Promise Not to Judge

Solo Male

Well, hello! I feel like it’s been so long!

Me? I can’t complain. Gosh, so much has happened since we last talked. I mean, like, night and day!

To be honest, like one hundred percent truthful, it’s so much better than “I can’t complain.” Do you mind if I go off a little? I mean, I consider you a really close friend — like, almost a sister . . . and, well, I just have to tell someone. You know I don’t like to brag or gloat . . . it’s just . . . well, something happened this summer.

Have you ever met Robert, my brother? I can’t imagine you would’ve. We’re not really tight, him and me. I see him and his wife maybe once every three years or so. They’re only in Corte Madera, for Pete’s sake. They never make it down here; we never go up there. Family, you know? The age difference, maybe? We barely know each other.

This time it was for a favor. They had a big Asian excursion planned, from June to August, and they wanted to dump their kid off on me. Second honeymoon, I guess. Bryan, the son, well, I’d seen less of him than of Rob. It was probably seven years ago or so, and they were dumping him off on us then too. And I think I dumped him off on Kayla — he was young enough to need a babysitter and she was old enough to be one. And me back then, well, I was running around a lot. You remember.

Anyway, he’s at USC now, nineteen, and still young enough to need watching, at least for a whole summer. Is nineteen young? I remember feeling like an adult then. Heck, my father had been in a war for a year at nineteen. But they seem so young now, don’t they? Bryan can barely tie his shoes. And Kayla, she’s twenty-four going on fifteen. With all that “weeaboo” stuff — do you even know what that is? Ugh, consider yourself lucky.

Maybe we were as young they are. Maybe we never really grew up either?

Sorry, I’m rambling. Such a flibbertigibbet today!

So, Rob drove over and asked if we could watch his kid, and I said sure. Guilt trip for years of aunt neglect. He flew back from school after his parents had split town, catching an Uber to our place. He didn’t ask for a ride, and I didn’t offer. I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize him. Real role model I am, huh?

Honestly, I was nervous. Why? Oh, I wasn’t really sure either. I barely knew him, I suppose, and here he was, about to live in my house for three months. My strongest memories of him were as a toddler or a child. Now he was nineteen . . . the age that I, well, that I still weirdly think of myself as. Does that make sense? I feel the same as I did when I was nineteen. Exactly the same. We were equals, in that sense, even if he saw me as his way-old aunt.

Kayla seemed nervous, too, all week; that is to say, she showed signs of nervous energy. Any energy was an improvement, as far as I was concerned. I swear, she barely would leave her room, did you know that? Watching anime, that’s what! Or Vining or TikToking or whatever the hell they call it. What do you do with someone like that? I’ve said many times that I can’t kick her out, and she can’t stay here. At twenty-four I was . . . cripes, I was a mother! Jeez Louise. Maybe she does know what she’s doing.

She had actually left the house, doing god knows what, the day he arrived. I was alone. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I played dress-up. Why, I don’t know. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, I don’t think. I don’t get many visitors to the house! It was fun, anyways. I tried this outfit on, and another . . . nothing seemed right. What does one wear when entertaining a college freshman? Everything seemed either too stuffy or too inappropriate. I settled on this little black sundress I have, with a floral print. Yes, that one, so what? It’s not revealing; it’s fun and ladylike. Oh, you shut up.

The doorbell rang. My palms were sweating! I was acting so weird. I didn’t know what had come over me. I tried to play it cool . . . I opened the door with pizzazz, spreading my arms real wide.

And wouldn’t you know it, there stood little Bryan. Okay, not so little — he was taller, of course, a nice height, and he had scruffy sideburns and boy band hair, but it only made him look more like a kid to me. Same face, same look. Was this nineteen? Skinny legs, smooth cheeks, innocent eyes? Goofy, unsure grin? My nervousness melted away in a warm flush of relief. I felt . . . something else? One thing was for sure: I no longer felt nineteen.

“Hi Bryan! Come in! Come in! So good to see you!” I gushed. He was wearing a dirty leather jacket and tight gray jeans, ripped at the thighs; a black and white striped shirt and black Chuck Taylors. He was thin but taut. Long, wiry arms . . . biggish hands, you know what I mean? Mannish boy. I gave him a great big hug as the Uber pulled away, leaving him here with me.

Oh, but he smelled! Like cigarettes. You know how much I hate that, right? I immediately held him at arm’s length. “Oh, Bryan . . . do you smoke?”

He looked at the floor, and then back at me, with escort ataşehir a sheepish smile. “I had one when the plane landed.”

