Jock Romeo by Sara Ney

1

ROMAN

THREE YEARS LATER

Icannot keep living here.

My parents and family are driving me nuts, and I’ve only been back for two weeks. School starts in three days, and I’ve barely had time to unpack, let alone get all the things done that my mother has demanded from me, like driving Aunt Myrtle to her physical therapy appointments.

I’ve been gone only one semester, but it feels like I’ve been away for an eternity. At the same time, it feels like I’ve only been gone a day, my family not missing a beat when it comes to needing my help.

Damn I miss the UK.

Last year I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of a lucrative educational scholarship to study abroad, and I took it without hesitating; it paid for my room, boarding, and my meals. I studied with the best of the best—some of the most brilliant minds in the world.

And now I’m being told what to do by an eighty-three-year-old woman with purple hair, pink lipstick, and rhinestone glasses. She’s a cross between Dame Edna and Elton John, and she is pursing her lips at me in a judgmental way as I wait too long at the stop sign.

“Can’t you go any faster?” she asks.

“We’re at a stop sign,” I tell her. “I’m actually not supposed to be driving at all.”

Aunt Myrtle looks out the window to the right. “I don’t see any cops around.”

The last thing I need is to get pulled over and ticketed before classes start—I have to commute.

“I don’t need my driving record gone to shit because you have a lead foot, Aunt Myrt.”

“In my day, there was no such thing as getting pulled over for a rolling stop.” The old lady can lie with a straight face—we honestly should enter her in a few poker championships.

“That makes absolutely no sense. I’m pretty sure you weren’t allowed to just run stop signs whenever you felt like it.”

She chuckles beside me, her petite frame overwhelmed by her garish outfit. Actually, it’s a caftan and it matches her hair to perfection but also makes her look tiny in the passenger seat of my parents’ big Tahoe.

“Are you hungry?” she asks. “I could go for a bite to eat and a martini.”

“It’s ten in the morning.”

My great aunt grunts. “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

“Please don’t start quoting Jimmy Buffett. You’re giving me a headache.”

She laughs again. “I was just giving you a hard time. I don’t actually do my drinking until at least one o’clock after my nap.”

Aunt Myrtle looks out the window and goes silent, watching the scenery go by—I can see the lenses of her glasses reflecting in the window and in the rearview mirror when I glance over, and I wonder for a brief second what she could possibly be thinking about. I wonder what she thinks of the world she’s living in now, and how different it is from the one she grew up in.

I feel guilty.

Maybe I should get the old lady a martini.

I turned twenty-one last year and am certainly old enough to walk into a bar with her and order her one, although I wouldn’t know a single place that’s open this time of day.

Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.

Guess we’ll just have to go home. Besides, Mom is waiting for us there, and she and Aunt Myrtle have their routine. Plus, I still have to unpack and get my shit ready for school.

My bedroom, right next to my brother’s, is apparently made of paper-thin walls. It didn’t bother me before, but now? Now it bothers me. Why? Well, I’m pretty sure he jerks off when he thinks I’m asleep if the noises coming through the walls are any indication.

I need to move out like yesterday.

“You know what I’ve been thinking?” Aunt Myrtle speaks at last.

“I can’t even begin to imagine what you’ve been thinking,” I say with a laugh. She’s good-humored and laughs too.

Of all the members of my family, I am the least like her—she’s outgoing and gregarious, and I am neither of those things. Even compared to my parents and my brother, I am introverted and quiet, happy to observe rather than participate.

My great aunt certainly isn’t shy about voicing her thoughts, and I’m curious to hear what she’s about to say, my hands gripping the wheel as I make a right-hand turn onto our road, drive the five hundred feet to the driveway, and slowly ascend up it.

“I think it’s time you left the nest.”

Is she implying that I ought to move out of my parents’ house?

“I did leave the nest, remember?” I just got back from living in the United Kingdom for several months.

“Eh.” She makes a sound in her throat. “You know what I mean, Roman. You need your own space. You can’t keep living with that little brother of yours. You’re a man now.”

“Where do you suggest I go? I haven’t lived on campus in three years—I’m not about to go live in the dorms as a senior in college.”

“I’m not suggesting you go live in the dorms. Living in the dorms is like riding the school bus—no good comes of it.”

“What are you even talking about?” I put the car into park and help her unbuckle her seat belt before exiting the vehicle and going around to the passenger side so I can help her out. There’s a little folding step stool beneath her feet, and I remove it from the car and set it on the ground to make this step down easier.

