Dad set his fork down on the table. He let out a grunt to let us know that he was about to speak, but that wasn't what caught my attention. I had been half-listening to the usual dinner conversation, not really caring, just the same as any other day. So something happened at work with that bitch who always does some stupid, fucked up shit, just like every other day at work. Honestly, I don't give a damn. I don't care how his day went, how Mom's day went, how my brother's day went. I don't even care how my day went.

But when Dad set his fork down, I looked at him. I paid attention. Dad didn't put his fork down during dinner. There was still food on his plate, and his fork was sitting on the table. That didn't happen. Ever.

Dinner at our house is the same every night. Not that we always have the same food, but there's a certain ritual to it. Mom makes the food. There's always something half-prepared when I get home from school, and she works on finishing it while I sit at the table and work on my homework. At quarter to six every night, I pack up my homework, finished or not, and wipe the table down with a damp washcloth, followed by a quick toweling. Then I set the table; four plates, each with a fork to the left, a knife and two spoons to the right, a smaller fork at the top, a glass set above the knife and spoons. Mom sets the finished dinner out; usually a platter with some form of meat, a bowl or two of vegetables, a bowl of potatoes or rice, a wicker basket of home-made bread. I like it best when she's made it into rolls, instead of loaves. Dad likes loaves best. We usually have loaves. When Dad gets home, Mom calls up the stairs to Dennis – my brother – to come down and eat dinner. He's an aspiring writer or something. He pretends to do his homework upstairs in his room but we all know that he's writing fancy stories about damsels in distress and knights in shining armor. Even Dad knows. He seems to like that Dennis has a creative mind. Doesn't even matter to him that Dennis gets terrible marks in school, as long as he's writing. Me, if I get anything less than eighty-five percent on anything, ever, I may as well be disowned for all the hatred he shows me.

While we eat, Mom and Dad and Dennis talk about how their day went. They gave up on getting me to tell them about my day a long time ago; I don't think Dad cared to begin with. No matter what he was doing – skewering, chewing, drinking, speaking, didn't matter – Dad never put down his fork until his plate was empty. And then he put his fork down on his plate. He never put his fork on the table. So when he put his fork down on the table that night at dinner, and there was still food on his plate, he had my attention. I wondered if maybe somebody had died; then I realized that Dad wouldn't really care about that very much, especially not enough to disrupt our nightly ritual.

"I've been thinking," he said gruffly.

"Yes, dear?" Mom asked, watching him carefully for any sign of aggression. He beat her sometimes, if she did something wrong. "Thinking about–"

He cut her off with a wave. "Nothing important, really." Bullshit. He'd put his fork on the table. It was important. "I just thought, I'd really like to go on vacation."

Vacation? What the hell?

Mom seemed to echo my sentiments, albeit in a slightly less vulgar manner. "Really, dear?"

"A vacation," he repeated, "by myself. Just to get away for a while. To relax, unwind."

"Oh." I could see it in her eyes that she was thinking, can we afford that?

"Can I come, Dad?"

"Of course, son."

Don't get your hopes up. That wasn't me that asked that, and he sure as hell wasn't talking to me. This part of the conversation was between him and Dennis, of course. Dennis the writer. Dennis who Dad loves. Or at least likes.

It almost seemed premeditated. Planned, between them. I'm going on a vacation. Can I come? Of course.

"When do you want to go, then?" Mom asked. I turned my attention back to my food, letting my mind wander over whatever seemed more interesting than this discussion. I didn't care if they were going on some stupid vacation somewhere. I'd rather be working on my stoichiometry homework.

But eventually, Dad and Dennis left on their trip. I remember thinking that they must be going away for quite some time, with all the clothes they packed. They took their entire wardrobes with them. It didn't bother me much. I didn't like spending time with them anyway.

Life went on as usual. I came home, worked on my homework. At quarter to six, I packed up, washed and set the table. Mom put out the food. We ate. Just like normal, except it was only the two of us now.

