I called the Parkers that night and told them about seeing Jed. Even though he called them sometimes, they were glad to hear that he was safe and doing well.
“The people he’s living with are nice?” Mrs. Parker asked, even though she had already asked many similar questions.
“I didn’t really meet the parents,” I admitted, “but I met his friends, and they’re cool. I can tell that they care about him.”
“I’m just so glad that both of you made it home.”
“Me too,” I said. “We’d still like to come visit, though. We were thinking that we could both drive up there, and then I could leave your car there and ride back with him.”
“Could you get enough time off of work?” Mr. Parker asked.
“If I request it soon, yeah,” I said. “Jed and I can make plans and let you know.”
“Well you know us,” Terin said, “always so busy. You better let us know in advance so we can clear our schedules.”
We all laughed.
“I would like to take off work,” Mr. Parker said.
“I don’t know if I’d be able to,” Mrs. Parker said, “but we’ll see. We’d love to see you both. You could even bring friends, if you want.”
“Isn’t that a little risky?” I asked. “I don’t want to put you guys in danger.”
“It’s not that risky if you think about it,” Terin said. “I told Mom this already, but your family knows that you weren’t actually in a foster home for a long time, right?”
“Right,” I said. “They still call it a foster home, though.”
“Yeah. But it’s not like they’re going to call the police, because you came back and they’re just happy that you’re okay, right?”
“And Jed’s parents are out of the picture. From what he’s said, I don’t think anyone really cares where he was. They’re just glad he’s safe, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I’m not totally sure, though.”
Terin shrugged. “It would be fine. I’m almost sure. But it would be totally cool if you two came alone, you know?”
“I know,” I said, smiling.
We all talked for a while longer, and then Terin took the phone up to his room, and we talked for another hour.
When I wasn’t working, Jed and I planned our trip to the Parkers’ house, which we wanted to make around the end of July. It gave Jed time to get his driver’s license, and it gave me time to figure out my work situation.
I asked off work, and after working some overtime for a week, I was able to take an entire 7 days off without missing out on too much money. That gave us two days for driving and five whole days to hang out with the Parkers. It wasn’t a lot, but it had to be enough.
My dad wanted to come, but he couldn’t get off work.
“You’ll get to meet them someday,” I promised.
“I hope so,” he said, giving me a bear hug.
Jed met me at a gas station in town in the car he was borrowing from his aunt and uncle, and then we headed off to Minnesota so that we’d get there at almost the exact same time.
Driving back to Minnesota from Missouri was much easier than my first drive to Missouri. This time, I had actually slept well the night before, and I knew exactly to expect when I arrived. I cranked up the music in the car and sang most of the way there, only stopping at a gas station once to buy some water and to go to the bathroom.
I texted Jed at the gas station to let him know my ETA, and he texted me a few minutes later when I was back on the highway. It looked like I would probably get to the Parkers’ house before him.
When I finally pulled off the highway, my heart rate went up and I could not wait to get out of the car. I started recognizing buildings, and when I drove by Roderick and Oliver’s apartment and the park, I resisted the urge to get out and walk around. I would have time for that later when I was with everyone.
Driving into the neighborhood reminded me of all the times I drove home from the museum, tired from being on my feet and talking for hours. I remembered how good my air mattress used to feel under my back, and if, now that I had slept on a real bed for a while, if it would still feel the same.
I pulled into the driveway and I couldn’t stop smiling. As I got out of the car, the front door opened, and Terin and Mrs. Parker ran down to hug me. We all squeezed each other and I tried not to cry. They pulled away, and I immediately grabbed Terin and pulled him into another hug. When I let them go, he grinned at me.
“Where’s Jed?” Mrs. Parker asked.
“He’s a few minutes behind me. I only stopped once, but I think he stopped twice.”
“Is he a good driver?” Terin asked.
I shrugged. “Never been in the car with him. He was nervous for the drive, but I think it’s because of how recently he got his license.”
“He passed on his first try, so I bet he’s a fine driver.”
“Yeah, he scored higher than me.”
Terin smiled. “Higher than me?”
I smiled back. “Nope.”
He pumped his fist, and Mrs. Parker and I laughed. “Maybe Jerico will beat you,” she said.
