adults have always warned him to be careful what he posts online, to watch what he says on social media. but adults are all hypocritical bastards, and gryffin is grateful for it for once, because with just several easy payments with his dad’s emergency credit card to a few websites specializing in digging up adoption records and two months worth of facebook stalking, he’s found his sister, his two brothers, and his birth mother: karen patton.

he knows that his sister has the same splattered freckles as he does and messy hair just like him and is spending some vacation time in california, and that his brothers are identical twins who just graduated from college and look just like him if he had smoother hair and didn’t need to live in his coke-bottle glasses half the time. and he knows that his mother looks exactly like him--all dark hair and eyes and the same sharp chin--and she’s a judge. he knows that she dotes on her sons but ignores her daughter, who is happy to ignore her back. he knows that she’s a devout catholic and enjoys sharing her opinions on that extensively. he knows that she enjoys talking about her work travel plans, like her current one in augusta, maine, which is just a two hour drive from gryffin’s home in bar harbor.

he has no idea what her voice sounds like, or if she wears perfume, or if she gives good hugs, or why she gave him up but not any of his siblings, or if he even likes her or if he hates her. but he intends to find out.

it’s easy to make fake a e-mail account claiming to be his own mother and reach out to karen, asking her to meet at a well reviewed bistro for lunch because something has come up with gryffin and as the birth mother ‘she’ felt that karen had the right to know what’s going on and it’s so very, very urgent. it would be better to speak face to face, ‘she’ said, since the subject was so sensitive.

that emergency credit card stretches comfortably around the bus fare and the cost for the taxi, and honestly if home alone was filmed today then gryffin would happily apply for the new lead because this shit was so easy. the bistro’s about as nice as yelp made it seem to be, and is as grossly overpriced as all the kinds of places his parents love. he grabs some hot chocolate and a pastry, then takes a corner seat where he can watch the door and won’t be the first thing people see when they walk in. the christmas decorations around the place are more than enough camouflage for his little corner, half hiding him behind a fake tree that’s almost as tall as he is, the fairy lights twinkling and making shadows play across his fingers as he watches for the mother he’s never known.

as it turns out, karen patton is early--and not hard to miss. heels make her top out at near six feet, her black hair flows loose, and her gaze sweeps over the restaurant in a way that said it belongs to her. it doesn’t matter that she’s never set foot in here before; she stands iron-rod straight and self-assured, dressed in white from head to toe. he thinks, bizarrely, that she could easily be mistaken for a terrifying russian bride, if her clothes were only styled a little differently.

but there is no denying that they’re related. no one looking at them could mistake it. “i have a reservation,” her voice isn’t warm, or soft. just demanding. willful. “janet and richard davis for 12.30 pm. check again.”

gryffin’s heart is pounding in his chest as he stands up--harder than it ever had in gym class or during any fight at home--and walks towards janet. “it’s not under their name. it’s under mine: gryffin davis.” his voice doesn’t sound nervous at all, which is great, because he had no idea palms could sweat but his sure are and it’s cold and clammy and terrible.

her eyes slide from the host, to land on gryffin’s face. her hand grasps the handles of her purse tighter, knuckles turning almost as white as her clothes. her eyes narrow and her expression becomes pinched for a moment. god, he hopes his face doesn’t look like that when he’s unhappy. “...gryffin.” her grip loosens only slightly. “shouldn’t you be in school about now?”

he bites down so hard on his tongue he actually flinches, but it keeps him from spitting out shouldn’t you be acting like a mom about now? which would just about be the worst possible way to start this. he can’t hide a scowl, though, his irritation rising a bit too fast. “winter break,” he quips. “there’s nowhere else i have to be.”

her lips form a thin, red line of clear discomfort on her face. the feeling is starting to be very mutual. “and your parents won’t be here until?”

you’re my mother, you are my parent! but he bites this one down, too, and it bubbles in his throat with the rest of the bitter anger. no hello, no how are you, no hug, no nothing. “my parents aren’t here. i came here on my own,” he snaps, his scowl deepening as he stares up at her and her icy expression. “they’re always late.” janet and richard are always late to pick him up or drop him off anywhere he needs to be, and karen is late to showing up in his life. how fitting.

still no greeting, or hug, or anything remotely kind or familiar. only her looking down at him, for a full twenty seconds--not even a twitch of the mouth to give him any hint of what she’s thinking until she finally says, “why don’t we sit down, then, in the meantime? your mother and i had some things to talk about.”

“no you don’t. because she’s not coming.” he glares at her outright and raises his chin, almost daring her to do something. anything. “i’m the one that tracked you down. i’m the one that sent you the e-mail. i’m the one that wants to talk to you.”

her cool exterior cracks, just the once: her mouth twitches downward, and her hands shake on the handle. then the walls go back up: cold, impenetrable. “no,” her voice rises, “we are not. there’s nothing for us to talk about except how to get you home.”

