I heard the crash of glass on tile erupt from the kitchen when I stepped out of the shower. Water dripped off my calves and the ends of my hair as I grabbed the towel and made a mad dash to where my son stood. He was surrounded by glittering jeweled pieces of a former water glass and tears were pooling under his eyelashes as he frantically tried to pick up larger shards.
“Momma, I’m so sorry,” he whimpered. His hands shook and a faint crackling sound of static danced between his fingers and the cool tile. My heart lodged itself directly in my throat when his eyes met mine. “I didn’t mean to, I promise. I was just trying to reach a glass.”
“Baby, it’s okay. Don’t touch it. Come here; tip toe to me, as careful as you can. I’ll sweep it up,” I crooned, holding a hand out to him. The warmth of his fingers shot sparks dancing up my arm and his dark eyes blazed molten gold before he wrapped his arms around my waist.
I’d buzzed his cocoa brown hair not even two days prior, the ends sharp against my chin and my hand at the back of his neck as I curled around him. He was wearing his usual t-shirt and jeans, black socks peeking out from under the faded hems. I couldn’t keep up; it felt as if he grew two inches taller and three shoe sizes bigger every night while he slept.
He gifted me one last nuzzle into my chest before he retreated, brushing away his tears stiffly and cheeks quickly reddening with embarrassment. I felt the heaviness his ten year old shoulders already carried and the weight of fear in his voice as he stated dead-pan:
“We need to call Dad.”
Goosebumps pin-pricked their way down my spine, his words echoing in the empty kitchen like tin cans on the side of the highway. Only the most extreme rise of fear prompted Matt to ask for his father; in our ten years alone, since we’d fled, this would be the first time he’d stated it so bluntly.
“Your dad isn’t going to be able to fix this, Mattie. You know that,” I stated, matching his serious tone. “We will go to The Gate first thing in the morn-”
“No,” he snapped, turning his back on me. “I don’t want to go to The Gate. They can’t fix this, Momma. They’ll stick me in a room and put needles in me and won’t let you stay with me. Please. I just want to talk to Dad.”
His legs stretched as he climbed onto the closest bar stool at the kitchen island, the morning sun dotting spots across his back. The glass littering the tile sparkled in the light, dancing rainbows of shadow across the floor. He hid his face from me but I could hear the tremble of tears starting to take root.
“I can’t go to school today. Will you call him? For me. Just this once.”
Sighing, I reached out to kiss the back of his neck and I felt him lean back into my touch as I hugged him to me. Over his shoulder, I could see his backpack abandoned by the front door and his untouched breakfast still on the island.
“Let me get dressed. You eat and go over your weekly words one more time. I’ll sweep this all up. Then we’ll talk,” I murmured, smiling to comfort his ever growing show of vulnerability.
He nodded, running to his backpack for his homework folder before sitting at the island once more and reaching for the plate of scrambled eggs and bacon. I watched him for a few moments, all black eyelashes and a straight, angular nosed profile. His baby cheeks were slimming as his face lost some of its boyishness and he seemed all gangling limbs. Somewhat resentfully, I noted how much he looked like his father in that moment, before walking back toward my bedroom.
My phone was dead on the dresser, cluttered with mismatched earrings and different lipsticks. Grabbing it, I plugged it in before walking toward the closet knowing I would have to make myself look more presentable than usual if I were to face Matt’s father. The ever growing stack of paint shirts and ink splattered jeans I wore in the studio would not do in the eyes of the judgmental man I’d once loved. My normal messy pony tail and no makeup would not suit in those cold marble halls he called home and the fashionable dress code he demanded of his staff. I was in no mood to be the subject of his condescension, nor in any mood to get defensive of the fact I, in “ratty-overalls,” had been the only stable and present parent Matt had known.
A chime on the dresser pulled me away from choosing between two of my favorite dresses, the text message tone on my phone chirping twice before falling silent. The carpet under my feet was warm from the sunlight already gathering strength in the day and the room still smelled faintly of laundry soap from washing the sheets. The phone’s screen flashed two short and to-the-point messages from the same unknown sender:
Call me when you wake up.
I will be there in an hour.
“Mattie,” I called, quickly abandoning the dresses and slipping on a pair of jeans before rereading the texts time stamped over an hour ago. “Matt!”
Peeking his head in, a faint milk mustache lining his upper lip, Matt’s eyes immediately fell to the phone in my hand.
“Did you call your dad? I’m not mad at you, just tell me if you did,” I asked gently.
Confusion sketched across his young face making his eyebrows dot together before he shook his head. His voice seemed tinier, the bravado from earlier already fading.
“No. I wanted to ask you first. Why? Mom. What’s wrong?”
Before I could answer, a pounding knock on the front door made us both jump.
Hand on my chest, I felt my heart bump race-car laps in my chest and my voice shake as I led Matt back into the kitchen. His hand sparked against mine for the second time that morning and he followed me closely through the hall.
“It’s your dad. Don’t say a word about yesterday and don’t mention the sparks until we find out why he’s here. Do you understand?”
The answering squeeze from his hand confirmed before he let go to sit in his familiar bar stool. I admired his backbone, noticing all at once the glass had been swept up and his breakfast plate placed in the sink. Some days, I didn’t know how in the hell I had raised such a strong child when I was so screwed up myself.
Squaring my shoulders, I walked slowly to the front and opened the door with the nearest thing I could come up with to a closed expression.
“Haven,” a gravelly voice purred, blue irises flashing downward to meet mine. Unusually casual, I tried to hide my surprise at seeing not a freshly pressed suit but sweatpants and a hoodie. “I’ve been trying to call all morning. Didn’t you get my texts?”
Unwelcome, he strolled into the entry, his shoulders filling every inch of the door frame as he passed me. Stress radiated off him like heat on pavement but I watched as his eyes studied Matt’s new artwork hanging on the wall and the mountain of shoes tossed in a pile by his feet. The smallest trace of a smile tugged at his lips before the wall slammed back down across his features.
“Please, do come in,” I snapped, hoping he’d catch the sarcasm drenching my tone. “Matt’s in the kitchen.”
© 2016 Pearl Bayou – All Rights Reserved.