“I’m kicking you out.”
Dylan freezes. Milk drips from the spoonful of Fruity Pebbles stuck halfway to his mouth and onto his solid grey Mack Weldon boxer briefs.
Hanna’s hair is thrown up in some messy twist thing that’s probably supposed to look messy in a cute way, but it’s mostly just the regular kind of messy—like maybe she didn’t bother with a brush, or has sworn of hair grooming indefinitely. The toddler attached to her hip tugs her hair then sneezes once—twice. She grimaces and wipes her cheek with the sleeve of her Henley, making this sound with the back of her throat that reminds him of their old cat, Scruffy, whenever he coughed up a hairball. He wants to laugh and offer to help her at the same time, maybe take his niece off her hands and try to teach Maddie how to blow her nose again.
Kids are . . . strange, simply because figuring out how to manipulate fully functioning adults with nothing more than a look or cry is effortless, but the concept of blowing out their noses is inconceivable.
“I’m kicking you out,” she repeats with a huff, annoyed at him, or maybe it’s her daughter giggling at the snot bubbles dripping from her nostrils.
Kids are also really fucking gross, but in a way he’s almost envious of because people caring about what everyone else thinks is disgusting is a part of what landed him sleeping on his sister’s stiff, floral couch in her dingy, outdated, 550 square foot studio apartment in the first place.
“Are you even listening to me?” she asks, waving a hand in front of his face and scowling when he blinks up at her, debating his next move.
The odds of her being even remotely serious are slim to none. He’s been a pretty good roommate, as far as worst-case scenarios go. He does his own dishes and laundry, and sometimes when he’s feeling particularly grateful, he cleans the clumps of her hair from the shower drain. And besides, she has no real reason to kick him out and knows he has nowhere else to go since him being here is the result of being thrown out of their parent’s home, to begin with.
He might be projecting. They did give him a choice, a shitty one, but a choice none-the-less. But when his mother outright blamed him for his dad having an actual minor heart attack after catching him sucking off his best friend in the guest house, how exactly was he supposed to go about continuing to live under their rules? As far as he’s concerned, he had two options: pretend to be hetero and stay friends with Tyler in secret (as opposed to just hooking up in secret), or pack his shit and leave with his middle finger in the air.
They suggested counseling when they were delusional enough to believe he was even considering the alternative, which he soon realized was a ploy to bring him back to the light like he was fucking Anakin Skywalker. He reminded them, not unkindly, that he is, in fact, agnostic, or deity-curious, as he likes to call it. It seemed like an okay thing to say at the time, but apparently, it was the absolute opposite, because both his parents and the pasture got all red in the face, eyes as big as saucers. His dad’s blood pressure monitor went ballistic and Dylan briefly worried he was going to have another heart attack before his dad promptly announced he would wait for them in the car.
“Do you see?” his mother asked, blubbering, fat crocodile tears dripping down her face and black make-up smudges decorating her cheeks. “Do you see what it does to your father to hear you say those things?” He merely shrugged, because he honestly didn’t know how else to respond and his dad hadn’t actually said much of anything since the incident, beyond grumbling incoherent nonsense whenever Dylan entered a room.
He sat through another hour of his mom and pasture talking over each other, nearly choking on their tongues to convince him agnosticism was just a phase, much like bisexuality. All the while he was mentally prepping for what he would tell his estranged sister over the phone later that night.
In the end, he exchanged indefinitely free babysitting for a lifeline.
Hanna showed up at the house two days later with an empty trunk and a full tank of gas.
“Your jokes need work,” he says, dropping his spoon into the bowl with a splash. “You’re not nearly as funny as you think.”
She rolls her eyes at that. “Shut up,” she says, stealing the remote before he can protest and turning off the television with barely a backward glance. Dylan frowns at the now blank screen with mild disappointment because he’s pretty sure the thirty-year-old actors playing white-washed rich teenagers were just about to figure out whose been cyberbullying them for the last two episodes.
. . . On second thought, he’s glad his sister intervened before he became weirdly invested in a show he hates on principle.
His gratitude doesn’t last long, because in the next second she is taking his cereal hostage, but as karma would have it, Maddie stops wailing long enough to slap her fist in the bowl, splashing its contents all over Hanna’s face and down the front of her blouse.
She hisses, muttering a string of fake curses like, ‘son of a fudge stick,’ all while Maddie giggles and claps her hands, looking especially pleased with herself. Dylan covers his laugh with a cough, keeping his palm over his mouth to hide the shit-eating grin sure to be plastered on his face. Hanna isn’t fooled, judging from the cutting-edge glare she shoots him over her shoulder, dropping the ceramic bowl in the sink with a clank.
“Why are you still here?”
Dylan raises a brow, drawing his finger over his chin like he’s seriously considering her question and not just indulging her need to bitch at someone in the morning.
“I live here?” He means to say it as a statement, but the pitch in his voice falters and raises a notch. “I’m also indecent,” he adds, gesturing to his scrawny bare chest in all its pasty white splendor.
