The next morning Jed, Terin, and I woke up too late to eat breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Parker before their work, so we made ourselves some cereal and sat at the table.
“How’s living with your friend going, Jed?” Terin asked.
“Pretty good,” Jed said.
“Nah, come on,” Terin said. “That’s the version you gave Mom and Dad.”
Jed smiled into his cereal. “I mean, it’s kind of true. They’re always nice to me and I like them a lot.”
“But?” Terin asked.
“Well, I mean, I kind of already told Cam, but it’s just never quiet. Isaiah always wants to hang out, and if I tell him no and he actually listens, he’ll invite our other friends over and I’ll hear them laughing and yelling about video games and stuff downstairs. Or my cousins want to come over, or they want me to come over. Or, when it’s finally quiet and Isaiah is playing video games alone or something, then their family comes over for a family dinner and it’s loud again.”
“You could put headphones in or something,” Terin suggested.
“I’m not that good at concentrating when I listen to music. I especially can’t read and listen to music.”
“Do you listen to music with words?” I asked.
“That’s all I listen to,” Jed said, laughing.
“You didn’t like any of the instrumental stuff we listened to here?”
Jed shrugged. “I liked your piano songs, I guess, but mostly just because in my head it was ‘Cameron’s piano song’ or something. Now that I don’t hear you play them, I don’t really listen to them. I don’t know.”
“I think it would be easier to write while listening to instrumental music,” Terin said. “Especially if you don’t care about it much. Then it’s just calming or something, and it blocks out the noise from other people.”
“Is that what you do when you paint?”Jed asked.
“I mean, not really. I listen to music with words, too, because it doesn’t interfere. Sometimes it even helps set the mood of what I’m trying to put on the canvas, you know? I have a few different playlists that really helped me with one painting or another.”
Jed pursed his lips to the side. “That’s actually not a bad idea. I only have one playlist right now, and I get to a song I really like, like something from Hamilton, and I just get distracted by it.”
Terin and I laughed. “Jerico gets mad at me for singing along as I paint. He says my voice sucks and that it wakes him up.”
Jed chuckled. “I try not to sing out loud at Isaiah’s. Ever.”
“Does Isaiah like music?” I asked.
Jed shrugged. “Not that much, I don’t know. Pretty much the only time I see him with headphones in is when he’s playing video games alone, and that’s because everyone tells him to turn down the volume otherwise.”
“It’s crazy to think that some people just don’t like music.”
“Yeah,” Terin and Jed agreed.
By the time we were done eating, Jerico and Melodie made their way downstairs and sat down at the table.
“Is there anything besides cereal?” Jerico asked, making a face.
“I can make you eggs and toast,” Melodie offered.
“Would you?” Jerico asked, smiling.
“Ooh,” Jed said, pushing Jerico’s shoulder a little.
“What?” Melodie snapped.
“It’s just cute how you cook for him.”
“His mother cooks for him,” Melodie said. “Is that cute?”
Terin, Jed, and I laughed.
“Shut up,” Jerico said.
“Would you cook for me, Melodie?” Jed asked.
Melodie rolled her eyes.
“Come on,” Terin said, “you guys would be cute.”
Neither of them said anything. Jerico hit his head on the table softly, and Melodie busied herself finding a skillet.
Terin made a face at Jed and I, and we cracked up.
“Don’t tell Mom and Dad, okay?” Jerico said softly.
“You mean you guys are actually together?” Terin asked.
Melodie turned to face us, holding the skillet in her hand. “No one was supposed to know.”
Jerico lifted his head off the table. “They’re nosy. They were going to find out eventually.”
“I’m not nosy,” Terin said.
Jerico rolled his eyes. “Just promise you won’t tell Mom and Dad.”
“They’ll get all weird about it.”
“They knew about me and Leia.”
“Rico, it’d be fine if they knew,” I said.
“What do you know?” Jerico said. “You never dated anyone here.”
I looked down at the table, willing Jed or Terin not to say something about my crush on Jed.
“Your parents are super cool,” Jed said. “Melodie, don’t you think it would be okay?”
Melodie shrugged. “I can’t afford to get kicked out of here.”
“If my parents didn’t kick Kevin out, there’s no way they’ll kick you out,” Terin said.
“Kevin wasn’t that bad,” Melodie said.
