But Julian, I'm a Little Bit Older Than You
Title: But Julian, I'm a Little Bit Older Than You
Series: The Best Moves
Disclaimer: Wholly original work.
Characters/Pairings: Julian, Riley, Full-Cast.
Rating: MA overall.
Summary: Sometimes relationships end just because they do, and sometimes magical things happen just because they can. And sometimes starting over isn't the worst thing in the world.
In the years since his Uncle Henry had died, Julian swore that his Aunt Cathy had started aging in dog years. She looked a good decade older than her true age when before she'd always seemed younger and more of an older sister to him than his aunt.
Julian let himself in the back door without knocking. Likely she'd heard him parking his car beside the garage off the alley anyway, so it didn't really matter. And she was in the kitchen, washing dishes and listening to the news on the radio.
"Miserable day," she said as she finished drying a glass and held it up to the light to make sure it didn't have spots. "I was thinking about you, you know. That's why you called."
Julian chuckled and knelt to take off his boots.
"You think so?" he questioned. "I was thinking about everyone, really. About Mom and Dad and Jeff and Sherri... Any idea how they're doing?"
"Not particularly," Aunt Cathy replied, shaking her head. The glass went into the cupboard and she reached for another one.
Once Julian stood and glanced around properly, he realized that the table was already set and that something was already in the oven, cooking.
"You never did get a birthday card from them?" she questioned a moment later. "Which reminds me that I still owe you a nice dinner for that, too. I can't believe I got bronchitis just in time to mess up our plans."
"It's okay," Julian replied. Wasn't as if she meant it as a slight, after all. And she'd still sent a card managed to quickly give him a package of underwear and socks before retiring back to her sofa and box of tissues. "And no, they didn't. Which is also okay."
"They'll come around," Aunt Cathy insisted.
"Maybe," Julian replied. He wasn't exactly holding out hope anymore. "Do you need a hand?"
"I'm almost done."
Julian nodded and went ahead to sit at the table. Aunt Cathy's hair was nearly grey now and she just wasn't that old. She was just maybe forty...
"So you're working again?"
"Yeah," Julian said with a little smile. "Book store in the mall. And before you ask how it happened, I just want to say that it's actually pretty interesting and I'm not having any trouble learning all about authors and everything. If I pay attention to what people are buying together, it's easy to recommend stuff to others..."
Aunt Cathy put away another glass - the last one - and hung the towel on a rod on the front of the sink cupboard.
And she smiled. "Of course you're doing a good job - you're a smart guy. I wouldn't doubt you and don't tell me that Arden did. How's he doing, by the way? And do you want something to drink?"
"I'm okay," Julian replied. "Arden's just working a lot right now, so it's nice to be working too. I was going kinda crazy just hanging around the apartment all day."
"I know that feeling," Aunt Cathy admitted. "I'm set, financially, though, so I've been volunteering a couple of days a week at the museum."
Julian smiled. He could only imagine Aunt Cathy surrounded by field trip groups. She and Uncle Henry had never had kids and Aunt Cathy had always treated him like her own, even though she was the one who'd married into the family after he'd been born.
They kept talking all the way through dinner and after, until Julian noticed the time just as Aunt Cathy's phone was ringing. She answered the old, rotary kitchen phone that had probably been mounted on the wall back in the 1940's.
"It's for you," she said with a little smile. "Arden guessed, since you weren't at home."
Julian frowned. Either Arden was out early and was upset because Julian wasn't ready to go out, or Arden had to work longer and...
He took the phone from her. "Hey..."
"My relief is having car trouble," Arden said flatly. "I might have to be here for a few more hours."
"It's okay," Julian replied. There wasn't really any other response. "We'll go out another time."
"Thanks," Arden said. "Anyway, not supposed to be on unless I'm working, so I gotta go."
"S'okay. I'll leave a light on."
The phone clicked and Julian wondered if Arden had a boss breathing right over him. Had to suck, getting stuck with the sorts of hours Arden kept getting. Good for Arden's bank account, but... they had an agreement on that. They'd split any living-related bills like rent and utilities and food and anything related to the apartment, but other than that, extra money was personal. And Julian knew that Arden was saving for a new car, so that had to be where all the extra was going.
His own meager savings had been depleted while unemployed. Luckily, he'd managed to put a couple of spare dollar bills into it the week before to keep his bank account open. It wasn't fun, but it was how things were working.
Julian hung up the phone and looked over to Aunt Cathy.
"I hope they don't keep him too late," he said with a little frown. "This just keeps happening."
Aunt Cathy gave him a strange little look for a moment before shaking her head. "They really need to hire some reliable new people," she said. "Maybe I should go down and see if they'll take me part time. I like being on the phone."
Julian chuckled. He really couldn't imagine Aunt Cathy in a call center, but really, he couldn't quite imagine her working at all. She'd always been bustling around the house cooking and mending and ironing and vacuuming at all hours. Even now the place was spotless, though also far too large for just her.
He resolved to visit a little more often.
The voice was startlingly familiar even though it had been ages since he'd heard it. Looking up from where he was fixing the lowest shelf of a display of children's books, he found himself gazing at his little sister, who was now far from little.
He wasn't expecting her to hug him and not let go until he carefully mentioned that he needed to breathe.
"Is Mom here?" Julian asked carefully. Obviously if this was Sherri's reaction to him, he didn't have to worry about her. But their mother...