She is a tiny little thing, but she has big opinions.

“All I’m saying is you don’t want to sleep on a mattress that’s as thin as a piece of toast and that hundreds of people have banged on.” She gives her head a shake. “Do you know when the last time they replaced those mattresses was? Probably when I was in college.”

Great Aunt Myrtle is one of the few females of her generation who actually attended university. It wasn’t common for young women to go to school back in the day, but she and my grandma both went for business and eventually helped my grandfather run his corporation.

Grandma and Aunt Myrtle used to love telling stories about their sorority days, cotillions, and all the young bucks that vied for their attention; two smart and beautiful co-eds living in the fifties were a hot commodity.

“The last thing I want to do is live in the dorms. I’m an old man compared to the people who live there.”

I take her frail hand in mine and help her down onto the step stool.

She nods as if to say, That’s true. “Don’t you know anyone who has a place to let?”

“You mean try to find a house to sublease? Aunt Myrtle, it’s the beginning of the school year—there’s no way anyone has a room to rent. I waited too long.”

“You won’t know until you try. Don’t you know anyone? Not a single soul?”

I do, but no one I want to live with. Jeremy and his buddies live in fraternity houses on Greek row, and those are the only guys I know well enough to potentially live with. Considering fraternities are members only, that’s not an option.

Together, Aunt Myrtle and I hobble toward the door, her little shoes squeaking the entire way, and I glance down at them: they’re purple and match the long, drapey gown she’s donning that happens to be plastered with the image of her dead dog’s face—a Bichon Frise named Bitsy that passed away a few years ago from old age.

Aunt Myrtle saw the caftans on a reality TV show and insisted on having one made in two colors. Purple and green, and blush pink.

The stacked bangles on her wrist clink as she grips my arm, watching the sidewalk for cracks.

She is really something else.

“I know people,” I say defensively. “I just don’t know anyone I can move in with.” I’ll have to give it some thought, some serious thought now that she’s voiced my exact mindset out loud. I really should move out.

Besides, studying in this house is virtually impossible with Alex randomly crashing into my room whenever he feels like it—he is such a pain in my ass.

Nor can I sit at the library for hours on end knowing my family has things for me to do at home. I feel like I’m straddling both sides of the line.

Half in, half out—I have to choose.

And if I move out, perhaps that will give me the freedom to have a little less guilt when I’m not here. They’re going to have to manage without me; more to the point, my mother will have to find a way to manage Aunt Myrtle without me.

I’m not her keeper.

The old bag is encouraging me to move out, and for the most part, she’s got the most wisdom out of all of us, even when Grandma was alive.

“I’ll think about it,” I tell her as we make our way into the kitchen, the house quiet for a weekend. I wonder where everyone has gone before finding a note on the kitchen counter.

It’s a letter scrawled in my mother’s handwriting: GONE TO THE GROCERY STORE AND TO HOME DEPOT, WON’T BE GONE PAST 11. TEXT ME IF YOU NEED ANYTHING.

It’s cute that Mom still writes handwritten notes. I crumple it up and toss it in the recycling bin.

Taking advantage of a quiet house, I go to my room and begin reorganizing the things I brought back from my studies abroad, remove items from my suitcase that I want to display on a shelf.

Slow your roll, pal. Maybe you shouldn’t get too comfortable here.

I glance around the bedroom that’s seemingly stuck in a time warp of my childhood with scientific studies, accolades, and inspirational posters neatly pinned to the wall.

It’s weird. I was only gone for one semester, but looking around this bedroom I was in my entire life seems…I don’t know. Confusing? Uncomfortable? I’ve grown out of it, yet I haven’t. I’m still the same science-driven kid but not the same person I was when I left here. I throw my messenger bag on my desk chair and place my hands on my hips.

There’s a bracelet encircling my wrist, and I remove it, placing it on a shelf next to my desk, right next to a tall Academic Decathlon trophy. It’s one of many I won over the years at competitions during my high school career. My mother still has the cleaning ladies dust them weekly so they don’t show a particle of grime.

Did I mention the bracelet I just removed is the same one I got as a freshman from the girl I met in the stairwell of my first college party—think her name was Lilly if I’m remembering correct, though I never once was fortunate enough to bump into her on campus. I know she was a cheerleader for the football team, but I never considered going to a game to see her.

Alright, that’s a total lie—I did totally consider going to a game to see her, but I didn’t want to be a creep. I’m definitely not the type of guy a girl like that wants hanging around. I would probably give her stalker vibes.

