Metus – Chapter 1 (short story series)

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“Honey, you look so nice,” Joshua’s mom said as she looked him over. Her eyes approving the job he’d done getting himself dressed. He knew she would approve and her approval meant he’d be flying below her radar.

“Thanks mom,” he replied with a smile which didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Well, breakfast is on the table and when you’re ready I can take you to school okay?” She said before heading to her room and pulling the door behind her.

“Hey mom, you really don’t have to. I can totally take the bus. It’s completely okay,” Joshua replied trying not to overdo it.

“Well I have to go in early today, so it is not a problem,” she said shouting from behind the partially closed door of her bedroom. The door opened again, her voice resuming its normal volume, “plus, I feel like such a bad mom making you ride that bus every day.” She often said the bad mom line as though she needed to justify doing something a normal mom would do. Maybe she felt she was intruding some on some sacred ritual of high school teenagers and doing so would be punishable by the gods. Who knows why moms do what they do. They are strange creatures, minds unyielding and far too complex for teenage boys to understand.

Joshua kept his eyes low, locked in a penetrating staring contest with his eggs and waffles. I have to come up with a new plan, he thought. His mother was a naturally suspicious woman. Pushing the issue would only set off alarms in her head. Josh could already hear the sirens, red lights, and a panicked voice over an intercom signaling impending meltdown moments from happening. And like an agent for the CDC dressed in a hazmat suit, mom would swoop in, quarantine his room and place him under surveillance until the threat was neutralized. Josh would hate for her to get involved.

The ride to school was smooth enough, mom kept going on and on about her new job and how great things are going to be. This was her ongoing argument since we packed all our stuff in the middle of the night and left Jacksonville and my dad behind. This was her argument as we slept in cheap motels and ate ramen on the floor of the new apartment. Josh didn’t really think mom had ever been out on her own. She’d gotten together with dad right after high school. Mom had left her home to live with dad in Jacksonville, Florida. Not long after, Josh came along and things must’ve gotten complicated with a baby in the mix. She didn’t talk about it much. But to her credit, things have slowly gotten better. Though at times it seemed as if mom was stumbling through a dark room attempting to find her way. She’d stumbled into a few dead-end jobs. She’d accepted help from the wrong people. Then finally she wised up and went back to grandma and grandpa for help.

Josh understood her reluctance. He felt bad when grandma finally came out said, “I knew you shouldn’t have married that good for nothing man.” Mom said nothing in reply. It was probably best to suffer her embarrassment in silence. But mom would go and work in grandpa’s grocery store.
“You’ll have to work your way to the top like everyone else,” grandpa said. But he’d slipped his little girl enough money for rent for a few months.
Things were still rough and Josh knew she felt far more pressure than she was letting on. Not to mention the pressure she placed on herself. So Josh would’ve totally believed her if it didn’t sound like she was trying to convince herself.

“You know what mom,” Joshua spoke up attempting to sound concerned and supportive. No, not panicked because his stomach was not doing backflips. He was being supportive. “You can just drop me on the corner and keep going.” His Mom’s eyes narrowed and he knew instantly that she would disagree. “It would be easier for you to hop back on the highway, instead of going through the school zone driving 15 miles an hour.” Joshua paused and an awkward silence filled the space. He was being supportive. He was not hiding anything from her. As long as he kept telling himself that, his emotions might very well pick up on the cue to calm the hell down. Did she suspect something? Crap, he’d sounded too desperate. Great, now she’s going to start asking questions. Would he tell her the truth? Josh hated lying to his mom. He looked over at her, with a mask of cool concern. If he hid his face she would know for sure. She peered over at him briefly. Joshua was sure that his mother could see past his illusions.

“Alright Josh, your mother can take a hint,” she said. Josh swallowed his heart. Her eyes were back on the road again. “I’d hoped the day would never come where you would be ashamed of being seen with your dear mother. But I guess it can’t be helped. They grow up so fast,” she continued wiping mock tears from her eyes.

“Whatever mom,” Josh said taking his eyes away from her. He breathed a quiet sigh of relief. “You know that’s not what it is.”

“You know, when your mom was in high school she was a total knock out,” she continued.

“What?!”

“I’m sure I can still turn a few heads,” she said sounding serious.

“Mom really. C’mon! I’ll see you later.”

“Sure,” she said with obvious sarcasm. The car slowed and came to stop on the corner. Josh made to get out the car, “aren’t you going to kiss your poor lonely bewildered mother goodbye?” Her face was in a screw. Eyebrows knotted.

“Really mom? You’re holding up traffic.” Josh replied whining and face equally a screw. A small bit of payback for her sarcasm. “Fine!” He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Love you mom,” he whispered in her ear, meaning it. They said their farewells and he was on his way to hell.

 


 

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