“I slept great, actually.” My phone was still in my hand, so I reached my arm out and extended it towards him. “Milo texted me.”
“I see.” He took the phone from me and scrolled through the messages. “Jane still talks to you? I thought you were over her.”
“I was never under her. We just eat lunch together at school and stuff,” I brushed off his disapproving tone. “Never mind her. That’s not what has me all depressed.”
“You didn’t reply to him.”
“What could I possibly say to him?” I asked honestly
“Whatever you want.” He shrugged and handed me back my phone. “He’s your brother.”
“Ugh, you’re no help!”
“Are you going back home?” Jack asked quietly.
“No. I don’t know.” I looked away from him. “I have no idea what I’m doing!”
“Why don’t you just get up and take a shower? You’ll probably feel better then. Besides, you don’t have to decide anything right now.” He rolled out of my bed and looked at me expectantly. “Come on. Get up.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I admitted and slowly pulled myself out from underneath the covers.
“You know, I really wish you’d catch onto the fact that I’m always right.” To encourage me to move faster, he flicked on the lights, and I squinted at the sudden brightness.
“Get out of here so I can shower.”
My bedroom had an attached bathroom, so I shooed Jack out when I started getting my clothes together. Like the other rooms, I had a massive closet, and my paltry wardrobe looked pathetic in there. Mae had offered to take me shopping, but their generosity was overwhelming, so I declined.
After I finished getting ready, I lay down on the bed and tried to think of a way to respond to Milo. Even if someday I would have to faze him out of my life, I wasn’t quite ready for that day to be today.
But that didn’t mean I was ready to move back home and pretend like nothing was happening. Life as I knew it had changed, and I couldn’t go back and act like things mattered when they didn’t. Milo still mattered, but school and curfews didn’t.
“Are you done?” Jack knocked on the door and pushed it open without waiting for an answer. He leaned on the open door and grinned at me. “You’re already back in bed? You just woke up.”
“I’m not sleeping. I’m just thinking.” I had my phone in my hands, and I was just staring at it, as if it could magically come up with an answer to all my life’s problems.
“Well, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m here to interrupt your thoughts.” He opened the door wider and stepped inside a little bit, so I could see past him. Looking rather sheepish, Milo stood in the doorway and gave me a half-wave. “I thought you could use the company.”
“Milo!” I sat up and smiled at him. “What are you doing here?”
“Jack called and asked if I wanted to come hang out with you for awhile,” Milo shrugged and came into my room. “I hope that’s alright.”
“No! It’s great!” It wasn’t until I saw him, his nervous brown eyes and his chubby cheeks, that I realized how much I’d missed him. I’d only been gone for two days, but since I’d barely even seen him when I was at home, it felt much longer.
“I think I’ll give you guys some time.” Jack started backing out of the room, and I smiled gratefully at him, but he just nodded and shut the door behind him.
“Nice digs.” Milo admired my new bedroom, and I knew he was thinking the same thing that I had; it was surprisingly me. “Did they do this for you?”
“I think Mae did some redecorating or something,” I shrugged.
“So, how are they treating you?” He sat tentatively at the edge of the bed, afraid that I might kick him out at any minute for invading my privacy or something.
“Really good. They seem happy to have me around.” I twirled my phone in my hands, watching Milo carefully. “How’s Mom?”
“Good. She misses you, I think. I mean, she won’t say it. But she wants you back at home.” When he looked at me, his worried eyes looked sad. “Are you gonna come home?” Then he cast a derisive look around my room. “Nah, I guess not. This is probably all too much to pass up for our little apartment. There it’s just me. Here, you have Jack.”
“It’s not like that.” Guilt rushed over me. I pictured Milo sitting sadly in that apartment, making exotic meals just for one, and I wanted to cry.
“Then what is it like?” Milo demanded. He wasn’t angry; he just wanted to know what was going on with me. “To be honest, I was a little surprised that you and Jack had separate bedrooms. Or is that just for show?”
“There’s nobody to show,” I grumbled, avoiding his insistent stare.
“Alice, why are you here?” he asked wearily.
That was the question at the heart of it all, the one that I couldn’t precisely answer. As much as they’d given me the run around of being “meant” for Peter and “bonded” with Jack, and to a lesser extent, Ezra, none of it was really a suitable answer for Milo. It was just like I was supposed to be here, with them, but an answer like that would only lead to more questions.
“It’s just where I want to be for now,” I finally said. It didn’t sound good enough, and I could tell by his expression that it wasn’t. “They’re really nice to me.”
“And I wasn’t?” Milo retorted, sounding a combination of hurt and incredulous. “I mean, if you’re not with Jack, and you’re not just about the money, then… What do you do here all night long? Are you drinking? Is it drugs?”
“No, no, it’s nothing like that.” I shook my head and had to fight the smile that wanted to creep up at the word “drinking.”
“I’m just trying to understand why you won’t come home.” By then, he was nearly pleading with me, and it broke my heart. “I can get Mom off your back, if you could just try to get home before she does. And you don’t have to hang out with me all the time, but I’ll help you with your homework and I can make you supper. Then you could just come out here and hang out with them. You don’t have to live here.”
“I’m not living here.” Swallowing hard, I tried not to look at him. When he was sad, he looked so young. He had big innocent brown eyes, and they were so forlorn. “I just need some time here to figure things out, okay? But don’t think for a second that I’m going to leave you behind. You mean too much for me to walk away from you, not even for a foxy guy and a lot of money.”