Grounded in Air
Copyright © 2009 by the author under the pseudonym Gee Whillickers. All rights reserved.
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This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any actual place, event, or person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This story is intended for adults and contains subject matter not suitable for children. Parental Advisory in effect.
** 7 **
Donny listened to the nurse explain how to walk using the crutches and when he would be allowed to do so. He tried hard to pay attention, but he was exhausted. He was looking forward to going home to bed, and getting some sleep. It had been a very difficult day, both physically and emotionally. Despite his weariness his gut was still clenched tight. Nothing had changed in his life since he took off on his bike, nothing had been resolved, except now he didn't have one of the things that was most important to him, his bike. Sure, he was safe. But now things were worse than a few hours ago, not better.
Getting into the passenger side of his mom's minivan proved to be a bit more complicated than he had thought thanks to his splinted leg. Eventually his mom had to move the seat back as far as it would go to make room for his straightened leg. It was only after he levered himself inside that it occured to either of them that he could've ridden in the back with his leg propped up on the seat. The only words spoken between them while maneuvering into the van were about this topic, nothing else. The atmosphere was tense. Donny wanted to talk about moving, but he didn't know how, or if, he could open up a conversation with his mom. He wasn't sure there was any point. Usually, once she had made up her mind about something important, arguing or discussion was useless. So, he did what he had perfected into an art form over the past few months. He stared out of the windshield and pouted mightily.
Donny could see his mom's changing expressions out of the corner of his eye. He knew she was trying to figure out what to say, how to talk to him without it blowing up into an argument. He didn't care. He pointedly avoided looking at her. Eventually she did begin talking, but the topic surprised him. It wasn't about moving. It was about something even more anxiety producing.
"Honey, I'm concerned about you and Mr. Dorian," Laura said. Donny couldn't help notice she had said Mr. Dorian, not Fred.
She continued, noting his increased tension and his glare, "Just a minute Donny, let me finish. I am more grateful than words can express that he found you, and that you're OK. But I'm your mom, and I know you, and I'm not stupid. I saw how you held his hand, how you were looking at him. I know you care a lot for him. But..."
"I love him," muttered Donny, looking at the floor.
"Oh honey," Laura said, her voice strained and tired. "You're very young." Once again she stopped talking, seeing Donny's look. She took her right hand off the steering wheel and put it on Donny's knee, stopping him from talking. "Don't get defensive Donny, I'm not discounting what you're feeling. It's important, and I know that. I just mean things can change so quickly at your age. It would be so easy for you to get hurt, to feel guilty and confused about things. To have regrets later.
"I know Fred cares about you. He told me as much when I talked to him. I could tell he was sincere. But the potential for problems, for you to get hurt, is more than you probably understand. If anything...well, if anything...um...inappropriate were to happen..."
Donny stopped breathing. His eyes widened in the dark van. There was no way his mom could know anything. She just couldn't. She must be guessing. He began crying silently. He didn't know how it was possible for him to cry again. He thought that he would be out of tears by now.
Laura looked over at her crying son, then pulled over and stopped the van. Unbuckling her seat belt she shifted over towards him. "Oh, honey," she said quietly and drew him into a hug.
Donny hugged back for a few seconds before finally talking. "Mom, no. Don't think like that. It's not that. That's not why I'm crying. He's not doing anything wrong, I promise. I just love him." Donny saw the look in his mom's eyes at the way he worded his answer but he didn't give her time to respond. Something shifted in his mind and he began opening up, his emotions spilling out, all of the thoughts and feelings of the past few weeks, months, maybe years, spilling out of him.
"Mom you don't understand. I've tried so hard to be a good kid. I know it's been hard lately, with money and all, but...I've felt awful for so long. I've been so alone. For the first time in ages I let that change, I have friends again. I couldn't be alone any more. I tried, but I just couldn't. Now you want us to move again and I..." He stopped, crying loudly again.
"Oh sweetie." Donny felt his mom draw him into another hug for a moment. "Why would you want to try to be alone? I've been so worried about that. You never seem to want to have any friends."
"Because there's no point! And it hurts too much!!"
"What do you mean?"
