American Coming of Age Contemporary

This story contains sensitive content

It was late evening. We had just finished dinner and as I had cooked, my husband was on clean-up duty. I was in my bedroom, reading. My oldest daughter, Holly, had just vacated the foot of the bed and was en route to grab a shower before bedtime. Though she had her own bathroom inside, she had recently become very adamant regarding privacy. We had a separate room outside off of the carport. I thought it was weird that she wanted to shower out in what was essentially our second laundry room. Granted, it was a private, spacious room complete with a full-size refrigerator, a deep freeze, toilet, sink, and shower stall because... who doesn’t need all of that shit out by where you park the cars?

I didn’t give it too much consideration, though, as mentioned, she had been getting weird about her privacy recently. She was about to be a freshman, moving on to the High School campus from the Middle School.

 I turned the page of my new book, a tome by Mr. Stephen King, “Under the Dome.” Suddenly, I heard a sharp chime that could only come from a phone, but it wasn’t mine. I glanced up and saw Holly’s phone lying there, unaccompanied by its owner. It was odd since that thing was usually glued to her hand and her eyeballs to it. It was like a lone sock, forever separated from its mate, resigned to a life of solitude at the bottom of a drawer. 

I’m not usually one to snoop through my children’s devices (though we required their pins, just in case). I don’t know what possessed me to do it but I entered the 4-digits and saw a text from her best friend, Katie, with a few simple words, “y not? Go 4 it! Be safe! hmu l8tr” Now curious, I scrolled up and saw what looked like a screenshot, it was of a text between Holly and her then-boyfriend, Colby. Heartbeat increasing rapidly, I told myself it was probably just a joke, you know, “Dude! I just watched a movie where a man's wife is viciously murdered and his son is left physically disabled. Then, when you think it can’t possibly get any worse, the same son is kidnapped and then the man has to chase the kidnapper thousands of miles with the help of a mentally disabled woman... ”

I figured I’d read the joke; I needed a chuckle. I tapped on the screenshot to enlarge it. As I read the contents of the text within I felt my pulse set off at a trot, a flush rose to my cheeks that rendered them crimson, and adrenaline from fear flooded my body. Rather than a silly joke, Holly had taken a screenshot of a conversation between her boyfriend and herself less than twenty minutes before. In the message, Colby asked Holly to sneak out that night and if she did, would she please consider having sex with him... He goes on to assure her that it’ll be just like when he fingered her, only a little different. First, I re-read the text to make certain my bifocals did not deceive me. Then, I almost snickered—if it’s only a little different then he has problems that are far worse than his feeble grasp of “they’re, their, and there.” It was, at that time that a little voice encouraged me to scroll up. There was a photo; one of Holly that revealed far more of her than I’d been privy to over the past five to seven years.

So quickly, I knocked the behemoth novel to the floor, I hurried to the far side of the house, to my husband, Jim, and scrolled back to the screenshot. I held my hand out, phone resting in my palm but when I tried to speak, nothing but an amphibian-like croak came out.

 I watched him as he took the phone and his lips moved as he read the horror on the screen. The tips of his ears went red as if suddenly backlit by candles. Red started at the base of his neck and crept toward his face a millimeter at a time. By the time he scrolled up, I was certain flame would burst from his head orifices.

Composed-as-a-cat Jim Miller, the unflappable dad starts to sit down at the bar, stands abruptly, tries to sit again, and stands again, apoplectic little sounds trying to escape his lips. I looked him in the eye, “We have about five minutes until that kid gets out of the shower and comes to retrieve her phone. We need to play this shit right-- right fucking now, or we’re going to lose her forever to some pimply kid with braces and whose prick apparently isn’t much larger than ....” I wiggle my index finger and giggle, bent at the waist.

Jim laughs; “Only we could laugh at a time like this.”

“If you don’t laugh, they’ll eat you alive. United front, then?” I say, he nods. 

