After Elouia passed away, Cal seemed very subdued. He didn’t want to talk to me at all no matter how hard I tried.
I called his school counselor and was assured that they were keeping an eye on him. I was informed everything was fine. But honestly, I didn’t trust the school.
However after about two weeks I got another call from Mallory. Edgar had passed away. We all knew it was from losing his wife and it had honestly been expected.
After the funeral and burial, Cal and I went home where he asked me why people had to die. “I want Auntie Elle back,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “It’s not fair. I’m a good boy, aren’t I?”
I hugged him tightly, promising him it had nothing to do whether we were good or bad. I explained to him as best I could about death and tried not to scare him too much.
“It was just time for Aunt Elle and Uncle Edgar to go,” I said, rubbing his back.
“When is it my time?” he asked, looking a bit scared.
“Not for a long time,” I assured him.
He sniffled again and wiped his face against my shirt. “What about you, Dad?”
I clung to him even more, and kissed his forehead. “Not for a long time,” I promised him.
As time went on, Cal started feeling better. I was glad to see his losses didn’t continue to hurt him. It was still hurting me, but I tried to hide it from Cal. Sometimes in the morning when I woke up I’d remember Elouia was gone and I’d start crying.
And the morning when I fell, I almost dialed her number.
I had tried getting out of bed and as soon as I put weight on my feet, the pain was too much and i just crumpled to the floor. My entire body felt like it was on fire. The only thing that had ever hurt worse than this was when I was in labor.
I could hardly move and I finally managed to get my cellphone out of my pocket. I went down to ‘Elouia’ in my contact list and just stared at her name. She’s gone. As tears fell down, I searched my short list for someone. There was hardly anyone in my list so it only took a couple clicks to get back up to ‘Aiden’.
Aiden took me to the hospital but couldn’t stay with me; he went back to my house to wait for Calcifer, since he was due home soon. He also called my work to let them know that I wouldn’t be able to make it in.
I was told the same damn thing. “We don’t know what’s wrong with you!” But I regained control over my muscles after a while so after they double-checked that they couldn’t pinpoint anything, they released me.
I told Aiden everything and he seemed pretty upset about the fact I couldn’t get proper medical help. He offered to talk to Landgraab Facilities, but I told him not to. I didn’t want them to get mad at him.
“Is Cal asleep?” I asked, glancing back at his door.
“Yeah, he’s been crying,” Aiden told me. “He kept asking if you had died.”
I ran my fingers through my hair and sighed. “He was pretty shaken up by Elle and Edgar. I talked to him but I’ll try again. What did you tell the twins about death?”
He told me about the conversations he had had with his daughters and it was pretty much what I had already talked to Cal about.
I thanked him for everything and after he left, I headed into Cal’s room. He was sound asleep and I didn’t want to wake him up. I gave him a kiss on the forehead, putting the conversation off for the next day.
“Cal, is there anything you want to talk about?” I asked. He had been quiet during breakfast and had spent the afternoon after class doing his homework. I didn’t want him to feel nervous about asking me so I decided to bring it up.
He stared up at me for a moment. “Yes,” he said. “Where’s my mom?”
I just stared back down at him, completely taken aback by that. I had been expecting something about my health, or about death. Certainly not about this!
“Um…” I took his arm and pulled him gently over to the sofa. “Well, it’s a long story,” I said, trying to think of something–anything–I could say without telling him the truth and without lying to him!
“Is she dead?” he asked once we sat down.
“Well… I–I don’t know exactly,” I said very slowly, very hesitantly. Was he old enough to understand this? I didn’t think he was. But maybe I should tell him.
“You don’t know where my mother is?” he asked, giving me a strange look. “How come? Nanette at school doesn’t know where her father is. She said he abandoned them. Is that what my mom did?”
I looked down at my lap, gulping and trying to stop my hands from shaking. “I guess you could say that,” I whispered, the lies coming out before I could stop them.
“Didn’t she want me?” he asked. “Why did she leave?”
“Your–your mother never knew you,” I told him. “After you were born, she left.” That is sort of the truth, I thought. Er–if Jay is his mother.
Cal gave me a suspicious look. “But if I was born then wouldn’t she know me? Didn’t she like me?”
I put my head in my hands, feeling like crap. “I’m sure if she stayed, she would have loved you very much.”
“So she didn’t love me?” he asked, his words piercing my heart.
“She loved you,” I lied. “But she couldn’t stay.”
“Where is she? Why couldn’t she stay? Did someone make her go away?” he asked, leaning closer to me, wanting these answers and I had no clue what to say. “Was it cuz of me?”
