“Twenty! Can you believe it, Mom?" Billy shined a brilliant, happy smile at me. “All twenty of the kids in my class accepted my invitation!”
“That’s wonderful, Billy,” I said, smiling and wiping my hands on my apron. “The party will be so much more fun with lots of friends here.”
Billy hugged my waist. “Thanks, Mom.”
“You’re welcome.” I hugged his curly head.
It had been eight years since the divorce and money was always tight. Dorian got the new car, and I got the crappy house. Thank God I got Billy. Dorian never had time for me so why would he have time for Billy? I scrimped and saved and this was the first time in years I could splurge and throw a big event for Billy. A Halloween party was perfect.
“And you know what else?” I said. “This is going to be a Halloween party you’ll never forget!”
His head popped up, excited. His beautiful brown eyes drilled into mine. “You think so?”
“Absolutely. And the best thing is, after everyone comes back from Trick or Treating, there’ll be so much candy to share and swap with...”
“Our heads will pop off!” he finished. We laughed. I loved his laugh, so full of joy.
I would definitely be checking everyone’s candy before I let them eat any.
On the invitations, I set a limit of one handful of candy at the party per kid. The rest they could take home. Let their parents deal with the sugar highs. Billy was familiar with the drill and I hoped his friends wouldn’t be too upset.
The phone rang. Billy ran upstairs to play in his room.
“Hello, Harker residence.”
“Hello, Peaches. It’s been a while.”
My body pinched with anger and anxiety. I took in a deep breath before answering.
“Dorian, I’ve told you to stop calling me that. Please address me as Patricia.”
“Oh, don’t get all wired up. It’s just a phone call,” he laughed at his joke. “You know I still love you.”
Dorian had a quick wit and a disarming laugh. Endearing when I first met him. Now I knew it was disingenuous. A con man from the start, the perfect attorney.
“What do you want, Dorian?”
“Can’t we just talk, like two good friends? Why do you have to be so rough all the time?”
“Dorian, we are not friends. You went your way a long time ago. Now, tell me what you want before I hang up.”
“Okay, okay. No need to play the bitch card on me. I just called to ask a favor.”
“No need to…?” I stopped and bit back my words. I was not going to let him goad me into another heart-wrenching argument. I took another deep breath and counted to five, my teeth refusing to unclench.
“Fine. What favor?”
“Alright, that’s more like it,” he said. “I just wanted to spend a little time with my boy. I miss little Willy.”
“His name is Billy! Not, Willy. Billy! God, Dorian, you don’t even know his name.”
“Thanks for making my point. I’ve got a few weeks free and I feel it’s high time that he got to know me.”
Fifty thousand filthy expletives wanted to explode at the same time from my mouth to lambaste him. I was so furious I couldn’t form a decent word. Angry tears flowed from my eyes. I lowered the phone to my lap. Unbe-freaking-lievable!
I remembered my psychiatrist’s advice and breathed in and out while his tinny voice rambled on from the phone. I had no idea what he was saying, and didn’t care to know. I repeated the mantra.
He’s not a part of my life anymore. He is not important to my happiness. I don’t have to agree to anything he wants. His life is not my problem. His decisions are not my decisions. I control my own life. He has no control over me. I control ME!
My emotions reigned in, I put the phone back to my ear.
“...guarantee he’ll have a blast. If he doesn’t like it, I can always return it. It’s only for three weeks, anyway.”
I wiped my eyes and forced a smile on my face before answering.
“I’m sorry, Dorian. You made it very clear at the divorce that you wanted nothing to do with me and, I quote, that f….ing bastard brat. You even got a vasectomy. Count yourself lucky that I didn’t press for child support. I’m sure, being a lawyer, you would have fought that too. We’re having a Halloween party, you are not invited, and the answer is no.”
“Wait, wait, Patricia. I’m sorry about all that. That was terrible of me, I know. But I want to make it up to him… and you. Look, I have to start somewhere. Just give me a chance.”
“Give you a chance?” My blood burned with hatred for this man. I couldn’t stop myself this time.
“The lies you told about me during our divorce were unconscionable! You made me out to be a crack fiend and a whore! I lost all my friends because I gave you a chance to speak your mind in court! I was barely allowed to keep my Masters credentials as a nurse because of your chance. I had to sell the house and move away because I gave you a chance. I had to start at the bottom after five years as a nurse, damn you!” I wiped tears from my cheeks and took a breath. “I hate you. You’re a monster, and you’ll never see Billy as long as I live!”
“Listen, you f...ing bitch, I’m about to make a run for Mayor and the people want to see a family man. Thanks to you, I can’t father another child. I need Billy, and if you don’t give up that boy, you will regret it! Do you hear me? I will make you regret it!”
