CHAPTER FIVE - A NAME TO WAKE THE DEAD
Sebastian hardly remembered the climb up the hill though the soft feeling of the earth under his palms had him sweating. He glanced back down to the forest and thought of the field that was beyond it. Fallon was there. Naked. He grinned helplessly.
Will he ever tell me what the hell happened tonight that caused him to be buck-naked in a field?
Sebastian shook his head, chuckling. Now that he wasn't being lied to, the mystery was intriguing rather than angering. He straddled his bike, threw on his helmet and turned the key in the ignition of his motorcycle. With its kitten-like purr beneath him, he took off for home. He wasn't sure how long he had been in the field, but he knew he was late. He motored down his street and turned into his driveway. Mona had the front lights on, but he was going through the garage. It was empty now except for the motorcycle, a snow shovel and a few bent and twisted rakes. Even though the insurance company had paid out for the Camry, he'd spent the money on his mother's medical care. Getting another car had unnerved him. He propped the motorcycle up on its kickstand and hung his helmet on the handlebars. Then he slipped into the kitchen through the garage door. Mona was sitting at the kitchen island, knitting something bright and fleecy. Her needles clacked as she set them on the granite countertop.
"I was so worried, Sebastian! Where have you been?" she said.
"Oh, god, Mona, I should have called. I ..." He stopped. He couldn't tell her about the Gedeons. He'd promised Fallon that he would keep it a secret. "I stayed late at work to make dough for the morning. We were out." He cringed at the lie.
"I called your cell phone, but you didn't answer! I am always worried when you ride home at night on that death machine!" She gave a shudder as she referred to his motorcycle.
A stab of guilt went through him. Of course she would worry about him being in a crash. It might be rare for lightening to strike the same place twice, but motorcycle accidents were common. Wanting to get off that topic as quickly as possible, he said, "How's Mom?"
He didn't ask if his mother noticed he was gone late. Mona would say she had, but even if the Russian woman believed it, Sebastian did not. It was a comforting lie he could not believe in anymore.
"She is doing well today. I put her in her favorite pink nightgown for bed," Mona said proudly. She patted her messy bun.
"I'll check in on her for a minute and then I'll be right back," Sebastian said.
He was supposed to pay Mona tonight. He planned on giving her all the money he had in his pockets from Piero's that week, but it wasn't enough to cover her whole salary. That he could still keep Mona on was another comforting lie that he had to let go of as well. He sighed and rubbed his eyes wearily.
What am I going to do without Mona? Who is going to take care of Mom while I'm in school? Or even if I drop school, what about when I'm at work? Panic rushed though him, but he thrust it away. He would think of something. He had to.
"I'll get my things together." She began to put skeins of brightly colored wool and her knitting needles back in a voluminous needlepoint bag.
Sebastian walked swiftly through the darkened hallway towards his parents' room at the back of the house. He remembered so many nights when he had tiptoed home at three in the morning and his mother would appear in the threshold, arms crossed, one foot tapping, and a relieved, but angry glint in her eyes.
"I thought you would be asleep, Mom. That's why I didn't call," he'd tell her.
"Sebastian, do you honestly think I can sleep when you're not home? Don't you know anything, my son?" She'd say and hug him fiercely.
He had loved the hugs, but found her worrying to be exasperating. After all, what could happen to him in this town? It was so boring here. And he was young, i.e., he was going to live forever. How things had changed. What he wouldn't give to see her standing in that doorway now, waiting for him. He softly pushed open the door to his parents' bedroom with his fingertips. Mona had put a peach nightlight beside his mother's bed so that it was easy to check on her without turning on the overhead light that might disturb her.
His mother's breathing, deep and slow, was the only sound. He crept around the bottom of the bed to the side she slept on. A chair was placed near there against the wall. He pulled it over so that his knees would just touch the mattress. He sat down and saw his mother through peach-colored light. She looked absurdly young in her fleecy Pepto-Bismol pink nightgown with her hair curling around her face. She would have hated the clothes that Mona dressed her in. His mother was a tomboy. He could still imagine her in the jeans with the rips in the knees as she got up from gardening. She's dust her hands off on her thighs, leaving smears of mud clinging to the jeans. There would be another streak of mud on one cheek. Her hair would be windblown and sweat would have stuck a few strands to her neck. But she would still be beautiful in his eyes. A lump formed in Sebastian's throat.
His mother was sleeping or at least her eyes were closed. She would never wait up for him again. Sebastian covered his face with his hands. She would never garden again. The backyard had lain fallow this year. He didn't have the time or green thumb necessary to make it bloom like she had. There were no summer tomatoes bursting with juice or peas so sweet they were like candy. And the roses were a tangled, wild mess. They had still bloomed. Their blossoms huge and practically dripping with their perfume. He had dreaded watching the last bloom fall that summer. It meant that his mother would have truly missed a summer, like she had the spring and winter before that. After a few moments, he uncovered his face.
