I carried the large pot half-filled with mashed potatoes to the island. It wasn’t a surprise to have leftovers. My mom always cooked way too much food for our weekly family dinners. I think she did it on purpose because she liked the leftovers. I did as well.
“You outdid yourself this time, Mom,” I told her as I scooped the potatoes into a Rubbermaid container.
“I never know who’s going to be hungry or pregnant,” she said with a laugh. “Your brothers are taking this procreating business very seriously. I think we might repopulate the earth with just Bancrofts.”
I smirked. “I don’t think that would be a bad thing. We’re a good-looking bunch.”
“Yes, you are,” she said and patted my cheek.
Wait for it.
“Are you dating anyone? You’re the last one standing. I am really looking forward to meeting my future daughter-in-law.”
I ran the water and stuck the pot under it. “Mom, no. Not dating. You know that. When would I have time?”
“You have to make the time,” she said.
I could almost recite this speech. Every time one of my older brothers got married, I could practically feel the noose tightening around my neck. Channing had been the last one standing between me and the marriage speech. The dude let me down. He not only went off and got married, but he also brought in two kids in less than a year. Even Mason, the guy I thought I could count on to stay single forever, was popping out kids. Well, not him but his wife.
“Isn’t little Lucas just the sweetest little thing?” she cooed.
“He looked a little fat to me,” I said. “Like a miniature marshmallow man.”
She slapped at my arm. “Stop. He’s going to be just as handsome as his daddy. He already has those gorgeous eyes.”
“I think you and dad made a deal with the devil,” I teased. “How is it every kid has those some eyes? The hazel eyes are even knocking out the brown eyes in the wives.”
“I guess God knows what he is doing,” she said. “I’m so glad they are back in town. I can’t wait to spoil that little guy.”
“You might want to wait until he can stand up or speak,” I said.
“You are going to be an expert when it comes to your own children. All of these nieces and nephews are excellent practice. And just think of all the free babysitters you’re going to have.”
I was ignoring the not-so-subtle hints to get busy with my own procreation. It had been like this since Channing announced Madi was pregnant. The moment I heard the news, I seriously considered packing my shit and getting my own place. I knew our mother’s desire to get us all married off.
But I couldn’t leave her. I was obligated to stay in the house. I wasn’t sure how it happened, but I never got the chance to leave the nest. My five older brothers just kind of assumed I would be the one that stayed home and took care of Mom. Grayson and Jack were busy with the family business. Mason? Well we all knew he wasn’t going to take care of Mom. It was a miracle he could take care of himself. Colt was running the family’s charity foundation. Channing had dropped off the face of the earth until recently.
Then there was me. I was the youngest. I was the one that wasn’t expected to do anything. I was just supposed to live for Mom. I loved her. I didn’t necessarily want to leave home, but I wanted the option. I didn’t get the option. That was what pissed me off.
“Mom, I’ll finish up in here,” I told her.
“No, no,” she said. “There’s not much to do.”
I heard something drop and shatter.
“Dammit,” she cursed.
I grabbed some paper towels to clean up the juice that had splattered over the counter and floor. “I got it.”
She shook her head. “The glass just slipped from my hand.”
“Can you shut off the water?” I asked. I used the towel to clean up the counter and moved to grab more to clean up the liquid on the floor.
“Let me get that,” she said.
“I got it.”
She slipped on the wet tile and fell to the floor.
“Mom!” I rushed to her side. “Are you okay?”
A tear slipped down her cheek. “I’m fine.”
“Did you hurt anything?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she whimpered. “My leg.”
“Is it your hip?” I asked with concern. It had been a few years since she broke her hip. That had been a rough time.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “Help me up.”
“Mom, don’t move,” I told her. “Let me call an ambulance. You might have broken something.”
“I’m fine,” she said, sniffling. “Just help me up.”
She started to sit up. The woman was too damn stubborn. I moved behind her and helped her. “Does anything hurt?”
She raised her arm to look at her elbow. “I caught myself with my arm. It doesn’t feel broken.”
“What about your hips?” I asked. I was having flashbacks to the day I found her at the bottom of the stairs.
“I’m okay,” she said.
“Mom, you need to go to the emergency room,” I insisted.
“You’re not exactly a spring chicken,” I reminded her. “The doctor told you broken bones at your age are more common. You might have broken something.”
“I’m not old!” she snapped.
“You’re not twenty.”
“James Dylan Bancroft!” she scolded.
