Something Like Friendship—Three
This is a mild PG-13. Slight cursing, mention of teen pregnancy, and the mention of gay in relation to someone's sexual orientation in a non-derogatory way occurs.
“Can I talk to you for a second, Devon?”
I stop mid brush-swipe and stick my head into the hall. “Just a minute!”
“Now, sweetie?” Mom’s voice is slightly strained. I concede with a sigh and wash my tinted-red hands in the bathroom sink before traipsing down the stairs. She’s leaning against the kitchen counter, fumbling with a pack of her cigarettes. She pulls one out and tucks it back in, over and over.
“Yeah, what?” I ask, folding my arms across my chest.
“I think,” She begins, then stops herself. “I mean, I appreciate...this. I really think you have talent.”
I’m standing three steps up. My hand clenches the railing.
“It’s getting a bit overwhelming,” Mom admits at last. “I overheard you saying to Brianna the other night that you want to paint the living room sometime soon.”
“The color’s getting old.”
“Honey, it’s not even four months ago that you last painted it.”
“This is getting out of hand. Painting this much can’t be healthy.”
“Painters do it.”
“But they don’t live in it.”
I bite my lip. “Did Jarrod tell you to do this?”
She’s quick to shake her head. “No, Devon. This is me. Your mother. Asking you to take a break.”
“I think what you’ve done for this place is wonderful. But you’ve got to be satisfied sometime.” She finally gives up toying with the cigarette and reaches for the matches that sit on the counter. “I hate arguing. And I’ve had a stressful day at work. Just please.”
I want to protest, but I know better. I watch as she lets herself outside, screen door slamming behind her. She has a sweater tied around her waist and she’s barefoot. A second or two passes before the faint tinge of smoke wafts in through the old mesh. So I slip on my shoes and I go.
There’s a woman standing in the yard, stooped over a tangled clump of weeds. I walked today, for a change, and feel particularly vulnerable without my bike. I approach her timidly, hoping she hears me so I don’t have to be the first to speak.
No such luck.
“Excuse me?” I call out, and she turns around. Her smile is bright.
“Yes? How can I help you?”
“Is Ethan here?”
“Not at the moment, no. But he should be back soon.”
I clutch the piece of paper in my hand. “He told me to drop this by.” I walk forward a few steps and she meets me halfway, taking the makeshift business card from me. Her eyes drop down, smile fixed to her face.
“You’re a painter?”
She brushes a strand of red hair from her eyes. “That’s great.”
“I was...um...walking by a few days ago and we sort of ran into each other,” I say in a rush, feeling a need to explain. “This house is great and I mentioned that I paint homes and he said to drop my card by.”
I hope it looks official enough. I went to great lengths to get the logo designed. I’m technologically challenged, so Brianna was nice enough to help while I played with Briley.
“Oh, well thank you. I’ll definitely let my husband know, you know?”
I feel slight disappointment at this. How lackluster of her.
“Okay, ma’am,” I say at last, hating how young I sound. “Have a good day.”
“You too ah…” She glanced down at the card. “Devon. Lassiter.”
I nod and start down the driveway. She glances around, almost as if searching, and then hurries to catch up with me. “Do you not have a car?”
“No ma’am. I walked.”
She frowns up at the sky, which is darkening. “Should you be out walking by yourself this late?”
I blink at her. Then, finally, “Here?”
“Anywhere. Why don’t you give it a sec. Ethan’s should be home any minute—he can drive you.”
“I only live two blocks away.”
“No, no. I insist. I can’t let you walk by yourself. It wouldn’t be right.” At this, she heads back up to her weeds and resumes pulling. “You can just take a seat on the porch there. I’d offer you something to drink but we don’t even have the plumbing in yet, you know?”
I feel awkward as I traipse back up the sidewalk and sink onto one of the ancient porch steps. “You’re not living here?”