"Hey, Mom, I'm home," he whispered. He found it easier to talk to her when she was asleep. Being asleep was a reason for her not to respond to him. It wasn't like talking to the living doll she was the rest of the time. He could pretend that she would open her eyes any minute, blink them wearily then brighten when she realized her son was home. "Today was pretty exciting for me. How about for you?"
His mother's chest rose and fell peacefully. She made no move to show that she heard him.
"I rode up Easham Hill. First time since the accident. I didn't freeze up or anything. There was a reason for that. I saw ... well, I've got to start from the beginning," Sebastian explained.
He brushed a stray curl off her forehead. His mother's brow was unlined. It was as if she had lost years of worry since the accident. The laugh lines around her eyes and mouth were muted as well from lack of use.
"A friend of yours came back to town," Sebastian said. "I'm sort of hoping that he'll become a friend of mine, too. He was the reason I was up on Easham Hill." Sebastian found himself grinning and blushing as he remembered Fallon naked. The man was as dignified bare as the day he was born as he had been in his designer clothes.
Samantha's head moved slightly on the pillow. For a moment, Sebastian's heartbeat accelerated. Was she listening to him? It was such a natural movement she made. Normally, she was as still as stone when she slept now.
"Can you guess who it is?" he asked her. "I'll give you some clues, okay? First, he's really kind. Intelligent. And funny." Sebastian shifted in his seat as Fallon's glorious naked form flashed before his mind. "Oh, yeah and -- uhm, gorgeous. I don't think I ever told you something important about me that might --uhm, explain why his looks really are throwing me a bit." Sebastian gave his mother a fond smile. "I never got the chance to tell you that I'm ... well, I'm gay, Mom. You probably already knew that. Can't believe it's never come up in any of our talks."
Her breathing lightened. He could almost imagine she was feigning sleep now to encourage him to confess more. It was a foolish hope to have, but he found himself leaning towards her to make sure she heard every word.
"Probably didn't come up, because I've never felt this way about someone before. And it was so quick. Or maybe since it started when I was a kid, it's really been so long," he said. "That should give you a clue. It's someone who has been gone ten years. So add it up. We have incredibly beautiful, gone ten years -- oh, and the scion of the oldest, wealthiest family around here. Give up? C'mon, you're hardly trying!"
Her head really had shifted more towards him that time. Her lashes moved slightly as if she were going to open her eyes. He found her right hand above the covers and threaded their fingers together.
"I'll tell you who it is if you open your eyes for me. Just open you eyes and ..."
He could see his mother's eyes moving under her lids rapidly. She was in REM sleep. She was dreaming. He felt crushed for a moment. His shoulders slumped.
If she's dreaming that means something. There's something going on in her head. That's a plus. So what if she didn't hear me?
He sighed deeply and raised his head. "Well, I'm going to tell you anyways. Because you have to get ready to see him tomorrow. He's coming over here just for you and you'll want to look your best for him. It's ..." Sebastian found himself blushing just thinking of Fallon again. He wasn't surprised when he said the other man's name in a reverential whisper. "It's Fallon Gedeon, Mom. Fallon's coming over tomorrow."
A sound, perhaps a gasp or maybe a soft cry, had Sebastian looking up at his mother's face. Her eyes were open. She was staring at him. Her mouth was agape. It was moving. She was trying to say something. Trying to speak.
"Mom? Mom? Is -- is that you?" Sebastian asked. He stood up and reached for the lamp switch on the bedside table. He nearly knocked the lamp over in his haste. The sunny light suddenly flooded the room. "Mona! MONA!"
"My goodness, what it is, Sebastian?" The Russian woman hurried in. Her eyes went to the bed. "Is she choking? What's wrong?"
"Mom is trying to talk!" Sebastian said. "See! Look!"
But when he pointed down at his mother, Samantha Ford was staring up at the ceiling. Her mouth was slightly open, but just to breathe, not to speak. She wasn't looking at him at all, let alone with intelligence and meaning in her gaze. Mona walked over to the bed. She patted his mother's shoulder.
"She just woke up, Sebastian, when she heard your voice. Now, now, dear, we'll let you sleep. Don't you worry about --"
"No! Mona, she was trying to speak! You don't understand. She responded to me." Sebastian stroked his mother's arm. "Mom, please ... please, do that again. Try to speak again."
But his mother stared upwards sightlessly. Had he imagined her reaction? Had his hope clouded his vision? Had his own excitement merely woken her from sleep but not from the dark place where her soul had gone? Anguish seized him. He couldn't bear this anymore. He needed his mother to be herself again. They were going to lose the house. There wasn't enough money for food. He was going to have to fire Mona and then do what he didn't know. He needed his mother. But her face was slack. Her breathing even. She was a living doll with an empty head and empty eyes. Sebastian grasped her shoulders, about to shake her, but Mona grabbed his arm and stopped him.
