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Drama Inspirational Speculative

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.


At first, it seemed like a normal Saturday…one that I would usually spend on my PlayStation 7 or roughhousing with my little brother, Hunter. I had planned to go to the new holocade that just opened downtown to hang out with my friends and play Mortal Kombat Death Toll X, but the moment I heard the screeching right outside our front door, my plans were upended. I knew something was wrong.


My mom was making a big commotion out on the porch right in front of the entrance. When she stepped inside our huge wooden front door, I saw what I needed to make some sense of her meltdown. There was a large, partly ripped envelope in her left hand, and several pages of a letter in the other. The letter was definitely something "official."


I followed as she made her way from the living room to the kitchen. Her steps reminded me of a person trying to plow through a field of molasses. The small creases in her forehead and her cheek, usually not so noticeable, were making her look a good 10 years older.


 In fact, her expression reminded me of the day our dad left us. That was six years ago. 


The question spilled right out of my brother's mouth before I could even ask her myself.


“What’s wrong, momma? I heard you yelling.” 


Instead of answering, mom's eyes darted from one of us to the other, keeping us in the dark. Hunter's sky blue eyes continued searching her face for answers. He resembled a cherub with all that concern wrinkling his tiny brows and those blonde curls carressing his slightly pink cheeks.


Just a moment before, he was in the living room, absorbed in a phone game, but he ran into the kitchen when mom and I went in there.


" Are you ok?" I asked, though I knew I wasn't likely to get a better reply from her at the moment. She needed time to calm down before she talking.


As the oldest, I made it my job to comfort her. I’m only 13, but it’s my place to be the man of the house since we have no dad.


“I'm ok,” she said, at first, trying not to involve either of us in her problems. When when she saw my "Nope, I’m not buying it expression," she followed that up with “I can’t talk now, Dylan. I’m too upset.” 


Her fingers began clicking on her iPhone with a vengeance. In a few seconds, the phone rang. It was her best friend, Cathy.  


“Can I call you back later?” she asked before weighty tears started to roll down her cheeks. 


But, as usual, Cathy didn't let her off the hook with that. Cathy can always get mom to spill about what's going on, even the worst things.


Mom left the room to take the call in private, but there was no way I was about to be left in the dark. Eavesdropping outside her door, I overheard some of the conversation as mom crumbled on the phone about how Child Protective Services had decided to take us away from her within a couple of weeks. Though I knew CPS was checking in on us occasionally, I had no idea it would ever come to this....no longer being a family. 


Sure, my mom hadn’t been the perfect parent, but I knew she had been doing her best. So, she’s an alcoholic. So she’d gotten a little heavy with her scolding a few times. Big deal. I’d rather be with her than some stranger, even if she is kind of a mess. 


It started when our next-door neighbor, Mrs. Crenshaw, started nosing in our family's business. She has no idea what it’s like raising three children all by yourself. She doesn’t even have one child, much less three to raise. Because of her we have all been through hell for the past year or so with constant drop-in visits. Anyway, I already knew that my mom had been ordered to pass CPS’s virtual reality re-conditioning programs to fix her alcohol problem and that she was trying hard, but she never mentioned they might really be taking us away. I thought with all the things she was doing and being so compliant, it would never actually happen.


Once the letter showed up, we were given a couple of weeks to be together and say our goodbyes, which is better than someone just showing up unannounced and hauling us all off without warning, but it still felt terrible knowing this was really going to happen so soon. There's not much a person my age could do about CPS, but I did something anyway. I came up with the idea to track dad down. My friend Alex's father is a detective and an expert at finding anyone. I got him to do an exhaustive search over a couple of days and he thought he'd found dad at first, but that turned out to be a dead end because when we went to the residence that Alex's dad was sure was the right one, instead of dad, there was only some long-haired guy with a beard. He said he doesn't have any children and that I couldn't be his. I wanted to say something sarcastic when he said that, but I held my tongue. Like I really wouldn't know my own dad from some stranger.


*******************


Seated at the table, all three of us kids kept glancing at the clock as we waited for mom to bring out what she said would be our last meal together as a family. I figured she was probably in the kitchen bawling her eyes out, not just putting last minute special touches on the meal.  I started to leave the table to go check on her, but she came back before I got the chance.


I'm thinking how this is our new reality now. I guess we will be going to a new home, like it or not.


“I’m sorry it’s come to this,” Mom whispers in my ear as she slides by my chair to set fresh bread on the table. A stray tear escapes down her cheek. She wipes it away quickl and walks back to the kitchen.