“sure there is. like why’d you give me up, but not any of my siblings? do you hate me? cause it sure sounds like it right now. or, you know, how are you? how’s your life? do you wanna know anything about my life, because there’s over ten years of backlog you’re missing out on.” his voice rises as he steps forward, into her space, demanding her attention because this is what he needs. this is what he deserves--for someone to listen to him for once in his goddamn life and answer him. people are staring, but he doesn’t care, he never has. “does that bother you? do you ever think about me? i think we’ve got a lot to talk about, mom.” he throws the last word like a weapon, vicious and spiteful, ready to do anything to get a reaction.

karen stares, and she doesn’t buckle. she doesn’t flinch, doesn’t blink, doesn’t react the way someone should when confronting their child after all these years. her face only pinches deeper as people start to look and become suspicious. “stop it,” she hisses out, voice wavering, not as willful as she had been moments before. “gryffin--we cannot do this out here, and i refuse to have this conversation with you, out here, without your parents.”

it’s the wrong thing to say. he raises his chin even higher and stretches himself up as tall as he can, his hands curling into fists at his sides no matter how useless the gesture is in front of this statue of a human being. “we can do it here, and we are. you made all the choices before when you gave me up--you made the biggest decision about my life before i could ever say shit about it! but now it’s my turn to make the calls! we’re going to talk, here, now. you are my parent. you’re my mom. you want me to stop making a scene, stop giving me a reason and just talk to me for once!

“i’m not--” her jaw clicks together so hard on the last word that he can hear it. “your mother is janet. not me. that was my choice. neither of us can change that.” her face is starting to redden as she goes for her cellphone, and though gryffin isn’t sure if it’s fury or embarrassment that’s doing it, he feels a vicious twist of satisfaction that he’s managed a reaction from her at all. “i wish i could give you every answer you want, i do.” her words don’t match the slide of her fingers on her cell phone screen, “this isn’t the time or place. i don’t have permission and you lied to me.”

“yeah, well you threw me away like a piece of garbage, so i think as far as sins go you’ve way outdone me! and you’re lying to me, too! you’re lying right now, because you don’t need permission. as the adopted kid i have every right to look for my parent and nobody can stop me.” that’s probably not true while he’s still a minor, but gryffin’s always been good at spouting whatever pops into his head that sounds like a good enough excuse for whatever he’s doing. “you can tell me everything right now. you just don’t want to. you’re a liar, and you’re selfish! do my siblings even know about me? mark and matthew and molly--do they know they have a little brother you never let them see? how would they feel about it if they found out? how mad do you think they’d be? or--or those assholes on your facebook page, all the judgemental ones you bitch with? do you think they’d be interested in knowing about your dirty little secret?” the farther he goes, the more invigorated he feels as he looks for the right place to dig in and hurt her. to make her feel the way he does right now: like someone with rot covered hands reached inside of his chest and started ripping him up to pieces. “what would they say about all of this, mom, if they found out you’re not so perfect after all?”

neither of them are stupid. they’re in a public place, they’re surrounded by other people who are looking at them, this woman and this boy, eyes locked, neither of them backing down.

karen’s nostrils flare. her hands tighten on her bag. she withdraws her free hand from the purse, dropping the phone.

there’s only one thing she can do here: surrender.

her expression smoothes over. the anger washes away from her face, replaced by cold politeness. “where did they seat us?”

the fury in his chest melts a little, and his scowl turns up into a self-satisfied smirk. “the corner. nice and private, so you don’t need to worry about anyone else hearing. it’ll be just you and me. follow me.” he keeps an eye on her over his shoulder as he leads the way and flops down in his own seat with an ungainly sort of confidence. “hope you don’t mind that i ordered already; you were slow.”

karen sits down gracefully, despite the expression on her face. she folds her hands on in her lap, and curtly says, “i don’t plan on eating.”

“hmmm.” gryffin tries to sound judgemental as he hums into his hot cocoa, but the effect is lost when some of the melted marshmallow sticks to his upper lip and he has to brush it off with his knuckles. “alright. let’s get talking. why didn’t you want me even though you kept all of my siblings? what do my siblings know about me? do you ever feel bad about any of this? why don’t you want to be around me?” he keeps his questions rapid fire, but it doesn’t quite mask the hurt that’s the bedrock of his anger.

karen doesn’t blink, not for a long moment. simply lets him finish, lets a moment move past them, before she answers carefully, “i couldn’t take care of you. i wasn’t young anymore. it was the right choice to make and the only choice.”

gryffin narrows his eyes, the hurt rising up in his chest and his throat, almost suffocating. “... bullshit. you’ve got a good job, you’ve got a lot of people around you, you could have done it. could have even gotten a nanny, i bet. you just didn’t want to. that’s why you tried to have a closed adoption, instead of an open one. so you wouldn’t have to look at me and know what you did.” he taps the heel of his shoe hard against his chair. “so what do molly and matt and mark think of that, huh? how do they feel about it?”

her jaw ticks. “i never wanted for a nanny. i never wanted to be involved in this. i gave you my answer.” she takes a deep breath. “it wasn’t meant to be unkind--it was the easiest mercy to give you to someone who wanted you rather than to keep you with me and miserable. you were given a blessing and you aren’t seeing it.”

