Chapter 32 - When You’re Gone
“Baby when you’re gone / I realize I’m in love / Days go on and on / And the nights just seem so long” – When You’re Gone, Bryan Adams
“So, how was the weekend?” Dad asks at the dinner table. He and Mom just got back from the conference and they picked up Chinese takeout for dinner.
“Good,” both Mia and I say.
“How was your party, Arya?” Mom asks, walking around the table to put food down. “It must have been nice to see friends from your old school.”
“Yeah, great,” I say.
“How are Maya, Zora, and Lucy?” Mom asks, “We never see them anymore.”
“They’re good,” I say. “You know it’s hard to stay in touch now that I’m not at West Side anymore.”
“I hope you came home at a reasonable time,” Dad comments.
“Of course,” I say. Not a lie.
“And I trust that I won’t have any neighbours telling me they saw James’ car in the driveway overnight?” Dad asks. People are always into each other’s business. It’s the curse of a small town.
“Go ahead,” I say with a mouthful of food, waving my fork in a circle, “ask them.”
“Unless he parked it in the garage,” Mom says as she sits down, and I try to keep my cool and show no reaction. I share a glance with Mia because she knows I wasn’t alone in the house last night.
“Don’t give her any ideas, Laura,” Dad says.
“I’m sure our 16-year-old daughter is smart enough to figure that one out on her own,” Mom says.
“Arya?” Dad asks, “anything you want to share?”
I chew my food slowly and swallow, trying to think. “James dropped me off at home from the party, and then he left to go and pick up his friends and take them home as well.” Technically true. I can’t outright lie to my parents, I just feel so bad about it, and they always seem to be able to tell when I’m lying anyway. But I can tell my dad wants a firm answer from me saying, ‘James did not stay over’. My wishy-washy technically true answer is not good enough.
“Arya,” Dad says seriously, “if that boy…”
“James,” I cut him off, “is my boyfriend and he has done nothing but be a perfect gentleman to me. You don’t have to worry about him.”
“You’ve already transferred from one school,” Dad says, “which I am still not happy about, I might add. Don’t make me regret letting you go to that school with those…” he pauses, “kids.” That’s not the word he wanted to use. I’m angry at him for assuming the worst of East Side, but my mom cuts in before I can.
“Steve,” Mom says, “both our daughters have been doing well at East Side. They have friends, are doing well in all their classes, have extracurriculars. I think it’s been good for them.” I silently thank my mom. “I think it’s good for them to mingle with…” she looks for the word. No, mom, don’t ruin it. “the more common people of the town.” Mom smiles.
“What, Arya?” Mom says. “We all know that the majority of the students that go to East Side are…”
“Just stop,” I say, cutting her off.
“Arya, you will not interrupt your mother,” Dad says sternly. “It’s very obvious which is the better school in this town. I wish you were still at West Side; better education, better teachers, responsible kids…”
“It’s not a perfect school, Dad. There are some jerks at West Side,” I say. What would my dad say if I told him about the bet the West Siders had on taking me home last night? These rich kids that he sees in his dentist office. Would he still be as kind to them if he knew they tried to grope me?
“I’m aware, Arya,” Dad says, “it’s the reason you said you wanted to leave. A decision I had to accept. Don’t make me regret it. If some 16-year-old boy from that East Side school thinks that…”
“Steve,” Mom says. “I think that’s enough.”
We eat in silence for a while until Mia asks our parents how the conference was, which is an effective distraction. Dad talking about all the courses, Mom talking about all the stuff she bought.
After dinner, while packaging all the leftovers, my mom comes up to me. “We like James,” Mom says, “and we trust you. Your father just wants the best for you.”
“James is the best for me,” I say.
“It’s not just about James,” Mom says, “it’s that you’re at a new school with new friends and everything is different now. I think you have done well at East Side. I’m proud of you for adapting so well and taking care of your sister. Your father is too.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I say.
