"bill, i really don’t think signing jensen up for the swim team this year is a good idea.”
jensen stopped short on the steps, overhearing his mother’s voice as it floated from the kitchen. he’d been on his way down to get a snack, but he stood frozen now. his hand stayed put on the railing, and though his eyes shifted in and out of focus on the front door, his ears were on high alert, trying to hear every word.
"and what excuse did you come up for him this year, judy? hm?"
yeah, what excuse had his mom thought up for this time around? jensen gulped silently, his heart pounding loudly in his chest. he was sure that if it didn’t quiet down, his parents would hear it and he’d be found out.
"it’s not an excuse, honey, it’s the truth. he’s miserable every time you make him play some sport."
there was silence from his father, just for a moment. jensen licked his lips, waiting on pins and needles for an answer. or for him to say anything at all, really. it wasn’t like his father not to respond to something immediately. it was either a really good sign, or a really bad one.
"he needs to get out of his goddamned room. all he does is draw pictures of things that don’t exist."
okay, it had been a bad sign.
"but he’s happiest when-"
"he’ll be happy if he sucks it up and does what boys his age are supposed to do, damn it."
jensen blinked and swallowed again. he’d actually never overheard his parents talking about him like this. sure, he’d overheard what they were planning on getting him for chrismas one year, but this was different.
"but jensen is different from other boys his age."
"i can’t relate to him that way, damn it. i don’t understand what he’s talking about half the time when he talks about his pictures or stories. i just want a son who plays ball, who’s normal."
jensen blinked slowly, a strange feeling growing in the pit of his stomach. he… he didn’t know what to do. his dad just wanted a son who could play ball? jensen already knew that wouldn’t be him. he’d tried before, and like his mom had said, he’d been miserable. and jensen already knew, even though he was only in fifth grade, that he wouldn’t ever play ball.
"i never wanted a weirdo son who drew pictures and made up his own worlds or whatever the hell he does up there. i just want a normal boy, and i’ll make him that way, you’ll see, judy."
finally, jensen remembered to breathe. and with that realization that he could, in fact, breathe, he bolted down the last few steps, wrenched open the front door, and ran down the path to the sidewalk. he turned and ran up the street, not entirely sure where he was going. vaguely, he was aware that he ran past lorna’s house, but he didn’t turn to go to her.
it was one thing for the kids at school to call him weird. he’d almost gotten used to hearing it when people got bored enough to whisper it at him in the hallway. he’d gotten used to the fact that lorna was about the only person who ever wanted to be partners with him. he hadn’t understood why, exactly. he didn’t understand what exactly made him different from the other kids in his class, but he knew he was.
but it was another thing to have his own father call him weird. to find out he wasn’t the son he’d wanted. and to know, down to his core, that he’d never be the son his father had wanted, because he’d never be a boy who played ball, even if it was what he wanted most. he’d spent so much time wondering why his father didn’t talk to him as often as his mother did. why his father was so determined that he play a sport. why nothing he tried to do, like drawing his dad his best picture, seemed to help. and now he knew.
he felt like he could barely breathe, and it wasn’t just because he’d been running. jensen slowed to a stop, finding himself outside of his elementary school. he furrowed his eyes at the red brick building in front of him. he took a deep breath, filling his lungs up as much as he could before he flung his arms wide and let out a yell at the top of his lungs. the force of it pushed him backward, stumbling slightly as his breath ran out. he swung his arms and took another deep breath, letting out one more frustrated, heartbroken yell.
as it subsided, jensen sank to the ground. he was a quiet kid, a kid that put up with a lot in school that he didn’t fight back against, but yelling like that… it had helped.
a cautious voice caught him off guard, causing him to look over his slumped shoulder. it was lorna. his eyes stayed on hers for a moment before he turned back around, picking tiredly at the grass in front of him.
"i saw you run past my house."
he didn’t respond, but he did glance at her as she sat on the ground next to him.
he glanced at her again, sighing heavily. "my dad doesn’t want a kid like me," his voice was almost resigned as he talked, though there was obviously pain underlying it. "he wants someone who can play sports. he thinks i’m weird. and i think he’ll always think that."
he creased his eyebrows together even further, grabbing at more innocent blades of grass. though, the hardness in his face softened when lorna reached out a hand and placed it on one of his.
"i think you’re perfect the way you are. and i don’t think you’re dad’s realized how lucky he is to have you."
jensen took a deep breath and turned his head slightly to look at her. she was being completely serious. she sounded like a mom when she said things like that, and it was nice. his lips twitched into a watery smile.