“Thanks,” Jordan said through a mouthful, opening his lips to let the heat from the eggs escape his mouth.
“Want coffee, honey?”
“If it’s made already.”
“It is.” Heather cheered up as she went back into the kitchen, feeling a wave of gratitude for her son. He kept his room clean, took their garbage to the incinerator chute, did his own laundry in the machines in the crummy basement. He’d set up her email, showed her how to G-chat, and fixed Netflix so they could use her sister’s account. Jordan never gave her a moment’s trouble. She didn’t know how she’d gotten so lucky, in him.
“How was practice?” Heather asked from the kitchen, sliding the pot of coffee from Mr. Coffeemaker and pouring him a mug, then herself. They both drank it black, which made her feel good, for some reason. They were no-frills, a tough little half a family.
“Fine.” Jordan turned the page, then tucked the paperback under his plate.
“How was school?” Heather brought the mugs back and placed Jordan’s coffee in front of him.
“Good.” Heather pulled out the chair and sat opposite him. She wasn’t hungry because she had eaten at the club, scarfing down so many leftover pigs-in-blankets that she felt like one.
“Got a new assistant coach.”
“Oh? What’s his name?”
“Brennan. I have him for AP Government, too.”
“Is he nice?”
“Yes. I got a game tomorrow. I might start.” Jordan glanced up with a quick smile.
“You mean you might be the starting pitcher?” Heather asked, surprised. “Not Raz?”
“Yep.” Jordan nodded, returning to his book.
“Good for you, honey!” Heather felt happy for him, though she knew he would have mixed feelings, competing with Raz. She could have asked him about it, but she’d learned not to bug him. She wished she could go to his games, to cheer for him, to be there for him, but she had to work, which was just another way she fell short.
Heather sipped her coffee, keeping him company, or maybe he was keeping her company. Either way, silence fell between them. Jordan didn’t talk much, but on the plus side, he never complained. She used to worry that he internalized his emotions, like it said in the magazines, but he was a boy, after all, and so much like her father.
Heather laced her fingers around her mug, and her gaze traveled to the window. She hadn’t closed the curtains yet, and it was already dark outside. The Friendly’s sign glowed blood-red—TRY OUR HUNKA CHUNKA PB FUDGE—and the lights were on in the Sunoco gas station. Traffic was congested on Central Valley Road, and car exhaust made chalky plumes in the night air. Jordan had been spooked by exhaust when he was little.
Mommy, are those ghosts coming from inside the cars?
No, honey. They’re farts.
Heather smiled to herself, wondering if she had been a better mother then or if it had just been easier. Her mother always said, big kids, big problems, and Heather worried constantly about college for Jordan, where he would get in, how they would pay for it. Heather lowered her gaze, watching him. She loved watching her son eat, even though she watched people eat all day, but that was different.
Suddenly a text alert sounded on Jordan’s phone, which was on the table, and Heather glanced over to see a skinny banner pop onto the screen:
From Evan K: bro
Heather blinked, surprised. Evan K had to be Evan Kostis, Mindy’s Kostis’s son. It was funny, since she’d seen Mindy just today at the luncheon.
Do I know you? You look familiar.
Heather felt a tingle of excitement at the thought that Jordan could become friends with Evan. Jordan didn’t have any close friends besides Raz, but Raz was such a wacko. A popular kid like Evan could bring Jordan out of his shell. And Evan was the captain of the baseball team and in the local newspaper, whether for National Honor Society or some other thing. Evan was Winner’s Circle, like his parents. Maybe the Larkin’s could get out of the Loser’s Circle, or at least Jordan could.
The banner flashed a second time, but Jordan kept reading and Heather watched the phone screen go black. Her father always said, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and she saw proof of that every day, watching the club members exchanging business cards, taking each other’s stock tips and vacation-spot recommendations, hiring each other’s lawyers, doctors, babysitters, whatever.
“Jordan, you got a text.” Heather rose, reaching for his plate to clear the table, but he grabbed the other side of the plate, stopping her.
“You don’t have to clear, Ma. I will.”
“If I clear, you can text Evan back.”
“I’m not like you, Ma. I don’t get excited every time I get a text. I’m not an olds.” Jordan stood up with a crooked smile, picking up the dirty plates, silverware, and crumpled napkin, stacking them the way he learned to at the club, where he bused tables in summer.
“I just think if Evan texted you, you should text him back.”
“Why not? Don’t you want to see what he wants?”
“I know what he wants.” Jordan walked into the kitchen with the plates and silverware, then opened the dishwasher only wide enough to slide the plates in the bottom rack and drop the fork and the knife in the silverware bin.
“What does he want?” Heather could see Jordan getting testy, but she had him in her clutches and wasn’t about to let go.
“He wants to go to the movies Saturday night.”
“That sounds like fun,” Heather said, too quickly. “Are you going to go with him?
“I’m doing something with Raz.”
“Did you already make plans with Raz?”
“I always do things with Raz on the weekend. You know that.”
“But it’s not like you have plans.”
“I’m not gonna ditch Raz.” Jordan frowned.
“You’re not ditching him if you don’t have plans.”
“Mom, I have homework to do.” Jordan went to the table, palmed his phone, and grabbed his paperback.
“I’m just saying. Maybe you can go out with Raz on Friday night and Evan on Saturday night.” Heather followed him into the living room, knowing she had already said too much. She always said to herself, with boys, say as few words as is humanly possible. The hardest part about being a mother was shutting up.