“Tell me again. How did he say it?”
My mother, Petunia, giggled like a schoolgirl, pushing back her frizzy orange hair that, despite being in pigtails, stubbornly kept falling over her shoulders as she prepared cocoa for us.
It was a chilly night, though my mom still claimed the night she found me was the coldest one she had ever endured in the big city.
After all, we were in New York City, baby—though thankfully not smack dab in the middle of it.
My mom and I lived in a slightly nicer part of town away from the giant buildings, with our apartment above a little homeopathic shop.
We used to share a room, but right about the time I began to menstruate, my mom decided it was time to let me have the bedroom.
In her opinion I was a young woman now and young women needed their own space. So she had turned the tiny room she used for sewing into a half bedroom for herself that was barely large enough to fit a bed in.
Despite my protests, she had given me the bigger room, which even a week of sulking on the couch couldn’t fix. My mom was more stubborn than I ever could be.
Some people thought it was weird that we shared a room for so long, but I had been having severe night terrors since I was an infant, and I only grew out of them the year before we began to occupy separate rooms.
To be honest, I couldn’t even remember the episodes when I woke up, but I would always wake up drenched in sweat. Thankfully, they didn’t return with the change in sleeping arrangements.
“Okay, so I put the pancakes down in front of him. He had his badge on, and I asked if there was anything else I could get for him. And…” Her cheeks were aflame as she grabbed the milk, half fanning herself with the other hand.
“And?” I prompted, trying to coax an answer out of her, practically out of my chair and leaning forward over the counter.
My mom giggled, swaying her hips a bit. “I think I still need your number, ma’am,” she purred in a deep tone, looking over her shoulder and batting her lashes slowly, making us both burst out in a fit of giggles.
Once she had set my cocoa in front of me and I had finally dabbed the tears from my eyes, I asked, with a grin plastered on my face, “So, does that mean he’s going to call you?”
“Well, he kind of stayed after my shift, so we sat and talked for a while…”
“So that’s why you weren’t home before I was in bed!” I gasped, setting my mug down and covering my mouth for added effect. “Mom, you didn’t go home with that man, did you?”
We had talked about the birds and the bees a while ago—not that I had bothered to participate in those kinds of activities.
I had gotten close at one point, but once online distance learning became a thing due to the virus, my so-called boyfriend had ended up screwing his neighbor three days before graduation.
Not that it really mattered; we didn’t even have walking partners, or any real graduation for that matter.
My mom and I now called him “Fuck Boy” whenever we referred to “he who shall not be named.” She was supportive like that, which was one of the many reasons why I loved her.
She nearly had cocoa shoot out of her nose as she sputtered at my feigned shock. “No, I didn’t go home with him. We just talked, and now I have a date tomorrow night.”
Her chin lifted slightly in a proud manner as she pointed to herself. I certainly was shy like her, so I understood how proud she was of herself on not only talking to a guy but also landing a date with him.
I had been pretty proud of myself too when I had managed to land a boyfriend, but then the universe reminded me why freaks like me don’t have boyfriends.
“Tomorrow night? As in I get to order takeout and pig out without you judging me as I eat my noodles this time?” I asked, tapping my chin with a satisfied smirk.
“You mean stuff your face like some sort of monster?” my mom asked blandly, tapping on her mug as she gave me the stink eye.
She consistently reminded me of my bad manners when it came to noodles, or takeout for that matter.
Realistically, though, I and noodles just didn’t get along. I always struggled to shovel them all in before they began falling out of my mouth.
“It’s not like I’m concerned about my figure. I’m planning on game design. That means I will be a hermit in a basement, and it doesn’t matter how pudgy or pimple-faced I get,” I said with a brief, satisfied grin.
It was not that I didn’t take care of my appearance; my mom called me a natural beauty. I was pretty sure all moms like mine would say that to their daughters though. You know the noncritical, loving kind.
