Girls Like Boys

One of Those Boys

Charlie, Esther, and Wesley ended up spending the weekend in a hotel – the same one we stayed in our first night in Alabama. Ramsy and I spent most of the time with them. We alternated between hanging out in the hotel room getting caught up and showing them around the campus – putting places to names. Purposefully, I avoided the places I knew Travis would be. Like Friday night at Murphy’s. He replaced our routine Saturday Netflix and food binge with an afternoon downtown with Erick, Ryan, and Benji. I could only imagine the kind of car nirvana they’d sequestered themselves in.

My Saturday afternoon was spent at a small restaurant away from campus. It was one of those sit-down family diners that we never went to back home. We sat at a circular table, facing everyone at once. I fit in between Wes and Ramsy, directly across from my dad and grandma.

“What day is your last final?” Charlie asked as he sipped his drink.

“Mine is the twelfth,” I said. “It’s the Monday.”

“Mine go all the way to Wednesday,” Ramsy complained, shaking her head at the idea of it.

Charlie nodded. “Two more weeks of classes and then three days of tests.”

“Then home,” Esther added.

“Yeah.” I nodded. “Then home.”

The waiter brought our food and the conversation quieted down. While I’d thought about break and how far away it was, it had never seemed so soon. With Charlie here, it was obvious how much he wanted us back. Every other question or topic was about the house, or how we needed to check the truck’s oil before we drove back (and maybe Wes and him should drive down and drive us back), and how our room was exactly the same, and our friends probably missed us.

I didn’t remind Charlie that we hadn’t talked to anyone from high school since we left. I’d barely talked to anyone in high school. It was mostly Ramsy’s friends that become mine by proxy, and I hadn’t thought of them that much. The people here filled up all the places where the high school friends once were. And even though I hadn’t missed anyone from home, I knew that leaving Alabama would be a different story.

Charlie didn’t mention or ask about when we would come back to Alabama – I think part of him wanted to pretend that we never would. But the date stuck in my mind and wouldn’t leave. Six weeks at home wasn’t much after a lifetime spent there, but I never had anything else before, and I wondered how quick six weeks would pass with nothing to do but think about Alabama. I wondered what Ramsy was most excited about – going home or coming back.

On Sunday, Ramsy and I got up early and drove to the hotel to go out for one last breakfast and say goodbye. In order to make the eight hour drive back home, Charlie, Wesley, and Esther were leaving when the sun came up. I curled into the front seat as Ramsy drove us over, parking in the now-familiar lot. We used our own key card to get inside and found our family up and ready, waiting for us.

“We’re leaving in about fifteen minutes,” Charlie said to Wesley as we came walking through the door of their hotel room. Wesley, on the other side, nodded without looking back.

“Morning,” Ramsy said and I echoed her.

Charlie and Wesley looked our way. Charlie stood in the center of the room next to one of the beds. His suitcase was packed and zipped, just waiting to be carried back down to the Camaro. He wore a pair of sweats and a loose-fitting t’shirt. He and Wes would alternate driving on the way and they both looked the part.

“Morning,” Charlie replied, glancing back to Wesley. “Don’t forget your hoodie,” he said to Wes, pointing to where it was slung over the back of the only chair in the room. Wesley nodded and grabbed it.

“Is Esther ready to go?” I asked, shaking off the remnants of sleep.

Charlie shrugged and motioned to the room next door. “Go check, will you, Cody?”

I nodded lightly and pivoted back to the door. I didn’t have a key to Esther’s room, so I knocked lazily on the door, standing on the maroon carpet in the center of the abandoned hallway. After a moment, the door opened. Seeing me there, Esther opened it up and went back into her room.

“Morning,” I said, following her inside. “You almost ready to go?”

She nodded quietly. “My bag’s by the bed,” she said – her que for me to take it.

I wandered over and sat down next to it. “Thanks for coming down, Grandma,” I said.

