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I was studying in a little pool of light at the kitchen table when I heard a noise outside. Then came the pounding at my door, and Ron yelling, “Eric! Are you home?” Ron stepped back like he was surprised when I opened the door. “Your mother is a pain in my ass.”
My stepdad was sometimes a pain in my ass, but I didn’t tell him that. I tried to quiet him down. “What happened?” I led Ron to the kitchen table where my laptop was still open. “How much did you drink?”
“Too much for Joyce, not enough for me.” He dropped into the chair across from my laptop. Ron drank too much to drive, that was for sure. He squinted at my notes. “Global Economics?”
“It’s my last semester. Some classes are odd.” I sat down and put my hand out. “Can I have your keys? You can have the couch.”
Ron hardly hesitated. He pulled his keys out of his pocket, and a flash drive fell with them when he dropped the keys on the table. He didn’t seem to notice. “Is Jen here? I like it when Jen’s here.”
“She should be getting off work about now, so pretty soon.” My girlfriend doted on Ron, and he liked that. I flicked the flash drive back across the table. “What’s this?”
“Just pictures.” He looked at the flash drive without picking it up. “I dug that out of the dresser when I was still real mad at Joyce. I’m not that mad now.”
I had a bad feeling about what Ron might have on the flash drive. “What were you and Mom arguing about?”
“She wanted me to see the doctors. I haven’t been feeling great lately, and she started going on about it. She got so loud that the neighbors had to hear things I didn’t want them to know.” He sat back and sighed. “You know what I think of the doctors.”
“Yeah, I know you think they’re money-grubbing frauds.”
Ron looked away when the door opened and grinned when Jen closed the door behind her. “Ron!” she said, and threw her arms around his shoulders. “You’ve been drinking.”
“I have his keys. He has the couch.” Jen came around the table and I stood up. “You smell a little like work.”
“Pam spilled clam sauce on me, and then I came here instead of going by my place first. I need to clean up.” I slipped Jen a little tongue when I kissed her, so she knew I wanted to get her a little dirty again after she cleaned up. She was almost always up for that.
Jen grinned at me and turned to Ron. “I’ll get your pillow and blankets.” Ron slept on my couch enough to have his own blankets, and he was asleep almost as soon as Jen covered him.
My homework was done when I saw Jen wrapped in a towel dodge from the bathroom to my room. There wasn’t much reason for her to get dressed. I would just undress her again. I reached to turn off the light over the table before I spotted Ron’s flash drive. I pocketed the drive and found my way to bed in the dark.
Jen had my attention that night: the way she felt in my hands and tasted on my tongue, her excited scent, and the noises that escaped when she came. I didn’t think again about Ron’s flash drive until I woke in the morning. He was asleep on the couch and Jen was asleep in my bed when I plugged the flash drive into my laptop.
They were vacation pictures. Mom was an amateur photographer, but a serious one. The pictures were taken with her best camera. The first pictures were of Ron at an airport, then there were pictures of snow-capped high peaks and mountainsides where the forest was awash in green and yellow and red.
I flicked to the next page then jumped back and turned away. Those pictures were taken with the same camera, but they weren’t taken with Mom’s expertise. They showed her smiling from a hotel bed in nothing but her shoes. I was repulsed and fascinated at the same time.
Ron was still asleep on the couch. Jen was quiet in my room. I sat back down again in front of my laptop and my stomach churned as I stepped through the pictures one-at-a-time. I figured that when Ron was still mad, his idea had been to get back at Mom by posting them somewhere on the internet. He would’ve made a splash.
Mom made a living as a real estate agent, and looking good was part of her job. She did look good. Her bright smile and her teardrop breasts looked good. Her wet pussy looked good while she masturbated for Ron. She arched her back to push her round butt up and the pink star of her asshole looked good. Even the faded scar from my birth looked good to me.
I saw every inch of Mom’s naked body in high resolution. I saw her peeing. I saw her deep-throating Ron’s dick. My cock was hard, and my own erection disgusted me. I pulled the flash drive, stepped back, and pocketed it again. Jen was waking up. Ron was starting to move.
Ron sat up on the couch and coughed into his hands. He looked and sounded weak. I tried to sort out what I was feeling: anger, resentment, jealousy. That last one really confused me, but I had to put it aside, get Ron up, and send him home to Mom.
