The tension was etched on my mom’s face, and it was not the happy kind of tension you’d expect to see from someone whose son had just turned eighteen. In her outstretched hand, she held an old familiar medallion.
My father’s medallion.
“Jacob wanted you to have this, Hidde,” she said, a faint tremble in her voice. “A gift for when you became an adult. Eighteen years old already… Time flies.”
“Oh, um,” I muttered, staring down at my mom’s hand. “Thank you.”
I accepted the medallion, holding it between two fingers and eying it from all sides. Its surface was smooth, rounded and gold, engraved with intricate patterns of flowers and some curly symbols I didn’t recognize. The tiny hinge suggested there could be something inside like in a locket, but when I tried to pry it open I found it impossible. Stuck, like it already was years ago.
Thirteen years. That’s how long it had been. There was a hollow sensation in my chest and stomach. Time flies indeed.
“Ooh, what’s that?”
My little sister plopped onto the living room couch next to me, crawled on Mom’s lap, and peered at the medallion in my hand. Her dark brown eyes went round. “It looks really pretty.”
“I think it’s an Ackerman family heirloom, Jasmine,” William answered for me. While he was intimidatingly tall and broad, his face was round and friendly, and he was a perpetual smiler.
William was my step-dad. But he had been the one raising me since I was seven years old and it made him happy when I called him Dad. I felt that way, too. Just like I saw Jasmine as my little sister rather than my half sister.
“Yes,” I confirmed. “It’s an heirloom from my, uh…” I paused. “Father’s side of the family.”
I dodged William’s and Jasmine’s eyes, suddenly unable to meet them. It had always felt a little odd, discussing my life before they came along. An issue I’d never been able to solve, and was more my fault than theirs. I knew especially William would listen if I wanted to talk.
“The medallion contains a guardian spirit,” my mom said, brushing her fingers through Jasmine’s black, cloud-like hair.
“Oh! What kind of guardian spirit?” Jasmine asked.
I snorted. “The kind of guardian spirit which solves all your earthly problems, including at least five you didn’t know you had!”
“Hidde.” Mom shot me a warning glance. A muscle in her jaw twitched, and the tension had never fully left her expression. She didn’t like my sarcasm. She didn’t understand it was my way of coping.
“Hopefully, it’s a guardian spirit which will make that Thiago kid from school like you back,” Dad joked, changing the topic.
“It’s a guardian spirit, not Cupid!” Jasmine sternly corrected Dad. “Cupid or Eros makes people fall in love. Guardian spirits are different depending on the myth and origin, and there are many different ones.”
“That so?” I asked, absentmindedly playing with the medallion in my hands. “Well, if Eros or Cupid has that kind of power, I’d rather have him then.”
“Please. Thiago is blind if he doesn’t already like you back.” Mom scoffed. “And I really think he does.”
Dad nodded in agreement from his lounge chair. “That boy smiles at you when you’re not looking. The same way I do when Jada isn’t looking.”
He winked at Mom, but even that couldn’t tease more than a faint smile out of her.
I snorted. For some reason, Mom and Dad were so convinced Thiago, my dream guy, liked me too.
Yeah right, fat chance. What did smiles say? He smiled all the time at everyone, which was one of the many things I loved about him, but he always had girlfriends and not boyfriends.
At least he was very cool with me being gay. He never acting weirded out like some of the other guys and he was so, so sweet. Good looking, too. With his tousled black hair, sandy complexion, muscles, and gentle eyes he made me and the rest of the world swoon. I just wished he would, for once, only invite me over to his place and we could finally talk for more than a few minutes before someone butted in. That we could get to know each other.
“Yuck, who cares about boyfriends and girlfriends?” Jasmine wrinkled her nose. “I, for one, hope the guardian spirit finds you new friends. I don’t like your friends at all.”
I suppressed a sigh. And to imagine Jasmine only knew the tip of the iceberg.
“I don’t like them either, Jas,” I confessed.
Jasmine cocked her head to the side with furrowed brows. “Why do you hang out with them then?”
“That’s a very long story,” I said. Meaning: it was an embarrassing story I didn’t want my little sister to know. I went with some pseudo-wisdom bullshit instead. “Sometimes in life… you just have to accept the whole package, also the parts you don’t like.”
Jasmine seemed unconvinced. “Riiight.”
“Those people aren’t your friends, Hidde,” Dad added.
I rolled my eyes at them. “Oh, would you rather have me be alone and friendless until graduation then?”
“Hidde!” Mom warned me again, this time narrowing her dark brown eyes at me. A tell-tale sign I should really watch my step.
Geez, she was really on edge today. I was often sarcastic. She didn't often purse her lips, cross her arms, and glare at me for it.
Then, her gaze landed on the medallion in my hand and her expression suddenly shifted, sadness clouding her features. She reached out, tenderly tracing the medallion’s engravings with her fingertips.
“Whether this medallion helps you with your friends or not… Just take good care of it,” she said, her voice low. “Your father thought it so important I couldn’t give it to you until you turned eighteen and were responsible enough.”
“Well, I turn eighteen in a few hours, you should’ve waited a bit longer,” I joked wholly inappropriately. Did I mention I handle awkward situations astoundingly badly?
Mom didn’t respond to my joke. My eyes shot to William, my other Dad. His sparkling eyes sparkled a little less than usual. He didn’t respond either.
I coughed when even Jasmine raised her brows in a ‘what are you doing?’ kind of way.
“So,” I broke the silence myself, gingerly placing the medallion on the table. “Anyway, what other gifts do you have for me?”
Putting the medallion down seemed to finally break the tension too.
The heavy, awkward atmosphere was entirely gone when Jasmine grinned and pulled out her gift: a cutesy gay romance novel in which the main characters meet in a grocery store. It would make for great daydream material during my long hours working as a cashier. God knows I needed it, being a forever alone, dateless guy both in school and at work.
Dad had decided to go for a gift more related to my brand new adulthood: an assortment of sweet alcoholic drinks. Mom disapproved, but Dad managed to convince her to tolerate it with a cheeky reminder how they’d both started drinking way younger.
After the gifts, Mom made my favorite food, pancakes, with Dad and Jasmine’s help. We ate while we watched the local news, which was as usual filled with gloomy stories about criminals on the loose in the inner city of Amsterdam.
The end of dinner marked the end of my eighteenth birthday — the festivities part, at least. My boss hadn’t had any mercy and scheduled me to work an evening shift at the Multi grocery store. Mom warned me about being careful when closing the shop, and scolded my boss for making me do it on my own ‘on my birthday for crying out loud!’
As if Mr. Boswel cared. I didn’t expect any congratulations nor a break from the old, sour man. I only expected complaints about having to pay me more because I’d aged and half-serious jokes about how he should fire me to hire a cheaper fifteen-year-old.
Before heading out of the living room to the hallway, my eye fell on the medallion.
I obviously didn’t believe in guardian spirits. I was not a child anymore. Guardian spirits were simply a bedtime story, made up by my father. Just like that time when he put a small battery radio inside a candy box and convinced me there was a ghost haunting it. It was a prank he’d already been using since he was a teenager, in an attempt to keep his much younger siblings away from the candy stash underneath his bed.
That’s all they were. Pranks and entertainment.
I didn’t believe, yet my heart pounded as if I was doing something unacceptable by leaving it on the table.
Hesitating in the doorway, I finally turned back and snatched the medallion from the table.
I didn’t believe in guardian spirits but put the medallion around my neck anyway.
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