I groaned as sunlight assaulted my closed eyelids. I could feel my eyes about to pop open. What was worse was that I couldn't stop them. Why did I have to have a mental alarm clock? Wasn't it a high school senior's job to sleep in until noon, even on school days?
I sighed and flung my arm over my eyes, intent on another hour or two of sleep. Hell, I'd even take a few more minutes. There was no way I was ready to get up. It had to be at least eleven, so if I just slept a little while longer…
No, it was no use. It wasn't going to work. I was going to have to get up and then face my family. My parents would be home from their academic conference by now. They would have heard the entire story from David, who like the bizarre human he is, probably got up at seven so that he could work out.
He was a college sophomore. Wasn't it his job to sleep until one, through all his classes? He had an internal alarm clock too, but his wasn't just habit from getting up early. The sick kid just liked it.
God, I felt bad for whoever he married. They would never get a real night's sleep.
I layed in bed for a few more minutes before I realized that I couldn't just wallow and hope that it would turn out okay. Maybe if it was late enough my mom would already have been out shopping and my dad would be working on his research and David and Tanner would already be out doing… whatever college boys do.
It was worth the risk. I peaked out from under my arm and glanced at my alarm clock.
I sighed and swung my legs over my bed. I was already up, anyway. There wasn't a way for me to avoid this humiliation. But really, why should I be humiliated?
So what, I called the police last night? There was a strange guy on our porch with duffle bags. I was alone. What was I supposed to think? My parents should be proud of the way I reacted, really. I put everything that they taught me to use. You know, stranger danger and internet safety and all that jazz.
We eventually got the situation worked out and no one was even carted off to jail (although David did have to use his big time persuasion skills and pull out all the stops, including old voicemail messages, texts, and emails. Why this kid wasn't going to law school, I'll never know).
So this wasn't really a problem. I was making a big deal out of nothing. Yes, I decided. This thought comforted me as I hopped out of bed and threw on some clothes deciding to take a shower later. I was at my doorway before I remembered.
It was Saturday. Day One of the Nick Will Come Back Groveling on Hands and Knees Begging for My Forgiveness with a Possible Inclusion of Prom Weekend.
I quickly backtracked and grabbed my towel. I flew to the bathroom, hopping in the shower. If Nick was going to stop by, I had to look good, at the least. I didn't want him to change his mind and say that he was actually going to take someone else to prom.
Greasy hair is never attractive (even if you're Robert Pattinson or Kristen Stewart.).
Forty minutes later, I decided that I could procrastinate no longer. I made my way down the stairs and was stunned by the total silence of the house. It was already nine a.m. Where was everyone?
I moved into the kitchen, silently, expecting to see my dad, at the least, eating some breakfast, but there was no one. Cautiously, I poured some cereal into a bowl, digging around in the fridge for some milk and orange juice.
Okay, this was weird. My house may have had two grown children, one of whom was gone for half the year, but there was always some noise, whether my mom was blasting some sort of music (sounds of nature for her yoga and meditation, salsa for dishwashing, some popular music for cleaning anywhere else) or my dad was on the phone or watching ESPN. If that wasn't happening, then we were yelling around the house for each other, or a cell phone was going off, or the doorbell was ringing, or my dad was yelling at my mom because she wouldn't make noises when he blew up one of her battleships on their game night.
Unless my parents weren't actually back from their conference yet. Even though they did say they'd probably be back by Saturday morning, if not Friday night.
Clearly, Friday hadn't happened.
Once I had my breakfast in front of me, I glanced around once more before listening hard. Nothing. Silence.
I shrugged. Well, I could at least eat in the living room and watch some enjoyable television. Catch up on my SportsCenter or music videos or something.
I traipsed into the living room and went to set my orange juice and cereal on a small table, but of course, considering I'm a neurotic klutz, it spilled and I swore softly. That's pretty much my luck. I tried to keep it from spilling onto the couch, but of course, I wasn't able to do that either. I was patting down the couch, trying to rub the orange juice into the couch to blend in (once it dried, my mom wouldn't know the difference), when my hand brushed against something hard and fuzzy.
I glanced over and saw a body lying face down on the couch. My breathing hitched and I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out.
How the hell hadn't I noticed a body lying on my couch?
