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FishHook

by Joni Snyder

     "Your momís here, Thomas," Mrs. Nova yelled down the hall with an annoyed voice. I grabbed my sleeping bag and pillow and say bye to my best friend Greg. I had spent another weekend at his house, and it was now Sunday, and I had to go home. The Novas were going to church, and Mrs. Nova wouldnít let me go with them. She said that I didnít have a proper church outfit, and it would be best if I went home. I had been trying to call my mom since 7 that morning, but she didnít answer till 10. Now the Novas had to attend the later service, and I think that is what irritated Gregís mom.

     As I entered the Novaís pearly living room, I see my mother standing next to the front door wearing something that is definitely not church clothes. It was the same short little black dress that she wore every Saturday night and the same red high heels that always matched her lipstick. Her make-up was smeared and she looked tired.

     "Itís about time, Thomas, what took so long? Letís go!" My mom seemed annoyed too, but I knew she was just hung over. I could smell the stale liquor on her breath and the cigarettes on her clothes. She didnít usually wake up until 12:00 on Sundays and would then spend the rest of the day lying on the couch watching movies on Lifetime and talking on the phone.

      Outside I could feel the cold November wind on my arms.

     "Whereís your coat?" she asked as if I had one.

     "Probably at the store with my school clothes and new shoes," I say in a sarcastic voice. She ignores my comment as we both get into her Ď92 Ford Mustang. I swear she loves this car more than she loves me. Her ex-boyfriend Larry bought it for her about three years ago. He was a wealthy man who had some job at the courthouse. Larry would always bring me new toys and candy when he would come to pick her up. Aunt Jenny said that he really loved Mom and would have been a great dad for me. They broke up for good after dating off and on for five years because mom wouldnít stop drinking and sleeping with different men. Every once in a while I run into Larry downtown, and he gives me a couple bucks and asks how Momís doing.

      We only live about four blocks from Gregís, so it was a quick drive home. My grandpa gave the house to mom when he died. I was just a baby then. Our neighborhood is full of big houses with nice yards. We live by lots of kids that go to my school, but Greg is my only friend. We have been friends since we were five. Now weíre twelve. In those seven years our moms have never gotten along. Actually, my mom doesnít get along with very many women at all.

      She says, "The woman in this town are afraid of losing their husbands and thatís why nobody likes me."

      She also says, "Mrs. Nova is a judgmental bitch who only lets me hang out with Greg because he is fat, and nobody else will play with him."

     I hate when she says this because the Novas are always nice to me and bought me school supplies one year. My opinion is that theyíre really religious, and thatís why they wonít let Greg spend the night at my house.

      As we walk in the house, my mom mentions that her gentleman friend is over, and that I should be on my best behavior. I grunt and say the Lordís name in vain under my breath but loud enough that she can hear. She tells me to watch my mouth as she slaps the back of my head.

     "Why hello Thomas, your lovely mom has told me so much about you," the man says.

     "Hi," I say and head up to my room. As I walk upstairs I realize that the goofy guy looks familiar. I go to my room and think about it for a while, but I just canít remember where I have seen his slimy face.

      Itís around 9:00 p.m. when I finally hear slime face tell Mom bye and the front door close. My stomach has been rumbling with hunger, and I am thankful to go down and get something to eat without having to deal with Mr. Sleazeball. I go to the kitchen and grab a frozen pizza and throw it in the microwave. My mom yells from her room to be quiet because she needs her sleep. She has work in the morning. She is a hotel receptionist and has been working at the same hotel for 5 years. I grab a soda and my pizza, plop myself on the couch and watch TV.

      I wake up at 7:30 a.m. and realize I had fallen asleep on the couch. I have to be to school at 8:00 a.m. and know that I have to rush to make it. I run up to my room and throw on jeans, a shirt and my favorite Dallas Cowboy sweater. I slip on my shoes and run to grab a soda before I leave. As I go to open the fridge door, I notice a note on the front. Itís from mom and says that she loves me and to have a good day. I am shocked because she has never left me a note before. I grab the Pepsi and go to school.

      I arrive at school about ten minutes early and look for Greg who gets a ride every morning. As I walk toward the parent drop-off, something catches my eye. Itís momís boyfriend. Whatís he doing at my school? Then it hits me. I know why heís familiar. The boyfriend is Caleb Johnsonís dad. Caleb and I use to be on the same football team when we were younger. We had been good friends until he started making fun of Gregís weight last year, and I stuck up for him. I turned around quickly, so they wouldnít see me and headed towards class.

      All day I canít stop thinking about Calebís dad and my mom. My mind goes back and forth from positive to negative thoughts. Maybe Calebís parents got a divorce or are separated? Or maybe that man really is a sleaze and is cheating on his wife with my mom? Out of all the guys in this town my mom had to pick Calebís dad. Damn. Mom seems so happy. Sheíd even left a note this morning, and she never does that. At lunch I want to tell Greg and see what he thinks, but heíll just tell his mom, so I keep my mouth shut.

