The Big Surprise chapter 4

As we continued walking, I noticed Mona was following us. I figured my best option was to stay calm and let things happen however they would. I was curious to see if she would suddenly decide to pull us apart so she could keep me for herself. That would perhaps be a better bet. I did not want to acknowledge her behind me but I would not stop any progress she made to get me free.If my mother had quit smoking and doing such a poor job of seasoning food, I would consider moving back in with her. A part of me chose independence but the other part knew I was clueless on how to live by myself other than getting my own meals. If Connie continued shaking my hand forever, she would at least need to meet my mother and deal with her. If Charles was still visiting Teddy, I would ask him about driving us over there.

Connie said, “It’s such a great day today. I could walk with you everywhere. Let’s go down the hill and roam around a while.”

I said, “Instead, let’s stay up here and talk with Charles and Teddy.”

“That is not at all what I want to do. In fact, I’ll do everything I can to avoid that.”

“Okay. In that case, you avoid it and I pursue it. You can turn your head and ignore us when we talk.” 

Behind us, Mona said, “That’s a good idea.” 

Since I was pretending Mona was not behind me, I refrained from giving a reply, even though I had one ready. Instead, I said, “We could walk all the way to my mother’s place. That will take only a few hours if we walk quickly and don’t pay attention to stoplights.” 

Mona said, “It’s better to pay attention to the stoplights.”

Connie said, “I would prefer to avoid seeing her. She made you a wimp and I don’t want to see you turn into complete jelly in her presence.” 

I said, “But if we’re staying together, it’s inevitable.”

“The part about you turning to jelly?”

“No. The part about meeting her.”

Mona said, “I’ve seen his mother. She picked him up from school.”

Connie turned and faced her. “Why are you talking?”

Mona stood stiff as if ready for a fight. “I’m giving my opinion.” 

“You’re not invited in this conversation.” 

“Well, you seem as obsessed with him as me. You’re doing one better. You’re holding him tight. I wanted to do that in fourth grade. I knew he was looking at me and he was the only boy who did. He looked at me nonstop. I wish I had a picture for every time he looked at me. I would paste them up on my wall.” 

Connie frowned. “Did you like her back in high school?”

I said, “We weren’t in high school together. This was fourth grade.” 

“I know that. But did you think of her in high school?” 

Mona’s eyes widened. “Yes. Did you think of me during high school?” 

I would need to use my best powers of evasion. “It wouldn’t matter whether I did or not. You went to a different school.”

“Yeah, it wouldn’t matter because we wouldn’t have seen each other. So, did you think of me back in high school?”

“I already said it wouldn’t matter.”

“That’s true. You said that. So, if it didn’t matter, you’d be able to answer the question.”

“Maybe not. Maybe I’m not answering because it doesn’t matter if I do or not.” 

“Maybe you’re not answering the question because there’s something in your answer that you’re afraid to tell me.” 

“It’s not so much that I’m afraid to tell you. It’s more that it doesn’t matter as far as how I feel right now.”

“Hmm. So, you no longer feel for me the way you did back in high school?” 

With that line of questioning, she would sneak the answer out of me. If I said I did not feel the same way about her now, she would think my feelings were strong back then. I said, “That’s not true. I still feel about you the way I did back then.”

Connie frowned. “Why don’t you just answer her damn question and we can get past this?” 

Mona smiled. “I’m having fun trying to figure this out. So, let’s forget about back then. How do you feel about me now?” 

I said, “I’m not going to be tricked into telling you.”

“Wow. So that must mean you really don’t like me and you never did.”

“That’s not true.” 

“Okay. So you do like me.”

“It doesn’t matter.” 

“It seems like you say it doesn’t matter as a substitute for saying yes. Is that right?”

“It doesn’t matter.” 

“Oh my God! You liked me back then and you still do! That’s so great.” 

I was angry. “I didn’t admit to it!”

“No. But I figured it out.” 

“You shouldn’t have done that!”

She pointed to me. “You just admitted it!”

“Okay. Whatever. I didn’t want to admit it! But you wouldn’t stop! At least I didn’t mention why I liked you.” Uh oh. 

“The mystery continues. There’s a reason why you liked me. Let’s put it in the present tense. You still like me and there’s a reason for it.”

“I would rather not talk about it because it’s something special that I don’t want ruined.”

“On the contrary, I need to know what you mean.” 

