Back in the second grade when no one had anything else to worry about we all thought about “who was the cutest in class” and “who would we like to kiss.” Well, for most girls, that person was me. Me and Joan and Austin, we knew we were the best-lookers of the class because when we walked past people they would stop talking and look at us, and sometimes they would blush and everyone in the group would look at one girl, and that girl probably wanted to talk to me or Austin but she was too shy. And sometimes when I ran past I would hear someone whisper “Nick” but when I turned around and caught everyone’s eye, they all looked away and kept talking between each other.
So me and Austin and Joan we kept to ourselves, because no one else worked up the courage to talk to us; and so when we got on the bus in the morning we would all sit together, and when we walked home we would all walk together. And if anything that made people more afraid of talking to us, because when guys would see me and Austin next to Joan, they would lose their confidence, and when girls saw Joan they would feel threatened and a little jealous.
And let me tell you, when you only talk to three people it gets pretty boring; I mean honestly how much can three people tell each other? But it was okay because I got it in my little head that me and Joan and Austin – we were the best. So if we talked to other people we would become just like them and stop being the best, so we thought it was okay to be bored and lonely and just talk to each other because that meant we were still us. And when you only talk to one girl in your life well you bet your horses that you’ll start liking her.
For the longest time in the second grade I had this huge crush on Joan but I don’t think I ever told her and I don’t think she ever knew. Joan had this smile like melted chocolate and these long blonde curls that danced around to her shoulders and I thought she was the cutest person I had ever met. And I did the thing that everyone does when they have a crush in the second grade which was never tell my parents or my friends or the girl but just think about it for a long while and hope she felt the same way.
I think Austin felt the same way about her, because he also only ever talked to her and sometimes he would look at her in this fond way that sometimes made me uncomfortable and sometimes made me boil.
Naturally when Joan told me that she would be at the park at 6:00 with her blonde curls and her smile, I had to be there at 6:00. So when I got home and I was done with my homework and it was 5:30, I had just enough time to get changed and make it there with my mom. I get changed and put on my favorite blue shirt and call downstairs to my mom, “Mom, can we go to the park today?” And to be honest I should have asked her before I got changed or right as I got home, but she never said no because she said little boys should use their energy to play around. But this time she came upstairs and said “Nick, clean your room before we go to the park. I can’t even see the floor today.”
And she was right, because I’m a clean-every-three-months person and usually I know it’s time to clean when I can’t see the floor. And usually this cleaning takes around an hour because I have to reach under my bed and clear my desk and organize my drawers. But today I didn’t have time because I know Joan doesn’t play in the park for more than an hour. So I begged my mom, “please mom can we go to the park; I’ll clean the room afterwards,” and she said, well why can’t we go to the park afterwards?
And what was I supposed to say because I couldn’t tell her that I wanted to see Joan or else she would think that I liked Joan. I ended up just saying, “PLEASE mom I just want to go to the park!” and she said okay, we will go to the park, just finish cleaning your room. And so I became really nervous and frantic and I kept saying in a shaky breath, “please, mom, we just need to go to the park right now,” and my mom was looking more confused than ever and she asked Nick, what is wrong with you, I said we would go to the park when you’re done. So me in my second grade self when I was trapped between not going to the park and not telling my mom I liked Joan, I ended up yelling “I HATE YOU” at her and lying on my bed and crying. And her, being all shocked and confused, asked, Nick what’s wrong? but when I wouldn’t answer, she said alright we can go to the park then. By then it was too late and I had post-cry face so I probably looked like a mess and plus my blue shirt was probably all wet and salty and I just wanted to lie down and sleep because that’s what people want to do after they cry.
When I woke up it was 10:00 so my room was pitch black and I saw that there was a plate of spaghetti on top of all the mess on my desk. I took a bite of the food but it was cold so I didn’t eat very much of it. I heard my mom coming upstairs and I didn’t want to talk to her so soon after I yelled at her so I ran back to my bed as quickly and quietly as I could and pretended to sleep. I didn’t even throw the covers on because my mom would probably believe that I was asleep if I looked like I wasn’t tucked in.
She came in the room as quietly as my creaky door allowed her; I’ll admit she did a very good job of stepping around all the things that made noise, probably because the hallway light was on and she was at least able to see some of the toys. When she reached my bed, she took a bundle of the blanket in both hands, and pulled it up to my neck. She kissed me softly on the cheek, which almost made me cry more, but I held it in even as she said “I love you” to me. She stood there for a while and just looked at me, gently caressing my arms. Before I could cry, before I could tell her that I was sorry and I didn’t mean it when I said I hated her, she slowly tiptoed away, picking up the plate of spaghetti and closing my door as quietly as possible.
I apologized to my mom the next day and cleaned my room too so things went back to normal after that, but I didn’t tell her about Joan and she didn’t ask. I guess she just thought it was one of those little-kid things that second graders have.
