“No one told me that.” Noelle said matter-of-factly. She heaved a great sigh and put her book down onto the kitchen counter. She was in the middle of making herself a cup of coffee to go sit outside on her deck and finally finish reading the book she had been working her way through for the past three days. Something always seemed to come up and for whatever reason, the universe just didn’t want her to delve deeper into that fantasy world.
“Oh…” her mother cleared her throat. “Well, now you know.” She was standing in the doorway to the kitchen from the living room, her bright green floral pocketbook—her summer pocketbook—thrown over her shoulder. Her car keys sat motionless in the palm of her hands.
“Do I really have to go?” Noelle asked. She looked her mother in the eye silently pleading for her mother to let her off the hook. She hadn’t seen her cousin in ages. She didn’t care that he had graduated college.
“He’s your cousin.” Her mother said disappointed. Her shoulders drooped and her arms fell to her side, the keys jingling as they held on to her index finger.
Noelle bit her tongue knowing there was no way she was going to win if her mother was at this level of disappointment.
“I mean, good for him for graduating after seven years of trying to get this degree, but…” Noelle didn’t know what else to say. The coffee maker beeped as the last of the steaming liquid squeezed its way out of the nozzle spitting out the last few drops. She turned her attention to her drink, grateful it seemed to distract her from finishing what she was about to say.
Noelle’s cousin, Teagan, was five years older than her. He was her mother’s sister’s son. They were close when they were younger, but as Teagan grew older, he got himself into more and more trouble. Noelle’s mother helped her sister with her nephew as much as she could, but she had stopped bringing Noelle to their house. She didn’t know if her mother was nervous Noelle would follow Teagan’s footsteps or if she thought Teagan would do something to Noelle.
With all that said, Noelle hadn’t seen Teagan in about ten years. It had taken him so long to get his college degree because he had gotten expelled from one school, flunked out of another, and for whatever reason, this final college allowed him to stay.
Noelle knew her aunt forced Teagan to go to college because she hoped for a better life for him, but also because she thought it would keep him out of trouble.
Yeah, like that happened. If anything, it gave him more cause to party and ruin his life.
Noelle took a sip of her freshly brewed coffee and turned around to face her mother once more. She was so quiet, that Noelle was hoping she had left.
No. She was still standing in the doorframe, her body as slouched as it could be, her bottom lip pouted out.
Noelle rolled her eyes. “Let me put this in a travel cup…”
Her mother grinned and straightened out her back, the car keys jingling with excitement in her hands.
“But I’m taking my own car and I’m only staying for an hour. We’ll say I have to go to work or something.” Noelle negotiated as she opened the tall kitchen cabinet for a travel mug.
“But you work in a school… School’s over and it’s Saturday.” Her mother said.
“I said or something.” Noelle countered.
Her mother held up her hands in surrender. She said she’d meet her there. Noelle took her time leaving the house after her mother, but knew that the sooner she arrived to her cousin’s house, the sooner she’d be able to leave.
When Noelle did arrive, she instantly regretted bringing her own car. Her aunt and uncle lived on a dead-end road and, apparently, their next door neighbor was also having a graduation party. There was absolutely no where to park.
She ended up parking down the road and having to walk a few minutes to the house. It was a warm summer day with a slightly cool breeze, so she didn’t mind it all that much.
She froze. Even after ten years, she would recognize his voice from anywhere. She looked up from watching her feet wander up the sidewalk. Teagan was straight ahead, in the middle of the cul-de-sac. Noelle forced a small smile and waved. Then he began to jog towards her.
Noelle sighed knowing that she was going to have to see him at some point. The party was for him, after all. She remembered the other reason she hadn’t seen Teagan in so long.
She didn’t want to.
It wasn’t that her mother didn’t want Noelle to hang around Teagan in case his crazy antics rubbed off on her, it was that Noelle always knew. She always knew there was something up with him.
Sure, they had fun when they were kids, but she specifically remembered the time when Noelle had homework to do. She and her parents were at Teagan’s house because there was a death in the family, but no one Noelle was close to, no one she really knew. The adults had thrown Noelle and Teagan into the basement to keep them out of the way, but that was fine for Noelle. She had been trying to get along with her homework while Teagan strapped a bike helmet to his head and attempted to surf down the stairs on a couch cushion.
Teagan had never made the best choices. He was always trying to live life on the edge and when he accomplished one thing, he had to out-do himself.
“I’m surprised to see you here. Thanks for coming.”
Noelle blinked her eyes a few times as she was broken out of her thoughts. Teagan was suddenly standing right in front of her with his arms stretched out wide ready for an embrace.
