Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It was a little past six in the morning, and still dark outside, when Kent Thomas awoke. He was slouched on the recliner in the living room of his house, with the right foot he'd fractured about twelve hours earlier resting steadily in front of him, elevated and wrapped in a cast as it should be. He was still dressed in the clothes he'd worn the day before: a T-shirt with a Bald Eagle on it and cargo pants. A pair of crutches, quite tall so as to do their owner justice, was lined up against the coffee table next to him.

After lifting the warm afghan he'd been using as a blanket up and off his body, he turned and saw his mother dozing on the cloth chair on the opposite side of the coffee table. Unlike her brown-haired son, blond Gina was wearing a creamy pink nightgown. No doubt she'd fallen asleep during the course of making sure her injured fifteen-year-old got the rest he needed. Kent gave a small smile at the thought. If only his father were so caring. Not that Gina was without her demons, but at least hers weren't as obvious as her husband's.

"Mom," Kent said quietly. No response; she just continued sleeping. It was probably for the best. Regardless, Kent gave it another go. "Mom!"

Gina's eyes opened a little.

"Oh," Kent said, feeling as though he'd wrongly intruded upon a pleasant dream of hers. "Sorry. You can go back to sleep, Mom. It's okay."

"No, no, it's all right." She yawned, and Kent followed involuntarily. "You're awake," she said afterward. "Sleep good?"

"Yeah. Listen, I think I should probably get ready."

"Get ready?"

"For school."

"School?!" Gina said as she rose out of her chair. "Kent, last night you got hit by a car! The doctor says you need your rest! And you want to go to school?!"

"I feel okay," Kent shrugged. As he and his mother both glanced at his foot, he then added, "…enough."

"I'm sure you probably feel that way, but I think we both know the reality of the situation is a lot different."

"I can do it!"

"No, you can't. Not like this."

"Don't kick me when I'm down, Mom!"

"I don't understand it," Gina sighed. "Most kids would at least be a little happy to miss school, even if it did come at the cost of an injury like this. But you actually want to go there and think about all the work they'll give you? Who's really kicking you while you're down, Kent? I think it's you."

"But…I can do it…"

Gina sighed again and rubbed her eyes. "Well, Rod will be up soon. I guess I'd better go make some coffee." With that, she began making her way past Kent and into the kitchen. "Do you want anything for breakfast, Kent?"

"Intellectual stimulation," Kent said.

"Ha ha. Not happening."

Following this surprisingly active conversation, there was a short pausing during which Gina began preparing coffee and Kent thought of more ways to convince her to drive him to school.

"Mom, you have to let me go," he said without elaborating on the why.

"Even if I do, you're just going to end up regretting it later."

"Maybe," Kent replied, "but I'll worry about later later. Right now, I want to go to school, I want to see my friends, I want things to go on normally."

"Kent," Gina said, entering the living room with a glass of milk—the only other beverage her son drank besides water—and handing it to him. "You came within an inch of death last night. You can only use one foot for the next month. Things aren't going to be normal for you or anyone else in this family for a while."

"Can't we at least try?"

"Give it a few more days, honey," she suggested as he took a drink before setting the glass down on the table.

Kent sighed. "You know it's not easy for me to optimistic about something," he said. "And whenever I am, you or Dad have to shoot me down. Why is that?"

"Way of the world, Kent."


"Okay, fine," Kent admitted finally, after half an hour of back-and-forth semi-arguing between himself, his mother, and later his father, who undoubtedly was at least partially woken up by their bickering. "I'll tell you why I really want to go to school today."

"Please do," Rod said as he adjusted his tie with Gina's help. Anyone who'd ever met Rod and Kent had told them that they were the spitting image of each other; what virtually none of those people ever added on to this observation was the fact that the son was far more sympathetic than the father. The few that did were Kent's friends, and of course they wouldn't be foolish enough to say such a thing in Rod's presence.

With a sigh, Kent said with a soft grumble, "It's a girl."

"Are we supposed to be surprised by this?" Rod said.

"Apparently not," Kent said, and the same had been true the last time they talked about her.

"So why exactly do you want to see her today?"

"The same reason I'd want to see her any other day: because I like to see her."

"Yeah, but today is Halloween, isn't it?"

"What difference does that make?"

"Whorish outfits make a huge difference."

"First of all," Kent said, "I don't think H—she would ever be caught wearing something like that." He swallowed, having very nearly revealed her name to his parents, who, Rod in particular, were quite willing to underhandedly manipulate things for their son's happiness if given the chance. "Second, even if she did, it's not like I'd care what she was wearing."

"Or wasn't."

"Stop it! That's my friend you're talking about!"

"Tell you what," Rod said as he grabbed his suitcase and coffee off the kitchen table and walked past Kent towards the front door. "I'll drive you to school today."

"Thank you!" Kent said.

"On one condition."

"Of course there's a catch."

"For god's sake," Rod scoffed, "take a shower and change your clothes."

Kent looked down at his smelly clothes and body and reasoned that, rarity of rarities, his father was morally, logically right about something.

"Don't you have to get downtown soon?" Kent asked. Having the tendency to question good fortune was one of those habits he needed to work on. He'd made a promise yesterday on the bus to have more self-confidence, but alas, poor follow-through was another one of those bad habits. "I mean, if I do that, Dad, it'll just slow you down, won't it?"

"I'm a CEO, Kent. People kiss my ass, not the other way around."