“I–I don’t know where she is,” I told him then figured out a lie to tell him to make him feel better. “It’s my fault she had to go. I’m really sorry, sweetie.”
“Penny says you’re my mom,” he stated as-matter-as-factly.
“Penny?” I asked. “You mean Pendragon?” I glanced around for his doll but didn’t see it. “She is sort of right. I’m both your dad and mother. I hope that’s okay?”
“What’s that?” he asked, turning his head to stare at nothing.
“I said–” I started but he held up a hand to indicate for me to be quiet.
“Oh,” he said, looking back at me. “Penny says I have you and I shouldn’t worry about who my, um, biological donor was.”
Oh grim reaper, my son’s gone crazy. But before I could say anything, Cal was hopping off the couch. “Thanks, Dad.”
I got up and reached for him. “Cal, did someone ask you about your mother? And where did you hear the term ‘biological donor’?”
He swiveled around and smiled. “Kids are always talking about their moms at school so I got curious. And I told you. Penny said that.” He stood on tiptoes and wrapped his arms around me in a big hug. “And Penny’s smart, if she says not to worry then I won’t worry. ‘Kay, Dad?”
Dangitdangitdangitdangit! “Okay, Cal,” I said, giving him a smile. Who the heck am I supposed to talk to about THIS?
On Cal’s thirteenth birthday he received a card in the mail and he wouldn’t let me see what it said. I didn’t think much of it until I noticed he seemed more obsessed with the science station. He was staying up late and barely getting his homework done.
“If you keep this up, I’ll have to take the station away,” I told him, pulling him away from the object in question and pointing at his homework on the table.
One night there was a small explosion but thankfully no fire. Calcifer seemed pretty distraught and wouldn’t take a shower before bed.
“Why don’t you take a break,” I asked as he settled into bed, still singed from the accident. “I could still sign you up for scouts.”
“No, Dad,” he said as his eyelids drooped. “I have to find the right formula.”
“The right formula for what?” I asked but it was too late. He was asleep.
I was glad when he started inviting friends over. It seemed like he was still embarrassed about our tiny house but he told me that he didn’t feel like making up lies anymore about why his friends couldn’t visit.
He became really good friends with a kid named Ali. I met Ali’s parents at a fair day at the school and they seemed pretty nice (and didn’t glare at me) so when Cal asked if he could stay the night for his friend’s birthday, I agreed to let him go. This was his first sleepover and I got out my old sleeping bag to let him take.
“You’re not gonna take Penny too, are you?” I asked as he packed.
“No,” he said, looking wistfully at his doll. “She said she’d rather stay here and not be around a bunch of boys all night.”
I dropped Cal off and then realized since I didn’t have any work, I had plenty of time to myself. I wasn’t sure what to do since my house was clean.
I wound up going to the park and fishing. It had been a while since I last did this, and I began to feel pretty relaxed. I caught a few small fish and then was excited when a large fish took hold of the hook.
“Whoa!” I yelled, trying to reel it in. There was a heavy tug at the rod and I gave a shriek of fear as it felt like my arms had snapped. I began to fall forward, towards the water.
The fish splashed in the water, giving another painful tug. I let the rod fall from my hands and I just barely kept my balance. My toes were an inch away from the water and I sucked in air, trying to calm down. My body was on fire again from pain.
There goes more money, I thought when I called for the hospital to come get me. I sank down to the ground and waited, unable to move.
Surprise, surprise. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I turned down their offer of free medical help if I let them study me. I wasn’t going to be an experiment again. I wasn’t something to be poked and prodded at. And if anything went wrong when they were cutting me open, then I could very well die. I was not ready to leave Cal.
“Did you have fun?” I asked when Cal returned from the party the next night.
He looked pretty upset so I was surprised when he said, “Yes I did.”
He just stared at me, waiting. I looked back at him and gave him a smile. “What did you do?”
“Oh. Played video games, jumped on his trampoline, went swimming.” Cal wrapped his arms around himself and looked down at the floor. “Daddy, is it okay to lie?”
I began picking at my nails, feeling horrible. “It’s not a good thing to lie,” I said slowly, knowing perfectly well what a hypocrite I was being. “Did you lie to someone?”
“No!” he said rather angrily. “Why do people lie? It’s not nice. It’s bad. It’s really bad. So why do people do it?”
“I don’t know why most people do,” I told him carefully. “Some people do it to get what they want.” Like your possible mother, I added in my mind. “Other people think that a lie is better than the truth in order to protect someone.” Like I did to you, I thought. Then I went closer to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Did someone lie to you?”