The few friends I had introduced her to had loved her, but of course now that we were all grown, it was just me and my mom most days.
Overall, I wasn’t horrible looking, if a bit on the plumper side.
I had a small tummy roll, soft arms and legs, and hair that was dyed an easy-on-the-eye inky black, my skin pale from the lack of sun the last year or so, along with bright, ice-blue eyes that made me look entirely washed out.
I had tried bleaching and dyeing my hair once, but it hadn’t gone well. Scary cat orange was not the new blonde, and other colors didn’t suit me, so finally I just started coloring my fried hair black.
To be fair, though, neither my mom nor I was good with chemicals.
My natural color was kind of a woody brown that only enhanced my freckle collection.
At one point, I had thought about going into fashion instead of tech work, but it turned out that corsets and pants weren’t exactly the latest trend, and making a corset was a pain in the ass.
It used to make me feel like a badass when I cosplayed as a vampire during my freshman years, but I had gotten out of that phase after my mom had refused to let me go to any of the events with my friends.
I was to be indoors in a safe place after dark. So, hanging out had to be replaced with gaming online through the night.
I was pretty sure the curfew that she still insisted on was just her paranoia of me freezing to death, ever since she found me as a baby.
“Get home before dark and do not go out once the sun has set”—that was the rule, no matter what my age. Period.
It was really hard to even be semi-cool in high school when you couldn’t even go over for slumber parties. It just screamed “weird kid.”
Needless to say, I planned on partying it up after hours once I was in college. I reasoned with myself that would be safer.
Oregon City wasn’t exactly big, so the likelihood of being mugged was low, well, in my mind, at least. Plus, I was a little more capable than when I’d been an infant, after all.
My mom sighed, rolling her eyes. “Fine, order in; do what you want with your summer money. Blow it on your video games for all I care, but don’t whine to me when you need more money for food while you’re at college.”
I rolled my eyes. We both knew I was better at budgeting than she was. Thankfully, I had gotten on a coupon kick for a bit when the pandemic hit.
My mom was beside herself, not having work for months at a stretch and crying at night. She was certain we were going to get kicked out of our rented apartment. There weren’t any jobs, and we were so behind on our rent.
They had also shut off our power for a few days, despite supposedly there being government orders to prevent that sort of thing, before we finally had gotten some stimulus money and unemployment benefit had been beefed up.
We still had to wear face masks until they had enough vaccines out, but the restrictions were getting less stringent. It felt like there would finally be an end to the chaos.
I had managed to make some money online through gaming, and when the rest of the stimulus money came, I managed to keep us afloat and out of debt somehow.
Mom finally found another temporary job—cleaning houses and caring for the elderly part-time—to make up for missing bills that weren’t covered by unemployment benefits.
Once the diner reopened and mom was making the management wage again, I began to save my money for college and, occasionally, use it for pad thai from Mr. Chang’s around the corner.
“You wouldn’t let me starve,” I said, rolling my eyes and drinking some cocoa. Perfect as always. “So, do I have to call him ‘dad’ if you bring him over? Or ‘officer’?”
“You’re incorrigible! Go get your own love life.”
“I did. Didn’t go so well,” I replied, trying not to be mopey but my tone telling her all she needed to know.
“Is Fuck Boy still messaging you?”
I nodded, frowning. “He keeps saying how sorry he is and wants to have coffee before I leave.”
“Starbucks or Andwellas?” my mom grilled me, her eyes full of suspicion that I would crumble and give in.
“Starbucks.” I rolled my eyes again. Andwellas was a favorite coffee shop of mine that also had fresh teas. It was probably as expensive as Starbucks, but Fuck Boy thought it was weird.
“Clearly he’s not that sorry then,” she pointed out before finishing her mug. “Movie night?”
“Sure.” I shrugged.
I didn’t know what I was going to do without her once I was in the dorms. Already I knew I’d be one of those girls that called their mom every night. Honestly, I didn’t care if it made me lame. I loved my mom.
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