“You’ve been cutting classes,” she said. “Don’t bother trying to lie about it, because I’ve been talking to your teachers.”
I looked down, exhaled, and sunk into the sofa. The next few hours were not going to be fun.
Mom paced back and forth, every so often stopping to sigh and cradle her brow. “I’m going to assume that you’re not out there doing something terrible, like taking drugs or some such,” she started. “You’re much too sensible for that.”
“Thanks.” Credit where credit’s due, I guess.
Her glare fixed on me and scanned me over, as if somehow she could just know without my saying; you know, Mom powers and all of that. After drawing a deep breath she arched back and sighed. “It’s about a boy, isn’t it?”
The look on my face must have been priceless, because I’d never seen her so smug.
“You don’t have to hide it, Justin,” she said. “I’ve known you were gay since you were very, very small, and so does your father. It’s not a problem. One of my best friends at work is gay, and I love hearing stories about him and his husband.”
These were words I never thought I’d have to speak, but “Mom, I’m not gay… I think.”
“All the signs are there. I don’t know why you feel like you have to hide,” she pressed. “It explains the cross-dressing…”
I went wide-eyed. “You ever think that maybe I was ‘cross-dressing’ because I like being a girl instead?”
“Is that what you do when you cut school?”
My cheeks flushed. Even if there was more to it than that the ‘girl’ part of Glimmer Girl was still pretty profound, and I had to admit I liked it a lot.
“You do know that you don’t have to be a woman in order to be feminine, don’t you?” she added. “You can be any kind of man you want to be. You don’t need to try and be someone else for the sake of somebody else’s approval, especially a partner.”
Gods, when was she going to listen? “There is no guy, Mom! It’s just me.”
“Doing what?” she hummed.
“Nothing,” I murmured, “or… I don’t know, everything! Something! You wouldn’t understand.”
“I’m trying to understand,” she continued, “and I have been understanding; I really have. You’ve got a lot of issues to deal with that most kids don’t have to worry about, so I’ve given you some breathing room to sort them out; but now I hear that you’re starting fights at school…”
“Wait, what? No, I haven’t.”
“Oh, so Mr. Drew didn’t see you talking smack to Adrian Dempsey before fourth period.” Her words were like a slap to the head. How could I have forgotten?
I tried to argue with her, “I was just standing my ground.”
She planted her feet and leaned down to me; as if I couldn’t feel any smaller. “Young man, you don’t need to stand your ground. That boy is one step away from losing a scholarship and he knows it. Can you imagine what you’d be in for if you took that away from him?”
My teeth ground together. “Are you seriously taking his side, after all he’s done to me? Since grade school, Mom!”
“Of course I’m not taking his side,” she groaned. “Adrian Dempsey is a heartless bully, and he gets no sympathy from me. However, that still doesn’t mean you have a free pass to provoke him. If you give him a reason, a good reason, to make you a target then you’ll be bringing it on yourself.”
“Bringing it on myself!?” I shot to my feet and marched into the kitchen. Without thinking I opened the refrigerator door and lingered, as if there was some answer waiting to appear for me inside.
She didn’t understand; how could she? She wasn’t the one getting beat up, day in and day out. She pretended to understand, but she never knew how scared I was for all that time; and now to suddenly have the power to put a stop to it… gods, holding back was starting to ache.
“Justin, come back,” she ordered.
I closed the door, stomped back in and glared. “You don’t know what it’s like having that monster hanging over you.”
“Don’t treat me like I’m stupid, Justin,” she said. “I’ve seen the bruises and the broken bones. I know what you’re going through.”
“Do you really?” I huffed. “I mean you’ve seen what he’s done, but do you know how scared I was for the longest time? Remember when I couldn’t stop hyperventilating because I couldn’t stand to see his face? Every day for a week; I couldn’t even leave the house.”
“That’s why we started sending you to therapy,” she added.
“Right, and I’m glad you did, because therapy helped a lot; but at the same time that was you making it somebody else’s problem because you didn’t understand.”
“Justin…” Her tone was getting harder.
“You see the fear, Mom, but you haven’t lived it like I have,” I said, “and now that I’m not scared anymore you think you can just walk right in and give me a lecture?”
She stiffened her shoulders and fumed. “I’m trying not to be an overbearing parent here,” she struggled to reason, “but you’re not being fair to me and you’re about two steps away from being grounded. I’m trying my very best to work with you, but I swear you’re determined not to let me help.”
I was about to snipe her back when David Bowie started playing; it was my cell phone, and the name on the screen read ‘Tanya.’
“Don’t you dare answer that when I’m talking to you,” she hissed, like I was going to listen to her.
I touched the screen to answer. “Hey, what’s up?”
My Mom reached out her hand, demanding that I give my cell up to her. She thrust it in my face and did all she could short of straight out snatching it. I could barely make out what Tanya was trying to say.
“KC, tell me you’re on your way,” she said.
“On my way where?”
“Give me the phone,” Mom insisted.
Tanya sounded serious. “Turn on the TV to News 5. Go!”
The call ended and I slid the phone back in my pocket. “There, I’m done. Are you happy now?” Before Mom could even respond I was back in the living room, the remote was in my hand and I was flicking through the channels.
“No, young man, I am not remotely happy,” she said, but stopped when the monitor settled on the image of destruction. “No, is that…?”
The camera panned over rubble and debris where emergency services were trawling in search of people. A reporter spoke over the image. “This is the scene now under what was the Bonnie Franklin Bridge on the outskirts of Milestone Heights. Nobody knows what caused the collapse; only that it coincided with the passing of a commuter train during peak hour. Officials are estimating around three hundred passengers and staff inside; around sixty have been rescued by… oh my god, what is…?”
Metal twisted on the monitor, barely captured by the camera’s lone eye. It was hard to see what was happening, but the screams were unmistakable.
“Mom, I need to go,” I said in barely a whisper.
Jarred from her shock my Mom was a step too slow to stop me. “You aren’t going anywhere,” she demanded, but I was already gone.
There was work to be done.
To be continued…