He pulled back, stumbling slightly. He fixed me with a glare that caused me to back up. “No,” he finally said. “Unless you know someone lied to me. Do you if anybody did?”
“What’s this about?” I demanded. “You seem really upset. Did someone do something at the party? Are you okay?”
He continued glaring for several seconds then turned around, walking towards his room. “I’m fine,” he said quietly. “I’m perfectly fine, Dad.”
The door was slammed shut and I sank down against the sofa, covering my face with my hand. I felt lost and alone. Cal was acting so strange. Was it normal for a kid to be like this at his age? I was expecting angst in his teenage years but that was still several months away. And if he was this bad now… what would be like in a year?
Cal didn’t seem too interested in the book I was reading for him, but he had asked me for one last bedtime story. It was his big birthday tomorrow and this would be my last night with my little man. The next day he’d be a teenager. That scared me. Angst. Hormones. Girls. I wasn’t ready for it! But I hadn’t been ready for any of his birthdays.
I had dropped the book and was now clutching at my stomach. “Ah–I’m okay,” I lied, reaching down for the book but I slipped forward and fell on the ground.
“DAD!” Cal sat up, eyes huge.
“I’m okay!” I said again, getting to my feet. “I just got dizzy, is all.”
I could tell he didn’t believe me. I picked up the book and put it on the edge of his desk. “How about it’s time for bed, huh? You have a big day tomorrow.”
“Dad, you’re NOT okay!” he said as I stumbled towards the door. “Want me to call Uncle Aiden?”
“N-no!” I told him. “I just need some sleep. That’s all.” I turned and pressed my hand against the wall for balance as I bent down and kissed his forehead. He just glared up at me.
“Dad… you’re lying to me,” he said angrily. “I don’t wanna be lied to. You’ve been lying to me and I’m sick of it. Just tell me–please.”
I stared down at him and pat his head. “Just some aches in these old bones,” I said with a fake smile. “Try to get some sleep.”
“DAD!” he yelled as I started to open the door. His voice was full of rage, more than a kid his age should have. I stopped, looking at him. “I’m not a little kid anymore. I want to know the truth! About everything!”
I need to tell him.
“Cal…” I turned around, our eyes meeting. His were narrowed and angry, mine were big and sad. We just looked at each other as I worked out what to say, how to say it. So much needed to be told… but how could I? It had been so long ago. It seemed like a different world. It had been a long time since he had been bullied about his past. If I had been in better health, I’d probably be able to get a proper job without people having disgust and hatred.
“Forget it,” Cal said, sliding under the covers and rolling over to face the other wall. “I’m going to bed. G’night, Dad.”
I started to reach out for him, but then quickly pulled back. “Goodnight… son.”
I gave my little boy one last hug before he officially turned into a teenager. Our house was empty since he said he didn’t want a party. He insisted that Penny was the only one he wanted there.
I blew on my noisemaker as he stepped up to his cake and began thinking of something to wish for. He looked over his shoulder and gave a little smile.
“Don’t worry, I’m wishing for something like that,” he said to nothing. “But not exactly since now you know that wish. It has to be a bit different because if you know what it is, it won’t come true.”
He blew out the little flames and I began cheering happily. I sounded happier than I really was. It was hard to be completely happy knowing that he was getting older and older. Soon he’d be an adult and out on his own.
As the sparkles started, I hoped that I had done a decent job in raising him. He was going to be independent now. A teenager. Oh I was so not ready for this!
Once the sparkles ended, he was quiet. Much like he had been on his previous big birthday. He was wearing some old clothes but the sweater seemed right on him.
“You’re so handsome,” I said, reaching out.
He dodged aside. “Daaad,” he whined. “Stop it.”
He seemed upset by something but I decided not to ask him about it. “Want some cake?” I offered as I got a piece for myself and sat down.
“I’m not hungry,” he said quietly. Then he walked across the room and got a smile on his face. “Happy birthday to you too!”
I frowned, watching him as he started clapping and cheering. “Cal–what’re you doing?” I asked, having a bad feeling it was about that doll.
“Penny’s growing up too,” he said and then gave nothing a big hug. “It’s weird, huh Dad?” He looked rather proud about whatever just happened. At least it was a change from the aloof look a moment ago. But…
I bowed my head, staring at my cake. “Yeah,” I mumbled. “Weird.” I poked at the dessert but had no stomach for it anymore. This was ridiculous. I didn’t care if he kept his old toy but pretending it was a real person at age thirteen seemed a bit too strange for me. I pushed my chair back and stood up. “Cal, we need to talk about this Penny thing.”