“Can’t. Hazards and whatnot. We already got the terminator here, had all the asbestos removed. There were some rotten floorboards, too. My husband’s tackling the last of those spots tomorrow, and then it just comes down to cosmetic stuff.”
“You going to re-sand the floors?”
“Think so. It’s cheaper, you know? Easier.”
I did. My painting budget is modest at best. It comes from my money, which isn’t very much after holding back a hundred every week.
“Then what?” I imagine that huge living room, a blank slate after it’s cleaned up.
“I guess we’ll see. We don’t really have a design in plan.” She grabs a weed and pulls, hard. Clumps of dry, rough dirt come up with it. She lets out a low breath as she leans back on her legs, surveying the mess that is the yard. “I’m afraid I’m not going to have much luck with my garden, you know?”
She wouldn’t. All the underground cables and whatnot. Not that I was going to tell her that. Anyone new (which was rare) figured things out for themselves fairly quick.
I sit there for another minute or two, tapping my foot, struggling to make small talk. It’s almost a relief when a truck turns the corner, and there he is. Ethan whatshisface, since I still don’t know his last name.
Yet, apparently, he’s giving me a ride home.
“Hey,” He calls out to his mom, slamming the door. He has a grocery sack in his hand. “I got stuff for sandwiches.” His eyes flit over to me, and he nods hello. I return it.
“Devon Lassiter stopped by to give me her business card,” His mom says, handing it over.
“Devon. Hm.” The thought is plain on his face: boy’s name. I deliberately won’t look at him. Idiot.
“Would you mind giving her a ride home?” His mom asks, at long last. “It’s almost dark and she shouldn’t be walking, you know?”
“Mom, we’re not in Texas anymore.”
“Kansas,” I mutter, just to be annoying.
He refocuses on the task at hand. “I mean, I can, but it’s pointless.”
“I don’t care. It’s the polite thing to do. Drive her, since she made the special trip here—” I redden at this, hating that I’m so obvious “—and then when you come back we’ll eat, you know?”
Yikes. Her catchphrase is almost as bad as Jarrod’s. I guess all parents are alike in their ways.
Ethan looks less than thrilled that he has to drive me, but judging by the daggers his mother is now shooting him, he knows he doesn’t have a choice. He surrenders with a curl of an index finger toward his chest, indicating for me to hurry my ass up off their porch.
“Thanks again,” I make sure to say as I brush past his mother. “This is really nice of you.”
“No problem, Devon Lassiter.”
“You can just call me Devon. It’s okay.”
“All right. Perfect! And you can call me Lil.”
“Nice to meet you, Lil.”
“We’ll be in touch! You know?”
I know she’s just saying it to be nice.
I let myself into Ethan’s truck and buckle my seatbelt while he busies himself fiddling with the radio stations. He waves to Lil as he backs out, and she returns it, grabbing their bag of groceries and heading inside as we pull away. Everything is silent as we rumble forward. Some awful country song plays on the radio.
“The stations suck around here,” He says at last.
“Yeah. I’m aware.”
He fiddles with the dial and then lets out an agitated breath. “You’ve lived here long?”
“All my life.”
I stare out the window, at the rows of dilapidated houses and poorly manicured yards. I know Texas isn’t, like, the highest-class place in the world, but coming from there to here?
It had to have been disappointing.
I think about asking him, and then don’t. There’s no point.
“Do you know any good stations?” He asks at last.
I shake my head. “CDs. Just lots of CDs.”
“I do iTunes.”
He drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “God, it’s like the middle of freaking nowhere here.”
“So…” He gives up and shuts the radio off, pressing the button with more force than necessary. “You remembered to bring your business card by?”
“Well, I’m shocked.”
“Sorry, I guess.”
“No, no. It’s a good shock. Now I know you’re legitimate. Not a stalker.”
“I thought we’d already established that.”
“Yeah, but I couldn’t be sure. Then again, once Omar let on he knew who you you’ve had more credibility.”
