Sticks and Stones Kindle Ready Front Cover JPEGChapter 29: Sick World
The facial tics were disturbing. Both Dr. Diaz and WebMD assured her that the twitching was not uncommon and would soon subside, yet here they were, ten days into his Ritalin prescription and the synaptic spasms persisted. Every time his little body jolted she had to fight back tears.

She watched them from the hallway. Evan picked at his food while Maddy gave a YouTube tutorial with pizza sauce smeared from her mouth to her dimples. โ€œAnd this is Grumpy Cat.โ€ Mason was wedged between them on the couch, downing slice after slice with a casual voracity that could only be described as Davidesque.

He laughed at something on the tablet and almost lost a mouthful of Meat Lovers with extra cheese.

Maddy smiled at him. โ€œSee? Computers are fun. You donโ€™t have to be afraid.โ€

โ€œAfraid?โ€ He swallowed his food. โ€œYou should know by now that I ainโ€™t afraid of nothing. Remember the way I took out that robber?โ€ He acted out a choke slam.

Brooke rolled her eyes in the shadows.

โ€œHey,โ€ Maddy protested. โ€œMe and Evan helped.โ€

He reached for another slice of pizza.

โ€œI know somebody youโ€™re afraid of,โ€ said her daughter with a sly smile. โ€œMy mommy.โ€

“Psshh,โ€ he grinned at Evan. โ€œAre you hearing this Commando?โ€

Brooke walked into the living room and began cleaning up. โ€œAll right guys. Bed time. Say good night to Mason.โ€

A cascade of crumbs fell from Evanโ€™s lap as he stood and slogged toward the staircase.

Maddy pouted, attempting to buy time. โ€œBut Mom โ€ฆ I didnโ€™t get to ask him about music class.โ€

โ€œAsk while youโ€™re walking, Madison.โ€

โ€œOkay. Do you think I should sign up for tuba or violin?โ€

He reached for his water as Brooke raked the parmesan cheese packets and used napkins into an empty pizza box. She flinched as the glass passed in front of her face. Soap scum.

He either didnโ€™t notice or didnโ€™t care. โ€œIs this a trick question? Have you ever met a tuba-playing rock star? I vote violin.โ€

โ€œMe too!โ€ said Maddy, disappearing up the stairs. โ€œNighty-night, Mason.โ€

He caught Brooke staring and lowered his voice. โ€œWhy are you looking at me like that? Should I have gone with tuba?โ€

She snapped out of it. โ€œNo โ€ฆ no, I was hoping she’d choose the violin.โ€

He continued to watch her over the rim of his glass. โ€œWhat about Evan? Is he thinking of picking up an instrument? Seems like heโ€™d be a natural drummer, all that energy.โ€

Evan. For the thousandth time, she wondered if she was doing the right thing.

โ€œAt least he had a lot of energy,โ€ Mason said. โ€œI barely recognized the kid in my truck today. So quiet. It was like he wasnโ€™t even there. Except for that horrible twitching.โ€

His words hit a nerve. โ€œItโ€™s actually a common side effect of his medication.โ€

โ€œWhich part? The disappearing personality or the twitching?โ€

Although she agonized over these exact questions, his interrogation was making her defensive. โ€œLook, I happen to work in the medical field. I spend over forty hours a week around doctors. These are not just colleagues, theyโ€™re friends. Trust me, my sonโ€™s treatment plan is being closely monitored by some of the best health care providers in the state.โ€

โ€œTreatment plan for what?โ€

She rolled her eyes. โ€œI doubt youโ€™d be familiar with the diagnosis.โ€

He didnโ€™t budge. โ€œTry me.โ€

โ€œFine,โ€ she sighed. โ€œHeโ€™s combined type Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, displaying both inattentive as well as hyperactive and impulsive symptoms. Not that itโ€™s any of your business.โ€

His smile was infuriating. โ€œSo basically a bunch of fancy words for normal, energetic little kid?โ€

โ€œWell his teacher and his doctor and Blane would tend to disagree. Not to mention millions of families all over the world.โ€

His face hardened at the mention of Blane. โ€œSounds like Iโ€™m outnumbered and outgunned then. Who am I to argue with teachers and doctors and Blane? But let the record reflect that in the opinion of this lowly convict, eleven-year-old boys shouldnโ€™t be put on dope because theyโ€™re too hyper for their teachers or their doctors or their mothersโ€™ boyfriends to handle.โ€ He stood up. โ€œThereโ€™s nothing wrong with Evan. Itโ€™s the world thatโ€™s sick. Iโ€™ll let myself out.โ€