“Let’s just say there was something about you that made me like you and what makes me still like you. Now that I said it, will you please go away and forget it?” 

“That’s not going to work.”

“If you really want to know, you did something that intrigued me and made me think about you every day. That’s as far as I’ll go with that.”

“You’ve been thinking about me every day since fourth grade?” 

“No. After you moved away, I forgot about you but when I saw you now, I see that I still like you.”

“So, you’re saying there’s something about me now that reminds you of what you liked about me back then. What is it?”

“I’m not going to tell you.” 

She ran towards me and grabbed my other hand but not handshake style. Handhold style. “I’m not going to let go until you tell me.”

I asked, “What if I said I want you to hold my hand?” 

“Then I won’t let go after you tell me.”

“Okay. Then I won’t tell you.” 

“Oh, you’ll tell me.” She squeezed my hand harder and harder until I could not stand the pressure. 

“Okay! You always tucked in your shirt!”

She stopped squeezing and released the pressure but still held on. “You mean you like that? Why didn’t you tell me?” 

“I was nine years old. I didn’t know that what I felt was a sense of liking you. I was intrigued at the consistency of what only you did.”

“That’s interesting because the reason I did it was for my own benefit. There were other girls who were more fashion conscious and tucked in their shirts all the time too.”

“Yes but they didn’t tuck in their sweaters or sweatshirts. You did.”

“That’s right. I figured the only way to feel totally confident in a style was to do it completely without exception. Sally Bennings, my good friend, told me at the Christmas party not to pull out my sweater. She said it looked good the way I had it. She was the girl all the others thought was the coolest so I was grateful she was considerate enough to help me like that. I continued tucking in everything as a favor to her. That was until around the first year of high school when it didn’t matter what she thought anymore. She hadn’t been around in a few years, anyway. But I continued tucking things in because it was part of my identity. I never stopped.” 

“Okay. That was interesting. You can let go of my hand now.” 

She frowned. “You smug little creep! I confess something meaningful to you and all you can say is I can let go of your hand? I said I wasn’t going to let go after you told me why you liked me.” 

“At first you said you would.” 

“Sorry. I’m holding on.” 

Connie said, “I should be bothered by this but I’d be a hypocrite if I told you not to do something I’m doing. Plus, he sometimes likes using his other hand to try to pry himself loose from me. You can prevent him from doing that.” 

We all continued walking. I was very frustrated and tried wiggling my arms and hands around hoping to annoy them so they would let go but that did not work.

Since we were returning in the direction of Teddy’s home anyway, I figured we could go there so he and Charles could see the predicament I was in. I could care less if Connie objected.

When I saw them, I lifted my arms so they could see both of my hands were held. They looked at me with very little expression as if nothing was unusual. I said, “I’d like your help.”

Charles nodded. “Hi, Mona.” 

She said, “Hi, Charles.” 

Teddy said, “I’d asked Mona out on a date many times but she always turns me down. She says she only has eyes for you, Stephen. You’re lucky.” 

I said, “She won’t let go of my hand. Neither of them will.” 

“I dig that. It makes it easier. You don’t have to hold on as tight”

“But I want to be free. It’s like they don’t trust me to stay put.” 

Charles shrugged. “I’ve never trusted you to stay put. If it wasn’t for my bringing you here, you would be dealing with your landlord right now, maybe walking the streets like a tumbling tumbleweed or going to mommy and breathing her smoke.”

“Are you telling me you knew about this in advance and that’s why you brought me here?”

Teddy shrugged. “Connie’s holding on to you because you need guidance.” 

I asked, “So, Connie, you’re not so crazy after all? You’re just doing this because someone told you to do it?” 

“That’s part of it but I was also curious to see how someone would react to being held. I admit it’s fun.”

“So, you’re not going to hold on forever?” 

“I didn’t say I was letting go, did I?” 

“No. Charles, can I please call mom?” 

Charles shrugged. “Sure.” He held his cell phone to me but I could not take it.

“Very funny. Can you call her for me?”

“Okay. Can I speak for you?” 

“I’d rather speak to her.” 

He shook his head. “It’s not a good idea to talk to her.” 

“Why not? Maybe she can clue me in on what’s going on.” 

“Yes, she can. She will be weird. You’ll be clued in on that.”

“For Pete’s sake, call her!” 

“Let me ask Mona. Should I call the mom?”

Mona said, “Yes. I want Steven to be happy.”

I asked, “Why are you holding on, Mona?”