She clicks her tongue at him. “It’s the last Saturday before the first day of your senior year at your new school. Don’t you have something more fun to be doing—like anything that doesn’t involve taking up space in my bedroom?”
He wants to point out that the bedroom is also technically the living room and kitchen, but thinks better of it because he’s not a complete idiot.
“Are you okay?” he asks instead and then wonders if he should offer to take Maddie for the day, give her some alone time to clean up, or drown in self-pity watching some chick flick—whatever it is she normally does to mellow out.
The fact that she’s managed to come this far on her own still baffles him. Steve and Linda, as she calls them, cut her off from all financial support when she came home from Christmas break sophomore year with a popped belly and fierce look in her eyes, announcing that she was dropping out of college to get a job and raise a kid. Dylan, being the chicken shit he was at the time, hid in his bedroom to play Battlefield, drowning out their screams with his noise-canceling headphones, until sometime later when Hanna stopped in to say her peace.
“Where are you going to go?” He had a million other questions he wanted answers to like, who’s the father, for starters. A year later and he still doesn’t have a clue, but whoever the guy is, he assumes he knows he has a kid and if he wanted to be involved, he would be.
Hanna told him she had a place to stay until she could afford something on her own, a friend of a friend. She also had someone interested in buying that year’s Pontiac G6 she got for her twentieth birthday for some quick cash. Since the car was put in Hanna’s name and paid in full, there wasn’t anything they could do to stop her.
“That’s lucky,” he said back with narrowed eyes. At the time he was sure this mysterious friend of a friend was code for baby-daddy. Turns out it was just some dude she found on Craigslist looking to sublease his apartment for a few months, while he studied abroad teaching English to kids in Japan. He ended up deciding to stay the rest of the year and Hanna was able to sign her own lease this summer with the landlord when it was up for renewal.
“I’m fine,” she says, grumbling at the faucet when it continues dripping after she turns it off. Maddie contributes some of her own baby-talk to the conversation, which usually involves different variations of mama and no no no, as if to say, yeah, right, and I’m the queen of England.
“Clearly,” Dylan deadpans and then sighs. “Why do girls always do that? Just say what you mean. It’s not that hard. Here, I’ll start: I think you should let me watch Maddie, while you go get a shower—a bubble bath actually, with those exploding soap balls.”
She raises a brow, pursing her lips. “First off, it’s not just a girl thing. Second, they’re called bath bombs, and have you seen the tub? Shut up, that was rhetorical.”
“What’s wrong with the tub?”
“I just want to have the place to myself for a few hours, at least,” she continues, ignoring him.
“Maddie’s here,” he points out.
“Maddie doesn’t live on my couch with her eyes glued to the only television set.”
“Ouch!” He clutches his chest. “You wound me.”
It actually does sting a little, because she’s not exactly wrong, but—
Hanna snorts and kicks him one of his shirts off the floor. The one that says, I paused my game for this, in yellow comic sans lettering.
He sniffs it and shrugs, before pulling it over his head.
“It’s been over two weeks since you’ve been here and you’ve barely left the apartment, and no, I’m not counting that time you picked up milk and eggs at CVS.”
For the record, it was more than once, but when Dylan opens his mouth to say just that, but she holds a hand up to stop him. “I appreciate all your help, I really do, but you need a life outside of co-parenting my daughter. Go make some friends, find a job, or a boyfriend for all I care, just make sure you put on some pants before you do it and get out of my face.”
“Before I do it, I generally like to take my pants off. They’re constricting,” and then, simply because he can’t help himself, “I could get a girlfriend too, you know.”
She shifts, leaning against the counter, the furrow in her brow torn between being appalled by his joke and something else he can’t quite place.
“I thought maybe you just didn’t want to admit it,” she says wrily.
Oh. Now it makes sense.
“Nope, I definitely like girls,” he says, studying her reaction before adding, “I think that’s why it took me so long to realize I was into guys too. I mean I was aware my gay best friend was hot, but it didn’t occur to me that I was missing out on anything until I felt his—”
“Ew!” Hanna wrinkles her nose and opts to glare at the chipped, popcorn ceiling instead of his face. “I do not need the details.”
He stiffens, unsure of how defensive he should be. He knows she thought he was going somewhere else with that, but honestly, he was just going to talk about facial hair, which he apparently really likes—like a lot.
“Is this you being grossed out, because I hooked up with a guy or . . .”
“Of course not!” she snaps, glaring back at him like she’s pissed he even had to ask. He’d feel bad for thinking it, but he’s gotten a little too close to accepting that most heteros are (on a scale from mildly to outrageously) disgusted by same-sex coupling.
Unless you’re a dude who gets off watching lesbian porn on the regular, which isn’t a crime on its own until it’s paired with also being a hypocritical asshole on the DL.
Hanna releases a breath and tilts her head to catch his eyes, softer this time. “I’m grossed out because you’re my little brother and I don’t want to hear about your sex life—ever, but especially not with my baby daughter in the same room, okay?”
His lip twitches and he ducks his head to hide his grin. “Yeah, okay.” He hesitates before adding, “Love you too, Han.”