Death-Wish Kids


“I’m going to bed,” I said to my father later that evening. I’d given Micah his bath already and put him to bed and then went back downstairs to help my dad with the dishes since it was my turn. When we finished, I stretched, pulling my sleeves down over my fingers.

“It’s a little early for you, isn’t it?” he asked softly, looking at the clock on the stove. “It’s barely ten. Don’t you have homework?” He finished the last dish and put it in the cupboard.

“It’s been a long day,” I answered him, turning my eyes down to my phone, “I’m just ready to sleep…” I trailed off, reading a text message from Gerard. My dad didn’t reply, obviously waiting for my attention.

When I looked back up, he asked, “Who’s that?”

I glanced back at my phone and slid it into the pockets of my sweats. “Mikey,” I lied easily, “He wants to know if I can hang out with him tomorrow night. Apparently there’s some art gallery that they’re all going to.”

“Mikey invited you to an art gallery?” Dad asked, surprised.

“That’s what the text says,” I answered with a shrug, “It was probably his mom’s idea to invite me. I think she really likes having a girl around.”

“I would like to meet his parents sometime,” Dad said, “They seem like pretty nice people. Maybe we can have them over for dinner sometime. Mikey too.” He looked at me hopefully, obviously happy with the idea.

“Yeah, I’ll ask,” I told him, “Does that mean I can go with them tomorrow night?”

“I guess,” he replied, “An art gallery isn’t a terrible way to start your new Saturday nights off.” He stepped up from the table and wrapped his arms around my shoulders. It was a sign of solidarity and I hugged him back.

It had been a long time since I’d been in my father’s arms, and it felt comforting to be on the same side for once. “I love you, Cyren,” he said, pressing a kiss against my head, “Go get some rest. I’ll make sure Micah doesn’t wake you up to early.”

“You don’t have to go to the restaurant tomorrow morning?” I asked when I stepped back, “You usually go in for a while on Saturdays.”

“I don’t have to go in until later,” he answered with a shake of his head, “I’ll be home long enough to see that you get to sleep in for a little while at least.”

“Alright, thanks. Night, Dad.” I headed towards the swinging door, leaving him to finish up in the kitchen alone. Just as I was about to push through the door and pull my cell phone back out of my pocket, my dad stopped me, calling out to me.

“Cy, wait.”

“Yeah?” I asked, disrupting the silence that was created by both Noah and Micah being asleep upstairs. I turned around and look to my father, expecting something other than what he said.

“Mitchell’s coming next weekend,” he told me, giving me the same blank expression every time he brought up my son’s father, “I just got off the phone with his parents. They’d like to come with Mitchell and spend some time with Micah.”

“And you told them that’s okay?” I asked incredulously, tightening my fingers on my phone out of anger, “They don’t even like Micah or me, why would they want to visit him? No, no way, Dad. All they do is cut us both down.”

“Cyren, I’ve only met them once. I’d like to get to know my grandson’s other grandparents. They’ll come to the house. You won’t have to be with them alone. I know how they make you feel and I wouldn’t do that do you, but they’re allowed to visit him, Cyren.”

“They told Mitchell not to sign his birth certificate,” I retorted, crossing my arms over my chest, “They’re going to come here and completely belittle everything.”

“You don’t need to feel so intimidated by them, Cyren,” he answered, frowning at me, “They don’t have anything more than we do. I know that you have a history with Mitchell that makes it easy to feel lower than him and I know his parents have made you feel that way in the past, but there’s no reason for it. I want you to realize that.”

“So you’re letting them come here?” I snarled, “They make putting me down an art, Dad. You’ll see for yourself.”

“I’ll be at your side, Cyren, they won’t have a chance.”

“It’s not like they care if you’re there or not,” I answered, “They’ll sneak it in. They’ll have something to say about the house and my car and my clothes. And Micah’s last name. They’ll ask me about his daycare and complain about that too.”