"No, Sebastian! You'll hurt her!" she cried.
"She needs to wake up!" he shouted. Sebastian wanted to hurt his mother at that moment. Shocked and sickened by his own reaction, he quickly released her and sprang back as if burned.
"Oh, sweet boy, I know you want her awake. But this is not the way." Mona's brown eyes pled with him to stop.
"No, it's not. But ... but there is no way. No one can help her." He turned his back on the bed and stalked over to the window. He rested his head against his forearm by the windowpane. He stared out at the moonlight-silvered back yard. "There's nothing physically wrong with her! She should be talking and eating and everything! But she lies there! A corpse!"
"She is still here, Sebastian. Just hiding deep in her mind to escape ... and she has gotten lost and now cannot find her way out," Mona said.
"How are you so sure she's there at all? Because I'm not. I knew her before she was like this and there's not an inch of her left." He rubbed the tears from his cheeks. It was foolish to cry. Useless, too.
"I've been with enough people in comas to know the difference. There are some that are clearly gone. Their bodies are empty husks," Mona said. "Your mother is awake yet not. She is an open door that she has fled through. We need to urge her back."
"She's left me here with all this stuff to deal with!" He shook. "She's run away from her responsibilities. Leaving me with them. And I don't know what to do! I -- I have no fucking clue what to do!"
He heard Mona pulling the covers up around his mother. The Russian woman petted and soothed her. As if that even matters. Maybe if she's treated like crap she'll get up and do things for herself. Another wave of hatred for himself and his mother washed over him. He fisted his hands. He was so tired. So fucking tired of all of this. His joy over Fallon receded. Like he'll want to date me when Mom and I are living under the overpass. Jesus Christ ... what are we going to do?
"I -- I've been meaning to tell you ... you probably already know, but we don't have the money to ..." he stopped and licked his lips. His throat felt like it was closing up on him.
Mona's gentle hand was on his arm. She had crossed over to him without him noticing her approach. "I know, Sebastian." She turned him towards her and enveloped him in a motherly hug. He started to sob. He clutched at her.
"I don't know -- don't know what we're going to do! I can't ... dammit! I can't do enough for her!" he cried into her shoulder.
She petted his back, murmuring things in Russian that sounded sweet and kind. When the emotional storm had receded, she drew him away from her chest so that they could see one another. "Come to the kitchen. I made some soup for you and I think I need a cup of tea. We'll talk there."
She urged him out of the room like he was a recalcitrant puppy. Sebastian wiped his eyes with the back of one hand. He glanced back over his shoulder to see Mona bending over his mother. She brushed back the hair on her forehead and said something soothing. His mother's eyes were closed and her breathing even once more. Sebastian slunk away more ashamed of himself than he'd ever been.
In the kitchen, he found a pot of homemade chicken and dumpling soup. He took the lid off the Le Crueset pot and stuck his nose down towards the bubbling liquid. The rich scent of chicken brother, carrots, onions and celery wafted up. His gaze skittered along the counter until it landed on the loaf of freshly baked bread that had been wrapped in foil. When Mona made soup, she always made bread. His stomach rumbled. But before he served himself, he would start the kettle for Mona's tea. She deserved to be helped first before he helped himself. He was filling the kettle when she came in.
"She's asleep now. The little lamb," Mona said as she heaved herself onto one of the bar stools at the kitchen island. "Make the tea good and strong, Sebastian, and the water must be very hot."
"I know, Mona. I've learned." He smiled, but the smile quickly died. He learned this over the months she'd practically lived with them. Her son dropped her off in the morning and picked her up in the evenings. He glanced out the kitchen sink's window with a frown. Dimitri wasn't anywhere in sight. Maybe she had known all along they were going to have a long chat and told her son she would be late.
As he put the kettle on the stove, she said, "Now fix yourself a bowl of soup with some of my good bread. I left the butter on the counter. It should be soft now."
She didn't have to tell him twice. He ladled soup into a bowl and then cut two thick slices of bread from the loaf. The smell of yeast was heavenly. He slathered each slice thickly with sweet butter. The kettle began to whistle then. He scooped the loose black tea leaves into a tea ball then covered them up with the boiling water in Mona's favorite mug. He placed the mug in front of her. She cupped it with her large hands and looked down into the water as the tea let out its essence. Then he sat opposite her with the soup and bread.
"You eat while I talk," she said.
He glanced up at her nervously. Was this the prelude to her saying goodbye? Explaining to him that she had to get another position? That his selfishness in keeping her longer than he could fully pay her would cause her great hardship? Suddenly, he wasn't hungry anymore and set the soupspoon on the counter.