“Meet her on the patio before she can even go back in the house?” I nod at him.

I plodded outside with him, single file, as if to the gallows. We both took our seats. I slipped a cigarette between my lips, dry from fear. I flicked the lighter a few times while the cicadas hummed loudly and fireflies lit up the backyard beyond TFR and the carport. We watch the door to The Fucking Room (TFR), as we’d taken to calling it eons ago. Soon, we heard the lock disengage. My heart speeds from a trot to a gallop.

Holly steps outside into the honeysuckle-laced evening, the smell of damp earth lying atop it all after the recent rain, wrapped in a knee-length green robe, her feet ensconced in slippers shaped like frogs. She hesitates just for a beat at the sight of us sitting stock-still at the table, looking at her in a gravely serious way, then she grins and begins to walk tentatively toward us, I notice that her long legs no longer bear the scrapes, and bruises of childhood; they were the legs of a young woman. “What’s with the heavy, Parents?” she asks.

I shove the patio chair across the table from me out sharply with my foot, “Have a seat.” I indicate for her to sit. I casually slip her phone out of the side pocket of my scrubs. "Explain. Now."

Her eyes go wide like saucers as I slide it swiftly to her. The small smile disappears from the corners of her lip as she glances at the screen, then expels an enormously bothered sigh, the kind only adolescents seem able to. “Well?” She asks, raising a brow. I look at Jim and he nods slightly.

It was now or never. If I brought the hammer down too hard, she would likely disappear into Colby's arms, or someone else’s, forever: Remember though, being on the cusp of fifteen: hormones raging, having secrets, getting that glowing feeling when a good-looking boy approached. However, go too easy and she’d probably hand me a baby for safekeeping within the year.

My eyes stay locked on hers, unwavering. She returns my gaze, “So,” she snaps.

So… I’d like for you to read the contents of... that-- aloud, please,” I stated, “Right now, please, Ma’am.” She flatly refuses and I drop my voice to an almost inaudible tone, “Oh, but you will. You see, at this moment we are reacting calmly but how you handle this very adult situation with all your fourteen years of wisdom will determine how this plays out.”

She sits, fidgeting with indignant rage. “Holly, I’m not trying to embarrass you and I know you hate my guts with the fiery, purple passion of a thousand suns at this moment, but, please...” 

She glares one last time at each of us in turn and begins to read the series of texts aloud, her voice starting remarkably strong before becoming more and more faint, her cheeks burning crimson as she realizes the photo we had undoubtedly seen, as well.

“What now, “she whispers, anxiety filling her eyes, her long lashes wet with unshed tears. “Well, as I said, that’s really up to you. Obviously, you are grounded… for a week. I want your phone and passcode. I want your tablet and Jim will be removing the laptop from your bedroom as well as the Xbox. You will earn these back by showing acts of maturity.” She rolls her eyes and mutters, “Whatever.” The attitude she’s going for is detached, completely beyond this. She starts to stand.

“Uh-uh, I’m not done here. I will set an alarm on my phone to go off every hour on the hour. If your ass isn’t in that bed or somewhere in this house, fully clothed—you can totally definitely kiss summer camp goodbye. I will drive you directly to school and pick you up. I will speak to your coach about track practice…” I rise from my seat and start to make my way into the warm glow of the house. My bare feet smack the concrete as I go. I glance back over my shoulder. “Oh, one more thing… this discussion is far from over.” I open the glass patio door and drift down the hallway to my room. 

I close my bedroom door and lock it. I go into my bathroom, grab a towel, and step into the shower stall, it's only then do I scream until my eyes feel as if they will simply pop from their sockets by sheer force. I cry for my sweet little girl, white blonde hair in pigtails and bows, smiling her mostly toothless grin up at me, her hot little hand in mine as we adventure about the park. 