“We won’t tell,” Terin said, “but I think you guys should.”
Melodie didn’t answer, and Jerico just shrugged.
Jed, Terin, and I went for a walk, but Melodie and Jerico stayed behind, claiming that they should be around in case Annelies woke up.
“They’re lucky my parents aren’t here,” Terin said, laughing a little. “Anyone could see through that excuse.”
Jed and I laughed.
We walked down to the park, which was somewhat busy. We walked around the path until there were three swings open, and then we claimed them.
“It feels weird being here in the daytime,” Jed said.
“Yeah,” Terin and I agreed. “We never had to wait for swings at night,” I said.
We got off the swings after a few minutes so that the little kids could play on them, and then we walked home.
“I think Roderick and Oliver are going to try to come to Gerald and Kira’s tonight,” Terin said.
“I can’t wait to see them,” I said.
“Me neither,” Jed said. “Roderick was always so nice to me. He even helped me buy my Amtrak ticket when I went home.”
“That was nice of him,” I said.
“My aunt and uncle gave me some money that was supposed to be for the Prados, Isaiah’s family, but they wouldn’t take it, so now I have more than enough to pay him back.”
“I doubt he’ll take it,” Terin said.
“Well, I promised I would pay him back, so I’m going to make him take it,” Jed said, smiling.
Back at the house, Terin showed Jed and I a painting he did after we left and the one he was currently working on, which I really liked. We sat at the kitchen table going through his sketchbook until it was time for lunch.
“What do you guys want?” Terin asked, looking in the fridge. “There’s sandwich stuff and some chili my mom made a couple days ago.”
I offered to go get Jerico and Melodie while Jed and Terin got the food out. I hurried upstairs. Both of the bedroom doors were closed, so I checked Annelies and Melodie’s room first, opening the door just a crack so that it didn’t make any noise. Annelies was asleep hugging her stuffed bear, her hair spread over the pillow. I smiled to myself as I closed the door, then I knocked softly on the door to the boys’ room.
Jerico and Melodie came to the door a few seconds later. “What?” Jerico said.
“Want lunch?” I asked.
He opened the door, and he and Melodie followed me downstairs.
“There’s the happy couple,” Terin teased. Jerico moved around the counter and flicked him, but Terin just laughed.
While Terin, Jed, and Melodie made sandwiches, Jerico and I took turns microwaving our chili and adding cheese on top. I couldn’t help but smile to myself. Jerico and I had always known how to push each other’s buttons, but when it came to food, we liked pretty much everything the same way.
“Have you guys ever been ice skating?” Terin asked Jed and I.
“Yeah,” Jed said.
“No,” I said.
“It’s really fun,” Jerico said. “Terin and I went a couple weeks ago, just for fun.”
“I hate ice skating,” Melodie said.
“She’s just bad at it,” Terin said, smiling at her playfully.
“I am,” she admitted.
“You guys want to go?” Terin asked. “My mom should be home soon, so she can stay with Annelies, and we can be back in time for dinner.”
Jed shrugged at me. “I like ice skating.”
“I can give it a try,” I said.
When we were done eating, we put our dishes in the dishwasher and went down to the living room. We watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets until Mrs. Parker got home.
“What have you guys been up to?” she asked, setting her purse down on the piano bench.
“Eating, walking, talking,” Terin said, pausing the movie. “We wanted to go ice skating.”
“Sounds like fun,” Mrs. Parker said. “I can stay with Annelies.”
“Perfect,” Terin said, smiling back at the rest of us. “We’ll be back in time for dinner.”
“You better be,” Mrs. Parker said, smiling. She bent down and kissed his head, and Terin didn’t shoo her away. He turned off the TV.
“You guys might want pants,” Jerico said. “Falling sucks in shorts.”
Luckily, since I knew we were going to Minnesota, I had brought pants just in case. Jed hadn’t, so he had to borrow some of Terin’s, which were a little long on him.
We piled into the car I had brought back, and Terin gave me directions to the rink. On the way there, he gave Jed the aux cord, and Jed played part of his playlist.
“No wonder you get distracted listening to this,” Terin said when we were almost to the ice skating rink. “They’re all songs you have to sing along to.”
“You definitely don’t have to,” Jerico said.
“Don’t be embarrassed because you can’t sing, Jer,” Melodie teased him.