“Because I love you.” 

“Did you put her up to this, Charles?” 

He shrugged. “No. Connie’s my doing.”

“Then who put her up to it?”

Teddy said, “I didn’t. I want her for myself.”

Mona said, “I love you.” 

“So you did this on your own?” 

“I would have done it sooner but I didn’t know where you were. Bobby and I were trying to find you. I have to say I sure hope you’re not going because I can’t quit until you’re mine but Bobby won’t quit either so that’s what we have in common but we’re both rivals.”

“This is too weird. Why doesn’t everybody leave me alone? I never had a chance to live on my own without outside help. Maybe I’ll sleep in the bushes tonight.”

Charles held up the phone again. “Here’s mommy.” 

I spoke into it. “Hello. Mom?”

Mother responded, “Hello, Stephen. When are you coming home? I need more cigarettes.” 

“I’d like to see you so we can talk about something that happened.”

“Did Charles call me mommy? He’s rather rude.”

“He’s making it hard for me to visit you. I’m detained at the moment.” I felt odd giving details to my mother.

“He’s always been a shit. I should have thrown him in the Cabbage Patch.”

“Mom, I guess we have to talk this way. He won’t drive me to see you.”

“Why can’t you walk it? Where are you?” 

“Waterville.”

“That’s a long way from here, honey.” 

“I know. Charles told me you never paid my rent. He said the manager evicted me so I have no place to stay.” 

“That’s so great, Stephen. You can stay with me.” 

“I asked you each month if you paid the rent and you said you did and everything would work out for the best.” 

“It did work out for the best. You get to live with me and shop for my cigarettes.” 

“I’m tired of hearing about those cigarettes. They’re the reason I left. I couldn’t stand the smoke. You lied to me on purpose so I could not stay in my own place. I lived just a one minute walk away. You could have told me the truth about everything so I could figure out a way to handle my own living situation.”

“That’s beautiful, Steven. Now we get to live together.” 

“I’m not staying with you mother.”

“How dare you say that when I paid your rent and let you live on your own?” 

I sighed. “The thing is, you did not pay my rent. You said you did but you didn’t.”

“That’s right. I said I did. That’s because I wanted you to have a nice place to stay so you could be on your own even though you’d be spending all of your time with me,”

“I want to be in charge of the money from dad’s survivor’s benefits.” 

“Oh, Stephen. You cannot handle the money on your own. I never taught you anything about living. You need to stay with me.”

“So, you’re not going to give me control over the money? It belongs to me.”

“I know it belongs to you, sweetie, and I’m not going to let you have control over it. I’m not giving you any money to feed yourself or take care of necessities. You need me.”

Charles asked, “Is mommy talking nice to you?”

Mother asked, “Is that snot-nosed Charles in the background I hear?”

I said, “Yes.”

“He should have known better than to have me pregnant with him.” 

“I think you were responsible for it happening mom, not him.” 

“I met your father in a mental institution.”

“Oh. Was he a patient?” 

“No. I was. He worked there as a cook for a little while and, when I met him, he said that when I got out he would ask me out on a date.”

“Was he desperate?” 

She yelled. “What the hell kind of thing is that to ask me?” 

“I’m just saying that he might have had trouble getting dates with sane women.” 

“You’re a fucking stupid asshole! You sound like Charles. Maybe you should have been thrown in the Cabbage Patch with Charles.” 

“He wasn’t in a cabbage patch.”

“Please come home to see me. I need you.” 

To Charles, I said, “You can hang up now.” 

He nodded and put his cell phone away. “Okay.”

Teddy said, “I’d like you to hold my hand, Mona.”

She said, “I can’t. I’m holding Stephen.” 

Connie said, “We’re going to have to figure something out.”

I yelled, “You can all leave me alone!”

Connie shook her head. “I can’t. I’m afraid you’ll run off in the woods like a giant bug.”

Mona smiled. “I’ll be your giant bug, Stephen.”

I knew that my knowledge of living on my own was minimal but, regardless of allowing my mother to handle a living situation in which I should have been in control, I had an inkling that the chaos I was experiencing now was nowhere near sane. I did not know how to free myself physically from the hand shackles of two women whose common sense was questionable but I figured that, if I stood still for about five or ten minutes, I could figure out some mental plan to disengage myself from everything. Perhaps I was the only sane one and everyone needed me around so each could achieve his or her own sense of balance. Regardless, I had to think of an option.

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