That night, as I set up the alarms for my phone, I looked at Jim, “Do you think I was too harsh? Did I go all… extra?” I roll my eyes. He smiles at me, pausing a moment to clip his next funky, talon. “No, Babe, but I think you need to really consider what you say to her next. While we absolutely disagree with her on this,—we are always on her side, she’s not alone. We aren’t angry, per se, we’re scared and concerned.”

I smile at him, “I’m pickin’ up what you’re puttin’ down, Man! I got this shit.” I say jokingly. “Seriously, though, I agree that’s the best approach.”

“So when is this heartfelt yet heavy chat taking place and where do I need to disappear with Maddie, and Jeremy,” he inquires. 

“I’m thinking tomorrow after school. I’ve got to really consider what to say but if I dwell on it too long, it’ll drive me bug-shit crazy.” I tell him seriously. He snorts laughter and looks at me again, “You’re quite mad, you know that right?” he laughs. “Pick up your nasty toe shrapnel,” I say making a face befitting the remark.

When we get home the next day, the sounds of a normal afterschool day play throughout the house. Purses clunk onto the cabinet, backpacks smack the floor, followed by the sound of vinyl being drug across the wood floor, the critical clickety-clack of dog toenails that are actually Morse code for, “I urgently need to pee, Ma’am!”

After taking the dog out, Jim herds Maddie and Jeremy into the den and tells them that they’re going out for a while and then they’ll grab dinner. “What about Mom and Holly?” Maddie, ever the little kiss-ass good Samaritan inquires in a shrill voice. “We’ll bring them something back!” Jim grins good-naturedly at the younger two children. 

“Right now,” Jeremy asks quizzically. “Right now,” Jim states. “Do I get to pick the place we eat?” Maddie perks up, “Oh, and, can I, I mean, may I, ride in the front seat?” As anticipated this cues Jeremy to start his own grouchy protest. Jim looks at me, clearly sending a fake, but real, but not really real distress call, and ambles outside. I watch Holly meander to the couch and flop onto it. Soon, the hubbub fades as the front door closes, seeming to swallow them up. 

I look at Holly. She looks at me. She straightens her light grey skirt neatly—fans it out on the couch and then allows the rest of her body to droop backward as if her spine was suddenly ripped from her body. I glance at how she’s sitting, unintentionally, I hope. Her lavender cotton panties are on full display. “Cross your legs, please,” I ask. She sneers at me and promptly claps her thighs together and tosses her left knee over her right.

“I thought we already had the grand inquisition, Mother?”

“We have… but, consider this a bonus lecture, Daughter. Can you humor a half-deaf Old Bag for a few moments?” Her eyes soften the slightest bit at the old joke. This is it, this is my shot. I felt like vomiting, my palms began to sweat, but I plunged forward.

“Holly, at this moment you are 14 years old. Yes, you are about to be 15, however, in the eyes of the State, you are 14 years old and as such, a minor. Colby is 17 years old. His birthday is coming up. Say you and Colby drive out to the middle of nowhere. You turn on some Marvin Gaye and…”

“Mom, this isn’t the '70s!” she looks at me as if completely embarrassed for me. I shrug. “First, just how old do you think I am?” “Mom, everyone knows that song was released in the seventies,” she says, knowing for sure that I drag my knuckles when I walk. 

“Okay then, music you celebrate to… naked.” 

Holly buries her face in her hands. She says nothing so I push ahead. “In the eyes of the State, Colby is considered an adult and you are a minor. Do you see what I’m saying, Holly? Colby could be charged with rape, statutory rape, but rape all the same.”

“Furthermore, while the act of having sex isn’t that difficult, the emotions that come with it are some of the most confusing to navigate. I know you love him.”

She looks up, her green eyes all shiny, “I do.”

“Does he love you?” She gazes at me and seems to give the question deep consideration. “I honestly... don’t know. He can be kinda weird around his friends.” She shrugs. “Then, like when we’re alone, he’s all sweet again. But we’re making out so I don’t really know if he means it or if he’s just trying to make me feel comfortable enough to… " she trails off, lost in thought.

