Death-Wish Kids

30.

Two weeks.

That was the amount of time that my father kept me grounded. He was waiting for an apology, but being grounded wasn’t much different than my everyday life, and I could’ve held out forever. He wanted me to admit I was wrong and promise to stay in with Micah, but I wasn’t going to give up the things I wanted for the things my father wanted.

The only places I’d been was school, day care, and home. And even those had been void of anything interesting. That was partially my fault as well. I’d been avoiding Gerard and it hadn’t been that hard. I cancelled Micah’s Monday class to spite my father, and it gave me no reason for us to see each other.

I came through the front door on Friday with Micah on my hip, my backpack on, and Micah’s bag in my other hand. I kicked it shut behind me and Noah looked up form the couch.

“What’re you doing here?” I asked, dropping Micah’s bag to the floor, “Does Ryder drop you off this early every Friday?” I leaned against the back of the couch and slid Micah down from my hip and down to No’s lap. “Is dad here?”

Noah gave me a look. “He still doesn’t let me stay home alone,” he answered with just a little bit of malice in his words, “He’s in the kitchen.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” I said, pressing my fingers through his hair, “Can you watch Mic for a minute? I’ll be right back.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be at Micah’s class?” the eleven year old asked, turning around to peer at me over the couch, “Dad’s not going to be happy.”

“I’m grounded,” I answered easily, “I’m not allowed to go anywhere.”

I pushed through the swinging door into the expensive kitchen and my dad looked up from the cutting board, surprised to see me. “Cyren, I thought I warned you to stop skipping Micah’s classes.”

“What are you going to do if I don’t?” I answered, “You already took my phone away. I don’t have anything else. I’m just trying to be grounded like a normal teenager.”

“Go, to the class,” he said, setting the paring knife down to make eye contact with me, “I’m not going in circles with you, Cyren. Take Micah to class and you can have your phone back.”

“I also want Saturday nights,” I replied, “If Micah gets everyday of my life, I should at least get one night. Even adult single moms get a baby sitter now and then.”

“Cyren, I’m not negotiating. You’re not going to use Micah against me.”

“I’m not trying to use Micah at all,” I replied, “I just want you to realize that you don’t have to be so strict. Micah is always going to come first, but you have to give me some room to let others in.”

He pressed his lips together and kept his eyes on me. He was silent for a moment and then he stepped around the island and slid his arms over his chest. “Who’s this about, Cyren?”

He might’ve been oblivious to what I needed from him, but he caught on quickly to what else was on my mind. “Dad, come on,” I muttered, turning my gaze away from him, “This is about me, not someone else.”

“That might be true, but ‘let someone else in’? Who’re you thinking about?”

“My friends,” I answered softly, “I don’t want to lose them, Dad. I haven’t had friends like this before and now I’m too preoccupied trying to follow all your rules to actually get to know them.”

He sighed, sliding his fingers over his face. When he looked back to me, he dropped his hands down in front of him. “I’m not trying to stifle you, Cyren, I’m just trying to do what’s best for both of you.”

“What’s best is for both of us to be happy,” I complained, “I’m not happy being stuck in this house all the time. Micah isn’t going to be hurt if he’s not with me 24/7.”

“I know,” he said, “I’m just worried about you.”

“You don’t have to be,” I said, “Being here is nothing like Florida. There’s nothing for me to get into and I don’t even want to. I just want to spend time with my friends and Micah.”

I watched him give in with a muted excitement. “Take Micah to class, I’ll get your phone.” He stepped away from the island and moved past me, patting my shoulder as he went. I turned and followed him, stopping at the couch to get my son while he went to his bedroom.

“You’re going?” Noah questioned, turning to sit on his knees while leaning against the back of the couch, “Can I come?”

“No, man, sorry,” I answered, thankfully taking my phone from my father as he slid it back into my hand. I clicked the home button quickly, hoping it was charged.

“I plugged it in last night,” he said upon seeing my surprise when it came on.

“Thanks,” I said. I slipped it into my pocket and grabbed Micah’s bag from the floor. I left my backpack near the back of the couch, now worried about being late to the class.

I carried Micah back through the door hurriedly and to my car on the far side of the driveway. I buckled him into his seat and stood over him for a minute, bringing the familiar name up on my screen.

Micah’s class starts in 20 minutes. See you there?”

I sent the text and backed out of the car. I rounded it and got into the driver’s seat, putting the phone in the cup holder. As I drove across the city, my eyes kept looking back to it and its strikingly silent tone.

Rows of cars were parked outside the familiar building and my eyes scanned automatically for Gerard’s, to no avail. I parked near the end and took a moment to unbuckle Micah from his harness.

