#19 Why is there a penis on your shirt?
It’s the middle of the day, Khiêm and I are both in casual clothes – sweats and a stained T-shirt for him, yoga pants and one of his new merch shirts for me, with the logo for Blue Balls on it. The banana and blue apples look great if I may say so myself. He’s streaming on the couch while I’m listening to his old podcasts to find some catch phrases to print onto mug and shirts.
Honestly, his podcasts are… racy. I feel my cheeks heat with each passing minute of listening to him chat to others about sex. He’s very open about his sex life, having no problem talking about how often he masturbates – almost every day, mostly in the shower – and that he thinks that women often seem to think just lying on their back is enough to have fulfilling sex, while he feels that active participation should come from both sides. Listening to him describe a friends-with-benefits situation he was in with a girl he went to college with is weird as fuck, since he goes into full detail about why the sex was so amazing with her. Meanwhile I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my cup of tea, my earbuds in, and my gaze on Khiêm, who is cursing loudly as he tries to win the level he’s playing.
Who knew that he was so open about not just who he is, but about his adventures in the bedroom as well? Most podcasts are about the guests he invites, but he’s not shy to supply commentary about his own experiences. Of course, most of the time he’s joking around and making crude comments, but there is something charming about how easily he talks about intimacy. I have a lot of sex myself, but talking about it with others… No, I hardly ever do that. Not even with the guys I sleep with. It takes all my courage to tell a guy that he needs to move slower or be more gentle. Aimee knows about my problems getting off without help, and Ayaan and Holly about some of my escapades, but even with my friends I leave out the details.
I can’t help but wonder what sort of girls Khiêm usually goes for. Does he date game-obsessed nerds like himself? Or does he believe in the idea that opposites attract? Shy girls? Or girls who are as open and unapologetically themselves like he is? Is he on dating apps, or does he meet girls the old-fashioned way? He spends most of his time online, so it would make sense for him to find dates online as well.
When the doorbell rings, we look at each other in surprise. I get up to open the door, and on the doorstep is… my mother.
“I brought some stuff you might need,” she says, holding up two bags. “Your dad is getting the sewing machine from the car right now. Figured you might like having it here.”
I blink in surprise and step aside to let her in, a little overwhelmed.
“Hi Asia,” Khiêm says, muting his stream for a second. “I’ve got ten more minutes of streaming left and then I’m done.” He goes right back to work, talking to his viewers and shooting other characters. I’m used to it by now, but Mom looks at him like he’s got three heads.
Yup, that’s what living with a streamer is like.
Khiêm and I have fallen back into our normal rhythm since our intense conversation about my sexual misadventures. The first day after I stupidly told him I liked his chest hair was a little awkward, especially when I walked into the living room in the middle of the night for a snack to find him sitting on the floor in front of the fridge, gulping down milk straight from the carton, wearing nothing but boxershorts. Chest hair on full display, of course.
I turned around immediately and forgot all about wanting a snack. The next day, we tiptoed around each other, both not sure what to do with the tension between us, but then he made a crude comment about how he punish me by shaving off his chest hair if I didn’t make him pancakes, and things went right back to normal. He has a way of making awkward situations feel comfortable in a matter of seconds.
“Dad!” I exclaim when I see my father carrying my sewing machine into the living room. “You didn’t have to bring this over.” I don’t even know where to put it, since it won’t fit into my bedroom.
“Hey honey.” Dad puts it down in the corner of the living room and comes over for a hug. “Wow, you’re living in a mancave now, aren’t you?”
“Hey!” Khiêm objects from the couch, turning off his many screens and putting his headset on the coffee table. “This is obviously the apartment of a sophisticated gentleman and his lady friend. Not a mancave at all.”
“Lady friend?” my father repeats, grinning. “You’re calling my Nia your lady friend? What exactly does that mean?”
“Shut up, Dad,” I say, hitting his arm playfully. “We’re just roommates.”
My mother is already opening doors in the hallway, appraising each room with critical eyes. When she finds mine, she puts the bags on my bed and starts pulling out the stuff she brought for me. Mostly clothes and toiletries, but there are also some pictures, books, and a few plants.
We put everything away together, and I’m surprised when she puts an arm around my shoulders and squeezes. “If you ever need anything, you’ll let us know, right? And you can always, always move back into your old room. You know that, don’t you?”
“Thank you,” I say softly, shifting so I can hug her.
“You’re too much like me,” Mom mutters into my hair. “Marcus, Creed, Pierre… they’re more like your father. You and Aliyah… I worry about you girls. I don’t want you to end up like me.”
“What? Happily married, strong and so scary that all her kids fear her?” I ask, pulling back so I can look at her.
“Stuck in a low-paying job, without a proper education, popping out her first child at age 16,” she corrects me, cracking a small smile.
I had no idea she worried about that. Nor did I know that she doesn’t like her job. Of course I didn’t think the jobs she’s had over the years were her dream jobs, but I had no idea she felt stuck. Does dad feel the same way? I can’t help but wonder.
“I’m 22, Mom,” I remind her. “It’s too late for me to become a teen mom.”
“Thank God for that,” she mutters. “Still, I wish you were more like your father. I’m not the best role model. With the boys, I don’t worry about that so much. They all look at Terryl for guidance. But you and Aliyah… I’m the mom. I feel like I should be the one your girls look up to, but I’m not. Not at all.”
“Mom…” I don’t know what to say. Why have we never talked about this before? “Aliyah and I do look up to you. So much.”