“Stop worrying so much,” he said, “I’ll take care of all that. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. Just try not to think about it and get some sleep.”

I frowned, grabbing onto the ends of my shirt. “They’re not all staying here, are they?”

“No, they’re getting a hotel,” he answered, “Not even Mitchell is staying here.”

I nodded and left the kitchen before he could spring anything else on me. Mitchell’s parents were the things from my nightmares. They took one look at me and immediately spat out a long list of things they couldn’t stand. They thought their money excused them from the social norm of being politically correct, but it just made people say things behind their backs rather than to their faces.

Mitchell had picked up that same entitled attitude, and none of the three could stand that he was Micah’s father. Their family was too good to be connected to mine, so they tried to sweep it under the rug the best they could. It was my father that kept them from disappearing from our lives all together.

John and Elise Hurst were my least favorite people on the planet. I couldn’t stand the thought of having them in New Jersey, let alone in my house. Mitchell was bad enough, but the three of them together made me sick.

I was already dressed down in my own version of pajamas, so I crawled into bed without any pit stops. I rolled onto my side and pulled my comforter over my body, fetching my phone from my pocket before I laid on it.

I sent a text to the boy who’d messaged me earlier, telling him that I’d be able to make it to his show. It was only minutes before my phone was vibrating in my hand.

I opened my eyes and looked at the name on the screen. “Can I help you with something?” I asked quietly, rolling over onto my other side, facing the windows instead of the door.

He laughed softly. “Not particularly, I just wanted to hear you tell me that I’ll be seeing you again tomorrow night.”

“I texted it to you,” I answered softly, “Wasn’t that enough?”

”No, now be quiet. I told my parents about you when I got home. They asked me where I was when I got back and it kind of all came out,” he said, the words spilling out the same why I imaged they had with his parents.

He was close with them and I could pick him stepping into the room and sitting between him while he told them about his new relationship. He would talk with his hands, like he did often, and I could see his smile in my mind.

“What did they say?” I asked quietly, finding myself nervous about their reaction.

”They still love you more than they do Mikey and I,” he answered drably.

“Did you tell them about Micah?” I asked even quieter, terrified of what they might think of me then. It was different for Gerard to be interested in the type of person his parents thought I was, but a whole new story for him to be spending his time with a troubled teenage mom.

”I figured that was something we’d tell them together sometime,” he answered easily, ”I don’t think it’s that big of a deal anyway. It’s not going to change their opinion of you.”

“You don’t know that,” I denied, “People find out about Micah and they automatically think things about me. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again, Gerard. I was used to it before now, but then your parents came along and now I want them to like me.”

”They’re going to like you no matter what. You don’t need to worry about it.”

I didn’t respond and he could hear the tone in my silence. He sighed on the other line, and I pictured him rolling away from me, fingers pushing through his hair in that usual way. “Cyren, they were surprised when I told them, but they’re not against it. They’re happy for us. I swear to you. Why are you so worried about what everyone’s going to think of you?”

“Because, Gerard,” I snapped, “I was a sixteen year old single mom who got pregnant on accident and who’s baby’s father denied him completely and told everyone that I slept around with all his friends.”

”This is about Mitchell?”

I sighed and pressed my face into my pillow. “Him and his parents are coming next weekend,” I muttered, my words muffled and barely distinguishable.

”To see Micah?”

“And to make my life a living hell,” I added brutally, “They hate me and they hate Micah by association. They’re only coming because it looks good.”

Gerard was quiet but sure of himself while he spoke. I could feel my tension reverberating in him. ”Having them around upsets you this much? he asked.

“There’s a lot of history there,” I answered, trying to validate my reaction, “Mitchell is the last person I want to have to see for the rest of my life, and I’d rather live in seclusion than ever have to have his parents over for dinner.”

”Can you get out of the house?”

I sat up in my bed, surprised, “What did you say?” I asked, needing him to repeat it before I could even process it.