I slammed the phone down and grabbed a couch pillow, screaming into it, hoping that Billy couldn’t hear me. I tried repeating that ridiculous mantra, but I knew what kind of man Dorian was. The way he swayed our friends against me was child’s play. Now he wanted to get into politics? God help us all.
“Mom,” Billy’s soft voice came to me.
I wiped my face.
“Are you okay?” I asked, swallowing the lump in my throat.
“I was going to ask you the same question,” he said. His face was filled with concern.
“Nothing to worry about,” I lied.
“Mom…” he whispered. I looked up at him. “I’m sorry, but…”
“About what?” My mind was still on the call.
“I heard you say Dad’s name. I wanted to remember his voice, so… I picked up the upstairs phone and recorded him.”
”Oh, no, honey, I’m the one who should be sorry. I shouldn’t have acted that way.”
“No, Mom. I heard it all. Every word. I don’t blame you. Now that I know what Dad thinks of me, I don’t ever want to live with him.”
I hugged him.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to. Ever.”
Halloween came and twenty costumed kids showed up for the party. I sent them on a Trick or Treat procession around the neighborhood before the festivities. I could hear their laughter and squeals of joy the entire time they were out. I loved it, but the dreaded time of sorting and examining almost a thousand pieces of candy, and other treats drew close.
The gaggle of guests gathered around my door. I started with Billy’s bag as an example for the others. Everyone waited in line, excited to start a candy swapping party the minute they came inside. Billy used two fingers to hand me an odd black cookie and poured out the rest of his candy into a bowl.
“It was there after we left Mrs Jenkins’ house,” he said. “There’s only one.”
“I don't know much about her. Vegan, you think?” examining the large cookie. Billy laughed. I gave it a whiff. It smelled delicious, like a sweet chocolate. I wondered if it tasted good. I broke the cookie in half.
"What are these white specks?"
“Ooh, maybe they’re sugar cubes,” Billy said, rubbing his hands together.
“I better taste it then,” I laughed.
I put a piece in my mouth and immediately regretted it. The taste was sickly, almost vomitous, and refused to leave my tongue, no matter how hard I wiped it on my sleeve. I swayed on my feet and leaned against the door frame. I started sweating.
"Billy,” I gagged. “Bring me the black bag under the sink." Billy brought the emergency med bag with a look of wide-eyed worry on his face. I always kept my spare nursing bag there with bandages and emergency kits. The other kids were staring at me now.
"Are you okay, Mom?” Billy asked. “Your face is looking flush."
I tried to speak but my throat had already started to close. All I could do was nod my head. My eyes blurred making it hard to find the brown bottle of ipecac. An anti-inflammatory would work, too. My hands found the familiar bottles. Dizziness overtook me and I sank to the floor sitting with my back to the entry wall. My hands began to tingle and shake and the bottles slipped away. I looked at them in confusion. Why did it look like they were on the floor when I knew I just had them in my hand? I looked at my son's face. It was wavering like a bad TV screen. I tried to tell Billy to open the bottle for me but my words were too slurred.
"Mom! Mom! What's happening?" Billy looked scared and was beginning to cry.
The other kids began to scream and cry. Some of them ran away, dropping their bags in the yard. In my befuddled state I could still see that Billy was upset. I tried to smile but it probably looked horrible on my sinking face. The bottle was important for some reason that I couldn’t remember. Darkness took me.
I opened my eyes. I saw Billy at my bedside, his forehead pressing on the back of my hand, his curly brown hair still tousled. He was asleep and I was in a hospital room. It looked so strange, full of small machines I didn’t recognize. I smiled as I ran stiff fingers through my son’s beautiful hair. My movements woke him and he raised his head to look at me.
I gasped when I saw him. His face was different, changed. Older. Any mother will tell you that they can recognize their child at any age, and I was no different. But he was. He was in the body of a young man. He had a beard, and wore glasses.
“Oh thank God, Mom, you’re awake!” Billy pulled me into his arms.
“What happened?” My voice sounded odd. Too high pitched and much too soft.
“You were poisoned and fell into a coma. I... got you to a hospital, and I’ve been waiting for…” I saw him fight back tears.
“And I’ve been asleep?”
He nodded his head. “Twelve years.”
“You’re all grown up,” I said, staring at my handsome son. He blushed.
“Yes. I’m a lawyer now, thanks to Dorian… kinda.”
“What?” I began to worry.
“When I was sixteen, I fought for your rights in court, and I won,” his grin was infectious and I found myself smiling.
“He forced my hand. Dorian wanted to pull the plug on you, but I refused. I used his own words against him in court.”
“Dorian? He made a try for Mayor, but I proved that he slipped that poison cookie into my bag that Halloween. He’s still in jail for attempted murder.
“You were right about one thing, Mom. That was a Halloween party I never forgot.”