“Is your mom going to be home?” Paul said. His eyes darted under the brim of his well-worn baseball cap; his chubby stomach moved with his quickened breathing.
“I don’t know but,” Kim lowered her voice, so low Paul could hardly hear her over the noise of the bus, “I hope not.” Her blue eyes sparkled and the sly smile caused Paul to smile back. The two teenagers were holding hands; she squeezed his, just a bit. Paul’s cheeks reddened though he struggled to keep his face composed. There were other people on the bus, after all. Adults.
Paul wondered if they knew what Kim and he were planning. They’d been going out for a month, although Kim had liked him for longer than that. But it all depended on Kim’s mom not being home. “What if she is?”
“Can’t wait, can you? Would that be so bad? She already likes you. Maybe we’ll all go out for dinner.”
Paul’s nervous-good feeling became nervous-bad. He tried breathing deeply, but that seemed to make him light-headed. “She just… I This is a lot to think about.”
The bus stopped and Kim and Paul made their way through the neighborhood, holding hands, occasionally sneaking glances at each other, but otherwise lost in thought. Eventually they approached Kim’s house, a large grey Victorian in need of some repair, but sturdy. “Her car is here but she may have taken the bus to work; I left this morning before she did.”
Paul let Kim pull him up the stairs to the porch. Kim craned her neck to see in the curtained windows. “The door’s unlocked. Shit.” Kim whispered. “Be casual.” She opened the door. “Hello, mother. And Howard.”
“Howard?” Paul asked. He walked in behind his girlfriend. The front room was cluttered, with mismatched couch and chairs and a wooden coffee table, an antique cabinet and a cheap pressboard television stand holding a small LCD TV. The carpet was well-worn, as well, and the house had a faint smell of cooking grease and cabbage. Sitting on the couch was a woman in a floor-length heavy skirt, a blouse, and no shoes, her brown hair pulled back in a bun. Kim’s mom, Angela.
Next to her sat a man of around the same age as Kim’s mom, wearing brown glasses, over a largish nose and an orange mustache. Some wisps of hair that matched his facial hair escaped his baseball cap. He wore a yellow polo shirt that had embossed on it the logo for a local restaurant chain, and black slacks. Howard and Angela were sitting very close to each other, their knees angled together, and between them they were holding a large hardbound book, open, across their lap. When Kim and Paul had walked in, the adults had both sharply angled their upper bodies back against the couch. Their faces slowly flushed but they forced smiles.
“Hello, children!” Angela said. “Did not expect you. Hello, Paul. So very good to see you again.”
Howard slowly closed the book in their lap. He looked at Angela, then at the teens, then back at Angela. “Should we, uh, leave the living room to them, the kids?”
Angela slapped Howard’s thigh. “Where are your manners? My darling daughter is home from school, with her boyfriend. Let’s chat. Sit down, sit down!” She looked around the room. The one chair in the room held a basket full of unfolded laundry.
Kim pursed her lips. “Um.” She turned to Paul. “Paul, this is Howard.”
Paul approached Howard and held his hand out, tentatively, across the coffee table. Howard carefully set the book down on the table, wiped his hands on his black slacks, then extended it to Paul. “Pleased to meetcha.”
“You’re getting along great!” Angela declared. “Kim, come talk to me in the kitchen. Do you boys want something to drink? Water?” Kim rolled her eyes and followed as her mom stood up and walked into the back of the house.
Paul was silent. He stood. His hand slowly dropped back towards his side. Howard adjusted his baseball cap and glanced at where the two women had vanished, then back at Paul. “Hey, why don’t you sit down? I, uh, I’ve got to go take care of something.” In a careful rush, he yelled out “I’m going upstairs!” and vanished up the stairway.
Paul, still silent, stood there, abandoned. He could hear whispering in the back of the house.
“Holy weird,” Paul said. He moved around the coffee table and sat down. He could hear a faucet running in the kitchen.
His eyes fell on the book. It was leather-bound in green and gold, and had gold edging on the pages. Well-worn. Poetry, maybe? He picked it up.
Into the silence boomed Angela, smiling, bouncing through the room and heading up the stairs. “OK, we’ll be down in a bit don’t go anywhere you two!”
Paul opened the book. It fell open to a specific spot; it seemed to be the same page the adults had been looking at. Paul peered at the tiny, intricate type, which was made difficult to read by the presence of… dust? White dust? But they’d just been reading that page. He took a deep breath and blew the dust off, just as Kim walked in holding two glasses of water.
“What did you do? What did you just do?” Her voice was a quick, high-pitched whisper.
“I just… the book was… dirty? Or something?”
Kim rushed over. Some of the dust had fallen on the coffee table but most had blended into the floor. Setting the glasses on the table next to the book, she got down on her hands and knees, pawing through the carpet. “I can’t believe you did that! Oh, fuck, she’s going to kill me!”
She looked up at Paul from next to the coffee table. “That was cocaine. You just probably wasted a couple hundred dollars of cocaine. Oh my god she’s going to kill me.”
Paul’s eyes widened, his jaw dropped. That explained so much about the adult’s odd behavior. “I’m sorry, I had… no freakin’ idea.”
Kim sighed, and sat back, and sighed again. “It’s gone. She can come down and snort it out of the carpet if she wants.”
“Do… is that something that you do?” Paul asked.
“No. I think it’s dumb. And expensive.” At Paul’s worried look, she added quickly. “I promise! It’s not interesting to me. At all.” She laughed. “God, you really are shocked. You come from a good home, I guess.”
Paul shook his head, slowly, then asked, “Does this mean she’s going to hate me forever?”
Kim just laughed.