Hi kids! This is my fourth try at NaNoWriMo and hopefully my third win! Because of the NaNoWriMo format, you are just going to have to take inconsistencies as read. There probably aren't many but I can think of some (for example, in the very beginning I say that Ruth's jewelry was causing her problems and then never mention it again), and I'll be damned if I'm deleting any words to fix them. I am posting this story here in large part to back up the file, because ALL of my other NaNos have been lost to various computer ravages. :(

This story has been heavily influenced by my involvement in social justice communities. I figure my characters, a couple of whom are activists themselves and some of whom work in a university, have probably picked up at least some of the language of oppression and justice, but it's a lot harder to apply that to your own situation.

So far, my story's about a woman in her 30s who has been putting off dealing with a lot of trauma and anger. We meet her just when that putting off and denial no longer becomes possible. It starts as some seriously angsty fiction and has moved into...well, slightly less angsty fiction! Because THAT IS THE STAGE OF GROWTH I AM CURRENTLY AT.

Enjoy!

Ruth was thirty five years old, but people still told her she was young. They always had. They had told her she was young at seventeen, when she decided to get engaged to her third boyfriend. They had told her she was young at nineteen, when she became pregnant and at twenty when she had her son, and six months later when she moved back to full time work.

As a consequence, Ruth liked to dress in heels, which made her taller, cut her hair short, which made her appear responsible, and wear bits of jewelry, which made her appear less poor. It was this last conceit that was causing her problems on the day Samuel came back.

She had had a quiet day. A quiet week, really. At work, all the vomit had made it into trash cans. Most of the chairs that were meant to be stacked on desks for her, were. None of her coworkers cancelled their shifts. Performance reviews weren't coming up for two months.

At home, Joshua had been the usual: completing his homework early, cooking dinner when it was needed, spending his spare time online. It had been less than a year ago he had finally convinced her he was old enough to judge how long a time on the computer was long enough. She never thought of him as her baby, not anymore, but she did still think of him as her kid. He wanted to be seen as her partner, and in a lot of ways, he'd earned it. But he was still just only little. Not even old enough to drive.

Today, Saturday, was Janet's twenty-fifth birthday party. She had been invited, and she had declined--a person can only have so much socialization before she needs to recharge. Ruth needed her alone time or she would crash.

Joshua was the only witness to those crashes. She could trust Joshua to love her no matter what happened, but she was still ashamed of them. She was a successful worker, she was a successful mother, and she was a successful renter--she didn't feel like she ought to come home once every couple of months and cry, just sob for no good reason, In the morning, she was able to put herself back together, and Joshua told her he loved her, and she told him she loved him, but she didn't talk about it, and he took his cue from her. That was a responsibility she was always aware of.

She didn't work this Saturday. Her seniority was good enough that she usually had weekends off. That didn't mean it was an easy day. She was up at nine. By midday she had already run two loads of laundry through the wash and hung them on the line. She had also sewed up a pair of Joshua's pants which were ripped at the knees, sent him off to the dentist at ten (he walked himself) and washed all the windows.

At eleven-twenty, Joshua came back and started on his homework.

At twelve-thirty, in the early afternoon, Samuel came back.

He knocked on the door. Joshua half-rose to answer, then sat back down at her "I'll get it." Ruth checked to see who it was through the peephole. She recognized him, of course. Stars flashed before her eyes, but she didn't cry out.

He looked different. He'd filled out. He wasn't fat (like she was), he was fuller. His cheeks, his shoulders, his arms. Well, maybe a little fat. He was wearing nice clothes, good clothes, not too good--but good. He was biting his lip in the way he did. The familiarity of that mannerism weakened her knees.

A second had passed. She opened the door. She didn't say a word. She looked at his feet, his hands, his clothes; she didn't want to see his face.

He started out a little braver than she was, looking her in the eye with a small smile, but it didn't take long before he looked away, too. She thought that they were both acting like shy, stupid, bashful kids, and felt like laughing. She smiled briefly.

It was all the encouragement Samuel needed. "I wanted to come back," he said. "I wanted to see you again. I want to see Joshua."

She looked at his chin. "No," she said softly.

"Ruth," he said. "I have to see Joshua."

The way he said her name hurt. She looked at his hair. She had said "no." Why didn't he just go away, why couldn't he leave them alone, why had he come back, what did he want? She remembered his breath on her neck. She remembered his hand on her shoulder. She remembered his weight on her body. She had thought those memories were gone.