“Didn’t think I’d hear from you.”

I paused, my spine prickling. I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling and lifted my son from his car seat. “I was grounded,” I answered as I turned around, “Human contact was outlawed.”

“Total silence for two weeks? That’s brutal.”

“Get nervous?” I asked, leaning back against the closed door. I took in the sight of him. Usual black hair, stressed black t’shirt, and a leather jacket paired with his typical black jeans. It seemed that after two weeks with no sight of him I was unaccustomed and bad at hiding it.

He grinned at me and shrugged his shoulders. “I figured you’d show up sometime.”

I shook my head at him and pushed past. “We’re late,” I retorted.

We headed into the front of the building and I offered a smile to the woman at the desk as Gerard pulled Micah from me, greeting him softly. I took the two of them through the back door and we stepped into the large playroom.

The parents were already on the bug rug with their kids and when we walked in, they all turned to look at us. I paused just inside the doorway and looked back at Gerard slightly. He plastered a smile to his face and stepped in front of me.

“Sorry we’re late,” he apologized with his usual charisma, “Got held up.” He grabbed my hand and headed over to everyone else. There was no nervousness in him. He was comfortable in front of people.

Taya waved us over eagerly and made room for us on the carpet. I made eye-contact with Alanna across the room and she pointed us out to her son. Gerard dropped to the carpet with ease and I tried to do the same. He sat with Micah on his lap and his shoulder pressed into mine.

“We were just talking about development and milestones,” Taya filled us in, “Have either of you noticed anything new in Micah?”

I blanked. “There’s always something new,” I said, “but I haven’t seen anything major.” I knew she was waiting for more of an answer, but I didn’t have one to give him. Micah was a good boy, but despite how smart he was, nothing extraordinary happened.

“He’s eleven months, isn’t he?” another mother asked, obviously trying to help the conversation along, “You haven’t noticed him standing yet? Or trying to hold onto the furniture?” She rang her fingers over her little girl’s tights as she spoke.

“Kind of,” I replied awkwardly, wishing someone else would want to brag about their child, “He doesn’t like to stand without someone one holding onto him.”

“What else have you noticed?”

I had to stop myself from glaring at the woman. It was her job to engage us in our children’s growth, but I didn’t appreciate the spotlight like other people. I had gotten accustomed to flying under the radar.

Gerard nudged me to stop me from killing her in my mind and speak instead. “Uh, he likes to feed himself now,” I said, spitting out the first thing I could remember, “My father was really excited about that one.”

“He’s a chef,” Gerard added.

Taya looked pleased with us and moved onto the next question, to the next person. I slouched down and leaned against Gerard, pressing my thumb into Micah’s palm while he held my finger.

The topic of today’s class was milestones and getting to know your child’s personality. Taya had one on one time with each parent and child by age, which meant that Micah and I were one of the first.

The rest of the class migrated to the playground, leaving us alone to combat Ms. Taya. She motioned for us to join her at the medium height table under the windows. I tried to motion for Gerard to disappear into the crowd with the others, but he diligently carried Micah and sat down near me.

“So, guys,” Ms. Taya greeted, folding her hands in front of her, “How have you been?”

We sat crammed into the plastic table and looked at each other, trying not to smile or give anything away. “We haven’t really seen much of each other, lately,” I told her honestly, fingering Micah’s little shoe to keep my gaze from her.

Gerard laughed under his breath and tried to portray innocence. She looked at him, surprised by his not-so-subtle reaction, and frowned. “You live with your father, right, Cyren? How does that impact each of your relationships with Micah?”

It was too late to turn back and explain that Gerard wasn’t Micah’s father. It seemed that everyone had taken that impression and we’d let them. But this line of questioning was too personal, and flat out lying felt like too much.

I didn’t think that Ms. Taya would appreciate learning that I’d allowed Gerard to come along, whether as just my boyfriend or not. We weren’t even putting labels on it, and I knew that admittance would earn me a call to my father.

“Cyren?” Taya prompted.

“Living with my dad is difficult,” I answered carefully, “He helps out a lot, but also still treats me like I’m a child. It’s difficult to raise Micah the way someone else wants me to. We’re starting to get it worked out, but I don’t think it’ll ever be completely settled.”

I switched the conversation back to Micah as quickly as I could. She told us about some of the things we should be looking for in him and doing for him. It was all the same stuff my father had read in his books and regurgitated to me, so I wasn’t at all surprised.

“Don’t be worried if Micah’s a little slower achieving these things than the other kids,” she said finally, “Every child does things at their own pace. Micah is his own person. He’s a really sweet kid and he’ll get there. Give him time.”