“One?” I laughed. “You smell like an ashtray! Do your parents know you smoke?” He rolled his eyes and made that sound, that quintessentially adolescent sound, like air escaping, that means everything from “Who cares?” to “What do you know?” to “Whateverrrrr . . .” It was a sound I knew all too well.

“Rule number one in this house: no smoking. I’m allergic,” I lied. “You wanna stay here, you don’t smoke. Or else.”

Well, he just raised his eyebrows and said nothing, for a long time.

“Good to see you, Aunt Heather.” Then, he smiled at me. It was beautiful. Oh, I felt so . . . I don’t know! Happy, I guess. I beamed at him.

“Oh, it’s so good to see you too, Bry.” I never called him Bry before, I don’t think. “I missed you! Now, come on, let’s get your bags in. We’re rolling them right into the laundry room. I bet your clothes all reek.”

And boy, did they. I made Bryan unpack his luggage — I wasn’t going to touch anything — and separate the whites and the darks. Well, ‘unpack’ is too kind; that would require packing first! He had just poured his dirty clothes straight from his dorm room floor right into the suitcases, nothing folded, everything a mess. Probably expecting me to clean them for him, I imagine. Filthy t-shirts, crusty socks, and the boxers, oh, you don’t wanna know . . . A powerfully musty odor mingled with the burnt tobacco stink, turning my laundry room into a dive bar, some sweaty pool hall.

Is it weird that I felt excited by it? It was the wrong kind of masculine and freakin’ gross to boot, but it was something I hadn’t been around in years, and it just kinda, well, did it for me. Oh, don’t look at me like that! You know how long it’s been for me? Anyways, I can’t control the butterflies, any more than you can. They come when they want.

And I blame them for what I did next. Promise you won’t judge me!

He had four piles of clothes on the tile floor. “That’s all of it,” he muttered at me.

“Not all of it,” I said curtly, doing my best drill sergeant. I patted him on the shoulder. Why couldn’t I talk to Kayla this way? Distance? Gender? I can’t really say.

“Give me your jacket.” He rolled his eyes again — they do that so much! — taking his jacket off and handing it to me. I took it with thumb and forefinger, holding my nose, and I dropped it in the dry cleaning bag. He stared at me blankly . . . waiting, I felt, for more direction?

“Socks,” I said. He took off his shoes, and hopped around a bit while pulling his white socks off his whiter feet.

“Shirt,” I said.

“Seriously?” he sneered. I just nodded, eyebrows raised. He sighed, then pulled his long sleeves off his arms, yanking the shirt over his head. His reddish brown hair was all messed up. His chest was hairless; his nipples were small. His stomach was not quite chiseled, but close.

I inhaled slowly through my nose as i spoke: “Almost done,” I smiled, to hide the giant lump in my throat.

The look he gave me . . . it was a cross between a squint and a twitch . . . he was surprised, uncertain if I meant it. I pursed my lips and nodded sharply, twice, to show him that I did.

“Hope you’re wearing underpants,” I said with a grin. But as I said it I thought: what if he didn’t have underwear on? What would I do next?

He looked at the floor again. My gosh, I realized, he was going to do it! and my thighs quivered.

He undid and unzipped the pants, and took them down, revealing baggy boxer shorts — I didn’t even know they still made those! — with little USC Trojans on them.

Bryan stepped out, then dropped the pants on the pile. He didn’t know what to do with his hands. His thin legs dangled down, dense and fuzzy. And his face! Oh, his face. It was adorable. I just had to laugh a little.

“At least you’ve still got your school spirit,” I cracked.

He laughed, too. “Shut up,” he said.

I felt relieved. This wasn’t abnormal, right? I’m his aunt. I changed his diapers, and all that jazz (I don’t think I ever did, actually). Maybe this was unconventional, sure . . . but I was well within my rights, wouldn’t you say? My house, my rules? Deterring my kin from an insidious and deadly habit, as best as I was able? Why, I should be lauded with praise! I told myself. I really did.

He started the first load. “Off to the showers with you,” I barked, and I handed him a towel from the rack.

“Hey, what am I supposed to wear when I’m done?” he asked. Good question. I hadn’t thought of that.

“Hmph,” I frowned. “You know what? When you go upstairs, next to the bathroom is Kayla’s. Check in her bottom drawer for some big t-shirts she’s got . . . And in the closet on the top shelf are some big sweatpants. It should do for a bit.”

“You want me to wear Kayla’s clothes?” he asked incredulously.

“Oh, stop, they’re kadıköy escort unisex. You’re lucky I’m giving you anything at all! Next time you smell like smoke I’m gonna hose you down outside like a dog.” Where were these words coming from?