He said it again, Can you get out of your house without being in trouble?” he asked, his voice firmer and more excited, ”I wanna stop by for a minute.”

“Why?” I asked, sliding out of my bed automatically, “You’re going to get us caught.”

”Just answer the question, Alexander.”

I went to my door, the phone cradled between my ear and shoulder, and peered out into the hall and down the stairs. I was listening for my father, trying to hear if he was in his room or in bed. The house was silent. I shut my door.

“I can go outside for a few minutes,” I answered him, “But only for a couple minutes. I think my dad’s in bed. What do you want?”

”Don’t worry about it, I’ll be there in twenty. Meet me outside.” The phone went dead and I stood there staring at it for a minute. His name shrunk and moved to my recent calls, and I stared at the letters, trying to find a meaning in his words in the letters of his name.

Then I turned to my own appearance. Looking at myself in the darkness in the mirror on my closet doors. I was wearing a shirt three sizes too big that hung half way down my thighs and a pair of sweats that’d ridden up to my knees. I pulled my tangled hair into a bun. It was almost eleven at night, Gerard was going to have to deal with me in my bedtime state.

I grabbed a hoodie from my laundry basket and zipped it halfway. I slipped into socks and shoes and turned to sneak out of my house for the first time. My dad’s door was closed, so I figured he was in it. I shut my own behind me, and crept down the stairs as quietly as I could.

The front was door was more terrifying. I’d never left my father’s house without him knowing. I’d spent plenty of time out at night while living with my mom, but she’d never cared. My dad would definitely have a problem with it.

I stood at the trunk of my car, arms folded over my chest, staring down the road in the direction of the Way’s house. I was thankful that it was only mine, Micah’s, and Noah’s room facing the street. The boys were sleeping; it was Ryder and my father who might see me.

Gerard’s car pulled around the corner of the street. I hurried to the edge of the driveway when he slowed down. He pushed the door open and I climbed inside. “I can’t believe you’re making me do this,” I complained, buckling my seatbelt, “You’re going to get me in so much trouble. If I get caught, I’m blaming you. I don’t care if my dad doesn’t know about you, he’s going to find out-“

“Cyren, god, shut up,” Gerard countered, grinning at me while he shook his head. He had driven down to the corner of the street and parked, just a couple hundred feet from my house, but far enough away that you wouldn’t be able to see that there were people inside.

“Well? What do you want?” I asked impatiently, eager to get back inside before anyone noticed I was gone. Or noticed the front door was unlocked and locked me out.

“I just wanted to talk to you about Mitchell and his parents,” Gerard answered easily, “Make sure you’re okay. It didn’t seem like a conversation we should be having over the phone.”

I was surprised. “You drove here just to talk about my ex?” I asked, crossing my legs on his passenger’s seat, “In the middle of the night, you came over to make sure I wasn’t upset about Mitchell?”

“No, I know you’re upset,” he rephrased, “I just wanted to let you rant about it until you weren’t as bothered by it.” He shrugged his shoulders and fiddled with the stereo dial, flipping the channels without much thought.

At his words, I wasn’t upset about Mitchell anymore. In fact, Mitchell wasn’t even a passing thought. I wasn’t used to this kind of relationship. I wasn’t used to someone caring enough about something so piddly that he’d come over to my house in the dark to let me have it out.

Mitchell and our past didn’t seem to matter as much now. The more Gerard started meaning to me, the less emotions I had towards the other boy - the less I cared about him at all.

“You’re kind of incredible,” I said to Gerard, slowing shaking my head at him, “I can’t believe you’re here right now to let me talk about some other guy.”

Gerard chuckled. “Well, I wouldn’t be as willing if you were saying good things about him,” he told me, pulling his bottom lip between his teeth.

“There’s nothing good about Mitchell,” I said, “At least not in my eyes. The only good he’s ever done for me is give me Micah and back out of my life.”

