Christian woke up in a bad mood. He wouldn’t admit to anyone that Annie’s imminent departure affected him in any way, but he knew he was moping. It was just that life here was hard. And redundant. He knew that it was important for him to set a solid example and that his mom deserved a break after working so hard for them. He knew that he couldn’t just spread his wings and fly away like she could; there was too much here holding him back. It wasn’t quite jealousy – no, he didn’t think he would leave if he could. He was lucky to have his family here. It was hard, but he had grown up with a lot of love and support and it was in his nature to want to step up and provide for his family here. He liked San Diego okay. The weather was always good, the beach was an amazing asset and TJ was close enough that he could regularly visit his dad and eat decent tacos. He wouldn’t admit it out loud, but he was moping because she was leaving. He had grown accustomed to thinking there was only room in his heart, his head and his life for his immediate family, but over the course of the last two weeks she had slowly started to prove him wrong. He’d lived his day-to-day fine for the past eighteen years without her, but he’d only just started to feel alive.
His mom was in the kitchen making chilaquilas when he finally dragged himself out of bed in the morning. “Aye, mijo!” she laughed, “You look terrible. Maybe it’ll teach you to stay away from the hard stuff!”
At least he could play it off like a hangover. He rolled his eyes at her and grabbed a plate. “Mama, you make the best chilaquilas. You’re never going to get me to move out, you know,” he teased. “¿No hay trabajo hoy?”
“I’m going to clean the Martins’s house at noon. Their son is having a graduation party tonight and they wanted me to come later so it’s closer to party time. I’ll help get the catering crew situated when they get there, then I’ll come home.” She looked sheepishly at him as she spoke. His mom’s second job was cleaning houses for a couple of families on the north end of the city. This party was sure to be a ritzy one with a bunch of rich kids from La Jolla High. “How are you, really? Graduation was last night and I had to work. You didn’t even go, then all of this -” she made a wide motion with her hands, as if to encompass the whole wealthy side of town in one grand gesture.
“I’m fine, mama. I’m tired and a little hungover, but I know you do your best with us. I don’t care that we aren’t having a fancy party and that you couldn’t make it last night. I don’t have that many friends at school, anyway.” At least he could be truthful about that. He wouldn’t even know who to invite, except Annie, and his mom didn’t have the slightest clue about her. “Where are Nando and Jon?”
“Don’t change the subject. Even if you say you don’t care, I do. I know I can’t give you everything, but I wanted to give you a little something. I am really proud of you, you know. It’s not much, but I thought you might like it…” she slid him a small rectangular box. “Just hide it from your brothers. I can’t afford one for them, too. And I’m only paying for it for the next 6 months! After that you’re on your own.
Christian was taken aback. He knew how tight they were, and he hadn’t expected anything from his mom. He held the box tentatively, as if he wasn’t quite sure he should even take it.
“C’mon, boy! I’ve been picking up a little extra slack at one of my cleaning jobs. They knew you were graduating and wanted to help out. Open it!” she scolded. Christian slid the paper off and was surprised at how thoughtful his mom had been. It was a brand new smart phone, complete with a gift card to download some of his favorite music. It must’ve cost a small fortune in their meager budget.
“Mom, it’s awesome!” He couldn’t completely play it cool. Christian had been coveting one of these for a long time. “Are you sure you can pay for the next six months?”
“Hey, I’ve got it all figured out. Don’t worry about that. But this gives YOU six months to figure it out, then you’ve got to be bringing home enough to cover the bill plus some. You ready to start filling some bigger shoes? I’ve got some job leads for you, and we could really use some income this summer to get your brothers some new clothes for the next school year. I’ve also been thinking about trying to get them into a different school, which means a car would be really helpful.”
“Mom, you know I’ve been planning on stepping it up after graduation. You didn’t need to bribe me with a phone.”
“I’m not bribing you, mijo. Just reminding you. And letting you know I’m proud of you. I know it’s been tough without your dad around, and I’m just really grateful that you are such a good boy. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you already pitching in when you can, and I’m especially thankful that you’ve always stayed out of trouble and kept your grades up. It means a lot. I don’t tell you that enough, and I’m sorry I’m gone so much. But if you start working, I can cut back some…”
“I know, mama. Point noted! I will start looking tomorrow. Now will you tell me where my brothers are?”
“Nando is outside in the yard and Jon ran off with those neighborhood boys. He’s been with them a lot the last couple of weeks. They seem like good boys, no?” Damn. Christian hoped she wasn’t talking about the boys he thought she was talking about., because those kids were nothing but trouble.