A/N: Finally! Ah! It feels so good to be back in the world of the Thoreau’s!
Sean and I left the movie theater, stepping out into the cold evening air. He asked me something about the film. Even though we’d just spent two hours watching it, I couldn’t even remember the title. I just responded half-heartedly with something generic. The truth was, I just couldn’t get my mind to focus on Sean or our date. Unbidden, my thoughts were perpetually drawn to Josh.
Aside from the occasional glimpse in the hall at school, I hadn’t seen Josh since that Saturday at Carter’s. I did know from talking to my brother and Nora that Josh was still living with his father. For so many years, Josh had been my best friend, and now I somehow felt like we were complete strangers. I didn’t know how to try to talk to him. I missed him, but I couldn’t talk to him anymore.
I blinked into awareness in the present and looked up at Sean. “What?”
“Are you with me?”
I forced a smile. “Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m just feeling a little off.”
He frowned in concern. “Do you want to skip dinner?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry, Sean. Next time will be better.”
He flagged down a cab. “Hey, if you’re not feeling good, don’t worry about it.”
I got into the cab feeling worse than ever. Sean was such a great guy, but, I had realized, I was using him.
We separated when the driver dropped me off at my house. I let out a quiet sigh and went inside.
“Alison? Is that you?”
“Yeah, Mom,” I called and went into the living room where I found Mom on the sofa.
She smiled at me. “You’re home early. Was the movie terrible?”
I sat down next to her. “No, it was okay.” I thought. I had a vague impression of it, though I couldn’t remember a single thing about it.
“Is everything alright?”
Part of me wanted to keep everything inside, but I’d never been the kind of person to hide things from my parents. “No,” I admitted softly, unshed tears burning my eyes. “Everything is so messed up.”
Concern darkened Mom’s face. “Honey,” she said more seriously, “what’s going on?”
I sniffed softly. All at once, everything came pouring out. “I’m just so confused. Josh, he likes me, but I just don’t know how I feel. And Loralee suggested I date someone else to figure it out. But I just want to talk to Josh and I can’t.” My voice cracked at the end as tears slipped down my cheeks. “Tell me what I’m supposed to do, Mom.”
She wrapped her arms around me, hugging me close like she used to when I was little. “Oh, Alison. I can’t tell you what to do here.” She stroked my hair gently. “I will give you a little advice, though. You’ve only got a couple of years left to be in high school. But you’ve got a whole lifetime to be in love, honey. I didn’t meet your father until I was in college. It’s okay to focus on you and what you need, you know.”
I leaned against her and let her words sink into me. I didn’t have to want what Josh wanted or what Loralee wanted. I could just be a student.
I got up to head to my room – I really needed to lay down and think – but not before I hugged Mom hard. “I love you, Mom.”
For someone who had never kissed anyone a few weeks ago, I had come pretty far. That was, at least, judging by Brittney’s enthusiasm. I could hear her making little noises over the sound of the heavy rock music I’d turned on. Good thing I’d planned ahead.
I had found the best way to distract myself from the things I wanted and couldn’t have. The kissing was nice, but I was just hoping to get to the good part when the bedroom door opened. I thought I locked it, I thought in irritation just in time for my father to walk in.
“Josh, turn that – What is she doing here?” He glared over at me. “You aren’t allowed to have girls in here, Joshua.”
Brittney giggled. “Oops! I’ll see you later, Josh.” Quickly, she slipped past Houston and out of the room.
I looked over at him in annoyance. “Better here than off somewhere else, right, Dad?” I asked, sarcasm dripping from my voice.
“No,” Houston said firmly. “If I ever catch you with another girl in here, you’re going back to your Mom’s.”
I snorted. “You won’t make me leave. You love having me here.”
“I might love having you here if you were anything like my son.” He gave me an almost plaintive look. “What is going on with you, Josh? This isn’t like you.”
“How would you know?” I brushed past him. Always at times like this, I needed some air.
Houston followed me downstairs and straight out of the house. “You don’t get to just walk away. And you don’t get to speak to me like that!”
I whirled on him. “Who says you get to tell me what to do? You’ve never cared anyway. If you’d cared, you never would’ve left Mom.” I hadn’t meant to say that. I paced away from him, scrubbing a hand over my face. I didn’t want to talk to him or talk about things. I just wanted to be left alone.
“Josh…I didn’t leave you or your sister. I love the two of you. And I loved your mother. We just…we weren’t right of reach other. If we were still together, we’d all be miserable.” He looked over at me. I almost thought there was hurt in his eyes. “You’re the one who stopped coming over, Josh. I was always there for you. I coached your little league teams and taught you how to ride a bike. You don’t get to rewrite the past just to make me the villain.”
“You cheated on Mom,” I hissed softly. “That makes you the bad guy.”
“Maybe to your mother, but I’d say she’s pretty happy right now. Or she would be, if she wasn’t so worried about you. I’m sorry I hurt you, Josh. I’m sorry I hurt Hadley. But I can’t apologize to you forever.” Houston shook his head and turned away. “It’s cold. You better get back inside.” He walked back into the house.
I walked around for a while. It was freezing, but I didn’t really feel it. I liked it outside at night. There weren’t any cars around or any people. It was calm. Quiet. It forced me to admit something to myself.
I was lost.