“You really didn’t have to pick me up on your way back,” said Kyler. “I could have driven home myself.”
“We both know you’re just going to use your mom’s car while you’re home anyway,” replied Riza. “Let me save you the gas money.”
“You need the money more than me.”
“But I’m choosing to go home. And since I chose that anyway, you might as well take advantage of it.”
“Riza, that makes no sense and you know it.”
“It does if you factor in the fact that I’m always right,” Riza replied, a wide smile crossing her face.
“You know you’re just giving my mom hope, right?” said Kyler in a normal tone before switching to a high falsetto to impersonate his mom. “I don’t know what you see in that Sloane girl, Kyler. You know those tits aren’t going to last forever.”
“Moooooooooommmmmmm!” Riza shouted, deepening her voice in an effort to mimic Kyler.
“I get it. You want to fool around with someone hotter than you while you have the chance. I did the same thing when I was your age.”
“I don’t need to hear about your sex life, mom.”
“The point is,” continued Kyler as he roleplayed his own mother’s lecture, “you need to find a good girl. A sweetheart. Settle down. Get a good job. Pump me out some grandbabies. Why haven’t you asked Riza out? You’ve known her since you were babies!”
“Well, mother,” Riza replied, her impersonation getting more stern and nervous simultaneously, “though I have considered courting a fine specimen such as Riza Andreesi –”
“Hey!” Kyler said in his normal voice. “I sound nothing like that!”
“–it would appear that she is what the kids — we kids — are referring to as ‘out of my fucking league’.”
“I fully understand why you would desire such esteemed progeny in our family,” Riza continued, her voice slowly shifting to a pompous faux-British accent. “And, I must admit, I have caught myself sneaking a peek or two at her bosom in my weaker moments. I assure you, mother, that although marrying Riza Andreesi would be the pinnacle of wedded bliss — the holiest of matrimonies, the happiliest of ever afters — I am making my decisions for the sake of those same future grandchildren that you so desperately desire. For those being flat-chested is a status and it is a precious rarity, the mammaries of my current conquest need only last through the years in which she will breastfeed our children. Or bottle feed, should she so desire.”
Kyler stared at Riza as she drove, repeatedly blinking until she spoke up.
“I might have gotten a little too into that,” Riza said
Two days earlier, Kyler had his last scheduled meeting with Charlie Madagan. The project was due the week after Thanksgiving and though Kyler planned to work on it over break, he wasn’t about to interrupt Charlie’s holiday just to get more information from him.
One of the things that frustrated Kyler the most about meeting Charlie was how he routinely shifted the focus in conversations back to Kyler. Though Kyler didn’t mind talking about himself in general, he found it awkward with Charlie. As time had passed, that feeling had lessened, but it didn’t solve the endless frustration that was Charlie’s stonewalling of his past.
To this point, Kyler knew that Charlie was a billionaire, a motivational speaker, and that his wife went to Wellesley. He knew that Charlie had married his high school sweetheart, that he had two children who were in college, and that Charlie spent his weeks alternating between his home in Ohio and his work in New York City. Kyler was fairly certain that at least one of Charlie’s children was a daughter from previous discussions, but he could never pin Charlie down to giving a straight answer.
In light of all of this, hearing Charlie break off his normal path of redirecting questions not only came as a shock to Kyler, but also as something he wasn’t particularly prepared to handle.
“What are your plans for Thanksgiving?” Charlie asked.
“Going home and seeing my family,” replied Kyler. “I haven’t seen my parents or my sister in a couple of months. It’ll be nice to see them for a few days, I guess.”
“I quite like Thanksgiving,” said Charlie. “I mean, I like most holidays in general. But Thanksgiving is nice. It’s a kickoff to a whole season of family and togetherness.”
Kyler leaned back in his chair, surprised at Charlie’s candor.
“Don’t look so surprised,” Charlie stated. “Do you really think I wouldn’t want to spend time with my wife? Or with my children?”
“Well, no,” said Kyler. “It’s just hard to imagine you doing that, you know?”
“Because all I know you as is the guy I’ve been working on a paper with in a coffee shop for two months. You don’t exist in my mind outside of coffee and your apparent ability to mind control the baristas.”
“People contain multitudes, Kyler,” Charlie said. “Though this is how you’ve seen me, this isn’t the only version of me that exists. I’m also a parent. A husband. A businessman. Hell, I’ve been known to party a bit in my day.”
“Now that I really can’t imagine,” replied Kyler.
“Of course not. Your context for a party is a dorm room or apartment get together with far too many hormonal young adults drinking cheap liquor and even cheaper beer. And there is a certain appeal to that, don’t get me wrong. But there’s far more out there, both in a good and bad way.”
“What exactly are you talking about?”
