#My52 “The Price of a Life, Part III”

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#My52: Week 4

Word prompt: tacos

Word count – 1062

Reading time – 1 mins, 34 secs

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Part III

Focused on his studies, Dex pushed thoughts of his early morning from his mind. School was the only thing he had going for him and he didn’t know how, but he was determined to have a better life.

Verna Morgan’s words didn’t return to his mind until he passed the counseling center next to the library at the end of the school day.

His mind raced as he weighed his options.

I have nowhere to stay… not even a friend to bunk with for a day or two until I figure things out.

He peered through the large office window and spotted his school advisor.

Jerome Gaffney was an okay counselor, even if he was stuck in the eighties in appearance and language, and Dexter knew he would try to help. But he was a minor and that help would involve foster care or worse, juvenile hall.

Deciding to check area shelters on his own before approaching Mr. Gaffney, Dex left the building and headed across the school parking lot toward downtown.

“Dexter?”

Startled, Dex looked around the parking lot. He froze when he saw Simon standing next to the rundown Explorer. His mother sat in the passenger seat, channeling Audrey Hepburn, but the scarf and sunglasses couldn’t mask the damage caused by  Simon.

“Dexter?”

“Why are you here, ma?”

“I’m sorry, baby-”

“We’re sorry,” Simon piped in.

She continued. “I don’t want you to leave. I can’t bear the thought of my baby sleeping on the streets-”

“I can’t do this anymore, ma. The screaming, the fighting. You can’t expect me to just sit there while he beats you.” He tilted his head toward Simon while still focused on his mother. “It’s wrong and I can’t live like that anymore. It’s better this way.”

Verna removed her sunglasses and Dex’s stomach roiled.

Despite the distance between them, he couldn’t miss the array of colors in her face.

The dark bruising around her left eye feathered to purple on her temple. Her patrician nose held a greenish bump on the bridge, proof it was broken. The ruby red lipstick did little to hide the blood blister in the corner of her mouth or the split next to it.

“Your… face.”

She averted her eyes, replacing the sunglasses.

“It will get better. We will do better, baby. I promise.”

“We promise.”

Dex was unmoved by Simon’s half-hearted promise, but his mother’s concern did appear genuine.

He turned his gaze to Simon for the first time while taking hesitant steps to the vehicle.

The con man’s raised eyebrows satisfied Dex his unspoken threat was received.

He climbed into the Explorer’s back seat and hadn’t closed the door before Verna turned around, bouncing and excited.

“It’s all-you-can-eat tacos day at Nina’s Taqueria. Let’s go clean them out!”

“Love the sound of that, baby. We gotta take care of our boy.”

Our boy.

Dex looked out the window to hide his eye-roll.

For five years, Simon called him by name or your son when speaking to Verna. Nothing else.

Something wasn’t right.

 

“Congratulations, Dexter! You’re one of the first students to receive an acceptance letter from UNLV.”

The teenager accepted Jerome Gaffney’s handshake with a smile, holding back a belly laugh. The man had an amazing resemblance to one of the Bee Gees.

“The registrar is impressed with your grades and knows you’ll be an asset to the psychiatry program.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate all your help with the application.”

Dexter gripped the arms of the chair trying to conceal his excitement. In a few short months, he’d be a student on the Las Vegas campus of the University of Nevada.

And away from his mother and Simon… for good.

The violence at home hadn’t stopped. They waited until Dexter was gone to fight, but Verna… and the apartment always showed the telltale signs of Simon unleashing his anger.

“Dexter?”

“I’m sorry, sir. What?”

“Where’d you go, kiddo? You were a million miles away.”

“Sorry. Just excited, I guess.”

“Well, you have every right to be. A good percentage of our senior classes continue their education after high school, but few make the grades for UNLV.” His smiled waned. “I know it hasn’t been easy for you, son. I was an introvert as a teenager too and I know what you’re up against. It’s one of the reasons I ended up here. To help all students because I’ll never forget what it was like to be invisible.”

His counselor was a good man, but Dex couldn’t help but wonder how many students dealing with issues not connected with school or students suffering from depression and anxiety the kind man had helped.

“You will receive a ton of mail from the school before your graduation, but before we get to that, let’s go over your financial aid packet.”

Dex frowned. “My what?”

“Financial aid… to pay for your tuition.”

“I don’t understand. My acceptance letter said they awarded me scholarships from the school.”

“Yes, you were.” He looked over a computer printout. “And with your grade point average, you’re on target to receive one or two more from the school board.”

Jerome Gaffney laid the paper aside and folded his hands on his desk.

“But son, it’s not enough for a psychiatry major. That includes medical school.”

Dexter’s buzz of excitement slowed to a dull ache throbbing near his temples.

“What do I need to do?”

The counselor pushed a large envelope across the desk.

“That’s the application for federal financial aid. I’ll highlight the most important parts, then you can give it to your parents. They have plenty of time to complete it before the school’s first College Night.”

“My parents? Can’t I fill it out?”

“Household income, tax returns, monthly obligations… sorry, kiddo. That’s gotta come from mom and dad.”

Gaffney continued to talk, but Dex didn’t hear him.

The throbbing in his head grew to a loud roar, and the bile rose from his stomach.

His mother hadn’t worked in his whole life. They lived with her hustler boyfriend. There was no household income, just occasional wins at the card table he was sure Simon couldn’t put on any tax return.

The lump in his throat made swallowing difficult.

He’d never get financial aid. Never get into UNLV. Never get away from Verna and Simon.

Dex inhaled through his nose and gripped the chair arms when his vision blurred, then faded.

Just like his future.

 

To be continued

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

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