“No. Let’s do this.” Milo pulled the keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door.
A light was on over the kitchen sink, but the rest of the apartment was dark. Milo still looked like Milo, but his drastic changes would be less noticeable in dim lighting.
A scratched Led Zeppelin record played softly in the living room, with Robert Plant crooning about when the levees break.
“Mom?” I said cautiously, following Milo inside.
“Oh, good, you’re finally here.” Mom burst out from her bedroom, a cigarette glowing in her hand, and her hair looked less frizzy than it usually did. Too-red lipstick stained her lips. “I don’t have much longer to wait.”
“You’re going somewhere?” I asked.
Milo deliberately moved into the shadows of the apartment, but I lingered in the light of the kitchen. Jack set my bag on the floor and hovered next to me, hoping to catch my mother’s attention.
She flitted about the living room, searching for something, so she hadn’t noticed him. The last time they met, Mom had swooned over him.
“Yes, yes, in a bit,” Mom waved me away and found what she’d been looking for – a tumbler of brandy. Taking a long drink, she turned back to look at us. She finally saw Jack and inhaled deeply. “Oh, I didn’t realize you had guests.”
“It’s good to see you, Miss Bonham,” Jack gave her a little half wave, and she placed her hand over her chest.
“You were at a vacation house, weren’t you?” Mom asked and sat down in a chair in the living room. Apparently, he made her too weak in the knees to stand anymore.
“Um, yeah,” Jack nodded, going along with the lie I had told her earlier.
“Did you do a lot of swimming?” Mom was undoubtedly picturing him in swim trunks, and I wanted to gag.
Milo made a strange sound, and Jack suddenly stepped forward, closer to him.
“We did tons of swimming. It was fantastic,” I blurted out. “But Mom, Milo really needs to talk to you. He, uh, has something major to tell you.”
“Oh?” Mom struggled to pull her gaze from Jack to Milo, but her eyes didn’t have to travel far. Jack moved even closer to Milo, and things were not going as well as everyone had promised they would.
“Yeah, it’s really great news,” Jack added in an attempt to sway her.
“Here.” Milo thrust his hand forward, holding out a crumpled letter. His voice had taken on an icy tone, and if Jack hadn’t been here to distract Mom, she wouldn’t have bought any of this.
“What are you shoving at me?” Mom made no attempt to get up and retrieve the letter from him.
“It’s a letter,” Jack said and pried the paper from Milo’s fingers. When he handed it to her, their fingers briefly touched, and Milo made that sound again.
“A letter?” Mom peered down at the paper once she had recovered from touching Jack. She tried to smooth it out, but the dim light and her poor eyesight made it almost impossible for her to read. “Well, what’s this about?” She looked back up at Milo. “Just spit it out.”
“I’ve been accepted to a boarding school in New York,” Milo answered stiffly. “Thanks to my grades, I’ve received a full scholarship. The semester starts in a week, and they want me to get there early. So I’m going to leave tomorrow.”
“What?” Mom looked confused. Milo was the good one, and she wasn’t used to him not making any sense. “Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner?”
“I was waiting for the right time to tell you,” Milo said.
“That’s why we want to the vacation house,” Jack smiled too broadly. “As one last hoorah before he goes.”
“What?” Mom repeated. “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t tell me about this.”
“I was afraid you’d be angry about me leaving.” Milo didn’t sound afraid or apologetic, though. He sounded like a robot.
“Why would I be angry? All I’ve ever done is stress how important a good education is for you kids, so you don’t end up like me.” Mom softened and looked down at the letter, trying to read it in the darkness. “So you’re leaving tomorrow?”
“How are you getting there?” Mom asked.
“Plane. Jack bought the ticket for me.” Milo gestured towards him, and Jack smiled at her.
“Oh.” Mom swallowed and looked at me for the first time. “You knew about this?”
“Um, yeah,” I shrugged.
“And you didn’t tell me?” Mom snapped.
“No. I didn’t. Neither did Milo. But thanks for getting angry with me,” I said.
“Oh, never mind.” She glanced at the clock and downed the rest of her brandy. “I don’t really have time for this.” She stood up, brushing hair back from her forehead. “But you’re leaving tomorrow, right? So I’ll have a chance to say a proper goodbye to you then?”
“Yeah,” Milo lied. He was leaving tonight, and she wouldn’t realize it until it was too late. He’d leave a note explaining that the plane left before she woke up.
“Alright then.” Mom nodded once and put out her cigarette in the ashtray. She grabbed her oversized purse from the table and headed over to the shadows where Milo hid by the door.
“Have a good time tonight,” Jack interjected, putting himself between her and Milo. It was still too soon for Milo to handle her going in for a hug.
“Oh, I will.” Mom touched her hair, taken back by Jack’s interruption, and unable to figure out how to rectify it. She smiled at him, and then turned to me with her usual scowl. “You. We’ll talk later.”
After she walked out of the apartment, I tried not to think about how tremendously sad that was. That was the last time Milo was ever going to see his mother, and he couldn’t even hug her goodbye.
She hadn’t always been the greatest mom and spent most of her time anywhere but home, but she was still our mother. She deserved a better goodbye than that.
“Oh, hell,” Jack exhaled shakily once she had left, and I saw his whole body relax. “You’ve gotta get that under control.”
“I’m trying!” Milo insisted. “But it wasn’t my fault! You saw the way she was fawning all over you-” His voice turned into a low snarl, and Jack held up a hand to stop him.
“Yeah, I was there, but seriously.” Jack shook his head. “You can’t be like that!”