It’s rough having a mother who looks not a day over twenty-one. Other moms hate my mom for being able to juggle a husband, son, and home-based business with nary a wrinkle or jowl to show for it. Other dads hate my dad for snagging a wife who’s managed to maintain her impeccable figure and youthful looks well past the altar. On weeknights, at the gym, strange men whom she’s never met come up to her and flirt with tidal force, completely ignoring the fact that she’s wearing a wedding ring, and that her twelve-year-old son is doing cardio right beside her.
Then there’s the Nakayoshi Factor: inserting yourself into someone’s life and lingering desperately in the hope that you’ll be there on that chance day when everything in my mom’s life might possibly turn to shit, and she might possibly decide to get with you out of some life-affirming need for a random fling. The gym bodies come and go with weight machine availability; Mr. Nakayoshi, he comes over for dinner nearly every week. “You should know your boss,” he always says, “and he should know you.” From what I can tell, about the only thing he wants to know is my mom’s chest.
I feel like I’ve been trapped here in the dining room for a year and a half. I hate when Mr. Nakayoshi comes over. I hate watching him hit on Mom while Dad and I (seated together at the far end of a dinner table that’s suddenly become forty feet long) pretend we either don’t notice or don’t care.
Fidgeting, I glance at Dad. His plate’s been clean for the last thirty minutes, yet he’s still poking and scraping with his fork, desperate to keep his attention anywhere but where it matters.
“Dad?” I murmur. (My voice echoes, as the dining room has, of course, also stretched itself out somehow in order to accommodate the table.)
“Has our dining room always been this, er, big?”
He scrutinizes the table a moment. “Huh. It does look a little…off, doesn’t it?”
Across the way, Mr. Nakayoshi compliments Mom’s figure and starts a conversation about nude acupuncture.
(The table lengthens a few more inches, rattling our plates.)
Ugh. Dad shouldn’t have to watch this. Mr. Nakayoshi should know better than to hit on women to whom he isn’t married—and Mom should get her head out of the clouds and realize a smile isn’t always just a smile, a friendly comment regarding the firmness of her behind isn’t always just a friendly comment. Our table shouldn’t be lengthening. But this is how adults work. It’s a lot of flirting and drinking and silent suffering and pretending things are what they’re not.
And I’ve fallen for it.
Mom had told me that Mr. Nakayoshi had expressed an interest in having me design a Web site for him. So, I’d cleaned myself up after we’d gotten home from the gym, put on a nice shirt, and come down to dinner—because as much as I want Mr. Nakayoshi to lose his car keys down a storm drain, he does pay well. But now I’m beginning to think the Web site thing was just an excuse to get his foot in the door. Sort of like how a vampire has to ask permission to enter your home before he’ll try to suck your blood. Allegedly.
I suppose there’s a silver lining to all of this: Mr. Nakayoshi’s presence tonight has afforded me a certain level of anonymity. No one’s fussing over me, no one’s hovering over my shoulder and waiting for one of my contacts to fall out so that they can swoop in and catch it before it hits the floor—which is pretty much all Mom and Dad have been doing since finding out about the New Eyes incident. In the mornings, Mom now waits with the car idling until she’s satisfied I’ve made it inside the Boca Linda locker hall in one piece. The worst, though, is if I forget to lock my bedroom door at bedtime, and she happens to walk in on me while I have my contacts out. “Oh,” she says, her tone quick, clipped—as if she’s walked in on me naked, or masturbating—or masturbating naked with my contacts out. Oh.
The rest of the conversation goes something like this:
“Can I get you anything, honey?”
“No thanks, Mom.”
“Are you getting enough air? Do you need me to open the window?” Or, if it’s cold: “Are you chilly? Do you need me to close the window?”
“I’m fine, Mom. You worry too much.”
“Okay, then. Goodnight, darling.”
Of course, it’s not “goodnight.” Rather, it’s me lying awake and blinking into the darker-than-dark for the next hour as I listen to my parents talk about me in the next room. Dad’s on a Google quest to find me a nano-surgeon willing to restore my natural eyesight; Mom wants to start a support group for victims of illegal eye drops; the two of them argue over which parenting methods are more likely to get me to age eighteen with the majority of my body parts intact.
They’re losing sleep these days, and it’s my fault.
“So, young Master Smole,” Mr. Nakayoshi says, jolting me out of my reverie and back into the dining room of the damned. “No more glasses for you, eh?”
Dad chokes on a bite of food.
Mom looks like someone’s just stepped on her toe.
They talk over each other:
“His new glasses haven’t come in yet.”
“He’s switched to contacts.”
A moment of awkward silence.
Mr. Nakayoshi looks amused and confused. “Well, which is it, Theo, my man?”
I swallow. It’s a simple question. The answer is, of course, “I’ve switched to contacts.” That’s what I’ve rehearsed. That’s what Mom and Dad have rehearsed—yet Mom’s already flubbed her line and I just know I’ll do the same if Mr. Nakayoshi doesn’t let the matter drop and Jesus why are people interested in stupid things like whether or not I’m wearing glasses anymore—
“Ice cream!” Mom yells, smiling insanely.
Another moment of awkward silence, broken by the sound of something gooey hitting the floor beneath the table—Mr. Nakayoshi’s sense of amusement, I’m guessing.
“Theo, darling,” Mom says, clearing her throat, subduing her tone. “Why don’t you get us all some green tea ice cream for dessert?”
“Er, okay, Mom.” I push my chair back and leave the table, glad for an excuse to get away from the heat.
In the kitchen, I fetch bowls from the cupboard, spoons from the cutlery drawer. I’m scooping green tea ice cream out of a carton from the freezer when Dad walks in with everyone’s dirty dishes.
As he sets them in the sink and turns on the hot water, I ask, “Why do you have Mr. Nakayoshi over so often?”
He sighs and says, “I don’t have him over so much as he has himself over.” He shakes his head, makes a half-hearted attempt at scraping excess food from the plates. After a moment, he turns the water off, noticing that I’ve only set out three bowls. “Aren’t you having ice cream?”
“I’m kind of full.”
“I know what you mean.”
I’m pretty sure he’s not talking about ice cream.
“All right, then,” he says. “Take care of the dishes, then get on upstairs and make sure all your homework’s done. I’ll bring the ice cream in.”
I nod, handing Dad the scoop and smiling inwardly. This is his way of excusing me from the table, of giving me a reason not to go back into the dining room. I’ll take it. Nuts to Nakayoshi’s Web site.
I get the dishwasher going. Then I go upstairs, unbuttoning the top two buttons of my dress shirt on my way down the hall, breathing a sigh of relief as I open my bedroom door and—
My room! It’s been ransacked!