"No, I'm sixteen now," Sherri said with a smile. "I know you would have sent a card if you could've."
"It would have just come back," Julian replied, mentally doing the math that made his little sister old enough to drive. He just couldn't believe it.
"I know," Sherri said with a little sigh. "But you work here, eh? That's great -- I can see you whenever and Mom doesn't need to know."
Julian blinked. "You want to see me?"
Sherri nodded and smiled. "Of course. You're my big brother Julian -- you were able to stand up to Mom. I still can't do that. It's sort of amazing that she let me come to the mall on my own, but I really need to get some new... girl things."
Chuckling, Julian could only nod. "And books?"
"Well, there's this series I like... I've borrowed most of them from friends and from the library but there's a new one out and the waiting list is a thousand miles long. It'll be, like, two years before I get to read it. And then the new one will be out..." Sherri gestured wildly while she spoke. "So I figure if I'm careful, maybe I can grab it and still have enough money for everything. I'm not working except for babysitting though."
Julian smiled. He was just so happy to see Sherri. Her hair had darkened a bit, but was still pretty curly and kept at a good length for ringlets to form in it.
"I can let you use my discount," Julian said. "That'll help a bit. But in exchange, don't tell Mom you saw me and don't ever let her come in here if you can help it."
"Pfff, like I'd tell her anything," Sherri said with a little eyeroll. "You're gonna be my secret, don't worry."
"So what series is it?"
"Oh!" Sherri smiled. "You probably know all about it... I just never thought you were the type to be in a bookstore..."
"Neither did I," Julian admitted. But he was currently grateful for it. Sherri had always been his spoiled little sister that he'd do anything for. And he still would. He just hoped he wouldn't have to.
By the time he slipped under the gate of Riley's shop that evening, both siblings were just finishing up their close. They looked at him and then at each other.
"Something good happened," Riley surmised. "And you want to tell us all about it."
"Yeah..." Julian said, not knowing if they were actually up for it or if they were trying to dissuade him. "Um..."
"Great!" Leah interrupted. "Today's been kinda meh for us here and we were both here and yeah, there was one big sale but otherwise..."
"If you're up for a late dinner, it'll be Leah's treat," Riley said with a smile.
Leah shook her head. "Julian, you need to be more comfortable with us. We're your friends. And whatever is big news to you is big news to us, okay? We'll go celebrate properly."
She slipped out from behind the counter and Julian couldn't help but smile. Her skirt was a print of pastel unicorns frolicking, paired with a black corset top and black tights. Her shoes were pale pink canvas and her pigtails were held by fuzzy rubberbands with little pale streamers. Again, perfect.
"Okay," Julian said after a moment. "You're right. I..."
There wasn't really any way to say he didn't have many friends other than Arden and that he'd slowly been distancing himself from the world in general. Because he was back now, and starting over.
He'd started over.
And he had Sherri back now, which was a start. He doubted he'd ever be close with Jeff, who was between them in age, or with his parents, but... There wasn't much he could do about it. His sexual orientation had just devestated his mother and despite a few different efforts to patch things up with her, each time had only made things worse.
"...think we should go some place with taco salad? I agree, I've been wanting tacos all day," Leah said as she took Julian's hand and steered him back around in the other direction.
Time to go.
Driving separately was about the only thing that kept Julian from just bursting out with the news. He'd had a day filled with all sorts of thoughts and really, the more he thought on it - radio off since it was mostly sports - it really might be the first day of the rest of his life. He couldn't wait to tell Arden, too, but Arden had already mentioned working late.
By the time they had menus, Leah was nearly bouncing in her seat.
"Okay, what happened?" she asked, all smiles. She didn't need to look at the menu, after all. She knew what she wanted. She always seemed to.
"I saw my sister, Sherri," Julian said with a smile. "And she hugged me and told me how much she'd missed me."
"That's great!" Leah replied. "You said you haven't seen your family in years, right? But you live..."
"Yeah, about a mile away. I get the feeling that my mother changed all her shopping habits and everything just so no one would accidentally see me," Julian admitted with a little defeated sigh. "For a little while, my dad would sneak things to me at Aunt Cathy's, but once he was caught at that..."
"Do you think she'll ever change her mind?" Riley asked cautiously.
"No," Julian answered. He poked at his menu. "She... I'm a little worried about Sherri, to be honest. I told her to throw away the receipt for the book she bought just in case Mom asked her how she got a discount. I made sure my name and stuff isn't on it, but she still gets suspicious."
"And you have another sibling - a brother?" Riley asked. "She's doing this to all of them?"
"Sherri mostly talked about books," Julian admitted. "I didn't want to keep her too long since she did have shopping to do and... Well, I didn't want to bring up too much, either.
"But I think she is - I don't know if she's scared of one of them doing anything she deems immoral or if she's just worried one of them will follow along after me. She's probably still convinved that she did something horribly wrong when I was a child."
"One of those..." Leah rolled her eyes.
Julian nodded. "One of those. And... I love her, because she's my mother, but..."
Riley reached to put a hand on Julian's. "It's okay," he said. And Julian was momentarily lost in Riley's endless eyes. "Sometimes you just can't be with the people who mean the most to you."
"Yeah..." Julian gave him a little smile as he pulled his hand back. Leah was watching them both for a long moment.
He didn't realize that Riley wasn't talking about his mother.
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