Speak of the devil. “How do you know Omar?”
“Don’t, really. Ran into him a couple days after we moved into town. He invited me to get pizza with him. All that jazz. We live in the same apartment complex. We’re staying there while the house gets fixed up.”
“Yeah. He’s a pretty cool dude.”
“You know he’s gay, right?” I bite my lip. It sounds like it matters to me. Ugh.
Ethan widens his eyes. “No. You don’t say.”
I bristle at his sarcasm. “How am I supposed to know you didn’t know?”
“Dude, he talked about a guy on the way there for, like, five minutes.” Ethan presses his lips together and nods in mock sadness. “He used the word hot.”
I seethe for a moment. Then, “So are you guys going out?”
“What?” He brakes suddenly, and I lurch forward.
“What the heck?” I demand, throwing my arms out.
“Did you just accuse me of being gay?”
“You said you went out!”
“Do I look gay?”
“No! I don’t know!”
“We were just hanging out! So what, so hanging out with a gay friend makes you gay?”
He presses down ever so gently on the gas. “Devon, you seem to have a case of gaycism.”
“Hardly,” I say dryly. “We’re best friends.”
“Friends,” I amend.
“Friends?” He’s skeptical.
“Oh my god. Do I have to spell it out for you? I work at the grocery store with him.”
“I know. That’s what he said.”
I just stare at him. “You are…” And I’ve got nothing.
Conversation wizard am I.
Ethan bursts out in sudden laughter. I glance around, alarmed. “What? What’s wrong?”
“I just realized I have no idea where I’m going.”
Oh, yeah, that. We’re definitely not on my street.
“I’m back the other way,” I say, pointing. He proceeds to make a very sharp U-Turn, one that has me sucking in my breath and pressing myself against the seat.
Ethan visibly rolls his eyes.
“What?” I demand, angered by his attitude.
“Nothing. Nothing at all,” He murmurs, but his lips are turned up in a smirk.
What a jerk. I direct him the rest of the way to my house with hand gestures. He’s laughing softly as we finally pull up to the curb and I get out.
“Aren’t you going to thank me for the ride?” He calls after me as I stalk toward my front door.
I respond to this by turning around and grandly flipping him off, with a twirl of my arm and everything.
“How sweet!” He yells out his window. I wave him away. He presses down on the gas with a lurch loud enough to wake the neighborhood and finally, finally, leaves.
Seriously. Again: Jerk.
“Who was that?”
She’s sitting on the porch, legs crossed delicately. The tip of her cigarette glows in the dark. I’m just able to make out a bunch of crushed white bits at her feet.
“Sorry, honey.” She stubs out the cigarette on the siding. I grit my teeth. “Who was that?”
“This guy. Ethan. His mom told him to drive me home.” I open the door, hoping to slip inside and leave it at that, but she follows.
“Where were you?”
I grab leftover macaroni from the fridge and stick it in the microwave. “At their house.”
“What is this, Mom? An interrogation?”
She’s indignant. “I know you’re angry with me about the painting thing, but you’re just going to have to get over it. I asked why you were there. Please answer me.”
I take the macaroni out and eat it from the glass container with a fork, avoiding her eyes. “They bought the Gardner Street house. I gave them my business card.”
“Devon! Why didn’t you just say that?”
“I don’t know.”
She sighs. “You have a business card?”
“Yeah. Brianna helped me make it.”
“Basically I offered to paint their house.”
“What did she say?”
“She’d be in touch.”
“That’s great! You’ll have to let me know.”
The screen door slams and we both turn toward the noise. Jarrod comes into the kitchen, still in uniform, and heads straight for the medicine cabinet.
“Hi, Melinda,” He says to mom, popping the cap on the ibuprofen. He tips three down his throat and puts it back. “I’m going to bed. I have a headache.”
Cue me going upstairs, closing my door, and not coming out for the rest of the night.