Five Days out of a Lifetime
Arms folded, I'm leaning against the doorframe, watching John work. "Go to sleep, it's late."
"Don't you think I know that?" He doesn't look up, just leans closer to the monitor, cupping the point of his chin in his palm.
He brings his shoulders up around his ears, trying to shut out the sound of my voice.
"I'm not fooling." And I'm not. He knows it. Tired people make mistakes. Miss things. Threatening to throw his ass into bed is not because I'm bucking for the mother of the year award, making sure my son gets a well rounded block of sleep, sending him to bed so he'll be horizontal, in his life, is a matter of survival.
"Five more minutes," John begs, even though he's rubbing his eyes.
"No." Five will become ten will become twenty.
"Damn it." He slams a book shut and turns off the monitor.
Cameron appears by my side, drawn to John's distress.
"He's fine," I hiss.
"Yeah, I'm fine, mommy's just tucking me in."
I remain silent. With John, I've learned to pick my battles and the sarcasm in his voice is easier to ignore than to argue over, especially this close to one in the morning.
Cameron's slow blink moves from John to me. "I'm not sure I understand what—"
I offer a smug smile, superior in the knowledge that our human nuances are sometimes beyond her circuitry.
"I don't understand either," John spits back. He drops onto his bed and stretches out as he flings an arm over his eyes.
He's wearing jeans, a baggy tee and a pair of socks to bed. I say nothing. I don't tell him to change into pajamas. John has been taught that home and hearth can be become a memory at a moment's notice and you hit the ground running. Experience is an excellent teacher. Except for two years. For two years he was spoiled. We both were. We became complacent. And our time in Charley's house had been pajamas and safety. But now, in this house in a not so great neighborhood, those two years are quite figuratively a lifetime ago.
"Watch him," I order Cameron as I push past her. "Make sure he stays in bed."
I toss and turn on my bed. Do as I say, not as I do.
The mattress is comfortable, the pillow soft and the blanket is just enough protection against the cool breeze that slips in through my opened window. But I don't sleep. For years, sleep has always been an elusive stranger, something a normal person is able to do on a daily basis. To me, normalcy is falling asleep just before dawn with my head resting on a pillow that hides a fully loaded 9 mm and an arsenal under my box spring.
I've spent the majority of my adult life listening, always on alert. My sleep is never restful, my nights are never dreamless. I'm always prepared, the proverbial Boy Scout as I wait for the future to intrude into this facade of a life I've built for John.
All this. Everything is for John. For the adult son I have yet to meet. Misplaced loyalties? Maybe. The future always clouding my peripheral vision? Maybe. But it is what it is.
I present to the world a single mother. A home. Two kids. There's food on the table. Clean clothes on their backs. They have dinner. A place to do homework. A roof over their heads. The same mother who picks her kids up from school and smile at all the PTA ladies will then come home, throw dinner in the oven and clean my gun while the water is boiling for the spaghetti. John shares the kitchen table with oil, rags and rifle pieces. I'm not sure if it's more telling that John doesn't blink an eye over this arrangement or that I don't think it's strange my son is so desensitized.
With a sigh, I lever myself up onto my elbows "Go back to sleep, John." Standing about two feet from the foot of my bed, John's bathed in shadows and he's doing a damn impressive job ignoring Cameron's hovering.
"I told you to make sure he stayed in bed." I'm angry and pissed.
"John's heart rate is accelerated. His body temperature is—"
"Shut up, Cameron." Angrily, he bats at her fingers skimming across his neck.
"John?" My interest is piqued, he rarely, if ever, raises his voice to her.
"I can't find the Tylenol. Where's the Tylenol?"
"Why?" I push myself to a sitting position.
"Jeeze, I have a headache. Just tell me where the Tylenol is and I won't—"
"John has a fever."
"I don't have a fever. I have a headache. Mom, where's the—"
"If you went to bed earlier," I complain as I throw back the covers. "The Tylenol is in—never mind, I'll find it for you."
"He has a fever," Cameron repeats.
John shoots her an evil, vile look.