She had her back to me as she fiddled with something at the vanity. From what I could see, she was packing up a little makeup pouch. She nodded at my words, but I wasn’t sure if she actually heard anything I said.

“Cody,” she said, startling me a bit. I refocused my attention on her as she turned around with the plastic pouch in her hands. “I want to talk to you.”

I frowned. “About what?”

She set the bag down on the other bed. “I know you’re more of an adult now than you’ve ever been, but that doesn’t mean you know what’s best for you. Charlie misses you and wants you to come home, so I know he won’t say it, but you need to keep your head straight.”

I shook my head. “Grandma, I’m doing really well here – ”

She nodded and raised one hand, meaning for me to be quiet. “You’re allowed to have friends, Cody, and you’re allowed to have male friends, but you’re eighteen years old.”

“Okay…” I trailed off, eyes narrowed as I waited for her to make her point.

She met my eyes. “Everyone thinks they know what they want when they’re eighteen,” she said. “You wanted Alabama and you wanted this school, and Charlie gave it to you. You’ve never gone with anything you’ve ever wanted. I’ve disagreed with your dad on a lot of things over the years, but he did right with you and your brother and sister.”

“Where is this going?” I asked slowly, glancing in the general direction of Charlie and Wes’s room. “If this is about Travis, honestly, I don’t want to talk about it. I know you’re trying to help me, but I know what kind of person he is and I’m not going to stop being friends with him just because he’s a boy and I’m not.”

“Cody – you’re not as much of an adult as you think you are,” she answered immediately. “You don’t understand everything. Your father won’t talk to you about these things so somebody has to make sure your head is on right.”

My lips parted as I began to understand the tone of her voice. “Grandma…” I trailed off apprehensively. “I really don’t want to talk about sex with you.”

Esther frowned, the skin around her eyes creasing with the expression. “You’re a smart girl, Cody,” she said finally. “I don’t want you or your sister getting into any dumb situations down here.”

“We’re not,” I stressed.

Esther nodded curtly, narrowing the space between us as she moved quickly to her suitcase and unzipped it to put the makeup bag inside. “Good,” she said without making eye contact. “Honestly, I expected this more from your sister than from you, Cody. You’ve never shown any interest in any of that nonsense. I really thought Ramsy was going to cause some problems down here.”

“Neither of us are causing problems,” I said, standing up from the bed. “Do you want me to take that to the car?” I motioned to the suitcase, now rezipped with all her things inside. “I think Wes and Dad are about ready to get going.” I didn’t add that I was also eager to escape this conversation and now even less excited about going home than before.

She nodded and handed the bag over. I picked it up swiftly and practically darted out of the room. I briefly stepped back into Charlie and Wes’s room and got the keys to the Camaro. “Ram,” I said as Charlie forked them over, “grab a bag and help me.”

Ramsy gave me an affronted look.

Help me,” I demanded, glaring at her.

She sighed and grabbed one of Wesley’s backpacks off his bed.

The two of us headed out of the room and down the narrow hall toward the elevator. When we were safely tucked inside the little metal box, I breathed out deeply and pressed my back against the mirrored wall.

Esther just tried to have the sex talk with me,” I said in disbelief.

Ram’s jaw dropped open.

“She couldn’t even look at me,” I said, shaking my head. “She kept talking about how I’ve always gotten everything I’ve wanted and that I don’t always know what’s best for me. I’m pretty sure she was getting ready to ask me not to have sex with anybody, ever.”

Ram stared at me, stunned. “How did you get out of there?” The elevator popped open on the first floor and we stepped out, heading through the lobby.

“I guess I just told her that I’m not doing anything,” I said. “I don’t really know. I think once she realized that I knew what she was talking about, she let it go. I don’t think she wanted to talk about it either.”

Ram pushed the front glass door open and I followed her out. “She probably feels guilty,” Ramsy said as we stepped out into the sun. “Charlie had Wesley when he was eighteen.”

I frowned. “Why would Esther feel guilty about that?”