“Terin’s the one who can’t sing,” Jerico insisted, and we all laughed.
I parked the car, and we all got out. Inside the building, Terin and Jerico led us to the desk where we paid and got skates. They were kind of uncomfortable, but Terin promised that I would get used to them as we went. I stood up, surprised that I could actually keep my balance standing on the thin blades. Jed noticed me smiling and said, “It gets harder on the ice.”
“Are you any good?”
“Well,” he said, smiling a little, “not to brag but I’ve been ice skating more times that I can count on my fingers.”
I smiled. “Doesn’t mean you’re good.”
“Big talk for someone who’s never ice skated.”
“Well, I’ve rollerbladed in the basement more times that I can remember, so…”
“It’s not that much different from rollerblading,” Terin said. “Just more slippery.”
When everyone had their skates on, we wobbled our way over to the ice. Terin and Jed stepped onto the ice with no problem, but I held onto the wall for dear life as my feet slipped and slid under me.
Terin helped me stand upright, and Jerico and Melodie both used the wall to help them get out on the ice.
“Now that I’m standing up, it doesn’t feel too bad,” I said.
Melodie had a lot more problems than me, so Jed and Jerico held her arms from both sides while Terin helped me learn to skate. He was right that knowing how to rollerblade helped, but the blades on the ice felt a lot less friendly underneath me than wheels on concrete.
By the time I had mostly gotten the hang of it, Jed had left Jerico to skate slowly with Melodie alone. I could skate at a speed I was proud of, but Jed and Terin decided to have a race around the rink, and they were both a lot faster than me. I gave up and watched them speed around the rink. Terin fell taking a turn, and Jed finished the lap before turning around and skating back to him to make sure he was okay. I watched as they laughed together, and it made me happy, but I also felt the old pangs of something like jealousy come back. I had always thought that Jed liked Terin more than me. But it didn’t really matter now, because Jed would never like me the way I liked him, and we had shared more intimate moments than Jed had shared with Terin. I was sure of it.
I skated with Jerico and Melodie for a bit, which was mostly Jerico and I helping Melodie up when she fell. I kept an eye on Jed and Terin, smiling to myself as Jed taught Terin to skate backwards.
After about half an hour, I tried skating faster again, and I got going pretty fast until I misplaced my left foot and fell forward, partially catching my fall with my arms. My hands hurt from the impact, and as soon as I was back on my feet, Jed and Terin were at my side.
“You okay?” Jed asked.
“I’m okay,” I said, smiling and wiping my hands on my jeans.
“You were going pretty fast,” Terin said. “Once you get the hang of that, Jed could teach you to skate backwards.”
“It’ll be awhile before I get a hang of going forwards,” I said.
We skated and talked for another hour, occasionally trying to race again. Once I even made it a whole lap without falling, but I never beat Jed or Terin.
By the time we went home, I was pretty tired. Terin offered to drive, so I let him, and I sat in the backseat with Jerico and Melodie, who held hands the whole ride.
When we got home, Annelies was awake, so Jed, Terin, Jerico, and I played dolls with her while Melodie helped Mrs. Parker make cookies and salad for the dinner at Gerald and Kira’s.
Roderick and Oliver showed up right before Mr. Parker got home, and Jed and I went to greet them at the front door.
“It’s so good to see you guys,” Roderick said, giving both Jed and I a hug. I smiled at him and then turned to Oliver, who grabbed me and hugged me quickly.
“I missed you,” I said, smiling. He smiled at me. “I missed you too.”
Oliver had never said that to me before, and I couldn’t remember a time where he hugged me since we were super little.
“I brought something for you guys,” Roderick said, holding up the shopping bag in his hand.
“You didn’t have to do that,” I said.
“Yeah,” Jed agreed.
“I wanted to,” Roderick said. “Get Terin up here, too.”
I went over to the stairs. “Terin, come up here.”
Roderick, Oliver, Terin, Jed, and I gathered around the table.
“So I heard Terin and Cameron were thinking about college?” Roderick asked.
Terin and I nodded.
“What about you, Jed?” he asked.
“I think I’m just going to try to get published, I don’t know.” Jed said, his face turning red.
We all smiled. “Good for you, man,” Roderick said. “Takes guts.”
“Thanks,” Jed said.
“Anyway,” Roderick said, “I was thinking about how all of you guys are going out into the world, so me and Ollie thought we’d get you something.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Mrs. Parker said from behind the counter.
