Jacob’s first year of high school went surprisingly quiet. He got into a lot of trouble, sure, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. His grades were low and he often stayed out late at night–egging houses or leaving things on doorsteps–but whatever had possessed him to get drunk didn’t possess him again.
Our relationship was a bit estranged, though. We’d have breakfast together and that was pretty much it. I’d ask him about school, he’d tell me a bit of gossip–then he was off to school and I was on the couch reading or watching TV.
I tried to talk to him about getting into trouble but he would just mumble an apology and that would be that. At least this way we weren’t yelling at each other and occasionally he’d give me a hug. I knew it was stupid to let him get away with everything but frankly I didn’t have any fight left in me after that day I had broken down, and sometimes I didn’t care.
On occasion he’d help out by cleaning up. Our house sometimes got kinda disgusting since I couldn’t clean well anymore. I was grateful whenever he did this, even though he always did this before staying out super late. He knew that I wouldn’t do anything about it, and he was right. I didn’t. Part of me knew I should but the rest of me fought against it. The part that was too tired to fight, the part that didn’t want me to end up like my father, and the part that just wanted him to be free.
Some days I never even got out of bed. The thought of moving was too much. Every part of my body ached, though it was the worst in my middle. I had the feeling now what was wrong. They had added parts into my body–they had rearranged things inside of me. Of course that was going to cause me problems. Things put where they didn’t belong, bits that shouldn’t be there, everything all crowded together in a way that was never meant to be.
For Cal’s fifteenth birthday, he didn’t want anyone over. He just interacted with the air. Pillow fights, scary stories, movies… but he also spent some time with me, which made me so happy. I couldn’t afford to give him much but he was happy with the computer games I had found.
That night he didn’t go out. After he put on his pajamas he started dancing around, laughing and having a good time. I watched him with a smile on my face, no longer caring that he was still talking to Penny. It made him happy and kept him out of trouble.
A couple weeks after he started his second year of high school, I found him half-on and half-off the couch. I went over and tried to push him onto the seat so he wouldn’t fall and when I bent down I could smell it on his breath.
Please don’t be doing this again, I thought as I fixed him into his seat.
But he was. He didn’t do it all the time, but sometimes I would find him with a bad hangover or stumbling around the house yelling at nothing. It truly was nothing, since he never mentioned Penny’s name.
He’d scream at the fridge when we didn’t have much food, he’d yell at the TV when he missed one of his shows, and he really liked shouting at his computer whenever it acted up. Sometimes I’d find him crying, though, but he’d refuse to let me comfort him. I always backed off, not wanting to anger him.
“Ugggh it feels like I’ve been run over,” he moaned one morning.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t be drinking,” I said softly.
He squinted at me and then groaned again. “I’m not doing anything stupid, you know. Some of the other kids are doing drugs. Did you know Janie got pregnant? She’s fifteen, and pregnant.”
I wrung my hands and kept my eyes off of him. “You’re not in any danger of getting a girl pregnant, are you?”
“Ugh, Daaad! Are you asking if I’m a virgin?” He began rubbing his head again then he let out a grumbling sound. “I haven’t, you know, done anything with anyone. I’m probably one of the only virgins in my school. I may get drunk but don’t worry, I’m still innocent down there.”
“I didn’t mean to pry–“
“Yeah, you did,” he interrupted as he slowly stood up. “I’m a virgin. I don’t do drugs. I’m not getting into any fights.” He put a hand on my shoulder, very gently. “So you don’t need to be completely disappointed in your little mutant offspring.”
“Stop calling yourself that!” I said, barely enough energy to snap at him.
“I am a mutant offspring!” he said. “Stop telling me I’m normal because I know I’m not.”
I sucked in some air and couldn’t yell back. “I think you’re normal,” I whispered, rubbing my shoulder and looking down. My chest was hurting and I just wanted to avoid a fight. “And I love you, no matter what you think. Or say. Or do.” I glanced up and saw his eyes softening a bit.
“Stop being so clingy, Dad,” he said with a half-smile as he turned towards the bathroom. “But thanks.”
His sixteenth birthday was spent very different from his fifteenth. He had gotten pretty smashed and was on the couch almost day nursing the aftermath.
I tried to summon the energy to fight. I couldn’t just sit back and let Calcifer ruin his future. But after he grumbled at me for making his headache worse, I shut myself up in my room. I was being a failure of a father, I knew this. But the pain was too much, and all I wanted to do was rest.
