Friday, January 17, 2014
[[Turn To You: A Novella]] -- PART SEVEN
Glenn leaned in to pat me on the back. He was snickering a little, but it was nervous laughter more than anything. Once I managed to finish the process of chewing, I gestured toward the living room for them to sit.
My mom was still sitting at the table and her eyes widened when she saw who it was. I was afraid she was going to yell and kick them out, but instead, she just went back to watching the movie.
"Um, is it okay that we're here?" Glenn said. He wasn't loud but my mom heard him anyway.
"It's fine, boys. Why don't you take them to your room, Betsy? I'll clean up here."
"Don't worry about it," I told her. "I'll wash the dishes later."
"It's not much," she said. "I'm sure your friends need you more than the dishes do right now."
I sighed and gestured to Glenn and Ben to join me in my bedroom. I grabbed a soda from the fridge and along with the remainder of my fries. In my room, they sat on the rug against the bed-frame and I sat against the wall with my legs crossed beneath me. It took several moments of uncomfortable silence for any of us to speak.
"First," Glenn said, finally, "I feel like I have about a thousand things to apologize for. You have to know that the band practice without you was purely with good intentions on all our parts, but you're justified in being upset. We didn't have the right to take that decision away from you. You can decide when you are able to play and I'm sorry."
"It's okay," I said. "I was quick to react and after a few days of thought, I realized that I may not have been ready to be doing gigs so soon. You were just looking out for me."
"Well there won't be any more practices without you," he said. "At least not if I have anything to do with it."
I nodded and gave him a small smile.
"And then, I never showed up in school and you were probably worried. I should have given you a heads up."
"Part of that is my own fault, too," I said, shrugging. "If I'd talked to you this weekend - if I'd been open to it - I might have known something about what was going on."
"You only shut me out because I shut you out. I'm so sorry."
"All is forgiven," I told him. "Stop apologizing."
"I didn't tell you about Ben, either." They looked at each other and then back at me.
"That one I'm gonna have to hold you accountable for. I was completely shocked! You'd hidden that one so well and I'm baffled as to why you would. From me, at least."
"Honestly, Betsy, it was probably stupid and maybe overprotective. But I didn't want to make you have to watch Ben and I together when you and Callie's breakup was just so raw."
"Plus," said Ben, speaking for the first time since they got here, "I was actually a little afraid that if anyone at school saw Glenn and I together, they would know immediately. And my parents are strict Mormons. They would...well, they would disown me."
I sat there a moment and absorbed this information. I was worried that this was what would happen with my mom, too, but unlike Ben, I didn't think it would be irreparable. Then it dawned on me - his parents had found out.
"Did you say your parents - I mean, have they? Disowned you?" I sat there awestruck.
"They kicked me out. I guess it's the same thing. It was either get out or get help. They were completely disgusted with me. I felt...pretty ashamed. It's what they wanted me to feel. But I am not going to feel it forever." Glenn reached over and took his hand, patting it a little.
"Ben and I are going to New York next year. To art school," Glenn said. "So that we can be together and we can be somewhere that we're accepted."
"That sounds really nice," I said, for a moment letting myself dream of that, too.
"But if your parents kicked you out, where can you go now?" I said
"Glenn's parents said I could stay there awhile, but I'm not sure what my other options are. I guess I have to quit school, get a job and a place."
"You don't have to quit school," Glenn said. "Why would you need to do that?"
"I can't stay with you and your parents forever, honey. It would be bad for our relationship, among other things."
The door opened in that instant and there was my mother, her tense face pinched into resolve.
"You can stay here," she said. "For as long as you like."
Glenn, Ben and I just sat there looking at her, our mouths gaping open.
"Mom, are you sure?" I said.
She looked pointedly at me.
"Of course I am. He's just a boy and he doesn't deserve that kind of treatment. Especially from his parents."
"Thanks Mrs. Reynolds," Ben said.
"Ms. Reynolds," she corrected him. "I can take you to get your things, too, if you need me to."
"I don't think my parents would let me back in the house," he said. His voice trembled and I thought of how scary it would be to be out on your own at sixteen.
"I could talk to them," she said. I was watching my mother and she was avoiding eye contact with me - in the last ten minutes, the tables seemed to have turned. I couldn't figure out what could have made my mother go from saying that both boys needed counseling to saying that one of them could stay in our home. It was a puzzle - even if she had been listening at the door, I doubted that she could have heard anything that would make her want to accept this kid.
"Maybe another time," Ben said. "I think I've had all the excitement I can handle for one day. I have my school stuff. And my pajamas."
"I'll lend him clothes for tomorrow, Miss R," Glenn said. "And anytime you get tired of him, you can send him my way."
"Great," said Ben dryly. "I get to be a ping-pong ball."
