Girls Like Boys


The Laughlin-Reign family dinner turned out to be calmer than I expected. Despite jabs being thrown across the table constantly, flying between Ryan, Mathias, and Travis, it really wasn’t anything more than a casual family holiday. 

The rest of the family was quick to differentiate between Ram and I, making a point to use our names and talk to us individually. I stayed seated beside Ryan and across from Travis, who was next to his cousin Chloe, as their parents started to clear the table. Chloe made light small talk with me through most of the meal, asking about UA and what her brother and Travis were like away from home. 

“They’re terrible,” I said, catching the attention of both the boys’ parents as they weaved in and out of the room. “They cause all kind of trouble and get me thrown out of all my classes.” I grinned at Travis’s affronted look and shook my head. 

“I don’t even have classes with you,” Ryan defended, eyes wide and lips parted as he glanced from me to his parents whom were behind us. His voice rose up a bit as he called me out. 

It was obvious that Ryan was more outgoing here than he’d ever been in their house or at school. He was outspoken and loud in a way that I hadn’t noticed before. He stared at me, turning toward me as he waited for me to admit to his words. 

I grinned and shook my head, glancing down the table to the adults. “I’m kidding,” I said, even though it was mostly obviously. “I don’t have class with Ryan, and Travis always shows up and everything.”

Chloe’s head bobbed as she looked from one of the boys, to me and Ramsy, and then to the other. “I don’t know how you put up with them all the time,” she said, quickly dogging Travis as he tried to elbow her. She laughed as she spoke, sliding away from her cousin’s attack. “They’re so annoying,” she said, “and they never know when to go away or mind their own business. I wouldn’t be able to handle having them around all the time.”

She trailed off in a fit of giggles as Travis dived toward her, causing her to fall back into another chair as she jumped out of her chair to get away from him. He grabbed her arm and dragged her back, landing fake punches on her stomach as she tried to scramble away.

“You’re so annoying, Travis!” she reiterated, trying to contain her laughter as she finally got to her feet and pulled herself away from him. Her expression turned serious as she avoided him; she grabbed her plate from the table and headed into the kitchen.

Mathias followed suit, stepping up from the table and gathering his dishes. “I brought GTA,” he said, nodding to the living room and meeting his brother’s eyes. “Go set it up.”

Travis smiled, but heaved a sigh and climbed out of his chair. He picked up his plate and handed it across to Mathias before darting into the living room.

Ryan climbed up too and grabbed my plate and Ramsy’s. “We’ll meet you in there in a few minutes,” he said, looking through the entryway into the living room. From our angle, we could see Travis kneeling down on the floor in front of the TV, setting up an Xbox. 

“Thanks,” Ram spoke as she got up and pulled me with her. I echoed the word as he went one way and we went the other. Ram dropped down onto the couch in the living room as I sat on the floor back from Travis, peering around him to see what he was doing. 

“You play video games on Thanksgiving?” I asked.

He shrugged. “It’s not a tradition or anything, but it’s something to do.” He glanced back at me. “What do you guys usually do?”

“Eat pumpkin pie and watch football,” Ram answered for us both, “like everyone else in this country.”

Travis rolled his eyes. “Sorry we’re not cliché enough for you, Ramsy. Maybe we should take our shirts off, paint our chests, get drunk, and yell at people.” He turned around enough to meet her eye and raised his eyebrow.

Ram rolled her eyes too. “Nobody wants to see that, Travis,” she said, crossing her eyes. “Keep your clothes on or you’ll give us all nightmares.”

Trav grinned, eyes flickering to me for just a moment before he abandoned the game console and climbed to his sock-clad feet. “More like wet-dreams,” he said as he slowly pulled the hem of his shirt up to his chest, exposing his lower stomach. 

Dramatically, Ramsy faked throwing up and looked away. “You’re going to make me sick,” she said. “I don’t even want to think about thinking about you in my dreams.”

