I didn't bring up what happened with Mrs. Harold on the drive back to my place, and Adam didn't mention it either. When we pulled up to my building, I thanked Adam for the ride and headed for the apartment. I dug through my book bag for my keys, trying to put a name to the weird feeling in my stomach. I didn't think I could blame the cinnamon twists.
I stomped the churchyard dirt off my sneakers onto our sun-faded welcome mat and fitted my key into the lock. "Hello?" I called, nudging open the door. Mom was usually home by this time on Fridays, but her schedule was subject to change. That was the excitement of being a nurse, I guess. I stepped inside. "Anybody home?"
"Yes, I'm here." Mom's voice drifted in from the living room along with the sounds of our television.
I wandered through the kitchen to the living room and found her lying on the couch, stretched out on her back with the remote resting on her stomach. She was still in scrubs, but she'd taken her hair down from its usual ponytail and kicked off her shoes. Her jacket lay crumpled atop the coffee table, one arm dangling onto the carpet.
I knew immediately that something was wrong. But I forced a smile anyway. "What's up?"
She turned her head slightly to look at me. "I lost my job."
"What?" My bag slid from my shoulder and hit the floor. It might as well have been my jaw. All thoughts of Adam and Mrs. Harold flew from my head. "You lost your job?"
She barely blinked. Her eyes had turned impossibly patient, like suddenly, we had all the time in the world. I watched her worry the hem of her shirt between her fingers. "I'm going to lose my nursing license," she said.
Then she said, "I killed someone."
"You what?" I shook my head. This wasn't happening; she had to be messing with me. "Are you serious?”
She pressed her fingers to her temple. "I made a bad decision and somebody died. And I don't want to talk about it, Dillon. Not now." She paused. "I just thought you should know."
"Does this mean…” My hands had crept up to my head and were pulling at my hair before I realized what I was doing. "Are we in trouble?"
Someone must have dropped a punch-line in the sitcom Mom was watching, because the studio audience chose that moment to lose it. I wished she'd turn it off or mute the laughing, but she didn't move.
"We're going to be fine," she said. "Don't worry about it. Please. I don't want you to worry."
"But are we going to be able to... to pay our bills? Pay our rent?” My mind was racing out of control; I thought back to the seventy some-odd cents I'd just spent at Taco Bell—should I have saved that? I thought about our kitchen cupboards—was there enough canned soup and Top Ramen in there to get us through the winter? I didn't say any of this out loud, but I guess I didn't have to. Mom's patient expression had shifted to one of almost annoyance.
"Yes, of course we will," she said. "You're so dramatic, Dillon. You must get it from your father."
I was sure she meant it as a joke, but I didn’t appreciate it. I turned away from her and stomped back into the kitchen. I needed to look through the cupboards, just for my own peace of mind. I threw open the pantry cabinet and was greeted with an array of Spaghetti-Os, Rice-a-Roni, instant noodles and soup. By my quick calculations, that would last us at least a month or two. We wouldn't starve.
Staring into the pantry reminded me that I was still hungry. My Taco Bell value-snack was rolling around in my stomach as if to say, see, look at all this empty space! Cooking something would take too long and I decided to save those Spaghetti-Os (which are fine cold, this is important) for later. I rooted around behind a big box of shrimp-flavored Top Ramen (totally gross, I didn't know who bought that or why) and found a couple of cans of sardines packed in olive oil. I peeled one open and dug into it with my fingers.
I stood over the sink, shoving sardines in my mouth until I started to calm down. Maybe my panic had been hunger-induced, because now I felt silly for worrying. Of course we were going to be okay. Even if we found ourselves completely unable to pay for rent or food, we could always move in with Dad and my brother Lionel. Mom wouldn't like it, of course, but they had this new tract house with more than enough room for four. It was weird to think about the four of living as a family when I could barely remember what that had been like. But it was a more pleasant thought than getting evicted, with no place to go.
I heard the floor creak behind me. Mom had finally followed me into the kitchen. I could smell her floral soap over the sardines just as she put her hands on my shoulders.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to tell you like that."
The last bite of sardine stuck in my throat when I tried to swallow.
"And I'm sorry if I sounded cross with you," she continued. "But we're going to be fine. You know Richard will help us out if we have any…problems.”
"Richard?" I turned to look at her. "What about Dad?"
She fluffed the hair at the back my of neck. "Well yes, your father will always be there to pay for your school. But…” She didn’t finish the thought, but she didn’t have to. I should have known my mom would only accept his help as a last resort.
I shrugged off her hand and offered a grunt in response.
Mom patted my hip and slipped back into the living room to lie on the couch some more. But it was okay. Richard would take care of us.
Richard had been my mom's boyfriend for the last two years. I started calling him The Dick behind his back when they first started dating and still did sometimes, though never in front of Mom. Richard was always nice to her. But he went around like an overgrown kid, incapable of doing anything for himself. Mom stopped making my lunches in middle school, but she'd pack one for Richard when he stayed over, whistling like she was happy to be granted the privilege. He couldn't slice his own apples and even made Mom mix his tuna salad, like adding mayo and stirring was beyond his capabilities. And anyway, I was sure he didn't like me. Maybe he'd tried, but I got the feeling I was somehow not what he must have envisioned when my mom said So, I have a teenage son. Sometimes I'd catch him looking at me the way that certain kids at school did, like they couldn't figure me out and they didn't like it.
I stole another glance at Mom, who'd turned back to the television. Was she really going to lose her license? Could she get another job if she did? And why was it was supposed to make me feel better that we could always rely on Richard, the man who slept over in her room more often than not then greeted me in the morning in his gross, ratty bathrobe? Mom said she didn't want to leave me here alone, not overnight, so she rarely went over to his place. I figured it was because she didn't trust me.
But whatever her reason, it meant The Dick was always here. I was thankful that our rooms were separated by the bathroom. Sometimes I let the fan run all night. I was afraid they were having sex all the time, but I never really heard them; I'd hear furniture noises, creaks and scuffs, but never people noises. That would have been so much worse. I mean, it was gross anyway. But this way I could pretend they were just rearranging Mom's room.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't being a prude. I knew some kids whose parents were still together got basically traumatized at any hint of Mom and Dad doing it, but that wasn't me. I thought it would be a good thing to know your parents still cared enough about each other to have sex sometimes. Wouldn't that be kind of reassuring? If Mom were sleeping with Dad and not the Dick, I wouldn't have minded. I mean, I wouldn't have wanted to listen, but that was understandable, right?
Maybe the thought of it was so traumatizing to other kids because they didn't think of their parents as people, as human beings. But I knew parents were just as human as anyone else. Mine had proven enough times that they didn't belong on any sort of pedestal.
Mom killed someone.
She killed someone.
If that was not the ultimate fuck-up, I didn't know what was.
I filled a glass of water at the sink and found myself looking out the kitchen window, to the street corner where Adam had dropped me off. I'd almost forgotten about Adam calling Mrs. Harold a bitch, about Adam driving off with me in the truck. That made me his accomplice, didn't it?
Come Monday, I'd probably be in trouble.
Up next Thursday, Chapter Three: Driving with Lionel