Nate Saito: Bittersweet 16th

Word count: 650 (1 to 5 minutes) | Rating: G | Original Fiction | Note: absent parent

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The trolley didn’t stop outside his house, which was set back from the main streets on the edge of a not-great neighborhood. They managed just fine in the city anyway. Nate marched up the slight hill, opening the front door and dropping his shoes and bag just inside on the racks for each.

“I’m home, Mom,” he raised his voice while he locked the door behind him and smiled at the smell from dinner tonight. Spices and the warmth from the oven spread through the pagoda—one of the benefits of a small house. “Tom threw a sci-fi comic at me when I got to his place. I think that’s my birthday present…?”

He liked the beginning of it, anyway. Something about a rough-and-tumble rogue type getting caught up in a plot involving the survival of the galaxy. Not original, maybe, but pretty cool. Nate heard his mom pacing around and clacking a spoon against a pan in the kitchen, so why didn’t she answer him? He eased towards the kitchen, leaning to peek around the hallway’s corner. “Mom…?”

He jumped when she tossed confetti in the air, grinning. “Happy 16th, Nathaniel!” 

The light laugh forced its way out of him, and he flicked some confetti from his hair. A couple years back exactly, she helped him bleach the tips and style it in a faux hawk. Nate didn’t ask for anything that involved this year, since he’d learned to manage that on his own. He was happy enough getting tech and tools to make more things. Sometimes presents for her, so it was a little circular, but Nate didn’t mind. When you got down to it, that was the least he could do.

“Putting the botvac to the test, huh?”

She chuckled, pointing behind her to the cake on the table with letter candles sticking out to spell ‘Happy Birthday’. “Oh, sweetie. That already happened once I made that.”

Nate glanced from it to her, smirking and raising his eyebrows to ask the question he had in mind. She nodded with a sly smile, a strand of black hair falling loose from her bun into her face. “Raspberry cream, just like you asked.”

Of course, that meant he had to take a test taste, jogging over to swipe a fingertip of frosting from the top. Reflexively, she smacked his shoulder playfully once she caught up.

“You get one pass, birthday boy!” She passed him to the heart of the kitchen, taking out two plates from the cabinets and forks from the drawer. 

“Yeah, yeah,” he teased.  Closing the drawer with a bump of her hip, she circled back around to meet him by the seat he chose at the table. Nate shifted uncomfortably and traced  the dappled pattern on the tablecloth with his finger. Like that would make the real question  any easier when he had no choice but to ask about it. He could be direct or indirect, it didn’t matter. Nate knew the answer already anyway. “Did you, uhh, get the mail? Today?”

Of course she sighed. Quiet, just a breath like any other, but he heard it all too clear. Almost deafening and definitely crushing. “Honey,” she started and the sympathy hanging in her words confirmed what he knew to begin with.

“Nah, forget I asked.” Nate waved it off, resting back and tapping the table in front of him. If he just managed to look alright, the rest would come after. It had to. “Let’s just have the cake, okay? It’s fine, really.”

She put both plates in front of him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders with the back of the chair wedged awkwardly between them—not that he cared. Nate buried his face in her arms, the ones that carried him, helped him learn to ride a bike, held him, always there—always there. His breath hitched even when he tried to hold it back.

“All we need’s right here, baby,” she whispered, her voice thick too. “I’ll always love you.”


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