“Welcome home!” I cried happily, throwing myself into his arms the moment he stepped through the door. James laughed, and caught me easily, hugging me close for a moment before placing me gently back on my feet.
“How was your day?” I asked him. James had been working at the bistro in town for a little over a year now. At first, they had given him simple jobs, like washing dishes, which later progressed to waiting on tables. I always thought that they couldn’t have yet seen how skilled he was, or they wouldn’t be wasting his talents taking orders and pouring drinks. James was a better cook than even my dad had been.
“Pretty good, actually.” I noticed that he seemed a lot more cheerful than usual, and he was smiling from ear to ear. “I got a promotion.”
I gasped. “James, that’s amazing!”
“Yeah, I guess,” he said, grinning. “I’m a real chef now. They’ve finally let me into the kitchen.” He laughed.
“Oh, James, I know how much you’ve wanted this. I’m so happy for you. You’ll have to let me visit you at work sometime,” I added with a grin.
“Yeah, sure,” he chuckled. “But you know, I can make you anything you want here at home.”
“Yeah, I know. But it wouldn’t be the same.”
“And if you visit me there,” he added, “you’re not allowed to distract me.”
I pretended to be offended. “As if I would! I can be professional, too.”
He laughed again. “Maybe. But I might not be able to, if you’re there.” Smiling, he slipped his arms around my waist, and lowered his lips onto mine.
“Oi, get a room, you two!” Tyler’s voice came from the stairs behind us. James and I broke apart, laughing, and I turned around to look at her. She was trying to look disgusted, but I could see the grin she was barely concealing. I winked at her, and turned back to James.
Tyler sighed loudly. “I’m out,” she said, walking past us into the kitchen.
A little over a year had passed since James and I had started dating, and I was happier now than I had ever been. Mum and Tyler were happy as well – the latter, however, did her best not to show it. Cody just thought the whole thing was gross, but hey… that’s little brothers for you.
It had already been two years since Bridie and I had graduated from high school, and Cody was due to graduate the following day. I couldn’t believe that my baby brother was about to become a real adult. Mum was dealing with it worse than she had when Bridie had left home, although she was trying to conceal it for Cody’s sake. She must have been really lonely, with Dad gone, and now the last of her children was growing up and making plans to move out. It had to be pretty hard on her.
When Cody’s birthday morning rolled around, we threw a small party for him in the kitchen before the school bus left, so that everyone in the house could be there to help celebrate. James had even baked a special cake for the occasion.
All four of us clapped and cheered like crazy while Cody blew out his candles. Though I had never been overly close to my younger brother, I couldn’t help feeling a bit proud as I watched him finally mature into a young adult. The beard certainly made him look a lot older.
Cody, like Bridie, was ready to move out of home almost as soon as he had aged up. Mum, however, managed to convince him to stay at least until after his graduation ceremony. I’m sure that, for her, that day came far too soon.
All of us attended the ceremony except for Tyler, who was busy with her after school Shop Club. I could have sworn that there were far more graduates this year than there had been when I had graduated. The ceremony wore on into the afternoon, and by the time we emerged from City Hall with Cody it was almost sunset.
The drive home was pleasant, despite Mum’s consistent sniffing in the back of the car. I chose to believe that her tears were of pride for her son, rather than loneliness for his loss.
I chatted easily with James and Cody as we pushed open the front gate and made our way across the courtyard. Then, without warning, I felt James stop and tense up beside me. I looked at him curiously, and saw that he was staring straight ahead, looking shocked; I followed his gaze to the front door of the house, where a teenage couple were making out. On our porch. Against our door. And, looking closer, one of them looked startlingly familiar.
“Is that…?” I began tentatively. Surely, it couldn’t be who I thought it was.
“Tyler…” James growled beside me. Worried at his obvious anger, I reached for his hand, but he ignored it. He made it to the veranda in three strides, and wrenched the boy roughly away from his sister with a furious yell.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” he spat.
“James!” Tyler gasped. Her lips were swollen, her shirt wrinkled, and her face was bright red. “I- I can explain…”
“You’d damn well better!” James snarled, rounding on her. “What the hell is going on here, Tyler? Who is this guy?!”
