My house is like a barn, vaulted ceilings, clean airy light, and I live alone. A row of square windows near the top make yellow rectangles near the opposite bottom. I watch them cross the wall, stretching onto the floor. I watch them cut in half from the corner. I watch them shrink to nothing. Then my house is dark and big and I know it’s OK to call.
The boy sits on the couch, watches TV, pulls at the little hairs emerging on his upper lip. He smells his fingers. He cracks his knuckles. He bites his cuticles. Then he puts his hands back in his lap and adjusts himself.
Soon he’ll be off to college, and then what will I do?
Study his face, his body, look for a clue. He drinks white zinfandel from a paper cup, from the box in the fridge, burps. I walk to the kitchen area and open the fridge. I didn’t even see him get the box out. Walk back to the couch and give him a look.
“Tisk, tisk,” I say, putting my hands on my hips and bending over. “Tisk, tisk,” I say, raising my eyebrows when he looks at my breasts. “And who, pray tell, said you could drink my wine, mister?”
Then let it go. You have to let it go once in a while. It makes him feel like a man. He doesn’t even know how much of a man he already is.
I walk up to the loft to my bed and look down at him. I wish the grey ceramic tile was white. Everything else is white, except for the furniture, white and clean, and the boy, white and clean, mine.
I make the bed, folding the sheets just below the pillows. Shake those down, fluff them up. They smell like his sweat.
The doorbell rings. Five-ten. The dad is early. Race down the stairs, stop at the mirror besides the front door. Examine yourself. Look at your teeth. Smooth over your hair and tuck in your shirt. The boy is up and getting his things. Give him a once over.
“It’s open,” I call.
The dad comes in. A man in his forties, not bad looking, but in his forties and bearing the brunt of it on his face. His wrists are thick and weighted by silver cufflinks, hair held up and back, shirt tight across his shoulders, unbuttoned twice to show a metal chain in a mat of chest hair. I know the cross at the end of that chain, I know exactly what it does.
“Let’s go, son,” he says. “Get your things.”
The boy already has his things and is standing next to the couch. I study him for any effect of the wine.
“And the math?” the dad says. “The math part is going well? That’s where he has problems. On the math part.”
“No,” I say, “the math part isn’t going well. But we’ll get him there. You’ll see.”
“Listen,” the dad says. “Listen, can I talk to you? Son, go on out to the car. Listen, I need to ask you something. Son, go on out to the car.”
The boy shrugs and picks up his backpack.
“You got everything?” the dad says.
The boy rolls his eyes. “Yeah, Dad,” he says, walking away.
“Listen,” the dad says to me, “I want to ask you something. You’ve known Aaron for a while now.”
That old feeling comes on and I spin through my options.
“How long has it been?” he says. “Two years? No, almost three now.”
Will he stay quiet? Is he going to brag at school? Is he going to get in a fight with his dad and blurt out something?
“I want Aaron to go to an Ivy League. I want him to have everything I didn’t. Tell me something. Be straight with me. Do you think he can score high enough?”
I’ll follow him to college. We’ll live together. That will be the best for both of us. I’ve decided just now.
The dad laughs. He has a nice laugh. I like his laugh. I could fall into his laugh. It’s so familiar.
“I mean, should we even bother?” he says. “The way things are going, maybe trade school would be better.”
He laughs again, nervous-like this time. And there’s that tic on his eyelid.
“You shouldn’t talk about Aaron like that,” I say. “You’ve no idea.”
“Hell,” he says, eyelid twitching. “You’re probably right. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Listen,” he says. “Listen, would you like to come over for dinner? I’d really like to have you over for dinner. You’ve been good for Aaron. I want to thank you. He’s needed a mother figure in his life. We both have.”
He reaches out to my hand and takes it. His is sweaty and hot. His engulfs mine and crushes. He pulls me into him. His knees are shaking slightly. He presses his body into me.
“Dinner,” I say. “No. I don’t want dinner. I don’t think dinner is a good idea.”
“Why not?” he says, holding me against him. “Aaron would like it. And so would I.”
“That wouldn’t be appropriate. Considering the nature of my relationship with your son.”
“Well,” he says, “looks like I’ll just have to wait for Aaron to go to college then, won’t I? Well,” he says, “see you next Tuesday,” and squeezes me once more.
I watch the car drive away, then go to the couch. The leather is still warm from where Aaron was sitting. I pick up my cellphone. I think about what I should say and what I shouldn’t. I think about living with him in college. I think about what it would be like to live with a real man.
“Hey baby,” I text him. “Don’t forget problem set 12, okay?”
Your math scores, baby. We got to work on your math scores.
AV Boyd was raised in Peralta, New Mexico — an obsessive basketball player good enough to sit the bench in high school and then again his freshman year at Knox College, Galesburg, IL. After two years, he returned to Albuquerque where he completed a degree in pharmacy at The University of New Mexico, then traveled to Richmond, VA for graduate school. He decided there was not enough time for his true passion, writing, and moved home where he now writes full-time and supports himself part-time as a hospital pharmacist. He has recently been published in RiverLit and Crack the Spine.