Ramsy shrugged. “Don’t parents always blame themselves when their kids make mistakes?” she asked, stopping at the Camaro’s truck. “She probably doesn’t want you to end up like Charlie when he was our age.”

“I’m not even sleeping with anybody,” I retorted, opening the trunk.

Ram tossed the backpack inside and shrugged again. “You know Esther,” she said. “She always thinks the worst.”

“Anyway, how’s that the worst thing that could possible happen?” I asked, closing the trunk and leaning back against it. “People younger than us have sex all the time.”

Ram nodded. “I’m not saying I think it’s the worst thing,” she said contemplatively. “I’m just saying that Charlie and Esther think it’s the worst thing.”

“You think Grandma had that talk with Wesley?” I asked, grinning at the idea of it.

Ram grinned too. “Probably,” she said. “But he doesn’t have as much opportunity as we do since he’s still living at home. Esther probably knows where he is every hour of the day.”

I laughed and shook my head at the absurdity. “Poor Wes,” I commented, grinning.

Ramsy nodded.

We made another trip to the fifth floor and gathered up our family and the rest of the bags. We decided to take two cars since they’d be leaving right after breakfast. Wesley slipped into the truck with us, inspecting it like he hadn’t seen it for years.

“It looks pretty good,” he said, running his fingers over the dash.

Ramsy gave him an obvious look. “It’s not like we’re participating in monster truck rallies down here or something,” she said.

Wes rolled his eyes. “You never know with you two,” he said.

“Okay, Wes,” I said, backing out of our parking space after Charlie. In the last couple days Charlie’d gotten the lay of the land, so we followed him to a restaurant. It was another one that Ram and I hadn’t been to, but it was closer to the south side of campus – closer to our dorm. From the outside, it looked like a shiny metal box. The inside was comprised mostly of red-laminate cushioned booths and pressed wood tables with plastic mats. It was exactly the type of place that Charlie frequented.

A woman behind the counter greeted us when we walked in. She grabbed a few menus and then led us over to the corner of the room. Besides a couple older people, there weren’t any really any other people here this early. Esther and Wesley sat on the inside of the booth, followed by me and Ram across from each other, and Charlie pulled up a chair and sat at the end.

The waitress took our drink orders, filled coffee cups, and then promised to be back in a few minutes. None of really had anything to say. The morning still had its hold on us. Esther made small talk as she breezed through the paper she’d picked off the rack by the door, but mostly we just sipped coffee and listened to her talk about the highlights. Wesley, inherently a night person, was quiet because of tiredness, but when I looked at my dad, I knew his silence was because of something else.

The actual food took about twenty minutes to get out to us and I used it as an excuse to avoid talking to Charlie about them leaving. Wesley perked up noticeably when the food came, and he and Ram talked about everything that came to mind. It wasn’t until we were done eating and waiting for the check that Ram addressed me. I sat facing her, and the window behind her, but from her vantage point, she had a view of the entire restaurant.

“Code,” she said.

I looked up. She nodded toward the door.

I turned around in my seat and my eyes immediately landed on the long-haired brunette. Shay walked in alone and went straight up to the counter. He slipped into a chair before swiveling in our direction. He grinned when he saw our eyes on him and held up a finger – one minute. He gave his order to the only woman behind the counter, thanked her, and then got to his feet.

He grinned and slipped his hands into the pockets of his jeans as he walked over. “Cody, Ramsy,” he said by way of greeting. He glanced at the people with us. “Travis mentioned that your family’s in town.”

I nodded. “This is Charlie, Wesley, and our grandma, Esther,” I said quickly before turning my attention back to him. “What’re you doing here this early?”

Shay shrugged and crossed one ankle in front of the other, drawing my attention to his Converse for a split second. “This is late for me,” he said. “Travis has had everybody up all night working on that damn car. I finally told him that I was on strike until I got a break and some food. He slapped money into my hand and told me to be back in a few hours with food to share.” He motioned to the room around us. “So here I am with Trav’s money.”