"Now, now, you eat up. I made that for you!" she chided him. "A boy cannot live on pizza alone. Well, perhaps you could, but it is not healthy."
He was grinning despite himself. "Your food saves me, Mona." He froze as he realized how much he meant that. "I should have ... said something sooner. I'll pay you everything that you're owed for these last two weeks --"
She raised a hand up to silence him. "Stop, Sebastian. I told you that I was going to be the one talking."
He nodded and reached for the spoon again. The first spoonful was heavenly. The second was even better. He dipped the bread into the rich soup and devoured it in a few bites. He glanced up when Mona chuckled.
"You were as hungry as I thought. It is good to see your appetite. Makes me feel like I am some great chef," she said, patting her bosom importantly, with a gleeful smile.
"You are," he said around another mouthful of bread.
"I make good peasant food. Making due with what one has and making it last. I know how to do this," she said with more pride than she had shown in being a great chef. "I know poverty and what it can do. I came to America to escape it. And I have, but I see it take others down here, too."
His head lowered. He was soon going to be one of them. She covered one of his hands with hers, patting it gently.
"But I don't see that for you. I think that if someone helps you at the right moment then your life will blossom the way it should," she said.
"I hope you're right, Mona." He wished there was someone that could save him and his mother from this.
Fallon, his mind whispered, but he batted it away. He wouldn't do that. Besides what made him think that Fallon would help them? Even if he was friends with Mom, do I think he'll just throw a few hundred grand our way?
"While I do not have money, what I do have to give is time," Mona said.
Sebastian's forehead furrowed. "I -- I don't understand."
"Well," she said, "Dimitri and his wife are going through a divorce. He has asked to move in with me. He will pay the full rent and food bills. I am already getting my social security check. So for a time, at least ... I need no salary."
Sebastian stared at her, not comprehending what she was saying, but slowly it dawned. "Are you saying that you'd -- you'd help me and Mom for free?"
She nodded. Her bun flopped forward and backward as she did. "Yes, that is exactly what I am saying."
He blinked as tears burned behind his eyes. "Mona, that's too much -- that's, god, I don't know how to even begin to say how much that means, but I shouldn't accept. You need money and --"
"And when you have it, I am sure you will pay me," she said firmly.
"I won't let you down, Mona," he said. "I'm going to drop out of school for now and get a full time job."
She was shaking her head before he was halfway through that speech. "No, no. You need to finish your degree. You need to go to college."
He sighed. "Even not paying you, I need money for the mortgage and for food and stuff. Piero's isn't cutting it."
"Ah, that reminds me," Mona said as she got off the chair and hustled over to the phone. She ripped off the top sheet of paper from the message pad. "Mr. Sims, the bank manager, called today for you." She handed him the slip of paper.
"Oh, great ... probably wants to tell me to start packing," Sebastian said as he stared down at the message.
"I don't think so. He said to tell you that he had an ... opportunity for you," Mona said. "He will be in the bank tomorrow until eleven. You are to call him before he leaves."
Sebastian nodded and tucked the paper in his jeans' pocket. He then went back to Mona's amazing soup. He had devoured half the bowl and already was dreaming of a second bowl. "I can't tell you how much what you're helping like this means. I don't know what --"
"I know, Sebastian. I know. You do not need to say." The Russian woman was blushing slightly.
"You don't take compliments well," he teased.
She snorted. "I do this because it is the right thing to do and because ..." She cocked her head to the side, "I would be haunted if I left you like this. You have become family to me. I feel like I am meant to have met you and to help you."
"I'm so glad that we did meet," Sebastian said. "You're one of the best things to have come into our lives.
She waved that statement away with another flush of colors on her cheeks. She cleared her throat and changed the subject, "What did you say to Samantha that reached her?"
"I thought you didn't believe me!" he said.
"I looked at her after you left. There was high color in her face and her heart rate was up. Clearly, you had reached her somehow," Mona said.
Sebastian felt a burst of happiness go through him. Mona was staying on and his mother might have improved. Even the bank manager's call might be a good thing. And then there was Fallon ... an undeniably good thing. "Oh, well, I just told her she was going to have a visitor tomorrow."
Mona's eyebrows rose. "Really? Is Steff coming?"
"Not Steff -- well, she might come over, too. But no, it's not her I'm talking about," he said. He knew his cheeks were flushed as he said, "It's Fallon Gedeon."
Mona's reaction was not the one he thought it would be. She went white and clutched the front of her blouse. "Gedeon? You plan to have a Gedeon in this house?"
Sebastian stared at her uncomprehendingly. "Ah ... yeah. What's the problem?"
Her lips writhed back from her teeth as she hissed, "The Gedeons are evil."