Travis dropped his shirt and grinned, sitting back down on the ground. He looked to me, and I shook my head at how overly-pleased he looked with himself. 

“I’m adorable,” he said easily, catching my expression. “Don’t lie.” He twisted around and went right back to hooking up his brother’s game console to the TV. Ramsy continued looking at the wall until she was certain he was done being obnoxious, and then she composed herself and glared at the back of his head.

Mathias came back with snacks and Chloe, and set the former on the floor between Travis and I. Chloe climbed into the couch next to Ramsy and frowned at the TV screen as they talked. I figured she was probably copying Ramsy’s expression and trying to figure out why Ramsy looked pissed off. 

Travis didn’t pay her any mind when he turned around, but he did frown slightly when he noticed both girls glaring in his general direction. He dropped down onto the carpet next to me, careful not to touch Ramsy as he leaned against the couch.

“Is Ry playing?” Trav asked, trying to peer through the dining room into the kitchen. 

“He’s leaving,” Chloe answered with a shake of her head. “His coach texted and said he’s running an optional practice for a couple hours.”

Travis booed and dropped his head back against the arm of the couch, lazily looking at the TV as Mathias took over the on-screen set-up. “It’s Thanksgiving,” he said.

Mathias shrugged. “Sorry, Trav. You can go try to convince him to stay if you want, but I doubt it’ll work,” he said, sitting down on the couch next to Chloe and tucking one of the his feet under him.

Trav shook his head and shrugged a bit, letting it roll of him as Mathias offered him the controller. “Let one of the girls have it,” he said, looking between Ram, Chloe, and I. I got the stark impression that this was a single-player game and the rest of us would do a lot of sitting and watching.

“I don’t want it,” I said when Mathias reached it toward me. Travis grinned and shook his head, nodding back to Ramsy.

Mathias passed it over. Ram took it, even though we’d barely played this game as kids. We knew enough about it to know that, mostly, the rules didn’t matter.

Ryan left about twenty minutes later with his things packed up. He had his dad’s car keys and promised to drive careful as they walked him out. Travis’s dad was apparently going to drive the rest of them home later so that Ryan could come and go as he needed.

Travis yelled his goodbye over the back of the couch, leaning into me so he could lean around and see his cousin. Ryan promised to be meet him when he got back home later.

When Ram handed the control over to Chloe, who felt the need to obey stoplights and yield for pedestrians, Travis dropped his head on my shoulder and looked at me pathetically. “Do you want to get out of here?” he asked quietly.

“We can go if you want,” I answered, shrugging my shoulders so that he’d get off of me. “I don’t want your dad to think we’re rude though.”

Travis shook his head, lifting it from my shoulder. “He won’t,” he said easily. “He doesn’t care whether we sit around in his living room or not. He’s used to having the place to himself.”

“You make it sound like he’s happy to get rid of you,” I commented, mostly joking. But Travis shrugged noncommittally. He used his hands to brace himself and pushed to his feet, reaching back out to pull me up.

“I want to show you something before we go,” he said, having a much easier time pulling me from the carpet than I did getting him up earlier. “We’ll be right back,” he said to the rest of the group, our movements having already caught their attention. His words disinvited them from following us, and I saw Chloe watching as Travis lead me to the stairs.

I grinned. “Are you going to show me your childhood bedroom?” I asked, grabbing onto the back of his shirt to slow him down.

He shrugged, pulling my hand off his shirt and slipping his fingers between mine. “You say that like it’s Area 51 or something,” he said, barreling down the hallway. Like the kitchen downstairs, the hall floor was wood paneled. The hallway itself was narrow, with the two of us barely fitting side by side. The walls held up photographs that I could barely make out. In a couple, I caught a younger version of one of the Laughlin brothers, but it was hard to determine who it was.

Travis,” I complained as he practically dragged me down the hall. He wasn’t urgent – just fast, but he thwarted my attempts to slow him down.

