After one long, tense moment, Trey slid his phone into his backpack, taking his time, letting me know that though I’d won, he didn’t have to like it. Raising a teenager was one long battle for power—the parent was losing it but fiercely trying to hold on, and the teen was taking advantage every time a weak spot was revealed, fighting to gain more ground.
We settled into each other’s places. Trey stared blankly out the windshield.
“Adjust the mirrors,” I said gently.
“I know,” he snapped.
Trey took approximately four years to adjust the mirrors to his liking. I turned off the radio; he turned it on and messed with the stations until something appealed. Then he put his hand on the gearshift and . . . did nothing.
“Put your foot on the brake,” I said. “Slide the car into drive.”
Trey flexed his right foot. He grasped the gearshift tightly and tugged it into place.
“Perfect,” I whispered. “Now ease your foot off the brake.”
In the tiniest of increments, he did. The car moved forward with a slight jerk. Trey clutched the wheel with both hands, knuckles going pale.
“What do I do?” he said, panic turning his voice into a screech. “What if I hit something? Or someone?”
“We’re going less than five miles an hour. There’s no one around, and if you hit some concrete, it’ll leave a mark, but I don’t care.”
“Yes, you do.” He jerked the wheel to the side to avoid one of the pylons and slammed on the brake. Both of us shot forward.
Trey smashed his hand against the dash, hard. “I can’t do this!”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, you can. You’re thinking too much, and it’s getting in your way.”
“Why aren’t you thinking about it at all?”
I knew what he was talking about, but I wasn’t sure it was the right time to address it. I stayed silent.
“You’re trying to forget what happened,” he continued. “I can’t. I spend every minute thinking about it. I wonder if it hurt, and if he knew what was coming. I think about him crashing into that concrete while you’re worrying about work or digging around in that stupid garden!”
He pushed the door open with his foot and bolted from the car.
“Trey! Trey!” He sprinted across the parking lot, jumped a divider, and headed toward the highway.
“Shit, shit, shit!” Awkwardly, I crawled across the gearshift and dropped behind the steering wheel. In the seconds it took me to resituate myself, Trey disappeared. Frantic, I spun a U-turn and sped toward the highway. It was two lanes, with a shoulder barely wide enough for a teenage boy. The worst-case-scenario greatest hits reel played through my imagination as I merged onto the road and watched as cars nearly clipped Trey, who walked swiftly, head down and hands stuffed into his cargo shorts pockets.
“Stop!” I yelled as my car approached. I slowed at a dangerous pace, reached over, and opened the passenger door. “Get in!”
He ignored me.
“I’m not going to make you drive again,” I promised. “Get back in the car!”
He kept walking, and I kept following, cars honking behind me. We’d gone a few more yards when I heard the siren, and a recognizable voice telling me to pull over. Where? I thought, eyeing the narrow shoulder. I maneuvered the car as best I could. The cop car pulled up behind me. Trey kept walking.
A sharp rap on my window made me jump. Officer Leprechaun—er, Sean—stared at me, eyebrow lifted. “Well?” he said. “Do you think you could keep up with the pace of traffic?”
I lowered the window. “Trey’s up there.” My voice felt clogged, like tears were bubbling up in my throat.
Sean squinted down the road. “I see him. He’ll be okay. We, on the other hand, need to get out of the flow of traffic. Meet me at the base of this ramp. Take a right, and we can cut him off at the pass.”
I nodded, unable to trust my voice. Sean pulled ahead of me, leading the way. It embarrassed me to think I needed to follow him. Grief had struck again, the argument with Trey pushing it to the forefront of my mind. Sometimes I was struck by the permanence of the whole thing. Other times, the unfairness. But at times like this one, I couldn’t help but feel furious with a universe that would take a father away from his son.
Sean blocked Trey with his squad car, and I joined him seconds later, jumping from my car as soon as I shifted into park. “Trey.”
“I don’t want to talk to you,” he said. “You’re psychotic.”
Sean looked at me with a raised eyebrow again. “Trey, why don’t you get into the car with your mother? She’s worried for you. It’s a long walk back to your house.”
I stepped forward, bristling a little at Sean’s takeover of the situation. “Let’s just go home.”
“I’m going to walk home,” Trey said, with a certain Jesse-like strength to his voice. “It’s not illegal, so Officer Too Friendly here can’t stop me. I’m capable of walking a couple of miles.”
“It’s lonely,” I said. “Walking by yourself.”
“It’s peaceful,” Trey countered. “I need to clear my head.”
Sean stayed quiet, probably sensing this was best left between mother and son. He was present but didn’t hover. I was grateful for his tact. I had to make this decision.
“Okay,” I said evenly. “Be careful. Text me if you change your mind.”
For one fleeting moment, surprise softened Trey’s features, but then he recovered, shrugged, and took off down the road.
“Good call,” Sean said. “Teenagers aren’t a whole lot of fun.”
“I thought you didn’t have children,” I said dully.
He said something unintelligible into his radio, and then leaned against the car, right next to me. “I was a teenager once, and I was a mouthy, impulsive piece of crapola.”
“I’m trying to be mindful of the presence of a lady.”
In response to that, I snorted. “What did your mother do?”
“She smacked me upside the head.”
He held up his hand. “I know you wouldn’t. And I don’t even know if that worked or if I grew out of it on my own.”
“You were good at handling Trey. I have to ask this, did your father die? Because I’ve noticed that people who’ve lived through some type of trauma tend to be a lot better at recognizing it in others.”
He went quiet a moment. “My parents were divorced, which is a whole different thing. I’m not comparing the two—”
“Because that would be insensitive.” Someone came up to me after Jesse died and told me I was lucky because death was better than an acrimonious divorce. If I hadn’t been so weak from lack of eating, I would have punched her into the following week.
Sean ran a hand over his face and took off his cap. In the sunlight, his red hair caught fire, all gold and orange and copper. “I’m not doing very well with this. What I’m trying to say is that the odds are with you with this one. A kid only needs one good parent to keep him anchored. He may float off and do goofy things, but you’ll always pull him back.”
I didn’t know if I was heavy enough to be an anchor. I was missing 185 pounds. Jesse was simply better at parenting. He would’ve known what to say to Trey. He would’ve been able to get Trey behind the wheel without giving the poor kid a nervous breakdown. He would’ve known what to do. It was innate with him. It was learning by trial and error for me.
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