Jen stepped out of the bathroom with her clothes on, and I talked loud enough for both of them to hear. “Toaster waffles and bacon bahçelievler escort for breakfast. That’s what I’ve got.”
Jen glanced at Ron, who was still sitting on the edge of the cushion, and started to brush by me. “I’ll do breakfast. I’m the kitchen goddess here.”
I stopped her and turned so that Ron wouldn’t hear me. “Ron doesn’t look good. Would you get him up and put him together? I’d do it, but I’m pissed at him right now.”
Jen looked around me. “OK. I guess you can microwave bacon as well as I can.”
Ron coughed his way through breakfast, and the flash drive slipped his mind. That was good, because I wasn’t giving it back. I gave him his keys when he was done with breakfast, and the last time I saw him was when he closed the door behind him.
I was waiting tables a few days later when Mom called. She left a message, and her voice was distant and confused. “Give me a call. Ron’s gone.” There was hardly any life in her voice. “He drove that old Camaro into an overpass buttress at seventy miles an hour. There were witnesses. They think he might’ve had a medical problem before he left the road.”
The night manager didn’t have a choice. I told her I was leaving and picked Jen up on the way. Mom had a lot of friends, and when we got there her quiet street was lined with cars. Bad news traveled fast.
The front door was ajar, and Aunt Deb met us there. She looked at Jen’s hands and at mine. “Thank God you didn’t bring food. The kitchen’s already full. Now give me a hug.”
Aunt Deb looked past Jen like she wasn’t there, to where Mom was sitting in the living room. “I think Joyce is still in shock. It’s been so busy here that her feet haven’t really touched the ground yet.” She looked back and stroked my arm. “I’m going to need you here when she comes down. She needs you.”
* * *
“Let me get that.” I stepped in front of Aunt Deb and picked up a heavy box of kitchenware. “I’ll put this on the counter and you can unpack it from there.”
Aunt Deb wasn’t really my aunt; she was Mom’s best friend. I’d known her all my life, and I’d always called her Aunt Deb. She dug into the box when I stepped back, and I watched for a moment. She was my first crush. Back then her hair wasn’t silver, but from that angle not much else had changed.
Mom looked up from the box she was unpacking and swept a lock of hair behind her ear. “Where am I going to put all this? I got rid of two thirds of what we had in the house, and it still seems like too much.”
Her two bedroom townhouse was smaller than the old house, but it was still a lot bigger than my apartment. I arranged chairs around her down-sized dining table so that I could walk through. “I can’t take any more stuff. My place is full.”
Aunt Deb had everything from the box stacked on the counter. She looked at her cell phone. “I have to go. I’m having dinner with Maude Charles from the City Properties Office. She wants to commission a themed collection.” She looked at me and pointed to the counter. “Can you take care of this?”
I could. I found places for crocks and pots, and I watched Mom while I put things away. “What’s next? Do you really have to work now?” We’d had the conversation before, but she never had a good answer.
“I’m still selling houses. It’s a seller’s market, so I’m making good money.” She shrugged. “Deb and I figured out a budget. With the estate and the insurance I probably don’t have to work, but I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I weren’t working.”
I opened a box of table linens. “Where do you want these?” Mom rolled her eyes, but then pointed to a hutch. I dropped the box by the hutch and started to unload it. “What about your cameras? Haven’t you always wanted to do photography instead of real estate?”
Mom had two hands full of tableware, and she motioned to me with one of them. “I’ll figure that out. What about you? When do you know about the law school? And what’s with Jen?”
“The law school tells me I’m in, but it isn’t official.” I flattened the linen box and put it out of the way. “Law school was always Dad’s idea, you know? I’m not sure that’s really what I want to do. Maybe I’ll look around.” I found a box of good china and left that for Mom to figure out, and then I opened a box of towels that should have gone to one of the bathrooms. “I don’t know about Jen, either. She wants to be my good wife, and maybe I’m not ready for that, either.”
I stood up with my arms full of towels and Mom pointed. “Front bedroom. I guess neither of us knows what we’re doing.” I started to the bedroom, but Mom stopped me. “I’m ordering in Chinese. What do you want?”
Mom wanted shrimp. I wanted beef. We passed the cartons back and forth across the little table until there was nothing left but rice. She cleared the refuse from the table into the garbage, and when she came back I was spinning Ron’s flash drive on the tabletop.
I never got those pictures off my mind. Something in me wanted the story behind the photos. Something balgat escort else in me never wanted to think about them again.
