The Boy in the Gray Hoodie

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THREE | Selfie

Rain pelted the dark green poncho covering her shoulders as she stood outside in front of the high school. Exiled, like a usurper. Broken down by the system and hung out to dry. She snorted, amused by the metaphor that contrasted so strongly with her wet socks. There was still a smile on her face when he showed up, but it didn’t last long. The sight of the black sedan wiped all expression from her features. It pulled up next to the curb. No one got out.

She stood there waiting, unmoving. Rain continued to ping against the plastic sheet, dripping from the hood onto her nose. Blonde hair, brown from the moisture, veined its way around her neck, each split-end forming its own branch. She tucked her thumbs into her fists and scraped at her palms. Waiting.

The passenger side window rolled down, black tinting giving way to a shaded interior. His expression—or lack thereof—was annoyingly like her own. They both knew how to hide what they were feeling. The gift of heredity.

“Get in the car, Lisa.”

She stared in open defiance, still scraping her palms. The slight discomfort was a nice distraction from the dread of getting into the car with him.

“I don’t have time for this. I have to go back to work, so either you get in this car right now, or take the bus home. It’s your choice.” The large hand gripping the steering wheel gestured towards her and she felt her eyes squint just a little.

She would take the bus if she could, but she’d spent the last of her money on spray paint. It was for a good cause. But now she was broke, and the black sedan was her only option. Unless she wanted to walk twenty miles in the rain. Was it possible to get blisters from wet socks, or did that only happen when they were dry?

“Stop playing games, Lisa. I really don’t have time for your nonsense.”

The poncho crinkled as she bent down and peered into the car. “Then why are you even here?” she demanded logically. How could he spend time he didn’t have?

“I made time for you. I’m your father. That’s what I do.”

“But you’re a doctor and that comes first. You said it yourself,” she reminded him.

“Lisa, I swear to god if you don’t get in this car right now,” he stopped, no intention of finishing the threat. She knew what he wasn’t saying anyway.

“Fine.” She stepped down from the curb and yanked open the door, hitting the corner on the sidewalk. He cringed at the scraping sound but remained silent as she climbed in and pulled the door shut as hard as she could. She felt his eyes on her but didn’t look in his direction. The car remained parked in front of the high school, engine running, rain pelting off the windshield instead of her dripping poncho. She put her backpack on the floor between her feet.

“You’re angry.” He said.

"You’re angry,” she redirected.

“No, I’m not.”

“Oh?” her eyebrows shot upward, crinkling her forehead. “So, you expected this?”

“I can’t say that I didn’t plan for it. Especially after your suspension last year. Expulsion was the natural next step for a troubled student such as yourself.”

“Could you not talk to me like I’m one of your patients, please?” she snapped, placing her wet shoes up on the dash to soak in the heat rushing from the vents. He reached over and pushed her legs down. Her feet slid off the dash and thumped onto the floor.

“Believe me, I’m not.”

“Well then talk to me like I’m your daughter,” she said.

“How should that sound, exactly?” he asked, peering at her with that same vacant expression. He was thinking something—she knew that for sure. But he would never reveal what it was. Her father didn’t reveal anything until openness worked to his advantage. He was strategic that way. “Stop chewing your nails.”

Her hand dropped from her mouth. “That’s a start.”

“I’m very disappointed, Lisa,” he exhaled and put the car in drive, pulling away from the curb. “We’re going to talk about this.”

She cringed. “I thought you said you had to go back to work.”

“A quick discussion of consequences won’t take very long. I’m taking you home for now. I’ll see you there tonight. You can spend that time packing your things. You’re going to stay with Pamela Dene.”

“You’re sending me to Pam?” she sounded incredulous. Felt that way too. “You’ve got to be kidding. I thought you were punishing me, not sending me on vacation.” Not that she was complaining. Just surprised, that’s all.

“I haven’t told you what the consequences are yet.” He admitted, flicking on the blinker. It made a continuous noise like a bug stuck in the dash. Click, click, click, click, click...

“Well, what are they then? You can’t ground me. I’m already home all the time. But I guess you don’t want to keep me at the house anymore, right? You’re finally willing to admit that you’re sick of me—”

“I am sick of your behavior, Lisa. And I’m tired of getting phone calls at work about it. What you did this time was actually criminal. I had to pull some strings to keep the school from pressing charges, you know that, don’t you?” his tone remained removed, too calm for the conversation. Where was the outraged parent? And who was this robot driving the car?

Rolling her eyes, Lisa reached out and switched on the radio. Oldies blasted from the speakers. She didn’t recognize the song, but it had a good melody. Resistant, and almost sinister. Maybe a little whiny in that way that female singers were in the fifties and sixties. ”You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys...”

