At thirteen, Jason was slowly getting used to being an only child. In early August, Charlie had packed up her room, they’d made the near four hour drive to University of Houston, his parents had managed to persuade Charlotte to have a brief lunch with them before she’d tossed them a wave, hugged him tightly, and she sent them off to begin their lives without her.
So, maybe Jason had been a bit dramatic as a teenager, but it surely felt as though life as he knew it was ending.
Anyways, Jason suddenly found himself hyper-aware of his parents, studying them to see if they would suddenly make the rash decision to up and leave--just like Charlie had. In his observations, he noted a few things: Papa always left the carton of eggs in the fridge, whereas his dad removed them from the cardboard box and put them in the plastic egg container in the fridge. Both of his parents insisted that they enjoyed watching reality television, but in reality his dad had a continuous bored look on his face whenever they watched The Bachelor, but immediately perked up when Papa turned to look at him. Jason discovered that Papa was the one who always made the salad at dinner. Then he realized his dad was the one who always folded the laundry.
Taking note of these things, it made him feel better. It made him feel like, if he could hold onto those details, he could never really be left behind.
A month into being an only child, Jason came home from school to find his parents fighting.
It wasn’t the kind of fighting that could be ignored, drowned out by a pair of headphones, or escaped. It was loud, angry, and punctuated by cabinet doors slamming. It was the sign that Jason had been waiting for--that his life, it was over.
“Uh,” Jason had said dumbly, walking into the kitchen and putting his backpack down on one of the counter stools. “Uh.” He repeated again, not fully processing the scene in front of him. His dad was standing, arms crossed over his chests, his face thunderously mad. Briefly, Jason thinks back to one of the video’s his classmates had shown him, his dad fighting during his NHL career. Jason didn’t know who the other player was, but he’d still gotten slightly nauseous when his dad’s fist had caused a plume of blood to explode out of the other guy's face. His papa, standing on the other side of the kitchen, had his face scrunched up in anger. His eyebrows were knit. Jason, distantly, thought that the scowl on his face looked foreign and fake.
The room remained silent, just for a moment. Then, Papa broke the silence. “Jason, can you go to your room please. We need to finish our adult discussion.” The words were terse, and to Jason, they only punctuated the notion that his life was ending. He nodded, picked up his bag, and began a slow trudge back to his room.
As he walked away, his dad’s voice rings softly behind him. “You can’t just--” Dad bit out, “You can’t just send him to his room, Tyler. He’ll think he’s in trouble.”
The sound of arguing breaks out once again. Jason quickened his pace and the fighting doesn’t even stop when he closes his door with a loud slam.
Jason arrives in his bedroom, lies face down on his bed, and screams into the comforter. He fishes his phone out of his backpack, pushing down the miscellaneous homework assignments he’s crammed deep into the depths. He texts Charlie, swipes at his face and pretends he’s totally not crying.
me: pls come home.
Charlie doesn’t even bother texting him back. She FaceTimes him. Looking at her, Jason can no longer pretend that he hasn’t been crying.
“Charlie,” he whines, sounding pathetic. She looks stressed, hair chucked up in a messy bun, glasses low on her nose. “You need to come home.”
She doesn’t even blink. “Dickie, I can’t come home, but I can listen. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“They’re getting a divorce. They’re sending me away.” He hiccups, pushes at the tears on his face. “They’re gonna get rid of me.”
Charlies’ face softens. She picks her glasses off of her face, tossing them on the textbooks that are piled next to her. “Jason, they’re not going to send you away. And they’re not divorcing.”
“You aren’t here! What do you know?” Jason snarks. He takes a deep breath, “You went away and… and.. And everything got bad!” He’s not quite yelling, but he sounds angry. He sounds just like his parents when he walked into the house today, violent and mean. “You’re the reason.” He spits.
“Jason.” Charlies’ voice is suddenly hard. “Jason, that’s not true.” He ends the FaceTime call before she can continue, and shuts his phone off so she can’t call him back.
Jason doesn’t know how much time has passed before his dad comes and knocks on his door. It’s a soft series of knocks. “Hey, Dickie,” Dad says, opening the door a crack. “Let’s talk for a minute.”
“No,” Jason whines, pulling at one of his pillows and hiding his face in it. “Go away.” His dad tries again, sitting down gently on the corner of the bed and carefully combing his fingers through the few pieces of Jason’s hair that stick out from under the pillow. Jason shakes him off, throws off the pillow carelessly, letting it hit the wooden floor with a violent smack, “No. I already know. You and Papa are gonna get a divorce and leave me.”
There’s a moment of silence, then Dad takes a deep breath and calls for Papa. “Tyler!” His voice rings out. “Tyler, you need to come here!” His voice carries.
Papa skids into the room, nearly slides past the doorway in his socks and knocks his glasses askew. “Jame, what’s wrong?” He takes in the scene in front of him slowly, Jason facedown on the bead and steadfast ignoring his dad. “Dickie.”
His name leaves Papa’s mouth as a long sigh. It sounds winded and slow, laced with disappointment. He flops over, sloppily wipes at the tears on his face with both hands. He doesn’t bother to lift up his head to look at his parents. “I want to live with Uncle Jordie.” He announces, voiced stuffy. “I’m not choosing between you.”
Suddenly, the bed shifts. Instantly, Jason is sandwiched between both his dads, stuck in the middle. Two former NHL players and one rapidly growing thirteen—nearly fourteen— year old boy are far too large to fit comfortably on his extra long twin bed. There’s a moment of silence.
“Where’d you get the idea that Dad and I are divorcing?” Papa asks. Jason can imagine the arched eyebrow.
“‘Cause we’re not.” Dad continues, picking up his sentence. “Also, you do not want to live with Uncle Jordie.”
Jason ignores the question, instead wiggles his arms out from his parental cocoon and crosses them over his chest. “Uncle Jordie lets me eat ice cream and waffles for breakfast.”
Both of his parents snort. “Dickie,” his dad says, poking him in the side. “Why do you think we’re getting a divorce?”
“Charlie left. You keep fighting. Eventually, I’m just gonna be left alone.” The words stick in his mouth. Saying the words aloud, it sounds a little dumb. Whatever, he thinks, I’ll be dumb and alone without Charlie and without Dad and without Papa. He sniffs, tying to make his face feel less stuffed from crying.
“Oh Dickie,” both of his parents sigh, practically in unison. “We’re not getting a divorce.”
“And we’re not leaving you alone.” His papa interrupts, tone scandalous.
“We’re just adjusting.” His dad admits, lays one long arm across Jason’s body, like a bridge, uses it to grope blindly, looking for papa’s to hold. “We’ve had two kids living here for the past 18 years. It’s a big adjustment to only have one—.”
“And to have more time to spend with each other. There’s a lot we’re working on.” A large pause, then Papa continues. “I’m sorry you got caught in the middle of that.”
“You promise?” Jason asks, voice soft, a near whisper.
“We promise.” They say, once again nearly at the same time. Papa stops, let’s Dad continue. “I also promise that I’m calling your uncle. Who let’s a kid eat ice cream and waffles for breakfast?”
Dad shuffles his way off the bed, Papa follows, and it takes Jason a few seconds for his brain to catch up. “Wait!” He practically howls, scrambling through his bed sheets. “That was supposed to be a secret!”