“I need coffee. Do you want some?” She watched what I was doing for a moment. “What’s that?”
“Coffee? I’d love some—strong and black.” I held the flash drive up for her to see. “I took it away from Ron a few days before he died.” Mom turned back to the counter and found the things she needed for coffee. “It’s vacation pictures.”
Her back was to me, so I didn’t see her reaction. She put water in the tank and a cup in the holder and closed the coffee maker. She looked confused when she turned around, and maybe like she’d be sick. “I wondered where that went. Did you look at them?”
“No. No, I didn’t.” I was never good at lying to Mom, and she knew I was lying.
“Eric, that’s disgusting.” I dropped the flash drive into her hand. Maybe the same way she could tell I was lying, I could tell she wasn’t that disgusted.
Mom turned back to the counter and left the flash drive by the coffee maker. We didn’t have more to say until she started her cup and brought me mine. I took the cup from her hand and asked, “How old are the pictures?”
“Not old.” She turned back to the counter and talked to the cabinet. “They were from last fall. We went to Colorado because I wanted to shoot the aspens. The first day was good, but it snowed that night. We stayed in the next day and passed the time.
“I suppose you got the flash drive the last night Ron crashed at your place. We had a screaming argument, and maybe I said things I shouldn’t have. You saw the coroner’s report, didn’t you?”
“That he had a heart attack while driving? I saw that.”
Mom brought her coffee to the table and sat down across from me. “That news didn’t surprise me. He was depressed when we went to Colorado, and part of that was because he hadn’t had a good erection in weeks. I was just trying to make him feel better. Now I figure that was because of his heart.”
“It looked like it worked.” Mom scowled at me, and I hid behind my coffee cup.
“It’s bad enough that you saw me that way.” She put her coffee down and wrapped her hands around it. “God, I was so fat in those pictures. I’ve lost seven pounds since then.”
“Fat? You didn’t look fat! You looked great.”
I thought Mom was about to throw her coffee in my face, but she pushed back from the table and stood up. “Now you know things about your mother that a son should never know.” She pointed to the door. “Thanks for your help, but I need some space.”
* * *
A blast of hot air met me when I left the computer science building. The July sky was a cloudless blue bowl, so I stopped to find my shades before I started across the plaza. Something familiar caught my eye, and I did a double take. It was Aunt Deb’s silver hair, pulled to the back of her head.
Aunt Deb was leaving the fine arts offices. I called her name, and she stopped when I jogged up beside her. “Eric! It’s been weeks!” Her hand felt rough when she wrapped it around my elbow—normal for someone who made their living with their hands. “You know, you’re old enough to drop the ‘Aunt’ part. Just call me Deb.”
Despite the heat, I liked the affectionate way she walked close by my side. “What are you doing on campus?”
“Artists have to make money any way they can. I’m teaching a summer master class in ceramics. Why are you here? I thought you were done.”
“The Liberal Arts degree is done. I’m taking a class in Python.”
“I don’t know what that is. A lawyer thing?”
“A computer thing. I had the summer, so I decided to broaden my horizons. Do you have time? I’ll buy you coffee.”
We walked to an off-campus coffee shop while Deb quizzed me. “Tell me about your girlfriend. Did I hear right, that she wants to get married?”
“You must have heard that from Mom. I met Jen at work. She doesn’t have many goals, but she’s pretty clear about that one.”
Pigeons fluttered up in front of us and settled a few feet farther away. “What does Jen do for you?”
“She’s fun and affectionate, and she likes taking care of me.” I had to think about it a little more. “Mostly, though, it’s the sex. I like the sex.”
Deb laughed and bumped me with her elbow. “Of course you like the sex. What does she think of you going to law school?”
We stopped at the street and waited in a small crowd for the light to change. “She’s all for law school.” I shrugged. “More than I am. I need to talk to her about ‘what if I don’t go?'”
The coffee shop was another block down the street, past shops and cafés where the summer business was slow. Deb tugged on my arm. “Do you guys argue about things like that?”
“We never argue.” I’d actually never thought about it before. “If we disagree, then Jen just wants sex and the problem goes away.”
We ordered at the counter, and two iced coffees came fast. We found a small table outside in the shade and sat across from each other. Deb stirred the ice in her coffee before she ankara escort said anything. “I think you’re headed for some changes, with the degree done and maybe not knowing what you want to do.”
