My dad gets the clue and hastily sets down his utensils. While he’s wiping his mouth, he makes a snicking noise by clicking his tongue against his teeth. It’s hisAw, sonsound, the sound of regret tinged with a little bit of disappointment. My heart sinks slightly. I love my parents, so it’s hard facing even the tiniest bit of disapproval which hardly ever comes my way. Even when I said I wasn’t going to college until Rory could leave her family, they never pushed.
“Son, it’s been almost a year now. Your friends are off to college, but you’re still here.”
“Isn’t Edison the greatest place in Texas? No better place to raise a family or grow old—or so Uncle Phillip says.” Uncle Phillip being Edison’s mayor going on twenty years now.
“It is, of course, but I just wonder if you’re staying here for the right reasons,” presses Mom. “It’s not that I don’t approve of Rory. She’s lovely. Her brothers seem…sweet,” she finishes after a long pause. Rory’s brothers are a handful but normal boy handful. Even if they were hellions that wouldn’t be Rory’s fault. It isn’t her job to raise them or to provide for them even though she’s doing the best she can under the circumstances. “But she doesn’t seem receptive to your advances, and I know you are too decent of a person to force yourself on someone who has interest elsewhere.”
“First, she doesn’t have interest elsewhere. Second, I’m not forcing myself on anyone. Third, she’ll come around, and when she does, I have to be standing right there, otherwise she might miss me. Good talk, though. Appreciate your concern.” I sweep the rest of the potatoes into my mouth, swallow, and then gather up my plate and utensils. “Sadie, best damn steak in the country once again,” I holler as I make my way to the kitchen. I dump my dishes into the sink and give the older woman a quick smooch. “Thanks. Any leftovers?”
She points to the cardboard box. “I made a casserole from the steak and potatoes. It’s enough to feed them a couple of days.”
“You’re the best, Sadie.” I grab the box and take off before my parents can cook up another argument. I have a feeling this isn’t the last I’m going to hear of me wasting my life away for Rory.
At Rory’s house, there’s only one light on and no Jeep in the driveway. The blue light of the television flickers in the window. I knock, but no one comes to the door, so I open it.
Her brother, Dean, immediately screams and throws a game controller at my head.
I duck out of the way. “What the hell, Dean?”
“Sorry, fuck, I thought you were someone else.” He trudges over to pick up the discarded device and then peeks into my box. “What’s in here?”
“Potato steak casserole. Just dump some on a plate and heat it up in the microwave. There’s also au jus sauce to go with it along with some fresh corn and biscuits.”
“Sweet. Come over here, Logan, let’s eat before Rory gets home.”
“Where is Rory?”
“Working. Where else?”
“It’s Tuesday, though. She usually finishes her deliveries by seven.”
“Yeah, but the café was down a waitress because Megan went into labor,” Dean informs me as he piles two plates high with the food.
“Shit. Does that mean she’ll be working at the café every night now instead of just the weekends?”
“Probably.” He and Logan sit down and start eating like it's their first meal of the day, although I know they get lunch since I, secretly, pay for that.
I drop into an empty chair and pour myself a glass of milk. “Girl is going to kill herself from work.”
Dean drops his fork to the table. “I told her I would take a job—”
“Dean, you’re eleven. You’re not working.” I shake my head. “Your job is to eat, play video games, study sometimes, and watch out for Logan.”
Six-year-old Logan gives me a smile full of potatoes and corn. I reach out and ruffle his hair. The Carlson family is in a bad way, and Rory won’t let anyone help her. She can’t, really, because the state wants to take the kids and put them in foster homes, so Rory has to pretend that their little family is intact. Her mom Sheila shows up every once in a while to keep up appearances, and no men seem to linger around long with Sheila.
I wish she’d let me help her more, but she’s got her pride. I finish my glass of milk and lean forward. “You got homework, Dean?”
“No. Finished it, but do you wanna play FIFA with me?”
“No. You’re too good.”
“Chickenshit.” He sticks out his tongue.
“Fine, but only one game. A man’s got his pride.” I start tidying up the kitchen.
“I won’t beat you too bad, Tyson. Promise.”
We both know that’s an empty lie, but I sit my ass down in the living room on the worn-out pile carpet full of stains and cigarette holes and play FIFA with Dean. At ten, Logan conks out, and I carry him to bed. I make Dean climb in next to him since they share a double, and then I go out and sit in my truck until Rory pulls up an hour later.