Connor Murphy, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t an idiot. He skipped class, smoked behind the school during lunch, and generally didn’t turn in his work, but he wasn’t stupid. The assignments he did turn in were always returned with “100” written and circled with red ink in the corner. His lack of motivation frustrated his teachers to no end but there wasn’t much they could do, not when Connor turned in the bare minimum of work to pass. It was pure luck his english teacher had managed to talk him into applying to college. The selling point was the list of school she had given him, all of which had creative writing programs and were hours away from his hometown. All of those things were now in the past. Connor had applied to college, somehow got in, and graduated high school all in the span of six months. Now he sat in the passenger seat of his mother’s lexus on his way to either his free or a new kind of hell. Cynthia had spent the better part of the first four hours trying to talk to him. She had since given up and they sat in silence. Not complete silence, Cynthia had called Larry who was with Zoe in the car ahead of them. She wanted to know what exit to get off at, despite the fact they were going to be on the interstate for another three hours, in case they were seperated. Earlier Connor had wanted to know why they couldn’t have just taken one car, it would have be easier than having to try and follow, but after the argument he had gotten into with Zoe when they had stopped to have lunch and rest it made sense. They were trying to have one normal memory before dropping Connor off. Afterall, none of them knew if Connor would make it back for Christmas or not. It was cynical to think about, but they were leaving Connor on his own. Who knows what he might get up to? Connor was putting his money on hard drugs, he wouldn’t be the only one. He had no doubt that’s what Larry and Zoe were talking about in the other car.
“Exit 224?” Cynthia asked for what had to be the third time. Connor resisted the urge he had to roll his eyes and went back to staring out the window.
“Yes, Cyn. 224. Lee Street which becomes Gate City.”
“Alright alright, I just want to be sure. I’d hate to accidentally miss it and then have to turn around. Today is already stressful enough.” Connor did roll his eyes at that one. He had hoped Cynthia wouldn’t notice but it’s like she had a sixth sense for knowing when Connor was throwing sass. “I’ve got to go, focus on driving and on spending quality time with Connor before he’s gone.” Connor mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “about time” but if Cynthia noticed she didn’t say anything. “Call us back if you want to stop anytime soon. Love you, dear.”
“Love you too, Cynthia.”
Larry hung up the phone first. Cynthia handed hers to Connor who hung up for her. Connor doubted Larry gave Zoe his phone to deal with the phone call. She might be the favorite child but he still didn’t give her the privilege of using his phone because that’s what is was. A privilege. One Connor didn’t care to have.
“Connor, sweetheart, you know you’re allowed to talk to me.”
“I know.” Cynthia sighed. Connor frowned and shifted so he was facing his mom. “I don’t have anything good to say. As I’m sure you remember Lar-dad said if I don’t have anything good to say than not to say anything at all.”
“It doesn’t matter to me if it’s good or not. You’re my son, my only son, I want to hear what you have to say.”
“Dad and Zoe think I’m going to go straight to drugs and alcohol.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because you’re my baby. You haven’t made the best decisions in the past, but you’re sincere. You’ve made an effort this past year to get better, I know you won’t throw that all away.”
“I’m glad someone does.”
“They know you won’t, Connor. They’re just worried about you.”
“They sure do have a great way of showing it. Don’t do this, Connor. I shouldn’t have to give the druggie a ride to school, Dad. Connor can ride the bus, Cynthia, you’re babying him too much.” Connor didn’t miss the way his mom smiled at his horrendous imitations of Larry and Zoe. He also didn’t miss the flash of hurt in her eyes. He felt bad, but not too much. Everything he said had been true.
“College can be a new start, sweetie. You don’t have to be Connor Murphy anymore if you don’t want to. You can be anyone you want to be.”
“You mean I don’t have to be Connor Murphy, the freak who threw a printer in the second grade with three suicide attempts under his belt.”
“Is that how you see yourself?”
“How else should I see myself?”
“Connor Murphy, the teenager who found something that made him happy and locked onto it. Connor Murphy who defied everyone’s expectations and got into university. Connor Murphy who isn’t running away, but going somewhere that’s going to be good to him. Connor Murphy, the teenager whose mother is so proud of him. You’re going places, Connor. And I’ll support you the whole way.”
“And if I want to get help?” It was the taboo topic of the Murphy household. Connor’s desire to get help for something that, according to his father, didn’t exist because Connor couldn’t possibly be anything other than perfect.
“If you want to get help then I’m sure your father wouldn’t notice if I gave you a bit extra for your weekly allowances. Check the glove compartment.” Connor gave Cynthia a confused look but opened the glove compartment anyways. Inside he found a manila folder with his name on it. “It’s the allowances we didn’t give you in high school. Larry insisted I didn’t take the money out, but I knew the day would come when you’d need it. There’s also a list of specialists in Greensboro. Go to everyone of them if you have to, don’t stop until you’re satisfied.”
Connor wiped at his eyes. He wasn’t about to start crying in front of Cynthia. He hadn’t done that since last Christmas and that was only because she had started crying that he was still there.
“Thank you, Mom.”
“I love you, Connor. Don’t forget that, okay?”
“I won’t.” Connor carefully put the envelope into his backpack. “Love you too.” He quietly added on.