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November 20, 2036, 2:21 p.m.
14 Years, 13 Days Ago
Paul felt truly excited to be approaching his home. He hadn’t seen his mother in quite a while. He couldn’t help looking out of the car window during each turn. A smile came on his face. He spoke with his mother here and there about life and how things were going, but he hand’t been home since Christmas the year before. He took a short flight to get most of the way, some 200 miles, and sent a message for a ride the rest of the way.
The vehicle he was in turned the corner, and the smile on Paul’s face melted in to shock. A black, four-door car sat in the driveway. Paul’s PID dinged, and he jumped a the noise. It was just the driver connecting with his unit to collect the fair for his ride from the airport. Paul slowly got out of the car in a daze.
It was the same color, make, and model. Paul reached out and touched the car, scrambling to think about what it meant. Maybe it was just the same type of car. It wasn’t like there was only one black car in all the world.
He tired the rear door, surprised it opened. He leaned in, looking at the center console. There it was: the tiny dent he put in it when he hit it in frustration. It was the exact dent, and this was the exact car Nobody had used to drive Paul home.
“So I guess you like it.”
Paul jerked at the sound and knocked his head against the frame of the car. He spun around even as he rubbed his skull. “Where is he!?”
“Where is who?” His mother stood before him in a long, form-fitting pea coat. Some blue jeans peaked out from under the black overgarment. A few streaks of gray had started to creep into her black hair, which was loose around her head and shoulders.
“Who’s car is this?” Paul asked.
She laughed. “It’s mine.” She cocked her head at him in confusion. “I’m glad you like it?” Her voice squeaked as if it were more of a question than a statement.
“You bought this car?” Paul asked.
She shrugged, “About six months ago.”
The math flew through Paul’s mind. “Did someone come to borrow it from you. He’d be about my height with black hair.”
Her face lit up with a bright smile. “What’s going on?” She reached into her pocked and produced a key. “I had this key made for you, so you could borrow it whenever you wanted.” She walked over and held it out to him. “But no one has come to borrow it. Who would?”
So he did steal it! Well, Nobody borrowed his mom’s car without asking. Sure he returned it, but it was stealing regardless of whether or not he gave it back.
Paul held the key staring at it in thought. Then he looked at his mom. “I don’t visit you enough; do I?”
“Come on inside,” she said. “I have some food ready.”
Paul followed her in, and they both removed their coats. Paul wore a university shirt. He wasn’t exactly all about school spirit, but his mom liked the idea of seeing him in a school shirt. His mother wore a simple blouse. It was black with a series of white specks that made the shirt look like a pattern of stars.
Sure enough, there was a feast on the table even though it was several days before Thanksgiving. He chuckled. “Your church friends coming over to eat, too?” He tried to keep his tone even, but he never felt comfortable around her church friends. They weren’t bossy or preachy. They were a lot like Jordan, or even Bill. But it wasn’t exactly easy to sit around a table full of people who seemed determined to talk about God in some way, shape, or form.
“They’ll be here for Thanksgiving, but not today. I wanted my son to myself.” She sat down at the table and offered a silent prayer before making a plate.
Paul bent over and gave her a side hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’m glad to be home.”
He walked around the table and sat down across from her.
“So you like the car, huh?” She stabbed her fork at a slice of ham.
“Yeah.” She offered him the serving dish of meat, and he took it, gratefully plopping a few slices on his own plate before setting it down.
They traded food as they spoke.
“So did you notice the mileage change?” Paul asked.
She laughed. “I only pay attention to that stuff when I think it’s getting close to the time I need to change the oil.”
“What about the small dent on the back seat center console?” They’d finished filling their plates, and Paul set to cutting up his food.
“There’s a dent back there?” She took a bite of her own food, completely oblivious to the fact that someone took her car, drove it almost 200 miles, and returned it.
“Yeah, I saw it when I was checking it out.” He also put it there, but he didn’t intend to say that.
“The truth is I did buy it hoping you’d use it, which, yes, would mean I’d get to see you more.” She rolled her eyes as if he’d just caught her cheating in a board game.
Paul let out a breath. “I’ll come visit more, but I wish you’d just say what you want.”
She took a bite, giving him a flat stare as she chewed and swallowed. “What I want is for you to want to come visit me more. I certainly don’t want you to show up on some regular basis just because you think you have to.”
“It’s not that,” Paul said. “I know I should visit more often, and I do want to. I just get caught up on work and other things.”
Her eyes glittered. “Do any of those other things have a name, maybe?”
“No.” This time he gave her the flat stare.
“So no one since Stacy?” Her tone was as gentle as anyone could make it. She wasn’t trying to bring her up, just see if there was anyone new.
Paul shook his head, trying to hide his frustration and shame. “Not me, but Jordan just got engaged.”
His mother dropped her knife and fork and clapped excitedly. “Oh that’s wonderful! Do you have a picture? What’s her name? How long have they been dating? What—“ she paused. “What’s wrong?”
She read his expression. Paul offered her a smile and worked at his PID, trying to find a picture of the three of them together.
“It’s OK.” He found a picture and sent it to her PID.
“Ohhh, she’s beautiful! They look so happy!” She looked at him and narrowed her eyes. “So why does my son have that fake smile he uses when he wants everyone to believe he’s not angry about something.”
“I talked to them about it,” Paul said after swallowing another bite of food. “The truth is I was jealous about their relationship and how much time they were spending together. I felt left out, but we’ve worked it out.”
She stared at him.
“OK, so we don’t hang out like we used to,” Paul admitted. “But things are good in the lab, and I’m still his best man at the wedding.” He took another bite of food. “The truth is none of us really know how to act around each other, so we hang out every now and then, but we haven’t figured it all out yet. Honestly I still have to figure out how to be happy for them instead of thinking about how I’m losing out on two friends.”
“I see.” His mother grabbed a roll and used it to scoop up some mashed potatoes. “It can be challenging when relationships change.”
“How did you do it?” Paul suddenly realized she had experience. One minute, he was living there and hanging out, the next he was at college.
“I have to accept that you’re your own person,” she said. “I have to remind myself that I know you love me, and then I have to appreciate the time I do get with you.”
“Even if you have to buy a car to try and get me to spend more time with you?”
She smiled. “It’s completely fair to provide motivation for people to come see you. But that motivation isn’t obligation, and that’s the real trick. I don’t want to guilt trip you into spending time with me. I just want to make sure I give you plenty of reasons.”
Paul nodded. That made a kind of sense.
… to be continued …
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