On any other day, Mason would have walked home slowly. He might have stopped to chat with friends or check out one of the stores along the city streets between his school and home. On any other day, there wasn’t much waiting at home for him.
Today was different. He rushed through the streets, eager to be home. Today, the planets had aligned, the clouds had parted. Not only did his mother have the night off, his older brother’s girlfriend was out of town so he’d actually be home. For the first time since Thanksgiving, they would all be home for dinner.
He rushed up the stairs of the apartment building, giving the air an expectant sniff as he went.
That was the first sign that something was not going to go as planned. There was no scent of pot roast, or tomato sauce coming from his apartment.
He opened the door. There was George, stretched out on the couch with his textbooks, making notes on a notebook laid out on his stomach.
“Where’s Mom?” Mason asked.
“Got called into work,” George said, “Guess one of the girls didn’t show up for her shift.”
“So why did Mom have to go in?” Mason cried, tossing his bag on the chair.
“Because she’s the boss,” George said, rolling his eyes. “Man up.” He shut his notebook and stood up. “I’ve got to get this report written. Mom left some chicken in the fridge.”
“Where are you going?” Mason asked.
“To type my report,” George said. He sauntered into his room, and shut the door.
Just like that, Mason’s family dinner night was reduced to microwaved chicken and the tv for company.
Mason warmed up his food, and plopped down on the couch. “Might as well be living alone,” he muttered, turning on the tv. He flicked through the channels. Mindless cartoons, old sitcoms, reality tv show. He finally settled on a show, and dug into his dinner.
It was a stereotypical show, with a boy around his age. He caught Mason’s eye because he was wearing bright red sneakers, the same ones he’d begged his mom for on his last birthday. The boy also had black hair. Not just dark brown, like Mason’s, real true raven black.
Even so, Mason was only paying half attention. The show had a laugh track, which tended to irritate him. He changed the channel.
The new show started on a shot of nothing but an empty living room, with some background music. Then, a boy walked in. Mason thought he looked just like the boy from the last show, right down to the red sneakers.
He sat down and looked around the empty room. “Might as well be living alone,” the boy said.
“An American epidemic,” Mason replied, and changed the channel.
The next morning, Mason was awoken by George shouting from his room. Mom’s voice was right behind his.
“What’s all this yelling?” Mason asked, stumbling into his brother’s room.
“Look!” George cried, pointing to his desk. There sat the shattered remains of his computer. Something had gone through the screen, leaving glass on the desk and a black gaping hole where the screen had been. As an added insult, if it mattered, the keyboard had been snapped in half.
Mom stood in front of the desk, still in her pajamas, arms crossed. “Mason, you didn’t by chance wander into your brother’s room and break his very expensive computer, did you?”
“Uh, no,” Mason said.
“I didn’t say he did!” George cried.
“Well, what kind of explanation do you have?” Mom cried. “Your computer’s smashed to bits, and you’ve been the only one in the room.”
“Mom, why would I break my own computer?” George asked.
“I don’t know, but that’s the only way this could have happened,” Mom said. She threw her hands up. “I don’t have time for this. We’ll talk about how you’ll be buying a new computer when I get home from work.”
“And when would that be, exactly?” George cried after her as she stormed from the room.
Mason was expecting to come home to an empty house that afternoon, and in that he wasn’t disappointed. George had already come and gone, leaving a dirty plate in the sink that Mason had every intention of leaving there.
Not wanting to catch any secondary fury when his mom came home, Mason got all of his homework done before getting into the slow cooker full of chili Mom left.
With nothing better to do, he again settled in front of the tv.
There was an old movie playing. Mason turned the volume up, and started eating.
Somehow, he was not surprised to see the raven haired, red sneakered boy had found his way into this movie as well.
George came home some hours later. “Mom not home yet?” he asked.
“Nope,” Mason said.
George plopped down on the couch with him. “What are you watching?” he asked.
“Some game show,” Mason said. “This weird kid keeps showing up, though. I think the channel’s doing some promotion or something.”
“What kid?” George asked.
“That kid with the sneakers,” Mason said, pointing.
George shook his head. “Go to bed, Man, you’re seeing things.” He got to his feet, and went to his room.
Mason was still on the couch when Mom came home awhile later. “What are you still doing up?” she asked.
“Just watching tv,” Mason said.
Mom sat down on the couch. “I’m sorry I haven’t been home much,” she said. “It’s just been so crazy. Girls just keep quitting, I don’t have anybody I can depend on there. Now the regional manager is coming into town, so we’ve got to make sure all of our shit’s in order before he gets here or I’ll get fired.”
“At least then you can be home more,” Mason said.
Mom laughed, and shuffled his hair. “Sometimes I think that would just about be the best thing to happen to me. But then the bills wouldn’t get paid, and it’s not much fun on the streets.”
