She hands me the plate and moves to the fridge. “Pickles and peanut butter are not…” she trails off. “That’s just gross, Luke.” Opening the door, she asks, “Water or soda?”
I catch the bottle she throws at my head, then freeze when I hear her front door open. “Is that your dad?”
She shrugs. “Probably.”
I look at the clock on their microwave and with a mouthful of food, I ask, “It’s 1:30 in the morning. Where’s he been?”
Laney leans back on the counter next to me, her arms crossed. “On a date.”
“Lois, is that you?” Brian calls out from the hallway.
She doesn’t respond.
“I thought I heard voices.” He peeks into the kitchen, a smile forming when he sees me. “Lucas,” he says in greeting.
Before I can respond, Laney says to him, “Young man. Do you have any idea what time it is?”
Then Laney says, “I’ve been up all night worried sick!” And I can no longer tell if she’s kidding.
Brian rolls his eyes. “Sorry, Mom.”
“You could have called,” Laney says.
Her dad slips into the room. “I said I was sorry,” he whines dramatically.
Oh, so she is kidding. Man, I suck at reading her.
Brian says, looking between us, “Let me guess how your night went. You”—he points to Laney—“stayed home and watched TV or knitted a scarf, and you”—his finger moves to me—“went drinking at a party and came knocking on my daughter’s door.”
I take a sip of the water and jump off the counter. “And you,” I say, pointing to him, “went on a date?”
“I did,” he says, lifting his chin.
“So…” I sway from side to side teasingly. “What’s her name? What does she do?”
“Her name’s Misty.”
“Oh,” I say through a chuckle. “Is she a stripper?”
Laney slaps the back of my head. “Luke!”
Brian laughs. “She’s sure got the body of one.”
“What?!” Brian and I say at the same time. Then he adds, his eyebrows lifting, “She’s a police officer. Handcuffs and all.”
“Dad!” Laney shouts.
“Nice.” I high-five him. Brian and I had gotten close over the years. Besides the family get-togethers and ball games, I guess he found it necessary to get to know the kid who was constantly knocking on their front door and asking to see his daughter. It’s not a bad thing. At all. I like Brian and I hope to God he likes me. He has to, right? I mean, there’s a reason he’s permitting my knocking on Laney’s door at all hours of the night and getting into bed with her. Well, the bed part he probably doesn’t know about. We always make sure the couch looks slept in.
“Honey, why don’t you ever go to these parties with Luke?” Brian asks her.
Laney shrugs and looks down at the floor. “It’s not really my scene.”
“Yeah, but if Luke’s there then it—”
“He doesn’t invite me,” she cuts in.
“You would go?” I ask, my voice loud. Too loud.
Laney’s eyes snap to mine. So do her dad’s. Great. The Sanders Stare. There are very few things in life more terrifying than the Sanders Stare. I stutter, “It’s just, I mean, it’s not really… you’re not—”
“I wouldn’t go,” Laney says, saving me.
“Why not?” Brian asks. “You’re almost eighteen, Lo, and you barely leave the house.”
Laney shrugs. “Just because you’ve gotten a social life in the past year, it doesn’t mean I have to.”
Brian rolls his eyes again. “You should be out there…” he says, throwing his hands in the air. “…making mistakes and falling in like. Not love. Not yet. But you should at least be dating.”
I choke on the bite I’d just taken.
“I’ve dated,” Laney says. She doesn’t say it with pride or with snark. She says it so matter-of-factly that I know she’s telling the truth and that thought alone has the food lodged somewhere between my throat and my stomach, and I thump at my chest, hoping to clear it.
“Who?” Brian asks, his eyes narrowed.
“Who is not important.”
Brian steps closer to her. “Tell me.”
Swallow. Water. Gasp for air.
Laney presses her lips tight, refusing to answer.
I look between the two because I just now realized there is one thing more terrifying than the Sanders Stare. It’s the Sanders Stand-Off.
“I’m sorry,” Brian concedes, stepping back. “I just worry you’re missing out on life.”
Laney points to me. “Because I don’t want to be him?”
“Hey!” I look down at myself. “What’s wrong with me?”
Brian points a finger between the two of us. “Why don’t you two…”
“Dad, that’s gross. It’s Luke.”
Ouch. “I’m right here!”
They both laugh. I don’t know why. I don’t find it funny.
“Goodnight, kids,” Brian says, turning away and waving a hand in the air.
“Wait!” I square my shoulders. “What’s wrong with me?”
Every night he stays here, there’s his stupid alarm.
Stupid, stupid alarm.
“Luke, your alarm. Get up. Go!”
With his eyes still half closed, he reaches for his phone in my hand, switches the alarm off, then throws it across the room.
I stare at it, expecting it to grow legs and make its way back to us. Did I mention it was 4:45? “But…”
“No,” he murmurs, digging his head in the pillow.
“But you run every morning.”
“Not today,” he says, wrapping his arm around my waist and maneuvering me until I’m lying back down. “Let’s sleep in.”