Travis’s bedroom seemed to be in the middle of the hallway, with doors on either side and across. From what I could tell, their dad’s bedroom was across and Mathias’s was at the far end of the hall, next to Trav's. When Travis slowed down at his door enough to open it, I took the moment to scan the pictures on the wall outside his door. It didn’t seem like there was any organization to the way they were placed. Instead it looked as though they were just stuck up anywhere they would fit.

With a second to myself in the hall, I looked for one of both brothers, hoping I could differentiate by age when I saw them together. The first one I found was between their bedroom doors – the picture of two boys huddled on either side of a dark-haired woman. Despite the fact that seeing Travis as a child was new to me, it was the woman who was even stranger. Inexplicably, she had to be their mother, and despite the fact that it was obvious that wasn't part of his life anymore, it came as a shock to me that Travis had never mentioned her.

“I’m wearing Mathias’s clothes in that picture,” Travis said as he rounded back out of his room and came to stand at my side. “I was six, I think, and he’d just turned thirteen, so of course everything he did was really cool. Our parents took him clothes shopping for school, so I grabbed up as many of his old shirts as I could. His pants were too big for me.”

I smiled, recognizing parts of twenty-one-year-old-Travis in six-year-old-Travis. “You wanted to be like your brother.”

Trav nodded, focused on the picture.

Travis, who always stood in the forefront of every friend group, but hankered down in the corner of his apartment – in the privacy of his bathtub when he needed space to think – had grown up the center of his family’s quiet universe. For as much as I’d learned about him since August, it was moments like this that brought me back to Earth. For as loud and persistent as Travis was in his relationships with other people, he never spoke much about himself. The sense that I didn’t know him came creeping over me as he backed away from the picture and motioned me into his room with a nod of his head. I stepped away quickly, eager to push that feeling away and leave it there in the hallway to die.

Travis’s room was modest in size, but looked bigger due to the rectangular window that spanned almost half of the far wall. Pushed underneath it, up along the window’s ledge, was a simple white desk that sat mostly bare like the rest of the room. There was a bookshelf across from his bed and a little table next to it, but otherwise, it was mostly empty. It was obvious that Travis had left and taken everything with him.

Travis looked at the room like he barely recognized it. He ran his fingers over one of the almost-empty shelves and glanced out the window for only a split second before turning around to face me. “I told you it was nothing special,” he said, grinning as he shrugged. He walked back over to the bed and threw himself down onto the sheets.

I stepped over and sat next to him.

“Mathias’s room was the guest bedroom until it got filled with junk,” he said, peering at me over his shoulder. “So now our dad saves this room for guests even though he hasn't had a single person stay overnight since we moved out.”

I smiled slightly, noting how similar Travis’s dad was to my own in some ways. “You could always come back and stay here,” I said. “Your dad might be happy to have the company.”

Travis rolled his eyes. “You sound like I abandoned him or something,” he said, getting to his feet. He paced in hurried circles as he spoke. “He’s happy to have the place to himself. It was always too small with all three of us in it. When Mathias moved out, it was like he was able to breathe a little bit easier. I can only imagine how relieved he was when I left.”

“You sound so cynical about him,” I commented, watching him trace the same pattern into the ground with his feet. “He seemed really happy to see you today, Travis. They all did. Your family is basically the most expressive group of people I’ve ever met.”

Trav nodded, backtracking. “Oh yeah, he loves me,” he said quickly. “But he’s pretty independent. I still see him all the time, but I think he worried about screwing me and Math up our entire lives. It was like he succeeded when we were actually able to get out of the house and take care of ourselves.”

I frowned, considering the picture and the woman on the wall. “Trav-“

The dark-haired boy looked up abruptly, responding to the tone of my voice. “What, Cody?” he asked, his own tone more cynical, disinterested, and knowing.