I walk past him, then double back and rest my lips against his forehead. Stepping back, I'm truthfully surprised. "You're warm."
He rubs the spot my lips have touched and I pretend not to be offended. "Can I just have the Tylenol?"
In the light of the kitchen, John looks terrible. This is the type of terrible two Tylenol aren't going to help. Mother's intuition, this is walk in clinic sick, something we so don't need right now and those accusatory words are right on the tip of my tongue, but something completely different comes out of my mouth. "I'm going to make you some tea to go with your Tylenol."
"I just need the Tylenol."
"Why don't you put on a something a little more comfortable?"
John glances down at what he's wearing then stares at me and I can see the wheels of his fevered mind churning, believing that his gun toting momma has lost her mind. "Can't I just have—"
I pick up his right hand, and sandwich his fingers between mine. Feverish or not, his hands are ice cold. "Change into something warmer," I order, using the same tone I reserve for when I need him to move his ass out of the line of fire and he backs away slowly, before disappearing into his bedroom grumbling under his breath.
He's in pajamas. I'd been kidding; I'd expected sweat pants and a sweatshirt. He's actually wearing pajamas. Go figure. I have no idea where they'd come from and I'm thinking now's really not the time to ask. I'd never seen them on him before, and I'm sure after tonight, I'm never going to see them again.
"I did what you wanted, now can I have the Tylenol."
"Get under the covers first." I throw back the blanket I've draped across the couch.
John doesn't move. The pillow, blanket on the couch is one thing. The steaming cup of tea with the two Tylenol on the coffee table is another thing, but I'm thinking the visual of his mother, who's wearing a pair of old sweats with her feet tucked under her and the TV remote in her hand, has pushed him damn close to the precipice.
I pat the couch. "It's okay." And force myself to smile. Damn, he's so skittish, so wary of what I'm offering to him, and his hesitation hurts. I've never been one to win accolades in the comfort for the sake of comfort department and John's mistrust at my intentions is my payback.
My legs are asleep and I shift them, careful not to wake John. The Tylenol has taken the edge off the fever, but he's still warm and murmurs something unintelligible when my hand comes to rest on his cheek. "It's okay," I whisper, pushing his bangs off his forehead.
Cameron stops mid circuit, the thousandth one she's done tonight and stares at the muted TV, canting her head as if trying to understand the cartoon humor on Nickelodeon before turning her curiosity toward John and me.
"He's sick," I explain lamely, as if those two words will clarify the couch, pillow, tea, Tylenol, TV, and pajama scenario to the tin girl.
"I know. Respiration and heart rate are elevated. His body temperature is 101.3."
"Damn it," With a sense of guilty dread, I tug the blanket up over his shoulder. How did I miss this? Okay, he was pretty uncommunicative over dinner, but I chalked it up to teenage moodiness and nothing else. Wrong. Stupidly, wrong.
The headlights of a passing car light up the living room interrupting Cameron. She pauses, assesses the situation and remains rooted to her spot. Observing.
John opens his eyes as I switch positions. "Everything okay?" His two words are released on a congested exhalation.
"Everything's okay," I lie easily, with a simple pat on his arm.
Even feverish, he's doubting me. Do I blame him? Nope, mistrust and disbelief is how I've raised my son. In our lives the percentage of things being okay are pretty much slim to none, but John buys into my lie with a smirk.
"Go back to sleep."
Okay, maybe my son really isn't buying into my lies. I glance over my shoulder. At the moment, Cameron the Connor gargoyle is standing guard, patrolling without movement. "She's here."
"Tell her thanks."
This time when I change positions, John doesn't move an inch, there's not even a hitch in his breathing, so I slide gently off the couch, then wait, making sure he's still down for the count before I drift over to our night watchman, shaking out stiff leg muscles as I walk.
I stand next to Cameron, height and emotions are the only thing I have over her. "John said I should say 'thank you'."
She doesn't answer.
"What is he thanking you for?"
"He believes I honored his request."