She stormed down the hallway after him. โ€œHow dare you insinuate that Iโ€™m a bad mother!โ€

โ€œI didnโ€™tโ€”โ€

โ€œHow convenient for you to stroll in here with your simplistic world view and your cereal box psychology and your โ€ฆ your โ€ฆโ€ She groped for hurtful words. โ€œYour prison tattoos! Youโ€™ve never had to chase him around a department store or punish him for making an F. Youโ€™ve never had to physically detach him from his Xbox controller.โ€

He paused at the door. โ€œYouโ€™re right. But arenโ€™t you the one that said your kids arenโ€™t stupid, just inexperienced? How can Evan learn from his experiences when heโ€™s doped into submission? Little boys are naturally hyper. I sure as hell was. But that energy ought to be harnessed and directed, not medicated into oblivion.โ€

โ€œIs that how you turned out to be such a winner?โ€ she smirked. โ€œForgive me if Iโ€™m not inspired by your example.โ€

His eyes flashed pain. She regretted her words even as she spoke them. Mason was a good man. It was herself she was grappling with.

โ€œGood night, Brooke.โ€ He opened the door.

Blane was standing on her welcome mat, his gelled hair gleaming in the yellow glow of the porch light. He was holding a single red rose. His sculptured eyebrow ascended like a half moon on the smooth, tanned skin of his forehead.

โ€œAm I interrupting something?โ€

Chapterย 30: The Winner Mows by Night
He mowed with a vengeance, taking his anger out on the overgrown yard. An arcing spray of cut grass rainbowed in his wake, phosphorescent in the moonlight. A rock pinged off his truck. He used his forearm to wipe the dust from his brow and kept pushing, as if the lawnmower blades could lay low his shame, his guilt, his powerlessness, along with the grass.

Across the street, Franโ€™s bedroom light switched on. He figured he was violating some noise ordinance by mowing after 10:00 p.m., probably a black mark on his neighborhood watch report card. But he was mowing his grass. It seemed like that would merit a gold star in his homeowners association file. Who constituted these shadowy organizations anyway? The only one he ever saw was Fran. Was she both judge and jury? He was beginning to not care. Maybe it was time to sell the house and move away โ€ฆ some place where he could be anonymous โ€ฆ where his criminal history wasnโ€™t common knowledge.

Brookeโ€™s words echoed in his mind. As loud as the lawnmower was, it still couldnโ€™t drown them out. โ€œIs that how you turned out to be such a winner?โ€ He pushed harder. Rounding the river birch and wrought iron chairs, to the hedges and back in long vertical lines, up and down, over and over.

He was near the front porch step when he noticed her. She was standing at the edge of the driveway in sweatpants and a tank top, hair up in a scrunchy, face scrubbed clean of makeup and achingly beautiful.

He ripped the lawnmower in a 180-degree turn and headed back toward the hedges. When he returned she was blocking his path. He tried to go around her but she was too quick.

He killed the engine. โ€œWhat?โ€

โ€œAre you crazy?โ€

He shook his head. โ€œJust a loser.โ€

She flinched but stayed the course. โ€œItโ€™s too late at night to be mowing your lawn. Someone will call the police.โ€

He glanced at Franโ€™s house. โ€œI donโ€™t care.โ€

โ€œMason, please โ€ฆ Iโ€™m sorry, okay?โ€

โ€œApology accepted. Go away.โ€

He left the lawnmower in the grass and walked over to the porch. She followed.

โ€œCome on.โ€ She sat down next to him, her arm grazing his. โ€œYou of all people should believe in second chances. I was wrong tonight. I admit it. I lashed out at you. You didnโ€™t deserve that. Iโ€™m just under an unbelievable amount of stressโ€ฆโ€

Her words trailed off into the now lawnmowerless night.

โ€œWhereโ€™s Blane?โ€

โ€œHe went home.โ€ She hugged herself and rubbed her arms. โ€œItโ€™s cold out here.โ€

He envied her hands. โ€œDo you want to come inside?โ€

She shook her head. โ€œI can only stay a second. Maddyโ€™s still awake. I just wanted to apologize for being so rude and โ€ฆ with all the chaos earlier I forgot to tell you the exciting news.โ€

He waited in silence, watching her. His eyes were drawn to a lonely freckle suspended on the side of her graceful neck, inches beneath her pierced earlobe.