Donny couldn't believe it. How could she not understand? "Mom! We move all the time. All the time!! Every time I get to know someone, away we go. It hurts so much. I can't do that anymore. I just can't!!" He wasn't breathing regularly. Repeated sobs were making him sound like he had hiccups.
Laura gazed at her son for a long moment. Just watching him. Donny saw his mom's expression slowly change. He had trouble figuring it out for a minute, he wasn't used to seeing that particular look on his mom's face. Finally he realized what it was. Guilt. Guilt and shame. She reached to his hair and smoothed it back gently, while looking at his face. It was very quiet in the van. Two or three cars passed by while they looked at each other, the swoosh of them passing causing the van to rock ever so slightly.
"Donny.... Donny, I'm so sorry. I didn't realize how much you were hurting. I should have worked harder to figure out why you've looked so down. I've been so focused on trying to find us a nice place to live, on earning enough money to be able to give us a nice life. Maybe I haven't thought this through. I've been so busy trying to look after you I've forgotten to look after you. I don't know. Maybe we need to look at things a bit differently."
Donny felt a sliver of of hope build in his chest. "You mean we might not move?"
Laura's eyes looked at Donny steadily before she answered. Her serious and intent look letting him know he shouldn't jump the gun. "Don, it's just not that simple. We still need to buy groceries. Pay the rent. I don't know. I honestly don't know right now. But I think I need to see what I can do. You're almost a teenager. You need more than just your mom in your life. Maybe you need to be settled down somewhere. I'm going to sleep on it tonight and do some thinking on this tomorrow."
It wasn't a guarantee, but Donny felt it was the best he could ask for right now.
* * *
One thing about his mom, Donny thought, when she made up her mind about something there was no equivocating. Things happened fast after a decision had been made. Sometimes he hated that. Sometimes it left him no time at all to try and changer her mind and build up any reasonable argument to what she had decided. Then there were the other times, like on Thursday, the next day after Donny's bike accident.
Thursday afternoon, Donny was sitting in the living room playing video games. He watched his mom hang up the phone. "I must be insane," she said, shaking her head.
"You really did it?" asked Donny and he dropped the controller beside him, the game forgotten. He could hear his mom's uncertainty, but he just couldn't help the excitement in his voice.
"Yes. I told them a family situation had come up and I couldn't take the contract."
Donny didn't know what to say. Guilt and gratitude was an odd combination. He just looked steadily at his mom.
Laura walked into the living room and sat down across from Donny. "Donny, this is new territory for both of us. I'm going to try...try mind you...to find something here to support us. We'll see. Maybe we won't have to move, but the next couple of weeks are going to be key. Beyond that, I'll need to do what I need to do to make sure I'm taking care of us. I know you're glad we're staying, at least for now, but I still don't have work, and money is tighter than ever. The hamburger place agreed to take me back, as a manager this time, but it's still part time and lousy pay. I'll need something different. Donny, I can't make you any promises here. My first priority is to keep you fed and make sure there's a roof over your head. I'll do that in whatever way I need to if it comes to that."
"I know mom. Thanks."
"Donny." She hesitated. "Donny, when the phone rang earlier. When you were still upstairs. Well, that was Mr. Dorian."
Donny sat up straighter, the sudden movement causing his splinted leg to fall off of the footstool and onto the floor. Ouch. "What? Why didn't you tell me? Can you hand me the phone please, I need to call him back."
Laura looked at her son. "I'm not sure if that's a good idea Donny. I'm just feeling very uncomfortable about this, um, relationship, or whatever it is."
"Mom!! You can't stop me from talking to him. You can't!"
Laura's expression was harder now. "I can and I will if I feel it's in your best interests. Now, no more arguing. I need to think on this for a while before I make any decisions." She didn't give him time to argue, just turned and walked into the kitchen after speaking.
Donny didn't even bother with his crutches. He made it up to his room on one leg incredibly quickly before slamming his door so hard he heard a distinct cracking noise. He crawled under his covers, even covering his head, and ignored his mom's attempts to talk to him. He had to ignore her for ten minutes before she finally gave up and went downstairs.