“The picture…”

“… is my mom,” he filled, nodding like he knew that I knew already. “She lives in Denver now with a kid, a couple step-kids, and another husband. They’re basically Mathias and I, just blonde and more annoying. My mom’s custody arrangement forced us out to see her until we turned eighteen, but Mathias kept going with me until I was old enough to opt-out too.” He looked to me full-on, dark eyes unburdened and disinterested. “I doubt taking the picture off the wall has even crossed my dad’s mind. I don’t really know, honestly, but he doesn’t seem bothered by it.”

I crossed my arms over my chest, frowning still. “When did she leave?”

“Mathias was sixteen and I was ten,” he answered with a shrug. It wasn’t the kind of noncommittal shrug that implied he wanted to get off the topic. It was a decidedly unburdened shrug of someone who’d had time to process the past and move on. He’s spent more of his life without her than he had with her.

“Ram and I were like two weeks old when our mom left,” I said, hoping for the same nonchalantness that he managed. “My dad sent us to his mom’s house for about a month. We don’t remember any of it, obviously, but Esther told us about it once. My dad destroyed anything that included our mom and then he changed our names.”

Travis’s eyes darkened as he considered it. “He changed your names?”

I nodded, smiling slightly. “He filed for name changes and renamed me and Ramsy.”

“What about your brother?” Travis asked, and then shook his head, talking over himself. “No – wait – what were your names before?”

I grinned and shrugged. “I don’t know,” I said. “The original birth certificates were destroyed when our mom gave us up. The new ones just say Cody and Ramsy Carrigan with Charlie’s name on them. Wesley’s name was always Wesley, by the way.”

Travis shook his head slowly. “That’s kind of really fucked up,” he said, coming to sit next to me on the bed. “Your dad was so upset over a divorce that he literally removed every trace of your mom from your life, including the name she gave you.”

“Your dad still keeps the family pictures on the walls and pretends like nothing’s different,” I commented. “That’s just as fucked up.”

Travis quirked a smile and nodded. “Two kinds of fucked up,” Travis said, laughing at the absurdity of it.

We hung out in his room for another few minutes, sitting against the headboard, shoulder to shoulder. It was weird being in a place that was once Travis’s but wasn’t anymore. The way he operated in the space was like it was in ruins – a memory of something he hadn’t really lived. I could imagine myself, back home for break, in a room that felt different after being gone so long. But Travis made a place for himself everywhere he went, and by the time Chloe came traipsing up the stairs with Ramsy, it was more his again than anybody else’s.

Chloe brought Ramsy upstairs and into the room, walking into the bedroom without knocking or calling out or anything. It was the type of thing kids did when they were too young to worry about what could be on the other side – or close enough to the family to know exactly what was.

Ramsy thrust her phone in my face as she barreled inside, practically knocking Travis out of the way as she moved to sit next to me. “You’re not going to believe this,” she said, clutching my arm with one hand and holding her phone in the other.

I shrugged closer. “What?”

“Just read it,” she said, pushing it at me.

I sighed and grabbed the phone from her. There were a few lines from Charlie written there. His lazy texting produced only the least amount of digits necessary to understand the world.

Wes, Gram, me cmng 2 c u.

I read it a few times, rearranging and replacing them with complete words and sentences, hoping to find another meaning in what wasn’t there. “‘Coming to see us’? I repeated to Ramsy, lifting my eyes from the screen before looking straight back at it again. “What does he mean ‘coming to see us’? It’s not like they can all just pop over for a visit.”

Ramsy looked terrified. “You should call him,” she said, shaking her head. “See what’s going on.”

Me? Why do I have to do it? You’re the one he texted!”

“Cody!” she complained, tightening her grip on her phone, practically shaking from the intensity and nerves.

Travis, who’d been frowning the entire time as he watched our frenzied exchange, reached out and pried the strangled phone out of her hand. He read the message to him and then once out loud. “Wes, Gram, me, coming to see you,” he repeated before handing the phone back to my sister. “They’re on their way here? Or does that mean ‘can’t wait’ to see you?”

Ramsy scoffed. “In what world, Travis, does c-m-n-g mean ‘can’t wait’?”