I backed slowly out of the living room, trying not to disturb the sleeping body. He hadn't moved since I accidentally rubbed his foot, and I continued to stare at him until I reached the entrance to the room. I turned and ran into the foyer, not much further than where I had been, but better.
What did I do? Why did this happen to me? When no one else was home? Was Nick voodoo-ing me or something? Was he that mad about the fuchsia tie?
Did this mean he wasn't going to ask me to prom?
My ears perked up when I heard some noises coming from the direction of my dad's office. Clearly, I could have been imagining it, but it was better than nothing.
As quietly as I possibly could, I walked to his office, sighing in relief when I saw him in there. I stood in the doorway a moment, about to knock, when he looked up and smiled.
"Hey, Hat," my dad said. He pushed his wheelie chair back from his desk. I walked into the room and reached into the stash of M&Ms my dad keeps on his desk. He closed the book that had been in front of him and crossed his left leg over his right knee.
"When did you get home?" I asked, curling my leg underneath me.
"Early this morning. Too early for you to be up."
I smiled at him. "Four?"
"No," he grinned back at me. "Eight."
I rolled my eyes. "Ha ha." The reality was that I knew they'd been home much earlier than that. There was no way they would have started their days already if they'd only gotten home and hour or so ago. And I also knew that they would have checked to see if I was in my room when they returned.
I was definitely up (or almost up… I consider that half-asleep state a coherent level of consciousness) at eight.
I observed my dad's desk, covered in notebooks, loose paper, and books, books, and more books. He had his desktop sitting in front of him, a netbook on a table on his right, and USB cords everywhere.
"Already researching again?" I couldn't believe it. I knew that my dad worked hard, and I knew he was constantly preparing his work and doing his research, but I figured that because he had tenure at the local university, he could probably cut himself some slack every once and a while.
"Nope," he answered, surprising me, although I wasn't sure if I should believe him. He was sitting in front of his computer, notebooks open, typing something, or at least he had been when I had walked in.
"Sure looks like it," I told him, reaching for another handful of M&Ms.
He gave me a look and reached for the bowl. "Slow down, Porky. I have to make these last. Your mother is threatening to take these away from me."
"Yeah, she said she wasn't going to buy any more, and you know that I need these to do work."
I laughed. "Dad, you make your own money. You're capable of buying your own M&Ms, you know."
"Yeeaahh," he said, popping a candy in his mouth, "But it's your mom who… knows the best place to get them," he said, and I just had to roll my eyes.
"Okay, Dad, whatever you say. But if you're not working, what are you doing?"
"Just copying down my notes. I'm presenting the information to one of my classes next semester and I want to have it down and make it clear before it leaves my mind."
I nodded. I guess that type of responsibility was typical of a university professor, but it didn't mean I had to be any less impressed by it. But then again, my dad impressed me day in and day out. Even if he had an addiction to little pieces of candy.
A silence fell over the two of us and I took a moment to look around his office. It was my dad through and through. It was a nice place, pretty normal as far as offices went. One wall had shelves built into it and they were littered with books and papers everywhere. My dad had one of those big desks and beautiful windows behind his big desk that let in sunlight.
There were comfy chairs and there was even a mini-fridge, which my dad tried to keep a secret from my mom for a while.
It didn't work.
This room was a staple of my dad. Gosh, it had been there as long as I could remember. I would run into it when I was younger and play around or read books or blabber on to my dad, and he never yelled or got sick of hearing me (except for a couple of times. Most of those times, he was under huge amounts of stress. I think the first time I remember him really yelling, he was trying to make a deadline and wasn't sure if he would be offered tenure. It all worked out in the end). He usually even stopped work for me.
Man, I loved him.
I must have sighed as I was thinking about him -- a happy sigh, but a sigh nonetheless -- because my dad looked up from his laptop and notes and gave me a look.
"What's up? Did you come in here for a reason, or just to hang out?"
I knew my dad wouldn't be mad if I just wanted to hang out.
"Where's mom?" I asked absentmindedly, trying to figure out where he put those M&Ms. Who said that chocolate in the morning wasn't a good idea? I think that anything that makes you feel happy in the morning is a winner.
"She decided to run some errands," my dad said, glancing back down at him notes, writing something in a margin. "And I think she wanted some flowers for the garden…" he trailed off.
