“Somebody has to tell Gerald that Peter moved out.”
Morgan and Nic, Peter’s parents, thought about doing rocks, paper, scissors to see who would do it. It’s not that they were afraid of Gerald. They simply didn’t know how to broach the subject with a three-headed monster. Which head would they give the news to? Did it matter? Neither one of them had been in Peter’s room since they packed up his things and dropped him off at the university.
“Don’t forget to tell Gerald that I’m gone,” he said to them as he was folding t-shirts in his new dorm, while Morgan and Nic stood in the doorway trying to savor these last few moments before they had to begin the long drive back.
“Peter,” exclaimed Morgan, “Are you telling me you didn’t let Gerald know you were going to school? That is so irresponsible of you.”
Nic tugged on Morgan’s arm. Father and son had started fighting more during Peter’s senior year of high school, but they didn’t want to end today with an argument. Morgan got the message and adjusted his tone.
“It just really shouldn’t be up to us to explain to the monster under your bed why you aren’t there anymore,” Morgan explained calmly, “I asked you to talk to Gerald before you left.”
Peter sat down on his new bed. This one would not have a monster underneath it. Instead, it would have dust and empty pizza boxes and whatever else college freshmen keep under their beds. He looked as though he was about to get choked up. Neither Morgan nor Nic had seen him cry since he hurt his ankle in 8th grade playing basketball.
“I didn’t know how to do it,” he said, “Gerald’s been around since I was a kid. I didn’t want to make him feel bad, but…I’ve never been away from home for more than a weekend when I would go stay at Nan’s. I was worried he would get upset. I guess I chickened out.”
His parents understood. They assured him that he was not a chicken, and they promised to break it to Gerald as gently as possible. Once they were home, they felt their own chickening state kicking in. After throwing scissors five times in a row, it became clear that the Universe wanted them both to speak with the monster.
They came up with a strategy. Nic would be the one to deliver the news first since she was better with gently relaying information to people. That’s why she was the one in charge of calling people with homeowners insurance to let them know that they were not covered for stampedes of ostriches destroying their houses. While Gerald was processing, Morgan would give some kind of physical alleviation either by putting his arm around one of Gerald’s six shoulders or by patting one of Gerald’s seventeen paws.
“We just need to remember that this isn’t about us,” reiterated Nic, “It’s about making sure Gerald understands that we’re here and accessible. No matter how hard this might be, Gerald is not alone. We’re all in this together.”
Morgan nodded, and the two made their way to the bedroom.
When they opened the door, the room looked just as they had left it before their road trip. There were white squares all over the walls where Peter’s posters had been placed. His desk had nothing on it for the first time since they purchased it for him. The closet was empty save for some old sneakers he didn’t want to take with him and a demon that had been trying to possess him since he was a sophomore.
“We’ll talk to the demon next week,” said Morgan, and Nic nodded her head in agreement.
They knelt down and gazed under the bed. Sure enough, there was the portal to the Realm of Fear where Gerald had a condominium. They called out and as the door to the condo opened, both had a moment of doubt. Could they change their minds? Could they run away? Could they take turns sleeping in Peter’s bed from now on so Gerald had someone to terrify? It seemed so cruel to take this away from a monster who had so little in life other than a fireside property in another dimension and a halfway decent retirement account.
“Morgan! Nic!” Gerald yelled out, “What are you two doing here?”
Nic knew it was supposed to be her that spoke first, but her mouth suddenly felt dry. Morgan could tell she was choking. He tried to jump in and begin, but all he could come up with was the kind of brutal honesty that Nic would have deftly avoided.
“Peter went to college! He’s not here anymore! He may never be here again! We’re so sorry, Gerald. We’re so very sorry.”
There was a moment of silence punctured only by Gerald’s sprinkler system kicking in to water his poisonous grass.
“Oh,” mumbled Gerald, “I, uh, yeah, well, um, this is…a little awkward.”
That was when they noticed the suitcase he was holding.
Over the next hour, Gerald confessed to Nic and Morgan that he had always known Peter would eventually go off to college. He had been a monster for centuries, after all, and he understood that children grow older and move on with their lives. Now that Peter was out of the house, Gerald had sold his condo and would be moving closer to his sister in the Realm of Boca--not to retire, exactly, but to terrorize a bit less.
“I’m hoping to cut back to three days a week,” he said, “It’s not like kids need to be scared more than that. They’ve got enough fear supplied to them by the real world.”
Nic and Morgan felt relief wash over them as they wished Gerald well. There was some promise of keeping in touch, but none of them really believed it would happen. They went downstairs to the kitchen and began preparing dinner. Nic commented that Gerald’s left head had done most of the talking while the other two looked bored. Morgan wondered out loud if that was their general dynamic. Scallops sizzled in a pan on the stove. Nic thought about adding some extra spice since that’s how Peter liked it, but then remembered…
Morgan began to cry first. He considered holding it in, but then didn’t see the point. Nic went over to console him and found herself in tears before she even reached him on the other side of the kitchen island.
They stood there, weeping, unsure of why it had taken them so long to get to this point. They hadn’t cried as they packed up Peter’s room, or on the drive to school, or on the way home. Perhaps up until that moment, they’d had a task to do. A monster to break the news to. A possible future of taking care of a three-headed creature as it tried to navigate life without the person its purpose had been built around.
Now that wouldn’t be necessary.
They contemplated their own necessity.
That was when Nic’s phone rang.
“Mom,” said Peter, “How did Gerald take it?”
After catching their son up on speakerphone all about Gerald being just fine, they heard a pause on the other end.
“What are you both doing now,” he asked, “Are you making scallops for dinner? I…I kind of wish I was there.”
Nic and Morgan exchanged a look. Nic grabbed Morgan’s pinky finger. It was something they did over the years that was only theirs. A signal to each other that they were holding on. Maybe not great, maybe not sure, but there. There and not going anywhere.
“By the way,” said Peter, “How’s the demon in the closet doing?”
Morgan held out his hand. Scissors already in place.