“Oh, uh, of course… Congrats on graduating,” Noelle said. She awkwardly lifted her arms up for a hug. Teagan stepped forward and wrapped his arms tightly around her lifting her off the ground.
Noelle grunted and Teagan immediately placed her back down on the ground. He cautiously stepped backward. “Sorry, did I hurt you? I guess I got excited.”
“It’s fine,” Noelle muttered rubbing her side.
“Well, I’m really glad you came. I’ve missed you. It’s been too long.” Teagan smiled down at her. Noelle lifted her chin. When they were kids, she remembered her aunt being worried that he was going to be a midget. Now he stood at least a foot taller than her… and she was in two-inch heels.
“It has been a while, hasn’t it?” Noelle said attempting to make small talk. She started walking again, but Teagan side-stepped in front of her. She suppressed a groan. All she wanted to do was go say hello to a few people to make her presence known and then get out.
“It has. I’ve been wanting to catch up, but I didn’t really know how to contact you. We’re not friends on social media, I don’t have your cell phone number…”
Noelle froze and stared up at him with wide eyes. He wasn’t going to ask her for her number, was he? How was she supposed to decline that request?
Teagan took her hand and gently pulled her down to the ground. He sat down in the grass beside her. He crossed his legs and looked at her eagerly. “Congrats on graduating as well!”
Noelle raised an eyebrow. “I graduated two years ago.”
“I know,” Teagan frowned. “Sorry I didn’t go.”
“It’s fine,” Noelle tried to stand up, but Teagan took her hand again.
“No, it’s not. I should have been there. I should have been there for a lot of things.”
Noelle paused and slowly sat back down in the grass. There was no way she was getting out of this one and… well, as much as she hated to admit it, she was curious as to where this conversation was going.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes, as I’m sure you know. I’m lucky that I was able to attend college at all, let alone get a degree.” Teagan stretched his arms out behind him and leaned back. “I always wanted a younger sibling and I was so excited when I was getting a cousin. We were close when we were young, but then I screwed up… I was supposed to be the older brother you never had.”
“Teagan,” Noelle cleared her throat. This wasn’t what she had in mind when she reluctantly agreed to come here for her mother. “Really, this isn’t necessary…”
“But I think it is.” Teagan looked her in the eyes. Noelle closed her mouth. There was something about the way he was looking at her. He was being sincere for once in his life.
“I know a lot about you because our moms keep in touch, of course. I’m sure you know a lot about me as well.” Teagan said.
Noelle nodded. Oh, yeah. She knew all about the car accidents, the arrests, the various friends and girlfriends….
“When I heard you graduated, I couldn’t go because I was angry. I should have been there for you in those happy times and in the sad times. But I was a little jealous and I was angry at myself for not being there. We’re cousins; we’re supposed to be close.” Teagan explained.
Noelle remained still. She had no idea what to do or say. She snuck a glance over her shoulder and noticed her mother and aunt sitting on the front steps. She rolled her eyes looking back at Teagan. They were, no doubt, spying on the two of them.
“When you graduated, I decided to start figuring things out in my life. I can cross getting a degree off my list. Now I just need to find a job… but!” Teagan grinned showing off his blue and gold braces on his yellow teeth. “I got braces! Fixing my teeth was something else I wanted to do… I got into this fight at a bar when I was drunk and–”
Noelle raised both her eyes unimpressed. She didn’t really want to hear this story and she could tell Teagan understood her body language. He cleared his throat and smiled sheepishly.
“Well, that’s all in the past now…”
They were quiet for a few minutes. Teagan centered his gaze to the ground and began plucking small blades of grass out of ground. Noelle couldn’t help but crack a smile.
“I’m proud of you, Teagan.” She said softly.
Teagan looked at her with surprised eyes.
Noelle drew in a deep breath. “I mean it. I never thought you would ever make it this far, let alone willingly try to get your life back on track. Good job.”
Teagan smiled. “Maybe we can start over?”
Noelle found herself nodding.
“And I want to meet your boyfriend, too!” Teagan said proudly.
“I don’t have a boyfriend.” Noelle deadpanned.
“Well… when you get one, I want to meet him.” Teagan stood up and lend her his hand.
Noelle smirked shaking her head. “Sure,” she said taking his hand and standing up.
Together, they walked down the sidewalk in silence, everything that needed to be said was already out in the open. As they got closer to the house, Noelle noticed her mother and aunt rush back into the house. She knew they were spying. But that didn’t matter.
Noelle may have rekindled an old friendship.