“Doubt it,” Terin said.
We stayed outside and talked until Jed pulled into the driveway behind the car I had driven. The three of us ran over, and I let Mrs. Parker and Terin hug him when he got out. He closed his eyes so tight and smiled as he hugged them, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what he had done when I hugged him.
When they let go, we unloaded our bags and went inside.
“Do we get to sleep in our old room?” Jed asked.
Mrs. Parker smiled at him. “We don’t have many other places to put you.”
“I think I’d rather sleep in the basement,” I joked.
“When will Roderick and Oliver be here?” Jed asked.
“I think they’re going to come over as often as they can while you guys are here,” Terin said. “Basically whenever neither of them have work.”
“Oliver works?” Jed asked.
“Did we not tell you? He’s a cashier at Roderick’s grocery store.”
“I don’t think I knew that.”
“And Roderick is a manager now.”
“Yeah, I knew that.”
“Are you the only one who flipped your sleep schedule for us, Terin?” I asked. He had decided to flip it as soon as I told him we were trying to plan a trip.
“Melodie and Jerico are working on it, but they are napping right now. They almost always nap regardless of their sleep schedule.”
“They’re growing,” Mrs. Parker said.
“What about Annelies?” Jed asked.
“She didn’t flip it,” Terin said.
“Annelies didn’t flip her sleep schedule because she decided that she did not want to go out anywhere,” Mrs. Parker said. “We offered it to her and promised to keep her safe, but she really did not want to.”
“Too bad,” I said. “At least we’ll still get to see her in the evenings.”
“Let’s take this stuff upstairs,” Mrs. Parker said. We all grabbed our bags and followed her upstairs. I worried we were going to wake Jerico up, but when we got upstairs, he was already sitting up on his air mattress, rubbing his eyes.
“Morning sleepy head,” Mrs. Parker said, walking over and kissing him on the head.
“Mom,” he groaned. Then he spotted Jed and I and got up. We hugged him and I kissed his head.
“Cam, cut it out,” he said, swatting at me. Terin, Jed, and I laughed.
“You’re definitely going to be taller than me,” Jed said, measuring from the top of his head to Jerico’s head. Jerico was the same height as him.
I smiled to myself, thanking my dad for being 6 foot and my uncle for being 6’2”, making me one of the taller trans guys in the world, standing at 5’10”. I had been taller than Jed, who was about 5’8”, for as long as we had known each other.
“He’s probably going to be taller than me,” Terin, who was also 5’10”, said. “He got more of Dad’s genes, and I got more of Mom’s.”
“That’s why you suck at fixing cars,” Jerico teased.
“Do not,” Terin argued.
Someone cleared their throat from behind us, and I turned to see Melodie standing in the doorway. I stepped over and hugged her tight, and she hugged me back. When I let go, Jed took his turn hugging her.
“Could you guys have been any louder?” Melodie asked, and we all laughed. Mrs. Parker excused herself, and the rest of us ended up settling on the air mattresses and on the floor and talking.
Annelies woke up an hour or so later, and she came into the room, rubbing her eyes. Jed and I hugged her and she ended up sitting in Jed’s lap while we talked.
“What’s your mom making for dinner?” Jed asked Terin and Jerico.
“Heck if I know,” Jerico said. “I just eat it.”
“I taught her how to make homemade tortillas, but she still buys them from the store most of the time,” Melodie said, rolling her eyes.
“You want to cook?” Terin asked.
“Homemade tortillas are so much better, though,” Jed said. “My friend Isaiah’s mom makes them all the time.”
Melodie smirked. “At least someone knows what I’m talking about.”
“I’m not saying they weren’t really good,” Terin said, “but it doesn’t matter that much.”
They continued arguing, and I couldn’t help but smile to myself. I had missed feeling like I had siblings. Sure, I lived with my cousins, but we never argued. We didn’t spend enough time together to argue.
The rumble of the garage door made them stop arguing, and we all smiled and raced downstairs to greet Mr. Parker. I felt like a little kid again, playfully pushing Terin and Jerico as we ran down and Mrs. Parker calling, “No pushing on the stairs!”