A few days later, this pretty lady came by wearing important-people clothes and you can tell they’re important-people clothes because they look so different from normal clothes but there was something about them that just looked nicer, like you wanted to wear them yourself. She looked at everyone in the room with her large sharp eyes and high, defined cheekbones and tapped her chin with her long fingers with perfectly glazed nails. The teacher went on teaching, but introduced each one of us to her and told us that her name was Ms. Baudelaire and she was an important visitor to our class. We all said hi, and she smiled sweetly at us and said hi back so class continued with her there.
She came over to me as I was working and asked me some questions like what is your name and who is your mother, and I responded to her that my name was Nick Paige and my mother was Molly Paige and we lived over on the edge of town, by the gas station. And she smiled sweetly and said thanks, that was all.
There were two more like her that came to visit in the next two weeks, all pretty people with important-people clothes and fancy names like Baudelaire and we didn’t really do anything with them either except say hi and let them sit in the class with us. They asked some of us a few questions too and everyone answered politely and correctly so they seemed happy when they left.
And I thought that it would be the last time I would see those ladies.
A few weeks later, a long pointy white car stopped in front of my house and a tall man in all black with a nice hat got out of the driver’s seat and opened the door on the passenger side, where a tall and thin Ms. Baudelaire got out of the car wearing a long thin white dress that fit her frame well. She took off her sunglasses and handed them to the man in black while I watched from my window, since I could hear the loud rumble of their engine as they pulled up. The man stood by her side but always behind her but that was definitely how it should be because he looked blank while Ms. Baudelaire looked confident.
The ding of the doorbell came when I expected and my mom answered the door with a gasping “oh!” followed by “to what do I owe this honor” to which Ms. Baudelaire responded sit down and let us talk, Ms. Paige. And when grown ups talk that’s when I know to tune out because there is nothing for me in their talking, because they always talk about boring stuff like politics and each other’s children and how wonderful that purse is, but why do I need to know how wonderful that purse is? So I played with my toys as I usually do in the late afternoon as the serious tones of adults speaking muffled through the doors.
And then after half an hour my mom suddenly shouted PLEASE, loud enough for me to hear it clearly even through my closed door. A few seconds later, the man in black opened the door and said hey buddy, you should come downstairs, we have something important to tell you. And even though he said “should” I couldn’t really say no to a big man like him standing outside my door waiting for me to follow him, so I followed him downstairs wondering why I was involved in grown-up talk.
My mom was sitting there on one side of the couch with her head buried in her hands like she was crying, although my mom doesn’t usually cry for anything. Ms. Baudelaire was on the other side, looking straight at me and saying, Hi, Nick, do you remember me, I’m Ms. Baudelaire. And I said yes, I do remember you, you came to my class three weeks ago, to which she smiled so I continued to ask Why are you here? I remember my mom told me before this that you can’t speak to grown-ups in such a direct way, that saying “you” was a no-no, but I didn’t think Ms. Baudelaire minded and she probably thought it was some second-grader kind of attitude.
She said, Nick, we want you to be part of an important ritual.
I didn’t know what a ritual was, but it was important to that sentence so I asked what do you mean? Ms. Baudelaire said well, Nick, from now on you’ll be a part of our family, which I thought was great but I was a bit confused as to how someone could be a part of two families at the same time, unless we were all the same family so I said “me and mom are your family now?” and she said No, Nick, just you, you will come live with us.
And to me that was weird because I’m pretty sure Ms. Baudelaire didn’t ask me to live with her when she asked me those questions in class so why is she telling me now that I have to live with her and be part of her family? and so I said No I’m not, I’m living with my mom, right mom? and I turn to look at my mom so that she can say yes you’re living with me, just like I expected her to say yes, we’re going to the park today.
And my mom looks at me with these big eyes in her post-cry face that look so sad they could swallow all of us here in their sadness and she tries to say something but she just kept crying. And I stand there waiting for her to say yes, while Ms. Baudelaire’s big red-lipstick lips are moving and her eyes are focused on me and she’s saying Don’t worry Nick, you will get used to it eventually.
Used to what eventually? Because I could not go to live with Ms. Baudelaire because she was not my mom and I have to live with my mom who is sitting on the couch crying right now. Ms. Baudelaire paused for a while before saying Molly, please stand so we can perform the ritual.
I still didn’t know what a ritual was but I stood by my mother’s side as the man in black helped her, or more like he pulled her up. Ms. Baudelaire stood up and her thin white dress un-creased as it flowed down.
For a long time we just stood there in silence broken by sounds of mom’s crying as Ms. Baudelaire looked at her as if she were waiting for the crying to stop, but it wouldn’t stop so she just said Molly, you have to say the words.
But my mom didn’t say the right words, I think, because she said PLEASE, he doesn’t want to go with you, why can’t he stay? And Ms. Baudelaire seemed to take offense to that because her face went from neutral to angry in a quick second and she moved towards my mother and then she surprised me even more.
She slapped my mother.