      When I get home from school, I see the Mustang in the driveway and wonder why mom is home so early. She usually stops by the Shanty Tavern for a couple drinks before coming home from work. When I get inside I hear them in her room. Why is he here and where is his car? He has to be sneaking around, and mom must know heís married. She and I act as if I donít know he is here.

     "Hey sport, how was school?" he asks.

     "It was fine, what did you say your name was again?" I donít want him to know that I know who he is.

     "My name is Leonard. Yesterday I noticed you didnít have a jacket, so I picked this up for you. Itís a size 8. I hope you like it. Your mom said youíre a big Cowboys fan like me!"

     He hands me the jacket and I stand frozen. Itís the coolest jacket Iíve ever seen. It looks like the one my favorite quarterback Tony Romo wears. And it has the official NFL logo, so I know it was expensive.

     "Well, arenít you going to say thank you?" Mom asks with annoyance in her voice.

     "Uh yeah. Thanks." For a moment I forget that heís Calebís dad and that heís sneaking around on his family. Mom looks happy and I feel myself smile. Hoping he didnít see it, I quickly stiffen my face.

     "I thought you and I could go pick up dinner at Burger Shack. We have to take her car though, mineís in the shop."

     This is when it hits me. Heís a liar and nothing more. Heís trying to buy me off, so I wonít care that heís a cheater who will hurt my mom. I saw him driving his Range Rover when he dropped Caleb off at school in the morning. I didnít know what to say and Burger Shack did sound good.

     "Burger Shack is my favorite," is all that comes out of my mouth as we head out the door. I could have kicked myself for letting my guard down so easy. He tells me to wear my new jacket, so I put it on.

     We get back with the food, eat and he leaves. Itís about 5:00, and I figure he is going to have dinner with his real family.

     After he leaves I plan to tell Mom about his double life but canít because she is too busy going on and on about how great he is. She starts telling me that they have been seeing each other for a while and all this crap about how he makes her want to be a better person. Wondering how she can be so naive, I just sit and listen to her babble on about him.

     Then she says, "I think heís going to ask me to marry him."

      I almost puke up Burger Shack. Is she serious? She doesnít know about his other family? She canít see through his lies. What am I suppose to do? I just nod my head and go to my room. The rest of the night I hear her downstairs humming and singing her favorite songs. I havenít seen her this happy in a long time, and I donít want to have to be the one to ruin it for her.

      I go to bed early and wake up when I hear mom getting ready for work. She always has coffee and a cigarette in the morning. I go downstairs and see her eating eggs and toast.

      "Good morning, angel. I made you breakfast."

      "You did what?" I ask.

      "Donít act so surprised. Iíve made breakfast before.

     Today is my late day so I donít have to be to work till 9:30. I was thinking I could drive you to school."

      "That would be great mom."

      After saying this, I start to think it might be a bad idea. What if she sees her knight in shining armor dropping Caleb off? I donít want her to find out like that.

     "Thatís ok mom. I donít mind walking," I say quickly.

     "Alright, youíre probably too big to have Mommy drop you off anyway. You better go get ready, so youíre not late."

      I finish my eggs and get ready for school. I see my new jacket on the couch and want to wear it. I pick it up and then put it down. I feel so guilty that Calebís cheating dad bought it for me and decide I canít wear it.

     "Bye mom," I yell as I open the front door.

     "Wait, honey, you forgot your coat. Itís cold out there."

      I donít want to argue and decide that itís too nice not to wear. Besides, what are the chances of Caleb noticing this jacket? I put it on and look in the mirror by the front door. It looks so nice on me. The coat makes my skinny little body look tough and it feels so good. I hate to admit it but I love this jacket.

      I walk to school and notice everybody checking out my new jacket. I start to forget where I got it and just enjoy all the attention I'm getting. Greg comes over to check out my new stylish gear.

      "Thatís really nice, did your mom get that for you?" he asks.

      "Uh no. Her new boyfriend got it for me," I tell him.

      As I am turning around to show him the back I see Caleb. He is getting out of his dadís car, and what is he wearing? What the Hell. Heís wearing my jacket! I canít believe this; his dad bought us both the same coat. I donít want them to see me, so I run to class.

      At lunch I leave my jacket in my locker and start walking to the cafeteria. Before I get there Caleb and his friends stop me in the hall.

      "Hey, Thomas, somebody told me that we have the same jacket." Caleb sounds ma, and I wonder if he knows about our parents.

      I start to feel sick and donít want to talk to him. I feel embarrassed, especially at the thought that he might know his dad bought it for me.

      "I guess we do," is all I can say as I walk past him.

      He grabs my arm and turns me around.

      "I donít know where you got it, but I donít want to see your loser ass wearing it when Iím wearing mine. Youíll make it look cheap."

