Dad will never go for me working through the week if it means no dinner on the table, but the weekends he seems okay with. I’ve been pooling every penny I can and saving it away. I feel like time is running out and I need as much money as I can get to try and get a place of my own. I want to be able to afford college next year and to put a roof over my head. I have to get out of here. I can’t watch my father kill himself. I already watched my mother die.
My mom comes in my room asking me to help shovel the driveway so she can get her car out. I roll out of bed and manage a quick shower before throwing on some jeans and a long-sleeved henley. I grab my big winter boots and coat, and I go outside and see my dad working up a sweat. I don’t say anything, I just walk over and take the shovel from him and go back to the area where he was working.
“Thanks, Ren. I’ll make you something to eat.”
He pats me on the back, and I finish up as my mom is ready to leave for work. She’s an emergency room nurse who works what they call three-twelves. Three days of twelve-hour shifts, then off for four. She’s been doing it for almost twenty years, so I know even when she complains, she loves her job. My dad owns the hardware store in town, and everybody loves him. He’s the kind of man I hope to be one day, if I ever figure out how.
My mom backs out of the garage and stops in front of me to roll down her window.
“Dinner’s in the fridge, with a note on how long to cook it.” She turns her head to the side, and I try to fight a smile. “Knock your mom a kiss and get inside. It’s colder than your Grandma Grace.”
I lean in, giving her a kiss, and shake my head. “Grace died ten years ago.”
“Like I said.” She winks at me and rolls the window up, backing out and driving away.
When I get inside, I see Dad has left me some eggs and oatmeal on the counter. I sit down and eat all of it, thinking that I could probably go for seconds. Looking at my watch I see I’ve got about twenty minutes before I need to leave for school, but I remember I need to get gas.
Dad comes in wearing his khakis and work sweater with Hendricks’s Hardware embroidered on the breast. “I’m heading out. You going to be home after school?”
I nod and grab my backpack. I hear him sigh, but I don’t say anything. I don’t want to start right now, because I need to be on my way.
“Ren,” he says, and I know that tone. I wait, and sure enough he has to say something. “Football season is over and you’ve got a great scholarship to Minnesota in the fall. Your mom and I are so proud of you, son. I just want you to make sure you’re doing what it is you want to do and that you’re not playing football because you feel like you have to.”
I shrug, but I know what he means. “I’m happy to play ball, Dad. I’ll be able to get a good education there. That’s all I’m worried about.”
He reaches out and rubs my shoulder. “Okay. You’ve got time if you decide to change your mind.” He smiles at me, and I smile back. “So, any idea who you’re going to take to the winter formal?”
I roll my eyes and walk past him. I think he used the football talk as an excuse to bring it up. Again.
My dad follows me, and I can hear his words over the snow I’m crunching under my boots. “Just asking, Ren. No big deal.”
Sure. No big deal that you can’t stop worrying about if I’m dating or not. I climb in my Jeep Wrangler and wave to my dad. They wonder why I don’t talk much, and it’s mostly because I can’t get a word in around the two of them. As I drive to the gas station, I think about high school and how they think I’m missing out on a key piece of the experience by not dating.
I’m not interested in any of the girls, or guys for that matter, at school. I’m an eighteen-year-old straight-A student who plays center for the West High Wolves, and I’m focusing on my future. I’m friends with a couple of the guys in my grade, but overall I’m a loner. I’ve enjoyed being that way for so long that even playing football doesn’t have the same luster it used to. I’ve always been a big kid, so my parents put me in sports hoping to socialize me. I succeeded at every ball they put in my hands, but still remained the same. I’m quiet for the most part, and when I speak, it’s because I have something to say. The girls at school think that makes me stuck-up, but I can’t be bothered to care. If that’s what they think, then I’m better off skipping the winter formal and leaving high school without the experience.
I catch the sight of someone walking on the side of the road as I pull into the gas station. It takes me a second to realize it’s a woman bundled up in a big jacket—the leggings showing below her heavy coat give it away. I think about stopping and asking if she needs some help, but the gas station is literally thirty feet from where I spot her. I jump out and start the gas, trying to get the damn thing to come on. It’s cold out, and it’s pumping like molasses.