THE COLD INSIDE
by AL BRUNO III
Friday December 2, 1994
As far as Tristam was concerned it could have been worse.
He got off with a stern reprimand and a night of detention, the same as everyone else involved in the snowball fight. The Dean spoke with Tristam after the other students had been dismissed, he made sure Tristam knew that he was on thinner ice than anyone else. He made sure Tristam knew how unwanted a presence he was at Blessed Heart and that if he didn’t want his parents to end up wasting their money he should keep his nose clean.
In other words, same shit different day, Tristam thought as he made his way down the school’s front steps to find his mother's car waiting for him. The sun had already set and she was just a shadow behind the wheel. He started talking as he opened the car door, trying to head off the lecture he knew was coming, “Please let me explain what happened.”
“Oh just shut up for God's sakes,” Pam said.
He almost smiled at the sight of his sister, “When did you get your license?”
“Some time soon,” she waited until he was buckled into his seat, then she slipped the car into gear and sped out of the lot.
“Watch it. You want us both to have police records?”
That only made her drive faster, “Mom asked me to pick you up. She's so pissed she doesn't know if she can drive right now.”
“You know I didn't do anything.”
“You hit Evan with a friggin' brick.”
“A rock.” He corrected, “And it was an accident.”
“Accidentally on purpose.”
“No. Accidentally on accident,” Tristam paused to consider if what he had just said made any sense.
“Please, you wanted to hit him with that rock because he banged and dumped your old girlfriend.”
“No, he was picking on my friends-”
She snorted derisively, “Your nerd friends.”
“Maybe but so what? He got what he had coming.”
The Escort zipped through a yellow light, “Just like the dog?”
“Oh fuck you!”
“Look. I don't know what happened to you. You used to be a cool brother, moody but cool. Now I swear to God you're getting more and more psycho every day.”
“I am not psycho!”
“Yes you are. Yes you are!” She banged the steering wheel for emphasis, “I watch you and it's like watching a car wreck in slow motion.”
Now there's an appropriate metaphor, Tristam thought as they took a turn a little too sharply. The Escort’s tires squealed, the chassis lurched. “I can't believe you're taking Evan's side. You can't stand him.”
“This is not about you. Or Evan. This is about me. This is about Mom.”
“You are ruining our lives with your bullshit. This is my senior year,” Pam said, “this is supposed to be the best year of my life.”
“Oh my heart just bleeds-”
“And as for Mom, do you know how hard she works for us? Do you even care?”
“I care plenty,” Tristam said.
They pulled into a Burger Clown parking lot and eased their way into the drive through line “You sure don’t show it. Every time you pull one of your little stunts it kills her. It just kills her. You used to be her favorite.”
Stunts? Used to be?
“What do you want? Do you want me to kill myself?”
“Oh for Christ's sake!” She groaned. The cars inched forward, a stylized clown with a menu on its torso loomed ahead.
“What else can I do? I can't go to live with my Dad and Mom doesn’t want me in public school.”
“You'd get eaten alive in public school,” she said, “And what do you want?”
“Double Clown burger with no pickles,” he said.
“You might find this hard to believe but I don't hate you.”
“You’re right, that is hard to believe.”
Pam wouldn’t look at him, “Thing is as bad as it is it could be worse. They don't do some of the things they want to do to you because they don't want to piss me off.”
They reached the fiberglass effigy, Pam rolled down the window and placed their order. Tristam fumed, all this over a damn rock. The speaker crackled an amount and a request to drive up to the first window. The Escort rolled forward.
Tristam asked “So what you’re saying is that I’ve been getting an acceptable level of abuse?”
“You get what you deserve.” Pam looked up from rooting around in her purse long enough to glare at him, “But here's the thing, if I get one more incident until graduation. I won’t protect you anymore. Fuck it. I’ll think of stuff for them do to you.”
“Do you know how sick that sounds?”
She counted through the bills to make sure she had the right amount, “Maybe, but if you think this is bad wait until you get home.”