This post is for Marie and all my friends at BILY.
And in memory of Robert. Debbie, I think of you.
“Good for you!” was all Madison said when I told her I had an agent.
Her headphones back in her ears, she resumed her typing, while talking simultaneously, to the heads of her girlfriends trapped on the screen.
“He invited me to his party,” I said.
Not surprisingly, I got no answer.
“Close the computer and look at me. We have to talk.”
I just stared.
“I have to go,” Madison spoke to her laptop, then snapped it closed. “I was busy,” she said, pulling off her headphones.
I ignored the challenge in her voice. For all her attitude, and unlike her brother at her age, she, at least, obeyed me. For the moment that was enough.
“Have you decided whether you are going to your party tonight?”
“Yes, as you have decided, or yes as you’re going?”
“Yes, as in ‘I need a ride to the Mall to buy a costume’.”
“It’s your fault or have you forgotten you don’t let me wear the one I have?”
“I can’t take you to the Mall. My party is at six.”
“You are going to a party?”
Her surprise irked me, for it implied this was as rare an event as finding her in a good mood. Which was, in fact, the case.
“Yes, I am. I just told you. Becquer, my agent, invited me.”
“Then, you’re the one who needs to go to the Mall. You have no costume.”
“It is not a costume party.” I frowned. “At least I don’t think it is.”
“You don’t know? Really Mom, you need help.”
“Okay. I’ll take you to the Mall. You’re right. I need a dress.”
Madison jumped from her bed and, in one of those sudden changes of mood I could never predict, sauntered over the piles of clothes that covered her floor and hugged me. “I love you, you know?” she said.
“Yes, I know.”
“Now about tonight,” I said as she started digging into her closet. “I will ask your brother to give you a ride at eleven, in case I’m not back.”
Holding a pair of jeans small enough to fit a Barbie, she turned to me. “Are you kidding? “He will be too stoned by then to drive.”
“Madison! Nico is not using. He has been clean for a year.”
“If you say so. But, if you don’t mind, I’d rather ask Abby if her mom can drive us.”
I left her texting on her cell, and headed for my room. But her words about Nico haunted me. Was she badmouthing her brother out of jealousy for all the attention he had gotten over the years by misbehaving, or had she seen something I had missed?
But what? His UTs, taken randomly since he had moved back with us late in August, had been negative. And, as far as I knew, he had been attending his classes at the Community College. A friend of mine taught there and I had told her to keep an eye on him. She would have called me had he missed too many classes.
As for his behavior, Nico was polite to me, as polite as teenager would be, and whenever he didn’t come home to sleep, he always let me know in advance. What else could I do? He was eighteen. I couldn’t tie him to a chair. That would be illegal, as the humorless psychologist had told me when I suggested it the previous year. The psychologist my ex had hired to evaluate us and advice the court who should have custody over Nico. I had meant it as a joke, of course. He hadn’t.
I heard doors opening and closing and the water running in the shower. Drawn by fear and by the memory of a time when this was routine for me–the time last year, when I was trying to find proof that Nico was using to force my reluctant ex to believe me and get help for my son–I stole into his room.
An unmade bed, a guitar against the wall, open books by the computer, dirty clothes upon the floor. Nothing obvious at first sight suggested drugs. No empty pens, no folded pieces of aluminum foil, no dryer sheets. None of the paraphernalia I had found then, for at his worst, Nico had not even tried to hide the evidence, as if he was too wasted to care, or maybe, at a subconscious level, crying for help.
No, nothing obvious, and I had become an expert at detecting everyday objects that could have another, lethal use, or unusual ones, like the glass container I was told it was a bomb by my friends at BILY, the support group for parents like me. The glass container that, otherwise, I would have put on my mantelpiece. For it had that artsy look.
I bent down and picked up his rumpled jeans. With expert fingers, I checked his pockets: his cell phone as was expected, a box of matches from a club I memorized and, at the very bottom, a small piece of paper, rolled in itself.
I unrolled it distracted, my mind a thousand miles away, already considering what this meant, and the few possibilities I had to make it right, now that Nico was eighteen. I held the paper in my hand. A business card, I noticed. And then I saw the name, Becquer’s name, beautiful rendered in the old-fashioned calligraphy I had seen earlier today, Becquer’s name screaming at me.
“Mo, what are you doing here?”
I turned. Lost in my thoughts, I hadn’t noticed the water in the shower had stopped running. But it had, and now, Nico, stood at the door, a towel wrapped around his waist. The boy who once had fit so smugly in my arms, a boy no more, looking down on me, his dark brows raised in a question.
He wasn’t angry. Not yet. Only curious. He wasn’t angry, until I raised my hand and showed him the card. “Who gave you this?”
Fast and furious, Nico reached forward and tore the card from my fingers. “What does it matter?” he asked as he squeezed it in his fist. “Are you spying on me?”
‘You don’t trust me, do you?” he continued, his voice getting louder with each word. ‘I did what you asked me, I took your dumb tests, and still you don’t trust me?”
“Have you met Becquer?”
“Why should I tell you anything? You won’t believe me, anyway.”
Before I could answer, he grabbed some clothes from the floor and left the room.
I stumbled back and sat on the bed, holding my head in my hands.
My two worlds that until then I had kept apart, my writing and Nico’s addition, had unexpectedly collided and lay broken at my feet.
Was Nico using again? Had Becquer a hidden reason for signing me?
Becquer had said he never lied. Even if he was being truthful when he claimed that, it didn’t mean he had told me everything. Or maybe Becquer had met Nico but didn’t know he was my son. Maybe he had given him his card. That didn’t mean they had been together when Nico… It was only a rolled card. It didn’t have to mean he had been using. But if he hadn’t why had he refused to answer me?
I looked up. Madison, dressed to kill, in a short dress over tight pants, and wearing more make-up I could use in a month stared at me. “Are you ready?”
Madison pouted. “Don’t tell me you are bailing on me? Whatever Nico has done this time, we need to go to the Mall.”
Lucky for me, I had somebody to set my priorities straight.
I knew better than to say that aloud, as Madison didn’t take well to sarcasm. Besides, she was right, we did need to go to the mall. As things stood between Nico and me and, despite the fact that Becquer was not quite human and I had met him only that morning, my guess was I had a better chance to get an explanation from Becquer than from my son. And that meant I had to go to the party to talk to him, and thus needed a dress.
I stood up. “No. I’m not bailing on you.”
Without saying a word that could release my fears and destroy my self-control, I followed Madison down the stairs and drove her to the Mall.
To be continued …
If you missed the previous installments, please check below.