He was supposed to be at practice but didn’t have the strength, so he decided to sleep in and stay home. When he did decide to go downstairs, she was sitting in the kitchen scrolling her phone, half smiling at pictures of cats or ferrets or baby penguins or whatever came across her screen between sips of coffee, her face framed by the window behind her, a brown silhouette against a gray, rainy sky.
They might as well have been living in separate houses; she had her space, her schedule, and her life, and Angel had his. There was apparently some new man in the picture, but Angel had long since stopped caring. It wasn’t that she dated a lot of men – depending on how you define “a lot” – it was just that Angel no longer really cared what his mother did. He just wanted to make it through his last year of school, graduate, and leave. Get a job as a coach somewhere and live happily ever after.
This wasn’t a home. It was a waiting room.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. Heavy raindrops hit the window, randomly at first, the drops still discernible as rhythmic individuals, then more steadily as the individual beats morphed into a single sustained sound. Rain had to be the original white noise.
She glanced upwards. “Was practice canceled?”
“Don’t know,” said Angel.
Angel wondered why she even asked. Since Dad left, she was a parent only in the strictest biological meaning of the word. She kept scrolling her phone, but her eyes were looking at the rain. “Maybe they’re practicing inside today.”
“Again. Do. Not. Know.”
Angel swung the door to the fridge slowly, back and forth, and searched for nothing in particular. He just didn’t want to look in her direction.
Football practice started yesterday. School would begin next week. Angel had gone to Monday’s 6:00 AM practice – got to beat the heat – but was present in body only. His mind was on what was on his calendar for that afternoon when a judge who knew nothing about him other than he was another kid who ended up in his courtroom would pronounce his sentence. He missed the afternoon practice for quarterbacks and receivers because he was in court. Alone. His mother had to work. He flinched at the thought of having to explain all of this to Coach.
“So you got community service?” she asked, already knowing the answer. She wasn’t stupid or oblivious. It was a statement disguised as a question, an unnecessarily passive-aggressive reminder that did not need to be made.
“Ninety hours. I’m supposed to talk to someone at school about what I have to do.”
Angel held the fridge door open and drank some grape juice straight from the bottle. It was just one more thing he would not have done when Dad was in the house. But Dad was no longer in the house. And she didn’t drink juice unless it was fermented.
She kept scrolling, intentionally trying not to look at her son. She repeated herself very clearly and much more slowly, her usually slight Spanish accent thickening with the slower tempo of her words. “Angel, do you know what you’re going to do for your 90 hours of community service?” Her voice was quiet but persistent, and more than a little agitated. It was the sound of someone who was seeking information but was tired of asking questions.
Ninety hours. The entire court episode was so surreal and so quick that the number didn’t sink in right away. It was just a number, a rather large number, but still just another abstract concept. This morning, somehow, it seemed much less abstract.
The most immediate non-abstraction was that this probably meant Angel couldn’t play football his senior year. He wasn’t sure, but there must be some kind of code of conduct that applied here, some required form of punishment, if for no other reason than to make him an example to other players, the ones who already do the same thing but were yet to be caught in the act. Even if there wasn’t some official rule, Angel knew Coach would make his life as miserable as possible. If by some absolute miracle banishment from the team was not required and Coach would let him play, there was still the issue of the ninety hours of slave labor that had to be completed by the end of the semester. He could make the games, but unless he could work this out, he would have to miss the practices after school.
“Angel?” The emphasized second syllable indicated a heightened level of interest in her son’s plans.
He put the bottle back in the fridge, glanced at his mother, and went back upstairs without answering her question.