“I’m afraid that’s where we’ll have to end our discussion today,” said Charlie as he rose from his seat. “I know you’re done with your paper, so these meetings end after today. But I assure you I’ll be in touch, if you’d like. I see potential in you, Kyler. I wouldn’t want you to let that to go to waste.”
“Sloane will be there tomorrow, right?” Riza asked.
“That’s the plan,” replied Kyler. “She gets off her internship shift at ten tonight. She’ll drive down sometime in the morning and be there before dinner. Or lunch. Or whatever it technically is.”
“It’s at 12:30, so I’d argue it’s lunch.”
“How many people do you know that call it Thanksgiving lunch though?”
“Point taken,” answered Riza. “But at least Sloane will be there.”
“It’ll be the first time I’ve seen her in person for more than an hour since October,” replied Kyler.
“Damn. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. I mean, it’s not great. But it’ll help her get a job when she’s done with college. But the semester’s almost over.”
“And you can only deal with so much Troy before you go insane.”
“I’ve had a buffer recently,” replied Kyler.
“Oh?” asked Riza.
“A girl from my history class. Lauren.”
“The one who was the only one that bothered to show up to your group project stuff?”
“Well good,” stated Riza. “It’s always good to make new friends.”
“Yeah,” said Kyler. “She’s nice to have around.”
“As long as you keep Troy from hitting on her, she’ll stay around.”
“Troy won’t hit on her.”
“So she’s ugly?” asked Riza. “Because I’m your best friend and you’ve actively threatened him for hitting on me.”
“She’s not ugly,” interjected Kyler. “She’s quite pretty, actually.”
Riza examined her mirrors before pulling off to the side of the two lane road they were driving on. She carefully pulled her car to the shoulder, stopping just past a mailbox that led back a long lane to a farmhouse.
“Why are we stopping?” Kyler asked.
“Because I need to know if you’re telling me the truth,” replied Riza, putting the car in park. She unbuckled her seatbelt, then turned to face Kyler the best she could.
“Truth about what?”
“Do you like her?”
“Yeah, she’s a nice person.”
“Cut the bullshit Kyler,” Riza said. “You know damn well what I meant. Have you caught the feelings for Lauren?”
“No!” Kyler shouted. “I have a girlfriend.”
“Having a girlfriend doesn’t stop your brain from having interest in someone else.”
“But I don’t –”
“Especially not when your girlfriend is missing in action repeatedly for totally justifiable reasons, but is still kind of a dick about it. And then this girl is around and kind and gets along with your roommate.”
“I don’t have any feelings for her!” Kyler interjected. “Yes, I think she’s hot. And if I were single, maybe I’d consider asking her out. But we’re friends. That’s it.”
Riza stared at Kyler, her eyes burning a hole through Kyler’s skull. Her intense gaze drove Kyler’s away multiple times, forcing him to look at the cornfields and farms surrounding them.
“I believe you,” Riza said, ending her extended pause. “Just don’t do anything dumb. You’re better than that.”
“I won’t,” Kyler said.
“Good. I don’t want to have to kick your ass.”
“Ha. Like you could.”
“Bitch, I will cut you.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Riza said. “That was a little much.”
A beat passed.
“But I will,” she added.
Riza pulled the car back onto the road, finishing the last ten minutes or so of the drive back to the small town where they grew up. She pulled the car into her driveway, shutting the engine off as her dad exited the house.
Delmon Andreesi’s graying hair and beard fluttered in the November wind. He shook Kyler’s hand as he exited the car.
“Good to see you again,” Delmon said.
“You too,” Kyler replied.
“I think I saw your folks head up the road not to long ago. I’d have to imagine they’ll be back soon. Ingrid came by earlier, so I’m assuming she’s home.”
“Oh good. Nothing like coming home to deal with my bratty sister.”
“Your bratty sister just got named preseason first-team all-state in basketball. I know she can be a lot to handle, but she’s been over the moon all week.”
“Yeah, yeah. You mind if I come by later? I’d rather hang out with Riza than Ingrid.”
“You know I could just come over,” said Riza. “It’s literally crossing a street.”
“That defeats the purpose of getting away from my sister,” replied Kyler.
“But your mom loves me. We’ve got so much to catch up on.”
Kyler rolled his eyes and walked away, shooting a quick wave to Riza and her father. As he walked up the driveway to his childhood home, he heard the message chime sound from his phone. He took his phone out of his pocket and read the message.
“Hey. I’m not coming down. Driving to Grand Rapids to see my family. Lunch Monday?”
Kyler sighed as he shot back a quick reply.
“Yeah. Miss you.”
He turned around to see Delmon Andreesi helping his daughter unload her bags from the trunk of her car.
“Riza?” Kyler shouted.
“Bring something to drink later if you come over.”
“You got it.”
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