Just A Phone Call Away
"Not many people know our landline number," his mother's strained voice reaches across the ether. Reaches all the way to where he is, enough to put a warm hand on his shoulder or slap him across the face. "You could at least be smarter about it if you're going to call."
'Would it be so bad if dad knew I call sometimes?' Aiden wants to ask, but all that comes out is: "Should I not call, then?"
Tell me I should always call. Tell me I always have a home there.
''Your father was quite clear about the issue at hand.'' There's a sharp breath on his mother's side of the phone call, "And, I, for one, will not go against his word."
I'm not asking you to.
"Of course not, Mom. Never questioned it."
Aiden's pretty sure it's pointless, but he has to ask: "Charlie and Ella," he calls his little siblings names as if it'll magically make them appear in front of him, "...do they ask about me?"
His mother doesn't lie; that's the thing. They promised each other long ago that whenever he feels the need to lie, Aiden should just come to her and tell her everything. She'll always listen, and she'll always tell him the truth.
"Did you move him to my old room yet?" he asks instead, trying to keep the conversation going, not even caring for the answer. "They should have separate rooms. Teenagers and all, right?" he chuckles ruefully, dreading the silence that faces him.
He offered, yes, but something sharp and painful pierces Aiden's chest at the thought of his old room — small, smelly, and littered with posters and school books and tiny little scraps of paper with his love's words written in secret — being transformed into whatever video game den his younger brother is going to make it into.
"They haven't asked for it," his mother cuts off his thoughts at the root. He knows that they haven't told the twins the full story, the same way he knows his mother's never going to tell his dad that he called, the same way he knows that Ella would beg and beg, using her pretty puppy eyes to get her own space because she can't stand Charlie's littered dirty socks on the floor.
"Well, they're not going to...if they think I'm coming back."
''No one thinks you're coming back, Aiden."
Why would you say that, Mom?
The beat of silence doesn't seem to make his mom uncomfortable in the slightest. So Aiden's the one that keeps talking, "Well, how have you been?" he says, sensing the cold tone on the other end of the phone before it fills his ear.
"We're all doing alright."
Even without me?
"That's good to hear."
"Yes, yes," so cold, his mother's voice. It used to warm up the coldest of nights; it used to make him feel safe. Sing lullabies to help him fall asleep. "I have to go now, the twins will be back from school soon."
What did you tell them about me?
"Mom," he half-begs, "when could I come home?"
He imagines her eyebrows furrowed in thought. "That's up to you," she says.
Everything feels so right now, mom. Except for these calls, everything else is just how I always imagined it. I can't walk away from it.
"I can't do it, Mom," Aiden pleads, "How can I do it?"
It's not supposed to give his mom an open into a lecture: into what he knows is a guilt trip because he knows how they work, he's aware enough of his relationship with his parents now. Only if they could just remember how it was before.
"You remember everything I've taught you about your responsibilities and your role as the person your siblings should look up to. You should stop being so selfish! You refuse to-"His mother makes up for everything she has not said in these calls, and he can't think of anything except getting his mom's approval. Her love.
"I love him, Mom," he cuts in. "With everything I have and everything I'll ever have and want. How is that so selfish?"
"I don't know where we've gone so wrong…" she says, and Aiden can almost imagine the disapproving shake of her head.
It isn't wrong mom, it's perfect.
"How can you ignore everything I've tried so hard to instill in you?!"
Everything you have ever said is so important to me. Now you say so little to me, maybe that's the reason I can't understand you.
His mother takes a break. He tries to open his mouth to speak but nothing comes out before her voice cuts him, "You chose to live in sin rather than in your family home," she states coldly.
Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry.
"I wish you could see how wonderful it is," he barely has the strength to admit, "...how special we've made it."
It's still so cold. Aiden wonders if this is how she speaks to the twins now as well, "There's nothing special about two boys…"
If only you could see…
"Our home has these big windows, and they're looking right on the river. It's so pretty at night with all the lights," he doesn't even know he's talking, but when he sees what is around him — in their small flat — it seems bigger than the whole world, and he has to tell her. "We're even thinking about getting a dog."
Mom. What if…
"I'm thinking that maybe the twins would like to help us choose one," Aiden bites his lip not to let the hope that's growing so big in his body outside, "You could bring them into the city for the weekend or something-"
"I'm not bringing my children to-"
Please. Don't say no yet...just listen.
"Dad wouldn't have to know, and you can do it whenever you'd like,"
He huffs and lets all the hope out anyway, "...whenever you want to."
''I won't ever want to.''
Please...? Don't you miss me, mom? Even a little bit?
And there it is, the bitter taste that unanswered hope leaves in your mouth. Like drinking tea sweetened with salt.
"I always thought that I'd tell you everything when I fell in love," he lets his thoughts reach his mouth for once, "That you'd want to hear."
His mother draws in a sharp breath when a very familiar noise reaches from across the wire. The loud clanging of the ornament hanging above the door and a heavy stomp of two little kids dropping their bags in the hallway clenches his heart in a familiar pain.
"Mom! Mom, is that Aiden?" he hears Ellie: the beautiful, smart, and lovely Ellie that he might never be allowed to see again. "Ask him when he's coming home, please. We've got an English test next week, and I can't understand…"
"Can I just please say hi to them?"
He knows he's begging and just how pathetic he sounds. He knows his mother won't come to visit him, won't bring the twins along, won't even tell his dad that he called and that he's trying. He even knows that everything that might indicate his fatal flaw of loving a boy was thrown and burnt the second he left the house.
He should have packed the love notes. They were so lovely.
"Sorry, Hillary, the twins just got home from school."
"Mom," he pleads, tears welling his eyes.
"Yes, yes. I better get going."
She seems to wait for a beat in case if he has anything else to say. Aiden sobs into the phone.
"All right, honey. Bye-bye."