Glenn reached over and mussed his hair. I saw my mom's face flicker a strange new expression I could not comprehend. It was somewhat softer, sympathetic and tired.
"Would you boys want Chinese for dinner?" she asked. "Or have you already eaten?"
They looked at each other, then at me and back to my mom.
"I'd love Chinese food. I haven't eaten in hours," Ben said and Glenn nodded in agreement.
"You want something, too?" she asked me.
"Maybe just some veggie lo mein," I said.
"Ok, you guys should get on your homework. I'll call in our order."
My mom left the doorway and Glenn and his boyfriend went back to talking about their day. But I couldn't help but listen out for my mom, waiting for her to get off the phone. It felt a little crazy and sudden, but right then, I knew I needed to talk to her. I wanted my mom to know me and I needed to be as honest as I could muster the courage to be.
When I heard her hang up, I excused myself and met her in the living room. She was sitting, looking pensive, with her hands resting in her lap as she slumped down into the soft cushions of our sofa.
"Mom?" I said. She looked up but didn't say anything. "What made you - I mean, why did you decide Ben could stay?"
"Like I said, he's just a boy. He can't be on his own."
"But mom, you said they needed counseling. You agreed with his parents."
"No, Betsy," she said. "I understood how they could be angry. I understood why they would be hurt. If the boys need counseling, it is for their own benefit - to better understand themselves, why they may feel the way that they do and to give voice to the things they were apparently feeling a need to hide."
"Oh," I said.
"And Betsy, when I heard what you and those boys were saying to each other, I realized how mature you all are and I can only imagine the things you deal with day after day. That boy needs and deserves love - as much as Glenn does and as much as you do."
I felt my face redden, but I'd come this far.
"Mom -" I began, but she closed her eyes and shook her head.
"Betsy, I'm not blind."
"Oh," I said again. I sounded like a real dunce.
"But I am your mother," she said. "I may not be thrilled with everything you do, but I will love you no matter what." She sighed again. She sounded so tired. I felt awful, though it really wasn't my fault - not exactly. I thought of giving her a hug, I thought of things I wanted to say - but in the end, nothing sounded right and I was too scared to actually dig deeper and say the things she needed to know. For now, this would have to do and I hoped for greater strength later to let her know me better.
Thirty minutes later, Ben, Glenn and I were in the middle of homework and the delivery guy showed up with our food. My mom called us out to the kitchen and we all sat around the long rectangular table. She was watching Jeopardy and we all started playing along. I sat back with my lo mein and watched as my mom interacted with my best friend and his new boyfriend. How strange, I thought. But it was good.
"Help yourself to some egg rolls, boys," my mom was saying. "I bought far too many. Betsy? Eggroll?"
"Can I get a fortune cookie?" I said.
"Hey! Everybody take a fortune cookie and we all have to read them aloud!" Glenn said.
"Is this like that game where everyone adds 'in bed' to the end of their fortune?" Ben asked.
"No - not that. Just tell us your fortune," Glenn said. "It's fun."
My mom cracked open her cookie and read, "Keep your feet on the ground even though friends flatter you."
I cleared my throat to read mine.
"Ahem, you will soon be crossing the great waters," I said.
"What the hell does that mean?" said Glenn. I shrugged and laughed.
"No idea. Read yours," I told him.
"You are demonstrative with those you love," he read.
"That's true," Ben said, hugging him. "Mine says 'the world is always ready to receive talent with open arms'."
"There you go," my mom said. "That's the universe's way of telling you that you can be anything you want."
"Like a chef in New York City," Glenn said, excitedly.
"Where would you boys live if you went to school there?" she asked. Before they could answer, the phone rang and I left the three of them to their conversation to go answer it.
"Hi," the voice on the line said. "Can you talk?"
It was Asha.
"I was working," I told him. "Where were you when I called last night?"
"Doug called and wanted me to shoot some hoops. No biggie. Sorry I missed you though."
"It's okay," I said, relieved. "I had a little homework I needed to do. Plus, my cousin is in town and we got to hang out some."
"Will you be free tomorrow night?" he asked.
"Tomorrow's Monday, Todd," I said. "We have school the next day."
"So what? If our night goes late, we can always skip."
"No thanks," I said, imagining what he thought a late night might entail.
"That's not what I meant," he said, sounding wounded. "I was actually hoping I might get to meet your cousin and maybe that new friend of yours."
"Betsy? You already met her. That night at Byron Hall, remember?"
"Not exactly. I wasn't myself that night. Remember?"
"What could we do on a Monday night? Anyway, I have a big test Tuesday morning so I can't skip."
"How about Tuesday then?"
"Tuesday night?" I said. I tried to think of something to get me and Rhonda out of this but then I just decided that it really couldn't hurt anything. Why was I so reluctant to have us all hang out together? It would even give Betsy and Rhonda a chance to meet and that had been the plan.