I nodded apologetically and lifted my phone up. “Travis mentioned that he had you guys working on the Supra,” I said easily. “I didn’t think he’d be running you into the ground though.”

Shay grinned and tucked his middle-brown hair behind one ear. “Get on him for it, will yah?” he asked, shaking his head. He took a step back and offered her a smile as the waitress walked over and set our bill on the table. I couldn’t help but the notice the same smile he got back in return. His grin smoldered to a smirk before returning.

“Anyway,” he said, looking back to me and the table. “I won’t keep you guys. It was nice to meet you all,” he said to the family. “Are you coming by later, Cody? Hopefully Trav will crash soon, but I’m sure you can drag his ass out of bed by three at least, if you’re bored and need something to do.”

I shrugged. “Haven’t decided yet,” I said. “If he’s in one of his obsessed moods, I might just stay clear until he comes back to Earth.”

Shay nodded, his hair falling back into his face. “Well, hopefully I’ll see you later then. It’ll be better for all of us if Travis comes down soon.” He grinned at Ramsy. “See you, guys.”

Charlie shuffled some money out of his wallet as Shay made his way back to the counter to pick up his food. Charlie called my attention back to him. “Is there anything you two need before we head out?” he asked, eyes on mine.

I glanced to Ramsy, shaking my head. “I don’t think so,” I said.

“No, we’re good,” Ramsy confirmed.

Charlie nodded succinctly.

I glanced at Esther, who sat next to Ramsy, and her eyes were on Shay. I looked away before she could see me looking and clasped my hands together. “What time is it?” I asked, reaching to lift my phone from the table where I’d set it face down. I bypassed the text from Travis. “Oh, 6:37,” I relayed.

Wes nodded. “We should probably get going,” he said. “I’ve got the early-evening shift tonight.”

The rest of us nodded idly, slowly moving to get up from the table. Charlie got to his feet and slid the chair back to a nearby table. He moved reluctantly, watching us instead of leading us out. Neither Ramsy nor I wanted to be the first ones to go. I didn’t want to look eager to have them gone, but at the same time, I knew they had to go.

“We’ll be home in three weeks,” I said hopefully, glancing to Charlie.

He nodded, seeming to compose himself. He took sure steps forward and the rest of us followed. I shot Shay a smile as we passed him, and he waved before turning back to rest his elbows on the counter and resuming his conversation with the woman. She thanked us as we went.

This time, Wesley went to the Camaro with Esther and Charlie and we stood opposite, closer to the truck. Esther was the first to say goodbye, the least sentimental. She touched our arms, our hair, and gave up a rare smile before moving away. Wesley crushed us to him, his head between ours and his arms around us both.

“I’ll see you guys in a couple weeks,” he said, pulling back.

We nodded. He smiled.

We went to Charlie, me first, and I wrapped my arms around him like I did when he showed up on Thursday. He was quick to hold me too, one arm around me and the other hand holding my head against him like all parents do when their kids are too little to support themselves.

“I love you,” Charlie said quietly, letting go just a little. I let go all the way, then he did too.

Ramsy took my place and I watched the exchange. She told him to drive careful, promised that we would too, and then we watched, for the second time, as they got into Charlie’s car and left. This time, however, we didn’t spend the next ten minutes standing in the parking lot wishing they could come back. Ramsy grabbed the keys from me and I shuffled my phone out of my pocket to text Travis back.

This time, there was more to life than Indiana. There was a room here full of stuff that was ours, professors and classes that we were succeeding in, and a house full of boys exhausted after a night of letting their passions keep them awake.

As I climbed into the truck, feeling okay and ready to go home, my phone lit up with a call from one of those boys. I smiled and slid the bar across the screen.

“Travis,” I greeted. “I can’t believe you kept everyone awake all night.”

He laughed on the other end. “I just released them,” he said. “Come keep me company while I nap.”
♠ ♠ ♠

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