The car rumbled to life, and Paul put it in reverse. He set to work backing up carefully. Then he turned around. All the while his mother gave soft words of encouragement. Occasionally, Paul would stall out or cause the car to jerk around again, and his mother would offer an occasional giggle with a gentle word of correction.
After a while, Paul realized he had a smile plastered on his face. I think this is the happiest I’ve ever been.
“Did you want to stop?” she asked.
Paul realized he’d stopped the car, thinking about what a great day it had been. The sun was quickly approaching the horizon, but there was still a few minutes of daylight.
“I suppose we can keep going a little while,” Paul said. A part of him felt weird, but he didn’t want to reveal how much he wanted this day to last longer. Can I make every day feel like this?
She’d taken to playing video games with him from time to time, and that was fun. She’d glance at his homework, but she’d never really understood half of it. She mostly just looked at it to offer praise for doing it. Those were good times, but driving around, just the two of them, he realized it was so much better somehow.
“Oh.” She chuckled again, as if she knew he was only pretending to be frustrated. “Well I guess if you can put up with me for another few minutes, I’ll try not to be too annoying.”
Yeah, she definitely knew he was having a great time. He still refused to admit it for some reason. He was afraid that admitting he was happy would cause something terrible to happen.
That’s the way it always went before Paul’s father was arrested. Things would seem good, and he’d explode over the dumbest thing. Even after he went to jail, Paul himself would find some way to cause drama.
This day was different. They drove until the sun finally fell behind the horizon. Paul pulled over and switched spots with his mother.
“I think you’re just about ready to drive on some quiet streets. You got the basics down, so now it’s just practice.” His mother smiled and ran a few nimble fingers through his hair.
“Can we play some video games when we get home?” Paul asked.
She shook her head. “I’m actually planning to meet Bill tonight.”
Paul frowned. Bill. Paul hadn’t gotten to do much more than meet the guy, but his mother had been spending quite a few nights with Bill, and it annoyed Paul.
“How late are you going to be?” Paul asked.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “I don’t think it’s your job to ask me when I get home.”
Well, it wasn’t, but he still wanted to know. “I just want to know if you’re going to be all night.”
Her cheeks flushed, and Paul realized he’d implied a very different question than the one he meant to ask.
“Gross! No! I don’t want to know if you’re doing that,” Paul said. “I’m just wondering if you’ll be there in the morning.”
Paul realized it was, in a way, the same question. Why else would a woman stay with a man through the night.
“I won’t be out past eleven,” she said. “I trust you to have some food and get to bed on time, but I’m not leaving my sixteen-year-old son home alone overnight.”
“I can take care of myself.” Paul hardly made the comment before he realized he didn’t exactly want his mother thinking he wouldn’t care if she stayed overnight with Bill. Because…Bill.
“You can take care of yourself, but I have no intention of staying out that late,” his mother said.
To Paul, it sounded more like she said, “Don’t worry, I’m not sleeping with him.”
Paul thought about it. Should he care? Didn’t he want her to be happy? Did what made her happy have to be Bill? Why was he so annoyed by his name? His name was just about the only thing Paul knew about him.
“Does it bother you that I’m dating?” The question came from his mother as little more than a whisper, and Paul realized her concern. Would she really stop seeing Bill if he said, “Yes”?
Paul took a breath. He opened his mouth to say he liked Bill.
“Don’t lie to me!” She added a finger point to the shout just to give it a bit more sting. How did she know?
He let out a breath of air. “I like it how it is now,” Paul said. “We spend time together. We talk.”
She gently cupped his face with her hands. “No matter what I do, you will always be my son, and I will always love you.”
“I know.” Paul pulled away as if she made him uncomfortable. “Look, I want you to be happy, and that’s the truth. I’m not sure about Bill.”
“Why’d you say his name like that?” she asked.
“Like what?” Paul asked back.
“You just said his name like it was an insult.” Her tone wasn’t angry, but she did make it clear to Paul that he needed a good explanation.
“I don’t know him.” Avoiding the name might be best. “And that’s the problem, and no, I’m not asking to hang out with him. You’re dating, and that means you’ll have less time.”
Paul let a few moments pass before finally admitting, “I was just getting used to how much time we were spending together.”
His mother nodded. “I don’t honestly know what will happen with Bill. I won’t lie, I want to spend more time with him, and I want him to start spending time with us. But I promise to try and make sure we always have time for just us. It might not be as much as you want, but we’ll make time to hang out. Who knows. Maybe after a while you’ll start wanting to spend more time with him.”
The hope practically dripped from her tone, but Paul doubted he’d ever want to spend any time with Bill.
… to be continued …