I spent about a week thinking of Cade’s situation, what might be going on in his household, or worse: what could be going on in his mind.
After summer school one day at the end of July, after having texted him everyday for almost two weeks, it took me a lot of courage and optimistic thinking to opt on visiting him at his “house”. I checked in with him so it didn’t look like I had been stalking him for half a block and found out where he lives. He was hesitant at first, trying numerous times to change the subject, but after a few suggestions, he finally obliged.
I went for a coffee run quickly before heading to Cade’s, slightly nervous to see his living conditions. Would it be the stereotypical shelter home of tight spaces, one bed room, and a common room? Or would it be rooms with no bedrooms and a bunch of mattresses on the floor or something? What if they shared a bathroom with other inhabitants?
I took a deep breath before texting Cade that I was at the entrance, to which it took him less than a minute to come downstairs and unlock the double doors for me.
I greeted him with a hug. “Hey!”
“Hey! You smell like coffee.” He sniffs the air with his adorable button nose.
I cover my mouth in embarrassment. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I have gum in my—”
“I like the smell of coffee,” He laughed as he went up the four steps to what I presumed to be a security desk that looked close to how a hotel check-in desk would be.
We took the elevator to the fourth floor, and when we got to his place, I was taken aback. It was nothing like a shelter.
When one enters, they are met with the sight of a small family of couches and a decent looking television. Behind the separating wall was the kitchen looking neat and tidy. Beyond the living room was a visible hall near the door to three bedrooms, one lone room of the three on the right side. Hell, this is a piece of what I’d like a cozy living situation to be.
“You okay?” Cade interrupts my thoughts. I must’ve been visibly shocked.
“Yeah, just forgot I left a... packed at school.”
He cringes. “Really? Packets? In summer school?”
I shrug. “It’s only one. Or so he claims.”
From the kitchen emerged a beautiful blonde woman, donning a baking apron. When she saw me she smiled warmly.
“You must be Ellis,” She extends her skinny arm to shake my hand. “I’m Marcia, Caden’s mother.”
“Hi,” I returned her actions. When she went back to cooking, I turned to Cade and asked slyly, “Dropped one letter from your name?”
“How many letters did you drop from yours?” Cade snapped back.
“Three.” I respond proudly. “Ellisara.”
He paused for a moment. “That’s one of the prettiest names I’ve ever heard. Unusual.”
I blushed. “Thank you kindly.”
He motioned me to follow him to some double doors. I expected him to open a big closet he uses as another room or something but it was a small balcony with decent looking furniture.
“Oh...” The shock in my voice is evident.
“You sure you’re okay?” He sat down at the yellow cushiony love seat. It reminded me of something straight out of The Sims.
“Yeah.” I took a seat on the sofa-like lounge chair. Sighing, I changed my answer. “I just...”
He looked at me with big blue puppy dog eyes, the kind that could convince you to do anything.
“Your house is just so...” I struggled for descriptive words.
“This isn’t a shelter, Ellis.” Was he reading my mind?
“I know you probably thought so. But it’s the one down the road. Everyone confuses the two.” He looked out to the view, which was other small residential buildings and a bridge above water. “My dad lives there. Part time.”
Before I could ask what part time meant, he continued.
“This used to be a battered women’s shelter until someone close to my mom’s side of the family bought it and turned it into a regular living space,” He explained. “Dad gets kicked out a lot from over there and tries getting in here. I’m 100% sure he’s the reason they installed those keycard systems on every door, including the elevators.”
Wow. He must’ve been horrific if measures like that were taken.
“After your whole life you get used to it,” He shrugs, but his face shows that just because he is used to it, doesn’t mean he wants it.
We sat outside until Grace called us inside for dinner. The table was already set for five people.
A girl came through the hallway in a matching pajama set and slippers and messy ponytail, and when she saw an unfamiliar face in her home, she froze. Embarrassment spread across her face.
I smile and try to let her know that I didn’t care what she looked like or what she was wearing; it’s her house, she can do what she wants.
“Hey,” She greets me in a friendly tone. “I’m Danielle. Just call me Dannie if you want.”
“Hi,” The polite smile on my face is starting to hurt my cheeks.
A rather good-looking guy also takes a seat at the circular dinner table, not acknowledging my presence for a moment. His eyes met mine and he almost instantly smiled.
“You’re Ellis?” He questioned, looking at Cade with a look of approval. I nod and he says, “It’s good to meet ’ya.”
Grace sits between Cade and Danielle and holds their hands. Oh, I thought. So we don’t eat right away.
I didn’t want to make a scene over something small so I just joined hands with Cade and his brother.
I guess Grace knew better than to have a guest lead them in prayer, just in case they weren’t really familiar with the practice, especially someone like me. I used to go to church, but when my grandma died, we stopped going.
With a final “Amen” from everyone, dinner was served.
“So Ellis,” Grace starts. “How long have you lived here? All your life?”
“Basically.” I reply, afraid of saying something that would stir conflict. “Well, I live in the next town over. I just spend a lot of time here.”
“Well, we’re the opposite,” Grace laughs. “Your town is wonderful.”
“Except for that one abandoned build—” Cade’s brother is silenced by Danielle.
I ate with a painful smile on my face, not knowing when it was safe to go back to neutral because my neutral face was one that screamed anger.
“Oh yeah! That reminds me,” Danielle bounced in her seat. “Work approved my week off request!”
“Thank goodness,” Grace was relieved. “I tell you, they don’t usually give out vacation days as easy as they did for you.”
I wanted to ask where they were going but didn’t want to intrude or be nosy, the opposite of what was actually me.
“Did Sylvia agree to go?” Grace asked her older son.
He shrugged. “We’re not really talking right now.”
“Again?” Danielle tried sounding surprised but was unsuccessful.
“It’s whatever,” He adjusted his sporty tank top and snuck a peek at me. “Guess that means I’m free for the weekend.”
I looked down at my half-eaten dinner plate, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
“That’s too bad. I got a room especially for us girlies.” Grace pouted, but quickly had an epiphany. “Ellis, what are you doing this weekend?”
I glanced back up and saw they were all staring at me. I still had a mouthful of barley-chewed chicken. I chewed quickly before answering. “Um, nothing really. Probably just sleep.”
“That sounds nice.” Danielle let out a sigh of longing.
“Would you like to join us? We’re going to the spa resort upstate.”
I was floored at the offer. I just met them and they’ve already taken a liking of me? “I... Um..”
“You don’t have to go,” Cade jumped in, but backtracked a second later. “It’d be alright, though.”
“I know we just met, but,” Grace took my hand in hers. “You’re very special to Caden. We’d like to get to know you better.”
Cade, from my peripherals, was red in the face.
Before I could answer, Danielle said, “It’s fun getting to know new people. Especially ones close to our family.”
I know I didn’t have much time to decide, considering tomorrow was Thursday and they were probably leaving on Friday. “That’d be great. I’ve never been to a spa.”
Grace and Danielle looked happy, the brother amused, and Cade relieved.
I didn’t know if I made the right choice in accepting.