"Believes?" Damn, there are times I find it almost physically impossible to hold back the urge to throttle this machine. "What does John believe you did for him?"
She glances at me, maybe as frustrated with me as I am with her. "John did not feel well at school." Cameron pauses. "Our English teacher noticed and he sent John to the nurse."
"And the school didn't call me because..."
She turns away from me, her gaze tracking the path of a car heading down the street, but she continues the conversation. "John lied. Said you could not be reached."
I shake my head at my son's misplaced sense of logic. A discussion with him for another time. "And of course you went along with that lie. That's what the 'thank you' was for?"
"It was not John's orders I was following."
Cameron goes to step around me and I grab her arm, and I'm more than a little surprised when she offers no resistance. "Explain."
With a slow precise turn of her head, our tin toy glances at the direction of the couch.
"He's asleep," I answer before she even asks.
"It was not this John's request I was honoring."
I know it's futile, and that she can't feel it, but I tighten my grip on her arm, my nails biting into her terminator flesh.
"It was future John. He ordered me not to interfere."
A thousand questions, but I ask only one. "Why?"
"You'll have to ask him."
"Which John?" I ask through gritted teeth.
"They both can answer the question. The choice is yours, though I believe this John could answer your question sooner."
"I'll be right there." I give her a little shake before releasing her. "This is not the end of this discussion."
But it was. Between the two of us. The subject never came up again mainly because I did something I haven't done since... well, since never. I put the future where it belonged and spent a week being John's mother in the truest sense of the word. For five days, I was only John's mom. Not Sarah Connor. And it felt weird. And I faulted a few times. Okay, maybe more than a few times. There was some burnt toast. I discovered that milk shouldn't be given to someone with a fever because how it returns is gross enough to turn even my stomach. And it's okay to forget a dose of antibiotic in a twenty-four hour period even though the doctor in the clinic advised against it.
I learned a nap during the day isn't a death sentence and pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner after a day of vomiting isn't going to kill anyone. I drew on a well of patience I didn't know I had. I learned to win at Monopoly and not gloat and to lose at Go Fish and still hold my head high. I pretended to understand reality TV and laughed myself silly over a yellow sponge in shorts.
And Cameron. For five days I learned to trust her. Implicitly.
"Are you sure you feel up to going to school?" Hey, sue me, I've sharpened my parenting skills over the past five days and become acutely aware of John, which is why I'm assessing him. Studying him. He's pale and his voice has returned to it squeaky, pre pubescent pitch, but he's been fever free for twenty-four hours and driving me crazy for twelve. "I can't miss anymore school." John shoulders his backpack, picks up the piece of toast on the plate, thinks better of it and puts it down, all without taking a bite.
"How about I drive you?" I get hesitation and a non-committal shrug but he doesn't say no so I grab my keys, jingle them and shoo John towards the door. "Cameron's by the car," I answer, noticing his furtive glance into the house's interior.
"Oh," he says softly, but doesn't move.
"I just wanted to say..." he shrugs, the worn kitchen floor between his sneakers suddenly holds great interest. "Thanks for taking care of me." John glances up at me and honors me with an embarrassed, half smile. "You know, when I was sick."
It's my turn to be embarrassed. Not so much by his uncomfortable 'thank you' but for the fact he even had the need to believe he owed me one. I catch him off guard and pull him into a hug.
He stumbles towards me, and allows me two seconds before pushing me away, John shakes his head and without a backwards glance walks out the door. I've now scarred him for life with my emotional outburst. Good. That's what parents are for.
John's out of the Jeep before I stop at the curb, the poor kid is probably terrified that I'll make an attempt to kiss him in view of his peers. He slams the door, waves then takes off toward the entrance. Cameron is in the back seat, like me she's watching John. "Don't you need to keep an eye on him?"
"John wanted me to thank you."
"He already did."
"Not your John. Future John. He did not want me to interfere. For him, you stopped the world in those five days." She opens the door, stops then looks back at me. "I hope that answers your question."
Five days out of a lifetime, and if this is what memories my son takes with him, I can only hope it's enough.
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