“you don’t get to tell me how i feel about my own life!” gryffin hisses through a clenched jaw, leaning over the table and glowering at her. “and maybe you should have thought about ‘not wanting to get involved’ before you went and got- got knocked up!” he takes several deep breaths and forces himself to sit back again and grabs onto the armrests tight, his knuckles quickly going white. he lowers his voice even more, and it turns even more acidic for it “for the record, i’m miserable, and my life isn’t a blessing. you’re just doing that thing grown-ups do when they don’t want to feel guilty. waving off the blame on everyone else and refusing to listen. and what about my siblings? huh? you keep not saying. or if you feel bad about it, or care about me even a little bit, but i guess that’s obvious with what a bitch you’re being.”

karen leans across the table, expression hard. “you asked this bitch for answers. and you got them. they weren’t what you wanted to hear--and it should have stayed that way.” she pulls back, unmoved by gryffin’s distress, his anger. “i did what i could for you. and i’m sure they’re doing their best for you too, despite what you say or think they’re doing. when you’re older, you’ll have better perspective on this--but from where i’m sitting, you’re still a child, trying to grasp onto things you don’t have the tools for, demanding answers from a woman who knew better than to mother you, who handed you to someone who could. it isn’t what you wanted--and it never will be. i’m sorry for that.”

gryffin glares back at her, wishing and wishing he could lash out and strike her. scream and rage and let out his fury. but he can’t, not unless he wants more trouble, and he doesn’t. “you can keep telling yourself that you’re sorry, if it helps you sleep at night. but it’s bullshit, just like you. why did you even come here in the first place? if you want to wash your hands of me so bad, why not ghost those e-mails i sent?”

“not loving you isn’t the same as not wanting you to die,” there’s not warmth in her tone; it’s simply matter of fact. “no matter how dramatic you feel.”

“if you think this is dramatic, you have another thing coming, lady.” he shoves his hand into his coat pocket and rummages around for his phone. “dramatic would have been showing up at your house after buying airline tickets with my dad’s credit card. dramatic would be throwing this hot cocoa in your face. dramatic would be calling up matthew, and then mark, and then molly, and letting them know what you’re up to. oh, hey, that last one sounds like a great idea actually!” he doesn’t have any of their numbers, but he has a facebook app, and that’s close enough.

“telling them that they have a brother they already knew about would be redundant,” karen snipes from the other end of the table, and gryffin’s thumbs freeze over the keyboard. “telling them that he was alive, that he’d been adopted, would be a waste of your time and a continued waste of mine.” her voice starts to climb again. “why wouldn’t i talk to my own children about my pregnancy, one they could see? they respected my decision.”

gryffin doesn’t look up at her right away. his fingers stay poised over the keyboard, his lips pressing together into a shaky line. a rush of cold seeps through his limbs, and his pounding heart goes even faster--out of fear, instead of fury. “... you’re lying. they’d- at least one of them would want to know me. they have to wonder about me.”

karen’s eyes don’t leave his face. “they don’t. margaret hasn’t wanted anything to do with me for years--she would certainly be happy to be rid of us if she could. mark and matthew could barely stand each other sometimes. they understood what i was doing.”

the phone case creaks under the pressure of gryffin’s slim, pale hands, and it’s punctuated by gryffin’s ragged breathing. it’s true, that he’s never seen molly or her mother interact or even acknowledge each other on social media. and it’s true, that mark and matthew don’t seem to interact very much at all. he’s seen people at school with older siblings who despise them, and outright want them gone. would this be so farfetch'd? his eyes start to sting as the weight of what’s happened begins to truly bare down on him. “you’re lying,” he insists, his voice cracking. “one of them would want me. one of them would care.”

her expression doesn’t soften. she doesn’t offer a napkin, only shakes her head. “i’m sorry.” if she does feel sorry, her face doesn’t convey it from her position across the table. “your parents love you. i want you to be happy. that happiness won’t come from me or your siblings.”

gryffin ducks his head, the better to hide needing to push up his glasses and scrub at his eyes. she could be lying. part of him thinks she must be, with all the other terrible things she does and says and is. why not add lying to the list? but louder than that is the fear, the howling terror choking him: what if she’s not lying? could he risk that? reaching out and getting rejected again and again and again. his breath hitches in an ugly, painful way. “yeah, well.” he sniffles hard and swipes at his nose, then raises his reddening face to glare at her once more. “i guess the heartless bitch genes don’t fall far from the tree, huh? should have figured. you must be so proud--if you have enough emotions for that, karen.”

“i guess it does,” she says simply, pulling her cellphone from her purse. “and this heartless bitch is going to make sure that you get home in one piece. i think we’re done here.”

laughter--absurd and hysterical--bubbles up and spills out of gryffin. he covers his mouth with his hand and laughs while tears burn in the corners of his eyes. ‘i think we’re done here’ is exactly what janet says at the end of her skype meetings and over phone calls she’s tired of, with people she’s working with and can’t stand. she says it to gryffin sometimes, too. and now karen is, and he really is just a nuisance to them. just another thing on the agenda to mark off as done and shake off. “yeah,” he hiccups. “we sure fucking are.”