Clay’s lip curled upward in a sneer. “I assure you, mother, that I’ve managed all right without you. Wouldn’t want you to put yourself out or anything.” The bitterness in his voice made me sad for him. I could see how much he really wanted these people to love him. And I could see just as clearly how completely unable his parents were to truly love him the way he needed. Or at all.
No wonder he clung to me the way he did. The poor, lost boy beside me had never known unconditional love and support. He had been reared by the coldest individuals I had ever met. His mother didn’t respond to his blatant jab. “Well, I think it would be best if we stayed for awhile. Moreover, your father’s case could take weeks. Months perhaps.” Her words seemed almost threatening as she looked at her son with no emotion in her voice or face.
Months? From the way Clay had begun to tremble, I knew that would be very bad for him. These people triggered something dark in him and their presence could spell disaster for his precarious mental health. Clay made a strangled noise in the back of his throat. I looked at him in surprise as he snatched his hand from mine and fled from the kitchen. He left me all alone in the lion’s den. I could almost hear Mrs. Reed sharpening her claws as I stood there, uncomfortable and dumbfounded.
Finally, I made my feet move as I turned to follow my boyfriend. “Maggie.” Mrs. Reed called out, stopping me. I turned back around to face her, trying not to be intimidated by Clay’s beautiful yet cold mother.
“Why don’t you have a seat. I’d like a moment with you.” She wasn’t asking me, she was telling me. She indicated the seat beside her. I looked to Mr. Reed again, but he was oblivious to what was going on outside of his computer screen.
Mrs. Reed watched me as I slowly approached the chair and sat down. I folded my hands in my lap and looked at her politely. “How long have you and my son been dating?” She asked me, sipping her coffee. I cleared my throat, feeling strange sharing anything with her.
“Almost three months, ma’am.” I fidgeted in my seat under her unyielding stare. “And is it serious between the two of you?” She asked nonchalantly. Why was she asking this? What business was it of hers? This just felt creepy. “I guess so.” I answered reluctantly.
Mrs. Reed leaned forward, attempting to appear as if we were two girls sharing confidences. It made my skin crawl. “And are you aware of Clayton’s…issues?” She said it as though he had a contagious disease. Her lips curled and I could see how repulsive her son’s mental health was to her.
“I’m very aware of all his qualities, good and bad, Mrs. Reed. Clay has been very honest about his struggles with his mental health.” I said, sticking my chin out defiantly. I saw a flicker of disappointment, almost as though she wanted to be the one to tell me this. Maybe she wanted the information to drive a wedge between Clay and I. But why?
“My son is a very sick boy. He has been on a self- destructive path for a long time now. He hurts those around him, lacking regard for anything but his own feelings. His doctors in Florida are very concerned that he will relapse. They’ve encouraged us to have him readmitted for prolonged inpatient treatment. He is a danger to himself and others.” Her eyes flashed at me as she watched me absorb her words.
They wanted to put him back in the hospital? They can’t do that to him! What Clay needed was love and support, not to be shoved inside an institution with no way out. I knew then that I hated this woman, and her complete disregard for Clay and what was truly best for him.
“I haven’t seen him being a danger to himself or others Mrs. Reed.” I lied, effortlessly. I couldn’t tell her how worried I’d been for Clay, and how I often wondered if he needed more intense help than I was capable of giving him. But she didn’t need to know any of that. She didn’t deserve to know. This woman, who had thrown her son away because his issues had become an inconvenience in her life.
Mrs. Reed watched me closely and I swore she saw straight through my lie. “Well that’s good.” she said in that fake, syrup-sweet voice of hers. “But to be on the safe side, Clay’s father and I will be staying for awhile. We have serious concerns about him. So if you notice anything troublesome about Clay, please let me know so we can can get him the help he so desperately needs.”
I wanted to gag. No, she just wanted to shut Clay away, like an ugly family secret. I saw right through her and she knew that. “No offense, Mrs. Reed, but I don’t feel comfortable discussing Clay like this behind his back. He and I are very open and honest with each other.” I started to stand up. I couldn’t take sitting here with this woman any longer.
Mrs. Reed’s eyes went cold. “Honesty is wonderful. But are you sure he’s been entirely truthful with you?” She asked, making it clear she didn’t expect me to answer her. She wanted her words to creep into my brain like a parasite, feeding on any doubt I had about him – about us. She was an evil and manipulative person.
Talk about trying to sabotage Clay’s happiness. This woman could give a shit about what was good for her son, that much was painfully clear. Without saying another word, I turned my back on Clay’s horrible parents and left.
I looked for Clay in the living room and found Lisa at her computer. She glanced up at me when I walked in. “I think he went up to his room.” She said. I nodded and turned to leave. “Maggie.” She called out. “Please keep an eye on him. I’m worried, with them here. This won’t be good for him. If you had seen him when he came to us…” Her words trailed off and I could see how much she truly cared for her girlfriend’s nephew. Clay was lucky to have she and Ruby in his court.
“He loves you, and I think he probably listens to you more than anyone else. Ruby and I know how hard things are for him. We’ve tried to get him to see someone here in town. But he’s stubborn. And Ruby and I are hesitant to step on any toes. It’s not that we don’t care, but the relationship between Clay and his parents and Ruby and her sister is extremely complicated.” She said sadly. Her words shocked me. I had no idea Ruby and Lisa had tried to intervene. Clay always made it out as though they were clueless.
“Clay acted as though you and Ruby didn’t know.” I said quietly. Lisa shook her head. “We know, Maggie. We see the cuts and the crazy mood swings. We hear him shattering things up in his room. Ruby is scared for him but she’s even more scared to involve his parents. Because they still have full guardianship, Ruby has zero say in any treatment he has, even though he’s living here. His father made sure of that.” Lisa spit out in disgust.