I give the bracelet another cursory glance, its green and pink strands a little reminder of that first night of school. They carried me through my studies in the United Kingdom. Whenever I was having a rough day or night or week, I would wear it and it would give me a little bit of courage, this gift from a beautiful and vibrant girl. It somehow gave me confidence.

Kind of like a shield.

I wonder what she’s up to these days—it’s been a few years since we ran into each other. I wonder if she’s still on the cheerleading squad or if she quit to pursue other passions like she wanted to. Maybe she’s still at it, cheering on the sidelines in those cold fall months.

I found it ironic at the time that she would rather craft and do art than athletics, but that’s just me stereotyping her based on her looks. There is no doubt in my mind she was stereotyping me, too, most likely pegging me as the giant nerd I am based on the information I gave her about myself.

How I love science and NASA and engineering. I left out the part about atoms and biology and neurons because that’s so beyond nerdy even I’m embarrassed by it.

Atoms turn me on, okay?

There, I said it.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, see the t-shirt I’m wearing with the galaxy emblazoned across the front of my chest, notice that it’s getting a little tighter these days. I began working out while studying overseas. The group of American guys—or lads—living in the same dorm were extremely into fitness, and eventually I began working out with them and getting into shape.

I actually have biceps now.

And abs.

Still a complete nerd, but now I’m just one that’s physically fit. Kind of an oxymoron, but I’ve always been into irony. It’s not like I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger or Fabio or an Instagram model, but I’m better off than I was before, all puny and weak.

Definitely more confident.

Mom noticed as soon as she picked me up from the airport that I looked broader in the shoulders; it took my father a little longer, mostly because he works all the time and isn’t around much. That could be because of Aunt Myrtle lingering about all the time—she likes to give him a hard time, really get his goat. Something of a heckler, she squeezed my upper bicep and chuckled that night at the dinner table like a pervy little creep.

My first night back, they threw a small welcome home party and embarrassed the crap out of me by making a fuss about my appearance.

I never really cared what I look like—still kind of don’t—but I’m certainly more conscious of it now that I’m in good shape.

Girls have noticed too. I’ve never had as many girls hit on me in my life as I have in the past few weeks—then again, I think I must look a little more European? Lankier like the English lads, and that’s what the attraction was with girls in Cambridge.

Suddenly my door flies open and Alex barges in, tossing his book bag onto my bed and flopping down as if he owns the place.

“What are you doing with your crap on my bed?” I ask him, hefting a box off the floor and setting it on top of the desk.

“I like doing my homework in here.” He makes himself comfortable, crossing his arms behind his head. “I used it as an office when you were gone.”

“You used my bedroom as your office while I was gone?” I study his face for any signs that he’s joking. “You’re twelve—what do you need an office for?”

He shrugs. “It’s nice to have a change of venue instead of staring at the same wall day in and day out. Kind of like being in prison. And this room has a better view of the backyard.”

“It’s literally the same view of the backyard,” I tell him. Our rooms are side by side at the end of the hallway, Aunt Myrtle taking over the plush guest bedroom that’s downstairs, with its huge bathroom and walk-in closets—yes, plural walk-in closets.

As in: two.

My parents were part of that McMansion boom a few years back, where everyone thought bigger was better and more space meant the house was more impressive so they built a structure with five bedrooms despite there only being two kids living at home, one of the guest bedrooms so luxurious it’s basically a hotel suite.

Now I think they must be thankful for the five rooms with Great Aunt Myrtle living here because she has room to roam and isn’t in everybody’s way all the time—even though she’s in everybody’s business.

Ha.

“Well I’m home now so you won’t be using my desk. Or my room. And since when do you enter a room without knocking? I could have been naked.”

“So? You don’t have anything I’ve never seen before,” he declares with authority. “And it’s not like you’re in here jerking off.”

“What the hell do you know about jerking off?” Alex and I have never discussed sex before, and the fact that he’s bringing up masturbating as if it’s no big deal has my eyes practically bugging out of my skull. Since when did my little brother grow up?

Jesus, I don’t even want to think about him wanking it, let alone discuss it with him while he’s lying on my bed.

Then again, he is twelve years old and probably has boxes of tissues and paper towels stashed under his bed the same way I did when I first started getting random erections at inconvenient times.

Alex is definitely way cooler than I am, though. There’s no doubt he is part of the popular crowd—the one I was never part of while growing up. He plays football and lacrosse and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about academics, so I’m shocked he would use any room to study and do homework in, let alone my room.

