* * *
I manageto get in the house and up to my room without being seen, but my mom pops her head in as I’m slipping on my pajamas after a shower.
“Where have you been all night?” It’s not a curious question or a light one. She expected me to be here, helping with party planning or something. Dorothea (aka Ditta) Hirsch never asks a question that doesn’t demand an answer.
“Out with my boyfriend.”
“Your boyfriend.” Not a question. Rather, a lead balloon hitting the ground with a loud thunk.
“Yep. I met him through work in Vegas. He’s a hockey player for the Crush.”
“He is,” I lie as easily as if it’s the truth. “He’s my plus-one tomorrow.”
“Billie,” my mother warns with a cock of her head and a widening of her eyes.
“Ditta,” I respond with as little emotion as I can muster.
“So, you never come home. Never visit the family. We know nothing about your life these days and yet you can just waltz in here with some man we don’t know? You have a boyfriend and you can’t be bothered to tell us that?”
“It’s new with him,” I say, raising a shoulder. “No big thing.”
“Big enough that you’re bringing him to your father’s birthday party.”
“No, I’m bringing him to Dad’s party because he’s in the area for a game and I wanted to actually have a good time.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know what it means.”
“Billie, so help me…”
“So help you what? I don’t want to be dragged around meeting douchebag studio sons with appropriate backgrounds. I don’t want to be pimped out to Kit’s celebrity crowd either. I just want to have fun with my boyfriend.”
“Your hockey player boyfriend.” Again, not a question. She raises a judgmental eyebrow. “Who probably doesn’t have three brain cells in his empty jock head.”
“Actually, Cal could have gone to MIT. He’s super smart.”
My mother purses her lips. She looks like she ate a lemon. Just as she raises her index finger to start pointing or jabbing or whatever thing she’s about to do while informing me of all the reasons I should have told her I was bringing my “dumb jock of a boyfriend” to her fancy party, my father walks in.
“What’s all this ruckus?” he asks. “My baby girl is home for two minutes and already you two are bickering. It’s my birthday; can I call a ceasefire?”
“You certainly can, Dad.” I give him an air-kiss.
“We will have this discussion,” my mom warns as she leaves the room.
My dad winks as I mouththank youwhen he shuts my door, leaving me to slump onto my bed, exhausted from the exchange.
It’s well after one in the morning, and I’m totally beat, but when FaceTime pops up with Stuart’s face, I answer.
“Yo, Stu. What up?”
“Well, I was going to see if you wanted to go get pancakes at an all-night diner like we used to do in high school.”
“That’s…really random.” High school feels like such a long time ago now, and these random requests are becoming a little more regular. Which is concerning.
“Is that a yes?