โ€œI have a friend from work who wants to go out with you.โ€

He blinked. The spell was broken. โ€œThatโ€™s the big news?โ€

Her eyes sparkled. โ€œYes!โ€

โ€œIโ€™ll pass.โ€

โ€œCome on, Mason. How long has it been since youโ€™ve enjoyed the company of a beautiful woman?โ€

โ€œIโ€™m doing that right now.โ€

She swatted his knee. โ€œStop. Iโ€™m being serious.โ€

He focused on a bright and distant light in the sky. Whether star, planet, or satellite, he couldnโ€™t tell. โ€œI donโ€™t want to go on a date with anyone.โ€

โ€œBut youโ€™d love her. Sheโ€™s exactly your type.โ€

โ€œIโ€™m sorry, Brooke. I just donโ€™t think itโ€™d be a good idea.โ€

โ€œPlease,โ€ she pouted. โ€œI already told her you would. Sheโ€™s so excited. I donโ€™t want to hurt her feelings.โ€

He turned to her, searching her eyes. โ€œYou really want me to date someone?โ€

She nodded. โ€œI think youโ€™ll adore her.โ€

โ€œOkay. One date.โ€

She clapped her hands.

He continued to stare at her. โ€œUnder one condition.โ€

โ€œWhat?โ€

โ€œTake Evan off that zombie medication.โ€

She blew a loose strand of hair from her face. โ€œPlease donโ€™t start this again.โ€

โ€œHe doesnโ€™t need it. He just needs direction. Look, you said yourself there is too much estrogen in your household. Let me work with him.โ€

โ€œMason, I know your heartโ€™s in the right place, butโ€”โ€

โ€œGo ahead and say it. Iโ€™m not the stereotypical role model. No argument there. But me and Evan are a lot more alike than you think. I wasnโ€™t much older than he is now when I lost my dad. Over the last thirty years, prison psych doctors have diagnosed me with everything from seasonal depression to borderline personality disorder to PTSD. And if ADHD was popular when I was in elementary school, Iโ€™m sure I wouldโ€™ve been a prime candidate for that too. I canโ€™t even count how many medications Iโ€™ve been prescribed and refused.โ€

She rocked against him with her shoulder. โ€œThanks, that makes me feel a lot better about everything.โ€

He smiled. โ€œIโ€™m not knocking medication. Iโ€™m sure it saves thousands of lives but, come on, youโ€™re a nurse. Havenโ€™t you ever wondered how much pharmaceutical companies are making off all these prescriptions? Billions, Iโ€™m sure, and thatโ€™s probably lowballing it.โ€

She stared into the night.

โ€œLook, when I was thirty I met a doctor named Gavin Ponder. Real laid back dude. He wasnโ€™t pushy at all with the meds. Just the opposite. He showed me this article in a magazine called Nature about the positive effects of exercise on the brain and how the benefits are especially pronounced in people diagnosed with some form of mental illness. That was all I needed to hear.โ€

She stood up. โ€œSo you think exercise will save my son?โ€

โ€œI think it will make him more disciplined, more confident, and burn off some of that excess energy he has.โ€ He walked her to the driveway. โ€œBut Iโ€™m not just talking exercise. Franโ€™s been on my back about making this place presentable. He can help me do work around here too. Itโ€™ll be good for him.โ€

โ€œHmm,โ€ she said, wheels turning. โ€œMale bonding.โ€

โ€œIf thatโ€™s what you want to call it.โ€

โ€œLet me think about it.โ€

He touched her wrist. โ€œCome on, Brooke. That poor kid thatโ€™s been staggering around here isnโ€™t Evan. I know you want your son back.โ€

She glanced in the direction of her house. โ€œMaddy says your mom is a sweet woman.โ€

โ€œSheโ€™s late stage Alzheimerโ€™s. She doesnโ€™t know who I am.โ€

โ€œMasonโ€ฆโ€ Her eyes widened, then filled with tears. โ€œYouโ€™re hurting! I had no idea.โ€

He fumbled around in his mind for the polite response but all thoughts were swallowed in the groundswell of her embrace. Slowly, carefully, he folded his arms around her.

She looked up at him. Even in the dark, her eyes were sunlight playing on the ocean, drawing him in.

Her lips parted.

He lowered his head.

โ€œCrystal,โ€ she said.

He froze. โ€œWho?โ€

โ€œYour date. Her name is Crystal.โ€

ยฉ2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
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