I didn't know how long they were supposed to be gone for, Dad and Dennis, and I didn't really care, but after three weeks I began to think it was just getting ridiculous. You can't just go on a three week vacation in the middle of the school year. It wasn't even close to any prescribed holidays, either. It was almost exam time, second semester. Dennis was going to fail all of his classes, at this rate. Not that he hadn't done so before. I think he was supposed to be a year ahead of me in school. I was in grade ten, so it would make sense that he be in grade eleven. I don't think he had a single grade eleven course. He was in my grade ten history class with me, but that was the extent of my knowledge of his courses.

I came home one day to find that there was no half-prepared dinner, no Mom waiting in the kitchen, working on finishing the meal so we could eat at six. There was a note on the dining room table. At least she knew to leave it where I would find it. Dad always left notes for me on the computer desk, if he wanted or needed me to do something before he got home from work. As if I ever used the computer.

Jeremy,

Gone out to look for a job. Warm up some leftovers in the oven. 350°, make sure to watch and make sure it doesn't burn. Be back soon. Love you, kiddo.

Mom.

She always called me that, kiddo. It felt nice to have a nickname of endearment. It felt nice to know somebody cared.

The letter left me reeling. Mom had always been a stay at home mom. She had never done anything else. Dad had always been around, so she hadn't needed a job. I think before they got married, she worked as a waitress at Swiss Chalet. And now she was out looking for a job. Stupefied, I followed the directions in the letter, checking on the leftovers every ten minutes. I'd never used an oven before, okay? I didn't have a clue what I was doing.

I was already in bed by the time Mom got home. She came upstairs to my room, turned on the light. I protested, shielding my eyes, and she smiled, the smile that crinkled her eyes up around the edges but always left the middles shining with sadness. I loved and hated that smile all at once. It was her smile for me, that showed me I was loved, but it always hurt me a little that she was sad.

"Your father and Dennis aren't back yet," she said quietly, sitting down on my bed.

I nodded. Obviously. I'd have noticed if they were. "Should they be?"

"They were supposed to be away two weeks." I did a double-take. Were those tears, shining in her eyes? I had seen Mom sad before, I had seen her hurt, I had seen her beaten and bruised, but I had never seen her cry.

"It's been three." I stated the obvious, a talent seemingly granted me by God.

"I got a letter in the mail today, Jeremy. They aren't coming back. Your father wants a separation and custody of Dennis."

"He... they... what?" I sat up in bed, shook my head, trying to make sense of what Mom had just said. "Not coming back?"

Shit. Okay, I know I make them sound like assholes. And they are, don't get me wrong. But this is my Dad and my brother we're talking about here. Just because they're assholes doesn't mean I don't love them, and I know for sure that Mom loves them too, and I don't understand how they could just leave us.

"He said I can keep the house, but..." The tears in her eyes spilled over, and she pulled me into a hug. I knew she needed it, so I let her. "The mortgage... I can't. I need a job, but I can't get one with a good enough pay check to make all the payments."

"We can get rid of the TV. The Internet, the computer, we don't need them," I offered. I knew it wasn't enough, but I had to try. Because I knew what she was going to say next. I'll take houses for eight hundred, Alex. The relocation of a family and their possessions to a new place.

"There's still too much. I can't. I'm so sorry, Jeremy, I wish we could stay here, but we can't."

BUZZ. Jeremy? What is moving? Right! Eight hundred dollars, and choose your next category, please.

"We're moving."

"I'm so, so sorry, Jeremy. I am. I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Mom. It's fine. It isn't your fault."

"I'm so sorry," she continued to repeat, crying into my hair. I rubbed her back, as comforting as I could, making little soothing noises now and then. My father and my brother had abandoned us, my mother was crying on me, and we were moving.

I'll take devastation for one thousand, Alex.


A/N: Umm, just a random story idea I had on the weekend. It seems like a lot more serious of a beginning than I was planning on, because it's supposed to be somewhat of a humorous story. Still, it didn't turn out too badly. There'll be more coming. Review if you like, I'll make sure to reply and review in return.

-- Ev (rentedspace)
-- 03.02.2009