Lying there in his bed, an hour later, feeling sorry for himself, Donny was slowly coming to a realization. The way he was handling this, and the way he had been handling some of the other problems in his life lately. It really wasn't working very well for him.
He had become so used to hiding and avoiding. Running, and isolating himself, not to mention pouting, when problems came up that it was almost second nature to him. But where had that got him? Incredibly lonely. Isolated. Friendless. Now he had managed to get his bike wrecked, his leg broken, his mom angry and worried, his relationship with Fred in jeopardy, and his friends all worried about him.
His friends....Oh god, Rick! He hadn't called Rick yet! Suddenly he felt like a selfish idiot. He needed to call and talk to Rick, to explain and apologize. For maybe the first time in his life, Donny looked at what he had been doing, how he was handling things, and he felt, well, childish. He was deeply ashamed of himself. He felt stupid and small.
Maybe, just maybe, it was time to try some different strategies. Maybe it was time to try and approach some of these things head on. Just maybe it was time to, well, to admit that he had something to do with his own problems, and he might have something to do with fixing them.
He couldn't do anything about his bike and racing right now, he knew that, so he put it in the back of his mind. That didn't really matter until his leg healed anyway. He did know he could do something about his friendship with Rick. And he wasn't sure, but maybe he could do something about his mom's worries about Fred too. For some reason, now that he was really thinking about it instead of just getting defensive and reacting, he could for the first time begin to see things from her point of view, to understand why she was concerned.
He threw his covers back and got out of bed, levering himself up on his splint. He looked down at himself. He was a mess. Sweaty, clothes wrinkled, hair tangled, tear tracks all over his face. Again, for reasons he couldn't quite understand, he felt bad about this. He needed to do something about that first, just to feel better about himself.
With some renewed determination in his bearing he hopped on his good leg into the bathroom to clean up and change.
Somewhat later, him feeling a lot cleaner and the bathroom a lot messier, Donny hung up the phone with a smile on his face, thinking about his conversation with Rick. He had talked to Rick, and apologized. Rick didn't even seem to be expecting an apology which surprised Donny, but he gave it anyway. Several times. He still felt bad about putting his friend in that situation. Ricky had explained to Donny about what had happened after Donny took off, how his mom had reacted and how Fred and Ray and Patrick became involved. This made Donny feel even more ashamed and apologetic. Rick had gone over to Ray's, well actually to Patrick's because Ray was over at his house, after the phone calls. He had waited there until Patrick and Ray decided to go out and search for Donny themselves. By this time it was almost suppertime, and Rick had to go home so his own parents didn't worry about him. He had spent a sleepless night wondering and worrying about Donny.
"Oh god Rick, I'm so sorry. I'm such an idiot. It was like the middle of the night when we got home and then this morning, well, no excuses. I'm sorry. I feel stupid for not calling you first thing."
"It's ok Donny, I know it was all a mess. I was at school all day anyway, so I wouldn't have been home to answer your call. I'm just glad you're all right. I've never seen anyone so upset. When you took off like that I couldn't believe it. You know, some of the kids at school were wondering where you were too. I just told them you were sick."
Donny heard this, but couldn't quite believe it. Some of the kids at school were wondering about him? He didn't think anybody even knew he existed, aside from Ray and Ricky.
"I couldn't believe I could get so mad either. I wasn't even thinking. It was so stupid. I feel awful for causing so many problems and making people worry. I have to make it up to everyone somehow."
"Well, come and meet me at the convenience store and we'll hang out if you're allowed. That'll make it up to me," said Rick.
Donny laughed. "I'm not walking on my crutches all the way there. Why don't you come over here and hang out for a bit?"
"Oh ya, sorry I forgot." Donny could practically hear him blushing over the phone. "Ok, I'm on my way. We'll see you in a bit. I just gotta do a chore for my mom first."
After the conversation Donny figured it would take Ricky half an hour to get to his place. Maybe that would be enough time to talk to his mom, at least a bit, about Fred. This, he wasn't looking forward to. The last two times it had ended up in a fight. He could feel his heart rate increase just thinking about it, but he knew he had to try. He really was tired of running and hiding all the time.