“He still lives in Florida?” Gerard asked, leaning back against his door so that he was facing me the best he could.

I nodded. “He comes to visit once a month. Shows up on Fridays, stays for the weekend, and then flies back to his real life on Sunday. Micah’s just a blip in his life. He only comes because my dad took them to court and got his paternity verified. So he has to come.”

“And his parents? They don’t usually come?”

“Never,” I answered, “And it’s better that way. I’d rather have Mitchell stay for a month then to ever see them again. The thought of having them in my house makes me sick. I don’t know how my dad expects me to just sit there and take it.”

“It’ll be all right,” Gerard said, “You’re tougher than you give yourself credit for, Cy. You’re smart and focused, and you’re a great mom. When I think of you, I think of Micah and all the things you do for him. You’re beautiful, Cyren. You don’t need to let them make you feel differently.”

When I came to Jersey I made a promise to myself and to Micah that I wouldn’t be the same person as I had been in Florida. I wouldn’t be as naive and weak as I had been. And it had worked in my new life. But Mitchell reminded me of my past and it stripped all my confidence. I felt like I was just playing pretend.

But Gerard saw that act and believed it was really me. “I’m not as strong as you think I am,” I told him, looking down at my thigh as I clenched my fingers, “You wouldn’t even recognize me in the past.”

He grabbed my hand and pushed his fingers through mine. “I would recognize you anywhere,” he answered, “I think you’re holding onto the person you used to be and you don’t realize that you’re becoming someone else entirely. This is who you are now. You’re Micah’s mom, you’re tough, and intelligent, and beautiful, and you don’t take anyone’s shit, especially not mine. So why would you take it from Mitchell?”

I smiled despite the conversation. “You haven’t seen the way he is,” I told him, tracing the lines on his palm.

“Then let me,” he answered, “Let me meet him. I want to meet him. I want to know what it is about him that disarms you so much.”

“He doesn’t disarm me. You disarm me. He just reminds me of how dumb I was and I hate it.” I shrugged, looking across the darkness to the black haired boy, “But you don’t want to meet him,” I denied, shaking my head, “There’s no reason to.”

“He’s Micah’s dad,” he qualified, “I’d like to meet him eventually and it sounds like he doesn’t really bother to come around much. Plus, if I’m there, he and his parents will be too distracted by me to say anything to you.”

“Gerard, there’s no way that’s going to work,” I argued, getting the gist of his plan, “What am I going to tell my dad as to why I want you around?”

“I don’t care about your father,” Gerard murmured with a shrug, “Just figure something out.”

I glanced down the street towards my dark house. “I should go,” I said finally, turning back to him slowly, “I don’t know what I’ll say. If you think of something, let me know. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I turned to go without another word and slid out of car.

He waited to turn it back on until I was in my driveway. I stood in the center of the blacktop and watched him drive down the street. I was struck by how easy it was for hime to come and go. His life wasn’t tied down by rules or perceptions. He did what he wanted and nobody had anything to say to him.

As I snuck back into my house, I was tired of having to qualify everything I did with my father. I knew that Gerard would be a battle I couldn’t win and I was exhausted before it even began.

I peaked in on Micah before I headed into my own room. He was sleeping in his crib like normal, his hair tangled in the back of his head from pressing it against the mattress. His fingers were curled around the edge of his blanket, holding it in his little fists.

“You want Mommy to be with Gerard, don’t you?” I whispered in the darkness, “He likes you too. He wants to spend time with you and me.”

I leaned against the railing of his crib, my hands reaching down to him. I could almost see his eyes moving under his eyelids. I wondered what babies dreamed about.

“You don’t have to worry, Micah. I’m looking out for us.”

I left his room and rounded into my own. I literally climbed into my bed, my knees pushing me up to the top of my bed. I dropped down and slid my arms under my pillow, reaching for the coolness. My face was still hot from the boy in the car.

I went to sleep so the memory of him would slip away.