“These are the emotions I’m talking about are complex. They can make you explode with savage joy but they can also have vicious, heart-piercing fangs. When we say we don’t want you to get hurt, this is what we mean. Also, I may as well just toss all my

cards on the table right now— I have a few questions I'd like you to consider: Do you want anyone else to know about the business you might get up to with Colby?” 

She shakes her head.

“See, there’s a cliché involving these little Romeos. In this, it’s completely fucking stupid. Yeah, I know we don’t use the word stupid but this double standard between men getting’ some and women getting’ some is ridiculous and backward and infuriating. If a boy ‘carves a notch into his bedpost’, he’s a fucking stud. He’s The Man!”

“Sadly, if a woman does the same thing, she’s typically labeled a slut and endlessly shamed for it. I don’t think you want to be a ‘conquest’ or notch in some dude’s bedpost.” I have her full attention so I keep going.

“On an even heavier note, say the condom breaks or if, 'just one time' he doesn’t use one and assures you it’ll be fine, or if you don’t think you can get pregnant while on your period and have unprotected sex and get pregnant... are you prepared to share your bedroom with a newborn? Is Colby going to help with the baby before and after school?” "Oh, what the hell? While we're at it, why does he get to go to school and you’re at home reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the 500th time-- that day?" I smile sadly at her and grasp her hand, now smooth, nails manicured.

"Or, if you decided to have an abortion, which is absolutely your right and your choice, is he going to hold your hand through it all; through the tears and the pain and the doubt and I'm not referring to just before and during the procedure? If your answer to any of those questions is ‘I don’t know,’ then you are not old enough to have sex.”

She nods.

See, you enter into a kind of pact, an agreement when you go down that road that you understand all of the variables. I’m not just being tremendously lame—I just want your life to be based on your choices, not on pressure from someone or something else, you know?” 

I look up from my blotchy red hands that I’ve apparently been grasping tightly together throughout the conversation and into her sea-green eyes. She looks like something inside of her has deflated, and changed, or maybe it’s just how I see her. I need a glass or six of wine. 

“Okay, Mom. I get it. How long have you been practicing that one?” Holly laughs. 

“A while,” I admit, “Go on, we’re done here.”

She looks jubilant for a moment. “I’m not grounded?” she asks.

“Oh. No. You are totally still grounded. Go do something grounded people do..." 

April 05, 2024 18:07

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Jim LaFleur
16:29 Apr 26, 2024

Kay, your story is a heartfelt portrayal of the complexities of parenting during the teenage years. The dialogue is genuine, and the emotions are real. Great work!


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James Butz
09:25 Apr 12, 2024

Love the details in the story, pulls you in. The dynamic between the mother and daughter is well done.


Kay Smith
18:04 Apr 12, 2024

Thank you!


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Hannah Deegan
17:29 Apr 11, 2024

This story makes me want to hug my 9-month-old daughter a little tighter and pray for her not to grow up too fast LOL. There were times while reading that I laughed to myself and times that I wanted to praise the mother for her conversations with Holly. It is a great well-rounded story!


Kay Smith
18:02 Apr 12, 2024

Do it! As much as possible! This story is based on someone who is almost thirty now... It doesn't seem or feel possible :)


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Kristi Gott
16:31 Apr 07, 2024

This story has insight and authentic emotional truth plus it hits the target as a response to the prompt. The sensory details about the emotional reactions are described very well. The mother's talk with the daughter is full of wisdom and this could be both educational and entertaining for teens to read. Lot's of good points for them to consider. Well done!


Kay Smith
16:55 Apr 07, 2024

Thank you! That's a pretty big compliment coming from someone that soars with the eagles :)


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Mary Bendickson
19:56 Apr 05, 2024

Avoided a big one there!🫡


Kay Smith
18:03 Apr 12, 2024

Right!? That Mom avoided stepping in a big pile of-- Thank you, Mary!


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