What do I know about my mom? What a tough question. Besides all the biological processes I’ve learned in school, like genetics and stuff, I only know some physical characteristics: she was tall, the prettiest lady my father has ever known, and she smelled like mint. And that’s all I know because whenever I talked about her, my father always was already drunk and I needed to help him out and take him from his armchair to his bed.
I’ve never tried to pressure him in order to get information, though, since he always looked so ashamed of himself the next morning and I didn’t want to make him feel sad… Or make me sad. After all, the feelings I’ve grown towards my mom were migrating between sadness and anger. How could someone leave their child with some guy she’d only met once and then never tries to keep in touch? Okay, I was lucky enough that my dad was a cool guy and took me in, but this doesn’t make her less guilty at all.
I wonder if she ever wanted to know where her daughter could be for these past 15 years. If she has ever asked herself if I was okay, if I went to school, if my dad treated me nicely… Nothing? Then, after a while, I started to believe that she never loved me. That I was a mistake she made during a U2 concert after tons of beer and that I didn’t matter to her.
I got up from my bed and decided not to think about her. The less I knew, the less it would hurt, and today I was supposed to be happy, right? Because it was my sixteenth birthday. “Happy Birthday, Nick”, I said to myself. My dad was surely still asleep and I would only see him at night.
“Oh, crap!” twenty minutes late meant that I was late to school and this would be my third time this month. I ran as fast as I could and was able to catch the bus. Luckly, the driver was George and he always stopped for me, even when I was running late.
“Andy again, Nick?” he asked.
I nodded, not wanting to talk about it. Third delay of the month… This would make me stay in school after class and then I would be late for work at Tiffany&Thommy, which would not please Miss Picket. Will “I’m so so sorry, but today is my birthday and everything is nuts” work as an excuse? No. Everyone in town knew me and my dad, so it was known that whenever I was late it was because of him.
George offered me a little red box with a white bow wrapping it around and a tiny card. “Hey, you didn’t think I’d forget, did you?”
“George, you shouldn’t have! Thanks” I thanked and my cheeks turned red while I was getting the present, in a mist of hurry and happiness (after all, I was already late and he had taken his time to hand in the present despite knowing everyone was waiting to carry on the trip!).
“That’s nothing, Nick. Tomorrow, tell me if you liked it. Have a great day and a happy birthday!”
I thanked again while I started to look for a seat. The real bus to Abeley High School was deactivated because no one used it. Most of the students didn’t need to use public transportation since they had their own cars or chauffeurs, and so every single day I had to take the only bus that drove all the way to my school, when, in reality, it dropped me off two blocks away. After spending a whole life in Abeley, I was already used to it, but I wished - as if I was about to blow my birthday cake candles - this year I’d get a car. Or that at least my dad would accept that I should start to study at the school he now works at.
I got up when we were getting closer to the stop and hurried up while going down the stairs, and ran to school.
Yeah, I was definitely late. And obviously I had to face Mr. William, after going to the principal’s office. I smiled bluntly, and then tried to sneak into his class.
“Oh, Nicolle! I can’t believe someone hasn’t given you a clock yet. I mean, we have been starting the classes at the same time since 1864, and yet…”
I heard my entire class smothering a laughter as I gave Mr. William the piece of paper that allowed me to take his class, which was prior given to me by the principal, and, then, I went to my desk.
Today’s history class was about smaller islands and countries all over the world. Internally, I kept telling myself that there was no use to learning all of that, once we lived in a small city closer to New York, so that subject should have been self-explanatory to us and, even though Abeley should be a school for rich people, the greatest part of us, including me, would never travel abroad. Like ever. Let alone stepping on a small island somewhere that was probably built to make money from tourists. Whatever. Mr. William had already had his moment of glory today and I didn’t need a lecture anyways, so I decided to loosen my hair and put on my earphones again, as I kept pretending that I was paying attention.
Everyone’s goal in Abeley was to get into an Ivy League and, for the unlucky ones like me, the ultimate goal was to get a scholarship or a way out of this town. It felt weird not knowing what to do or what I’d like to become, but when people ask me about what I would like to be when I grow up, I used to lie and say I’d like to become a lawyer. Knowing my dad’s behavior, it would make total sense and that was enough to get me out of that subject during conversations, after being told that I should “hang in there” in order to become what I used to say.