He saluted. “Yes, ma’am.” And he turned to leave. I noticed his boxers had wedged deep inside his tush, highlighting his cheeks as he walked out of the room. Man butt. I gasped. It was not! it was nephew butt! Wicked, wicked brain! I needed a wine.

I sat out on the patio, drink in hand, under the covered part, as a light rain began to fall. My, my, what an eventful afternoon. Oh, what’s the big deal, right? Harmless fun. Weird, but legal. Kinda sexy? Oh, stop it!

We had three months to go.

The wine had calmed me down, and I reentered the house, figuring I’d help him with the dryer — it’s new and complicated and he’s probably never used one — when I noticed the door to the bathroom upstairs was open and the light was off. I called out his name. Where had he gone? I looked upstairs again. The door to Kayla’s room was closed. Changing, I thought. I’ll give him a minute.

I gave him ten. What the heck was he doing up there? Alright, I thought, I’m going up . . . I’ll be damned if I do all the laundry. I walked up the stairs and knocked on the door.

“Bry?”

“In here, mom.” Kayla? I thought. She’s home?

I opened the door to find Bryan, sitting on the edge of the bed. Kayla was at his side, hand resting comfortably on his knee. He was still in his boxers, his hair dry, and staring at my daughter strangely.

“Oh! You’re home? When did that happen?” I laughed a little too hard.

That sound again. “I’ve been here for like an hour,” she said, in the shittiest tone of voice (pardon the French).

“That’s not possible,” I said through gritted teeth and forced smile. “Bryan got here like thirty minutes ago.”

“Whatever, I’m here. I caught this rando going through my underwear drawer.”

Bryan, like, went pale. “I-I was not! Your mom told me to check there for shirts!” Your mom, he said. Why did that make my heart sink? Kayla laughed in his face and patted his thigh in a way that I didn’t like. I ignored her comment and shook my head.

“Are you making dinner?” she asked me with attitude. “Or should we get pizza? Order pizza.” My eye twitched.

“I made dinner reservations for seven-thirty, remember?” I said, still forcing the smile. “Bryan is doing laundry, sweetie. Give him some clothes so he can take a shower.”

“Oh, riiiiight, because his clothes smelled like smoke?” she leaned her elbows on the bed as she spoke, one eyebrow raised, torso arched and covered in a black halter top with an anime face on it, her chopped black hair resting on her shoulders, her black-rimmed glasses on her nose. She had a plaid skirt on and her legs were crossed, but she lifted them up as she leaned. She has nice legs, you know — at least we have something in common! — and I had the deepest suspicion she was using them at the moment. “I don’t remember Uncle Roger having to strip down to get in the house.”

“Uncle Roger smokes cigars. And I make him do it on the patio. C’mon, help your cousin out,” I chided. Now it was her turn to roll her eyes as she took her sweet time getting up.

“Fiiiiine,” she groaned. “I’ll get him some appropriate attire.”

“Thank you,” I replied. She rustled around in the bottom drawer, and held up a free t-shirt one of us got from a 5k run.

“One shirt . . . for a boy,” she drew out sarcastically. She threw it at Bryan, who caught it against his face, and then she strolled over to the closet. What is with her, I thought. “And one pair of big boy pants . . .” She walked over and stood in front of him, holding black sweatpants I didn’t recognize. “Here ya go, itoko,” she smiled. He stood up to take them, and she wrapped her tattooed arms around him, tight as can be.

“Oh, I missed you so much!” she sang out. He closed his eyes and hugged her back, and they swayed side to side. “We’re gonna have the best summer ever.”

Not gonna lie: it bothered me. I can’t say why. She missed him? She never even asked about him. And I didn’t like the way she was hugging him either, him in his thin white boxers. Or, maybe, it was because I wished I was hugging him like that?

Well, that was how it all started. Awkward . . . bizarre, I guess . . . but not aberrant, right? We went to dinner in town that night and had a lovely time, and the first week Kayla and I played tour guide, taking him all over the city. It was fun! Kayla and I hadn’t spent time together like that in far too long. We all started to feel like family, and we liked it.

And the kids were bonding as well. They were gone most of the day when we didn’t have plans, and in her room most of the night. The phrase ‘thick as thieves’ entered my mind. At first I was so pleased. He wouldn’t be bored all summer, and she was finally doing something. I maltepe escort bayan never did understand her. She was so pretty, always . . . Why was she so intent on being all dark and depressed? If I had that body at twenty-four, I would be out every night! (Okay, so I did have that body, and I was out every night.)

