the door was safely shut behind us. I wasn't sure where to start.
"I just couldn't be there anymore," I came up with, finally. "You know, at home. Don't you ever feel like that?"
She frowned, sitting down on the bed. "I guess. Did something happen?"
"So you don't want to talk? You just came by to see how my date was going?"
I laughed even though I wasn't sure she was joking. Her face was too still. "I mean...I forgot that you were going out with Jacob tonight. So I wasn't trying to…"
Teek waved it away, but wouldn't meet my eyes. She plucked a star-shaped pillow from the pile by her headboard and took a sudden interest in picking at its fringed edge.
"What?" I said. She hugged the pillow to her chest before looking up.
"I guess I'm kinda pissed at you. Even though I know I shouldn't be."
"I'm sorry." I sat down beside her on the bed.
"This is probably stupid, but…do you ever think sometimes that we're maybe, like, too close?"
That caught me off guard. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know." She made an exasperated noise and hid her face behind the pillow. "Sometimes I feel like…you act like I'm your girlfriend, I guess."
"Oh," I said. That was all I could come up with.
Still hiding behind the pillow, she collapsed back onto the bed. I watched her for a moment before lying down beside her.
"I was just messing around when I waved at Jacob," I said finally. "I'm really not jealous or anything."
"I know." She peeked around the pillow at me. "Now I'm being the asshole, right? Sorry for making your night even worse."
"It's not worse," I said. We turned our faces towards each other. "How was your date, anyway? Did it go okay?"
"It was fun."
"Well, you kind of ruined the end of it." She gave me a look, but it wasn't actually mean. "He asked me to the homecoming dance though."
"Which... is what you wanted?"
"Yeah." Teek sighed. "Now I have to find a dress though."
"You should wear a lady-tux."
Her eyes crinkled when she smiled. "I'll consider it."
It was kind of weird, lying on Teek's bed like this. I didn't remember us ever doing it before. Our noses were inches apart; I could see all her freckles. She smelled a little different, like she was wearing make up or lotion or something. I watched her catch her bottom lip between her teeth.
"Did you kiss him?" I asked.
"Jacob?" she wrinkled up her nose like she was embarrassed. "Um, sort of."
"What do you mean sort of?"
"I mean sort of. Geez." She turned her face away. "I can keep some stuff to myself, you know."
I didn't know what to say to that. I just lay there beside her until she looked at me again.
"Were you going to kiss me?" she asked.
"I was thinking about it,” I said.
She wrinkled her nose again. "Dude, why?"
"I don't know." I really didn't; the urge had just kind of struck me. I should have been embarrassed, but the thought was so absurd. "I guess... Well, I had this dream about kissing my brother's—"
"You had a dream about kissing your brother?"
"My brother's friend."
"And that has what to do with me?" She laughed, a really small laugh. "You shouldn't come over here so late at night."
"Probably not," I said.
Teek sighed. "So your brother's friend...guy or girl?"
"A guy,” I said. "But the weird part of the dream was like, at the end, Adam showed up." I wouldn't mention the part with Ken; that wasn't something I talked about, not even to Teek.
"Adam Gozmen?" she asked.
"Who else? He showed up at the end and was like, what are you doing? When I was kissing Stacey. Is that weird?"
Teek was pretending to be asleep. I flicked her nose.
"Ow! What did you do that for? You don't really expect me to analyze your dreams, right?" She sat up, tossing the pillow onto my stomach. I hugged it too. She'd made it herself, out of fleece and poly fiberfill. It was one of her projects.
"Yeah but, you should listen to my dreams at least. Since I'm having a shitty night and all."
"Were you really going to kiss me?"
"I don't know!" I held the pillow in front of my face. "Today has been weird."
Teek was silent until I emerged from my cover. Then she pressed her lips together, her fingers drumming along the comforter. "Did you know that my Mom slept with her gay friend in high school? Because like, he was trying to figure himself out?"
"I'm not trying to figure myself out," I told her. "I just don't care about dating."
"Well... I do care. So can you not be weird about it?"
"I'll try," I said.
Teek nodded, but she didn't look satisfied. "Can I ask you something?"
"Do you have a thing for Adam."
"I told you," I said. "I'm not interested in dating anyone. Ever."
"That was only sort of an answer."
"Yeah, but it's true... " Suddenly, I was feeling tired. "I should probably go, huh?"
She shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. You wanna ask my mom for a ride?“
"Nah, it's late. I'll be fine." I'd missed the last bus, but a long walk sounded nice at the moment.
"Okay," she said. Then, as I was getting up, she grabbed my chin and gave me a quick dry peck on the lips. It was weird; her mouth felt small and hard, like I was kissing her elbow instead. I was too surprised to say anything.
"There," she told me, "Now you won't be thinking about it."
"You're the weirdest," I said. I would never want to kiss Teek again, but I did love her. Even if I didn't understand her.
"I know." She sounded almost proud. "You sure you're okay getting home?"
A sliver of moon peeking through the space between Teek's curtains.
"Yeah," I said. "I could use the walk."
Up next Thursday, Chapter Sixteen: Plans.
And now, I have some bonus stuff to share in celebration the halfway point of this project! First, I've compiled a Spotify playlist of 22 songs that I associate with Homecoming—some songs that inspired me during writing/revisions and some songs that reminded me of the story after the fact. I've embedded the playlist below and here is the link!
Second, and more excitingly, I have a couple of not-by-me illustrations I got from an art trade and commission respectively and am dying to share! LOOK AT THESE AWESOME DRAWINGS. I'm so pleased. And check out the artists other work—I've linked their sites/Twitters in the captions!
See you next week! - AR