The truth was that it would be enough if I turned eighteen and convinced my father that we should leave this town or state. To build a new life in which we weren’t pity case or a subject to gossip spreaders.
Tiffany&Thommy was a library and bookstore two blocks away from my school. It used to be owned by two brothers who have lived here since the city was founded, and I was a part-timer there. After Mr. Thommy Picket’s death, his sister needed help and I offered myself, as I needed money because my dad’s salary as a Spanish teacher was not something we could brag about.
I apologized for being late to Miss Picket and she (with her always pleasing humor) told me to find my computer and sit down before her nephew could find the cash register and steal everything they’ve made so far, like he did last month,
“Good evening, Nick. Are you early again?” I hear Rupert saying with his annoying British accent. He was sitting on my chair, staring at me with his weird brown eyes and dark hair.
“Yes, Rupert. And thank you for keeping my seat warm. Now you can go.” The best solution with him was to use irony and sarcasm. After all, wanting or not, he was the future owner of that store and his aunt wasn’t looking that good anyway.
“I don’t know why my aunt keeps you here. Or why did she hire you in the first place.”
“Your aunt knows me since I was born, we live in the same neighborhood and she trusts me.” I was as rough as possible and then started to browse through the record book on the decrepit computer.
He kept there, looking at what I was doing, as he was laying on the counter. I waited until he left for five minutes, but I was never known for my patience.
“So? Do you want a book or something?” I asked, trying to smile.
“Not really.” he replied and kept staring at me. Then, he nodded and left.
I took a deep breath, trying to calm down, while I watched him leave.
On my way home, I decided to open the present given by George when I was already on the bus. It was a little pendant shaped like a heart. Those in which you can put a picture on both sides. I loved it. I’m going to choose a picture of me and my dad, I thought as I got off the bus.
The weather was terrible as always and the fog made me put on my hood. When I was close to my building, I saw a man wearing a suit leaving and getting in a luxury black car that was parked on the other side of the street. I had no idea someone in town had something to do with the White House, I thought, trying not to laugh as I passed by the lobby.
The elevator was, once again, being fixed and it would take at least forty-eight hours return, so I went up the stairs hearing some of my neighbors complaining about the elevator like that would fix it faster.
After finding my keys, I saw my dad sitting on his armchair that, this time, was facing the door. He looked more tired and sadder than usual and was holding a letter.
“Dad?” I called, leaving my backpack in the hall and getting closer to him.
“Oh, Nick, you’re here” he answered and I could see that his eyes looked swollen and red. He has cried. I sighed and looked at the table, but I didn’t see any beer bottles there.
“I need to talk to you. And I ordered pizza, so you don’t need to cook today. Change your clothes and take a bath, I know you must be tired.”
“That’s okay, dad. I’m fine” I claimed, feeling a little bit afraid.
He didn’t say anything else, just stood up and went to his room. I kept staring at him while he closed the door.
Ordering pizza on my birthday was almost a habit, but the conversation part… I started to bite my upper lip and picked up my backpack on the floor, but refused to take a bath. I felt nervous and anxious and waited to hear if his bedroom door would open so that I could leave mine.
When I left, he was in the living room. He had opened and served himself with a pizza slice and soda. He looked a little better as he smiled, so I sat down.
“Happy birthday, kiddo.” It was all he said, giving me a sad smile. We started to eat after that.
After I finished, I felt like something bad was about to happen and I realized he was looking at me, God knows for how long, and that the letter he was previously holding was still there, in his hand. I stopped and looked at him, wanting to know for how long he would stare without saying anything.
A couple minutes had passed, but it felt like an eternity to me. Then, he finally started:
“Nick, did I talk about your mom yesterday?”
I took a deep breath and felt a little bit relieved to realize that it wasn’t something that important after all. I was used to that kind of conversation, even though it made me sad, since he usually stood up for her in the end.