"Please," she said, but it wasn't really speaking. Her lips made the words, but her voice was too weak. Nothing came out.

"It's been ten years," he said expositionally.

"Fourteen years," she said.

"I know," he said anxiously. "I know. I haven't forgotten. I was just speaking in approximates. I'm doing really well with myself. I'm happy. How are you? How is Joshua? Please, can I see him?"

She didn't say anything.

"You know I never planned it, Ruth," he said. "I thought I would keep all my promises. I thought we would be together. You can't help who you fall in love with."

That was too cruel. She put her head in her hands, shaking her head hard. Squeezing her eyes shut. Maybe with so many barriers between her eyes and him, he would cease to be there.

But she didn't have any cover for her ears. "Please, Ruth," he said. "I know I have no right to see you. I know I should have left you alone. I did leave you alone for fourteen years. I never asked you for custody. I never asked to see you when I sent out child support. I wouldn't ask..." He teared up, from frustration maybe, or pain. "I just always thought I would be able to see Joshua when he got older. You know, that he would seek me out. But Sarah and I are moving to Germany this summer. I might never see him again in my life. I want to...I want to...please. Ruth. Do I have to beg? He's my kid too--"

That was too much, too much, too much. "Stop!" she gasped. He was hurting her all over again. The walls of pine she had patched over herself were tumbling down.

Samuel stopped talking.

Joshua sidled into the room. He had a pen in his hand. He didn't seem to read the situation; then, how could he?

"Hey," he said to Samuel. "Hey, Mom."

Samuel stared at his son. Hungry. Starving. "Joshua?" he said.

"That's me," Joshua said automatically.

"It's me, Joshua. I'm your dad."

Samuel couldn't have expected Joshua's reaction. Ruth didn't anticipate it either. Her thoughts ran recklessly. He would run into his father's arms. He would cry. He would faint. He would say, "Dad?" in a small voice, and they would spend the afternoon in the living room catching up, because that would be what Joshua would want, and she would die, die, die, die, die, die.

No. That's not what he did. "Oh," Joshua said, turning white. Then, "What are you doing here?"

Samuel rushed forward, relief evident on his face. "I wanted to see you. I've always wanted to see you. And I wanted to see your mother."

Joshua's mouth worked. He turned to Ruth. "Mom?"

If Joshua wanted to see Sam, there was nothing she could or should do to stop him from doing so. "Yes," she said, keeping her tone even. Keeping it together. "This is your father."

"Oh."

"Joshua," Sam said. "I've wondered for so long what you looked like. What classes you liked. Whether you were healthy. Whether you were happy."

Joshua's face, which had been pale but open, drew in somewhat. "Of course I'm happy. Mom takes good care of me."

"Of course she did, of course she did, I know she did. I just meant..." Sam trailed off, then started again. "I want to get to know you, take you out for coffee, talk the night away. That's time to catch up."

Joshua considered this. A little too long. His father saw an opening.

Sam stepped forward again. "Are you busy? I don't want to talk too much. I just, you never get over losing a kid. Maybe someday you'll understand, but I hope you never will. You never get over that. Please, can we just talk for a little while? We don't have to leave your house." He looked at Ruth. "Ruth?"

Ruth felt like a doll. She felt disconnected from her body, like she could look down on herself from above. Or maybe she was a worm on the ground, looking from below. She felt like a worthless piece of shit. She resigned herself to Sam. At this point, she just wanted him to do whatever it was he wanted to do and leave. She looked at Joshua. "He can stay if you want," she said. "He can leave if you want."

If Joshua could see that Ruth was clawing herself in her mind, he did not act like it. Who could blame him? she thought. He was just a kid. He was still just a kid, who was nervous about meeting his dad.

"Okay," Joshua said. "I guess we can talk. For a little bit."

Samuel's shoulders sagged with relief. He came into the house. Ruth screamed inside her head. But the calm part of herself made the screaming part hold still. It watched silently as Joshua and Sam went to the kitchen table, where Joshua's chemistry homework was spread across the table. It watched stilly as they sat down, looking awkwardly at each other. It held her fast as they exchanged their first quiet words of communication. Of getting to know each other.

"Bathroom," she choked out, and fled.