It’s not Mom to dwell on things, so she smiles, kisses my cheek, and then she’s out of the room, inspecting the kitchen to see if we’re eating well. Of course, she has some opinions about all the empty beer bottles in the open box in the corner, and the bags of chips that take up an entire cupboard.
“You still eat your vegetables, I hope?” she asks, shaking her head at the bottle of scotch on the kitchen counter.
“Nia and I take turns cooking,” Khiêm says, grinning. “We’re both far from great chefs, but we do what we can. She forces me to eat my vegetables, so I guess she’s been raised to eat well.”
“Hmm,” Mom scoffs, not convinced. “Why is there no art of the walls? No pictures? No plants on the windowsills?”
“Because… okay, fine, maybe this is a mancave,” Khiêm admits, shrugging. “It’s only been two weeks. I’m sure Nia will put her stamp on the living room soon enough.”
I offer Mom and Dad something to drink, and they sit down on the couch while Khiêm and I move into the kitchen, whispering to each other behind the door of the fridge.
“Sorry for them barging in,” I say under my breath.
“Nia, they’re your parents. You live here. They’re welcome anytime.” He reaches out to ruffle my messy hair, and I roll my eyes at him. “Seriously, why didn’t you bring your sewing machine over earlier?”
I shrug. “No space for it in my room.”
“Then use the living room,” he says, closing the door of the fridge and pouring Mom and Dad some juice. “We can make space for your fashion stuff next to the couch, easy peasy. You really need to stop treating this place like you’re only a guest in my home. This is our home. Do I really seem like a difficult person who minds you staking your claim on half of everything?”
“No buts,” he states firmly. “Now let’s go make sure your parents don’t think I’m a creep or something.”
“Maybe put on a shirt without stains,” I say with a small smile.
He looks down and sighs. “Ah fuck. Okay. You entertain them. I will go see if I have a clean shirt left.”
“I did the laundry yesterday, so it should be dry by now.”
“You are a godsent, Nia.” He hurries out of the room while I sit down next to Dad, snuggling against him like the daddy’s girl I am at heart. It’s been over a week since I’ve seen my parents, which is weird when I’ve seen them basically ever single day since I was born.
“Why are you wearing a shirt with a penis on it?” Mom asks, her eyes going wide when she takes in the logo.
“It’s a banana,” I correct her, sitting up and straightening the shirt so Dad can see it too. “It’s the logo for one of Khiêm’s podcasts. I designed it and I’ve taken over his merch webstore. As of this morning, we’ve already sold fifty of these shirts.”
“But… it’s obviously a penis,” Mom says, shaking her head. “With balls. Blue balls.”
“Yeah, his podcast is called Blue balls.”
“Is it about…” Mom leans forward so she can whisper the next word. “…sex?”
“Yes,” I confirm, my heart beating in my throat. Finally, Mom and I seem to be getting along better, and now she’s already judging Khiêm’s job and my role in helping him earn more money.
“Is it… dirty?” she asks, still stage-whispering.
“No, it’s basically just Khiêm asking other streamers, friends, and online celebrities about their sex lives, making jokes and chatting about life. It’s really fun.” It is, but I’m praying to God that Mom will never listen to it, because there is a lot of cursing, and one episode was completely devoted to manscaping. I thought it was insightful and hilarious, but I doubt Mom will see it that way.
“Does he talk about you on his show?” Mom asks, looking horrified now.
“Erm… no,” I reply, taken-aback. “I’m not sleeping with Khiêm, Mom. We’re just roommates.”
“But you like him,” she says. It’s not even a question, she’s just telling me what she thinks is happening.
“No,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I mean, yeah, as a person, of course. He’s amazing. But he’s Marcus’ best friend. He’s basically an honorary brother or cousin or something.”
Right that second, Khiêm walks in, smiling politely at my parents as he joins us.
“You must be very happy to have Nia to help you with your webshop,” Dad says, jumping in so Mom won’t make things more awkward. Bless his heart. “The logo for your podcast looks great.”
“I’m a very lucky man,” he agrees right away, winking at me. “She’s a creative genius, your daughter.”
I flush from so much praise, especially since I know Dad and Khiêm both mean it. Even Mom admits that the logo is pretty smart and fitting, and she even allows me to show her the website I updated this week, and explain to her how Khiêm’s job works. Meanwhile, Dad and Khiêm talk about what kind of flatscreen TV he has, and when Dad tells him that he’s still got a TV from the stone age back at the house, Khiêm rushes to his studio to grab an old flatscreen TV he no longer uses, and insists Dad takes it home with him.
“It’s no use to me, I got a new one from one of my sponsors, so this one is just collecting dust in the corner of my studio,” he says when Dad starts to protest. “You created this wonderful creature who’s been making me pancakes every single morning. Let me thank you for that. Take the damn TV, Terryl.”
My body reacts to him calling me a wonderful creature, my skin flushing and my heartbeat speeding up. What the fuck is that about?
“You make him pancakes every morning?” Mom asks, glancing at me in surprise. “Who are you and what have you done to my daughter?”
“Hey!” I exclaim, shoving her while I roll my eyes. “I’m sweet. Sometimes.”
“Not to me,” Mom mutters, but she’s smiling.
“You get what you deserve,” I bite back, sticking out my tongue.
“Be nice to your mother,” Khiêm tells me with a pointed look. “Respect your parents.”
“I like him,” Mom says, laughing. “Listen to your roommate, Nia.”
For the first time in months, Mom gives me advice I can actually get behind.