Come to think of it, he’s probably in here playing video games on the flat-screen TV I have hanging on the wall across from my bed. It was a gift from my grandmother for my fourteenth birthday, and it’s a lot nicer than the one that’s in the den downstairs.

Not to brag, but I was always one of Grandma’s favorites.

“You know what I would appreciate, Alex? I would love it if you would get out of my bedroom.”

“When did you become an asshole?” He makes no attempt to move and give me my privacy, and I can see he’s surprised by my attitude. I don’t usually kick him out when he makes himself at home in here, probably because he doesn’t come in here very often. But now that he’s been using my space for his own purposes, I need to set boundaries and reestablish my territory.

I glance at him over my shoulder and pry open the box. “You should probably watch your mouth. Does Mom know you swear like that?”

I catch my little brother rolling his eyes at me. “Dude, I’m twelve, not a baby.”

I can see that he’s not a baby—he looks like a preteen now, having shot up several inches in the short time frame that I was studying in England.

Alex is almost taller than I am and still has growing to do.

“I didn’t say you were a baby—I asked if Mom’s ever heard you swear like that.”

“Yeah right,” he scoffs. “She would have a fit, then Aunt Myrt would get involved, and soon everyone would be yelling at me. No thanks.”

He’s not wrong; since Aunt Myrtle moved in, she’s taken a real shine to inserting herself into family drama, including creating drama where none previously existed.

Guess she’s bored as hell with nothing else to occupy her time but us.

“It’s like living with the Crypt Keeper,” Alex continues.

“Hey—don’t be mean.”

“I’m not being mean! She’s a hundred years old. Do you know how not cool it is living with a geriatric?”

I turn and level him with a stare. “Would you say that to her face?”

“No.”

“Then you probably shouldn’t be saying that in here.” I turn back toward my box. “Besides, she’s probably listening outside the door with her ear pressed to the wall.”

That makes my brother laugh. “Probably.”

I turn to face him again. “Are you leaving or not?”

“Not,” he says with a laugh that makes me want to throttle him.

“Don’t you have anything better to do? And why are you even home, anyway? It’s the middle of the day.”

“We had a half-day today. Teacher in-service or something like that.”

“Who brought you home?”

“Brandon’s mom.” Brandon is my brother’s best friend, has been since they were in kindergarten.

“You should’ve told me. I was running errands and took Aunt Myrtle to physical therapy—I could have grabbed you on the way home.”

“I think Mom forgot, so I just hopped in the car with Brandon.”

That sounds kind of like our mom; she is very forgetful and used to do the same thing to me when I was growing up. Every so often, my parents would leave me at church after dropping me off at Sunday school. Don’t even ask me how that happens—thank God we have cell phones.

“What’s in that box?” my brother wants to know.

“Just stuff from school—textbooks and shit.”

“Aren’t textbooks mostly digital now?”

“Maybe. But not at Cambridge.”

I studied over there on a scholarship I’d been fighting to earn since I was a freshman in high school, busting my ass for good grades and joining every and any club that could be academically beneficial, on top of playing tennis.

Tennis, right? Who even plays that anymore?

“Did you meet any girls while you were over there?” my brother asks as he fumbles with the remote control for my TV. I’m sure he intends to stay awhile and watch one of his favorite programs, something he’s probably been doing every day since the day I left.

“No, I didn’t meet any girls.” I fold a t-shirt that’s at the top of my box and set it off to the side. “I mean, obviously I met girls, but I assume you mean did I date any.”

“You never date any girls. Do you even know how?”

Smartass little shit.

“What do you mean I never date any girls? I’ve had girlfriends—I dated Britney Bevins for a few months my freshman year.”

“Britney doesn’t count,” Alex informs me with a scoff. “Our parents are friends.”

I mean, that’s kind of true, plus it wasn’t all that romantic of a relationship. Britney is a brainiac like me and was only enrolled at the university until she got her acceptance to an Ivy League college, which came our sophomore year. She packed up her bags and moved to California to attend Stanford and chase that doctoral degree she’s been coveting since we were kids.

I hardly hear from her anymore.

Other than that, sadly, I haven’t had any other relationships, if you don’t count family and friends. I’m talking about romantic relationships, and yeah—sexual relationships too, I guess. I would say it’s because I don’t do the casual sex thing, but that would be a lie. The truth is I don’t actually have the guts to have casual sex even if I wanted to.

Alex watches as I lift a soccer ball out of the cardboard box and toss it to the ground.

