The key turned so easily in the lock, it was obvious the bolt was already undone. Natalie’s brain dragged itself reluctantly back from the seismic data she’d been combing through to puzzle at this. Startled, afraid, she turned the door knob, wondering if the house had been unlocked all day.
The floor was clean. Oh, that’s right, Mom was here.
Natalie came inside and shut the door behind her, locking it out of habit. There in the front hall, Bryce’s backpack hung neatly on a hook, his shoes below lined up and ready to go for tomorrow.
How long had it taken Mom to get him to do that? Maybe Mom had done it herself.
“Hi Natalie,” Mom said from the kitchen. There were sounds of cooking. “How was your day.”
“Great,” Natalie said, excited. “There were three quakes on the pacific rim today, and we were able to give thirty minute warnings for all of them. There was only one near a population center, so they closed some bridges. Nothing went out, but it’s good they’re starting to take more precautions. It was a little tricky to work out the potential epicenters because…” Natalie launched into a long explanation of all the technical details. She realized she’d been talking for some time without checking to see if Mom was really interested. Natalie stopped and studied her mother’s face. Did she look like she was interested? Did she look like she even understood? Was she even listening? It was always so hard to tell.
“The school called again today,” Natalie’s mom said.
“Again?” Natalie’s heart sank. Bryce had been doing so well these past weeks, but then having his grandma visit had completely thrown his routine into a shambles.
“Bryce was singing in class, and he wouldn’t stop. Also, when it was time to do his seat work, he just stared at his tablet for a whole hour.”
“I told his teacher that tablets are too distracting for him. He can’t handle screens.”
“Natalie, I tried something today,” Mom said. “When I took Bryce to school, after the bell rang for him to go to class, I walked up to where he was playing on the playground. I was standing right next to him, and I told him it was time to go to class. He just kept playing. All the other kids left the playground, and he just kept playing. The second bell rang, I don’t think he even heard it.”
“You let him keep playing until the second bell?” Natalie couldn’t believe it. Mom had let Bryce be late for class.
“I wanted to give him a chance to notice on his own. You can’t always be there for him, Natalie. I wanted to see how long it would take him to realize that everyone else had left the playground. He never did. A teacher came along and got his attention and sent him to class.”
“Mom!” Natalie said.
“He doesn’t mean to be this way. I know he doesn’t. He just can’t function like other people.”
“I know,” Natalie said.
“Have you thought about getting him treated?”
“I’m not interested in that,” Natalie said, reeling. Had Mom just suggested I get Bryce a treatment?
“Have you even looked into it?”
“Of course I have!” Natalie said. “But it’s not an easy solution. The outcome is so unpredictable. I can predict earthquakes better than they can predict the outcome of a treatment.”
“You can give him a small treatment and see if it works. See if it does anything. Maybe it will help him.”
“Mom, Bryce’s brain is different. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I couldn’t do what I do if my brain was like everyone else’s.”
“Natalie, you were never this bad.”
“He doesn’t have to be normal to be happy.”
“He’s suffering, Natalie. And there may be something you can do to help. Have you even talked to your doctor about it, at all?”
“No,” Natalie said. “It’s not that simple. They’ll want to re evaluate him. It’ll take months. I’ll have to take a lot of time off work.”
“Bryce is more important than your work.”
“He’s making progress, Mom. He can learn to do better.”
“I’m just saying it’s an option,” Mom went back to stirring the pot.
Natalie went and sat down at her desk, fuming.
There was the doctor’s phone number up on the bulletin board. She could call. She could ask for an appointment. That didn’t mean she would have to go through with getting Bryce a treatment.
Natalie picked up the phone.