I grunted as I set the last box down on Katrina’s bedroom floor. I brushed the dust off my hands and gave her a weary smile. “You can take it from here, I guess.”
She smiled back. “Thanks, Aaron. I really appreciate you and your dad helping me and my mom with moving all this stuff.” She chuckled. “It’s good to have men around for a change.”
“Yeah, it’s no problem. It makes me feel masculine,” I cracked, while clutching the small of my back. Who was I kidding?
“I’m just glad they’ve decided not to go on a honeymoon yet,” she said, sitting down on her bed. She flashed me an embarrassed grin. “I mean, I think that you and your dad are awesome, but I’d feel really weird if it was just the two of us here, you know?”
Oh yeah. I knew.
I heard a rap on the open door. It was my father. “Hey, guys. All the boxes have been lugged in, so what say we go outside and have some barbecue? It’s Friday night. We can let loose.” He grinned at me. “I can make some veggie kabobs for you, Aaron.”
I glanced at Katrina, and we both shrugged. “Sure, why not?” I said.
“All right. I’ll ask Sharon to help me cut up some… what do you want, carrots, peppers, broccoli…?” he asked.
“Whatever you’ve got, please,” I said. He gave me a thumbs-up and jogged downstairs.
I turned back to Katrina, who was chewing on her lip and toying with a piece of her short brown hair. “So do you need help with anything else?”
She jumped as if I’d snapped a rubber band at her. “No, thanks. I’ve got to figure out how to rearrange all my stuff. I think I’d like my room to have a different layout than it did while I was at home.”
Well, I was actually a fairly good decorator myself. My friends were always impressed with the myriad ways I’d arranged my room. But I wasn’t about to tell her that. “Okay. I’m gonna go downstairs and watch TV until the food is done. They’re showing Buckets of Blood in a few minutes.”
She brightened. “Oh yeah? I kinda like that movie too. My brother’s the one who really loves it, actually. He goes nuts over any and all horror movies.”
“Hmm. I’m not into horror too much myself,” I commented. “But I really like Jeremy Cotton—that’s the guy that stars in it.”
“Jeremy Cotton?” she repeated. “Well, I certainly can’t say much for his acting skills, but he sure is cute.”
We headed downstairs to watch the movie. I was surprised she was really going to watch it with me, considering how nervous she’d seemed a minute before. But silly things have a way of bonding people, I figured.
During one of the more boring scenes in Buckets (Jeremy’s character was arguing with his father about his curfew), Katrina said, “So, Aaron, have you ever made your girlfriend watch this movie too?”
Girlfriend? She knew I didn’t have one, didn’t she? Of course, even though our parents had dated for three years before they’d married, Katrina and I had only seen each other about a dozen times. So maybe she wouldn’t know. “Um, I don’t uh, have one, actually.”
“Oh.” She smiled. Ugh. She wasn’t getting a crush on me, was she? I mean, I thought I was handsome enough for someone to have a crush on (not to be construed as an arrogant statement, of course), but I didn’t want my admirer to be my new stepsister. “So if you did have a girlfriend, what do you think she’d be like?” she asked.
“What is this, some kind of teen magazine interview?” I joked, shifting in my seat until I wasn’t quite facing her. Good God, did people really ask such questions? “I mean, I guess I think all girls are great, really. I go for personality more than anything.”
I was about to ask if she had a boyfriend, to see if she really was trying to hit on me, when the back patio door slid open. My father stuck his head in. “Hey, kids, food’s ready!” he called.
Yes! Saved by the bell peppers. I gave Katrina a tight smile while managing to not quite look at her, and went outside.
THE four of us sat at the small white table out on the patio. Sharon cast a sidelong glance at my father, then looked at me. “You know, Aaron, I didn’t realize you’re vegetarian. How neat.”
I grinned. “Well, I wouldn’t call myself a devout one. I mean, I don’t like to label myself. I do eat chicken and fish occasionally.” I took another bite of my kabob. “This is really awesome, though. It was a good idea to cook outside.”
They all murmured in agreement. “Yeah, you know, it’s funny. My son is a pure carnivore, isn’t he, Katrina?” Sharon said to her daughter. She turned back to me. “Complete opposite to you, Aaron.”
Katrina grinned as she wiped barbecue sauce from her mouth. “Yeah. Remember the time he ate ten cheeseburgers and, like, four orders of fries in one sitting? I about puked from watching him.”
“Geez,” I said. “What is he, a football player or something?”
They both laughed. “He’s a pretty big guy, but I don’t think he’s all that into sports,” Sharon said, smoothing back her bleached blonde hair.
Neither was I. I let my father think that I liked basketball, though, since he had somehow gotten that idea into his head. I think it was because he’d overheard me telling my friend Tom that I liked LA’s team. A perfectly innocent mistake, really. I mean, I had said that I liked them, but….
Sharon opened her mouth to say something else, but then a loud electronic chirping interrupted her. “Oh, that’s my phone.” She took it out of her pocket, looked at the screen, then said, “Hey, it’s your brother, Katrina! Sorry guys, I’ll just take this inside.” She smiled at me and her daughter, then went inside.
“Hmm. That’s weird,” Katrina said. “I can’t imagine why she’s so happy. Jordan usually only calls when he needs something. Heck, we haven’t even seen him in….” She paused. “Well, probably six or seven months, anyway. Never mind getting phone calls from him. No texts either. Very, very occasionally he’ll chat with me online, but….”
What could I say to that? Just then I heard Sharon exclaim, “What? You have got to be kidding!” She didn’t sound too happy.
My father glanced back into the kitchen, frowning. “That doesn’t sound good. I wonder what’s wrong.”
I shrugged and continued to eat my dinner. I contemplated how much more I should polish off of the novel we were currently discussing in my Literature Club at school. Probably not too much. I was always ahead of everyone else.
A minute later Sharon came back outside. She still clutched the phone in her hand. “Roger, can you come inside for a minute? Jordan and I need to ask….” She trailed off, glancing at me and Katrina. My father went inside without another word.
Katrina and I stared at each other. “Man, what did he do?” I said. “Wreck his car?”
She chuckled and shrugged. “Could be. I really think that most of the time he forgets that we exist. He probably would forget completely, if it wasn’t for us bugging him at Christmas and his birthday and stuff.” She rolled her eyes. “He’s so busy with his girlfriend.” She drew out the word in a most obnoxious tone. “He has no time for us.”
Huh. Made me think of my mother for a second, and how she hadn’t thought I was worth sticking around for. Just a second was all I really wanted to think about her, though.
We’d finished our dinners, and I wanted ice cream, but Sharon and my father were still in the kitchen. Katrina noticed my longing stares directed at the freezer, which stood looming behind the window, and smiled. “I know. I want some too. We’d probably better wait out here, though.”
About five minutes later, Sharon and my dad came back outside. I scanned their faces for any hint of scandal, but there was none. Just some tension lines in my father’s forehead. Sharon spoke up first. “Guess what, honey,” she said to Katrina. “Your brother is going to move in with us.”