Hard, really hard, like my mom slapped me on the wrist when I broke her favorite watch as I was playing with it. Only this time, it was across the face and much harder. Mom let out a yelp and drew her arm up to her cheek as Ms. Baudelaire said Know your place, Molly. Her eyes and smile weren’t sweet anymore and she didn’t look pretty at all anymore; even her long white dress looked different to me because she was ugly, she was an ugly person who hit my mom and none of her important-people clothes could change that. And at this point I couldn’t tell if mom was crying because of the slap or because she didn’t finish crying before, but I knew that I was angry at Ms. Baudelaire for hitting my mom so I balled my fists and tightened my eyebrows and said HEY, but before anything could happen, Mom screamed NO at me, which shocked me because she didn’t even scream at Ms. Baudelaire when she hit my mom but she screamed at me for trying to hit her back.
Before I knew it, the man in black had my wrists and he was stronger than little second-grade me and he said hey buddy, let’s not do anything we don’t want to, only he didn’t say it like my buddy he said it differently and I didn’t think he was my buddy. Ms. Baudelaire turned to look at me with her sharp eyes and said Behave now, Nick, but she didn’t say it sweetly at all.
Then, while I was restrained, my mom started talking in this really weird adult voice that was more adult than anything she ever said. She said “I, Molly Paige, P-class citizen, am subservient to those who are before me, and I will obey their orders.” I didn’t understand even half the words in that sentence, but mom couldn’t look anyone in the eye, not even me, not even when I said Mom what does that mean? all while the man in black held me by my mom’s side.
Ms. Baudelaire’s face stopped looking so mean which probably meant that Mom was doing as she said and doing the ritual. Which meant that I would be in Ms. Baudelaire’s family and I would live with her and I couldn’t see why my mom would agree to this.
Then Ms. Baudelaire said “I, Natalie Baudelaire, B-class citizen, as your superior, order you to relinquish your child to me by Article 3 of the Nobility Transfer Act.” and if I thought my mom’s sentence was hard, then this was even harder. But Ms. Baudelaire said it so smoothly and properly so this was probably how she said things all the time.
And then the man in black released me and my mother turned to me and hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek and said Nicholas Martin Paige, my son. She cried on me and I hugged her and said it’s okay mom I’m not going to go with Ms. Baudelaire, because even if mom had to give me over, they couldn’t make me go over, and I actually believed it.
When my mom lifted her head she looked at me with those eyes again that did swallow me up this time and I hugged her really really tightly, but Ms. Baudelaire probably got tired of waiting so she said Complete the Ritual, Molly. My mom hugged me, and then when we both pulled away, she placed her hands on my shoulders and pushed me forward to Ms. Baudelaire, who said Thank you, Molly. And why would she say thank you except that mom had done what she said and completed the ritual, and that meant that I was in Ms. Baudelaire’s family now and I would go and live with her.
And of course I ran back saying No, no I live here, I don’t want to live with you; but the man in black grabbed me this time and then I started crying, because I was helpless, because when a man in black who is strong grabs your shoulders, you can’t run anywhere. And Ms. Baudelaire stopped looking so mean and started looking like important-person again, but I still thought she was ugly because when you put on ugly, you can’t take off ugly, not even with important-people clothes. Mom kept saying I love you, I love you Nicholas, and crying to me and I was crying too saying I love you, mom, let me stay, but the man in black picked me up and carried me out the door of my home while Ms. Baudelaire said Your name is Nicholas Martin Baudelaire, you are my son. But I wasn’t her son because I had brown hair and she had black hair and she didn’t even look like me she looked fancy and pretty and I looked like Mom, who was looking at me from the front door and crying louder than ever but even in her cry-face I still loved her more than Ms. Baudelaire
They put me in the back of the car with Ms. Baudelaire as she told me I would go live on the other side of town, near the mall, in a bigger house with dogs and more toys but I didn’t want dogs or toys so I didn’t listen to her. All I could think about was if Joan and Austin were taken by those other pretty people to important-people houses with dogs and toys and if they were really just ugly people like Ms. Baudelaire. I thought about if I would ever see them again, if I would ever see Joan and her dancing blonde curls or her melted-chocolate smile in school or if I would even go to the same school, maybe I would go to school with other important-people children.
And then I thought about a few weeks ago when I told my mom I hated her because she wouldn’t let me see Joan and that even though I told her I hate her she kissed me goodnight and told me she loved me. I thought about how I didn’t really hate her but maybe I brought Ms. Baudelaire here because Ms. Baudelaire heard that I hated Mom so she wanted to take me away from her. But then this is all just some big mistake because I didn’t hate mom, I loved her so the car can turn around and bring me back.
But the car didn’t turn around.
It just kept going.
Brian is a freshman studying computer science in the College of Engineering. He enjoys reading and video games. He can usually be found listening to music in Olin or Duffield. His story collection, Days of Our Lives, appears on alternate Tuesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]