Aiden begged me to go to the hospital, but I told him that there was no point. I accepted my fate, and knew it was coming soon. I just wanted to use whatever I had left for Cal. Realizing this again, I figured I should stop using my pain as an excuse and talk to him. Really talk to him. My chance came when he was locked up in the bathroom, drinking.
“Calcifer,” I said through the door. “Why are you doing this?”
“Doing what?” he asked, sounding slightly amused by something. In fact, he began giggling. “Penny’s mad at me too. Heeheehee!”
I closed my eyes, taking in a few deep breaths. My head swam but I did my best to stay focused. “Cal, you’re only sixteen. You can be wasting your youth away drinking like this.”
“Why not?” he asked, bumping against the door. “You know, Dad, I’ve realished somethin’. No matter what I do, it doesn’t change who I am. Ozzer kids, they can work on being diff’rent.” He bumped against the door again and began giggling more. “Not me!”
“Is this because you have some sort of twisted view on yourself?” I demanded. “You see yourself as a monster. You refuse to see anything else. But you’re not a monster. When will you…” I shook my head, rubbing my chest. “When will you realize this? Cal… nobody sees you as that.”
“Yeshy do!” he shouted. “The articles and everythin’! I saw what they shaid! About you an’ about everythin’…” I heard him stumbling slightly and he let out a hiccuping sob.
“They didn’t understand,” I said, pressing my forehead against the door. “None of them did. You know, this used to happen before? A long time ago? Male pregnancy? It happened in the old world a lot. That’s what they were researching.” I tapped my fingers against the door, listening for a reply but all I heard was crying. “They told me a lot of things were lost in the old world. This was one of them. They were trying to help–“
“They ruined everything!” he cried. “They dessroyed your body. You’re dying cuz of me.”
“Stop that!” I yelled. “Stop blaming yourself, Cal. I’ve told you so many times, this is not because of you. I signed off on it, I made my decision. It was not a mistake, it was something I’d do again if I had the chance! I love you.”
“I don’t know how you can!” he replied hysterically. “I’m a freak!”
“You’re not a freak…” I wasn’t sure how much more of this I could handle. But I couldn’t just go lay down, give up. I had done him wrong by not being there the past couple years. I had made a mistake by backing down so many times before, by not saying anything. I was not going to let this slip away too.
“Yezz I’m,” he sniffled.
“You are no different from anyone else,” I said. “In fact, you’re better than a lot of people. You’re not a thief, you’re not a murderer–“
“I’m killing you!” he shrieked. “I know iz cuz of me! When you die that will make me murderer…” He began crying again. “I hate myself.”
“Don’t ever say that!” I snarled, hitting the door. I ignored the pain. “You don’t mean that!”
“I do…” he said so quietly I almost didn’t hear him. “You an’ Penny are both wrong. I shouldn’t exist.” I heard a smashing sound and then he let out an angry yell. “How would you feel, Dad? How would you feel if you found out you were the result of scientifcic ressearch?” He slammed against the door and I jumped slightly. “Izza in past but those newspapers and everythin’, all that was shaid…. how do you think I can live a nurmal life knowin’ that’s me? Abombimbnal. Monssrous. How many of’em woulda had your pregnancy enned if they coulda forssed you?” There was silence and then he began whimpering. “How many woulda killed me if they could…? Thatz whaddey do to sienficic experiments that are all wrong, izzn it? They end them. They destroy them.”
“I love you, Cal…”
“I know,” he replied in a hoarse whisper. “You love me and say I’m not a monsser. But you know what?” He flung open the door and stared hollow-eyed at me. “Izzn that what they always say in monsser movies before the monsser starts goin’ crazy?” I stared back at him, my entire body trembling.
He raised his eyebrows and then put his arms tightly around me. “So wazza point in tryin’ to act normal, huh?” he whispered in my ear. “Iz just nuthin’ but waiting till the experiment goes kablooie and the monsser is on the loose.” He kissed my cheek and then stumbled off to his room, leaving me in a horrified silence.
The days, weeks, months were all going by in a blur. There was nothing but pain and a few, snatched moment with Cal who continued to get smashed. Some days he seemed okay, but often I heard him mumbling to himself about what a freak he was. He reeked of alcohol half the time and I asked him several times to please stop. He’d just yell that nobody understood what a monster he was and stomp off.