I didn’t remind her that we weren’t the ones worried about his milestones. I just thanked her and dragged Gerard away from the table.

“That was awful,” I muttered when we got over to the child-filled playground, “Remind me to skip these meetings in the future.”

Gerard grinned and shrugged his jacket off. “It wasn’t that bad,” he rescinded, “She’s just trying to reassure you and look out for you.”

“I’m tired of being ‘looked out’ for,” I replied, looking up into his hazel eyes brazenly, “I’m practically an adult now and Micah’s my son. I’m not worried about him at all, so people need to stop acting like I am.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” he answered cheekily, “To not worry at all.”

He stepped into the playground much like the last time and I watched from my seat. I found Alana around the back and gratefully took the seat next to her.

“Haven’t seen you two in awhile,” she greeted as I squeezed in beside her, “I thought maybe you changed your mind about coming.”

“Just got grounded,” I commented, grinning at her surprise. She was waiting for an answer and I shrugged my shoulders. “Don’t worry about it. Just a difference of opinion with my dad.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re back,” she said, watching the playground and Gerard’s shadow moved through one of the slides, “Things were starting to get a little dull around here.”

I followed her gaze back to the duo. “Boring? Never.”

Gerard left Micah to play alone near the ball pit and crept back over to me. He dropped to the floor in front of me and leaned back against my legs. I tried not to look at him as he looked up at me and a stared.

“What, Gerard?” I asked, leaning forward with my forearms on his shoulders, my head just above his. My hair fell around our faces, blocking the watching eyes.

He shrugged underneath me. “I just missed seeing you,” he said softly, our faces close enough that he didn’t have to speak hardly at all.

My fingers traced against the indent of his collar bone and I leaned down to kiss him. I had to tilt my head enough that I wasn’t completely upside down, and my hair hit his cheek. His fingers climbed up my neck and pressed into the back of my spine.

When we separated, I watched him as he opened his eyes.

“I missed seeing you too,” I said, pressing my lips against his cheek before I said up. I blushed, remembering that we were still among people, and tangled my fingers into the hair at the back of his head.

“You guys are going to kill some of these women,” Alana whispered to us, causing both our heads to snap to her. “They’re going to die of jealously. I don’t think any of them have ever been kissed like that.”

I was embarrased and Gerard smiled slightly, shaking his head as he turned away from her. “They’re obviously kissing the wrong people.”

I pushed against the back of his head to let him know I didn’t appreciate that comment, and climbed over him, going to Micah. Micah was on the outskirts of the ball pit, holding one of the plastic spheres in each hand. He offered one to the little girl next to him and then opened his fingers, letting them both fall from his palms.

I sat down behind him and slid him back until he was on my lap. The girl to our right was fairly older than him and she turned to stare when she noticed me there. She was in gray leggings, paired with a gray and pink t’shirt. Her hair was between blonde and brown and she stared at me like she’d never seen an adult in the playground.

“You him mommy?” she asked finally, still staring.

I nodded and brushed Micah’s hair from his eyes. “Yeah, he’s my baby.”

She looked at him then. “My mommy here too.” She turned and looked for the woman she was talking about, but when she couldn’t find her, she turned back to me and patted Micah’s hand. “He a little baby.”

“What’s your name?” I asked, reaching out to steady her when she stumbled, trying to step over a grouping of balls and not quite making it.

She grabbed onto my arm to keep upright. “Lulu,” she said when she caught her balance, “Luciana. What’s your name?”

“I’m Cyren and this is Micah.”

She sat down next to us and pushed a ton of balls onto Micah’s lap. He smacked his hands down and watched them scatter, screeching in laughter. The little girl laughed too, throwing her head back, and repeated the motion. Micah quickly caught onto the game.

It was some time before Gerard dropped down between us, pushing the balls away so he had a space to sit. He bumped his shoulder against mine, which caught Lulu’s attention. She started the staring thing over again.

I beat her to the punch, though. “This is Gerard,” I introduced to her, “Gee, this is Lulu. She’s my new friend.”

She stared at him for a good minute before returning to the game.

“Boss lady is getting ready to call everyone back,” Gerard said to me, “Do you think we’ll ever be able to escape.” He fiddled with one of the balls without realizing he was doing it, and I watched him as he watched a group of little boys barrel through the ball pit.

Gerard was kind of beautiful in his own way. All slenderness and angles underneath dark clothes and dark hair. I could see his past in him, in the shadows under his eyes and the narrowness of his fingers, but I could also see the determination he held for his future.

He closed his eyes in a blink and when he opened them, he was looking at me like he knew I’d been staring at him the whole time. “Are you taking a page out of Lulu’s book?” he asked, twisting the edge of his jacket.