The music stopped abruptly. “Hey, I liked that. It was actually pretty good,” Lisa said, frowning. “Why do you always steal my joy?”

He gave her a sidewise look. “You painted expletives on a bathroom wall and got expelled. Your brand of joy is the dangerous kind.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’m not going to argue.”

“Cool.”

“I want your phone, your music player, your laptop, everything. All electronics are confiscated until your return.” He announced.

“What?” Lisa’s jaw dropped. ”What?"

He looked at her. “You heard me.”

She stared at him, hating every graying whisker on his face, every mole, every widened pore, and doubly hating the fact that his eyes were brown like hers—a reminder that they were actually related, and she had not been dropped off on his doorstep as an infant.

“No.” she snapped, crossing her arms. “Not going to happen. You can’t take my shit. It’s mine.”

“I don’t want your shit,” he replied. “I want your twelve-hundred-dollar laptop that I bought for your homework. You don’t need it now that you’re expelled. And I want your eight-hundred-dollar iPhone. I bought you that to keep in touch with me, to keep you safe, but I won’t need to worry about that while you’re with Pamela. It’s not like you ever call me anyway unless you want some new device. Like your seven-hundred-dollar iPad that was supposed to be used for notetaking during class, which was apparently how you were able to draw a penis over a picture of your history teacher’s face.”

“He was teaching us about palimpsests. I was just demonstrating the concept.” Lisa said, unable to hide her smile. “It didn’t hurt anyone.”

“Perhaps not,” he conceded, turning off the highway toward the suburbs where their empty house waited. “But once you crossed the line from the digitally disrespectful to the physical realm of the criminally negligent, I realized it was time to step in.”

“Oh, so you just figured that out.” She nodded. “Right.”

He gave a deep sigh, holding something back. “Things haven’t been easy since Fiona and I divorced. I understand that this has been difficult for you. I wish you had seen the therapist per the referral I gave you, but you have always done your own thing, as the youths say these days.”

“You know me so well,” she mumbled, staring out the window. When she felt a tap on her arm, she looked over. He was holding out his hand.

“First things first. We’ll start with your phone, and I’ll collect the rest tonight. You have until then to say your goodbyes.”

Lisa glared at his outstretched hand. She thought about jumping out of the car and hitting the pavement, running home, collecting all of her technology and running away to Mexico but it was an idea rooted in fear. And that was something that Lisa refused to give in to. She never did anything out of fear. That was the cornerstone of her life philosophy—if she had one, that is. Everyone around her made decisions based in fear. Fear of confrontation, of regret, of failure. The only fear she allowed herself to engage in was the fear of fear itself. That was more than enough to keep her motivated. Did it result in some mistakes? Sure. Of course. What life philosophy didn’t lead you down a few twisted paths? She didn’t care. Life was meant to be lived. And life could be lived without crutches like phones and laptops. There were other ways of keeping herself entertained anyway.

“Fine,” she said with a shrug and pulled out her phone, slapping it onto his palm. “There you go. There’s terrible reception at Pam’s house anyway.”

“I’m glad you’re reacting to this maturely for once, Lisa. It makes my job a lot easier.” He told her, tucking the phone into the pocket of his jacket.

“Thanks. Oh, I forgot to tell you. 1990 wants its windbreaker back. They called last fall, and the one before that, I just keep forgetting to give you the message.” Lisa smiled triumphantly out the window, amused at her own dig.

He raised one eyebrow—as much of a reply as she could expect—and then turned back to the road.

It was still pouring when they made it to the house. Lisa hesitated to open the door, though she was definitely ready to get out of the car and away from him. But she was waiting for him to say something, anything, about the expulsion. Would he send her to another school? “How long do I have to stay with Pam?” she asked.

“Until I say you can come back.” He answered without hesitation as if he’d anticipated the question. Of course he had.

“What about next semester?” she asked hesitantly.

“You seem more concerned about school than the average expellee,” he noted curiously. “Why might that be?”

Lisa lifted her shoulders. “I’m unusual.”

He gave a small nod. “There’s no doubt about that.”

“So...are you going to send me back to school?” she pressed. “My grades are actually really good. I could catch up and maybe graduate on time...” He looked at her for a moment, thinking silent thoughts. She felt uncomfortable under the scrutiny and squirmed in her seat, scrunching her toes in her still-wet socks.

“We’ll discuss it when you come back,” he finally replied.

“Fine.” She shrugged, pretending not to care. “Whatever.”

He pointedly glanced toward the house. “I’ll see you tonight.” He said.

“Can I have my phone back for a minute?” she asked, holding out her hand.

“No. Punishment is immediate and unforgiving. That’s probably the most important lesson you’ll ever learn from high school,” his self-righteous tone made her anger flare up, but she tempered it with a reminder that she would soon be miles away with Pamela, and things would be better.

