A Moment with Truth

Set in the not-so-distant future, The Morality Plays series examines our relationship with the truth and with each other in a world where honesty has taken a back seat to influence. Join Truth on an intimate journey as she unfolds the tales of the modern-day everymen and women in these stories of love, relationships, heartache, and triumph.

Chapter 20

 A Moment with Truth

 The Winston boys are basically good, well-adjusted, and well-mannered. I do love them dearly. But like all boys, they have their moments, many of which Alexa never discovers until it’s too late to do anything to change them. They never, ever mean any harm. But curiosity, mischief, and ingenuity are tough playmates for this trio to elude. Let me introduce you more properly.

Whether searching for a confiscated smart phone or foraging for frequently consumed foods safely “hidden” to protect them from themselves, the brothers always worked as a team to meet mission. Tristan usually assigned himself the most covert role he could find. Stealthy by nature, he did his best work when behind the scenes directing, deciphering, and plotting next steps. Whether Trace or Treat was assigned to the front lines varied depending on the desired outcome. If the goal was to wrest money from Alexa, Treat was at the ready, poised to do and say all things cute and edgy in order to win Mom over and make the ask (which almost always had a positive outcome.) Even though he was the youngest, he was by far the wiliest, most mischievous of the three and carried out his assigned missions with pure glee. He neither considered nor feared repercussions or negative outcomes. His philosophy: if there’s fun to be had in the commission of such acts, then bring it on. What may come may come.

Trace was charming and witty, making him a highly versatile operative depending on the quest. As the one who could make Alexa laugh most hysterically, he often provided the distraction when the brothers were carrying out such secret missions as covering up for the fact that one was playing video games for too long, hadn’t cleaned his room, or had committed some other punishable infraction. Trace also saw front-line action where matters of the heart were concerned. This was because he and his mom seemed to share the most public emotional bond. Not that he was the favored nation. But cuddle bug was resident in his DNA. From the day Alexa brought him home from the hospital, Trace found his deepest sense of comfort in his mother’s arms or nuzzling her hair or, more recently, sharing thoughts, hopes, and dreams.

Tonight’s quest posed a very different challenge, though, so Operation: Who Dat?  Would be Tristan’s alone to execute. At the heart of this matter: truth. He didn’t trust his brothers with finding out all about Mateo – at least not the stuff he wanted to know. What he didn’t count on was the fact that Mateo, a keen student of human behaviors and, therefore, an accomplished boots-on-the-ground strategist himself, would march boldly onto the battlefield to meet him toe to toe.

Uncharacteristically, Tristan fired the opening salvo. As Alexa clinks away at the dirty dishes from their dinner, Mateo sits in the basement watching a classic episode of Spongebob Squarepants with the younger Winston brothers. As Treat and Trace debate the pros and cons of whether Spongebob should listen to Mr. Krabbs and set his pet seahorse, Mystery, free, Tristan drags an ottoman into the parlor and plops it down across from Mateo.

“So, Mom says you’re a professor. What do you teach, and is that how you and she met?” Tristan aims his cold gaze towards this unknown subject.

“Well, I teach classes about a variety of topics related to psychology and how we can use it to understand more about how and why people communicate the way they do,” Mateo says, admiring the boy’s bold, no-frills approach. “And yes, that’s exactly how we met. Your mom and I met when we did a panel discussion together.”

“I see. And how long have you two been fucking?”

Tristan feels a surge of anger as the words leave his lips. He isn’t quite sure why he’s feeling this way either. He hated his father deeply. He loves his mother madly. He didn’t ever want to see her hurt again. And he didn’t know squat about the guy sitting across from him. Nothing he was feeling made sense now, which made him even angrier.

Mateo clears his throat as he tries to bite back his laughter at the 15-year-old’s audacity. Quickly, he sizes up Tristan’s energy before choosing his reply. Though not quite certain how he should answer, and even less certain that their conversation will be productive, he does know that it would be better to talk away from the younger boys, who sit staring in disbelief at their big brother’s audacious inquisition.

“We’ve been friends for several months, Tristan, but things just became serious recently. Since you asked, we should probably talk about that. Got a few minutes?”

Completely unarmed by that answer, Tristan locks eyes with Mateo. He didn’t know what to expect, but the anger that just moments ago gripped his gut is replaced with curiosity and a sense of being off balance.

“Um, yeah. I mean, I guess so.”

Tristan rises from his seat, wipes his sweaty palms down the front of his jeans, and motions with his head for Mateo to follow him. Without much notice at all from Trace and Treat, whose attention was now safely returned to the care of Spongebob, the pair pass through the double-glass doors leading to the quaint and lovely garden just outside the room. It was a perfect fall evening. The air, filled with the sweet scent of decaying leaves, and the relatively clear sky allowed a galaxy of stars to shine and twinkle brightly like fireflies in mid-June. Tristan jams his hands into his pockets as deeply as he can and stands awkwardly beside Mateo.

“First off, relax,” Mateo says, turning to face Tristan. He places a hand on the boy’s shoulders, gently, briefly then backs to sit on the semi-circular brick wall surrounding the back patio. He knew he needed to be as nonthreatening as possible and towering over the boy probably wasn’t the best way to accomplish that.

“I care deeply about your mom.” Mateo swallows and searches Tristan’s eyes for reaction. “I would never intentionally hurt her.” He waits a moment, digesting the rawness and truth in his own words before adding. “You guys are her entire world, and so I’d really like the chance to get to know you and your brothers.”

Tristan was truly thrown off by Mateo’s words, but he doesn’t have a chance to process much of it before Mateo says more.

“Now don’t get me wrong. I would never try to take your dad’s place. That wouldn’t be fair or proper.”

“Now I know you can’t know Mom all that well,” Tristan replies sarcastically. “Exactly what place are you talking about? I haven’t seen or spoken to my father since he left us, so there’s really no place for you to take, now is there?”

Mateo studies the fire in the young man’s eyes, where he finds a profound point of connection.

“You know,” Mateo says, his words flowing more slowly, carefully now, “your mom doesn’t like to talk about the past very much, but I do know that the split from your dad wasn’t easy and that he hasn’t been a part of your lives since.” He stands up and walks a few steps to his left to lean against the brick planter behind him. “No, I don’t know all the details about you and your father. But I know what it’s like when your father doesn’t give a shit about you.”

Tristan, who had been staring at the ground for the past few moments, looks up at Mateo wanting to know more.

“So, your dad split on you, too?”

“No. It might have been better if he had. I grew up right under his nose, right in the same house. But it was like I never existed. Even when he and my mom split, he forced her to give him physical custody of me so he could raise me the way he wanted. Never been able to figure that one out because he treated me like something dirty on the bottom of his shoes most of the time. Other times, it was like I was invisible because I wasn’t who he wanted me to be. All I ever wanted to know was that he gave a damn if I lived or died, you know what I mean?”

Tristan considers this before responding. “I guess, dude. Yeah. Even when my dad was here, he was never really here with us.” His response telegraphs almost no emotion. But it does open the possibility of connection between them. 

“Well, then, since we seem to have a little something in common, maybe we can hang out, get to know each other better. That is, unless you’re too busy. Or not interested in being friends.”

“Yeah, we could hang out, I guess,” replies Tristan, feeling strangely psyched inside. “Since you’re going to be here to see Mom and stuff, so yeah.”

“Great. I’d like that,” Mateo says. He smiles warmly at Tristan and extends his fist for a pound. As Tristan returns the gesture, Alexa walks out to the patio.

Copyright © 2021 by Kimberly Greer