“I can’t help it when it comes to you,” I admitted, “You surprise me every time I look at you.”

“You’re surprising me today. You’re not usually like this.”

“Like what?”

He pulled his knees to his chest and leaned forward, his head tilted towards me. “You’re not usually this affectionate,” he said as he did, “You’re usually pretty… self-contained.”

We both got up when we heard Taya calling for everyone. The parents caught their kids and headed over. Gerard and I lingered, sussing Micah from the toys. We were ready to go but there was no way of escaping without being seen.

We were half-hidden behind the rubber playground, but our presence was obviously missed. When Taya called for us, Gerard grinned at my surprised expression, and then fell to one knee, reaching back to grab his ankle.

He cursed loudly and hit the ground.

I couldn’t see the other parents or the class instructor, but I could hear them. I kneeled down next to Gerard when I heard them coming, and played the part.

“What happened?!” Ms. Taya asked loudly when she rounded the playground and saw us there. She hurried over to Gerard and rested her hand on his shoulder, trying to get a look at his ankle.

“I landed wrong, I think,” Gerard answered, “I don’t know. It just fucking hurts.” He got to his feet without putting much pressure on his left ankle, and grimaced at the woman.

“I should probably take him home,” I said, wrapping my free arm around his waist like I was helping him hold himself up. “I’m really sorry to leave early.”

“No, I understand,” Taya replied adamantly, “He should see a doctor. Make sure that it heals correctly if something is wrong with it.” She looked at the two of us sternly, like irresponsible teenagers. It only lasted for a moment and sprung up out of concern, but both of us saw it.

I ‘helped’ Gerard across the room while the other parents watched and we left through the door back into the main lobby. The woman who was previously at the desk was gone, but we kept up appearances until we made it to the car.

I smacked the boy’s stomach and glared at him. “I can’t believe you just did that,” I said, shaking my head at him, “You just lied to get us out of class.”

“It was really boring,” he qualified, “You didn’t seriously want to stay for another half hour, did you?”

“No, but I didn’t want to lie about it,” I answered measly.

“We’ve got some time before you have to be home,” he changed the subject, “What do you want to do?” He held onto Micah’s fingers as he spoke, not consciously realizing that big deal behind it. But it was obvious that Gerard made connections easily, and it seemed that him and Micah were old friends already.

“I don’t know,” I said, shrugging my shoulders, “There’s not much time and I can’t stick around any later. I’ve just gotten ungrounded. My dad did give me Saturday nights, though.” I leaned back against the driver’s door of my car and looked at him, hoping he’d propose something.

“I’ve got a showing Saturday night, but follow me,” he answered, “I’m sure I can figure out something to do for a half hour.” He smiled and then headed back to his car. He limped slightly for appearances, but his heart wasn’t really in it.

By the time I got Micah into his carseat and got the car started, Gerard was already waiting for me at the mouth of the parking lot. I drove up behind him and he turned into traffic, eyes lingering on me in the mirror.

I followed him.

There was just something about him that I couldn’t shake off. It was his authenticity combined with something else. He always seemed so sure of himself, but didn’t come across cocky, except for his rare moments.

We didn’t drive for long. After only a couple of minutes he was pulling off the main road and into a Walmart parking lot. I parked near him, but stayed in the car; confused.

He raced across the aisle between the rows of cars and threw himself into the passenger’s seat when he saw that I wasn’t getting out. “What’s wrong?” he asked easily, “Come on.”

“What are we doing here?” I asked him like he was crazy.

“Shopping, obviously.”

“Yeah, but for what, Gerard?”

“Does that really matter?”

I stared at him incredulously. “So you just had this random thought that you better pull into Walmart so that we can shop for nothing?” I leaned back in my seat and crossed my arms over my chest, waiting for a serious answer.

He pulled his cigarettes out of his pocket, but didn’t light it. “No, not specifically, but my thought process was something along those lines, yes.”

“Well, I don’t want to go in there,” I answered.

Gerard grinned at me. “Really? What would you rather do instead?”

I clicked my seatbelt off and pushed across the center console to kiss him. It hadn’t been my original idea, but when I realized that I had none, the thought of not being able to see him again all weekend had me feeling strongly against it.

My palm cupped the side of his neck, the tips of my fingers brushing his hair. He was surprised by the gesture, but shifted in his seat to face me better. I felt his fingers on my side, touching my skin just beneath the edge of my shirt.

“Do you want to come with me Saturday?” he asked, resting his forehead on mine when we stopped. Neither of us had opened our eyes yet, and the sound of his voice surprised me.

“To your show?”

