Artemis stopped the car in front of the school. Vince’s hands had been balled up into fists the whole ride over, flattening one of his army men into an unrecognizable piece of green plastic. She took a chance and ran her long nails through his bushy hair. He quaked under her touch.
“Are you going to be good today?”
He didn’t answer. Didn’t breathe.
“Huh, Vinny? Are you going––”
“Dad’s in trouble.”
She retraced her hand. “Vince, we haven’t seen him in months. How can you––”
“He’s in trouble for what he did. For leaving us.”
“You’re damn right he’s in trouble for leavin us, and if he thinks he can wheedle his way back into our lives so easily, he’s got another thing comin.”
Tension built up in the idling car. For a second she thought Vince was making the car move with his shaking. She asked, “Has he tried talking to you, Vinny? Vinny…?”
Tears built up in his eyes; his bottom lip quivered. He looked like a five-year-old. Artemis ran her lime-green fingernails through his hair again.
“Don’t touch me!”
He smacked her hand away so hard, it struck the window behind her. A violent throb started in the tips of her fingers and ended at her wrist. She stifled a gasp, cradling her hand. This was the second time he hit her today. A fresh purple flower of a bruise was tattooed to her backside when he pushed her to the ground. At first the pain scared her, then, gradually, rage took over.
“You little shit,” she said.
“You hurt me.” Her labored breathing and his snorting fogged up the windows. “I think you broke my hand, you little shit.”
“Something bad is gonna happen to dad.”
“Who gives a shit about your dad?”
The way he idolized Gerry was sickening. She wanted to smack him but her hand hurt worse than it did ten seconds ago. The pain kept rising. She would have to cancel her next appointment. A tear streaked down her cheek, though not from the pain.
Vince looked at her, appearing more his age than ever before. “We have to help dad,” he said.
Artemis gaped. “You’re a lot stupider than the doctors say if you think we’re going to help him.”
He leaned toward her, an inch from her face, exhaling, “Something bad is gonna happen to him, mom. We have to help him.”
“I don’t even know where he is! You broke my hand, Vincent Scott. Do you not care bout me at all?”
He backed away, donning the infantile persona. “I care about you.”
“Yeah, whatever.” She leaned back on the headrest. “I don’t know what to do with you anymore.” Putting her good hand on her head, she said, “Just get out of the car.”
“What about dad?”
“Vincent, I do not know where he is.”
She started. “Has he been talking to you?”
His bottom lip quivered––a sign he was retracting into himself.
“Tell me the truth, Vince.” She poked him in the chest with her good hand. “Don’t play stupid with me now. Answer me. Has he been tryin to talk to you?”
A tear trailing his cheek, he shook his head.
“I’m not lying! I haven’t talked to dad since he left!”
“Then how do you know he’s in trouble?”