#My52: Week 7
Word prompt: maintenance
Word count – 1361
Reading time – 3 mins, 35 secs
Bitterness and anger warred inside Dexter Morgan.
His mother stole his childhood and forever changed his life chasing the affluent lifestyle she believed she deserved.
Jerome Gaffney’s inquiry into Dexter’s eligibility for a scholarship through his father’s veteran benefits was the catalyst for Verna Morgan’s undoing.
He received the funds he needed for college, but the Department of Veteran’s Affairs also launched an investigation into the benefits Verna claimed before Proctor divorced her.
Authorities were certain she forged allotment documents before she left her husband. Though it was rare, it wasn’t unusual for military families to maintain two residences.
Proctor’s diminished physical condition could account for any disparities in his signature on the documents, and even with abandonment as his reason for divorce, the VA still had no concrete proof Verna forged his signature.
Since Dex was Proctor’s son, he was entitled to Social Security disability benefits for dependent children. That he never knew about the monthly checks and Verna dressed him in thrift store gleanings while buying new suits for Simon only proved her a bad mother. Reprehensible, but not illegal.
Dexter’s strained home life grew more contentious after Verna’s machinations came to light.
Counting the days until graduation, a part-time job with the school’s maintenance crew filled enough hours for Dexter to only return to the dusty apartment for a few hours sleep each night.
When graduation day arrived, an unrepentant Verna did not attend.
And Dexter didn’t want her there.
With all he’d been through, Dexter Morgan was proud of his accomplishments, but his heart mourned his father not seeing him accept his diploma and scholarships.
By the time he returned home, his sadness had turned to rage.
“Well, lookie here. We have an honest-to-God high school graduate in our midst.”
Headed to his room, Dex froze in his tracks, fed up with Simon’s smart mouth.
“Yeah, I am, and I appreciate you being there to support me.”
Verna interrupted before Simon could respond.
“Don’t start, Dexter. It’s still a hundred and fifteen degrees outside. There was no reason for us to get heatstroke trying to get to an overcrowded gymnasium and sit for three hours.”
“Damn, how did you do that, Simon? I didn’t even see your lips move.”
“Dexter James! How dare-”
“How dare me what, ma? Call you both on your crap?”
“You listen to-”
“I’m done listening to you, ma. Seeing your only child graduate from high school… with honors wasn’t a good enough reason to brave Las Vegas heat, but I was a good enough reason to steal money from dad and the government.”
“I am not a thief!”
“Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is stealing-”
“I stole nothing! They found no grounds to file charges against me.”
“Only because dad’s dead… now.”
“We’ve already been over this, Dexter. I was entitled to that money.”
“Because of me!”
His tone startled the shameless couple.
“And we haven’t been over it. I was in the room the last time you talked to the VA people. But you,” he pointed an accusing finger at her, “refused to say another word about it when we got home.”
“There was no point. We needed to put the ugly accusations behind us and move on.”
“There wasn’t enough proof to charge you, ma. No one said you were innocent.”
“How can you speak to me this way? I’m your mother-”
“It’s always about you. Dad getting deployed to Afghanistan, his coming home wounded, and you walking out on him… all about you. All to interrupt your life.”
Verna pleaded with her boyfriend for help. “Simon, baby, make him stop. Don’t let him talk to me like that.”
But the older man had not forgotten how the teenager pulled him off Verna and threw him across the room. He withered under Dexter’s dark glare and focused on his beer.
“He only hits people who don’t hit back, ma.”
“What have I done for you to disrespect me like this?”
“How many times can I say it? You used me to take money that didn’t belong to you.”
“I was entitled to that money.”
“No, you weren’t.” He pounded his chest with each word. “I was entitled to those benefits, ma. You were only able to get as far as you did because you used me.”
“I did it for you!”
“You did it for yourself.”
“You fed me Hot Pockets and Pop Tarts, dressed me in thrift store hand-me-downs, and made me sleep on the floor until you found an old bed at a garage sale… for ten dollars.”
“It’s not like I was getting big bucks, Dexter James. You have no idea what it costs to raise a child.”
“Does it cost as much as that fancy bed Simon had to have for his bad back? Or his high-tech gold watch? What about the gold cuff links, ma? Does raising a child cost as much as those?”
“You need to leave.”
“And there it is. Kick me out so you don’t have to face your own lies. Only this time you and Mr. Big here won’t come looking for me. I’m eighteen and the checks have stopped. I hold no value for you anymore. I’m a liability… and a reminder of your meanness.”
“My lies? My meanness? What about your father, Dexter? He promised me we’d travel the world. We were supposed to buy a new home, new cars and join the country club. He promised me.” She paced next to the rickety dinette. “But instead he comes home barely able to feed himself, and I’m supposed to be the dutiful wife and caregiver. No. No. I deserved better.”
When Dexter didn’t respond, Verna turned to her son.
Even Simon looked up from his beer.
Dex stood frozen in place, his eyes on his mother.
And his lips twitched at the corners.
Unable to hold it in, he bent at the waist… and roared with laughter. He wrapped his arms around himself as guffaws rumbled up from deep inside his belly.
“Dexter James! What is wrong with you? What are you laughing at?”
The teen buried his face in his hands and righted himself. Scrubbing his hands down his face, he tried to catch his breath. Looking around the shabby apartment, Dex returned his mischievous gaze to Verna.
“Welcome to better, ma.”
Hit by another wave of laughter, Dexter stumbled backward into the wall.
“I’m glad you find this funny, young man.”
Pushing away from the wall, Dexter Morgan stood to his full height, the laughter gone.
“You took me away from my home, my friends. You took me away from my dad… after he lost the use of his legs serving his country.” A single tear slid down his cheek. “All because you could. All because you knew there was something better waiting for you.”
He took two steps toward his mother.
“But you ended up in this rundown hole-in-the-wall with a man who beats you like it’s a hobby… while you took care of him with money I was eligible for because of my dad… the man you walked away from.”
He took two more steps.
“You don’t think that’s funny, ma? Because I think it’s fucking hilarious.”
Verna opened her mouth to speak, but Dexter talked over her.
“I’m leaving, ma, but not tonight. Mr. Gaffney is making arrangements for me to move into the dorms early and work on-campus until classes start. So, you’re stuck with me sleeping here until that happens. You owe me that much.”
Dexter turned and headed to his room, stopping in the doorway.
“Don’t worry, ma, it’ll only be for a couple of weeks and then you’ll be rid of me. But what’s even better is I’ll be rid of you.”
Dexter Morgan leaned his forehead against the cool window and closed his eyes. His jaws trembled as though the memories left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Six days later, Jerome Gaffney had picked up Dex and his modest duffle bag of belongings. As they drove away, he closed the chapter of his life that included his mother.
But Verna Morgan wasn’t done with him yet.
Next week, the conclusion of The Price of a Life
Part I Part II Part III Part IV Part V
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