o,” George said. “I’ll see you tomorrow night? Usual time and place?”
They were standing on the street — George with his little girl in his arms, LaTonya and Darrell — in front of her building. It took her a minute to figure out what she was talking about. Then she realized: The tutoring. The medical school exams. Which were now just a few days away.
“No,” she told him. “I’m not going to be able to pursue that this time.”
She hadn’t been to class in a while either. Not since all the trouble started with Darrell. If she was going to try to get into medical school, it was going to have to be sometime far, far in the future.
“But you’ve worked so hard,” George said. “I really think you’re ready, maybe if we did one refresher session….”
She put up her hand to stop him. “I appreciate all you’ve done for me, George. But I can’t go ahead with medical school now. Please don’t make me feel worse about it.”
She could tell George was about to say something else, but he bit back his words, shook his head, and said goodnight.
But then, on the way up the stairs to the apartment, Darrell said, “Why did you tell him that?”
“Tell him what?”
“That you weren’t going to take the test? That you weren’t going to go ahead with medical school? Are you even going to graduate?”
“It’s not practical, sweetheart. Between my job and taking care of you, I’ve got all I can do. More than I can do.”
She just wanted to sink in her bed, knowing her son was home safe with her now. Wanting more than that, ever, had been an insult to heaven.
“But I don’t need taking care of,” Darrell said. “Not like that, anyway. You got almost all the way through college, you did all that studying for the test, and I was a lot younger than I am now. You can’t just quit.”
“Would you like some ice cream?” she asked him. “Maybe a hot cocoa?”
“Mom, since when did you make me hot cocoa at bedtime? I want to know why you’re not taking that test.”
“I almost lost you, Darrell. I wasn’t here, I wasn’t paying enough attention, and you got in trouble. I thought I’d never see you again.”
“But that wasn’t your fault,” Darrell said. “That was my fault. Or Dwayne’s fault. Or, I don’t know, nobody’s fault. You shouldn’t take it on yourself.”
“But don’t you see? It’s all my fault in the end. It’s all my responsibility. You’re the most important thing in the world to me, Darrell. I can’t risk losing you again.”
He looped one long arm over her shoulders. “You’re not going to lose me, Mom.”
She took a deep breath. “You made promises to me before.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. Going out to the park at night, going out for a pizza — I know I shouldn’t have done those things. But it wasn’t like I was trying to get in trouble.”
“Trouble finds you, Darrell. When you’re a young black man, trouble finds you wherever you go. And it’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
He removed his arm, stepped back from her. “If you don’t take this test,” he said, “you’re punishing me worse than anything else you could do.”
“Oh, come on,” LaTonya said, stifling a smile. “You been taking drama lessons from that little French girl?”
“I mean it, Mom. I had to give up things all those nights you were in school and out studying too. You don’t think I would have liked you home? But you told me it was your dream. You told me it was so we could have a better life. And I believed you. And now what are you telling me? That it’s okay to give all that up?”
“Give it up for now,” LaTonya said. “Maybe later, when you’re off in college, when I have the time to devote to it again….”
“Maybe I won’t go to college,” said Darrell, dropping into a chair and crossing his arms over his chest. “Maybe I won’t even go back to school.”
“Oh yes you will,” said LaTonya. “This is exactly the kind of behavior I’m talking about. This is exactly why I need to be here.”
“So what are you going to do? Carry me there? Walk around by my side and make sure I go to my classes? You don’t have any power over me, Mom. The only power you have is being the kind of person that I want to please.”
He had her now. She was struck silent.
“You want to be a good mother?” said Darrell. “Take the test. That’s what I need from you, Ma. Take the test.”