My little brother and sister still didn't know. I didn’t see the point of keeping it quiet anymore. Mom swore both me and Cathy to secrecy, but everyone will be a mess when CPS walks through that door. I tried to tell mom to just be honest with my kid sister and brother, but she wouldn’t listen to me. Plus, she started drinking again.


My dad was her rock, and six years ago, he crumbled beneath her at the worst time.


The fresh, homemade bread mom placed on the table sure smelled scrumptious, but I couldn't eat anything. Olivia and Hunter were already digging in. If they'd known what was about to happen, it would've ruined their appetite even though Mom made everyone’s favorites to serve as one meal: Roast chicken for Hunter; pot roast for Olivia; and for me, fresh catfish from the nearby lake, fried and battered just right with Louisiana fish fry. The trimmings were a Caesar salad and Mexican-style corn, which I don’t exactly mind, even though I usually joke around with her about salad, saying it's for rabbits. 


When she was back in the kitchen peeking at the cherry pie in the oven that will be our dessert, I snuck in, the same burning question on my lips


“When are you gonna tell them?” 


“I don’t know if I can. Let’s just play it by ear."


That’s her go-to answer.


********************


Around 4 p.m., the door vibrates with a knock like you'd think would only happen during a drug raid. Child Services aren’t supposed to get here until 6 p.m. sharp. We are supposed to get two more hours with our mom. I'm mad enough to kick them out myself if they try to take us sooner.


“Can you get the door, Dylan?” Mom asks. Her hands are full pulling away the dinner plates.


“Of course, mom,” I answer, pushing my chair away from the table. 

As I open the door, a man is standing there, a bit of a smile tugging at his lips. Something about the face jogs my memory, though he’s so different from what I remember. It’s been 10 years. His hair is no longer parted on the side. He has a slightly textured haircut with small spikes gelled up to look more modern, and he’s wearing better clothing than before though not anything that expensive, a Mossy Oak shirt with Levi’s. 


I back away from the door, in shock. He waltzes in without asking. 

Molten anger starts to surge from the middle of my chest, then it starts to make its way to my extremities. So, it feels as if lava might explode from my veins.


“What the @#&*%$ are you doing here!!”


“I heard my family needed me” my dad replies.  


“You abandoned us, you deadbeat! Now, you come back like nothing happened?” 


Mom steps in between us, and puts her hand on my arm.


"I don't want any fighting between you two. Let it be."


My face is getting hotter by the second. I feel the veins threatening to pop out from my neck, but I do as she says.


She glances back at my little brother and sister.


"Everything is alright. You two go in the living room until i tell you to come back."


Once they are in the living room, my mother speaks again.


"Why are you here now, Josh?"


My father begins to explain himself.


"I heard you were about to lose our kids, and I wanted to help you."


A puff of air slips out from mom's lips, and she places her hands on her hips. She's irritated.


"Now, you show up out of nowhere and you want to help?"


“You don’t understand. I had no choice. I didn’t want to leave you, but I had to.”


"Ok, then explain," she replies, trying to be patient and listen to what my father has to say for himself.


I look at my father blankly, wondering what he is about to say that could justify anything he’s done.


“Can I sit down?” my dad says. My mom nods. He sits down at the table next to my sister. Looking at her, he says


"Hi, Liv. "You're getting to be a pretty little lady. How old are you now?"


Olivia’s doesn't answer. Her eyes are as big as saucers. Hunter is too busy cramming food down to even pay a lot of attention what’s going on, but then he stops mid-mouthful to stare at the man sitting across from them, a man he's never even seen before. My mom is at the head of the table, head is in her hands, and she’s rocking back and forth, still in shock. I can’t blame her. I can scarcely believe it myself.  


“I had to get myself together...” he starts to explain.


“What? Let me guess…you had to leave your family who needed you so you could find yourself or whatever?”


My eyes spit fire right into his. He winces before continuing to explain. 


“This may take some time for you to understand, but the past six years have not been easy for me.” He says, his eyes softening as they look deep into mine. I’m tempted to believe in him, but at the same time, I keep my guard up. 


“You think the past six years have been easy for US? Or for mom? Why don’t you just leave us alone and let us have our last meal together, “I retort.


His eyes never waver from mine. Ignoring my remarks, he continues.


"This won't be your last meal together if I have anything to say about it," he says, " You probably don’t remember, but even when you were little, I was an alcoholic. I made a lot of bad decisions then, but I’ve changed. A few years back, I went into a rehab program, one of the virtual ones that helps you understand your motives. It applies helps you quit.”


“Yeah, the one that didn't work for mom!" I reply. Anger has filled up my stomach, and it begins spewing from my mouth.


