Authors: Donna Fasano
Tags: #General Fiction
“Well, Lucas, don’t you think you should?”
s it turned out,
Tyne wasn’t able to spend Wednesday afternoon with Zach. Jasper had shown up unexpectedly and asked her son to help him get ready for the youth meeting set for that evening at the Community Center. Caught up in the excitement of new people and places, Zach had been only too eager to become better acquainted Fut ay Cewith his great uncle, and Tyne hadn’t the heart to deny either of them some time together.
Zach had arrived home after the meeting last night full of excitement about all he’d learned. He’d met half a dozen kids his age, and he held his head a tiny bit higher when he’d told them how Jasper had complimented him on his sense of rhythm. Apparently, her son was adept at playing the water drum. Gourds, dried in the sun until their seeds rattled, were also used as musical instruments. Tyne had been surprised—shocked, actually—to hear that Zach had been enticed to also try learning a dance step or two.
Even this morning, as they sat around the kitchen table, Tyne and Lucas sipping coffee, Zach continued to recount his experiences between bites of crunchy breakfast cereal.
“I’m glad you had a good time,” Lucas told him.
Zach nodded. “I can’t wait until next week. Alice Johnson is going to teach us to make fry bread.”
Tyne placed her palm under her cup, the ceramic warm against her skin. “I didn’t know you were interested in cooking.”
Her son swallowed a bite of cereal and scooped up another spoonful. A fat drop of milk hung on his bottom lip and he swiped it away with the back of his hand. “It’s not the cooking I’m, like, interested in really. It’s finding out, like, what kind of food my people like to eat.” His gaze darted to Lucas. “It’s okay to call them ‘my people,’ right?”
A smile flitted across Lucas’s mouth. “Of course. You’re part of the Lenape family.”
“Some of the kids talked about getting together this weekend,” Zach continued easily. “Maybe play some ball or something.”
“You’re making new friends.” Tyne set her coffee on the table. “That’s great, Zach.” She went to the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of orange juice. “Listen, how about we spend the day together?”
Her son looked at Lucas. “Sure. What are we going to do?”
“No, not all of us, son,” Tyne gently clarified. “Just us. You and me. Lucas said we can borrow his car.”
Gray clouds seemed to roll in as Zach stopped, frowned, and stared down into his bowl of milky flakes. “I dunno.”
Before he could outright refuse, she smiled brightly. “I’ll take you anywhere you want to go. There’s a mall in Lancaster. I’ll buy you a new t-shirt. Or I’ll take you to a movie. Maybe we could find a comic book shop. Music store. You name it.”
He toyed with his spoon the whole time she talked, glancing up at her through hooded eyes, then just as quickly looking down again. “My shirts are fine. Don’t really need anything.”
“Oh, come on, Zach.” The pleading she heard in her tone annoyed her. She’d never thought she’d have to beg her kid to spend some time with her. “We’ll have fun.”
Zach’s gaze narrowed on her. “We can go anywhere? You mean it?”
She nodded emphatically. “Like I said, you name the place.”
The last thing she wanted to do was have her nerves frayed to ribbons by two hours spent sitting through a loud, space-age movie that would surely bring on a headache, but if it meant she could have some alone time with Zach before and afterward, she’d just have to take two aspirin and suck it up.
“I want to see the high school where you guys, like, met. Where did you say it was? Broken Mills or something?”
“Oak Mills,” Lucas supplied.
Tyne couldn’t have been more stunned had Zach tossed his bowl into the air and splashed milk onto the ceiling.
Zach focused his attention on Lucas. “Didn’t you say that’s where Mom grew up?”
Lucas nodded slowly.
Zach nodded too, looking up at Tyne. “That’s where I“Thˀs whered like to go.”
Feeling as if all the blood had drained from her face, Tyne struggled to find words to express the thoughts zipping through her head. She took a moment, turning and setting the carton she held onto the Formica countertop. Then she opened a cabinet and took down a glass with deliberation. Orange juice gushed from the container into the glass, making a small mess, which she ignored. She picked up the glass and turned back to her son.
“Are you really sure that’s what you want to do? There’s really nothing to do in Oak Mills. I hadn’t planned on going there.”
Lancaster, in fact, was located in the opposite direction from her home town.