He turned and raised his eyebrows as I approached him. “Oh, we do, do we?” he asked a little rudely. His eyes bore holes into me and he twisted his lips slightly in a smirk.
I put my hands on my hips, ignoring the shudder going down my spine from the look on his face. “You do know that Penny is nothing but a doll! There is nobody there!” I waved my hand at the blank spot. Cal mumbled something. “What was that?”
“I knew you wouldn’t understand!” he said loudly. “You never understand anything, you’re just wrapped up in a little bubble and won’t see past your own concept of reality!”
I swayed slightly, feeling extremely bewildered by this talk. “Calcifer, that’s–“
“It’s true!” he shouted, stomping one foot. “And don’t say it’s not! You’re in a bubble, the bubble you want me in, too! You want to keep me from things.”
“I give you all the freedom–“
But he wouldn’t let me talk. “I’m not stupid, Dad!” he said breathlessly. “I remember perfectly well when I was younger and all those people would look at me weird and all the times they called me a monster!”
I didn’t know what to say but Cal just kept shouting, getting more and more heated up. “I gave you chances to tell me, Dad, but you never did.” Behind the anger I could see a deep well of pain, buried inside him. He had been holding this in for a while. How come he hadn’t brought it up before? “You kept everything from me. Who I really am. My past. Why people think I’m a monster. I wanted you to tell me. But you never did, not even last night when I asked you for the truth.”
“Did you think I wouldn’t find out?” he snarled out. “Did you just not want to pop that bubble? Did you just want to keep the truth about me hidden forever?”
“No!” I said quickly, the words catching in my throat. It’s coming down, I thought. Everything is coming down again. “Cal, I wanted to tell you but I didn’t think you were old enough! I was going to tell you soon!”
“I’m sure,” he growled, turning away. “That’s what happens, isn’t it? ‘I was going to tell you’. I’ve been waiting for almost a year for you to tell me! Ever since I saw the old newspaper!”
Cal stomped to his bedroom and came out a second later with a paper in his hand. I saw with horror it was from when I had been pregnant. The headlines and words came rushing back to me. Immoral, beastly, disgusting, monstrous, wrong, wicked, criminal.
“I found it when I went to Ali’s birthday party last year. His mom had a ton of old newspaper up in the attic and we were gonna do some art projects with them and I found it. When I saw you I couldn’t believe it. I hid it from the rest of them so they wouldn’t see… my father…” He put his head in his hands. “Or should I say mother?!”
“Who am I, Dad?” he screamed. “They were all right when I was a kid! I’m a monster, aren’t I? I saw what it said in there. Depraved? They talked about jail, and that you were a disgusting, filthy creature for getting pregnant with me? That’s what I am? A–a filthy, immoral science experiment?”
“Please listen to me!” I said loudly, trying to get him to hear me by having my voice be louder than his. “Calcifer, I’ll tell you everything.”
“It’s too late for that, Dad! I gave you chances, but you never told me. I even asked you that day, remember? About lying? And you just kept lying to me. You should have told me. But you kept it secret. Why? To protect me?”
“Calcifer Danevbie, you stop yelling right this minute!” I roared at the top of my lungs. He reeled back, his eyes huge. I took in a deep breath and then gasped as pain shot through my body. I clutched at my middle and groaned. Not now, not now, anytime but now! But I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, it was painful even drawing in shallow breaths.
“You wouldn’t even tell me the truth about that,” he hissed out in a low voice. “You always said you were fine but you’re not. And you said I had a mother, but I don’t! I’m nothing but a science experiment!” He started backing up from me, tears welling up in his eyes. “My whole life has been a lie! I’m not human at all! I’m nothing but a freak of nature!” He let out a little pained gasp and his watery eyes went huge.
“NO!” he wailed. “I’m not even that, because it’s not a freak of nature it’s–it’s a freak of test tubes and–and microscopes and chemicals and–how can I be human when everything to bring me into this world wasn’t natural at all? Not even a proper mother! A pregnant man?!” The tears were spilling out and he gave a loud sob. “I’m nothing but a genetic mutant! Frankenstein’s monster was probably more human than me! I’m nothing! A TOTAL FREAK OF SCIENCE!”
“Calcifer, please stop!” I begged, jogging after him. I only got a few paces before the pain was too much and I had to stop. “CALCIFER!” I yelled, not caring who heard. More pain rocketed through me and I fell to the ground, panting heavily for air. “PLEASE GET BACK HERE!”
But he just kept running, not once looking back.