She shifted in her seat and looked around. “I’m once married and once divorced, so maybe I don’t know that much about relationships, but to me, Jen sounds like baggage you may not want to haul along on your trip.”
She surprised me. I wasn’t looking for advice, and I didn’t know what to do with it, so I changed the subject. “Have you seen Mom lately? We’ve barely talked.”
“I saw her over the weekend.” Deb seemed happy with the change. “I got her out for dinner. We had a good time.” She hesitated then went on with a more cautious tone. “That’s mostly her story, so she should tell it.” She looked over her drink at me and smiled. “She told me about Ron’s pictures, and what you said about her.”
I might have blushed, and Deb laughed at me. “I can only imagine how she reacted when you said she looked great naked. She had time to think about it before we talked, and by then it wasn’t a bad thing. As awkward as that had to be, you made your mom feel good about herself.”
Deb checked her phone. “I have to go.” She stood up from the table and gave my cheek a kiss. “You should call your mom.”
“Can I give you a ride?” I was enjoying Deb’s company, and I wasn’t quite ready to stop.
She laughed at me. “You know, my house is closer than anywhere you could have parked your car.”
I watched the sway of Aunt Deb’s butt until she crossed the street, then I dug my phone out of my pocket and texted Mom. “I’m not working. Do you have some time?”
She answered before I was done with my coffee. “I was going to the gym, but are you up for tennis?”
I thought it was too hot to be knocking a ball around on a concrete slab, but she talked me into it. I got my racket and stuffed a change of clothes into a bag. She was wearing a little white uniform when she met me at the park, and its short skirt bounced when she walked.
Mom taught me to play. When I was still a kid, she could put me in my place. When I got bigger, my height and my forehand overpowered her, but she still knew all my weaknesses.
She lobbed the ball in my direction. “Just don’t kill me, OK?” We batted it back and forth to warm up, and then she kicked my butt. I played nice at first by not killing her with my forehand, but it had been too long since I played. Her energy was more than I could match—especially in that heat—and she ran me all over the court.
I had to end it before I died. She gave me a soft little return that I met head-high, and I slammed it past her. She stopped and watched the ball bounce against the fence then looked back at me. “That’s the signal. We’re done.”
We met beside the net. Her uniform was a little damp with sweat, and her nipples thrust out under the white cloth. I was soaked and, without the constant motion, it was getting worse. She plucked at my shirt and laughed. “Do you have a change of clothes?”
I was still trying to catch my breath, so I just nodded my answer. “Shower at my place. I’ll fix dinner, and we can catch up.”
Mom had a shower in both bathrooms. We showered at the same time, and I didn’t even care that we ran out of hot water. The cool water felt good. I put my clean clothes on, left my sweat-soaked clothes out to dry, and found Mom on the patio.
She laid back on a chaise lounge in her dressing robe, and she smiled when I found her. The patio behind her was a construction zone. I pulled a chair up and gestured toward the mess. “What’s all this?”
“I’m putting in a hot tub. That’s the plumbing and electrical.” Her robe slipped while she talked. It bared everything down her side from her shoulder to her foot, and she was slow to cover herself again. “Sorry, but the air feels good.”
I was uncomfortable. She read that in my expression, and she closed her robe. “Your Gramma used to say, ‘Don’t rush to close the barn door once the horse is already gone.’ You’ve seen it before, right?”
“Yeah, but not the live action version. It’s different.” I looked away. “I never heard Gramma say that.”
Mom laughed. “It was usually when Dad forgot to zip his fly. It annoyed him.”
I sat back and watched Mom for a moment. If Deb was right and what I said before was good for Mom, then maybe more would be better. “You know, the live action version is better than the stills.”
Mom frowned at me, but in a way that had always meant I wasn’t really in trouble. She pulled the robe tight and stood up. “I need to dress and start dinner.” I watched the way the thin fabric draped from her hips and moved as she walked away.
Dinner was just a salad. I was alright with that because the heat killed my appetite. Jen and I could get something later. Mom changed into shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, and I sat at the table with one of her cameras and sighted on her left back pocket while she worked by the sink. “How’s work been?” I asked. “Are you doing OK?”
She sliced a cucumber and glanced back at me. “I’m making money hand-over-fist, but I’m getting to the point with real estate where it’s kinda ‘been there, done that.'” She dropped the cucumber into the greens and split a pepper in two. “I think I’m going to work less and play more.”
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