The Gift

“Consider this an early birthday present,” Dad said as he put the wrapped present into Billy’s hands. Though wrapped, Billy had no doubt what the present was – a soccer ball.

“Thanks, Dad!” he gushed. As he quickly unwrapped it, Dad tousled the boy’s hair. After marveling over the newness of the ball, he quickly yanked open the door leading from the kitchen to the back porch. Hesitating briefly, he shouted over his shoulder, “Hey, Mom! I’m going outside the play.”

Mom’s voice drifted past his ears. “Okay, but stay in the yard.”

“Okay,” Billy replied, letting the door slam so hard the glass panes rattled their discontent. He raced down the porch steps into the yard. For several minutes he chased the ball around, trapping and sliding into it, kicking and bouncing the black and white orb against the garage walls. The ball rebounded toward him, and he spun and whipped his leg upward, driving his toes into its pliable surface. Like a shot, the ball arced up, and Billy twisted to watch it as it sailed over the peak of the house and out of sight. “Crap,” Billy groused. Must have gone into the front yard. He skirted the edge of the house, walking along the gravel driveway that ran between his house and the neighbors.

The front yard appeared around the corner, a nearly square patch of green grass framed by the brick front porch, the brick street that ran past it, and the parallel driveways of his house and the one next door. His father’s truck sat in the driveway, and a large row of bushes ran in front of the porch, bisected by a walkway from the driveway to the porch steps. He glanced around, but the ball was nowhere to be found – not under the truck, in the grass, street, or neighbor’s yards. The ball had to be there somewhere. Suddenly, it occurred to him – the bushes! He glanced into them, and sure enough – the black and white object sat deeply embedded in the branches. Getting down on his hands and knees, he wiggled under the outstretched tendrils of the bushes and deeply into the shade cast by its leaves. Just as he touched the ball, he heard the high-pitched screech of metal hinges and the thump of a door against a door frame. He perked up; that was the screen door from his house to the porch.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” his mother’s voice carried softly to his ears. His hand stopped groping the ball.

“Miranda,” his father’s deep-set voice replied. “If not now, then when? We’ve put it off too long.” Silence followed. Billy swallowed. His father never called his mother Miranda, except when he was ultra-serious.

“All right then,” his mother groused. “When do you want to do it?”

“End of the school year,” Dad answered. “After you sell the house, it will be easier to switch school systems then.” 

Billy froze. Switch school systems! What? He pulled his shaking hand back from the ball.  Again, silence.

“When should we tell him?”

“His birthday is coming up. Let’s not ruin it for him.”

Billy felt a chill run up his spine.

“Okay,” Dad replied. “Now, to the other matter. Did you read the papers?”

Billy’s mind raced. Papers? What papers?

“Yes,” Mom answered abruptly. “Your lawyer is very efficient.”

Dad chuckled. “That’s why I kept him on retainer.”

“That was not a compliment.” She paused. “So when are you going to tell him?”

“Me? Why should I have to tell him?”

“Because it was your idea, Ray.”

Dad replied sharply, “It was no idea. I fell in love. I told you that. How can I be punished for following my heart?” A lump formed in Billy’s throat as his heart thumped loudly inside his chest.

“The same way I was punished for marrying you,” she shot back.

He paused before replying. “That was low, even for you.”

“Whatever. Regardless, you owe him an explanation for why this is happening. He needs to know why his father is moving away and doesn’t want visitation rights.”

Pain clawed at Billy’s chest, and tears formed in his eyes. Moving?

“You’re making this complicated. You know why I can’t do visitation right now, Stacy and I …”

She quickly interjected, “Say that name one more time, and so help me, I’ll scratch your eyes out.”

“It is going to take time for me to get resettled. Then we can negotiate visitation rights.”

A gasp. “Negotiate? He’s your son, not a business deal.”

“There you go again,” Dad snapped back. “Making this whole thing emotional.”

The sound of paper crinkling reached his ears. “Just take your damned papers and go,” Mom replied.

“Fine,” Dad swore. “I tried to be civil about this, Mindy, but if that is the way you want it, then so be it.”

“That is entirely the point – I didn’t want it. Never once did I want this. You, however, did. So just go, and I’ll clean up the mess you made. Like always.”

“Bitch,” Dad snarled. The sound of heavy feet echoed on the porch steps. Billy watched as Dad walked quickly to the driveway, ripped open his driver-side door, and slammed it shut. In seconds, the truck started, and engine revving, it shot backwards into the street. With a short squeal of the tires, the truck disappeared down the street.

Billy watched the tail lights disappear into a cloud of gravel dust, slowly falling to the ground. Suddenly, sobs reached his ears, and the pain in his heart now throbbed in his throat. “M-m-m-om,” he croaked but knew he couldn’t be heard. He slipped from under the bush, leaving his ball wedged between the branches, and walked up the porch steps. At first, he didn’t see her, but he stopped when he reached the top of the steps. In the corner of the porch next to the house, Mom sat on the porch floor, head on her knees, sobbing uncontrollably. She looked up, eyes red, cheeks wet with tears.

“Oh,” she gasped. Awkwardly, she brushed herself off and hurriedly wiped her eyes. As she fixed a fake grin on her face, Billy put his arm on hers, and she looked up into his eyes. The grin disappeared. “You heard?”

“Everything,” Billy replied. His mother closed her eyes as more tears coursed down her cheeks. He quickly pushed closer and hugged her, pulling her tight as sadness racked her body. “I love you, Mom.”

She placed her hands on the sides of his face and looked into his eyes again. A smile crossed her face, almost displacing the red-rimmed sadness in her eyes. “I love you too, honey.” She hugged him tighter, pulling him so close he could feel her heart thumping. Billy lay there, listening to the rhythmic beat – Thank you for my gift, Mom.

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