She must have seen Mason’s face fall, because she said, “Tell you what. I’ll get one of the girls to work for me tomorrow night. I promise.”
Mason smiled, but he said, “You can never get them to do that.”
“Maybe it’s time they remembered who the boss lady is,” Mom said. “I’ll make it happen.”
The next day was Saturday. Mason spent the morning cleaning the apartment, so that Mom would have no excuse but to be in a good mood when she got home.
Afternoon came,and Mason waited expectantly. He didn’t even look at the tv remote. But Mom didn’t come.
George came home from wherever he’d been. “Is Mom home?” he asked.
“Not yet,” Mason said. “She said she’d be home by one.”
“Big surprise, she’s late,” George muttered.
“She’ll be here,” Mason said. Just then the phone rang. He ran to pick it up.
“Hey, Hon,” Mom said. “Listen, I’m going to be late. The regional manager just called, and he’s coming in tomorrow.”
“So you can’t come home,” Mason said. The bubble that had inflated his chest all morning popped.
“I’m sorry, Mason,” she said. “I’ll get everything finished up, and be there as soon as I can.”
“Yeah, okay,” Mason said. He hung up the phone.
“She’s not coming, is she?”
“She might still,” Mason said, “She just had to finish some things. She’ll be home.”
“No, she won’t,” George said.
Still feeling deflated, Mason went back to the couch. “Maybe she’ll let us order a pizza, and we can watch a movie.”
“That’s alright,” George said. He was already dialing his phone.
Mason thought that George’s girlfriend must really like him, because she got there in record time. She barely said hello to Mason before she and George vanished into his room.
With nothing else to do, Mason turned on the tv. There was the raven haired boy, on a rerun of some cartoon. He looked right out of the tv, right at Mason. “He just couldn’t wait to be away from you, could he?” he asked.
Mason sat up, and looked hard at the screen. But the raven haired boy had already vanished into the back ground.
George’s girlfriend was still there the next morning. Mason got up after Mom left for work, so he didn’t know if she was aware of their guest or not. He did know that he’d just met the girl and he was sick to death of her. That could have had something to do with the fact that she couldn’t seem to unglue herself from George’s face.
Around noon she finally said, “I better get home. My parents will be home from church soon.”
“Aww, okay,” George said. He was wearing what was quite possibly the dumbest grin Mason had ever seen. “I’ll walk you out.”
“Bye, Mason, it was nice meeting you,” she called as they left the apartment.
“You too,” Mason replied, which he thought was generous of him. He hadn’t met her. He hadn’t even gotten her name.
Mason had just turned the tv up when he heard screaming outside. He ran to the window. George and his girlfriend were there, standing next to the remains of her car. It looked like someone had gone after it with a crowbar. The front and back windows were smashed, and each door dented in.
“Guess she won’t be coming over for awhile,” said a voice from the tv. It was the raven haired boy.
Mason went to the front of the tv. There stood the boy. “Can you, can you hear me?” he asked.
“Sure I can,” the boy replied. “I’m the only one who can, by the looks of it. No one cares about you here.”
“That’s not true,” Mason said. “Mom cares about me. She just has to work.”
The phone rang. Mason ran, to get away from the raven haired boy more than anything.
“Hey, Mason,” Mom said, “How are you doing this morning?”
“I’m fine,” Mason said, trying to forget the look of fury in the raven haired boy’s eyes.
“Good. Listen, I’m bringing someone home to dinner tonight.”
“You’ll be home for dinner?” Mason asked.
“Yep,” Mom said. “My regional manager got here last night, and he brought someone who’s training to be a manager with him. She’s going to take over a few of my shifts this week. And, then the regional guy asked me out.”
Suddenly she sounded all fluttery, like a teenage girl. “His name’s Paul, and he’s really nice. He wanted to take me out to dinner, but I hardly ever get to eat with you guys, so I invited him to our place instead.”
“That’s cool,” Mason said. He could feel his chest tightening.
“It’s the first time a man’s been interested in me in a very long time. I really hope you guys like him.”
“We will,” Mason said.
They hung up, and the raven haired boy said, “Wow, a boyfriend? You’ll never see her now.”
“She’s bringing him here,” Mason said.
“This time,” the boy said. “She won’t bother next time.”
Mason turned away from the tv, but he could still hear the boy. “What if they have another kid? How much time do you think she’ll have for you then?”
Mason walked out of the room. He grabbed the crowbar from his closet. There were still flecks of paint from the car on it. A quick glance out the window showed him that George and his girlfriend had called a tow truck, and were in the process of leaving. Good.
Mason sat down on the couch, the crowbar across his knees, and waited. On the tv, the boy with the raven hair and red sneakers winked at him.