We were all gathered around the door when Mr. Parker came inside. He grinned at all of us, and Annelies jumped into his arms, so he held her as he hugged me and Jed.
“It’s so good to see you, boys,” he said, smiling down at us.
“You too,” Jed and I said.
“Dinner is almost ready,” Mrs. Parker called from upstairs.
While Mr. Parker took off his shoes and hurried upstairs to take a quick shower, we helped Mrs. Parker set the table.
“We get to see Gerald and Kira sometime, right?” I asked.
“Of course,” Mrs. Parker said. “They invited us over for dinner tomorrow night. They weren’t available tonight, but they said the invitation was still open to swim.”
“As always,” Terin said.
When Mr. Parker came downstairs in clean clothes, we sat down and at dinner, which was lasagna and garlic bread. I don’t think I ever stopped smiling.
After we finished eating, we stayed at the table and talked for awhile, until Terin said, “We’ve waited long enough after we ate to swim. We’re wasting time!”
“Oh, all right. I suppose we have more time to talk later,” Mrs. Parker said.
We helped her clean up, and then we all changed into our swimming suits. Even though Mr. and Mrs. Parker had work in the morning, they swam with us until almost 11 at night.
“I think it’s time for us to turn in,” Mr. Parker said, pulling himself out of the pool.
“I’m pretty tired,” I admitted, and Terin and Jed nodded. Jerico, Melodie, and Annelies decided to get out as well, so we all walked back to the house together.
We let Mr. and Mrs. Parker shower first. Terin got out UNO, and we played for an hour or so, leaving one by one to shower and climb into bed until it was just Terin and I sitting at the table waiting to shower.
“It almost feels like you never left,” Terin said.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “The time I spent away from here almost feels like a dream now that I’m back.”
“And someday, when you’ve been away from here for a long time, the time you spent here will feel like a dream.”
I shrugged. “I don’t think so. It was too real and too long to feel like a dream.”
Terin shrugged back. “Dreams and memories feel pretty similar to me.”
“Maybe because you store memories of real life and memories of dreams in the same place in your brain?”
“I missed you, Cam.”
“I missed you too.” I waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. “Did you ever finish that college checklist?”
Terin smiled. “Mostly. You?”
“Not really,” I said, laughing. “I’m a bad example.”
“I just really want to get out of here,” Terin said. “I just feel kind of stifled now. It’s like, you know, you and Jed have moved on to these new things, and I’m just here still. I don’t even have a job yet. I’m not making any moves for my future.”
“I didn’t make any moves for my future for a very long time. It’s okay to enjoy your last few months of childhood.”
Terin snorted. “I just don’t feel like a kid anymore, you know? I feel like I should be doing something.”
“Yeah. At least you have your checklist now, so you can start doing stuff.”
Terin nodded. “I told Mom and Dad about wanting to take the ACT, and they said we could sign me up for one in the fall, and if I need to take it again, one in the spring.”
“Mom got me a test prep booklet, and it’s really not that bad. The math is all easy, but I’m not super good at the whole grammar part.”
“You could ask Jed about it.”
“I was planning on it. Every once in a while there’s just one of them I get wrong and I don’t really know why.”
“You’ll get it.”
“Yeah. You’re going to take the ACT, right?”
“Yeah, at some point. I probably should soon, I think.”
“You can get a practice test-thing and I bet you’ll be fine after that.”
“Yeah, it’s all multiple choice, right? It can’t be that hard.”
“It’s hard for me to believe that all these colleges base so much off of these test scores. It doesn’t show hardly anything about a person at all.”
“Yeah. Anyone can answer a multiple choice question right. You still have to write an application essay, though.”
“Yeah, that’s true. I don’t know. I just don’t want to screw up on the ACT and not get into a good school.”
“You won’t.” I said. “I can guarantee it.”
“No you can’t.”
“Yes I can. Because I know you. You’re crazy smart.”
“Then what does that make you?” “I don’t know.”
“I bet you’ll get a 36 on your first try.”
“I bet you’ll get a 36 on your first try.”
“What does the winner get?”
I smiled. “Bragging rights?”
“Sounds like a deal to me.” Terin stuck out his hand, and I shook it vigorously.