“We already did,” Oliver said.
Roderick pulled three wallets and three power strips from the bag. “I know that I had to buy myself a wallet when I was your guys’ age, and Mr. Parker bought us a power strip when Ollie and I moved out, and we use it all the time. I just thought it was stuff you guys would need.”
“Thanks, Roderick,” Terin said, and Jed and I echoed him. I picked up the wallet and opened it. Roderick was right, I did need one. I had always just shoved stuff in my pocket.
“This is a good wallet,” I said. “And I really needed one, so thank you.”
“No problem, Cam,” Roderick said.
“Isaiah and I are always filling up the outlets in his room, so this will come in super handy,” Jed said.
I offered to take the gifts up to our room, and when I came back downstairs, the garage door was opening, meaning Mr. Parker was home.
Ater he greeted us, he ran upstairs to shower. We sat at the table and talked until he was done, and then we all grabbed our swimming suits and got shoes on to head over to Gerald and Kira’s, Melodie and Mrs. Parker carrying the food.
“Hello, hello!” Kira said when she opened the door. She held her arms open, and we all took turns hugging her. She kissed my and Jed’s cheeks, leaving lipstick behind. Jerico teased us, but Terin helped us wipe it off.
Gerald came downstairs after we had made our way to the living room, and Jed and I stood up to hug him.
“Look at you two, all grown up,” Gerald said.
“We were only gone for a couple months,” Jed said, smiling.
“And oh, the places you’ve been.”
Jed and I laughed a little, and then we all settled down and caught up while Kira’s roast and rolls finished cooking.
“Roderick, we hear you were promoted,” Gerald said.
“Yeah,” Roderick said. “Being manager is a bit different than my old job, that’s for sure.”
“And Oliver, you work at the store too, right?”
Oliver nodded. “I’m practicing my friendly smile.”
“Let’s see it,” Kira said.
Oliver smiled at us, and Kira clapped, “It’s wonderful!’ she said, and Oliver kept smiling.
“How is your father, Cameron?” Gerald asked.
“He’s good,” I said. “He’s really nice, and he works really hard. I’m working at a grocery store back home to help make money so I can go to college.”
“You have always been so smart,” Kira said, “You’re going to make a difference in the world, I just know it.”
I blushed. “Thank you.”
“Terin, Jed, are you going to go to college?”
“I’m working on it,” Terin said.
“I think I’m going to try writing first, but if that doesn’t work out in a couple years, I’ll go to school.” Jed said.
“That’s a good plan.” Kira said. “One of my girlfriends from high school wanted to be a writer, and her parents always told her she’d never amount to anything. You know what, lots of people read her books! Lots of people will read your books too, Jed.”
“Thanks,” Jed said. “I think my aunt and uncle are going to support me on this, but I’m not sure. They might try to get me to go to school.”
“You don’t need a degree to be a writer. There are plenty of examples of that. Like Christopher Paolini.” I said.
“Who’s that?” Mrs. Parker asked.
“He wrote a book I’m reading right now. There are four books in the series, and they’re all quite thick. He even made up parts of languages and stuff.”
“I don’t think I’ll be that successful,” Jed said, smiling. “But I can only hope I’ll get someone to read what I wrote.”
“You will,” Terin said. “You could use me and Cam as your first readers.”
“That’s a good idea,” Gerald said. Jed nodded.
“Would you go to college for your art, Terin?” Kira asked.
“Yeah, and maybe for history.”
“That sounds like fun. How’s our painting coming?”
“Your painting?” I asked. I looked at Terin.
“Remember the one I showed you guys this morning? The one I’m working on?”
“His first commissioned work,” Mr. Parker said proudly.
“It’s really beautiful,” Jed told Gerald and Kira.
“We’re going to put it above our bed,” Gerald said. “Our bedroom has always been too plain for my liking.”
A timer went off in the kitchen, and Kira went to get the food out of the oven. Mrs. Parker followed to help.
“Anyone want to help me set the table?” Gerald asked, pushing himself up off the couch.
Jed, Terin, Roderick, and I got up and followed him to the kitchen.
When everything was ready, we all sat down at the table. We all joined hands, and Gerald and Kira thanked God that we were all safe and asked him to help us in our future endeavors. When she was done, we dug into the food.