“For real, though, I don’t see how you can stand it.”
“Stand what? Nothing’s bothering me.”
“Paula, you’re twenty-three years old! You can’t live with your mom forever! Heck, my folks kicked me out when I was eighteen--and I was glad to be gone, let me tell you.”
I clenched the rubbery silicon case of my phone, driving my nails into it.
“Mom’s not like that, OK? She loves me, and she said I should take life at my own pace.” My shouting echoed against the high ceiling of my room. “You just don’t understand.”
“Trust me, you’ll be a lot happier--”
“No!” My free hand, curled into a tight ball, thumped against the fuzzy disarray of blankets on my bed. “I’m sick of this. Everyone’s always telling me about how I’m ‘too old’ to be living at home, and how I ‘need’ to move out, and how I’m ‘being a burden’ to Mom, but they don’t get it. I’m already happy like this. And anyway didn’t you promise me you wouldn’t bring this up anymore?”
“Look, all I meant was--”
“Mom tells me every day that she loves having me around, and that I shouldn’t let other people tell me how to live my life. If you’re going to try and boss me around, then I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
I hung up and chucked my phone across the room. It spun through the air before slamming against the far wall, landing with a soft thud atop the small hill of my dirty clothes. I fell forward onto the bed, burying my face in a pillow. Why was everyone so invested in me moving away from Mom? My life choices didn’t affect them, so what did they care?
I lifted my head at the sound of a quiet knock on my door. Mom entered the room, carrying a collapsible table in one hand and a polished silver tray loaded with a steaming steak dinner in the other. I sat up as she unfolded the table with a single gesture and set the tray down on it.
“I know it’s a little late, but here’s your dinner, muffin. Mommy had a rough week this week, so I made our favorites for supper to celebrate the weekend.” She cut into the steak and held the incision open, revealing the juicy pink interior. “See? I cooked it just the way you like it.”
I clapped my hands together, beaming.
“Of course, sweet pea.” She sat down next to me on the bed as I started eating. “Now, I don’t mean to be nosy, but a little while ago I could hear you from all the way in the other room. Is everything alright? Your friends haven’t been causing trouble for you again, have they?”
I opened my mouth to respond, but Mom held up a finger.
“Ah-ah, don’t talk with your mouth full, young lady.”
I swallowed and cleared my throat.
“Yes, ma’am. It’s just that one of my so-called ‘friends’ was trying to boss me around again. She wanted me to feel bad because I’m living at home with you, like I’m a burden to you or something for still being here.” I cast my eyes down, turning the cool metal of the fork over and over in my hand. “I’m not a burden, am I, Mom?”
“Oh, no, honey bunch, you’re not a burden to Mommy at all!” She scooted closer and embraced me, clutching my back. I clung to her. “I’m so, so very happy that you’re still in my life. You’re….”
She fell silent for a moment. I heard her sniffle.
“Oh, sorry, it’s nothing.” She pulled away from the hug, blinking and brushing at her eyes, and gave me a thin smile. “If you do decide someday that you’d like to move out on your own, I’d help you out in any way I could, but I want you to take your time with that decision rather than rushing headlong into it. Remember, it’s your life. You should choose to spend it however you want and not worry about what other people tell you.”
“Really.” She tapped me on the tip of my nose, her smile warmer.
I giggled, then hugged her again.
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too, pumpkin, so much.” She squeezed me gently, then stood up. “I’ll leave you to your dinner now. I wouldn’t want to let all of your favorites go cold and uneaten, after all. Don’t worry yourself over the dishes; I’ll come and get them later.”
She swept out of the room and pulled the door shut behind her with a soft click. I resumed gorging myself, cutting the steak into small bits and shoveling it down together with forkfuls of creamy mashed potatoes and tender green peas. After a few minutes, with my plate cleaned, I fell back onto the bed.
I ran a hand over my distended stomach and stared up at the ceiling, tracing out familiar patterns in the bumpy texture with my eyes. My ‘mature’ friends were probably staggering indoors into their empty apartments right about now, bleary-eyed and foggy-headed after having the skin stripped clean off of their noses by the proverbial grindstone, grasping with their fingertips the twin paper bags containing their usual dinner of liquor and room temperature fast food. Meanwhile, here I was curled up in my warm bed, stuffed to bursting with a home-cooked meal, sharing a house with someone who genuinely loved me and wanted me to be happy. Honestly, how could anyone think moving out would make me happier?
As I smiled in satisfaction, my eyes slowly drooped shut. Without getting up, I waved an arm above the head of the bed until my wrist struck the flexible neck of my lamp, which bent slightly from the collision. I toggled off its power switch, then pulled some of the tangled mound of fluffy blankets over me and drifted off to sleep.
“Oi, will you wake up?”
A hand gingerly poked my shoulder, then gave it a more firm push. I groaned and rolled over, pulling my blankets over my head.
“...Can you wake up? Wait, could it be? Is this--” The unfamiliar voice gasped. “--the first recorded case of human hibernation?! To think that, in such dire times, I’d be shown such a sight!”
“Ugh, what is it?” I spoke without lifting the covers.
“Oh no, I’ve contaminated the sample! Here I’d laughed off my peers’ claims that I was no good for field work, but perhaps they were right all along. I’m a disgrace as a scientist.”
I kicked off the covers and flipped around to face the speaker.
“Mom, what are you talking about--”