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“We aren’t going out this weekend,” I say. “You know that. I’m staying with my mother.”

“You’re only sixteen. You still have to live.”

“What part of she’s dying do you not understand?”

“I can’t date a guy that can never date.”

I cut her a look. “Then don’t date me.” I open the car door.

“Eric, damn it.”

I don’t reply. I get out of the truck. “Thanks for the ride.” I slam the door and slide my backpack onto my shoulder. I have homework that will take me all of about thirty minutes. I can do it in the morning before class, but my mother likes to see me open books. I’ll open them for her.

I start down the road that leads to our trailer, and just that easily, I’m already done with Jennie. I don’t need anyone in my life right now but my mother anyway. I don’t know why I tried. My mother is what matters. My mother who can’t die. We have to find another treatment. There has to be a way to pay for it. I’ll volunteer as a guinea pig. I’ll let them study my brain. I know my mom doesn’t want that, but she’ll have to understand.

I turn the corner to our street and the sight of ambulances and fire trucks slams into me. My heart explodes in my chest. My stomach knots. Numbers begin to pound at my mind. “Mom. Mom!” I charge forward, blood pumping through my veins and in my ears. “Mom!” I run and run and I don’t stop until I’m right on the edge of the yard and only then because a monster of a police officer catches my arms.

“Son,” he orders. “You need to stay right here.”

“I live here. I live here! This is my home. You can’t stop me from going into my own home.”

“Are you Eric Mitchell?”

“Yes.” Tears start streaming down my cheeks. “I need to see my mother. She’s sick. She’s got cancer. She needs me. I’m her son!”

The officer hits a button on his arm and says, “Get that social worker here now.”

“Social worker?! I don’t need a social worker. I know she has cancer. What’s wrong? Is it a reaction to the chemo? What’s wrong?!”

“Son,” he says, his voice vibrating with an undercurrent that touches his eyes. With something he doesn’t want to say. “Son, your mother—”

“She’s dead. She’s dead, isn’t she?”

He doesn’t have to reply. I see it in his face and the numbers attack my mind, diving at it like sharp blades.

My knees go weak and I fall down, grabbing my head and in a tunnel of pain, I hear, “Get me an EMT tech! Now!”

I black out.

No. I don’t black out. There are numbers.

11111

77777

88888

99999

11111

They won’t stop. God, make them stop. I sit up, ramrod stiff and find myself in the back of an ambulance. “Easy, son,” a male voice says, and I bring him into focus, sitting next to me. “I gave you something to calm you down.”

“I don’t want to calm down.” I sit up. “I want to see my mother.”

A woman with long brown hair in her mid-fifties appears at the end of the truck. “Eric, she’s gone. I’m sorry.”

I swallow hard, and try to find the numbers again, the ones I control but I can’t find them. “How? How did she die?”

“She was in a lot of pain. She took her own life. “

“No. No, she was fighting. She was fighting!”

“She was tired. She wanted more for you, too. She left a letter. I called your father and—”

“I don’t have a father. I don’t fucking have a father!” I try to get up, but the EMT holds me down, my head spinning with the damn drug he gave me.

“I want to see the letter,” I whisper.

“At my office,” the woman says.

“Who are you?”

“Evelyn Minor. Your social worker.” She holds out a hand. “Come with me.”

***

Two hours later, I sit in her dingy office with a scuffed desk and yellow chair, the letter in hand, but no numbers in my head. That drug the EMT gave me makes me dizzy again as I start reading:

My dearest Eric—

I had to do this. I had to do it because I love you with all my heart and soul. I did this for you. It was time for you to get on with your life. It was time for your father to claim you. Make him. Accept him. He can help you make the most of your gifts. He can get you the help you need to control it. Don’t fight him. Don’t lash out at him. Do this for me. Do this so that I know I left you behind better than I brought you into this world. Please, son. I beg of you. I need you to do this. For me. Do this for me.


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