There didn’t seem to be much of a break in things–just drunken anger–until I overheard him talking to Penny about the prom. He hadn’t gone to any dances before, and since this was his final year, I was glad to hear he was going to prom. Even though he was talking to air about it.
“Teri asked me out!” he exclaimed. “Oh my gosh I can’t believe this. I’ve been kinda wanting to ask her out but never seemed to have the chance. What? No, it’s not weird she asked me out. Girls can ask guys. Huh? Well… no. I mean, you never leave here anyway so… Hey, what’s wrong? Nah, you’re still my best friend!”
“I don’t know what I’d do without you, Penny. And don’t worry. I know I—–things up pretty… er, what?” He winced slightly. “Sorry… I know you don’t like it when I cuss. I mean, I know I screwed things up. Better? But I’ll find a way to make you real. I swear I will.”
I gave Cal money to get everything he needed. A tux, flowers, even rent a limo. I kinda wished I could meet his date but he’d be picking her up. Ever since he had been asked out, he hadn’t come home drunk. I wasn’t sure if he was just drinking less or if he had really stopped.
“You look so handsome,” I said before he left.
“Dad, stop embarrassing me!” he whined. But I could tell he was pleased.
“Are you coming home after the prom?” I asked, reaching over and brushing nonexistent lint off his collar.
He shrugged slightly and fidgeted with his shirt where I had touched. “Yeah. I’m not gonna rent a room anywhere, if that’s what you’re worried about. Teri’s not that kind of girl. And I’m not that kind of guy.”
I decided against saying I was more worried about him going out drinking. So I just smiled and offered my arms out for a hug. I was overjoyed when he hugged me tightly back. “Thanks for the simoleons, Dad,” he said. “I better get going. The limo’s here.”
“You will make sure to get pictures, right?” I called after him.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” he shouted over his shoulder. “See ya later!” He got into the limo and I stood still, watching it drive off. I remembered my own prom, and how awkward it had gone. I hoped that Cal’s would go a bit smoother than mine.
I wasn’t planning on staying up, but I still kept my old hours. So I was wide awake and watching TV when Cal came in at close to midnight. I stood up, watching for any signs that he had gotten tipsy. But he seemed to be in a really good mood and not at all drunk.
“So how was it?” I asked and he spun around, looking surprised I was there. “I just watched a really scary movie on TV…” I was trying to make it sound like I wasn’t waiting up for him. “But really, how did it go?”
He hesitated and then got a huge, cheesy grin plastered on his face. “It was amazing! I danced all night with Teri. The food was pretty good. Someone spiked the punch so the teachers got really mad.” He winked at me. “Don’t look annoyed, I only had, like, half a glass. Teri seemed annoyed when I did, so I didn’t have anymore.”
Good for her, I thought, hoping maybe this would change his attitude. “Did Teri like her flowers?”
“Yeah, but don’t get all old-fashioned on me, okay? She wore a pantsuit. It looked great on her. And I was even voted Prom King!” He took out a crown and twirled it jauntily around one finger. “Isn’t that awesome? Teri didn’t get voted Prom Queen, though. Some big-boobed, fake-tanned, plastic girl did.” He rolled his eyes and put the crown away. “I didn’t wanna dance with her but I had to.”
“I’m really glad you had a good time,” I said, feeling greatly relieved.
“I haven’t even said the best part!” he exclaimed, standing on tiptoes and looking really excited. “I asked Teri out, as you know–my girlfriend. I asked her to go steady. She said yes! Isn’t that awesome? She’s a great girl.” Suddenly he turned and then beamed. “Yeah, we’re officially a couple. We had a blast, Pens, I wish you coulda been there.”
He reached out, as if to hug the air, then looked as though he had been pushed back. “Penny?” he whispered. “What’s wrong? What? No! Teri’s my girlfriend, you’re my best friend! There is a diffe–no, Penny–Penny!”
He went running into his room and I hobbled after him, wondering why he was bothering with this. Maybe he really did think someone was there. Maybe there was something wrong with his brain.
“Penny, I didn’t mean–please stop complaining at me, I wasn’t… No! I’m not gonna abandon you… Aw, Penny, don’t be that way!”
Then again, maybe there was something wrong with my brain. Because his empty floor suddenly had his doll on it and I knew that doll hadn’t been there before. Either my eyesight was going, my mind was going, or… was Cal really…?
No. That was impossible.
Or was it?