I sighed. When she busted out the full name, she wasn’t playing. I remembered thinking my name was James Dylan for the longest time. “Yes, Mom?”
“Do not get smart with me. Help me up.”
“Let me clean up the floor first,” I grumbled. “Sit there and figure out if something is broken since you have your own X-ray vision.”
“Young man, I might be getting up there in years, but I’m not frail. Don’t go picking out my headstone just yet.”
If she was fighting back, she wasn’t in too bad of shape. I snatched the paper towel roll off the holder and cleaned up the floor. This was the kind of accident that reminded me exactly why I couldn’t leave her. What would have happened if she’d fallen and I wasn’t here to help her up?
“Are you ready?” I asked after I cleaned up.
“How do you want to do this?” I stared down at my mother, who seemed to have shrunk in the last five years. I always thought of her as this larger than life, tough as nails woman. Seeing her sitting on the floor, frustrated, was difficult.
She raised her hand. “Pull me up.”
“Mom, I don’t want to dislocate your shoulder,” I said gently. “I’m going to lift you from behind. As soon as you are up, grab onto the counter.”
“Okay,” she replied.
“One, two, three,” I said and lifted her as gently as I could. She’d lost weight. I knew because when I had tried to help her out of bed in those first weeks after she broke her hip, it took a little more effort.
“Ouch,” she hissed.
“What is it? What hurts?”
“I’m fine, James. I promise.”
“I’m taking you to bed,” I told her.
She didn’t argue, which told me she was hurting more than she was letting on. I was so glad we remodeled and put her master suite on the ground floor. She bitched about it initially, but we all knew it was necessary. She’d gotten used to it.
“I can get changed on my own,” she said.
“I’ll get your pajamas. You have to do it like you did when you broke your hip. Sit down and change.”
I put her pajamas on the bed next to her. “I’ll be back in ten minutes. Do you want a cocktail?”
“Maybe some Tylenol and a cup of tea.”
I nodded before walking out of her room and closing the door. We were in that awkward phase of life. She’d changed my diapers and bathed me when I was a baby, and now that I was an adult and she was in her golden years, the tables had turned a bit.
It was something else that pissed me off about my brothers. They got to maintain the mom-and-son relationship. I was the son and caregiver. I was the one that had to help her get dressed on occasion.
I started the water for her tea and quickly finished putting away the leftovers. My brothers had done the dishes, as was the new tradition, but there were still the serving dishes to contend with.
Once those were done, I used the bedside tray to arrange her teacup and her chamomile tea along with her usual bedtime snacks. I carried it into her room and found her already in bed with her book opened.
“How are you feeling now?” I asked.
“I’m fine. I’ll be a little sore on my backside, but nothing is broken.”
“I’ll call the doctor tomorrow morning,” I said. “I’d prefer him to give you a onceover. I’ll have him come here.”
“James, I really am fine. It was a little slip. It’s these silly shoes,” she said in an attempt to brush it off.
I didn’t buy it, but I wasn’t going to stress her out. “Hit the button if you need me,” I said.
“I will,” she said with a soft smile. “I really am okay.”
I gave her a kiss on the cheek before leaving her bedroom. I locked up and shut off the lights before heading upstairs to my room. I kicked off my shoes and stripped out of my clothes. I didn’t have the luxury of sleeping in the nude. If my mom hit her panic button, my ass was up and out of bed and downstairs within seconds—and I didn’t want that ass to be bare.
I got into bed and turned on the TV without really watching. My thoughts were occupied with my mother. I couldn’t watch her all day, every day. I loved her, but I had to have my own life. I would go out of my mind if I had to be her fulltime caregiver.
It pissed me off that I was the one left to handle this situation. She was our mother, but they just left it all to me. I was the one that had to decide if I had to push her to get seen by a doctor. I was the one that had to tell her to slow down. I was the one that had to have those uncomfortable conversations with her.
I didn’t get to be just her son. I missed that relationship with her. I missed being able to pop in and see her on occasion. I missed being able to skip Sunday dinner because I had plans. Hell, I missed getting laid on the regular. There had been one too many times when I’d been halfway to orgasm only to get a call that she needed me. The blue balls I tended to have most days had become a part of my life.
I called Channing and asked him to come home so he could help me with Mom. That backfired. He ended up getting married and spent half his time in Bali. And I was still home with Mom and they all had their wives and kids.
I blew out a breath. I didn’t resent my mother. I resented the situation. My dad died too young. He left her alone in this big-ass house. And that was why I was here.