“Well, it’s not just my show,” he said, pulling back so that he could look at me, “There will be art from a couple other people, but my professor submitted some of my work to this scholarship contest thing, and I got accepted, so their showcasing the winner’s artwork in the gallery Saturday night.”

“That’s really impressive,” I answered, remembering the photos of us he’d drawn, “Are your parents and Mikey going?”

He nodded, chewing on his bottom lip. “If it feels too much like a date and if you don’t want them to know about this-“ he motioned to the two of us, “-I’ll understand if you say no. I just thought you might want to see me this weekend.”

I thought it over. I stayed silent so long that Gerard was complaining, his fingers tapping rhythms on my knee to get me to talk to him. Finally, when he groaned and was about to vocalize his complaints, I asked, “Will I have to dress up?”

He smiled, tongue running over the inside of his cheek. “That’s what you’re worried about? I’m asking to out us to my entire family, and you’re worried about what you’ll have to wear? Jesus, Cyren, how do I put up with you?” He turned away from me laughing, face in his hands.

“If I go then your parents will definitely know there’s something going on, and I don’t want them to see me and think I’m your girlfriend and I show up in ripped jeans and shitty t’shirt, Gerard, this is serious.”

“They’re not going to care what you’re wearing,” he replied, grabbing my hand, “You could probably not wear anything and they’d still be thrilled to see you. My mom loves you for some reason.”

I shoved his shoulder at that remark and he laughed, sliding away from me. “Do you think they’ll assume I’m there because of you or because of Mikey?”

I got a little more serious. He was almost sitting sideways in the seat now, leaning against against the door instead the of the seat. He picked at a thread on his jeans as he spoke. “I mean, I could tell them why you’re there,” he said softly, “If that’s fine with you.”

I was overcome by the sight of him and his sudden drastic change in demeanor. “And why would I be there, Gerard?” I asked, picking on him just slightly.

He gave me a look, but rolled his eyes when he realized I was going to make him say it. “Because Cyren,” he snarked, “I want you to be.”

“That’s what you’re going to tell your parents?” I asked, “Exactly that? I’m there because you want me there? Someone they only think of as one of Mikey’s friends. Out of the blue, you want one of Mikey’s friends there?”

He glared. “No, Cyren. I’m going to tell them about all of this. About you and me. About how you-“

“About me what?” I challenged softly.

“About you being my girlfriend,” he said finally, glaring at me because he knew those were the words I’d been trying to get out of him.

“Oh, I am?” I asked, watching as he got annoyed and rolled his eyes at me.

“Yeah, you are,” he stated, putting a slight emphasis on his words.

“This is news to me,” I retorted, “I thought we were just two people who kept finding themselves in compromising situations. But I guess, since a whole group of people already think you’re the father of my baby, it wouldn’t hurt to put a label on it.”

“You’re so funny,” he retorted, climbing over to console to press his mouth to mine. Then he turned and leaned into the backseat, taking a look at Micah. “Does he always fall asleep in cars?” he asked, looking back at me.

“He’s sleeping already?” I asked, peering over my chair to get a look at him.

“Almost,” Gerard commented.

“He usually does, yeah,” I answered.

Gerard brushed the boy’s hair out of his eyes and fiddled with the strap of his carseat before he turned around and sat back down in his place. There was a moment of silence before he said, “You should probably get back soon. I wouldn’t want you to be late and get grounded again.”

I could feel him picking on me. “Shut up, it’s not my fault that my father suspects you. It’s because I haven’t told him the truth that he’s finding other things to ground me about.”

“Then just tell him,” Gerard muttered, “What could possibly happen?”

“Uhm, well, my dad could stab you and then have you arrested.”

“Arrested for what? We hadn’t done anything,” he answered, “And like I told you before, once he sees that this is for real, what could he possibly object to? You just have someone else looking out for you and Micah.”

“Someone who’s almost twenty-one,” I reminded him, frustrated by our situation, “My dad is never going to go for it. He doesn’t even like the idea of me being around someone older than me, let alone dating him. We just have to wait.”

Gee rolled his eyes at my words, but pushed across the center to kiss me. “I’ll see you Saturday,” he said as he pushed the door open, “Tell your dad that Mikey asked you to come or something.” He climbed out of the car and pushed the door closed behind him. I watched him until he got into his car. Then he waved and pulled away.

I suddenly felt like I couldn’t leave it this way. Leave him upset with our circumstances, but there was nothing else I could do. My father wouldn’t react like his parents. He would ground me from the world. I didn’t know if he’d go as far as really having Gerard arrested, but I knew that nothing good would come from telling him.

I pulled out of the parking lot with something ominous settling in the pit of my stomach.