I frowned. “Ocean told me he didn’t need a scholarship. He said that you had money set aside for him, for college.”
“What?” I stared at her. “Why not?”
“That’s really none of your business,” she said.
“Does Ocean know about this?” I said. “That you spent all his money for college?”
She flushed, unexpectedly, and for the first time, I saw something mean in her eyes. “First of all,” she said, “it’s not his money. It’s my money. I am the adult in our household, and for as long as he lives under my roof, I get to choose how we live. And second of all”—she hesitated—“my personal affairs are not up for discussion.”
I was floored.
I said, “Why would you lie about something like that? Why wouldn’t you just tell him that he has no money for college?”
Her cheeks had gone a blotchy, unflattering red, and her jaw was so tight I really thought she might snap and start screaming at me. Instead, she said, very stiffly, “Our relationship is strained enough as it is. I didn’t see the point in making things worse.” And then she pulled to a sudden stop.
We were in front of my house.
“How do you know where I live?” I said, stunned.
“It wasn’t hard to find out.” She put the car in park. Turned in her seat to face me. “If you get him kicked off the team,” she said, “he won’t be able to go to a good school. Do you understand that?” She was looking me full in the face now, and it was suddenly hard to be brave. Her eyes were so patronizing. Condescending. I felt entirely like a child. “I need you to tell me you understand,” she said. “Do you understand?”
“I understand,” I said.
“I also need you to know that I don’t care where your family is from. I don’t care which faith you practice. Whatever you think of me,” she said, “I don’t want you to think I’m a bigot. Because I’m not. And I never raised my son to be that way, either.”
I could only stare at her now. My breaths felt short; sharp.
She was still talking.
“This is about more than taking a stand, okay? If you can believe it, I still remember what it was like to be sixteen. All those emotions,” she said, waving a hand. “It feels like the real deal. I actually married my high school sweetheart. Did Ocean tell you?”
“No,” I said quietly.
“Yes,” she said, and nodded. “Well. You see how well that worked out.”
Wow, I really hated her.
“I just want you to understand,” she said. “That this isn’t about you. This is about Ocean. And if you care about him at all—which I’m pretty sure you do—then you need to let him go. Don’t cause him all this trouble, okay? He’s a good boy. He doesn’t deserve it.”
I felt suddenly impotent with rage. I felt it dissolving my brain.
“I’m really glad we had this talk,” she said, and reached over me to push open my door. “But I’d be grateful if you didn’t tell Ocean it happened. I’d still like to salvage a relationship with my son.”
She sat back, the open door screaming at me to get out.
I felt then, in that moment, the insubstantial weight of my sixteen years in a way I’d never felt before. I had no control here. No power. I didn’t even have my driver’s license. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have my own bank account. There was nothing I could do. Nothing I could do to help, to make this better. I had no connections in the world, no voice anyone would listen to. I felt at once everything, everything, and nothing at all.
I didn’t have a choice anymore. Ocean’s mother had taken my options away from me. She’d screwed up, and now it was my fault that Ocean would have no money for college.
I’d become a convenient scapegoat. It felt too familiar.
Still, I knew I had to do it. I’d have to drive a permanent wedge between us. I thought Ocean’s mom was awful, but I also knew that I could no longer let him get kicked off the team. I couldn’t bear the weight of being the reason his life was derailed.
And sometimes, I thought, being a teenager was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.
It was horrible.
I didn’t know how else to do it—it’d been so hard for us to find time alone together—so I texted him. It was late. Very late. Somehow, I had a feeling he’d still be up.
i need to talk to you
He didn’t respond, and for some reason I knew it wasn’t because he hadn’t seen my message. I thought he knew me well enough to know that something was wrong, and I often wondered if he knew right then that something terrible was about to happen.
He texted me back ten minutes later.
I called him.
“Stop,” he said, when he picked up. He sounded raw. “Don’t do this. Don’t have this conversation with me, okay? I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m so sorry about everything. I’m sorry I put you in this situation. I’m so sorry.”
“What did my mom say to you?”
“What?” I felt thrown off. “How did you know I talked to your mom?”
“I didn’t,” he said, “but I do now. I was worried she was going to try to talk to you. She’s been on my ass all week, begging me to break up with you.” And then, “Did she do this? Did she tell you to do this?”
I almost couldn’t breathe.
“Don’t do it,” he said. “Not for her. Don’t do this for any of them—”
“This is about you,” I said. “Your happiness. Your future. Your life. I want you to be happy,” I said, “and I’m only making your life worse.”
“How can you say that?” he said, and I heard his voice break. “How can you even think that? I want this more than I’ve ever wanted anything. I want everything with you,” he said. “I want all of it with you. I want you. I want this forever.”
“You’re seventeen,” I said. “We’re in high school, Ocean. We don’t know anything about forever.”
“We could have it if we wanted it.”
I knew I was being unkind, and I hated myself for it, but I had to find a way to get through this conversation before it killed me. “I wish this were simpler,” I said to him, “I wish so many things were different. I wish we were older. I wish we could make our own decisions—”
“Don’t—baby—don’t do this—”
“You can go back to your life now, you know?” And I felt my heart splinter as I said it. My voice shook. “You can be normal again.”
“I don’t want normal,” he said desperately. “I don’t want whatever that is, why don’t you believe me—”
“I have to go,” I said, because I was crying now. “I have to go.”
And I hung up on him.
He called me back, about a hundred times. Left me voice mails I never checked.
And then I cried myself to sleep.
I had two weeks off for winter break and I drowned my sorrows in music, I stayed up late reading, I trained hard, and I drew ugly, unimpressive things. I wrote in my diary. I made more clothes. I threw myself into practice.
Ocean wouldn’t stop calling me.
He texted me, over and over again—
I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you
Part of me felt a little like I’d died. But here, in the silent explosion of my heart, was a quiet that felt familiar. I was just me again, back in my room with my books and my thoughts. I drank coffee in the mornings with my dad before he left for work. I sat with my mom in the evenings and binge-watched episodes of her favorite TV show, Little House on the Prairie, after she’d found the DVD box sets at Costco.
But I spent most of my days with Navid.
He’d come into my room, that first night. He’d heard me crying and he sat down on my bed, pulled the covers back, pushed my hair out of my face, and kissed me on the forehead.