My mother offered to roll up the windows and turn on the AC a thousand times in the ten minutes it took for us to get onto the main highway and headed towards the airport, but I wouldn't let her.
I couldn't-this was my last chance to look around at the sprawling, sunny city that I loved more than anywhere else I had ever seen, so that leaving it now felt like an ache somewhere deep in my stomach. My last chance to see sunlight blazing off mirrored windows of skyscrapers and burning on cement and asphalt, to watch the sky deepen in hue around the mountains towering in the distance and fade away to the lightest blue imaginable near the sun, to breathe in the scents of cities and hot pavements and rushing traffic.
Last chance before I left behind the only home I could ever remember knowing in favor of the tiny, rainy town of Forks, Washington, where I had vacationed with my father for every summer of my life until I turned 11 and yelled and screamed enough that he'd had to give in and start taking me to different places-California, Colorado-instead. (He'd taken me to peak a fourteen-thousand foot mountain last summer. Mt. Belford-the first mountain my parents had peaked together, and my namesake.)
Last chance, last chance, last chance.
I sighed and raked a hand through my hair, pushing the fine, wind-blown tumble out of my eyes-my mother picked up on it immediately, and glanced away from the road.
"Ford? You alright, honey?"
I nodded, fixing my smile back onto my face as I turned to meet her worried gaze. "Fine, mom."
"You don't have to go through with this," she said urgently-eyes still not on the road, boring into me instead. "I swear, sweetheart. Tell me to turn around now, and I will."
I shook my head, the motion aching in the pit of my stomach. It didn't matter how much I hated Forks, or how much I wished I could stay here with my explosion of a wilderness guide mother and her new girlfriend instead of going to live with my dad, who on a ten-hour peak climb had spoken a total of five words to me, (You alright there, son? Sure?). But I had to.
No matter how much I cringed at the thought of how awkward it was going to be, I wanted to get to know my dad. Needed to, almost-I didn't want to live my life with just one parent, never really understanding anything about the other one. (He would have to talk at least marginally more, I reasoned, if we were living together.)
Not to mention, my mother definitely deserved some room. Not that she had ever complained-that she would ever dream of complaining-but…she had dedicated her entire life to raising a son. Which was amazing, but I was old enough to take care of myself now, even in Forks. She deserved some time alone with her new girlfriend, to get a chance to rediscover herself without having to be super-mom.
But leaving Phoenix…it hurt. This was my city, my hometown. I knew every inch of it, could wander the streets for hours and know where I was the entire time-the high school excluded. I was going into my junior year at the end of this summer, but I still got lost on the way to gym class.
You'd have to leave either way, I reminded myself-either stay here for the rest of the month and the hectic packing process, and then leave for the sunny town in Florida where Phillipa would be opening up her art gallery with one of her cousins…where I could keep living with my mom…and better Florida, better somewhere with sun…
I cut off that train of reasoning right there. I'd gone through all of these already, all the circular reasoning that kept leading me back to just one thing. My mother needed some space, so did I, and my father was alone. That was it.
"I swear, Mom, I'm good. I want to get to know Charlie, I really do. And Forks can't be that bad."
She rolled her eyes at that, a small smile breaking through her wistful expression. "Don't say that until you've lived there, sweetheart."
She paused then, still staring at me like she wanted to say something more, (I was surprised we hadn't hit anything yet), but then a horn blared from behind us, and she turned hurriedly back to the road. I took that as the end of the conversation, and turned to lean back out the window and continue breathing air that wasn't humid enough to be an ocean.
"Ford?" she asked, and there was something in her voice that froze me in place-a hesitancy, a nervousness, that I couldn't identify.
I looked back over at her. Her eyes were still locked on the road, but her hands were tight and white-knuckled against the steering wheel, and as she looked over at me nervously for a minute, her blue eyes were wide with fear.
"This isn't-this isn't because of me and Phil, is it?"
Shit, I thought, realizing for the first time exactly how bad my timing had been in asking to move to Forks. I had first brought it up exactly one week after my mom had introduced Phil as her girlfriend-I had done it because I was thinking that we should forestall the normal summer vacation. It had nothing to do with Phil, but…
My mom had no way of knowing that, did she?
I had never said anything about not being okay with it, but she knew me a little too well to assume that just because I didn't say anything, it didn't mean I wasn't suffering. (One week when she was really busy at work, I had fallen off a playground, and broken a toe-they told me later. I didn't say anything about it, and my mother never even realized until I screamed trying to get my shoe on three days later because it hurt so bad.)
And she had no way of knowing that I wasn't because I-
I'd never worked up the courage to tell her that I was…gay. It wasn't that I thought she'd hate me for it, (she'd been covertly dating other women since middle school and introducing them to me as friends, like I wasn't going to realize what was going on), but it had been hard enough for me to realize it, and I just wasn't ready for her to get involved yet. It had taken me an entire year just to admit it to myself…only three of my friends knew at this point.
But there was no way that she could know any of that.
"Mom, listen to me," I said, reaching over to grab the hand she'd dropped off the steering wheel as we rolled to a stop in front of a traffic light. "It has absolutely nothing to do with that. I promise."
She looked over at me, weariness in her eyes.
"Ford, if it does you can tell me. I'd just rather know-"
"Mom, no. I promise. I just want a change. To get to know my dad a little bit."
She breathed deep, and then relaxed. "I believe you, sweetheart."
I could tell that she did-her eyes looked a little less burdened.
"I know you don't want to tell me the reason you're doing this," she said, turning away from the light to face me again. "And I guess I can live with that." She did her best to make the last sentence a joke, and I had to smile just at how hard she was trying. "I just want you to be happy, alright? My little boy…"
I nodded, and pressed her hand harder. "I will be. And I'll email you if anything important happens. I promise."
She smiled weakly at me. "I know you will. It's just hard to say goodbye…"
"Mom, it's okay," I promised. "You're not going to lose me forever. I swear. I love you, okay?"
She nodded. "I love you too, baby."
She smiled as she turned back to driving, but when I glanced over again a few minutes later, there were tears in her eyes.