I woke up Saturday morning to light streaming through my crooked blinds and the sound of voices, coming from somewhere behind my closed door. At first I thought I was dreaming; my clock radio said 7:03 A.M., and when I'd gone to bed the night before, Mom and I'd been the only people in the apartment. Richard wasn't due back until tomorrow. As I struggled to sit up and unwind myself from some very tangled sheets, I heard the voices again, clearer: One was Mom's and the other was Lionel's.
I found a pair of pajama pants in the pile of clothes at the foot of my bed and pulled them on before pushing open my door and sticking my head out into the hall. I saw them in the kitchen, standing between the sink and coffee-maker. Mom was pouring two cups of coffee.
"Hey, you're up!" Lionel said, when I shuffled in. "I was gonna come bang on your door."
I scratched my stomach and stifled a yawn. "Why?"
In response, he pulled his keyring from his pocket and twirled it around a finger. "I'm taking you for a surprise driving lesson."
"Seriously?" I glanced between Mom and my brother. My first instinct was to find an excuse, but it was seven A.M. on a Saturday. It was obvious I had no plans.
"I guess you don't have to come," Lionel said, "but if you do, I've been instructed to take you and Mom out to breakfast after."
"Breakfast?” I said.
"Yup, Dad's orders. And Dad's credit card."
Mom laughed at that one. I looked at her for a moment, in her pink robe, and tried to remember the last time she had left the apartment. In the same moment, I realized that the notion of another driving lesson hadn't sent me into a fit of terror. Maybe I was ready to get back on the horse after all.
"Okay," I told Lionel. "It's a deal. I just need to change."
"I'm glad you're doing the lessons again," Mom said. "You don't want your permit to expire before you get the chance to get your license."
I turned to her, almost surprised. "So you want me to get my license now?"
She laughed and swooped in suddenly to plant a very motherly kiss on my cheek. "I want you to get it if you want it," she said.
"He wants it," Lionel said. "Remember, it comes with a car."
"Is he a good driving instructor?" Mom asked me, setting a hand on Lionel's shoulder. "Do you think I should hire him to teach me?"
"Mom!" Lionel laughed. "You want to learn to drive now?"
"Well…" She tapped her chin. "No, not really. But I'd like to keep my options open."
It was nice to see them like this, my mom and my brother. It was nice to watch them laughing and joking like we were all part of this normal family that hadn't weathered a twelve year schism. I had no doubt that under the surface, my mother was still blaming herself for everything that happened and that my brother—like me—still felt that twinge of stranger-like awkwardness that colored our family interactions. But for the moment, they seemed actually happy—and so was I.
"I'll be right back," I said.
As Lionel and I walked down the street towards the Mazda, he tossed me the keys and I managed to catch them one-handed, without embarrassing myself.
"Hey, Lionel," I said, as I unlocked the driver's side door, "have you ever done donuts before?"
I found the message pad wedged between the couch cushions when Mom and I attempted house-cleaning on Sunday. I don't think either of us realized just how bad the apartment had gotten before we started, and once the state of things became clear, we both lost enthusiasm for the project. But we made it as far as filling a couple of garbage bags with the piled-up junk mail, magazines, and the occasional food wrapper. As I ran my hand along the grungy seams of the sofa to check for stragglers, that's when the yellow pad resurfaced. I recognized Richard's hand-writing on the first sheet. In his weird, blocky lettering, he had printed Ken for Dillon and underneath that, a phone number. Ken's phone number.
Richard got back that evening and brought over pizza and a DVD. I waited until he and Mom had settled down on the couch to watch it before I grabbed the cordless phone, shut myself in my room and pulled the message pad out of my pocket.
I wish I could say I was no longer mad at Ken—that I'd totally forgiven him and was ready to wipe the slate clean. But that wouldn't be the truth. Knowing you should forgive someone doesn't make it that much easier to actually do it. It takes time and as I was beginning to understand, it takes work. It works the same muscles you use to accept your own mistakes, to accept yourself. Because forgiveness is basically acceptance, right? Accepting the fact that sometimes you just really fuck up and so does everyone else. And sometimes people do deserve a second chance.
With the phone in one hand and the notepad in the other, I thought about what my mom had said when she was promising me things would get better. The maxim of recovery.
Let's just take this one day at a time.
I held my breath as I dialed Ken's number.
This has been Homecoming & Other Mistakes. 30 chapters, 30 illustrations, and it is finally complete. Thanks to all my readers and supporters! I have plans to eventually release it as an ebook, but everything I've posted here will remain free to enjoy on this website for the foreseeable future.