“Yes, dad, but just the usual, you know, blond, tall, smelled like mint” I remembered while I was taking my dish and got up.
“Nicolle, sit down, please” he stared at me with his blue eyes and it looked like it was an order.
I had no idea what was going on, but if it was serious enough for my dad to boss me around…
“Okay.” I agreed, sitting down again.
He looked like he was trying to control himself so that he could continue his speech.
“Nick, you know your mom handed you in when you were only six months, right?” he asked and I nodded, leaning on the couch. “Child, what I have to say is serious and I need you to handle it until the very end.”
He paused. The pizza I ate started to move around in my stomach, bothering me.
“Your mom didn’t leave you here because she wanted to, but because she needed to keep you away from the place she lived in. She had to leave you here, with me, so that I could take care of you and make you a good person. When I met her, we spent the whole week together. She told me about her world and I realized it wasn’t easy. Our story wasn’t just a concert and a single night, and I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you sooner. Actually, I’m sorry about everything I have to tell you today… You can’t imagine how much it hurts to tell everything like this. But the point is: she loved you, as much as I do love you. And last week, I discovered that unfortunately your mom has passed away.” He told me with every strength he had, even though he let some tears roll down his cheeks, which he cleaned fast. Then, he took a box from the table, one I haven’t seen before, opened it and showed me everything that was inside.
“I thought that it wasn’t a good idea to tell you, dear. You always seemed hurt about your mom, but, then, today I received a message and now I have no other choice but to tell you the truth. The man that came here earlier wanted to wait for you, but I begged him to let me speak with you first. I needed to tell you the whole story. You’ve probably already studied about Europe and must know that there are a lot of small countries there. Your mom lived in one of those countries. Actually, your mom ruled one of them. When I met her, she had just received a convocation to claim the throne of Combellmont and, like any 18-year-old girl, she wanted… An adventure before her real life began. Like in the romances she used to read.
“We met when I went to live in New York. She came on a trip, running away from her hotel, and we met in the middle of Central Park. It was love at first sight and we had the best week in the world. Nine days, to be exact, but she always needed to go back and sleep at the hotel, so I left her on the street corner so that the guard that escorted her would be aware of me. Until the last day, when her sister saw and denounced us. She was grounded after that and I got beaten up by her guards. And well, I thought I’d never see her again, so needless to say it was a surprise when she came back, fifteen months later, knocking on my old Brooklyn apartment with you in her arms. She asked me to take care of you, keeping you safe and sound, away from her world. She asked me to give you a normal life until the day she would come back and explain everything. That she would do it once you turned 18… I wished she had time to do that…
“Ever since, I could only watch you grow and kept collecting everything that I saw about her. Her marriage with an ambassador that was twice her age, her coronation as queen, the birth to her first child for the media, the death of her husband and, most recently, her own death, not long after giving birth to her second child. Oh, Nick, I would have loved to tell you all of this at the right time, but it so happens that you need to know it now. This afternoon, your mom’s kingdom counselor came in and brought this letter to you. You see: with her death, it would be pleasing if her oldest royal child ascended to the throne, but she’s only a kid! And as you are, in fact, the oldest of them all… They demand you there for some kind of training. And, being crystal clear: you are obligated to do this, or they will appeal to judicial measures to make you do it anyway. They can even take you by force, Nick.”
After hearing all of that, I ran to the bathroom. My head was spinning, my face was wet with sweat and tears, and I wanted to throw up every slice of pizza I ate. My dad didn’t even dare to chase me, he just let me go.
I was overwhelmed, to say the least. My head was exploding with the wave of information I’ve received and I’ve never been so shocked in my entire life. I don’t know how long I’ve stayed there, hiding, puking, crying. I was hugging my knees against my chest, just hearing my heartbeats. How come my life turned upside down in less than one hour? My mom, a queen. Country, children, baby, my dad, kingdom… Those words were spinning in my head and making me dizzy. How come my father hid everything from me? How come my mom found it better that way? And, mainly, what was I supposed to do now? I had no clue how someone could actually obligate me to do something, after all, besides taking care of my father and the house, I’ve never had to lead, or been a leader.