“What are you doing with a soccer ball?”

“I got it while I was in England. They’re huge into football over there.”

I bought this one during one of the playoffs when every other store in town was selling souvenirs for the different teams. It was chaos but fantastic fun and I wanted something to remember it by, so I brought home the red and blue football.

“You packed a soccer ball in your luggage? Why didn’t you deflate it?”

He has a good point—deflating it would have made more sense if I hadn’t been in such a hurry to pack up my crap at the end of this semester. Packing was the last thing on my mind; I got swept up in my new friends and working out and, of course, studying, and I waited until the last day to pack up my boxes, address them, and mail them back.

Truth be told, I didn’t have a ton of stuff—some clothes, academic tools like textbooks and my computer and other office supplies, and…that’s really about it. But I did buy some things while I was there, like gifts for my family.

Alex flips on the TV and begins thumbing through the channels, the volume blaringly loud as if he were hard of hearing.

“Turn that down. You’re going to wake the entire house.”

“It’s not even noon. No one is sleeping.”

“Aunt Myrtle might be taking a nap. Do you want her coming up here?”

“No. Besides, she wouldn’t come up here—she’d shout at us through the intercom. Myrt loves the intercom, but she doesn’t know how to work it properly so she repeats herself ten times and blows into it with her old lady breath. It’s obnoxious,” Alex grumbles.

“Well turn that down anyway, Jesus. And get your feet off my bed.” I smack at his legs.

He’s still wearing his sneakers, and I don’t want his filthy shoes on my comforter.

Where was this kid raised, in a barn? Mom would have a heart attack if she knew he was running around the house with shoes on.

“Don’t they leave you a list of chores you’re supposed to do when you get home from school?”

They used to do that with me.

“No. I’m busy with sports.”

“You don’t look that busy with sports to me.”

Alex glances over at me as I pull more stuff out of my box. “Practice isn’t until later today. Someone will have to drive me back to school if Mom isn’t home by then.”

“How about Brandon’s mom?”

“Brandon doesn’t play lacrosse.”

“You’re a real pain in the ass. Do you realize that?”

He shrugs. “I’m twelve, and it’s too far to ride my bike.”

I mean, he’s not wrong.

I take the empty cardboard box and toss it out my bedroom door into the hallway just in time to see my mother coming up the stairs. Her eyes flit from me to the box then back to me.

“Someone is getting settled in, I see. I hope these boxes make it down to the recycling. Break them down, would you? And stack them neatly next to the garage.”

That’s obviously what I was going to do with the boxes, but she wouldn’t be my mother if she didn’t constantly remind me to tidy up my things and take the trash out.

I glance back at my brother, who is ignoring us both now that he’s fixated on the anime series on the television screen.

“Hey Mom, can we talk later?”

I can’t get something Aunt Myrtle said out of my mind and now I want to discuss it with my parents, but first I want to talk about it with my mom—feel her out a little bit, gauge her reaction.

“I have time now if you want to talk.” She steps into the bedroom and goes to sit next to my brother on the bed. It dips beneath her weight.

“In private?”

Mom raises her eyebrows and looks down at my brother. Notices for the first time that he’s wearing sneakers and pushes his legs off my bed. “Hey, get out of here with your shoes on, mister.”

Alex grumbles again but bends to untie his shoes, kicks them off, and trudges out to the hallway.

“Close the door behind you,” Mom calls.

Alex returns to shut the door a bit harder than necessary.

Mom gives me her full attention, and I take a seat across from her on my desk chair, swiveling it away from the window to face her. This conversation is more difficult to start than I thought it would be, but if I don’t have it, it will linger in my mind and fester.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed you until you finally got home.” Mom looks rather emotional. “I could just squish you right now I missed you so much.”

“Please don’t.” I laugh.

“How was the flight? We haven’t actually had a chance to talk alone since you’ve been back, and I apologize for that. I’ve been so caught up with this fundraising event for the women’s club—we’re raising awareness for fostering—that I haven’t had time to spend with you. Tell me what’s been going on.”

This is just going to make what I’m about to say that much worse considering I’m about to drop the bomb on her about potentially moving out and onto campus.

“I thought you’d have a British accent.”

She really is funny. “We’ve spoken every week for four months—you knew I didn’t pick up an accent.”

Mom picks at some lint on her jeans. “Fine. I was hoping you would. Like Madonna when she lived in London.”

“Who?”

She groans and runs a hand down her face. “Don’t make me feel old.”

