"No! No, NO, NO!” his mother said. She stood at the sink scraping carrots and shook her head with each refusal. “I don’t want to hear another word about it, Kyle! Now finish setting the table. Brian will be here in a minute.”
Kyle wrenched the silverware drawer open, earning a disapproving glare. He yanked three knives, three forks, and three spoons from their places, slammed the drawer shut, and stalked into the dining room. Girls’ work; that’s what she had him doing. Setting a table to impress Big-Shot Brian, the cop. He didn’t care how often she said no. He was not going to spend eight weeks in summer school, locked in stuffy classrooms, when every kid he knew was outdoors having fun! He was fourteen, for god’s sake! He hadn’t gotten below a C in any class. Shouldn’t he have some say over his own life?
He went back to the kitchen to get the fancy dinner plates. Maybe he should have waited until after dinner to ask. She was tired from working all week and hungry. Later she’d be in a more reasonable mood. But later, Brian would be around. She would be so wrapped up in pleasing the guy that Kyle might just as well be invisible, for all she’d notice.
Kyle set the plates on a tray and took out three glasses. “I wouldn’t get in trouble.” He tried again, keeping his voice calm. “I’d be going to the beach mostly. There’ll be swim parties! And some of the guys are planning a camping trip! And . . . and . . .” He searched desperately for some argument that might impress her. “I’d go to the library, too. It’s not like I’d just turn off my brain! Mom, please!”
“No!” She glanced up. “Get the door. That must be Brian.” His mother ran a hand through her short blond hair and slipped into her heels.
Kyle slouched to the door, seething. She didn’t care about his feelings anymore, not since she’d met Brian three years ago. And now they were even talking about moving in together. Damned if he was going to hang around all summer with his nose in a book while Brian made eyes at his mom!
Brian and his mother had met when he’d stopped her for speeding. She’d been flustered and upset but he’d been so “sweet,” she’d said, that she’d almost thanked him when he wrote the ticket.
“Hi, Kyle. How’s it going?” Brian asked, standing there all starched and formal, a bouquet of flowers in hand. He must have come straight from work because he still wore his uniform. Or maybe he wore it because he thought it made him look important.
A blast of traffic noise from National Boulevard followed him into the room. Kyle stood aside so Brian could pass. He wasn’t about to tell Big-Shot Cop how anything was going. Who did Brian think he was—his father?
“Hear you’re going to summer school,” Brian said, looking back as Kyle shut the door. “Good plan. It’ll give some structure to your days. That’s what I did just before high school and there was plenty of time for fun, too. Angie?”
“I’m in the kitchen, hon. Be right out! Fix us a drink.”
Kyle followed Brian into the living room, making a face at his back. Brian always sided with Mom. He always talked about kids running wild when they had too much time on their hands. Mr. Rules-and-Regulations. There’d be no help from him.
Kyle bet his father wouldn’t be so mean. Ed Klinger was real laid-back. Whenever Dad visited, usually once a year since the divorce, they always had fun together. And he always took Kyle’s side against Mom. On his last visit he’d told Kyle about this neat gun club he’d started up in Michigan, where he lived. He said if Kyle ever wanted to visit he’d teach him how to shoot. If Mom had known, she’d have blown her top.
Suddenly Kyle knew how to get his way. He grinned at the thought. Mom would give in to anything rather than have him do this. He’d tell her not to worry. He wouldn’t argue about hanging out all summer anymore. But he wouldn’t go to school, either. Instead, he’d go to Michigan, spend the summer with Dad! That’s what he’d do. He was old enough. Wasn’t it time he got to know the other half of his genes?
The more he thought about it, the better the idea seemed. One way or the other he’d win. If she wouldn’t let him go to Dad, she’d have to let him take time off from school. Brilliant!
“You want to spend the summer with your father?” His mother’s voice rose. They were seated at the dinner table, just ready for dessert, when he broached the subject.
“Easy, Angie.” Brian laid a comforting hand on his mother’s fist.
“Sure,” Kyle said, the voice of reason. “Why not? He’s my father.”
“No.” His mother’s face turned red.
“But why? Why? You can’t just say no without a reason!” Kyle’s voice broke. It hadn’t gone the way he’d planned at all.
“We’ll talk about it later.” She turned to Brian. “I’ve got a wonderful tiramisu for dessert. Kyle, would you bring it in, please; it’s in the fridge. And bring the coffee, too, honey.”
Kyle pushed back his chair so it scraped noisily on his mom’s precious wood floor. He stumbled across the room and into the kitchen, slamming the door behind him. Damn, damn, damn, he cussed silently. He went to the fridge and took out the dessert plates. Maybe he should just run away. Run off to Dad without her permission. He’d saved enough for a ticket. He slapped the plates on a tray and headed for the door.
“Why not, Angie?” Brian’s voice came to him from the other room, subdued, almost in a whisper. “It’s not a bad idea, actually. And we could have the summer alone together.”
“Don’t you think I realize that? But I can’t. Ed’s a loser; I’ve told you.”
Kyle stiffened. He hated when his mother talked mean about his dad, especially in front of Mr. Big-Shot Cop. He wanted to march right in and tell her so. Instead, he waited at the door, listening.
“Don’t turn Kyle down just because of old wounds, Angie.”
“Old wounds? You don’t know the half of it!”
Kyle bit his lip, hoping his mother wouldn’t go on—about how his father always thought he was smarter than the boss. Couldn’t hold a job. Ran off to a rinky-dink town and left her with a six-year-old. . . .
“We’ve done all right,” he said, storming into the room. He set the tray on the table and glared at his mother. “Dad was pretty smart, seems to me, to get out of L.A. What’s here? You’re always saying how awful it...