Tyler looked like she was about to cry. “Aron is my boyfriend,” she said, in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Your boyfriend?!” I could hear James getting angrier with every word. “No, Tyler, this guy is clearly bad news. I forbid you to see him again.”
Tyler’s shocked expression turned into a scowl, and she squared up to her brother. “How can you say that?” she cried. “You don’t even know him!”
“I don’t need to, Ty! I can see just by looking at him that he has no respect for himself or for you! The position we caught you in just now proves that!”
“I’m not a kid any more!” she screamed back. “You can’t tell me what to do or who to see! I love Aron, and I don’t care what you say! I hate you!”
The last sentence she threw at him with all her might, before running into the house and slamming the door behind her. Through the window, I saw her wiping her eyes as she dashed up the stairs.
“Well, that was something,” said a drawling voice behind us. “I’m gonna leave now, if you don’t mind.”
“Why, you-” James snarled, making a lunge for the boy, but I held him back.
“James, stop,” I said gently, keeping a firm grip on his arm. “Let him go.”
“Bianca, you know as well as I do that kid needs to be taught a lesson!” he growled, still struggling to throw me off.
“It doesn’t matter!” I countered. “Tyler is inside now, and I know she’s hurt because of all this. I need to go talk to her, and I need you to not beat up her boyfriend. It’ll just make everything worse.”
I held onto his arm for a few moments until he sighed and stopped struggling, allowing me to relinquish my grip. Aron was long gone now.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll be back.” I left James with a quick kiss on the cheek before heading inside.
I found Tyler in the first place I checked – my bedroom, which the two of us had been sharing since she and James had moved in. She was at the far side of the room and staring out the window when I came in. I wondered if she was still crying.
“Knock, knock,” I called softly. “Can I come in?”
Tyler turned, but didn’t seem at all surprised to see me. She flopped down on the couch with a sigh and patted the seat next to her. I crossed the room cautiously, and sat down.
“So,” I said. “You going to tell me what this is all about?”
She sighed again. “You heard me tell James… Aron is my boyfriend. I love him.”
I struggled to stop myself from frowning. Sure, I wanted Tyler to be happy, and I did think that James had overreacted earlier, but my instincts were telling me that he was right – this boy was bad news.
“And… how long has this been going on?” I asked her.
“Two weeks.” Woah.
“So… not that long, then.”
She seemed to guess what I was thinking. “I know it sounds stupid, but I just know he’s right for me!” she cried earnestly. “He makes me happy.”
To be honest, I doubted those feelings would last very long, but I didn’t want to say so to Tyler. Instead, I steered the conversation in a slightly different direction.
“What about James?”
She sighed again. “I know I shouldn’t have yelled at him, but… it just made me so mad! He thinks I’m still a child! I don’t need him to be looking out for me all the time, it’s not fair. If I want to date a boy, it’s not up to him to tell me I can’t!”
While I agreed with her in principle, I still couldn’t help thinking that this particular boy was going to lead her into trouble. “Tyler…” I began cautiously. I didn’t want her to blow up at me like she had with James. “You know that James loves you. He’s just trying to protect you from harm.”
“Aron’s not going to hurt me!”
I sighed. “Look, Ty… you just have to be really careful with guys like him. Bad things can happen, things you’ll regret, if you don’t watch yourself. Not all guys are good. I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“What would you know?” she snapped. “It’s not like you have any experience with other guys!”
“Tyler!” I gasped, shocked.
She stood up.
“Thanks, Bianca, but I don’t need your advice. You can’t assume things like that when you don’t even know Aron! I don’t need protecting, so you and my brother both need to stop trying!”
“Tyler, I… I didn’t mean…” I stammered, completely lost for words.
“Leave me alone!” she cried, turning on her heel and running out of the room.
I sighed a second time. I had tried to get through to her, but Tyler clearly couldn’t hear a word against this boy. Now all I could do was hope that she really would be fine. But deep down, I knew James was right – nothing good could come out of this relationship.