Oh, yes. My mother and her garden. She'd probably ask me to help her. I did enjoy gardening and de-weeding. Good stress reliever and all, and did I ever need stress relief (when they say that prom is stressful and the biggest deal in all of high school, they're not lying), but if I wanted to make sure that I didn't miss Nick and wanted to make sure he took me back when he saw me (because, seriously, let's just be honest here: who wants a cute girl covered in dirt? Yeah, no one. At least not a boy you're trying to convince to wear a fuchsia tie to prom and you aren't even positive that he's your prom date yet), then I should probably stray away from the garden.
My mom and I could always garden next week, when this whole Nick Will Come Back Groveling on Hands and Knees Begging for My Forgiveness with a Possible Inclusion of Prom Weekend is over.
"Mm," I mumbled, and my dad glanced up at me again.
I shrugged before remembering why I'd run to the office for safety anyway. Wow, I was a spaz. Looks like what people tell me is actually quite correct.
"Dad!" I cried. I jumped off the seat and my dad looked up, eyes wide in alarm. My face was distressed. "There's a person sleeping on our couch!" I cried in a loud whisper.
My dad gave me a look, waiting for me to elaborate.
"And it's not David!" I whispered to him.
"Hat, why are you whispering?"
I stared at him. Seriously? "Because we don't want him to wake up and murder us if he's a psycho or something."
My dad rolled his eyes and looked back down at his laptop.
"Yeah, Hat, that's Tanner," he said. He looked up to me and met my eyes. "Tanner Ackerson? I hear that you two had an interesting introduction last night."
Oh, great. My dad, too. David was going to be on my back and now my father. My mom was probably in on it as well.
Yeah, definitely not gardening with her today.
"He was a stranger!" I exploded, sitting back on the chair but leaning forward, looking at my dad earnestly. "Daddy, you know I wouldn't call the police unless I thought there was something wrong! I was alone and it was one a.m. and a stranger showed up at our door with duffle bags! What else was I supposed to do?"
I wanted to continue, but my dad held up a hand.
"Hattie, I'm not angry with you," he told me, a strange look on his face. A chuckle slipped out of his lips, and I supposed that was what he looked like when he was trying to hold back his amused laughs. I wished he would just let them out-- that face was ugly. "I'm glad that you acted rationally. Calling the police was very reasonable and level headed as opposed to your typical reaction to those situations."
I blinked. "What are my typical reactions?"
"Screaming, crying, hyperventilating, knees locking--"
"Okay!" I cut in. "Just because I don't deal well with stressful situations doesn't' make me an incompetent moron."
"Which is exactly what I just told you. I'm very proud of how you handled the situation."
"Good," I said in my snootiest voice. We were silent for a moment and I decided I should just take these plunges before my dad got back into his work. "So you and mom are okay with Tanner staying here?"
My dad nodded. "Hat, Dave's told us all about him. Your mom and I have talked to Tanner ourselves. We have no problem giving him a place to sleep for a while."
"For a while?"
"How long is he staying?"
My dad shrugged. "As long as he needs. We told him there's no pressure for him to stay. Your mom is excited to meet one of Dave's friends. You know how she loves having guests. She's really set on owning a bed and breakfast when we retire."
"Shouldn't you two be the ones being served when you retire?"
My dad slapped his hand on his desk. "That's what I keep trying to tell her!" He grinned at me. "Hat, you and I have got to knock some sense into her sometime."
I laughed and nodded. One of these days, although retirement was still fairly distant for both of my parents. I couldn't even imagine them giving up work completely. They would be doing some kind of academia for the rest of their lives, even if they had to be nannies for their grandchildren or something. My mom would probably lecture on her death bed. My dad would publish until he lost all of his senses.
Sometimes it's hard having parents who set such high standards.
"Is he going to be sleeping on the couch?" I asked my dad, getting back to the topic at hand. Because, really, if I wanted to watch SportsCenter or VH1 music videos, I would need that couch. And that television. And if it was inhabited, what was I going to do?
Or what if Nick came over and I had to entertain him? What would I do if I couldn't use the living room? Kitchen? Dining room? My room?
I liked Nick, I guess, but I didn't like him that much.