Around the third or fourth week, though, I started to get concerned. They had a pattern I was noticing: they would leave the house around one in the afternoon and come back around six. We would eat dinner together, but they ate quickly and went straight to Kayla’s room, until late at night. As time passed, the family dinners were getting shorter and the nights in her room were getting longer. I felt like our time together was getting rushed. More and more I was sitting by myself, alone.

What were they doing? Well, that’s what I wanted to know too. The mind starts to play tricks. Kayla always dressed strangely to my eyes, but her wardrobe was appearing more provocative than before. Schoolgirl skirts and thigh-high tube socks. Tighter baby tees or low-cut blouses. Not her usual manga arthouse stuff, you know?

And Bryan . . . well, I didn’t know him too well before, but he seemed different to me. More in tow to my daughter than his own person, whoever that was. He followed her around like a puppy.

One night, after they hurried through the California rolls I had bought for us and sprinted upstairs, I sat at the kitchen table, wine glass in hand, by myself again. Feeling sorry for myself, then confused and hurt. What were they doing? Was it something that I could do too? Would they let me in? Or was it something they couldn’t tell me about? Because it wasn’t okay? Perhaps . . . unnatural?

My imagination got the better of me, and I walked quickly up the stairs. I knocked on the door.

Silence. “Guys?” I yelled. I thought I heard the movement of feet on the lush carpet and the shifting of clothes. I tried at the doorknob. Locked!

“Guys,” I repeated, a bit more urgently: “c’mon, open the door!”

“Huh?” replied Kayla, “Oh, just a second!”

“Hey, what’s going on? Let me in, now!” I demanded. The door finally opened, slowly, enough for Kayla’s head to emerge from it.

“Can I help you?” she said in a fake deep voice.

“Um, what are you guys doing in there that you need the door locked for?”

Kayla casually let the door fall open. She was clothed: wearing a gray top with a lot of fasteners, which, while disturbingly accentuating her breasts, was difficult to just throw on; black jeans with black boots over them; her overdone makeup still intact. I breathed a sigh of relief. No way could she get dressed that fast.

Bryan sat on the green carpet, wearing the same old shirt and shorts he had on at dinner, in front of a wooden board game with Japanese characters and depictions of little geishas painted on it.

“Playing Sugoroku . . . guess the door just locked,” she replied with a shrug.

“And how come you didn’t answer?”

“We had our headphones on.”

“Both of you?”

“I listen to my music, he listens to his,” she said, as if that made sense.

“Oh,” was all I could say. Maybe it did make sense. Kids today, you know? Who knows what they do. What can I say, I believed them.

“Well, can I play?” I asked with a smile.

Kayla’s mouth opened and her eyelids dropped, her expression like a poison dagger of adolescence. “You want to play? With us?” Oh, but you’re not a teenager anymore, I thought. When would she grow out of this garbage? When would she become an adult?

“Well, I want to do something, too! You leave me all solo, every night. I just wanna . . . y’know, be with you.”

Bryan spoke up from behind. “Sure, Aunt Heather, come on in.” Kayla slowly turned her poison face to him. He looked up, guiltily, but spoke: “Why not? This once?”

Kayla sighed and laughed simultaneously. “Fine,” she spat. “Let’s play! Let’s all play.”

It was a bad idea. Kayla was intent on ruining any communal fun. She wouldn’t really explain the rules; she just kept peppering the conversation with Japanese words whenever I asked for help.

“Honey, I don’t understand —” I finally said.

“Of course you’re don’t! You’re not Japanese!”

“Neither is Bryan,” I started, through gritted teeth. I had had it. “And neither are you, Kayla!”

Her mouth dropped. Her cheeks went purple with fury. “I am so! I’m half!”

“Oh, Kayla, your father’s fourth generation. He’s more American than I am! He doesn’t speak a word of Japanese and neither do his parents. You’re as Japanese as Benihana.”

“Oh my god! I hate you!” she screamed at me. “Get out! Get out of here!” So, this was her plan, I thought. Not so fast.

“Fine. Bryan, I think it’s time for both of us to leave.”

“Bryan’s staying with me.”

“I don’t think so, Kayla. Frankly, I think you need to be alone for a while. Say goodnight, Bryan.” She shot him a look, daring him to defy her.

Bryan looked lost, cautious. “Um, Kayla, I think I’d better go. We can finish tomorrow.” He stood up to leave. I noticed his zipper was down.

Kayla glowered at me, her breasts heaving in anger. “Kuso gai-jin . . . ” she muttered.

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