The house’s front door bangs shut, clipping out the evening sun. I listen from a narrow half-hall on the second story. I recline at the foot of my parents’ bedroom door—an idiosyncratic delicacy much missed this past month—rocking my knees together and flexing my jaw, attempting to relieve air pressure the thirteen hour plane ride stuffed in my ears. I hear socks sweep over carpet from the room. The door squeaks open, releasing a cloud of bitter cologne that settles in my mouth; I wipe my tongue on my T-shirt to get the taste out. “Thanks for that Mom,” I say.
“What the heck’s going on out here,” Mom says. “Slamming doors? Shouting? You two were just as happy as little muskrats in your room half a minute ago. What’d you do, tell her horror stories from the trip?” Mom fiddles her fingers through a slippery, purple blouse then folds it on itself. She smiles; not looking at me.
I can’t respond right away. My throat sticks together when I try to suck air, a metal ball-bearing slides up my throat from under my collarbone and I sweat. How can this woman possibly know the things she knows? I say, “No Ma’, Alex’s just being weird today. I thought we were alright, but, you know, it’s just whatever now. Either way, she’s being ridiculous about it.”
“Mm.” She points to my wrinkled jeans—the last pair that didn’t smell like last year’s PE lockers—and says, “Do you want me to wash those for you?”
“No, Mom!” I say. I paw her away, shaking my head. “Jesus, I just want to think right now okay? Is that like, not okay in America?”
She blows a laugh through closed lips, turns, then walks back into her room, stopping a few feet in to shut the door with a foot, but before she does, she says, “I just hope you didn’t do anything you’d regret.”
Now my thoughts were crashing together. Why should I let this get to me so much? I had to break it off. The truth is the truth: two years is too serious right now. I mean, I’m sixteen! I’ve been out of the game for two years, and for what?
I groan and stretch the skin down my face. Kate hears me and lopes over. She presses her nose against mine and I sputter. I flail my hands and she startles. I wrap my arms around the old lab and wrestle her to the floor. I look down at her huge drooping smile, jiggling spotted tongue, and eyes full of raw excitement to have me home. My stomach warms and I bend to let her lick my face. “Why can’t girls be like you Kate?”
Kate didn’t know. The change in my expression must have been severe, because the dog closes her mouth and turns her head in a question seeming to ask, “What’s wrong Sam?” I roll on my back again and study the stuccoed ceiling. “Well, ol’ girl,” I say, “It happened like this . . .” I tell Kate everything.
A few minutes later, Kate watches me sullenly, sitting very still with the side of one lip curled up on the same side as one flared nostril; just how Alex looked when she listened to me tell her why we couldn’t be together. “Kate,” I say, “why am I pretending to be upset about this? Who am I angry with? I didn’t have a choice. Four weeks in Europe; four weeks! And I’ll tell you girl, those Euro chicks were not digging this.” I gesture to my reclining body.
“But I got it wrong you see? I went on that class trip to get out of California, to get crazy and meet girls and live life, but I didn’t need to run to Europe to do it. I live in California baby!” Kate looks unimpressed. “Anyway, it turned out to be a sweaty old bus with a bunch of dorks with sour-smelling clothes. Four weeks without so much as a hookup. What did she expect me to do when I got back? She is my girlfriend. Well, was my girlfriend. Just because the timing was bad doesn’t mean that it was my fault . . . does it? . . . Ugh, I think I’ll just die here.” I turn my cheek to the carpet and stick out my tongue.
“Saaam!” Mom calls, “have you unloaded your luggage from the van yet? I want to get it all washed this evening.”
“No,” I say, “can’t I have an hour of rest? I got you some stuff.”
“Like the bottle of wine you promised?” Mom says, her voice changing from muffled to clear as she came close to the door. “Please tell me you got your mama her Italian wine.”
I pull at my hair, glad she cannot see my reaction behind the door. What should I do? I gave Mom’s bottle to Alex when we first got home, before we—well, I forgot to get her something and things were getting heavy and the only thing I could think to do was sacrifice Mom’s wine. “Wine?” I say. “Oh, you know what . . . shoot Ma’, you know, they wouldn’t let me take it on the plane.”
Mom frowns comically then shrugs, “It’s okay,” she says, “I’ll just skip your Christmas this year.” She laughs and closes the door.
Then something strange happens. I feel—something . . . in my cheeks. A sort of warm tingle. I have the urge to turn from Kate and hide my face in the moulding. What’s wrong with me? “Why do I feel like this?” I ask, gripping my gut. What is this feeling? I feel so . . . so . . . I don’t know. I feel like maybe . . . Kate whines and struggles to her feet. She pants in my face, gives me a parting lick and turns her back to me. Shame? I feel, ashamed?
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