Eighteen-year-old Nikhil Pandey lay on his side pretending to watch TV, adjusting from a summer of blissful idleness to his first semester at community college.
His computer was on too but he wasn't doing any schoolwork yet. Since he didn't pay for the air conditioning it didn't occur to him that he probably shouldn't have the blinds wide open in this weather.
He was a stringy, quiet, handsome kid, a casually-dressed young man, who, now in college, still had his cutesy kid's face, topped by a clean if shaggy mop.
His conscience tingled as he just followed his mom's instructions this morning and put a big charge on her credit card. Hands in his pockets and home alone he ambled across the upper floor of her spacy suburban Baltimore house, waiting to tell her when she got home.
He ambled across the massive upstairs floor and thru the double doors to idly explore his mom's bedroom. Growing up, he and his sister weren't barred from this room, but their mom made clear in a few words and mostly actions that this was a safe retreat for the married couple on whom this family and household were built, so they shouldn't go in there uninvited.
This was Priya's house. At 46, Priya was a therapist in a shared private practice space. She looked like-and at times was mistaken for-the sister of Nikhil and his sister Nishi, rather than their mom.
The same height as Nikhil, she looked smart in either leggings or yoga pants, and when it seemed right she wore either out in public. She was an unusually attractive grown middle aged woman who always dressed well, seemingly sans effort, even when she was home.
At 24, Nikhil's sister Nishi had graduated from Towson University and now worked for a biomedical company downtown while sharing an apartment with her boyfriend in a sociable and affordable neighborhood east of the harbor.
Madan Pandey was Nikhil's and Nishi's dad. At 50, Madan was a lawyer at a locally recognizable law firm. An impressive lawyer, he was a handsome, serious, emotionally impassive man of few expressions, whether in the words he used or the faces he made.
Priya and Madan were trying separation. They lived on good terms, but now that the kids were both young adults, they agreed it was a fair time to question the marriage. Madan had moved to a luxurious condo in a different suburb. Sometimes Nikhil liked to stay there, in his dad's guest room.
Nikhil and his mom were best friends, confidantes in all things. She joked just by half when she told her girlfriends that he was her conveniently live-in boyfriend. She wanted him to feel like he could safely tell her anything about his young guy world.
If you walked thru the open double doors of Priya's master bedroom, you would see a short hallway with mirrored closet doors on each side. The wall just inside the bedroom doors featured a series of coat hooks and a mirror to check your look before you left. And here was Nikhil, wandering.
Here was the queen size sleigh bed and the stylish lamps and the dressing table and mirror. Here was a cozy wingback chair and hassock and a red velvet couch with throw pillows in deep orange and purple.
He ambled on, into Priya's private bathroom. It was as carefully decorated as the rest of her house. On the sink counter was a surprisingly sparse supply of personal care items. Her toilet had its own cozy little chamber.
Priya's toilet was appointed with an expensive brand of bathroom tissue. On the floor in front of it were dog-eared copies of magazines. Stored practically under it was a squatting stool. On the lid was a decorative brass tray from India. On the tray was a candle, matches, an open box of tampons and an open box of condoms. Why would she need condoms if she and Dad were separated, Nikhil wondered.
She was home. He heard and felt the rumbling of the garage door opening. He left her bathroom and looked thru the windows to see her luxurious black crossover coming up the driveway. He cleared his throat and started down the stairs.
Priya had just come home from an off-site meeting with other members of the practice. There were drinks. She enjoyed some before heading home. There was traffic on the beltway and the drinks were catching up to her. And just like her private bathroom, Priya's powder room was better than most people's main bathrooms.
Nikhil reached the ground floor just in time to see the powder room light go on and the door swing closed but stop on its latch. He walked up the door but stood there for a few seconds. First he heard the toilet lid clack expensively at its open position, then the sounds of clothes unfastening and ruffling and sliding. Then the sound of Priya sighing in relief as she started to pee. He knocked gently.
Oh! Hi, babe. I forgot you might be home by now.
Do you need to use it?
I'm visiting the toilet but you can open the door if you need to talk.
With the tip of one index finger Nikhil gently pressed on the middle of the powder room door until it smoothly opened the whole way. Here was a grown woman in a private necessary moment and she was still in control.
She was dressed for work. Her dress slacks gathered over her work pumps, she had crossed her legs toward the door. He watched her unclip her still mostly black hair and shake it loose, then tilt her head to remove one earring then the other, placing them one at a time in a jewelry dish on the counter.
How'd your classes go?
Fine, he said. Then a pause. I paid for next spring.
Oh. Did you use the card I gave you?
How many courses? She unrolled a length of tissue and wadded it up.
Four classes plus lab time is kind of a lot!
And books, she said distantly, as though to herself.
He heard her session conclude. And books, yeah.
Okay, she said. Go wait for me and I'll come say good afternoon.
He shrugged before gently pulling the door shut. He heard her work pumps shuffle on the powder room's hardwood floor then heard her stand. That feels better, she sighed to herself before the toilet flushed. Nikhil ambled to the family room as water ran in the sink.
The light clicked off, the door opened, and here in her business suit was Nikhil's mom Priya, now with a big relieved smile. She greeted him with a kiss on the lips. You really had to go, he said. She flicked her eyes wide and said we had drinks at the meeting. It was a long drive home.
You must be hungry, she said, picking up the tv remote and putting on the evening local news. Let's do our best to clean out the leftovers in the fridge. He groaned in dismay. She said hey listen, if we have leftovers now then we can have a gourmet pizza later.