The storm clouds returned, this time complete with flashing lightning and rolling thunder.
“See?” Zach shoved his way up from the table, his chair grating against the linoleum. “I knew you didn’t mean it. It’s just like always. You only want me to do what you want me to do.” He stalked toward the kitchen door. “It doesn’t matter what I want. You don’t
what I want.”
Tyne and Lucas spoke in unison.
“Hold up.” The light tone of Lucas’s voice belied the sudden tension in his jaw, and when Zach stopped and begrudgingly turned back to face them, he said, “Can we just take a deep breath? Can we talk about this rather than shouting?”
“There’s nothin’ to talk about.” Zach’s shoulders were hunched, his fists clenched. “It’s her way or no way. Don’t you see that? That’s how it always is.”
Tyne tried to remain calm. “That’s not true.”
It is so true.”
Her son was being a little snot, and she was just on the verge of pointing that out. She blinked a couple of times as it dawned on her; he was pushing her buttons as hard as he could push. Intentionally. If they ended up in a fight, he wouldn’t have to go anywhere with her.
Going to the high school where she and Lucas had first met certainly wasn’t on her ‘top ten list’ of things to do. She couldn’t imagine it even making her ‘top one hundred.’ Dealing with those memories would only lead to emotional upheaval. And tears, and crying, and…useless, emotional…crap. Who the hell needed that? But if going to the school meant she could spend the day with her son, she’d do it.
She found the calm she’d been striving for. “Zach, if you want to go see Oak Mills High, then we’ll go see Oak Mills High. I’ll show you the football field where Lucas was a running back, and the track where I sprinted a fifty yard dash against the fastest girl on the team.”
Zach seemed to turn down his contempt a notch or two. “The fastest girl on the team? You lost?”
Tyne grinned, shaking her head. “I won. Well…I won against her
.” She chuckled. “And that girl was full of lame excuses, let me tell you; I jumped the gun, her shoe wasn’t laced tight enough, she had dirt stuck in her cleats. She was a regular Tonya Harding, that one.”
The tension in her son’s gangly body melted a little. “Sore loser, huh?”
“You’ve got that right,” Lucas said, his coffee cup poised close to his mouth. “Victoria Davis got her butt whipped, fair and square.” Lucas grinned at Tyne, his voice softening. “I can remember that like it was yesterday.”
She remembered too. She’d hung back when the rest of the team had jogged toward the locker room after practice, and she and Lucas had celebrated her win with a few passionate moments behind the brick concession stand where anyone might have happened upon them. Oh, the risks they had taken when they’d been teens.
“Get yourself ready,” she told Zach. “And we’ll g KAndthem. o.”
Her smile faded the instant her son left the kitchen, but she didn’t speak until she’d heard his bedroom door close.
“I was telling him the truth when I said I hadn’t been planning to visit Oak Mills.” She noticed her hand wasn’t as steady as she’d have liked as she lifted the glass of orange juice to her lips. “There’s no one there I want to see.”
Questions shadowed Lucas’s dark, searching gaze, and Tyne prayed that those questions would go unasked. But evidently no one up there in heaven was listening.
“Your parents,” he probed hesitantly, “are they…”
“Alive and kicking.” She set down the glass of juice. “And still living in the same house. At least, they were this past Christmas. That’s when I last heard from them.” She slid her hand onto her hip. “And it was an official ‘Mayoral’ Christmas card. It simply would
do for the Whitlocks to give up their prominence in the community, you know.”
Keeping the bitterness from coating her voice was impossible. The deep breath she took didn’t alleviate any of her hard feelings.
Lucas scooted his chair an inch away from the table. “But if Zach doesn’t know you’re from Oak Mills, then—”
“He’s never met them. That’s right. And that’s how I hope to keep it.” She reached up and flipped her hair back behind her shoulder. “They have the address of a PO box I rent out on the Main Line. They don’t know my home address or my phone number. They don’t know where I work. I’m sure they could find us if they tried really hard, but I’ve done what I could to protect our privacy. Mine and Zach’s. For his safety.”
Zach’s bedroom door opened, his sneakers clomping down the hallway.
Lucas’s brows drew together. “His safety?”
“And his mental health,” she murmured.