I pick up a pencil on my desk and begin tapping it nervously against the wooden top, knee bouncing below it.

“So I’ve been thinking about my living arrangement the past few days.”

This has Mom’s attention and she sits up straighter, folding her hands in her lap. She nods.

“And you know I love living here—I’ve never lived anywhere else—but being on my own the last few months was awesome, and now that I’m back, I think it’s probably time for me to find my own place. Or at least find some roommates.” I rotate in the chair and look out the window for a moment, down at the neighbor’s house and into their backyard where a big, blue swimming pool sits. “It’s going to be practically impossible to find someone who still needs a roommate, but I think I should look.”

Mom doesn’t say much for the next several seconds, but I can practically hear her thinking. “I can understand why you feel the need to…” Her voice trails off. “Spread your wings.”

I spin back around. “I mean, Mom—Alex busts in here whenever he pleases and makes himself at home. He’s been using this room as a hangout spot and thinks he still can. I have no privacy whatsoever.”

I do, but that’s not the point—we have a ‘No Locked Doors’ policy in this house, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Alex doesn’t give a shit that I don’t want him in this room; he’s used to coming in here, and he’s going to continue coming in here.

He’s spoiled and young and does what he wants.

The point is, there are four other people living here and every one of them is in my business, including my eighty-three-year-old great aunt, who may live downstairs but always seems to be lingering.

Kind of like a ghost.

Almost as if she’s here to do my late grandmother’s bidding, bossing us around the way Nan did when she’d come by (and she did so often), outlandishly taking over the whole household.

And did I mention Aunt Myrtle is online dating?

Yeah.

“How do you plan on finding an apartment?”

We both know I haven’t made a decent number of new friends—not in the three years I’ve been at school, too wrapped up in my course work for socializing.

“I met someone in England who has a contact here—coincidentally.”

Mom doesn’t seem convinced. “You went all the way across the ocean and found someone who knows someone who may have a room for you to rent in the same city you need a room to rent?” She furrows her brows. “How is that possible?”

“Give me a second to process what you said,” I joke with a smile. “Yeah, crazy right? I met a guy whose brother lives here. Goes to school here and has a house—all I have to do is reach out and cross my fingers. There’s no guarantee, but…”

Mom doesn’t look pleased. “You’re so helpful.”

“Mom, I’m twenty-one years old—I can’t live here for the rest of my life just so I can shuttle Aunt Myrtle around and feed Alex when you and Dad aren’t around.”

It’s not fair.

“It’s my senior year—how am I supposed to study in this house?” I take a deep breath. “You could hire someone to help with Aunt Myrtle and Alex. A nanny for them both.”

Mom buries her face in her hands and laughs. “Oh my god, can you imagine. I don’t know who would run a nanny off first, your brother or your auntie.”

“One hundred percent it would be Aunt Myrtle and her parade of geriatric boyfriends.”

“Please.” Mom holds her hands out with more laughter. “Do not remind me. The last guy gave her piña coladas and wine and she wound up puking on the living room rug when he brought her home.”

“What?” I shout, shocked and horrified. “Wait—what? Rewind.”

“She went out with this younger gentleman who said he was sixty-nine but was actually seventy-eight. He took her to a tiki bar, and it didn’t sit well with her.”

“What?”

“She’s still trying to party like it’s 1999, and it came up both ends.”

“That’s not even funny.” Well, it kind of is, but in a weird, I’m going to hell for laughing kind of way.

“No one is laughing. It was horrendous. Your father about had a heart attack, and I made him help clean up the mess. Meanwhile, Auntie went to brunch with a gentleman who owns a golf cart dealership while we cleaned the carpets.”

“I don’t even know what to say to that.”

“Nothing. You say nothing. It’s been a revolving door of gray-haired single men. Widowed men. Confirmed elderly bachelors. She’s having a field day with it all. I don’t know how a caregiver could manage, and I can barely manage your brother.”

Which is where I come in. “But Mom…”

“I’ll have to talk to your dad, but I guess it wouldn’t hurt for you to text your friend’s brother and see where he’s at with his spare room.”

I want to fist-pump the air for the small victory but manage to restrain myself until Mom leaves the room.

“And maybe if you live by campus, you’ll meet someone.”

Meet someone? Like, a girl? “That’s not the reason I want to move and be closer to school, Mom.”

Girls are distracting, and I have goals.

Mom pats me on the arm. “I know that’s not the reason, sweetie. I was just thinking out loud.”

That’s all anyone in this house does—thinks out loud.