      I ignore the comment and start walking down the hall. His friends and he keep yelling at me, saying how I'm poor and weak. They make comments about me never having a dad and that my momís the town slut. This last remark really pisses me off, and I canít take it anymore. I feel my blood get hot and my face flush. I hate Caleb and his stupid friends. I hate how they think they live these perfect little lives, when really their dads cheat on their moms. I want to go over there and tell Caleb that his perfect little life is one big lie. That my momís not a slut, but his dad is. I turn around and walk over to him.

      "What are you going to do Thomas, get your fat friend Greg to help you whip my ass? Gregís a fat little bitch just like you."

      Why wonít he shut up? I want to hit him, but Iíve never got in a fight before and donít know if I have it in me. He pushes me and I fall down. All his friends start laughing and calling me a fag. I get up and see everybody run over and start yelling fight. Without saying a word I clinch my fist and hit Caleb in the side of the head as hard as I can. He falls backwards, and I hear his head hit the school tile but I canít stop. I feel like an animal, and I straddle his body and keep throwing blows to his face. I feel blood squirting on my hands, but that doesnít stop me. I just keep yelling that his dad is screwing my mom and that he is a sleazeball just like his old man.

     I scream, "Your dad bought me that stupid coat, and I donít even want it."

     That is when Principal Fitch pulls me off of Caleb and drags me to his office. He tells me that he called my mother, and sheís on her way.

     The clock ticks and the minutes slowly go by. I wonder where Caleb is and how much trouble Iím going to be in. Mom ends up getting to the school about thirty minutes later, and she looks pissed. I see her walk into the attendance area and towards Mr. Fitchís office. Caleb and his dad stand up from two chairs in the corner of the room and move towards her. My mom gives Leonard a hug and says something to him before entering the office. I canít believe he hugged her in front of Caleb. Was I wrong? Did she know he was married? Did Caleb know everything, too? They were just keeping this from me? I feel myself getting heated again and try to take a couple deep breaths to calm down.

     My mom, Caleb and his dad all enter the office together. I see Caleb has a split lip and a blackeye and I feel bad for him. Then I look at his dad and my feelings quickly turn to anger.

      My mom doesnít even look at me when she comes in and immediately starts apologizing to Mr. Fitch. Finally, after finishing her "I donít know what Thomas was thinking," speech she turns to me.

      "Thomas Lee Castillo, I know I raised you better than this. Leonard and I both have to miss work to be here." The sound of her voice lowers, and I can see that she is really disappointed.

      "I work so hard to take care of you by myself, and this is how you act? Leonard bought you that expensive coat, and you beat up his son?"

     Sheís never talked to me like this, and I feel bad to have disappointed her. I can feel all the eyes in the room on me, and I know theyíre thinking they deserve an apology.

      "Well I am sorry, sorry that Calebís mouth wouldnít shut up until I punched him in the face. And Iím sorry that I have a stupid mom that dates married men."

     Momís face looks puzzled but my mouth just keeps going. I tell her what an embarrassment she has been over the last few years, and then I utter the words that a son should never say to his mother. As soon as they leave my mouth I wish they hadnít.

      "Everybody was right about you. Youíre nothing more than the town slut."

      Momís face shifts from a look of confusion to a state of shock. Her body freezes, and her face turns red with what must be embarrassment. I have never said anything even half that mean to her in my whole life. The room is silent, and I see that Calebís mouth is hanging wide open. I wish that somebody would say something.

      "Is that what this is about? You think Iím cheating on my wife? Gosh Thomas, you really think I am that kind of man? My wife and I have been separated for the last year, and weíre in the middle of a divorce." Leonard explains this as if it were all just a simple misunderstanding.

      "Oh" is all I can say. It takes every muscle in my face to hold back the tears, and my throat is dry. Iím so ashamed and disgusted with myself for thinking the worst of him and for calling my mom a slut. I close my eyes and wish this were all a bad dream.

     The principle suspends me for a week, and I apologize to Caleb and his dad. The drive home with mom is anything but pleasant. She yells at me, and I try not to open my mouth till sheís done.

      "How could you call me a slut? Iím your mother."

      She says this over and over. Each time her voice sounding sadder and like she might cry.

      "Well, donít you have anything to say for yourself? Some kind of explanation for your actions today?"

      I try to explain to her why I thought the things I did.

      "Itís just that youíre always drinking and dating different guys. Youíre not like other moms, and itís embarrassing. Youíre always wearing short dresses and lots of make up. Iím sorry mom. I guess I just worry about you." I shut up once I see that sheís crying.

      "I know I havenít been the best mother, but I want to try and be better. I really like Leonard, and I want us to be a family. Heís a great guy."

      We pull into the driveway and I look at our house. I guess it would be cool if we moved into the Johnson house. I think they have a pool.

      "Hey mom, you should see if Leonard and Caleb want to come over for dinner. I promise to clean up after we eat."

      "Thatís not a bad idea," she says. "And Thomas you will be doing a lot more than cleaning up after dinner. This week of suspension is going to consist of you doing stuff for me."

      I start to whine but stop when I realize that I am not a 12 year-old boy anymore. After today, I am an almost 13 year-old man.


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