“Your phone then?” she pressed, still holding out her hand.

His eyes narrowed, but he complied, slowly retrieving his phone from the pocket of his blue windbreaker and placing it reluctantly in her palm.

Lisa put in the passcode—4297, her birthday—and opened the camera app. Switching it to the front lens, she leaned back until they were both in the picture. “Smile,” she ordered, showing her straight, white teeth. Thousands of dollars at the orthodontist’s office hadn’t gone to waste—unlike all the money spent on private schools. Each one had rejected her enrollment after the first semester, happy to label her a “problem child” and send her to the next institution. Her father’s reluctance to enroll her in yet another school was understandable, but he had to know that it wasn’t entirely her fault. She didn’t purposely sabotage things. It just...happened.

Behind her, his mouth shifted from a flat line to a slightly curved one. She snapped the picture and then handed back his phone. “What was the purpose of that?” he demanded, tucking the device back into his pocket.

Lisa climbed out of the car, dragging her backpack with and shaking off her raincoat uselessly as more rain gathered in its wrinkles. “A selfie. To remember me by. In case you decide you don’t want me to come back this time,” she answered. It was more honest than she’d been all day.

“Don’t be dramatic,” he rolled his eyes and reached across the seat to grab the door handle. “I expect you to be packed and ready to go by tonight. We’ll leave tomorrow morning, early.”

“Early? But it’s a Saturday,” she grumbled.

“I have to work.”

“Oh, right.” She clicked her tongue and gave him a thumbs-up. “Shoulda guessed.”

“Yeah, see you tonight.” He shut the door. Moments later, the car pulled out of the driveway.

Lisa stood in the rain, watching the sedan disappear at the end of the street. When it was gone, she turned and headed up the walk. Her sneakers squished in the rain, reminding her that she would need to strip off her wet clothes first thing, then start packing. The idea of going to Pam’s house wasn’t exactly unappealing, but there was something about being sent away...some subcutaneous wound inflicted by the notion of being unwanted by her own father. Unwanted in her own home. It was that part she disliked, not the trip itself.

Retrieving the house keys from her bag, she unlocked the door and stepped inside. The entryway echoed the sound of the closing door, reminding her that the house was empty. Slipping off her shoes and poncho, she dropped them and her backpack under the coat rack and headed for the stairs. She stripped on her way up, leaving wet socks and her t-shirt on the steps and her skirt—mandatory academic wear—on the railing. She was in her tank top and underwear by the time she reached her bedroom. It was easy to stay that way, half-naked, while she packed for the true exile. Two duffel bags later, her stomach began to growl. Lisa had managed to pack all of the essentials, and some extras, including a book she’d meant to read last summer but had never gotten around to it. There would be plenty of time for things like reading at Pam’s house. The woods were a good place for quiet activities like that. Reading, thinking, serial-killing—if Forensic Files was to be believed. That was Pam’s favorite late-night show and they would be watching reruns together again soon, Lisa had no doubt.

Downstairs, the lights were still off. She flicked them on as she traipsed from room to room in a floral kimono, feeling somewhat like a dejected heiress in an empty palace. Her childhood home was a large one for a family of three. Even bigger now that three had become two. Two was soon to be one, and at that point, the house may very well become a cavern. Her father still hadn’t replaced the furniture that Fiona had taken with her when she left.

"Fiona,” Lisa said the word slowly as she passed the family photo still leaning against the wall in the hallway outside the kitchen. It was easy to see what people valued most—and least—when they moved. Especially after a divorce. “Mom, you forgot something,” she mumbled at the smiling woman in the photograph. She kicked it with her toe as she walked by, letting it flop onto the carpet.

The kitchen light flickered to life as she entered, automatic sensors being the only successfully installed upgrade. It dated back to the pre-divorce era, circa six and a half years ago. Other upgrades had been planned, but never executed. A sign that everyone had given up long ago on making this house a home.

Lisa had the feeling that when she finally moved out, the house would immediately go up for sale. Her father already practically lived in the city, spending more nights in the hospital than he did at the house. He lived to work—a phrase reminiscent of old arguments between her parents.

Sighing, she shook those thoughts from her head. Difficult to think about anything else in this tomb of a house, for sure. But she hadn’t tried yet. Couldn’t say it was impossible until she’d tried.

There were carrot sticks in the fridge and some hummus. She grabbed them both and headed back upstairs to finish gathering up her electronics for the slaughter. Lisa made it halfway up the steps before realizing that her laptop and iPad were both in her backpack. She stretched out, put her food on the landing, and hurried back down to get them.

Bare feet slapped the wood floor of the entryway as she walked over and began digging through her backpack for the contraband. They were easy to find amidst thin notepads and textbooks. Tucking them under her arms, she turned to go back to her room.

Behind her, the doorbell rang.

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