“Hey, Spud,” Mom said, smiling. I grimaced, but Young-Derek carefully hid his reaction. I’d always hated that nickname, the unfortunate by-product of an overzealous love for french fries when I was a toddler. Or so the story went.
Young-Derek fidgeted nervously, backing off the walkway and onto the lawn, his eyes darting around like he expected zombies to appear at any moment. If that didn’t scream “guilty” or “high on drugs,” I didn’t know what did. God, I’d been a horrible liar. Shaking my head, I turned my attention to Mom.
She looked tired, her shoulders slumped and her smile forced. This was the day she’d found out she only had months left to live. My throat constricted as I watched her trying to hold herself together in front of my younger version. But I could see now what he’d missed — the haunted despair behind her eyes, the bitter twinge to her expression. She’d been the embodiment of strength, and I’d completely missed it. Thanks to my father.
“Did you swing by my office like I asked?” She eyed Young-Derek suspiciously, clearly seeing through his pathetic attempt at “cool” as easily as I had. I was half-expecting her to demand what he was doing, standing around in the front yard, his hands stuffed in his pockets, jumpy as a tweaker. But I knew she didn’t. That’s not the way this day had played out.
“Of course,” Young-Derek said. He gestured vaguely toward the house. “They’re on the table. Are you okay?”
“Smooth, Younger-self. She’s totally not going to see through that obvious deflection,” I mumbled, knowing full well no one could hear me. Young-Derek’s nervous shuffling was too painful for my ego to watch, so I turned my back to him, facing Mom instead. Nothing eventful had happened during this exchange as far as I remembered. But maybe there was something I had missed.
Mom’s eyes dropped for a split second, her smile fading. How could I not have seen what was so clearly written on her face? Seventeen-year-old me was a self-absorbed idiot.
She sighed. “Let’s go inside.”
Without waiting for his answer, she turned and finished making her way to the door. She opened it, stepped inside, and waited for Young-Derek to follow, her hand resting against the wooden edge. There was an awkward pause as they stared at each other across what had felt like a gigantic chasm. I remembered the sinking feeling Young-Derek was now experiencing, that horrible mantle of foreboding that was settling around his shoulders. I watched as his expression changed from nervous guilt to one of concern, and then finally, resignation. He may have been a clueless idiot, but he could tell something was about to change.
“Yep, this is gonna be fun,” I said as I followed him back inside.