"What movie?" Nicky asks.
"North by Northwest. It's kind of long, but Mr. Tannis says the way Hitchcock framed certain shots to create tension was groundbreaking." I shove a spoonful of the Cap'N in my mouth and add, "I'm liking it."
Yia Yia enters the kitchen, takes her favorite teacup—fake porcelain, blue with a noticeable chip—and pours a small serving of thick black coffee. Yia Yia drinks more coffee than a cop. "When you boys get girlfriends?"
Nicky and I groan in unison.
"What? They not have Greek girls at you school?"
Nicky just shakes his head and goes back to his book.
"Yia Yia," I answer, "between my band and school, I don't have time for girlfriends."
Yia Yia smiles, this time like she's in on a joke no one else understands. At least now I see where Nicky gets it. "Time and love are like river. Sometimes they take you where you do not know you need to go."
Great. My Greek grandmother is now writing copy for cookies.
The truth is, I've never had a girlfriend. I did have one date in the eighth grade: Jessica—long hair, straight bangs, and a really nice laugh. We went ice-skating, which meant that she did twirls in the middle of the rink while I hugged the wall. I might be the only boy in Minnesota who doesn't know how to skate, let alone play hockey.
Anyway, when we got hot chocolate and hot pretzels after, she talked about books and current events like she was a college student or something. I was intimidated. I'm not dumb, but I didn't think I was smart enough for her.
It was really soon after that I got into the band.
It's not that I haven't noticed girls since then, but really, it's easier to just focus on the band. There's less drama this way. Well, mostly.
I take my time walking the one-point-two miles home from school. No matter how painful the heft of my backpack, the pinching cold of the weather, or the size of the hole worn into the bottom of my ratty and beloved Chucks, I always take my time walking home from school. School equals nearly two thousand people bumping into me in the hallway, gagging me with body spray in the locker room after gym class, and answering every inane question in English Lit with "Is that going to be on the test?" I shuffle up so many stairs behind groups of people who find it necessary to walk with their friends in a spread-out line, as if they're playing Red Rover and Eliana can't come over, making me late for class. I buy Nutty Buddies for lunch out of a vending machine in order to gain myself solo time in a desolate corner of the library, only to find a jock couple making out. I cannot find any space in which to be alone. Anywhere. Ever. It's no wonder I can't manage to keep my depression at bay.
When I arrive home, shoulders aching from the weight of the books in my bag, I unlock the front door in slow motion. The instant I click and open the door, I am bombarded. "Hey! Ellie's home!" It's my dad, who is also home. All the time. Like, every second of every day and night. He used to run his own business, previously a video store when videotapes were a thing, which, out of necessity, morphed into a DVD store, which then, also out of necessity, closed when people stopped renting DVDs. I hate all of the people who stopped renting DVDs, because now not only do we have a basement filled with old DVDs that my dad constantly watches and fails to sell over the internet, but my dad has nowhere to go. In the three years since his store closed, he hasn't found another job that holds his interest enough. Hence, the Dad-is-always-home situation. He is a fine dad and tries to be helpful when Mom is at work (high school science teacher and traveling basketball team referee), which is most of the time. But since I'm the eldest of five, it feels like the moment I get home he wants me to be Second Mommy. I have no plans to have any children of my own after witnessing four home births, so is it really my responsibility to take care of my siblings?
I know. I'm an asshole. I'm a horrible person for not wanting to help my bumbling dad and my hardworking mom and my four poor, defenseless brothers and sisters. I hate me, too.