He and I weren't getting a hotel room for prom.
Did he know that?
I shrugged. I could work that out later. There were more pressing matters for me to figure out, like where this Tanner character was going to be living.
My dad shook his head. "Oh, please, Hattie, keep your voice down!" He glanced around. "If your mom heard you say that, she'd have a heart attack. No, no," he shook his head, not waiting for a response from me (good thing, too, because I didn't have one-- he and I were both thinking the same thing), "part of her shopping was to get items to furnish the guest bedroom. He'll be in there."
I heaved a sigh of relief. Internally, of course.
"Is he doing okay in there?" My dad asked.
I nodded. "He's a little tall for the couch, but he was sleeping soundly when I walked in. And almost had a heart attack," I informed him, adding in that last part almost as an afterthought.
My dad ignored my concern for my health. "Good to hear. Dave said that his plane got in late, and then with the whole police issue…" he trailed off.
"Can we let it go?" I cried, but didn't give my dad a chance to respond. "Where's Dave, then?"
"On a run."
I grunted in disbelief. Of course. Dave was so weird.
"How in the world does he force himself up at the crack of dawn to exercise?" I couldn't even hide the disgust in my voice.
"Not all of us are born with such a great physique as you, Hat," my dad replied, rolling his eyes.
I huffed. Well, there wasn't any need for sarcasm there, I didn't think.
"Well, I can see where I'm not wanted," I declared and rose from my seat. "I'll be around."
"Are you leaving?"
I shook my head. "Just hanging around the house today."
My dad nodded and smiled at me. "I'll be in here for a while. Come relieve me from my work if you're feeling like it."
I nodded at him and turned back when he called for me. "Hey-- want to do lunch?"
I bit my lip. I loved doing lunch with my dad, but this was a special weekend. I mean, I wasn't even going to garden with my mom. As much as I wanted to go out and get something, some sort of chicken sandwich with my father, Nick could stop by at any time. And what if I wasn't home? How could I possibly take him back and potentially accept his invitation to prom if I wasn't there?
What if he lost interest because I wasn't home?
No. I couldn't risk it.
"Sorry, Dad," I winced. "Can we do something around here? Or go out another day?"
His forehead creased. "What do you have going on? I thought you said you weren't leaving the house."
I shook my head. "I'm not, but… I just don't think I'm in an eat out kind of mood. Can we stay in?"
My dad scratched his chin. "How about we say no to lunch and instead order in some Chinese for dinner?"
I grinned. My dad and I always found a good way to compromise. We were one in the same, really.
I nodded and told him I couldn't wait. He said some sort of farewell that I didn't quite catch. I didn't really care enough to double back and check on what he said, partly because I knew it wasn't anything of consquence and also because I didn't want to get sucked into another conversation with him.
I moved to the kitchen, stealthily avoiding the living room (where I had left my food, unfortunately). I put the landline phone in front of my on the table and put my cell phone beside it, making sure that my volume was up. I glanced at them before getting up and pouring myself a new bowl of cereal and another glass of orange juice. I kept the phones in the corner of my vision, just in case I had to make a mad dash for either of them.
Just in case Nick chose to call before he stopped over, or if he wanted to get a feel of the situation over the phone or something.
I was just being prepared.
I wasn't sure how long I'd been sitting there, but I managed to finish my breakfast, go through a magazine, and read a couple chapters of a book before I was even bothered in the kitchen.
Except that it wasn't by the phone. Still no contact from Nick, but it wasn't time to panic. He was more of an afternoon or night owl kind of guy, and it was only Saturday, and he probably needed some time to work up the courage to beg for my forgiveness.
Apologies are never easy. And he had no way of knowing that I was just sitting here waiting for him to ask me back. As far as he knew, I was getting asked out by dozens of other guys. He probably thought that he needed something spectacular to compete with my new romantic interests.
"Are you just sitting here?"
I looked up after being rudely interrupted from my readings by my brother.
I stared at him. "I'm reading."
He stared back at me. "On a Saturday?"
"In the kitchen?"
I blinked, and then nodded again.
"Words, Hattie," David suddenly said. "Use your words."
"What do you want me to tell you?" I asked, confused out of my mind. What was this kid looking for from me? By the looks of things, he needed to bathe. He either went on a freakishly long run or went to the gym or did something, but he didn't bathe. "You need to shower."
David rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I know. But why are you in the house?"
I shrugged. "Just hanging around today. Don't feel much like going out."
"Hattie, it's a beautiful day."
I nodded in agreement. "Yeah. Maybe I'll spend some time on the porch."
"You don't want to go swimming with your friends?"
I shook my head and gave him a bright smile. "I think I should hang around at home this weekend. You know, bond with the parents. I haven't seen them in a few days, after all."
David opened his mouth to say something, but the land phone started to ring and I clamored for it, excitedly pressing the talk button.
"Hello?" I cried into the phone, but deflated immediately. "Oh, yes, one minute please." I covered the mouth piece with my hand and heaved a sigh. "Dad!" I yelled. "Phone!"
I waited until he shouted back that he retrieved it in his office before turning it off. I pursed my lips and folded my arms on the table.
Well, that was exciting. For absolutely nothing.
David cleared his throat and I suddenly realized that he was still standing there. "Who did you think that was?"
I shrugged. "A prom date."
He gave me a look. "Aren't you going with Crosby?"
I opened my mouth to respond, but shut it quickly, trying to think through my answer. "Yeah," I said eventually. "I mean… as soon as he asks. I think he's going to ask this weekend, so I think I'm just going to hang around here… you know…" I trailed off and kind of shrunk under David's gaze.
"He hasn't asked you yet?"
"Well… not exactly."
I saw David's jaw clench and I knew it was time to do some quick damage control.
"You see, Dave, these kind of things take time. I mean, I'm pretty sure he's going to ask me anyway, so I'm just waiting for him to actually ask--"
"I was under the impression that you weren't together anymore, Hattie."
I stared at my brother and we were quiet for several moments. "How did you hear that?" I finally asked.
David rolled his eyes. "Didn't we talk about this last night, Hattie? I hear the gossip because you won't talk to me."
"You're in college!" I cried, throwing up my arms. "How do you even hear the gossip?"
"I have my ways," he said, his voice guarded. I snorted. Yeah, whatever. Cute, David, real cute.
There was light laughter behind us and I had to leave my pouting momentarily to see who had joined us.
Oh, why was I even surprised? Who else but Tanner Ackerman? His eyes were puffy and I was sure that he'd just woken up. His hair was messy and one of his cheeks was red with creases in it from laying on the couch. He wore a t-shirt and sweats and socks.
"Hey, dude," David said, turning around and doing that weird man half-hug thing. David then turned and gestured to me. "So I know you two met last night… kind of. But Tanner, this is my sister, Hattie. Hattie, this is Tanner."
Tanner held out his hand and I reached out to shake it. My stomach kind of clenched when I saw him. For a while I'd been able to forget about calling the police, and even feel justified. Now, standing here in front of him, shaking his hand, brought my embarrassment back full force.
My red puffy face. Calling the police. Having to explain why I called the police. Listen to David and Tanner explain that Tanner wasn't a stranger. Watch David dig around his cell phone, listen to voice mails. Print emails.
It had taken a lot of time and a lot of convincing to get them to not cart Tanner off to jail for the night.
I felt my face start to flush and I quickly looked to the ground. God, I was stupid.
"Well, I'm going to get a shower," David said after a beat of silence. He clapped Tanner on the back. "Help yourself to whatever food you want. Ask Hattie for help. And, seriously, my mom is, like, obsessed with owning motels when she retires, and she's using you as a test subject. If you don't make yourself at home, she might freak out."
Instead of thinking that David was a freak for his little diatribe (which I certainly did. Flesh and blood, no matter. Crazy was crazy), Tanner laughed and they bumped fists. "Sounds good," he said, and David gave me a pointed look.
"Hattie, help him out if he needs something, 'kay?"
Before waiting for my answer (which, sure, would have been "okay," but it would have been nice if he'd stuck around to hear it), he turned and walked out of the room, ready to take his shower.
AN: Life summary: two papers due next week, one exam and one paper in two weeks, and three (potentially four) finals in two and a half weeks. This chapter is a result of my mind screaming at me not to work and enjoy life. It's no where near any sort of promise of consistency. But I'd love to hear thoughts anyway!