" Oh, by the way, I can tell you wasted no time getting back to us. Only six years,” I say with my left brow cocked up.


Dad maintains and even expression, speaking in a calm voice as he continues explaining.


"Do you remember when you were small how I used to work long hours and be away a lot? Well, that figures into this as well, but I can't tell you much about that even though I want to. Its classified. But whats most important is that I wanted to make sure I was ready. People fall off the wagon every day, son. Anyway, what’s important is that you need me now. And the funny thing about all this is that even though you are protesting because I’m back home now, you are the person who caused me to be here now in the first place.”


I glance across the table at everyone else with a "sure, whatever" glance, like I think he’s lost his mind. 


“How’s that?” I ask, not expecting him to give a satisfactory answer.


“Actually, son, you came by my house the other day. The guy you met, the one with the long hair, he’s my roommate. He didn’t know if I was ready for you to find me, so he kept his mouth shut that day, but he did let me know you were looking for me. He told me that CPS is about to take you away from your mom, and I wanna fix that.” 


My mom is beginning by now to come out of her state of shock. 

“Josh, would you really help us?” she says, a hopeful gleam rising from the ashes within her soul. Her dried tears are now shining in the light against her face.


“Of course, I will,” he replies. 


"I'm about to bring out some cherry pie. You can have a piece while we wait on CPS. They'll be here any minute." Her head drops at the end as she recalls what all that will mean.


My dad has a piece of pie. He barely finishes before there is a knock at the door. A guy in uniform along with a social worker is standing there.


“I’ll take this from here,” he says to my mom. “I’m their father, and I’m here to stay.” 


He invites the guy in uniform and the social worker in, then explains to them how he will ensure that we are all well taken care of from now on. The officer stands at the door ready in case someone tries to resist when they take us.


“I'm sorry, Mr. Stanton, but we have to take them into custody until we do a further investigation, " the social worker replies. "Maybe things will work out, but it could be a long process."


“I understand, and I'm determined to see this through," Dad replies, and turns to me. "When I get you guys back here again where you belong, we will have the first of many meals together."


My little sister starts to cry and my brother grabs ahold of mom when the social worker comes to their side of the table and says "Children, let's go." As we are heading towards the door, i take their hands in mine and say, "It's alright. I'll be with you, too, and we won't be away from mom forever." I use my most reassuring voice even though I, too, don't know what our future holds and am still fearful and sad.


Dad calls out to the three of us kids as the officer exits the house behind him:


“I won’t rest until all three of you are back home safe with your mom and me.” 


As I’m sitting in the car waiting for CPS to drive us to a new temporary home, my mind is ablaze with thoughts. I’m caught between trying to comfort my kid sister and brother throughout all the confusion while also wondering if dad really means what he says. I can only hope that miracles are possible, and that this was not the last meal with my family, but the first of many better ones to come. 


December 09, 2023 20:07

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5 comments

Trudy Jas
00:36 Dec 21, 2023

Okay, I admit, you almost lost me in the 1st paragraph. but then It's been many decades since I was 13 and we had just gotten our 1st colored tv. go figure. But nosy neighbors and the threat of CPS is the same. You so clearly captured the child's forgiveness of his alcoholic mother, and distrust of his absent father. Always stick with the devil you know, till you know the other one. And the resilience and cautious hope of a 13 yo child, couple with a wisdome far beyond his years. I salute you.

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Cynthia Prokarym
16:29 Dec 21, 2023

Thank you so much for your feedback 😊 I can tell you really understand the 13-year-old protagonist well. I was hoping readers would understand his polarized view of his parents and relate that to his age and the situation he's been in so far in his life. So, I'm happy to have gotten those things across well enough.

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Michał Przywara
03:42 Dec 19, 2023

Definitely a fitting premise for the prompt, and a very sad situation to boot. I like how in the beginning there is a lot of tech related talk - and sure, every kid likes video games, but here it seems like that was the narrator's focus. Kind of a “raise yourself” parenting style, which we understand is part of the family's struggles. This is reinforced by his caring both about his mother, and for his younger siblings. But for as sad as it is, the ending leaves open a door for hope. Except, I'm not sure I trust the father. He continues to ...

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Kristi Gott
07:49 Dec 17, 2023

This story drew me into the situation right away because it is told with such genuine authenticity. The emotional mood and tone come through and I can tell it is written from the heart.

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Cynthia Prokarym
09:41 Dec 17, 2023

Thank you, Kristi! :-) I really appreciate your feedback. I'm so glad you enjoyed the story, and that it came through authentically.

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