Her son appeared in the kitchen, his hair combed and a fleck of white toothpaste speckling the neckband of his gray t-shirt. “Ready,” he pronounced.
Tyne pushed away from the kitchen counter and held her hand out to Lucas. “May I borrow your keys?”
• • •
Nestled on the shores
of the Susquehanna River, Oak Mills was a quaint town, picturesque, a perfect place for a child to grow up. Or rather, it would have been, had Tyne been born into a different family.
The school parking lot was empty when she pulled into a space. The adjacent football field and the track surrounding it were vacant, as well. Zach barely waited for the car to come to a halt before he barreled out and started jogging toward the open gate.
When Tyne caught up to him, he was out in the middle of the grassy field.
“He actually played ball here?” Zach turned in a circle, staring all around him.
“He did.” She grinned. “No one could run like Lucas. Of course, the place didn’t look like this back then.” She shaded her eyes with one hand and pointed with the other. “Those bleachers are new, and the lights. Back then the team could only play during daylight hours and our bleachers were at least half that size. Made of painted wood and rusty metal. You were lucky if all you got was a splinter.” She laughed.
“Maybe I’ll go out for football next year.” There was a clear challenge in the tilt of her son’s head.
“I didn’t know you were interested in playing football.” Avoiding an argument was enough motivation to keep her tone breezy. “If that’s what you want, it’s okay with me. But, Zach, you
realize that you’ll have to keep your grades up?”
He ignored that. “I can run. I can block. I could make the Koulgn="center varsity team.” He tucked an imaginary football into the crook of his arm and feigned left, then right, then raced toward the goal posts. He ran thirty yards or so and then trotted back to where she’d settled on the home players’ bench near the fifty yard line.
“So…he was good, huh?”
“Lucas? Yes. He was good.”
“Was he the star player?”
Tyne hoped her smile didn’t reflect the sourness she felt. “No. Not the star.”
Only because his skin was the wrong color
, she wanted to add, but didn’t. Instead, she said, “I notice you never refer to Lucas by name. You always say ‘he’ or ‘him.’”
Zach shrugged. “Don’t know what to call him. Can’t call a stranger Dad. Sounds freaky. And calling him by his first name would be—” again he shrugged “—weird.” Abruptly, he asked, “Were you a cheerleader?”
His question made her laugh. “For about five minutes. Didn’t last long. I realized really fast that I wasn’t one to stand on the sidelines. I ran track and played field hockey.”
“All the cheerleaders in my school are snobby beeyotches. Won’t give you the time of day.” Zach scratched a spot on his shoulder. “If they do happen to look at you, they make a face that has you wantin’ to, like, sniff your pits when nobody’s lookin’ to make sure you don’t smell bad or something.”
Tyne chuckled, slipping the strap of her purse off her shoulder. With her parents such important figures in the town, it had been impossible for her not to have been part of the popular crowd. And, yes, she’d have fit into the beeyotch category, she was sure. The superficiality of it all, the exclusive behavior, had bothered her. She’d often yearned for something deeper, more meaningful, although, as an adolescent, she hadn’t been mature enough to use those words to describe the hollowness she’d felt. But she’d be lying if she said she hadn’t enjoyed the status and the unending choice of sidekicks that the name Whitlock brought her growing up in Oak Mills. However, she’d learned that admiration and popularity—not to mention loyal friends—could be as fleeting as a puff of smoke…thick one minute, vanished the next.
“This is where you beat that Veronica girl?” Zach called.
While she’d been lost in thought, he’d made his way over to the track. She got up, snagged her purse strap, and went to the white starting line.
“Yep. Right here.” She tucked her purse under her elbow. “But it wasn’t paved or painted back then. It was covered in some kind of loose, gritty gray stuff. Covered your shoes with dust and turned your socks the color of lead.” She tapped the bottom of her sandal against the tartan surface. “This is nice.” The silence that splayed over them was uncomfortable, like a scratchy wool blanket on a hot night. Tyne wanted to shove it off her as quick as possible. “You could talk to him, you know. Talk to him about it.”
Zach just looked at her.
“About what to call him, I mean.”
She held her breath, uncertain if what she’d said would touch off his teenaged short fuse.
Finally, he only nodded, turning to glance up toward the school building that sat up on a small rise. “You guys go to dances and stuff like that?”