Travis didn’t bother to take offense to her tone. “Okay, then Ramsy, it looks like your dad, grandma, and brother are on their here to see you for the holiday.”

Ram shook her head and thrust her phone into my hands. “Call them!”

I deepened my glare and focused my attention on the little machine. “I’ll call Wesley,” I compromised. “If they’re really on their way here then they have to be together.” I dialed the number by clicking on his name in her contacts and then put it on speaker, opting out of an awkward conversation with my brother and repeat session when I would have to relay it to Ramsy and Travis afterwards.

Chloe stepped a bit closer as it started to ring, alerting me to the fact that she was still in the room. She stood nearer to the door than the bed though, where the rest of us were huddled together, waiting for my brother to tell us that Charlie had mistyped and they were, in fact, still in Indiana where they were supposed to be.

The tone of his voice when he picked up the call, however, told me and Ramsy everything we needed to know. “Ramsy!” he practically shouted, too eager for a normal day in Indiana, especially on a holiday where Charlie wanted us home.

“It’s me too,” I said easily, casually, trying to shield the anxiousness that I felt.

Cody! I figured you two would be together today. Happy Thanksgiving!”

Ramsy sent me a look that implied Wes was a complete idiot. “Where are you?” she asked bluntly. “Dad just sent us a text about coming to see us?”

Yeah, he said he was going to do that when we pulled over. So I guess you know that we decided to drive down. Charlie got a couple days off for Thanksgiving and I don’t work tomorrow anyway, so all we had to do was convince Esther that she could survive the drive.”

Ramsy frowned. I was pretty certain my expression matched hers almost exactly. “So you’re saying that you’re on your way to Alabama?” she asked incredulously. “As in, the state where Cody and I are right now. As in, eight hours from where you and Charlie and Esther are supposed to be. Which is Indiana.”

Wow, Ram, way to piece that together,” Wesley deadpanned. “Don’t let Charlie hear you talking like that. He might get the impression that you don’t want to see him after three months of absolutely zero contact with his daughters.

Ram and I both backtracked. “It’s not like that, Wes,” I said, shaking my head adamantly. “We’re just a lot surprised by this. If you knew you were coming, why didn’t you tell us?”

Dad wanted it to be a surprise,” Wes said.

Ram glanced at the phone, confused. “But he just told us, so it’s not a surprise.”

Well, he also wanted you to have time to get ready for our dinner reservations, Wes commented, slipping back to his infuriating I-know-more-than-you-know tone.

Ramsy and I both knew what was coming before he said it.

We’re about twenty minutes out from your dorm,” he told us. “Surprise.

I think both mine and Ramsy’s jaws dropped open. I ran Wesley’s words through my head a couple times before I was able to process them. The first thing that came to mind was how can they be twenty minutes away when Indiana is eight hours away. And then, from there, it was a series of half-cohesive thoughts leading up to the epiphany that they must’ve left early this morning. Ramsy started counting backwards on her fingers, so I figured she came to the same conclusion.

There were some muffled sounds on the phone as Wesley filled in our silence. After a moment, he said, “Dad says hi,” and Ram and I uttered back the same one-syllable word before Wesley added, “We’re heading out now, so meet us outside in about twenty minutes. Esther wants to see your room before we get dinner.

Neither one of us told them that we weren’t there. Neither one of us told them that we wouldn’t be there when they got there. And neither one of us bothered to say goodbye as Wesley ended the call with the promise of ‘seeing us soon.’ Instead, the two of us hurdled up from the bed and talked over each other frantically, demanding that Travis race us home. We both knew that if we didn’t turn the forty minute commute to Travis’s dad’s house into a twenty minute drive back to the dorm, Charlie, Wesley, and Esther were going to be in for their own surprise.
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Thanks so much for sticking with me, guys!

If you enjoy my writing, check out my new story: The Trajectory of Planes. The prologue is up now and there's an update coming soon.

I'll trying to get another one out for this as well! I really don't know how it's 2AM already.