Tuesday, May 31, 2011
“Simon,” Mom calls down the hall to me. “If you make us any later, you can meet Omar alone.” You’d think we were having lunch with someone more important than her latest boyfriend. But seeing as she’s reached the critical get-to-know-my-son juncture in this relationship, she’s a little on edge or ready to jump off one.
“I’m ready.” I head her off before she can get even more creative and vindictive. Yes, in our home, they sometimes go hand in hand.
From my desk, I glance outside. Across the street, MAX—Portland’s light rail system--is pulling out of the station. I have about a twenty minute window before the next one arrives.
I take out my phone and tweet. Lunch at Melting Pot with Omar. Rather stay home than break bread (and dip it) with Mom’s florist/terrorist boyfriend.
Jury’s still out whether Omar is actually a terrorist but it does make good blogging and tweeting. It’s not like anyone takes me seriously anyway. That’s kind of the problem when you’re sixteen and look like you’re twelve. Which is why my cyber life is so important, I’m judged by my words not by looks.
“Simon,” Mom’s yell borders on hysteria. Sounds like she got the tweet. “You’ve got to stop calling him a terrorist.”
I walk to the bathroom doorway and duck under a lingering mist cloud of hairspray. I hold my breath as I pass. Don’t want to die of cancer before I get my first kiss. “I can’t help it if I think he’s a terrorist.” Although last week, after I heard him talking Russian, I was pretty sure he was KGB. Turns out he’s a Croation-Arab hybrid who speaks four languages fluently. Mom calls him worldly, I call him suspicious.
“What if he reads it? What’s he going to think?” Mom watches me in the mirror as she applies her eye gook.
“Mom,” I meet her gaze in the mirror, our brown eyes locking. “That’s assuming he reads more English than plutonium rich or C4 explosives.”
Mom bites back a laugh, her mouth forming a heart. “He is not a terrorist.”
Notice she didn’t say he could read.
The doorbell ends our witty exchange.
“Get that.” Mom flicks me away with a recently manicured hand.
I check to make sure her ring finger is still unadorned.
“What are you looking at?”
I shrug, heading for the front door. “Making sure you’re not the gangster’s diamond-studded moll.”
“I thought he was a terrorist,” Mom’s voice rings with humor.
“Potato, potahto.” Even though it’s been drilled into me, I don’t check the peephole. Number one, I’d need a stool. Number two, it just looks out into a dark hall toward the elevator. And number three, my best bud, Raj, is probably covering the hole with his finger.
I open the door and immediately wish I’d taken the couple of minutes to pull over a chair. Two men in dark suits with dark glasses and even darker expressions stare down at me. Standing like twin sentries they block any view behind them.
“Hey,” I say, trying for casual. How fast can I shut the door if this goes bad?
In unison, they look down, way down, at me.
Okay, let’s just get it over with and deal with the mouse in the room. Me. At four-nine and 93 pounds on a good, sopping wet day, I am not intimidating.
“Simon Rook?” Man-in-black 1 lowers his glasses, peering over the rim at me. “Are you Simon Rook?”
Never admit to anything. “Who wants to know?”
MIB 2 flips through this small, wire-bound notebook. “Are you Simon Rook—” He scans the page with a frown. “Sixteen?”
This is my chance. I can say I’m someone else. Nobody ever believes I’m sixteen, so maybe it’s time to let the eternal youth gene do me a solid.
MIB 2 decides not to wait for confirmation. He head signals his partner and they brush past me with an air of authority. He flips a badge at me. “Federal Marshals, kid. Get your mother.”
Feds? What do they want? I rack my brain trying to figure out what exactly the Marshals do? All I come up with is The Fugitive. And since I didn’t kill anyone, one-armed or two, I think I’m in the clear.
Mom’s heels click down the hall as she leaves her bedroom. I can track her by the sound of her heels. I’ve done it before, especially when I’ve been expecting trouble. She passes the bathroom. “Hey, Si,” she calls, unaware that we have unwanted visitors who are probably armed. “I can’t reach Omar so he must be in a dead zone.” Our apartment isn’t big enough for her not to be heard by all of us—even when she’s using her indoor voice.
I mute my phone and tweet behind their backs.
Good news: Looks like lunch is delayed.
Bad news: We’ve been invaded by Men in Black.
MIB 2 nudges me further into the background as he takes a step toward the hallway. “Lily?” he removes his Ray-Bans and hangs them between the buttons of his shirt.
Mom rounds the corner, her hand flying up to her mouth. “Frank?”
Wait! Mom knows him? What the frak? Since when is Mom on a first name basis with a Federal Marshal?
Mom moves in slow motion as if she’s slogging through quicksand. “What are you doing here?” Her voice, which earlier had been ordering me around like a platoon sergeant, now sounds weak and weary.
“There’s been an incident.” MIB 2, now known as Frank, says. “We have to get you two out of here.”
Who? What? And out of where?
“In-ci-dent?” Mom’s voice cracks into tiny pieces.
We’re still all standing in the hallway although it’s beginning to feel a little surreal, like time has stopped momentarily. Nobody moves or says anything as Mom seems to be frozen.
“Ma’am?” MIB 1 finally breaks the silence. “Maybe you should sit down.”
Uh-oh. They never tell you to sit down for good news.
“Simon?” Mom reaches out for me.
I’m not sure why she needs me, but she does, so I sweep past Frank and slide in next to Mom. Her arm clutches my shoulder. “Let’s sit down.” I man up and lead her to the couch. Always compact, she feels frail and weightless as she clings to me.
Men in Black follow closely behind us.
Mom and I sit on the couch. It’s always been this way. Just me and Mom. The runt who sired me has never been in the picture.
Frank sits down on the coffee table so he’s facing us. “You okay, Lily?” He pats her hand. “Do you need anything?” He doesn’t wait for an answer before turning to his partner. “Get them some water.” This Frank dude is kind of bossy.
MIB 1 scurries out of the room.
Frank squeezes Mom’s hand. “Lily, I need to ask you a couple of questions.”
I swallow all the sarcastic barbs begging to spurt out of my mouth like projectile vomit.
“Are you acquainted with Omar Jahara?”
Mom nods, tears threatening to spill. “We’re dating.”
Frank doesn’t seem surprised by this revelation, as if he was expecting that answer. How does he know so much about our lives?
“Were you meeting him today?”
Mom quivers beside me, her entire body rocking with her nod. She’s quit trying to hide her tears and when she opens her mouth to speak, only gasps of air come out.
I jump in to cover. The sooner we get these Feds on their way, the better. “We were on our way to meet him at The Melting Pot.” I meet Frank’s steely-eyed gaze. “You probably can intercept him there.”
Even though Mom’s a basket case waiting to be carted off, I’m feeling a bit vindicated. I knew there was something about Omar.
“Lily.” Frank reaches out and lifts Mom’s chin, so he’s looking her in the eyes. “There was an explosion at his shop.”
Do floral shops spontaneously combust? I need to Google that one.
Frank’s voice is monotone and exact. “Omar Jahara is dead.”
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