"Okay," I said finally. "It's late, but I'll call Betsy tomorrow and see if she can make it."
"Well can I come over tonight?" he asked.
"I have to finish my paper on Russia. I'll see you in school," I said. I hung up before he could protest.
The next day was only a half day for me since the prom committee met during fifth period to work on decorating. I was exempt from my last two classes for this, which was fine since I'd already turned in my homework and the paper I'd spent the whole evening the night before on.
"Asha, have you had any luck finding a band? Because if not, my sister knows this great deejay," Jennifer Winters said to me while we were painting and glitter-gluing construction paper to make into garland rings for the entrance.
"I think I might have a band. They're really great," I said. "The lead singer is a friend of mine."
"Cool," she said, but she sounded a little disappointed. Jennifer really liked to be helpful.
"If it doesn't work out, though, I'll let you know soon and you can get your sister's friend."
She beamed and continued cutting the strips of blue and gold colored paper.
Back home, my dad had ordered pizza and informed Gio and me that our mom wouldn't be home until late. Something about that made my stomach turn, but I said nothing. Instead, we all ate quietly in the living room with the television on. Then I excused myself to do my homework. But first, I had a call to make.
After three rings, Betsy finally picked up.
"Hi," I said. "Can you talk?"
"Sure," she said.
"What's all the commotion?"
"I have some friends over and my mom is with them. They're talking and having Chinese food - it's pretty crazy here right now."
"Should I call back later?" I said.
"No, it's fine. I'm glad to hear your voice. What's going on?"
"I was wondering if you wanted to come out with Todd and me tomorrow night? My cousin, Rhonda is coming, too. We're just going for pizza." I waited for her response and realized I was holding my breath a little doing so.
"Sure," she said finally, though she didn't sound certain. "I'll come. That would be nice."
"Yay!" I said – well, sort of shouted - into the receiver. She laughed.
"Should I meet you at your place?" she asked.
"Actually, would you mind meeting us at Agostino's? That's where we were gonna go."
"Is that the pizza place with the bowling alley next door?" she asked.
"That's the one!" I said, strangely gleeful.
"What time should I be there?"
"How does six o'clock sound?" I said.
"Can I come at six thirty instead? I have to take my friend's son home from school tomorrow but he has band practice after school."
"Six thirty then," I said. "That sounds great. I'll see you then."
"Have a nice night, Asha," she told me.
"You, too." When we hung up, I couldn't stop smiling. I went back to my room and waited for Rhonda to get home, distracting myself with History homework in the meantime. She'd taken a temp job for the summer with a catering company. I think she liked it because she got to wear costumes for different events. The gig she was at tonight had her walking around in a pirate wench's outfit. The image had been hilarious to me, but Rhonda loved being theatrical. It was nearly eleven before I heard the door and Rhonda shuffling around downstairs. I swung open my bedroom door and met her there on the stairs.
"I made plans for us tomorrow night," I told her.
"Really? Thanks for consulting me."
"Who with?" she wanted to know, crossing her arms across her chest.
"Todd. And Betsy."
"Oh, is this a double date?"
"No, not at all. Unless you want it to be." I gave her a wink. She just shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"You're incorrigible," she told me. "Where are we going?"
"Agostino's. We can go bowling afterward if you want."
"You know I hate bowling."
"Ok," I said. "Then we could go drunk bowling."
"How about drunk swimming?" she said.
"Rhonda, that's dangerous! Ever heard of a little thing called drowning," I said.
"Fine, fine,” she held up her hands in surrender. “So pizza and then what?"
"Who knows? Who cares! The night will be young and so are we."
"Sounds like fun!" she said with exaggerated zeal.
"Your sarcasm is hilarious," I told her. I turned and headed back up the stairs.
She trailed behind me.
"Hey, don't be mad. Maybe I just want to know what I should wear when my little cousin is setting me up."
"I'm not setting you up. And I'm only four years younger than you, so don't call me little."
I was pouting. I knew I was being ridiculous but I didn't care.
"I'm sorry Asha," Rhonda said. "I'm a jerk. I'll be nicer from now on. For the rest of the night, no sarcastic remarks!" Rhonda hated to have anyone, especially me, mad at her for any extended period of time. And I couldn't stay mad at her anyway. I wasn't that stubborn.
"It really will be fun," I promised.
"Of course," she said.
That night, I had a strange dream. Todd and I were kissing on a beach, but I wasn't into it. Instead, I was watching behind his head as the ocean kept threatening to storm forth and carry one or both of us away. Then a knight on a white horse came across my line of view and Dream Me stopped kissing Todd. She stood up and went to the knight, while Todd protested angrily from the sideline. Then, as I got closer and reached out to touch the knight, he took off the helmet. It was Betsy and she put out her hand for me to climb up on her horse. I woke up, somewhat startled.