“But you know as well as I do that your father will shoot any boy that stays here overnight,” Mom smiles. “Doesn’t matter who he is.”
“I know,” I say.
“James is a smart boy,” Mom says, “and a charmer. And your first boyfriend.”
“Nothing happened, Mom,” I say to her. Mom knows that James was here last night. No point pretending anymore. “I promise you.”
“Did you have to tell Dad about him parking in the garage?” I ask.
She laughs. “It just came out,” she says, “your father can be clueless about this kind of thing sometimes. Has a doctorate but doesn’t think logically about his daughter sneaking her boyfriend over when her parents are away.”
“Because he doesn’t want to think about it,” I say. He wants to believe that I’m his perfect, responsible daughter.
“I’ll handle your father,” Mom says, “but I’m not going to be this nice next time if James, or any other boy for that matter, comes over here for a ‘sleepover’.”
“You never snuck a boy over when you were my age?” I ask, knowing my mom had plenty of boyfriends growing up.
“Don’t you have homework you need to do?” Mom asks, “I’m assuming you didn’t get much sleep last night considering your ‘overnight visitor’. You’ll need an early night tonight.” And then she leaves me, and I just smile to myself.
“Don’t be too harsh with her,” Laura says to her husband as she climbs next to him on their shared bed. “She’s 16 and he’s her first boyfriend.”
“That’s exactly why I need to be harsh with her,” Steve says, “I don’t need some boy thinking he can try and get lucky with one of my daughters.”
“What do you expect?” Laura says, “We left her alone in the house for the weekend and Mia was at a sleepover.”
“We’ve left her home alone plenty of times before with no issues,” Steve says.
“She didn’t have a boyfriend then,” Laura responds.
“Then maybe she shouldn’t have a boyfriend at all,” Steve says.
“I thought you liked James,” Laura says.
“I did,” Steve says, “until I found out that little bastard parked in MY garage and slept in MY house with MY daughter while I was gone.”
“He’s a good kid. And are you telling me that you never did anything like that when you were a teenager?” Laura asks.
“Of course not,” Steve says, brushing the idea away as if it’s preposterous. “I should call his mother and see if she knows where her son was last night.”
“Don’t,” Laura says, putting a hand on her husband’s arm. “Nothing happened anyway.”
“It better not have,” Steve says, “I want to see my daughters get through school, go to university, start their careers BEFORE I become a grandfather. They deserve the best and I want them to make the most out of life and not be limited.”
“I trust our girls,” Laura says, “I think we did a good job with them.”
“If they had stayed at West Side…”
“Arya didn’t want to stay there anymore,” Laura says. “You remember that day. Even the principal phoned and said that he thought it would be better if she transferred.”
“She never told us specifically why though,” Steve says.
“Kids are mean, Steve,” Laura says, “and Arya wasn’t happy there. But look at her now! She’s going out more, has lovely friends and her grades haven’t suffered a bit! She’s happier at this school, it’s obvious. I’m happy for her, she used to be focused on only soccer and school. It’s nice to see her putting herself out there.”
“Her grades haven’t suffered because the classes are pedestrian for her in comparison to what she had to deal with at West Side,” Steve says. “It’s why she has more time on her hands to sneak over…”
“As long as she gets high enough grades to do what she wants after high school,” Laura interrupts, “then I don’t care.”
“I don’t want to control her or her life,” Steve says, “but I don’t want something to happen and then I regret not having done something earlier.”
“It’s the struggle of being a parent,” Laura says. “How much freedom is too much freedom? How strict is too strict? I think we just have to love them, do our best and remember that there is only so much we can do to protect them. Some things are out of our control, and out of their control as well.”
“I know you’re right,” Steve says, and then leans back on his pillow, closing his eyes. “Why couldn’t we have sons instead of daughters? It would be easier.”
“With a son, I would only have to worry about one penis,” Steve says, opening his eyes and putting his index finger up, “with a daughter, I have to worry about everyone’s penis,” and he moves his finger in a circle and they both laugh.